Wednesday, June 27, 2012

banana crumb muffins

I had a real "baker" moment last weekend. I woke up and just felt the urge to BAKE something. I've never had that feeling before. The problem was I didn't really have that many ingredients handy...until noticed there were four over-ripe bananas hanging around. Eureka! I found this amazing recipe for Banana Crumb Muffins on the internet and off I went.

A couple of hours later, my house spelled wonderfully of bananas and cinnamon and I could barely wait for these babies to cool before I started nibbling. My parents were there when these came out of the oven and they could barely contain their enthusiasm (I fear my mom will be handing me over-ripe bananas by the bushel now in the hopes I will make more for her!)

The only (very minor) problem I had was the amazing crumb topping on these inevitably goes soggy by the next day...I haven't figured a way to keep them crunchy yet. Not that it mattered much as this batch was gone by the third day!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

strawberry jam x three

A couple of weekends ago, I managed to cross off one of my food resolutions for 2012 - making strawberry freezer jam!

I love jam. I'm especially a fan of "berry" jams - raspberry, strawberry - and being able to make my own seemed like a great way to try something new and stock up on my jam supply at the same time.

Paul's been making jam with his mom for ages, but I never had a chance to join in the fun. However, I finally managed to convince Paul to "help" me make jam (mostly, he made the jam and I watched).

We picked up two different jam gelling powders - Certo and Club House - and then went to Whittamore's Farm and bought a whole lot of strawberries (six quarts to be exact). I'm not normally a fan of strawberries (I know, weird) but I thought strawberries would be a sweet and easy introduction into jam making.

We made sure to have lots of mason jars (the ones with separate lids and screw rings) washed and ready to go since we didn't know how many jars of jam we'd end up with after our big jam-making day. 

We made three different types of jam - two "no-cook" ones and one that required a little more work (including sterilizing the jars).

Verdict: the no-cook jams are very runny and sweet, with the Certo-based one being the sweeter of the two strawberry jams (it was our favourite). It's also a great jam for beginner cooks (like me) to start with. The strawberry-rhubarb jam was a good mix of the strawberries and tart rhubarb and I love that it will keep longer, but I'm too lazy to sterilize jars every time I make jam. I love the simplicity of the no-cook jams - they're both quick and easy to make.

Next time we'll try making jam using other fruits and also making jam without any added commercial pectin. But first I'll have to make it through all the strawberry jam we now have!  :)

Note: although the jam itself doesn't take too long to make, give yourself plenty of time to prep the fruit. Seriously. Do you know how long it took me to hull 6 quarts of strawberries?!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

food fight! macaroni and cheese - paul

As mentioned in my previous post, Paul and I had a little competition to see who could make the better macaroni and cheese - me from a cookbook recipe or him just "winging it". Needless to say, my mac and cheese turned out to be a disaster, so I was pretty sure Paul would have to go that extra mile in order to lose this Food Fight.

Paul decided to go with penne pasta for his creation and used three cheeses: a bright yellow powdered cheese we got at the Healthy Planet bulk store (think Kraft Dinner powder), Marble and (for the top crust) Romano.

But do you know when I knew for certain I would lose this battle? When he tossed this onto the counter...

What little hope I had left that I might still eke out a victory when I saw him pull out the bacon. Yes, bacon. Lovely, delicious, flavour-giving bacon. Game over.

Luckily for me (and unluckily for Paul) he didn't use enough cheese, so his mac and cheese turned out almost as bland as mine. I say almost as bland, because those flecks of bacon scattered throughout did do their best to spread some flavour through the dish. I do have to admit that his dish had a really nice crust on the top (thanks to the Romano), so that's definitely something we'd repeat again.

Food Fight! Macaroni and Cheese Winner: Paul (by a teeny, tiny bit)

Lessons learned:
- Stephanie - cookbooks with better editors and recipe testers!
- Paul - more cheese (and more bacon!)

Monday, June 11, 2012

ice cream fever

Last month I decided that I'd (foolishly) try to eat every single flavour of ice cream from The Kawartha Dairy - what's a summer without a few crazy goals, right? And if the summer goal involves ice cream - even better!

Since we're spending a lot of weekends up near Bobcaygeon, I figured it wouldn't be too hard to expand my ice cream eating horizons (Kawartha Dairy's head office is there). In the past we always ordered the same things from there - a Bordeaux Cherry scoop for me and a Chocolate milkshake for Paul. To be fair, their Bordeaux Cherry rocks and you actually see them scoop up the Chocolate ice cream to make their thick and creamy milkshakes...yummm...but there were so many other flavours on the menu and I had never tried any of them!

Technically, they do give out samples. If you ask for a "taste", they'll kindly give you a small spoonful of any flavour, but I think that's cheating. So, in order for it to count, I (or someone I know that will let me try from their cup/cone) needs to order and pay for the ice cream.

This past weekend, my initiation into the Kawartha Dairy menu board got off to a bang with FIVE flavours knocked off the list! Yes, FIVE! How did I manage that many flavours with just one trip? Well, I grabbed a double-scoop and then Paul, my brother-in-law and my future sister-in-law all gamely ordered different flavours so I could sample theirs as well. I'm glad I can always count on family to support my off-the-wall food urges.

My double-scoop (or, as Kawartha Dairy calls it, a "small") consisted of Wolf Paws (on the bottom) - "vanilla ice cream with chocolate butter fudge and soft brownie pieces" and Bear Claw - "a dark chocolate ice cream filled with chocolate coated cashews and swirled with luscious golden caramel". Both were really good, although I preferred the Bear Claw with its crunchy chocolate-coated nuts over the soft-brownie pieces in the Wolf Paws. Normally, I love brownies, but these pieces were a little too soft so they were more like chocolate "blobs" than brownies. Still, I wasn't disappointed in either scoop!

Paul (who still ordered his usual chocolate milkshake) surprised me by ordering Cotton Candy - "pink cotton candy flavoured ice cream with a blue ribbon twirl". It was sweet, but tasted a little more like bubble gum than cotton candy. Once in a while, Paul said he got a hit of cotton candy flavour, but the spoonfuls I had didn't really make me think of the light, fluffy carnival treat.

My brother-in-law ordered his favourite, Moose Tracks - "vanilla ice cream with chocolate peanut butter cups swirled with Moose Tracks fudge". Even though it's pretty much all he ever orders, it was new to me. Similar to the Wolf Paws that I had, but instead of brownies, this had peanut butter cups, which is a pretty amazing combination. The flavour of the chocolate and peanut butter was nice and strong and went really well with the vanilla ice cream. Definitely a flavour to get again, or as my BIL declared (even though he's had it many, many times before), "It's delicious!" before he  made plans to go to Costco the next day to buy a pint of it.

Chocolate was definitely the overwhelming theme of the day as my future sister-in-law tried a scoop of Death by Chocolate - "chocolate ice cream with bittersweet dark chocolate chunks and thick chocolate twister sauce". A definite go-to choice for chocoholics, this one is all about chocolate. It was probably the least sweetest of the five flavours we had, but it had a nice, solid chocolate flavour and is definitely a good choice if you want something a little bit more complex than the plain chocolate flavour.

I'm already planning what to get next time (I'm leaning towards Muskoka Mocha and unLOCKED and loaded), but what about you? Have you tried any Kawartha Dairy ice cream? Tell me your favourites or do you see something on the Flavour List that you think I should try next?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

food fight! macaroni and cheese - stephanie

Anyone who knows Paul and me, knows that we can get pretty competitive. Most of the time, it's pretty harmless and sometimes it can even be productive...

Case in point - I'm innocently mentioning that I'll be making macaroni and cheese for dinner out of a cookbook that I've never used before, when Paul states that he could make a better one without the use of any cookbook! Has he gone mad? Keep in mind - we are both really new at this whole cooking thing and neither of us has ever made macaroni and cheese before. I just scoff and went on my merry way, planning my ingredients and reading the recipe numerous times to make sure I knew what I was doing. What could possibly go wrong? The book says this recipe is from a famous restaurant in New York City! It says no one ever refuses a second helping! I've got it made!

So, on the evening of my attempt, I pull out all the ingredients and diligently prepare them before I turn on the oven and stove to start the real cooking. I think Paul was napping somewhere.

After I start cooking what seems to be a very large amount of pasta (8 cups) into the boiling water, I was standing at the stove, stirring the cheese sauce, watching the pasta boil, when I glanced again at the cookbook and felt my heart drop. I looked again. Oh no. The book didn't say 8 CUPS of pasta. It said 8 OUNCES of pasta! No wonder it looked like too much!

But wait...8 ounces? That doesn't seem right either. In my shock, I actually went and measured out 8 ounces of the cooked pasta (which is pretty funny in hindsight) just to make sure that I wasn't dreaming. Yes, ok, that is definitely a SMALL amount of pasta. Can that be right? Hmm...the recipe says that it makes four servings as a main dish. Ok, there's no way 4 adults would survive on 2 ounces of pasta each.

Emergency situation. So, what do I do? I do the first thing that pops into my head - I text the competition. "Paul - I need your help and advice urgently."

Paul comes in and together, after some deliberation and re-reading of the recipe, we settle on 6 cups of pasta, because that's what looks like would fit comfortably in the bakeware dish size that was recommended.

I put together the macaroni and cheese, popped it into the oven, silently cursed the cookbook and crossed my fingers.

Soooooo....needless to say, my macaroni and cheese was a flop. There was way too much pasta and way too little cheese. Humph. And the white cheddar I had used wasn't strong enough so what cheesy flavour you could taste was very bland.

Of course, at this point, Paul re-iterates the fact that he could do a better macaroni and cheese without a cookbook so I tell him to go for it. (In my head, I'm thinking - "Yeah, like you can do better", but I'm also thinking "Great! That's one less night I have to worry about making dinner!"). Of course, I've already conceded the Macaroni and Cheese battle - Paul would have to do an absolutely horrific job in order to be worse than my attempt!

At which point we decide that a little friendly competition in the kitchen may not be a bad thing, as long as we were up to eating the same thing twice and sometimes really bad versions of the same thing twice. So the Kitchen Frolic Food Fight was born. It's basically Paul vs. Stephanie, beginner vs. beginner, husband vs. wife. Let the games begin!  :)

p.s. Apparently, Paul says my mac and cheese was a lot better with Sriracha sauce.

Watch for my write-up of Paul's take on macaroni and cheese coming soon!

Monday, June 4, 2012

green tea ice cream

About five years ago, my lovely sister got me a Cuisinart ice cream maker for my birthday after I mentioned that it would be fun to have one. I used it once (to make a mango sorbet) and then put it back into the box where it languished for the next half-decade. Until this week.

You see, for the past couple of weeks, Chung-Ah from Damn Delicious and I have been talking about making ice cream. She had recently bought an ice cream maker and I just happened to have an extra copy of the Williams-Sonoma Ice Cream book which I sent off to her. All this talk of making ice cream made me want to pull out my own machine and give it another spin.

So all week long I planned to make rhubarb ice cream but when I woke up Friday morning I thought, "Why don't I make some green tea ice cream for my dad?" You see, it was my dad's birthday and he LOVES green tea ice cream. I know he had just finished a store-bought pint recently and I thought it would be a delicious surprise if I made some for him myself.

I have several green teas powders in my pantry, including a couple I bought during my trip to Tokyo, but the one I chose was the Matcha Matsu tea from David's Tea, a Canadian company. I figured that it would be easier to get my hands on more if this recipe turned out to be a success.

I prepared the mixture Friday evening, let it chill overnight and then made the ice cream on Saturday afternoon. It turned out perfectly. My dad's reaction "This is better than the ice cream I just bought. You should sell this!" How awesome is that reaction?

The taste of green tea ice cream isn't for everyone, but if you're a fan, than you'll love this one. It's creamy, well-flavoured and easy to make.

At the end of the day, I don't know if making my own green tea ice cream is actually cheaper than buying it, but check out the ingredients list on the one that my dad had bought (I found the empty container on the kitchen counter):

"milk ingredients, sugar, glucose solids, modified milk ingredients, green tea, mono and diglycerides, guar gum polysorbate 80, carrageenan"

After seeing that list, making my own version seems much healthier and less, um, chemically-infused.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Flickr Frolic Fridays

Sorry - my Flickr Frolic Friday is a day late because I was having internet problems yesterday and couldn't log on to put my post up. Hope you're all having a wonderful weekend! Wait until you see what I've been up to!  :)

Pretty much the only reason I go to the CNE every year. I love this building.  :)

I'm actually not a huge fan of candy apples. As a child, I never got past the fact that I had to eat a WHOLE apple after I finished with the coating (and somehow, the coating to apple ratio never seemed very equal to a five-year-old), and now, as an adult, I still have never really developed a taste for them...but wow, this display at the Venetian in Las Vegas could serious change my mind about candy apples...

Dragonfruit. I love how beautiful and exotic these fruits look. They actually taste kind of bland considering how vibrant they are, but it's still fun to cut one open once in a while. Maybe I could find a recipe that uses these?