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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Strawberry Teddy Bear Cookies


One of the things my family always used to do at Christmas was make Christmas cookies. When I moved in with The Husband and he told me he had never eaten a home-made Christmas cookie after I got over my horror I decided to rectify the situation. When we went shopping for cookie cutters however The Husband was fixated on just getting a Teddy Bear cookie cutter. When I tried to explain that Christmas cookies were more like Santa hats, Christmas trees or stars he insisted that he wanted Teddy Bears cookies. So now our Christmas cookies are always in the shape of Teddy Bears. The recipe I use is here from Alton Brown. I’ve tried a lot of sugar cookie recipes and this is my absolute favourite.

While I think is important to use butter in baked goods rather than margarine (Blech!), it become absolutely crucial in recipes in such as this in which there are few ingredients and the buttery flavour is essential.
First step was creaming the butter and sugar.

Then adding an egg and the milk.

And then incorporating the flour in batches. Batch one.

Batch two.
Batch three.
Once all the flour had been mixed in, the dough had to be put in the fridge for two hours to firm up. I’ve made this before and left the dough in more than two hours. Big mistake. It gets way too hard and starts to crack when your roll it out. This is one of those cases in which you have to have to follow the instructions to the letter.
The cookies are rolled out in icing sugar instead of flour which adds a nice coating to the outside and always struck me as particularly decadent.
Here they are, all waiting to go in the oven. I prefer my cookies nice and thick but The Husband likes his thin so I try to make half of them thick and soft and half of them thin and crispy.
My favourite part of the cookies is the strawberry icing. I’m not partial to hard royal icing so I came up with this a few years ago.

You take frozen strawberries and microwave them until they become soft and then puree them in a blender until they are liquid. Doesn’t it look like strawberry soup?
You then add enough icing sugar to make a thick frosting which is still spreadable.
Once they come out of the oven and cool down I bathe the cookies liberally in the icing. The combination of the butter cookies and the strawberry frosting is amazing. I love the icing because it has a fresh strawberry taste due to the pureed fruit. Making them together is a nice holiday tradition which The Husband and I have.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Baguettes from Scratch


"[Bread baking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world's sweetest smells...there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread."
M. F. K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

There are few pleasures in this world as pleasant as making and eating fresh bread. You cannot possibly be upset when baking bread, it is far too relaxing. Slathering butter on a hot baguette that came out of the oven less than 5 minutes ago makes any mess that was created during the creation of said item completely worth it. The recipe I used is here and it is terribly simple, just four ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast.


Yeast before.


Yeast after. A thermometer for making sure your water is the right temperature for proofing yeast is one of the cheapest and best kitchen tools you can acquire.


Flour and salt waiting in my mixer. While I do use a mixer for making bread 95% of the time I do make it completely by hand from time to time.


Some action shots of my mixer after I had added in the yeast and water mixture.


Dough before rising. I don’t know why it looks so golden in this shot.


After the first rising.


Punching down dough is always strangely fun.


I floured my counter and patted down the dough with my hands and used a pizza cutter to cut it in half.


Usually I just roll my baguette dough to try to get the right shape. This recipe called for rolling the dough out flat and then rolling it into itself to make the baguette.


Oops. I rolled them out a bit too long.


I actually liked this method. Different but it works. I had trouble pinching the seams together for a few of them. Maybe a bit too much flour when I was rolling them out? I always thought that the slashes in baguettes were for purely decorative purposes but apparently they help the dough expand. They then were set aside to rise a second time.


After the second rising there were ready for their egg wash and a trip to the oven.


In search of that elusive crispy crust I have tried just egg white, just egg yolk and a whole egg mixed together. Next time I am using just water to see if that works.


Baking bread has to be one of the best smells ever. I wonder if they have a baking bread scented candle? They have candles that smell like cookies so bread would just be a natural choice.


Yum. Fresh bread, so humble but so good. I couldn’t resist cutting myself a piece when it came out of the oven.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Salmon Nicoise


While I love all things buttery and delectable I also have a deep abiding love for vegetables. I think I was one of those few kids whose mother didn’t have to fight with them to eat them (unless it was cooked green peppers. BLECH!). This Salmon Nicoise is my version of Tuna Nicoise. While I love tuna it is extremely hard to find any decent fish in where I live hence the Salmon. This is such a brunch type dish and it looks oh so pretty and colourful. It is also very fast to make, the longest part is prepping the veggies and can also be served at room temperature which would make it ideal for serving large numbers of people at a party.


The first thing I do when making this recipe is to wash and cut the potatoes and put them in boiling water since this is the what takes the longest to cook. I usually use baby potatoes but since I didn’t have any I just quartered some larger ones. Since the eggs and the green beans cook in boiling water as well, I time everything so that I put in the eggs 10 minutes before the potatoes are done and the green beans 5 minutes before. This way I can just dump everything in the colander at the same time and I don’t have to boil multiple pots of water.


My pile of lovely, washed green beans with the ends cuts off.


I found some really nice cherry vine tomatoes in the supermarket last week. During the winter cherry tomatoes are usually better tasting than their bigger counterparts.


While everything was boiling I started cooking my salmon. Usually I don’t like the taste of meat and have to slather it in sauce but I love the taste of salmon. I usually just add salt and pepper and cook it so it is still pink in the middle. I ended up overcooking it a bit on one side since it was so thick. Oops. 


Here are my eggs, green beans and potatoes steaming dry.


Next I made the vinaigrette. The one crucial ingredient is French shallots. Regular onions are too acrid and green onions just don’t fit.


The rest of the vinaigrette is ridiculously easy. It is basically Dijon mustard (to act as and emulsifier and for flavour), extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar along with salt and pepper to taste.


Most vinaigrettes call for a much higher proportion of oil to vinegar but I prefer them on the acid side so I add a lot of red wine vinegar.


This is not a recipe that is hard to make look good. You just arrange your fish, eggs, veggies and potatoes on a plate and drizzle the vinaigrette over. I also like to add some kalamata olives to the side since I don’t have any Nicoise olives. This recipe is in my regular rotation since it is so easy to whip up.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!


I just wanted to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas! I hope you all have fabulous holidays with your loved ones. That’s my tree in the picture above. We have a stuffed animal theme going on. Costco has had little stuffed ornaments three years in a row and we always bought a package. There are 48 of them up there in case you were wondering.


Well, 49 if you count our tree topper. Some people have a star but we have a teddy bear. My parents had actually bought it for their tree but it would never stay up. I took it with me when I moved out and we ended up putting it on our tree where he fits in fabulously. The Husband likes to say that it was like he was meant to be there.

Homemade Donuts


The Husband and I have a few Christmas traditions. One of them is making doughnuts from scratch. Yes, I know, it is rather easy to just drive down to Tim Horton’s (or Dunkin Donuts for all you Americans out there) and get a dozen but as with most things in life, homemade tastes better. Plus they’re fun to make, albeit a bit time consuming.

The recipe I used comes from Alton Brown, you can find it here.


For some reason I am always impressed whenever I proof yeast. It’s the vital piece of culinary magic that prevents your baked goods from having the texture of hockey pucks.


The recipe calls for shortening. Usually I use butter in everything but I decided to follow instructions this time. Am I the only one frightened by the fact that vegetable shortening seems to pretty much last forever? I swear, if there was a nuclear winter the only things that would last would be Twinkies and shortening.


The eggs, salt, sugar, yeast, melted shortening, milk and flour in the mixer. I also added cinnamon instead of nutmeg at The Husband’s request.


Above are the different steps of incorporating the flour. By the end it was very stiff and the mixer was having a bit of a problem.


My dough after rising. I used the microwaving trick to make it rise (microwave a cup of water for 2 minutes then very quickly open the door, take out the cup and put in the mixing bowl with the dough. This creates a warm, moist environment for your dough to rise. Absolutely foolproof).


I love rolling out dough. There is something just so luxurious about rolling out smooth, silky dough.


Since I don’t have a doughnut cutter I used my biggest biscuit cutter to make the larger circle and an apple corer to cut out the little circle in the middle. They do say that necessity is the mother of invention.  The Husband is the one who is in charge of cutting out the middles since he is a lot better at doing it evenly than me.


With the leftover scraps of dough I made twists. Since we were doing laundry that day I put the doughnuts on top of the drier to rise, covered with a damp tea towel so they wouldn’t dry out. My house is always cold during the winter so the laundry room was a good solution since it was warm and humid.


After the second rising everything was nice and puffy and ready for frying.


Given that I deep fry once or twice a year, I always get nervous doing it. I always have visions of the pan of boiling oil flipping over and chaos ensuing. I always end up using my biggest and deepest cast iron pot for this purpose and enlist the help of The Husband. I suppose with an automatic deep fryer you could make doughnuts alone but with just a pot of oil on the stove you need to watch the temperature like a hawk since too hot they burn and too cold they soak up too much oil. Once the doughnuts hit the oil they puff up a little more which is nice.


Nice and golden after flipping them over. They cook super fast, less than a minute so you really have to work quickly when making doughnuts.


Whenever we make doughnuts we end up covering most of the countertops with paper towel to lay the doughnuts out on.

IMG_4331 IMG_4332

I ended up making honey glaze and maple glaze for the doughnuts as well as chocolate icing. For the honey glaze I ended up adding honey to a bowl of icing sugar and mixed in a little bit of milk until it was the right consistency. Yes, my honey comes in a little bear bottle. Cute but it is a pain to get the honey out when it crystallizes. For the maple icing I did the same thing except I didn’t add any milk since maple syrup is liquid enough (sorry, I forgot to take pictures of it!).


For the chocolate glaze I took Alton Brown’s recipe which you can find here. It so so dead easy. You melt butter in a pan to which you add milk, vanilla and corn syrup.


In the recipe it calls for chopping the chocolate and then adding it to the pan but since I didn’t feel like doing that I just half melted it in the microwave first.


After that you dump in the icing sugar and stir like crazy to get any lumps out if you’re like me and never sift anything.

Once the glazes and the frosting were done I dipped the doughnuts and twists in to coat them and stored them in separate containers.


The honey doughnuts.


The maple doughnuts.


And last and most definitively the best, the chocolate doughnuts. To quote Homer Simpson “Mmmmm doughnuts…”. The maple and the honey ones were good but the chocolate ones were amazing. The icing was very thick and fudgy. I had to stop myself from inhaling the whole batch. I love Christmas, it’s the perfect excuse for dietary indulgence.

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