As of last week, I am on leave from my day job as an economist and preparing for a bit of an adventure. In just over one week, R. and I will bid farewell to our Ottawa abode and take flight. After quick visits with family, we're off to South America for a vacation and then on to France to live (and hopefully work) for a year. The plane tickets are purchased and the paperwork is in order; all that's left to be done is pack pack pack.
So, as the contents of my cupboards dwindle and I ponder what kind of meal can be concocted with blackened bananas, two half-used jars of peanut butter, some semi-frostbitten sheets of phyllo pastry and a green pepper, I'll bid blogging adieu for awhile and leave you to your own baking devices.
Look for my official return once we've settled in France (in April-ish), although those who peek back from time to time before then just may find some ad hoc posts in the meantime.
You haven't seen the last of me. Cross my heart.
The Casual Baker
Friday, January 19, 2007
Friday, January 12, 2007
Any disappointment I felt when these little soufflés began to deflate upon coming out of the oven was more than made up for by their exquisite taste and texture. Incomparably light, yet rich, and perfect for pairing with tossed greens or -- in our case -- asparagus lightly seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper. Not too shabby for a first attempt at a soufflé.
Blue Cheese Soufflé
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk, scalded
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of nutmeg
4 egg yolks, at room temperature
3 ounces Roquefort cheese, chopped
5 egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
The key for this recipe is to remember to take your 5 eggs out of the fridge well beforehand.
Once your eggs are at room temperature, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter and dust with Parmesan cheese the inside of 6-8 small ramekins, depending on how big you want your soufflés (I used 6). Alternatively, use an 8-cup soufflé dish.
Separate your eggs: one bowl with 4 yolks and one bowl with 5 whites.
In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Off the heat, whisk in the hot milk, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and nutmeg. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until smooth and thick.
Off the heat, while still hot, whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time. Stir in the Roquefort and Parmesan cheeses and transfer to a large mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar and a pinch of salt for 1 minute on low speed, 1 minute on medium speed and then on high speed until firm, glossy peaks are formed.
Whisk one-quarter of the egg whites into the cheese sauce. Fold in the rest of the egg whites carefully. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish(es). Smooth the top and draw a large circle on top to help the soufflé rise evenly. Place in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until puffed and brown. Don't open the oven door during baking! Serve immediately.
Source: The Barefoot Contessa
Sunday, January 07, 2007
I suspect that caramel corn could very well be one of those things that, enjoyed too often, would entirely lose its appeal. And that would be a crying shame. Fortunately, I've been able to develop a strong mental association between caramel corn and Christmas. So, each year, I indulge until I'm thisclose to my satiation point and then put the recipe away until the craving hits again next December.
This year I tried a new recipe, one with a little more crunch and a little less chew. Unlike many recipes I've seen, this one doesn't require baking in the oven.
Did I mention I heart simple recipes too?
8 cups popped corn
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed (or 3/4 cup white sugar plus 3/4 cup cassonade sugar)
1/2 cup light corn syrup (or Roger's golden syrup)
1/2 teasoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup nuts, salted and toasted (optional)
handful of cacao nibs (optional)
Pop the popcorn and measure it out into a large heatproof bowl, making sure you'll have enough room to stir in the caramel without spilling.
Grease a baking sheet. Measure out the baking soda and vanilla into two separate small bowls.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over moderate heat. Add the sugar, corn syrup and salt and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. Insert a candy thermometer. Boil, without stirring, until syrup reaches 300 degrees Fahrenheit (about 8-10 minutes). (Note that the mixture will increase in volume as it boils.)
Remove the pot from heat and get ready to move fast! Add the vanilla and stir. Add the baking soda and stir. (At this point, the mixture will turn into an opaque syrup, the colour of coffee and milk. Don't worry!) Add the nuts and cacao nibs and stir. Add the popcorn and stir until well-coated. Spread the mixture relatively evenly on the greased baking sheet using a heatproof utensil. Leave to set.
Source:David Lebovitz, http://www.davidlebovitz.com/archives/2005/07/index.html#000065.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
Thinking back on visits to my Aunty B.'s old house in Bruce, Alberta, three things stick out in my mind:
1. Her computer.
Aunty B. was the first person I knew to own a home computer, an Apple no less. I thought she was the luckiest person in the world to have this exciting machine at her constant disposal and I couldn't even begin to fathom ever owning my own. (Now on my fourth computer in the last ten years, I will admit some of the novelty has worn off.)
2. Her keyboard.
Not just any old electronic keyboard, but one with drum beats, and the sounds of stringed instruments and horns, and a memory full of pre-recorded tunes that it would teach you to play by lighting up the keys so that you could follow along. Rad.
3. Her Mrs. Larson's Bars.
My Aunty B. was perpetually prepared for the unexpected (or expected) guest who arrives at your home unannounced (or announced) and (more often than not) expecting some tea/coffee and a sweet bite. It must be an unwritten rule of rural hospitality to keep your freezer stocked with cookies, squares and bars that are ready to go at a moment's notice. While you, the drop-in, are unlacing your shoes or tugging at your boots, the host quickly retreats to the chest freezer in the basement where she furtively piles a plate with frozen goodies that is quietly hidden in the kitchen en route to the door. She returns just as you look up from your footwear in search of a place to hang your coat, which she disposes of with a smile in a hall closet well-stocked with hangers (and not her own coats). While you're chatting about the weather and the latest life/world events over the kitchen counter, the host boils water for tea and brews the coffee. Before you know it, you're sitting down to a full afternoon tea and you can't quite conceive how it all happened right under your nose.
I recall two of Aunty B.'s drop-in squares quite distinctly: the first, a triple-layer bar of shortbread, caramel and chocolate; the second, Mrs. Larson's Bars. It's the latter that appears above. Not unlike the Oat Fudge Bar from Starbucks (a reference point for the city dwellers), Mrs. Larson's Bars are marbled squares of dense chocolate fudge and rich oat and brown sugar crumbs.
1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups brown sugar
3 cups rolled oats
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix. Add rolled oats and mix some more.
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients in the top of a double boiler over low-medium heat. Heat just until melted.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread a relatively thin, but complete, layer of the crumbs into the bottom of one jelly roll pan or two 9-inch by 13-inch baking pans, reserving some crumbs for later. Spread the chocolate fudge on top. Dot the fudge with the remaining crumbs. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until the crumbs begin to turn golden brown.
Cool completely before cutting. Freezes well.
Note: I don’t have a clue who Mrs. Larson is, but she makes a mean bar.
Source: Aunty B.
Labels: Bars and squares
Monday, January 01, 2007
Just before Christmas, I discovered that R.'s Aunt J. is a regular reader of The Casual Baker when she passed along a few of her tried and true seasonal recipes. Included in the mix was a recipe for gingerbread men, a treat that frequently catches my eye behind glassed-in bakery counters but one that I only rarely undertake to make myself. But, finding a set of gingerbread men cookie cutters under the tree and loving any excuse to break out my icing decorating set, I frankly couldn't think of anything that I was more prepared to bake.
I favour a chewy and fragrant gingerbread cookie with strategically-piped dots of Royal Icing and the obligatory Smarties buttons. Aunt J,'s recipe delivered on its end of the bargain and proved easy to roll and cut. My headless, armless and legless men -- I love the shock value of these cookie cutters -- baked evenly to perfection on my non-stick silicone backing mats. The egg whites and sugar whipped up into a thick Royal Icing that piped neatly into rosettes. And Smarties? Well you can't go wrong with Smarties.
The gingerbread men were a popular addition to my Christmas baking packages this year. In addition to keeping well, these cookies score well on the wow factor (as most things with piped icing do, I find). Reflecting on my past gingerbread-making experiences, this was definitely the smoothest process by far, a fact that I attribute entirely to the combination of a good recipe and top-notch equipment. And for that, I have goods friends and family to thank.
Happy New Year from The Casual Baker!
1/2 cup shortening
2/3 cup molasses
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2+ teaspoons ginger
1+ teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat the molasses to boiling in the microwave and set aside to cool slightly. In a medium heatproof bowl, cream the shortening. Pour the heated molasses on top and mix well.
In another bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the molasses and shortening mixture and mix well. Roll dough into a ball and chill for 1 hour or more.
Roll out chilled dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thick. Cut with cookie cutters and carefully transfer cookies to cookie sheets. The cookies will rise slightly but not a lot, so they can be placed fairly close together.
Bake for 5-7 minutes, watching carefully to avoid burning.
Once cool, decorate using a standard recipe for royal icing, topped with Smarties, jujubes, sprinkles, chocolate chips, raisins, etc.
Source: R.'s Aunt J.