Quick confession time: I tackled cherry jam again this year.  After last year’s attempt, I tried making proper freezer jam using the basic instructions from the Certo box, and wow.  Wowee wow.  This stuff is good.  Not nearly as sweet as last year’s, and actually (ta-daaa!) a proper, jam-like consistency.  No more holding my toast perfectly level!  I did not, however, document the process in photographs, since the hour and a half leading up to jam-making found the two of us with red, juicy hands and increasingly cranky temperaments as pits kept shooting onto the floor.  (There must be a market somewhere for pre-cleaned fruit.)  Ah, well.  Suffice it to say it was worth the struggle.  And now on to today’s adventure.

I had fully expected the cherry jam to be my swan song for the summer.  How much jam does one need in one’s freezer, anyway?  But then this happened:

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A big ol’ box of blueberries for $8.99 seemed too good to pass up.  And with the holiday weekend, well – that could have meant blueberry waffles, blueberry-oatmeal bar…did I mention waffles?  Unfortunately, the bathroom was being redone that weekend, and the neighbour’s cats were being baby-sat, and so it wasn’t quite the lazy weekend I had in mind.  By the time I rescued them from the basement fridge the following Saturday, they were still holding up really well, but I wanted to get them dealt with while that was still true.  Did you know they make pectin especially for freezer jam?

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Well, they do!  And look at how simple it is:

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So, I got to a-washin’, a-crushin’, and a-measurin’.  Note my extremely sophisticated berry-crushing station.  I bet Smuckers hasn’t got a set-up like I have.

After adding my crushed fruit to the sugar-and-pectin mix, and stirring for three minutes, I got this:

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I left the fruit fairly chunky on purpose, figuring that if the pectin didn’t gel up the way it was supposed to, the fruit would give it some body.  I just noticed now that there’s a lot of vintage Tupperware gracing my pictures here – this is what happens when you have two former dealers in the family.  (Dealers?  Representatives?  Oh, holy spirit of Brownie Wise, what do you call those ladies?!)

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My jars are Dollarama specials – at $3 for a pack of three-250 ml jars, they’re slightly more expensive than the flats you can find in all the grocery stores at this time of year – but darn it, check out those adorable gingham lids!

I wasn’t sure how non-Certo pectin would work, but this turned out really well!  Because the recipe uses less sugar, it tastes pretty much exactly like fresh blueberries – like summer (or Violet Beauregarde) in a jar.

As always, thanks for looking! 🙂

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Note: This post was originally written and meant to be posted on Sunday; however, because of some technical issues with WordPress first obscuring my photos and then abruptly deleting my entire text, there has been a slight delay.

My neighbours, who are DINKs (to clarify: very nice people, who happen to be Dual Income, No Kids), made the rookie mistake of going out for breakfast this morning.  The restaurant, they reported later, was absolutely packed.  You people have no children!  That’s a free pass from having to do the Mother’s Day brunch mob!  That’s one big advantage to not having kids!  Of course, the advantage to having children who are old enough to use the stove without summoning the local fire department is that you also get to avoid the crowds, and enjoy a home-cooked breakfast, possibly still in your pajamas.

I had mulled over a few ideas for what to make for breakfast, but decided to go with an old standby: giant(ish) baked apple pancakes, which I’ve posted on here before.  They come together really quickly, and yet look so impressive – because whoa, that thing’s the size of my plate!

Just after coming out of the oven, all puffed-up and golden at the edges.

The butter and brown sugar create a built-in syrup of sorts as it bakes, no maple required.  Fun fact: I once forgot to add the brown sugar to the pie pans before baking, and although they released super-easily, they were a little dry and not…quite…right.

I also wanted to make something for dessert, but not the same-old.  Cupcakes are nice, and all, but it’s been done.  While flipping through my collection of cookbooks, I found a recipe for flapper pie in the Kitchen Magpie’s book.  (Hardly surprising, since said book is titled Flapper Pie and a Blue Prairie Sky.)  The recipe took me a little bit out of my comfort zone, but seemed fairly simple, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Did I say “a little bit out of my comfort zone”?  This thing had me tense.  It was only the second time I’ve had to make a thick, pudding-like filling using cornstarch and heat as my catalysts (the first time was the pudding for my Brooklyn Blackout Cake), and I thought it was never going to thicken.  When it did, though, did it ever.  One minute, I was stirring what was in essence a pot of liquid, and the next it was producing a diabolical plopping sound as it came to a boil, and I’m pretty sure I could have gotten my spoon to stand up in the middle of it.  Also, I had never had occasion to make meringue before, and was convinced I would never get stiff peaks out of what seemed like fairly benign ingredients.  But lo (and behold!), the Kitchen Magpie did not fail me, and before long I was topping my pie and popping it into the oven to brown up.

It didn’t come out of the pan quite as neatly as I would have liked, but it did stay more-or-less intact, and tastes like it’s supposed to.  Certainly the Woman of the Hour was impressed – and that’s what matters, right?

Thanks for reading – Happy Mother’s Day! 🙂

“Glass…glass, hmm…I’ve got it: ‘alas’!” – Linus Larrabee, Sabrina

With Easter approaching (or, ahem, upon us), I wanted to make something light and springy – in taste and appearance, not texture.  No one likes rubbery cake.  Years ago, my grandmother used to make a dessert we called “Broken Glass”.  A quick Google search reveals that yes, this is still something that people know about, and recipes abound.  I used this one, but I think I’ll re-write it for myself to better order the steps.

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If you decide to make this, you really ought to consider making your gelatin first.  The recipe calls for strawberry, lime, and orange, but I opted for a cherry-lemon-berry blue combination.  You’re limited only by your imagination, your personal preferences, and what’s readily available in your local grocery stores.  (There, that’s not very limiting, is it?!)

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Although the crust is the first step in the recipe – and the second, if you count “chill” as a step – I held off on making it until my gelatin was nice and firm.  The crust really doesn’t need to chill for that long, and you want to make sure you’ll have sufficient fridge space for everything.  If you’ve got a gloriously large and/or empty fridge, good for you; feel free to shove everything in there at once to chill and/or firm up.

A word about the dreadfully ambiguous eighth step “Set aside until slightly thickened”: I have no idea what “slightly thickened” means, especially since at no time are we told to put it in the fridge to start the thickening/setting process.  At last, something that doesn’t go in the fridge!  When I made this, I let it cool to room temperature so that it wouldn’t completely dissolve my formerly-frozen, now-thawed whipped topping.

And a quick word about pineapple juice: make sure it’s pure pineapple juice, unsweetened, and untainted by other “filler” juices.  My friend made this recipe using a pineapple/apple/pear blend, and it left a funny taste to the filling.

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You should wind up with something that looks like this.

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Isn’t it pretty when it’s cut?

This makes a light, fruity dessert that goes down easily.  It’s also a great recipe for summer because there’s no oven involved – and no stovetop, either, if you boil your water and pineapple juice in the microwave.

Thanks for looking – and Happy Easter! 🙂

D’oh! Nuts!

March 19, 2017

I had never really been a huge fan of doughnuts/donuts.  Sure, if a box happened to appear at work – as was a near-daily occurrence at a different job, what feels like a lifetime ago – I was happy to grab one and continue reviewing commodity codes on a sugar high.  But they never really excited me in one of those oh-boy-gotta-have-one ways.  They have a tendency to go stale quickly (particularly when stored in their original, not-airtight boxes), or else melt and ooze glaze all over the place.  That’s not to say I don’t still consume the odd one today; I just do so much more judiciously than the Witty Child of yore.

When a new, “gourmet” donut shop opened up a block or so from my office, despite the buzz of excitement from my coworkers, I remained at first impervious.  It was nearly two months before I made my first trek over.  Lemon meringue?  Chocolate-peanut butter cup?  This wasn’t your parbaked Tim’s fare.  They were certainly delicious, but at $3 or $4 each, were definitely a treat.  And so I more or less regained my immunity to their siren song, at least until the day I decided to go for a walk and found the shop boasting a vegan yeast donut with a root beer glaze.

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Who would have known that something so deceptively simple could be so good?!  Words can’t describe it.  This is a full-on-Snuffles-float, lick-the-glaze-off-your-fingers-until-they-turn-pruny delight.

Naturally, I decided I had to try to recreate these.

I’m not a fan of deep-frying (or, let’s be honest, pan-frying) at home due to the inherent chance of setting the kitchen alight, and also because everything in the house will smell like nasty fried oil after.  Fully aware of this self-imposed limitation, I was pleased to find a recipe for baked donuts in Chloe Coscarelli’s Chloe’s Vegan Desserts.

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The batter came together really quickly, which I loved, and baked quickly, too.  However, I’m starting to suspect I’m not such a fan of baked donuts due to their propensity for getting distinctly darker on the bottom (think muffin bottom vs. muffin top).  The recipe also called for way too much nutmeg which made them smell suspiciously like a baked ham as they cooked, but that can easily be altered if I make them again.

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But ah, it’s all about the glaze, isn’t it?  My stockpile of root beer extract from Watkins came in handy, and let me double-dip these bad boys.  Hands down, the best part of the donut!

As always, thanks for looking! 🙂

So, recently I had been part of a project at work informally known as the “Blackout Blitz”.  In all fairness, its name comes from its ties to production quotas and inter-departmental deadlines; however, from the very beginning, it made me think simultaneously of the Blitz of WWII and of the blackout drills held during the war.  Hardly unusual, given the name.

(This raises an important question: why do so many people glorify the WWII era?  I do it, too, but why?  I’m perfectly able to wear oxfords and listen to big band music today, but without all the hassles of rationing, polio, wartime casualties, the marginalization of women and minorities…  I can only chalk it up to there being a heckuva spin doctor there somewhere, who made the whole damned thing seem so glamourous and wholesome.  And, let’s face it, the Bomb Girls of the eponymous television series seemed to know how to make a blackout drill a real gas.)

Needless to say, by the time my mom’s birthday was approaching, I had blackouts and blitzes on the brain, and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that for her cake, I decided to duplicate Ebinger’s Bakery’s famous Brooklyn Blackout Cake.

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I turned to Chloe Coscarelli’s Chloe’s Vegan Desserts for the basic how-to and for the killer chocolate pudding to slather between layers and all over the outside – and was I ever excited when the mixture smoothed and thickened exactly as it was supposed to! – but deferred to Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World for the cake portion.  Their Basic Chocolate Cupcake recipe is moist and foolproof, and with the addition of black cocoa powder to make it extra-dark and rich, there was no going wrong.

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I was concerned that the step of pulsing part of the cake in the food processor to make crumbs to be sprinkled on top would detract somehow from the finished product, but au contraire!  They only add to the chocolatey goodness.

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Moist chocolate cake sandwiching rich chocolate pudding?  Sign me up!

Thanks for looking! 🙂

For oh, years and years, I had ignored the random cherry-producing plant (logic would suggest it’s a tree, but it really doesn’t look tree-like) in the front yard.  It never really seemed to yield that much fruit, just a smattering that would be left for the birds.  Somehow, it decided to make up for lost time this year, and its branches became so loaded with cherries that it became impossible to weed-whack underneath as the sheer weight made the lower branches sag right to ground level.

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And that’s not all of them!  That front pail was full, and you can’t see the extra-large mop bucket likewise full on the bottom shelf of the fridge.  While they’re certainly edible, they’re tart as all get-out, which rather curbed the urge to try to snack on them unadorned (imagine trying to eat a cranberry straight up: not vile, but not something anybody ever does).

I had tossed around the idea of making Cherry Mountain Cake, a recipe given to me by one of the underwriters that makes for a spectacular and show-stopping dessert.  The logistical headache or storing the finished product, however, quickly struck that from my list.  Maybe I could preserve them somehow…

Full confession: I was a Jam Virgin.  I’ve always loved the idea of turning summer-fresh fruit into a lovely homemade spread to be enjoyed year-round, but it was an intimidating prospect.  Canners!  Water baths!  Making sure a tight seal is formed so you don’t inadvertently poison your lucky test subjects with botulism!  No, I needed something simple; maybe a freezer jam of sorts.  And so I happened upon this recipe.

What I Liked

  1. It was really, really simple.  If you have a pot and a spoon, you can make this.
  2. It’s a cheap recipe.  Granted, I got the cherries for free, and all I had to buy was the jelly powder in place of pectin.  Risk vs. reward ratio is excellent on this one.

What I Didn’t Like

  1. It’s so simple that it leaves out some really important information.  Cook for 15 minutes?  Okay, but at what heat?  Also, if your fruit is exceptionally juicy, do you have to adjust/eliminate the water, or increase the jelly powder?  Or do you drain the fruit?
  2. It’s sweeeeeet.  Crazy sweet.  I started out with tart fruit, and I find it sweet – I can’t imagine what a version made with a naturally sweeter base would taste like.

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Partway through the fifteen minutes of unspecific cooking.

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“Jarred”, and ready to eat-or-freeze.  Since the motto of simplistic jams the world over appears to be “use whatever containers you want, just leave me alone”, I opted for the sturdy yet versatile number seen above.  I had no idea if it was going to turn out, and I figured if it didn’t, I could at least wash these babies out and use them for something else; the last thing I wanted was to be stuck with a bunch of breakable Mason jars I’d never wind up using again.

It didn’t firm up quite the way I had hoped (and naturally, the recipe didn’t indicate what sort of consistency it should have or how long it should take to set).  But…it’s not completely liquid, either, which I consider a half-victory.

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It spreads nicely and pairs excellently with peanut butter.  Spills are best prevented by holding one’s bagel completely level.  And hey, it’s tasty!

Has anyone ever tried a recipe like this?

Thanks for looking! 🙂

Some like it hot

June 24, 2012

I usually don’t bother making New Year’s resolutions anymore.  Oh, I understand the psychological appeal of a new, unsullied year to finally kick that bad habit or start a good one, but it’s just not my thing.  Most resolutions fail, due either to lofty goals, ill-defined goals, or zero execution plan.  For example, “I resolve to lose weight” is too vague.  “I resolve to lose 50 pounds” is ambitious – but not totally impossible, if it’s accompanied by a list of Hows, which it usually isn’t.  “I resolve to lose 20 pounds; to do so, I’ll cut out my daily can of soda and walk for half an hour four times a week” is manageable and well-laid out, but most people don’t demonstrate this foresight.

In my own case, “I resolve to become a gourmet vegan chef” is just…not…gonna…happen.  But I do have a bit of an addiction to printed matter, including numerous cookbooks.  I buy them, ooh and aah over the recipes, and then put them back on the bookshelf without actually doing anything vaguely domestic.  So, for the last couple years, I’ve had an “unspoken resolution” of sorts: I resolve will endeavour to cook at least one new dish per month.  The only catch?  It has to be “real food”, and not a cupcake or cookie recipe – something that can be eaten as a meal.  That’s only twelve instances of real cooking per year; who can’t handle that?  Some of my experiments have been…less than pleasing…but for the most part, this has been a really fun undertaking, and I’ve been motivated to try dishes I might not have otherwise.

I realized last week that I hadn’t yet tried a new recipe for June, but after flipping through a couple of books, it didn’t take me long to come up with a relatively cohesive meal plan.

Left to right: “Better Love Your Beans Bake” from Hearty Vegan Meals for Monster Appetites, and “Curried Cabbage and Peas” from Appetite for Reduction.  And before you ask, no, I’m not a professional food photographer.  😛  The cabbage dish looks way prettier in person, with curried-yellow cabbage, plus bright green peas and orange carrots dotting it.

Cross-section of the bean bake:

It looks all rich and creamy – it is! – and cheesy – it isn’t! – but the topping is reasonably healthy, with a cup of puréed chickpeas making up the bulk of it, plus some nondairy sour cream, almond milk, nutritional yeast, and spices.  I’m a little obsessed with chickpeas, so finding a new way to use them in a recipe was A-OK by me.

A note on Hearty Vegan Meals: that books is full of recipes that will satisfy omnivores.  Quite a few of them call for deep-frying, which doesn’t thrill me, but I haven’t hit a bad recipe yet out of the ones I’ve tried.

The curried cabbage is hot-hot-hot – I could have halved the curry powder and been happy – but the bean bake worked wonders to temper it.

The best part?  I get total points for cooking something that everyone can enjoy.