Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Recipe Yoga

If they ever decide to start giving out Nobel prizes for sheer ingenuity in the kitchen, I know exactly who I'd place at the top of the nominee list. It's not easy feeding any amount of teenagers on any budget - let alone a crowd of 65 ravenous ones every night with less than a dollar per serving to work with! Our protein choices at the Club are always limited in variety, not to mention in amount, so creativity with what we do get off the Second Harvest truck leads to some interesting results! Generally, we have roughly 4-5 lbs of meat to work with for the Friday meal (the only hot one they get during the week from us), and the rest of the meal is a collaboration of "what do we have here" in terms of veggies and starches. That's how things like the baked bolognese last week came into play!

Last week we wound up with 8 lbs of whole, bone-in chicken parts: and for those of you savvy with yield percentages, you'll know that gave us just over 4 lbs of raw meat to work with. Surveying the remainder of the donation box, filled with bell peppers (not to mention zucchini, not-too-great looking tomatoes and a couple carrots), I commented that we could do a curried chicken and rice dish. Marlene (the grand pooh-bah of the kitchen, and who I would totally give that Nobel prize to) gave it the nod, and began machete-chopping the birds into small pieces (still with the bone - "the kids aren't babies", she told me) and directing me to the spices and other ingredients we'd start tossing together so the meat could marinate overnight before a long, slow cooking process the next day.

However, the volatile nature of the community kitchen reared it's head again the next day - I walked in to find Marlene in the midst of chopping vegetables, but she informed me that the "mood" for curry making had left her. I can relate, as I'm sure most of you can - when you can't cook something with the heart it deserves, you really don't want to (and shouldn't!) cook it. That goes double with souled dishes like curries - you really can taste the soul of the chef behind them. We would still be making a chicken stew, a very highly flavoured chicken stew, but we were taking the bird to the islands. Brown-stew style.

Of course, 4 pounds of chicken meat would in no way feed that crowd of kids. There's no way we were ever going to try that one. This is where the process I refer to as "recipe yoga", AKA "stretching", came into play. Instead of trying to serve a miniscule portion of chicken stew made as it was written originally, we took the opportunity to clean out the potato bin, full of old but (mostly) still-ok Russets, and came up with another 8 lbs of bulk to add to the meal. Carrots, onions and a rich stewed tomato sauce helped round out the flavours, and even though we had to do 3/4 of the cooking - including all the "stewing" - in the oven, not a single scent nor flavour got lost. I even thought to brown the meat all at once under the broiler instead of in batch after batch in the pot, saving the stovetop for a slow browning of the onions. All I had to do then was toss in the spuds and carrots for a quick saute, pour it over the chicken and cover the pan with foil before sticking it in the oven for 5 hours.

Normally this kind of richly flavoured stew would find itself perfectly at home over a bed of coconut rice, and I do recommend that option if you have the resources available to you. Unfortunately, we discovered that we did not have enough rice for the kids - nor enough cash in the budget to buy any. We made do with one of our staple items (mini pita breads), and the kids were none the wiser - though when we do get the curry mojo back I am stopping by Bulk Barn for a bag of Basmati.

Marlene's Jamaican Brown Stew Potatoes And Chicken
Serves 60
8 lbs bone-in, skinless chicken parts
2 large onions, diced finely
9 scallions, minced
2 red bell peppers, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
5 tbsp garlic powder
3 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp allspice
1/4 cup seasoned salt
3 tbsp black pepper
3 tbsp brown sugar
8 tbsp soy sauce
7 cups stewed tomatoes (4 14-oz cans)
1 Scotch Bonnet pepper, pricked with a fork but left whole
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tbsp allspice
2 tsp black pepper
3/4 cup ketchup
4 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup canola oil
3 large onions, diced
9 large carrots, diced
8 lbs Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  1. The night before, combine chicken parts, onions, scallions, bell peppers, garlic powder, onion powder, allspice, seasoned salt, black pepper, brown sugar and soy sauce in a large bowl or bucket, tossing well. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large pot, combine tomatoes, Scotch Bonnet pepper, minced garlic, allspice, black pepper, ketchup and chicken broth.
  3. Cook over medium-high heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove and discard hot pepper and set tomatoes aside.
  4. The next day, preheat the broiler and spread chicken mixture in a very large, deep roasting pan.
  5. Broil for 4 minutes, stir and return to broiler for 4 more minutes.
  6. Set oven to 350F.
  7. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-low heat.
  8. Add diced onions and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until caramelized.
  9. Add carrots and potatoes, raise heat to medium high and saute until carrots begin to soften, about 7 minutes.
  10. Pour sauteed mixture over chicken and stir to incorporate.
  11. Cover roasting pan and bake for 5 hours.
  12. After five hours, add tomato mixture to the pan, stir in and bake uncovered 1 hour longer.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 115.5
Total Fat: 1.9 g
Cholesterol: 18.5 mg
Sodium: 359.6 mg
Total Carbs: 17.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.2 g
Protein: 7.8 g

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Creative Energy

Sitting idle is a dangerous thing for me. I mean, really - my brain refuses to shut up at the best of times, and when there's food involved to be thinking about? That's just asking for trouble. Or a plethora of random baking experiments like the ricotta-cherry turnovers I made last week to accompany the baked pasta at the Boys and Girls Club (I didn't post a recipe, but it was a blend of ricotta, honey, lemon zest, and a little whipping cream spooned into triangles of thinly-rolled crescent roll dough that I brushed with egg, topped with a maraschino and wrapped like a samosa and baked). But who doesn't love a change from the ordinary once in a while? I mean, some of the most famous chefs in the world exist because of their incurable curiosity - think Grant Achatz, Thomas Keller and Ferran Adrià. A few simple ingredients - for me usually comprised of leftover bits and pieces of my fridge stash - can turn into any number of things. There are flops, for sure, but then you get something wonderful.

Something like these loaves, that filled the house with such rich and decadent aromas from the moment I mixed the dough to when they were fully cooled that I knew they were nothing but delicious. They stemmed from a leftover tub of herb and garlic cream cheese and some aging potatoes in the bin, and a half container of ancho chile paste I had saved for an unknown reason made a vibrant orange-red spiral that added an earthy, underlying hit of spice. The super-tender loaves sliced incredibly well after they cooled, and when one of my taste-testers toasted it for an omelette sandwich she said it was the best one she'd ever had! I don't know if it's the best bread in the world, but I do know I'm sending it into YeastSpotting at WildYeast!

Tender Cheese Bread with Ancho Swirl
Makes 2 loaves, 16 slices each
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup herb-and-garlic cream cheese, cubed and softened
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tbsp oregano
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup whole milk, warm
1/2 cup reserved potato water
1 tbsp instant yeast
4 cups flour
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 eggs
1/3 cup ancho chile paste* (about 2 whole chiles, soaked in hot water 1 hour and pureed to a thick spread)
  1. In a large saucepot, boil potatoes until very soft - about 25 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup water, and return to the pot over very low heat.
  2. Add cheese, garlic, oregano, sugar, salt, milk and water. Mash until it's a completely smooth, slightly thick liquid.
  3. Pour into a large mixing bowl and set aside to cool slightly, about 5-6 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together yeast and flours.
  5. When the potato mixture had cooled slightly, beat in the eggs, followed by the flour in small batches to form a soft, smooth dough.
  6. Continue mixing fr 8-10 minutes, until all the flour is incorporated.
  7. Turn onto a floured board and knead 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.
  8. Cover and let rest 40 minutes.
  9. Deflate dough, divide in half.
  10. Roll one half of the dough into a rectangle, spread half the ancho paste overtop.
  11. Roll dough up as you would for a cinnamon-raisin bread (jelly-roll style) and place in a greased loaf pan. Repeat for remaining dough and filling.
  12. Cover loaves and allow to rise 1 hour.
  13. Preheat oven to 375F.
  14. Bake the loaves for 15 minutes, then cover with foil and bake a further 20 minutes.
  15. Turn out of pans immediately and cool on wire racks.
*Ancho chile paste is also made by Purcell Mountain Farms

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 134.3
Total Fat: 2.9 g
Cholesterol: 18.8 mg
Sodium: 64.1 mg
Total Carbs: 22.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.9 g
Protein: 4.7 g

Friday, March 19, 2010

Family Dinners

One of the most remarkable, and rewarding, aspects of my co-op work at the Boys and Girls Club is the incredible amount of freedom I have in their (amazing) kitchen. They don't have a lot of money to throw around, so they don't have the latest equipment or gourmet ingredients - they don't even have a colander. What they do have is a lot of heart, and a lot of kids that rely on them. The Club is a place that not only gives out a hot meal and a hand with homework assignments after school, but that is itself a family.

I've realized just how much of a family the clubhouse really is just by working there a few days... the kids all know each other, and treat everyone as a sibling regardless of who they are or where they came from.When I'm cooking away in the kitchen, I'm not treated as "the only upper-middles-class white girl in the house". It's never mentioned, nor is it even a part of how I'm treated. Rather, I'm the "big sister" in the kitchen - when the kids wander into the kitchen looking for a snack to stave off their hunger until dinnertime (often the only "real" meal they get) and see I'm cooking something, they pepper me with questions about just what it is I'm up to. The thing that's remarkable is that they actually care about my answers, and I can tell they're learning elements of nutrition and cooking through our conversations and by what I show them as I work.

With all the freedom I have, I do have the responsibility to both create and get projects done during the day. Today I was given four pounds of ground beef, access to pantry, freezer and fridge stock and the charge of making a hearty, nutritious, fairly cheap on-the-fly dinner for 60 teenaged Evening Program participants that would be coming in at abut 5:30. After a few minutes of consideration, a fast pantry survey and a check online for basic ingredient ratios, this very untraditional baked pasta bolognese was born. I even managed to hide a good portion of veggies in the mixture, between the onions, carrots, tomatoes and all the pureed frozen ones!

It was an obscene amount of food to my untrained eye - having never cooked a meal for 60, let alone using basic "home" appliances and minimal kitchen utensils - I couldn't even lift the stockpot off the stove to drain the pasta!

Boys and Girls Club Baked Pasta Bolognese
Serves 60
¼ cup unsalted butter
3 large onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
4 lbs lean ground beef
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tbsp black pepper
1 ½ tbsp Italian seasoning
84 oz (3 28-oz cans) thick tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
1 (6-oz) can tomato paste
2 cups beef broth
2 ½ cups heavy cream
2 lbs frozen (thawed) mixed vegetables, pureed
5 lbs fusilli pasta, cooked just shy of “al dente” and drained
2 lbs pressed “dry” cottage cheese (or ricotta)
  1. Melt butter in a large stockpot over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onions and sauté until golden, then add carrots and garlic.
  3. Cook until carrots begin to soften, about 8-10 minutes.
  4. Add olive oil and ground beef to the pot, sprinkle with nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper and Italian seasoning.
  5. Cook, stirring to break up the meat, until the beef is well browned – about 6-7 minutes.
  6. Stir in tomato sauce, tomato paste, beef broth, heavy cream and pureed vegetables.
  7. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to very low and cook, stirring occasionally, 2 - 2 ½ hours.
  8. Preheat oven to 350F, grease 2 large, deep roasting pans.
  9. Spread a thin layer of meat sauce in the bottom of each pan, followed by a layer of noodles (about 1/3 of the pot) in each pan.
  10. Sprinkle a layer of cottage cheese overtop the noodles.
  11. Add the remaining pasta to the sauce in the pot, stirring well to coat.
  12. Divide the mixed sauce/pasta between the two pans, covering the cheese layer completely.
  13. Place into the oven and bake 1 ½ hours.
  14. If desired, sprinkle top of pasta with breadcrumbs and broil 5 minutes further.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 300.2
Total Fat: 11.8 g
Cholesterol: 39.7 mg
Sodium: 309.6 mg
Total Carbs: 35.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.9 g
Protein: 14.7 g

I'm sending this to Ruth's event Presto Pasta Nights, being hosted by Savoury Specialist.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cookin' on the Road

My co-op placement at the Boys and Girls Club has been an incredible experience already - and I've only been there two days! I've been welcomed with such warm, open arms there that regardless of the fact that I'm one of the only few white people there I feel part of the family. When we do our rounds at the different sites our Club serves - all in high-violence areas - I do feel slightly awkward though, since I know that I'm definitely the only one without any experience with living paycheque to paycheque or who's had to worry about what dangers lurked around the corner. It's been an amazing experience in learning as much as I'm teaching! In 7 short hours today, for example, during out "Cooking on the Road" segment of the March Break camps the Club runs, I've been able to experience a world of personas:
  • Teacher
  • Student
  • "Big Bad Boss" (I wouldn't let the kids on facebook - Club rules)
  • Maid
  • Dishwasher
  • Chef
  • Best friend
  • Secret-keeper
  • Inventor
  • Proud "parent" of the kids
  • Writer
  • Lobbyist
  • ...and I'm sure a gazillion other things!
Today, for our site visit / cooking lessons, I had the privilege of coming up with a recipe that would fit their theme of "Food Guide Eating", specifically increasing the fruits and veggies the kids ate in the lower-income area we were working in. These sweet, fluffy and substantial pancakes were a total hit - no doubt in part to the fact that they taste like warm carrot cake.

The fact that the kids not only asked for seconds (and thirds) of them was both heartwarming and heartbreaking - for most of them, the three pancakes or so (along with one of the apples we brought, so kindly donated by the awesome Second Harvest) were all they had for lunch today.

Boys And Girls Apple - Carrot Pancakes

Boys and Girls Apple - Carrot Pancakes
Serves 6 kids
2 1/2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 cups whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups finely grated carrots (about 2 large)
1 cup finely grated apples (about 1 large)
  1. Preheat a griddle pan, grease with PAM.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, brown sugar, milk and vanilla.
  4. Stir the wet mixture into the dry ingredients, then add carrots and apples.
  5. Mix just until moistened - a few lumps are okay.
  6. Pour batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto the greased griddle.
  7. Flip when bubbles appear on the top of the pancakes, finish cooking on the other side.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 407.4
Total Fat: 5.5 g
Cholesterol: 79.0 mg
Sodium: 89.5 mg
Total Carbs: 77.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.4 g
Protein: 11.9 g

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Fueling Up, Heading Out

Even with all the insane options we sampled at the CRFA Show, there was still some room in my friends' appetites (and bags!) for a couple homemade snack bars I brought along. I was trying my hand at taking my ideal elements of a cereal / granola bar - chewy, a bunch of fruit, minimal "sugar high" tendencies and no candy (really, Quaker? What's left that's healthy in these, or these?) and stuffing them into a form with some protein, fibre and good portability! Thanks to one of my chef crushes, Mr. Brown - I'm looking at you - I decided to award myself bonus points for doing it twice, and thanks to the good ol' noggin of mine (and a very well-stocked pantry) one of them is even gluten free! Heck, both the recipes are even dead simple to veganize (directions in the how-to), and include all the goodness of ancient grains, fruit and nuts. Minimal cleanup thanks to greased foil-lined pans was a definite bonus. Yeah, I've made enough failures to appreciate the arm strength needed to chisel oats and caramelized sugar-shellac off Pyrex.

The key mixture of goodness that I used in both these bars came pre-tossed for me courtesy of (as always) Bulk Barn - a trail mix of almonds, goji berries, raisins, pineapple and sunflower seeds appropriately called "Goodness of Gogi". It looked so inviting in the bin that I had to see what it was about! Plus, it's nice to know what I was sticking into these "health-food" clones - no preservatives or gobbledegook to sift through!

So the power (or protein, if you want to call them that) bars are really more than the sum of their parts when you come down to it. Not only does this mixture contain tofu, soy isolate and peanut butter (like in AB's version), I added a power blend of my own: wheat gluten, chia seed, flax and sesame seeds, amaranth, honey, and toasted soy "nuts" for kicks. The half-batch recipe I made cut perfectly into 8 bars that I wrapped in plastic for a snack that is (to toot my own horn) better than any kind of storebught supplement, and is an awesome breakfast on the go if you're the kind of person who's in their office (or carpool, or bus shelter) more than their kitchen. Cut them in half for kids or as a snack too - there's a good dose of good carbs and fibre to partner with the protein!

Perfect Protein Power Bars
Makes 8 large, 16 small
6 oz silken tofu
2 tbsp cranberry juice
2 tbsp honey (for vegan version use dark agave syrup)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg (for vegan version add 1/4 cup more peanut butter)
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup soy protein powder
1/4 cup spelt bran
2 tbsp vital wheat gluten
2 tbsp sweet rice flour
2 tbsp wheat germ
2 tbsp chia seed
3 tbsp ground flaxseed meal
2 tbsp whole flaxseed
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
2 tbsp amaranth
1/2 tsp salt
6 oz fruit and nut trail mix of choice, soaked in hot water and drained
2 oz roasted soybeans
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8" square pan with greased foil or parchment.
  2. In a food processor, puree tofu, cranberry juice, honey, brown sugar and peanut butter. Scrape into a large bowl.
  3. Stir in the remaining ingredients until everything is well combined.
  4. Press / scrape into the pan, smoothing the top.
  5. Bake 35 minutes. Chill overnight in the pan before cutting and serving.
Amount Per Serving (1 large bar)
Calories: 421.1
Total Fat: 20.8 g
Cholesterol: 26.6 mg
Sodium: 151.5 mg
Total Carbs: 40.6 g
Dietary Fiber: 8.3 g
Protein: 22.6 g

But neither man nor (especially) women can subsist off of protein alone. Deprive me of my carbs, dear reader, and you will soon see me transform into something inhuman! As a kid in school, I would swap anything that would be "tradeable" - not much from my mom - for a chewy, chocolate-dipped granola bar. I never liked cooked oatmeal either. Of course, without half a bag of choclate of chocolate chips poured ontop. Tastes have sure changed! I love me a good mid-afternoon bowl with a small spoonful of brown sugar, a touch of honey and a scoop of unsweetened cocoa (I never said I stopped liking chocolate!).

When I was scouting around for a basic bar recipe that would give me the chewy texture I adore (I despise the "crunchy" kinds), I came across a winner thanks to Becky, the food blogger at Vintage Mixer. She assured me hers were the chewy type of bars and hey - how could you not want to make her recipe (also adopted from AB!), with photos like these?? These granola-esque bars became more "esque" than "granola", really - since even though I used (certified GF) oats, I bulked up the blend with Textured Vegetable Protein, sesame, chia, amaranth, poppy and sesame seeds, ground almonds, quinoa and kasha! Even though I (obviously) needed to toy with the "wet" ingredients too to compensate for all the stuff, the resulting mixture was still amazingly chewy and not overwhelming in any one flavour. When I passed the paper bag filled with the individually-wrapped bars (how lunchroom-eque, I know) to the awesome girls at my salon, their eyes lit up at the option of a reason to avoid the RutR lines at Tim's! I'm betting that - if their school isn't one of the gazillion out there with a nut-free policy - kids would take one of these to eat with lunch too. If you let them after a taste, of course!

Goodness "Grain"ness Granola Bars
Makes 16
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup dry TVP
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup quinoa, rinsed
1/4 cup kasha (toasted buckwheat)
2 tbsp amaranth
2 tbsp poppy seeds
1/3 cup whole flaxseeds
1/4 cup ground flaxseed meal
3/4 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup psyllium fibre husks
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup honey
2 tbsp agave nectar
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 tbsp peanut butter
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp cranberry juice
1 cup trail mix of choice, soaked in hot water and drained
1/4 cup raisins, soaked in hot water and drained
1 tsp vanilla
  1. Preheat the oven to 300F, line a 9x13" pan with greased foil or parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl, combine the oats, TVP, sesame seeds, chia seeds, quinoa, kasha, amaranth, poppy seeds, flaxseeds, flaxseed meal, ground almonds, psyllium husks and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large pot, heat the honey, agave, brown sugar, peanut butter, sesame oil and cranberry juice until the peanut butter is melted and the brown sugar is dissolved.
  4. Add the grain mixture to the pot with the trail mix, raisins and vanilla, stirring well to combine.
  5. Turn into the pan and press down firmly and evenly.
  6. Bake 25 minutes.
  7. Cool completely, then chill thoroughly (I like overnight) before cutting into bars.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 303.6
Total Fat: 13.2 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 135.3 mg
Total Carbs: 40.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 7.7 g
Protein: 9.1 g

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Foodie Heaven - Show Day at the CRFA

No word of a lie, the cost for my ticket to the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservice Association show I was lucky enough to go to on Monday was the best $10 I ever spent. Heck - even if I had to shell out the full admission fee of $30 (which I definitely plan on doing next year!) it was more than worth it. I mean really, when else can you show up, ravenous enough to make even a Chinese Buffet restaurant cringe, and eat your way through 358,433 square feet of exhibits, not to mention drink your weight in coffees from all over the globe and even hobnob with chefs like Susur Lee?

For me, the draw to the show wasn't so much the taste-testing of everything from organic carrots to Alaskan salmon as it was a chance to see all the things the big wide world of food and restaurants had to offer. While the majority of the students there (and we all stuck out like sore thumbs, I'm sure, no matter what school we represented) were filling their bags with samples of whatever was out there (and in some cases it looked like everything that wasn't nailed down!) I took my time from booth to booth, talking to the exhibitors. I won't lie - I did score some awesome swag - but the fact that I was ditched by my classmates about 1/3 of the way through the show allowed me to put out this little blog of mine, and spread the word about my passion for nutritious food and recipe development.

As a result, I got a ton of amazing contacts with companies from Saputo to Liberté (who coincidentally recently introduced a 0% Greek-style yogurt!), scored an opportunity to try a breakout product from Hodgson Mills that National Importers is bringing in, said hi and thanks to the always friendly folks at Friends of the Greenbelt (who gave my mincemeat first place last year!) and SoyaWorld (makers of the soymilk I swear by for my ice"cream" and who are also bringing out a dairy-free line of puddings in the next few weeks!), and found two new companies who are both incredibly dedicated to making the act of snacking safer for everyone. Treasure Mills, makers of baked goods from breads to mixes, even has a comprehensive allergen guide on their website in addition to guaranteeing a 100% nut-free plant and snacks labelled "School Safe" (including a decadent chocolate fudge cookie!).

Likewise, the staff at the Touché Bakery booth were adamant about informing the public that their biscotti, meringue, cookie, brownie and pre-made batter business is not only completely nut-free, but also dairy-Kosher and HACCP certified. For those of you not familiar with foodservice / safety in the professional sense, HACCP certification means that the Bakery is able to not only identify potential food safety hazards from reception of ingredients through to the final packaging and distribution of their finished treats, but that action plans are in place to reduce or eliminate those hazards turning into realities. There's a list of 7 principles they must follow too, if you're interested.

So here are a few more shots from my outing. The full list with links is on my Flickr set for you to peruse at will!
IQF Pasta Selections
New Origin Chocolates from Barry Callebaut
Crispy Decorating Chocolates
11 Pounds of Decadence!
Sysco Gets "Fresh"
As Many Mushrooms as You Like!

Monday, March 8, 2010

What's Taters?

To anyone who, like me, grew up in the era of Ebaum's World, AlbinoBlackSheep and the like, I both say hello and I'm sorry that I may have lodged this song/video back into your memory after you spent the last 5-6 years erasing it. You do have to admit, though, that as irritating as it may be, it is rather clever (not to mention catchy!), and how else could I have made myself a witty opener for this sourdough "semi-ciabatta" that's holey crumb gets it's tender texture and subtle flavour from the spud?

This bread, though originally intended to be a ciabatta loaf - low-rising, full of holes, with that distinctive sourdough tang, became more of a pancake for me in practice. Angie's blog (where I found the recipe) has many gorgeous shots of her loaf, which aside from looking a good deal more camera-ready than mine does, actually has a defined shape to it. Contrary to what my loaf wanted to think, I doubt "puddle" counts as a viable form. It's my fault, of course - so many articles and guides on creating ciabatta keep warning against adding flour, and so no matter how fluid my dough-batter was, I resisted the urge. By the time we actually got around to putting it in the oven, we had a rather interesting loaf-shaping form going on the baking sheet consisting of several other weighted roasting and loaf pans!

It's wasn't a lost cause in the end, though I highly doubt my mom will want me making ciabatta-style "wet doughs" anytime soon (not that I'm volunteering!). The tang is there, and the holes and even a delightfully soft crumb who's crannies still manage to hold onto bread dipping oils, honey drizzles and of course good old peanut butter. I've decided to share it with the rest of the YeastSpotting participants this week over at Susan's blog, too!

Crispy Crust Potato Loaf
Adapted from Dan Lepard via Angie's Recipes
Makes 1 loaf, 20 slices
313 g refreshed sourdough starter
310 g warm water
75 g warm, unsweetened soy milk (or whole milk)
19 g raw sugar
125 g unpeeled Russet potato, scrubbed well and grated  
625 g flour
15 g sea salt

  1. Combine all the ingredients (except salt) in a large bowl, stirring well with a wooden spoon to form a sticky ball.
  2. Continue to beat with the spoon for about 30 seconds.
  3. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to stand overnight in the fridge.
  4. The next day, remove the dough from the fridge and allow to stand at room temperature 1 hour.
  5. Beat in the sea salt well.
  6. Mist a countertop or wooden board with oil and scrape the mass onto it.
  7. With lightly oiled hands, shape into a rectangle about 8" x 15".
  8. Fold the short ends "letter-style" into the centre of the rectangle, then gently pat and stretch out into a rectangle (with opposite long/short sides) and repeat the letter folds.
  9. Cover with a clean towel and leave one hour at room temperature.
  10. Repeat the shape/fold/shape/fold technique, re-cover and leave for 1 1/2 hours.
  11. Repeat the shape/fold/shape/fold technique once more, re-cover and allow to rise 2 hours (or overnight in the fridge - remove in the morning and allow to rest 2 hours at room temperature before proceeding).
  12. Shape dough into a wide oblong and place seam-side up on a floured towel (or pour onto a floured towel lined sheet tray with a fortified "shaping guide" if its really wet!). Cover and allow to rise 4 hours.
  13. Preheat oven to 425F.
  14. Turn loaf onto a rimless baking sheet (seam will be on the sheet) and with a sharp knife or lame razor slash a single cut down the centre of the loaf.
  15. Bake 25 minutes on the lowest rack of the oven, then reduce the heat to 350F.
  16. Bake a further 35-40 minutes.
  17. Remove from the sheet immediately and cool on a wire rack.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 146.1
Total Fat: 0.6 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 80.4 mg
Total Carbs: 31.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.0 g
Protein: 4.2 g

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Around here, I'm pretty used to being able to unleash my creative energy whenever it comes to baking. Generally, at least from what people tell me directly, the unique ingredients and methods I use to come up with things such as purple pasta, summer fruit pies, ancho-chicken cacciatorenumerous (and boozy) cakes and even a whole competition menu are welcome changes to the typical bakery and restaurant-catered fare. To me, having at least one home made item out on the table shows that you actually care for your guests - anyone can call a restaurant and take out a catered affair, but it's the little quirks and imperfections in a dish - a lopsided cake, cookies that are a bit too overdone or a lasagne that's cut into not-so-even squares - that make the whole "party at home" thing worthwhile.

Oddly enough, even though I'm told to my face that what I make is (and I quote) "great", "delicious", and "wonderful" by guests, my own family is incredibly hesitant to allow me to utilize my forte, baking, for any sort of get-together. Actually, they don't like me making things for even just "the family" (read: the spoiled Italianos). According to my mom, people that come over don't like things that aren't "usual", and would rather have storebought bread/cakes/pies/etc. than something I made. So it's been a struggle! Everything that I've managed to share with the family so far has been the result of a mixture of white lies and outright fights. Le sigh. What can you do?

So anyways, post rant now *deep breaths*... cheesecake. Well, for her birthday party this year, my mom got it into her head that she wanted lemon cheesecake. Now, not only did she want lemon cheesecake, but she wanted to make it herself (points to her for that, but it is her birthday... it's not right!). She also wanted one made with ricotta, that was smooth and creamy but not heavy, not too sweet, nice and lemony but not sour. Now, as she's telling me all this, I'm mentally sifting through all my cheesecake recipes for a ricotta one I can use as a base - I was envisioning honey-lemon, creamy mascarpone blending with ricotta, an extra yolk perhaps for colour and richness. I was actually getting quite excited at the thought of making this recipe for her. Then she dropped the bomb - she wanted it to be a "real" recipe, not "one of those ones you make up". Because apparently, those aren't real. Okay then... wounded pride aside, I turned to my little cache of white lies and stuck Giada's name on it, since the inspiration for it did come from her via Joseph Erdos. It worked, though!

Then came the panicking, or as I like to call it "the night I almost killed her". My mom, you see, hadn't made a cheesecake in about 8 years... and never one with a "bain marie" method of cooking. Nevermind even adding things like ricotta to the mix! So it became a night of constant reassurances and occasionally my sister and I restraining her as she kept opening the oven door to check on it. In the end, both she and the guests got a delicious treat - not a crack, not a leak, and a perfect marriage of flavours. In fact, my mom even saved a piece in the freezer to eat like ice cream when they return from their two weeks in Italy!

Lemon Three - Cheese Cake
Inspired by Giada DiLaurentiis and Joseph Erdos
Serves 16
1 ½ cups vanilla cookie crumbs
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp lemon extract
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 cups whole milk ricotta
8 oz mascarpone cheese, room temperature
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup honey
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp cornstarch
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F, line the bottom of a 9” springform pan with parchment and wrap the outside of the pan in foil.
  2. Combine cookie crumbs, sugar, lemon extract and butter in a large bowl until well combined.
  3. Press the mixture firmly into the bottom and 2” up the side of the pan.
  4. Bake 15 minutes, set aside to cool slightly.
  5. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F.
  6. In a food processor, puree ricotta and mascarpone until smooth.
  7. Add cream cheese and sugar, blend well, stopping the machine occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  8. Blend in the honey and lemon zest.
  9. Mix together lemon juice and cornstarch, then add to the food processor with the eggs and egg yolk and pulse until blended.
  10. Pour the mixture into the crust, and transfer the pan to a large roasting pan.
  11. Pour hot water into the roasting pan halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
  12. Bake 1 hour and 10 minutes, covering the pan with foil after 40 minutes.
  13. Cool for 1 hour in the roasting pan, then remove from the water bath and cool completely on a wire rack.
  14. Refrigerate (covered) 24 hours before serving.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 313.8
Total Fat: 21.5 g
Cholesterol: 112.2 mg
Sodium: 139.4 mg
Total Carbs: 23.6 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.2 g
Protein: 7.3 g

After the dishes were all washed and cleared away, and the guests were all in various states of satiety, I turned to my mom and said "so I guess I can let you know now that I wrote that cheesecake recipe, right?". I'm not sure if she overly cared at that point, because she didn't reply!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Nuts. It's the perfect word to describe not only everything that's been going on around here, but everyone around here. I'm sure we all have that one person in the family we refer to as being a little crazier than the rest of us, right? Well, I think all of them have manifested here. Me included. Heck, I'm fairly sure I have about 6 different personalities going on at the best of times - nevermind the ones that come out to play when I actually have to focus on a task (such as, oh you know... writing this post - coincidentally something that's taken me about 3 days to actually do!).

As hectic as it is over here, though, it's not all bad. If anything, the slew of dinner guests, birthday parties, assorted work meetings, my sister's college visits, my schoolwork, (of course) the Olympics and finally the stepfamily (plus Mom) jetting off to Italy tonight for a two week spree has kept us running in so many directions that we haven't had time to butt heads. Ironically, we even bonded over the men's hockey finals (gold, oh yes!).

But it has been busy. However, I now have two weeks with the house to myself - which coincidentally means I get to let my other quirky habit of OCD cleaning take over, ensuring the kitchen is more or less pristine most of the time. The last time I was left more or less to my own devices, all manner of things happened - including this beauty of a pie. My mom's favourite pie of all time is pecan, real pecan pie. Not the usual, corn syrup and egg custard with a couple pecans mixed in pastry you usually find in the grocery bakery departments, but a pie chock full of as many pecans as the handmade pie shell can hold, with just enough gooeyness to prevent the whole thing from being a crumble of sawdust. Mom used to talk fondly of road trips she'd take with my grandparents down in the USA, where the road signs counting down to the nearest Stuckey's were the only thing that kept the kids going, since they knew that come that rest stop there would be that slice of pecan pie waiting. For her birthday, which she'd be away for "officially" but threw a party for last weekend, I decided I would do my best to give her a slice of the good stuff.

I doubt it's the pie from her Stuckey's jaunts, but I do know that it was one half of her birthday dessert spread that she (and at least 3 others who ate it exclusively) thoroughly enjoyed a taste of.

Mom's Birthday Pecan Pie
Serves 6
Pastry for a single-crust, 6" pie, docked but unbaked
1 tbsp egg replacer, prepared
2 (dry) oz honey
2 (dry) oz corn syrup
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 tbsp unsweetened almond milk
1 tbsp tapioca flour
2 oz salted butter, melted
1.5 oz (4 tsp) non-hydrogenated margarine, melted
4.5 oz (3/4 cup) chopped pecans
1 tsp vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Par-bake the pastry shell 5 minutes, set aside.
  3. Reduce oven temperature to 350F.
  4. In a large bowl, beat egg replacer until frothy.
  5. Add honey, corn syrup, brown sugar and cream, beating well.
  6. Stir in tapioca flour followed by the melted butter, margarine, pecans and vanilla.
  7. Pour into the pie shell, smoothing top.
  8. Bake 30 minutes at 350F, then reduce oven to 300F and bake 15 minutes longer. Tent with foil if needed.
  9. Cool completely before cutting. Freezes well.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 402.6
Total Fat: 28.6 g
Cholesterol: 20.3 mg
Sodium: 196.9 mg
Total Carbs: 37.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.2 g
Protein: 2.7 g