July 31, 2011

Pineapple Upside-down Cake

For years I have had a very dear, elderly friend who has become like family, like my grandmother. When I go to her house she squishes me in her arms as though I am a long-lost relative she hasn't seen for years. She kisses both of my cheeks a couple of times each while talking a hundred miles an hour in her thick Italian accent, then immediately sets about assembling elaborate trays of cakes, meats, and cheeses. Then, in her loud, jovial, insistent voice says, "Eat! Eat!!" (the inspiration for the name of my blog). It is impossible to visit her without being force-fed the most wonderful food.

Over the last few months, it has become apparent that her vigour is escaping her, and doing so quickly. She no longer has the energy to rush down the walk to greet me at my car. There is no more energy to spend bustling around making tons of food. It is as though her flame is quickly going out...and it is incredibly sad to see.

This summer I've made a point of going to see her more often, and I couldn't accept the loss of our tradition of having good food, so now when I go I take food along with me. When I arrive, I am greeted not by a woman with flailing arms rushing down the walk, but with happiness at the kitchen table. And she sits while I bustle around her kitchen, making tea and assembling the meat and cheese tray. While I prepare the food, she tells me about growing up in Trieste, going to an Italian school, Mussolini, and how to make sausages like her grandmother did. Then we eat just like we always have.

This morning, to take along on my visit today, I made a pineapple upside-down cake. It goes particularly well with stories of the old country.

  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 5 canned pineapple slices, drained
  • 3 egg whites (2 if using extra large eggs)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup extra-fine sugar
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice

In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar and melted butter. Pour into the bottom of an ungreased 9" round cake pan. Arrange pineapple slices on top of brown sugar mixture. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl beat egg yolks until thick and pale yellow. Gradually add sugar. Mix well. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to the egg yolk mixture along with the pineapple juice. Mix well. Set aside.

In a medium size mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until firm peaks form. Fold gently into the egg yolk/flour mixture.

Pour the batter evenly over the pineapples and bake at 350F for 30 minutes. After removing from the oven, let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then invert on a plate. Serve warm with whipped cream.

July 30, 2011

Soft spaces - what ciabatta is made of.

There is something wonderfully comforting about a home filled with the fragrance of baking bread. Its warm aroma seeps out of the oven and fills the home with round, soft scents and elicits feelings of security and peacefulness. The process of baking bread cannot be hurried, and I think that is one of the reasons I like it so. It forces a person to slow down and do things one step at a time. From the time of making the biga to when the loaves were cooling on the rack, this bread took 17 hours, and it was worth every minute invested.

Make some bread, assemble a rustic sandwich, sit in the sunshine on your deck and savour your food with a glass of good red wine, smile, and enjoy just being.

My sandwich was made with soppressata, roasted tomatoes in olive oil, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil. Mmmm.

Biga (starter)

4-24 hours before you intend to make your bread, mix together in a large bowl:

  • 1 1/2 tsp (generous 1/2) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 3 tbsp rye flour

Cover with plastic wrap and leave out on the counter for 4-24 hours to allow the flavours and yeast to develop.


When you are ready to complete the process of making the bread, place the biga in your stand mixer's largest bowl, and add to it:

  • 4 3/4 cups bread flour (reserve 1/4 cup to add only if needed)
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 1/2 tsp sea salt

While mixing on a low speed, add flour in three additions, alternating with the water. Add salt. Mix well for 10 minutes (or even 15! This part is crucial!). The dough will be very loose and sticky,and only mound. It will not be firm enough to knead as you would with a regular bread dough. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

The sticky dough after all of the ingredients have been mixed together.

Leave the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let set until the dough rises to double its original size (about 90 minutes).

Dough after the first rise.

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured counter. Gently press the dough down to release most of the gases. Cut into 12 equal parts to make large rolls, or divide into two to make two medium sized loaves. Make each piece of dough into a rough square approximately a 1/2 inch thick. Fold two of the sides opposite each other in toward the middle third, as though folding a letter. Flip over so the pieces folded in are now underneath. While the dough is still covered in the loose, dry flour from the counter, gently pull the dough lengthwise to finish shaping into a rectangle(this will also give the ciabatta its characteristic striations on the crust).

The dough shaped into a rustic loaf, before the final rise. Notice how soft it appears.

Let the dough loaves/rolls rise again until they are approximately double in size.

Bake in an oven preheated to 475F for five minutes. When you first place the loaves in the oven, you may lightly spray them with water to increase oven spring and help form a chewy crust. Reduce the heat to 425 to finish baking, about 22 minutes, until loaves/rolls are a very light golden brown.

Om nom nom nom

July 29, 2011

The Beer Project.

God has a brown voice, as soft and full as beer. – Anne Sexton

God spoke to me this evening. It wasn’t good. But, I’ll get to that in a minute.

Beer is the drink of the people, and I think that is one of the reasons I enjoy it so. It is, without pretense, made and consumed by people the world over. It has an aura of history and tradition about it. While I sit on my deck this Friday evening, enjoying a cool glass of ale, it is somehow comforting to think of the thread of continuity beer provides. The simple pleasure of sipping this old recipe beer connects me to all of those who have done so before me.

I have long been an advocate of living, not just existing, so focus intently on the small, good things life has to offer. Beer is one of those small, good things. Each week, I intend to not just drink, but experience, savour, and research a beer I’ve not tried before. Having a liquor store in my town that sells imported beers by the single serving bottle makes this an easy project.

I have basic knowledge of brewing processes and styles of beer, and I will fill in the gaps with research. ….I have just realized…my geek quotient has just become very apparent. Where others think “yay beer! *glug glug*”, I think “yay beer *samples, researches, does comparative analysis, and writes a report to post on the internet*” I won’t blame you if you have just navigated away from this page. :\

Anyway, back to my geek-out. In addition to personal experience, I have a number of resources to draw upon: The Encyclopedia of Beer, which has very complete descriptions of brewing processes and styles of beer; and, The Beer Lover’s Rating Guide, which has good descriptions of standards; and, of course, the internet. My palate is, and always has been, biased toward English beers, but I will try to rate each beer according to its style standard.

Now, back to this evening’s encounter with God’s voice. If God’s voice is like beer, then he must have been spewing venomous obscenities in a thin, high voice when this stuff was made. Because I am Canadian, I thought I would first give a nod to my home country and review a Canadian made beer – Blanche De Chambly, a Belgian style white beer, which should be a light straw colour, have a light mouthfeel, be slightly citrusy with a touch of spice, and be able to form a small head.

  • Appearance: You can’t imagine how disappointed I was when I poured into my glass what looked like cloudy apple juice into which some apple juice-hating prankster had placed a few Alka Seltzer. The beer had no body at all, so head formation was an impossibility, which meant that the beer simply fizzed. Yes, fizzed. It made Alka Seltzer fizzing noises while in the glass. There isn’t a standard for what sounds beer should make in the glass, so I think this is probably not a good thing.
  • Aroma: Not only did it look bad, it smelled winey. I suspect this might be because it had, at some point, been allowed to reach an unacceptably high temperature.  In addition to the wine odor, it smelled sour, and of very strong citrus. Belgian white beer is meant to be slightly acidic, but not this acidic and certainly not winey.
  • Flavour:  Being committed to my project, even though I should have know better, I tasted it. Yes, put it in my mouth. My mouth has now been violated by evilness previously not known to mankind. It tasted like very strong wine, was overwhelmingly sour, and was overtly citrus. Then, I waited a few minutes and tasted it again. So, I’m not the brightest girl in the world – in those few minutes it hadn’t been magically transformed by invisible fairies into something fit for human consumption.
  • Mouthfeel: Watery effervescence. Enough said.
  • Overall Impression: Ick.

Summary (each characteristic on a scale of 1-10, where one is very poor and 10 is excellent)

Appearance: 2 (It was the right straw colour, but that is all it had going for it)

Aroma: 1  (If I could give it a 0, I would)

Flavour: 1 (A beer should never be winey and sour)

Mouthfeel: 1 (While Belgian style white beers are supposed to be light, they should not effervesce in your mouth)

Overall impression: 1 (Awful.)

Total:   6/50

Canada: doing Belgian white beer wrong. I have tasted many, many beers, and this is the first I simply could not drink. I used it to water my trees. Save your money and buy a six pack of Blue Moon, which is infinitely better in comparison.

July 26, 2011

Sweet, sweet lime.

My life is ruled by the seasons. When autumn arrives, I have an overwhelming urge to bake bread, make hearty soups and stews, and break out the stout. Winter is all about chili and caramel flavoured Irish cream fortified hot chocolate. Spring brings all things strawberry, and summer is infused with lime.

I will admit to being a lime addict. There is nothing better than slicing open a fresh lime and nom'ing on a wedge, or drinking lime juice with a little tequila and ice.  Mmmm. I  came across a recipe for orange nut shortbread cookies and immediately realised it was begging to be heavily mod’d to satisfy my lime craving palate. With a little extra sugar, changing out the orange for lime, dropping the nuts, and adding lime juice, this could be the perfect cookie.

Behold: Lime Shortbread Cookies.*cues the angels*

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • ¼ cup caster sugar (aka baker's sugar)
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • 1 ½ tbsp grated lime peel (grated peel of 3 med limes, 
  • 4 tbsp fresh lime juice
In a large bowl beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add lime peel and lime juice; mix well. Add flour and cornstarch; mix until the dough is smooth. Shape into a ball and refrigerate for at least an hour until the dough is firm.

When dough is firm, pull off tablespoon sized bits and shape into balls that are 1 inch in diameter. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 9-13 minutes, until cookies are set and just lightly browned. Let cool for 3-4 minutes then toss a few at a time in a bag with confectioners sugar to coat. Immediately remove from bag; let fully cool before storing.

Nom nom nom.

Butter Tarts

Butter tarts are about as Canadian as can be and are fantastically good. After you make these little sticky treats, and are surrounded by a mound of flaky pastry crumbs, you may feel compelled to belt out a rousing round of O' Canada. Indulge. It's the right thing to do.

Makes 12 large tarts.
Preheat oven to 375° F.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 7 tbsp cold water
Mix together flour and salt. Cut in shortening. Add water, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture forms a firm dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out and cutting into rounds to line the cups of a standard muffin tin.

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup golden corn syrup
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup california raisins
Beat butter and sugar together; add beaten egg and vanilla. Stir. Add golden corn syrup and salt; beat well. Stir in raisins. Place 2 tablespoons of filling in each pastry-lined muffin cup.

Bake for 5 minutes at 375° F. Decrease oven temperature to 350° F and continue baking for another 22 minutes, until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly.

Nom nom nom.

Little Packages of Goodness

These are, without a doubt, the best healthful muffins I have ever tasted. 

Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins
Makes 12 muffins.
Preheat oven to 400ºF

Muffin batter:
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 3/4 cup unbleached white flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup skim (non-fat) milk
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 cup blueberries, frozen or fresh
  1. Line a muffin tin with paper cups or spray it with cooking spray.
  2. Combine oats, flours, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda.
  3. In a separate bowl, lightly beat egg white, then add applesauce, milk, brown sugar, and oil. Mix.
  4. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients; mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened.
  5. Gently stir blueberries into batter.
  6. Fill muffin cups until nearly full.
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
  • 2 tbsp firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
Mix together until crumbly; sprinkle over unbaked muffin batter.

Bake for 20-22 minutes until a rich golden brown.

Om nom nom.