Friday, February 27, 2009

Ten Things I've Learned About Food Bloggers

I'm surprised and thrilled by your response to this post--and a teeny bit relieved that you 'got it'. I really have the coolest bunch of readers!

To those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, catch up by reading my "Top Ten Things To Expect When Dining With A Food Blogger". Consider it a little weekend reading and do NOT skip the hilarious fifty or so comments where food bloggers bare their souls and make some surprising confessions.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Barbara said:
"Great post. I also get 'Aren't you taking a photo for your blog? Is our food not good enough to blog?' when we are dining at friend's houses."

Ouch! Is there any good answer to that question, Barbara? My pet peeve is when we're dining out with friends and they gush over their Chicken Parmesan "Ohh, take a picture of this for your blog!"
Why? Because people have never seen melted cheese sprinkled with parsley before?

Andrea said:
"I don't take photos when guests, even family, are visiting, though my husband asks me constantly, 'Did you photograph that?' before I serve anything to company. It's almost embarrassing!"

As if we would forget, right? That's when you blush, smile, and pretend you have no idea what he is talking about.

Kimberly said:
(at her child) " 'Hold on! Mommy forgot to take a picture! Can you please slide over? I need more light I know, you're hungry. Mommy is hungry too.' "

Kim! Are you scarring you children? Making them go hungry for the sake of a blog? Don't worry, sweetie, we've all been there.

Ah, we can't take ourselves too seriously now, can we?

Here are Ten Things I've Learned About Food Bloggers since writing the aforementioned post:

  1. We can laugh at ourselves. This is healthy.
  2. Our significant others put up with a LOT.
  3. We are dedicated to our craft, sometimes at the expense of family & friends.
  4. Surprisingly, some of us tend to be shy about working in front of guests.
  5. We have resigned ourselves to eating cold food. Now if only our S.O. would too; life would be so much easier.
  6. Somehow, this food blogging thing is having an effect on our young children and they may need some therapy later.
  7. We dream of a studio with good lighting, but for the most part, shoot on makeshift sets at random places all over the house.
  8. We know we're a little wacky.
  9. We're longing for summer with its lengthy evenings of soft natural light.
  10. Our kids are aspiring food bloggers (or think they are).
Thanks, everyone, for the great response! I'm thinking I may need to do a follow-up post...something along the lines of "Confessions of a Food Blogger". Feel free to start the therapy in the comments section below.

It seems we have a lot to get off our chests.

Stay tuned, I have a bevvy of desserts lined up for the week ahead. Brace yourselves!
For now, I've got to get going on chili for about 40 people. We're co-hosting a sledding party this weekend and I think I may even dust off my snowboard!

Have a great weekend!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Butternut Squash Muffins and Dreaming of Spring

Seed catalogs are starting to jostle for space in my mail box and I couldn't be happier. They offer me the opportunity to mentally check-out on winter for a while and do some virtual gardening. I do this by curling up with a glass of wine, paper and pencil and devising my springtime plan of attack for the kitchen garden and flower beds.
My garden isn't very big, but I still manage to drag the planning process out for a few evenings: hashing over the layout, remembering what thrived last summer (and what barely survived), and haggling over decisions like purple or Thai basil.

After all the deliberation (and a few glasses of wine!) I've decided I'm going to do things a little differently this year. Instead of using valuable garden space for my herbs, I'm going to make a movable herb garden with pots and planters on our new deck. That is how I used to do it on the tiny back balcony when we lived downtown and my basil was never so nice. Not only will it look gorgeous and free up more space for the pea patch, but the close proximity to the kitchen will be ideal for scampering out barefoot and gathering snippets to add to meals.

One of my Christmas presents from Danny was Jamie Oliver's new cookbook, Jamie at Home. It could have also been titled The Naked Chef Gets Dirty, as he's up to his elbows in garden soil for most of the book. With recipes inspired by his own love affair with gardening, this is a cookbook I can really get into. It's divided into seasons and features over a hundred recipes using simple fresh garden produce. There are also pages of gardening tips scattered throughout that I hope to put to practical use this summer.

Come on spring! We're ready for you anytime.

These muffins were the first recipe I tried from my new cookbook. Really, they should be titled cupcakes instead of muffins, but they were lovely no matter what their name. Moist and flavorful, they reminded me of a really decent carrot cake--only better.

Jamie Oliver’s Butternut Squash Muffins with a Frosty Top
makes 12 - 16 muffins

14 ounces butternut squash, seeded and roughly chopped
2 & 1/4 cups light brown sugar
4 large free-range or organic eggs
pinch of salt
2 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted
2 heaping tablespoons baking powder
handful of chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the Frosted Cream Topping:
1 clementine, zested
1 lemon, zested
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup sour cream
2 heaping tablespoons icing sugar, sifted
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a food processor, buzz the butternut squash until finely chopped. Add the sugar and eggs. Buzz in a pinch of salt, the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and olive oil and mix until well beaten. Scrape the sides if needed, and mix only until everything is well combined.
(Aimee's note: if you don't have a food processor, just grate the squash on a box cheese grater, transfer to a bowl and mix everything in by hand. This works just as well.)

Fill a regular sized muffin tin lined with paper cups until each cup is just over 3/4 full. Cook 20 - 25 minutes until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Allow muffins to cool on a wire rack.

For the topping:
Place the zest and lemon juice in a bowl. Add the sour cream, the sifted confectioner’s sugar and vanilla and mix well. Taste, and adjust the sweet and sour accordingly. Keep in the fridge until ready to top the muffins. If you like, sprinkle the topped muffins with a little more orange zest and lavender flowers.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

WFD? Chorizo & Black Bean Soup with Corn Bread

Lately I've been reminding myself of what I probably will be like as an 85 year-old woman.
I shuffle around the place dressed in a faded jogging suit, its pockets and sleeves stuffed with Kleenex, and smelling like Vic's Vapor Rub. I'm perpetually cold, and wear two pairs of socks, even when I go to bed (which is around 8:30).
I can't concentrate for two minutes on anything; guaranteed time-wasters like Twitter or Facebook hold no interest for me and I find myself wishing I had a good knitting project.
The kicker, though, amid all this depressing evidence, is that I re-used a teabag today. Ugh.

In my defense, our household has been sick for almost two weeks with colds & the flu and it tends to suck the life right out of you after a while. Not to be down or anything, but you should know it's not always all rainbows and sunshine around here. There are Kleenex boxes stashed at one meter intervals around the house and my stomach muscles ache from coughing. I'm at the point where I have to complain to someone and it may as well be you! Sorry.

It's strange to not have an appetite, especially for me, still the family has to eat and so we've been enjoying our fair share of comfort food.
Take this hearty soup and batter bread, for example. The chorizo give off enough heat to clear the sinuses a bit and the bold flavors of cilantro, lime and garlic can awaken even the most desensitized taste buds. There's no doubt a good soup does wonders for the soul; I'm even cheering up just writing about it.
Oh, and it's high time I shared my favorite corn bread recipe. Moist and rich, it's a cinch to make and always comes out like a dream. We eat ours drenched in honey.

Chorizo & Black Bean Soup

Serves 2

1 chorizo sausage (about 150g)

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 green onions
1 clove garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon whole cumin

2 cups cooked black beans

1 large fresh tomato, chopped

2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup corn

garnish: fresh cilantro, lime wedges, sour cream

In a small, heavy skillet set over medium heat, gently toast the cumin until the aromas begin to be released and seeds are lightly colored. Set aside to cool, then grind to a powder in a mortar and pestle.

Slice chorizo lengthwise and lay the flat, cut side down on your cutting board. Slice entire sausage
in 1/4 inch pieces. Heat a heavy, medium sized pot and add chorizo. Cook for about five minutes, until the pieces start to color a bit. Remove from pan and reserve.

Slice white parts of onions, reserving the green for later, and add to the pot along with olive oil, garlic, and cumin. Saute gently, combining everything well together.
Add black beans, tomato, stock, and corn to the pot and mix well.

Simmer on low for about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Ladle into bowls, add chorizo pieces, and squeeze some lime over. Slice green onions and toss over the soup. Top with fresh cilantro and serve with sour cream.

Corn Bread

Serves 6

1/2 cup flour

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

3 teaspoon baking powder

3 eggs, well beaten

1 cup milk

1/4 cup cream

1/3 cup butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Butter an 8-1/2 x 11-inch baking pan.
Sift the flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, and baking powder into a large bowl. Mix thoroughly. Beat eggs and milk together until well mixed, add to cornmeal mixture and combine well. Beat in the cream, and lastly, the butter.

Pour batter into the buttered pan and bake for 18-20 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean.
Slice into triangles and serve warm.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chocolate Nemesis With Raspberries For Your Valentine

This recipe was first published on August 17, 2007.

OK, so I know I said this cake was my favorite chocolate cake, but I need to clarify that it's my preferred everyday chocolate cake and today's recipe is my favorite special occasion chocolate cake. It is OK to have more than one favorite, right? I mean, you can have a favorite pair of heels and a favorite pair of flats, but they're both shoes.

So I was scanning my archives for something Valentine's related (since we've been way too sick around here to bake or do anything at all) and this post popped out at me; with its chocolate and raspberries, flowers and pretty heart shape, it has got love written all over it. Goodness knows what I was originally making this in the middle of August for, but I'm sure I had my reasons. Oh right, pregnancy cravings can do weird things to you.

This decadent chocolate cake from the River Cafe Cookbook is well worth a re-run. It's incredibly moist, thanks to being baked in a water bath, and amazingly enough, calls for only four ingredients. However, it is essential to use the very best chocolate possible. Don't even think of icing it, you need only to dress it up with a few fresh berries or sliced fruit.

You can make it in one large round tin, as per the recipe, or divide it up into individual heart-shaped molds as I did.

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 bain-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!

Serve with a few fresh berries.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Welcome to...

a new and improved!
You may have noticed some changes around here and there are a few words of thanks that need to be said!

First of all, a big thank you to the talented illustrator and designer Jessica Spring for our original and playful header. It was a pleasure to work with someone so creative and she captured perfectly how I always imagined my header would look. Her illustrative style is a digital collage of scanned ink and pencil drawings, ink washes, and patterns. She lives in Dundas, Ontario with her husband and two small children. You can see more of her work at her blog, Linear Ramblings.

Although I only wanted the chubby knees of a baby in the banner, Jess penciled in the whole baby in a sample sketch; he now graces our sidebar because he's just too cute to go on the reject pile!

As always, Danny was hugely instrumental in getting the new, clean look realized and doing all the technical geek stuff. Thanks, Sweetie!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Coming To You From....Simple Mom

Today you can find me over at Simple Mom writing about How To Cook Up A Winning Oscar Party!

I've recently joined the Simple Mom team of Columnists and will be contributing monthly to the popular life hack blog; I'll be discoursing about food, of course!

Simple Mom is one of the fastest growing blogs online right now and has recently been named one of the top 10 emerging influential blogs of 2008. It was also nominated for a 2009 Bloggie as "Best New Weblog", so our fingers are crossed!
Needless to say I was tickled pink when SM contacted me and offered me the food columnist position and didn't have think about my answer. (Although I did for 24 hours, just to be sure it was really happening and not a mistake.)

So, lucky for you, if I'm not posting enough around here, you can get more of the same from another source! Simple Mom will rock your socks, so be sure to check out her site. I'm continually floored by how she is perpetually on the ball in every aspect of home management.

If you are a first time visitor joining us from Simple Mom, Welcome to Under the High Chair!
You can read here about who we are. Oh and this site tends to make people hungry so you might want to fix yourself a snack.

More updates anyone? Follow me on Twitter for the good, the bad and the everyday under the high chair.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Coping With Chocolate-Glazed Cinnamon-Raisin Oatmeal Cookies

Say your cat is deathly ill and you rush it to the vet. Several days, a surgery, and many procedures later, you find out that the bill is going to be to the tune of $1000 dollars. Oh, and it's coming out of your savings for that trip to Italy in 2010.
Do you...

A. Smile, hand over your AMEX and remind yourself that pets are people too. Italy can wait. Like its wine, it only gets better with age.

B. Grind your teeth, curse all things furry under the sun (vets included), but pay the bill anyway.

C. Resort to childish tactics: crying, swearing, arguing, flirting, etc..., and hope that they will lower the bill. (They don't.)

D. Sign the credit card slip, walk out the door, straight into a drug store and fill a basket with chocolate. (Thank goodness it's Valentine's soon and the place is stocked!)

You can probably guess my coping strategy. Yep, "D" lots of chocolate. M & M's (the big bag), Lindt Extra Thins, Nestle chocolate eggs, you name it, I bought it.

Note that all of the numbers above include paying the inflated veterinary bill. Somehow there are no other options. Grrr. Don't get me wrong, we're happy to have our Cassis home again, but had we been a little better informed of certain common complications that can occur in neutered male cats, we may have saved ourselves the stress and money*.

Anyhow, that is the very short version of how I found myself looking for ways to use up lots of chocolate. Having just mixed up a batch of our family favorite chewy oatmeal-raisin cookies with Noah, and watching him top them with M&M's, I decided to melt a some of my Lindt Extra Thins on top as the cookies were cooling on the rack. The results were rather delicious:

The 70% cacao sliver of chocolate melted in the oatmeal cookie's warm hug and created the most tantalizing and perfectly square glaze on the round cookie. The few left on the cooling rack that did not get devoured hardened nicely again, which helped for stacking and storing.

It's fun to watch them melt...Now if you'll excuse me, I've got lots of chocolate to eat.

Cinnamon-Raisin Oatmeal Cookies with Chocolate Glaze

makes 3 dozen large
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cinnamon
1/4 cup coconut
3 cups oatmeal (not quick or instant)
1 cup raisins
36 Lindt thins, 70% Cacao

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat well, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Combine and add flour, baking soda and salt. Mix in coconut, oatmeal and raisins and stir just to combine.

Drop spoonfuls of dough onto a greased cookie sheet and bake 8-10 minutes until edges start to brown slightly. Tops will still be slightly raw. (I like to under-bake my oatmeal cookies so they are chewy as opposed to crispy.)

Let cool on pan for a minute or so and then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Place a Lindt Thin on the top of each cookie and watch them melt.

Allow cookies to cool completely and wait for the chocolate to harden before transferring cookies to a tin.

* * *

*UPDATE: Attention cat owners! For a detailed look at what happened to Cassis the Cat and, more importantly, how to easily prevent it from happening to your cat, visit my sisters' blog My Mini Zoo. Miranda is well schooled in this area and gives a complete rundown on what every cat owner should know --and what vets don't necessarily want you to know. Seriously, don't go through what we did; educate yourself now!

Cassis sleeping in our bathroom sink. What a wack!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Relaxing with Lemon Cake

Some people put their feet up in from of the TV when they need to relax, others go for a walk or have a warm bath, but not me, I head for the kitchen.

Last week was a particularly busy one around here and to cap it off, I babysat for a friend on Friday afternoon. I had a four-year-old, a three-year-old, a two-year-old and little Mateo, bouncing around the place and my, it was busy! My nerves were a little shot by the time Danny got home from work and so after dinner he graciously bathed both boys and put them to bed while I headed to the kitchen. I was in need of some baking therapy and I had the perfect recipe to try: Lemon-Drenched Lemon Cake from Joy the Baker.

Joy is no stranger to turning to the kitchen after a rough day and she always knows the best remedy for finding your mojo again. I bet she'd make a great girlfriend; she would be the one with a listening ear and a plate of cookies at the end of a long week.

The lemon cake was the ideal way to relax and wrap up the busy week. It is a recipe simple enough to follow with half a brain, as I had that evening, and so fun to put together. My favorite part was rubbing the lemon zest and the sugar together; my hands have never smelled so good!

Danny joined me in the kitchen and did all my dishes. What a sweetie.

Light and tender, tart and moist, you need not ever look for another lemon loaf again.

Lemon Drenched Lemon Cakes

For the Cakes:

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

pinch of salt

2 1/3 cups sugar

1/2 plump, moist vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out and reserved, or 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

6 large eggs, preferably at room temperature

2/3 cups heavy cream

zest of two lemons, finely grated

1 stick, plus 7 Tablespoons (15 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the syrup:

1/3 cup water
1/4 cup sugar

juice of two lemons

Making the cakes:

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8 1/2-4 1/2-inch loaf pans, dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess. Even if the pans are nonstick, it’s a good idea to butter and flour them. Place the pans on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular sheets stacked one on top of the other.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Put the sugar and the lemon zest in a large bowl, working with your fingers, rub them together until the sugar is moist and thoroughly imbued with the fragrance of lemon. Add the vanilla bean seeds and work them into the sugar. If you are using vanilla extract, add it later, after you have added the eggs.

Add the eggs and whisk them into the sugar, beating until they are thoroughly incorporated. Whisk in the extract (if using), then whisk in the cream. Continuing with the whisk, or switching to a large rubber spatula, gently stir in the dry ingredients in 3 or 4 additions; the batter will be smooth and thick. Finish by folding in the melted butter in 2 or 3 additions. Pour the batter into the pans, smoothing with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.

As soon as the cake goes into the oven, make the syrup.
After about 30 minutes in the oven, check the cakes for color- if they are browning too quickly, cover them lightly with foil tents.

Making the syrup:
Stir the water and sugar together in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the sugar melts, then bring to a boil. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Pour the syrup into a heatproof bowl and let cool.

When the cakes test done, transfer them to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before unmolding them and turning them right side up on the rack. Place the rack over a baking sheet lined with wax paper and, using a thin skewer, cake tester or thin-bladed sharp knife, poke holes all over the cakes. Brush the cakes all over with the syrup, working slowly so that the cakes sop it up. Leave the cakes on the rack to cool to room temperature.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Top Ten Things To Expect When Dining With A Food Blogger

Disclaimer: The following is a tongue-in-cheek and much exaggerated preview of what to expect should you accept a dinner invitation to the home of an avid food blogger. At least, I think it would be like this; certainly at my place things are done with much more consideration for the guest!

Top Ten Things To Expect When Dining With A Food Blogger:

1. You won’t be asked to bring anything except perhaps wine or other beverages.

2. Dinner will be served at 3 in the afternoon because the natural light is better.

3. Once the meal is ready, it will be marched past the set dining room table and out the back door for a photo shoot on the shady deck; it will be served to you approximately fifteen minutes later. If you're lucky.

4. Due to #3, dinner will be cold.

5. There will be one beautifully presented dish - the one being photographed - but any side dishes may look like they were hurriedly slopped together.

6. The dining room has a backdrop and fill lights. (So I don't, but I bet I know someone who does.)

7. You may be asked if you can be photographed while eating, but note that this request is merely a formality and the host will snap away at will no matter what your response. Expect close-ups of your lips, etc.

8. The host may seem lost in thought for the most of the meal -- presumably because he/she is already composing a blog post in his/her head.

9. If there is conversation, it will probably revolve around the food (details on how it was prepared, the chef’s feelings on how it turned out) or the weather (too sunny for photographs or not sunny enough).

10. You'll notice that the cake for dessert has a slice missing from it. That's because the host needed to photograph the layers.

Consider yourself warned. You're welcome.

Update: Don't miss the follow-up to this post "Ten Things I've Learned About Food Bloggers"!


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