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Archive for the ‘Food and…’ Category

Target: Caaaakkkkeeee!!!!!

Another year, another cake:) For this year’s birthday I wanted a little visual contrast, plus a way to use the last of summer’s fruit. Also, pretty. I went with that classic good time, chocolate, and a buttercreamcheese frosting.

Two layers, baked and cooled and torted to make four. To shake things up a bit, I added a thin coating of raspberry jam before frosting the first and third layers, to bring out a touch of fruit flavor. Crumb coat. Thick frosting top. Chocolate ganache trim, topped with blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and mint, with a buttercream flower to wrap it all up.

Cutting it was scary, but worth it.

So tasty!

Cake!

 

 

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Background: I have a feeder in the yard and we get a lot of visiting birds, along with squirrels, chipmunks, and the odd raccoon. Given all this traffic, plus wind and Nature’s Mysterious Ways, we also have a lot of what real gardeners (not me) call “volunteer” plants. I found what looked like a raspberry sprout and, ever curious, stuck it into an unused planter off to the side.

Mmm, delicious, I thought. Raspberries. Or blackberries. Or whatever. What’s not to like?

And for a while, everything went swimmingly. Despite poor light, irregular watering, and general lack of care, the plant thrived. It made it through last winter unprotected and came back in the spring. Now it’s a bush-sized marvel taking up way more space than intended. Fine, I thought, I’ll trim it back. Let me just take off the last foot or so of these canes. I’ll take my trusty pruners and grab this green bit and pull the end over and…

overlord

Overlord, with roots.

What?

It turns out that there is a reason why real gardeners (still not me) do not generally welcome volunteer raspberry (or whatever) sprouts in their gardens. I knew that they were hard to kill, and that they spread via seeds. What I did not know is that these plants were lulling me into a false sense of security so that they could spread by slo-mo walking from spot to spot, rooting their cane *tips* whenever they could. Drawing their emerald chains ever tighter around me.

I had to yank hard on the cane, full weight behind the effort, leather gloves punctured by thorns and all, before I could uproot this monster. And it had friends!

overlordtoo

Overlord, with traitorous cat. Figures.

Here’s a closeup shot of the leaves; perhaps one of you out there knows the exact subspecies of plant. All I know is that if I let this go on much longer, we’ll all be calling it “Master.”

So the plant/future overlord has to go. Just as soon as I get over the cold I picked up last weekend. Time for some raspberry herbal tea, I think:)

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It’s like this: for the past couple of weeks I’ve spent a wee bit (ok, a lot) of time perfecting my chocolate chip cookie recipe.

(It also strikes me that I do a lot of recipe-related posts on Fridays. Food is definitely on my list of #ThingsILike:)

When I moved north of the border everything changed, including my usual butter, flour, chips, and oven. Mr. Man also likes his cookies with a bit more cakiness than I had with my previous recipe, so it was time to rethink, rewrite and retest.*

I know, I know, hard duty. How I sacrifice! But now Mr. Man (and you, fine readers!) have a new recipe to enjoy. Hope you like it!**

 

Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 1/4 cups [280g] flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt [a pinch less if you use salted butter]
2 sticks [8 ounces or 228g] butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups [300g] brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, large
1 cup [175g] semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper if you hate stuck-on cookies.
2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt [I sift, some prefer a whisk or fork, use whatever works for you].
3. In a large bowl, mix butter and sugar until creamy, about 2 minutes.
4. Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, mix until well combined.
5. Gradually add flour mixture and mix until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
6. Scoop ~1-inch balls onto cookie sheets.***
7. Bake for 11-13 minutes depending on dough temperature and preferred crunchiness factor. Let cool two minutes before transferring to rack.
…………
* I’m still playing with this a tiny bit (for the greater good, you understand, not because I want to bake more cookies… ok yeah, I just want to bake more cookies:). I’ll add any updates here.

** If you’re interested in how tweaking various ingredients and other factors influence cookie characteristics, Handle the Heat’s Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies (parts 1 through 4) is a good place to start.

*** At this point you can either bake immediately or chill to allow the flavors to develop. I’ll chill if I have time, but I don’t always have the patience:) My compromise strategy: bake a sheet right away, then make balls with the rest of the dough and freeze on a lined cookie sheet. When hard, store the dough in a plastic bag and voila, you’ve got almost instant cookies for the next couple of weeks days whatever:)

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It’s lunch time around these parts and I have a serious dumpling craving. I picked up this recipe when a grad school friend brought these dumplings to our weekly Friday afternoon get-together. I’ve always been a dumpling fan but I particularly enjoy the light, flavorful texture and warm tang of this version. Perhaps I’ll make a batch later as a reward for getting my work done.

Enjoy!

Jaouza, or Dai’s Chinese Dumplings
Dough:
2 1/2 cup flour
2/3 cup boiling water
1/3 cup cold water

1. Add boiling water to flour, then add cold. Knead well, then let stand 15 minutes, covered with a damp cloth.

Filling:
3/4 lb. ground beef or pork
2 small cans mushrooms (your choice, I usually use a healthy handful of fresh shiitake)
2 tsp. salt
1 scallion, chopped fine
2 Tbs. soy sauce
2 Tbs. sesame oil
10 oz. Chinese cabbage, chopped
1/8 tsp. ginger

2. Mix all filling ingredients together.
3. Flatten small blob of dough into a round circle. Place a spoonful of filling in center of dough and fold over. Pinch edges closed.
4. Repeat until all dough and filling have been used.
5. Steam and/or fry dumplings.
6. Dipping sauce: roughly equal amounts of soy sauce and rice vinegar or lime juice. Add sesame oil and chili sauce to taste.

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Today I’m applauding my mother, who wants to build a pollinator garden. What a fantastic idea, and one supported by the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, Honey Nut Cheerios (for obvious reasons), and many others.

She’s interested in planting a series of native plant species that will flower from early to late growing season and support bees and other pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds. And it doesn’t have to be a large-scale project to make a difference.

I’ve talked about bees here before but the point deserves emphasis: we need them. Which is why this week I’m lauding the pest control company Ortho for removing neonics, the neonicotinoid-based pesticides linked to wide-scale bee deaths, from their outdoor products. Here’s hoping other companies follow suit soon with this and other bee-friendly strategies, before this Whole Foods nightmare becomes a terrible coffee, chocolate and fruit-free nightmare. Coffee, people!

Dandelions are pretty (and if you don’t agree there are more targeted ways to get rid of them), weeding is good exercise, and seventy-five percent of US fruits, nuts and vegetables are pollinated by bees. And killing off millions of enthusiastic workers doing their jobs for free seems awfully self-defeating.

Why care about pollinators? Personally, I like bees, and I like food. I like to imagine a future filled with more possibilities, not less.

I also care because we’re more dependent on nature than we like to think. Because a future of limited food and little variety is a recipe for human and natural disaster (also? bland!). And because I don’t want to spend my declining years describing the rich red taste of ripe strawberries to children who have no idea what I’m talking about.

View this post on Instagram

🐛 #NationalGardenMonth #milkweed #monarchs

A post shared by Pollinator Partnership (@pollinatorpartnership) on

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For today’s installment of #ThingsILike, I give you maple syrup. (Honestly, is there anyone out there who does not enjoy this delicious treat from the northern woods?) Lucky me, it looks like this year’s wacky weather patterns have resulted in a veritable tsunami of syrup!

For those of you not intimately familiar with the process of maple syrup production, it goes like this:

[Maple] trees store starch in their trunks and roots before the winter; the starch is then converted to sugar that rises in the sap in late winter and early spring. Maple trees can be tapped by drilling holes into their trunks and collecting the exuded sap, which is processed by heating to evaporate much of the water, leaving the concentrated syrup.

Here’s a video to showing a basic tap and bucket assembly, but I’ve seen outfits with setups running what look like miles of bright blue tubing directly from the trees to the sugar shack.

Even with modern improvements, this isn’t the sort of agricultural process that can be exported to alternate climes. The trees require cold winters and sap production levels depend on spring temperatures finely balanced between colder nights and warmer days.

It turns out that the weather this March has been pretty near perfect, at least if you are a sugar maple. Waking trees drink up groundwater during the day, convert the stored starches in their roots to sugar, and pump the resulting sap up their trunks and into waiting sap buckets.

Collect, boil, repeat, at least until the sap stops running.

Making syrup requires a lot of work and patience. The old fashioned way involves big black kettles and a steady supply of wood to keep the fire going. Even with new, more efficient boilers, reducing sap to syrup takes hours.

My mother took us to a friend’s sugaring party when I was a child. My brother and I ran from tree to tree, hauling half-full buckets through the snowy woods to the kettle and back. The fresh sap tasted like the Entish draughts of my imagination, its clear cool taste instantly refreshing. We also poured hot syrup onto plates of snow to make maple taffy. Freaking amazing.

As luck (or clever planning?) would have it, I am located in the heart of maple syrup country. Quebec and Ontario are the largest maple syrup producers in Canada.

If you happen to be in Ontario this weekend and you love maple syrup as much as I do, you’re in luck. It’s Maple Weekend and I plan to stock up for the year. Because delicious!

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It’s a bit before lunch and I’m feeling snacky, so today’s edition of #ThingsILike is food related. (Let’s face it, a lot of the things I like are food related:)

In honor of the coming Pi Day (March 14th, for obvious reasons:) and my mother’s cooking, I give you one of my favorite fruit pie recipes. Thanks, Mom!

Blueberry Orange Pie

Crust:
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter, shortening or a mix (I use butter for flavor)
1 tsp. grated orange rind
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
5 Tbs. ice water

Filling:
4 cups blueberries (frozen work fine)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt
touch of vanilla, Grand Marnier, or lemon juice if the berries need a flavor boost
2 Tbs. butter
Powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Mix flour, salt and sugar in a bowl. Cut in butter until it is no more than pea sized. Add orange rind and nuts. Add water, 1 Tbs. at a time, mixing after each addition. Form into a ball and refrigerate* one hour before using.
3. Roll out half of the dough and use to line a 9-inch pie pan. Mix berries, sugar, cornstarch, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt and any extras. Pour mixture into pie pan and dot with butter.
4. Roll out remaining pastry and cover pie. Seal edges with water and cut vents in the top for steam. Bake 1 hour, cool on rack and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.

Note: This pie will probably overflow. Use a cookie sheet or foil beneath the dish unless you like cleaning ovens;)
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* If you don’t have an hour I’ll note that I’ve skipped this step; the dough is harder to work and not quite as perfect, but the end result was still nommy. Since we’re fessing up about time-saving measures, I’ll admit that I’ve also used store-bought pie crusts, seasoned with the orange rind and walnuts. Desperate times, but in the end, pie:)

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