Welcome to "chuff to bits"! My blog about food, crafting, and other wonderful things! Stay tuned to find out what!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cherry angel food cake with cherry cream cheese icing. How it all turns out.

Ok, so I don't really know the answer to how it all turns out. I DO know the answer to how the stew worked out. It was wonderful, delicious and what wasn't eaten is in the freezer for later. If I had it all to do again, I would maybe thicken it a little more.

The cake also turned out delicious. I took a jar of marachino cherries and put them in a food processor, saving the the juice for later. I made a box mix (I'm a bit of a cheater) and added the cherries at the last minute, cooking as per the directions. For the icing, I mixed cream cheese with icing sugar and butter to taste, then slowly added marachino cherry juice and icing sugar for taste and consistency. Mine was glaze consistancy but you could opt for a more frosting-y type glaze. Angel food cake is typically low in calories and fat free, and I used 95% fat free cream cheese so if you want to omit the butter you could have yourself a whole guilt-free cake!

As for today? I have no plans, none, zero. Maybe I'll cook something.....

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holiday Hangover

The title today may be a bit of a misnomer. While I didn't drink all that much over the holidays, I sure do feel hungover. There's a distinct level of BLAH when the holidays are finally over. I feel like not enough time was spent with my family. I've eaten too much good food (is there really such a thing?). I'm exhausted and definitely not looking forward to going back to work. I've seen a number of successful relatives, and I'm considering the flaws in my life.

I have the day to myself today. I chose to spend it relaxing with the pets, staying warm in the sub-zero temperatures, cooking, and watching movies. The movie I chose this morning was "Julie & Julia". I'm not really sure why I chose it. While I love food, I'm no girly-girl, and I don't like Julia Child. I don't really know anything about cooking from a professional point of view, I'm not a very good blog writer (as you can plainly see) and I'm not a huge fan of french food. Nonetheless I'm feeling foodie today, and wanted something cheerful. Unfortunately, the movie didn't have the effect of cheering me up. If anything it made me feel worse about my life. As both women find themselves wondering where they're going, and what they're doing with their lives, I think the same thing about my own. Julia Child goes to Le Cordon Bleu, then writes a book, Julie Powell starts project to cook her way through it. Where am I going? What project am I taking on? I can't go to school for cooking, and while I love to cook, I'm not sure I'd ever want to be one. Baking has some appeal, but I'm terrible at pastry and cake decorating is something everyone seems to be doing these days. Besides, I'm not rich, and my work leaves me little enough time for eating and sleeping as it is. Cooking my way through Julia Child's cookbook has clearly been done before and I'm sure nobody reads this in the sea of blogs that are out there.

I hate to admit it, but I'm beginning to believe that I'll be one of those people who just goes through the motions. Forever working a job I hate because I have to and never really loving what I do. I'm not even sure I'll ever be able to say "Well, I dislike my job, but it pays for this hobby that I love". The real question is, can I live like that, for the rest of my life? Well, I guess we'll see, won't we?

At any rate, there was more than one scene in the movie today that mentioned Julia Child's Beef Bourgignon and I've had a craving for beef stew with dumplings for ages now. It only seemed right that I make stew for dinner. My grandmother used to say that if you were baking, you should follow the recipe exactly, making minimal changes, but if you're cooking, you should just follow your heart (or stomach I suppose). So I'm making this beef stew without a recipe, hoping for something close to my grandmother's, though she used to put kidney in hers and I'm certainly not going to put it in mine. It's cooking right now, so I'll update you later with how it turned out.

Beef Stew with Dumplings

1lb stew beef cubes (I used strips of brisket cut into 1"x1" chunks)
5 medium carrots rough chopped
3 stalks celery rough chopped
3 cloves garlic peeled and smashed with the side of my knife
10 new potatoes halved
2 litres beef broth
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
6 large shallots peeled and halved
1 cup flour
1 cup young red wine
3 bay leaves
olive oil
buiscuit mix

I'm estimating all of these measurements and feel free to do the same yourself, substituting wherever you like.

Put the cubed beef in a ziploc bag with the cup of flour and shake to coat. Heat a big soup pot until drops of water thrown in sizzle. Pour in about a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Take the beef out of the bag of flour and put them all in an even layer on the bottom of the pot. Leave it for a minute or two until you're sure it has a crust, then flip them all over and repeat. Prep all your veggies while you're waiting for the meat to brown and when it's done add the wine and stir to get all the good bits on the bottom up. Then add the carrots, celery, potatoes, shallots, bay leaves, garlic, salt and beef broth. Add enough water to cover the veggies. Bring to a boil then simmer on low for at least an hour, it's done when you're happy with it, if you want a thicker broth then add flour or cornstarch or bisto (mix it with a little water to form a thin paste first or you'll end up with clumps). About ten minutes before it's done make up the biscuit mix according to the directions on the package, add a little more milk or water than it calls for (so the batter isn't dry and flaky but pliable and doughy) drop it by large spoonfuls into the pot and simmer for ten minutes or until the dumplings are cooked. Enjoy!

For dessert I'll be making a cherry angel food cake with cherry cream cheese icing (both low fat!).

I"m including in today's post some Christmas tree pictures from family and friends as well as a better picture of my own tree taking with my brand new camera!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Cookies Are Taking Over!

I was embroiled in a battle for kitchen counter space yesterday. At one point the kitchen was covered in cookies...the counter, the dishwasher, the fridge, even the coffee maker had cookies on it. Yesterday I made shortbread, sugar cookies, and tiny bite sized mincemeat pies. I had to rely on some tasting help from the Significant Other since I think mincemeat is disgusting. I don't think he minded though.
I also got his help with the photos, he has a better eye AND camera phone than me. So today's post includes LOTS of pictures.

I managed to get some "before" pictures of the tiny pies. I didn't get the before pictures of anything else, I forgot to take pictures. This brings the cookie count up to 6 . That would be, plain shortbread, sugar cookies, linzers, gingerbread, mint chocolate cookies, and orange cardamom shortbread. Seven if you include the tiny pies.

The pies were perhaps the easiest thing I made yesterday. I simply used premade rolled pie crust and rolled it out on the counter. I cut it into rounds and put them in the tiny muffin pan, filled them each with a spoonful of premade jarred mincemeat and topped them with another round of dough. If I were to do it again I would use a larger round for the bottom so that the tops could attach better.

Left on my To-do list is the final wrapping of a few gifts, almond paste for the fruitcakes, and homemade gumdrops.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

York Peppermint Patty Chip Cookies

Mmmmm..... So in my quest to create a dozen baked goodies for family and friends this Christmas, I tried something a little strange last night. I had plans to make sugar cookies, gingerbread, and shortbread for christmas to go along with the fruitcake and hot-chocolate-on-a-stick that I already made. I wanted to do something minty and had thought about making mint gumdrops, then settled on mint cookies. None of the recipes I found were what I really wanted, so I adapted something to fit. I chose this recipe and modified it a little:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup Dutch cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar, plus more for dipping
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • my modification, add about 1 1/2 cups York Peppermint Patties cut up in small chunks.
  1. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, 2 cups sugar, and eggs on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla, and mix to combine. Gradually add dry ingredients, and combine with mixer on low speed. Add the peppermint patties (do not substitute semi-sweet chocolate chips). Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and chill until dough is firm, about 1 hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with Silpat baking mats. Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Dip top of each ball into sugar. I dipped mine in a shimmering sugar for christmas. Place on prepared baking sheets about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until set, about 8 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Again I won't include pictures because my camera SUCKS. The cookies were sinfully good, however, they won't be going out as gifts this year. The peppermint portion of the patties melts better than the rest of the dough, so most of the cookies came out too thin. I found that I had to be sure not to go over the 1" diameter and to pull them out of the oven the MOMENT they go from little balls in a pool of melted dough to little fluffy domes. They make a soft cookie, but irresistable. I'll be sure to make them for myself on a regular basis. Also, be sure no to substitute semi-sweet chocolate chips. The dough has a very subtle saltiness (chocolate and salt are wonderful together, trust me) and the few I put the semi-sweet chips in didn't taste very good at all. This recipe would benefit from tests with other forms of peppermint treats to find one that works perfectly.

Today should be full of baking and the last of my christmas wrapping. Perhaps I'll write Santa and ask him for a camera for Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dinner in the park

There's a restaurant in Toronto called Grenadier Cafe. It has the great honour of being the only restaurant in High Park, which is the largest park in downtown Toronto and something like a small version of New York's Central Park.

A little bit of history on High Park. The majority of the land, about 160 acres of it, was purchased by a man named John George Howard in 1836 for the grand sum of $1000. He built a house for himself and his wife on the property which is now the Colborne Lodge museum. In 1873 the Howards decided to give the land to the City of Toronto, with several conditions the first, that they be allowed to live on the land for the rest of their lives (and in fact they are now buried on the property). The second that the land always be free and available for the use of the citizens of Toronto. The third being that the land always be alcohol free. This makes the property (and therefore the Grenadier) the only remaining "dry" area of Toronto.

The Grenadier is a breakfast hot spot for those in the know. People line up on the weekends early in the morning to eat breakfast and stroll the park, watch the birds and soak up the sun. As far as location goes, the Grenadier probably has the best in the city, with nothing but nature around you can almost forget you're in the T-dot. High Park has dozens of remarkable places to discover, there's a castle hidden in there somewhere, a zoo, a sculpture garden, an outdoor theatre, and acres of trees. Their breakfast is wonderful and delicious. (I'm a sucker for the belgian waffles with blueberry syrup). The service can occaisionally be slow or even mixed up when they're packed. The line up for table service is always shorter than the counter service but there are fewer families at counter serve on Sunday mornings (important if you have a hangover that may be negatively effected by screaming toddlers).

I, however, know the greatest secret of all. Grenadier for dinner. That's right. So, they advertise their dinner all the time, on the menu (which is huge and could be considered a weapon). The other night the Significant Other and I decided to try it. So, at about 6 or 7 pm we struck out for the Grenadier. The normally PACKED restaurant was so empty we thought it was closed. In fact, there were only 2 other people in the entire restaurant. We chose a lovely table near the cozy fireplace. On weekdays they have a soup and salad special for $10. The special comes with soup and salad, and your choice of 10 different entrees. I had the pork schnitzel and the S.O. had the New York steak. both came with potatoes, veggies and dinner roll. It was all delicious. I'd marginally choose the steak over the schnitzel. The steak was tender and juicy and the schnitzel was deliciously breaded. The veggies were a standard affair of carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. The roasted potatoes were extraordinary (really!). The soup was a homemade chicken noodle, and the salad had one of the best dressings I've had in a restaurant. Overall it was amazing, marred only by the sound of silverware being sorted for tomorrows breakfast in the background. So good that I had to tell you about it.

So, if you're in Toronto, and looking for a good place to have dinner tonight, go to the Grenadier.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Deck the Malls with Angry Shoppers...Fa la la la la

So contrary to convention, crazy holiday shopping is one of my favourite things to do. Yesterday, the WHOLE day, was spent in wild Christmas shopping madness. There were dozens of stores, and by the end of it both my feet and my wallet were in serious pain. However, despite the craziness, I have some great tips to share with you to make your last minute holiday shopping maybe a little less painful:

1. Make a list, check it twice. Make a list of gifts you need, list the store, item, and person involved (and possible alternate gifts should the first one be unavailable). Bring the list AND a pen with you when you go. Trust me on this one.

2. Let it snow. Leave your coat in the car, or (if your mall has one) leave it in the coat check. In most stores during Christmas rush, they crank the heat right up ( I have no proof of this, but it sure feels that way). After lugging crap around and standing in line for a half hour, you'll be thrilled you're not sweating to death like the people in front of you. If you absolutely have to bring your coat, fold it up and put it in a bag, just don't put it down somewhere and forget it.

3. Wrap it up. I LOVE to wrap gifts, seriously, love it. But, if a store is offering free gift wrapping, TAKE IT. Some gifts might not need that special touch, and nobody needs to spend a week wrapping presents.

4. Follow the star. If you can get a map of the mall you're going to, print it out. Make a list of the order of stores you need to go to and which items you need to get at each store. DON'T shop for yourself. It's tempting to pick up that thing you've always wanted because it's on sale, but, you could get it as a gift from someone else. You'll also very likely blow your budget trying to fit in things that aren't gifts. Write them down instead, on that handy list you brought, and go back for them in the new year when it's not so hectic.

5. Have a cup of Christmas cheer. While you're running around, take a break, have a coffee, hot chocolate, or cup of cider. Remember why you're really here, what giving really means, and try to enjoy the decorations, music and cheer around you. Regroup, check your list again, and refine what you have left to pick up.

6. UNwrap it. That's right. A lot of gifts come with extra packaging, boxes, plastic, cardboard. Throw it out. While you're regrouping, open the packaging of any gifts that don't need the boxes. Don't open anything breakable, electronic, or that the recipient might need to return, or that might be harder to wrap without the box it came in. Throw away the extra packaging, but NOT the instructions. This way you're carrying smaller bags, with just the items in them, not lots of bulky packaging. Don't forget to recycle where you can.

Overall, remember to have fun, remember that the point is joy and love, not price tags.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chrismas preparations continue

It's noon here, and I've had a fairly productive day so far. This morning I had a court date for a parking ticket I was fighting (thanks to the advice of the officer who gave me the ticket), and also thanks to him, the charges were withdrawn. YAY! Thanks Officer Awesome!

Today I've finished my birdseed wreaths. I've used the recipe for these lovely wreaths from over at Dereila Nature Inn. I used half the recipe posted there, since I have a smaller silicone bundt pan. Frankly, the hardest part of the process was tying the raffia onto the wreaths without destroying them. I've seen other wreaths set into a wooden box and packed with raffia, where you simply hang the whole box outside. I think I'll use that method next time since the birds may steal the raffia for nesting before they've eaten the seed. Also frustrating is loosing several feet of counter space while I wait for the wreaths to air dry (which took me days). I've resorted to packing them into shoe boxes with desiccate packs, in hopes it will keep away the mold for a little longer. I may pack them in salt if this doesn't work. Overall they turned out beautifully.

I've also included photos from the "Hot Chocolate On a Stick"s that I've made. I got this wonderful idea from Giver's Log. I used milk chocolate gourmet baking wafers from the bulk store for the inside. Then I coated them in a dark chocolate "Mayan" chocolate bar. It was about 60% cocoa, with orange, cinnamon and chilies in it. I used a sort of star shaped ice cube mold to make them, and the finished product is cute and delicious.

Now..to finish up those Christmas cards...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Food and Trees

In my first week here, I'd like to bring you up to date on some of my Christmas baking preparations. I'd also like start today with a post of a Christmas tree (mine to be exact). Over the next two weeks I'll be posting pictures of various trees I've come across in my holiday travels to family and friends. I find Christmas trees to be an interesting commentary on the lives, loves and festivities of the people who have decorated them.

Unfortunately I'm no photographer, also I frequently take pictures with the horrible camera on my cameraphone. However, if you look carefully, you should be able to see:
-tin icicles
-sparkly snowflakes
-cinnamon gingerbread stars
-candy canes
-gumdrop garland
-cranberry garland
-paper garland
-folded paper bells
-clear ornaments painted with snowflakes
- and twinkle lights
The stars, painted ornaments, and paper ornaments were all made by myself. I swear I'll get better pictures, and if there's interest I'll give the websites, instructions or methods that I used for the ornaments I've made myself.

Moving on to the baking side of things, I find my fridge full of fruitcakes this time of year, they've gotten a 4th dousing of orange brandy today, and should be ready for their almond paste this week. I've bought some lovely orange-cardamom shortbreads and will probably be making some plains of my own. I'll also be making a foray into gingerbreads and sugar cookies. To get you all the way up to date, I've already failed at making my own chocolates this year( had some problems with the fillings). I also made spice cake by adapting a chocolate cake recipe, which has already been demolished.

Well, I will leave you with thoughts of delicious foods, and will hopefully come back with successes, failures and recipes.


Welcome internet people!

This is my inaugural blog post. The very first in what I hope will be a long blogging career. This blog is born of my dissatisfaction with my life. More specifically, I hate my job. After years of schooling (which I'm still paying for) and a lovely degree on my wall....I hate it. I hate everything to do with it. I loathe it even.

Easy enough right? Just do something else? Ah, but there are bills to be paid, commitments to be held up to, and just what to do with the framed degree on the wall in the den.

I have great hopes that this blog will bring me (if not a new career) then at the very least a sense of "doing something I enjoy".

You see, I have few real hobbies. I mean, I do things, but I don't "have a hobby". I suppose I'm "crafty"...both in the artsy and devious kinds of ways. I like to bake, I read, I have pets. I suppose all of these are hobbies in a way. They're nothing I'd like to do on a daily basis. I do, have future plans for my life, but they are certainly long-term, and money dependent.

Therefore, in this blog, I will explore the things I like in life. I hope that some of you will join me in a journey to discover who I am, what I like, and where I'm going.

Welcome to my world,

Search Results