Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Brussel sprouts are amazing!

Despite the never ending dreary rain in Vancouver this spring, the garden is doing pretty good. Its mostly the plants that like rain which are thriving, the kale, spinach, radishes and potatoes. (The squash plants however are flailing a bit).

When I was in the garden store, I picked up a six pack of brussel sprouts seedlings as my 'experimental' plant for the year on a whim. I have never grown them and know nothing about it, but I thought I'd try it for fun.

They are doing great, and are the coolest little plant! Sunday when I was out in the garden I discovered little baby sprouts. Who new they grow in the arm pits of the leaf branches!? Its so cool!! The plants are getting so big and leafy that I removed some leaves and sauteed them with Kale and they tasted great. Bonus! Anyways, I'm really charmed by these cute little buds. What a strange place to grow a fruit/flower**. It looks like you are actually supposed to remove the leaves to allow the buds to grow even bigger eventually.

I love gardening for so many reasons, one being that I'm always learning something new and getting to love my veggies more.

So in anticipation of the sprouts that will one day be, here are some great recipes. I think they brussel sprouts are so under-appreciated! Probably because we are used to having them boiled to death, but they are great roasted and Tess has a traditional family recipe that is amazing and is basically just tossing them with Newman's Dressing!

** I got this awesome note from my botanist roomie/co-gardener, Tess, after I posted this:

ALSO: i noticed that you called a brussel sprout a fruit/flower, and so in light of your search to learn more about the plants you are eating, it is actually a perpetually dormant bud:

In botany, a bud is an undeveloped or embryonic shoot and normally occurs in the axil of a leaf or at the tip of the stem. Once formed, a bud may remain for some time in a dormant condition, or it may form a shoot immediately. Buds may be specialized to develop flowers or short shoots, or may have the potential for general shoot development. A terminal bud occurs on the end of a stem and lateral buds are found on the side. A head of cabbage is an exceptionally large terminal bud, while Brussels sprouts are large lateral buds.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

I can't get enough of rhubarb this spring, I find myself bringing it home by the pound and looking for as many different recipes as possible to use it! I mean I know rhubarb pie is nice, but I have managed to make the barb into an amazing curd, a tart, compote and a couple of cakes this season. I made this cake for a big BBQ. Its really easy and fast, pretty and tastes great.

I got this recipe from Martha Stewart, and added a layer of strawberries I had kicking around to the top. They didn't stick around because the cake takes almost 50 minutes to bake, so they pretty much turned to jam, but they added to the flavour and really upped the brilliant red of the rhubarb. There is a second best secret part to this cake- the bottom has a crumb topping on it! It adds a bit of salt and crunch to the cake that is really, really nice. The recipe also calls for orange juice and zest, and I think its the perfect compliment to the tart flavours of the rhubarb.
The rhubarb is macerated in 3/4 cups of sugar, which I thought at first was a lot, so cut it down a bit. My cake topping was quite tart, which I loved! But if you like a sweeter rhubarb you could safely up the sugar a bit.

When the cake first came out of the oven, I almost didn't want to flip it over because that crumb coat looked so pretty! I have been using my spring-form pan to great success with upside-down cakes lately because removing the sides of the pan makes flipping the cake that much less scary.

Martha has done it again, this is such a lovely cake. It would be great served with a bit of creme fraiche. 

I also made this rhubarb cake recipe earlier in the spring, and it was a great transition between a warm winter cake and spring, with the addition of cinnamon and brown sugar- I turned this one into an upside down cake as well, and cut the rhubarb up into smaller pieces for the top. When Sasha was visiting she made the cake again for guests, and people loved it.

If you are as obsessed with rhubarb as I am I would recommend also taking a gander through the Martha Stewart website's 'Rhubarb Recipe Slideshow"  here and I dare you not to run out and grab the last of the rhubarb stalks that are left out there. It has such things as a mouth watering rhubarb meringue pie!

Upside-down Rhubarb Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart

  • For the Topping

    • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
    • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • Coarse salt
  • For the Cake

    • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for buttering pan
    •  1.5 pound rhubarb, trimmed and cut on a very sharp diagonal about 1/2 inch thick
    • handful of strawberries
    • 1 1/2 cups sugar
    • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    • Coarse salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest plus 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 cup yogurt
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the topping: Stir together butter, flour, sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt until moist and crumbly.
  2. Make the cake: Butter a 9-inch round cake pan (2 inches deep). Dot with 4 tablespoons butter (cut into pieces). Toss rhubarb with 1/2 cup sugar; let stand for 2 minutes. Toss again, and then slice the strawberries. Place the strawberries on the bottom of the pan, and then the rhubarb, trying to make the red parts face down as much as possible
  3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Beat remaining stick butter and cup sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in zest and juice. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with sour cream, until smooth. Spread evenly over rhubarb. Crumble topping evenly over batter.
  4. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and top springs back when touched, about 50 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake, and invert onto a wire rack. Let cool completely.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Building Ships

I came upon this quote in the book I'm currently reading, which I can't put down, by Tamar Adler called An Everlasting Meal. Her writing makes me itch to get home and cook my next meal, reminds me to linger over the spicyness of a radish or the luxury of a bit of olive oil on bread. Reading the book is making me look at my fridge, pantry, grocery store and garden in a whole new way and realize the endless possibilities that can come from just a few beautiful eggs or a left over leek.

The book reminds you of how food and eating is so much more than fuel for your body, but an integral way we interact and enjoy the tangible world around us and how the food we eat is a way we come to understand our histories and ourselves. But like all amazing books her philosophies of food are reaching out to touch other parts of my life.

This quote is at the beginning of a chapter where she talks about how to rediscover you passion for cooking and eating when it starts to become an every day chore, which happens to the most devoted food fanatics. Instead of thinking of the chopping, the washing, the sauteeing, she says to rember true love for the exprience and eating of food itself. And she explains it much more eloquently than I am here.

But the quote stuck with me because it makes a lot of sense in another realm of my life, which is politics. Sometimes I think we ask ourselves and others to knock on doors, make phone calls and raise the money without reminding ourselves of the deep longing that drives those mundane chores. For me and other progressives I think that deep longing is for a more just and equal society, and its just as immense as any sailors longing for the sea. Yet somehow it can be easy to lose sight of.If we can teach others to long for this, and remind ourselves of it daily hopefully building our ships will become just a bit easier. 

Just my small thought of the day.

Over and out, Caitlin

(got the ocean picture here)

Monday, June 11, 2012

28- Tripple Layer Chocolate Cake with Blackberry Buttercream

Your own birthday is a good opportunity to make the most ridiculous cake for yourself, that you aren't sure anyone else would want. I had a million elaborate cake ideas going through my head, but in the end the heart wants what the heart wants. And this heart almost always wants just a really good chocolate cake on its birthday.

I had made 3 cake layers a couple days before my birthday, which was on a Thursday this year so I wouldn't be stressed getting it together after work. Tess was making us a nice salad nicoiose dinner, and then friends could come over for cake and ice cream. Fun and simple. But that morning I woke up early knowing that I had to re-bake the cake. The first set had turned out kinda dry and flat and lumpy. The noble 3 layer cake I had envisioned just wouldn't work. At 7 am before work I was mixing and sifting, and made a really good and simple Devil's Food Cake and managed to get it on the cooling racks before 8:30am. That is the sign of a truly neurotic baker, and my roomie and boyfriend thought I was insane. 

I grew up eating "Grandma's Chocolate Cake", my Grandma O'Brien's classic chocolate cake which always has homemade jam between the layers and simple chocolate icing, for many of my cousins' and relatives' birthdays and it to this day remains my favorite chocolate cake recipe. Who knew, that its actually a pretty basic Devil's food cake that I had been eating? Its just a great, chocolatey, not too sweet cake recipe with a beautiful light crumb. 

I think what makes it unique is the boiling water and cocoa powder mix? A lot of other chocolate cake recipes use melted high -grade chocolate, so I'd hazzard to say Devil's food isn't as fancy, but I love it.

Justin and Tess enjoy some bubbly! Tess got me that amazing cake stand for my birthday. So perfect.
For the icing I actually wanted to try something new, so I made Swiss Meringue Buttercream. I read about it on food blogs all the time, and its highly praised as being delicious, spreadable and smooth. I'm not a big fan of buttercream in general, you know the kind you get on cupcakes at safeway? Its so so buttery and not that flavourful. But I was prepared to be wrong. 

I used Sweetapolita's recipe here, because her cakes always look so beautiful. But dudes: it uses SO.MUCH.BUTTER. 5 cups!? 15 eggs?!I halved it, and still didn't use all the butter... And still, this icing was way way too buttery tasting for me. Maybe I'm an idiot but I think I would like this icing with maybe 1 cup of butter max. The question is, would the icing even stay put like that? I'll have to try it again because the meringue part of the icing was beautiful and wonderful. Does anyone know any buttercream tips or tricks? And is it really supposed to taste mostly like butter?

I also attempted to make it ombre coloured, or fading from one colour to the next, but that didn't work out super successfully either. I used blackberry coulis to colour part of the icing, and I still think it looks kind of neat. 

I made little flags to decorate the top and the candles lit them on fire during the singing of Happy Birthday, which was dramatic and hilarious. 

One thing about 3 layer cakes is that even though I had maybe 10-12 people over throughout the night to have a slice of cake and a glass of wine, I still had that cake left over for days. Which is great, since chocolate cake for breakfast is one of the best things ever. 

There is something so good looking about that extra third layer. And that cake stand!

Overall I learned a lot trying the new icing. I loved the cake part, the icing wasn't my favorite but everything still tasted great and it was just fun to have some of my favorite people over to share it with. My quest for the perfect icing continues. The good news is Claire got me some nice spatula's for icing cakes so hopefully my cakes will just get better and better looking.Pretty nice way to turn 28.

I like this picture of Claire just going for the cake in the background.

Recipe for David Lebovitz's Devil Food Cake here.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Monster Cookies

If you are nervous about baking, cookies are a fantastic place to start. They are simple to make, delicious cooked or raw, you don't have to worry about ratios or over mixing and they are easy to experiment with. 

I was craving oatmeal chocolate chip, and morphed them into Monster Cookies, also known as Kitchen Sink cookies (as in everything but).

Starting with a basic drop cookie recipe just pick your favourite trail mix ingredients and go. I had chocolate chips, peanuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds lying around, so in they went!

Your basic cookie recipe is one part butter, one part white sugar, one part brown sugar. Then add one egg, a tsp vanilla. Next add dry to wet; 2 parts flour and a tsp of baking soda and salt. Then mix in your fixings! When I add oats I take out a 1/4 cup of flour, so it doesn't become too dry. 

This recipe is adapted from Joy of Cooking Quick Oatmeal Cookies. 

Monster Cookies 
1 cup butter*
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs*
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cups flour
1 cup rolled oats
add ons:
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1   cup chopped peanuts
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds

*room temperature

1. Cream together butter and sugar. 
2. Add eggs and vanilla and beat together.
3. Sift in flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and mix together.
4. Add oats, and mix. 
5. Add in whatever extras you like!
6. Place tblsp sized pieces of dough on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 C for 12-15 mins, or until golden brown around edges and on top. Remove from oven and cool. Enjoy!

I like to make my cookies big! This means they can take up to 18 mins to bake, just be sure to check on them. Also there is no need to squish them down, they spread on their own.