Tuesday, 29 November 2011

I Blame My Mother


I'm sitting at the island, with a seizing back.  Good grief.  I did it again.  I baked all day.

I don't know what's into me lately.  If I start a small-ish project, it just magically gets super sized right before my eyes.

Today's task was to start baking for the teachers at our school next week as part of the Parent Council teacher appreciation that happens monthly.  I'm not bragging about my participation in this at all, in fact, this is our 8th year at the school and, ahem, my first year providing this snack.  And, I'm only doing it because someone asked me to and I figured that I could ... so therefore I am, and, quite willingly, by the way.  After being in the school for so many years, you come to appreciate the sense of family that develops and so I will do a small gesture to let them know we notice and respect them and all that they do for our boys and our family.

Anyway, it's taken me a long time to decide what to make for their snack time.  Nobody can give me a firm answer on how many teachers/staff are on staff, but a wild guess at 43 + got me panicking.  What on earth could I make for 43 people???  At one sitting?  I thought about fresh cinnamon buns, but those are best hot out of the oven, and, they suggest the snack should be there first thing in the morning and I might be crazy but I'm not getting up at 0600 to make sure anyone has hot cinnamon buns by 0900.  Sheesh.  Dodged that crazy bullet. 

After discussing it with my "baking advisers" (okay, my co-workers during coffee break), I decided that cakes would do the trick and then I spent some sleepless hours (unrelated) last night deciding on what cakes to bake.  In fact, I had such a sleepless night last night that I nearly got up at 0600 to start my baking for the day.  How's that for ironic? 

Anyway, the long story made short is that, really, once you drag everything out to bake one, you might as well bake all four and be done with it.

And so, all four cakes are done.  I made a chocolate zucchini cake - and plan to ice it with brown sugar icing for the retro vibe, ha ha!  Cake #2 - hmm.  Brain fart.  What IS cake #2?  Oh yes - Banana Chocolate Chip cake and I plan to drizzle it (via piping tip) with cream cheese frosting.  Cake #3 - Pumpkin Streusel Cake that will be glazed with an orange/vanilla glaze.  Cake #4 - Carrot Cake, also to be drizzled with cream cheese frosting.

And then...........

Then there was the nasty, devilishly so, Angel Food Cake that let me down.

This is where my mom and "blame" comes in.

Growing up, I loved Angel Food cake - 'twas my favorite cake and most often requested for my birthday. 

My dear, sweet mother was, how do we say it nicely? ... not so good at baking Angel Food Cakes.

And so, as I grew older and eager to try making new things, it became my thrill to become the Angel Food Cake baker of the family.  In fact, a few years ago, mom just gave me her angel food cake pan, seeing that it was fairly useless to her. 

(Now I have to be up front and mention that I have never made an Angel Food cake from scratch.  I make it from a box, and if your culinary respect for me just went flushing down the toilet, I understand if you click on the little "X" in the upper right hand corner, never to return again.)

When I told my mom this morning that I was going to make an Angel Food Cake for myself for my (a-word-that-sounds-like-"earth")-day tomorrow, she told me "well, I hope yours turns out.  Mine always flopped."  To which I replied "don't worry, mine ALWAYS turn out and have NEVER flopped."

Yup.

Mine flopped.

And that's why I blame my mom.  I think she jinxed me.




....p.s.  I couldn't live with the flop....so I made another one.  And it's gorgeous!

See, Mom?  ;)


Flop:
(I know what I did wrong - I didn't let it cool long enough before taking it out of the pan)


Success:



Victory is sweet!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Push Push Push

I was standing at my stove this afternoon, making something for us to eat over the next two "fright" days (days where we are all going in different directions) and I realized that, food-wise, I do push my kids to try new things.  We aren't a "meat and potatoes"-only family.  I am constantly on the lookout for new recipes, new meals to serve, and, frankly, I just expect my family to follow me.

That backfires on me sometimes.  I get all gung-ho about a new taste/flavor, find the recipe, shop for the ingredients, cook the meal and then, just as it's ready to hit the table, this feeling washes over me...I'm not sure they're gonna like this....oh oh.

This happened last summer ('10).

Summer of 2010 was the summer of our kitchen renovation.  By the time July hit, the kitchen was completely demolished and there was literally no end in sight.  I had no stove, no table, no counter top; the microwave was in the hallway, we washed dishes in the bathroom, the fridge was in the dining room.  Everything on the main floor was covered in a thick layer of poly and dust.  We walked on bare wood and lived day to day around the presence of the carpenter and his help.  I remember taking a shower one morning, trying to get that done before the carpenters arrived.  Right as I lathered up, the carpenter arrived, let himself in the front door and proceeded to do some work right outside the bathroom door.  Ohhh, there were some crazy days.

Now, for a foodie like me, you can imagine that the culinary side of me started to suffer from neglect.  A co-worker brought something that she had made to work one day and raved about this new cookbook she was cooking through.  So, my neglected little culinary psyche went and purchased the cookbook and sat for hours on end, at the beach, camping, anywhere, reading through the recipes and dreaming of being able to cook in a fully functioning kitchen again. 

When it was time to go away to the lake, I made an ambitious list of things that I wanted to cook while camping and started to prepare a few things out of the new cookbook.

One recipe stood out in my mind and I was so excited to serve it for supper on one of the first nights at the lake.  The boys seemed excited to try it out and I got busy making it.  Not the easiest recipe to prepare at the lake, but, hey, I was used to no kitchen at home.  Just to eat something new and exciting was worth the humongous extra effort that this recipe required.

I imagine that, by the time we sat down to eat, I was tired from the overly ambitious recipe.  However, freshly cooked food!  Who would not be excited about that????!!!!!

Well.

Um.

One of my boys, who shall remain nameless, was not excited.  At all.

I served the dish and was promptly, VERY promptly, met with "I don't really like that."

"What?  How could you NOT like that?  What's the matter with you?  Try it again!!!!"  .......  push, push, push.

"No, Mom.  It tastes funny.  I thought I would like it but it's too ... {hot, spicy, flavorful, you know}".

And, being the mature person that I am, I handled his feedback extremely well.

I got up and left the table.

I took my plate and walked all the way down to the beach, by myself, and ate my supper, by myself, and watched the sun set over the lake, by myself.  In silence.

Methinks I didn't handle that very well.

After awhile, Said Son appeared at my table-for-one and apologized for his discouraging words/attitude.  Apparently, back at the campsite, the dishes were being done and supper was being cleaned up, and there was an apologetic attitude from the male crew, even though the other 2 had been complimentary.  And so I returned, rather sheepishly.

Was that new and exciting recipe worth all of that drama?  Probably not.  I do need a reminder now and then that you can't force people to be adventurous in the taste department.  And, try as I might, not all of my experiments are great.  ;)

Anyway, to make this long story have a point, today I decided to make that very same recipe for myself to take to work for meals over the weekend.  I had no expectations to share the meal, except with Mr. Dean, who could partake of some, IF he so chose.  I picked up a few items at the store this afternoon and started to prep the food after school.

Said Son walked by, asked what I was making, and then said "You're making that again?  I LOVE those!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

HUH?????????


Ginger-Pork Spring Rolls

1/4 cup hoisin sauce (Asian aisle)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp Asian chili-garlic sauce (Asian aisle)
1/4 cup water
1 bag coleslaw mix (or your own blend, it's cheaper, of cabbage and carrot, grated/thinly sliced)
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 pound ground pork
thumb size (or less) piece of fresh ginger, grated  (fresh ginger is a fairly powerful flavor, so start with small amounts and increase if you wish)
12 rice paper wrappers (Asian aisle)

Combine hoisin sauce, soy sauce, chili-garlic sauce and water.  In another bowl, combine cabbage/carrots and half of the green onions.  Toss with a bit of the hoisin mixture.

Cook the pork in a skillet (no need to add salt).  When nearly cooked, add 1/2 of the hoisin sauce mixture, the other half of the green onions and the grated ginger and cook until fragrant.

Add the pork mixture to the cabbage mixture and toss to mix.  *If you want to add a bit to this recipe, cook a handful of rice noodles (fine noodles) and toss this with the meat/cabbage mixture*.

One by one, soak the rice paper wrappers in warm water until soft (about 10 seconds).  Spread out on a towel or cutting board.  Arrange about 1/2 cup filling on each wrapper.  Fold in the sides and then roll up tightly, like a taco.

To serve, I mixed a bit of peanut butter in with the remaining hoisin sauce mixture - dip the rolls in the sauce.  Serve room temperature or cold.

Not the easiest recipe to prepare but well worth the extra effort!  The ingredients listed as being available in the Asian aisle are really not hard to find.  There are so many cool things to explore in the foreign food departments!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

In My Defense...

In my defense....we have eaten rather healthily lately.  Bland, wholesome, comfort foods.

In my defense...we have eaten almost every meal at home - no meals out.

In my defense....we had celery sticks for supper 2 NIGHTS IN A ROW!!!



So, you'll give me a little grace when I tell you I made a batch of homemade donuts tonight, right?

Ah, homemade donuts!  I have so many memories attached!

I do sometimes wonder how much I would enjoy cooking/eating if I didn't have so many food-based memories and emotions attached to cooking and eating.  Perhaps if I develop dementia somewhere along the way, I'll forget my food-based memories and become a fussy eater, turning my nose up at everything except toast and tea.  That's not very hard to imagine; I know many sweet souls who survive rather nicely on toast and tea.  But, hey, what's the fun in that?  Who wants to end their years eating toast and tea when there are so many other tasty morsels to partake of?  Not me!  If you're around when I am aged, please, I beg you, keep feeding me garlic and fresh cinnamon buns and hearty roast beef and the odd chai tea latte.  Thanks.  And, please, make sure my coffee is dark and hot with just a splash of cream. 

I'm glad we have that taken care of.

So, what kind of donut memories could I possibly have that are worth sharing?

Mom ("of course", you sigh) made donuts now and then.  It wasn't a regular thing - maybe once a year or so.  I remember coming off the school bus and into the house to find the deep fryer set up and mom ready to roll with a donut assembly line.  I am sure she planned her day so that we'd be home to help her with the job.  She'd usually have them cut and finishing their second rise and would do the frying.  We'd drop the hot donuts into a brown paper bag with white sugar at the bottom and shake that bag until the donuts were covered in sweet sugar.  Oooooohhhh.  Is there ever a more tasty donut than one just retrieved from the bottom of the brown paper bag, still steaming hot, covered with sugar?  I'm drooling, and I'm really rather full right now....

I don't know why I decided to make donuts myself.  I never even dreamed about making donuts until I was married and a mom.  I think I figured that it was one of those "you're a mom now, you should make homemade donuts" jobs. 

On the day of my first donut attempt, I searched through our church cookbook and came upon Anne R.'s recipe for spudnuts.  I remember reading that it called for mashed potatoes and I stewed and stewed about that ingredient.  Should it just be potatoes mashed up?  Or should it be potatoes mashed up like you would for supper with butter and milk?  Oh, the dilemma.  Like it really would make a difference.  (I did manage to figure out that garlic mashed potatoes would probably not work.  Yup, I figured that out all on my own!)  So, to clarify this massive donut issue, I called Anne herself and asked her that very important question.  Anne was (rest in peace, Anne) a lovely Polish lady.  We went back a long way; she knew my grandparents; her husband carried both of my grandparents to their grave.  She was old enough to be my grandparent.  And, here I was, somewhere in my 30's, asking advice from a baker who could bake anyone under the table (figuratively, of course).  She was a fine baker.  I remember that I told her I was trying to make donuts that day and she replied that she was too!  So we chatted about the recipe and she assured me that it really didn't make any difference about the mashed potatoes being just potatoes or having milk/butter added....I'm so sorry I asked such a silly question.  But I made the donuts that day and was so happy with the results.  That Sunday, Anne and I discussed how our batches had turned out, and I felt like I had earned a baker's notch in my proverbial belt that day.

Another day, I decided to attempt donuts again.  My long time friend, Karen, was coming for coffee and it would be so nice to share fresh donuts over a cup of coffee and a visit.  Both boys were young then and by the time Karen arrived, I was terribly behind in the donut job and totally stressed out.  I begged her to help me.  She and I fried donuts, every speck of dough, until they were all done.  I felt horrible for asking for her help that day.  I probably tackled a bigger job than I was capable of that day.  I sent lots home with her for her to share with her husband; she worked hard beside me until the job was done.  That's a good friend for ya.

Another day I made donuts during the school break when Andrew was in, oh, maybe Grade 1 or 2?  I thought I'd make donuts during the school break as a treat for Andrew. Well, a friend of his came over to play that day and Andrew really didn't care all whether I made donuts or not.  The friend, however, loved the donuts and asked for SEVERAL to take home to his sisters.  They even came to the door, asking for more.  Brazen little kids.   I was, of course, happy to share....

Somehow, after awhile, the donut job became less daunting.  I couldn't tell you how often I made donuts during those next few years, but often enough to know that I was capable of it.  So, one day, a couple of years ago, when we needed a snack for the Youth Group, I stuck my neck out and said that I'd love to make fresh donuts for the group.  I felt that the kids at Youth needed to experience fresh donuts from a mom's hands.  In the world of chips and dip, nachos and cheese, they needed to know that there were good, old fashioned things that were special.

The day came for me to make them.  Now, you need to understand that I didn't plan to make them ahead of time; I would make them at the church and they would eat them HOT.  They needed to smell the hot oil.  They needed to have their fingers coated with white sugary goodness.  So, at home, I made a double or triple batch (I have blocked that detail out of my mind...) and set them to rise.  I then hauled everything over to the church kitchen and rolled and cut them out, batch by batch, on the big island.  I heated 3 different fryers and waited for the final rise and for the kids to arrive.  I had no idea how many kids would come that night, but I was pretty sure I had made enough.  The time came to start frying and I became a donut making monster.  Plop, plop, plop went the raw donuts into one fryer, then the next, then the next.  Flip, flip, flip - over went the donuts in one fryer and then the next and then the next.  Shake, shake, shake - the donuts flew from fryers into the brown paper bags filled with white sugar and/or cinnamon sugar mixed.  And the platters began to fill.  "Do I have enough?" I wondered.  "two donuts each, that's ALL you can have...to start," I told them.  I fried donuts, I fried donut holes, I fried scraps of donut dough. And they kept coming back.  "Um, are we allowed to have another one?"  Over and over, that was the all-important question of the night.  "Sure!  Help yourself!"  At the end of the night, there was not one scrap of donut left in any shape or form.  They ate them all, the donuts, the holes, the scraps.  And I felt that they, too, had passed a rite of passage - they ate homemade donuts, hot from the fryer, made by someone who cared enough about them to make homemade donuts.

I don't think I made donuts since then but Andrew was talking about donuts the other day and, hmm, we had a day off from school and work coming up.....  So I asked him if he would like to make donuts with me.  He said "sure" and I made plans for today.  Meanwhile, he was invited to a sleepover last night.  I reminded him about the donuts and he said we still would make them.  I picked him up this afternoon and asked again if he was still game and he said YES!

So, tonight, Andrew and I made donuts.  And he was such a donut baking trooper.  We have passed another rite of passage - he and I made donuts together, as in, we worked side by side and got the job done.  He helped make the dough, he rolled them out and cut them out and fried them and flipped them and placed them in the brown paper bags filled with sugar/cinnamon sugar and shook his heart out until they were covered with sweet sugary goodness.

And he added a new dimension to the tradition.  He googled and found an awesome recipe for chocolate glaze for them.  Here it is:

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup milk/cream
1 Tbsp corn syrup
2 tsp vanilla

Melt together in a sauce pan.  When melted, add in 4 squares of sweetened chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted.  Take off the heat and whisk in, slowly, 2 cups of icing sugar.  Return to the heat (low) and stir until the mixture is fluid.  Dip the donuts one by one into the chocolate and place on a cooling rack.  Once the chocolate is set, keep in a cool spot for storage.  I put the dipped donuts into the freezer to quick set the chocolate.

I'm going to bed a mostly content mother.  The tradition of donut making with your kids continues now through my boy. 

My other boy claims he doesn't like donuts. Sigh. 

Can't have it all now, can we?!!

And, because someone asked, here is the donut recipe as well:

Feather Light Donuts by Anne R.

2 Tbsp yeast
1 1/2 cups warm millk
1 cup cold mashed potatoes
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
5-6 cups flour

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm milk.  Add potatoes, sugar, oil, salt, vanilla, baking soda, baking powder and eggs.  Mix well.  Add enough flour to form a soft dough.  Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.  Punch down; roll out on a flour board to about 1/2 inch thickness.  Cut with a donut cutter.  Place on greased baking sheets or cloth covered cookie sheets.  Cover and let rise about 45 minutes.  Heat deep fryer to 375 F.  Fry donuts until golden brown on both sides.  Shake with sugar, cinnamon sugar, icing sugar or ice!