Monday, August 27, 2007

Showers of Happiness--and Cake.

Is it just me, or are people hooking up for a walk down the aisle all over the place?
This summer has been a furry of engagement parties and wedding showers as an astonishing seven couples in our circle of friends are planning to get hitched in the near future (with another two couples in negotiations-rumor has it). To say that love is in the air almost doesn't cut it- we're thinking by now that there must be something in the water.

Anyway, we are very excited for all our friends (Danny and I are the first to heartily recommend marriage) and I was thrilled to be asked to decorate a cake for a wedding shower I attended last weekend for the lovely Christina--as if I need an excuse to play with sugar.

I had had the idea for a design of a dress where the skirt was sugared rose petals, but as any baker knows, having an idea and executing an idea are two very different things. While I found the sugaring of the petals to be excruciatingly long and tedious, I was happy with the results--and so was the bride, which is most important, after all.

I used a vanilla butter cream to ice the whole cake. I sugared rose petals for the skirt of the dress and piped in the bodice with a pastry bag and tip. Pink geraniums were sugared as well and decorated three corners of the cake.

During the process of decorating this cake, I found out that I still despise working with a pastry bag, and that attempting to get the icing really smooth still drives me nuts!However, if I must work with frosting, this recipe is without a doubt my favorite. Plenty of butter gives it a fluffy texture and a vanilla bean adds decadent taste and pretty specks throughout.

Adapted from Martha Stewart:

Swiss Meringue Vanilla Buttercream

4 large egg whites
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons
1 vanilla bean, split or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine the egg whites and sugar. Cook, whisking constantly, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch.
Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. Continue beating until the mixture if fluffy and cooled, about 6 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter several tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. (If frosting appears to have separated after all the butter has been added, beat on medium-high speed until smooth again.) With the tip of a knife, scrape seeds from vanilla pod and add to icing. Beat on low speed to eliminate any air bubbles. Stir until smooth.
Frosting is now ready to use or it may be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days. Before using, bring to room temperature.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Foodie Facebook: Haidi

Name: Haidi
Place: White Rock, New Mexico
Occupation: Stay-at-home mother of two

1. What is your earliest childhood food memory?
Picking warm, soft, juicy plums out of the sandbox from the plum tree in our backyard, 816 Jubilee Ave, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

2. What did you eat today?
Breakfast: Coffee (French press) homemade yogurt with fresh local white peaches, wholegrain toast with butter and homemade wild strawberry jam. Lunch: Greek salad with cucumbers, feta, onions, and my own tomatoes and basil. Supper: Beet Risotto with greens (beets from my garden), baby arugula with balsamic dressing and toasted walnuts. After the kids went to bed, dark chocolate. Mmmm.

3. What will your kids never be allowed to eat?
Never? I don't think I put those kinds of limitations on them, but there are lots of things they are not allowed access to at this time... Pretty much any kind of candy bar, candy (though my 4 yr old daughter definitely has a thing for chocolate, and I occasionally share my stash), no fast food, though they do have the odd French fry. I'm very adamant about no soft drinks for kids. They get hooked so fast! Hmmm, I don't have the typical kid’s snacks around -- goldfish crackers, cheerios, juice boxes. I guess I'm pretty strict, but there's so much great food out there!

4. What do you always have on hand in your fridge?
Butter, a lump of Parmesan cheese, good mustards(several), corn tortillas, the freshest eggs I can find, a variety of grains and flours, and usually several quarts of homemade yogurt.

5. What is your beverage of choice?
Wine, wine, wine. This time of year, I favor whites, whether a floral Viognier from Australia or a tart clean Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. I get thirsty just talking about it.

6. If you could have dinner with anyone in the history of man, who would it be?
I don't know. So many people, it would be kind of uncomfortable. Like what would I really have to say to Anais Nin? I'd rather just sit down with an old friend I haven't seen in a while. Charity Austin. I KNOW we wouldn't lack for good conversation.

7. OK, it’s your last meal ever. What do you have?
Wow. It definitely would have to be summer. Fresh oysters accompanied by "La Grande Dame" champagne. Fresh Alaska king crab with lemon grass butter with a New Zealand semi-dry Riesling. Warm crusty bread and butter. Baby lettuces with the most delicate vinaigrette, some shavings of parrano or semi-hard cheese. Roast rack of lamb, medium rare with some delectable crust, potato gratin, baby beets. A lovely Cote de Nuits red with maybe a dozen or so years on it. French cheeses I've never tried before with fresh figs. Summer-ripe peach tart with loads of whipped cream. The darkest of chocolate desserts with raspberry puree and espresso. A vintage port decanted to sip late into the night.

Ed. Note: Thank you, Haidi! I am so with you on that last meal; I got hungry just reading your description.
Foodie Facebook is a regular feature on UtHC. Stay tuned--it could be you!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Top Ten Reasons Why I am Dreading the Approaching Autumn

Some of my favorite summer produce in its prime

1. The inevitable return to routine. Every home has one in the fall, be it structured around school, playgroups, extra curricular activities or social commitments. Somehow we have managed to drift through summer with no real commitments, no schedules and a delicious spontaneity from day to day, but that is soon coming to an end. The phrase “It’s a school night” starts popping up when we have friends over, usually when I am ready to start another round of Canasta or open a new bottle of wine. That sure gets annoying fast.

2. The arrival of Christmas paraphernalia at Costco. Oh, it’s there, all right. I now have to brace myself for the unavoidable onslaught of Christmas propaganda everywhere.

3. Noticing my garden shrivel up, fade away and go to seed before my very eyes. My parsley patch is three feet high and has flowers on it as if to say “I’ve produced enough, thank you, I am now going to flower and die.”

The return to weekly music practices. Now while I do enjoy singing in a local church choir, I find September a tad early to begin rehearsing for the Christmas concert. Another four months of this and I'll be able to perform sleepwalking. Wait a minute, I've been so tired lately from the pregnancy, sleepwalking isn't far off.

It’s the end of the feast of summer festivals in Montreal with nothing but famine ahead. The major festivities drift away with the last of the hot air balloons in Saint Jean-sur-Richelieu, and not many others come up on my radar until the High Lights Festival in February.

My birthday is in the fall and I am starting to dread getting a year older now that I am reaching the end of my ‘tweens’.

7. The closing of La Ronde. I’m an adrenaline junkie, and even though I can’t go on the rides now that I am pregnant, there is something about seeing the motionless amusement park as I drive over the Jacques Cartier Bridge that seems to signal the end of summer fun.

8. The return of hockey. Now, I have to be very careful what I say here as certain members of my household are avid Habs fans. It’s not that I have anything against hockey, it’s just that perhaps there are some Saturday nights from October through May that I might want to do something other than watch the game, have a one-sided conversation with my husband, or receive a highly-distracted and sporadic back rub.

9. Need I mention approaching cool weather? As I write, I am wearing pants, a sweater, socks, and have a blanket on my lap and I am thinking the pretty sun dress I was planning to wear to tomorrow's BBQ just isn’t going to be warm enough. The evenings are getting chillier and it’s not hard to imagine the eminent arrival of snow.

10. Probably the thing I dread most about the coming autumn is saying goodbye to gorgeous summer produce; watching the baskets of sweet strawberries get replaced by giant heads of cabbage and leeks the size of my arm. Then there are those annoying people who are falling over themselves to go apple picking as if they haven’t eaten an apple all year long. Although there are days when I can muster it, it’s hard to get excited about the arrival of the common apple in the fall, while all summer I have kept no less than ten kinds of fresh fruit and berries in my fridge and now have to say au revoir to the likes of watermelon, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, honeydew and so on…Goodbye, that is, if I keep any sort of grocery budget and I have any sort of palate as the prices jump and the flavor plummets come Labor Day weekend. Sure I love the fall vegetable line-up as much as then next chef, but when my local market is selling 10 lbs of beets for $2.99 and asparagus for $4.99/lb, it’s no secret that the fall veggies just aren’t as glamorous as the summer varieties. And who doesn’t love glam?!

Friday, August 17, 2007

All Cravings Start With Chocolate

Chocolate Nemesis with Raspberries

“So where did these cravings come from? I concluded it's the baby ordering in. Prenatal takeout. Even without ever being in a restaurant, fetuses develop remarkably discerning palates, and they are not shy about demanding what they want. If they get a hankering, they just pick up the umbilical cord and call. 'You know what would taste good right now? A cheeseburger, large fries, and a vanilla shake. And if you could, hurry it up, because I'm supposed to grow a lung in a half hour.'”
Paul Reiser, 'Babyhood' (1997)

I don’t know if what I am experiencing can be classified as pregnancy cravings, but it seems I am reaching for sweets a lot more often than usual.

For sure last night's ricotta cheesecake with rhubarb-raspberry compote was created for reasons other than the need to thin my rhubarb patch. Chocolate bundt cake the day before really was a good excuse to try my new pans; and obviously Sunday’s espresso ice cream was to help combat the heat….but this deep dark flour-less chocolate cake? Well, it must have been an order placed directly from the baby.

Once again I turned to the River Cafe Cookbook for this decadent chocolate cake. Once you try this you will never make another chocolate cake recipe. While it only calls for four ingredients, it is essential to use the very best chocolate possible. Note that this is a very large recipe. I had some leftover batter and made these sweet heart-shaped individual cakes. Why not? I've told you before, every day is Valentine's in this house!

Chocolate Nemesis

Serves 10-12

675g (1.1/2 lbs) bitter-sweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
10 whole eggs
575 g sugar
450g unsalted butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a 12x2 inch cake pan with greaseproof paper, than grease and flour it.

Beat the eggs with a third of the sugar until the volume quadruples-this will take at least 10 minutes in an electric mixer.

Heat the remaining sugar in a small pan with 250 ml (8 fl oz) water until the sugar has completely dissolved to a syrup.

Place the chocolate and butter in the hot syrup and stir to combine until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
Add warm chocolate mixture to the eggs and continue to beat, more gently, until completely combined- about 20 seconds, no more.

Pour into the cake tin and place in baine-marie of hot water. It is essential, for the cake to cook evenly, that the water comes up to the rim of the tin. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until set. Leave to cool in the tin before turning out.

When you are ready to serve the cake, loosen around the edges of the pan with a hot knife. Place the pan on a hot stove burner for 45 seconds or so to warm the bottom. Place a plate on top and invert the pan. Tap bottom gently with the butt of a knife and the cake should drop. Remove pan, peel back parchment, and voila! No frosting needed.
Serve with a few fresh berries.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Lasting Impressions

Allow me to share a few of the images I still have stuck in my head from my visit home to British Columbia...

Left to right from the top:

  1. My parents, at their 35th wedding anniversary party
  2. Khaki Campbell ducks
  3. Me at my usual post: the kitchen
  4. Sweet William flowers showcased by my Dad's artwork
  5. Ross Lake and Rocher de Boule Mountain
  6. Wild Saskatoon berries
  7. Unidentified wild mushroom
  8. My mother's unrivaled duck dinner
  9. Baby beets
  10. Fresh picked Bolete mushroom
  11. Niece, Lyra, with wild strawberries
  12. Hudson Bay Mountain at dusk
  13. Mama duck with day-old babies
  14. Noah doing artwork along the banks of the Kispiox River
  15. Catching up over some dessert
  16. Wild strawberry dessert with Fireweed flowers in the background

One Zucchini, Two Zucchini, Three Zuccini, Four.

Yellow Zucchini Soup with Parmesan and Basil

It’s good to be home, or at the very least, it is good not to be traveling across Canada with a toddler. While it was difficult enough to leave beautiful British Columbia and my family, the flights home did very little to help boost my spirits.
Oh, to the Air Canada flight attendant who spilled hot coffee down the back of my neck and onto my (finally) sleeping child: MERCI.

That was one flight I have never been happier to exit.
But, we made it back safe and sound. My garden was not there to greet me upon my return; instead there was a mighty jungle that I hardly recognized. Three weeks of varied rain and hot sun had helped most plants to double in size…and the weeds were not far behind. I immediately harvested nearly a dozen foot-long zucchinis. I laid them all out on my lawn while Noah danced around happily saying "Nee! Nee!" (his word for zucchini) as they are his favorite vegetable.

They were massive! I had my doubts as to how tasty they would be, but they were beautiful and have been featured in several dishes so far such as Chocolate Zucchini Bread, Zucchini Gratine with Cherry tomatoes and Gruyere, and of course, beautiful soup.

I've been delving into my copy of the River Cafe Cookbook and loving every recipe. It's such a fantastic interpretation of Italian cooking and I dig how there is minimal focus on pasta. (Sometimes pasta gets much more than it's deserved fifteen minutes of fame in Italian cookbooks) This zucchini soup recipe comes from the fabulous River Cafe cookbook and it was perfect- even Noah liked it.

Zuppa di Zucchini

1 kg zucchini, trimmed
25 ml olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500 ml chicken stock or water
140 ml double cream
1 small bunch basil, chopped
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
120 g Parmesan, grated

Cut the zucchini into quarters, then into 1 inch pieces. Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan and cook the garlic and zucchini slowly for approximately 25 minutes until the zucchinis are brown and very soft. Add salt, pepper and the stock, and simmer for another few minutes. Remove from the stove.

Put three-quarters of the zucchini in a food processor and puree. Return to the pan, and add the cream, basil, parsley and Parmesan. Heat gently and serve.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Summer Peach Galette or A Country Party

Under the High Chair Travels: Northern British Columbia

As my three week return visit to my British Columbia hometown drew to a close, things were heating up for a party we were throwing in honor of my parents 35th wedding anniversary. We’ve never done anything like this for them and so we wanted to make it special, poignant, personal and beautiful. Fortunately, between my three siblings and I (and let's not forget our amazing partners) we have the combined skill sets to create a memorable evening, so all we needed to do was put them to good use!

To my delight, the morning of the party dawned with sunshine and I was up almost as soon as those early rays. Before the first pot of French press coffee had even been drunk, I had turned out a few fruit tarts from the oven, a cherry and a peach, and the place was already starting to smell wonderful. I sat down with a muffin and listened to the grandchildren, ages 4, 2, almost 2 and 1, practice their special song for Nana and Grampa. With all the kazoos, maracas, drums and shakers it was a little hard to hear the words, but I was confident the guests of honor would be touched.

While others spent the morning cutting grass, trimming trees, hanging outdoor lights, scrubbing little hands and faces and a hundred other jobs, I was looking over a bountiful selection of home grown veggies, fresh berries and newly-caught fish and humming and hawing over the menu.

Finally it was decided upon: simple, fresh, and full of flavor:


Fresh Garden Crudite with Chive Dip
Parmesan Straws
Green Pea and Curry Samosas
Sautéed Shrimp New Mexican style with Tequila, Lime and Cilantro
Crostini with Wilted Spinach and Asiago


Bacon-Wrapped Maple Sage Pork Loin
Queen Charlotte Islands Halibut with Wasabi Cream
Roasted Chicken with Ethiopian Berberé Spices
Potato & Rosemary Strudel
Roasted Baby Beets and Carrots
Sugar Snap Peas with Lemon Butter
Wild Rice Pilaf with Pecans & Dried Cranberries
Fresh Mixed Greens with a Roasted Tomato & Balsamic Vinaigrette
Rosemary Baguettes

Dessert Table

2 Rustic Summer Galettes: Summer Peach and Okanagan Cherry
Vanilla Bean Panacotta with Strawberries
Dark Chocolate & Wild Strawberry Cupcakes
Citrus & Cointreau Cheesecake
Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

Great, now with the menu decided upon and the prep well underway, there was only one thing I was worried about: Noah. The poor little fellow had received three simultaneous black fly bites around his left eye the evening before while we were dining al fresco. To our dismay, his eye had swollen nearly shut during the night and by lunch time on party day, half of his face was looking an angry purple color and hot to the touch. Not good.

We administered an antihistamine, but by 4 PM, an hour before guests are to arrive, and with my oven full of roasting birds and pork loins, yet my son's condition worsening, we made the decision to take him to emergency.

Now if anyone knows me, they know I do not enjoy giving up control of my kitchen at any time, and it's especially difficult when there are 26 guests coming and I’ve got the gist of the menu in my head. However, my baby’s health is unquestionably my number one priority, so I handed my apron over to my sister, Haidi, and off we went.

While Danny distracted Noah in the waiting room, I was outside the hospital on a cell phone trying to get my other minor emergency under control. I didn't care if I was getting some funny looks, if I could still be at the helm from a distance, so be it!
I barked orders at her like a drill sergeant:

“Take the chicken out of the oven and cover it with foil.
Baste the pork loin with the maple syrup mixture. Do NOT forget to bring the strudel up from the basement so it can temper! Remember, the cheese straws HAVE to bake at 450F or they won’t crisp nicely"
"Oh and take the halibut out of the fridge so it can come to room temp. And if people start arriving, send a batch of samosas as appys BEFORE you send shrimp, because once people see seafood, they won’t eat anything else, OK?"

"Are you doing OK??”

I knew she would be fine and when we returned an hour and a half later (with antibiotics) we drove up on a picturesque, perfectly executed little country party...

Guests milled about near the blue delphinium beds and sipped summer drinks selected from an outdoor bar. They seemed to be contented as they munched on canapés, including some crispy Parmesan cheese straws offered my adorable niece, Lyra. Jazz tunes floated out the French doors, and onto the deck, where the children played together-their clothes clean for now. The sun was just starting to slant behind the gigantic Hudson Bay Mountain and there was no rain in sight!

Hay bales and snowcapped mountains make for an idyllic setting as Lyra offers treats.

In the kitchen, things were moving along nicely. I grabbed an apron and kicked it into fourth gear with the goal of having the buffet served in half an hour. No sweat!

The evening was a great success, unfortunately I was too busy rushing around trying to keep a buffet hot for 26 guests, and I forgot to shoot any photos of it, but it was lovely and people were appreciative.

Dessert was popular with the children...

To my surprise (and despite being stalked by nephew Marley) the cupcakes lingered on the dessert table, while the peach galette with whipped cream disappeared quickly and people were looking for another. Sorry folks, but below I have included the recipe for your baking pleasure.

After dinner, the children sang for their grandparents and it brought tears to a few eyes.

We toasted my parents and their inspiration to us all and gathered for one big photo before the babies went to bed. Danny, Noah and I were to fly out the next morning, so it was a bittersweet moment, but one I won't soon forget, nevertheless.

A Rustic Peach Galette

½ lb Puff Pastry
7 ripe peaches
¼ cup butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 egg, beaten

Roll out puff pastry in to about a 14 inch round. Refrigerate until chilled.

Half peaches and slice in to ½ inch wide wedges. In a heavy sauce pan on medium heat, melt butter and add sugar. Let sugar dissolve and bubble for a minute or so, then add peaches and stir to coat with butter mixture. Cook gently for a few minutes until the peaches soften slightly and release some juice.

Combine cornstarch, cinnamon and lemon juice together and add to peach mixture. Stir gently as the cornstarch thickens and coats the peaches. Simmer for a few minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 375F
Remove puff from fridge and arrange peach filling in the middle, leaving a good 2 inches around the edge. Fold up sides of puff party into the peaches, overlapping slightly until peaches are enclosed within a circle of puff. Brush pastry with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake until pastry is golden, about 25 minutes.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Kiwi-Ginger Sorbet Helps Beat the Heat

What to do when you have impulsively bought ten kiwi fruit only because they were 10/$.99? Make sorbet of course!
I alway have a stash of fresh ginger root on hand when I am pregnant (in case I need an early morning brew of ginger tea to sooth an upset tummy), and so with ripe kiwis and ginger available, it was a no-brainer for today's beat-the-heat solution. It's HOT!

I tried making a few popsicles with the sorbet, but it was pretty soft and perhaps didn't freeze long enough, so they were not very structurally sound. But they were cute and very refreshing!

Kiwi-Ginger Sorbet

1 tablespoon peeled and finely grated fresh ginger root
½ cup sugar
1 ¼ cups water
5 kiwi fruit

Put sugar and water in a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Add the ginger and cook for one minute, then strain into a bowl and chill until very cold. (For a more pungent ginger taste, allow syrup to cool with the ginger remaining inside and strain when cold. Not recommended for toddlers!)

Peel the kiwi and blend until very smooth. Add the puree to the chilled syrup and mix well.
Churn in an ice cream maker until think. Transfer to a plastic tub and freeze until ready to serve.
Serves 6.


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