Thursday, January 28, 2010

Faux Food

It's been an infirmary around our house lately, and last weekend we were homebound.  Since Anatole is into play-doh these days, we had our own play-doh party complete with sandwich cookies and "chocolate" marble hearts.  While I worked on a quilt project, Alan helped Anatole turn out some very creative and delicious looking treats. Oh, and a play-doh party just wouldn't be complete without a friendly French snail.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

January Daring Bakers' Challenge

The first time I tried Nanaimo bars was in Whistler, Canada.  I was there for a meeting and was told by a colleague that I should try this quintessential Canadian dessert.  The name in itself was intriguing enough, and I--always a sucker for new sweets--was smitten from the first bite.  

So when Daring Bakers announced Nanaimo Bars as the January challenge, I couldn't have been happier.  But then I noticed two things:  the first was that we were asked to make the graham crackers used crushed in the recipe from scratch.  The second was that they were supposed to be gluten-free.  Well thank goodness there was a caveat that we could substitute whole wheat flour if we wanted to.  While I would have gladly made the gluten-free version, there is no way in the world that I would be able to find the right ingredients in my town.  Luckily, I had picked up some whole wheat pastry flour when I was in Oregon last December, and I easily substituted it in the recipe.

Making the graham crackers was loads of fun and the baked cookies were delicious, even if I did keep mine in the oven a minute or two too long.

I made the graham crackers a day ahead and then prepared the bars the next day.  Each layer of the bars was equally enjoyable to prepare.  And the finished dessert was absolutely wonderful and hard to stay out of.  Each bite was the perfect combination of sweet, slightly bitter, and creamy, and I love the difference in texture between the bottom and middle layers.  Verdict:  January challenge a hit!

The January 2010 Daring Bakers' Challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen.  Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafters and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month.  The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

Créme Brulée

For Christmas my mother in law gave me the most delightful creme brulee set.  It contains a cookbook with loads of creme brulee variations, four ceramic serving dishes, and--get this--my very own torch.  I was so psyched to try it out and despite the fact that our weekend dinner plans with friends were cancelled, I twisted my arm and made it anyway.  Some things you just have to find the will to do, no matter how hard.  :-)

Also, I loved the challenge of making an authentic French recipe from an authentic French cookbook.  My husband translated bits and pieces of the instructions, and I used an online measurement converter to switch centiliters to cups and tablespoons.  It was sort of like a puzzle but much better because at the end was a really lovely dessert that was the perfect combination of sweet and creamy.

Oh yes, and the torch was a challenge too because I had to track down a can of propane to fill the empty torch canister (which looked exactly like a clear plastic Bic lighter).  I won't lie and say the torch worked like a charm the first time I tried it.  I definitely had to play around with it a bit and because of it's small size, it took several minutes to brown the top of just one creme brulee dish.  Alan fiddled with it and was able to increase the torch power somehow and that seemed to help, but it wasn't like I simply turned on the torch and 10 seconds later it was golden brown.  I suppose this made putting the puzzle together that much more interesting.

It was my first go at making creme brulee from scratch, and I was not the least bit disappointed.  It's a very simple but elegant dessert (even if it is overplayed sometimes) that provides the most perfect ending to a meal.

Classic Creme Brulee
Translated From Crémes Brulées by José Maréchal

1.5c heavy cream
1/2c milk (I used 2 percent)
scant 5T sugar
4 egg yolks
1 whole vanilla bean
generous 4T raw sugar (for the tops)

1.  Slice vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape seeds into a saucepan with the milk.  Heat seeds, pod, and milk until hot but not boiling.

2.  Using a whisk or hand mixer combine sugar with egg yolks and beat until pale.

3.  Incorporate the cold cream into the egg and sugar mix.  Mix well.

4.  Remove the vanilla pod from the hot milk; slowly add the vanilla milk to the cream mixture.  Stir well to combine.

5.  Set bowl in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

6.  Set oven at 200F or 95C.

7.  Pour cream mix evenly into ramekins or creme brulee dishes (the low and shallow kind).  I was able to get four creme brulee dishes and one ramekin nearly full of mix.

8.  Bake for 1.5 hours.  Remove from oven and let cool on the counter before placing in the refrigerator.

9.  When it's time to serve, sprinkle raw sugar on top of each dish and torch each until caramelized and light to medium brown.  By the way, even if you don't have the means to torch the tops, the dessert is still heavenly on its own without the crispy sugar coating.  Don't let the lack of a torch stop you from making it.

Makes 4-6 dishes of creme brulee.  Keeps in refrigerator up to three days.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Quick and Super Easy Snack or Appetizer

Quick and easy, yes.  Healthy?  Nej, desvære, as they say in Danish.  But sometimes one is willing to make sacrifices if it means saving time and having something tasty to serve to friends.  And besides, these snack bites are so tiny you can pop as little or as many in your mouth as you wish.  But I warn you, they are habit forming.

To get a bowl of your own sweet or savory bites, it's simple.  Buy a package of puff pastry.  Start with one sheet and cut into strips 2" long by 1" wide (give or take a little).  Place a piece of whatever filling you fancy on top of a strip and fold dough around the filling.  Pinch lightly with your fingers to seal (even so, some come undone during baking, but no big deal).  Filling ideas:  dates, blue cheese, green olives, black olives, small pieces of bacon, or any combination thereof.  My husband taught me to make these and I first had them with bacon.  It's sort of like a super fancy version of pork rinds, and way tastier.  Bake at 450F for 15-20 minutes.  Watch carefully because they brown rapidly after the 10 or so minute mark (and ovens vary).

I have several posts in the queue but have been MIA lately because of the sick people in my house.  Question:  is it better to stay healthy or get sick right along with them?  I've managed to stay well and on one hand it's great but on the other it means taking care of every itsy bitsy, teeny tiny need of my family:  running to the store for more tissues, making pot after pot of tea, squeezing medicine into noses, applying Mentholatum to chests, listening to persistent hacking coughs and my husband putting my hand to his forehead and saying every five minutes "Do I feel hot?"

Back soon.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Beans and Rice

I feel sure that I've complained before that it is literally impossible to find canned black beans in Denmark, at least where I live.  So when I was in the U.S. last December I decided to do the next best thing.  I brought back a huge bag of dried black beans that I picked up in the bulk section at Fred Meyer.  Way easier to transport in a suitcase than cans, even if they aren't as convenient and cooking-ready.

Since we are trying to eat less meat and more veggies and whole grains, I thought of something I hadn't made in a long time:  beans and rice.  It seems there are countless variations of this budget-friendly dish, and in most cases it's easy to prepare, healthy, and filling.

And after doing some checking around on the internet I ran into some great info about cooking pre-soaked beans in a pressure cooker.  What a fantastic and time-saving tip.  Instead of boiling for hours--and even then sometimes I still end up with slightly chewy beans--I simply steamed for 20 minutes and arrived at soft, perfectly cooked legumes.

I served the beans and veggies over white rice but next time will take the time to prepare a pot of brown rice for even more fiber and health points.

Beans and Rice

4c. prepared rice (brown or white)
1T olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 green pepper, finely chopped
1/2 red pepper, finely chopped
1/4c pimento-stuffed (or not) green olives, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 16 oz. cans of black beans (or four cups home-cooked)
2T white or red vinegar
Tabasco to taste (or your other favorite hot sauce)
2t dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

optional garnishes:  sour cream, avocado, salsa

1.  Heat oil in large skillet.  Saute onion and bell peppers for 5 minutes until soft and nearly translucent.

2.  Add garlic and olives and saute an additional 1-2 minutes.

3.  Add beans, vinegar, and Tabasco or hot sauce (less if you like it mild, more if you are keen on spices).  Mix well and cook 1-2 minutes until well combined.

4.  Remove from heat, stir in oregano, and season with salt and pepper.  Serve over rice and with toppings such as avocado, sour cream, and/or salsa.

Serves 4.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Days of the Week

I will be back soon with food info, but today I'm home with a sick toddler who's picked up pink eye a third time.  ugh.  Since I am in toddler world today, a little anecdote from two and a half-year-old Anatole.

Keeping in mind that today is Monday:

Me:  Anatole, please clean up your toys now.

Anatole:  Not now, later.

Me:  When?  After your nap?

Anatole:  No, Saturday.

We had quite a discussion about why it's not okay to leave our toys strewn all over the house for five days.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Some things are just worth it

January 10, 2010

What do you do when your neighbor brings over a box of homemade chocolates unaware that you've resigned to cut out sweets in the New Year?

Live with the guilt.

Holiday Memories

I wanted to share a few memories of our holidays in the French Alps.  Okay, a lot is more accurate, as you will see from all the photos.  Like usual, I was a camera happy fool.  Unfortunately, there was way less snow than we'd hoped for, but we still managed to make a snowman in the front yard, sled, and ski a few times.  I'd planned to describe the photos but because I've inserted so many the blogger edit tool is being picky about letting me move photos around and insert comments.  And frankly, I don't have the energy to fight with it.