Make, Jane, make!: March 2012


Small Share

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Recipe Review: Fastest Cinnamon Buns

I tried this Fine Cooking recipe about a year ago, before I got my food processor, and was very disappointed with the results. I tried blending the cottage cheese really well in the Magic Bullet and then finishing the recipe in my KitchenAid, but the final product still turned out really chunky and dense. 

Fast forward to 2012 -----[imagine a movement blur here]------> 
One year and one Cuisinart later, this recipe is now a hands-down, thumbs-up, lip-smacking, mouth-watering winner!

In the food processor, these cinnamon buns turned out just heavenly and they only took me an hour from start to yummy finish. They were suitably fluffy (especially considering they are not yeasted) and tender enough for the glaze to ooze into every nook and cranny.

I only had to make a few substitutions:
  • The cottage cheese I had was from Western Creamery (they have the best dairy products because the don't use any fillers!) - 250g of pressed cottage cheese (0.5% milk fat and 78% moisture)
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt and 1/4 cup whole milk instead of buttermilk (because I wanted more protein and I had no buttermilk :)
  • increased the cinnamon to two generous teaspoonfuls
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg instead of 1/2 tsp allspice

As you can see, the tasty treats were quickly devoured by all. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Boston Cream Cupcakes

Hubby and I were suddenly gripped by the thought of Boston cream pie a few days ago... but a whole pie seemed a bit overindulgent so I compromised with cake's tasty, smaller cousin - cupcake.

I modified an Everyday Food recipe for Boston Cream Pie and made cupcakes with frosting instead of cake with glaze. Also instead of using whole eggs in the recipe, I used a combination of egg whites plus whole eggs, so that there were no stray egg whites/yolks leftover at the end of baking.

I wanted my cupcakes to have frosting instead of glaze, so I made the hole for filling in the top of the cupcake because it's easier to fill that way and the frosting would eventually cover the hole anyway. However, if you were to glaze them and wanted the tops to be unblemished then you would have to bake them without the muffin liners and make the holes in the bottom. I find a melon baller perfect for scooping out the little cap for the hole and for hollowing out the cupcake. (You can save the cake scraps in the freezer for use as ice cream mixin's or cake pop fillings later). 

I put the custard into a icing bag (with a round tip) because it's easier to pipe the custard than to try squeezing the custard into those tiny holes with a spoon. My custard actually came out a little on the thick side as well (cooked it a little too long), but after whipping it up with a spoon it piped really smoothly into the cupcakes.

Did you know that all these cupcakes have approximately the same amount of frosting? Amazing how smooth frosting looks less thick and voluminous than the messy, swirled frosting.

Hubby had two cupcakes and decided that he had overdone it. I had one and felt just perfectly full of custard and cream :)


Boston Cream Cupcakes    Yield: 1 dozen cupcakes (made in a standard muffin pan)

Used this recipe but substituted 1 whole egg + 2 egg whites instead of 3 whole eggs (saved the yolks for the custard). They fit perfectly into a standard muffin pan and baked for 20 minutes.

1/3 cup sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch salt
1 cup whole milk
2 egg yolks (reserved from the cupcakes)
1 small pat butter
dash vanilla

  1. Whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a small saucepan. 
  2. Whisk in milk little by little.
  3. Whisk in egg yolks.
  4. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it just starts to bubble and thicken. Remove from heat and whisk until it cools down a bit (1-2 minutes).
  5. Stir in butter and vanilla.
  6. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap onto to top of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Chill until cool.
Chocolate Frosting:
200g (1-1/4 cup) chocolate chips *Callebaut is my preference here :)
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons hot water
2/3 cup butter
1/3 cup icing sugar
pinch salt

  1. Melt chocolate in a bowl set over simmering water or in the microwave. Let cool.
  2. Mix cocoa powder and hot water in a small bowl until smooth. Let cool.
  3. Cream together butter, icing sugar and salt until light and fluffy.
  4. Stir in melted chocolate and cocoa. Beat until fluffy again.

  1. Scoop out a large cavity in the cupcakes using a melon baller or whatever works for you. Save the cap for the hole, use the cupcake innards for something else (cake pops, ice cream sprinkles, etc.) You can really hollow the cupcakes out here... there should be enough custard to fill the cupcakes fairly full. 
  2. Using an icing bag, pipe the custard into the cupcakes until they are super full (it will use up all the custard :)
  3. Put the tops bake on and decorate as desired with the chocolate frosting.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Cabbage and Leek Wontons

I haven't made wontons in a long time and after making them last weekend, I wonder why I've neglected them for so long?

They are so simple and taste so good. Juicy, meaty filling surrounded by a silky, slurpy egg noodle wrapper and dipped into delicious soy. With the wonton skins being so readily available and the endless variations you can try with the meat/veggie fillings, they are the ultimate store-bought, yet homemade, food. Add on the fact that you can disguise a whole lot of veggies in there and you've got a great covert recipe for the kids.

I made these wontons with what I had on hand - some leeks, most of a bunch of cilantro and frozen shredded cabbage from my farmshare.

The key to good wonton (or any Chinese dumpling filling for that matter) is mixing the meat and the ingredients together really well.

You want to mix the meat and then the meat and ingredients really well until the mixture forms a ball and the veggies are crushed and mashed.

I usually mix with a pair of chopsticks because that's the way I was taught. You could probably do this in a stand mixed or a food processor, but I find chopsticks pulverize the meat and veggies without blending them into a completely texture-less mess.

Usually you don't want the mixture so blended that you lose the sense of the individual ingredients ... which is why I recommend against a food processor and I've always stuck with the chopsticks.

I like filling my wontons fairly full, I figure quality fillings and lots of them is what distinguishes homemade ones from MSG-laden store-bought wontons.

You don't need any special equipment to form the wonton. Just some filling and a little water around the top two edges. Fold, press and seal.

Here are all my little wontons, laid out on a cookie sheet that was lightly sprinkled with flour. Half are boiling water bound and the other half are freezer bound.

I do have to admit that freezing homemade wontons always results in quite a few with cracked skins. I don't know if this could be alleviated by wrapping the wontons in plastic before freezing or by chilling them in the fridge first? If anyone knows the answer to this conundrum, I would be very appreciative :)

A little time in salted, boiling water and they're done. (I had a little meat leftover because one of my wonton packages was only half-full and you can see I also boiled a few skinless wontons, aka meatballs). We eat them just dipped into a little soy, nothing special, and as simple as the wontons themselves are.


Cabbage and Leek Wontons Yield: approximately 60 wontons

1 lb ground pork
1 large leek, white and light green parts, minced
1/3 small head of cabbage, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
1 bunch cilantro, tough stems removed, finely chopped
1 inch piece ginger, grated
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 packages wonton wrappers (about 250g each)
bowl of water

  1. Place the ground pork into a large bowl and stir with a pair of chopsticks until the meat starts looking like  chunky mashed potatoes.
  2. Stir in the leeks, cabbage, cilantro and ginger a little at a time. Keep on stirring until the mixture forms a cohesive ball and the vegetables are a bit pulverized and not lumpy.
  3. Stir in soy and pepper. You can let it sit at this point to let the meat marinate... but I wouldn't let it stand more than an hour or so because the salt in the soy starts drawing a lot of water out of the meat and it's very hard to wrap using filling that's too wet.
  4. Lightly flour a large cookie sheet and set aside, this will be for the finished wontons.
  5. Working with one wonton skin at a time, place it in the palm of your hand and using your chopsticks a generous amount of the meat filling in the middle of the wrapper.
  6. Dip a finger into a bowl of water and lightly wet the upper two edges of the wonton skin. Fold the bottom half of the wrapper over and pinch and press the edges closed.
  7. To cook: Bring a large, salted pot of water to a rolling boil. Drop the wontons in, taking care not to overcrowd the pot. Once the water returns to a boil and the wontons are all floating on the top, add in a bowlful of cold water and wait for the water to come to a boil for a second time. Now your wontons are ready to eat!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Red Wine Braised Beef Blade Roast: Cheap and oh so tasty!

I don't know why it took me so long to discover this cut of beef. Blade roast is a new favourite at the house - it's inexpensive, nicely marbled and has a buttery taste (similar to short ribs) when braised.

I've prepared many beef roasts in the past, some in the slow cooker, some braised and some oven roasted. All, except the all-too-expensive prime rib, have been disappointingly tasteless and dry compared to the relatively cheaper pork roasts. But blade roast, oh blade roast, where have you been all my life, blade roast?

Slightly oxidized from being in my fridge for a couple of days, but still gorgeous to look at.
I prepare this in super simple manner and it comes out great! As hubby says, sometimes you have to satisfy the bloodlust, and this does the trick neatly.

First you get a mirepoix (plus garlic) ready. I like mine to be finely chopped so I get more of a sauce in the end instead of a chunky stew.

Take your roast and give it a quick sear on all sides.

After searing, remove the meat to a plate while you soften the mirepoix. Once the mirepoix starts softening and becoming fragrant, deglaze the pan with some red wine. (Yes, I've poured myself a glass of the wine.)

Return the meat to the pan and add some water to partially cover the meat.

Season as you wish then place the whole kit and caboodle into a preheated oven for two 2 hours. And when you return... meat magic!

Take the meat out and wrap it in foil while you boil down the sauce a bit. Then serve thinly sliced over roasted garlic mashed potatoes with some snow peas and red peppers (both CSA bounty!) sautéed in butter on the side. Don't forget to ladle a generous amount of sauce over the whole lot and have some tasty horseradish on the ready.

The meat comes out nice and soft with the fatty streaks turning into a buttery glaze. We diced up the meat and doused it in sauce before we served it to the kids and they devoured the whole meal. Win-Win.


Red Wine Braised Beef Blade Roast     Serves: 6 adults

3 lb boneless blade roast
1 large onion, finely diced
3 medium carrots, finely diced
4 ribs celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 cup red wine
2 cups water
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 oz mushrooms
bouquet garni as you like (e.g. bay leaf, thyme, oregano, rosemary) *this time around I didn't use any aromatics and it was still delicious!

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Over medium-high heat in a large dutch oven, sear the meat on all sides and remove to a plate.
  3. Lower heat to medium and add mirepoix plus garlic to the pot. Cook until softened about 3 minutes.
  4. Raise the heat to high and deglaze the pan with the red wine.
  5. Return the meat to the pot and pour in the water. Season with salt and pepper. Throw the whole mushrooms in at this point as well.
  6. Bring the pot back to a boil and place into the oven.
  7. Braise for approximately 2 hours, turning the meat over once after the first hour to ensure that all the meat gets kissed by the sauce.
  8. Once the fatty streaks in the meat look like they've melted into buttery goodness, the meat is done. Remove the meat and cover in foil while you boil the sauce on the stovetop to reduce and thicken the sauce. It's up to you how thick or thin you want the sauce... It's also up to you whether or not to save the veggies that are in the sauce.

Serve with potatoes, pasta, polenta, rice... whatever your fancy :)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

After the Children Go To Bed...

Vanilla ice cream served over the best cocoa brownies (as described here), topped with strawberries and bananas and drizzled with Nigella's Chocolate Peanut Butter Hot Fudge Sauce. Seen here in the moody ambient lighting of our home office desk lamp after the wee ones were sleeping.

p.s. My husband thought that I was joking when I remarked during dinner that a brownie would really go well with the banana split we were planning to have... and was surprised when I started preheating the oven as I was clearing dishes. Who jokes about making and eating brownies?!?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Cooking with Kids: Kitchen Sink Cookies

My kids love making these because there is a lot of scooping and mixing involved. In fact, I had three kids baking with me and they all had more than enough turns with the spatulas, measuring cups and spoons.

Kitchen sink cookies are an easy cookie to improvise with because anything and everything but the kitchen sink can go into them. You simply start with the ratio of 1 part butter/oil combination to 1.5 parts sugar/honey/sweetener. Throw in an egg. Let the kids scoop in enough flour to give the batter a wet mashed potatoes consistency, plus a spoonful or so of baking soda.

Then the fun begins as the kids get busy bossing each other around about how many chocolate chips go in or when and how long to stir it.  This time around the kids got some mini chocolate chips and whole grain cereal flakes.  Also fun are nuts, raisins, sunflower seeds, (chips :P), etc. The kids enjoyed being in charge of how much stuff went in and how much went into their mouths. I knew they were done when the eating began to overtake the making :)

Fifteen minutes in the oven and there was a treat for all.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cooking with Kids: Accessorizing with Felt Flowers

I had a disappointed customer the other day. This chef's hat actually elicited a frown from its little recipient because she expected me to make her another pretty in pink concoction (like her birthday dress), but instead she got a barely pink, mostly (gasp) white chef's hat.

So I had to improvise with some of the materials I had on hand for a quick accessorizing fix.

Felt flowers are so fast and so easy and they don't require much material. Here's a great tutorial on the basic technique from papernstitch.

I made one with a ruffled edge, jagged edge and one cut with the pinking shears and attached them to a spare piece of plastic that I had lying around.

After I thread a safety pin through the plastic, the flowers were ready to accessorize the unappreciated white hat.

And voila, I attained four year-old girly-girl approval!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Taro

This is a favourite dish at our house because it's sweet and salty and easy to prepare. On this particular day, the chicken was actually braised with eddoes because the taros at T&T were terrible on the day I was there. I didn't want eddoes because they are small and annoying to peel and not nearly as tasty as taro root is... but when the taro at the supermarket looks as if it was left over from CNY then you've got to make some concessions.

Some pre-prep that needs to be done... wash and peel and cut the eddoes. They are a bit caustic so you may want to wear gloves or coat your hands in a little oil while you are peeling them.

And soak the dried mushrooms in some water. These are dried chinese mushrooms 花菇 but you could also use dried shiitake mushrooms, or in a pinch fresh portobellos.

I like using a whole chicken that I've separated into thighs, drums and breasts (cut into smaller pieces), reserving the back and wings for other uses. But you could easily use only thighs, only drums, boneless pieces, etc. The recipe does taste best with skin-on, bone-in pieces since the marrow really adds flavour during the slow braising and the skin is just plain tasty. The only cut I wouldn't recommend is skinless, boneless breast because it would really dry out in the soy sauce.

I start by browning the chicken on both sides in a small bit of oil. This step is not really necessary if you're using pieces that are skinless because we're not trying to seal the meat here... it's just to get that nice fried chicken taste :)

Next, I remove the chicken to a plate while I deglaze the pot with a bit of sake or rice wine. When the pot is scraped all clean, I throw in the taro, chicken and mushrooms and cover with a mixture of soy, sugar, mirin and water.

Let it simmer for an hour or two and then I threw in some of my frozen CSA broccoli for some greens.

A few more minutes on the stove to soften up the already blanched broccoli, get the rice out of the cooker and dinner is served.

For a little extra flavour, we serve it with some julienned scallions. Nom-nom.


Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Taro Serves: 4 (with leftovers)

1 large chicken (~5 lbs), cut into pieces (back and wings reserved to other uses)
2 lbs taro (eddoes), peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
8 dried Chinese mushrooms, reconstituted and stems removed
1 small head broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces *other greens like bok choy could be used as well
1/4 cup sake or rice wine
1/2 cup soy sauce (shoyu)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons mirin

  1. Combine soy sauce, sugar and mirin and set aside.
  2. Brown the chicken on all skin sides in a large dutch oven. Remove from the pot and deglaze with the sake/rice wine.
  3. Return the chicken to the pot along with the taro (eddoes) and mushrooms.
  4. Pour soy sauce mixture into pot and add enough water to mostly cover the ingredients.
  5. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer for one or two hours.
  6. Add in broccoli (or other greens) and simmer for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.
  7. If the sauce seems too watery, remove the lid and simmer for 15 minutes or so, uncovered.
  8. Garnish with julienned scallions and serve with rice.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Music has charms to soothe the savage beast [sic]...

My husband and I have a secret weapon that we use for in-car whining. It's a magical cd that starts with Pachelbel's canon and includes such baroque classics as Bach's Jesu, Bleibet meine freude and Adagio by Albinoni.

It is guaranteed to calm any one of our three children when they are tired and whining and crying. If it doesn't work then we just pump up the volume until the child in question can hear it over their crying and we put the volume back down as the child quiets and lets the music wash over them.

The two older kids are like Pavlov's dogs in the back of the minivan... the first few chords of the canon have them silenced and leaning back into their car seats. By the crescendo near the end of the piece they are usually asleep (and often drooling!). The baby is well on her way to being trained by the music as well, so we are three for three with this most wondrous cd.

Do you have a magical child-calming trick?