Monthly Archives: February 2011

The Case of the Disappearing Oreo

A few weeks ago, my daughter sent me a BBM from her dorm room at College, asking me to please buy a bag of Oreo cookies for when she came home for the long holiday weekend. Huh???  Usually she asks me to bake some decadent cookie, so the store-bought request was odd. When I asked her why she wanted Oreos she said her roommate had seen something unbelievable, using Oreos, on a food blog and wanted my daughter to bake it for her when she went home.

The next day, while surfing food blogs, I came across this and this and this and this, well, you get the idea. Apparently this is the new food blogging darling. Everyone’s doing it! I sent the links to my daughter and asked her if this was what she planned to make. Her reply was an effusive “YESSSS!!” She went on and on about how amazing these looked and yada yada yada.

My first reaction was, “This, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with America (and Canada too) these days. Supersizing everything. As if a double stuffed Oreo isn’t gluttony enough, now we’re shoving an Oreo inside a huge ball of chocolate chip cookie dough and baking it. No wonder our kids are obese and diabetes and heart disease are killing us.” Then I got off my high horse, and of course, went out and bought a bag of Oreos – not the double stuffed ones though, I have my limits.


For this post, I had two guest bakers, my daughter and her best friend, who is may as well be my second daughter, as she spends a lot of time at our house. I was just documenting this experiment with the camera. The pictures are less than my usual stellar quality as the girls decided to begin baking at 9:00 pm, and I was lacking daylight, which I like to shoot with.

We thought about substituting our favourite chocolate chip recipe, but we thought they might spread too much and the Oreos would ooze out and make a mess. So we stuck to Jenny’s (The Picky Palate) original recipe, since she created them, she ought to know best.

We made a little video to demonstrate how to form these cookies. It’s not rocket science, but we were on a bit of a sugar high and having a little fun, so we made a video.

We had a bit of a debate on whether or not to flatten out the Oreo balls after they were formed. We took a vote and flattening won by a 2:1 margin.

We waited a few minutes and then we cut one open. The chocolate chips were warm and gooey and the Oreo filling had melted slightly. I have to say, I didn’t like them very much. Part of the reason was that I do not like warm chocolate chip cookies. I like them to be totally cooled so the chocolate is not at all melted anymore. I like them even better frozen. I know, I am strange. The girls declared them, not bad and continued to nibble away at them. I went to bed, secretly glad I didn’t love them because I was not really tempted to eat anymore.

When I got up in the morning, I cut another one open, so I could photograph them in daylight. They had totally cooled by this point and the cookies lost their chewiness. To be fair, I think we overbaked them. The recipe said to bake 9-13 minutes but we went longer, about 16 minutes. They were more crunchy now. I took a bunch of shots and then decided to taste them again. Not bad! Damn!!! I quickly wrapped the remainder up and made my daughter pack them in her bag to take back to school that afternoon. I’m looking forward to seeing what Jenny of the Picky Palate comes up with next.

To print the recipe, click here.


Wheat Berry Salad



Like most of you, I suspect, I sometimes fall into a rut and eat the same things over and over again. It’s just easier that way sometimes. But, this year I have decided to try cooking with a new grain every month. Sort of expand my culinary horizons. However, that goal kind of runs counter to a second goal of mine, to eat my way through my pantry, without buying any new staples.

I was inspired in this second goal by a good friend. Last time I visited her at the cottage she shared with me, that for the month of August, she was planning to empty out her pantry. On days when she had company, everyone usually gathered on the dock around 5 pm for drinks. Instead of agonizing over what to serve with drinks, she would just use whatever she found in her pantry cupboard. One day, she confessed, she opened up a can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained them and served them with a sprinkling of black pepper. Along side this she served some dried apricots she spied lounging at the back of the shelf in a plastic bag. Apparently these offerings were gobbled up quite happily with a glass of chilled Prosecco.

So here I was with the good angel on one shoulder, whispering in my ear, “Come on, clean out the pantry. You have 5 different kinds of grains here. Eat us!”. On the other shoulder I had the devil, tempting me to be wasteful and go out and seek a new grain.  Most of you know I have very little willpower, so it should come as no surprise to you that I went out and bought some wheat berries. I had never cooked with them before and a recipe by Globe and Mail nutrition reporter, Leslie Beck, caught my eye.

Wheat berries are essentially whole unprocessed wheat kernels, containing all three parts of the grain (germ, bran and endosperm). Only the hull is removed. They sort of look like barley but have 75% more protein and 40% more fibre than barley. All in all, a nutritional powerhouse.  Wheat berries need to be rinsed and then they are cooked in simmering water, about a 2:1 ratio, like rice. They take about 40 minutes to cook and have a wonderful nutty taste and chewy toothsome texture. I added some french green beans to the original recipe as I happened to have some wilting in my fridge!

The other ingredients are arugula, pomegranate seeds and diced red apples. The dressing is made from olive oil, cider vinegar, apple juice, maple syrup and grainy mustard.

Chewy, crunchy, tangy and sweet. And healthy too! Feel free to substitute whatever grain you have languishing on the shelf of your pantry. This would be great with Farro as well.

To print the recipe, click here.

Smoky Corn Chowder

Warning… I’m going to rant like an old person, about the good old days, when you could count on certain things to same. When companies built things to last and when product consistency was a highly regarded value.  Don’t you just hate it when companies change a product, when it was perfect already. Then they go and slap a “new and improved” label on it and when I try it, I discover that the improvement has actually made the product worse, not better. Why do they insist on tinkering with something when it isn’t broken. I am referring, specifically, to Imagine Organic Creamy Sweet Corn Soup.  It used to have a mild corn flavour that I used as a base for corn chowder. I am not sure what they changed but it now has a nasty chemical aftertaste. I stopped making corn chowder after this.

But then I found a recipe in Chatelaine Magazine that uses canned cream style corn to give the soup thickness and body. I had always thought that cream style corn was corn puréed with cream, but it turns out it contains corn, water, sugar and cornstarch. It is low in fat and works beautifully to thicken a corn chowder with very little effort. The original recipe used bacon to get that smoky flavour. We keep kosher, so bacon was out of the question. For a cold winter day (like every day this winter!) I wanted to have the heaviness of a smoky soup. I decided to experiment with smoked turkey breast. I chopped up a few slices and sautéed them in some vegetable oil. Instead of onions, I opted to use leeks.  Sometimes leeks can be quite sandy, so I quarter them, slice them and then soak them in a bowl of cold water.

This is one of those simple chop and dump soups. It simmers for 20 minutes and you have a thick and hearty chowder. A bowl of this is like a big hug, warm and comforting. Add a slice or two of no-knead bread and dinner is done.

I also popped in a finely diced jalapeno pepper when I was sautéing the leeks to wake things up a bit. You could use sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes for a pretty colour contrast and to up the vitamin content. Make it today, you’ll thank me.

To print this recipe, click here.



You’ve Stolen a Piece of my Heart!

This week I discovered something not very nice about myself. I get cranky if I don’t bake something every few days. I don’t necessarily have to eat it, I just have to bake and create something. I was feeling extra cranky on Friday so I pulled some butter out of the freezer, and already I felt a little nicer. I decided to bake something for Valentines Day. We’re not big on celebrating the holiday in our house, but as an excuse to bake, it’s a good one. I  decided to bake sugar cookies in the shape if, what else, hearts! While I love the look of iced sugar cookies, I don’t love the taste. I find them too cloyingly sweet with all that royal icing.

Leaving the cookies plain just didn’t satisfy my creative needs, so I pulled out my heart cookie cutters and inspiration struck. I would cut little hearts out of the big hearts and fill them in with different coloured doughs. The tiny cookie cutters on the left are really aspic cutters, left over from my cooking school days when we had to make gross things like aspic. For those not familiar with this culinary delight, aspic is a jelly made from meat or fish stock. Often the fish one was poured into a fish mould and then decorated with little aspic shapes.

I knew I wanted to make my favourite sugar cookie dough, from Bon Appetit’s December 2000 issue. It is the only sugar cookie recipe I have seen that uses brown sugar instead of white sugar, and it gives the cookies a depth of flavour that white sugar cookies are missing. I decided to try out a new idea I recently learned from Alice Medrich in her book “Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Cookies”. Alice suggests grinding whole vanilla beans in a spice grinder and using it in place of vanilla extract. I was intrigued. Once all ground up, I have to admit it looked like something you might roll and smoke. 3/4 of a teaspoon of ground beans is the equivalent of 1 teaspoon of extract. It looked so cool in the dough, and the aroma and taste were so authentically vanilla.

I knew I wanted to have chocolate dough and some pink dough as well. The Bon Appetit recipe isn’t great for adding colouring to as the brown sugar muddies the colours. I made the Simple Sugar Cookies from my latest obsession, Karen DeMasco’s “The Craft of Baking.” I added melted bittersweet chocolate for the chocolate dough and pink paste food colouring for the pink dough. I made two versions of pink, one pale and the other shocking fuchsia .

After making the dough, I roll it out right away, between 2 sheets of parchment paper, and then chill it in the freezer for 20 minutes (or the fridge for about an hour). Then the artistry begins. I felt like I was playing with Play-Doh.

The finished cookies were just adorable and way less work (and way more delicious) than iced cookies. How could anyone feel cranky after receiving these cookies?

To print recipe for Brown Sugar Cookies, click Here.

To print recipe for Simple Sugar Cookies, click Here.

Of course, in keeping with my promise to eat healthier, we kept a few cookies to eat and packaged the rest of them up to give away. If my children are reading this, I have stashed a few away in the freezer for you when you come home!




No Knead Bread


After reading the title of this post you may have either one of two reactions. If you are a fellow bread freak you may be saying to yourself, “What?? Who is she kidding?  That is so last decade. Mark Bittman wrote about Jim Layhey’s revolutionary no-knead bread in 2006! Every food blogger worth her salt has reported on this bread.” If you are not a bread freak, you may be saying, “What?? No knead bread. She’s been inhaling too much bleached bread flour.  How could that be possible?” So, to the bread freaks reading this, I apologize for reporting on something you have already heard about ad nauseam. To the rest of you, I say, yes, this is possible and it’s spectacular. (sorry, couldn’t resist that link!)

Although I first heard about this no-knead bread over two years ago, I only just tried it for the first time last week. I then made it a second time, 4 days later because I just couldn’t get over how simple it was to produce such amazing bread. There are 2 major factors at play here that help create this wonderful bread. The first is mixing up a very wet dough and letting it sit, at room temperature for 18 hours. Food scientist, Harold McGee, explained it like this, to Bittman,

“It makes sense. The long, slow rise does over hours what intensive kneading does in minutes: it brings the gluten molecules into side-by-side alignment to maximize their opportunity to bind to each other and produce a strong, elastic network. The wetness of the dough is an important piece of this because the gluten molecules are more mobile in a high proportion of water, and so can move into alignment easier and faster than if the dough were stiff.”

The second major factor involved in making this bread is where Jim Lahey’s real genius comes into play. He discovered that by baking the bread in a covered preheated cast iron or enamel pot (like a Le Creuset), you mimic the steam ovens that professional bakers use to develop that crisp crackling crust so desirable on artisan breads. During my 18 month journey through the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge, I tried all sorts of methods to produce steam in my home oven. I put a pan of hot water at the bottom of the oven, I sprayed the sides of my oven wall with a plant mister during baking, I added ice cubes to the oven during the baking process and I even tried adding lava rocks to the pan of hot water, to mimic a sauna. I never did achieve that holy grail of crackling crust.

I discovered a version of the original recipe with some wheat bran added to the dough. (Chatelaine Magazine Feb. 2011 issue)  I really loved the addition of the wheat bran. Truly, the only thing difficult about making this bread is remembering to start the night before you want to serve it. It had been awhile since I last baked bread so I was excited to get back to it again.

Over the past two years I have accumulated quite a bit bread making paraphernalia, so it was great to use some of it again. In Jim Lahey’s video he says to just use your hands to mix up the dough but I was excited to use my special King Arthur bread whisk again. If you plan to make lots of bread, get one of these. If not, your hands work just fine.

Once mixed, the dough will appear quite shaggy and rough-looking. That’s ok, it’s supposed to look that way. Just cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it on the counter for 18 hours. It is a big leap of faith to take, I know, but trust me, it works. After 18 hours, it will have all smoothed out and the surface will have fine bubbles on it.

In the original recipe, Jim says to just form a ball and place it on a cotton towel, cover it and let rise. Since I had a special bread rising basket in my cupboard (a banneton) I decided to use that. A banneton is woven bread mold, usually made of made of cane and is used to form and shape artisan loaves during the proofing/raising stage. The basket imprints its shape and ribbed design on the finished loaf. They can be ordered online from Brotform (U.S.) or Goldas Kitchen (Canada). You can also just line a colander with a clean cotton towel, although you won’t get the cool design on your bread.

I found it best to lightly flour the counter and then wet my hands to scrape the dough out of the bowl. I did not want to add too much more flour as the high hydration level of the dough is what gives you the big open crumb structure (ie: big holes) of the finished bread. Bread freaks aim for big holes in their finished bread. If you are at all interested in reading more about this subject and finding our why big holes are desirable, visit The Fresh Loaf’s website. A very animated discussion on this very topic has been raging for the past week. Yes, bread freaks are a strange and wonderful breed!

Once the dough is dumped out onto the counter, just fold it over itself, sort of like a business letter. Then, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.

Then you want to shape the dough into a ball.

After dough is shaped you can just place it on a floured towel and cover it with a second towel, or you can put it in a basket or colander to let it rise for about 2 hours. I heavily floured my banneton with rice flour and then dumped out the excess, and set my dough in there to rise. You will notice I put the dough in seam side up. That is because after it has risen, I will dump it into the hot pot for baking and the top (with the pinched seam) will hit the pot first and become the bottom and then my pretty ribbed design, from the basket, will become the top.

A few words about the pot to cook the dough in. Just about any covered 6-8 quart covered pot will work here. Cast iron or enameled cast iron (like Le Creuset) work very well for this job. I have also read that ceramic and Pyrex would work also, but have not tried them. These are the kind of pots I am talking about.

The pot with lid must be preheated in a 450º F oven for at least 30 minutes before baking the bread. It is a bit scary dumping the bread into the hot pot, but just wear oven mitts and dump quickly. If it goes in a bit uneven, just wiggle the pot back and forth a bit to straighten it out. It will all turn out fine.

Resist all temptation to slice the bread as soon as it comes out of the oven. It continues to cook a bit more as it cools. It will be gummy in the centre if you slice right away.

To print recipe for No-Knead Bread, click here.