November 30, 2010

Christmas Baking

Gingerbread Baking

Or not.

Ok, lets get real here. I love cooking and baking. I really do. But I also like shortcuts. And when it presents itself to me and doesn't cost too much more than doing it myself, well, I'm all in there.

Exhibit A:

As is the case with the gingerbread peep and tree in the above picture. I have a friend who is doing her baking apprenticeship at NAIT and she asked me whether I want to buy gingerbread cookies, since they are making them that week. (You can buy baked goods at the main campus at NAIT). I thought about all the rolling, the many pans I use, the baking racks set up all over my dining room table to cool the little cookies and of course, the inevitable few gingerbread peeps that get tossed into the garbage because I burned them.

It really wasn't a rocket science decision. I said yes. Just the mere hours I would save in cooking and cleaning is worth it. AND, hate to tell you, they were not expensive at all. The price tag was really reasonable for the 3 dozen I bought. I may never bake gingerbread cookies again, however, my friend won't be in the baker's program next year so I'll have no idea when they bake gingerbread cookies at NAIT. Time to look at neighboring bakeries for good deals on gingerbread!

Exhibit B:

Decorating Gingerbread Houses

Gingerbread houses. Last year, my hubby actually MADE the gingerbread schoolhouses. Yeah, I know, crazy loco!

I'm not that interested in all that work. I love the gingerbread house kits, that come with all the icing and candies. Also, my kids are only interested in the icing and candy too. It's well worth the price tag to buy the kits. And this year, it was even better. Safeway had pre-built houses. The kids didn't have to wait for us to assemble the house and wait for it to dry before decorating. (Kids are so impatient). All they had to do is put on the icing and candies that come included with the kit. They absolutely LOVED it. AND, so did I. All I did was color the icing to their favorite colors and snap some pictures.

Ah, the holidays are so wonderful and relaxing :)

(Safeway has them on sale this week. The pre-built gingerbread house kit is $9.99 and you can find it in the bakery section).

November 28, 2010

Weekly Photos: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Christmas Ornament

It's officially started. I pulled out the Christmas decor!

I'm so excited. Christmas is one of my very most favorite-ist holidays ever. No other holiday quite compares to it, in my eyes. I had to work real hard to put off the decorating, the Christmas music and baking until this weekend. It's so difficult when commercials and stores start with the Christmas cheer after Halloween (why do they do that to us?) and really upping it right after Thanksgiving!

Hey, Lequan! I found myself a white tree! I am so giddy.

I may have gone a little overboard in decorating (yup, got TWO trees setup in my house) but, I am not apologizing for it. I absolutely love it and don't mind the effort in takes to put it all together.

Now I got to start the Christmas baking.

November 23, 2010

Making Squash or Pumpkin Puree

Making Pumpkin or Squash Puree

I have to admit, I thought making pumpkin puree would be hard. Thoughts of laboriously peeling the tough pumpkin or squash skin kept coming to my mind but with this approach, there is no need. In all factuality, it was quite easy. It also reminded me of the days of making baby food for my children.

Cut, Scrape, Roast, Scoop, Puree. That is all there is to it.

I'm thinking that squash or pumpkin puree would be the savory counterpart to applesauce. Applesauce is used to cut down fat in recipes by substituting part of the oil or butter with it. It also helps to moisten and more nutrition in recipes. I think squash or pumpkin puree can do that too.

Another great thing about the puree is that you can freeze it. I have put mine into freezer bags and will be pulling it out for later use.

...

Squash or Pumpkin Puree

Cut the squash or pumpkin in half and using a spoon, scrape out all the seeds and strings.

In a roasting pan, put the squash/pumpkin cut-side down. Fill the pan with about 1 inch of water.

Roast for 1-1/2 hours at 350F. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

Using a spoon, scrape out the insides into a food processor. Discard the skin.

Puree the pumpkin until fine. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until needed or freeze in freezer bags for later usage.

November 19, 2010

Jerusalem Couscous with Cranberries and Hazelnuts

Jerusalem Couscous with cranberries and hazelnuts

"Israeli" or "Jerusalem" couscous (as is says on the package I purchased) is something I stumbled upon this summer. I was shopping and saw the package and immediately bought it. I've only been aquainted with the small granular couscous that you can buy at most grocery stores but I've never seen a bigger form of it until recently. I quite enjoy the bite of them, similar to pasta, and since they are bigger in size, they also coat well with all the flavors and seasoning you put in to make your dish.

As I stated in my last post... I'm embracing the fall and winter vegetables. I have quite a few pumpkins and squashes stored away in my basement and I'm trying coming up with different ways to use them. I always have dried cranberries at home (a fall staple!) and a wide variety of nuts.

This recipe is really tasty warm or even cooled. It even reheats well the next day. The couscous stands up well with the crunch of the hazelnuts and a nice kick of sweetness from the cranberries. Super easy to make and is great as a side dish or as a salad.

...

Jerusalem Couscous with Cranberries and Hazelnuts
serves 4

1 cup Jerusalem couscous
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cup peeled and diced pattypan squash
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup hazelnuts, chopped in halves
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
1/4 tsp pepper or to taste
1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

Cook the couscous as per package instructions. Drain and set aside.

In a large nonstick pan, fry the garlic in a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil for one minute.

Toss in the squash and cook for 6-8 minutes over medium heat, until it lightly browns. Mix in the dried cranberries and hazelnuts. Remove from heat.

Stir in the couscous and 1 tbsp oil and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley and serve.

November 17, 2010

Pumpkin Chutney

Pumpkin Chutney Recipe

Summer is gone and so is all the copious amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables which in turn results in a bit of a downturn in the cooking department. I should say that I am speaking for myself, as not everyone feels as I do. Why is it that I can not be as enthusiastic cooking in the fall and winter months? Pumpkins or potatoes just do not hold the same excitement as juicy, plump berries just picked off the bushes or garden-fresh arugula and sweet, succulent peas-in-the-pod. But, I am trying to change my ways. I have decided that I need to be proactive. By changing my thinking on the matter, hopefully, my cooking habits will shift for the better.

This, my friends, is my attempt.

Pumpkin Chutney

This chutney is so very satisfying. The sweet, peppery tones work well with the acidity of this chunky, zippy chutney. Great over crackers and crostinis or try spooning onto a beautiful circle of brie. It would also be an appealing addition to a mouth-watering hamburger in place of the ketchup.

Calling all Fall and Winter Fruits and Vegetables: I'm ready for you! I'm energized! And, I'm ready to give it my all in the kitchen for you. I hope I do you justice!

...


Pumpkin Chutney
makes approximately 2 liters

2 lb pumpkin, peeled and chopped
1 1b tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 1b onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups white vinegar

1-1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1-1/2 tsp allspice

1-1/2 lbs brown sugar
1-1/2 Tbsp salt
1-1/2 tsp ground ginger
1-1/2 tsp ground black pepper

In a large pan, combine the pumpkin, tomatoes, onions and garlic. Add vinegar, white pepperc and allspice. Cover and let sit for about 1 hour.

Add the brown sugar, salt, ginger and black pepper. Mix and over medium heat, bring to a boil. Reduce heat, stirring occasionally, and allow to simmer for almost 2 hours. Cool and serve.

November 15, 2010

Eating Out: A Stop at Wild Earth Bakery

A stop at Wild Earth Bakery

I made my first visit out to Wild Earth Bakery, "...a 'salt of the earth, grass-roots, almost organic, scratch-baking, feel-good' kind of place" as their website says. I had heard they had great baked goods and yummy raspberry white chocolate scones.

I have to admit, I kinda have a biased, preconceived notion of what "grass-roots" food is like. It's up there with the buzzword "healthy" and to me, it means bland and unremarkable. I know, I know, shame on me. Not everything "grass-roots" or "healthy" is bad but I can't help having this immediate knee-jerk reaction. I mean, I make healthy food from scratch which I think is really good and I have never had people tell me it wasn't. But, when I find something that fits the bill, I alway mumble to myself "yeah, I knew it".

Enter the pizza.

Sigh.

"Yeah, I knew it."

Bland. Unremarkable. Whole wheat crust that was tasteless styrofoam. Cheese had no taste that I actually was thinking it was plastic (It was probably low-fat cheese - ick). The worst is when they throw herbs on top because "Oh! Wow! Herbs make everything all the more fancy" but without even basic seasoning (ie: salt and pepper) the dry herbs do nothing for your tastebuds. (God forbid it not be low-sodium because that = unhealthy). The squirrel didn't even go for the crust we threw him. My little guy had one slice, I had one and the rest went into le garbage.

Kind of a depressing. I hope it was just a one-off. Though, my friend didn't really love her sandwich either. But the coffee was super and the service was really great.

I think I'll stick to the raspberry white chocolate scones next time I go.

...

Wild Earth Bakery
8902-99 St NW
Edmonton, AB T6E 3V4

November 9, 2010

Scooby-Doo Cake

Scooby Doo Birthday Cake

I used a character pan to make this Scooby-Doo cake. And I have to tell you, this is a lot of work!

Making the cake part...easy, peasy. But the decorating... Zoinks! I wouldn't want to do this again, not even for a million scooby-snacks!

I think I got carpal tunnel on my wrist having to constantly squeeze out the little blossoms of icing all over the cake. It was really exhausting. And it was frustrating having to make different colors of icing. I changed the design and color on Scooby's dog collar because I was not interested in making more colors. The kids didn't seem to notice at all.

I can imagine for a person who doesn't really bake or usually make their own birthday cakes, that choosing a character birthday pan would seem easier and cheaper than buying the same cake from a bakery, but to me, it isn't really worth it. Cake supplies, buying the pan, making icing and don't forget all the (wo)man hours to complete it. I would also say, I hate having to "draw or color between the lines". So these character pans are definitely not for me.

I would rather free-style my cakes, like my monster truck cake, construction scene cake or dump truck cake. Less variety of colored icing can be made, little toys can be used to decorate the cake and mistakes/imperfections are less visible or easily covered up in comparison to a character pan cake.

Plus, you got free reign to do what you want! Let the creativity flow!

But, that's just my opinion. No two jinkies about it, I'm sticking with my own homemade designs.

November 5, 2010

Monster Truck Birthday Cake

Monster Truck Cake Boy Birthday

Hey! Hello. Hi :)

While all of you have been gorging on leftover halloween candy, making dentists see dollar signs with every bite, I have, unfortunately, not been doing any noshing. Nope, not watching my weight or anything either, I've been "dying" from the flu.

I put dying in quotes because it may sound a touch over-dramatic. Ok, maybe a whiff more than a touch but really let's not split hairs, the point is this is how I felt during this tortured moment in time. I remember being huddled over the toilet, feverish, delirious, gasping for air and muttering something about needing euthanasia legalized because I am done and want it over. No, I'm not a drama queen, I was just really hurting.

Currently, I am typing and snacking on a survival breakfast of dry corn-pops cereal. Still can't stomach much. So, I can report that I am on the mend and am glad words aren't written in stone. ahem.

During the weekend, before the plague came-a-knocking, I celebrated my son's birthday. I surprised him with a monster truck cake. He was expecting a Scooby Doo cake (which he requested and I'll show next post) but I knew he would love this idea and it was super easy to make. He was pretty excited since he stumbled upon monster trucks on youtube a short while ago.

I love making my kids happy. You should have seen his little bitty face. Makes a momma cry.

I chose a super easy cake recipe to make, a one-bowl in my mixer recipe. The cake was a bit on the sweeter side, for my preference, but knowing that, you can cut back 1/4 cup sugar if you please.

Assembly is easy. Cut one end of the cake to use as the ramp. Use chocolate icing to cover and of course, decorate with monster truck and cars!

Happy healthy weekend to you peeps!

...


Chocolate Cake
makes 1- 9x13 inch cake pan
1/2 cup hot water
4 - 1 oz squares semisweet chocolate
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
2-1/4 cup white flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
Combine the hot water and chocolate squares in a bowl. Mix and microwave, if needed to melt. Set aside too cool.

Beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Scraping the sides, add eggs, one at a time until incorporated. Add the chocolate from above and mix until combined.
Add the flour, baking soda, salt, buttermilk and vanilla. Mix on low until blended.

Poured the batter into a prepared 9 x 13 cake pan, lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350F for 45 minutes or until toothpicks come out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes and completely on wire rack.

Recipe from: German Chocolate Cake, Kitchenaid Best-Loved Recipes

November 1, 2010

Eating Out: Bon Ton Bakery

Goodies from Bon Ton Bakery

The ever popular Groupon featured Bon Ton Bakery (you must visit their website - it's phenomenal) a short while ago and my friend bought the deal. And then, she surprised me one morning with it. (I have wonderful friends!). She said when she saw it, she immediately thought of me. Me, having the food blog, always talking about food, photographing food, entertaining... I wonder what tipped her off :)

I have never been to Bon Ton Bakery before but eagerly made the jaunt out to it. I had heard great things about the place and also heard that they expanded/renovated a short while ago. I brought my son with me to pick out some goodies and when we walked in, I swear I heard angels singing. The store is grand in size and immaculate. My little guy gasped and immediately glued himself to the glass cases chockful of the most scrumptious-looking pastries, cookies and cakes. It was a beautiful sight.

We were immediately greeted and I have to say, I have never ever had service like that before. I absolutely hate when you go to places of business and the people at the counter almost completely ignore you or are more interested in yapping to each other instead of giving the customer their full attention. H.A.T.E. I.T. Bon Ton's service was nothing like that. It was really top-notch. Top-notch.

Their goods are all baked fresh and in-store everyday. If you have any questions of what ingredients are in any loaf, cookie or bake, they are able to answer it. They also sell other gourmet products (chocolates and jams, etc). I saw some small packaged cookies, with pretty ribbons, that would be perfect as gifts for my children's teachers.

I spoke with one of the owner's, Hilton, "like the hotel", as he informed me, and I had a wonderful back-and-forth banter with him. He is delightfully funny and genuine. I had asked him if I could come by and take pictures of the store for my blog, (which he graciously agreed) but I've decided against it. I think you must go there in person and see it for yourself. You must. Beautiful store, top-notch service and delicious goods. Do it. It's worth it. Trust me.
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