Monday, January 31, 2011


Are you ready for this? I am going to post my first failed dish from this past Saturday. It was supposed to be a simple beef stew, something you think I would be able to accomplish easily after having tackled Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon successfully, but it turned out to be an inedible, charred mess. We had just come back from the doctor, who confirmed my fractured toe and unfractured foot (phew), so maybe I was a bit distracted. I would like to further remove more of the blame from myself by saying that the recipe was also a bit flawed. I noticed that one of the steps resulted in some burned bits at the bottom of my pot, and not of the tasty-once-deglazed variety. Everything seemed to be going as planned, until I detected an acrid-smelling smoke, at which point I freaked out, jumped up, took the pot off the heat and lifted the lid to view what had gone wrong. In the five minutes I left it, the liquid had evaporated (too high heat), which makes no sense for a stew, leaving a thick, blackened crust at the bottom of my beautiful enameled cast iron! I have to confess that I threw a little tantrum because I was so upset at my first ruined dinner, but as my husband so kindly reminded me, in order to become really good at something, you have to have the courage to sometimes fail.

No! Look at the blackened bottom of my poor stew. Gross.
For the first time ever, we had to go out and get some Japanese take-out. I was so dejected, but at least it makes for a kind of funny newlywed story. But I still don't really find it funny yet.

Friday, January 28, 2011

OCD: Obsessive Cupcake Devotion

I'm the kind of person who jumps off the bandwagon once everyone jumps on it, or jumps on it long after everyone else has gotten off. I never do something because everyone else thinks it's cool, I only do it if I think it'll be really enjoyable. The only fad that has kept me with it's siren call is a tiny thing known as the cupcake. Cupcakes are small, charming, beautiful, and more often than not, delicious. For most cupcakes, the recipes are straightforward and nearly all the same. ie: chocolate, vanilla, angel food, and variations on these. However, EVERY single time I make red velvet cupcakes, they turn out different from the last batch! I have tried so many recipes that I have considered buying red food colouring in bulk. Send me your favourite red velvet cupcake recipe! And any tips you may have on producing the best cake!

Magnolia cupcake recipe

Martha Stewart recipe
Joy of Baking recipe
Obviously, you can't tell how each tasted, but they all turned out different sizes, different colours, and wildly different textures of cake. I think it may have something to do with how quickly I added the baking soda and vinegar concoction and also how long I mixed the batter for. The cream cheese icing is pretty much the same across the board, it even tastes good when I cut half the amount of sugar the recipe called for.

The verdict? The Magnolia recipe won hands down, but there is a definite difference when you try to make only a third of the recipe. (The recipe is for 36 cupcakes) The size changed when I tried to split the recipe, but it was still very moist and spongey both ways. Martha Stewart's cupcake turned out well and very delicious, I actually prefer her cream cheese icing! The Joy of Baking cupcake was... less than satisfactory. I may have to try that one again and really concentrate on what I'm doing, because I feel like it may have been my sheer boredom with the experiment that ruined them. My husband ate them and thought they were great, but I found them to be dry and hard to swallow. Enough said.

Have a great weekend everyone! See you on Monday! Don't eat too many cupcakes!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Broken in Seattle?

In my haste to rush to the dentist yesterday morning for my filling, I kicked the door jam with my bare foot. It hurt so much that I saw white for a split second and it really didn't feel like pain that I could just shake off, like mind over matter. Well, I am pretty sure that it's broken. It still hurts just as much today and I was having trouble moving it this morning. There's no need to be alarmed, I know plenty of people who have broken their toes, all of whom were told by their doctors to take ibuprofen and elevate it, and stay away from high heeled shoes. See, this is where it comes in handy to have certain staples in your house, just incase you will be unable to walk! Yes, I am making light of the situation, but seriously, I'm fine. Yesterday, between all the hobbling around and frozen novocaine face business, I decided to make burgers for dinner. I just bought an adorable cast iron grill pan a couple weeks ago, and have taken every opportunity I can to use it, even for burgers! Burgers are a super delicious, inexpensive and easy dinner to make. It takes literally under ten minutes from prep to the table. Obviously, you can do much more complicated things to it to make it even yummier, but I like it it fast and simple.

Start with a pound or less of lean ground beef.

Add an egg or two, just to make it moist and stick together.

Being a Montrealer, I cannot live without this tasty seasoning and neither should you! Season liberally.

Mix in a tablespoon or two of bread crumbs.

Start making patties! Not more than half an inch thick.

Medium heat is more than enough for thin burgers on cast iron, 2-3 minutes each side.

Serve on a toasted bun, with a smear of mayo, dollop of ketchup, and yummy cheddar and lettuce!
Luckily for me the novocaine finally wore off in time for me to enjoy a juicy burger!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chipped in Seattle

I'm somewhat at a loss for words right now. I had a dentist appointment this morning because I inadvertently chipped my molar and needed a filling! I realize how this situation potentially leaves me vulnerable to jokes about my cooking, but I have no fear. I'm made of tougher stuff than that, my friends! I have been numb now for three and a half hours and I'm starving! I'm hoping that the coffee I'm drinking from a straw will suppress my appetite long enough to tide me over until the novocaine wears off. The fact that I am perusing my cooking pictures really isn't helping me at all. For instance:

Mmmmm, pork chops.

Why am I doing this to myself?! You're hungry I bet, cause I know I am.

Mario Batali Milanese Porkchops
  • 4 center-cut pork chops, 1 inch thick
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs, lightly toasted
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges, seeds removed
  •  parsley flakes for prettiness (I added this myself)

    1 Remove the bones from the pork chops. (I didn't bother, and no that is not how I chipped my tooth) Using a meat mallet, carefully pound the pork chops until they are uniformly 1/4 inch thick. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper. Dip each chop into the beaten eggs, allowing excess to drip off. Dredge each chop in the bread crumbs and set on a plate.
    2 In a 14- to 16-inch sauté pan, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil over medium heat until just smoking. Add the butter and allow it to foam for 10 to 15 seconds. Place the chops in the pan and cook until light golden brown on one side, about 5 minutes. Using tongs, carefully turn the chops and cook on the other side until light golden brown, about 5 more minutes. Add more oil if necessary, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, to avoid scorching the breading. 

    Serve immediately with a wedge of lemon! I served mine with brown rice and salad.

    My trusty OXO meat mallet.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Seattle Delights

Seattle in January has, so far, been the best winter of my life. It's never very cold (we went for a pleasant bike ride the other day) and I haven't had to fight my way through a foot of snow, or wade through ice-cold slush. And for the first time ever, I have not once asked the question, "Why do I live here?!" to the heavens. The only catch is that 3 days out of 7, the sky will most likely be steel grey and rainy. I have found that the best way to combat this is to go out and do something really fun! Since the weather here is so schizophrenic, you might actually get a spot of sunshine when it appears deceptively dreary. My two favourite places to beat the winter doldrums are: Sur La Table kitchen store, and Le Panier bakery. Both are located in Pike Place Market down by the water, and both lift my spirits when the weather threatens to get me down! The fact that they both have French names is not lost on me, it's probably one of the reasons why they make me feel better: they remind me of home.

Sur La Table is full of the prettiest, most brightly coloured, cookware, bakeware, dinnerware, and anything kitchen/dining related! They carry Le Creuset, Emile Henry, Calphalon, you name it. I drool over their stock all the time. The latest things I acquired from them was a Silpat baking mat and a French rolling pin, ooh la la. Their prices are pretty competitive too, nothing is at full price, and if you are on their mailing list, you get really awesome discounts every so often.

Just down the hill and around the corner from Sur La Table is Le Panier, a happy little bakery that sells slightly overpriced baked goods. Their recipes are pretty authentic and none of the staff looks at me strangely when I pronounce the names the proper French way. They have palmiers, croissants, chocolatines, macarons, ridiculously expensive baguettes, and my favourite little feuilletés. Their feuilletés are so popular that if you arrive in the afternoon, they just might have ONE left in their warmer. 
A happy little feuilleté. The sun decided to come out and be happy with us!
Lilibeth: 2, Winter Doldrums: 0. Take that, winter!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Seattle "Fashion"

When I'm not in the apartment, I am often wandering the streets of Seattle, people-watching, drinking coffee (naturally) and just getting to know my new city. The very first thing that struck me about Seattleites, was that a lot of people still dress like it's 1994. My husband, who doesn't give a crap about fashion or looking good as long as what he's wearing is clean, looks downright fancy and preppy in his uniform of: t-shirt, jeans, hoodie, jacket and sneakers, compared to the denizens of Seattle, many of whom kind of look homeless. I'm pretty sure the look is intentional and from four months of observation, this seems to just be Seattle style. On Saturday, we stumbled upon a group of Kurt Cobain clones. They probably weren't even born when he died!
I loved him, but he looks smelly.
Don't get me wrong, I love my adopted city and it's very friendly and kind people. There are some fashionable ladies here, it just makes me sad that they are so few and far between. I have decided to pay homage to Seattle fashion by partially emulating their style in my own Lilibeth way. I've noticed that many girls here wear flat, knee-length boots. They are comfortable, practical and cute so I got a pair of Enzo Angiolini Zeldens. Cross-body bags are also de rigueur here, so I wear my black leather Rebecca Minkoff MAC. And my Seattle pièce de résistance is a pair of jeans that intentionally have rips that I am comfortable with. Just for Kurt!

Ok, this is as grungy as I get.

I went to the dentist last week and told him I was from Toronto. He said that he loved Toronto, and that the people there "dress very, very well". *Sigh* 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sometimes A Girl's Gotta Do, What A Girl's Gotta Do

I am a total self-proclaimed domestic diva. As in, I love to do housework. I like for our house to always be very clean, organized, and aesthetically pleasing. As a result, I am always chipping my manicure while vacuuming or accidentaly ripping off a nail while replacing the bed sheets. Cooking and cleaning has really taken a toll on my poor hands, my nails especially, they have become dry and brittle no matter how hard I try to moisturize. I use the heavy duty stuff too, my favourite is the Vaseline Clinical Therapy Intensive Rescue. It works on my hands, just not so much for my nails, and I am constantly treating my cuticles with Burt's Bees Lemon Butter cuticle cream.

One day, I discovered CND Shellac, and it was like a miracle! It's a new technology that is a "hybrid nail colour". It takes the same amount of time as a regular manicure, is only $5 more expensive, has zero dry-time, never chips, and lasts two weeks! It doesn't involve any scary smelling chemicals or glue or filing down of the top of your nail. It's just your natural nail with an awesome coat of durable colour. You can even remove it yourself after the two weeks is up, all you have to do is apply acetone soaked cotton balls to the lacquer, wrap it with foil, and it comes off in ten minutes. I love it, cause now I can do absolutely anything and my nails still look fabulous. I never used to get French manicures because they chipped off in one day, but look how pretty!

It stays like this for 2 weeks and because of the clear polish, the growth is virtually unnoticeable.

I realize that most women can't get manicures every two weeks because it's expensive, but if you are going to get one, might as well get one that lasts right? And us lucky girls in Seattle don't get charged tax on services, woohoo! Shellac is perfect because I can have the pampered princess look, while actually getting a lot of heavy duty cooking and cleaning done around the house. No more of that being-afraid-to-touch-stuff-because-I-just-got-a-mani ridiculousness!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Wilson All Carb Diet

My husband and I are far from being overweight. In fact, I think we are pretty slim by most standards. Of course, like everyone in North America we could always use some more physical activity. Anyway, my point is, I have been on this weird pasta kick, I don't know if it's because of the cold weather, or because of Mario Batali, but we have been consuming a lot of carbohydrates. Everything in moderation, I say! And let's face it, comfort food is awesome. I have had a love affair with pasta for as long as I can remember. In fact, at six years old I became a published writer when a local book of children's works chose to include the story I wrote. It was called, "The Girl Who Liked Spaghetti". It was autobiographical. I then went on to live in the neighbourhood of Little Italy in Toronto, which surprised absolutely no one in my family. This is what the Wilson household has been eating these days.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara (Mario Batali)

Spaghetti alla Gricia (Mario Batali)

Pesto made in my blender, -thanks for the idea Marz!

Delicioso! (Mario Batali)

Pan-fried gnocchi in a brown butter and sage sauce (Martha Stewart)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

OMG Yum!

I have always loved the idea of stuffed foods. Stuffed peppers, stuffed mushroom caps, deviled eggs (my best friend makes the best ones). They are always so delicious, I never met a stuffed food that I didn't like but I always thought it would be very complicated for some reason. I came across this recipe from a Laura Calder cook book that my mother-in-law and sister-in-law gave me for my shower, and soon discovered that it was pretty straightforward. These are incredible! My husband quickly stated that he LOVED them, and when he was finished eating it, wished he could eat another. Since I made humongous dinner-sized ones, that wasn't really advisable. That being said, you can make many appetizer-sized stuffed tomatoes by using smaller tomatoes or main course sized ones using larger tomatoes. Seriously, this is delicious and you need to make them. They will make you happy! -I think I may have found my go-to dinner appetizer!

This picture doesn't do this stuffed tomato justice!
Stuffed Tomatoes:
  • 12 medium Tomatoes (the recipe maybe halved, even quartered)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 2 lbs. ground Beef or a combination of ground beef, veal and pork
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 Onion minced
  • 2½ Cloves Garlic minced
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 handful chopped fresh Parsley or dried herbes de Provence
  • grated Parmesan
  1. Slice the tops off tomatoes. Hollow out the insides (reserve for something else, like sauce or salad.
  2. Pat the tomatoes dry inside with a paper towel, season with salt, and leave upside down on paper towel to drain for about 20 minutes.
  3.  Preheat the oven to 350°F
  4.  Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan.Gently sauté the onions and garlic, until soft, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add the meat. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until fully done.
  6. Mix in the bread crumbs. Stir in the mustard, parsley or herbes de Provence, and Parmesan.
  7. Sliver a bit off the bottom of each tomato so they sit flat without wobbling.
  8. Stuff the tomatoes. Set in a baking pan. Bake until the tomatoes are soft and hot, about 30 minutes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

No Shame in Eating Leftovers

I enjoy making yummy food and I am not adverse to eating leftovers the next day. Thankfully, my husband shares the same philosophy. Luckily, this is also a nice money-saving tactic. When we were dating, we were all about the dinners out, the lunches out, and the brunches out. Or if we were in a hurry, take-out. Now that we are married and presumably wiser and more responsible, we have realized that was a stupid way to live! We still go to restaurants to eat on occasion, but it's much more budget-friendly to eat at home, not to mention more comfortable, nutritious, and a bit better for our waistlines. I'm always on the lookout for simple, tasty recipes for 4 to 6 people, that way my husband can pack it for his lunch and we can eat it again the next night if we feel like it. I say simple cause let's face it, as much as I love preparation and cooking, I don't always feel like making something as epic as boeuf bourguignon every day, you know what I mean? Also, having recipes simplifies your grocery list, and therefore, narrows down your budget! Chicken and potatoes are always a very easy and tasty creation, and should be a kitchen staple.


Crisp Mustard-Glazed Chicken Breasts:
  • 4 boneless chicken breasts, skin on (I couldn't find any so I used skinless)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for breasts
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 3/4 cup coarse breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
  • 3/4 cup homemade or low-sodium canned chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (I used half & half instead)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rub chicken breasts lightly with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Combine 2 tablespoons butter with the mustard; reserve 2 teaspoons for sauce. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter; mix with breadcrumbs and thyme, and season with salt and pepper.
  3. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sear chicken skin side down until crispy, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Smear with mustard mixture, and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Turn skin side up; apply mustard mixture and breadcrumbs.
  4. Transfer skillet to oven, and roast until chicken is cooked through and top is golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.
  5. Transfer chicken to serving platter. Add stock and cream to skillet over medium heat, and stir with wooden spoon until creamy and reduced to 3/4 cup, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in reserved mustard mixture. Strain through a fine sieve, and serve with chicken. Garnish with thyme. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Canadian in Seattle

We were fortunate enough to celebrate Thanksgiving twice last year, in October for Canadian Thanksgiving, and again in November for the American one. We had a lot to be thankful for! I decided not to cook a whole turkey, since we weren't having anyone over, and I didn't want to be eating turkey for the rest of the year. Instead, what I made was turkey breast, -which I had no idea was enormous on it's own without the rest of it's body. I didn't take a picture of the bird before we carved it because we were so hungry by the time it was ready that I just didn't care anymore. I kept it very simple, by rubbing mayo under the skin and on top, and roasted it. (Yes, I was stressed out about it, and yes, I paced back and forth in front of the oven.) I accompanied it with candied yams, cranberry jelly from the can -because I like it, I don't care what you say, and cornbread stuffing. I wouldn't make the candied yams again in quite the same way, it was waaaay too candied, so I won't bother giving you the recipe. Roasted sweet potatoes would've been better, but hey, you live and you learn. The turkey turned out moist and savoury, so I highly recommend the mayo trick, maybe even for roast chicken. The drippings from the pan were so good, but sooo fattening because of the mayo, I just added chicken stock to the drippings to make the gravy. I didn't have any cornstarch to thicken it, so I added flour: I do not recommend this because it made it look like a coagulated mess. Just go out and buy some cornstarch!


Cornbread Stuffing: (this makes A LOT of stuffing)

  • loaf of cornbread
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups chopped onions
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped shallots
  • 4 teaspoons dried rubbed sage
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 2 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 2 large eggs, beaten to blend
Preheat oven to 325°F. Cut corn bread into 3/4-inch cubes. Place corn bread cubes on baking sheet and toast until dry but not hard, about 15 minutes. Cool. Transfer to large bowl.
Butter 8x8x2-inch baking dish. Melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onions, celery and shallots; sauté just until pale golden brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in sage and thyme. Add to corn bread cubes in bowl.
Stir chicken broth into stuffing. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in eggs. Transfer to prepared dish. Bake stuffing in covered dish alongside turkey for 1 hour. Uncover stuffing and bake until top begins to crisp, about 5 minutes longer.

Instead of making turkey sandwiches, I made turkey soup! I shredded the remaining turkey breast, boiled three cups of chicken broth, added the shredded turkey to it, grated 1 cup of extra old, sharp cheddar cheese (adding gradually), added about another 2 - 3 cups of water gradually, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and added a pound of rigatoni to it and voila! Delicious turkey noodle soup! My mom used to make this so it's my comfort food. This is recipe is so simple, but it really hits the spot on a cold, winter day!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Don't Fret About the Meat!

Okay, so I think I figured out what stresses me out the most in my kitchen: roasting meat. I thought it would only happen the first time with the first chicken I ever cooked, but apparently, meat thermometers and temperature standards of different countries completely freak me out. No, there was no dinner party to prepare for, no time constraints. I am just a really big worry wart and am always very hard on myself. I hate failing or not getting something right the first time around.

Right off the bat I was already screwed because my pork roast was completely frozen. I have since learned to think and plan ahead, and make sure to defrost my meat by putting it in the refrigerator 24 hours or more before I intend to cook it. I hope that all of you know that you SHOULD NOT leave your pork out on the counter to defrost for the whole day, or dunk it in a sink of hot water, because this is the best way to encourage bacteria to grow all over your dinner and make you very ill. For the first 30 minutes that the roast was in the oven, I was pacing back and forth, clutching the meat thermometer in my hand and peeking through the oven window every ten seconds. My husband thought I was a lunatic. I have never given anyone food poisoning before, so I don't really know where this fear stems from. Only when an incredibly wonderful smell began to waft through the house did I start to feel at ease. I took out the roast at the end of the hour, stabbed it with my trusty meat thermometer and the gauge read: 160ºF. YES! Then I stabbed it again from another angle: 160ºF! Success and relief. The final product was fully cooked (always a good thing), and not dry, but very moist and flavourful! The drippings were marvellous. Hallelujah! And it tasted even better the next day if you can believe it.

Pork Roast with Rosemary, Quatre-Epices and Honey:
  • 3 pounds boneless pork roast
  • salt and pepper to season
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 to 4 Tbsps chopped fresh rosemary (I used dried)
  • 2 tablespoons quatre-epices (1/4 tsp cinnamon ground ginger, 1/4 tsp ground cloves, 1/4 tsp nutmeg and 1/4 tsp pepper)
  • 1/3 cup honey, warmed until runny if necessary
  • 1/2 cup water 
  1. Rinse your meat and pat dry. Bring the meat to room temperature, about an hour. Heat the oven to 400ºF. Season the meat well all over with salt and pepper. Rub with the olive oil. Mix together the rosemary and spices and roll the meat in it (on some parchment paper) to coat evenly. Set the meat in a roasting pan, fat side up. Drizzle over the honey. Pour about 1/4 cup water into the bottom of the pan and place in the oven. Roast the pork for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F and continue roasting until done, about 40 minutes more, adding another 1/4 cup water during cooking, if needed.
  2. Remove the pork from the oven and carve in thin slices, while keeping the juices warm. Fan the meat onto a platter. Taste the juices and fix the seasonings. Pour over the meat, and serve.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Salt tooth?

I don't have much of a sweet tooth. I'd take a plate of fresh-cut, salty french fries over a slice of cake any day. I would make out with fleur de sel if my body didn't respond so negatively to sodium. (Omnomnom!) My roommate for life however, won't turn down a sweet treat. In fact, he may eat the rest of it's family too. Since I enjoy making things and my ectomorph husband enjoys eating things, this works out perfectly.

I eased myself into baking by making French butter cookies:

Aren't they adorable? They're like cute, edible buttons. These are super easy to make, spend so little time in the oven, and are unfortunately, even easier to eat. I made these for my husband's trip up to Victoria to see some friends, but he nearly unwittingly ate half of them.

French Butter Cookies:
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup turbinado, (unrefined) or granulated sugar
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter and light-brown sugar; beat on high speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, and mix to combine. Add flour and salt, and mix on low speed until flour is incorporated.
  2. Roll dough into three 1 1/2-inch-diameter logs. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.
  3. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat. Roll cookie log in sugar, coating it evenly, and slice into 1/4-inch rounds. Place cookies on baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Using a cake tester or toothpick, make four decorative holes in each cookie. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven, and let cool completely on wire racks.
And then, I got gutsy! I decided to make a chocolate tart AND lemon meringue bars in one afternoon. I made both crusts from scratch, which scared the living daylights out of me cause I've never done that before, and there are all sorts of baking horror stories about making crust for the first time. (shrinking and bubbling and cracking) Then there was the little matter of not owning a rolling pin, so I had to improvise and use a chilled bottle of wine from the fridge. Everything turned out just fine. For pie weights, I used rice and pennies on a sheet of foil, believe it or not, and I didn't get a single bubble!

Chocolate tart

And then it was time for the lemon meringue bars. The most labour-intensive part of this recipe was grating the lemon rinds and juicing the lemons, the rest of the work was done by the mixer and oven really. Adding lemon zest to the crust really makes a wonderfully flavourful difference that I highly recommend. I sort of combined three different recipes, one for the shortbread crust, one for the lemon curd filling, and one for the meringue. Turned out pretty mouth-watering!

The lemony shortbread crust

Baked lemon curd filling
Sugar and egg whites

Hurrah! It's meringue!

Going into the oven for some browning.

Soooooooo delicious!

The best compliment for me was when my husband told me it tasted like his great grandmother, Nonna Yolanda's lemon filling. As it turns out, the recipes are very similar! Everytime we eat something lemon flavoured at a restaurant, he always shakes his head cause it's nowhere near as good as the dessert he remembered growing up. I would make this again for a party, you end up with a giant tray of bars that two people alone cannot healthily consume. I gave half of them to our neighbours. They must love me by now!

Lemon Meringue Bars:

2 sticks of softened unsalted butter (1 cup)
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tbsp of flour
1/4 cup plus 3 tbsp of confectioners sugar
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp of freshly grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp of coarse salt
6 eggs plus 4 egg whites
2 1/4 cups plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
3/4 cup plus 3 tbsp of fresh lemon juice (basically I used two giant lemons)

Preheat the oven to 350 F

Make your crust:

Put the flour, butter, confectioners sugar and 2 tsp of lemon zest, and salt in your mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix it until it's doughy and well blended.

Press the batter/dough into a 9x13" pan, and chill it in the freezer for 10 min. Then bake it for 20 minutes or until it's golden brown. Set it aside to cool completely on a wire rack.

Make your filling:

Whisk together the 6 whole eggs, 1 3/4 cups plus 2 tbsp of granulated sugar, lemon juice, and 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp of lemon zest. Pour it over the crust and bake it for 18 - 20 minutes. Let it cool completely.

Make your meringue topping:

Make sure your mixer bowl is clean and dry, and has the whisk attachment on. Put your egg whites and 1/2 cup of granulated sugar in and mix on medium-high speed until it's stiffer and makes peaks.

Next, spread the meringue over the cooled filling, and make soft peaks. Bake it in the oven for 10 minutes or until you've browned the meringue to your liking. Let it cool completely before cutting.

You can store in in tupperware in the fridge for a couple of days and it's tasty cold!

Friday, January 14, 2011

The French know how to do it.

I never would have thought that one day I would daydream about French ovens. Not five years ago, if you came to me from the future and told me that the prospect of owning my own Le Creuset French oven would one day make me shiver with excitement, I would think you were talking to the wrong Lilibeth!

Le Creuset enameled cast iron is so pretty and more importantly, so easy to clean! You don't need to soak it, whatever was caked/burned on washes right off with a sponge instantaneously. They are hands down the most low-maintenance cookware and I love that they will allegedly last forever. (Here's hoping!)

My sister, who has been spoiling me since the day of my birth, gave us one as part of her wedding present to us. When it arrived, I squealed, jumped up and down, did a little jig, and ripped the box open.

                         My 5 quart, cherry red, French oven! Versatile and perfect. 

Since falling in love with cooking, I had been toying with the idea of making Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon, and would tell anyone who'd listen about how I was going to do it one day. Soon. Ish. When it came down to it, I was pretty daunted by the prospect. I think that one reason why so many people don't cook is a fear of failure. Nobody wants to have to eat something they have rendered inedible, or worse, have to throw it out after all their hard work. This dish does have an epic list of ingedients, after all, not to mention quite a bit of prep time, and the use of the stove top AND the oven. In other words, be prepared to use everything in your kitchen, and every surface you can spare. And be prepared to be in and around your kitchen for over 4 hours. (I'm already tired just from reading that)

One day, with a lot of goading from my cousin Chef Jeffrey, I made a list of everything I needed, -a whopping list of 17 ingredients, and went to the grocery store to bring as much of it home as I could. As it turned out, I could only carry half the ingredients, so I asked my obliging husband to pick the rest up for me on his way home from work. The next afternoon, I began! I set my iPod dock up in the kitchen, blasted my favourite music, and just did it. I had so much fun from beginning to end, this recipe really makes one feel like a "real" cook. And the smells that you have just created are guaranteed to send you into the land of bliss.

I wish I had some funny blunders to recount, but proudly, I don't! I do, however, have pictures of easily, one of the top 5 most delicious things I have ever tasted in my life. From Kraft dinners to Boeuf Bourguigon.

If you don't have Mastering The Art of French Cooking by Julia Child:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Yes, I swear, I made it from scratch!

When I first told my father of my baking exploits, he just could not wrap his mind around the fact that I made all the desserts I was telling him about, from scratch. He was accustomed to his daughter going to the grocery store and buying packages of cake mix and brownie mix and disgusting tubs of Betty Crocker icing, only to arrive home to discover that we were out of eggs, -the ONE thing I needed to actually add to the recipes myself. 

Lilibeth: "I made really yummy brownies daddy!"  
Dad: "Oh ya, the kind from the box? You used to do that from time to time, I remember."
Lilibeth: "No daddy, I made it using actual flour and sugar, and butter and chocolate that I melted myself, it's not that hard."  
Dad: "Really? So, not from a box? You know how to do that? You?"

I'm not even kidding, we had to have a couple phone converations before he finally believed me. But it's different now that I'm working in my very own functioning kitchen. I say "functioning" because my old apartment in Toronto only had a stovetop, -no oven. And also, I don't have to ask for permission from my mother to use her mixer.  

Mom: "Why do you want to use the mixer? It's up there in that high cupboard, and you won't clean it properly, I know it."

Yes, my mom's quite the character, but I love her. That, folks, is the reason why my mixer is sitting proudly in my kitchen, purposely on display, and very easy to access. For the record, it's always spotless.

My double boiler. I don't think my dad remembers this, but he taught me how to use it when I was little, Saucier that he is.

Brownies à la Lilibeth. Not Betty Crocker.

These are the blondie bars that I made. They are basically "blonde" brownies, because you use brown sugar, and butterscotch chips. I decided to add half butterscotch, half chocolate, and they turned out incredible. We brought them to a friend's house for game night and they were a hit! (Plus very easy to make)

If I had known how easy it was to make brownies, I would have been making them from scratch from the very beginning! I may even have gotten creative, using Toblerone pieces or caramel chunks. Knowledge is power I tell ya.

Brownie Recipe (Makes one 9-by-13-inch batch of brownies)
  • 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
  • 9 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 9-by-13-inch cake pan; (not square!) line with parchment paper or foil, allowing 2-inch overhang. Butter parchment. Put butter, chocolate, and cocoa in heatproof bowl set over pan of simmering water (or double boiler if you have one); stir until butter and chocolate have melted. Let cool slightly.
  2. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Put sugar, eggs, and vanilla into mixer bowl; whisk on medium until pale, about 4 minutes. Mix in chocolate mixture. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined.
  3. Spread batter into prepared dish; smooth top. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool in dish 40 minutes. Lift out, and let cool completely on wire rack. Try not to eat the whole thing in one sitting.
Blondie Bars:
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan
  • 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (or 1/2 cup chocolate, 1/2 cup butterscotch chips)
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush an 8-inch or 9-inch square baking pan with butter; line pan with a piece of parchment paper or foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides. Butter paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk butter and sugars until smooth. Whisk in egg and vanilla. Add flour and salt; mix just until moistened (do not overmix). Fold in 1/2 cup each chocolate and/or butterscotch chips. Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top. Sprinkle with remaining chocolate chips and/or butterscotch chips.
  3. Bake until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Set pan on a wire rack, and let cool completely. Using parchment overhang, lift cake from pan and transfer to a cutting board; cut into 16 squares. Store blondies in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 2 days.