Thursday, June 28, 2007

Birthday Cake

When I make a cake for an occasion, it's usually one type of cake - a Mousse Cake. Raspberry, Mango, Peach, Lemon, Blueberry, White Chocolate, Dark Chocolate... I made a lot of different types of mousse cakes. Contrary to a popular belief that the mousse cakes are difficult to make, I find them easy, but time consuming. I remember I tried making my first mousse cake (lemon) after work. I made it, it turned out really good, but I do not want to have this experience ever again. It was hell... I piped the lady fingers and put the cake in the oven and started on the pastry cream. In the middle of doing that I had to remove those lady fingers while trying to continuously whisk the cream. Then I had to cool the pastry cream, cool the cake, juice the lemons, make the lemon curd, cool the curd, whip the cream, soften the gelatin, make the actual mouse, cut the cake, assemble the cake, cool the cake, pour some extra lemon curd over the cooled cake (if cake is not cooled, it's impossible to spread the curd on top)... And all of it in one night after 6 pm... Now I have my system. I make my cake and the lady fingers (if I use them) on one night, while the cake is baking I make a pastry cream (I still don't know whether I prefer a mousse with or without it) and I blend some fruit. The next day I only have to whip the cream, make the mousse and assemble the cake.

But this time my schedule got in the way. There was no way I could make a mousse cake (my heart was set on a really cool recipe for an apricot mousse cake) and still have a good night sleep, so I had to choose something else. This cake was a very unlikely birthday cake, but it turned out better than perfect. It turned out to be one of the best cakes I've ever tasted.

Carrot Cake

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

FoodTV Blog: June Challenge

I was not going to take a part in this month's Food for Thought challenge, but then I had four lonely egg whites lying in the fridge, so why not, I thought. I carefully read through the recipe and right away I was alarmed. I've made my share of meringues. I know how to make them big, small, flat, round, soft, crispy, with or without nuts. This recipe went against everything I know about making the meringues.

Why would I add the sugar after the egg whites are whipped to stiff peaks? The sugar is usually added while the egg whites are being whipped, this insures that all this sugar has time to dissolve. Why would I add cream of tartar after the egg whites are already whipped? Cream of tartar helps the egg whites to whip better, but if they are
already whipped, what's the point? Why, oh why, would I add icing sugar with cornstarch? Icing sugar already contains cornstarch, why does this recipe call for more? I could honestly taste the cornstarch in the final product. And lastly, why does this recipe need so much sugar? The general rule is to put 1/2 cup of sugar per two egg whites, not 2/3. Too much, way too much.

As you can see, I had a lot of questions and problems with this recipe, but I still decided to give it a try. I followed all the instructions and as I suspected the meringues weren't good at all. Too much sugar, too much cornstarch. I wasn't impressed, but I am glad that I tried something new. It's always fun to try out new

A Perfect Dinner

I really wanted to make a soup, but after walking from the subway to my apartment for 10 minutes in 30+ heat, the idea of standing near a hot oven seemed unbearable. So, what would I want for dinner? Something light, something cold, something that wouldn't require simmering, sauteing or frying, but something substantial enough to fill my empty and hungry stomach. I turned to one of my favourite books - Barefoot Contessa at Home.And yes, here was the answer: Guacamole Salad.

At the supermarket I couldn't resist buying some gorgeous strawberries as I remembered that I have some oranges and bananas lying in the fridge (when did I buy them?). I got home and it was hot and I needed something refreshing and quick. The recipe for this Orange-Banana smoothie sounded wonderful. Quickly I washed those weird oranges I found in the fridge and cut them. Well, I know why I didn't remember buying them and I know why they looked strange. My oranges, the main ingredient for the smoothie, turned out to be grapefruits (oh yeah, I remember how I thought that they'd make a perfect breakfast... when was that?). Not to worry! My version of a grapefruit-banana-strawberry smoothie turned out amazing.

And while I enjoyed this cocktail, I quickly mixed a guacamole salad. Very simple, very light, very refreshing. I also got to try out my new handy-dandy avocado slicer!!

A perfect dinner for a very hot night.

Guacamole Salad

Grapefruit Banana Smoothie

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Tea Party

*** I'll try to put all the recipes from the previous posts up in the next few weeks, but for now I only have pictures ***

My best friend came back from England last week and she'll be here for the whole summer before going back to study. Sunday I had a chance to entertain her at home. It was so good to finally talk to her in person and see her and just relax together with her. This occasion called for a celebration.

So Saturday I baked and I baked (and made ice cream).

Almond Cherry Cakes

Chocolate Wafers (they were supposed to be a part of a Ice Cream Sandwich, but I only managed to make a couple and they were ugly)

Vanilla Ice Cream

Smoked salmon sandwiches with herb butter on homemade brioche bread

Cucumber sandwiches with goats cheese spread on homemade brioche bread

Fois Gras mousse with dried apricotes soaked in brandy

Herbed Goat Cheese Sandwiches
Brioche Loaves
Amaretti Cookies

Monday, June 11, 2007

My addiction

I have to confess, I have an addiction. It took me a while to come to terms with it and now I am here, and I can admit it. I have an addiction! I am addicted to cookbooks. They pull me away from the real world with the endless array of recipes, they lure me with a page after page of amazing, mouthwatering pictures, they speak to me in a powerful language of grams and cups. Yes, there's no denying it. I am addicted! I don't know how many cookbooks I own. Not too many by my standards and way too many by my boyfriend's. The good news is that I actually use them, the bad news is that I only use a few of them. Still, I comfort myself with the thoughts that in time I'll put each one of them to a good use.

And for now I open a few of them over and over again. The Big Book of Bread is at the top of my list with 365 recipes of breads. So if I bake one new recipe each week I still have seven years of new recipes; and let's face it, most likely it'll take me a few years longer to go through all of them. Then there's a series of Barefoot Contessa books. My relationship with Ina started out a little bit rocky, I couldn't stand her television show, she annoyed me so much. But still I couldn't switch the channel. And then I fell in love with her recipes, so full of life, excitement about food, flavour, texture. So full of cream and butter and sugar! Her Barefoot at Home is my most used book.

Last weekend I had to stay home and do a lot of dreadful house chores. So in between, I cooked and I baked and I ate. And finally being home and doing loads of laundry didn't seem so terrible.

California BLT
Malted Grain Bread

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Trying to impress...

I moved out of my dad's place almost 6 years ago to go to University. Time went by, I graduated, I got my first job and I never moved back home. I have my own place with my little kitchen and I rarely see my dad - classes that I take, my work, his business and travelling get in the way. So, on those infrequent occasions that I see him and even more rare times when he comes over to my appartment, I try to bake something. Something to impress...

He eats everything and I tried everything. Muffins, cheesecakes, lemon swiss rolls, cream puffs, nutella mousse. He ate it, he liked it, he wasn't impressed. Finally, I asked him what kind of desserts he really likes. It was simple - chocolate. So this time I decided on something classic and easy - Chocolate Brownies with an added twist in the form of cherries.

A few hours before my dad came over last night, I realized that there's nothing in the fridge except for seven (7!!!) kinds of cheeses. So, I quickly mixed a batter for a Cheese Bread. It is so simple to make and it tastes so good! I ate it with sweet italian Amarena cherries and I also tried it with Orange Marmelade - amazing. It is something I am used to since childhood, salty and sweet together. To me it's a classic combination!

My dad came over with my brother, I served them tea with Cherry Brownies and Cheese Bread with various jams. My brother was impressed with both especially with the Cheese Bread. It turned out that my dad doesn't like baked goods with cheese. Did he like the brownies? Yes. Was he impressed? Hardly... Maybe it's time to stop trying to impress and just bake whatever I like. After all, we cannot impress everyone and we should respect it.

Cherry Brownies

Monday, June 4, 2007

Something salty, something sweet...

The plan was to wake up and go to the cottage. Then the plan was to wake up, bake a tray of simple brownies and go to the cottage. Then our computer decided to erase all the pictures. After my boyfriend went to bad at 5 am (that is 5 in the morning, that is 4 hours before we were going to wake up), exhausted from the fight and a victory over our PC, the plan changed.

I woke up and realized that I have about 4-5 quiet hours. There was no question what to do. It was simple. I bake bread and I try a different recipe when I have time. I chose a variation on a Lavash bread, a middle-eastern flat bread, usually eaten with BBQ and just torn in pieces. The dough turned out perfect, it doubled in size and it was light and smooth. After I let it rise for the second time, I shaped two breads and baked them for 20 minutes. The result was amazing. Golden, warm, chewy breads.. I couldn't resist to tear another and another piece from it.

While the dough was proofing I decided to bake something sweet. The brownies sounded too simple, but there was a cake I wanted to make for some time. It was from a Pure Chocolate book by Fran Bigelow and I had all (well, almost all) of the required ingredients on hand. The cake was called L'Orange and one of the main ingredients was oranges. I didn't have oranges in my fridge, but I had a Pure Orange Oil made from real orange zest. It is one of my absolutely favourite ingredients, so I used it. The batter took no time to make, it was simple and a little bit unusual because of the ground almonds used instead of a regular flour. But the baking process (the easy part, right?) took forever... literally... almost literally. According to the recipe, the cake was supposed to be baked after 45 minutes. But 45, 55, 65 and 75 minutes later it was still almost liquid. I had to increase the oven temperature and bake another 15 minutes to get that perfect moist consistency.

I'll definitely make both recipes again. That is if I don't find anything even more interesting to make...

Excuse my photos. I just got a new camer and I still have no clue how to use it