Holiday Tea

This past Saturday was the annual Girl Guides’ Holiday Tea, which was held at Epiphany Anglican Church just like last year. This year the funds from the tickets, bake sale, and calendar sales were being raised to finance a trip to Europe for the local Pathfinder troupes. Parents of girls in the Guiding movement were asked to contribute baked goods to the tea, so this year I used up some of the bananas in my freezer and made mini banana muffins.

(Bananas for scale.)

I used the recipe that I almost always use, the one for Banana Bread Cockaigne on page 628 of the Joy of Cooking (75th Anniversary Edition, Rombauer & Becker, 2006). Of course, I omitted the chopped nuts and/or dried apricots (which usually have come into contact with peanuts or tree nuts), since anything baked had to be school-safe. I also omitted the grated lemon zest, as I usually do, since I don’t often have lemons in the house unless I’ve bought them for a specific purpose.

As usual, the tea was lots of fun, with the tiniest of Sparks and Brownies bringing out cold drinks and trays of treats, while the Guides were in charge of serving hot drinks, and the Pathfinders and Rangers ran things from the kitchen.

Of course, I never got any of the fancy-looking shortbread or thick brownies because the children snatched them up right quick. And I didn’t see any of my tiny muffins come by, so I guess they went out earlier in the day, since my container came back empty. I was rather impressed with the surprise flavours of lemon in some of the shortbread, and maple syrup in the Rice Krispie squares. I think I’ll have to try those additions myself in the future.

Halloween Food

One of the things I try to do every year is to send some treats to school with my kids for Halloween. Some years those treats aren’t food, and instead come in the form of seasonal trinkets such as erasers and pencils (especially the stacking point kind because it brings back so many happy memories from my childhood). If I choose to send along food, I prefer for it not to be straight-up candy, since I know that the kids will be getting enough of that when it comes time for trick-or-treating. This year, Thing 2 requested that I whip up another batch of her favourite Graveyard Five-Layer Dip, which was an easy enough wish to grant. But since Thing 1’s favourite thing is, in her words, “chocolate with chocolate in it and chocolate on top,” I had to make something else for her.

I was inspired by Delish’s Pumpkin Patch Brownies for Thing 2’s dish, enough so that I even baked a second batch for her to take to her Girl Guides Halloween party as well. However, I wanted to make the brownies themselves from scratch instead of from a boxed mix. (I generally find that if a boxed mix requires additional eggs, water, and oil, you’re really just paying a lot extra per pound to have someone pre-mix your dried ingredients for you.) I used the Book Club Brownies recipe on page 762 of the Joy of Cooking (75th Anniversary Edition, Rombauer & Becker, 2006). It’s a solid recipe that is based on the Brownies Cockaigne that has appeared in Joy since the original 1931 edition. Since I knew that these brownies would be eaten in a classroom, I opted for making them slightly less messy by not adding the frosting and Oreo “dirt”. Instead, I just traced the “vines” on with green icing and made sure that every square got a pumpkin — since every kid argues about which piece is “better” based on number of toppings.

As can be surmised from my Happy Halloween! post, we also carved our pumpkins this year. In an attempt to waste as little food as possible, I had the girls separate the guts from the seeds while I cleaned out the pumpkins. Then I roasted the seeds with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, on a sheet pan in the oven for about 30 minutes at 300°F (150°C), checking every ten minutes or so. They turned out lovely and will make a wonderfully crunchy, salty snack while they last. It always surprises me how few seeds you get from a single pumpkin! This is the result of five quite large gourds, and it probably won’t last us a week.

The Nightmare Before Christmas Garage

Halloween is all over but for the consumption of vast quantities of candy. Due to rainy weather, we didn’t get as many trick-or-treaters as I thought we would this year, so we have boxes of full-sized candy bars on top of what the kids accumulated. I think I’m going to have to Google “things to make with leftover Halloween candy”.

Of course, after Halloween there’s also lots of cleaning up and packing away to do, but before I get to that I’d like to share my favourite part of this year’s decorations: the Nightmare Before Christmas garage.

You see, this year marks the 25th anniversary of one of my favourite movies (and Thing 2’s all-time fave so far), The Nightmare Before Christmas. I thought that part of my outdoor decor should definitely reflect this fact. I purchased the little Jack Skellington inflatable on the right, and the larger one on the left was a generous gift from a friend. I made the Oogie Boogie “moon” light cover out of a plastic platter, a black Bristol board cut-out, and a yellow light bulb. The “hill” on the garage door was just more Bristol board taped on and cut out in the desired shape, with breaks and slight overlaps between the panels so I could still open and close the door. Honestly, it wasn’t terribly difficult, but I was really happy with it all in all.

As for actual costumes the day of, I wore my Robin Hood: Men in Tights costume during the day, and my Discworld Death to take my kids trick-or-treating at night. Death was very well received by most, although he did frighten a few little ones (he’s enormous, after all). I really did enjoy chasing the teenagers. The kids wore their Borderlands 2 costumes, and they were thrilled when a few people even knew who they were supposed to be.

I’d say that it was a pretty great Halloween.

Glazed Lemon Loaf

I don’t know why, but I’ve been craving glazed lemon loaf lately. I think it may be because one of my favourite coffee shops has it in the pastry case every once and a while, and I do sometimes succumb to temptation. When I was grocery shopping with the family the other day, I thought that I might pick one up, but they were nowhere to be found! So I Googled a recipe, bought a lemon, and baked a loaf myself — despite the fact that I usually try not to turn on the oven in this heat.

I’m happy to report that it turned out exactly as I had hoped! Moist (but not doughy) in the center, with just a little tang of lemon in the glaze… Perfect. I found the Glazed Lemon Pound Cake Loaf recipe on Seasons & Suppers: The Summer Edition. The writeup for the recipe stresses that it must be made just so, with butter and eggs at room temperature, sour cream removed from the fridge fifteen minutes before adding, and a very specific order of operations. Given that I’ve never made lemon loaf before (lemon poppyseed yes, straight up lemon no), I figured that I should follow the directions as written — at least the first time. Okay, well, I did have to make one small modification to adjust for my dairy issues, and used lactose-free sour cream instead of regular. But it still turned out great!

I think that the only beef I have with this absolutely delicious recipe is that it’s called a pound cake. What I’ve always been taught is that a pound cake calls for a pound each of flour, butter, and sugar. A quick Googling tells me that this translates to approximately 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, 2 cups butter, and 2 cups granulated sugar… Which isn’t even close to the proportions in this recipe. I mean, it gets a little bit closer if you halve it so that it’s simply equal weights, but even so, to me, that’s not really a pound cake. Not that this has anything to do with the quality of the recipe itself, mind you. The methodology was correct, and the end results were delicious! And I will definitely make this recipe again. I guess I’m being just a bit pedantic.

Grilled Duck Breasts & Strawberry Shortcake

Yesterday I decided to cook something I’d never cooked before: duck. I’d eaten it before, generally in Asian fusion food, but I’d never cooked it. It’s different than most of the poultry I’m used to working with (i.e. chicken and turkey) in that it’s a red meat. It’s honestly more like ostrich. Somehow I’d managed to cook up ostrich long before I’d ever worked with duck, which is a little odd seeing as duck is domestic and ostrich is most definitely not. But I digress.

I found the duck breasts in the frozen section of T&T Supermarket a while back, and I bought them because they looked interesting and they were on special (my favourite combination). I’m not sure if this is usually the case, as I have no baseline, but that day they were significantly cheaper than beef. The breasts weren’t whole; they were already cut up into what I think of as tiny little steaks.

I used the marinade from a Grilled Wild Duck Breast Recipe that I’d Googled, knowing full well that since I liked all of the ingredients separately I’d probably like them together. I only did a quick marinade of about half an hour, since I wanted to taste the meat and not just the sauce. Then I threw the steaks on a preheated gas grill. The real challenge here was not to overcook them. I didn’t want them to be rare in the center, but they were so small that I really worried that I’d accidentally turn them into shoe leather. I settled on about five minutes per side, and that ended up being perfect. There was just a bit of char on the outside, but the middle was tender and soft.

I served the duck breasts on a bed of basmati rice, alongside some green zucchini that I’d sliced and grilled at the same time as the duck breast. Timing is always an issue with this kind of meal, so I cooked the rice first, then put the duck on, and then the zucchini, since it was sliced fairly thinly. It all came to the table piping hot and delicious.

For dessert we piled into the car and drove over to my parents’ house for strawberry shortcake. This time my mother made it, but she basically followed my Nan’s recipe. It was an assemble-it-yourself kind of affair (which the kids love), so if mine ended up being sloppy and leaning, that’s nobody’s fault but my own. Part of the problem with structural integrity is that I had to use a non-dairy whipped topping, which never beats as stiff as true whipping cream. Also, we upped the sweets game by drizzling dark maple syrup over the top, further compromising the tower’s support but definitely enhancing the taste.

Dessert finished and hands (and tables, and place mats) cleaned of sticky syrup residue, we headed back home to put the children to bed and to spend some quiet time digesting.

National Cereal Day

Yet another day of taking care of sick kiddos… It doesn’t leave much time (or inclination) to cook. Luckily, we had lots of bits and bobs from previous dinners in the fridge that needed to be eaten anyway, so yesterday became Leftover Night. Lunch, however, was a bit of a wash, so I just had a bowl of cereal.

Social media reminded me that today is National Cereal Day in the US, although it doesn’t even make the ,a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_food_days”>list of food days on Wikipedia. According to that list, yesterday was actually National Crown Roast of Pork Day, which was way more complicated than I was up to trying. It occurs to me that if I planned our menu based on the national food days, we’d have quite the variety of diet, and I’d have the inspiration to try a whole bunch of new things.

Anyways, I ate a bowl of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, which have been my favourite cereal since I was a kid. My parents wouldn’t let us get sugary cereals on a regular basis, so when we did get a box it was a real treat. This was pretty much the only sugary breakfast we ever had, except sometimes for those miniature boxes of cereal when we were camping/cottaging. I used to eat healthier cereal almost every day, but I slowly fell out of the habit as I became more sensitive to dairy (I don’t like my cereal dry). Now I eat it with almond milk, but I’ve come to prefer a hot breakfast or at least some toast in the morning. We always have cereal around, though, since the kids eat it all the time. Following my parents’ lead, I also only allow sugary cereal as the occasional treat. Much to my surprise, my kids don’t even like Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, so I don’t even have to share them!

Valentine’s Day Sweets

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, which for me meant that the day before was spent in the kitchen baking. Okay, well, not the whole day; some of my time was spent in the kitchen dealing with a leaking dishwasher. That slowed things down immensely. Luckily, the issue was a slightly-clogged drain pipe and dirt in the door seal that kept it from being watertight, and a good cleaning of the machine fixed the leak. If your dishwasher is going to leak, a fix without having to purchase expensive parts is best, really. Also, there wasn’t enough water that came out to cause much damage. The basement ceiling is a drop ceiling and the walls and floor are only half-finished, so there’s not much there for the water to damage anyway.

When I did get to bake, the first thing I tried was a double-batch of White Layer Cake found on page 110 of Essential Cooking Basics: The New Cook by Mary Berry & Marlena Spieler (1997). I used crab apple jelly that I’d made back in the fall as filling. This recipe was very nicely illustrated and easy to follow. It yielded lovely cupcakes that had a crumbly, buttery texture, which were similar to a good cornmeal muffin on top but with a softer middle. The recipe does call for self-rising flour, which I’ve come to realize is a really common ingredient in British recipes, but isn’t something the average cook would have in the pantry around here. Heck, not all grocery stores carry it. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to make with all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt: directions here.

As I discovered, a single batch only yields about a dozen cupcakes, and I wanted to make 48 (half for Thing 1’s Guide troupe, and half for Thing 2’s Sparks troupe). By the time I’d figured this out, I’d run out of a few ingredients; this recipe takes a lot of eggs. I was getting a bit pressed for time, so I dug out a package each of IKEA Muffinsmix Choklad and Muffinsmix Citron (just-add-water chocolate and lemon cake mix, respectively). Thing 1 got the IKEA cupcakes and Thing 2 got the Mary Berry ones, and I honestly think that Thing 2 got the better end of the deal by a long shot.

Next came the treats for the treats for the girls’ homeroom classes at school. I’d planned on making orange sugar cookies for which I’d found a vintage Bake King recipe sheet tucked into an old cookbook, but those required the dough to be chilled and I had simply run out of time. I fell back on a recipe that I’d used successfully in the past for Fudgy Pumpkin Coffee Brownies (minus the coffee, since the intended audience was children). This recipe can be found on page 222 of Purely Pumpkin by Allison Day (2016). Once again, I substituted whole wheat flour for einkorn or light spelt flour, and even with this change, the brownies turned out great. This recipe invariably yields moist, rich brownies with just the right level of sweetness. As a bonus, I got to use up some of the Halloween pumpkin puree that’s still in my freezer. And none of the brownies came back home, so I figure that at least some of the kids (and/or the teachers) liked them.