I just celebrated a birthday. A significant one to me. But this post is not about birthday cake. Well, not my birthday cake. I did get one (actually two), but I wasn’t responsible for the baking of either one of them. What I did get for my birthday, among other things, was a cake decorating class from my husband. In other words I signed myself up for a course called “Wedding Cakes and Pastries” offered by the Toronto District School Board. It’s once a week for 9 weeks and it started last night. The bonus is I’m taking it with my good friend, Karen, making it that much more fun. There were about a dozen of us sitting around the staff room table at the local high school. All I brought was myself and my apron (which says “Just Call Me Martha” on it) and we spent the next 2 hours learning about different kinds of cakes, icings and tools required from our lovely instructor, Margaret. She even demonstrated how to make her version of tiramisu–what I call a “no bake cake”–that would impress the pants off of any guest you have over for dinner. Her secret is making it look just like a cake instead of layering it in a dish using sweetened whipped cream like icing, which she made herself. Not unlike Martha Stewart’s recipe for sweetened whipped cream, it only requires three ingredients: whipping cream, icing sugar and vanilla.Â She begins by dipping lady fingers into coffee and then dousing them in a liquer of your choice (she uses Kahlua).Â Margaret then arranged the lady fingers side by each in a small rectangle. She put the sweetened whipped cream between two layers of cookies and then slathered the whole thing with another layer of the whipped cream. To make it pretty, she made rosettes out of the whipped cream using a piping bag, and then puts a coffee bean on each rosette. The finishing touch is a light dusting cocoa and cinnamon. We each got to sample it and it was light and delicious and not overly sweet. Now I’ve got a laundry list of cake decorating implements to acquire and a doozy of an assignment: my son’s 6th birthday cake in 2 weeks. I’ll keep you posted on how that one is coming along.
Sweetened Whipped Cream
1 cup of whipping cream (35%)
2 tablespoons icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions: with a hand mixer or standing mixer, beat the cream and sugar on high until it begins to stiffen. Then add the vanilla extract and keep beating until cream is stiff and forms peaks.
Margaret’s Tip: chill the bowl and beaters before whipping the cream. This will encourage the cream to stiffen.
If you’ve ever been stuck with leftovers and are feeling stymmied about what to do with the dribs and drabs of last night’s dinner, fear not. Seize the opportunity to get creative in the kitchen with that sorry looking piece of chicken or that less-than-full-bowl of spaghetti. For me it was a not-quite-full serving of cooked basmati rice. It sat in the fridge fora day or so while I mulled over whether or not to add it to the next night’s dinner or save it for a special project. Since it didn’t make the cut for dinner, I decided to turn it into dessert, although I could eat this dessert morning, noon or night since it is the ultimate in comfort foods. Rice pudding, if made the right way, can be the perfect compliment to any meal or mood. For me that usually comes at night when I’m parked in front of the television in my sweats. I consider rice pudding guilt-free indulgence. Maybe it’s because it’s made with rice and eggs and milk. I just omit the sugar from that mental list and voila: a healthy snack.
So I got out my oven proof Corningware dish and put my concoction together unaided by a recipe. You must think I’m nuts but the ingredients required to make a sweet custard pudding never deviate. The basic requirements involve eggs, milk and sugar. Add to this a dash of vanilla extract, cinnamon and some golden raisins and you’ve got yourself heaven in a bowl. Oh yes, and don’t forget the heaping cup of cooked rice! I have yet to experiment with the flavour profile because really, who wants to mess with a good thing? But I might go out on a limb next time and try some orange or chocolate. Once I combined all the ingredients I popped it into the oven and baked it until creamy (sorry, I didn’t watch the clock), every now and again stirring it so the custard on top wouldn’t burn. I would say it came out a little on the sweet side, but I’ve got a sweet tooth so it didn’t bother me. Adjust the sugar depending on how tolerant your own personal sweet tooth is and sit down with a big bowl of warm rice pudding on a chilly night, under a cozy blanket with a good book (or movie) and you’ll never want to leave your house again.
Home-Made Rice Pudding
1 to 1/2 cups of cooked white rice
2 cups 2%milk (the higher the milk fat content, the creamier the custard)
3/4 of a cup of sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup of golden raisins
Mix all ingredients together and bake at 350 degrees until the custard is creamy. Stir every ten minutes to avoid burning.
My appetite has excellent timing. It’s been “on leave” for a while. Ironically, my stomach isn’t fond of the food that I like to eat. In fact, my entire digestive tract doesn’t like anything I put down my gullet. Humor me here for a minute: imagine eating a simple meal; it could be toast with peanut butter and a banana with a glass of O.J. in the morning. Or maybe a bowl of soup and tuna sandwich for lunch. Now imagine not feeling the slightest bit hungry when you’re supposed to be eating those meals and a full three hours later you feel as though you’re going to upchuck the sandwich, salad and the full breakfast. These have been the joys (or misfortunes) of my dining experiences as of late. I brought this to my doctor’s attention several months ago. This was followed by some tests, which included drinking the most awful chalky concoction after which I was expertly tipped flat on a cold metal table while having my innards X-ray’d. I’ve even been injecting with radioactive nuclear medicine, which I’ve been assured will not shorten my lifespan nor make me glow in the dark. Neither of these tests has revealed the great mystery of my incredible indigestion. However the doctor decided to put me on a prescription strength anti-acid, which I think has helped my case. I no longer wake up in the middle of the night with the feeling of someone’s fist forcing its way up my esophagus. But the most miraculous improvement has been my appetite and it couldn’t have returned at a better time. Thanksgiving weekend is a glutton’s wet dream come true. It’s the harvest. There is no shortage of good, fresh food. So I decided to embrace the spirit of the holiday and cook and bake for my family while up in prime harvest territory: at the cottage. Saturday’s dinner consisted of chicken stew with chickpeas, sweet and yellow potatoes and sweet onion. We had a fabulous salad of fresh lettuces on the side and not one but TWO pumpkin pies! We only polished off one of the pies, but that meant I could use the dish to bake the most scrumptious apple pie for the Thanksgiving dinner. I decided to pay homage to the slow food movement by making beer-braised beef short ribs, steamed savoy cabbage with roasted chestnuts and garlic mashed potatoes. Yes, I roasted the chestnuts and the garlic. And let’s not forget the pies that came at the end of the meal. It was one of those meals that makes you want to hibernate for the winter or put on a cable-knit sweater and cozy up by a fire. And guess what? Not a single bout of indigestion the entire weekend (you know I’m going to live to regret writing that down). Boy was I thankful this weekend, if for no other reason than I was able to enjoy a good meal with my family for the first time in months. To tell you the truth I would have been just as happy eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if it meantÂ I could eat without fear of my food revisiting me in the middle of the night. But having a good meal go down certainly doesn’t hurt.
I just finished reading Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life. Not surprisingly I devoured the book and the recipes in it. I have yet to make the chocolate cake that appears at the end of the book, or any other recipe for that matter, although I’d like to, but I did manage to make one. It’s the recipe (if you can even call it that) for slow roasted tomatoes. My mother, my sister and I bought a half bushel of roma tomatoes a few weeks back thinking we’d all take our thirds away and turn them into tomato sauce or something like that. Mine sat in the fridge pining for attention, but I just didn’t have the time or the energy to put into them. Finally one Saturday rolled around and I decided it was now or never for those tomatoes and based on my interpretation of Molly’s recipe, slow roasting them would be the simplest thing to do to them. So, I set the oven to 200 degrees, bisected the tomatoes, threw them on a cookie sheet, drizzled the appropriate amount of olive oil, sprinkled kosher salt and popped them in the oven for a full 5 hours. Out they came, slightly shriveled and sweet as can be. I brought them to my parents’ house for dinner that night and my dad oohed and awed as he ate them, along with everyone else. I single out my father because I consider him a tough customer to please when it comes to culinary achievements. He likes things simple and full of flavour and this fit the bill. Take a look at the pre-operative and post-operative tomatoes!
Ah Fall! The mostÂ brilliant time of the year in my opinion. Talk about sensory perception: there’s a crispness in the air that hits your cheeks and nostrils every morning. The smell of earth and leaves is pungent and foliage on the trees is visually stunning. And don’t get me started on the food. The FOOD! Squash, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower, beans, beets (gasp for air), lettuce, turnip, apples, pears, peaches, plums (tell me when my birthday comes!)….All I want to do at this time of the year is plant bulbs in my garden, cook stews and soups, bake pies and crisps, climb into a cable-knit sweater and cozy down for hibernation. No, I’m not a huge fan of winter, but I do love Fall. I have now grown pumpkins in our garden for the last three years, although only successfully two out of those three. This year was the banner year, by far. The pumpkin plant overtook the entire garden patch sending it’s prickly tendrils into every other plant growing–my poor sunflowers barely stood a chance. The plant reminded me of the one in the Little Shop of Horrors (remember “feed me seymour”?). It grew and grew and grew, and for all it’s effort it produced one brilliant pumpkin. The kids are thrilled and the pumpkin now sits proudly on our front stoop awaiting carving for Hallowe’en. And it sits in close proximity to my planter, which now houses some lovely mums, false cabbage and tall grasses. I really must say I can get into the spirit of the season, however fleeting it is.
My day began by tucking into one of those dense and delicious H & H bagels we picked up yesterday. This was followed by a quick jaunt over to D’Agostino’s where I picked up a chicken and some sweet and mini Yukon Gold potatoes for Shabbas dinner. They also happened to have Valrhona baking chocolate on sale, so I picked up a couple of bars to take back home. This brand of chocolate is often sited by cooks/food personalities and the chocolate they swear by when baking. We’ll have to see just how true that sentiment is in future baking encounters. Meanwhile Dave got going and we immediately headed downtown to Ground Zero. It is, without question, a well-funded project. There really wasn’t much to see except many cranes in the air and lots of fencing around the area. So we headed across the street to Century 21 to do some damage. That department store is, as my sister warned me, overwhelming. We killed a good hour just wandering the maze of rooms in that building before hopping back on the subway to meet my cousin Jared for lunch. He took us to a very trendy-looking Vietnamese resto called Republic. My meal, essentialyl Pho with chicken and glass noodles, left a lot to be desired. But both Jared’s and Dave’s meals were great. But the best part of the meals were the drinks: Dave’s sweet iced coffee, Jared’s shockingly bright orange Thai Basil lemonade and my Coconut Pineapple concoction which was sweet beyond belief and so good. From there we hit Crumbs Bake Shop where Jared and I shared a couple of crazy cupcakes and we bought a half dozen more for dinner’s dessert. We parted ways with Jared and wandered through NYU campus to arrive in SoHo. Lots of shops and lots of people–I was astonished at the number of people just hanging out, on the streets, in the shops, in the parks….what do all these people do for a living and where do they all live??? By the way, Jared had mentioned celebrity spotting since his arrival here and ironically after lunch we had the good fortune of walking right past Tracy Morgan of 30 Rock. We both snickered like kids, giddy from our siting. Despite this brush with the stars, both of us were feeling a little bagged so I got Dave a pick-me-up at Dean & DeLuca and wandered a bit more before hopping back on the subway to get home to make dinner. We had a lovely Shabbas dinner with Dave’s aunt and uncle before heading back down to the theatre district to see a fabulous play with all-star cast called “God of Carnage.” It’s a must-see if you’re in Manhattan and planning on seeing a Broadway performance. We were laughing out loud. From the play we walked through Times Square which is the spectacle of spectacles in this town. The wattage alone used by the screens and billboards is enough to keep theÂ Niagara Falls power generating station in business or at the very leastÂ cause an epileptic fit. We stopped by Rockefeller Plaza and walked all the way back to the apartment, where I am right now sitting in my pyjamas about to fall fast asleep. It was a fabulous day and I’m looking forward to another one tomorrow. G’night.
We’re in Manhattan for a mini vacation, just me and Dave. These opportunities to have what I call a “couples-only” or adult vacation are few and far between–scratch that–they NEVER happen. Or at least they haven’t happened since we decided to go forth and multiply. So here we are, staying with Dave’s aunt and uncle on the Upper East Side. We arrived after a rather turbulent and jolting commute in the air and on ground that left both of us feeling rather green. But after regaining our appetites we grabbed a quick bite to eat and then marched across Central Park to my number one destination: Zabar’s. Yes, I know, I’m in New York City and where do I want to go? A grocery store??? Yes, and I was in absolute heaven when I saw that Orange sign….off to Rectangle’s (Middle Eastern) for dinner. Stay tuned. More to come!
Last night friends of our came over with their kids for dinner. We were going to eat inside, but the kids decided to run around in the garden before the pizza arrived and the weather was actually perfect for dining al fresco. While the waning days of summer are ideal for outdoor dining, they are also rife with ornery bees just looking for their next fix. And let’s face it: no one enjoys having a yellow jacket hover over their food. They may be harmless, but they’ve got a bad rap for hanging around where and when they are least wanted. So we moved all the necessary acoutrements to the table on the deck but before a single crumb of food left the house I insisted on rigging up our bee catchers. My mother-in-law hangs these out on her deck and I’ve seen them at several restaurants. I finally snagged a couple at the Superstore in late winter in the clearance aisle for some silly price (in our house we call these a “deal of the ‘centch'”–as in century) and by gosh, they work! You simply fill it up with a bit of juice (we used orange) and the bees fly up the centre, the cork at the top prevents them from flying out and within seconds they start doing the backstroke in the juice! They are worth the investment–a whopping $1.79 I think it was–if you enjoy taking your meals outside.
You know it’s harvest season in Ontario when the peaches are out at the Farmers’ Markets. I like a good juicy peach to sink my teeth into at this time of year, but what I love even better is the peach crisp I make with them. In years past I would buy a basket or two, wait to for the fruit to get nice an ripe and that have at ’em but always with some apprehension? Was the fruit ripe enough? Would I be able to get the peel off easily when I blanched them? Would the fruit come away from the pit easily? Well, any misgivings I had about the success rate of my peeling and pitting process are now a thing of the past. I learned from a very helpful lady selling peaches at the market that I needed to wait for the “Freestone” variety, and not use the “Clingstone” variety. So I waited a week and picked up a couple baskets at the Metro Square Farmers’ Market this past week. As the name would suggest, the flesh “clings” to the pit, whereas the freestone variety comes away from the pit with ease. And rather than blanch the fruit in hot water for 30 seconds followed by a quick dip in ice water, I pulled out my handy dandy Zyliss serrated peeler, which made the entire peeling and pitting process an absolute dream. I think I cut down the entire prep time by at least half. I peeled and sliced about a dozen peaches into a corning ware dish. To that I added a 3/4 cup mixture of granulated and light brown sugar along with a couple tablespoons of flour to absorb the liquid. For the crisp I combined half a pound (yes, that’s half a brick) of butter with a couple cups of flour, a cup of quick oats (not instant), another half cup of the light brown sugar and just a smidge of salt (I use sea salt). I baked it until the fruit essentially starts to bubble up through the crisp, but I usually know it’s ready before I’ve even laid eyes on it because my entire house smells like the aroma of butter, sugar and baked peaches….mmmmm! My first crisp of the harvest season must have been a hit at my nephew’s birthday party, because most of it was gone. I even got complimented on the crisp by Alannah, a professional baker, which made me feel pretty darn good. I wish you could smell and taste this crisp through the screen it really is that good and I really don’t take credit for it; the peaches do all the work. I just put the ingredients all together. You’ll have to try it while Freestone peaches are still in season, or you could be mishugina like me and make a whole wack of them assembly line-style and stick them in the freezer (unbaked) until you need them for a special occasion. Nothing beats a fresh Ontario peach. Nothing.
My husband never fails to continually surprise me, hence why I love him so much. And he did this the other morning when he asked me if we had any orange juice. An innocent enough question, but the answer was no. He then asked “do we have any fizzy bubelach?” to which I also answered no. For the uninitiated, fizzy bubelach, is a fictitious drink referred to by Adam Sandler’s character in the movie Zohan. You have to see it to appreciate the reference, but I digress. Dave clearly wanted something to drink so I said there was some lemonade in the freezer. I offered to make it, but Dave was on the job. I couldn’t quite figure out why he wanted lemonade until I saw him pull out our white ceramic pitcher and these two beautiful crystal glasses that belonged to my grandfather. All of a sudden the kids’ pink lemonade was transformed into this dainty summer bevy. I asked Dave what prompted the early morning indulgence and apparently he was inspired by a bit article in one of my design mags that he happened to be flipping through (I won’t tell you where–you can guess). Needless to say, it put a smile on my face and really, truly don’t you think it’s a great way to start the day? (hint: next time make it a mimosa)