Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Daring Bakers get steamy!

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet. 

Suet? The stuff we feed to birds? Yup, that's the stuff:) This challenge caused a bit of controversy in the forums, right from the moment it was posted. Some declined to participate this month, while others looked for suet substitutes. Many got right to it and started producing puddings. I wasn't one of those, of course. I thought it sounded like a really interesting challenge, as I had never cooked with suet, but we were having a freak heat wave when it was announced, and the idea of steaming something for 5 hours did not appeal. Luckily (?) the weather reverted to seasonal chilliness and the challenge was on!

I went to the butcher shop looking for suet, and I swear the butcher did a happy dance when I asked for it. He came racing across the store to with a container of veal suet and questions about what I was going to do with it. He was quite happy that I was making something to eat and not bird food with it. Butchers are so enthusiastic about their craft! I don't eat that much meat, so I rarely go to the butcher's, but this one is my new go-to shop. In fact I went back later in the week to get the ingredients for the filling, but first let me tell you about rendering the suet.

Do not do this at home! The suet has no smell when cold, but when heated it immediately filled my apartment with this super-greasy smell. I do believe I sat there for the whole hour it took with a wrinkled up nose, feeling nauseous, and waiting for it to be ready. Of course, this was after I had separated the fat from all the attached membranes, but that part was fine--I'm not squeamish in the kitchen at all. I won't show you any photos of the suet, as it may be harrowing for some (like me--no need to relive the smell). The suet pastry was odourless, though, and very easy to make and work with. 

Now I needed to decide what to fill the puddings with. I decided to go with veal, as I was using veal suet. I know this doesn't make much sense, but bear with me. Most recipes seemed to include chunks of meat, as in steak and kidney pudding. I wondered if a larger cut of meat would work, so I bought some veal shanks and made osso bucco. I seasoned and browned the veal shanks, but removed one and refrigerated it, browned, but still raw inside, for the pudding. I didn't want it to be overcooked inside the crust, and I was afraid this was going to be a very expensive waste, with the price of veal shanks. I cooked one shank in the sauce made with marsala (remember the tiramisu challenge?), reduced and cooled the sauce, and then used it with the reserved piece of veal shank in the pudding.

I lined the 0.5L pudding basin with the pastry and put in lots of the sauce and vegetables, with the veal shank nestled in the middle. I then covered it with more pastry and trussed it like a turkey (actually, wrapped it in pleated wax paper and foil, tied the layers tightly to the bowl, and made a string handle). It was now ready to steam, which I did stovetop in a large pot, with an inch or two of gently boiling water, for 3.5 hours. It was well past bedtime then, so I put it in the fridge and reheated it for dinner the next day by steaming it for an hour.

Not the best photo, but this is the inside of the osso bucco pudding, with some gremolata sprinkled on top. It was delicious! The veal shank I cooked inside the pudding was much more tender and flavourful than the one I cooked on top of the stove. The sauce had that wonderful gelatinous quality and the bone marrow was fantastic with some salt and gremolata. The suet crust, however, I didn't like at all. It browned beautifully, and rose, but it was just a bit odd in texture and didn't seem to have much flavour. Maybe I was still disturbed by the rendering, or maybe it just needed more salt, but I ended up throwing it all away. 

For the sweet pudding, I decided to go with a Sussex Pond pudding. This pudding is made by encasing a whole lemon with lots of brown sugar and butter in a suet crush and steaming until a sauce is formed. I just wanted to make a tiny one, so I used a small Meyer lemon and a few kumquats. 
I sliced the fruit thinly, and refrigerated it overnight with the brown sugar and a few crushed pods of cardamom. The next day, I put it in the crust in a 0.2L pudding basin, layering an obscene amount of butter above and below the fruit. I should only have steamed this for an hour, as it was so small, but I left it for 2 hours, so I did not get the pond effect of the sauce running out. Instead it was a thick marmalade-like filling. It was absolutely delicious, and I ate most of it before I managed to stop myself and get a picture, hence the copious amount of whipped cream. I still didn't love the suet crust, but it was better here. 
Update! I came home from work today and decided to make a third pudding. This time I chose a chocolate sponge pudding made with butter. I followed this recipe, but lined the buttered pudding basin with sliced almonds and sugar, and added a few tablespoons of Amaretto to the batter. A half recipe steamed in a 0.5L basin for 45 minutes, and was rich, dense and delicious. 

This was such an interesting challenge--it was the first time since I joined that I used a totally new ingredient! Check out the slideshow to see all the fantastic pudding creations by the Daring Bakers. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Quick cheese and cilantro buns

I am still trying recipes from Warm Bread and Honey Cake, the same book I made the multilayered spice cake from. I was really excited about a nutmeg cake, especially since I had bought some nutmeg in the shell when I was in Montreal. I was a bit disappointed in the cake, so I think I'll save the rest of the nutmeg for custardy things where it can really shine. Hungry and undaunted, I dove back into the book to find something else to make, right that minute! These buns fit the bill, as I had all the ingredients on hand.

They really are quick to make, and so worth the few minutes you'll have to invest in making and baking them. The dough is really nice to work with, and the feel of it might remind you of the silky dough used for Mrs Vogel's Scherben, except these aren't deep-fried. Too bad, as the oil from the scherben is still lurking in the back of my fridge. Maybe next time I'll fry them...

Quick cheese and parsley buns  from Warm Bread and Honey Cake 
1⅔ cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3½ ounces thick Greek yogurt (I drained some sheep's milk yogurt)
1 egg beaten (save 2 tablespoons for glaze)

4½ ounces feta cheese, crumbled
small handful chopped flat leaf parsley (I used at least half a big bunch of cilantro) chopped
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400℉. Grease a baking sheet (I used parchment, and I didn't grease it).

Knead together all of the dough ingredients and set aside while you make the filling. For the filling, mix the feta and the chopped herbs. Divide the dough into 12* pieces and flatten or roll out one piece to a 4-inch circle. Try to get the edges thinner than the centre. I used a rolling pin, as the dough is not sticky, and it only took a minute.

Put 1 tablespoon of the filling in the centre and pleat and pinch the edges to seal into a ball. Don't worry too much about appearance, as this is the bottom of the bun. Just make sure it's well sealed. Place on the baking sheet and flatten slightly with the palm of your hand. Repeat with the remaining 11 pieces of dough and the filling.

Brush twice with the reserved egg and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown.

I baked half of these and froze the other half. I took them out of the freezer when the oven was preheating, glazed and then baked them from frozen at a slightly lower temperature (375℉) and for 4-5 minutes longer, and they were just as nice. Next time I'll make a double batch and freeze more of them. These are perfect with soup for lunch.

*I somehow managed to get 11 buns from this. I'm not sure what's scarier: that I can't count to 12, or that I divided the dough into 11 equal pieces by eyeballing it.

See you on Tuesday with the Daring Bakers' reveal!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

TWD: Sweet cream biscuits

I think this week's recipe was even quicker than last week's, which was a good thing, because I've been working more than usual and the early mornings don't agree with my night owl hours.  I had these mixed, baked, photographed and eaten within 30 minutes! I made ¼ of a recipe, and ended up with 2 biscuits, which, along with some of the marmalade I made last month, made a quick, early and pretty tasty dinner. I almost always add chopped crystallized ginger to my scones/biscuits, but I forgot today. I was just about to take these out of the oven when I noticed that they looked incredibly plain, so I brushed them with a bit of cream and sprinkled them with maple sugar. Highly recommended, that step:)

This week's recipe was selected by Melissa of Love at First Bite, so click on over there for the recipe. Thanks for such a great pick! To see what the rest of the TWD bakers have made, this is the place to be. I bet there are some much more creative versions out there.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chickpeas and Oreos: MaryMary cannot live on cake alone

Clockwise from top left: asafoetida, turmeric and dried Korean peppers, fresh cayenne chile, ground cumin, and black mustard seeds

When I look at my blog posts, it looks like I only eat dessert, and mostly cake. That is somewhat true, but I do eat savoury food at least once a day. Sometimes twice! It's just that it's usually dark before I even start making dinner, so I have a hard time getting photos, and I don't find main courses as photogenic as dessert. At least not when I'm taking the pictures! Now that the days are getting longer, I have no excuse, and never mind for now the fact that I finish work by 3 and am often home before 4. Earlier this week, I made one of my favourite dishes: Easy Karnataka Chana, which is a chickpea dal. This is quick and easy, and means you can have homemade Oreos for dessert. It's from Mangoes and Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, a couple based in Toronto who are travelers, cooks, writers and photographers. Their books are beautiful, and have won numerous awards.

Easy Karnataka Chana
1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight, or for at least 4 hours in 4 cups water
4¼ cups water, plus up to 3 cups more if serving as a soup
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 green cayenne chilis, minced (1 used 3 red ones)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds (I am very generous here)
pinch of asafoetida powder
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ to 1 teaspoon cayenne powder (I had some Korean chile powder, so I used that)
about 1½ teaspoons salt
about ½ cup chopped cilantro/coriander leaves (I use closer to a cup, but don't measure)

Drain the chickpeas and place them in a food processor with ¼ cup water, the cumin and the chilis. Process for 20 seconds, scrape the sides and process for 10-20 more seconds. They should be coarse. I usually don't bother to chop the chilis, and end up with more finely chopped chickpeas by the time they are chopped. Be sure to leave some texture--you don't want a smooth paste.

In a deep heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the mustard seeds and cover until they stop popping. Quickly add the asafoetida, turmeric and cayenne and stir. Pour in the chickpea mixture--it will spatter a bit. Stir-fry for a minute to expose all the chickpeas to the hot oil.

Add the remaining 4 cups water and stir to blend well. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the chickpeas are cooked through, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. If serving as a soup, add the extra 3 cups water and bring to a boil.

Add the salt and bring to a simmer for a few more minutes. This may seem like a lot of salt, and I thought it was too much the first time I made it, but after a few minutes simmering it's perfect. Start with 1 teaspoon if you're unsure.

Stir in the chopped coriander and serve. I like this with basmati rice, and make a meal out of it. It keeps and reheats really well, but it will get thicker, so you can add water when reheating if you like.

And for dessert:

I've been thinking about making homemade Oreos ever since I saw the recipe on Smitten Kitchen, and then when I loved the homemade graham crackers I made in January, I knew I had to try it. But when? The perfect opportunity appeared the other night: I was having dinner at O's house, and the Ottawa Senators were up 1-0 in their playoff series with Pittsburgh. I took this as a sign that it was time to make the cookies, and it also meant that I wouldn't show up both late and empty-handed. It was also a nice excuse to get silly with cookie cutters again. 

I made this recipe, and used the lower amount of sugar. The first time I followed the recipe and made them as a drop cookie, but they were too thick for sandwich cookies, I thought. They were delicious, though, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting rid of them. I formed the leftover dough into a cylinder, chilled it, and then sliced thinly and baked as directed. The only other change I made was to replace the shortening in the filling with butter, because I didn't need to be that authentic, and I knew melting wouldn't be a problem in the chilly, wet weather we've been having. The filling was very rich, but Oreo perfect. Don't be tempted to slather it on too thick (like I did).

I must admit, I almost wanted to keep these at home instead of bringing them to O's place for dinner. Yes, they were that fantastic. I'll be making a few more tomorrow for J, and to bring the Sens luck!


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

TWD: Swedish visiting cake

I've been wanting to make this cake since I first bought the book, which was way back in 2006. It just seemed so simple, I love anything with almonds, and the fact that it was made in a cast-iron frying pan was a bonus. I never got around to it, though, until now. Good thing the TWD gang hadn't made it before I got around to joining in January of this year! I find lots of Dorie's recipes have too many add-ins, so I was excited about this one, with only vanilla, almond extract and lemon zest for flavouring. In fact, I was tempted to add cardamom or fresh figs, or both to this cake, but I followed the recipe this time. I made half of it in a 6" pan, and will definitely make a full recipe next time, because it's really good. This recipe was chosen by Nancy of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs, so she'll have the recipe posted. Thanks for the great pick, Nancy! Also check out the new TWD 'leave your link' (LYL) feature for links to what the rest of the gang have baked up this week.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Multilayered spice cake

I got the book Warm Bread and Honey Cake out of the library a month or so ago and immediately bookmarked a dozen recipes. I had to return it before I even got the chance to make anything, but I immediately ordered it from the bookstore and made this cake today. Today was actually a really busy day for me, as I supply taught, volunteered, did laundry and went to a book club meeting. That's more than I usually do in a whole week! Of course, I hadn't finished the book, so I spent the afternoon frantically reading, but a book is always better with a cup of tea and a piece of cake, isn't it?

I'm not sure why I chose this cake, because in the notes that accompany the recipe, the author, Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra, says that the layering can take up to 45 minutes. I made a half recipe in a 6" pan, and it was very rich, but delicious. The recipe calls for cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg, but I replaced these with mace, tonka beans and sapote. These are the spices, along with vanilla, that make up the extrait antillais I wrote about earlier. Antilles extract just doesn't sound as good, does it? Here's a photo of the spices in the extract, which I used, along with freshly grated/ground spice:
Here's the recipe, but you really should get your hands on this book. It's got recipes for breads, cakes, cookies, pastry and savoury items from a variety of places such as Guyana, The Netherlands, Chile, Turkey and China.

9 oz/2¼ sticks butter, softened
7 oz/1 cup sugar (in 2 equal portions)
5 eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla extract
4½ oz/scant 1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
½ tsp ground cardamom 
⅛ tsp ground cloves
⅛ tsp freshly grated nutmeg 
1¾ oz/scant ½ stick melted butter, for brushing

Grease an 8" pan and preheat the broiler. Move the oven rack to the top beforehand. It's much easier when it's not hot!
Sift the flour with the salt and set aside.
Beat the butter until smooth. Add half the sugar and cream until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and vanilla and beat well to incorporate. 
In a clean bowl with clean beaters, whisk the egg whites till foamy, then add the other half of the sugar gradually, beating until stiff peaks form. Add a spoonful to the butter mixture and mix well to lighten. Gently fold in the rest of the egg whites in 3 additions, alternating with the flour. Do not overmix.
Transfer half the batter to another bowl (the egg white one is already dirty...just saying) and fold in the spices. Spread a quarter of the contents of one bowl over the bottom of the greased pan and level it with a spoon or an offset spatula. It doesn't matter which batter you start with.
Place the pan under the hot broiler and broil until the top is puffy and the batter cooked through. The first layer always seems to take a little longer, about 5 minutes, depending how close it is to the heat source. Remove the pan from the broiler, brush with the melted butter and then add a layer consisting of ¼ of the other batter. Repeat the layering, broiling and buttering until all the batter is used up. Each subsequent layer will take about 3 minutes. FYI: you do not have time to check your email while broiling this cake. Just a bit of kitchen wisdom from me to you, learned the hard way.  You will end up with 8 layers. Eagle-eyed readers will notice that I only have 6.* Be careful about spreading the layers evenly and wiping any spills from the edges.
When you are finished broiling all the layers, gently loosen the edges with a knife and turn it out onto a cooling rack. Serve in small slices.

*Make sure your layers are fully cooked, as my second layer wasn't, and so the first and second layers separated from the rest of the cake when I removed it from the pan. Sad, but a nice snack! Next time I make this I am going to try it without the butter brushed between layers, as it's already very rich, and some layers had oozing butter. I'm also going to try this again with different spices, as I think the cardamom's in a snit now--I haven't used it in a week.
Oh, and what was the book club book? It was Speak Ill of the Dead by Mary Jane Maffini. It's a mystery set in my hometown, and I loved reading about many familiar places in Ottawa. Mary Jane was there and told some great stories about her inspiration for the book. As an added bonus, I won the door prize, which was a copy of next month's book: Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel.  

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


There's nothing like a 4-day weekend, especially when the weather is as nice as it was. I went to visit my family, and did lots of cooking, as we had 2 dinners on the weekend. Unfortunately, I didn't do so well with the photos--just some snapshots before we demolished everything (literally, for the cake). I got up early on Friday morning to make this coconut cake for my brother's birthday. His birthday was in March, but this cake is worth the wait. The only change I made was to use fresh grated coconut on top and between the layers. I made it last year and after the first bite my brother said 'I'm taking this with me'. This devolved into a 4-way fight for the cake, but we made up and shared it in the end. This year the cake got a bit mangled on the trip, but it was mostly fine. I got a quick picture, and thought I would get more at my brother's house. What I didn't expect was that my nephew would fling it onto the floor! It was in a carrier, but looked a complete mess after that.
Hmm, having some white balance issues, but it was good--really. This is the before shot.

Before Mr. Trouble got a hold of it. He's the best nephew ever, so all is forgiven.

For every family dinner I have to make coleslaw. I prefer making desserts, so I usually make something sweet too, but this is what my family always asks for. I've been making this since I was a teenager working in the kitchen of a local hotel. 

1 head cabbage, shredded (I do this by hand, but you can use a food processor)
3 carrots, grated
1 red onion, finely chopped

Place these in a LARGE bowl, and salt and pepper generously. Pour over a mixture of:

2 cups mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 bunch of dill, finely chopped (about a cup)

Mix with your hands. This keeps well, and is best made a day, or at least a few hours, in advance. 

Yup, same white balance issues. Bright yellow walls+skylight make for tricky pictures!

I also wanted to make some rhubarb desserts, but I will have to wait a while longer, as you can see below. No doubt everyone will be eating raspberries by the time my rhubarb is ready, but I consoled myself by making 2 more maple sugar pies. I can wait a long time if I get to eat more sugar pie!