Saturday, June 30, 2012

Strawberry Season

We are well into strawberry season now! I love strawberries, but they just aren't the same unless they are freshly picked, local strawberries. I do not really care for the imported strawberries that show up in supermarkets in the off-season, even in the dead of winter. They just don't taste as fresh, sweet, and juicy as in-season, local strawberries. That is why I enjoy strawberry season so much. I eat them fresh everyday, and bake as many things as I can with them, use the ones that get a little too ripe for jam, and still never get tired of strawberries. I guess it is because strawberry season is relatively short. Strawberries go well with so many different foods: chocolate, rhubarb, banana, cream, cheese, oats, ice cream, etc. Strawberries are probably my favorite berry, although that might change again once blueberry season rolls around. These days, strawberries seem to have evolved so much, you can find strawberries the size of apples! They used to be much closer in size to grapes, but now they can be huge. I prefer the smaller ones, the smaller, the sweeter, as they say. I will definitely be baking more with strawberries sometime soon. Here is a basket of delicious-looking strawberries from the local farmer's market.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Caramelized Mushroom & Lobster Risotto

Risotto is one of my signature supper dishes. The entire family enjoys it, and it is relatively quick and simple for me to make anytime. It is also a convenient dish because we usually have all of the ingredients on hand anyway. My regular risotto is just plain, but contains onion of course, and that is what I usually make. However, sometimes I make different types of risotto or even just serve some additions on the side, so that way family members can create their own risotto to suit their personal tastes. Tonight I sauteed up some caramelized mushrooms, and we also had some lobster on hand to serve with the risotto. This made quite a tasty risotto. There are so many different risotto combinations out there, actually you could put just about anything you want in risotto. Some classic risotto additions are peas, asparagus, saffron, mushrooms, butternut squash, prosciutto, and salmon. Risotto can be a simple side dish, or a hearty main dish. It is nice served with a side of protein or fish and some vegetables, and a piece of crusty bread. Simple, but always pleasing, flavors to add to risotto are olive oil, freshly ground black pepper, Parmesan cheese, and parsley.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Strawberry Custard Squares

These squares turned out fairly nicely - light, refreshing, and plenty of strawberry. Actually, you could have easily added a few more strawberries if you like a lot of fruit filling. I halved this recipe, which came from another one of my funny cooking novels, to make an 8x8 inch pan of squares. I do not recommend halving the crust, as I did not have nearly enough for even a very thin layer on the bottom of the pan, and I had to whip up another batch of crust to cover. After I did, it turned out perfectly. I am not sure what the purpose of the extra layer of flour and sugar over the crust is, I am wondering if it would be better on top of the strawberries to sweeten up the strawberries a bit. The strawberry layer tastes just like strawberry jam, and I would suggest adding at least a little sugar to the strawberries before using them, this will make them juicier too. Then there is a nice baked layer of cream and eggs, sort of like a custard. Once cooled, I also topped the squares with an additional layer of whipped cream, lightened up with a little unflavored yogurt. This added a nice other layer to the bars, and a lightness and creaminess to the squares.
Strawberry Custard Squares
CRUST
1 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small cubes
2 Tablespoons whipping cream
FILLING
1/2 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
3 cups sliced strawberries (or other sliced fruit)
TOPPING
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
1 Tablespoon all-purpose (plain) flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or strawberry extract if you have it)

Preheat oven to 375F. Spray a 9x13 inch pan with cooking spray. 
CRUST: In am medium-sized bowl, mix the flour and the salt. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender (or a fork or two knives, or even a potato masher) until mixture resembles coarse sand. Stir in the cream. Pat mixture into prepared pan.
FILLING: Combine the flour and sugar together and sprinkle over crust. Arrange strawberries on top.
TOPPING: In a medium-sized bowl, mix the sugar and the flour. Stir in the eggs, cream, and vanilla. Pour mixture over fruit in prepared pan. 
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until top is light brown.

Fluke, Joanne. "Strawberry Custard Squares." Recipe. Peach Cobbler Murder, New York: Kensington, 2005. 245-246.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Doughnut Muffins

Doughnut Muffins
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated (white) sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup evaporated (or fresh) milk
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4
 teaspoon  salt

3 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
2 cups grated apple
Topping:
1 cup granulated (white) sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted


Preheat oven to 350F. Grease muffin cups or line with paper liners.
In a large bowl beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla.
In a separate small bowl, mix the milk and yogurt. 
Add the baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1 cup of the flour to the butter mixture. Stir in half of the milk and yogurt mixture, followed by another cup of flour, the other half of the milk and yogurt mixture, and the remaining cup of flour. Stir in the apple.
Divide batter among muffin cups. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon. Roll warm muffin tops into the melted butter, then into the cinnamon sugar mixture until well coated.

These doughnut muffins get their name from the cinnamon sugar coating they are rolled in after being dipped in butter. They are certainly much healthier than doughnuts,as they are baked, not deep fried. They also contain yogurt, which contributes to their moistness. These doughnut muffins are made with grated apple, probably not a very common doughnut choice, but it adds a nice flavor to the muffins. Chocolate or plain or Boston cream muffins might be more reminiscent of doughnuts, especially with a nice glaze and lots of sprinkles! I did not use all of the sugar called for in the topping, I actually only used about half a cup. Then again, I didn't remove the wrappers from my muffins and roll the entire muffin in butter and then cinnamon sugar, I just coated the tops of the muffins. To do this, you need to make sure the muffins are big enough and high enough to coat. I got 18 muffins even though the recipe yields only 12, and they rose nice and high and had a uniform round shape. Coating the entire muffin isn't necessary, but will make the muffins taste more like doughnuts (and will make their sugar and fat contents more similar to that of doughnuts as well).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Coconut Topped Banana Cake

There is often a banana chocolate chip cake to snack on at my house, a good way to use up overripe bananas, but I felt like making something a little different from the usual. So I found this recipe. It doesn't have any chocolate, and it contains a buttery brown sugar coconut topping. Of course I will always love the regular banana chocolate chip cake, but it is nice to change things up once in a while, and this recipe was pretty yummy and moist. Also pretty fun to make; I liked making the broiled topping. Although it is an extra step, the cake part is fairly quick and easy to make anyway. The topping reminds me of the topping for lazy daisy cake. At first, I didn't think there would be enough topping to cover the cake, but it really spreads out to cover the entire cake, especially under the broiler. However, you could still double the topping recipe, if you really like coconut and want an extra thick topping, and it would probably still work out very well. You could easily skip this step, and eat the cake plain. It would also be good with chocolate chips sprinkled on top when still hot, and then spread smoothly to cover. Peanut butter, chocolate hazelnut spread, or a little icing sugar or a simple icing would also be yummy.

Coconut Topped Banana Cake
CAKE
1/2 cup butter, hard margarine, or shortening
1 1/2 cups granulated (white) sugar
1 cup mashed, overripe banana (3-4 bananas)
1/2 cup buttermilk (1/2 tablespoon white vinegar plus milk to make 1/2 cup)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
TOPPING
1/3 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3 Tablespoons cream
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9x13 inch pan, or line it with waxed paper or parchment paper. 
CAKE: In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together well. Add the banana and buttermilk and mix with an electric mixer. Mix in the eggs and vanilla, beat on low speed for one minute. Add the remaining ingredients and beat on medium speed for two minutes. Pour batter evenly into prepared pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean and top is golden. Preheat the oven broiler to high.
TOPPING: In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Stir in the brown sugar and turn heat to high. Bring mixture to a boil, then boil for two minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and quickly stir in coconut. Carefully add the cream (careful, it may splatter a little) and stir. Pour topping evenly over cake and spread it out. Broil on the middle rack (not too close to the element) for 2-3 minutes or until topping is golden and bubbling. Watch closely, as it will burn quickly.
Note: Some chopped nuts can also be added to the topping in addition to the coconut, or use all chopped nuts and no coconut. Even a plain butter and brown sugar topping would be nice.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Strawberry Shortcake

Here is the finished strawberry shortcake I made. This strawberry short cake starts with two layers of pound plus cake, featured on yesterday's posting. It is then spread with generous dollops of homemade creme fraiche, and bombarded with fresh, juicy, sweet strawberries. I finished off the top by piping some more creme fraiche, and decorated with some whole strawberries. There are many different kinds of strawberry shortcakes out there, some begin with a base of a tea biscuit, angel food cake, golden yellow cakes, white cake, pound cake, and even chocolate cake. Usually strawberry shortcake contains generous amounts of fresh whipped cream (or whipped topping, although it is not as good). Sometimes cream cheese, ice cream, or vanilla icing is added or used instead. And of course the strawberries are the star of the dessert. All they need is to be washed, sliced, and sweetened with just a touch of sugar, and they are good to go! Strawberry shortcake is often very simple, and does not have any complex flavors added. Just strawberry and vanilla flavors basically compose this dessert. Strawberry shortcake can also be made as one large, impressive shortcake, or as several miniature individual shortcakes. Both work out nicely. I personally really enjoy strawberries with angel food cake and a little vanilla ice cream, as it is nice and light. It is especially nice when the cake is lightly toasted. It reminds me a bit of marshmallow in flavor. We also used to get individual round golden cakes which we filled with strawberries. Any kind of cake that is not too heavy goes well with strawberries; I should try them with chiffon or sponge cake sometime.
The creme fraiche recipe I used is really just heavy cream that is whipped up with a little granulated sugar. Then some sour cream or unflavored yogurt is added with vanilla extract and a little brown sugar. This cream is a bit lighter than heavy cream alone, and has a nice flavor and airy texture. It's vanilla flavor goes nice with the subtle vanilla flavor in the cake, and since the cake turned out a little bit heavy, the light and airy cream balances out the cake too. The strawberries tie the entire dessert together, and make it strawberry shortcake. They just needed a touch of sugar, and they were good.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Shortcakes

Later today I will be assembling strawberry shortcake. Believe it or not, I have never made an actual strawberry shortcake, and I don't think I have eaten a traditional strawberry shortcake either. I figured it was time to try, especially since it is strawberry season and there are plenty of fresh local strawberries around. This strawberry shortcake uses the cakes I made on Friday, because they require 48 hours of refrigeration time before serving. I will make some homemade Creme Fraiche, wash and sweeten some strawberries, and make a fancy strawberry shortcake. Here is the cake recipe. Depending on how good and moist it is, it may become my go-to cake recipe for white birthday and celebration cakes, since I still have not yet found the perfect white cake recipe (a chocolate recipe was so much easier to find).

Pound Plus Cake
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened (3 sticks)
2 cups granulated (white) sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream or unflavored yogurt (yogurt will make for a lighter cake, but for best results, do not use fat-free yogurt)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups cake flour (no need to sift)

Preheat oven to 325F.Generously butter (do NOT use shortening or non-stick spray) and flour two eight or nine inch round cake pans.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together well using an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition until fluffy. Mix in the sour cream, vanilla, and baking powder. Add the flour, one cup at a time, and beat until batter is smooth and has no lumps.
Divide batter evenly among prepared pans. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean, and the tops are golden. Cool cakes in pans on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Then turn them out to cool completely.
Once cooled completely, wrap cakes in plastic wrap, foil, and seal them well in a plastic bag. Refrigerate (do not freeze) for about 48 hours before decorating and serving. Remove cakes from the fridge an hour or so before serving for best flavor and texture.
Fluke, Joanne. "Strawberry Shortcake Swensen." Recipe. Strawberry Shortcake Murder, New York: Kensington, 2001. 21-24.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Chocolatey Banana Muffins

Chocolatey Banana Muffins
1/3 cup butter, hard margarine, or shortening
1/3 cup chocolate chips (semi-sweet, milk, or dark chocolate)
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup mashed overripe banana (2 medium)
1 large egg
1 cup granulated (white) sugar
1 1/4 cups all purpose (plain) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease muffin cups or line with paper liners.
Melt the butter and chocolate chips in a bowl in the microwave, or in a saucepan on the stove. Do not overheat, stir until smooth. Add remaining ingredients, in order given, and mix well until completely combined.  Divide batter among muffin cups. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, and tops spring back when lightly touched.

I found the recipe for these muffins in a little pamphlet I found around the house. Actually, they are called cupcakes and include a chocolate frosting, but without the frosting they make nice muffins, since they contain banana and aren't too rich or sweet. Usually for muffins, I would use unsweetened cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate, but a little melted chocolate in this case worked very well. I also considered adding some chocolate chips to the batter, since banana chip muffins are so good, but they didn't need them. The recipe yields 18 muffins, but I only got 16, and they were a bit on the small side. The recipe is slightly larger than a regular batch of a dozen muffins though. These muffins are quite moist and tasty!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Chocolate Whoopie Pies

I made whoopie pies for the first time today. I also ate a whoopie pie for the first time today, so I can't tell you if my whoopie pies turned out like whoopie pies are "supposed" to, but I can tell you they turned out delicious! Whoopie pies are not really pies at all, the dough is made and baked like cookies would be, but the result is a very soft and cake-like cookie. When you sandwich two of these giant cookies together with some sweet filling, the result is almost like a pastry. I have also heard whoopie pies described as "a cupcake in sandwich form". A brief history on whoopie pies: they originated in the depression era. Apparently, one cook had some leftover cake batter and decided to bake it in cookie form. Since cake and pie tins were interchangeable in those days, the cook called them pies. When they came out of the oven, she yelled, "Whoopie! Pies!" and that is the simple story of the origin of whoopie pies. Today, whoopie pies are found in many different flavors, chocolate, vanilla, pumpkin, and red velvet are all flavors I have heard of. The filling also varies greatly too, and can be anything from whipping cream, to buttercream, or ice cream, melted chocolate, chocolate hazelnut spread, cream cheese, peanut butter, a gelatin mixture, yogurt, pudding, fruit, or a combination. For an extra special touch, roll filled whoopie pies on their sides into a shallow dish of sprinkles, shredded coconut, chopped nuts, or chocolate chips.
Chocolate Whoopie Pies
1/2 cup unsalted butter or hard margarine (1 stick), softened
1 cup granulated (white) sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour

Preheat oven to 350F. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, mix well.
In a separate small bowl, gradually whisk the milk into the cocoa until smooth. Set aside.
Add the baking powder, baking soda, and salt to the butter mixture, along with 1/3 of the flour. Stir until combined. Mix in half of the milk mixture. Add another third of the flour, followed by the rest of the milk mixture, then the rest of the flour, mixing well after each addition until completely combined.
Drop heaping two tablespoonful of dough onto prepared baking sheets (I used a medium-sized ice cream scoop for this, which worked very well and made nice round shapes). Place dough at least three inches apart, bake eight cookies per cookie sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until cookies are set and tops spring back when lightly touched. Cool on cookie sheet for two minutes, then remove from sheet to cool completely.
Once cool, sandwich two cookies together with filling (be generous with the filling).

For the filling: I used a simple icing filling that mostly consisted of confectioner's sugar flavored with a little vanilla extract, and it was delicious, and the perfect texture to balance with the cake-like cookie. My whoopie pies also reminded me a bit of an Oreo cookie.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Useful Ingredient Substitutions

Don’t you hate it when you pick out a perfect recipe to try, only to discover that you do not have all of the necessary ingredients on hand? You don’t have the time nor the patience to go to the store, your neighbor doesn't have any either, and you can’t choose a different recipe because you have already started! Here are some common and helpful substitutes that work well, usually you won’t even notice the difference!

·         1 unsweetened chocolate baking square = 3 Tbsp cocoa + 1 Tbsp butter/margarine/oil
·         1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips = 2 semi-sweet chocolate baking squares
·         1 cup buttermilk (or soured milk) = 1 Tbsp vinegar or lemon juice + milk to make 1 cup
·         1 cup whole milk = 1 cup skim milk + 2 Tbsp butter/margarine = 1 cup 1 or 2% milk + 1 Tbsp butter/margarine
·         1 cup self-rising flour = 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 ½ tsp baking powder + ½ tsp salt
·         1 cup cake and pastry flour = 1 cup - 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
·         1 cup sour cream = 1 cup plain yogurt = 1 cup butter/sour milk
·         1 tsp baking powder = ¼ tsp baking soda = ½ tsp cream of tartar + ¼ tsp cornstarch
·         1 Tbsp cornstarch = 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
·         1 cup superfine (castor) sugar = 1 cup granulated sugar processed in blender for 10-15 seconds

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Yogurt

Yogurt is a delicious, creamy, healthy milk product. It can be enjoyed alone, or with fruit, nuts, or cereal. It can be eaten as a parfait, put in a dip, used in place of sour cream or mayonnaise, or hidden in baked goods. However, there are so many different types of yogurts around these days, how do you ever choose which one?
            Let’s begin with the fat content. Yogurt is available in a number of different milk fat percentages, the most common being 0% (fat free), 1% (low fat), 2%, 2.5%, and 3% (full fat). Obviously fat free or low fat seems like the healthiest choice, except for young children who need the full fat of course, but the lack of fat isn't always the best. Since taking away fat also takes away from flavour, extra sugar is often added, making for a sickly sweet yogurt. Or worse, artificial sweetener is added to keep the calorie count low as well, and, in my opinion, anything bearing the name artificial is not fit for human consumption.
Then there are ingredients. In most yogurts, the first ingredient is milk, the type depending on how much fat is in the yogurt. Full fat yogurts sometimes have cream as the first ingredient, while low fat yogurts may have skim milk as the first ingredient and cream as the second (counter-productive?). Then there is sugar, glucose/fructose, fruit (real or fake), gelatin, starches, gums, flavours (real or artificial), colours (real or artificial), and many others. Try to choose yogurts with few or no ingredients that you cannot pronounce or are not readily identifiable.
            Then there are different types of yogurt. There is natural, old-fashioned, probiotic, prebiotic, Greek, yogurt drinks, yogurt smoothies, fruit-on-the-bottom, traditional, and organic. Probiotic yogurts have good bacteria that help to strengthen our immune systems, but Greek yogurt contains twice the protein of any other yogurt, and I want to eat organic and all natural yogurt, but I want to be able to drink it and I want fruit in it too, but you can’t get drinkable Greek yogurt, and fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt doesn’t come with probiotics, and my yogurt smoothie isn’t organic, and………..aye yi yiiii!!!!
            Now, let’s talk flavours. Apparently plain is the best for you, since it contains minimal additives, but it’s just so bland. And sweetened plain yogurt is kind of defeating the purpose of plain. Vanilla is good, but it is often artificial, and contains additives. Fruit is a healthier sounding choice; but is it real fruit or not? Plus, fruit yogurts (especially fruit-on-the-bottom) often contain a lot of extra sugar. Then there are the exotic flavours, like crème brulee, and cappuccino, and chocolate mousse, and vanilla chai; but these are probably even worse than the fruit flavoured. You can also get yogurt with granola, nuts, and muesli, but is that any good?
            My suggestion to you, is to choose a Greek yogurt (which has lots of protein and also naturally contains probiotics) that is either plain, vanilla, or naturally fruit flavoured with minimal added sugar. If possible, buy organic and/or natural brands. Add your own fruit, nuts, and cereals; that way you can control what kinds and what amounts, and it will be healthier this way too. Buy fat free or low fat versions unless they are too sweet or contain artificial sweeteners. Look for a Greek yogurt with a short list of ingredients that you are familiar with. And if you want a yogurt smoothie, you can blend it yourself. I’m no expert, but this is the sense I can make out of all of this yogurt hoopla.
PHOTO CREDIT:"090422_its-time-for-a-strip-search-yogurt-spread-em_main"   http://thenakedlabel.com/it%E2%80%99s-time-for-a-strip-search-yogurt-spread-em/  .The Naked Label, n.d. Sunday, March 18, 2012.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Anniversary Cookies

This is also the result of time constraints. My parents recently celebrated their anniversary. I didn't make any fancy dessert for them for several reasons, mostly because I was quite pressed for time, but also because it was close to Father's Day, and we would be having cake anyway, and because my parents went out to eat to celebrate their anniversary. I cannot tell you how convenient it is to have baked goods and prepared foods on hand in the freezer, ready to go. I still wanted to make a little something for my parent's anniversary, to show that I remembered and really had good intentions of making something (another raincheck is in store). I simply grabbed a couple of cookies I had already made, grabbed some leftover icing I had, and decorated. I wrote Happy Anniversary on one cookie using a plastic bag and a hole that was slightly too large to pipe rope letters on a small cookie, but oh well. I piped and filled in a heart on the other cookie. Sweet and simple. My parents seemed quite pleased that I had prepared a little something for them, even if it wasn't much. It still tasted good, and it is the thought that counts!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Shirt And Tie Cake

Since I didn't feature a proper Father's Day cake yesterday, I decided I would share the one I made my for my father and my grandfather last year with you. It is a shirt and tie cake. My mother suggested the idea, which is actually a pretty popular idea, especially for Father's Day. The majority of shirt and tie cakes I found pictures of on the internet are made using fondant. A piece of fondant is draped over a cake (usually a rectangular cake, but I have seen some round ones too), then other colors of fondant are used to make a tie. Many of the ties feature either stripes or polka dots. The tie is placed on the shirt, and a pocket is crafted as well. Piped lettering and borders are added to some, some others are kept plain. I even saw this idea in my new Cake Boss book, but only after I had already made my version.
For my cake, I used classic buttercream, as usual. I have only used fondant once before, and I find buttercream much easier and more fun to work with and tastier than fondant. I iced my signature chocolate cake in a 9x13 inch rectangular pan, and iced it with white buttercream, Then I outlined a tie, using an open star tip, and alternating lines of red and blue buttercream. I liked the idea of using a star cake, which is often seen on other design cakes, such as animals and characters. It fills in the shapes just as well, and is less difficult then piping plain lines of icing. It also looks quite neat, I think. I piped in a pocket, collar, and added a rope border alternating red and blue icing around the edge for a little more decoration. I piped "Happy Father's Day" on the piece of foil above the cake. This cake was actually pretty quick, simple, and fun to make!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day Cake

Here is the little Father's Day cake I made for my dad for today. It certainly isn't very fancy or extravagant, nothing compared to my birthday cake and not even as impressive as my Mother's Day cake. Well, that is the result of being pressed for time. I really didn't have enough spare time this weekend to make a cake from scratch, make some of my buttercream, and spend a few hours decorating it like I do for most celebrations. I apologized to my father for this, and gave him a raincheck for another cake or dessert when I actually have time to make it. (To be fair, I have been asking him since Mother's Day, what kind of Father;s Day cake he wanted, and he never answered me). 
This cake was an extra cake I had in the freezer. The icing was also leftover from another cake I made, and was stored in the freezer (hence the color choice). In a way, this worked out well, because I got to use up that cake and icing in the freezer. Cakes and icing freeze very well, especially if they are not stored for too long. This cake stayed very moist in the freezer and the icing consistency remains the same as usual once thawed. To make this cake, I thawed the icing in the fridge for a few hours. Then I spread it on the cake while it was still frozen (cakes, especially really moist ones, are actually easier to frost when frozen). I swirled the icing with a knife for a nice design. This is also a good design to keep in mind if you are having trouble spreading your icing smoothly. I store my icing in resealable plastic bags in the freezer, and just scoop it out, or put it in a bowl when still frozen, that way none gets wasted. Then for the piping details, I just left the icing in the bag and snipped off one of the corners. If you are having trouble mastering buttercream roses, you can make some pretty nice flowers just using a plastic bag and icing.
Since I took this cake and icing from the freezer, it was extremely quick to ice and decorate. Nonetheless, it was still very moist and tasty, and I know my father enjoyed it. Sometimes I think my family actually prefers just to have a simple, plainly decorated classic cake like we always used to. Sometimes it is nice to ave things plain and simple for a day, instead of fancy and elaborate.
Happy Father's Day!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Great Grub

Here is another one of my alphabet posts, where I list as many different foods as I can think of that start with a certain letter. Today I will do the letter G. Again, these are coming strictly from my head, I won't include any brand names, and I won't list every individual type. For example, a cookie is a cookie, I will not then proceed to list chocolate chip cookie, coconut cookie, cream-filled cookie, etc.  Well, actually I'm pretty strict on those rules for common letters that have a lot of foods beginning with them, I'm a little less strict on the less often used letters, such as e, f, and g.
  • Grapes, Gravy, Grain, Ganache, Grits, Greek Yogurt, Guava, Grapeseed Oil
  • Gratin, Gelatin, Gemelli, Garam Masala, Garnish, Ginger, Ginger ale, GIngerbread
  • Gum, Gumbo, Gnocchi, Game, Granola, Guacamole, Garlic, Green Pepper
  • Green Onion, Gummies, Granny Smith Apples, Green Beans, Garbanzo Beans
  • Gelato, Ghee, Goulash, Gouda, Goat's Milk
PHOTO CREDIT:"12422577681123137993NYCS-bull-trans-G.svg.med"  http://www.clker.com/clipart-27988.html . Clker.com, n.d. Saturday, June 16, 2012.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Chocolate: Cocoa Powder, Baking Squares & Chips

Chocolate is a popular ingredient in many sweets, as it is enjoyed by many. The three most common chocolate ingredients recipes call for are cocoa powder, chocolate baking squares, and chocolate chips.
Cocoa powder is always unsweetened; if sugar is added it is no longer cocoa, it usually goes by the name of “chocolate drink mix.” These products are in the forms of powders to make chocolate milk or hot chocolate, and are not suitable for use in recipes calling for cocoa. There are two main varieties of cocoa: natural and Dutch – Processed. Natural cocoa is bitter on its own with a deep chocolate flavour, while Dutch – Processed cocoa has a milder, more delicate flavour.
Chocolate baking squares come individually wrapped and are one ounce (28 grams) each. The come in many different types, including unsweetened, bittersweet, dark, semi-sweet, sweet, and white. They are primarily used in recipes that call for the chocolate to be melted, but may also be chopped up and used in place of chocolate chips as chocolate “chunks.”
Chocolate chips come in many of the same flavours as chocolate baking squares. Chips are specially formulated to maintain there shape when baked in the oven. They are mainly used in recipes where chocolate chips are required to maintain their shape, but they may also be melted and used in recipes.
As much as possible, you should try to use the type of chocolate the recipe calls for. However, if you do not happen to have that particular ingredient on hand, there are some convenient substitutions to remember.

·         3 Tbsp cocoa + 1 Tbsp butter, margarine, shortening, or oil = 1 unsweetened chocolate baking square, in baked recipes where the square is melted; this substitution cannot be used for drizzling.
·         1/3 cup chocolate chips = 2 chocolate baking squares, in recipes where the square is chopped or melted. This substitution will not work when unsweetened squares are called for, as chocolate chips always contain added sugar.
PHOTO CREDIT:"questions-about-cooking-with-chocolate-4"  http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/tools-and techniques/questions-about-cooking-with-chocolate3.htm .TLC, n.d. Sunday, March 18, 2012. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cookies In A Pan

These are the same cookies as the ones I featured yesterday, Mona's Mother's Mother's Best Friend's Favorite Cookies. I recently received some new miniature baking pans for my birthday, the heart and the teddy bear pictured here, along with some others - a super mini muffin tin, loaf pan, and tart pan. Since these pans were just so cute, and I could not wait to try them, I decided to try baking some cookies in these pans. All I did was press a good amount of cookie dough into the pans, place the pans on a cookie sheet, and bake them just like I would regular cookies. They only took a few minutes longer to bake, and easily dislodged from the pans in one piece while the cookies were still warm (I didn't even need to grease them). Once the cookies were cooled, I decorated them a bit with some melted chocolate chips. They are so cute! Ideally, these pans are probably really meant to make mini cakes and muffins, but they work really well for cookies too! I must say, this teddy bear pan is probably my favorite pan ever.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mona's Mother's Mother's Best Friend's Favorite Cookies

These cookies pictured here are Mona's Mother's Mother's Best Friend's Favorite Cookies (try saying that five times fast)! I do not know who Mona is, and I certainly don't know who her mother's mother's best friend is either, but I do know that whoever they are, they have great taste in cookies! These cookies are chocolate chip oatmeal cookies with coconut, which sounds pretty typical, but for some odd reason, these cookies are exceptionally tasty if I do say so myself. Maybe it is because I made them as monster-sized cookies, as recommended by a friend of mine. For my birthday, one of my friends compiled some of her favorite recipes in a folder for me, and this is the first one I have tried. She added her own comments and hints to the recipes to, which I am finding to be very helpful. Although they will always be her signature cookies (after Mona and her mother's mother's best friend of course), it is nice to know I can make a decent version of them myself at home.
Mona's Mother's Mother's Best Friend's Favorite Cookies
1 large egg
1 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
3/4 cup coconut
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, beat the egg. Add the butter and both sugars and cream well. Add the remaining ingredients and mix to combine. Drop onto (ungreased) baking sheet. Cookies can be any size; these cookies bake extremely well as monster sized cookies, adjust cooking time accordingly. Flatten cookies slightly with a fork. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden.

NOTES: I noticed the recipe didn't call for any vanilla extract, which is unusual for chocolate chip cookies, so I added in about a teaspoon. Vanilla is one of those ingredients that you don't notice is there, but you notice if it's missing, so I didn't want to take the risk. Also, I just noticed now that the recipe does not call for any salt either, but the cookies don't seem to need it. I used real butter and unsweetened shredded coconut in these cookies, both of which worked very well. My friend also suggests trying dried cranberries in the cookies in place of chocolate chips.

I also found the preparation method of these cookies a little unusual, but I went with it. Normally the butter is creamed with the sugar and then the egg is beaten in. Then usually the dry ingredients are mixed in, followed by a gentle mixing in of the chocolate chips separately. Well, Mona's mother's mother's best friend must know best, because these cookies worked out great.  I used a small ice cream scoop to portion out my giant cookies, then I almost forgot to flatten them, a crucial step for even baking. My cookies took a little more than 15 minutes to bake. They should be done when they are just set, and may need to cool on the cookie sheet for a minute or two. They can be baked a bit longer though, for crispier cookies.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Egg-tra Easy Breakfast

Here is a really simple, quick, and healthy breakfast idea. If you don't have time to cook scrambled eggs or hard-boiled eggs, try this technique. It is a simple microwave cooking method. It works for egg whites, egg yolks, and whole eggs, and can cook several eggs at once. Pictured here is just an egg white, which I used because I had a leftover egg white from a recipe I made, and I did not want to waste it, so I ate it for breakfast. This egg is similar to a scrambled egg. Here is how to make it:

1. Crack the egg(s) into a small, microwaveable-safe bowl.
2. Add salt pepper, milk, butter, cheese, chopped onion, parsley, or whatever else you'd like.
3. Cover the bowl with a piece of waxed paper, and microwave on high for 1 minute.
4. Remove from microwave and check the egg. If it is set, it is done. More eggs will take longer to cook. If the egg is not done, continue to microwave at 30 second intervals until it is desired doneness.
5. Carefully run a butter knife along the edge of the bowl to loosen the egg, then remove.

Now serve on toast, and add anything else you would like - ham, cheese, tomato, bacon, lettuce, or whatever! Here I just added a slice of tomato. This egg is good on toast, as a sandwich, in a wrap, with pancakes, as a simple omelet, or just a really quick side of protein with your meal. Keep this method in mind when you need to cook an egg fast!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Rhubarb Season

The weather is really beginning to warm up now, and we are now in the midst of rhubarb season. Rhubarb is a very tart fruit, that must be cooked before eating. It consists of long, red stalks attached to large green leaves. The leaves are toxic, so try to keep them out of the house entirely. The actual stalk has a nice flavor, although it may be more of an acquired taste. Rhubarb is quite tart, so baked goods containing rhubarb usually need a considerable amount of sugar added to them. Another idea is to mix rhubarb with another, sweeter fruit to balance out sweet and tart. Strawberries are the best option (and are also similar in color to rhubarb), but peaches and blueberries are also good choices. Rhubarb, either by itself or mixed with another fruit, is excellent in jam, cobblers, crisps, pies, and compotes. It is also good in cookies, cakes, and muffins. It goes well with flavors such as cinnamon, ginger and orange. Rhubarb is a less familiar fruit, but don't be afraid to try it and experiment with it. It can also be used for savory foods too! Rhubarb is fairly easy to grow and prepare. It doesn't require much room or care - just enough sunlight and water. It is very easy to pick, and it is quite obvious when it is ready to be picked. Once picked, just snap the leaves off, wash it, and cut it up. It does have a fairly short season though, so look for it now. Its season ends just when the strawberry season begins, another good reason to pair strawberry and rhubarb together. Rhubarb freezes well too, or it can be preserved in cans or jars as jam or compote.
PHOTO CREDIT:"2" http://victoriapublicmarket.com/rhubarb-is-here/.Victoria Downtown, n.d. Sunday, June 10, 2012. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Rhubarb Peach Shortbread

Well, it is rhubarb season, and since we have a little patch of it in our backyard that was ready for picking, I decided to bake with it. Actually, our rhubarb patch seems to be pretty sparse this year, and since we didn't have very much, that's why I added peach to the recipe. The original recipe only called for rhubarb, but I have heard that peach and rhubarb are a great combination. Rhubarb and strawberry would have also been delicious, and is a more common combination, but I didn't have any strawberries and I did have a basket of perfectly ripe peaches. I found this recipe idea in a local newspaper, though I didn't really follow the recipe that closely at all, just for the general idea of it. It is called rhubarb shortbread, which immediately makes me think of shortbread cookies or traditional scotch shortbread. This is a bit different though, it is more like a crumble, but it contains a nice amount of butter and no oats. It is made with a shortbread crust, then the fruit filling, then the remaining shortbread crumbled on top. I used a pie pan to bake mine, which was the perfect size, and also cut it into nice wedges. I guess you could call this a cross between a crisp and a shortbread-based pie.

Rhubarb Peach Shortbread
1 cup fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
granulated (white) sugar, for sprinkling
2-3 medium, ripe peaches
1 1/3 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
additional ground cinnamon, for sprinkling
additional granulated (white) sugar, for sprinkling

Wash the rhubarb, drain, and sprinkle with sugar. The amount of sugar depends on your personal preferences and how tart your rhubarb is. Use your best judgement. Cover and set aside for a few hours or so to form juices. Wash, peel, and chop the peaches and add to the rhubarb.
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly butter a 9-inch pie plate.
In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender (or a knife, two forks, or your fingers) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg, mixing lightly until dough begins to come together. Press 3/4 of the mixture into the prepared pan pan. Top with fruit, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle remaining shortbread mixture over top. Bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until topping is golden. 
This cuts well straight from the oven, better when slightly cooled, and even better when chilled. It also tastes great all three ways, and can be served alone or with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, or a dash of icing sugar.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Sweet 16 Cake

Don't you just love it when your birthday was five days ago and you are still getting cake and presents!!?? Well, that's my case, and I am certainly not complaining! My parents made this cake for me today. See, they never really agreed with me making my own birthday cake (even if I did make only part of it), so they wanted to give me another birthday cake, that I didn't even know about. To be honest, even though it sounds a little selfish, I had been expecting them to make me a small birthday cake. Since I always had two birthday cakes when I was younger, one for my party and one for home, I kind of expected two birthday cakes now, especially since I partly made my cake and most of it was eaten by my friends. However, I figured if I hadn't gotten my cake by now, I wasn't getting one, and I had kind of given up on it. My parents decided to make this cake for me today for several reasons. They didn't want to make it any earlier because my other birthday cake was fairly large, and lasted for a few days, especially since one of my brothers wasn't here to help us eat it. Although that cake disappeared a few days ago, two cakes in a row might have been a bit much. Also, since it is a weekend, my parents had more time to make the cake (not to mention the fact that I was gone all afternoon so they could make it in secret). Today was actually the day I was due anyway, so it worked out well. I got pretty excited at suppertime when my mother said there was a surprise, and I got even more excited when I saw candles being taken out. I was very happy to have sixteen candles on my birthday cake, and not just two candles in the shape of a one and a six. I was even more surprised that I was actually able to blow them all out in one breath.
This cake is actually the base of a lazy daisy cake, which is a simple hot milk vanilla cake that is usually topped with coconut or nuts and brown sugar and broiled in the oven until golden and bubbly. My mother made the cake part, she was looking for something quick, easy, and small. I absolutely love lazy daisy cake, and although the topping is what makes it lazy daisy cake, this cake also makes a nice, moist base for an iced cake. My father made a simple icing out of confectioner's sugar, margarine, and milk, and simply used a plastic bag to pipe the lettering in my favorite color (he didn't even need to dig into my fancy cake decorating kit). A very simple but delicious cake. Actually, this was basically what most of the cakes in our house looked like before I started decorating cakes extravagantly. Thanks so much Mom and Dad!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Salmon Al Fresco

I try to feature as many different things as I can on this blog, and I know I have featured salmon before, but salmon is one of my favorite foods, especially during the summertime when it can be barbecued! We had salmon for supper tonight, prepared in our favorite way: barbecued on maple planks with just a touch of brown sugar. Delicious! We also had some fresh steamed asparagus, rice, and a stir-fry with broccoli, onion, carrots, and mushrooms. We ate supper outside, or al fresco, as the Italians would say. This is not to be confused with antipasto, which is the Italian word for, before the meal, and refers to an appetizer (I actually mix these two up quite a bit). This was the first time this year, and we ate at our table in our gazebo, which was recently set up, to keep the bugs and the sun out. We don't eat outside very often, as the weather never seems to be quite right for dining; it's either too hot, or too cold, or too windy, or raining. I really enjoy eating outside though, I find it quite relaxing, and when your meal is barbecued, there is less transportation needed! While I was outside, I also picked some fresh rhubarb from our little patch, and I will bake with it soon and be sure to share the outcome with you!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Peanut Butter

I absolutely adore peanut butter. It is one of my favourite foods in the world. I eat it on my toast almost every morning. However, some people consider me kind of a peanut butter snob, because I only eat natural peanut butter. Other people agree with me, and think I am making the right choice.
            Natural peanut butter is peanut butter containing only a single ingredient: peanuts. No salt, sugar, oil, fat, preservatives, or stabilizers were added. Fresh, raw peanuts were taken, ground up, and put in a jar. That’s it. Sometimes the peanuts are dry-roasted first, but this is actually a bad thing, because even though dry roasted means no oil or salt was added, roasting still ruins all of the good fats in peanuts, so you will not get any benefit from eating them. Natural peanut butter actually has the taste of real peanuts, and you do not miss the sugar or salt at all. You may think that other peanut butters taste like real peanuts, but they really do not, they contain too many additives.
            So what do I mean by “unnatural” peanut butter. Well, it is any peanut butter that contains more than just peanuts. Some brands manufacture both types of peanut butters. Unnatural peanut butters may contain added sugar, salt, oil, fat, preservatives, and stabilizers. None of these ingredients are beneficial to you. Because of the added preservatives, unnatural peanut butter can stand up at room temperature, even years past the best before date; while natural peanut butters should be kept in the refrigerator to preserve them. Some people argue that natural peanut butters become hard to spread, but stirring the oil that settles on top into the peanut butter before each use completely prevents this from occurring.
            So, as you know, I will only use natural peanut butter. Recently, I was a guest where an unnatural brand of peanut butter was used in the house, and I had some. I couldn’t get over how sweet it was, it was almost sickly to me, and the taste was certainly not of peanuts. The first time you try “real” peanut butter, you may not like it at first if you are so accustomed to the fake stuff. But believe me, soon enough, you will be just like me, and you won’t be able to stand that other stuff. By the way, this goes for all nut butters. There are so many others out there, they just aren’t as well known. Almond butter, walnut butter, hazelnut butter, cashew butter; give one of these a try!
PHOTO CREDIT:"peanut-butter-sandwich"   http://www.epicurean.com/articles/beyond-jelly-reinventing-the-peanut-butter-sandwich.html  .epicurean.com, n.d. Sunday, March 18, 2012.  

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Five Senses

Anytime you eat, you are not only using your sense of taste, but every other one of your senses as well.
     Many people say that you eat with your eyes first. This means that before you actually taste the food, or in some cases even smell the food, you can see the food, and your brain uses your sense of sight to determine how the food will taste. This means that if the food looks nice and is presented appetizingly, you are more likely to enjoy the taste of it because it looks as if it will taste good and also because you have already developed a positive attitude toward that food. This is why restaurants and catering businesses are so big on presentation. You may only be getting a tiny bit of food, which is especially the case in gourmet restaurants, but if it looks really nice, you are more likely to be satisfied with it. You may also notice that on the packages of products, the picture on the front always looks really nice and appetizing (and rarely ever looks very much like what you actually get in the package). This is to make the product seem more visually appealing so you will buy it. Often you may notice the words, "Enlarged to show texture" in fine print on the front of food packages. This is again to make the food product look bigger, better, and essentially tastier. Let's talk about beans. If you simply dump a spoonful of steamed green beans on a plate in a pile, they don't really look that appetizing. Sure, they are perfectly edible, and probably many people would like them, but they are not very visually appealing. Now, if you meticulously arranged several green beans in a strategic pattern on the plate, placed a sprig of parsley on the side, sprinkled some toasted, slivered almonds on top, and decorated the rest of the plate artfully with a little salad dressing, the beans will look a lot prettier, and you will probably feel more compelled to eat them. It's as simple as that. Even food that we already know are tasty, such as chocolate pudding, really benefit from nice presentation. If you place some pudding in a small white bowl, then it looks like, well, a blob of chocolate pudding. However, if you place the pudding in a fancy goblet, add a mint leave or a chocolate filigree figure on the side, and top it with a swirl of whipped cream and a few berries, then it will look fancier, prettier, and tastier (even if you actually get less pudding in the end).
     Smell is another important sense when it comes to cooking, baking, and eating. It is said that half of what you eat is actually what you smell. Your sense of smell greatly contributes to your sense of taste. Without your nose, you would not be able to taste half as much as you do. Often the aromas of food cooking reaches our noses before our eyes, and always before it reaches our mouths. We smell food before we eat it, and if it smells good it is likely to taste good. Sometimes even if food does not look so appealing, it will still taste good. And you could be blindfolded and still thoroughly enjoy the taste of a food. However, this is rarely the case with smell. If a food does not smell good, it is not likely to taste good because smell is directly related to taste.
     There are two more senses, of course: hearing and touch. We don't really hear food, we may hear it being prepared, which may affect what we think of the taste of it a bit. We may hear the whir of a blender, and the sound of an electric mixer, but these sounds could be associated with a variety of different foods, and therefore do not really affect our taste. However, the sounds of a slaughterhouse may turn off our taste for meat. Touch does affect our sense of taste somewhat, particularly feel. We touch some foods before we eat them, but many we eat with a fork and knife or a spoon, and don't directly touch them. The feel of foods on our tongues definitely affects what we think of the foods. Foods must have a pleasant texture and mouth-feel, they can't be slimy or mushy. For example, cakes should be fairly light and fluffy with a soft texture. A heavy, leaden cake may taste fine, but it isn't very pleasant to eat. We all know that an apple that feels firm and crisp will likely taste much better than an apple that is soft and mushy.
In conclusion, all of our five senses do have an effect on the taste of foods and how much we like them.