Tea for Two … or Thirty-two

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For my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary party I decided to go with a garden party luncheon theme. It turned out to be one of the hottest days we had this summer so I made sure to have plenty of refreshments. Rather than employ hot tea on a hot day (even though the tea cups would have been super cute), I went with iced tea in the hopes that my guests wouldn’t collapse from the heat. I decided on a nice cold decaffeinated mint version (using Stash Organics Cascade Mint), a black tea with a twist (Teavana’s Mango Blank Tea with Lemon), and then the popular Earl Grey Gin cocktail (made with Tetley Vanilla Earl Grey).

And it is suprisingly difficult to make large quantities of iced tea. For one, I only had one pot large enough to hold the required amount of boiling water for each batch. So that meant I could only make one batch of tea at a time. I also only had one bowl large enough to hold that much hot liquid while it cooled. And then I didn’t have enough room in my refrigerator to cool it all down. But I did manage. It took a bit of math to figure out how many tea bags I needed for each of my batches (seeing as I usually just chuck two bags in a teapot and I’m done).

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And I had to calculate how much fluid would fit in each of my glass jars. I got these 7.5L ones from Home Sense for a reasonable price. Remember when you figure out how much water you need, you also need to consider any other displacement volume, such as whether you’re adding fruit (lemon slices) and/or ice.

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And speaking of ice, because I didn’t want to water down my tea as the day wore on, I chose to make my own giant tea ice cubes by freezing some tea in these little ziploc containers.

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All in all it was a very successful shindig, and everyone was refreshed!

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Freezer Pies

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What do you do when you have a big party coming up that requires lots of yummy baked goods, but you know that on the weekend in question you’re going to be way too busy to do anything as involved as make a pie? You take advantage of your freezer, of course.

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First you make up your favourite pastry dough. I always love the original Joy of Cooking version that you can find in a previous post here. The Joy also has some great information on how to make pies ahead of time by freezing them before baking.

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Then you make up your fillings. Here we opted for a vanilla peach and a strawberry-blueberry version. As long as you have about five cups of fruit, and then a couple tablespoons each of sugar, butter, and thickener (flour or corn starch), plus a few drops of lemon juice, then you can make any pie you want.

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We had a tool that Cait called a “strawberry effer-upper” (though she used a stronger word than “effer,” if you catch my drift) which handily slices your strawberries into several neat pieces. Cait’s sister Jules was very happy to take on the effer-upper role. She’s a little sadistic like that.

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Cait also made the error of purchasing clingstone peaches for our pies instead of freestone peaches, so getting the flesh of the fruit off the stone was a bit of a challenge. Eventually I discovered that if you cut wedges into the peach then it’s easier to pry off the sections.

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Once your fillings are made and mixed, leave them at least fifteen minutes to macerate.

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Ideally your dough has been chilling happily all this time and you’ve had a chance to roll it out and let it chill some more. The difference between a regular pie and a freezer pie is that when you plop the bottom shell into the pie dish, you leave a piece of plastic wrap on the bottom between the dish and the pastry. Honest.

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Then you fill your pie that is sitting on top of a layer of plastic wrap. This pie is quite tall.

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Seal it in with more pastry. Do not glaze your pastry at this point, if you’re into that kind of thing. You gotta wait on that.

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Now wrap the rest of it up in plastic wrap so it’s tightly sealed. Wrap again in foil and shove that into the freezer.

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When you’re ready to bake, haul the frozen pies out of the freezer. Preheat your oven to 425°F.

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I stored the strawberry/blueberry one on an angle so I did have a bit of leakage.

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Pry the pie out of the dish and peel off the bottom wrap.

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Plop the pie back into the dish (you can glaze it now if you wish) and pop it in the oven for 10 minutes.

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After ten minutes, haul it out and cut steam vents in the pastry.

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Then shove it back in the oven (this time at 350°F) for a further hour, until the pastry is light brown and crusty and the insides are bubbling out.

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Let those cool completely (or nearly completely) before eating. Yum!

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EAT IT FOR BREAKFAST: Quinoa Oatmeal

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I love, LOVE reading Thug Kitchen.  Believe it or not, this is actually how I cook most of the time.  With very colourful language.  I tend to tone it down so as not to offend your more delicate sensibilities.  However, you may find that sometimes the tenor of my writing changes a bit.  Usually you can blame that on a binge reading of Thug Kitchen, or a quick episode of Epic Meal Time.  If I had my own internet cooking show, you can bet there would be lots of yelling and throwing of things.  And probably more dropping-things-on-the-floor-then-picking-them-up-and-putting-them-back-in-the-bowl than you were really prepared for.  Because that’s real life for me.

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Anyway, I’m a firm believer in breakfast.  Yup, I’m one of THOSE.  Don’t even argue with me.  And I love me my parritch, so this quinoa oatmeal with steel cut oats appeals to the hippy highlander in me.

Quinoa Oatmeal 1

Start with 1/2 cup quinoa, and give that a good rinse in a sieve so that you wash off all the bitterness.

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Put 4 cups water in a kettle and set that on the stove to come to an almost boil (you’ll thank me for the shortcut later).

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Now you’re going to plop a bit of olive or coconut oil (1 teaspoon) in a saucepan, followed by 1 cup steel cut oats.

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Stir that around on medium heat until the oats start to smell nice and toasty.

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Chuck in the quinoa and the water and bring it to a boil (which will be almost immediately because you already almost boiled the water, remember?), then lower it to a simmer and let it cook as it is for about 20 minutes.

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Stir it occasionally so it doesn’t burn, but don’t fret too much about it.

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Add in about 1/2 cup of whatever kind of milk you like and turn off the heat.

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Serves 4, garnished with fruit and nuts or raisins and brown sugar or whatever floats your boat!

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Have You Tried Banana “Ice Cream”?

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No?  You probably should.  It’s like all the good things about ice cream, but it’s also gluten-free, vegan, and pretty darned good for you.  I feel like world peace could be achieved if everyone could have some of this ice cream (except for people who are allergic to bananas — they will just have to negotiate peace on their own terms).

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So basically, you take some bananas.  Ripe ones, with a few brown spots.  You want them soft and squishy and very sweet.

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Then you peel them and slice them into disks.  And then you freeze those.  In the freezer.  Or outside, if you live in Central or Eastern or Atlantic Canada.  Or Northern Europe.  Or Siberia.  Or Antarctica (actually, then they’d probably be too cold.  Your freezer is probably warmer than Antarctica).

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Then you take them out of the freezer.  And you plop them in your food processor.

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AND YOU GIVE IT A WHAZ.  Which is what Jamie Oliver would say.  And the Pie and I love him, so that’s one of our new favourite phrases.

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And when it’s all gooey and soft and smooth, you can eat it!

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If you prefer your soft serve a little more firm, you can chuck it back in the freezer for a bit.  I like the fact that when it thaws, because it’s banana, it doesn’t get all soupy.

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And you can flavour it as well!  Add peanut butter, Nutella, chocolate chips, cocoa, vanilla … you name it (I added Nutella and vanilla).

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The only limit is your imagination — and what you have to stuff in there.  GO BANANAS!

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VERSUS: Two Ways to Bust Open a Pomegranate

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Somewhere in the world it is pomegranate season.  I know this because for once, the shiny red fruit arriving in our St. John’s stores is lustrous and blemish-free.  So they’re raring to go.  Plus, instead of spending $6-$7 per fruit, I’m only spending $3.  That’s still a lot, but you know, it’s Newfoundland.  I’ve long since stopped being concerned about saving money on produce.  Just ain’t gonna happen.

Especially when you consider how awesomely good a pomegranate is.  I used to love picking them apart as a kid.  I appreciate food you have to work for, like artichokes.  I think my mother loved them too because it kept me quiet and occupied for long periods of time, though it was quite messy.  Small price to pay I suppose.

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As far as I know, there are two decent ways to get all those juicy seeds out of a pomegranate.  There is the official, POM-certified method (which has its own brochure, situated neatly above the pomegranate bins at the grocery store), and then there’s the way that we all learned recently from the internet, which I call the SMASHY method.  I bought two pomegranates the other day so I thought I would test both methods at the same time and tell you which one I liked the best.  It’s a battle!

The Smashy Method:

This is the most fun I think of the two methods.  First, you pare off the top and bottom of the pomegranate.

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Then you score the skin around in a circle.

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And carefully pry it apart into two pieces.

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Set the fruit cut side down on your palm over a bowl, and make a little loose cup out of your fingers so the fruit can fall through.  Then you take a giant spoon, and you start smacking the skin of that pomegranate half.  I mean you can really go to town, smacking it all over.

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And the fruit will start to fall between your fingers into the bowl.

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And the skin will start to crack.  Keep going.  Beat the crap out of that thing.

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Of course there will be casualties.  Some seeds may fly elsewhere. Fortunately our canine vacuum is a fan of any form of fruit that may fall on his floor.

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But it’s quite effective in getting most of the stuff out.

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It does tend to leave some large chunks of pith in your bowl.

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Not to mention splatters of pomegranate juice in places  you’d rather it wasn’t.

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The Official Method:

Chop off the top and bottom and score and pry apart, just like last time.

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Submerge your fruit in a bowl of water and gently pull off the seeds.

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This may take a while.

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But note how the pith just floats to the top.  You can scoop it out with a slotted spoon or your fingers.  I ended up dumping the fruits of my labour (hahaha) with the other method into the water bowl as well, to get rid of the extra pith.

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Then you just pour it all into a strainer to drain and you’re good to go.

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VERDICT: While the “official” method was tidier, it took a lot longer (and didn’t involve hitting things with a spoon).  If there were ways to combine the two methods (smacking it with a spoon while under water) then I’d be completely sold.  Until someone comes up with a method like that, I’m just going to sit here and eat these.

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Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

I had to fill in (on rather short notice) for one of the members of my Sweet Treats group at work, and so this is what I came up with.  I LOVE (love, love, love) meringues.  Always have.  In fact I think they’re the first thing I ever baked.  And so every time I make something with egg yolks I take advantage of the extra whites and whip up a batch.  The Pie isn’t a huge fan of the crispy, chewy, sugary goodness, but that hasn’t stopped me yet.  I’ve even branched out and made different varieties of chocolate meringue, one of which I posted about here.  But I keep seeing fruity versions, so I thought I’d give that a go.  Most of the recipes call for food colouring and raspberry or strawberry extract, neither of which are particularly yummy to me.  I mean, I understand why you would use them in this case — the fluffy egg whites are pretty delicate and would collapse if you put too much heavy stuff into the mix.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

But I think we can give this a bit of a go, with some real fruit.  We just have to be very careful.

What you need is some egg whites, at room temperature.  I have some pasteurized egg whites that came in a carton which has been sitting in my freezer since Cait and Jul were here, so I might as well use that. Then you need some cream of tartar, which is your stiffening agent. And some sugar.  For sweetness.  Obviously.  You can use any sweetener you like, but I prefer the ease of good old regular sugar.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

And you need some fruit.  I’m going to use about a cup and a half of frozen raspberries here, which I thawed, and I’m going to gently stew them for a little bit with 1 teaspoon corn starch.  To prevent lumps of corn starch forming, mix the spoonful of starch with a small amount of the raspberry juice first, to form a slurry (this technique works really well when adding thickener to gravies, too).  I added in a tablespoon or so of sugar, just to get rid of the bite of the raspberry acid.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Then I’m going to strain them (and by that I mean shove the mess through a sieve with a spoon), and come out with a nice little coulis.  Let that cool for a bit.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Now you can start your meringues.  Preheat your oven to 250°F and line some baking sheets with parchment paper.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

The regular proportions I use come from The Joy of Cooking, and involve 4 egg whites1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon vanilla (which I made from rum!) and 1 cup sugar.  You can multiply or divide this recipe however you wish.  In my carton o’ egg whites the label says there is the equivalent of 8 egg whites, so I’m going with that proportion, which is a double batch.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Of course, I didn’t learn until after I’d put it all together that pasteurized egg whites (such as those that come in a carton) do not lend themselves well to making meringue.  So I had to start all over again.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues
SO very much not what I was aiming for.

So you have your room temperature egg whites, and you chuck them in the bowl of a mixer with your cream of tartar and your rum/vanilla, and you beat the crap out of it with your whisk-y thing.  When you’ve got nice foamy peaks, you can start adding your sugar in, a little bit at a time.  Keep beating until you have nice firm peaks.

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That’s more like it!

These peaks not only hold their own weight, but they can support the weight of the heavy metal whisk as well!

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Once the egg whites form stiff peaks, you can gently fold in your coulis.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

I spooned the meringue stuff onto the baking sheets in decent cookie-sized heaps, and ended up with 42 of them.  Bake them for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (maybe a bit longer if they’re still squishy on the bottom, and make sure to rotate your sheets if you’ve got them on two levels), and let them cool inside the oven after you’ve turned it off.  If you cool them too quickly they’ll collapse.  Store them in an airtight container and make sure to eat them all within a few days of baking.

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Greetings from inside the oven …

These are strongly reminiscent of those fruit-flavoured hard candies that they hand out in restaurants, that you suck on for a while and then you chew and the inside is all squishy and sticks together.  That’s what biting on these is like.  Taste is very similar, too.

Rum-Raspberry Meringues

Apple Clafoutis

Apple Clafoutis

This recipe comes from one of my favourite daily reads, Caroline over at The Wanna be Country Girl.  Clafoutis is a traditional French dish made with cherries.  Technically, if you’re making it with some other fruit you should call it a flaugnarde.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, okay?

This being my first ever clafoutis to bake and to eat, I can wholeheartedly say that it is a warm, comforting, and easy dish.  It practically makes itself.  It’s kind of like a half-pastry, half-custard, fruity pudding-y-type thing.  That’s the best way I can describe it.

So this is how you do it. Ask the kitchen spider to give you a hand.

Apple Clafoutis

Preheat your oven to 325°F.

Take yourself some fruit, enough to fit in a single layer on the bottom of a deep-dish pie plate.  I decided that 4 Royal Gala apples would do the trick.

Apple Clafoutis

Peel, core, and cube those babies up and chuck them in a saucepan or frying pan with 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon.  Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes.

Apple Clafoutis

Butter your deep-dish pie plate and pour in the cooked fruit, together with the pan juices.

Apple Clafoutis

In a bowl, mix together 1/2 cup flour and 3/4 cup sugar.  Add to that 3 eggs, slightly beaten, and 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk.

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Mix thoroughly.  You’ll have a super-runny batter.

Apple Clafoutis

Pour that batter over the fruit in your pie dish.  The fruit will float to the top, don’t worry.

Apple Clafoutis

Shove that in the oven and bake it for about an hour, until the whole thing is set.

Apple Clafoutis

Allow to cool, but serve warm.  So custardy and good!

Apple Clafoutis

Oh, Gum Drops!

Gum Drops!

I got this recipe from Inquiring Chef, who in turn modified it from Bakerella.  I think it’s awesome.  Challenge accepted.

Gum Drops!

Inquiring Chef came up with four batches of different flavours: blueberry, raspberry, lemon, and mint.  She tried kiwi but apparently it didn’t gel, so I left my kiwi purée in the freezer for the time being.  I did whip out my frozen fruit from Costco and came up with six different flavours: blueberry, mixed berry (raspberry, blackberry, blueberry), strawberry, mango, and raspberry.  I planned to turn whatever was left into a mélange and call that one “fruit salad”.  I left those to defrost in the sun while I made The Un-Cola.

Gum Drops!

You only need 3 tablespoons of purée per flavour, but I wasn’t sure how much would be left over after I finished straining out the seeds and skins, so I kind of eyeballed it.

So, in a food processor, purée those fruits all up.

Gum Drops!

Strain them to remove the seeds and skins and whatever else is in there.

Gum Drops!

Push the stuff against the sides of the strainer with a spoon to get ’em to go. Some are easier than others.

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Some are downright lurid.

Gum Drops!

Now we’re ready to go.  Five flavours here.

Gum Drops!

And my “fruit salad” here.

Gum Drops!

The recipe below will give you two flavours.  I obviously multiplied it by three to match my six flavours.

Grease or spray 2 5″x 6″ pans for the gelatinizing of them there gum drops.  I used 8″ pie plates and cake tins, because that was what I had on hand.

Gum Drops!

So.  Plop 3 tablespoons purée of one flavour into the bottom of one large heat-proof bowl, and then another 3 tablespoons of another flavour into another.

Gum Drops!

In a large pot, sprinkle 4 tablespoons unflavoured gelatin (sorry, this isn’t a vegetarian recipe) over 1 cup cold water.  Leave that to soften for 5 minutes.

Gum Drops!

Pour 1 1/2 cups boiling water over the gelatin and stir to dissolve.

Gum Drops!

Pour in 4 cups sugar and bring that to a boil over medium heat.  You will need to stir this constantly so it doesn’t boil over.  And you will need to do this for 25 minutes straight.  No, you can’t run to change the radio station or answer the phone.  I managed to do this while talking on Skype with my parents, but they’re an indulgent sort and Skype is hands-free after all.  They only stuck around for one batch of the stuff, though.  I had to do that three times.

Gum Drops!

Pour half the boiling sugar-gelatin foam over the purée in one bowl and the rest into the other.  Working quickly, stir to mix the purée completely into the sugar syrup.

Gum Drops!

Pour the mixtures into the sprayed pans.

Gum Drops!

Shove those suckers in the refrigerator overnight (or up to 2 days).  See how nice and firm that is?

Gum Drops!

Pour about a cup of sugar onto a baking sheet. Then run a knife around the edges of the nice firm gelatin and gently release it from the pan.

Gum Drops!

This will take a bit of persuasion, and I found a metal spatula to be very handy here. Don’t worry about damaging the gelatin — it’s pretty resilient.

Gum Drops!

Place it in the sugar. When I’d done this I almost felt like I’d done some sort of organ transplant, and this was the one waiting for donation.  It looks like a lung or something …

Gum Drops!

Then flip it to coat both sides — this will keep things from getting super sticky. You’ll get sticky enough as it is.

Gum Drops!

Put the gelatin on a cutting board and use a long knife to cut strips from it.

Gum Drops!

I then used scissors to cut the strips into 3/4″ cubes, or close enough approximates.  You can use a knife for this if you want to get straighter lines, but seeing as I was making squares out of something that was originally a circle, I wasn’t that concerned.  Plus as things get stickier, scissors are way easier.

Gum Drops!

Cut the strips into the sugar.

Gum Drops!

Then get in there with your hands and toss them to coat.

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A just-tossed gum drop, up close and personal:

Gum Drops!

Transfer the finished gumdrops to parchment paper and leave, at room temperature, for 2 days to crystallize and get all good. This is my dining room table, completely covered in candy.

Gum Drops!

Then give them all away — or save a few for yourself!  It always amazes me how simple candy always turns out to be — and that’s probably why it’s so good!

You can see more pictures of the gum drop adventure on my Flickr page.

Gum Drops!
Clockwise from top left: Fruit Salad, Raspberry, Mixed Berry, Blueberry, Mango, Strawberry

O Canada: French Toast

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!French Toast

Wait a second. Are you telling me that French toast is Canadian?

No, not really.  In fact the first reference to a dish resembling French toast is written in Latin and dates back to the 4th or 5th century.  French toast, or pain doré (“golden bread”), can be found in a lot of recipe books from all over the world.

But it does form part of what the Pie and I refer to as a “lumberjack breakfast,” and that makes it part of our Canadian cuisine.

French Toast

Picture this: most of Canada is unpopulated by people, and in many places still there are huge tracts of old-growth forest stretching off past the horizon.  One thing we do got is trees.  A steady supply of timber is one of the reasons Canada was colonized in the first place.  Our capital city was founded in the 1850s as a lumber town, and mills operated there even as late as the 1960s, clogging the Ottawa river with rafts and rafts of logs.

From our old $1 bill, image from Steve Briggs

The timber that flowed downriver to the mills came from logging camps far upstream, and these camps were occupied by big, rough men, mostly immigrants from Poland, Ireland, or the wilds of Québec, working in miserable conditions to earn enough money to send to their families, who often lived hundreds of miles away.

Norris Point

Logging was (and still is) a rather dangerous occupation, and it took a lot of energy just to stay alive and get the job done.  That is why every logging camp worth its salt (and many weren’t) had a reputable camp cook, and this cook was responsible for providing all the loggers with the caloric intake they needed to last out the day.  This meant a breakfast crammed with carbohydrates, proteins, and fats: bacon, biscuits, eggs, pancakes, bread, sausages, steaks — and French toast.

French Toast

The traditional lumberjack French toast would have originally started out as a loaf of stale bread, sliced and left to soak overnight in a mixture of milk and eggs.  It was fried up and served hot, slathered with sugary maple syrup and dusted with more sugar.  Our version is only slightly more refined.  Oh, and if you’d like to read a bit more about logging camps, John Irving produced a great novel recently on the subject called Last Night in Twisted River.  It’s a good read, one of Irving’s best, in my opinion.

French Toast

Anyway, French toast.  Here we go.  This recipe will give you six to eight slices of eggy toast, depending on the size and absorbency of your bread.

In a shallow bowl, whisk together 2/3 cup milk (or half milk and half cream) and 4 eggs.

French Toast

Add in as well 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  If you want to go very traditional, try a teaspoon of rum instead and replace the sugar with maple syrup.

French Toast

One at a time, soak your pieces of bread in the egg mixture.  Here we used raisin bread because we love it.

French Toast

Traditionally you would use a thick hearth loaf, but if you want to get fancy, it’s also good with brioche, or pannetone, or even biscuits.  Experiment. Make sure to get both sides good and eggy.

French Toast

Slip the bread into a hot buttered skillet.

French Toast

Brown both sides (this takes about three minutes a side if you use medium heat).

French Toast

Serve hot, sprinkled with icing sugar and fresh fruit, if available.

French Toast

You can add a sprinkle of cinnamon, too, if the mood strikes you.

French Toast

Canadian-style means, of course, lots and lots of maple syrup. Lumberjacks need their caffeine, too, so have it with a hot cup of coffee.

French Toast

Makes a great start (or end) to any day.

French Toast

Inside the Cherimoya

Inside the Cherimoya

This armadillo of a fruit caught my eye at the grocery store the other day.

It’s a heavy fruit native to the high altitude areas of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina.  Supposedly, it tastes like a fruity custard when you make it through its armour.

I picked a weighty unripe fruit up and paid for it (a whopping $6.37!) and brought it home.  Then I did some research.

I ripened it at room temperature for several days.  When the cherimoya is ready to eat it should feel like a ripe avocado and yield to the touch.

It’s supposed to brown a little bit on the outside, but not too much.

Inside the Cherimoya

Unfortunately, I noticed that mine was now splitting, and I could see mould on the stem.  Fruit gets shipped to Newfoundland in weird ways.  It’s either totally unripe and spoils by the time it gets here or it ripens in seconds.  This was obviously part of the former category.  It was time to crack it open and see what was inside.

Inside the Cherimoya

Cut the sucker in half.  The white stuff inside is supposed to be super soft and juicy, but mine just looked hard and unappetizing.

Inside the Cherimoya

The seeds are toxic, so don’t eat those.

Inside the Cherimoya

I hacked off a chunk and took a bite.  Nope, definitely not ripe.  It tasted like Labrador tea and I can’t get it out of my mouth!  Maybe I’ll try cherimoya again when I get off this island.

Inside the Cherimoya

You can read more about the cherimoya here and here.