Berry Delicious and Puppy Love

Local strawberries are hard to find around these parts now, but 2 weeks ago we drove to the country side and made an emergency stop at one of the U-PICK farms. We filled our faces full of these little sweet treasures. For most of the year we live on semi-tasteless California grown berries, but it is a true delicacy to savour the real thing for a few weeks every summer.

A colleague at work sent me one of those crazy email forwards that was actually worth trying . In fact it is quite brilliant!

The key to preventing moldy berries…

Berries are delicious, but they’re also delicate. Raspberries in particular seem like they can mold before you even get them home from the market. There’s nothing more tragic than paying $4 for a pint of local raspberries, only to look in the fridge the next day and find that fuzzy mold growing on their insides. Well, with fresh berries just starting to hit farmers markets, we can tell you that how to keep them fresh! Here’s a tip I’m sharing on how to prevent them from getting there in the first place:

Wash them with vinegar.

When you get your berries home, prepare a mixture of one part vinegar (white or apple cider probably work best) and ten parts water. Dump the berries into the mixture and swirl around. Drain, rinse if you want (though the mixture is so diluted you can’t taste the vinegar,) and pop in the fridge The vinegar kills any mold spores and other bacteria that might be on the surface of the fruit, and voila! Raspberries will last a week or more, and strawberries go almost two weeks without getting moldy and soft. So go forth and stock up on those pricey little gems, knowing they’ll stay fresh as long as it takes you to eat them.

So many times I have picked up berries at the market only to have them turn bad within a day. This trick actually seemed to extend the life of these precious berries that we brought home, over-ripe from the hot sun as well as berries I picked up at the store.

Maddie ( almost 3) was a bit of a bull in a china shop and we had to constantly make sure she was not stomping over the precious strawberry plans. She liked to pick the very dark red ones the best. Exactly the type that needed this fancy preservation treatment.

I swear it really WAS brilliant. ( I said that already, right?!)

Over the next week we indulged in fresh smooshed strawberries over breakfast cereal, topped with Plain Greek Yogurt ( add a little vanilla and agave nectar if you need it sweeter)

It’s the best breakfast you can eat. Slow cook your oatmeal over low heat ( rice method) –meaning do not stir it into a gloopy mess–and add some chopped apples and cinnamon to the mix.

Try it with any berries or fruit compote all year round. I love to throw in frozen blueberries or raspberries–as they hit the hot cereal, they are perfectly thawed enough to enjoy.

…but I digress. The reason we actually packed up the car and drove 2 hours was to meet up with our soon to be puppy….henceforth known as Gertie the Golden Doodle. I think I must have had amnesia around puppy hood but let’s just say that she prefers human flesh to teethe on, over shoes and furniture. We are working on eradicating that at the moment. I also have a shower curtain over my area rug. Oh joy.

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the holy grail of butter cream frosting

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I am on a quest for the best vanilla cupcake paired with the holy grail of BUTTERCREAM. With the plethora of cupcake shops out there this should be an easy task –but not so. Many bake shops excel at particular flavours but I have only found a couple of shops that has really delivered on the vanilla butter-cream. Too many frostings are overly sweet , cloying and sickly tasting to me.  There was a time when I was anxious to be seduced by a cupcakes beauty only to be bitterly disappointed. Sadly now, I am weary and jaded!

Finding the perfect recipe is equally difficult….but I have done it!!!

First off I was sucked in by the heading of BEST GOLDEN CAKE RECIPE by a famous baking blog. Against better judgement I ignored my own instincts to forego the mixer when incorporating the dry and wet ingredients together and used the mixer instead. Predictably the cakes were tough, and riddled with tunnels. Like a long-lost friend, I sought out my OLD SCHOOL BETTY CROCKER recipe for DINETTE cake and followed the method my mother had taught me years ago. I have used this recipe on many occasions over the years as it is a perfect easy to pull together basic butter /golden cake. You can see by the picture how well used this cook book is. Publicly I espoused my love of JOY OF COOKING, when I was harbouring my dirty little secret of BETTY CROCKER hidden away at arm’s reach. It kills me to look back at some of the “old timey recipes” I saved in the binder.

Here is the recipe for DINETTE CAKE- according to Terri and then the best  BUTTER CREAM that I searched out on All Recipes.com. (The user comments were very helpful in order to decipher the best method to use, since you will see the original instructions are kind of vague.)  My sister Lori had shared a custard buttercream and I had loved it but lost the recipe.I had tried to recreate it from memory and was not getting the perfect end result I wanted. I have added my own notes (IN RED CAPS) too so you can try it out.

Then tell me if you don’t love it!!

happy eating, terri

DINETTE CAKEadapted from Betty Crocker 

MY VERSION OF DINETTE CAKE:

IN STAND MIXER BEAT:

  • 1/3 c butter
  • 1 c sugar

BEAT TILL SMOOTH and fluffy and add in

  • 1 egg-

CONTINUE TO BEAT UNTIL SOFT then remove bowl from stand mixer

ADD BY HAND —
  •  3/4 c  Milk ( can be sour or buttermilk or whole milk) and vanilla flavouring or paste
THEN FOLD IN
POUR INTO CUPCAKE TINS OR 1 9×9 sq or 1 large round tin.
Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees F
Set timer according to your pan size–small cupcakes take approx 15 min but check your over to get the right timing
COOL ON RACKS and ice with  butter cream when ready . You can get fancy and add a raspberry of blueberry or whatever you like–but you really can enjoy as is. 

BEST BUTTERCREAM– adapted from the recipe on this link. 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened (UNSALTED IS BEST BUT NOT IMPERATIVE. DO NOT USE MARGARINE)
  • 1 cup white sugar ( TAKE PLAIN WHITE SUGARAND BLEND UNTIL POWDERY IN YOUR BLENDER–OR USE ICING SUGAR. IT IS CHEAPER TO BLEND YOUR OWN THOUGH AND WORKS GREAT)
 Directions
  1. FIRST STEP:  In small saucepan cook flour and milk until it forms a ball, stirring constantly. Cool to room temperature. ( I USE A GLASS BOWL AND HEAT UP IN THE MICROWAVE. IT JUST SEEMS LIKE LESS MESS TO ME AND NO POTENTIAL BURNING)

    see how think it is??? very goopy.
    see how think it is??? very goopy.
  2. SECOND STEP: With an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until fluffy. ( LET THE CUSTARD COOL –) 

    grinding my white sugar into a powdery fine concoction
    grinding my white sugar into a powdery fine concoction
  3. THIRD STEP : Beat both mixtures together on high speed until fluffy and smooth. Add vanilla and beat until combined. Refrigerate for about 1/2 hour (IF NEEDED), until it is of spreading consistency. (USE A STAND MIXER to incorporate the butter mix and custard mix—AND BEAT TO REMOVE ANY LUMPS- YOU CAN THIN A TINY BIT WITH MILK OR CREAM IF NEEDED BUT CUSTARD CAN BE VERY GLUEY. REMINDED ME OF MY FLOURAND WATER GLUE COOKIES I USED TO BAKE OUT IN THE SUN WHEN I WAS A KID–I ALSO TRIED TO MAKE MY DAD EAT THEM AFTER SPRINKLING WITH NESTLES QUICK POWDER ON THE TOP…be patient, it will all come together!)
  4. FOURTH STEP: WHEN READY TO FROST THE CAKES–IT IS EXTRA PRETTY TO USE A PASTRY BAG WITH A STAR TIP–BUT A KNIFE WILL DO IN A PINCH. 

Father’s Day give-away!!!

There is a certain guy I know that decided to throw caution to the wind, travel far outside his comfort zone and have a life changing experience. If there is a man in your life that you are looking to inspire or if you want a vicarious life adventure then this is the book for you.

I HAVE A BEAUTIFULLY BOUND BOOK TO SEND FREE TO ONE LUCKY READER – randomly chosen and 2 ebook versions as well ( please specify your preference). All you have to do is subscribe to my email list or just send me a note to enter. If you have a story to share of your own life adventure…even better! 

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Now, back to Bob’s story…I laughed, I cried , I howled…well really I laughed. Not much crying involved. I must admit I was also inspired — but mostly I got into the food descriptions, and I know there are a lot of you out there who will too 🙂 READ ON….

Adventures with Knives: Surviving 1,000 Hours of Culinary School  

by Bob Foulkes 

Staring down a milestone age, Bob Foulkes was not content to experience life from the comfort of his easy chair. From competitive running, cycling, and swimming to travelling the world and extensive volunteering, Bob had experienced his fair share of adventures. Then he turned 60. Semi-retired, restless, and yes, bored, Bob was ready for his next adventure.

Inspired by Julia Child’s passion for food and a certain French animated French ‘Rat’, Bob takes his leap and enrolls in the six-month culinary program at Vancouver’s renowned Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. And so begins his next adventure — 1,000 hours of intensive training in the art of classical French cooking.

In this hands-on program where students are expected to work hard and put in long hours, Bob — the oldest student in the class, by a long shot — faces the many rigorous mental and physical challenges of culinary training with grace, humility, and good humour. As he learns the ropes in the kitchen, he makes some unexpected discoveries about himself, his relationships, and the meaningful role that preparing and sharing food has had in his life.

Filled with technical and personal details of Bob’s culinary education, this behind-the-scenes account of life in a professional training kitchen is both eye-opening and inspiring.

Adventures with Knives is now available from Indigo.ca in paperback as well as fine independent bookstores…and in electronic reader form http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/BobFoulkesAdventuresWithKnives

Bob’s book has also been nominated for TASTE CANADA’S CULINARY NARRATIVE CATEGORY. 

Also if you are in Vancouver visit the Pacific Culinary Arts restaurant and or bakery. Both are amazing!

roasted mushroom & cauliflower soup

It was time to get rid of the week old roasted veggies in my fridge and I was fighting off the urge to eat out. I don’t know why it is SO hard to cook for myself but it always has been this way. I far prefer a crowd around the table to the drudgery of preparing a solitary meal. It’s been an interesting exercise to think about new postings to add to my blog. I’ve actually been inspired to cook more, even for just moi! I think blogging food for me translates into a dinner party of sorts…Something I get to share with all of you guys if you were here with me right this minute. Even better, it would be great to hear back if anyone tries one of my recipes (I know it might actually be a stretch to call it a recipe) themselves…so please, send me updates if you have tried something or if you were inspired to change it up.

Another confession — I am a canned soup hater. I find few things less appetizing than Campbell’s Soup, yet homemade soup can be so healthy and delicious. As a kid I overdosed on canned and powdered chicken noodle soup. I supplemented my regular Kraft Dinner diet with these 2 items growing up. Nothing like multi-taking at an early age, when there was a ton of TV to be watched and only 45 min for lunch.

I will happily eat scratch soups and with the aid of purchased stocks it make the process super fast easy and delicious.

I gathered my mise en place. (my new to me fancy term I must start using for culinary school. It’s mandatory for me to get over my terrible french accent and expand my vocabulary)

5 minute soup- 4 smallish servings

  • Roasted (or fried) cauliflower and onions (approx. 1 -2 cups)
  • Roasted or friend mushrooms (approx. 1 c- leave aside a T for garnish)
  • 3 c of stock ( veggie, beef or chicken)
  • Blend (with blender or immersion blender) 2 c of stock with the veggies til smooth or desired consistency
  • Add into pot and heat–You can add the remainder of stock to make soup as thick or thin as you like.
  • Season to taste with Salt, pepper, 2-3 T of balsamic vinegar, 1 T of Horseradish if desired.
  • Serve with dollop of plain yogurt and tiny chives and a piece or two of mushroom on top

Of course this is not like baking a sponge cake– you can add or delete at whim. Just taste as you go along to make sure you get the proportions right for your taste buds. 

PET PEEVE- stinky dishcloths!

There have been times in the recent past while grabbing for the dishcloth I was horrified to find that I was wiping the counter with something akin to a”stinky butt work sock”. Hoping to always avoid this unpleasantness I have employed these techniques:

  • washing the cloth daily (er, maybe every other day)
  • bleaching the cloth regularly ( bad and toxic!)
  • always making sure it is rinsed in HOT HOT WATER and spread to dry completely
  • I have adopted the cotton, granny knitted versions. (I don’t like to depend on disposable cloths, since I try to cut down waste and I indulge in paper towels for really nasty messes like pig’s blood seeping out meat trays, for instance.)

I admit, I have an “uber sensitive” nose, but I am certain I am not the only one who is assaulted by the  stench but curiously I end up being the only one who seems to do anything about it. (strike up the tiny violins)

Here is my ONE NO FAIL trick between washes and can be done several times a day…

NUKE the HECK OUT OF IT!

and IF IT DOES FAIL, throw the cloth out. Just send it packing to a landfill site somewhere near you.

I take the thoroughly rinsed cloth and soak it with water–then place in the microwave for min 5 min. I might even add more water and have another go at it.

When I remove the cloth–all the cooties are gone. Dead! …and it makes it very easy to wipe down the interior of the microwave at the same time with the steamy hot mess.

Sometimes I add some white vinegar to the whole process, and it makes the microwave even easier to wipe up.

In fact this works so well, that I can wear the cloth on my face!

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I would love to hear some of your KITCHEN TIPS. Send them along. I promise I will try them every legitimate one out ( thought I should give myself some kind of out–just in case there is a tip on how to make pigeon testicles palatable)

new old school popcorn secrets revealed!

I hate the smell of microwave popcorn. It reeks and it has the stench of a toxic dump when it’s burnt. That fake fat that swims in the bag makes me gag! Have I made it clear yet, how much I hate the stuff? …however, Ms. Madds loves popcorn. She’s a salty savoury kind of gal and so I tried out a new trick. Some of you may already know this but I am putting it out there now that I have tried it myself.

You can make popcorn in a BROWN PAPER LUNCH BAG – no fat, no salt, no additives, NO KIDDING….and best of all CHEAP! 

Here is a short modern history of popcorn as I see it:

In the old days (I have skipped over the jiffy-pop era of my childhood) we used oil in a saucepan, but after burning several good pots many of us moved on to AIR POPPERS.  When this bulky one purpose appliance started to spit out un-popped hot kernels that would crack your back teeth out of your skull, people  moved on to the microwave crap. I am not sure how many gazillions of dollars$$$ are spent on this junk but I would suggest we could clothe and feed the world’s poor on the excessive costs associated with the stuff, not to mention the costly strain it puts on our health care system.

Now that I am through with my badly researched and unsubstantiated history lesson let’s move on.

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Assemble your ingredients:

2 brown paper lunch bags, packing tape, popcorn kernels

  • Place 2 Tablespoons of the kernels in the bag.

I decided to try 2 bags inside each other and taped down the folded edge with the best tape on earth–CLEAR PACKING TAPE. Do not staple ( I am afraid of microwave lightning) but — skinny tape may work in a pinch.

TIP: When I folded the bottom of the bag over… it actually helped with the popping process. Take a page out of Orville Redenbacher method. (Curious as to whether Mr. R was still alive… I google him and found out he died in his jacuzzi. Sounds like not a bad way to go if you are 88.)

  • Set microwave to the POPCORN SENSOR or listen to for the popping to stop – 2 to 5 sec apart . Ere on the side of undercooked–as you do not want the burned stench to take over the house.

TIP: I culled out the old maids( un-popped kernels for a couple of bags) and placed them back in the bag once everything had cooled down somewhat and set the sensor one more time.

EAT PLAIN or melt a little REAL BUTTER or go crazy and make REAL CARAMEL POPCORN. You will never ever crave the commercial kind again. I promise.

CARAMEL POPCORN RECIPE:

  • 1/2 c butter
  • 1 c dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 c corn syrup  or honey or maple syrup ( to be really decadent)
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 5 c of popped popcorn in a roomy bowl. Make sure old maids ( un-popped kernels ) have been sifted out.
  • extra MIX-INS if you like–chocolate chips, nuts, coconut, gummy bears—the sky’s the limit)
  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in brown sugar,  syrup and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil without stirring approx. 4 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in soda and vanilla. Mixture will foam up–I LOVE THIS!
  3. Pour over popcorn and mix gently to cover all the kernels.
  4. Add any mix ins or enjoy as is.

SPECIAL NOTE: DO NOT ADD ROSE WATER to the caramel syrup. For some reason, I did this once about 20 years ago. My kids have never forgiven me and it is one of those memories that will not die. I have no excuse for this grave error, except that I am extremely experimental. I think outside the box. Sometimes people get hurt in the process.

 

me and Mark Bittman are peeps

I would like to think so but I flatter myself. He has inspired me for years now. I was delighted to see that my pizza post was right in sync with his NYTimes piece this week.

Check out his TED TALK too while you are at it.

HOW TO COOK EVERYTHING

For Chefs at Home, a Pie Above the Rest

Potato Pizza: Mark Bittman makes a simple pizza with potato and rosemary.

By 
Published: April 17, 2012

I’M here — back in the Dining section with a new column — to insist once again that not only can you cook it at home, but you can likely cook it better.

Talk Pizza With Bittman

Mark Bittman will host an hourlong chat this Wednesday at 3 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on The Times’s Facebook page, answering your questions on the ins and outs of making pizza.

Multimedia

Recipe

How to Cook Everything

Mark Bittman’s new column, How to Cook Everything, will appear every other week in the Dining section. He will continue to write for Opinion and the Sunday Magazine.

“It,” in this case, is pizza, and the impetus for today’s installment was a visit to a highly acclaimed pizza joint in Manhattan, where I was served (for $15, or about four times the cost of the ingredients in a supermarket) a perfectly ordinary, overly poofy, drearily sauced pizza. Granted, the mozzarella was first rate. Big deal.

This followed by a couple of days what has become a not-atypical dinner at my house, where I served a pizza bianca, lightly sprinkled with olive oil, salt and rosemary, and threw together a pie with a tomato sauce based on a slew of onions and a bit of guanciale (only because I happened to have some), along with a sufficient amount of grated Parmesan to make its presence known.

I won’t even get into the money-saving part; people who cook at home for economic reasons already know about that. I will say that my crust tasted better, and my pizza was more properly cooked (yes, that’s a matter of taste, but do you really want to eat a bialy with tomato and cheese, as seems to have become de rigueur?) and better sauced than the one I ate a few days later in Midtown.

Yours can be, too, and I know that because I’m not really that good at making pizza. In fact, two or three of my close friends do it better, and I know of others.

It’s about three things: some confidence, practice and a food processor. This piece is my attempt to instill you with the first, encourage you to get the second and implore you to use the third, though even that’s not necessary, since there is an alternative: the no-knead method popularized by Jim Lahey. I’ve gone back and forth between the two, but for ease, lack of mess and more-flexible timing, I’ve come to prefer the food processor. Still, make the dough however you like, because you won’t go wrong.

From the beginning, the food processor was justifiably promoted as a tool for making dough. (My longstanding guide for this, by the way, is “The Best Bread Ever,” by my friend Charles Van Over.)

I love it for pizza because you can make the dough in five minutes. (A video of this is here.) Although rushing isn’t ideal, you can start pressing or rolling out the pizza 20 minutes later. (Use the larger amount of yeast if you’re doing this.) Which means, in a pinch, start to finish in an hour.

What is ideal is letting the dough rest for a while in the refrigerator or even freezer, though for best quality not for more than a few days. The advantages of this technique, besides the obvious convenience (make the dough in the morning or up to a few days before, and just let it come to room temperature before proceeding), is that the dough matures, marginally improving its flavor and making it considerably easier to handle.

There are, of course, some fine points, but even here there’s flexibility. Should you roll the dough or pat it out? That’s your call. (If you pat it out, you can leave it thick and dimpled — use your fingertips — and call it focaccia.) Should you use a pizza peel and a stone? Well, yes, and if you preheat the stone for a good half-hour, the crust will crackle even more, but it isn’t essential. I didn’t have a peel for a couple of years (no room) and used a piece of plywood or a flexible cutting board. And if you don’t have a stone, a baking or cookie sheet will do fine; just use a little olive oil to keep the dough from sticking. This will give you a crisper crust, one sort of halfway to the fried dough Pete Wells writes about this week.

A whole-wheat crust? Sure, 50 percent; it won’t be as crisp or have the same “pull,” but it will have a deeper flavor and give you a warm, fuzzy feeling. (You can also integrate herbs, garlic, dried chiles, loads of black pepper, cornmeal, whatever, into the crust; the food processor makes this incredibly easy.) Extra-crisp crust with extra-moist topping? Prebake the crust about halfway, with just a bit of olive oil on top, then add everything else and return to the oven.

Mix the dough by hand? Yes, but you’re increasing your workload or, if you go for the no-knead method, your time. If your food processor isn’t big or powerful enough for the recipe here, halve the recipe or get a new food processor. Other uses for the dough? Fried pizza or calzone, both discussed elsewhere in this section; rolls or bread or even those silly garlic knots. But pizza is the highest and best use.

The options don’t stop, and we haven’t even started on toppings. When it comes to these, I’m pretty conservative, favoring the kind of treatments I mentioned earlier, or pizza with potatoes (a legitimate Roman favorite, obviously for carb lovers), eggplant or zucchini.

Others include the obvious, like tomato sauce of almost any type, with or without mozzarella and/or Parmesan; fresh tomatoes; pepperoni; anchovies; sausage (cooked or crumbled); chorizo or other cured meat; olives; onion cooked to any degree or not at all, with olive oil; pesto (or fresh basil); eggplant or zucchini, sautéed or grilled first, with or without cheese and/or tomatoes; seafood (raw clams, oysters, shrimp, scallops, lightly steamed mussels, lobster, whatever), preferably with garlic, oregano and oil.

I don’t wander far from those, which doesn’t mean you can’t. It’s all optional, and all good. Better, in fact.

A version of this article appeared in print on April 18, 2012, on page D1 of the New York edition with the headline: For Chefs at Home, A Pie Above the Rest.