Friday, December 24, 2010

Thirsting for Parisian Macarons

The Parisian macaron is a decadent confectionary that is synonymous with elegance. It is an irresistible combination of sweetness from the delicate, airy eggshell-like crust straight through to the rich ganache and jam fillings.

Finding a perfect macaron in Ottawa can be a bit of a treasure hunt. They are not mainstream fare. For some, a macaron is an undeniable craving. No need to be longing for the French patisserie, Ladurée to quench your ‘thirst’. Now there is a new game in town.

Urban Baking Co. has created a name for itself with its signature macarons, bursting in flavours of Red Boyne Raspberry, Dark Chocolate and Bartlett Pear & White Fig.

I am still too intimidated to serve my baking attempts at macarons. When it is perfection I want, I like to supplement my own dessert table with work from an expert. It is also a way to offer a gluten-free choice for my guests.

A home-based business located in Kanata, they have put together a beautiful Winter Collection of petit carrés and French macarons. Owner, Wendy Raoux, is Cordon Bleu trained. If you are looking for a special hostess or thank-you gift, you may be pleased with their choice and size of gift boxes.

My favourite? I go for the raspberry every time.

Urban Baking Co.
Call/text: 613-859-9838
Tweet: @urbanbakingco
Link to:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Peanut Brittle - Is It Cheating to Make It in The Microwave?

I have friends who, without hesitation, will say that I am a bit of a type-A personality. I love organization and order. I love precision and will happily work to a high standard. That can imply that I HAVE to do things the RIGHT way. But in the kitchen, going with traditional methods at every turn is not one of my mantras.

For me, as long as I have a reasonable handle on the science, taking short-cuts or using time saving equipment can usually get me the same result as going the 'long' way.

When I tweeted out yesterday that I was knee-deep in my annual peanut brittle production, I let it slip that it was dead easy when you use the microwave. Well it appears that Jonathan Viau, aka @bigheartchef, decided to call me on my culinary heresy and shouted back "Cop out!" Lovingly, of course.

So why would I turn against my species and use a microwave for a candy that is so temperature sensitive? Well, because I do find it easier to push out the volume. I make each batch 1 1/2 pounds at a time. I find this most manageable. As a result, I made 8 batches reasonably quickly. (12 pounds of peanutty goodness to gift to family and friends!) I use my two 10-cup Pyrex bowls, cleaning one while the other was in service. Most importantly, I don't need to be at the pot for the full duration of the heating process, stirring away, waiting to hit 250ºF to put in the peanuts and then 300ºF for completion.

What I do need to know is that the sugar and corn syrup needs to be heated in the end to the 'hard crack' stage for candy, which is 300ºF. And I need to know that I am looking for a light amber colour on the sugar when it is heated. The baking soda will give it a light, crunchy texture and it will also give it colour. The vanilla will also darken it a bit. The vanilla and butter add flavour. Once I have poured my brittle out onto a well buttered pan, I tip the pan to have it spread and I will bang the pan as well to release any big bubbles that may have formed from the baking soda. If you like a very thin brittle, consider spreading or 'stretching' it with two forks pulling in opposite directions.

I use a silicon spatula to do my stirring. I also make sure everything is pre-measured before I begin as it all moves very quickly. Important to note, my microwave throws out 900 watts of power and based on this I was able to determine my times for each stage of the process. If you have a microwave with less power, you will need to increase the cooking times.

I have made peanut brittle the 'candy thermometer in pot' way but I do think making peanut brittle in the microwave is dead easy. If you do want to make peanut brittle and want to go the route of using a candy thermometer on the stove-top, you will find similar recipes that will have one additional ingredient - water. It helps the sugar melt evenly and by the time it is up to temperature, it will have almost all evaporated.

Now on to the recipe.

Microwave Peanut Brittle

1 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups peanuts
2 tsp butter
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

In 10-cup Pyrex bowl combine sugar and corn syrup; stir. Cook at HIGH for 4 minutes. Stir, then add peanuts; stir well. Cook at HIGH for an additional 3 minutes; stir, add butter and vanilla, stir well. Cook at HIGH 1 1/4 minutes. Add baking soda; stir gently until light and foamy. Immediately pour mixture onto well buttered cookie sheet. Spread thinly. Cool completely; break into small pieces.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I Am Going A Bit Nuts For Spicy Maple Pecans

Nuts are a popular treat at this time of year. They come in all shapes and sizes. It could be that collection of plain raw nuts we know so well - almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts - all still in the shell. It's a young child's dream to go at them with the fancy nutcracker in hand. Oh, do I ever remember that mess. Some prefer the assorted nuts that are already cleaned up, roasted and salted. And there are those that love to get fancy and dress them up with flavour. Lots of flavour.

My favourite nut is the pecan and I like them sweet and spicy. These Spicy Maple Pecans are adapted from a recipe by American chef Art Smith from his book, "Back to the Table: The Reunion of Food and Family". I also found a similar recipe on the blog of fellow Canadian food blogger, Julie, who posts on Dinner with Julie.

The nuts are a great party snack. They also make a very smart gift for those who appreciate gourmet and handmade. They are perfect in salads.

I am thrilled to have found my party nut. Try them. I bet you can't stop at one.

Spicy Maple Pecans
adapted from Back to the Table: The Reunion of Food and Family by Art Smith and Julie of Dinner with Julie

2 cups pecan halves

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon salt, scant

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Combine the sugar, cumin, chili powder, paprika, salt and cayenne pepper in a small bowl.

Spread pecans out on a baking sheet. Toast for 5 minutes. Pour the maple syrup over the nuts and stir to cover. Return to oven and roast for another 5 minutes. Stir the nuts to turn them and re-coat them with the syrup on the bottom of the baking sheet. Return them to the oven again for another 5 minutes. The syrup should be bubbling on the pecans now.

When the pecans have finished roasting in the syrup, take them out of the oven and cover with the spice mixture. Stir well to fully cover the nuts.
Then pour them onto a clean baking sheet to cool completely.

They can be stored in a sealed container for up to one week.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Going A Little Local Under the Christmas Tree

My recent crazy jam craving has had me finding out more about the upcoming Locavore Artisan Food Fair on December 12 in New Edinburgh.

In a discussion with Michael Sunderland of michaelsdolce, I asked when the next jam tasting may take place in town. I have a few friends I think could become easy converts to that bright, fresh, full fruit flavour he captures in every jar. And Michael's response was that he would be out in full force at the LAFF (Locavore Artisan Food Fare).

I took a look at their line-up and noticed a number of my new loves were going to be there too.

Art-Is-In Bakery:
I pick up their breads from time to time at the Ottawa Bagelshop. The teenager's favourite is the cheddar jalapeno and the mister likes the fennel. I have been delighted with Art-Is-In panini sandwiches at favourite places like Edgar and Morning Owl Coffee House.

Chamomile Desjardins Hot Sauces: I have tried these hot sauces when dining at Jak's Kitchen. The sauces were were out on the table for us to doctor up our brunch as we saw fit! The teenager goes a little mad for hot sauces.

Happy Goat Coffee Company:
I recently picked up their espresso beans. They call this signature blend Babae's Espresso Blend. If I was in charge of Pierre Richard's marketing department, I would be calling this blend CRAZY CREMA! I just love seeing the shot being drawn and watching the big crema float. When I was at the shop to do my pickup, I got a great tip. Cochrane Dairy's egg nog is to die for when making an egg nog latte. Who knew that egg nog could froth? And why not?

Isobel's Cupcakes & Cookies: The only cupcake place I have tried in town so far is Isobel's. Cupcakes aren't my go-to sin but I did have to give it a try since cupcakes seem to be all the rage now. I went for one that was lemony. No surprise. Everything I was expecting in fresh and curdy of the lemon kind. I have yet to master the eat and run as a snack thing. The icing is stacked SO high. So for now, my Isobel cupcakes will have to be enjoyed on a pretty china plate with a nice silver cake fork and a wonderful cup of tea. And somehow that has a way of making it prettier too.

Rochef Chocolatier: On a food crawl down St-Joseph in Gatineau this summer, we found this wonderful chocolate at La Brûlerie. So many great flavour choices. But you will find me always reaching for Dark.

Serious Cheese: Tucked away in Old Ottawa South near my hairdresser, a piece of Fifth Town cheese can seem like a nice way to top off a great hair day. Don't even get me started on their ginger molasses cookies.

Siren Bakery: I have tried all of Loreli's granola flavours. I do like how liberal she is with the cinnamon. I have a soft spot for handmade gourmet granola. For me it works perfectly on fresh fruit and plain yogurt. We are lucky to have a number of great choices in the city. One of my favourites is for sure Siren Bakery's Cranberry and Almond.

I am going Christmas shopping: I have become familiar with the products of 8 of the participants. By my way of thinking, the other 13 must be on par with them to be included in this Food Fair. I look forward to finding out more about them in this collective setting. I like the idea of moving gift giving to top quality consumables. I like that I can get some of that good shopping done on December 12th at the Crichton Cultural Community Centre. 10 am until 3 pm and admission is Free.

The Ottawa LAFF is also partnering with the Ottawa Good Food Box for this event.
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