Family and Festive Feasting

December 28, 2008

 [Diet, Dessert and Dogs has moved!  If you’re reading this page, you’ve landed on the old site.  Please visit the new location by clicking here–and don’t forget to update your readers and blogrolls! 

As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we?  Because (and sorry to have to tell you this) we actually have more fans on this blog than you do.”

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[Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Warm Caramel Sauce]

As I mentioned in a previous post, the CFO came to visit over the holidays, and we had a truly lovely time together, chillaxing (I can’t understand why that word has evaporated from the lexicon.  I mean, it just seems to capture so perfectly the concept its meant to convey), laughing, watching movies*, laughing, shopping, playing with The Girls, laughing, and eating far, far too much.  I’m happy to say that my sister also bonded with both of our furry babies, who have been wandering aimlessly around the house since she left this morning. 

(“Mum, what do you mean, ‘she left’? Doesn’t she live with us now?  Where did she go? And, um, who will rub my belly tonight?”)

It does seem like ages since I’ve written on this blog, when in fact, it’s been just a few days. I’m just fascinated by the science fiction-like relative quality of time at the holidays: the space-time continuum stretches infinitely as you wait for the Big Day (or Days, depending on your belief system); then, like the Big Bang, it’s over in a flash.

Not to belabor the physics theme or anything, but I think my stomach has taken over the role of a black hole this holiday season.  Truly, I didn’t know it was possible that so much food could be sucked into that abyss in so short a span. Ah, if only time could stretch as infinitely as my appetite (and if only the waistband on my pants could do the same. . . ). 

Ah, what the heck, it’s the holidays. While the CFO was here , in effect, we enjoyed two major feast meals:  the first on Christmas Day, a semi-traditional repast that blended the Judeo-Christian cuisines; then, the following night, an Indian-themed feast, because we felt like it. 

Although neither my sister nor the HH is vegan (or even vegetarian), the bulk of the menu accommodated my dietary restrictions, so that we could all enjoy freely. And despite much good-natured ribbing in both directions (the CFO pooh-poohed almost every recipe I suggested on the grounds it was “too Veeee-gan”, while I countered by calling her a “rabid anti-Veegite“), it was the dish about which she was most skeptical, the wheat-free, egg-free, dairy-free pumpkin bread pudding, that turned out to be the star of the show. 

For the holiday meal, I relied on several tried-and-true recipes such as herb-roasted root vegetables, balsamic-dijon brussels sprouts and roast on the 25th, plus (in keeping with the Hannukah theme I started with those latkes the other day) an apple-noodle pudding (or kugel).  Even though this was a sweet kugel and more of what I’d consider a dessert, it did work well with the other dishes, offering a bit of luscious creaminess punctuated by tart cherries, along with the similar sweet-tart contrast in the brussels sprouts.  In fact, this noodle pudding would be perfect for breakfast, I’d venture.

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[Apple-Noodle Pudding with Tart Dried Cherries]

The bread pudding my sister so loved began with a pumpkin bread (recipe from Simple Treats), soaked in a pumpkin “custard” based on the mixture I used in my French Toast Soufflé.  I baked the puddings in individual ramekins, but you could easily do a single pudding in a loaf or square pan and scoop it from there. I topped the puddings with a homemade caramel sauce–a concoction based on a sweetened condensed milk experiment that went awry–that I’d kept warm. 

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[A bite of pumpkiny-caramelly bliss.]

The result was spectacular–warm, slightly crisp on the outside but moist and spongy on the inside, über-pumpkiny, slightly spiced, and with the smooth, glossy thickness of warm caramel blanketing the whole affair. This is a chic, stylish dessert, yet one that was really simple in its preparation.

We certainly didn’t need any additional desserts after that finale, but since I had loads of tester recipes in the house that I’d recently done up for the cookbook, I put out a tray with Glazed Almond Bars, Dalmatian Cheesecake Brownies and Hazelnut Mocha Cookies; as well as leftover Marzipan-Topped Shortbread, Tutti Fruiti Christmas Cookies, and Chocolate Macaroons.  All were CFO-approved, I’m happy to say.

The next night, though still full from the Christmas dinner, we managed an incredible follow-up with an Indian feast that, we decided, will go down in the annals of Most Memorable Meals in the DDD household. 

The menu included a lentil dal recipe I first saw about a week ago on Lisa’s blog; peas in a creamy sauce (adapted from a recipe I once borrowed from Gemini I); an aloo saag (well, not really–I just don’t know the word for “kale”) that combined potatoes and shredded kale in a spicy tomato sauce; coconut brown basmati rice; and homemade chickpea pancakes from Meena Pathak’s Indian Cooking for Family and Friends.  I can tell you, there was a symphony of lip-smacking, lentil scooping, potato spooning, and sauce sopping going on, as well as a mellifluous refrain of friendly chatter and wine-glass clinking that evening.  Very chillaxing.

I promise to share the goodies from our Indian feast in a future post, but rather than inundate you with so many recipes at once, I thought I’d start off with the lovely Apple Noodle Pudding with Tart Dried Cherries.  This alone would make a great light mid-week  supper–and I, for one, could certainly use some lighter meals these days.

Also:  I’m a little late jumping on this bandwagon, but wanted to mention a charity drive put on by Katie over at Chocolate Covered Vegan.  In honor of the season, Katie is offering to donate 20 cents to the Enough Project (an organization that works to counter crimes against humanity) for every comment she receives on this post.  How sweet is that? It’s incredibly easy to help out this way–just hop on over and leave a comment!

 *Christmas Day:  that classic chestnut, White ChristmasThe CFO and I, while sisters ourselves, bear no resemblance to either Rosemary Clooney or Vera-Ellen (well, perhaps my wrist bears a resemblance to Vera-Ellen’s waist).

Boxing Day:  taking advantage of the nearly-empty theaters, Seven Pounds. What I learned from watching this movie:  1) Will Smith is (still) preternaturally gorgeous;  2) Will Smith is an extraordinarily talented actor; 3) that is one whacked reason to keep a jellfish as a pet.

Yesterday: The Dark Knight. I agree that Heath Ledger deserved an Oscar for his performance.  Not only that, but also a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for being able to unravel the convoluted structure of the multi-pronged plot in this movie.  (Okay, perhaps a not-entirely fair assessment on my part, as I couldn’t bring myself to watch the violent scenes.  Which means I missed about 94% of the movie.)

Apple Noodle Pudding with Tart Dried Cherries

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Unfortunately, I can’t recall the original source of this recipe, which I copied from a magazine several years ago in the BB (Before Blog) era of my life.  Nevertheless, I’ve added several elements and changed others over the years, so I consider this my own variation on the original.

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

© 2008 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

 

Have a Wonderful Holiday

December 25, 2008

To everyone celebrating today, whether Christmas or just time off–

Hope your holidays are joyful, relaxing, fun, filled with delicious food and in the company of loved ones!

[NB.  No dogs were harmed in the making of this photo, despite the fact that Chaser looks like a terrified deer in the headlightsShe really is a drama queen.]

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“Oh, Mum, I always thought I was royalty!  Tell my subjects that Elsie and I send our very best wishes, too!  And I just can’t wait to go out and romp in the snow this holiday!  And maybe you and Dad got us some new toys this holiday, wouldn’t that be great?  And maybe we can get to go for some extra walks over the–“

“Zip it, Chaser, or we’ll never get that treat Mum promised us for wearing these ridiculous hats.  *Sigh.*”

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Today began like most other mornings:  a wet, cold nose against my ear (that would be Chaser, not the HH) rousing me from sleep; a quick (warm, dry) kiss to the HH; and popping (okay, more like fizzling) out of bed before stretching, going through the usual ablutions and tramping over to the office to turn on the computer and check out some blogs.  For our lazy Sunday morning (after shovelling the additional 15 cm./ 6 inches of snow that arrived overnight, of course), I thought I might make some pancakes for breakfast–maybe banana; maybe apple.

Then I read Ruth’s Hannukah (or, for us Canadians, Chanukah) post and before I knew it, I was craving potato pancakes (aka latkes). 

Which is weird, because I hate latkes.

Let me explain.  Over the years, I’ve sampled many different kinds of potato latkes in many different kitchens; and I can honestly tell you I haven’t enjoyed a single one. (Sorry, Mrs. D who kindly invited me to her Rosh Hashanah table back in university; sorry, all my friends who’ve been generous enough to share; sorry, Aunty M. and CBC; sorry, all those caterers whose miniature pancakes I’ve sampled at festive tables in the past). 

Given that I adore home fries and even hash browns, this latke enmity always seemed odd to me.  But whenever I’d try again, the results were the same: the pancakes in question were very heavy, very greasy, and fairly bland, with a high-gloss exterior and mushy, mealy insides.  Was I missing something?  Is there some kind of Freemason-like secret latke society that knows something those of us using the regular latke recipes don’t know? Or was I simply hanging around with horrible cooks?

Whatever; I decided to change all that this morning.  That plate of latkes (and the explanatory article that Ruth included, as well) simply caught my fancy, and I had to have latkes!

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After a quick tour using Veg Blog Search, I uncovered a large selection of options.  There were traditional potato latkes, those made entirely from sweet potatoestraditional latkes with cool toppings, and a whole bunch of trail-blazing atypical latkes. I decided to base my own version on Bryanna’s fat-free potato and sweet potato pancakes.  I loved the combination of both types of spud, both for color and nutrition, and I thought a lower-fat version would be good at this time of year as well (I did add 2 Tbsp./15 ml. olive oil to the mixture to enhance the flavors a little).  This was also the perfect excuse to use my cast iron skillet yet once more–something I’ve been doing at every available opportunity the past few weeks as I endeavor to render it truly non-stick (so far, no luck).

I’m happy to report that the Latke Loathing has been vanquished, once and for all! (Must have been those sweet potatoes). The HH was also a fan.  We had ours with a slightly unconventional topping, a balsamic-fig sauce that was given to me a few weeks back  (more typical accompaniments include sour cream or applesauce).  What a fabulous combination!  The cakes were decidedly not mushy, as I remembered latkes of old; they were crispy on the outside and supple on the inside, the potatoes just cooked.  They held together beautifully and offered up an alluring aroma of caramelized onion and fragrant dill as they were grilled. With the sweet-tart contrast of the fig sauce slathered over the top, these were the perfect Sunday breakfast. 

Now, it seems the Sunday pancake options are limitless. So glad I start my days the way I do. 

To those who celebrate, Happy Hannukah!  (and Hanukkah, AND Chanukah!) :)

Two-Toned Potato Latkes

adapted from Notes from the Vegan Feast Kitchen

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While we ate these for breakfast, latkes are more often eaten as a side dish or appetizer with savory foods.  They’re great both ways.

3 small white or Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and grated

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and grated

1 large onion, grated

2 Tbsp. (10 ml.) extra virgin olive oil

3/4 cup (110 g.) kamut flour or (100 g.) whole spelt flour

2 tsp. (10 ml.) baking powder

3/4 tsp. (7.5 ml.) fine sea salt

1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) finely ground flax seeds

2 Tbsp. (10 ml.) water

1 tsp. (5 ml.) garlic powder

1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) dried dill weed

1/2 tsp. (2. 5 ml.) smoked paprika

Using a food processor or box grater, grate the potatoes and sweet potatoes and place in a large colander.  Squeeze the mixture with your hands as if squeezing a sponge to get out as much of the starchy liquid as you can.  Place in a large bowl.

Grate the onion and add it to the potato mixture along with the remaining ingredients.  Mix together very well, using your hands if necessary.

Heat a cast iron or other nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Using a large ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup measuring cup, scoop the mixture into the pan, flattening the pancakes with a spatula (they should be fairly flat).  Cook about 3-4 minutes, until bottoms are golden; flip and cook on the other side another 3 minutes or so, until golden.  Keep pancakes warm as you continue to cook them.  Serve immediately with apple sauce, sour cream, ketchup, cranberry sauce, chutney, or other topping of choice.

Last Year at this Time: Last Minute Christmas Cookie [Sugar-Free Sugar Cookies]

© 2008 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED!  PLEASE VISIT THE SHINY NEW HOME OF DDD BY CLICKING HERE.

[There's just nothing like a homemade gift for the holidays.  This year, with the purse strings a little tighter than usual, I'm determined to make at least a few in my kitchen--and thought I'd share my ideas in case you'd like to partake, too.  ]

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First, a Menu for Hope update:  As I mentioned last time, Menu for Hope is a fundraiser that continues until December 24th.  Buy tickets at $10 each, and you can bid on any of the fabulous prizes offered by bloggers from all over the world! 

The prize I’m offering, a year’s subscription to Martha Stewart Living, has just been bumped up a notch!  Since so many of my recent cookie creations feature coconut oil, the nice folks at Omega Nutrition have donated a large (one-kilo/2 pound) jar of their Organic Coconut Oil to the prize.  That way, you can convert all those butter-laden recipes in Martha’s mag to healthier versions! 

If you’d like to bid on my prize (a year’s subscription PLUS organic coconut oil), head on over to the main donation page and cite prize code CA 05.  And if you’re not keen on Martha, there are loads of other amazing prizes there as well!

And now, on to today’s Gastronomic Gift. . .

These are the cookies that inspired the creation of My Life in Balance Buttery Spread the other day.  This recipe goes way back in my cookie repertoire. . . waaaay back.  (Did anyone else just have an image of the Friendly Giant pop into their heads?  “Look up. . . . waaay up!”). 

When my sisters and I were still tweens, we’d eagerly await the holiday season because it meant an entire day bake-a-thon with my mom.  The CFO and I would usually be stationed at the kitchen table chopping nuts in an old-fashioned, spring-loaded manual nut chopper (in my twenties, I found one at a garage sale for 25 cents–twenty-five cents!–and have used it on many occasion since, with great success). There’s nothing quite like the visceral satisfaction one gets after repeatedly pumping that windmill-shaped blade up and down inside the glass jar, watching the whole nuts jump and dance like water sizzling on a hot skillet.  Looking at the tiny, uniform crumbs that are created, you can think, wow–I just made that, by hand (and also, “wow, my biceps sure are sore now.”).  And of course in those days, no one had even heard of food processors!

My sister and I also acted as sous pastry chefs, slicing up maraschino cherries, zesting oranges or lemons, souring milk with lemon juice or vinegar, or meting out chocolate or butterscotch chips.  Over at the counter (where the Sunbeam Mixmaster was parked), my mom would cream butter, blend eggs, stir milk and cocoa and flour and then scoop the final product onto ancient cookie sheets that looked like picture frames with their still-shiny silver centers, bordered with the charred remains of cookies past. 

When she was done scooping, Mom would proffer the bowl and wooden spoon, its buttery, sugary amber batter still clinging in spots.  At that piont, The Nurse also joined in for the Licking of the Bowl ritual.  We all agreed that for certain recipes, the raw mixture tasted even better than the final baked product; and so the yield for those cookies was always reduced by about 30% by the time the cookies were done.

When I was finally established in my own apartment some 1000 kilometers (600 miles) from home, I determined I’d uphold the tradition by making my own tins of cookies for friends and colleagues at Christmas time.  cookiebooks To amass a fresh collection of soon-to-be treasured cookie recipes, I’d scour the supermarket checkout each year to purchase the annual mini cookbooks with titles like “Holiday Baking” or “Christmas Treasures” of “101 Cookies for the Holidays”–pamphlets published by Pillsbury, Crisco (gasp!), Betty Crocker, General Mills, and the like.  I’d pore over each page and meticulously mark the recipes I wanted to try with ripped up sticky notes (I mean, why waste a whole one, just as a bookmark?). 

Then I’d set up the ingredients assembly-line style and bake away for the entire day, re-creating the buzz and activity of my mother’s erstwhile home bakery.   Unfortunately, I discovered that the yield of each recipe in my own kitchen was still reduced by about 30% before the cookies were baked (one of life’s unsolved mysteries, I guess).  

These jam-filled turnovers are one of the treats that became a holiday staple back then.  Deceptively simple to make, they embody sleek sophistication with their half-moon contour, fluted edge and glossy, drizzled glaze; and each turnover enfolds a dollop of glistening, fruity filling.  The original recipe called for cream cheese and butter, with a filling  of regular (high-sugar) raspberry jam, its brilliant fucshia glinting with each bite. I subbed coconut oil and silken tofu for the crust (that is, the prototype of the buttery spread), and used slightly less sparkly fillings of Brandied Apricot-Ginger spread or all-fruit strawberry jam.  

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Perhaps not as rich as the original, this recipe still results in a very malleable, easily rolled dough that bakes up crispy and even a tad flaky on the edges, filled with bright, sweet jam of choice. 

These treasures are really impressive when glazed, and I’d recommend doing so if you are comfortable using confectoner’s sugar.  I wasn’t happy with the agave-based version I created (it ended up with a texture like chewy candy), but would still suggest brushing these with a mixture of equal parts agave nectar and orange juice or soymilk to provide extra sweetness and a glossy finish to the crust if you don’t glaze them.

Since the cookies are baked on cookie sheets (though mine, of course, are scrubbed meticulously, even around the border), I’m submitting this recipe to Joelen’s Culinary Adventures.  The Tasty Tool she’s profiling this month is Baking Sheets.

Jam-Filled Turnovers

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

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The first word that comes to mind when you see these cookies is “dainty.”  With their fluted edges and delicate shape, these little pockets of sweetness are perfect for a holiday celebration table or as take-away gifts for guests.

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE 

© 2008 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! PLEASE VISIT THE SHINY NEW HOME OF DDD BY CLICKING HERE.

[There's just nothing like a homemade gift for the holidays.  This year, with the purse strings a little tighter than usual, I'm determined to make at least a few in my kitchen--and thought I'd share my ideas in case you'd like to partake, too.  ]

 apricotspread1

As I’m wont to do during the drive to work, I tuned in to the CBC this morning and overheard Jian Ghomeshi (isn’t he just the dreamiest??) talk about how excited we Canadians get any time we’re mentioned on American TV. Last evening, in fact, Jon Stewart satirized our impending governmental crisis (if only that were a dream!) on The Daily Show.  As a food blogger, I must admit I felt the selfsame patriotic pride last month when Susur Lee  (also dreamy) was fêted by Ruth Reichl et al in New York, for the opening of his newest resto, Shang. I mean, now that we’re all firmly entrenched in the Era of the Celebrity Chef courtesy of Food TV, isn’t it just as exciting for us Canadians to hear mention of a Canadian chef in the U.S. media?

Oh, but way back before Canadian chefs were known anywhere beyond their own kitchen walls, before the days of Yum-O or Love and Best Dishes or eponymous cookware or chefs with “peasant” kitchens invading gradeschools and  riding Land Rovers–before all that, there was Bonnie Stern.

Stern was one of the very first “celebrity” chefs in Canada, known across the country at a time when the only viral netorking was an actual virus that networked its way through your mucus membranes and into your sinuses.  She ran a highly successful cooking school in Toronto, she owned a kitchenware store beside it, she published several best-selling cookbooks, had her recipes published in a variety of newspapers, and even tried her hand at her own cooking show for a time. 

Back in the 90s, at the apex of Stern word-of-mouth buzz, I attended one of her cooking classes; the topic was “Homemade Gifts for the Holidays.”  I was thrilled to have secured a coveted space in the always-sold-out classes, even at the exhorbitant fee of $95 (back then!). I was primed to observe the doyenne of cooking in her element, absorb every word she uttered, and finally become privy to the professinal tips and tricks she’d reveal as she prepared the most delectable and irresistible tidbits I’d ever tasted on a holiday table. 

Well, I have to tell you straight up that I was bitterly disappointed.  Sitting against the back wall of an auditorium-sized classroom (seriously, I had closer seats for forty bucks at the Bruce Springsteen concert that year), all I could see was a tiny figure in the distance that resembled the barely distinguishable collection of phosphor dot people I squinted at regularly on my (then) 12-inch television screen at home–and it wasn’t even Stern herself; it was a poor substitute, a culinary surrogate!  After whipping up a series of recipes in quick succession and without much instruction, the recipe demonstrator passed around trays of thimble-sized samples for each person to nibble upon, all fairly bland and unexciting.

One recipe, however, stood apart from the rest, and it alone was (almost) worth the price of admission:  Honey Liqueur Fruit Butter.  It was a quick, easy spread consisting of dried apricots, candied ginger, and orange liqueur.  Although I’m not, as a rule, particularly enamored of jams or jellies, I fell in love with this spread.  I swooned.  I drooled.  I surreptitiously tasted three thimbles full. 

I returned home and promptly re-created the spread, not once, but several times over the following few months.  I gave away little jars as hostess gifts; I bestowed a few jars on my sisters and close friends;  I spread it on bagels, pancakes, muffins and bread.  And then, I tucked the recipe away in a file folder and forgot about it for over a decade.

That very folder–older, grayer, fraying at the edges–has been packed up and upacked during seven separate house-moves since that time. This year, while pondering what I might cook up as holiday gifts from my kitchen, I finally remembered it.  Like the memory of a first kiss, the thought of that recipe unearthed a wave of longing and a compelling desire to once again re-create that long-ago, captivating sensation.  I dug out the file folder and cooked up a batch.  And (perhaps unlike that first kiss with your childhood sweetheart) this spread was just as good 15 years later.

I’ve subbed agave for the honey and brandy for the liqueur, with spectacular results.  This is a smooth, glossy spread that will keep for more than a month in the refrigerator, since the alcohol acts as a preservative. I love this slathered on breakfast food, but it would be a terrific filling for a danish or rugelach as well.

This recipe is my submission to Happy Cook’s blog event, Home Made Christmas Gifts, featuring home made gifts for the holidays.

(“Mum, too bad we can’t have anything with alcohol in it. . . but we’d be happy with all those breakfast foods on their own, next time you’re slathering.”)

Brandied Apricot-Ginger Spread

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

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My notes from the original class tell me you could also substitute dried pears for the apricots, or a combination of prunes and dried apples, adjusting the liqueur accordingly (poire William and armagnac come to mind, but any favorite will work nicely).

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

(c) Diet, Dessert and Dogs.

Chocolate Pecan Pie

November 12, 2008

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! PLEASE VISIT THE SHINY NEW HOME OF DDD BY CLICKING HERE.

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A few of you keen-eyed readers guessed that yesterday’s final “teaser” photo was of pecan pie.  But since I’m not particularly a “pie person” to begin with (I’ve posted about only one other pie in over a year on this blog–and it wasn’t even my own recipe!), and since I most definitely AM a chocolate person, I decided that my pecan pie had to include chocolate.  

Besides, La Martha’s mini-mag, Everyday Food, featured in its latest issue a recipe for chocolate pecan pie, and I’d been yearning for it ever since I saw the recipe. It looked gooey, yummy, decadent, festive, and very, very chocolatey.  Staring at the photo simply made me drool.  It was one heck of a perfectly baked, perfectly decorated, perfectly chocolatey Perfect Pecan Pie.

So I set about creating my own (sugar-free, wheat-free, vegan) version of this masterpiece.  The magazine’s photo was soooo enticing: meticulously arranged pecan halves baked into a slightly bubbly, sticky, engulfing ebony base of glossy chocolatey deliciousness.  I had to have that pie!

The only other pecan pie I’ve ever made was another vegan rendition, from my friend Caroline Dupont’s cookbook, Enlightened Eating.  I began with her suggestion to combine maple syrup and barley malt syrup, then played with the other elements to come up with what I thought a good approximation of Martha’s confection.  I fluted the pie crust, poured in the filling, popped it in the oven, and waited.

Remember those old sitcoms where the inept housewife (choose your favorite:  Lucy, Edith, Peggy, Marge) attempts to do the laundry for the first time, and ends up using about 4,576 times too much detergent?  And then the machine starts to rumble and wobble, and a stream of soap suds bubbles up over the washer’s lid and glides along the front of the machine and down to the floor, eventually making its way across the room in one massive, seething wave of froth? 

Well, that’s sort of what the top of this pie looked like after 30 minutes in the oven. The chocolate mixture bubbled and heaved and puffed like the contents of a witches’ cauldron. firstpie2 The lovely fluted crust was coated in a gleam of dark, gooey, chocolatey filling, as were a few spots on the bottom of the oven.  All my perfectly placed pecan halves had been bobbing about in the foaming liquid like castaways afloat on the ocean, tossed this way and that,  messing up my beautiful, decorative arrangement entirely.  While it ended up tasting good, the pie looked horrendous.

For the second attempt, I used less filling and didn’t worry about perfectly placed pecan halves; I simply chopped them coarsely and folded them right into the filling.  Once again, there was a filling explosion that overtook crust, pie plate, and oven.  Curses!

Finally, it occurred to me:  let’s just take another look-see at Martha’s ideal recipe, why don’t we?  The pecans in her photo remained perfectly in position, nary a drop of filling even touching their sides.  On second thought, they were too perfect (sort of like Martha herself, no?): they were pristine and unscathed in their nakedness.  I re-read the recipe, and came upon this throwaway instruction:  “The pie filling puffs up dduring baking but settles as it cools.” AHA! Clearly, the photo did not represent this reality; like most food-styled pictures, this one had been assembled after the pie was baked, the raw pecan halves carefully placed atop an already-cooled pie!  Clever, Martha; very clever.

Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, I say, then do them one better.  I revamped the recipe completely so that a pre-baked crust is subsequently filled with an unbaked filling.  Once the filling rests securely in the crust, then top with your perfectly formed, deliberately placed pecan halves, as decoration.  I proudly held up the finished product for the HH’s approval.  He took one look at my painstakingly positioned pecan halves and remarked, “It looks vaguely insectoid, don’t you think?”  Hmm. 

Despite the nutty carapace, this pie was heavenly.  Keep it cold for a dense, thick, toffee-like filling; or bring to room temperature for a softer, more gooey result.  Either way, it’s one perfectly baked, perfectly decorated, perfectly chocolatey Perfect Pecan Pie.

With its glossy, black, rich chocolate filling, I thought this would be the perfect submission to this month’s Sugar High Fridays, the event started by Jennifer, The Domestic Goddess, and this month hosted by Susan at The Well Seasoned Cook.  The theme this time round is “All That Glitters.” 

Chocolate Pecan Pie

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

pecanpieslice6Thick, rich, and toffee-like, this slightly non-traditional pecan pie is great for a holiday (or just your everyday) table. 

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

Such a Tease

November 11, 2008

I’ve never been what I’d call a “good” flirt.  In high school, I hung out with the nerdy crowd (hard to believe, I know!), so there wasn’t really any opportunity to flirt.  Then, when I was finally old enough to attract the opposite sex in my 20s, it seemed too late to get the hang of it. I do remember loathing, admiring and envying (all at the same time) the most popular girls in my high school.  It seemed as if their hair, or their eyelashes, or their limp wrists somehow possessed an invisible male adhesive as they giggled and nodded and caressed the guys, just so, on their forearms; or maybe it was just the pheromones they exuded. 

In any case, the flirty girls would always be surrounded by an inverse seraglio, an ever-shifting, amorphous cloud of doting males.  The boys would fawn over them, open doors for them, carry their books, offer them lifts, or request their phone numbers in a continuous stream.  Just how did the girls manage that, I wondered?  How did they get away with teasing the guys so overtly, implying lace and perfume and breathless embraces, yet, in reality, yield nothing?  These girls were whip-smart as well as beautiful, or they couldn’t have perfected their technique; yet they appeared vacuous and helpless and fragile all at the same time, thereby rendering themselves irresistible to the guys around them.

I had the opportunity to observe a consummate tease after my divorce, when I lived in the same flat as another woman who had previously been married to two of the richest men in Canada (and she was only 32 when I met her).  She was one of the smartest cookies I’ve ever known (and funny, witty, sweet and fun to be with, too) yet, the moment she came within a few feet of any attractive male, she appeared to devolve into–how shall I say this?–a helpless, needy, pouting little girl.  She’d bat her eyelashes at the nearest specimen and feign incompetence with the lock on the car trunk, the dial on the stereo or the squeaky door on the kitchen cabinet.  Then she’d throw up her hands in mock despair and emit a giggle that resonated across the room, like the clang of forks on wine glasses at a wedding, encouraging the newlyweds to kiss. 

There must have been something to it, too, because by the time I moved out, she’d snagged yet another of Canada’s wealthiest bachelors (they’ve since divorced, but let’s just say she’ll never have to work again–no, scratch that, she’ll never even have to brush her own teeth again).  

My own efforts at flirting have produced less than stellar results. True, some playful flirting resulted in four months dating Rocker Guy (he of the black leather pants); as it turned out, Rocker Guy himself really enjoyed flirting, too–he enjoyed it so much, in fact, that he continued to do so throughout the time we were dating. And his definition of “flirting,” unfortunately, encompassed “sleeping with.” 

Thus ended my flirtation with flirting.

Today, however, I’m afraid I’m going to play the tease once again.  After finding out at the last minute that I’d be away at a conference all day today, I wasn’t able to photograph the dish I’d originally intended to post about. Instead, there’s a slew of goodies I’ve been working on for the cookbook, and with the holiday season almost upon us, I thought it might be a good way to get in the mood for holiday baking. (Oh, so how’s the book coming along?  Well, I’m still working on the manuscript, which should be complete in less than a month, after which the materials are shipped off to the printer.  Ultimately, I’m still aiming for a release date in early 2009–February or March.  Whoo!). 

Some of these sweets have already been published elsewhere on this blog, with recipes included. You may have also seen some on the testers’ blogs (ie, the absolute BEST TESTERS any cookbook author–or baker–could ever want). 

Following are some of my recent favorites from the book, and those that would make good holiday treats. And even if it’s not out in time for this year, you may wish to make some of these next time round.

Chocolate Covered Caramels:

cashewcaramel1

Old Fashioned Spice Cake:

tspicecakepan

Sugar-Free Sugar Cookies (plus recipe–great for decorating):

sugarfreesugarcookie1

Chocolate Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies:

mintchocchip2

Cupcakes with Gluten-Free, Soy-Free Chocolate Buttercream:

cupcakegffrost

Chocolate Satin Tarts:

silktart1.jpg

Dalmatian “Cheesecake” Brownies:

Vegan Butter Tarts: (plus recipe):

And here’s a little preview of tomorrow’s sweet treat (recipe to follow).  I know, what a tease. . . 

chocpecanpie

Eat Dessert First

December 21, 2007

Years ago, during one of my very first visits to Toronto (and long before I lived here), my best buddy Ali and I spent an evening at the famed Pickle Barrel restaurant (in fact, the last time I went there was during Ali’s most recent visit to Canada from England, last summer–when I was rather unpleasantly surprised to note that the restaurant still offered basically the exact same, unappetizing, menu that it had in 1981). 

But back then, we were hyper, we were chatty, we were callow twenty-somethings who really were more interested in catching up with each other than any food we might consume (ah!  if only I could recapture that mindset. . . ).  We scanned the menu, chose something for dinner, and ordered.  We already knew that we wanted the killer chocolate layer cake for dessert, so we ordered that, too.  With the server still standing before us, we realized that dinner might take a few minutes, at least, and what we really wanted was that chocolate cake anyway–so we asked her to bring that over first.

After she recovered her composure (very professional of her, I thought), she nodded and trotted away, soon to return with two huge hunks o’ chocolate cake, which we consumed with lip-smacking zeal and thoroughly enjoyed before starting on our main courses.  In other words, we chose to eat the best part of the meal first.   No deferred gratification. No saving the best for last. No self-denial in the name of good health.  And then, because we wanted to, we still got to eat a darned good dinner, too.

One of the things I’ve always had trouble with is “living in the moment.”  Years ago, as a way to deal wtih anxiety attacks, I took a course called “Mindfulness Meditation.”  It was terrific, really, and I’ve written about it before.  It allowed me to be present with my body for those 45 minutes or so as I meditated, and it worked wonders.  Problem was, once I returned to the “real” world and incompetent drivers; cashiers who can’t count if the register’s computer is broken; telemarketers who don’t understand “I’m not interested, thanks”; sour (soy, or any other kind of) milk, already poured over your cereal; automatic parking lot payment machines that swallow your Mastercard whole; malevolent ice patches hiding under that soft, thin patina of snow; puppies who eat kleenex and then vomit all over your hardwood floor–and about 7,352 other daily annoyances–I lost all my Eastern calm and was thrown immediately back into a welter of Western, frenetic living, anxiety and all. So how to recapture those wonderful feelings of mindfulness?

One of my goals this year, as I attempt to lose my superfluous 50 (oops, forgot: 45.5) pounds, is to gain a sense of inner peace (okay, I’d settle for a sense of inner not-freaking-out-daily) and purpose, by identifying the things that are truly important to me.  I’ve been working away at my little organic baking business and teaching holistic cooking on occasion, setting aside time to spend with my HH and beloved Girls, writing at every possible opportunity, and making a very concerted effort to pay more attention to what is going on in my life (especially during the month of Holidailies).  This latest house-move seemed the perfect catalyst to start afresh, in so many areas.

chasereatcup.jpg So I’ve decided to try to adopt more of the same approach that Ali and I fell into that faraway evening at the restaurant, only this time, I’m going to make a conscious decision to “eat dessert first.”   I don’t mean this literally (well, not every time, anyway), but simply as a way to ensure I do the things that are most important to me; that will bring the greatest sense of satisfaction and gratification; that, years down the road, will make me smile when I remember them–first.  If at all possible. 

In terms of dieting, this philosophy logically extends to literal eating of dessert first as well. If what you really want is the slice of chocolate layer cake, and eating it will effectively remove the desire for anything else, why not have that cake, and eat it, too? I don’t know about you, but I’ve found the standard diet advice to “eat something else and wait 10 minutes” when you have a craving to be totally useless.  I eat something else, then go have the thing I was craving, anyway.  By eating the cake first, I omit the second course.  Is that really so bad?

As we enter the final phase of the holiday tempest of parties, buffets, dinners, open houses, brunches, cocktails and all other manner of food-related gatherings, it may be the perfect time to pay attention to what you really, truly would like, right now, in this moment, and then just go for it. 

In other words: march on over and stand proudly under that mistletoe.  Take off those heels and just boogie. Send that heartfelt card to you-know-who. Or, if it’s what you are really craving,  just dig right in and enjoy the fleeting, sweet satisfaction of a tall piece of chocolate layer cake, right this minute.

On my first day at nutrition school our lecturer was a petite woman resembling Natalie Portman: a teeny, tiny brunette with a regal air about her. As she expounded on macrobiotic diets and food combining and fat metabolism, I couldn’t help but think, “All these nutritionists here who are, like, a size two and never had a weight problem in their lives—how am I ever going to feel like I belong to that club?” 

Well, subsequently, I discovered that this sylph-like woman had actually lost 50 pounds during her first year as a student at that same school, a result of following the very eating plan she now advocated (and the one I’m pursuing, the NAG diet).  Oops.  My bad, as they say.  Still, that didn’t change my mind about the majority of professional dieticians and their unsuitability to dispense advice to those of us who are willpower-challenged.   

Consequently, what I decided to do in today’s post is have some fun (almost as much fun as Holidailies!) and assess a few of the numerous websites purporting to deliver the last word on avoiding weight gain during the holiday season, when most of us pack on an extra 7-12 pounds.   

Please note: this is a purely personal opinion.  These sites were chosen at random, and I have no idea how well the ideas they present actually work in reality.  I’m only responding to whether or not they’d work for me.  

First up is this article at Suite 101. The five tips for preventing weight gain over the holidays include: 

  1. Curb alcohol consumption.
  2. Stop eating when full.
  3. Deal with hunger.
  4. Use a smaller plate.
  5. Curb emotional eating.

I wondered, Has this writer ever actually known an overweight person?  We’re not fat for nothing.  Uh, hello, news flash:  if I could just “stop eating when full,” I wouldn’t be fat. (I used to have a friend who said that, during the holidays at her house, you hadn’t eaten enough if you left the table without feeling nauseated. That’s a family that understands overeating.) Ditto if I had already mastered emotional eating—there’d be no problem if I could simply “curb” it.   

I did like the writer’s suggestion to “use a smaller plate,” however.  In his 2006 best-seller Mindless Eating:  Why We Eat More Than We Think, Brian Wansink explains this phenomenon of people eating more when they use larger plates. (His study also implies that it would behoove all us fatties to eat only monochromatic meals for best diet results, but that’s taking it a bit too far).   

Unfortunately, when the article writer then went on to explain, “This works with smaller bowls for soups, and plates for dinners, appetizers and even deserts,” well, he lost me.  I just can’t imagine how much water I’d need to wash it down after consuming even a small desert (all that sand and everything).  

Rating: 42,000 extra calories (12 lb.) consumed with this advice.  

Another expert-supported site was the Cleveland Clinic’s “Eight Steps to Surviving Holiday Weight Gain.”  In this case, the advice seemed a little more realistic (since it is, after all, backed by their successful diet clinic). A couple of the suggestions did, however, sound patently preposterous.

For instance, they recommend that you “make a pact with co-workers that goodies will be kept solely in the break room, not at the front desk or in various offices.  And while you’re at it, may as well ask them to stop stealing your ideas and taking credit for them, gossiping during coffee breaks, or arriving late to meetings, too. 

The single piece of advice that riles the most, however, is the one that seems to surface in every “how not to gain weight over the holidays” article. Here it is: “Never Go To A Party Hungry.”  

How many dieticians, personal trainers, nutritionists, doctors, and other professionals have said something like this to you: “Oh, be sure to eat something before you go. That way, you’ll already be satisfied, so you won’t be hungry and overeat once you get there.”  I don’t know about you, but whether or not I’ve just eaten before arriving at a party is totally irrelevant when I get there.  If I see food I adore, I want to eat it. Period. Even if I already ate something before I got there. Even if it was a three course meal.  Even if I’m already full.   

So I eat before I go to the party, and then arrive to the tantalizing display of punch bowls brimming with nutmeg-dusted eggnog, trays overflowing with cute little star-shaped orange-pistachio shortbread and frosted chocolate-cherry cookies, triple-layer cakes adorned with crushed candy canes, dainty trays of Kalhua truffles, individual pots of chocolate mousse, (God help me) platters of mincemeat tarts—that’s it, game over, I’m doomed long before I even get started on the real “food” (never mind the champagne).   

I know that the theory behind this last one is, “a person can consume only so many calories before feeling full, so if that person arrives at the party already having consumed sufficient calories, overindulging will not ensue.”  Again, this writer has probably never really known, and certainly never was, a fat person. 

I really like the Cleveland Clinic’s final piece of advice, though:  “Focus on Socializing.”  After all, to paraphrase Woody Allen’s character at the end of Crimes and Misdemeanors, it’s our closest relationships, with the people we care most about, that ultimately confer meaning to “the indifferent universe.” (Okay, along with chocolate.)  But focusing on the people in our lives provides not only a feeling of belonging, a feeling of being cared for, a feeling of satisfaction—it also acts as a great distraction, so that overeating may never enter our minds (or our mouths) in the first place. 

Rating:  24,5000 extra calories (7 lb.) consumed with this advice. 

Finally, getting back to Wansink, it was one of his ideas I most appreciated, published in the November issue of Consumer Health Reports. 

Even though Wansink is also clearly not someone saddled with weight issues (on his webpage, he describes himself as a person who “regularly enjoys both French food and french fries”), he does seem to know whereof he speaks. Maybe there’s actually something to all those thousands of hours of experiments, observing the actual eating habits of scores of people in a controlled study after all.  

Here’s what Wansink advises:                

“At a reception buffet, follow the ‘rule of two.’ You can have whatever you want, but you have to use the smallest plate and can put only two things on it at one time. Always have something to drink in your hand, because that’s one less hand to eat with.” 

I find his approach the most refreshing—and most pragmatic—of those I read today. The part that appeals to me most? No self denial, no measuring or weighing, no keeping track of what goes down the gullet, no guilt. If you want to refill that little plate 74 times, go ahead.  (But he’s betting you won’t). You can still eat everything you love, enjoy it, and, given the right set of china, avoid excess weight gain.  

Rating: 5250 extra calories consumed with this advice (1.5 lb–still better than the average, right?). 

(“Mum, you’re not planning to change the size of our bowls, are you? Because it already feels like we don’t get enough food.”)

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