Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Batch of links

- I’m putting this link way at the top because it’s something in which I believe, so I’d like to get some traffic to the page. There’s a new Kickstarter project up today: Shauna Ahern (Gluten-Free Girl) and Danny Ahern (the Chef) want to sell their own gluten-free flour mixes. There’s a month to go, and the initial response seems very good (it has only been several hours, and my pledge brings this up to just over 7% of the goal already). There would be an all-purpose mix (40% whole grain, free of the top 8 allergens, kosher) and a (denser) grain-free flour blend. Check out the Kickstarter site!

- Another good article about celiac disease in the New York Times, while I’ve got your attention.

- Very exciting insight into peanut allergies! It turns out that it may be the process of dry-roasting peanuts that worsens allergies in the first place, which could help explain why there are so relatively few cases of peanut allergies in Asia, as compared to North America.

- Okra could soon be used as a stabilizer in ice cream, which would make for a nice vegan alternative (I’m thinking about vegan ice creams as well as dairy ones!).

- What Twitter reveals about the way Americans eat. This ties in nicely with the weirdest eating patterns in each state.

- Manischewitz – The great story of a not-so-great wine. It may not be great, but it’s sweet enough that I can tolerate it! On a similar topic, Goyim taste Jewish food for the first time. Been there, done that, totally agree that “matzoh ball soup is like the gateway drug to Jewish food.”

- Just so you know, the food arrives when it’s ready. I completely agree with the article about the context in which this trend goes too far.

- An update on bees and colony collapse disorder, because we don’t hear a lot about it these days.

- A photo history of American school lunches - I learned a few things.

- Rats given a junk food diet gain weight, lose motivation to complete tasks, and “appear unresponsive to normal sensory cues about what to eat” – even scarier, the effects last even after returning to a normal diet. Just like humans, I guess.

- The scoop on the changes in canning lid procedures.

- Belgium is going to have an underground pipeline of beer.

- Inside the Secret World of Trader Joe’s, a very interesting article about a grocery store I’ve come to appreciate very much.

- Whole Foods is trying to rebrand its image as profits fall, mostly because other grocery stores started offering organic foods. Personally, I still think it’s hard to beat when to comes to certain niche products (like Green Valley Organics lactose-free sour cream, to name just one), not to mention fair trade and other ethical concerns. One change is that Whole Foods now has an online ordering service, allowing it to compete with Amazon’s Fresh Direct, for example. (That service isn’t yet available in San Antonio, unfortunately.)

- Some American chefs, like Edna Lewis, Julia Child and James Beard, now have their own USPS stamps. I know what I’m buying next time I need to stock up!

- 33 grocery store staples named after real people, like Sara Lee, Uncle Ben and Granny Smith.

- And here’s a story linking my favorite band and food. Taylor Hanson recently partnered up with Food on the Move, a mobile food initiative to help combat hunger in Oklahoma while fostering a deeper sense of community. In this case, the organization is combatting food deserts and fostering a sense of community. You can find out more thanks to ”The Conversation With”.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Vegan Funfetti Cupcakes

So, my piping tips got here, and before I even got around to the second batch of rhubarb cupcakes, I made vegan funfetti cupcakes from Minimalist Baker to celebrate. This isn’t something I grew up with, but I can see how it’s one of the most festive treats out there! I rewrote the order of the ingredients and steps to make more sense. Note that you basically need one jar of sprinkles here, but it doesn’t matter much whether you use round non-pareil sprinkles (like I did here) or the longer jimmies-type sprinkles, or whatever your favorite is. I appreciated this recipe mostly because of the frosting. You see, it’s hard to make a good vegan frosting, and I had always been following the advice to use margarine that’s a little colder than the butter called for. So for example, in a recipe that calls for room-temperature butter, I’d use cold vegan margarine; in a recipe that calls for cold butter, I’d freeze the margarine. Here, however, the frosting called for softened vegan margarine. I was afraid this would result in a too-soft frosting, as had been my experience in the past, but it turns out it was great! The only downside is that I only had enough to frost 9 out of the 12 cupcakes. But this frosting was so smooth that I’ll try letting the margarine soften for other recipes, too.

For the cupcakes
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup non-dairy milk + 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
½ cup (1 stick) vegan margarine (I use Earth Balance), softened
scant 1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
¼ - 1/3 cup rainbow sprinkles (make sure they’re vegan) + more for topping

For the frosting
½ cup (1 stick) vegan margarine, softened
2 ½ - 3 cups powdered sugar
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
splash non-dairy milk

Preheat oven to 350 °F and line a standard muffin holder with 12 paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Set aside.

In a liquid measuring cup, measure out non-dairy milk and add vinegar or lemon juice. Let set to curdle/activate.

Add softened margarine to a large mixing bowl and cream with a mixer. Then add sugar and vanilla and beat until combined and fluffy - about 2 minutes.

Add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk mixture, blending until no lumps remain between each addition.

Add sprinkles and gently fold/stir with a rubber spatula or mixing spoon.

Divide evenly among cupcake holders making sure not to overfill. These do best at 3/4 of the way up. Bake on a center rack for 20-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. They will only have a very, very slight golden brown color.

Let cool completely on a cooling rack. In the meantime, prepare frosting.

In a clean mixing bowl and add softened margarine. Beat until light and fluffy. Then add vanilla and mix once more.

Add powdered sugar ½ cup at a time and continue mixing until thick and creamy. Drizzle in a little non-dairy milk to thin. You want this frosting to be very thick so it will hold its shape once on the cupcakes.

Once cooled, frost cupcakes and top with sprinkles. Serve immediately. Store leftovers covered at room temperature or refrigerated.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Rhubarb Cupcakes

Did you know that Texas has a second rhubarb crop, in late summer? I wasn’t going to let that go to waste, so I made cupcakes from the blog Call Me Cupcake. The full name of these is sour cream rhubarb cupcakes with ginger cream cheese frosting and poached rhubarb, and you should really go take a look at the gorgeous pictures on the original post! Note that this is one recipe you could make with frozen chopped rhubarb, too, so don’t let the season stop you.

Obviously, I made some modifications so that they would be lactose-free. Even then, I found the method odd – mix the sugar with the flour? Beat in the butter with a fork? The result were the oiliest cupcakes I’ve ever seen, soaking through the paper liners into the tins and giving them an odd texture. That being said, they tasted so good! The ginger was barely discernable in the frosting, but broke the monotony of vegan cream cheese nicely. The cardamom was a lovely addition, and the softened, poached pieces of tart rhubarb contrasted nicely with the sweet frosting. The Engineer also gave them a thumbs up.

Since I had a little leftover rhubarb, I froze it. I wasn’t sure what I’d use it for, but after I got my piping tips, I used it to make the cupcakes again. This time, I made them with an improvised strawberry-ginger frosting (1 package of Go Veggie strawberry cream cheese substitute, ¼ tsp. ground ginger, 1 cup sifted powdered sugar), figuring that rhubarb and strawberry are a winning combination. The cupcakes were definitely better, so I’m giving you my version below. The Engineer said that I nailed it!

[Note that in both recipes, the cream cheese substitute that I used was Go Veggie brand, and it was sent to me for free by the company. More on that in a later post.]

For the cupcakes
1 ¼ cups + 2 Tbsp. (195 g.) all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
7 Tbsp. (100 g.) softened butter or margarine
¾ cup + 1 Tbsp. (180 g.) granulated sugar
2 medium eggs
½ tsp. vanilla extract (or ¼ tsp. vanilla powder)
½ cup lactose-free sour cream or plain yogurt
100 g. rhubarb, trimmed and finely chopped (about ¾ cup)

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Prepare a standard muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners. (The first time I made the recipe, I got 12 cupcakes, but for some reason, the second time, it was only 9, though they were a little plumper.)

Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, cream butter with sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Add half of the flour to the mixture and stir until just blended. Add the sour cream and stir until just blended. Add the rest of the flour and stir until just blended. Fold in the rhubarb.

Divide batter amongst the cupcake liners and bake for 20-23 minutes. Check doneness with a toothpick before removing from the oven. Let cool.

For the poached rhubarb with cardamom
100 g. rhubarb, trimmed and finely chopped (about ¾ cup)
1/3 cup + 1 ½ Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
¼ – ½ tsp freshly ground cardamom (to taste, can be omitted or replaced with vanilla)

Put rhubarb, water, sugar and cardamom in a saucepan. Let simmer very gently for about 5 minutes or until rhubarb is soft (not mushy!).

Put a strainer on top of a bowl. Pour mixture into strainer and put the rhubarb pieces in another bowl to cool. Pour the liquid back into the saucepan and let simmer until slightly thickened, about 5-10 minutes. Pour into a bowl to let cool. Mix together rhubarb and liquid.

For the ginger cream cheese frosting
10 Tbsp. (2/3 cup) softened butter or margarine
1 - 1 ¼ cups (120 - 180 g., to taste) powdered sugar
200 g (or 1 package) vegan cream cheese
¼ – ½ tsp dried ground ginger (can be omitted or replaced with fresh finely grated ginger)
pink or red food coloring, if desired (I used red gel coloring)

Beat butter until pale. Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth and pale, about 1 minute.

Add cream cheese, ginger and food coloring and beat until smooth. Refrigerate if necessary to get a thicker consistency. (You could add more sugar, but I only used 1 cup and the Engineer found it a little too sweet for his liking already.)

For assembling
Fill a piping bag, fitted with a large round piping tip, with frosting.

Pipe “blobs” on top of each cupcake. Use an offset spatula or a spoon to create a swirl or a well in each blob. Spoon poached rhubarb on top and serve.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Spinach Gnocchi

This is another recipe from the Weelicious cookbook (it’s also on the blog). I was looking specifically for a vegetable side dish that the Little Prince would eat. He’s at that age where he wants to feed himself, but doesn’t have any molars and can’t handle utensils properly, so it can be challenging. These gnocchi were described as perfect for the occasion, and I can corroborate that they are! They were very good, and the Little Prince just plowed through them. I could have made them lactose-free if I had made my own ricotta, but I didn’t have time. I used Lactaid for the ones I ate, but the Little Prince doesn’t have a problem with lactose, so I figured it was okay to cut myself some slack. I got a total of 43 gnocchi and served them with chicken teriyaki.

1 10-oz. block frozen chopped spinach
1 cup lactose-free whole milk ricotta cheese (see note above)
2/3 cup parmesan cheese, plus 2 Tbsp. for sprinkling before serving
1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp. flour, plus more for dusting your hands while rolling

Defrost the brick of frozen spinach (you can also do this in the microwave). Squeeze ALL (and I mean ALL) of the water out of the spinach in small handfuls (I use my hands and paper towels, and do it over a bowl to make sure I don’t lose any spinach).

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse. You want to make sure the spinach is in tiny pieces and the mixture is thoroughly combined.

Dust your hands with a little flour so the mixture doesn’t stick to your hands. Take 1 teaspoon of the spinach mixture and roll into tiny balls. Place on a plate covered with waxed paper or parchment. (At this point, you can transfer the sheet to the freezer for 30 minutes, then place the gnocchi in a Ziploc bag for up to 4 months. Thaw to room temperature before continuing with the recipe.)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the gnocchi to the water in batches and cook for 3 minutes or until they rise to the surface.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi to a plate or bowl. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, cool and serve.

Chicken Teriyaki

I got the Weelicious cookbook recently and I’m enjoying cooking from it. I did make a baby purée from it, though I must say that the serving sizes were WAY too small for my baby’s appetite! I’m now looking into the regular meals section, and this chicken teriyaki caught my eye. It turns out it was absolutely delicious, too, and easy to boot, so I’ll be making it again! I split my chicken breast with the Little Prince, so we had enough for 2 meals (each composed of 2 adults and a one-year-old). I served it with spinach gnocchi.

1 8-oz. can crushed pineapple in juice
½ cup soy sauce or GF tamari sauce
3 Tbsp. honey (use something like maple syrup if your child is younger than one!)
1 tsp. fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 small clove garlic, minced
4 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless

Place the crushed pineapple and juice, soy sauce, honey, ginger and garlic in a large bowl and whisk to combine.

Place the chicken breasts in a bowl (or a zipper bag for easy clean up) cover with 2/3rds of the teriyaki sauce (reserving the remaining for the sauce) and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes (Keeping the chicken in the marinade overnight will make it even tastier!)

Preheat the oven to the broil setting and place the rack in the middle shelf of the oven (at this point you can discard the sauce that you marinated the chicken in).

Place the chicken breasts on a baking sheet and broil for 8-10 minutes on each side for a total of 16-20 minutes (if the chicken is thick, it may take an extra minute or two). The chicken can also be grilled for 6 minutes on each side. (I used a thermometer to check for doneness.)

While the chicken is broiling, put the remaining teriyaki sauce in a saucepan, add 1 tsp. of cornstarch and cook over medium heat for 1 minute or until thickened.

Remove the chicken breasts from the oven and allow to cool for several minutes.

Slice the chicken, cover with sauce and serve.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


I’d never heard of tuckers before reading this recipe from Bon Appétit. They call it a cookie, but it’s more like a macaroon, as there aren’t any grains in the ingredients. In fact, there are very few ingredients! I used Bob’s Red Mill’s fine macaroon coconut for this, because I thought the texture would work better. I couldn’t find rose extract in stores, so I got it online (and for those of you wondering, rose water is actually rose extract diluted in water, so you really do want the concentrated stuff here); it’s a great touch. I didn’t have sanding sugar, so I used turbinado sugar – the color isn’t great, but it was good! You could also omit the sanding sugar completely if you wanted. As the Engineer points out, the combination of ingredients keep these tuckers moister than if they were just coconut. The recipe yields about 2 dozen; I got 27.

2 ½ cups unsweetened shredded coconut
4 large egg whites
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. food-grade pure rose extract (not rose water)
red liquid food coloring
white sanding sugar

Cook first 3 ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is hot, dry to the touch, and starts pulling away from sides of pan, about 10 minutes.

Scrape dough into a heatproof bowl. Stir in vanilla and rose extract, if using. Add 1 drop of food coloring; stir well. Press plastic wrap on top of dough. Chill for at least 5 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 300 °F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and stack it on top of a second sheet (this keeps cookie bottoms from browning too quickly).

Roll 1 tablespoon of dough into a ball. With your fingers, pinch the ball to form a 3-sided pyramid that ends in a point (I made cones instead because I don’t listen). Dip into white sanding sugar.

Bake cookies until lightly golden on top and slightly firm to the touch, 25-30 minutes. Let cool on sheet on a wire rack.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Salade de nouilles au poulet bang bang

Cette recette d’À Bon Verre, Bonne Table m’intimidait depuis longtemps, et à bien y penser, je ne suis plus certaine pourquoi. Peut-être parce qu’il fallait cuire le poulet sur le grill? Bon, je l’ai fait cuire au four et je l’ai coupé en petits morceaux au lieu de l’effilocher. Peut-être aussi parce que je n’avais pas envie de couper des piles de légumes en julienne? En fin de compte, j’ai utilisé le robot culinaire, ça m’a pris deux minutes et un minimum d’efforts. Et je n’ai pas utilisé de racine de coriandre, tant pis. Tellement peu que je vous dirais même que cette salade est facile à faire. La photo n’est pas géniale, parce qu’en fait j’aurais dû mélanger, puis mettre le plat dans une autre assiette, mais j’avais trop faim! C’était excellent.

Pour la sauce à l’arachide
1 tasse de beurre d’arachide crémeux ou croquant (contenant uniquement des arachides)
¼ tasse de vinaigre de riz (ordinaire, non assaisonné) ou de vinaigre de vin blanc
2 grosses gousses d’ail hachées menu
2 c. à thé de sucre granulé
1 à 2 c. à thé de flocons de piment fort, broyés (j’ai plutôt utilisé du piment coréen)
2 c. à soupe de gingembre frais, râpé finement
⅓ tasse de sauce soja ou tamari
1 à 2 c. à soupe de racine de coriandre hachée très finement (si disponible)
½ tasse d’eau
2 c. à soupe de feuilles de coriandre fraîches, hachées

Pour la salade
3 grosses poitrines de poulet
1 c. à thé d’huile d’arachide (j’ai plutôt utilisé de l’huile de sésame et je recommande)
sel, au goût
400 g (13 oz) de vermicelles ou de capellinis
½ concombre anglais
1 à 2 grosses carottes, épluchées
2 petites pousses de pak-choï (je n’en avais pas)
2 oignons verts
2 c. à soupe de menthe fraîche, hachée
¼ tasse de feuilles de coriandre fraîche, hachées très grossièrement

Mélanger le beurre d’arachide, le vinaigre, l’ail, le sucre, 1 c. à thé de piment fort broyé, le gingembre, la sauce soja et les racines de coriandre, si on en a. Incorporer l’eau et les feuilles de coriandre. Couvrir et laisser macérer 1 heure à la température ambiante. Goûter et rajouter du piment fort au besoin. Délayer la sauce en y ajoutant 1 cuillerée à soupe d’eau à la fois, jusqu’à ce que la sauce soit assez liquide pour être arrosée. (On peut la couvrir et la réfrigérer1 semaine. La porter à la température ambiante et la délayer avec de l’eau au besoin.)

Préchauffer le gril à intensité moyenne à moyennement élevée. Ouvrir les poitrines de poulet comme un livre en retournant le filet sur le côté (s’il est là). Frotter le poulet avec un peu d’huile et assaisonner chaque face de quelques pincées de sel. Faire griller chaque face 4 ou 5 minutes ou jusqu’à ce que la poitrine soit cuite à point, mais pas trop cuite ni sèche. Laisser refroidir.

Verser une bonne quantité d’eau bouillante sur les vermicelles dans un bol. Les laisser tremper 5 minutes ou jusqu’à ce qu’ils soient tendres. Si on utilise plutôt des capellinis, les casser en deux et les cuire dans de l’eau bouillante salée selon les directives données sur l’emballage (habituellement de 3 à 5 minutes ou jusqu’à ce que les pâtes soient al dente). Rincer les vermicelles ou les pâtes sous l’eau froide du robinet et les égoutter. (Si les nouilles ou les pâtes sont préparées à l’avance, bien les remuer avec un filet d’huile d’arachide, les couvrir et les conserver au réfrigérateur.)

Mettre les poitrines de poulet entre deux feuilles de pellicule plastique et les marteler légèrement avec un petit marteau à viande ou un rouleau à pâtisserie pour qu’elles commencent à s’effilocher. Les défaire en morceaux. On devrait en obtenir 3 tasses.

Détailler le concombre et la carotte en fine julienne. Émincer les feuilles de pak-choï, y compris les côtes. Couper les oignons verts de biais. On obtient environ 6 tasses de légumes coupés. Remuer tous les légumes avec la menthe. (Si la salade est préparée à l’avance, couvrir le poulet effiloché et les légumes séparément et les conserver au réfrigérateur une demi-journée tout au plus.)

Au moment du service, répartir les nouilles entre des plats rafraîchis. Superposer les légumes en julienne et le poulet. Arroser de sauce à l’arachide et décorer de coriandre hachée grossièrement. Passer le reste de la sauce à l’arachide à table.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup

I had two recipes for this dish, so I decided to compare them. The first is adapted from an African dish and calls for peanut butter. While the result was good, making a thick and hearty soup, we ended up liking the other recipe so much more that that’s the one I’m posting here. It’s from a blog called Healthy Seasonal Recipes, and it blends roasted peanuts with coconut milk for a smooth, creamy soup with the perfect consistency. We all loved this one!

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3 medium onions, diced (about 3 cups)
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks celery, diced
6 cups vegetable broth
2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks
1 tsp. salt
1 13-oz. can coconut milk
¾ cup unsalted roasted peanuts
3 Tbsp. lime juice
chopped cilantro, chopped peanuts and Sriracha for garnish (optional)

Heat oil in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring often until the onion is starting to soften and brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Add celery, broth, sweet potato and salt, increase heat to high, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, removing lid to stir occasionally, until the potatoes are very soft and fall apart when tested with a fork or tongs, about 15 minutes.

Purée the soup in a blender in two batches and add back to the pot (I did this with my immersion blender instead). Purée the coconut milk and peanuts in a blender until smooth, about 1 minute (a Vitamix blender does this wonderfully). Stir the coconut mixture and the lime juice into the soup. Gently stir over low heat to warm through (do not boil). Serve garnished with cilantro, chopped peanuts and Sriracha to taste.

Little Aprium Cakes

I wanted to get some more seasonal recipes out of the way, so I decided to make a few things with fresh cherries. Sadly, though, neither the pear cherry crisp nor the cherry almond muffins I made were good enough to share. Related, though: how to remove cherry stains.

So then I decided to turn to another stone fruit, the apricot. I wanted to make Bon Appétit’s Little Apricot Cakes. The Engineer couldn’t find apricots at the store, because apparently I’d just missed the season, but luckily, he didn’t come home empty-handed: he got apriums, an apricot-plum hybrid that tastes like an apricot but looks like a plum. These little stone fruits were perfect for the recipe!

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. kosher salt
6 Tbsp. (¾ stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, or cold margarine
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup lactose-free whole milk
2 apricots (or small stone fruit of your choice), halved, pitted, cut into ¼-inch wedges
2 Tbsp. raw sugar

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Grease muffin tin (the recipe was supposed to yield 12 little cakes, but I only got 9).

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in another medium bowl, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, lemon zest, and vanilla and beat until combined.

With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Divide batter among muffin cups (cups will be only 1/3 full) and smooth tops. Top with apricot slices and sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake until cakes are golden and a tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, 20–25 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack; let pan cool 5 minutes. Transfer cakes to rack and let cool completely.

Shepherd's Pie (or whatever you want to call it)

As I said in my last post, I wanted to share the recipe for Jen’s shepherd’s pie, which she got from America’s Test Kitchen. But first, I can’t help a little terminology.

You see, I’m a francophone from Quebec, so when I hear “shepherd’s pie”, my brain automatically assumes we’re talking about pâté chinois. The latter is basically comprised of three ingredients: ground beef, corn and mashed potatoes, layered in that order, and often served with ketchup. And as any good French Canadian, I will tell you that those are the only ingredients one can put in a pâté chinois (although finely minced onions cooked with the ground beef are acceptable); everyone seems to have a preference for the corn, but take my word for it, the correct ratio is one can of creamed corn and one can of corn nibblets. However, for Anglophones from Quebec, shepherd’s pie is usually meant in the American and/or British sense: meat with gravy (and perhaps some vegetables), topped with mashed potato, sometimes even served with a pie crust. And strictly speaking, shepherd’s pie has mutton or lamb, while cottage pie has beef. All this to say that not everyone would call the recipe below shepherd’s pie, but I believe everyone would love it. I sure did, and it was even better than the pâté chinois I was expecting! It was warm and hearty and homey, and the gravy was fantastic. I’ll definitely be making this again.

Jen has made a few modifications to her dish, using vegan margarine and soy milk instead of dairy, omitting the egg, and I believe she mentioned using beer in the gravy. Sounds delish!

1 ½ lbs. of 93%-lean ground beef
2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. water
salt and pepper
½ tsp. baking soda
2 ½ lbs. russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter or margarine, melted
½ cup lactose-free milk
1 large egg yolk
8 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced
2 tsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
4 oz. white mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. Madeira or ruby port
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups beef broth
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 tsp. cornstarch

Toss beef with 2 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and baking soda in bowl until thoroughly combined. Set aside for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, place potatoes in medium saucepan; add water to just cover and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are soft and tip of paring knife inserted into potato meets no resistance, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain potatoes and return to saucepan. Return saucepan to low heat and cook, shaking pot occasionally, until any surface moisture on potatoes has evaporated, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and mash potatoes well. Stir in melted butter. Whisk together milk and egg yolk in small bowl, then stir into potatoes. Stir in scallion greens and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and set aside.

Heat oil in broiler-safe 10-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, mushrooms, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are just starting to soften and dark bits form on bottom of skillet, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and garlic; cook until bottom of skillet is dark brown, about 2 minutes. Add Madeira and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until evaporated, about 1 minute. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Add broth, Worcestershire, thyme, bay leaf, and carrots; bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Reduce heat to medium-low, add beef in 2-inch chunks to broth, and bring to gentle simmer. Cover and cook until beef is cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes, stirring and breaking up meat chunks with 2 forks halfway through. Stir cornstarch and remaining 2 teaspoons water together in bowl. Stir cornstarch mixture into filling and continue to simmer for 30 seconds. Remove thyme and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Adjust oven rack 5 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Place mashed potatoes in large zipper-lock bag and snip off 1 corner to create 1-inch opening. Pipe potatoes in even layer over filling, making sure to cover entire surface. Smooth potatoes with back of spoon, then use tines of fork to make ridges over surface. Place skillet on rimmed baking sheet and broil until potatoes are golden brown and crusty and filling is bubbly, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

SummerFest 2014

And here we are, a post about this year’s edition of SummerFest to wrap up our Canadian vacation. For those of you who have been following this blog long enough, you’ll know we do this every summer (though the Engineer and I were unable to attend last summer because of the Little Prince’s impending arrival). SummerFest (also referred to as SomewhereFest, since the location now varies each year) is an occasion when our group of friends gets together for several days (up to a week) of games, food and spirited debates. Our friend Jen had done all the legwork for accommodations and found a lovely lakeside cottage in Saint-Calixte, right by a lake, with a hot tub and grill and everything. We actually had more cookies than board games this year, which is really saying a lot!

There were two dishes that really stood out for me this year, Jen’s lentil salad and shepherd’s pie (recipes to come). The meal that I tend to prefer, though, is the chicken and roasted vegetables (formerly turkey and roasted vegetables), perhaps because that’s the one everyone can attend, including people driving in from Montreal for the day but unable to stay overnight. This time, Pascal grilled spatchcocked chickens on the barbecue (because really, it’s just so much fun to say “spatchcock”!). We roasted beets, carrots and sweet potatoes, plus potatoes in a separate tray, and there was salad and homemade rolls.

There was a fabulous ice cream bar, courtesy of Jen: she made not only lactose-free vanilla ice cream, but also hot fudge sauce, magic shell, marshmallow sauce, caramel, and strawberry syrup. And we had sprinkles! My modest contribution to that spread was waffle bowls.

New this year: Jen gave me a crash-course in cake decorating with her Wilton tips and a few instructional videos. This came in handy the following week when making cupcakes and a cake for the Little Prince’s first birthday (I made yellow cake with chocolate-caramel frosting, and my mother also made him the traditional almond cake with mocha frosting and whipped cream). Below are some of my practice creations, along with our frosted desserts (all vegan!). I’ve decided I’m going to buy some proper piping tips.

And of course, we had another cookie taste-off. To my embarrassment, I can’t find any mention of the one from SummerFest 2012, in the Eastern Townships… The only reference to a chocolate-chip cookie taste-off I see on my blog is this one, and that same 36-hour cookie had been crowned champion at SummerFest 2012.This year, we pitted three recipes against one another, and I also made curry chocolate chip cookies just for fun, though they weren’t part of the running.
First, a quick word about those curry cookies: I stick to mild curry, but even then, these cookies had a bit more bite than expected, so next time I’d consider reducing the amount of curry a bit. That being said, I really enjoyed them! The recipe makes about 18 cookies, so they’re a good novelty item if you’re afraid of the commitment. For what it’s worth, the 3-year-old present liked them.

As for the three recipes in the taste-off, they were the returning champion (see the recipe for the 36-hour cookie here), new butterscotch pudding triple chip cookies from Two Peas & Their Pod, and J. Kenji López-Alt’s best chocolate chip cookies (and you know when he says they’re the best, he means it). The latter are made with browned butter, so I knew they would be good! It should be noted that I made the 36-hour cookies with margarine, though, so perhaps that put them at a slight disadvantage compared to the butter ones. It’s just that I can’t brown margarine the same way, so it was only fair that I use real butter for Kenji’s, especially considering how much effort he puts into recipe-developing; had I made the 36-hour cookies after that, I would have used butter as well, but by the time I tackled Kenji’s recipe, the margarine 36-hour dough was already in the freezer.

Kenji’s cookies were more complex than the 36-hour ones, surely thanks to the browned butter. That being said, there was less of a difference than I expected, so I think that again, if I had made the 36-hour cookies with butter instead of margarine, they would have been even harder to tell apart. Kenji’s cookies also had a lower chocolate-to-dough ratio compared to the 36-hour ones. As for the butterscotch cookies, they reminded me a bit of Felix & Norton cookies, in a pleasant way. I’ll give you everyone’s impressions below, but I want to first mention that it turns out everyone prefers their cookies when they are sprinkled with salt. I hadn’t added it in the first batch I baked, because I was afraid that it might be an acquired taste, but now I think it’s pretty universal. Go for it! The tasting results were very close, so it might depend on personal taste more than on a formula, but nonetheless, the 36-hour cookies came out with a slight lead! Plus, they’re the ones that disappeared first.

(In the picture above, clockwise from 11 o’clock, are Kenji’s cookie, the 36-hour cookie, and the butterscotch chip cookie.)

I preferred Kenji’s cookie, though the 36-hour cookies came in a close second, and the butterscotch ones were in third place. For the Engineer, the ranking was reversed: his favorites were the butterscotch cookies, followed by the 36-hour cookies and then Kenji’s cookies.
Anna R. was initially in agreement with the Engineer, but once she tasted the cookies again with salt, she changed her vote and put the 36-hour cookies in first place. Her husband, Pascal, said that to him it was a tie between the 36-hour cookies and Kenji’s cookies, but then again, he doesn’t like butterscotch.
Mark liked the 36-hour cookies best because he felt like they had more fat. His wife, Anna M., preferred the butterscotch cookies.
Danny had no preference (weirdo!), but Naomi liked the 36-hour cookies best, followed by the butterscotch (she really enjoyed their white chocolate chips), then Kenji’s cookies.
The Actor favored the 36-hour cookies, which he said had “the best cookie flavor”, followed by Kenji’s cookies and then the butterscotch cookies. His girlfriend, the Actress, had the same ranking, and added that she found the butterscotch cookies too sweet.
Finally, Jen preferred Kenji’s cookies to the butterscotch, with the 36-hour cookies in third place. Her husband, Rob, originally liked the butterscotch best, followed by Kenji’s and lastly the 36-hour cookies, but upon tasting them again with salt, he changed his top pick to Kenji’s cookies!
(The Legal Chef and E. were unable to attend this year, as their daughter was born that week – a pretty good reason, I’d say. I’ll be curious to see what their preferences are next year…)

So, to recap, counting the tie as half a vote: without topping the cookies with salt, we had 4.5 votes for the 36-hour cookies, 4 votes for the butterscotch cookies, and somehow only 2.5 votes for Kenji’s cookies. With salt, however, we’ve got 5.5 votes for the 36-hour cookies, 3.5 votes for Kenji’s cookies and only 2 votes for the butterscotch cookies. Without further ado, here are the two new recipes.

Butterscotch Pudding Triple Chip Cookies
(The pudding should keep the cookies moist for days, but obviously we never got a chance to test that out! The recipe yields about 3 dozen cookies.)
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (or cold margarine)
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 (3.4-oz) package butterscotch instant pudding mix
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat baking mat and set aside.

Using a mixer, beat together butter and sugars until creamy. Add in butterscotch pudding mix, eggs, and vanilla extract. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and butterscotch chips.

Drop cookie dough by rounded tablespoons onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, or until slightly golden around the edges and set. Remove cookies from oven and let cool on baking sheet for two minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.

Kenji’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
(This recipe yields about 2 dozen cookies, maybe slightly more if you can resist eating raw dough.)
8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 standard ice cube (about 2 Tbsp. frozen water)
10 oz. (about 2 cups) all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 1 tsp. table salt
5 oz. (about ¾ cup) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
5 oz. (about ½ tightly packed cup plus 2 Tbsp.) dark brown sugar
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped with a knife into 1/2- to 1/4-inch chunks
coarse sea salt for garnish

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, gently swirling pan constantly, until particles begin to turn golden brown and butter smells nutty, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and continue swirling the pan until the butter is a rich brown, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer to a medium bowl, whisk in ice cube, transfer to refrigerator, and allow to cool completely, about 20 minutes, whisking occasionally. (Alternatively, whisk over an ice bath to hasten process).

Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Place granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium high speed until mixture is pale brownish-yellow and falls off the whisk in thick ribbons when lifted, about 5 minutes.

Fit paddle attachment onto mixer. When brown butter mixture has cooled (it should be just starting to turn opaque again and firm around the edges), Add brown sugar and cooled brown butter to egg mixture in stand mixer. Mix on medium speed to combine, about 15 seconds. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until just barely combined but some dry flour still remains, about 15 seconds. Add chocolate and mix on low until dough comes together, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate dough at least overnight and up to three days.

When ready to bake, adjust oven racks to upper and lower middle positions and preheat oven to 325 °F. Using a 1-ounce ice cream scoop or a spoon, place scoops of cookie dough onto a non-stick or parchment-lined baking sheet. Each ball should measure approximately 3 tablespoons in volume and you should be able to fit 6 to 8 balls on each sheet. Transfer to oven and bake until golden brown around edges but still soft, 13 to 16 minutes, rotating pans back to front and top and bottom half way through baking.

Remove baking sheets from oven. While cookies are still hot, sprinkle very lightly with coarse salt and gently press it down to embed. Let cool for 2 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Repeat steps 3 and 4 for remaining cookie dough. Allow cookies to cool completely before storing in an airtight container, plastic bag, or cookie jar at room temperature for up to 5 days.