29 December 2011

Christmas Cookies, Past and Present

Now that you are exploding from holiday baked goods overload, let me tell you all about the Christmas goodies I cooked up this year. It was the first year I actually found time to plan out my Christmas baking.

Sure I've managed to pull something out of the oven every December, but the past few years have been baking failures in one way or another, from the gingerbread man orgy to butchered family classics to bland, tater-tot-like marzipans, to one of my more depressing Christmases, where I over-baked chocolavas alone on Christmas eve while watching a David Lynch movie marathon.

But this year every ingredient magically fell into place in a delicious way. Now I will tell you about some of them.

First of all we have the aptly named Seriously Delicious Chocolate Orange Gingersnaps, from Lisa Slater's The Brownie Lover's Bible. They didn't turn out quite like the picture in the book -- they are extremely thin -- but they are without a doubt the most delicious cookie I have ever made. It's really unfortunate that when you Google what a ginger snap is supposed to look like, you get this. >:[ But Wikipedia tells us the classic ginger snap can be under 3 mm in thickness, so all is well in cookie world.

What is in these babies? SO MANY THINGS: three kinds of ginger (ground, fresh and candied), cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, molasses, bitter Seville orange marmalade, vanilla, cacao nibs and bittersweet chocolate chips. Plus all the usual suspects.

It took me so long to assemble these ingredients, that when it came time to chill the dough, I let it sit in the fridge until the next day.

But now here they sit, all rolled up in turbinado sugar and looking like Timbits, ready to be rendered "Seriously Delicious."

Next up: these aren't cookies. They are candy. ALL NATURAL! Except for the sugar. Which is most of the ingredients. Yes, the ingredient list was a lot shorter on this one:

Candied Grapefruit Peel

2 grapefruits, washed
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar (plus extra to coat candy)
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Peel the skin off the grapefruit, then cut into candy-sized strips.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add the peels. Boil for 5 minutes and strain. Rinse and refill the pot with fresh water and bring it to a boil again. Add the peels and boil for another five minutes, then strain. Repeat this process two more times for a total of four pots of boiling fresh water. This blanching process removes the grapefruit's bitter flavour.

Place blanched peels in the pot. Add the sugar, lemon juice and 1 1/2 cups of water. Simmer on medium-low heat until the peels are translucent (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours).

[Actually I took a nap during this time and overslept, making the simmering time about 2 hours. That's why some of the candies in the first photo look a little scorched -- a few stuck to the bottom of the unwatched pot and started to caramelize. Luckily, a caramelized candy does not taste so bad.]

Strain and place peels on a wire rack. Let air-dry for several hours, or overnight.

Fill a shallow bowl with sugar. Roll and press each peel in the sugar until evenly coated. The candy will last at room temperature for a couple weeks.

I made these a while ago and I remember it being much more of an ordeal back then. But, everything was more of an ordeal back then because I was so new to cooking. Now I am totally a seasoned pro.

And, now this post is getting pretty long so I will stop here and post the rest in a couple days.

21 December 2011

Alsatian Onion Tart

Making French Onion Soup a couple weeks ago reminded me how fun it is to make an entire meal out of a bag of onions. While cleaning out my fridge and wondering what to do with some ancient vegetable shortening, I remembered the onion tart I learned to make in my French Bistro Classics cooking class.

I made the pastry dough in my food processor using a 3 : 2 : 1 (flour : fat : water) ratio: 2 cups (whole wheat) flour (note: whole wheat: not the tastiest pastry maker in town), 1 cup fat (1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup vegetable shortening) and 1/2 cup water. Throw in the chunks of cold butter/shortening, fill with the flour, and pulse, while pouring a stream of the water through the hole on top. Do this until it just comes together to form a dough; knead once or twice; wrap in plastic and freeze until you need it.

When you line the tart pan (with removable bottom) with the dough (and no need to butter it; there's enough butter in the dough), it's best to then refrigerate it for a half hour before blind baking (which will be for 15–25 minutes at 400°F).

I docked the dough with fork holes prior to blind baking.

But I didn't do it well enough, evidently.

Fresh sliced onions!

30–45 minutes later: caramelized onions. Once they got going, I had to add drops of water every minute or so to deglaze the bottom of the pot and keep the onions from burning. I used 3 onions for this recipe; next time I'll use 4 or 5. It's amazing how much they shrink.

Once I felt they were sufficiently browned, I sprinkled in 2 Tbsp flour and tempered in 1/3 cup milk (it's possible I should have done this earlier). This was then to be brought to a simmer, then cooled. Though there wasn't quite enough liquid for a visible simmer.

Fill your freshly blind-baked tart shell with the onion mixture, and bake at 350°F for another 10 minutes or so.

BY THE WAY. When you eat a whole bunch of caramelized onions, you need something acidic to cut through the soft sweetness so that it doesn't overwhelm you. I made a tomato onion salad with a simple dressing: olive oil, lime juice, raspberry wine vinegar, dijon mustard and thyme.

I am always forgetting the measurements for making homemade salad dressing. So I will write it here for later reference: 3 Tbsp oil; 1 Tbsp acid (balsamic/red wine vinegar, cider, juice of 1/2 lemon, etc.); 1/2 tsp dijon mustard; honey to taste if needed; herbs, salt & pepper, etc. to taste. The basic equation I learned in cooking class was: 3 parts oil + 1 part acid + Yum (mustard, herbs & spices, frozen fruits, etc.)

There you have it. This meal was brought to you by random ingredients that you probably already have. Just sitting around, waiting to be whipped into onion tart-shape.

16 December 2011

Kängurupfeffer (Kangaroo à la Hasenpfeffer)

I went to 3P Natural & Exotic Meats in North Van last week. Kangaroo mango sausage was the most "exotic" meat I could find there, so I bought three links. I went home, pan-fried one up, and ate it along with some green beans, corn and mashed potatoes. And it was sad and terrible. I guess I was worried about what would happen if I undercooked kangaroo, and therefore ended up with a dry, dry log of gamey meat. The mango added no flavour at all; in fact I suspect it was added to tone down the overall gaminess.

BUT. I still had two sausages left, and a little hope. And so I decided to go another route and make stew. Stew couldn't possibly be dry. Following some bus-ride kangaroo discussion, I took Jesse's suggestion and consulted other recipes that use gamey meat. Well, just one. The only recipe I could think of, thanks to Bugs Bunny: Hasenpfeffer.

I chose my spices based on a mix of the ingredients found in Google Result Number Two, and those on the Hasenpfeffer Wikipedia page (Google Result Number One).

So. I sautéed an onion, then added 1/8 tsp allspice, 1/8 tsp thyme, 1/4 tsp rosemary, 4 cloves, 2 bay leaves, 1 Tbsp veggie stock, 2 cloves of garlic and ten peppercorns' worth of pepper. (Cooking this up brought back the memory of some kitchen smells from my childhood.) Next I added the two sausages, chopped up in small pieces. At some point I also added the juice of about 1/3 of a lime.

Once the sausage was browned, I added a whole cup of dry vermouth, let the alcohol cook off, threw in 1/2 can of chickpeas, and then a large can of whole tomatoes (not in the hasenpfeffer recipe, but you generally can't go wrong with tomatoes in stews). Once it became clear the stew was going to be too thin, I poured in about 1/4 cup dry red lentils, let them cook and then gave the stew a few whirs with my immersion blender. Success! I guess. I have hereby eaten kangaroo and it was o-k. Thanks, Warner Bros.

12 December 2011

Highspeed Thai Chickpea Curry

Last night I made Thai green curry in about ten minutes! I guess this should traditionally be made with chicken, but I have vegetarianized it with chickpeas instead. The peas of chickens. As it turns out: the perfect substitution! Much better than tofu. (I am getting tired of tofu.) I sautéed some onions with the curry paste, added thick zucchini noodle curls, spinach and the chickpeas (half a can), then coconut milk (a whole can), cilantro, grated ginger, black pepper and the juice of one lime. This probably has one of the highest deliciousness return factors for the amount of time you put into making it.

07 December 2011

Meat & Potatoes, feat. Onion Soup Mix

It's been a meat & potatoes kind of week. In the interests of saving money, I bought a bag of about-to-rot bell peppers for 99 cents at an independent grocer on Davie Street, about the same size bag of peppers I'd buy every week at the farmer's market for $4 in the summer. (That said, the farmer's market peppers were still better quality, no matter the degree of ripeness. These peppers had a faint chemical smell.)

I pan-roasted all the peppers on the stovetop while I boiled some baby potatoes, mashed them up with some butter, milk and grated cheddar, and threw them in the broiler. In the meantime, I was trying out this thing with some chuck steak.

I cut it into cubes, coated the steak in onion soup mix (an idea I got [via Jesse] from a chili recipe in In a Pinch), wrapped it en papillote in parchment paper and let it cook in the oven for over an hour at 325°F. Of course the recipe calls for leaving the meat in the oven for 3 hours to give it that slow-cooked tenderness… FYI one hour doesn't quite cut it; the meat was pretty tough. But the onion soup mix part was still a good idea! Finally a use for this stuff I've had sitting in my cupboard FOREVER.

06 December 2011

Budget Tofu

So, I have just discovered the wonderful world of budgeting. In fact, I made myself a budget using Gail Vaz-Oxlade's Interactive Budget Worksheet Excel spreadsheet, which you can find over here. As a result, I'm back to trying to cut back in the kitchen again, which means inventing weird meals out of stuff that I already have that I didn't even think constituted a meal.

However, I've also not been sleeping well, and I was awake until 3 am on Sunday, so when Jay came over last night I was just waking from a 1.5-hour nap and unable to do anything useful. Luckily he takes direction well, so I instructed him on what to put together. In one pot: a can of lentils and a leftover half can of diced tomatoes. Plus hot sauce and pepper, Jay's idea. In a pan: firm tofu, seared ("make sure it's really seared") with an old bottle of Diana's steak sauce that I have had forever. Then I remembered I had frozen green beans and corn, so we threw some of that into the mix.

Once again, this is one of those meals that is "actually not bad!". We ate it while watching Drive, which was actually really bad. This is better.

Also: dessert --->

03 December 2011

Hello Pizza My Old Friend

Hello pizza my old friend
I've come to munch on you again.

02 December 2011

Uh, Veggie Hash?

Yeah, I don't know what this is. But it's not as bad as it looks. Just trying to use up all my produce before it dies, so I food-processed broccoli, carrots, onions and tomatoes, sautéed them in a pot and added some frozen corn and peas, lentils, salt, pepper and oregano and chopped up tofurky sausage. The spiciness of the sausage made everything else taste not so bad.
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