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I wonder if Keith Richards uses Bisto for his Bangers and Mash?

Tonight after work, my husband and I took an unexpected trip to the new “Dutchie’s Fresh Market”. We were pleasantly surprised to find an array of fresh produce and meats and all at a great price. We were surprised because the first time we drove by the store shortly after its grand opening, the doors appeared dingy and dirty leading us to believe the inside would be much the same. Far from it, in fact, it was spacious, clean and the staff were terribly friendly.

Craig’s wandering eye led to the meat counter and with one look at the Oktoberfest sausages, he suggested he make dinner; a traditional English dinner of Bangers and Mash. Delighted not to have to think of something to make with the bits and pieces in the freezer, I congratulated him for his great idea and we grabbed some really good looking white potatoes and some fresh (not to mention, cheap!) sausages. I wasn’t just excited that I didn’t have to make dinner, but I was excited about the meal itself. Bangers and Mash is not something I have ever made myself, nor is it typically something I would choose in a restaurant.

While Craig masterfully cooked and mashed the potatoes with a variety of tools including my brand new pastry blender (pointing out that we really do need a potato masher), I made some accompanying jalapeno cheddar cornbread (a fabulous recipe courtesy of CooksIllustrated*). Craig served me up a mountain of creamy mashed potatoes and a generous serving of two sausages. I added a piece of piping hot cornbread for colour and then we doused the plate in Bisto – instant gravy that I’d never heard of but Craig was quite familiar with given his British heritage. He told me that one of his friends from back home was nick-named Bisto because he can be a bit “thick”… like the gravy. Classic Craig commentary.

The meal was just as Craig described, comforting, filling and perfect for a chilly day (even though it was 11 degrees outside, there were rumblings of winter mittens and Eskimos). After dinner, I had to know a little bit more about Bangers and Mash. I found some interesting history on Wikipedia which explains that the sausages, particularly those made during the war for rationing, had a much higher concentration of water which could lead to explosion (give way to the term “bangers”). Also noteworthy is the fact that Keith Richard’s provides his own Bangers and Mash recipe in his auto-biography – perhaps that’s the secret to his longevity.

Craig's Bangers and Mash

Creamy mashed potatoes, Oktoberfest sausage, thick Bisto gravy and jalapeno cheddar cornbread.

*Cooks Illustrated has magazine and online subscriptions which is why I won’t post their recipes on my blog. It is totally worth the money and I will continue to buy a membership to ensure they deliver the same incredible recipes that are perfected by their TestKitchen.

 

 

 

 

Waste not, want not

If you don’t lick the spoon, you’re just plain foolish. The “leftovers” of baking are sometimes my primary reason for baking in the first place (I’ve never gotten sick from eating raw cookie dough after nearly 30 years of consumption, so why worry now). However, there is one baking leftover that I often get frustrated with… chocolate chips. Rarely does a recipe call for the entire bag of chips, but instead a cup or two. So there in my cupboard, often sits a 1/4 cup of semi-sweet chips with no home, except, inevitably, my tummy. 

So, in an effort to curb unnecessary sugar raids of the cupboard, I often use the entire bag of chocolate chips in whatever recipe I am making. Besides, I will sample enough to make-up the amount I would have stowed away in the cupboard. But what happens when the recipe calls for only a scant amount? Fear not my cupboard raiders, there is a solution. Take for example a Tiger Bar recipe off the back of the Chipits bag that I made today. It only used in total 3/4 of a cup of the Chipits which left about a half bag of delicious butterscotch bits. I looked at the bag, then the cupboard and then back at the bag and shouted “NO, this cannot be allowed, not this time” and shoved a tablespoon of the buttery Chipits into my mouth. I had to get rid of them, but how?

The recipe has a butterscotch rice crisp base which is then covered with a gentle layer of melted semi-sweet chocolate and finally drizzled with some melted butterscotch chips. Thinking back to some of the specialty dessert bars I had purchased at Vincenzo’s not too long ago, I remembered how many of them were topped with various flavours and colours of chocolate chips. Light bulb! I divided the finishing touches of the bar by drizzling half of it with the melted butterscotch chips and gently sprinkling the remaining bag of butterscotch chips on the other half. I even drizzled the latter with the melted Chipits.

I was pretty impressed with my solution (still ate a few more Chipits – for old time sake – before I let them all go). A few hours later, there was the satisfaction of knowing that no rogue butterscotch chips lay tucked away behind cupboard doors… waste not, want not.

P.S. There is also the satisfaction of knowing that a giant dish of butterscotch bars awaits me in the fridge <grins>.

 

Apologies to Starbucks, but I’m making my own oat fudge bars from now on!

I’ll still get my lattes from the ‘Bucks’, but I think the oat fudge bars are now in my domain.

Late last week, my husband reminded me that the oat fudge bar at Starbucks really is a delicious treat. He shared a piece with me as we waited for our lattes on one of our many visits to Starbucks when we justify the extra $ on a coffee after a long week of work. As I eagerly bit into a piece of the gooey chocolate fudge nestled amongst the rich buttery oat base, I pulled the remainder away and watched the fudge strands extend like mozzarella cheese on a pizza. It was at that moment that I thought, “I’m Googling this recipe and making it!” So on Saturday I Googled, and on Sunday I picked up the missing ingredients (namely the chocolate chips and condensed milk because neither of those last when in my reach). Craig and I had a fun time building this dessert bar together, and an even better time devouring it the next day (it really does taste better after a day of rest). Finally, our co-workers were blessed with the left-overs (this recipe makes a lot if you cut it up into bite sized pieces).

I found this recipe courtesy of Cari Cooks – a Foodbuzz published blog. It matched ingredient for ingredient most of the other recipes I found online and I like the simplicity of her blog, so thanks to Cari for this delicious recipe available here: http://www.caricooks.com/2009/04/recipe-of-day-starbucks-oatmeal-fudge.html

I can’t wait to find another recipe of one of my store-bought favourites… I think baklava is next!

It's not healthy, but it is darn tasty!

ConstantBaker on Twitter

My husband has truly inspired me to get my Constant Baker blog back into a routine with the use of twitter. Find me on twitter @ConstantBaker and watch for more blogs and changes coming soon!

“I need chocolate cake”… “but you don’t like chocolate cake”

I am looking after a sick husband tonight. Yes, that’s right, Craig and I tied the knot in August (that story for another blog perhaps). Everyone knows when you’re sick there are certain foods that just make you feel better. For me it’s white toast (Wonderbread to be brutally honest) and Canada Dry ginger ale. Craig seems to like those too and in an effort to Canadianize him not too long ago, his new comfort food is Kraft Dinner (can you blame him, it is really is good).

So a quick box of Kraft Dinner was “krafted” on the stove. After, we were laying on the couch and he looked at me with his pouty super cute sick face and said to me “Babe, I need chocolate cake.” I turned to him and a smile started to curl on my face. “But babe, you just told me a week ago you don’t like chocolate cake.”  He came up with some sort of defence that I really didn’t understand, but as a good caretaker should do, I listened intently and said “I’ll make you chocolate cake.” Suddenly the colour came back into Craig’s face… clearly chocolate cake is the miracle cure to the common cold.

I found this very quick and simply snacking chocolate cake on where else but Canadian Living. I was expecting to have to run out to the store to get missing chocolate but given the nature of the simple ingredients, including cocoa powder, all I was short was the buttermilk. Not to worry though, as I’ve found ways to turn regular milk into buttermilk. Simply add a tablespoon of white vinegar to a liquid measuring cup and fill it with milk to the 1 cup marker. Let is rest for at least 5 minutes and then use whatever your recipe requires. While I haven’t had a chance to do a comparison, Craig’s chocolate cake was moist and tender, suggesting to me that the substitute was successful.

While I was making the cake quickly in the kitchen, Craig called out “I need a cuddle!” I waved my spatula at him with a bit of frustration and said “What do you want, a cake or cuddles?!?” and I should have known better to ask such a question, because only Craig with his quick wit could come back with “I want cakey cuddles!” We laughed and I quickly put the pan in the oven and then ventured over for a snuggle.

My sick husband devoured a generous serving of chocolate cake dusted with powder sugar about 35 minutes later… and in an effort to make him feel better, I devoured a helping myself. It might not have the healing properties of a bowl of chicken noodle soup, but it certainly made Craig feel better.

Recipes for chocolate snacking cake and buttermilk substitute can be found here:

http://www.canadianliving.com/food/chocolate_snacking_cake.php

http://frugalliving.about.com/od/condimentsandspices/r/Buttermilk_Sub.htm

never lose a recipe

http://www.foodinaminute.co.nz/Recipes/Beef-and-Bean-Casserole – i’ve been given this recipe and I don’t want to lose it… thus I’m posting it :)

the world is our lasagna

So a post is long overdue and I was gently reminded by my lovely fiance, Craig, that I had not posted our culinary masterpiece from his visit in December. You see, Craig currently lives in the U.K., so when he came to Canada in December, we spent a few nights in the kitchen making dinner together.  Learning how to cook (although he really does know how) and spending time in the kitchen with me (because he knows how much I love it) were really important to him. Those moments were undoubtedly some of our favourites. We would often start with a glass of white wine and then we’d tackle the various steps of  the recipe. We made a yummy red coconut chicken curry and our proudest accomplishment was the lasagna. Craig’s favourite meal is lasagna, so it was important to me that we make it together.

Now Craig really does have an incredible sense of humour and he’s pretty quick-witted too (possibly a British thing). So when asked to start a pot of boiling water, I was asked to move aside so the “Constant Boiler” could get to work. Craig told me how the art of boiling water is often misunderstood and beginners often make foolish mistakes such as trying to boil water without a pot or in some rare cases, without water. He found me an instructional video on YouTube and recommended I watch it so that I would be properly prepared to boil water. Inspired by his clever Constant Boiler nickname, I bought him www.constantboiler.com which is being launched very soon.

So, we made the lasagna with great success. It was our last big meal together before he had to travel back to the U.K. so while we delighted in our culinary masterpiece, we ate mostly in silence savouring each bite as we also savoured our last moments together. But the impact of our lasagna wasn’t over. A week or two later I would say to Craig that the world is our oyster but since he doesn’t like seafood, I said “or whatever food you prefer” and simultaneously we wrote to each other, the world is our lasagna!

Lasagna Recipe is available from Canadian Living: http://www.canadianliving.com/food/cooking_school/lasagna__brava.php

Red Coconut Chicken Curry also available from Canadian Living: http://www.canadianliving.com/food/red_coconut_chicken_curry.php

The Constant Boiler tidies up after a massive boiling session.
A layer of sauce, noodles, sauce, cheese and spinach, and repeated a few times.

 

The comforts of tradition… even when ill

I graduated on Friday (yay MBA!) and the week leading up to it was filled with long days and sleepless nights. So inevitably, it’s fitting that by Saturday morning my body said “ENOUGH !” and the immune system bailed and left me feeling fairly rotten (sore throat, swollen glands and deep chest congestion). I made a quick trip to the store to grab some lemon and ginger for a special drink that my friends now refer to affectionately as Momma Chowie Tea. It’s a blend of hot water, fresh lemon juice, fresh sliced ginger and unpasturized honey (or regular) that really has some expediting recovery properties that just work. While I was at the store, I realized I didn’t have a pumpkin for my doorstep (Sunday is Halloween afterall). I found a little round one rather quickly and scooped it up. Suddenly I was overwhelmed by childhood memories of carving pumpkings and scooping out the seeds which my mum would help wash and roast in the oven, dusted lightly with some salt to make a nice little snack.

When I got home I grabbed a serrated knife and opened the top of the pumpkin in a jagged pattern. I scooped out nearly two cups of seeds. I was inspired to do some digging for a roasted pumpkin seed recipe that had a little flare (be it spice sugar). I found one called “Jack by Spicy”, which you can find here on the Canadian Living site. Not only did it satisfy my spice craving but also the intense heat I love on just about anything (hot sauce on ice cream might be coming soon). The finished product was a great twist on a traditional favourite and paired nicely with the Momma Chowie Tea cold remedy (recipe below).

Momma Chowie Tea

1 cup boiling water

1 slice fresh lemon

1 tsp of unpasturized honey

1 tsp of grated fresh giner

Add lemon, honey and ginger to boiling water – stir and drink while water is still quite hot. The heat of the drink is also what helps kill bacteria in addition to the ingredients in it.

Pro-pancakes

Admittedly, staying full is one of the things I struggle with in my diet. One of the best ways I find to stay full however is to eat I really hearty breakfast. A protein pancake is a nice alternative to my mixture of apples, cottage cheese and grains. However, they’re not always the easiest things to make. They tend to be runny, stick to the pan and ultimatley flip into a giant mess.

In search of a new recipe to try, I came across this one. I tweaked it ever so slightly and threw in a scoop of mint chocolate protein powder. Albeit runny once I blended it, the next morning the batter held shape in the frying pan, and flipped successfully. The pancake was hearty but still flavourful thanks to the protein powder. I didn’t put any fruit on it or in it, but that would definitely jazz up the flavour if you used a less obnxoius protein flavour such as vanilla or chocolate.

Try it – make your breakfast healthy and satisfying!

CB

Practice Makes Perfect Pumpkin Pie

Special Guest Blogger, Emilee Boychuk, shares a family tradition and her tips for the perfect crust!

Some of my greatest memories of growing up were the holidays. In my family, tradition is everything and every holiday it’s like eating the same meal I did when my Grandmother made it for me at the age of 3. We are sticklers for tradition with each dish of our holiday dinners. You must hand break the bread for stuffing, no adding in anything strange that you think might be a neat twist on tradition (“The Great Dried Fruit in the Stuffing Debacle” of the mid 1970’s is still talked about to this date) and no trying to make a healthy version of the dinner – it’s a holiday. It might seem crazy, but if you ask any of us you will get the same response: “Why fix something that isn’t broken”. If you ask any of our significant others or family friends, you will get a response similar to the great version coined by one of the newest “outlaws” in the family: “ I make a suggestion for what I think should be done and then when I get the answer “Really….?” or that look that says the same, I just do it the way I know they want me to.”

Thanksgiving is one of those times that we come together as a group and have our family dinner. The formula: A big turkey (we usually get through a 25 + pound bird), mashed potatoes, gravy, squash, cranberries, green beans, carrots and buns. Of course the meal must end with a bang, my favorite part, a great variety of homemade pies.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved my grandma’s pies. Always so flaky and full of goodness and love. I would always save room for that last piece of pumpkin or apple pie, salivating during the whole meal at the very thought of it. As I grew older though, I realized that this was the one place in the meal where there was a tolerance for creativity. As long as you stuck to the staple pastry, you could do almost anything with the filling: traditional apple, strawberry rhubarb, fresh raspberry – the possibilities were endless! However, no matter how creative and delicious you got with the filling, you had to learn the basics – how to make that tasty, flaky pastry.

One day, probably in early university, I mustered up the courage and patience to finally ask my Mom to teach me how to make a pie crust. A little bit of background first though. My Mom is not someone you want to share a kitchen with. She is always milling around behind you, peeking in to make sure you are mixing something just so, or measuring properly, or just in general doing it the way she always does it. At first, the thought of entering the kitchen with such a meticulous and persnickety person was daunting. I am the exact opposite of my mother. I am messy when I cook, I don’t like measuring, but worst of all, I don’t like being told how to do something.

My first pie experience was watching my Mom doing it. She showed me how to measure out the ingredients (properly of course) and dictated strict instructions on the perfect little cubes that you had to have the shortening in and how everything had to be cold that you were working with. Then came the play-by-play on what everything should look like at each step in an excruciating amount of detail. Even down to the pattern that is the “family pattern” that has to go on the top crust of the pastry covering a fruit pie. At the end I felt overwhelmed and like I had learned nothing. I was defeated. Would I ever learn to make that delicious pie?

My stubborn personality insisted that I continue to pursue this seemingly insurmountable task. The next time, we made tandem pastry. Me on the kitchen table and my mother on the counter. She hovered, but for the first time in my life, it was actually comforting to know someone was watching me, given how intense I learned this pastry making process was. In the end, I produced a pie that was delicious. I believe my mother even admitted that my pastry may have been better than hers that day (but of course it was because she was paying more attention to mine than to hers).

Finally, this Thanksgiving, I resolved that I was going to take off the metaphorical training wheels and make the pastry. Alone. With my mother 100km away. I followed all the instructions but was foiled by my lack of careful planning. Mistake one: Chilling the carefully measured water to the point that it was actually frozen and not realizing this until I had to add it to the pastry (I had of course not planned my time well and then attempted to speed up the process by putting the water in the freezer and not the fridge). In the end I had a pie. It was not the prettiest pie (my pastry rolling talents leave something to be desired) but it was my Grandma’s pie that I had made all on my own. No helicopters. It was a delicious, flakey crusted, pumpkin flavored taste of the last 25 years of Thanksgiving all wrapped into one tasty bite.

This first solo mission into the world of the homemade pie left me with a few important pointers surrounding making that “perfect pastry” that I would like to share.

Always start with cold (not frozen) ingredients
It’s important to have your ingredients cold when you begin – shortening, margarine, and water should always be chilled. I even chill my bowls and pastry knife just to be sure. You are probably wondering why- the answer is because my mom says so J

Never try to make pastry in the summer unless you are very skilled and experienced
I think this is due to a humidity and heat issue. I have steered clear of making pies on those hot sticky days to save my walls from the impression of a fussy and unworkable pastry that has been freshly thrown at them in frustration.

Don’t be scared to make your own pastry but learn from someone who knows
It can seem easy to succumb to that $8.99 pie at the grocery store or that frozen pie shell in the freezer section. Don’t. Not only is it enjoyable to bake, but you will get a pie that makes people say “wow” if you are willing to put in the 20 minutes that it takes to make one from “scratch”. It creates, for me at least, a great sense of accomplishment.

That being said, a lot of the pastry making process is visual and learned by feel and experience. You will get a much better result and be much less frustrated if you can find someone who can make the recipe you are trying to use already and is willing to do a few workshops with you. The bonus here- you get a tasty pie in the end each time you practice to share on a non-holiday occasion with friends and family.

Don’t worry about it being perfect

For those of you who struggle with rolling pastry (I am one of those) remember: it doesn’t have to be perfect, it will still taste the same. My last pie had a sizeable crack at the very top of the crust. It glared at me from the oven the whole time it was baking and drove me nuts. But, at the end of the day, the pastry held the filling and the pie was delicious. Don’t try to make it perfect- more than likely you will just end up over-working it and it won’t be as tasty. If you have to start again, start again.

Always let pastry sit at room temperature for a few minutes before rolling it
If it seems to be cracking a lot when you try to roll it out, let it sit for a few more minutes. This was a crucial step that I missed and is why I ended up with the crack that glared at me until I ate it.

Plan ahead
Especially for your first few cracks at making a pie, leave yourself lots of time. Make the pastry the day before you actually want to bake the pie. A lot of pastry recipes can also be frozen, even if they are already rolled out into the pie plate leaving you with only the filling to add when you actually want to bake your pie. Doing this will save you from getting frustrated and more than likely ending up with a not so wonderful finished product.

I am sure I have a ways to go before I can be considered a pastry master, but the important thing is that I am trying and perfecting my skills for that next generation of my family that will most certainly demand a traditional “grandma style” pie for years to come.

Constant Baker
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