Friday, August 29, 2008

A Summer Tart and a Confession

So I heard this pathetic story once about this woman who was delaying starting her second child on solids. Here he was, already six months old, fueled solely by breast milk, while his older brother, the first born, had started the mashed banana and rice cereal at the tender age of five months. Finally one day, this poor child's mother decides to stop stalling and bite the bullet.
So she picks a few carrots from her kitchen garden, (no pesticides for baby) peels and slices them and puts them in a pot with just a little water to steam them until tender. At least that was the idea, only she forgets about them completely and they scorch horribly. In fact they are black and the pot requires some serious work to return it to it's normal state. The mother decides she can put off starting solids for another day, maybe two.

A good start to homemade baby food? I think not! (She did recently turn 30, which is pretty old so we could attribute her absent mindedness to that. )

.....OK, OK, so that happened to me today. Yes, I'm a big fat loser!

Sure I once used to control the timing of a fine dining professional kitchen and now I can't even make baby food without burning it beyond recognition. What gives??

Oh well, there is no rush, Mateo can't quite sit up yet and you can tell just by looking at his chubby thighs, he's doing just fine on mama's milk!
Starting solids with the second baby is certainly anti-climactic compared to with the first child. I couldn't wait to cook for Noah--and then he spat out (or vomited) virtually everything I sent his way except yogurt.
Of course, that rejection eventually became the inspiration for this blog. (Just read "What's in a name?", my second ever blog post for the full story and to see a cute picture of Noah as a chubby baby in the infamous high chair...)

Making my own baby food is going to be a piece of cake the second time around, though. It's all been done before and is so familiar--just like this fresh fruit tart that has already made a few appearances on this blog in different guises.
I can't help it, I love this dessert so much!

This tart usually comes together when collection of fresh fruit that is fast ripening on my counter starts waving at me and I check my freezer for leftover pie dough. Not a very glamorous start, but what makes it extraordinary is the creme patissière.

Speaking of baby food, I think my mother started me off on pastry cream. Forget the rice cereal, she was probably spooning the cool, vanilla custard between my toothless gums to get me started on this road as a foodie. How else can I explain my infatuation with it, eating it right out of the fridge with the door open?
"It's a childhood thing, you know. My mother....." (and here I gesture helplessly as I dip my spoon in for another taste.)

So this tart was some left-over whole-wheat quiche dough (can't remember how I threw that together), classic pastry cream, and as you can see, fresh figs, raspberries and cherries. You can use whatever fruit you have on hand or love very much. I glazed some of the fruit with a little crabapple jelly, warmed up until it was runny, and then brushed on the cherries and figs.
That's it!

Here is my go-to recipe for pastry cream, republished. Better make a double batch, because it pretty amazing poured warm over some sliced bananas and you may want to try that. Right now.

Pastry Cream

(from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook)

2 cups whole milk
½ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split in two
4 large egg yolks
¼ cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, ¼ cup sugar, vanilla and salt. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cornstarch, and remaining ¼ cup sugar. Whisking constantly, slowly pour about ½ cup of the hot-milk mixture into the egg mixture. Continue adding milk mixture, ½ cup at a time, until it has been incorporated. Pour mixture back into saucepan, and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens, about 2 minutes. Remove vanilla bean, scrape pod with the tip of a knife to remove seeds. Add seeds to custard and discard bean.

Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add butter, and beat on medium speed until butter melts and the mixture cools, about 5 minutes.
Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Chocolate-Raspberry Oat Muffins

I am not generally accustomed to letting Noah eat in front of the TV, in fact, our soon-to-be three-year-old isn't really allowed to watch television; however, the Bejing Olympics have caused us to bend the rules a bit these last several days.

Is anyone as enraptured by the games as I am? These athletes (or 'af-leaps' as my son calls them) are so hard core! They are all normal people like you and I, but their endurance, strength, focus and drive is stunning to watch.

The morning Alexandre Despatie of Montreal won his silver medal in diving was so exciting, I couldn't turn off the TV. For the first time in my history as a mother, I dragged the high chair into our office/TV room and served Noah his oatmeal poolside--er, television-side.
His brain can't rot during six rounds of dives now, can it?

The silver medal performance inspired the afternoon's game for Noah, as a row of surprisingly buoyant pillows laid in a row across the floor made up a diving board onto the sofa.

These muffins are another great way to get your morning oats without the mess of a bib, bowl and spoon for the little ones. Plenty of butter keep them moist and the oatmeal add a delightful texture. As you can see, I am carrying my much-loved combination of raspberries and chocolate a step further than dessert and bringing it into my breakfast menu. These feel almost like dessert for breakfast, what could be better than that?

Feel free to change up the add-ins of these buttermilk oatmeal muffins to suit your taste. Prefer blueberries to raspberries? No chocolate for you? Try adding some dried fruit or nuts instead.

Chocolate-Raspberry Oat Muffins
Makes 12

1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
1/2 cup brown sugar
½ cup melted butter, cooled
1 cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup mini chocolate chips
1 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen

In a large bowl, combine oats and buttermilk and let stand one hour. Preheat oven to 400F and prepare muffin tins.
Stir the egg and the sugar into the oat mixture, followed by the melted butter. Pile all the ingredients together over the oat mixture, leaving out the berries, and stir the batter until just combined.
Fold in berries carefully without over mixing.
Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins and place in oven. Bake until golden brown and firm to the touch, about ten minutes.

More Chocolate and Raspberry recipes:

Chocolate and Raspberry Ice Cream Sandwiches

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Raspberries

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mocha Mousse, Mud Masks and happy birthday to Moi

Is it Mocha Mousse or a Chocolate Mud facial?

Recently I stocked up on some home spa treatments to pamper myself with on my birthday. My little shopping spree at the galerie beauté left me with a big bag of products, a rumbling tummy, and a question:
What is the deal with food-flavored hair and body treatments?

Indulge me for a moment and listen to this list:

Lime oil hair mask
Chocolate Cappuccino Cheesecake shower gel
Banana and Soy bath soak
Grapefruit foot soak
Cinnamon Apple Pie foaming bath
Cocoa body butter
Vanilla Brown Sugar Cupcake bubble bath
Chocolate mud facial mask

How can anyone say no to labels like that?

Talk about a marketing strategy, they got me hook, line and sinker. Yep, I bought all of the above. Forget about lavender, verbena, or even lemon, heck, I wanna smell like a brown sugar cupcake with hints of banana and soy on my birthday.
Apparently food is not just the way to a man's stomach anymore, it's also paving the way to women's wallets.

My chocolate mud facial had a better consistency than most buttercream, somewhere between Nutella and a creamy mocha mousse I made recently.
It smelled heavenly. I couldn't resist a little lick as I was applying it to my face...
Woah, that was a big mistake and a very disappointing one too. It stung my tongue in a sharp chemical-like way and I have to have a spoonful of Nutella to get the taste out of my mouth. (In the meantime I tried to convince Danny that I was really swirling my mud mask around in my mouth, but he didn't fall for it. Smart man.)

So yeah, I'm 30 today.

I don’t usually make a big deal about my birthday.
It generally slips by fairly uneventfully, my siblings forget to call, and there is typically a dinner date with Danny the weekend before or afterward. I tend to lean more toward the school of thought that once you reach a certain age, every birthday doesn’t need to be celebrated with the fanfare of a childhood birthday. Sure, it should be recognized, but I’m not going to stomp my foot and get pouty if the day is not all about me. Save the cake and sparklers for a milestone birthday, like every decade, or half a decade.
Or if you are turning really, really old like I am today.

I know all you wise people who celebrated thirty many years ago are all rolling your eyes and saying
"She calls that old?”
but try to remember back to when it was you and what it felt like. I just don’t feel middle aged. Heck, I often don’t feel mature enough to be the mother of two babies with responsibilities like a mortgage and a subscription to the Montreal Gazette. OK, maybe that last one isn't such a serious obligation, but you know what I mean, domesticated suburbia-style.

So, happy birthday to me. I’m off to--not sure really. The babysitter (aka. awesome MIL) is here and my carriage awaits to sweep me off to somewhere fantastic.

I just hope it's not the spa.

Now for the mousse!! Tell me there is no better duo than coffee and chocolate. This mousse even made a believer out of a non-coffee fan. I know, I hardly believe I can be friends with someone who doesn't love coffee with every fiber of their body, but it's true. A great do-ahead dessert, you can make this the morning of your party and let it sit in the fridge while you rush around doing all the last minute stuff.
Not that I ever do that.

Mocha Mousse (from The Silver Palate Cookbook)
I served this mousse in martini glasses for a girly-girl party I had. Oh, and save those yolks for a nice batch of creme brulé!

1/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons espresso or strong coffee

6 ounces semisweet chocolate

4 tablespoons light cream

3 egg whites

1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled

In a heavy saucepan, dissolve sugar in coffee over medium heat. Set aside.
In the top part of a double boiler set over simmering water slowly melt chocolate. When melted, whisk in light cream and the coffee mixture, stirring until smooth. Cool.

Beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Gently fold in 1/2 cup of the chocolate mixture. Pour this mixture back into chocolate mixture, folding gently. Beat chilled cream to soft peaks and fold gently until totally mixed.

Pour into 8 individual dessert glasses or one large serving dish (I filled a pastry bag and piped mine into martini glasses) and chill for four hours.

Garnish with your favorite decoration: a mint leaf, chocolate covered coffee bean, chocolate shavings, a cherry....

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Going Crazy for Peach Cobbler

How frustrating is it to be hungry and surfing food blogs? It's like asking for trouble.

You don't even have to be that hungry, you can be just peckish, and then start feeling sorry for yourself as you read about all the good stuff that is unavailable, SO unavailable, to you.
It's cruel, really.

So what are your options should you find yourself with a rumbling stomach and drooling onto your keyboard? Here are two that come to mind.

A) Get out before you are so blinded by hunger you will raid the pantry and eat anything you come across (usually chocolate, marshmallows, dried fruit and more chocolate). Switch sites immediately and start surfing your favorite online retail store for bikinis. That will get your mind off of food and onto exercise faster than anything else.
B) Hit 'print', head to the kitchen, tie on an apron, and attempt to recreate what had you salivating moments earlier.

Let's assume the latter is what most of us do.

Now for a reality check (don't you hate those?).
Here's the deal, although you may be a cook, perhaps even a professional chef, that doesn't always mean you can jump up and turn out exactly what you have seen on a blog.
If only it were that easy, but often you are separated by more than just preheating the oven and stirring ingredients together.
Here are a few roadblocks you may encounter. These are purely from my own experience, feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

1) Product Availability: Who has a stash of blueberry lager in the back of the fridge to make these Brewberry Brownies? Another creation from Sugar Plum, these unique brownies look like the perfect dessert to be whipped up on a weeknight and eaten straight from the pan while -what else?--surfing blogs, but how am I to get my hands on a beer called "Wild Blue"? (Warning: This problem is encountered more frequently if you tend to read blogs from another country where they have many products that are new to us. It works both ways, though, as I have had people ask me what crab apples or rhubarb taste like.)

2) Time Constraints: (this is my current biggest problem) Do you have enough non-interrupted free time to execute the dish correctly? OK, fine then, maybe you do, but then you read the recipe and there is the frustratingly inevitable step in the recipe that says to rest/marinade/chill the dish overnight. Arg! You need to eat it NOW!

3) Just Plain Lack-of-Skill: Ouch. Never fun to admit, but we know our limits, right? We need a few hundred hours of pastry experience under our belts before we can attempt some of this stuff.

For example, recently I was puckering and salivating over Aran's Delice D'Ete. Everything about it was calling out to me: the tartness of the raspberries, the Bavarian cream with its vanilla seeds, and the stylish way the dessert came together. I could imagine my fork cutting effortlessly through its flawless layering, but deep down I knew: this dessert was about as attainable to me as an Olympic medal. (Not just because I am Canadian, either!) I barely had enough time to read through and visualize the recipe, never mind grab a pen and make a shopping list. Little use that would be anyway, as Oprah probably gets more cooking time in her kitchen than I do. OK, so she probably doesn't lift a spoon, but you get my drift.

However, my spirits lifted, perhaps even soared when I saw this cobbler! Matt's gorgeous photo got my attention and his ode to the humble cobbler struck a chord. Here was something I could throw together during the rare occasion of a synchronized nap of my babies, using ingredients that were fast ripening on my counter top. Heck, I thought, if my stars were aligned right, I could probably make a cobbler, bake it and eat half of it before anyone woke up. Perfect!

And that's what I did. More than once.

In fact, if I counted correctly, I believe I made five peach cobblers in 48 hours, but who is counting anyway?

Let's see. Well, I started with two--and not little sissy individual ramekins like the one in the photo either, but big, deep dish pyrex cobblers. One I consumed hot out of the oven that afternoon with some help from Danny (this is the recommended way to eat them). The other one I brought to a potluck with friends that evening. The next day I made another one for us (much bigger this time) and two more in aluminum, take-out containers to deliver to friends who just had babies. After that I was out of peaches or I probably would have kept going.

The little ramekins are pretty cute, I guess, good for a photo, but you will never be satisfied with a small portion of this perfect summer-in-a-dish.
How simple is the cobbler? It's easier than a pie. I always get a mental block with pie dough; it's so much work to roll out sometimes. No spices or flavorings mask the flavor of the peaches, letting them be the star of the show. The biscuit batter is almost as light as a cake and has a delightful contrast of textures between the fluffy underside and the crusty top.
Enjoy the cobbler warm, with a mound of whipped cream.

Peach Cobbler (original recipe from Everyday Baking)

For The Filling:
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar (depending on sweetness of fruit)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 pounds peaches, halved, pitted, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices, and cut again in half crosswise (about 4 cups)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

For the Topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2/3 cup low-fat buttermilk

1. Make the filling: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar and cornstarch. Add peaches and lemon juice; toss to combine. Divide filling evenly among four 8-ounce custard cups (or one 2-quart baking dish); transfer to a rimmed baking sheet.

2. Make the topping and bake: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, blend in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk; stir just until a dough forms. Drop dough onto peaches, using about 1/3 cup dough for each custard cup. Sprinkle dough with remaining teaspoon sugar. Bake until fruit is bubbling and biscuit topping is golden brown, 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes; serve warm.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Baby Talk

First of all, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to the new moms and mama's-to-be that are dropping by as as directed from Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine's "Sites to Surf"! You are at such an exciting point in your lives and I know how you are feeling: I just went through it for the second time with my Mateo.

Mateo, 4 months. Photo provided by

When I started Under the High Chair I knew it would be about all things food related--with a little baby talk mixed it, because, let face it, my boys are the sun, moon and stars to me. Imagine my surprise to find out that Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine has named me one of their Best Mommy Blogs in their August issue!

To quote the magazine:
"To commiserate over the inevitable, and to steal some of this mom and chef extraordinaire's delicious recipes (or at least drool over the yummy photos!), check out her site, Under the High Chair. Good grub guaranteed; clean floor unlikely."

How thrilling to see our name in print!

Here I am with my inspiration for Under the High Chair: Noah, almost 3, and Mateo.
Photo provided by

All right, introductions and welcome aside, I now have a confession.
Let's just say this mention was a timely pat on the back. Over the last few weeks I have been contemplating putting UtHC to rest for several reasons, mainly because I don't feel like it is living up to it's full potential. I have a lot to give, just no time to execute and I hate delivering sub-par material. Maybe I am being hard on myself, but we are our own worst critic, right?

However this past week has been extraordinary because I have received a few more personal emails than usual from people who declared they really enjoyed this blog and found inspiration from it. Who is paying them to say that, I'll probably never know, but I sincerely appreciate these individuals taking time to drop me a note and helping to remind me that I'm not blogging into an empty void. Those friendly notes, combined with this very surprising mention in a prominent magazine, has helped refresh my blogging drive.

Thank goodness, because I really wasn't looking forward to joining Oprah's Book Club. I like having this blog as my creative outlet, and a place where I can rant if I need to. Really, it's much cheaper than therapy!

So the bottom line right now is although I don't blog from this studio with a wall-to-wall prop shelf, nor time to follow this fabulous tutorial for my food photography like food styling, lighting or even, heck, an assistant (?), I'll just keep doing what I am doing and that is being real.
After all, I am a real mom of real kids, who rarely gets a solid night's sleep, is addicted to caffeine, hates ironing and has no money for a camera upgrade. Yep, I shoot my photos on top of a washing machine (that is usually running) and edit them while breastfeeding.

Still, as passionate as I am about food and cooking, I am equally in love with being a mother and this little mention in P&N Magazine made my month! This post is for my children and for all the other mama's out there. Isn't motherhood an amazing journey?!

Photo provided by our friends at

If you are a new reader, sorry about all the drama, things are usually a little more superficial around here. And faithful readers, don't worry, I'll be back with plenty more recipes and food-related topics lickety split!

Maybe, just maybe though, I can get that digital SLR camera sometime.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Chocolate-Raspberry Ice Cream Sandwiches

We have a thing about ice cream in our home.

What home doesn't? you ask, and you have a valid point, but around here it borders on obsession. We love it!

Everyone likes ice cream, that's a pretty safe generalization, but how many engaged couples budget all-you-can-eat Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream into their wedding reception even if it means cutting other normal requirements (like a DJ) out all together? Priorities, people!

Yup, we bought four massive tubs of their most popular flavors, they threw in several hundred little serving cups and my brother was pre-scooping ice cream far into the night on the eve of the wedding. We had some leftover and our first few months of newly married bliss was made even sweeter by all those bowls of Cherry Garcia. Mmmm.

We've always loved Ben and Jerry's ice cream and when we visited the B&J Mecca (their factory in Northern Vermont) I picked up their ice cream cookbook so I could duplicate their recipes in my own machine! It was a good investment as the recipes are fun, easy and delicious like this one for Raspberry Ice Cream. I generally make my ice creams with a cooked custard base, but the B&J recipes all have what they call their 'sweet cream base' that requires no cooking and is fast to whip up. Sometimes fast is good, like when you are trying to cook dinner for eight during the baby's 30 minute nap and decide at the last minute to make a dessert too.

We've been enjoying the sweet local berries in many ways and I couldn't resist churning some into ice cream. Would you believe I still have a stash of cake trimmings in my freezer from this wedding cake, so it was a no-brainer to make some cut-outs from the scraps and sandwich my ice cream between the rounds of moist chocolate cake. Voilà, dessert for the gang. Again, fast and easy. Hmmm, that's not usually my motto, but it keeps rearing it's head, doesn't it?

Speaking of no-brainers, the first week of August is World Breastfeeding Week and to me breastfeeding is about the biggest no-brainer for a mother. You could say that I am an advocate! It's free (Ok, it is fast and easy, too. I may as well throw that in there since I'm on that kick) and perhaps the most enjoyable and rewarding experience I have ever had.

Linda over at Make Life Sweeter is hosting an blogging event called "Got Milk?" in support of World Breastfeeding Week and although I found out about this about five minutes ago and the deadline to enter is tonight, I am going to try to participate with this post.

I should make the deadline....if I don't get called away to breastfeed Mateo. How ironic would that be?

Ben & Jerry's Raspberry Ice Cream

1 pt Fresh raspberries
2 lg Eggs
1 1/2 c Sugar
2 c Heavy or whipping cream
1/2 Lemon; juice of
1 c Milk

Compared to other fresh fruit, raspberries are intensely flavorful and very tart, so to make ice cream you need less fruit and more sugar.

Toss the raspberries, 3/4 cup sugar, and the lemon juice together in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the remaining 3/4 cup sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the heavy cream and milk and whisk to blend. Drain the juice from the raspberries into the cream mixture and blend. Mash the raspberries until pureed and stir them into the cream mixture. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze following the manufacturer's instructions. Makes 1 generous quart.

NOTE: If you prefer a chunkier raspberry ice cream, return the raspberries to the refrigerator after pouring off the juice. After the ice cream stiffens, about 2 minutes before it is done, add the whole raspberries.

(As it turns out, both Ben & Jerry's and I turn 30 this year. What great company to share a birthday with!)


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