Saturday, June 27, 2009

The daring bakers strike again...

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

This challenge was something I'd never heard of before, but I mentioned it to my brother and he instantly knew what I was talking about. It was different and I was a little nervous as I haven't had a whole lot of luck in the past working with pastry. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy these recipes were to make and use.

Cindy and I met one Friday afternoon to make the tarts/pudding. We decided to make two different kinds, simply because we wanted to try a couple different options. We made two seven inch tarts and 6 little mini tarts. The first one we made was with seedless raspberry jam. It was very tasty. We also made a hazelnut chocolate banana one. I liked them both but for totally different reasons. I am not sure I could pick a favourite.

The raspberry one was great, but I love raspberries, so that was a given.

The hazelnut chocolate one was more original though because we used about a cup of hazelnut chocolate spread from Fachon in France. It was super decadent, and to that we added a mashed banana. It was such a nice combination.

I had a lot of fun making this and loved the challenge of doing the pastry and the frangipane. I love the daring kitchen simply because I love that it gives me a chance to try recipes I might never otherwise have made. This was an excellent dessert and hopefully something I will try again in the future, maybe with a whole other filling!!

So, how can one go about making this? Well, here is the recipe:

Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Jasmine’s notes:
• If you cannot have nuts, you can try substituting Victoria sponge for the frangipane. It's a pretty popular popular cake, so you shouldn't have any troubles finding one in one of your cookbooks or through a Google search. That said, our dear Natalie at Gluten a Go Go has sourced some recipes and linked to them in the related alt.db thread.
• You can use whichever jam you wish, but if you choose something with a lot of seeds, such as raspberry or blackberry, you should sieve them out.
• The jam quantity can be anywhere from 60ml (1/4 cup) to 250ml (1cup), depending upon how “damp” and strongly flavoured your preserves are. I made it with the lesser quantity of home made strawberry jam, while Annemarie made it with the greater quantity of cherry jam; we both had fabulous results. If in doubt, just split the difference and spread 150ml (2/3cup) on the crust.
Annemarie’s notes:
• The excess shortcrust can be rolled out and cut into cookie-shapes (heck, it’s pretty darned close to a shortbread dough).

Sweet shortcrust pastry

Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

Jasmine’s notes:
• I make this using vanilla salt and vanilla sugar.
• If you wish, you can substitute the seeds of one vanilla bean, one teaspoon of vanilla paste or one teaspoon of vanilla extract for the almond extract


Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Annemarie’s notes:
• Add another five minutes or more if you're grinding your own almonds or if you're mixing by hand (Heaven help you).

Friday, June 26, 2009

The matching tripp trapp chairs...

I am so excited. My parents bought us a new tripp trapp chair. Sebastian got one for his second birthday so we could skip the whole booster seat stage and all that, and it's worked out great for him. It matches our table almost perfectly and as Sullivan is just getting to the point where he will start eating, it was something we really hoped we'd have for him too, since Sebastian obviously still uses his. And, I was out with my mom this week who was visiting and she got it for us, complete with the baby seat insert so he can use it now. It's fantastic, and now Sullivan sits with us at the table while we're eating. And you can tell from the smile on his face that he is just loving it!!

My parents also bought the boys a tractor to ride on. It's super cute and Sebastian absolutely loves it. He has been putting things in the loader and the carrier on the back of it as well. He pushes it all over the yard (he's not quite strong enough yet to pedal it everywhere). it's so fun to watch him. Thanks mom and dad!!

Life has been busy lately. Last weekend I had hoped to go hiking but my husband said "honey, I think for Father's Day, rather than hiking, I'd rather clean out the garage". Well, how can I argue with that?? I was so thrilled that he was wanting to clean something, and I had been grumbling a lot lately about how the garage should look nice and neat and that stuff should be easy to find. He assured me that this was an impossible dream of mine. However, we did it!! The garage looks great. Everything is organized and easy to find, and we even locked up things that we don't really want Sebastian getting into or hurting himself with (can you say tools). We hung the bikes up on the wall, so that the strollers park nicely below them (and since we can't go biking with Sullivan until next year, blah). Now, I just have to make sure it stays relatively neat!!

And, my quest at exercise has been pretty good lately. I have been running fairly consistently. I am hoping to get a personal best in my next ten kilometre race, so I need to keep at it!! Plus, it's less than 16 weeks until the half marathon now!! But you can read more about my exercise efforts on my fitnessvsfood blog.

Next week, we are going on a road trip. My mom and I are driving out to the coast with the boys. It should be lots of fun. We'll take them down to Seattle even. I get to see a friend that I haven't seen in many many years, and our kids can play together, so that should be a lot of fun!! I just have to make sure I make time for running while on the road!!

And finally, here's a comparison of the brothers. Sebastian is in the top photo and he would have been about 8 months old, but based on his due date, closer to five months. Sullivan is below and he is 5 and a half months old, so there you have it, both of them at what should be five months old!!

Our fun Father's Day project...

So, my friend Cindy and I were inspired by the Bakerella who made these really neat Father's Day Baskets, so we decided to give it a try and do the same. And, they turned out amazing. Cindy was in charge of all the packaging, and she completely rocked it. We used the template from Bakerella's site. I think everything turned out great, wouldn't you agree? And, I was in charge of the baking. Then, we got together to do the assembly on Saturday afternoon. It was tons of fun and it was so neat watching everything come together into these beautiful little burger baskets. Of course, it's all actually baking, but I think we managed to pull off some pretty convincing little baskets of food for dessert. And, we know they were effective when Jeremy's grandma refused to even try the burger because she couldn't quite believe it was only baking.

What exactly did we make? Well, the "buns" were vanilla cupcakes. I used a recipe from George Geary's Complete Baking Cookbook for those. I added the Sesame seeds too lake though, and if I did it again, I'd add them when I put them in the oven, because they mostly just fell off. The "burgers" were brownies from the same book, however I had to modify the recipe a little since I didn't have enough butter (did half butter, half maragarine), and I wanted to use up my Lemon Blueberry Blackberry Jam (instead of the raspberry jam it calls for). We coloured coconut green to make the "lettuce". We coloured fondant orange and rolled it out to make the "cheese slices". The "ketchup" was your basic buttercream icing with colour added (a combo of red food colouring and then some of the Wilton's colours copper, yellow and burgandy... since I was out of red). The "fries" were sugar cookies, and the recipe I used was a Williams Sonoma one. A note about the fries, the first batch, I made and cut and left together, we thought they would break apart to be french fries, but this didn't work out very good. The second batch, I made and cut, and then put about 5 individual cut outs together, and they baked into a cookie that looked like it was a group of fries, and that worked out much better, so in the future, if I wanted to make fake fries again, this is definitely the way to go.

We had fun and I think the project turned out pretty good. We got some pretty funny reactions to them, and lots of "oh are those ever cute" type comments. All in all, it was fantastic.

And then, Cindy went made some cupcake cake pops and shared a few with me. They are basically little cake balls with icing mixed in, which she subsequently dunked in chocolate and made them to look like cupcakes. Didn't she do just a fantastic job? We loved them!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My little super trooper...

Today was a tough day to be a parent. It was Sebastian's 3 year assessment for the perinatal clinic. It was a busy morning. We saw a psychologist, speech therapist, dietician, doctor, physiotherapist, social worker and a nurse. They did so many tests with him and we were all exhausted by the end of it. For the most part, he did great, but he needs to be followed up by a couple people and that just made me so sad. I know they are following up with him for his own best interest, but last year when we left perinatal, we didn't have to see them again until this year. This year however, we'll be back again soon.

He may have some fine motor issues, so we have to get an occupational assessment done. He was having a few troubles with some concepts with blocks and stuff and that sort of sucked. Plus, the psychologist wasn't very patient with him and said he probably has some attention problems, which is a very common side effect of preemies. So we have to meet with her again, in addition to the occupational therapist. His speech assessment went fine. She noticed he was a bit short on attention at times, but worked hard to engage him and give him breaks and change things up. That was nice of her. And, pretty much, he did fine with most of those types of things. The dietician went over his typical eating day and then suggested we come in for lunch and get watched by the feeding team, which is a team of 5 different disciplines who watch his eating and then offer suggestions to help with eating issues. The doctor also noticed the attention issue, but went on to say he might have an ear infection, but she's not quite sure. She was incredible though looking in his ears, trying to see if birds were there, and making cute little bird sounds. She also said we might want to get his adenoids looked at. Then there was physiotherapy. He should get some orthotics and really shouldn't be wearing crocs or sandals as he doesn't have enough arch support to wear them. This could explain some of his clumsiness though. And then there was social work, blah!!

Needless to say, both my husband and I left there feeling pretty deflated. After early intervention discharged us, saying that everything was on track, we really thought he was doing well with everything, so it came as a bit of a blow that there might be all these issues. Nobody came right out and said he had an attention issue, but everyone of them noticed it, and said that it might be more of an issue than a "normal" three year old. I know they are looking out for his best interests, but man, it was still hard to take. I left there just wanting to cry my eyes out. I know in the big picture, Sebastian is doing really well. He's a great kid and I should be so thankful for who he is and what he overcame, and I am. It was just tough to hear about all these potential new hurdles he's going to have to overcome. At least his sportball is helpful for him, and swimming, and dayhome too. Now we just need to find him a preschool.

I'm going to give him some extra hugs in the next few days, because I love him, and he amazes me. He's sweet, and he's kind and he says the most heartwarming things sometimes. And, he's growing incredibly well. He's past the 50th percentile for his height now, and at the 25th percentile for weight. He's made huge progress considering when he started out, he wasn't even on the chart for either!! He's still very lean and has stayed that way since forever. He's my little miracle, and I'll always be so proud of him, even if he has a few more things to deal with now!! I'm including some pictures of just what a sweetheart he is.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Adventures in dumpling creation... Cheesy Jalapeño Shrimp Potstickers

The second Daring Cooks' challenge is hosted by Jen of use real butter and it is Chinese dumplings which can be steamed, boiled or fried (called potstickers).

I was very excited about this challenge but time seemed to just fly by and here we are on reveal day and I only just finished the challenge today. I love being part of the Daring Kitchen and trying out new recipes each month. It is neat to make things I might not otherwise get around to making.

We were required to make the dough for the dumplings and after that we were free to fill them however we wanted. I made a sort of east meets west cheesey jalapeño and shrimp potsticker. They turned out well and I had a lot of fun making them. So here is the recipe:

2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (113g) warm water
flour for worksurface

Make the dough, Place the flour in the work bowl of a food processor with the dough blade. Run the processor and pour the warm water in until incorporated. Pour the contents into a sturdy bowl or onto a work surface and knead until uniform and smooth. The dough should be firm and silky to the touch and not sticky.[Note: it’s better to have a moist dough and have to incorporate more flour than to have a dry and pilling dough and have to incorporate more water).

Knead the dough about twenty strokes then cover with a damp towel for 15 minutes. Take the dough and form a flattened dome. Cut into strips about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. Shape the strips into rounded long cylinders. On a floured surface, cut the strips into 3/4 inch pieces. Press palm down on each piece to form a flat circle (you can shape the corners in with your fingers). With a rolling pin, roll out a circular wrapper from each flat disc. Take care not to roll out too thin or the dumplings will break during cooking - about 1/16th inch. Leave the centers slightly thicker than the edges. Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of each wrapper and fold the dough in half, pleating the edges along one side (see images in post for how to fold pleats). Keep all unused dough under damp cloth.

While the dough is resting, you can make the filling:

12 raw shrimp with tales and veins removed
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated (I did this by feel, but I am guessing it was about this much)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup chives straight from the garden, rinced and chopped
1/4 cup jalapeños (I used canned ones)

To make filling: place shrimp and jalopenos in food processor with metal blade. Pulse until small bits. Add chopped chives and Worcestershire. Change to grating plate, add cheddar. Change back to blade again and pulse until cheese matches in size.

To pan fry (potstickers): Place dumplings in a frying pan with 2-3 tbsp of vegetable oil. Heat on high and fry for a few minutes until bottoms are golden. Add 1/2 cup water and cover. Cook until the water has boiled away and then uncover and reduce heat to medium or medium low. Let the dumplings cook for another 2 minutes then remove from heat and serve.

If you want to check out some other filling options and different cooking methods, check out the daring kitchen site for that.

It was a great challenge and I'm glad I tried it!!

Monday, June 8, 2009

My kids amaze me...

My kids amaze me. Truly. They are both incredible in very different ways. Sebastian is growing into this incredible little boy. There is nothing baby about him anymore. He loves Dr Suess, playing with cars, trains, running, I am especially fond of the fact that he loves being chased and running. I hope he has a passion for exercise as he gets older that was built on a foundation of fun as a kid, but that's another whole topic. Yesterday, we took him to see UP and he was great. He watched the whole thing (very cute movie by the way), and when it was over and the credits started rolling, he said he wanted to watch it again. Sweet!! And, he loves "castle movies". I told him if it was a castle (Disney) movie, that meant it was probably a good movie, so now any time we watch a Disney show he says "it's a castle movie". He's so grown up in many ways. He is mastering the art of potty training (still slips up but hey, he's three), he is thoughtful and helpful with his little brother, he is still cuddly and overall, just a fun person. I look at him and I am so blown away by how far he's come from his tiny tiny start.

On the other hand, there is Sullivan. Sullivan is huge by comparison, and I swear, his thighs are wider around than Sebastian's thighs are. He's getting close to 20 pounds and he's not quite five months old. He's starting to make those raspberry sounds and it is so cute. And, he's moving, big time. He rolls onto his tummy all the time now, and if you place him on a blanket, it's like his personal mission to get off the blanket. If you turn away for a few seconds and then look back, he's usually rotated himself 90 degrees as well. It's great. And, he's so laid back. He's generally a fairly happy baby. It doesn't take much to please him and all you need to do is give him a look and he is all smiles. He puts absolutely everything into his mouth (which Sebastian never did), and is curious about everything. He is so completely his own person and I just love that about him. I love that he and Sebastian are very different about things because it really highlights the fact that he is his own person and not just another baby.

They keep me busy and I love it. I am having so much fun with these guys

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I'm starting a new blog, dedicated to fitness and food and my attempt at losing weight. I will be tracking my exercise efforts there and my I hope you'll check it out.

Fitness first...

It is so easy to have a lot on your plate. Life is busy. Sometimes, fitting everything in seems nearly impossible. So, what should the priorities be. Well, that depends on what you want out of life and on what really matters to you. Obviously kids rank up there pretty high. That is a given, yet in order to be the best parent, you have to take care of yourself, and it's choosing what you want to do to take care of yourself that should become your first priority. For the most part, this is going to be time for yourself. It could be time spent on a favourite hobby. It could be time spent reading. It could be time spent exercising. It could be time spent watching tv. Everyone has things that they want to do to help better themselves. So, it's important to pick something that matters to you and makes you a better person.

For me, that is running. When I run, I clear my mind. Life's problems don't seem nearly so grand as they did before the run. Running helps sift through all the thoughts in my brain and figure out what I really want or need to do. I love running, yet I don't always make it a priority for me. I know that sometimes, I will come up with any excuse not to run, yet I don't know why, because when I do run, I feel so much better for it. I'm happier, and healthier and my kids end up with a better mother because of it. So, I need to make this my number one priority. If I have time for me, I need to use it for fitness. Maybe it won't always be a run, but since I have a race or two coming up, I sure hope it is for fitness. I am doing a 10km race in September, and I would really like to finish it under an hour. At the rate I have been training lately, that won't happen, so I need to make training my priority. Because if I do, then I really could reach my goal!!

So, I am stating it here and now, that I want to finish a 10km under an hour. I need to put the time in to accomplish that. When I do put the time in, I'm happier and a better person for it. So, I need to put fitness first. I can't use excuses anymore to prevent myself from being the better person I know I can be. So I will try to document my efforts and see if I can make them pay off. Because when I do this for me, then everyone around me benefits. So, it's time to put my best foot forward and make running a true priority...