3.14

Because I go to a fairly nerdy school and because I am friends with a handful of math students, I have found myself surrounded by people who care that today, March fourteenth, is Pi Day. Now, I am not personally a fan of math, but I am a fan of pi(e), which makes today a good day for math and I to temporarily reconcile.

Unlike Chelsea, I’m not a pie expert. Lucky for me, I am related to one. My dad is a great pie maker. I think it’s fitting that I talk about him today since he taught me how to make pie, and attempted to teach me how to do math. He was (and still is) exceedingly patient with me. The time I added water to the flour before the butter and created a sticky paste, or the time(s) I burst  into to tears at 10:00 on a school night* over the math problem that I just could not get right, he would simply shake his head and help me start over.
*10:00 was late back in the day. Especially on a school night. 

My very favourite kind of pie in the whole wide world is my dad’s blueberry pie. With some help from my unusually patient brothers at home (who I called not once but three times today) I was able to acquire Dad’s recipe.

Like I said, I don’t have loads of pie wisdom but I do have a few little tips:

  1. Keep your dough as cold as possible while you’re working.
  2. Mix by hand.
  3. If you don’t own a rolling pin you can use a wine bottle (#studentproblems). If you fill it with icy water it will help with tip 1.
  4. Rub a little milk on top of your crust right before you put it in the oven. When I was little my dad would let me drink the extra milk from the pie. I always thought it tasted better than regular milk, which doesn’t really make a lot of sense because the only difference was that it had our fingers in it, and maybe a few crust bits.

I don’t have much to say about the butter vs shortening debate except that it is one that will go on forever. Essentially butter tastes nicer and shortening gets flakier. In the end, you can still make a flaky pie crust with butter or a tasty one with shortening, so I usually use whichever I have around.

After a gorgeous day of perfect weather and casual baking I was fortunate enough to share this pi pie with some people that I like. Later I was even more fortunate to be able to go for a walk in the park in a t-shirt. It was a very happy Pi Day indeed.

Now I’m off to work on some stats homework because it suits the math-y nature of 3.14 day and because I promised that I would. There’s a chance I’m also being bribed a little.

Dad’s Blueberry Pie

For the crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup butter
4-6 tbsp cold water

For the filling:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
rind of one lemon
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 cups blueberries (if frozen, thaw and drain)
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp butter

Sift the flour and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Cube cold butter then add to the flour and mix with a pastry blender until it resembles small peas. Add water as needed and mix until everything comes together into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 45 minutes or as much as two days. You can also freeze for a rainy day.

In the meantime, mix flour, sugar, lemon rind and cinnamon. Carefully fold in berries. Preheat the oven to 425 F.

When the dough has reached the firmness of cold butter you can begin to roll it into two circles. If you’re like me and don’t own a rolling pin you can fill an empty wine bottle with cold water, which has the added bonus of keeping your dough extra cold. Lay one circle of dough over a 9″ pie dish and then pour in filling. Sprinkle on lemon juice and dot with butter. Cover berries with the rest of the dough. Cut out something pretty or just poke some holes for the steam to escape. Rub a little milk on top and then bake at 425F for 40-45 minutes.

Potato Leek Soup

This post should have been written a long time ago. Unfortunately, the meal I’m going to tell you about happened right before that magical time of year known as Reading Week. Anybody who has ever gone to a university that gives students a week off midway through term knows what that means; you accomplish little, almost none of what you intended, and you don’t quite manage to get as much sleep as you were hoping either. Nonetheless, it usually turns out to be a good time, whether spent on vacation, at home visiting friends and family, or vegging on the couch with a bowl of popcorn, watching Uma Thurman annihilate enough people to populate a small town (it’s called Kill Bill and it’s a Quentin Tarantino Kung-Fu movie, just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about) while your brain does the vacationing. Mine was a happy combination of all three.

Anyway, this all started when Jasmine and I got together on a Wednesday afternoon to hang out and chat, and so I could admire her new dreadlocks (which are awesome!). I was at her house for quite a while, and before we knew it afternoon had become evening, and we were hungry. It was the perfect opportunity to do some cooking together!

To add to this already ideal situation, Jasmine’s roommate Patrick was out of town for a couple weeks, and he had left a bunch of perishable food behind in the fridge. Being the selfless people that we are, we decided to rescue that food from its mouldy demise, and turned it into soup instead. As if fortune hadn’t smiled on us enough, Patrick had left us exactly the right combination of ingredients for making potato leek soup. So here it is, our original potato leek soup recipe, made with a little bit of butter, salt, pepper, and ingredients in Patrick’s fridge.

(In case you’re wondering, we also froze some of the leftovers and saved them for Patrick, so he got something good out of this too!)

Potato Leek Soup
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 4 leeks
  • 2 cups mashed potatoes
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 packet of chicken bouillon
  • 1 1/2 cups of grated cheddar cheese
  • salt and pepper

To start, finely chop the leeks and melt the butter in a large pan. Add the leeks to the butter and saute on medium to low heat for a few minutes, until the leeks are tender. Add the mashed potatoes and stir in the half of milk. Cook it for 5 minutes more, then add the rest of the milk and the chicken broth. One this is nice and hot, but not quite boiling, add the cheese stirring it in bit by bit until it’s all melted. Sprinkle on some salt and pepper.

Now, to get it nice and smooth, you can put it a blender (or something equivalent) and puree it until any remaining potato chunks are gone and you can’t see the individual pieces of leek. Sprinkle on a little more cheese and it will look something like this:

And just for fun, here’s Jasmine and I, each with our [first] bowl of soup. (It was so good we went back for seconds)

“Desserts” Spelled Backwards

This picture pretty much defines my life at the moment. I’ve been using baking as a coping mechanism, and since the cake from last wednesday is long gone, I made it again! Same cake, but with upgraded icing. This one is more work, but 100% worth the effort.

As a kid I wasn’t much of an icing fan, I always scraped most of it off and plopped it onto the plate of my little brother, who always received the extra helping of sugar happily. These days, I’m a bit more hit and miss. I’ll devour a good icing, but the thick, sickly sweet kind found on grocery store sheet cakes will never have a place in my heart. That’s right folks, I’m an icing snob and proud of it!

I think the Alice in Wonderlandesque message reflects my current state of mind. Yeah? This icing is light and creamy, sweet but not over the top. It lets the cake itself take the centre stage. The measurements listed will make enough for the Everyday Chocolate Cake, or any other round (eightish inches) two layer cake.

Anyway, I think I’ll go fall asleep in my clothes now read a textbook and do some sit-ups.

Whipped Buttercream Icing
Adapted from epicurious

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup sifted flour
1-1/2 tbsp vanilla extract

Cream the butter on medium speed, 3 to 5 minutes, in a standing mixer or with a hand mixer until soft, about 30 seconds. Add the sugar and beat on high speed until light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes.

In a small saucepan, combine 1/4 cup of the cream and the flour and whisk until there are no lumps. Over medium heat, slowly add the remaining 3/4 cup cream, whisking constantly, and cook until the mixture comes to a low boil. Then reduce the heat to low and keep whisking for a few more minutes, until the mixture starts to thicken.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat, but keep stirring. (After you have removed the pan from the heat, the mixture will continue to cook for a minute or two on its own. If you overheat it and get small lumps, try to whisk vigorously to get them out, or pass the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve.) If necessary, place the pan over a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and allow the mixture to cool.

Once the cream mixture has thickened, set it aside to cool to room temperature. You can stick it in the freezer to rush the cooling.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the cream mixture into the butter-sugar mixture. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add vanilla to combine. Stick in the fridge until you’re ready to use.

Mmmm… Lobster. And Pie. And Salad. And Stuffed Mushroom Caps.

Brace yourselves, because this is going to be a long one. I haven’t written anything for weeks, so I’m about to make up for it by giving you a four course meal. Last night, I made my boyfriend dinner for his birthday. The results were fantastic. And I’m going to give you all of the recipes, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

The menu:

  • Raspberry, Mango and Spinach Salad
  • Multigrain Ciabatta with balsamic vinegar and olive oil
  • Stuffed Mushroom Caps
  • Lobster with a lemon garlic dip
  • Apple Pie
  • A full-bodied white wine

Now, it is important to note that the foods in this menu are not perfectly complementary. When I planned it, it was more organized about what I wanted to cook and eat, and not how well it would go with the lobster main course. So I am not advocating for the goodness of apple pie with lobster or anything (according to the internet, blueberry pie is the dessert of choice for a lobster dinner).But I do think that it worked fairly well anyway, and I actually found a recipe in Canadian Living for a Lobster and Apple Pie so the combo isn’t too far-fetched. I will say that the mushroom caps complimented the lobster extremely well. In terms of the dip, butter with lobster is always the best, but if you’re serving this to someone who isn’t too thrilled about dairy products, olive oil makes a reasonable substitute.

One of the really nice things about this meal, is that almost all of it can be done ahead of time. The only thing you’re going to have to do during the evening is cook the lobster.

To start with you could make your own bread if you had the time or inclination, but if you’re really going to make the rest of the food on this menu, you probably don’t. So buy a nice loaf from the grocery store or a local bakery, and you’re ready to go.

Then, make a salad. Throwing together some baby spinach, a couple kinds of fruit (like raspberries and cubed mango), and goat cheese is basically all you need to do. I used a garlic and mango dressing, but a raspberry or balsamic vinaigrette would be equally delicious.

Next, the mushroom caps. I’ll actually give you a recipe for this one.

  • 8 large white mushrooms, stems separated and chopped
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup bread crumbs, about 1 slice of bread’s worth
  • ¼ cup herbed goat cheese
  • ¼ tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ tsp hot pepper flakes
  • Salt and Pepper

Melt the butter in a pan, and fry the mushroom stems and onions in it until soft. Add the garlic, bread crumbs, goat cheese, Worcestershire sauce and spices. Cook for another two minutes, until the goat cheese is mixed in evenly, then place a spoonful or two of the mixture into each of the mushroom caps. You can now put them in the fridge for a few hours until you’re ready to cook them if you want to. When you’re ready, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the mushrooms in a glass baking dish pan with just enough water to wet the bottom. Bake for 15-20 min and serve warm.

Sadly, they disappeared to quickly for me to get a picture of the finished product, but this is what the mushroom caps looked like before they went into the oven:

This is the first time I have ever made lobster, so I will admit that I don’t really know what I’m doing. I bought two frozen, cooked lobsters at the grocery store, and I just boiled them for 3 or 4 minutes to get them warm. Maybe someday I’ll make another post involving a live lobster, and perhaps I’ll steam it or pan fry it instead. But last night, this is what I did.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Put the (already cooked) lobster in and boil it with the lid on for 3-5 minutes to get it warm again (about 3 minutes if you’ve had it out of the freezer for a bit, closer to 5 minutes if it’s still icy). Take it out, and on a cutting board crack the claws and slice it in half from the underside of its belly to the end of its tail. Do the same with the other lobster, and then dig in!

Note: the digging in part gets messy. If you’re like me and you don’t have any lobster eating utensils around, or even a nutcracker, then be prepared to get your hands dirty and splatter a bit of lobster juice everywhere.

Lobster is great dipped in melted butter, but I made a sauce using olive oil, which turned out to be a great alternative.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 1/3 cup of olive oil
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tsp parsley flakes
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼ tsp sea salt

Mix it together in a small pot, heat it up, and serve it in a small bowl for dipping.

This is the apple pie that I made.

I may not know much about lobsters, but I’ve made a fair number of pies in my life. I feel that in terms of pies, I do know what’s going on, and this pie is no exception.

In my opinion, if you are going to make a pie, you should be making the whole thing from scratch. If you don’t feel like rolling out pastry, then you might as well just go out and buy the entire thing. But if you’re willing to put in the effort , mixing the pastry is ridiculously easy and rolling it out and fluting the edges is not much harder (unless you’re using whole wheat flour. In that case it gets trickier). The entire pie should take only an hour and a half. Two hours if you’re really slow and you drag out the cleanup time. But trust me; it is worth every minute of it.

Here’s the pastry recipe I used. It can be done with whole wheat flour, which is often what I do because I like the nutty taste of whole wheat. However, if you want a pie with pretty edges, and perfectly textured, easy-to-roll-out pastry, you have to use all-purpose. On this occasion, that is what I did.

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup chilled, unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup sunflower oil
  • water

In a food processor, mix together the flour, butter, sugar and salt until it forms fine particles. Add the sunflower oil and pulse once or twice. Then, trickle in the water as you’re mixing it until the first small clumps start to form. Once this happens, separate the dough into two halves and wrap it in wax paper. Let it rest in the fridge for at least half an hour before rolling it out.

In the meantime, you can start peeling apples. Last time I made an apple pie, I had two helpers who, in exchange for some of the finished product, peeled the apples (Thank you Gillian, Caileigh and Brendan!). This time I was not so lucky. And eight apples does take a considerable amount of time.

This is the recipe for what goes inside the pie. It’s for a deep-dish pie plate, or one that’s about 10” in diameter. In a store bought pie pastry, you should be able to make 2 pies, maybe slicing up an extra apple or two. (But why would you do that, when making your own pastry is soooooo much better?)

  • 8 cups of apples (granny smith apples work really well)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp worth of other spices (nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cloves, cardamom… basically whatever you’ve got. I had a pumpkin pie spice mix.)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
After peeling the apples, you can pour the lemon juice over them. Then mix together the dry ingredients and add them to the apples as well. Stir it until the apples are coated.

This next bit is my favourite part. You’ll need a pastry board and a rolling pin, and you’ll want to get them both well-covered in flour. Take the pastry out of the fridge (if it has been in the fridge for more than an hour it will be hard. You may want to take it out for a while before you start rolling it out.)

On your well-floured pastry board, flatten the first ball of dough slightly, and then roll it out with the rolling pin until it is roughly 16 inches in diameter. Or about half a centimeter thick (Yes, I’m switching back and forth from imperial to metric. You’re going to have to deal with it). Pick the dough up by rolling it around the pin, and then lay it out in your pie plate.

Add the apples.

Roll out the next piece of pastry just like the first, and place it on top. Then cut away the excess pastry and inch away from the edge of the pie plate. Roll or fold the edges of the crust so that it is tucked under itself and not hanging over the edge of the pie plate anymore. Flute the edge of the pastry by pushing it in with your thumbs and pulling back with your fingers. (Something like that. You’ll figure it out). Don’t forget to cut slits in the top for steam to escape. It hasn’t happened in this picture yet.

Pop the pie into an oven preheated to 400 F. You may have to cover the edges of the crust with tin foil if it starts to brown too quickly. I always do. The pie will be done in about an hour, when fruit juice is bubbling through the steam vents and the apples inside are tender if you stick a knife into them. It needs to cool for at least 3 hours before you serve it, but when you do, you can pair it with ice cream, old cheddar cheese, or nothing. It’s good regardless.

Happy Wednesday!

Do you ever have one of those days where you’re sitting on the couch, reading a John Cleland novel, and you’re suddenly hit with an unignorable hankering for a Pina Colada? Before you know it, you’re standing in the grocery store trying to decide which brand of coconut milk to buy.

No?

You should try it sometime. It’s awesome.

With my tropical drink craving satisfied I moved right along to chocolate cake. I picked an easy, one bowl recipe from BBC food and tinkered with it a bit, converting the measurements (which were in grams) to cups, replacing the vegetable oil with coconut oil and adding a teaspoon of esspresso powder.

As I mixed, I had a fantastic idea. Gillian and I have matching giant teacups (you may have seen mine here or her’s here) that we once bought together at a thrift store. Chelsea loves them and uses Gillian’s all the time. So naturally, I thought of her when I found a third matching teacup at the same thrift store yesterday! Since they’ve already been proven heat-safe I thought this would be a fantastic way to show my co-blogger some Wednesday love. Not to mention, an excuse for a surprise visit to “headquarters” a.k.a Chelsea’s house, where I ended up eating some awesome nachos! There is always something tasty cooking in that kitchen.

As I said, this cake is ridiculously easy to make, easy to clean up afterwards and the ingredients are probably already in your cupboard, making it the perfect last minute chocolate cake. My only moment of panic came during the final step when I added in the hot water and saw my batter turn to a consistency so viscous it could have easily been mistaken for a beverage. I checked and double checked the recipe, then checked and double checked my conversion thinking that there was no way I had done it right. In spite of a rather understated note in the recipe that “the cake mixture will now be very liquid” I was sure my cake would be a disaster. But, I reasoned to myself that this is the BBC… I’ll just keep calm and carry on.

And guess what folks? It worked!

In the end I had one teacup cake, six small cupcakes and one round cake about 8 inches in diameter. If you’re making a regular two layered cake you’ll want two pans about 9 inches in diameter.

For the icing, I just did a really simple mix of half and half cream, unsalted butter, icing sugar and vanilla. Go by feel till you’ve got what you want. In order to avoid making Chelsea’s two roommates jealous, I personalized cupcakes for them, and while I was at it made some for my own roommates as well. Thanks to my lack of patience and the fact that it took forever to bake, the icing on the teacup cake was a litt-le melty. I should have let it cool for longer but I was just so dang excited!

As you may have deduced, I had a fantastic Wednesday. I hope you did too!

Everyday Chocolate Cake
Adapted from BBC food

2 cups flour
1-1/3 cup sugar
1 cup cocoa powder
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1-1/2 cup coconut oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp espresso powder
1 cup boiling water

Preheat the oven to 350 F and grease your pans.

Measure all ingredients except for boiling water into a large mixing bowl. Beat until smooth. Then add the boiling water a little at a time until everything is combined and your “cake batter” looks like a giant bowl of hot chocolate.

Pour into cake pans. If using round 9″ pans, bake for 25-35 minutes. If making cupcakes, bake for 15-25 minutes. If making a teacup cake bake for an hour or more. Of course, you can always check if your cake is done with a wooden skewer.

Look at that! You’re done already!

Happy Belated.

Hi. Remember me? It’s been a while.

Since I last posted I’ve finished one term and started another. I’ve skied in the Rockies and the Laurentians. I’ve found a place to live in the fall, cleaned my room (it’s worth mentioning), had my first financial crisis, and started spending more time at church. I’ve dreadlocked (some of) my hair, welcomed two new roommates into the house and become obsessed with Fun.. Relationships that I hoped would last have ended, but they’ve been replaced with ones I never expected to form. Christmas cheer has come and gone and we’ve celebrated not one, but two New Years (welcome to the year of the dragon!). On January 3rd Canadians hung their heads in shame while Russia celebrated and today we’re all supposed to drink beer watch a bunch of huge guys play with an oddly shaped ball, or so I hear. (Side note: I’ve always found footballs frustrating because when they hit the ground it’s impossible to tell which direction they’re going to go!).

Since “better late than never” is the cliche I live my life by, I figured that this particular lazy Sunday would be a good day to finally make good on my promise to post part two of Gillian’s birthday cake.

As you may remember, Chelsea and I teamed up to make our dear friend Gillian a birthday cake (one of three! Lucky girl). In the interest of time, we baked the cake together a few days ahead of time and I decorated it on the day of her birthday celebration.

I found an icing recipe that looked pretty much perfect on Smitten Kitchen. I thought that the semi-sweet chocolate icing would compliment the banana cake much better than any buttercream ever could. So I pulled up Deb’s recipe for “Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting” and then proceeded to alter it until it was completely unrecognizable. Deb would probably take one look at what I’ve done and exclaim that I’ve completely destroyed the integrity of her frosting, and, well, I have. BUT I am totally happy with the result, and I think the birthday girl was too.

My grandmother, who is an excellent cake baker, taught my mother to always freeze your cake after it’s cooled and before you ice. My mother passed this on to me and I have been grateful for the tip ever since as it allows you to make the cake a few days in advance without it going stale and makes icing and assembling your masterpiece infinitely easier. Another important icing tip is to ice a thin “crumb coat” at the start. It will make a world of difference.

The white writing is an icing sugar/sour cream mixture that I threw together in a panic when I realized that brown on brown wouldn’t make for very attractive decorating. The lighter brown icing is just a half and half mixture of the chocolate icing and the white concoction, because I thought the sides needed “a little something”.

Below is the recipe for a bittersweet chocolate icing that will rock your world. But don’t forget to pour yourself a tall glass of cold milk, this one ain’t for the faint of heart. Happy belated, Gillian!

Bittersweet Chocolate Icing

4 squares of bakers chocolate
1/2 cup icing sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1-1/8 cup sour cream (room temperature)
1/4 cup light corn syrup (give or take a few tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Melt the bakers chocolate in a double boiler, then stir in espresso, butter, cocoa powder and icing sugar.

In a large bowl whisk remaining ingredients, adjusting corn syrup to your own preference of sweetness.

Combine the chocolate mixture with the sour cream mixture (making sure the temperature difference between the two is not too extreme) and then chill in the fridge until spreadable (about half an hour).

Enjoy!

Irish Soda Bread

Here’s that bread I promised you!

This recipe came out of my Mom’s cookbook. I know she got it from a friend, and before that, who knows? It’s one I’ve made many times, and I love this recipe for many reasons. One, it’s delicious. Two, it’s really easy. As if you need anything more than that. But I can keep going. It’s healthy, in small quantities (so really, it’s not, because I can’t recall eating a piece that wasn’t at least twice as large as it should be). In my opinion it tastes better because it’s made with whole wheat flour. It’s crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. It can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and with almost anything (but especially Beef Stew). If you want to change it up, it can be made into biscuits instead of a loaf, or you can add totally different spices (I got you started with a few different possibilities). As I am being reminded at this very moment, cooking it makes your kitchen smell amazing. It’s been roommate and boyfriend approved. And did I mention that it tastes delicious?

Irish Soda Bread

  • 4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp each of parsley, onion flakes, caraway
  • or 1 tsp each basil and parsley, 1 clove minced garlic, 1/2 a small onion, finely chopped (my personal favourite)
  • or maybe even  2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg and a pinch of cloves plus a handful of raisins kneaded in at the end. I’d eat this version for breakfast with honey.
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 cups buttermilk (you can use buttermilk powder to make this if you want. That way you don’t have to have the buttermilk on hand)

Measure out all of  the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter and oil. Stir in the buttermilk. Knead slightly. Form into a round loaf or into smaller biscuits. Set on a greased tray and cut a cross in the top with a knife. For a loaf, cook at 400 for 15 min and then 350 for 40 min. For biscuits, cook at  400 for 1 min and then 350 for 20. Place on a rack to cool.