Easter 2016

It is Easter Monday and seemingly everyone else is off from work except me. The subway was empty this morning; I didn’t have to do my typical wait on the train for 10 minutes in the tunnel north of St. Clair West while empty trains are sent through for more important people. The offices at work are empty and it is a slow, rainy day.

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Easter weekend was relaxing, spent outside with beautiful weather and with amazing people. On Friday we made our traditional Italian pasta appetizers, calascioni. This is something that Ninni remembers making as a young girl in Italy, when these types of expensive meats and cheese could only be bought at Easter. This tradition has been passed on to me and Giancarlo and we now share this tradition with his best friend Nick and his wife, Rachel. The day is spent rolling out homemade pasta dough, cutting out perfect circles, filling each ravioli-like pocket with the meat and cheese mixture and baking in the oven until they are golden and oozing cheese. After a few hours of hard work, we enjoyed dinner, wine and Yahtzee.

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Apple Cranberry Hand Pies

Fall is the season of pies. There is just something comforting and cozy about smelling butter, discount cinnamon and harvest fruits oozing out of the oven and into the rest of the house.  Although apple and pumpkin are classic fall pies I am trying to experiment with new flavor profiles and combinations this fall. I am looking forward to baking with pears, salve a fruit I don’t give enough credit to for its flavor and versatility and pumpkin, a vegetable that is only used in October and November and therefore does not get enough time to shine.

My first pies of the season were apple cranberry hand pies. Hand pies are a trend I like, but I actually prefer a slice of pie. Hand pies are more convenient to eat but are more time consuming and tedious to make. You also do not get as much filling and cannot easily eat the pie with ice cream.

photoA few weeks ago I picked up this handy hand pie mold from Loblaws for $5.00. I picked it up in the hopes that this mold would ease the process of making hand pies. The one pictured is actually from Williams-Sonoma and therefore probably unnecessarily expensive and not worth it. However, for $5.00 – how can you say no?

I promptly threw out the recipe with the box and had to scour the internet for an alternative recipe, which lead me to Williams-Sonoma’s apple cranberry recipe and photo of the device.

IMG_4578Apple cranberry is a type of pie I had never had before but it is delicious and I recommend everyone try it/make it. The cranberry tartness rounds out the sweetness from the apples and brown sugar. The cranberry works with the spiciness of the cinnamon and nutmeg in a different way than the apple does, bringing together a new type of flavor from the apples and cranberry. It’s a new spin on a classic fall pie.

Recipe below the cut and happy munching!

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Peach Pie

Peaches are in season and I had 6 people at my house last weekend = the perfect reason to make a peach pie.

This is my third attempt at a pie (1. Lemon Meringue 2. Strawberry Rhubarb and 3. Peach Pie) and I still find pie tricky. Obviously I don’t expect to be an expert after only 3 attempts but it is still frustrating.

1. I didn’t roll out my bottom crust large enough which resulted in the pie insides spilling over the crust. However, my top crust looked pretty good if I do say so myself. I need to work on how I seal the two crusts together. I just smush everything together and hope it looks ok.

2. I combined two recipes for the inside of this pie crust. I wanted to add some spices to bring out the sweetness of the peaches so I found a recipe that included nutmeg and cinnamon. For the crust I used the recipe from the Crisco website – yes, shortening makes everything better.

3. Peeling peaches is annoying. This is a great page to check out for step by step guide on how to do it (it’s not hard but who doesn’t like instructions with accompanying photos/illustrations?), it is just tedious. But it is worth it.

4. I baked this wrong… It is supposed to bake for 15 minutes at a higher temperature and then at a lower temperature for the remaining 40 minutes. Oops, didn’t do that. I baked it at 350F for 20 minutes, then realized I had messed up, put the oven up to 450F for 15 minutes and then back down to 350F for the remaining 20 minutes. Apparently you can do this because it turned out beautiful.

Grab some Ontario peaches and vanilla ice cream and enjoy a fresh pie. Happy munching!

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My First Pie – Martha’s Mile High Lemon Meringue Pie

We all know why I don’t make pie. But sometimes you need to get over things. I decided to make my first pie for Easter dinner. I made Martha Stewart’s Mile High Lemon Meringue Pie.

1. In theory, this pie is perfect. In actuality, it was a failure,

2. I do not like Martha’s pie crust recipe. She uses Pate Brisee crust but I should have listened to my mom and used the recipe on the shortening box. Rookie move and now I have another pie crust in my freezer.

3. I need pie weights. Or dried beans. My crust shrank slightly and came away from the edge of the pie pan. I also need to learn what to do with my edges, this looks slightly terrible.

4. The lemon filling was AMAZING. Using real lemon makes such a difference. So citrus and fresh tasting, it was like a glass of lemonade in each bite. If only we could have enjoyed the pie.

5, This brings us to the meringue. I think it didn’t work for a number of reasons  – a) I had my oven on, so the kitchen was ridiculously hot b) I used egg white substitute instead of real egg whites c) I didn’t put the sugar in at the right time. I listened to Martha Stewart over my mom. I called my mom after my meringue was failing and she set me straight, put the sugar in right at the end and d) I didn’t whip the eggs long enough.

I thought I had whipped my eggs long enough and the meringue looked decent, but it did not set well. Even filling my blow torch was a headache. I couldn’t figure it out, and then I gave in and let GC take over and we finally got  it to work. The blow torch is amazing and I can’t wait to use it on creme brulee or on marshmellows.

I torched the meringue and everything looked beautiful. I should have put it in the fridge once I was done, but I didn’t. Who knows why. We get in the car to go pick up my sister and the meringue starts shifting on top of the lemon. By the time we get to my sister’s apartment the meringue has slipped onto my lap and eventually ends up on the dash of the car and the passenger side doors. We left the pie on my sister’s counter and continued on our way to Easter dinner.

6. For a first attempt, I think it went pretty well. The pie looked good, and the individual components tasted delicious. Next time it’s just a matter of getting everything to stick together. Luckily my mom had the foresight to make two pies and now I have half of a pie made by my mom in my fridge.

Stay tuned to future pie attempts.

Vanilla Very Berry Cupcakes

For Al’s birthday I made Vanilla Very Berry Cupcakes.

1. These were, I wouldn’t say difficult to make, but more accurately tedious. In theory, it’s very straight forward: make vanilla batter and make a berry coulis of sorts. Now the first berry sauce you make is slightly chunky and goes into the middle of the cupcake, between the vanilla cupcake batter.

Fine. No problem. I can handle that. The issue came when the sauce was supposed to thicken and be piped into the cooled cupcakes. My sauce would not thicken. I put tons of corn starch in the sauce and it coagulated at the bottom of the pot. When I tried to put the sauce in a piping bag it completely dripped out. I had to carve into my cupcakes and slowly spoon the sauce into each cupcake. It was worth it because the cupcakes were moist and fruity.

2. The icing was an entirely different fiasco. Partly this was because my hand mixer broke mid-mix. The right beater randomly stopped spinning and my icing was ridiculously thick. After calling my mother and having a break down, I added more milk and thinned out the icing. Once it was thinner, I was able to mix my icing. In the process of piping out my icing I broke two piping bags.

3. Strawberries do not work well on cupcakes. Or maybe just not the steroid-injected-gargantuan strawberries you buy at the grocery store. I prefer how raspberries and blueberries look toppled ontop of cupcakes.

4. Powdered sugar makes everything look prettier.

5. These were delicious and super fruity. They were a fruit explosion topped with creamy icing. There was so much sweet vanilla flavour – it is always great when you can actually taste the vanilla. When I left my house it smelled wonderfully of vanilla, berries and coconut (I had also made Magic Bars as per Al’s request).

The recipe is below the cut…

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Valentine’s Day Treats for My Love

Happy Valentine’s Day! A week late!

Obviously if you are dating me you are going to get baked goods from me! I tried to make this festive as possible but not too cumbersome and annoying to unwrap – I used heart tissue paper and white and red curling ribbons.

On the inside there was three different types of cookies:

From left to right: Linzer Cookies, Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies and Red Velvet Cream Cheese Brownies.

1. My Linzer cookies. I made these the wrong way which, if you have eaten Linzer cookies before, you quickly realized I made these incorrectly. I forgot that the bottoms of the cookies are supposed to be solid rather than cutout.I also used my favourite sugar cookie dough rather than the traditional almond meal dough used for linzers.

2. GC said his favourite type of cookie is oatmeal raisin. When he requested this type of cookie for his Valentine’s treat I was a little surprised. I used the Betty Crocker’s recipe for Oatmeal Raisin cookies and I substituted the raisins for cranberries so they would be more festive. These were perfectly chewy – I think that can be attributed to the shortening and butter that is used.

3. Red Velvet Cream Cheese Brownies. These were terrible. I don`t know if it is because I used gel food colouring instead of liquid or because I doubled the batch. Regardless, I am not willing to try these again. They were really chocolaty though which was good. No close up – I don`t want to think about or look at these anymore.

 

Magic Cookie Bars

One of the recipes I made at Christmas time called for 1/4 cup of condensed milk which left me about 3/4 of a can of condensed milk. Now, clearly this isn’t a problem because there are a number of recipes that use condensed milk. The only problem is the can sat in my fridge covered saran for about a week, taunting me and asking to be added to tea and coffee.

I pulled up the first recipe that popped up on the Eagle Brand website, Magic Cookie Bars.

1. This is a great recipe. It is super quick, easy and uses very little dishes. I melted my butter in a big bowl, that I then mixed my graham cracker crackers in. I used a total of 5 dishes – a bowl, a spoon, a baking dish, and two different sized measuring cups.

2. Lots of chocolate, lots of coconut. Lots of yum. The magic comes from (no, not any type of drugs) the condensed milk – anything with condensed milk is going to be delicious and magic. Oh and love, love is part of the magic…

3. I think these would also be delicious with some dried cranberries, or butterscotch bits.

4. I don’t understand the “cookie” part of these squares – the bottom of these bars is just graham cracker crumbs and butter… not really a cookie but delicious. I think this is just a misnomer. We will just call them ‘Magic Bars.’

5. This recipe is definitely a “make again, as soon as possible” recipe. One of my co-workers called me after eating one and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way but I’m glad I don’t sit beside you.” Yes – if you have the pleasure to sit beside me at work, or even just work with me in general, expect to gain a pound or two.

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

I went out for brunch this morning with my friend Lesley who is Scottish and delightful. She was asking what festive things I have been up to and my mind drew a blank. I think I started my Christmas planning a little too early and the past few weeks I haven’t really been doing anything festive… So this clearly needed to change.

1. I haven’t eaten on of these yet but my sister Theresa did and she described them as, “Perf.” She liked them because it had all the goodness of a gingerbread cookie without the dry, crunchiness.

2. I have too many Christmas wrappers – I ended up using the snowflake wrappers but you can’t even tell. Slightly disappointing for me but then I used blue sprinkles to compliment the paper and it looks snowy and magical!

3. The icing is AMAZING. It is cinnamon, lemon cream cheese icing. The flavours compliment each other so nicely but it is still light which cream cheese isn’t always.

4. Next time, I wouldn’t add water to the icing – it was the perfect consistency and then it became to runny. When I piped it out, it didn’t keep its perfect peak so well. Hopefully with refrigeration, the icing will become a little more stable.

5. There is a limited number and we are having an end-of-the-year-not-a-Christmas-party-on-December-12th tomorrow at work and there will be around 20 people there and I am only bringing 16 in… Hopefully everyone will stay calm and enjoy the festive treats!

The recipe below the cut.

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Dark Chocolate Chip Mascarpone Cupcakes

On Friday we had a pseudo-unofficial-not-really-a-Christmas party at one of my co-worker’s house. We had so much delicious food and the decorations were beautiful. All in all, an amazing night. The host had asked me to bake something for the evening because it is another one of our co-worker`s birthday on Monday.

Betty Crocker`s Dark Chocolate Chip-Mascarpone cupcakes.

1. The recipe called for Dark Chocolate Chips – is that even a thing? I couldn’t find them at Loblaws and if they don’t have them, I don’t think this are available in Canada. And I didn’t coarsely chop them. They melt, there is no point in my opinion.

2. I didn’t use the Marsala wine/dark rum that the recipe called for. There was going to be kids at the party and I didn’t feel like exposing 4 and 5-year olds to alcohol for the first time.

3. Reynold’s is officially my favourite company. They have a new line of cupcake wrappers called “Stay-Brite” and I’m in love. I have a problem with purchasing way too many wrappers and it is actually quiet pointless as when you bake the cupcakes the oil from the cupcakes saturates the paper and you can’t see the pattern. So these wrappers solve my problem and I want to bake cupcakes all the time. I just need to use up all my old wrappers…

4. The cake from the recipe is dry (or at least I find it to be). I thought that the first time I used it for my Italian cupcakes and I still think that. I don’t think I will be using it again,

5. The icing was light and delicious and secretly fattening. Love it. The icing is clearly the highlight of this cupcake – it just needs a different base.

Here is the recipe…

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Lemon Cupcakes

About a week ago I made these Meyer Lemon Cupcakes from Martha Stewart (this recipe isn’t listed on her website! But I got it from her cupcake book) for a co-worker’s birthday. I know, I know. A week later and the post goes up.

1. I made them because my co-worker sent me a list of desserts his mother had told him he loved as a kid. This list included cherry pound cake, scotch cakes (what these are, I do not know…) and lemon pie. Since I had never made any of these things and pie isn’t really conducive to sharing with 15+ people at work I thought I would make lemon cupcakes of some sort.

2. At my grocery store, there are lemons. It does not specify what type of lemons and there is only one basket of lemons. I don’t know if I got Meyer lemons or even if there are other lemons. I clearly need to educate myself about the various species of citrus fruits that exist.

3. This recipe uses a lot of eggs. A LOT. 17 to be exact. Which is fine because at the time we had 4 dozen eggs in the fridge for some strange reason. Needless to say, these cupcakes are a heart attack in a cute wrapper.

4. The curd is the best part. So citrus and lemony. Yum. I didn’t use freshly squeezed lemon juice because that would have required 6 lemons which is slightly ridiculous. I’m sure Martha would judge me but no one I gave them to could tell the difference.

5. The cupcakes were very dense and I wasn’t crazy about that. There is cream cheese in the cupcakes so it is supposed to be this way but I think a lighter cake would compliment the curd much nicer.

6. Excessively large recipe – it makes 42 cupcakes! Why is this necessary?! It is fine because everyone at work was able to have seconds, and thirds but I feel slightly bad about secretly raising everyone’s cholesterol.

7. I made one slight mistake of piping the curd on top of the cupcake instead of piping some of it into the cupcake. Maybe this would have made it less dense and would have made the two elements of the cupcake work more in sync with one another.

8. Everyone loved these but from what I can tell it was because of the curd. I think I need to find a recipe that uses this curd in a different way.