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Archive for the ‘Home Cooking’ Category

2017-02-01-10-14-59

Saturday evening I didn’t feel very well. I had the sweats, chills, headache, dizziness, fever, coughing, no appetite, etc., etc., etc.. On Sunday, I knew. It was the flu! Shoulda gotten the vaccine. Shoulda coulda… didn’t. Suffering the consequences.

What’s my first instinctive reaction? Make chicken broth! I’m fairly sensitive to over-the-counter medication like Tylenol and Motrin, so I use them only in dire emergencies. I treat coffee the same way. I did take a Tylenol once on Sunday and once on Monday, but that was it. So yesterday, after dropping off my little one at daycare, I went to the PA Supermarche and came out with a big tray of chicken drumsticks and several packages of chicken carcasses, in addition to carrots, a leek, and a tomato. I usually roast chicken before I make stock, but I just put the chicken into a big stock pot, filled it with cold water, and let the magic happen. Actually, the drumsticks were so plentiful that I didn’t even have room for the carcases, and had to start out with two stock pots before eventually consolidating to one in the last hour of cooking. I keep fantasizing about getting an even larger stock pot… but apartment living does not lend itself towards stowing huge items like that.

I use different things in my stocks every time, depending on what I have on hand and what’s on sale in the store. This time, my ingredients were:

  • a large package of chicken drumsticks – chicken stocks taste richer with some skin and bone in it. And fat. Just a little goes a long way – I skim whenever I see foam to make my stocks as clear as possible.
  • three packages of chicken carcases – I tried using only carcases one time, but there wasn’t enough meat on them to overcome the flavour of gelatin. It was ok to use as a base for soups or stews, but not enjoyable on its own. Hence the drumsticks this time.
  • 1 big tomato – I often just use tomato paste, which we always have, but since I was specifically making this as a health restorative this time, I decided to use the real thing.
  • 2 celery stalks
  • several large carrots
  • 1 leek – make sure to slice in half length-wise and carefully wash between all the leaves, since they are often full of dirt.
  • 1 onion with skin intact – I trimmed the two ends, but the yellow/orange onion skin adds a delightful natural colour to stock. I’m always disappointed when the onion skins are too mildewy to use, but this time the dry outer layers were in excellent shape.
  • 5-6 garlic gloves, crushed – I’ve always loved a lot of garlic.
  • a couple bay leaves
  • a bunch of green peppercorns
  • a couple sprinkles of red pepper flakes – helps bring a brightness to the stock. I don’t add enough to make it spicy, just to give it a little bit of an undertone, especially because I was planning on making it a very hearty stock.
  • about 2 T. – 3 T. sake – normally I’d just use the white wine we keep in the fridge for cooking… but it was all gone, so I had to make do with sake, which was excellent. Just enough to bring out the tomato in the broth; I don’t like broths that taste strongly of booze.

This stock was completely salt-free, and tastes magnificent (to my traumatized olfactory senses). It simmered for a total of about five hours – 3 hours with only chicken, then 2 hours with everything else added. I kept topping off with more cold water as it cooked down, and skimmed constantly. When I am sick, smelling cooked fat in my food makes me nauseous. So I work hard to ensure my broths are very clear and as fat-free as possible in the end. So once I bring the water to an initial boil, I reduce heat to a gentle simmer for the rest of the cooking time, skimming constantly, so I don’t emulsify the fat into the broth. I removed all the used ingredients at the end, then strained through a fine mesh sieve to reveal a beautiful, golden broth. I ended up with about 16 cups of gorgeousness, not including the mugs of broth I drank while cooking.

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Today, I was rewarded for my meticulous work yesterday by finding that my chilled broth had gelatinized quite stiffly. The consistency of Jello jigglers. Perfect! Mission successful. There’s nothing like slaving over a huge pot of stock for a day, and coming out a total winner in the end. It was very easy to spoon out into a mug and microwave until I had a steaming mug of excellent, nutrient-rich, delicious, satisfying, hearty, homemade chicken broth.

Hopefully this will help me fight the flu – which is really, really, REALLY not fun (get the vaccine, everyone!) – and if I can coax my daughter to drink it, too, maybe it will help her, as well. We like to share in this family. Because sharing is caring!

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2016-11-16-08-26-53

I’ve come a long way since my college days of microwaving Quaker Oats in a washed-out takeout container for breakfast every morning because I couldn’t afford anything else. Now I buy premium Red Mill steel-cut oats. Only the best!

I base my oatmeal on Alton Brown’s recipe. I think he wrote it when he was getting into healthy eating.

First, you melt a pat of butter in a small pot on med-low heat (it’s number 3 on my stove). Too low and the oats will not toast; too high and the oats will burn while cooking. My husband doesn’t like oatmeal, so it’s just for me and the little one. She eats it because of the brown sugar sprinkled on top. She will even abandon a bagel to eat her oatmeal.

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For 1.5 people, I use a rounded 1/3 cup of steel cut oats. Stir it into the melted butter and periodically stir it around to toast it for about 4 minutes. It’s best when it smells toasty and the butter’s been mostly absorbed into the oats. The colour will darken.

I boil water. I’m a tea drinker, and enjoy a cup of tea first thing in the morning and also in the afternoon. I’ve been thinking of restocking my tea stash, and trying to justify shelling out the clams for a tin of Mariage Freres. I’m yearning for an earl grey with a lot of bergamot in it. Ordering a bunch of Mighty Leaf teas also seems like a luxury right now, too, though not quite on the level as Mariage Freres.

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When the oats are toasty, I add a little more than a cup into the oats. It will bubble and splatter a little, so be careful! If it doesn’t do this, the oats weren’t hot enough. Then I set the timer for 20 minutes and make my cup of tea. I like tea served to me hot, and I add sugar and creamette, but I wait until it’s nearly lukewarm to actually drink it. 20 minutes cools it perfectly. I do not touch the oats. I go play with my little one. I get dressed. I read my facebook updates.

After 20 minutes, add the buttermilk and milk mixture. I now use almost 1/3 cup liquid, equal parts buttermilk and whole milk. It will look soupy…but that’s ok (as our culinary educator would say). Stir to combine, but don’t stir too much. The oatmeal might stick a  little to the sides of the pot – just scrape the bottom and sides well. I just use a teaspoon for all of this. Set the timer for 10 minutes.

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Once the oatmeal is done, I sprinkle a little cinnamon on top as I turn off the heat. I stir it in, scraping the bottom and sides. Once it’s portioned into bowls, if it’s too thick, I stir in more milk. It also helps cool it for the little one. Then I use a fork to scrape brown sugar on top. I keep a small container of brown sugar just for this purpose.

The finished oatmeal has a nice chewy texture and a delicious toasted flavour that you miss if you didn’t toast the oats enough before adding the water. It’s a healthy, economical, satisfying breakfast that lasts me ’til lunch and keeps me warm in the winter. The only downside is the long cooking time in the morning. I like that the dishes are easy to clean; just soak the pot while you’re eating, and it’ll be easy to wash everything out with a scrubber sponge afterwards.

Nothing sexier than a spoonful of oatmeal in the morning.

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2016-11-13-13-40-15

After such a vicious election battle was waged in the US, I decided that I needed a huge, decadent, chocolate pick-me-up. Cue Brown Eyed Baker’s unbelievably amazing ultimate chocolate cupcake recipe. She’s one of my favourite food bloggers, the one I go to for muffin and cookie recipes. This is only the second time I’ve made cupcakes as an adult, and the first time I made this recipe, I didn’t even get to the frosting (the experience was hardly diminished). But this time, I was going all-out. I wanted the ultimate cupcake in the picture!

I mentioned my intention to do this on Facebook, on which I post very infrequently. Like this blog. I use it mainly to buy and sell secondhand children’s items like toys and clothes. My mom read my post and did not understand why anyone would want to make delicious, luxurious chocolate cupcakes. Kind of like when I decided to cloth diaper my baby. Aside from those who also do it, most reactions are “but…but why?!” It is indeed quite a process. I mean, I live in a city with a lot of great bakeries. Nearby Mamie Clafoutis does a similar ganache-filled chocolate mini cake, sans frosting, that is quite something.

The way I see it, doing an involved baking project like this is a little like people who do adult colouring books. You fill those tiny, detailed mandalas, select the right coloured pencil or marker, and when you’re done… you start another one. I tried doing those when my daughter colours, but I just didn’t enjoy it. Too much work. And what do you do with the finished page when you’re done? Tape it to the fridge? Sorry, mine is already filled with pictures of sheep with cotton balls glued onto them. This way, I get a fantastic fantasy cupcake at the end of my own labourious baking process. And I don’t get as frustrated when my 2-year old colours crayon all over my half-finished mandala.

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First, chop the chocolate. As expected, some chips were sacrificed to appease the toddler. She consumed a lot of chocolate over the course of the day. I cut her off at a plastic teacup of chocolate chips. I used a combination of bittersweet and dark chocolate chips. The good stuff. It was cool to see the fine chocolate shavings rappel from and move towards the knife. I tried explaining it to my daughter, using rubbing a balloon on your shirt and sticking it to a wall as an example, but neither of us were interested in that educational moment. My husband, a physicist, would have done better.

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I also got to use up the good cocoa powder I had bought a number of years ago. It’s one of those luxury ingredients you splurge on on a whim, then hoard until it’s no longer as flavourful and fresh as when you bought it because it’s too expensive to use, but it was so expensive you can’t bring yourself to discard it. So thank goodness I could use it here, like the blooming chocolate chips.

Next, more chopped chocolate. The fine shavings got everywhere, on everything and everyone. Thankfully, chocolate washes out easily.

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I hit a snag when trying to use my husband’s Nespresso machine. I am not a coffee drinker and have only used it a couple of times for baking purposes and for guests. My toddler, however, enjoys helping my husband make his twice each day, and talked me through the process (me: “Do I want the big cup or the little cup button?” her: “Big cup.”). I looked up descriptions of the coffee flavours online (I chose the orange one). I realized belatedly why I couldn’t close the handle thing when I pushed the button at the wrong time and hot water collected and then spilled out over the counter and floor. Fortunately, no one was splashed, but there was a mess to clean up. Twice. Because as I was cleaning out the full empty capsule receptacle, I somehow pushed the button again and hot water again flowed freely. My helper learned to stand against the far wall when Mommy uses the Nespresso machine. But eventually, I was able to use hot coffee to melt the chocolate.

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The first time I made this recipe, I think I did it while my daughter was out, either playing with her father or at daycare. But since she was home, she insisted on helping me. Which meant I started putting thing together just before 9am… and didn’t get the cupcakes out of the oven until 11:40am. The frosting was done after lunch. We only got to eat the finished product at 2:30pm.

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She loves measuring ingredients and adding them to the bowls. I’ve been teaching her how to level off dry ingredients. She gets upset if I push Start on the microwave myself. She loves stirring and watching batter dribble off of the spoon back into the bowl. I try to be patient, as this is a good education experience for her and I want to share with her how fun baking can be, but sometimes I get shrill when holding the bowl for her to drizzle batter over and over, or cautioning her to stir slowly so it doesn’t splash all over us. Or when I am crouching down to get a container from under the sink… and she takes that as an invitation to jump onto my back and demand a piggyback ride or wants to be carried as I’m putting things together. Sorry, my nearly 40-lb. little one, those baby-wearing days are long over!

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In line with the exquisite debauchery of this cupcake, I used expensive organic eggs. I’ve been trying to be frugal and buy the inexpensive ones, but had such wonderful organic deviled eggs recently at a friend’s brunch that I got them, too. I still have very fond memories of farm fresh eggs at the RI’s Providence farmer’s market. Ah, those were the days.  I recently saw a video on Facebook about gruesome cannibalism in commercial free-range and cage-free egg farms, where the chickens are basically in one giant overcrowded cage indoors with a tiny little door on one end of the building that only a few of them know about. Apparently the most humane option is now “pasture-raised,” which means the chickens were definitely living outside. But it’s not just about being less cruel. The expensive eggs taste a lot better.

Despite my fondness for cooking and baking, I’ve never been great at cracking eggs. I always thought that being able to crack an egg one-handed, like Audrey Hepburn does in Sabrina, would come with experience. But I still do it two-handed, and often have to fish out shell from the bowl or wipe off egg from the counter. Sometimes I even smash the entire thing instead of just cracking the shell and have to use another egg. Maybe it’s because I have short fingers. Yeah, that’s it.

2016-11-13-10-21-36

My favourite vanilla is Nielsen-Massey’s vanilla paste. I like seeing the vanilla seeds in it. Ok, so you’re not going to see the seeds in a chocolate cupcake, but I know they’re there!

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I use a large scoop for filling muffin pans. It’s 1/4 c.. This batter is very runny, and it helps control the mess. In theory, it also helps make every cupcake the same size… but somehow they all ended up different sizes, anyway. When I make notes for my recipe book, I write down very specific instructions for myself. So I’m going to include “fill large cookie scoop just below the top” to my file on this recipe so that maybe next time they’ll all be identical. Likewise for adding the ganache. The first time I did this, I divided it perfectly. This time around, I ran out so three or four are without the special ganache center. And of course I didn’t label them, so they’re mixed in with the others. I either need to get a 1 t. scoop for the ganache or remember not to fill the 2 t. scoop all the way next time.

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The ganache balls get swallowed up and sink to the bottom of the cupcake as they bake. When still warm, they are a gooey middle, but when cooled and settled, they leave a little empty pocket in the middle of the cupcake. Like a cave.

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Ah, clean up. I love having a dishwasher, but I still always rinse out the dishes first.

2016-11-13-11-01-12

The cupcakes rose and domed perfectly. I took them out of the oven and put a frozen pizza inside for lunch. It had been on sale, which totally canceled out the excess of the cupcakes. I left my daughter to watch French children’s programs on youtube as I started the frosting.

2016-11-13-12-48-59

I always forget to leave out the butter to soften. When this happens, I sometimes grate it, which looks pretty, smells great, and speeds up the mixing process. Or I cheat a bit by nuking it for a couple seconds at a time in the microwave. Since the oven was still warm, I warmed the bowl of chopped cold butter in there for a few seconds at a time until it was warm enough to mix with a hand mixer. I have a food processor, but it’s on the bookshelf where I keep all my food items and I don’t feel like breaking it out of the box for this. I thought it was silly to use one, but when the first few seconds of mixing released a cloud of cocoa/confectioner’s sugar, I realized why a food processor would have been preferable to a hand mixer.

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There was a moment of panic when I thought I had used all my cocoa powder in the cupcakes (um, could I substitute Swiss Miss instant hot chocolate?), but lo and behold, I had the fancy Dutch-processed cocoa powder mentioned in the recipe sitting in my spice rack. Yay! I don’t remember buying it, which means it’s several years old. Another win for using old expensive things in the pantry.

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More chopped chocolate. With each added ingredient, the mixture just looked better and better until it was all beautiful, thick, and had those dreamy fine ripples in it from the hand mixer blades. I didn’t have the exact decorating tip mentioned in the recipe, but I had two that came in close. The little Ateco tip variety packages are so small, and not as great for frosting things like this. I’m glad I got a couple of the big ones.

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I know I have a big reusable pastry bag somewhere… but it’s lost for now. So I had to use somewhat small plastic decorating bags. These bags are great for royal icing, because I hate cleaning that, but are too small for big frosting quantities like for a batch of cupcakes. One of them only holds enough to frost about 4 cupcakes. Also, I have trouble filling them without making a huge mess on the outside of the bag, my hands, and the surrounding area. What I actually do is fill a piping bag… and then pipe it into another bag so I am wielding a clean piping bag when I get to frosting. I had gotten some cute little specialty rubber bands for the piping bags when I bought them, but now realize that binder clips are much better. I use them everywhere in the kitchen. They provide a very firm, tight hold, whereas the specialty rubber bands aren’t as tight. Plus, I tend to lose them and my cat eats them and then regurgitates them around the apartment.

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And voila! Beautiful, picture perfect cupcakes. And not just any cupcakes. The most chocolatey chocolate cupcakes ever. The coffee gives the cupcakes a dark fermented undertone. I think I might try adding a little cinnamon next time, too. Biting into the frosting feels like eating a huge melted Hershey kiss. Not for the faint of heart.

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My daughter is familiar with the book If You Give a Cat a Cupcake, which involves lots of sprinkles, so I offered her some to adorn her treat. She had me pour them into one of her toy teacups and kept it on the side, to enjoy separately. She also promptly squashed her cupcake frosting-down on her plate and only managed to eat half of her cupcake. It was that rich. I have to admit that it was indeed a lot of frosting. Amazing frosting. But still, a lot. A tall glass of cold milk is your friend here.

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It’s been forever since I’ve posted, and a long long time since I’ve made something so lucious. It was a nice, yummy day.

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???????????????????????????????Americans often express surprise when I tell them how hot summer is in Montreal, as if the entire country of Canada is a solid block of ice year-round. My NJ relatives don’t understand that it gets up to the low 30s C and that many of the Montreal buildings are old and don’t have air conditioning. Including my office. And my apartment.

One of the brilliant Korean summer dishes is naeung myun, a cold noodle soup served with an icy broth. On a sweltering day, this meal is sooooo refreshing and not too hard to make.

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???????????????????????????????I like salmon. We like salmon. And we can always find fresh salmon at the public market (the fishmonger at Atwater is my favourite).

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???????????????????????????????I haven’t been posting because, frankly, I haven’t been eating much. My doctor upped a prescription I was taking, which robbed me not only of energy and strength (had to nap twice a day and when not at work, spent the rest of my time in bed), but also lost my appetite, made me hypersensitive to food odours, and left me feeling oh so unwell for over a month. But fortunately, I seem to be adjusting to the damned pills (FINALLY!), and am back to eating and of course cooking as per usual.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve made steak. One of my favourite recipes is steak au poivre, which I found a long time ago in the now defunct Gourmet magazine while visiting my parents-in-law for Christmas. It’s a great recipe. Not many ingredients, not difficult. Tastes awesome.

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