Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Baked Caramelized Onion Brie in Puff Pastry

For my Christmas dinner this year I decided to contribute by making an appetizer. Every year I get the same idea into my head that if I eat hardly anything throughout the day, I will be able to eat more of my Christmas dinner. Well the problem with this is that by the time our guests arrive, I am so starving that I am looking for anything around the house to munch on before dinner is ready, which often leads to me eating handfuls of dry cereal, very old Halloween candy (why is that still even in my house?), or just about anything else I can find. This is precisely the reason I decided to make an appetizer for Christmas dinner '09. I wanted to make something special, that everyone could enjoy to tide them over before the meal was ready. My Caramelized Onion Brie is Puff Pastry did just the trick! It was super fast and easy to prepare and tasted oh so good! I was really happy to hear that everyone loved it...including me...who kept going back for more throughout the night...and had more for breakfast.
Tip: Make the onions a day ahead to save on time. Keep them in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to use.
Tip: To add extra flavour to your onions, add a splash of vinegar or wine towards the end of the cooking process to deglaze the pan. Those bits stuck to the pan are the best! Just be sure to cook off that extra moisture.
Tip: To make your brie really beautiful, cut shapes out of scraps of thawed puff pastry to add on top before baking.
Note: Yes I did slightly burn my brie, as you can see in the picture. The oven was being used to cook the turkey so I used my insanely hot toaster oven.

1 sheet of thawed puff pastry
1 wheel of brie, about 8 inches in diameter
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 onions, chopped or sliced
1 egg, beaten (optional)

1. Heat olive oil and butter in a medium skillet over medium low heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until darkened. Reduce heat if burning. You want the onions to cook slowly. This should take about 30-40 minutes.

2. Lay out the thawed puff pastry on your work surface and flour lightly. Using a rolling pin, stretch out the pastry so that it is large enough to fully wrap the wheel of brie.

3. Using a large knife, cut the wheel of brie in half, lengthwise. Spoon the cooked onions onto one of the exposed (not the white rind) halves of brie. Place the other half on top. The onions should be in the middle of the two exposed halves.

4. Wrap the brie wheel in the puff pastry, lightly pressing the edges together. Place the wrapped brie on a baking sheet, seam side down. You may brush your pastry with the beaten egg at this point for a shiny finish.

5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned in a 350º oven. Serve hot out of the oven with fresh bread and crackers.

Christmas Dinner '09

Oh Christmas dinner how I love you! Christmas dinner is hand down, the best meal I eat every year...well maybe not this year having eaten that un-freaking-believable meal at the Grapes for Humanity A Chocolate and Wine Fantasy...but still, Christmas dinner comes in a very close second this year. Every year we hold Christmas dinner at my house and invite all of our aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, boyfriends, and sometimes even more friends! My family's Christmas dinner is really special because everyone is involved in contributing to the meal. Pretty much every person who shows up to eat the meal must bring something to add to the Christmas spread. This year there was so much food that my fridge is still filled with enough leftovers to feed my family for the next week...and let me tell you, I don't mind at all!

For our Christmas dinner this year we served:

I made this!
Turkey with Cranberry Sauce (See recipes below!)
Thanks Mum and Dad
Thanks Oma
Thanks Aunt Darlene
Spinach and Poppy Seed Salad with Almonds, fresh Strawberries and Mandarine Oranges
Thanks Mummy
Green Beans with Onions and Almonds
Thanks Aunt Darlene
Liver Kreplach and Challah Buns
Thanks Daddy
Scalloped Potatoes
Thanks Mummy
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Onions and Red Peppers
Thanks Aunt Nancy
Thanks Baba and Zhada
Beet Salad
Thanks Oma
Spring Rolls
Thanks Mummy
Blueberry Cheesecake
Thanks Oma
Apple Crumble Pie
Thanks Mummy
Fruit Tray
Thanks Mummy
Raspberry Trifle
Thanks Uncle Ronnie

Full yet?

Roasted Turkey
1 (around 18 pound) whole turkey
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
salt and freshly hand-ground pepper to season (I roughly hand grind mine using a mortar and pestle)
1 onion, quartered
2 stalks celery, cut into chunks
2 tsp dried sage
3 cloves of garlic, minced or pureed

1. Preheat oven to 325º F. Place rack in the lowest section of the oven.
2. Remove the turkey neck and giblets, rinse the turkey with cold water. Using paper towels, pat the inside and outside of the turkey dry.
3. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in the roasting pan. Fill cavity with the onion, celery and 1 tsp dried sage. Fold skin over neck cavity and close using metal skewers.
4. Rub the turkey with the butter and remaining 1 tsp dried sage, garlic, and season generously with salt and hand-ground pepper.
5. Roast in the oven for about 4 hours, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the breast reads 175º. Baste turkey with the juices from the bottom of the roasting pan every 30 minutes.
6. Transfer to a cutting board, tent with foil, let rest for 20 minutes, carve and serve immediately with warm cranberry sauce.

Cranberry Sauce
3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

1. In a small saucepan mix sugar and water and boil for 5 minutes.
2. Add cranberries and boil gently until their skins begin to pop (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and serve warm over turkey.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Annual Christmas Cookie Bake

Every year, just a few days before Christmas, my family goes over to my Oma's house to make her signature Christmas cookies. Having made (and eaten!) these cookies for as long as I can remember, they have become one of my all-time favourite cookies. They are similar to the Dutch butter cookies that you ca purchase in tins, but about 10 times better! This may be due to a few ingredients that sets the two apart, but I'm convinced it's because we all make them together, resulting in a much more tasty cookie. 'Love' really can be a secret ingredient, and it seems that every Christmas that ingredient shows up to be mixed into Oma's Christmas cookie dough.

This year everyone seemed to be very busy around Christmas time, so it was just my two cousins and I helping Oma make the cookies. Although my cousins lost interest in cookie making and decorating after about an hour (they found their video games far more interesting), I couldn't get enough! All year long I look forward to our Christmas cookie baking day, so I don't mind spending the whole afternoon rolling, decorating, and baking cookie dough. Thanks Oma for another great year of Christmas cookie baking!

Perfecting Potato Latkes

This past wednesday my friends and I got together for a super casual Chrismukkah get together to eat latkes and look over all of our pictures from Cuba (you may see the below holiday post for one photo). I was the one in charge of the latke making and was on a mission to perfect them! The last and only time I have ever made latkes was this past Passover. My Passover latkes tasted amazing, but I found the process of making them a bit painful. I got very frustrated frying the latkes for Passover because I was having trouble keeping the shreds of potato together, the latkes just kept falling apart in the beginning. It took me a really long time to get the hang of it, and by that point I already had a number of broken latkes. So for our Chrismukkah latkes, I turned to Williams Sonoma to help me out.

Williams Sonoma has a recipe for Perfect Potato Latkes that sounded well...perfect! I gave the recipe a try and what do you know, perfection! I changed the recipe slightly, using their ingredients as a guideline. My recipe serves more people which I thought was important for holiday season. It's always better to have more food than too little during the holidays, and come on, who doesn't love leftovers?
Note: If you do not have a food processor or the shredding disk attachment, you may shred your potatoes using a cheese grater.
Note: You can easily make this recipe Passover friendly by substituting matzo meal for the flour.
Tip: Rinsing the potatoes in water removes excess starch, which allows for more successful frying.
Tip: You may serve immediately, but you can just as easily make your latkes a day ahead and reheat in the oven upon serving time.
Tip: Serve your latkes with my Homemade Applesauce.

4 large russet potatoes, peeled
2 - 2 1/2 small onions, peeled and quartered
3 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp olive oil
3 1/2 tbsp flour (or matzo meal if making for Passover)
1 tsp baking powder
salt and pepper, to taste
vegetable oil for frying

1. Insert the shredding disk attachment into food processor. Cut potatoes into chunks to fit the feed tube. Insert potato chunks into feed tube and pulse to grate.

2. Pour shredded potatoes into a colander on top of a large bowl or a salad spinner and cover with water to rinse for about 5-10 minutes. Drain very well.

3. Insert onion chunks into feed tube and pulse to grate.

4. Pour well drained potato shreds into a large bowl and mix in the shredded onion.

5. Add the eggs, olive oil, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper, and stir until well combined.

6. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. In a large nonstick fry pan or griddle over medium high heat, pour vegetable oil to a depth of 1/8 inch.

7. When oil sizzles when lightly splashed with a bit of cold water (be careful doing this), working in batches, scoop the potato mixture with a large spoon and place onto oil. Flatten out and shape with the back of the spoon. Fry, turning once, until golden brown, 3-5 minutes per side.

8. Place the fried latkes on the lined baking sheet to drain off excess oil. Makes about 25 medium sized latkes.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays

Monday, December 21, 2009

Chocolate Crackle Cookies

I'm finding it hard to believe that Christmas is only days away. After spending last week basking in the Cuban sun, coming home to Christmas songs and decorations just feels kind of odd to me. Christmas is my absolute favourite holiday and my favourite thing about Christmas is the food...sorry're awesome too, but lets face it, our Christmas meal tops the list! So I decided to get myself into the Christmas spirit. Yesterday I spent the day laying out all my christmas gifts for everyone so that they're ready to be wrapped, and then made Christmas cookies. I have a Martha Stewart: Holiday Cookies magazine from years ago that I turn to every holiday. All of the cookies look so beautiful and delicious that I can never pick which ones to make, so I always end up making the same ones, Almond Shortbread Stars. The Almond Shortbread stars taste amazing, but this year I wanted to try something different. My eye immediately landed on Martha's Chocolate Crackle Cookies. These cookies looked so beautiful and festive, I just had to give them a try! Boy am I glad that I did! The cookies turned out incredible! Super chocolaty and moist, and gorgeous to boot! I was pleased to learn that these cookies remain soft and gooey even after cooling, making them taste like little brownies. Serve them at your holiday celebration!
Note: To make a double boiler, put about 2 inch worth of water into a small pot. Place a heatproof bowl on top of the pot making sure they are sealed tight (you want the steam to stay inside the pot). Also make sure the bowl is not touching the water in the pot. Place your chocolate in the bowl. A double boiler allows the chocolate to gently melt so that it will not burn.
Tip: when forming your dough into balls, try not to make them larger than 1 inch. The larger the dough balls, the less crackling effect.

8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (1 cup if using chocolate chips)
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 pound (1 stick or 1/2 cup) room temperature butter
1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk
about 1 cup confectioners sugar

1. In a double boiler, melt chocolate on low heat. Set aside to cool.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, cocoa powder, and salt.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes.

4. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well combined.

5. Add the melted chocolate, and mix to combine.

6. Add the flour mixture alternately with milk. Mix on low speed until just combined.

7. Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap. Carefully pour the cookie dough onto the plastic wrap and wrap all around. Form your dough into a disk shape, while still in the plastic wrap.

8. Chill in the fridge for about 2 hours.

9. Preheat oven to 350º. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat mat. Pour the icing sugar into a small bowl.

10. Form the cookie dough into about 1 inch balls and roll in the icing sugar to generously coat.

11. Place the coated balls on a baking sheet leaving space in between to allow for the cookies to spread.

12. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the sugar coating splits.

13. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

Note: I came across an issue with this recipe while I was melting my chocolate. I used chocolate that was not stored properly. After I had melted my chocolate I tried a taste and could immediately taste that something was off. I had to dump that chocolate and start over again with properly stored chocolate. It is important to store your chocolate properly so that you do not come across this issue.

A Lesson in Storing Chocolate:
  • Store in a slightly cool environment (about 60-70º F).
  • Store in an area with low humidity. The area should be dry.
  • Make sure it is not in direct sunlight. A dark environment is best.
  • Keep away from any foods or substances with strong odors.
  • Some people swear by storing chocolate in their wine fridge due to the controlled temperature. Give it a try!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Welcome to the Neighbourhood: La Bamboche

Last week marked the opening of the long anticipated La Bamboche on Avenue Road. The patisserie's first location at 4 Manor Rd. has been open for just over four years, enough time to garner them both critical acclaim as well as build a strong relationship with the community.

La Bamboche has been named by Toronto Life as Toronto's best macaron. Have I made a spelling error? No, these are not the coconut based macaroons that most of you may be familiar with. These delicate little confections have a light crisp exterior made of meringue and almond powder, and their soft interior is due to silky buttercream or chocolate ganache. To top it all off, the macarons come in an array of beautiful pastels. Sound incredible? It gets better, macarons come in multiple flavours, everything from Strawberry-Balsamic to Lavender, as well as more traditional flavours like Raspberry and Pistachio. The shop always has twelve different flavours, adding new flavours at least every month. Well-traveled customers have reveled in the striking resemblance in both taste and appearance between the macarons at La Bamboche and those found in the best patisseries in France.

Beyond their beautiful macarons, La Bamboche also has an impressive array of cakes, all created and made on site by pastry chef Stephen Nason and his creative team. Nason was trained in Japan by a French pastry chef, allowing him to merge the two styles to create truly unique and innovative products. Unlike many high-end pastry shops that boast beautiful cakes, yet are lacking when it comes to taste, La Bamboche's cakes are both gorgeous as well as delicious! Many of their cakes feature a light mousse in flavours such as Strawberry Lavender, Green Tea and Black Sesame, and Earl Grey and Cassis. One of La Bamboche's signature cakes, and perhaps their most striking, is the Paquet Cake. Sold in numerous flavours, the Paquet features layers of light mouse and moist genoise wrapped in a soft cookie, kind of like an amazing, delicious gift, wrapped in cookie wrapping paper! Pair your pastry with a mug of organic Van Houtte coffee or espresso, or a pot of organic tea.

For those customers looking to La Bamboche for breakfast or lunch items, their perfectly flaky and buttery croissant should do the trick! La Bamboche has six different types of croissant, all baked fresh daily. There are sweet croissants like Chocolate, Almond, and Almond and Chocolate, as well as savory croissants like Ham and Cheese and Spinach and Cheese. The shop also has seasonal danishes, made with the same croissant pastry and filled with sweet custard and seasonal fruits (go in now for peach and blackberry!). There is also an array of fresh sandwiches served on either fresh croissant or choux pastry with fillings such as Turkey and Brie, Roast Beef and Brie, Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese, and Vegetarian and Brie. The sandwiches rest right next to the mouth watering savory quiches. The quiche crust is made with the same flaky croissant pastry, and filled with different flavours such as Shitake Mushrooms and Goat Cheese, Caramelized Onion Pancetta and Swiss, Leeks and Swiss Cheese, and Sundried Tomato Spinach and Swiss Cheese.

As some of you may know, I booked a trip to Cuba a few months ago (I leave Saturday super super early in the morning!!), so in order to pay off my trip, I needed to get a job....Dear readers, the next time you want to pay off a trip to Cuba, do not work in a pastry shop, work at a gym! I think you know what I'm getting at here. I am very proud to say that I am apart of the La Bamboche team, working behind the counter at their Avenue Road shop. In just a few short weeks, I have tried almost every item in the know...for business purposes. Although working at La Bamboche has abolished any plans I had of eating healthy before Cuba, I don't regret trying anything as each and every item left me wanting more! So after trying almost everything in sight in the shop (I've been on one hell of a sugar high for about 3 weeks now!), I think I'm able to judge the best, or at least my favourite, items in the shop. My absolute favourite items at La Bamboche are:

Tarte Au Citron
The delicious lemon tart I have ever tasted, and I love lemon tarts! The perfect combination of both sweet and tart with an amazing shortbread crust.

Earl Grey and Cassis Cake
Such an interesting flavour combination that left me wondering why I had never combined the two flavours before. Layers of earl grey and black current mousse on a thin layer of chocolate genoise. This cake is also one of the most beautiful cakes in the showcase.

Ham and Cheese Croissant
Oh so very decadent, yet impossible to resist! This ham and swiss cheese croissant is just incredible! La Bamboche's ham and cheese croissant is different from any others that I have tasted due to a layer of silky bearnaise sauce snuggled between the savory ham and creamy swiss cheese.

There are a few macarons that stand out as my favourites. The Pistachio, Strawberry-Balsamic, and Raspberry macarons are just out of this world! These three macarons taste incredible and are some of the prettiest ones in the showcase! You must try them!

The second location of La Bamboche on Avenue Road is sure to be a great success! The new store has a beautiful design and allows for more seating, not to mention it is filling a major void in the neighborhood (boy did we ever need a great pastry shop!). With their dedication to quality and perfection, you're sure to fall in love with La Bamboche just as I did!

Note: The above pictures are from La Bamboche's Manor Road location. Pictures from the new Avenue Road location coming soon!

La Bamboche is located at 1712 Avenue Road and 4 Manor Road East.