Friday, January 29, 2010

Breakfast of .... the under-employed?

Sometimes being a supply teacher is a good thing: you get some calls, there is no prep work, no marking and you get paid for it. On the other hand, there are 2000 elementary supply teachers in my board, and 2500 teachers with contracts. That means that there is not a lot of work. I haven't had a call yet this week, in fact. Some of my fellow supply teachers are really organized and get up very early and get ready, just in case someone calls. I do it a bit differently. I stay up till 2 or 3 am and sleep until the phone rings, or noon, whichever comes first. I live downtown and the schools I'm registered with are in walking distance, so it's not hard to get there in a hurry. But, coffee and breakfast usually get lost in the rush to get out the door. So, when there are no calls, I can have a very leisurely breakfast. Especially when it's -20℃ and windy, like today.
I decided that I wanted some chaussons aux pommes last night. Now, chaussons are just fancy French apple turnovers with applesauce in them, but the name makes me nervous because it sounds like another dish that took me months to live down. Once upon a time I worked in a hotel and it was my job to come up with specials for the cafe, using whatever needed to be used up. One day that was some chicken, so I hunted around and came up with some demi-glace, mushrooms, tomatoes and everything else I needed for sauce chasseur. That's hunter's sauce, because I suppose hunters can find those ingredients in the forest. That's why they're hunters and I'm not. Anyway, it all tasted great, but I got the name mixed up and called it chaussure sauce, much to the amusement of the francophones in the kitchen. Chaussures are shoes, so I made chicken in shoe sauce. Yum. Now chausson means slipper, and they are usually a kind of half-moon shape. I (wisely, I think) decided to stay away from any more footwear-themed food and made triangular turnovers.

The night before, I made a pot of applesauce with a bag of Macintosh apples that had been lurking in the produce drawer for a while. I don't peel or core, but just washed and quartered them and packed them into a pot with some brown sugar, cardamom, true cinnamon sticks and fresh ginger. After they have turned to complete mush I put them through my food mill. I love my food mill--it's way better than a food processor or blender for this sort of thing, and the fact that it takes all the skins and pips out is a bonus.

I also had some puff pastry left in the freezer from this bit of fun, and I don't want to leave it for another month while I'm in Montreal. I'll be in Montreal for all of February and the first week of March training English teachers. This is a real job, unlike supply teaching: I'll have to get up and dressed every day for a whole month! Unfortunately I'll have no kitchen while I'm there, so no cooking. That makes me a bit sad, but restaurants in Montreal are fantastic, so I'll make do. Anyway, I'm trying to get ahead with my Tuesdays with Dorie and Daring Bakers' projects before I go. What does this have to do with the turnovers? Not much, so I'll get back on topic.

I rolled out the puff pastry and cut it in circles and filled each with a bit of the applesauce. I brushed the top with egg white (should have been yolk, but I had a spare white in the fridge), and sprinkled them with some sanding sugar left over from Christmas baking. Then, about 25 minutes in a 400℉ oven and breakfast was ready. And it's not even 2:00 yet. Yay me!

They were delicious! I only baked 2, cause I'm not a total glutton, and having 4 more in the freezer is my kind of insurance. See you Tuesday with some Milk Chocolate Mini Bundt Cakes, or some variation on them.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Daring Bakers' January Challenge--The world comes to Canada

Graham Crackers and Nanaimo Bars!
I'd never made graham crackers or Nanaimo bars before this 2-part challenge, so I was excited, more so by the graham crackers than the bars. Nanaimo bars are really sweet. It was an option to make the graham wafers gluten-free, but I used wheat flour to make my wafers, as I seemed that I had nothing in the house to make these, and buying three more flours was not practical for me with all the other ingredients I needed. 

The graham wafers were really easy to put together and the dough was not as sticky as the gluten-free version. After rolling out, I used my new cookie cutters. Turns out that even graham wafers with slightly rude messages are cute! No photos, and I have already eaten the evidence. This was the tastiest dough I have made in a long time, and it was hard to stop snacking on it.

They baked much more quickly than the recipe specified, and if I had paid more attention to the other Daring Bakers' comments, I would have kept an eye on them. As it was, I was also distracted by Australian Open tennis on TV, so I ended up with many dark graham wafers. Those are the ones I used for the base of the Nanaimo Bars. 

The recipe made a lot of graham wafers, so there were lots left over, and they made a great snack with a cup of tea.

The next step was making the base. I toasted some almonds and unsweetened coconut and combined them with the graham wafer crumbs.

To this I added a mixture of butter, sugar, cocoa and an egg that had been cooked in a double boiler.

I spread this in the pan and refrigerated it while I thought about the filling. The original recipe calls for butter, icing sugar, cream, vanilla and custard powder. Custard powder! Ick. I looked at it and vanilla pudding in the grocery store a number of times. I even found an organic version at my local health food store. However, they are basically cornstarch and artificial flavourings and I couldn't bring myself to buy them. I have always found Nanaimo bars too sweet, so I decided to change the filling a little bit. I made a thick pastry cream with some milk, cornstarch and an egg yolk. I beat together some butter and icing sugar and then added the cooled pastry cream gradually. I also added some vanilla bean paste. What I ended up with was a paler, less sweet version of the custard-flavoured buttercream centre. It was really light and fluffy instead of dense and gritty, so I was very happy with it. Unfortunately I have no photos, as this was a late-night affair, and I had no good light. However, you can see it in the finished Nanaimo bars. 

You can also see that there is not a lot of chocolate on top, as, once again, I didn't pay attention to what my fellow Daring Bakers were saying in the forums. Most people found that the 4 ounces of chocolate and a bit of butter melted together was insufficient to coat the top. So, I tried it with 2 ounces of chocolate, and, big surprise, it wasn't enough. I'm not a huge fan of chocolate that hasn't been made into a cake anyway, so I just drizzled on the chocolate and found that there was enough for me. 

These are the 3 pieces I saved for myself, as I gave the rest away. This blogging business is hard work, so maybe I'll go and have one now. Be sure to check here to see the beautiful and creative Nanaimo bars the rest of the Daring Bakers have come up with. 

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and Lauren's notes and gluten-free recipe are after the jump.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

TWD: Chocolate Oatmeal Almost Candy Bars

Raisins. Mushrooms. Green onions. Seaweed.
These are the foods I really don't like. There are more, but let's leave it at these 4 for now. This recipe called for raisins, but it also called for peanuts and cinnamon. I don't dislike peanuts and cinnamon, but they're not my favourites, either, so I left them out. What was I left with? Oatmeal, butter, brown sugar, chocolate, vanilla, salt and condensed milk. I can quite happily live with that. I replaced the chocolate chips with some dark, bittersweet chocolate, as other TWDers had commented on the powerful sweetness of these bars. Mine were not too sweet and I was quite happy with them. They taste like the oat fudge bars you can buy at Starbucks, except they're homemade. And that's a good thing.
This week's recipe was chosen by Lillian of Confectiona's Realm. Check out her blog for the recipe and also the TWD blogroll to see what everyone else has come up with.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tuesdays with Dorie: Mrs. Vogel's Scherben

Mrs. Vogel's what? I know, I wondered too. Scherben apparently means shards, which is what these deep-fried cookies are supposed to resemble. When I first read the recipe, I thought I might skip this week, but it's only my second one, and I didn't want to be a quitter just yet. It wasn't the name, it was the fact that I needed to deep-fry these things. Last time I deep-fried anything it was at a friend's place. I put a few too many potatoes in the oil and it bubbled up all over the stove. No fire, just a lot of fussing, and I will never hear the end of it! Anyway, the recipe only called for a few ingredients and I had them all, so I thought I'd try it out. The dough was very easy to work with, and I quickly rolled it out, cut it into strips and gave them a twist:

After chilling them for another hour, I fried them in a tall pot with not too much oil. No spills, no fires! It was only -11 outside so I opened the patio door = no smell either.

After draining, they were ready to be tossed in cinnamon sugar:

The next step in the recipe said something about dusting them with icing sugar, but I was thinking more along the lines of an avalanche, because I didn't really like these at first, and I thought more sugar would help. It did! Good thing, because I thought my future fried dough experiences would be limited to eating Beavertails. I packed them up and took them to a friend's, and they tasted pretty good when I got there. Maybe it was because I was starving and had to fight a gaggle of children for them, or maybe it's because Mrs. Vogel sure does know her Scherben.
Thanks to Teanna of Spork or Foon for picking this recipe. You can find it on her blog. Check out the rest of the Scherben (yes, I like typing that, and with a capital too) at the TWD site.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tuesdays with Dorie: Tarte Tatin

I have joined the Tuesdays with Dorie baking group just in time for their second anniversary. To join this group you need to have:

a) a blog
b) Baking: from my home to yours, by Dorie Greenspan

Well, I have the cookbook (of course, my friends and family are saying), and now I have Mary Mary Culinary too! The rules of the group are simple: each week, one of the bakers on the blogroll selects a recipe, and we all bake it and post on Tuesday. I'm not sure if I'll be able to bake every week, and will have to sit out if there are raisins involved, but I'm excited. I've had this book since it came out and only tried a few recipes, so only 297 or so to go.

This week was hosted by Laurie over at slush and the Tarte Tatin recipe was one of two that the group members voted to make for the anniversary.  The other was the cocoa-buttermilk birthday cake, but I made that for my sister-in-law's birthday in December, so Tarte Tatin it was. Glad I got to make the one I voted for. :) I made my own puff pastry on Sunday and made the tarte for dessert tonight.

I started by caramelizing the apples in butter and sugar. It took a long time--about 10 minutes after I took this picture. I wanted the caramel good and dark.

Guess I forgot to take any pictures of my lovely puff pastry, but here's the finished tarte! You can also see the partially eaten tourtière (French-Canadian meat pie) in the background. It was a 'keep your fork, there's pie' sort of dinner.

It was pretty yummy with some crème fraiche.

Who knows what next Tuesday will bring?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Puff pastry 201?

I haven't made puff pastry since culinary school, which was an embarrassingly long time ago. I decided to try again yesterday, and spent a cold and snowy afternoon rolling and turning and watching IIHF Junior hockey on TV. Making the pastry wasn't as tricky as I remembered, and taking it out of the fridge every half an hour or so and rolling was fine too. I had a few butter escapes, but nothing too serious. I baked some of the pastry today and it definitely puffed, so yay! What did I make, you wonder? Well, you'll just have to come back tomorrow to see. It's a Tuesday thing. For now, have a look at a few puff pastry photos. I used a recipe from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

This is right at the start: incorporating the butter block into the flour/water/salt dough.

Next comes the rolling and folding process, called turning. 6 turns are supposed to give you 994 layers of dough and 993 layers of butter, hence mille feuilles in French. I tried to count, but lost track. I have a math teacher friend and her students working on it. This is the 5th turn completed:

So, after one more turn and a night in the fridge, this is the finished puff pastry. I can definitely see layers!

Come back tomorrow to see what I made with ⅕ of the dough. Any suggestions on what to do with the rest?