Baking with Julia – The Big Finish

Baking with Julia

All the way back in 2012, Tuesdays with Dorie started working their way through Baking with Julia. They’d recently finished baking through Dorie Greenspan‘s Baking, From My Home to Yours and wanted to continue with another of her books. Meanwhile, I’d been participating in French Fridays with Dorie, which was tackling Dorie’s terrific Around My French Table.

Thinking this would be a great project to do with my teenaged nieces, I jumped on board. I created a collaborative blog, The Family That Bakes Together…, and we were off to the races. Or the kitchen, really.

We didn’t last through the project. As my nieces became adults, it became too difficult to co-ordinate baking dates. But, I’ll always cherish the experiences we had in our Baking with Julia adventures and I’d like to think they will, too. I’ve followed along since, reading some of the posts of those who continued with the project, and I love finding occasions to bake from the book on my own.

Since the logistics of getting together to bake the group’s final recipe would have proved impossible, I’ve decided to share some of my favourite posts from our year-and-a-bit on the project. Though honestly, I read through all the posts with relish, enjoying the memories they evoked. If you have the opportunity to bake or cook (or do anything you love to do, really) with two or more generations, do it – it’s a wonderful experience.

Kat’s meditation on sisters and chocolate.

How my French-Canadian mother made Irish Soda Bread her signature bread.

Jessica’s debut post: Hungarian Shortbread.

How making biscotti revealed Kat’s power-hungry ambitions.

Jessica waxes poetic about pie and cake.

The most fun I’ve had writing a post, on this blog or my own: Bagel Throwdown.

Kat evokes Proust and Jessica makes madeleines.

The real stars of the show are the stalwarts that baked their way through the whole book. I can hardly wait to read their posts, detailing their experience with the project’s crowning glory – Martha Stewart’s Glorious Wedding Cake.

After you head over and congratulate them, you might want to consider joining in on the other project the group is working on – working through Dorie’s Baking Chez Moi. I join in when I can and everything I’ve made has been fantastic. Or, you can jump on board Dorie’s latest initiative, Cookies & Kindness, and help spread some joy.

Made With Love

Chili

Not long after his 60th birthday, my Dad was getting ready for work and told my mother he had to sit down for a minute before leaving. Luckily, my Mom recognized the signs of a heart attack and got him to the hospital so quickly that they were able to stabilize him before it was too late. He’d always congratulated himself on marrying a nurse, who could help him with whatever ailed him, and now she’d saved his life.

When he got home, there were exercise regimens and eating restrictions to follow. And my father counted himself lucky once again, because my mother is not only a fabulous cook, but she is also one of the most determined people on earth when she puts her mind to it. He was going to eat a healthy diet if it – well, even if it pained him.

She came up with an arsenal of heart-healthy recipes so delicious that the rest of the family started hoping some of the leftovers would show up at our doors. My Dad recovered, then thrived.

Ten years later, my partner Kevin started on his own path to better health and decided that veganism was going to be a big part of it. My mother started sending over freezer containers full of the chili she’d developed for my Dad. It’s vegan and gluten-free, but more importantly, it’s one of Kevin’s favourite meals.

It took a while for her to share the recipe with me, not because she’s secretive, but because she’s always busy – volunteering, meeting with friends old and new, or spending time with her grandchildren.

When I finally had the recipe, I whipped up a batch of the chili and immediately realized that my chili powder had much, much more cayenne pepper in it than the brand my mother uses. Her chili has a warming burn, while mine was five-alarm fiery. Taste, don’t trust is a good motto for adding chili powder. Lesson learned. I’ve amended that line of the recipe accordingly – it’s a range now, not the 6 tablespoons that she uses. (I think her chili powder must be mostly cumin.)

Tonight, I brought a whole batch to a meeting of our housing co-op. I came home with only one small bowl’s worth. Not quite enough for a meal, but enough to remind me to make it again soon.

And now you can share it with those you love, too, whether it’s your family or a community you care about.

Jeannine’s Spicy Vegetable Chili

By Jeannine McCarthy

Serves a crowd

1 tbsp olive oil
4 large garlic cloves – sliced
1 large onion – sliced and quartered
2 carrots – sliced into medium coins
2 small stalks of celery – sliced
1 cup water

1 can diced tomatoes 28 oz – low salt
1 can tomato sauce 680 ml – low salt

1 small green pepper – sliced into chunks
1 small red pepper – sliced into chunks
1 small orange or yellow pepper – sliced into chunks

1 can organic tomato paste 5.5 oz
2 cans red kidney beans 28 oz each – low salt
1 can black beans 19oz – no salt
1 can romano beans 19oz – no salt

1-4 tbsp chili powder*
1 tbsp cumin
3 tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt

  • Coat bottom of a large soup pot with olive oil. On low heat, add garlic and onions; cook until starting to look translucent. Add carrots, celery, and water. Cook until carrots are slightly tender.
  • Add tomatoes and tomato sauce. Add chili powder, cumin, vinegar, pepper and salt, then stir. Continue cooking on medium heat for 5 minutes.
  • Add tomato paste, kidney beans, black beans, and Romano beans. Cook for 5 minutes, then add green, red, and yellow peppers.
  • Cook on medium heat for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

This is a large recipe. After the first meal, ladle left-overs into freezer containers (enough for one meal) and freeze.

*Start on the low range when you add the chili powder and then add a little at a time until you reach the level of heat you like. There can be a lot of variation in strength amongst chili powders. 1 1/2 tablespoons seems about right for us, with the brand we use.

Baking Chez Moi – Bûche de Noël

buche de noel

My mother’s sister, Lorraine, always brought a bûche de Noël to Christmas dinner. They were traditional chocolate logs from a bakery, but I remember them as being rich, delicious, and perfect. She died when I was an adolescent and bûche de Noël was only an occasional part of our holiday celebrations thereafter, but they’ve been a symbol of the season for me ever since.

I’ve always wanted to make one, so I was happy that one of the recipes chosen for our second month of baking through Baking Chez Moi was Dorie’s Gingerbread Bûche de Noël.

There are a lot of steps in making this dish, but some of the most intimidating parts of the process are also surprisingly easy. The pecan praline wasn’t at all difficult, the cream cheese filling was a snap to whip together, and the marshmallow icing was quite straightforward, once I’d braced myself for the task of pouring hot liquid sugar into the bowl of a running mixer.

My particular Waterloo on this dessert was the making of the sponge. I can’t seem to get sponge cakes quite right. This one didn’t turn out horribly and was quite tasty, but as you can see in the photo below, the cake is about half the height it should be. The batter deflated a lot more than it should have when I folded the butter mixture in. I guess it’s just a matter of getting some more practice, but I admit I was disappointed.

Slice

Luckily, the filling and icing made the bûche look beautiful, even with the imperfections in the cake. I’m going to try again with sponge cake and I think one of my few resolutions for 2015 will be to conquer the roulade. Next year’s bûche will be looking much prettier, I swear.

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this recipe here: Bûche de Noël. And you can find more Tuesdays with Dorie catch up posts at this link.

West Coast Christmas Show

I attended the West Coast Christmas Show as a media guest, but had no obligation to review or write about any aspect of the show. All opinions are my own.

Decorations

Last weekend, Abbotsford’s Tradex transformed itself into a winter wonderland of gifts, family activities, and holiday entertainment. The West Coast Christmas Show had come to town. And the Fraser Valley rushed in the door to welcome it. I was glad we went first thing Saturday morning, because by lunchtime, the crowds really started to arrive.

Gifts

I wasn’t surprised, because the show was justifiably popular. Over the course of our time there, we found handcrafted gifts, all the treats and ingredients you could want for the holidays, and Christmas decorations, flowers and wreaths – along with more gadgets than I’ve seen since last year’s Home Show.

More food

Here are just a few of the things that stood out for me:

Frost Bites Syrup Co. broad range of flavours
Sharon Hubbard‘s whimsical castles
Edible Gardens‘ line of balsamic vinegars
Clearbrook Coffee Company – nothing like locally roasted beans
a paper {life}‘s creative quilling
It’s For the Birds‘ seedcakes

Kids

I was also impressed by how much there was for kids to do at the show. While their parents may have come for the cooking demos and entertaining tips, there were also workshops galore for the small set, along with attractions like Santa’s mailbox and a beautifully set up model train.

More Gifts

Events like this have convinced me that for Fraser Valley residents, there’s no longer any need to drive into Vancouver for trade shows and artisan showcases anymore. What isn’t being produced in your own backyard is coming to meet you at showcase centres like the Tradex.

Food

And there are more attractions to come for the Fraser Valley this holiday season. I was able to get a sneak peek at one of them while I was visiting the Christmas Show. North Pole BC‘s Festival of Christmas opens its doors at the Tradex on November 28th and I got to have a little look around at what you can expect. I even caught Santa napping beneath the Christmas tree.

Preview

FFWD – Vegetable Barley Quinoa Soup with the Taste of Little India

Soup

My little brother is a mean, mean man. He’s a chef, working at the sort of locavore, casual-to-fine-dining restaurant that you know I love. The problem is that it’s 50 kilometres away and Sean sends me photos of what’s on the night’s menu, when he knows there’s no hope of me booking a car and heading out deep into the heart of the Fraser Valley. Like I said, mean.

If you don’t believe me, here’s one of the photos he sent me tonight.

Photo by Chef Sean.
Photo by Chef Sean.

Yes, that’s a perfect Caprese staring back at you. Sigh…

Luckily, we have a delicious, vegan soup on our own fresh sheet tonight, keeping me from becoming too morose. It’s flavoured with garam masala, ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes. It’s also meant to have barley in it, but we went gluten-free and used quinoa instead. It’s the sort of meal Kevin has been working toward, as he eats vegetarian or vegan most of the time now. There’s lots of protein in the quinoa and the soup itself is surprisingly hearty. Meatless meals have always been a big part of my diet, but I might find myself crumbling some bacon on tomorrow’s leftovers, as my brother the chef suggested. Then again, I might not – this soup doesn’t really need it.

Soup too

Judge for yourself. You can find the recipe here, along with interviews with three of our most lovely Doristas.

And you can find out what everyone else thought of this week’s recipe here.

FFWD – Pierre Hermé’s Olive Sablés

Olive Sablés

My parents’ freezer is full of various French Fridays and Baking with Julia projects. I make a lot of French Fridays dishes at home, of course, but if I’m visiting my parents, I like to cook for them, so they’ve gotten their fair share of Dorista bounty. It’s great for my mom, who is as busy as she was before she retired. She still enjoys cooking and baking, but it’s less of a priority for her now – there’s so much she wants to do with the grandkids, her friends, and her volunteering. I only baked a dozen of these sablés today and packed up the remaining 2 1/2 logs of dough and put it in the freezer for her. Next time she gets together with her friends for wine and nibbles, they’ll be ready for baking.

Logs of olive sablés, ready for the freezer

I think her friends will enjoy these as much as we did. A little savoury and a little sweet, olive sablés are surprisingly delicious. The recipe is a little unusual, too, incorporating grated egg yolk, potato starch, and cured olives into the usual sablé mix. The dough is much softer than traditional sablé dough, but when it’s baked, the cookie somehow achieves the familiar sandy texture.

Some members of the French Fridays crew were unable to locate potato starch (though scheduling these right around Passover made it much easier than it might have been at other times of year), and corn starch was the substitution of choice. Check the link at the bottom of this post to see how that worked out for folks.

I hope that last week’s long weekend was relaxing for everyone and for those who celebrated Passover or Easter, that it was filled with family, friends, and food.

Olive Sablés in a crystal dish atop a vintage lace tablecloth

You can find many other blogged descriptions of this week’s FFWD recipe here: Pierre Hermé’s Olive Sablés

FFWD – Cheese Soufflé

It rose! It rose!

I spent yesterday with my mother and my nieces, baking and cooking all day long. We started with next week’s chocolate sablés, moved on to two sorts of Irish soda bread (which you’ll be able to read about here on Tuesday), then chicken stew, and finished with this week’s French Fridays recipe, cheese soufflé.

Soufflés make a meal into a command performance. No one bakes one without requiring everyone to be at the table and ready to witness its brief apotheosis. It comes back to Earth too quickly. It’s also usually the centrepiece of a meal, or at least a course. Yesterday, I flouted that a bit. We had a sort of Franco-Irish mash-up of a meal, with Irish-style chicken stew that had been made with the leftovers of Cognac chicken (a French Fridays catch up that I’ll post about some time soon), two sorts of Irish soda bread, and this soufflé. I used aged Irish cheddar (Cahill’s Irish Monastic) in place of Gruyère or Emmenthal, in consideration of the rest of the menu. It fit right in. We ended the meal with the sablés. I have to say it was one of the best takes on both sides of my heritage that my family’s ever attemped.

Soufflé dish, buttered and crumbed.

I’m also happy to finally be in on the secret of soufflés. They’re dead easy. As long as you are scrupulous about following the steps of the recipe, only the weather or a slammed oven door can let you (or it) down. Just make sure you have witnesses. They’ll love how it tastes, but it’s important that they’re awed by its height, too.

My nieces want to try a soufflé now. Of course, they’d like to make a chocolate one. I’m going to suggest this. A meeting between chocolate and tea sounds like another great combination.

The soufflé, with a preview of Tuesdays with Dorie's Irish soda bread assignment.

You can find many other blogged descriptions of this week’s FFWD recipe here: Cheese Soufflé

FFWD – Mussels and Chorizo With or Without Pasta

The mussels ready for scrubbing and debearding.

I’m not sure who decided that a pound of mussels was a single serving, but this week’s dish proves it to be a generous calculation. I halved the recipe and was able to feed five people. Granted, we ate it with some lovely spinach rice pasta from Tinkyada and some even lovelier bread from one of my favourite bakeries, so I guess that helped stretch the portions. Regardless, we were all well-satisfied with the meal.

The onion, red pepper, and garlic before their introduction to the cutting board.

I’d spent the day with my nieces, providing a little back up as they attempted their first Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. They succeeded brilliantly, I must say – the chocolate truffle tart they made was a fantastic finish to our meal.

It was a great way to spend the day. Earlier, my mother shared the kitchen with us as she made a creamy lentil soup for our lunch. I provided troubleshooting advice and a little bit of hands on help for the girls as they worked their way through the stages of their tart construction. I also got them started on their first blog post, then left them together, side by side, as they chose and edited their photos and wrote the text.

What was once a lovely, whole chorizo sausage and is now bite-sized morsels.

Later on, I started working on the mussels and chorizo pasta. This is one of those recipes where more time is taken in preparation than in the actual cooking. Chopping the vegetables, frying the chorizo, and debearding the mussels were the difficult parts of this recipe. Which is to say, there weren’t really any difficult parts. In fact, cooking the pasta – a completely hands off task – was the one thing I had to budget time for.

So, just when the truffle tart came out of the oven, I put the pasta on and by the time it was cooked, everything was ready to go into another pot for the main event. The total cooking time is about 15 minutes, from cooking down the vegetables to steaming the mussels. It’s hard to believe a meal this impressive is quick enough for a weeknight dinner.

A plateful at the table.

I hadn’t cooked mussels before, but I’m definitely over that apprehension now. I’m also looking forward to baking and cooking again with family, soon.

Mussels and chorizo up close

You can find many other blogged descriptions of this week’s FFWD recipe here: Mussels and Chorizo With or Without Pasta