Savoriesnsweets’ Blog

Archive for January 2010

Once I got to the pastry module in culinary school, I realized I should have done the pastry program instead.  I really love making cakes, cookies and pies for different occasions and decorating them.  I also love making different pastries and even strudel!  But I couldn’t afford to go back for even more school.  So while I’m still in the midst of job-hunting, I figured I’d indulge my creative side and sign up for a Wilton method cake decorating course at my local AC Moore. The nice thing about this course is that it’s a small group led by an instructor who is very knowledgable, encouraging and fun.  Of course the down side is that the course is only two hours once a week, so it feels a bit rushed, even though we do a lot of preparation work at home.   We did manage to get in quite a few different techniques and practiced on two different cakes and a set of cupcakes.  I’ve really liked decorating my cakes with different flowers, leaves and vines since I think it’s just such a beautiful touch on cakes.  I’m looking forward to creating even more beautiful flowers in the next course.  In the meantime, here’s some shots of the work I completed in course one!

This challenge was really a CHALLENGE!! Usually this dessert is a no-bake dessert, but this month we were challenged to make the graham wafers gluten-free.  I had some difficulty finding the sourghum flour and the tapioca flour so I used white rice flour and almond meal for my graham wafers. The dough was incredibly sticky but it worked out! I kept my bars in the freezer for a few hours and cut a few out to sample and photograph. They were very rich and super sweet! I used instant vanilla pudding in the middle layer since I couldn’t get custard powder. This was a great learning experience since I never heard of this dessert before and gluten-free baking is new to me.  Overall, this dessert turned out to be more fun than I thought it would be.  And it was delicious!

Pre-cut bars

Nanaimo Bar

Nanaimo Bar

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and www.nanaimo.ca.

Posting Date: January 27, 2010

Notes for gluten-free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars:

• Glutinous rice flour does not contain any gluten, as it is made from a type of rice called glutinous (or sweet) rice.
• The graham wafer dough is very sticky. Make sure you are flouring (with sweet rice flour) well, or the dough will be difficult to remove from the surface you roll it out on. Also be sure to keep it cold. You do not want the butter to melt.
• I chose these flours because of their availability. Tapioca starch/flour and sweet rice flour can often be found in Asian grocery stores, or in the Asian section of you grocery store. Sorghum can be slightly more difficult to find, but it can be replaced with brown rice flour, millet flour or other alternatives.
• In the Nanaimo Bars, it is very important that the chocolate be cool but still a liquid, otherwise the custard layer will melt, and it will mix with the chocolate, being difficult to spread. Allow the chocolate mixture to come to room temperature but not solidify before spreading the top layer on.

Variations allowed:
• Although I highly recommend using gluten-free flours, as the chemistry is very interesting and the end result can be amazing, you are allowed to use wheat.
• If making them gluten-free, no wheat, barley, rye, triticale, kamut, spelt, durum, semolina, or other gluten containing ingredients may be used. Removing those ingredients ensures it is safe for those with Celiac Disease and other health issues where gluten causes problems. If you do plan on serving this to someone on a gluten-free diet, also ensure no cross-contamination occurs.

Preparation time:
• Graham Wafers: 30 to 45 minutes total active prep, 2 ½ hours to overnight and 45 minutes inactive prep.
• Nanaimo Bars: 30 minutes.

Equipment required:
• Food Processor
• Bowls
• Parchment paper or silpats
• Cookie sheets
• Double boiler or pot and heatproof bowl
• 8 by 8 inch square pan
• Hand mixer or stand mixer (You may use a wooden spoon, but this makes it much easier!)
• Saucepan

For Gluten-Free Graham Wafers
Ingredients
1 cup (138 g) (4.9 ounces) Sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)
3/4 cup (100 g) (3.5 ounces) Tapioca Starch/Flour
1/2 cup (65 g) (2.3 ounces) Sorghum Flour
1 cup (200 g) (7.1 ounces) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
1 teaspoon (5 mL) Baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (4 mL ) Kosher Salt
7 tablespoons (100 g) (3 ½ ounces) Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)
1/3 cup (80 mL) Honey, Mild-flavoured such as clover.
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Pure Vanilla Extract

Directions:
1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal. If making by hand, combine aforementioned dry ingredients with a whisk, then cut in butter until you have a coarse meal. No chunks of butter should be visible.
2. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.
3. Turn the dough onto a surface well-floured with sweet rice flour and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours, or overnight.
4. Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of sweet rice flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be quite sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut into 4 by 4 inch squares. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place wafers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.
5. Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).
6. Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more sweet rice flour and roll out the dough to get a couple more wafers.
7. Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows.
8. Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Might take less, and the starting location of each sheet may determine its required time. The ones that started on the bottom browned faster.
9. When cooled completely, place enough wafers in food processor to make 1 ¼ cups (300 mL) of crumbs. Another way to do this is to place in a large ziplock bag, force all air out and smash with a rolling pin until wafers are crumbs.

Nanaimo Bars
Ingredients:

For Nanaimo Bars — Bottom Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup (50 g) (1.8 ounces) Granulated Sugar
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Unsweetened Cocoa
1 Large Egg, Beaten
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) (160 g) (5.6 ounces) Gluten Free Graham Wafer Crumbs (See previous recipe)
1/2 cup (55 g) (1.9 ounces) Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped)
1 cup (130 g) (4.5 ounces) Coconut (Shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)

For Nanaimo Bars — Middle Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons (40 mL) Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Vanilla Custard Powder (Such as Bird’s. Vanilla pudding mix may be substituted.)
2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Icing Sugar

For Nanaimo Bars — Top Layer
4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter

Directions:
1. For bottom Layer: Melt unsalted butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8 by 8 inch pan.
2. For Middle Layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in colour. Spread over bottom layer.
3. For Top Layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.

——————————-
Additional Information:

These bars freeze very well, so don’t be afraid to pop some into the freezer.

The graham wafers may be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Mine lasted about that long.

If making the graham crackers with wheat, replace the gluten-free flours (tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, and sorghum flour) with 2 ½ cups plus 2 tbsp of all-purpose wheat flour, or wheat pastry flour. Watch the wheat-based graham wafers very closely in the oven, as they bake faster than the gluten-free ones, sometimes only 12 minutes.

For the Nanaimo Bars, if making with wheat, replace the gluten-free graham wafer crumbs with equal parts wheat graham wafer crumbs!

On these cold winter nights, it’s great to have something warm and delicious!  Since I had a lot of veggies in the fridge, I decided to try my hand at a roasted vegetable stock.  Roasting the veggies would warm up my kitchen and the stock would help me make a soup to warm me up at night.  I also used mushrooms to make the stock have a richer flavor and deeper color.

Kitchen Experiment: Roasted Vegetable Stock

Yield:  approximately 3-4 quarts

  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, roughly chopped  (include green leaves if any)
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 portabello mushroom cap, sliced
  • 4 large button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 head of garlic, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine or other alcohol (I used calvados)
  • parsley stems
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 14-20 black peppercorns
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place all vegetables on baking sheet and toss with olive oil to coat.
  3. roast in oven for 45-60 minutes, until parsnips are tender.
  4. Pour 1/4 cup calvados over vegetables and stir in pan to remove anything stuck to the pan.
  5. Transfer vegetables to large stock pot and add 4-6 quarts of water.
  6. Add 1 large bunch of parsley stems, thyme and bay leaves.
  7. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  8. Strain stock through a cheese-clothed lined colander. Be sure to press on the vegetables to extract as much juice as possible.
Prepping Veggies to Roast

Prepping Veggies to Roast

Roasted Vegetables

Roasted Vegetables

Stock Bubbling

So what am I going to do with this stock?  Cold winter nights are perfect for hearty soups, so I’m using the stock to make a velvety pumpkin soup!

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped (I used both the green and white parts.)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans pumpkin puree
  • 1-2 quarts vegetable stock
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • pinch nutmeg
  • salt, to taste
  • white pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  1. In a large pot over medium heat, add olive oil.
  2. Add onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.
  4. Add pumpkin puree and vegetable stock.
  5. Add cinnamon stick, nutmeg, salt, pepper and ginger. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for 30 minutes, until thickened and warmed through. If it’s too thick, thin it out with some vegetable stock or water. To serve, ladle into a warm bowl and either top with croutons or minced chives.

You know what’s the problem with trying to eat healthier?  It’s that there’s not much room for baked goods!  And unfortunately, those are my favorites.  Don’t get me wrong, I like fried foods just as much as the next person, but if I had to make a choice between having great french fries or having a wonderful piece of cake (or great cookie or pie) I’d hold on the fries and have my dessert every time!  Of course, the best is having both until my jeans become too tight to wear and I find myself wondering what led me down this path.  Since I know I can’t go too long without baking or without indulging in baked goods, I need to find a way to make them a bit healthier, a bit more low-fat and have a tad less sugar.  Since I’ve had a lot of canned pumpkin left over since the holidays, I figured that would be a great way to try to make some delicious low-fat, still delicious, yet nutritious muffins.  I used a recipe from Nick Malgieri’s How to Bake, but with a few changes and I got a light, lovely muffin that is full of the nutritional goodness in pumpkins but with a tad less fat and sugar.  I don’t usually use artificial sweeteners, but I did in this case by using a Splenda-Sugar baking blend and I didn’t miss the sugar at all.  I also used a tad less oil than in the original recipe.  And since I had some pumpkin left over, I may try this again with an egg substitute.  If you’re looking to use up any pumpkin from the holidays, these muffins are a definite winner!

Kitchen Experiment:

Pumpkin Muffins, adapted from How to Bake by Nick Malgieri

Yield: 10 muffins

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1/4 cup splenda baking blend
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 cup milk, with 1 and 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a muffin sheet with muffin tins.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together flour, splenda, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
  3. In another medium bowl add milk and vinegar.  Let stand for 2-3 minutes until thickened.
  4. In bowl with milk, add egg, vegetable oil and pumpkin puree and whisk thoroughly to combine.
  5. Fold liquids into the flour mixture.  Be careful not to over mix.
  6. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full.  Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean.  Cool for 5-10 minutes and serve immediately.

Pumpkin Muffins

Long before I went to culinary school, long before I was a serious cook & baker, I was a serious knitter. I still am actually.  In years past, I’d only knit things for family and very close friends and of course, myself.  Since this year I’ve been unemployed I decided to knit a few gifts for my family.  I know this blog has been mostly about food and maybe some personal musings, but I am going to throw in my crafting to the mix.

I’m also going to add something else.  While I’ve taken many photos of my food for this blog, I have to admit my photography skills leave something to be desired.  So, in an attempt to improve my skills I’ve decided to undertake Project 365.  I can’t afford a serious photography class or a better camera, but I’m hoping that with much more practice I can develop some new skills. By the end of this year it would be great not only to have a chronicle of my year but to also say I can finally take some decent photos! I will be posting my photos either to this blog or to my Flickr site.   And while I hope to post everyday, I know it won’t happen, so I’ll just aim to take at least the one photo every day.  All my photos will be taken with either my Olympus FE-370, my mom’s Nikon Cookpix, or my blackberry camera.   So in the spirit of Project 365, here are some shots of my holiday knitting!

Blanket for my dad

Blanket for my mom. This one is huge and very warm!

Good-bye 2009!  Seriously, it was a rough year.  By starting off with frustrations from my previous career, the prospect that my mother may have serious complications during surgery and my father possibly having cancer, it was just really one of the worst ways to start any year.

At the start of the 2008-2009 school year, I was a high school math teacher.  As a graduate of an accredited master’s program and a former New York City Teaching Fellow, I was looking forward to gaining my tenure at the end of that year, as it was my third year teaching.  However, many changes were taking place at my school. Changes that scared me and made me nervous and yes, even angry.  So I did what I thought was right and chronicled things that were taking place in a public school for all the public to see–I posted the daily happenings of my school on a public blog. (I never used any names, in case you were wondering.) And my blog received a lot of attention!  So much in fact that when my principal found it, because another teacher brought it to his attention, I was called into a meeting to discuss it.  I was angry.  I felt betrayed.  I went to the union and no one would talk to me.  I didn’t want to face what he thought was so awful, so I quit.  While I still regret turning my back on my students, I do not regret leaving a career that caused me regular stress and grief.  (By the time I quit, I was getting regular migraines and had high blood pressure.) At the end of 2008, I thought I was a teacher, and I thought I was good (the jury’s still out on that one) but by 2009, I knew I had to find another path.

I left teaching and have not really looked back.  Mostly because I couldn’t.  My mother ended up having an ordeal in the hospital which was extremely stressful and scary.  My father was indeed diagnosed with cancer and so, that was stressful and scary too.  And with my job being in disarray, I did one thing I always knew I wanted to do–I enrolled in culinary school.

Culinary school turned out to be the best thing for me this year!  It gave me structure and goals to work towards.  It also opened my horizons about different foods and cooking methods.  And it helped distract me from my family crises and job dilemmas. While I was in culinary school at night, I focused and cooked.  During the days, I was with the family getting in quality time when I could.  Graduation from culinary school was a very nice triumph since we all had work together as a class to cater the event. It was a ton of work, but fun.

So, what did I learn in 2009?  I’ve learned that family really is the most important thing to me.  I’ve learned that without my family, I will feel lost.  I’ve learned that while I thought I was equipped to be a teacher, maybe that wasn’t the best path for me at the time. But, maybe teaching will be better when I’ more mature, more patient, and better able to see the big picture of things in a school. I’ve learned that while I love to cook, I really love to bake and that if I didn’t already have so many student loans I’d go back to get a pastry degree.  I also learned that I do not want to work in a restaurant, so I’m still not quite sure what to do about my lack of job.  I also learned that I really, REALLY love food! I love it so much that I’ll taste and try almost anything.  But, I’ve also learned that I’m very sensitive to stress, and salt, and butter, and well, I need to lose the weight I’ve gained in culinary school!

So, this year, 2010, I’m going to try to keep my stress lower.  I’m going to try to use less butter, except where you REALLY need it like cakes, cookies or buttercreams!  And I’m going to try to eat less of these butter-laden items.  I’m going to try to walk more, as much as possible.  And I’m going to try to experiment with alternative types of baking and cooking, such as gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian baking & cooking.  2009 was a real roller coaster and while it ended on a relative high note (mum & dad are much better!) there are still other events ahead that I’m trying to remain hopeful about.  2010 will be the year I try to keep hope, keep my head held high, face my demons and hopefully, walk though it all fairly unscathed.  Let’s hope for a great new year!

And so, in keeping with my objectives for this year, here’s my first kitchen experiment for 2010.

Kitchen Experiment: Vegan Banana Walnut Muffins

Yield: 12

These were a soft, yet dense muffin that are perfect for breakfast!

  • 3 very ripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup neutral flavored oil
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons maple sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium sized bowl, add the bananas and mash well with a fork.
  2. Add oil and combine thoroughly.
  3. Add maple syrup and maple sugar and combine.
  4. In another bowl, add flour, salt and baking soda and whisk to combine.
  5. Add flour, salt and baking soda mixture to wet ingredients and just mix until combined.  Add nuts, if using.
  6. Line a muffin pan with baking cups and spoon the mixture into each cup until about 3/4 full.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.

Vegan Banana Walnut Muffins