Saturday, April 23, 2016

Me Again

Needless to say, it's been a while. I guess moving from Montreal to Vancouver, living in my in-laws' basement, having a baby, dealing with emotional turmoil and family crisis, moving to our own place, finally unpacking after a year and a half of storing our lives in my parents' basement and watching my baby grow up into a whirlwind of a toddler has taken up a huge portion of my life that hasn't really left any time for creative expression. Or personal reflection. Or baking.

Someone suggested to me the other day that I should start writing again, and I decided that might be a good idea. At least, it couldn't do any harm, right?

So, here I am. I'm not really sure what I'm going to write about, since most of my culinary adventures have turned into futile efforts to keep my almost two year old from alternately flinging flour across the room and sticking her nose (literally) into the bowl of whatever batter I'm mixing. So we'll see how that pans out. With any luck, I can turn this into a place to take note of things that I love and am thankful for - like the beautiful nature walk (above) that I took with my husband and baby in the spring sunshine, or dripping popsicles made with orange juice and mint simple syrup. Maybe once in a while I'll say something intelligent about current events or theology or the latest episode of Brooklyn Nine Nine...but then again, maybe not. I'll just have to see where my path takes me.

The Perfect Oatmeal Cookie

There's this oatmeal cookie recipe that I've had since I was a kid that never turns out quite right. It was passed on to me by my mother, who says they've never turned out right for her either. I didn't care all that much because they were delicious - sweet, stuffed full of oats, and oh so buttery - but they spread. They spread a lot. I remember tugging this recipe out of my mother's very overstuffed recipe box time and again, hoping that this time I would miraculously find the solution. I'd whip up a batch with a bit less butter or a bit more flour, plop them onto a cookie sheet, and look through the oven window with dashed hopes as the fluffy little balls of dough melted into nothingness, flat and crumbly on the pan. One batch fell apart as soon as I picked them up, so I scraped them into a jar and called it granola.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine served up some oatmeal cookies after dinner, sandwiched with peanut butter icing. The icing was fantastic (read about my love affair with peanut butter frosting here), and the cookies had that same sweet buttery flavour as my old recipe, but they were too hard to work well as sandwich cookies. I'm sure you've all had this problem before: biting down so hard to get through the cookie that all the frosting squishes out the sides, forcing you either to lick the extra frosting off and eat the remainder of the cookie sandwich sans filling, or shove all the filling back into the middle with your fingers, only to find yourself in the same situation after the next bite. (First world problems, I know.)
Anyway...I asked her for the recipe. 

Now that I had one recipe for too soft cookies and another for too hard cookies, I did the logical thing. I morphed them together. I have played with this recipe a few times, adjusting the egg, sugar and oatmeal content and adding a bit of flair with browned butter, and I'm pretty sure I've created the perfect oatmeal cookie. These babies are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, sweet, full of oats and oh so buttery. And best of all, they hold their shape beautifully.

The Perfect Oatmeal Cookie
 - inspired by my mom's family recipe and my friend's sandwich cookie recipe, perfected by me

1 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 cups oats (not instant)

Brown the butter. (Here's a good instructional video on how to do this.) Be careful not to let it get too dark or it will taste burnt. Remove the butter from the heat and let it cool slightly. Pour into a large bowl with the sugar and beat until the butter is no longer hot. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl and add gradually to the wet ingredients, mixing just until combined. Stir in the oats. Refrigerate the dough for about half an hour. 

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Scoop the dough by tablespoon and roll into balls. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Changing of the Seasons (Marked by Pie)

**Disclaimer: This blog post is about as old as the hills. I wrote it last year but didn't add any pictures, and then I absolutely forgot about it. But since it's sitting here all ready to go, I don't see any reason not to share it with the world! Hopefully I'll get my act together to start writing more timely posts soon.

Yesterday I finally pulled all my clothes out of the winter box. I put away all the shorts and swimsuits and stuffed my closet with sweater dresses and scarves. I've started turning up the heat in the bedroom, and most mornings when I get out of bed now, I have to put on my fluffy slippers. The world has become decidedly autumnal.

One of the lovely things about Montreal in autumn is the changing of the leaves. Fall on the west coast looks very much the same as winter - wet -, but farther east, there's a definite changing of the seasons. The light shining through the living room window has a golden cast, there's a nip in the air, and the trees are aflame with different shades of red, orange and yellow. I absolutely love it. It's gotten cold enough at this point that I've had to upgrade my coat, though I haven't pulled out the heavy duty winter coat and boots yet (that's another stage entirely), and I'm getting a lot of use out of my drawer full of pashmina scarves. Autumn, in my opinion, is the greatest season for fashion. Also for food. 

Last week I did something that seems as quintessentially fall-ish as jumping in a leaf pile, yet being from the west coast, I had never done before. The school that I work at organizes all kinds of interesting activities for the students at the end of sessions and last Friday, we went apple picking. I'm sure I was the most excited person on the trip, and I must have looked like a very giddy (and nerdy) little kid bouncing around in the front of the bus as we prepared to leave. We drove about an hour out of Montreal to a place called Les Fromages du Verger (french for Cheese Orchard) in St-Joseph-du-Lac and, after a short tractor ride, were set free in the orchard. We wandered about in a dreamy autumn haze, happily picking to our hearts content and filling our bags to the brim with Spartan, Empire and Cortland apples. About two hours later, we got back on the bus feeling very satisfied with ourselves and headed home.

 So then I found myself with a huge bag of crisp, ruddy apples and I thought, "What else is there to do, really?" So I made an apple pie.

Now, first of all, I don't really like apple pie. There's just something about the texture of cooked apples that I can't handle. My husband thinks I'm a crazy person, and maybe he's right. But when one finds oneself with a bumper crop of perfect apples, so eager to be cuddled up in pastry with a bit of cinnamon and sugar, well...let's just say, I didn't feel I had a choice.

Also, I had just found this apple pie recipe in the newspaper that called specifically for Cortland, the very variety I had stocked up on that day. Now, do you call that providence or what?

Quinn Farm Dutch Apple Pie
as seen in the Gazette, Wednesday October 3rd, 2012

For the pie:
6 cups of thinly sliced apples
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 T heavy cream
1 recipe single-crust pie
**I made my pie crust, which I always think tastes better, but I'm sure it would be just fine if you use a store bought crust. Just make sure it's fresh and not freezerburnt! Nothin' worse than a freezerburnt crust.

For the crumble: 
1 cup oats (not the minute kind)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the apples, cinnamon and sugar in a large bowl and set aside to marinate for a few minutes. In another bowl, combine the crumble ingredients and blend, using a fork, a pastry cutter, or your fingers. Fill the pie crust with the apples. (The apples will shrink while they bake, so put in more than you think you need. Pile 'em high!) Sprinkle the crumble mix on the top and drizzle cream all over it. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the top is a nice golden brown. For optimum results, let sit for an hour or so until the juices have firmed up.

I have to say, for a non apple pie lover, this baby was pretty good. I actually ate an entire slice and enjoyed it, which is really saying something for me. Top it off with a spot of whipped cream and you've got yourself a pie to be proud of!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Thrills, Chills, and Apple Fennel Salad

I try to make a meal plan every week and do my shopping all at once. I generally find that this cuts down on the cost of groceries and prevents us from staring into the refridgerator with a look of consternation every night going "So...should we just have toast again?" Instead, I take a stack of cookbooks into the living room and pour over them for ages looking for new and challenging recipes, things which are sure to impress. I love looking through my cookbooks and dreaming of feasting on the sumptuous morsels inside and presenting my picture perfect replications to guests, especially since receiving a much desired new book for Christmas this year, Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking".

The only problem with doing this is that I often forget to plan myself one or two simple, throw-together meals for the days when I just don't feel like whipping up a masterpiece - because Julia herself admits that her book is not for those faint of heart or short on time, and Jamie Oliver may say that his meals are easy to throw together, but he obviously has no inkling of my potential for bungling in the kitchen. So, Julia's ratatouille pictured above was delicious, but was actually suggested as part of a larger meal, and by itself took me longer than an hour to prepare. As for the delicious morsels to set before guests, I have a bad habit of making things for people that I have never made before and not checking beforehand how long they will take or how many they will serve. So I slaved over a lovely porkloin with roast leeks which I set on the table for a group of six very hungry people, though it was only meant to serve four. Everyone got a small plate, and I ended up offering round toast after dinner. Erg.

This past week I had the flu, during which time I had simultaneous chills and a fever, ached in joints I had forgotten were there, ate practically nothing and drank a lot of orange juice. While I was still not feeling my greatest, I had to make dinner for a few people, and I was determined that I wasn't going to kill myself for hours or spend any more time near a hot stove than absolutely necessary. Here's what I made:

 Cauliflower Cheese Soup - Moosewood Cookbook
Cut up a carrot, a potatoe, a cup of onion and a head of cauliflower. Put them in a pot with some stock and boil until the vegetables are soft. Puree. Add a bit of cream, a teaspoon of caraway seeds, two cups of shredded cheddar cheese and some salt and pepper. Heat through and serve.

 Custardy Popovers  - Moosewood Cookbook
Preheat oven to 375. Brush a muffin tin with melted butter. Whisk 1 1/4 cups of milk with 2, 3 or 4 eggs (depending on how custardy you like your popovers). Add 1 1/4 cups of flour and 1/2 tsp salt. Mix (some lumps are ok). Fill the muffin cups 2/3 full and bake 25 minutes, adding five minutes for each additional egg (ie: 30 min for three eggs, etc.) Remove from the pan and prick with a fork.

Apple Fennel Salad
I had this when I was over at a friend's house for dinner and I thought it was so lovely and simple that I immediately added it to my repetoire.

You need: two or three crisp red apples, a fennel bulb, a block of parmesean cheese (not the pre shredded stuff) and some nice olive oil.

Cut the top and bottom off the fennel bulb and slice thinly. Wash and core the apple and slice thinly. Alternate slices of fennel and apple, drizzling each layer with a bit of olive oil and parmesean shavings (a vegetable peeler works well for this).

This meal took me less than an hour from start to finish, left me with few dishes, and was an absolute cinch to prepare. I was able to spend my time relaxing and chatting with my guests instead of running around trying to get everything ready at the same time. I need to cook like this more often. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Zucchini Bread Grilled Cheese??

A few nights ago as I was taking stock of our refridgerator while trying to decide what to have for dinner, I saw two beautiful zucchini sitting in the crisper and remembered this video that I saw last week on of chef Michael Bulkowski making a sandwich that blew my mind: grilled cheese on zucchini bread.

 These are the kinds of things that I dream about making but stop myself because it just sounds too crazy...but this video is evidence that real sane people out in the world make the things that I only dream of making! Chef Michael has set me free!

I whipped up this recipe for zucchini bread and waited in agony patiently for an hour and a bit while it baked and cooled, filling the house with its intoxicating smells.  

I used this very strong goat cheese that I picked up at Atwater market. (I think next time I would use a not-quite-so pungent cheese, as this one was a bit like a kick in the a good way...sort of.)

I ate this totally delicious sandwich. Mind officially blown.

I feel like a world of possibilites has been opened up to me with this sandwich! I'm already dreaming up sequels. Would a fried peanut butter and jam on banana bread be crossing the line?

Oh my gosh. I want one right now.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Quinoa Tomato Salad & A Good Ol' Romp in the Great Outdoors

I grew up in White Rock, BC. Our family always had two cars in the driveway. When my brother and I learned to drive, it became three and later four, as each of us needed our own car to get to work and school, respectively. When everyone was home, it looked like we were having a party at our house. Living in the suburbs means a lot of driving, because nothing is within walking distance and public transit basically sucks.  We in the suburbs think nothing of a daily hour long commute. That's just the way it is. 

This past year in Montreal is the first time I have ever really lived in a city. It's been a great experience, and there are things about it I absolutely love. I love that there's a 24 hour bagel place down the street from us where we can also buy milk and eggs. I love that we can decide to go out to dinner after 8 'o clock at night and have a choice between a dozen different restaurants on our street. I love walking around downtown and suddenly running smack dab into the middle of a festival that I didn't even know was happening. There is always something interesting going on here. 

One of the things I really miss about living in BC though, is the openness - looking out over the ocean and not being able to see the other side; going an hour in any direction and hitting farmland or wilderness; that feeling of wanting to head out on the highway and drive off into the great unknown. I miss being able to get away from it all. I miss nature. So when a new friend asked my husband and I if we wanted to go hiking with her last weekend, we were all over the idea. Although the weather was not what we hoped it would be (read: it poured with rain), the chance to leave the confinement of city buildings and spend some time in the great wide open was irresistible, and something I think we both needed. I myself took great pleasure in packing us an energizing and delicious lunch, and we ate it with relish on a forest path by the water, the wind blowing in our faces. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Victory is Mine!!

This is a picture of the chess board after my winning game with Shaun. (I'm brown, in case you couldn't tell.) This is the first game I have won against him in longer than I would like any of you to know...and it was SO AWESOME!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go and bask in my glorious victory. Talk amongst yourselves.