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One of the things I’ve had to adjust to here in my new locale is that there just are not as many options for food as there are in New York.  Gone are the days where I can get a fresh bagel, have a banh mi for lunch, stop for a Macaron and coffee in the afternoon, have fresh sushi for dinner and then grab some cupcakes to go for a midnight snack.  That’s probably been my biggest adjustment so far.  The local bakery I work for does make cupcakes, but only for orders, so I can’t really just walk in there and get one out of the case.  But I did hear of a place in a neighboring town, about an hour away that makes cupcakes. As a matter of fact this bakery, Cakes on Walnut, is a cupcake bar!  This is a cool, funky idea and I never saw anything like it back home!

The space is clean and modern with lots of seating and artwork on display. There is also an adjoining art space where you can see more art on display.  The display area for the cupcakes is lovely, as shown in the following photo.  Behind the cupcakes, there is the coffee are and the bar area which were both pretty standard.

While I was there, I tried four different cupcakes.  The pumpkin spice cupcake was by far the best one.  It was moist with a nice balance of spice and pumpkin flavor and a sweet and tangy cream cheese icing.  It was also great to see a seasonal offering.

Pumpkin Spice cupcake

The red velvet cupcake was also moist with a slight hint of cocoa flavor. The cream cheese icing was a nice complement, however the cocoa nibs on top were a bit overpowering.  I found myself picking them off of the top of the cupcake. I then had their chocolate cupcake which was also nice.

Red Velvet Cupcake

Unfortunately, the most disappointing cupcake was the smores cupcake.  The bottom layer of the cupcake was a thick, hard layer of graham cracker crust topped by the moist cupcake.  And the entire cupcake was topped with bruleed marshmallows.  This was definitely one of the most beautiful cupcakes they had, but unfortunately it was not nearly as delicious as it looked.

I know cupcakes are a trendy dessert that’s past its prime, but I do still love being able to have my own little cake treat when I can.  Hopefully, this trend will become more popular in my new locale.

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.

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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!

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

I regularly read the blog Not Eating Out in New York.  She’s got great tips, good information and of course lovely pictures.  So when I saw that the  Mad Hungry cookbook was up for grabs on Not Eating Out in New York, I decided I should try to submit one of my recent recipes.  I made this about two weeks ago, while I was cleaning up around the house.  I wanted to make something that was spicy, rich and that I didn’t have to keep too close an eye on.  I came up with this recipe for crazy mixed up chili because I made it using  a mixture of different meats I had as well as a variety of seasonings.  While I know there is a lot of debate on whether chili should have beans or not, or whether it should have tomatoes or not and of course, whether it should have any meat other than beef, I think this dish could definitely qualify as a chili since it was chock full of meaty goodness.  The result of all this mixing was a rich and spicy chili that I really liked!  My dad, who usually isn’t into anything spicy, did eat some and said it wasn’t bad.  I’ve yet to try it on my boyfriend, but I’m sure he’d definitely be a fan.  Serve this over a bed of rice for people who aren’t used to all the heat. If you aren’t a fan of all this heat, use fewer habañeros or use a jalapeño pepper instead.  Otherwise, a topping of cheddar cheese and some chips on the side serve as a nice accompaniment.

Crazy Mixed-Up Chili

Yield:  6  to 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound dry beans
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 3 pork chops, center-cut, bone removed and sliced
  • 3 or 4 chorizo links, removed from casings
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 1/2 yellow onion
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 can beer, use a light colored beer, like Corona
  • 2 or 3 dried habañero peppers, seeds removed and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon garlic paste
  • 1/2 cooked chicken, shredded
  • 1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato juice
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
  • tortilla chips (optional)
  1. In a large pot, add beans and boil until tender, about 30 minutes.  In a large dutch oven, or other heavy-bottomed pot, add 1 tablespoon canola oil. Add sliced pork chops and chorizo, and cook until browned.
  2. Add bell pepper, onion, garlic.  Cook until soft, about 5 to 6 minutes.
  3. Add beer and use wooden spoon to scrape up any bits on the bottom of the pot.  Add habañero peppers, cumin, chili powder, bay leaf, and garlic paste. Cook until peppers have softened a bit about 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. Add chicken, canned tomatoes, and tomato juice.  Cover and allow to simmer for 45 minutes to one hour.  Season with salt and pepper.
  5. To serve, ladle into a heated bowl and top with shredded cheddar cheese.  Serve tortilla chips on the side.

While using up all my apples from apple picking, I also made an apple cranberry galette.  I’ve made cakes, pies and puff pastries, but never a galette.  I also never realized just how easy it was to make! Basically, a galette is a free-form open-faced rustic tart, according to the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. So if you’re not into making pies or tarts you can just make the dough and wrap your filling in it, free-form. I made mine using a basic pate brisee and using it to wrap my apple-cranberry filling.  I love the flavors of apple & cranberry together, so I’ve been using them a lot! Plus, I think pies are a much better vehicle for the lovely cranberry instead of that weird jelly cranberry sauce that’s always present a the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Apple-Cranberry Galette

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound unsalted butter
  • 1 pound all purpose flour
  • 1/2 pound cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (optional)
  • 6 ounces cold water
  • 6 granny smith apples
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 6 ounces of dried cranberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup  brown sugar
  • 1/4 coarse brown sugar such as demarara sugar

Make the pate brisee:

  1. Cut the butter into 1 inch pieces and reserve in the refrigerator to keep it cold.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flours, salt and baking powder, if using.
  3. Rub butter in by hand, until you have cranberry size pieces of butter in the flour.
  4. Stir in cold water, until dough comes together.
  5. Scrape dough out of bowl, split in half and shape into two, 3 inch thick cylinders.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at leas 30 minutes.

Make the Apple-Cranberry filling:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the apples, lemon juice, cranberries, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, vanilla, salt and sugar.  Toss to combine all the spices with the apples. Allow to sit for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, roll out pate brisee until it is about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.  Place the dough onto a flat cookie sheet. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Toss all of the apple mixture into the center of the dough.  Wrap the dough around the apples, making sure the apples are mostly covered, but there is still an opening in the center.  Don’t worry about making it super pretty–it’s supposed to be rustic!
  4. Brush with heavy cream. Sprinkle with demarara sugar.
  5. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown.

To serve, slice as you would a pie and top with ice cream or whipped cream if desired.

A few weeks ago, I went apple picking with my boyfriend.  Of course, I decided to try a bunch of apple recipes so that I can find a way to use all 18 pounds of apples I had!  (I also had apples as snacks a LOT!)  I made apple-cranberry butter, I made an apple-cranberry galette, and I made apple cake!  I know apple cake is a popular thing, but I have to admit, I’ve never heard of it or even made it until recently.  I really thought cooked apples were only common components in pies or in turnovers.  I was glad to see I could try something new with the apples and that it was easy to make!

Apple Cake, Adapted from the 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking

Ingredients:

  • 5 to 6 cups pared, cored and sliced tart apples (I used 8 medium sized apples.)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 8 beaten egg yolks
  • 8 egg whites
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 cup shredded, blanched almonds, divided
  • 1 standard angel food cake pan
  1. In a large pan over medium high heat, add butter and melt.  Add apples and cook until tender.  Do not allow apples to brown. Turn heat down to low.
  2. In a large bowl, combine sour cream, lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, flour, egg yolks and 1/3 cup almonds.   Pour the contents of the bowl over the cooked apples and stir over low heat, until mixture has thickened.  Cool mixture.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease the angel food cake pan and line with flour.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or another large bowl if using a hand-held mixer, add egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form.
  5. Fold egg whites into the apple mixture. In small bowl, combine sugar, cinnamon, bread crumbs, and remaining almonds.
  6. Pour apple mixture into cake pan. Sprinkle with sugar mixture.
  7. Bake 45 minutes or until firm.  Serve cold with whipped cream of vanilla ice cream.

The cake was pretty & not too sweet! I loved the cinnamon on top and the almonds added great texture.  I thought the recipe was a bit odd, but I’m glad it worked.  Unfortunately, it seemed to deflate a bit when I took it out.  I know the leavening depended on the meringue, but it was sad to see it lose its height.  Anyone know how I can fix this?  Either way, I think this one is definitely a keeper!

Apple cake fresh out of the oven!

Apple cake unmolded

In an effort to maintain some skills in a kitchen, I’ve been taking some classes at the culinary school as well as other local venues.  I recently took a cake decorating class at The Brooklyn Kitchen.  This is a small-ish kitchen supply store with great kitchen gadgets, cookware, books, and classes.  I do love going there, since there’s almost always some cool new gadget or book and the staff is very helpful.

As part of the class, we received a small vanilla cake to decorate that was filled with chocolate chips.  We also received buttercream, a kit of disposable pastry bags and tips, a palate knife, bowl scraper and a handout detailing all the fundamentals of decorating.  All this for the $50 tuition!  The class was held in the back of the store, by their on-staff pastry chef who was delightful and patient.  While I didn’t learn anything new exactly, (we did all of this in culinary school) I did get a lot of good practice and of course, a pretty and yummy cake!

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