Monday, October 25, 2010

Cake Love and Vegetable Ardor.

I've been holding out on you. There has been cake and I haven't shared. This post will remedy that selfishness, however, so get your pencils out and print up my holiday baking pantry check-list. You're going to want to shop for ingredients after this post.

The three cakes I'm about to elaborate on have something in common besides, well, flour, sugar and all those cake-y ingredients. Can you guess?

They all originated at the vegetables stand of my local market. Yep, without intending to do so, and just by following my own cravings over the last few weeks, I've baked cakes with carrots, pumpkin and beets.

That's a good thing, right?

Now, onto the recipes, for they are keepers.

Here we have a - hang onto your hats - Pumpkin Guinness Gingerbread Bundt Cake.
Who is the one person to come up with this craziness? Yea, the one-and-only Julie Van Rosendaal. She posted this last Saturday on Babble's Family Kitchen blog and unbeknown to her, made my to-do list a little bit longer for that day.

I was throwing a harvest dinner party the next day, and what is a girl to do when faced with a recipe such as this? Add it to the menu, send the hubby out for stout (didn't have to ask twice), and rummage around for a bundt pan. It obviously had to be made.

The flavors in this cake kind of blow your mind; you must check out the list of ingredients. I started chuckling to myself as I read through them (golden rule of baking: read the recipe through first) and by the time I finished was laughing my head off: Pumpkin. Guinness. Molasses. Brown Sugar. Fresh Ginger. Ground Ginger. Vanilla. Cocoa. Cinnamon....all that was missing was some espresso powder!

Needless to say, Julie sure knows how to throw a party in a bundt pan, plus it made the place smell mad.

Head here to get the recipe.

Not to be outdone by the bundt, may I present the regal, three-layer Browned Butter Carrot Cake.

I've had this one bookmarked from Elizabeth's blog, Guilty Kitchen for ages, just waiting for the perfect occasion. When my brother-in-law, who is also my little sister's boy-friend (don't worry, it's all legal) hinted that carrot cake would be a good direction to go for his birthday cake, I knew I had my recipe.

Its was actually both of their birthdays, my sister, and Danny's brother. Again, yes, all legal, good stuff. They're dating AND share the same birthday. If you think about it, it's actually easier for me: one cake. See what I mean?

I don't have a close-up of the interior of the cake, because, well, I've pretty much given up on playing hostess and event photographer. It's just no fun. Especially by the time dessert rolls around. I'm usually ready to throw the kids in bed, demand a double-shot latte from the barista (Danny), pull up a chair and serve cake.

That said, Liz's ultra-moist, super-classy carrot cake leaves little to be desired. Unless you like your carrot cake full of stuff such as pineapple, raisins, coconut, nuts or other extra. I don't. It was perfect.

Head here to get the recipe.

These little Chocolate Beet Cupcakes are hot off the press over at Simple Bites. They're my attempt at a Halloween confection, but are more like a pretty fall dessert.

Beet Cupcakes! I'm super proud of these healthier sweet treats and my boys loved them. There's no white sugar and very little fat, but the cupcakes are sweet and moist thanks to nearly a cup of fresh beet puree. The secret is definitely in the sauce.

Head here to get the recipe.

I just realized these three cakes have something else in common. Cream Cheese Frosting.

Oh well. Deal with it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

DIY: Homemade Yogurt

My sister, Haidi, was kind enough to pass along her method for making homemade yogurt to me. Since hers is the best I've ever had, it's only fair that I share it with you. All I ask is that you, in turn, pass it on to someone else.

I started making yogurt when my youngest, now seven, started eating solids. Feeling uncertain about the benefits of store-bought, pasteurized milk, I decided that the least I could do was give her something which I knew was beneficial for her developing digestive system. Cultured milk products contain “good bacteria” which help build a healthy immune system and aid digestion.

Besides, I am not a milk drinker, but I do love yogurt. So anyway, my eldest ate yogurt. I’m happy to say that she still enjoys yogurt because I mixed everything you could think of into it. I should qualify that statement: everything healthy.
She ate it with chopped sprouts, grated carrot and cucumber, brewer’s yeast, minced parsley, finely ground seeds and nuts - oh, fresh fruit as well.

I have made yogurt countless times over the last few years, and I would say I have fine-tuned the process. I usually make a gallon, which lasts our family about two weeks. I have used all kinds of milk including raw cow and goat milk. My preference is for raw milk, but if that is not available, I try to use organic. If I find it on clearance, all the better - I bring it home and make a batch that day.
So without further ado, here is the recipe.

Haidi's Homemade Yogurt

  • 1 gallon milk
  • 1 cup good-quality plain whole-fat yogurt

In a large pot, slowly heat the milk to 180 F, stirring occasionally.

Turn off the heat and allow to cool to 110 F. As the milk is cooling, I measure the starter (yogurt) into a bowl to allow it to warm a little.

Wash 5 quart jars and lids and fill with hot tap water.

Prepare your method of incubation:
There are many ways to incubate yogurt. I have used these two with good success.

The first is a small down comforter which I put in my laundry basket and line with a dishtowel. The second is to use my camping cooler.

You will no doubt come up with your own method which is most convenient for you. In the center of my incubator of choice, I place a couple of quarts of hot water (120 F) to help maintain the heat during the incubation process.

So, the jars are ready, the incubator is ready, the starter is sitting out, and the milk is cooled to 110 F. Take a ladle-full of the milk and stir it gently into the starter. Now pour the starter into the pot of milk and stir again. Empty the jars of hot water into the sink ( I use the water to wash my yogurt dishes) and pour the milk into the jars.

Wipe clean, screw on lids, and place in incubator. The yogurt should be ready in six hours.

If it still seems thin when you tilt the jars, leave for a couple more hours. The cooler the temperature of the incubator is, the longer it will take to set, which will also produce a tarter flavor.

If you accidentally let your milk get too cool, just turn it back on and carefully bring it back to 110. If your yogurt doesn’t turn out perfect the first time, don’t be discouraged. It will still make great smoothies. Try a different brand of yogurt starter and see if that makes a difference.

I have converted several friends to making their own yogurt when they saw how easy it is, and how much money it saves. Besides, it’s so much fresher than store bought.

Homemade - it’s the best!

* All photos by Haidi. Written by Haidi.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thanksgiving...many ways.

Last week I was probably more excited about having Noah home for four whole days than I was about Thanksgiving. For some crazy reason, I had decided not to cook my own turkey dinner, perhaps because an entire week (OK, make that a month) of functioning on five or six hours of sleep had taken it's toll.

Besides, I knew we would have turkey dinner with all the trimmings at my in-laws, so it wasn't like I was skipping Thanksgiving entirely.

Then I developed this recipe for Whole Wheat Buttermilk Rolls and invented their adorable presentation...and got all excited about cooking again. And setting a fine table. And hosting. There was no way I could not cook a Thanksgiving dinner, I mean, just look at this festive inspiration outside my patio doors.

So I was pumped; I found a fresh local turkey, TONS of brussels sprouts - which Mateo helped carry - and proceeded to spend half of Saturday in the kitchen.

Turns out that was just what I needed. It no joke that cooking is my therapy of choice, and I relaxed, rejoiced, and found rejuvenation in preparing a simple turkey dinner for my family and a few close loved ones.

You've seen a few of these recipes before...Fruit & Herb Stuffing, Perfect Mashed Potatoes, and a few more are coming soon on Simple Bites. One in particular, the butternut squash gratin (Wednesday), was a huge hit, leaving me with zero leftovers. I should probably be happy about that, but dang, I wanted some for the reheat!

So that was Saturday. Sunday was the wonderfully homey traditional dinner with my in-laws. There were pies, Maple, Pumpkin and Cherry. I had some of all three, then we beetled off home because I had an early morning date with these guys:

The folks from Daybreak had invited me to come talk turkey in studio at 8 AM. So I drove downtown and tried to put cohesive sentences together on only one cup of coffee.
You decide if I succeeded or not; you can listen to the radio clip HERE.

I did discover, however, that I have a lot to say on the subject of turkey and could probably go on all day. Mercifully, the news had to be shared eventually and I got shut down.

Our afternoon today was lazily spent, well, eating. Friends came over and we shared a most excellent Turkey Shepherd's Pie (loosely based on this one, but with sauteed leeks and cheese curd in the mashed potatoes), with more brussels sprouts.

Then we headed outside, went for a walk, hung around the campfire and toasted cinnamon marshmallows, and enjoyed the very best weather of the season.

Late afternoon brought tea on the patio as well as this beautiful pie that my friend brought over.

Yes, there was even homemade vanilla bean ice cream to top it off with. Now you see why my Thanksgiving weekend is shaping up to be one of the best ever.

Incidentally, this pie was also my late dinner, and now that I'm writing about it...I'm thinking I need a snack. So, if you don't mind, I'm going to enjoy the last few hours of my Thanksgiving - with a slice of apple pie.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian readers....

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Inspiration for a sweet table

Remember my fall list? Well, it's been keeping me pretty busy. Tonight, as we roasted cinnamon marshmallows over the open fire, and the flaming maple leaves fell all around us, I contemplated taking a little hiatus from this space. You know, since fall is such a busy time and all.

But then I realized that we'd be heading into Christmas once I returned, and after Christmas is Blissdom (yes, I'm going) and then in February is that engagement party I'm throwing and Mateo's birthday and, and...

It's always a 'busy time', so I'm just going to keep posting here and there when I have a few minutes and keeping you up to date with the goodness leaving my kitchen.

Speaking of which, have you seen the Chilled Pumpkin Cheesecake? Just in time for our Thanksgiving? Yep. Don't miss it, nor the new vlog that I had a ton of fun making. (just ignore the pantyhose comment, OK?)

On to the food! In this case, the sweets. I had the opportunity to bake up a storm for a baby shower for one of my most favorite people ever, Angela. She makes up half of the Tim Chin Photography dynamic duo (check out our last family photo shoot with them) and she's about eight months pregnant with Tiny Tim, as I like to call him.

I had to go a bit nuts with the food. Ange is such a stylish girl...and loves food almost as much as I do! Here are some of the sweets that the guests feasted on:

Sour Cream Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting. You've seen the cake before, now meet the mini-cupcake.

Chai-Scented Creme Brulé, because creme brulé is Ange's favorite dessert ever. I infused the cream with a little of Philippe de Vienne's Chai Spice Blend, and it was just enough to give the dessert a hint of something special.

Quebec Pear and Candied Ginger Individual Crisps, served warm with Cinnamon Whipped Cream.

Prosecco-Lime Gelée with Seasonal Fruits, inspired by this post on Desserts for Breakfast. Refreshing, elegant, and low-fat, if you're concerned about that.

Chocolate Pecan Puddle Cookies are a must at any event, as are Orange Sandwich Cookies with Chocolate Caramel Ganache.

S'mores! Traditional graham crackers, cinnamon marshmallows (blue for 'boy') and dark chocolate squares. (I used Lindt). I torched these á la minute for the girls.

Close up of the sandwich cookies. I used Jamie's Chewy Lemon Cookies, which were fantastic because they can be mixed up, rolled into logs and frozen in advance. I used orange instead of lemon and it paired well with the dark chocolate.
For the filling I prepared Robin's Dark Chocolate Caramel Sauce, and let it firm up before filling. These cookies were pretty, bite-size and perfect for a baby shower, however they had to be refrigerated right up until serving. Not a warm weather cookie!

There were also mini Lemon Poppy-Seed Cupcakes, and these Nutella Brownies. And that was about enough.

Congratulations again to the mother-to-be. I'll bet the little guy was kicking up a storm after this sugar rush! Way to get him hooked on crême brulé early...


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