Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Homemade Graham Crackers!

Have you ever thought about making graham crackers from scratch? Me neither, I assumed they grew in a box. With this recipe you will get amazing tasting graham crackers as long as you make them thin, if you make them thicker they are more like graham cookies - which is also a good thing (they are softer and great in milk!) This recipe is the base for the nanaimo recipe found here.

From graham crackers nanaimo bars
I recommend trying this treat - it's fun to say you've made graham crackers from scratch because I can guarantee not many others have!

2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons frozen unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 cup mild-flavored honey
5 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

For the topping:

3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

What to do:
Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in a food processor with steel blade . Pulse or mix on low to mix. Add the butter and pulse on and off until the butter mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.
In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture in the processor and pulse until the dough barely comes together into a sticky ball. It will be very soft and sticky.

Take half of dough and turn the dough out onto a plastic wrap. Gently fold over wrap and shape into rectangle. Repeat with other half of dough. Chill until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.
To prepare the topping: In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon, and set aside.

Take one wrapped portion of dough. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick (approx 16 inches long). Trim the edges of the rectangle to 4 inches wide. Working with the shorter side of the rectangle parallel to the work surface, cut the strip every 4 inches to make 4 crackers.

Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough. Using a fork, prick the dough to form two dotted rows on each side of the dividing line. Place the crackers on parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping.

From graham crackers nanaimo bars

From graham crackers nanaimo bars

Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Within the kitchen BIG Tip: This is much easier if you use a silpat. You can flour and roll the dough on the silpat. Carefully divide the dough into squares as described – be careful with knife – do not cut through the silpat! Using silpat method you can then just move entire silpat onto baking sheet and move to fridge.

From graham crackers nanaimo bars

Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the tough, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.

Yield: 8 large crackers (original recipe says 10 – I didn’t bother keeping scraps as dough is not easy to work with).

From graham crackers nanaimo bars

From graham crackers nanaimo bars

Based on and Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery (Villard, 2000)

Nanaimo Bars - A Canadian Tradition

From graham crackers nanaimo bars
The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

From graham crackers nanaimo bars

This challenge is a great way to celebrate Canada and the upcoming Vancouver Olympics! And being a West Coast Canadian I had to take up this challenge (I chose to make regular flour crackers).

Nanaimo Bars are a part of Canadiana - every child knows what it is and most have had the sweet three layer bar many times. Chocolate, coconut, nuts, butter cream and chocolate have caused sugar highs in many Canadian kids and adults alike. I don't remember eating my first nanaimo bar but they were always on the table at any special occasion. I've never made nanaimo bars from scratch (including making my own graham crackers) so this was a baking first in my tiny kitchen.

From graham crackers nanaimo bars

The results were fantastic and soooo much better than store bought which are often too sweet. This recipe produces a nutty and chocolatey base, with a not-too-sweet filling and a dark chocolate finish. I made them yesterday and there is one soon as I finish typing there will be none :)

They are named after the City of Nanaimo located on Vancouver Island. In 1986, Nanaimo Mayor Graeme Roberts, in conjunction with Harbour Park Mall, initiated a contest to find the ultimate Nanaimo Bar Recipe. During the four-week long contest, almost 100 different variations of the famous confection were submitted. The winner: Joyce Hardcastle. This is the recipe:
Nanaimo Bar Recipe

Bottom Layer

½ cup unsalted butter (European style cultured)
¼ cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
1 egg beaten
1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs (see here for homemade recipe crackers!)
½ c. finely chopped almonds (I used raw skin on almonds)
1 cup coconut (I used unsweetened desiccated coconut)

What to do:
Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and whisk to cook and thicken.You know it is done when it resembles pudding. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan. Refrigerate for 15 minutes or more minutes.

Second Layer

½ cup unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream (I used whipping cream but I have recipes that call for milk)
2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder (if you live in Canada or have access to it, you must use Bird's brand for authentic taste!)
2 cups icing sugar
Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.

Note: See the little offset spatula in the picture??  I got tonnes of grief from hubby about buying yet another kitchen utensil... "when will you ever use that thing??" The answer: Yesterday! My other spatulas were too big for the pan. Love it when I am right!

From graham crackers nanaimo bars

From graham crackers nanaimo bars

Third Layer

4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each) - I used dark Nestle chocolate - great when you don't want something too sweet but you want deep chocolate flavour!
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Note: If you want a slightly thicker layer 2 more ounces of chocolate can be added along with 1 additional tbsp of butter.

Melt chocolate and butter overlow heat. Cool. Once cool (luke warm is ok - especially if you refrigerate the other two layers first) , but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.

From graham crackers nanaimo bars

From graham crackers nanaimo bars

From graham crackers nanaimo bars

From graham crackers nanaimo bars

From graham crackers nanaimo bars

Within the Kitchen Tip:
To make the white chocolate design melt 2 ounces of white chocolate. Place in ziploc bag and cut off small part of bottom tip of bag. Make diagonal lines across pan as shown. Using a toothpick drag one end of it through chocolate and then alternate direction and pull through again, wiping the toothpick in between each.

Extra info:
Information on Vancouver 2010 click here.
This video of Vancouver is amazing and a taste of what you will experience is you are coming for the Olympics!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Seared Soy-Maple Ahi Tuna with Savory Polenta

From seared tuna

From seared tuna
Growing up on the east coast of Canada meant an abundance of seafood – salmon, cod, halibut, and lobster. But I have a secret to share… I hated all of them! Unless, my mother made me, I would not eat any kind of fresh seafood (for some reason canned tuna was palatable).

It wouldn’t be until I became an adult and moved to the west coast that I became a more adventurous eater. Sometime during my university years, I started eating, and liking, seafood. My favorites are salmon, prawns, and ahi tuna.


From seared tuna

And even more recently I have dared to cook ahi tuna (sushi grade). I thought it would be a big challenge as I have heard horror stories of friends overcooking it. And since it costs $25/lb and up here, I did not want to improperly cook it and waste that much money! But, honestly readers, it is not that hard to produce a beautifully seared piece of fish. The key is to use medium high heat and cook it on the first side until the flesh changes colour 1/3 of the way up the side of the fish. Flip it and sear it a few minutes more. Voila! flawlessly cooked tuna. Seared on the outside and perfectly pink on the inside.

From seared tuna

From seared tuna
Tonight, I had a craving for seared ahi tuna and instead of the mashed potatoes I would normally serve with it, I tried polenta. I have NEVER cooked polenta before but have eaten it in restaurants (have you tried polenta fries? Yum! That will be a different post someday soon.) Anyways, I looked around the net and chose a recipe from Alton Brown. I used a spicy homemade chicken stock and way more garlic than called for. I also found it called for too much salt so I cut it by half.

From seared tuna

I marinated the tuna for 30 minutes in a marvelous kicked-up maple soy glaze recipe shared by my boss JW (she’s vegetarian but I try not to hold that against her – just kidding!)

Tuna is definitely too expensive to have often but every once in awhile it makes for a special and delectable treat. Enjoy.

Seared Soy-Maple Glazed Tuna

Marinade (enough for up to 1 lb of tuna or 4 servings)

From seared tuna

  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp Dijon or grainy mustard (I prefer grainy)
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp wasabi powder (optional)
1. Mix together. Set aside.

  • 1/4 lb per person ahi tuna (sushi grade) – about ¾ inch thick
  1. Place tuna in a bowl or a ziploc. Pour marinade over tuna and marinade for 30-60 minutes.
  2. Heat pan on medium high heat and add 2 or tbsp of vegetable oil.
  3. Add tuna. Do not flip until the tuna has changed color 1/3 of the way up the steak. Once flipped, cook  tuna for another 2 minutes or so depending on how rare you like your tuna.
  4. Remove from pan.
  5. Cut into ¼ inch thick slices.

From seared tuna

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 cup minced onions
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup polenta
  • ½ cup or more grated parmesan
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat oven: 350 degrees
Special Equipment: Heat proof sauce pan or dutch oven with lid.

  1. Place oil in pan and heat on medium to medium high heat. Add onions and salt. Cook until translucent about 5 minutes.
  2. Reduce heat and add garlic – do not burn garlic! Cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add chicken stock. Bring to boil.
  4. While whisking, add polenta.
  5. Cover pan and place in oven.
  6. Bake for 35 minutes. Stir 2 or 3 times to ensure creaminess and prevent clumping.
  7. Remove from oven and stir in parmesan. Add pepper to taste.


Plating suggestion: Place a large scoop of polenta on plate. Gentle top with 4 or 5 slices of seared tuna. Simple yet delicious.

From seared tuna




Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Lamington Curse

From lamingtons
Mr. P over at Delicious, Delicious, Delicious has been cursed in my kitchen a few times during the making of these lamingtons. You see it was his idea to have a contest focusing on these Australian treats. For anyone also not familiar with them, basically they are a small square piece of cake which is covered in chocolate and then coated in coconut… I know …yum! I quite honestly had not heard of them before Mr. P came into my life.

I had some grand ideas as well as a few ideas to make life a bit easier…come on two young kids necessitates short cuts on occasion! I had planned on buying 2 premade pound cakes as the base but on shopping day I could not find a pound cake to save my life (1st cursing of Mr P). But did this stop me? No way! I decided to do it the old fashioned way and make two pound cakes from scratch both, yet again, by Rose Levy Barnabaum and her Cake Bible. The first was her double vanilla pound cake and the second was her chocolate bread (chocolate pound cake). I forgot to take pictures of these (curse #2 on Mr P).

I am always looking for ways to involve the kids and this event was no exception. I wanted to colour the coconut spring colours to make up for the very day greys we've had lately in Vancouver. So the kids got to the pick colours for our Spring Lamingtons – pink and green. I added the colour gels to a cup of coconut placed in Ziploc bags. We put on some music (Mary had a little “lamb”ington was not among them!) and shook the bags until the coconut were beautiful shades of pink and green.

From lamingtons

I thought the only way to make these delectable morsels of cake and chocolate even better would be to add a tasty bit of delicious, buttery caramel sauce right in the middle. To do this I placed a small indent in the middle of the cake piece and then used my turkey baster to add the caramel sauce. Afterwards I capped the hole with a little bit of cake.

From lamingtons

From lamingtons

Curse #3 on Mr. P came while trying to glaze my cut-up pound cakes. The chocolate glaze was easy to make but getting it to the right consistency was a bit more difficult as it had to cool to the right pouring temp. I was vigilant until American Idol came on and then well, “pants on the floor” guy came on and I was sucked into watching it!!! By the time I finished laughing my glaze was a bit too stiff. It still tasted fantastic and was more than useable, but I had to frost it like a cake rather than just pour it over the cake as I had hoped.

My other idea for lamingtons was “reverse lamingtons” – chocolate cake with white chocolate glaze and toasted coconut. But to be honest by the time I finished icing the Spring Lamingtons there was no more “spring” in my step… it was waaay too late for another glaze and I had a tonne of the original chocolate glaze left. Curse #4, Mr P.

From lamingtons

So I made “lamington surprise” versions instead – they look like regular lamingtons but…surprise… chocolate cake!

I took most of them to work the next day and I have to say everyone LOVED them (well, except the guy allergic to coconut). The kids thought they were the best thing ever- “even better than cupcakes, Mom.”

From lamingtons

From lamingtons

So now I take back all of the cursing I have placed upon Mr. P because thanks to him my coworkers satisfied their sweet-tooths, my kids had a great time, and I tried something new in the kitchen… thanks Mr. P :)

From lamingtons

From lamingtons

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Story of the Peanut Butter and Jam Banana Cake

Ever act before you think? Well, on occasion I do. Take, for instance, last week when I asked the kids if they wanted me to make a cake to take Grandma's house. "Yes" was the answer and that wasn't the no thinking act. It was my next question... "what kind of cake should i make?". I figured chocolate would be the answer - as usual. But it wasn't. The answer from my son was banana...not bad until my daugther added "with peanut butter and jam!" Oh man. Of the many desserts I have made in my life, I can honestly say I have never made a peanut butter and jam banana cake. But I am not one to shy away from a challenge.

First, the banana cake. In my Cake Bible by Goddess Rose, there is a banana cake I have wanted to try for years but as you know from previous posts I am rarely able to live up to my self imposed Rose standards. But I was on high from my first huge success with a Rose cake and thought I could pull off another.

That led to the peanut butter and jam aspect of the cake. Luckily, I had just seen a post at My Baking Addiction with a beautiful peanut butter/cream cheese ring so I thought I would try it in this. To make life easy, I thought I would "sandwich" the peanut butter between 2 layers of seedless raspberry jam.

When it came out of the oven, the scent of sweet bananas filled the kitchen.... a good start! I promised the kids that they could help me frost it the next day. I wasn't sure what flavour would work best and in the end I decided on a white chocolate ganache and a drizzle of raspberry jam. Again, I thought I would use Rose's recipe for ganache. The problem... I hate to wait. So even though she clearly stated to completely cool down the heated chocolate and cream before adding it to the whipped cream, I convinced myself that my mix was cool enough. It wasn't. It separated and tuned into a messy puddle... it still tasted good but it was not pretty and did not glide nor would it cover the cake with the beautiful white sheath I had envisoned. Oh well, I slopped it on anyways and then drizzled the jam. Hmmm, it did not look like the cake I had baked in my mind.

I have to admit that it didn't taste like it did in my mind either. The flavours weren't quite strong enough - especially the peanut butter but it is very moist. The kids loved it, of course, and they are so proud of it that they tell everyone that they "invented" their cake. Their smiles when they do this fill their small, angelic faces.

I guess the moral of the Peanut Butter and Jam Banana Cake is that sometimes things don't work out as we imagine they will, and that's ok...sometimes what comes of it is even better.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Spaghetti Squash..worth rethinking!

I do not like spaghetti squash. Someone once promised me that spaghetti squash tasted just like pasta... what a crock! It does not taste like pasta - at least not any pasta I've ever eaten. I, in fact, have avoided that squash since that day oh so many years ago. Then I had kids. For anyone who didn't get the memo - kids change everything.

We ask our two young children to step out of their comfort zone now and then and try new foods. It's served us well so far - our son pretty much likes everything and our 5 year old daugther tried eel the other day! But I should have known it would come back and bite me in the butt one day.

On a trip to the grocery store a few weeks ago I was in the veggie section and passed by the pile of squashes that I have passed without thought for years now. For some reason a beautiful crayola yellow spaghetti squash caught my eye. OK it was staring at me... it seemed to be willing me to buy it. I was about to dismiss it with a flick of my hair but I could hear my kids "Mom, if you make us try icky things why don't you have to?" Like I said, kids change everything. I bought the dang thing.

Once I got it home, I had to figure out what to do with it. I certainly was not going to treat it like pasta - no tomato sauce whatsoever was going near it. I decided to keep it simple. I cut it in half lengthwise and dug out the seed with an avocado slicer (it never seems to fit any avocado I buy so I was glad to find a good use for it!).
From spaghetti squash
I also sprinkled the flesh with salt, pepper and a little thyme. Then I put them, cut side down, in a large pan and poured in a 900ml container of beef broth.
From spaghetti squash
With my oven preheated to 350 degrees I baked it for about 50 minutes, until the flesh was soft.
From spaghetti squash

Being careful not to burn myself, I separated the strands of the squash and put them into a large bowl.
From spaghetti squash
From spaghetti squash
I added butter, cream cheese and grated parmesan. I then separated the squash into smaller bowls and put a bit more butter and parmesan on top.
From spaghetti squash
Finally, I broiled them until the cheese browned.
From spaghetti squash

The verdict? Yum! Spaghetti squash is back on the friendly vegetable list. If you are trying to keep it healthy then just add salt, pepper and any other spice - it will still be good... I, however, will not be adding tomato sauce anytime soon. Enjoy.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

From Hummus
From Hummus

Tahini isn't always in my pantry but we often crave hummus. This is the recipe we use when the craving hits but the pantry is empty (of tahini). It's great with a variety of fresh vegetables as well as a spread for turkey and roast beef sandwiches!

1 can 15 oz chickepeas, rinsed
1/8 cup - 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small jalapeno, minced
juice of 2-3 lemons
1/4 garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/3 cup roasted red peppers

In a blender or food processor, blend all ingredients together until smooth. Start with lower ammount of oil and add more if you would like it smoother.
From Hummus

Sushi Cake!

From sushi cake
It's Saturday night and it's the kids turn to pick what we will have for dinner. The choice is Sushi Cake also known as sushi pizza. I first came across this dish while reading Bonnie Stern's Heart Smart Cooking for Family and Friends. Now my kids aren't fans of the smoked salmon version in her book (though many others are!) so I simplified it to suit my kids. If you follow Bonnie's more sophisticated recipe it would be great to serve at a dinner party.

My little ones love avocado rolls when we go out for sushi so our version is very simple avocado sushi cake. Other than cooking the rice it is a very kid friendly, hands on recipe. Also great is the way you can add whatever suits your own taste.

  • 4 cups cooked warm sushi rice
  • 1/4 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 2 ripe avacados, sliced and sprinkled with lemon juice to prevent browning
  • 1 sheet toasted nori - enough to fit pan
  • sesame seeds optional

What to do
  • Line 8x8 pan with plastic wrap.
  • Lightly toss rice wine vinegar with rice.
  • Arrange avocado slices in a single layer in pan.

From sushi cake

From sushi cake
  • Place 2 cups of cooked rice evenly over avocado slices.
  • Place nori (cut to size of pan if needed) over rice.

  • From sushi cake

    From sushi cake
  • Add remaining rice and pat down with wet hands.

  • From sushi cake
  • Cover with plastic wrap and place another 8x8 pan on top on rice. To this pan add heavy cans, or books etc to weigh down "cake". Keep at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

  • From sushi cake
  • Remove top layer of plastic wrap.
  • Flip over pan onto serving plate to unmould.
  • Remove last of plastic wrap.

  • From sushi cake
  • Garnish with sesame seeds. Other possible garnish includes roe, green onions, lemon slices, pickled ginger, wasabi etc.

  • From sushi cake
  • Although not necessary it is also great to have soy sauce available.