Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Oatmeal Brûlée

"...now and then a giggling trail of mermaids appeared in our wake. We fed them oatmeal."― Tove Jansson, Moominpappa's Memoirs

Oatmeal is simple. Sometimes too simple to give it much notice.

However simple, there is a lot to like about oatmeal. There's the beta-glucan. And the complex carbohydrates and water-soluble fibre. Loads of B vitamins. Our very own FDA has said it is A-Okay for companies selling oatmeal to claim that it may reduce the risk of heart disease when combined with a low-fat diet. Loaded with more calories than most other types of porridge, oatmeal also encourages slow digestion and stabilizes blood-glucose levels.

And it tastes pretty darn good. 

Oh, oatmeal and oats have detractors, certainly.

Samuel Johnson was no fan. In his dictionary definition for oats he wrote: "A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people."

In response, Lord Elibank retorted, "Yes, and where else will you see such horses and such men?"

Touché, Mr. Murray. Touché.

The simple, underrated, and oft-unappreciated oatmeal can be a bit more gourmet with just a scant bit of effort. It's easy, with just a little nudge, to give it a bit more je ne sais quoi.

And why not?

If you are going to make oatmeal you might as well go fancy. And so here, for your enjoyment and epicurean enlightenment, is the deceptively easy Oatmeal Brûlée. No blowtorch required.

(If you feel so inclined and want to impress, you can certainly call this Flocons D'avoine Brûlée. But keep in mind that's just fancy-speak for Burnt Oat Flakes. Sometimes less is more.)

Oatmeal Brûlée
1½ Cups water
1 Cup milk
1½ Cup oatmeal (either Old Fashioned or quick cooking)
1 large egg
3 Tbs brown sugar
1/2 Cup heavy cream
Fruit for topping (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries)
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350º F. Generously butter four small ramekins.

In a medium sauce pan, bring the water and milk and one tablespoon of the brown sugar to boil. Add the oatmeal and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook oatmeal for approximately five minutes until desired texture is reached.

While the oatmeal is cooking, mix the egg with the remaining two tablespoons of brown sugar and the cream. Beat well with a whisk.

When the oatmeal is cooked, spoon equal amounts into each of the prepared dishes, leaving enough room to add the egg mixture on top of each.

Top off each ramekin with the prepared egg mixture.

Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Sprinkle the top of each dish with powdered sugar. Continue to bake for 15 minutes more or until liquid is set and the top is slightly browned. 

Garnish with fruit of your choice and dust with more powdered sugar.

Serve warm.

Bon Appétit.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Simple Raspberry Tart

"Ethyl formate, which gives raspberries their flavour and smells of rum, has now been found in deep space. Astronomers searching for the building blocks of life in a giant dust cloud at the heart of the Milky Way have concluded that it tastes vaguely of raspberries.
~Ian Sample

Sometimes the best dessert is the simplest dessert. And this raspberry tart is just that: simple. Easy to prepare, it is a perfect "fancy" dessert that looks a lot harder than it is.


1 Cup flour
2 Tbs sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 Cup cold butter
1 Tbs white vinegar

Raspberry filling:
2 pints fresh raspberries, divided
2/3 cup sugar
2 Tbs all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Combine flour, sugar and salt in a small bowl. Cut in butter until crumbly. Add the vinegar and mix until moistened. Press onto bottom and up the sides of a lightly greased 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Arrange one pint of the raspberries over the crust. Combine the sugar and flour. Sprinkle even over the raspberries. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet.

Bake at 400° F for one hour or until crust is browned and filling is bubbly. Remove from the oven. Arrange and press the remaining berries in a single layer over top. 

Cool before serving. Enjoy!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosted Chocolate Brownies

"Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first."
 ~Ernestine Ulmer

The chocolate brownie is a uniquely American dessert. As with many things American, the history of this  cake-cookie synthesis is steeped in myth and legend. In some stories it was a cook who forgot to add flour to a cake recipe, in another a cook who accidentally added melted chocolate to biscuit dough, in another, the most popular, it was a harried housewife forced to improvise a dessert when she realised she was out of baking powder.

According to Chicago's Palmer House Hotel, a hotel chef created the now quotidian but still beloved dessert for Bertha Palmer who wanted a dessert easily eaten from boxed lunches. These first brownies, still being made at the hotel according to the original recipe, featured an apricot glaze and walnuts.

Mistake or willful creation for a ladies' fair, chocolate brownies are part of Americana.

This manifestation is a rich, decadent, sumptuous dessert. Not your mother's picnic brownies, these opulent chocolate squares are topped with a delicious peanut butter buttercream.

Chocolate Brownies
6 oz. unsweetened dark chocolate
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1½ cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 Tbsp brewed coffee
1½ tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350º F. Butter a 9-by-9-inch pan and set aside. In a large saucepan, combine the butter and chocolate and heat over low heat until melted and smooth. Add the sugars and whisk to combine. The batter will be a bit grainy. Whisk in the coffee and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs. Add the flour and gently stir until just combined. Do not over mix. Pour into the prepared pan. 

Bake for about 25 to 35 minutes, or until the edges have pulled away slightly from the sides of the pan and the center is just set. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out mostly clean. You want these to be a bit gooey, so don't over bake.

Allow them to cool for at least one hour before frosting them.

Peanut Butter Buttercream
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
1½ to 2 cups confectioner's sugar
Pinch of salt to taste
Sprinkles (I use mini chocolate and peanut butter chips and chocolate sprinkles)

Combine the peanut butter and butter in a large mixing bowl and beat on medium-high for about two minutes. Add the vanilla, 1½ cups confectioner's sugar, and salt. Beat until the frosting is smooth and fluffy. Add more confectioner's sugar if you want a thicker frosting. You don't want the frosting to be runny, but try to avoid making it stiff as that makes it harder to spread.

Spread the frosting generously and evenly over the brownies and add the sprinkles. Cut into 16 squares and enjoy.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Grilled Brown Sugar Pork Chops

"A porkchop in the kitchen is a porkchop; a porkchop in Proust is Proust."
~William Gaso

Cooking is both a science and an art, heavy on the art. But the beauty of that science and art is that it can be simple. It does not have to be complicated.

Take the humble pork chop. Suitable for roasting, grilling, frying, or baking. Pork has a light flavour which lends itself readily to taking on the savouriness of marinades and vegetables. Cooked the right way, pork is incredibly juicy. You can make a production of preparing pork chops, or you can keep things simple. And with summer upon us, grilling gives the perfect medium to prepare simple, yet flavourful chops.

The beauty of this recipe is that it provides a marinade, a glaze, and a sauce all in one swoop! 

Brown Sugar Marinade/Glaze/Sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup apple juice
4 Tbs vegetable oil
1 Tbs soy sauce
1/2 tsp ground ginger
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 cup water

In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, apple juice, oil, soy sauce, ginger, salt , and pepper. Bring this mixture to a gentle boil. In a small bowl, combine water and cornstarch. Whisk the corn starch water into the brown sugar mixture. Stir until thick. Remove from heat.

Pour about 1/4 of the brown sugar mixture into a shallow glass dish with enough for six pork chops - thick chops, not thin (thin chops are great for frying, but dry out far too fast for grilling) - to have some room between them. Gently place the chops into the dish and then turn them, lightly coating both sides. Let sit, covered in the refrigerator for half an hour to an hour.

When you are ready to grill, prepare your charcoal or gas grill for medium heat (the temperature inside the grill should be 350°F to 375°F). Brush and oil the grill grate.

Place the pork chops on the grill and sear, turning once, until grill-marked on both sides. Move the chops to an indirect-heat area - not directly over the hottest coals or over a burner - and cover the grill. Cook until somewhat firm to the touch or until a thermometer inserted into the center of a chop reads 145°F. This takes about 15 minutes.

Right before you remove the chops from the grill, brush them again with the brown sugar mixture and let the glaze set.

Transfer the chops to a plate and let rest for 10 minutes. Serve, drizzled with the remaining brown sugar mixture, with boiled potatoes and steamed vegetables. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Whole Wheat Yogurt Bread

"The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight."
~M.F.K. Fisher

I love making bread. 

Have I said that before?

I'm certain I have. But this is something that needs regular reiteration. 

I bake a lot of bread. I have ever since I was just a wee little baker and would watch Jukies (that's Julia Carolyn Child to you!) make bread on the black and white television in the living room and try to replicate it in mom's kitchen. (I had an incredibly patient family that would eat - or pretend to eat - pretty much anything I created in the kitchen.) I have a love affair with the tactile and olfactory qualities of making bread. But honestly, I won't belabour that here because I have already done so here, here, here, and here.

One of the joys of baking for a long time is being able to bake not from a book or some established recipe, but rather from a synthesis of experience, from the knowledge of what will give you a particular flavour, texture, quality of crust, or colour and creating something that is delightful.

This recipe is certainly no one-of-a-kind wonder. You can most surely find similar recipes in a thousand online posts. But it is mine, combining my favourite qualities of texture and flavour. The whole wheat flour gives it a special texture and colour. The white flour lets the bread rise higher than a 100% whole wheat bread and produces a lighter loaf. The honey give it a kiss of sweetness while the yogurt gives it a touch of tart almost reminiscent of a light sourdough.

And at home it is a favourite.

I hope you enjoy it, both in the making and the eating!

Whole Wheat Yogurt Bread
3/4 cup warm water
2¼ tsp active dry yeast
2 cups whole wheat flour, finely milled
4 cups white flour
2 tsp salt
2/3 cup plain yogurt
1 1/3 cup hot water
4 Tbs oil
3 Tbs honey

Dissolve the yeast in the 3/4 cup of warm (105º to 115º F) water in a warmed glass or ceramic container. Make certain the yeast is completely dissolved and there are no clumps. Let it sit while you prepare the other ingredients.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix, fluffing them with air.

In a small bowl, combine the yogurt and hot (about 130º F) water. Add the oil and honey. Mix well.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the dissolved yeast and the wet ingredients. Stir from the center of the well gradually outward until you have a thick batter-like consistency. Start folding in flour from the sides and mix until all the flour is combined. The dough will be a little sticky.

Turn out the dough onto a very lightly floured surface and knead for about 20 minutes. That may sound like a lot, but remember that kneading is the difference between good bread and spectacular bread.

How do you know when bread is sufficiently kneaded? The dough will lose its tackiness and become smooth and springy. You want the dough to be silky smooth. As it is almost impossible to over-knead bread, it is better to knead too much than not enough.

Form the dough into a smooth round and place it seam down in a bowl. Lightly cover it with plastic wrap or a damp towel (making certain the bowl is large enough to allow for a doubling or tripling of the dough as it rises without it hitting the cover) and let it rise in a warm place (ideally 80º F) for about an hour and half.

When the first rising is complete, gently place your fist into the center of the dough and press down, deflating it. Gentle peel away the dough from the sides of the bowl and fold it under itself all around the edge until you have a round ball again. Cover the bowl and let it rise again, this time about 45 minutes.

Once again you want to deflate and re-round the dough. Let it rest for a few minutes.

Divide the dough in two and shape each piece into a loaf. Place the loaves in buttered loaf pans and let them proof (the third rising) for about half an hour. You'll want to keep a close eye on this third rising because it can easily get away from you and over rise. About half-way through the proof you want to adjust your oven racks so the loaves will be as nearly in the middle of the oven as possible and start preheating the oven to 350º F so it will be hot when the loaves are ready.

When the loaves have risen and the oven is hot, place the loaves as close to the center of the oven as possible. Bake at 350º F for one hour. The crust should be a rich, deep golden brown when it is done.

And finally, ENJOY!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Red Wine Pot Roast

"Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains; another, a moonlit beach; a third, a family dinner of pot roast and sweet potatoes during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town. Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines hidden under the weedy mass of years. Hit a tripwire of smell and memories explode all at once. A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth."
~Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

We are shut away as the weather turns cold, our doors and windows fast against the chill, closing out the world around us we so enjoy when the weather is more pleasant. Yet it is not without advantage. Closing homes against Jack Frost means also that they fill with the sights, sounds, and smells of domesticity to greet us when we escape from the bitter weather. There is nothing quite as comforting as coming home to warmth and the smells of cooking.

One of my favorite cold-weather dishes is pot roast. It is simple and straightforward. Hearty. And you cook this one with wine.

The smell of this cooking is certain to raise spirits and increase appetites. 

Red Wine Pot Roast
3 pounds boneless beef chuck roast
2 Tbs olive oil
½ cup water
½ cup red wine
1 tsp whole pepper corns
2 tsp salt
1 bulb of garlic, each clove peeled and sliced lengthwise
1 onion, sliced
6 medium potatoes, washed and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 large carrots, peeled, halved, and cut into 2-inch lengths
6 celery stalks, cut into 2-inch lengths

Preheat an oven to 350º F.

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in an oven-proof Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Brown the roast on all sides and remove from the heat.

With a sharp, thin knife - I use a fillet knife - make small cuts on the surface of the roast and insert the garlic cloves.

Pour in the water and wine. Sprinkle the roast with the salt and pepper corns. Arrange the onion slices on and around the roast.

Cover the Dutch oven and bake in the preheated oven for 2 hours.

While the roast is cooking  prepare the potatoes, carrots, and celery.

After 2 hours, add the potatoes, carrots, and celery. Check the moisture of the roast and add some additional water if it looks dry. Continue baking covered for another hour.

The roast is best served au jus, which just means you use the remaining liquid from the Dutch oven as a kind of light gravy over the meat. If the liquid is sparse after removing the meat, just add a little more red wine and heat it in the Dutch oven over a medium heat.