Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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Macaroons vs. Macarons

As you know, I like to cook and bake and I like to try making new things. My decision-making process for what to make usually goes something like this. “I have ingredient X that I need to use up. What can I make using ingredient X?”1 Case in point: I had leftover shredded coconut from when I made some coconut squares for a bake sale at my office2, so I decided to try making macaroons for my hockey team’s season end wrap up party. Making macaroons requires egg whites, so then I had an opened carton of egg whites that I needed to use up, so I decided to try making the thing that is sometimes confused with macaroons: French macarons – which I brought to my Arts Council Board meeting. Now I have a giant Costco-sized bag of almonds that I bought to make macarons, so I need to come up with another recipe that requires lots of almonds…. or maybe I’ll just make a lot more macarons, because omg they were delicious!

In case you are wondering what the difference is between a macaroon and a macaron:

Macaroon:

IMG_2462

Macaron:

Macaron

It’s easy to see how the two can be confused: their names are very similar and both are meringue-based pastries. I’ve only ever known macaroons to be made with coconut, though Wikipedia tells me that it was originally made with almonds and can also be made with other nuts. Macaron are typically made with almonds, but you can make a coconut macaron (though the recipes I’ve seen for this still use almonds as the base, but add coconut extract to flavour it). So I guess the real difference is that macaroons use big chunks of whatever nut you are using and are shaped in a mound, whereas macarons use very, very finely ground almonds, are shaped in small circles and have a smooth top with signature “crinkly feet”, and you make them into a sandwich with some sort of filling. As I was reading about this, I got to thinking “Well, what’s the difference between an almond macaroon and an amaretti?”, since an amaretti is a mound shaped cookies made from meringue mixed with almonds? And then I found this article, which actually gave a bit of a history of these cookies. In short:

  • original macaroons: almond meringue cookies similar to what we call amaretti today, believed to have been created at an Italian monastery
  • coconut macaroons: evolved over time from the almond macaroons (first by mixing almond with coconut, then coconut replaced almond completely); Italian Jews made them for Passover, since they didn’t use flour or a leavening agent
  • amaretti: invented in the mid-17th century by Francesco Moriondo, pastry chef of the Court of Savoy
  • French macarons: invented in the early 20th century by PierreDesfontaines Ladurée

The other interesting thing I read in that article was that “two Benedictine nuns, Sister Marguerite and Sister Marie-Elisabeth, seeking asylum in the town of Nancy during the French Revolution (1789-1799), paid for their housing by baking and selling the macaroon cookies, and thus became known as the “Macaroon Sisters”” – being a Mary Elizabeth myself and having a sister named Nancy, I found this amusing!

I read quite a few different macaron recipes to figure out what I needed to do to make them and read in a few different places that they are really easy to screw up, so I was pleasantly surprised when mine turned out well. I decided to do half my batch as just plain (i.e., not coloured cookies) with buttercream icing as the filling and the other half as pink with raspberry buttercream icing (because I happened to have some raspberry jam I could use to flavour the buttercream icing). The only issue I had was that rather than split the beaten egg whites in half and put the pink food colouring in at that stage (as the recipe suggested), I made the batter, split that in half and added the food colouring to the batter – this meant that the pink batter actually ended up being mixed beyond the optimal mixing point (the recipe specifically says to fold it 35-40 strokes!), resulting in the batter losing some of its stiffly beaten egg consistency, so that when I piped the pink batter onto the cookie sheet, it spread out a lot, resulting in much bigger cookies than I intended. They still rose and got the crinkly feet, so all was not lost. And they tasted great, so no one complained about the size.

Macaron

At any rate, I’ve now added both macaroons and macaron to my list of “new foods I made in 2016” – one of my goals for 2016 is to make 16 new food or drink items that I’ve never made before. And the macarons were so freaking delicious that I think they are going to become one of my go-to fancy desserts, alongside my chocolate amaretto cheesecake and mocha cupcakes with ganache and mascarpone whipped cream topping.

  1. Another criterion I use is: “How much do I like the taste of the batter and/or the taste of an individual ingredient?” Because I often like the taste of the batter more than the actual cooked product, so licking the spoon or eating a piece of the raw dough is part of the pleasure of baking. Or, in the case of an individual ingredient, I might want to, say, lick the lid of a can of sweetened condensed milk while my mother says “You are going to cut your tongue on that! Even if she’s not there when I’m baking, I can totally hear her say that! []
  2. Coconut squares are one of my tried and true recipes from my mom. See also: cherry squares. []

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Oh How My Garden Grows

Hey, remember that time I planted an herb garden on my balcony? Well, other than the basil, which is now completely dead, my herbs are growing like gangbusters!

Before:

My new herb garden

Now:

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Before:

My new herb garden

Now:

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And the “now” photos don’t even account for the fact that I have used a bunch of the herbs!

It looks like I’ll need to take up another new hobby in addition to gardening – the hobby of drying herbs! Because omg, how much marjoram can one woman use??1

In addition to the herbs growing, my garden has also grown by one tomato plant. My friend Tig gave me this tomato seedling, which she grew from seeds given to her by our MP’s wife (true story):

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Apparently this is a heritage tomato plant, which the Internets tells me is a.k.a., a heirloom tomato.

The Internets tells me that tomato plants grow large root structures, so it’s important to put them in big pot to allow that to happen, so planted it in this:

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I also threw in some parsley seeds to see if I could grow some parsley in there too (another suggestions from the gardeners of the Internets – grow some herbs, which have shorter root structures, around your tomato to fill in the extra space):

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I decided to forgo the potato barrel (or potato bag, as I read that you can also grow potatoes in a bag on your balcony) this year because shortly after planting my garden, I got notice from the strata that they are coming around to power wash and paint all our balconies and so when they get to your condo, you need to clear off your balcony of anything that could be damaged by power washing. I figure I can bring my plant pots inside that day (I’ll have to lock them in my growlery, so that a certain pair of green vegetable-loving cats don’t each the whole garden), but bring in a soggy bag of dirt and potatoes would be less pleasant. You’ll have to wait until next year, potato bag!

  1. In related news, if you need some fresh marjoram, let me know. I can totally hook you up! []

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I Never Promised You An Herb Garden

One of the things on my list of 101 things to do in 1001 days that I achieved last year was to make an herb garden for my balcony. But “make” in that case actually meant “buy a premade one and put it on my balcony”. Now, don’t get me wrong – it was a lovely herb garden that I got at Granville Island and it was a great deal – $13 for 5 different herbs! And while I enjoyed cooking with those herbs, the winter was not kind to them (nor was my neglect) and so now that the weather has warmed up enough for me to want to be on my balcony again, I decided to actually make an herb garden this year. Where “make” means “buy some plants, buy some dirt, buy some containers, and then put said dirt and plants in said containers”. And here is what I made:

My new herb garden

My new herb garden

This year’s herbs include:

  • rosemary
  • thyme
  • marjoram
  • sage
  • oregano
  • basil
  • chives
  • cilantro
  • and a jalapeño plant

I made this three weekends ago and I’ve already made roasted potatoes with fresh rosemary; pasta sauce with fresh rosemary, thyme, marjoram, sage, oregano, and basil; guacamole with fresh cilantro; and scrambled eggs with the chives a couple of times!

My new herb garden

My new herb garden
My new herb garden

My new herb garden

My new herb garden

My new herb garden

My new herb garden

My new herb garden

My new herb garden

Several of the plants have grown significantly since I took those photos (especially the marjoram, the cilantro, and the jalapeño plant, but the basil is not looking so hot. If anyone has tips on growing basil, let me know!

I think I’d like to also get a tomato plant, and maybe some parsley. Plus, I need to investigate a thing I learned about recently: a potato barrel.

I’m going to try to be more diligent in taking care of my herb garden this year. Speaking of which, I know that I need to water it regularly in the summer, but does anyone know what I should do to keep it alive over the winter?

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Art of Spice

On Friday, I checked out this new Indian restaurant. I was a bit hesitant to go there at first because there was no one in the place – which is generally a bad sign for a restaurant – but it’s pretty new, so we decided to be adventurous and give it a go. And it did not disappoint!

We had some veggie pakoras, chicken vindaloo, and palak paneer and they were all delicious. Plus the servings were pretty big, so despite the fact that we were full when we left, there were lots of leftovers. When I first looked at the menu, I thought the prices were a bit steep, but then I realized that the dishes included rice and naan (whereas I’m used to going to Indian restaurants where you have to order the rice and naan separate), so the prices were on par with other good Indian restaurants that I’ve been to.

They unfortunately are still waiting for the liquor license which might explain, in part, the lack of customers, but I think it’s probably also that people don’t know about them. So I figured I’d blog about them, because the food really was good and the people running the place seemed so nice, and I’d hate to see the place go under for lack of people knowing about them1.The restaurant is located at 1355 Hornby Street, so if you are downtown and looking for Indian food, you might want to check them out.

  1. Not that my blog has tonnes of readers, but every little bit helps, right? I also wrote reviews on Yelp and Zomato – those will probably be more helpful! []

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Easter Treats – My First New Food Item for 2016

Due to my immune system having gone MIA for the first 3 months of this year, I’m rather behind on many of my goals. Including the goal of “Make 16 new food or drink items that I’ve never made before” for which, up until Thursday, I have made a grand total of 0. But now that I’m mostly healthy (just waiting out the remainder of my 100 day cough – which isn’t infectious, it’s just irritated lungs), I have made my first new food item of the year, just in time for Easter!

Easter treats

Easter treats

One of these eggs is hatching!

This treat was super easy to make and combines three awesome things – Rice Krispie squares (or nests, in this case), Mini-Eggs1, and Peeps.

  1. I’m generally a chocolate snob, preferring to eat high quality dark chocolate, but for some reason the combo of milk chocolate and whatever heaven they make that candy shell from makes Mini-Eggs one of my exceptions. See also: Reese peanut butter cups. []

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New Food #1 for 2016: Cream Puffs

It’s almost the end of February and I’m totes behind on all my goals (And I just realized by looking at the date that it’s my Uncle Harry’s birthday and it’s too late (in Ontario, where he lives) for me to call him – Happy birthday, Uncle Harry!). Well, I guess I’m doing OK on one goal: bringing my lunch to work 75% of the time – I currently sit at 76%, so I’m on track for that goal so far! But I ended up being too sick to start training for the UBC triathlon and the Delta triathlon (in March & April, respectively), which means I’ve made no progress on my triathlon goal, very little progress on my run/bike/swim 1000 km goal, and no progress towards my sub-1:50 half marathon goal, plus I *gained* a few pounds instead of losing (thanks to not being able run), though the food poisoning seems to have taken care of those pounds, at least for the moment. I haven’t knocked anything off my 101 list, nor painted a room, nor done most of the rest of the stuff on my goal list.

However, today I managed to make one new food item that I’ve never made before, meaning that I’m 1/16th of the way through the goal of making 16 new food or drink items that I’ve never made before. Cream puffs!

Last night I made a steak and carrot pie for dinner, using half a package of puff pastry for the crust, which meant today I was faced with the eternal question: What should I do with the other half of the package? On Friday my business analyst at work was telling me about this place she went to that has amazing cream puffs, and I guess that was stuck in my brain so I decided to make some of those.

I know it’s a bit of a cheat to use frozen pastry dough, but I decided to make the custard from scratch, which I’ve never done before. It was actually surprisingly easy and it tastes shockingly good.

Cream puffs

The picture doesn’t really do them justice – I think they almost look like scrambled egg sandwiches! I use free range eggs and so the yolks are very yellow, which makes the custard very yellow. I guess if I’d used caged hen eggs, where the yolks are super pale, the custard might be prettier, but I much prefer free range eggs. And it tasted great, which is what’s really important. I think next time I’m going to try making the dough from scratch.

The custard required three egg yolks, which meant I was left with three unused egg whites. I used one of the egg whites for glazing the pastry, which means now I’m faced with the eternal question: What should I make with my two egg whites?

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All the New Foods & Drinks I Made This Year!

One of my goals for 2015 was to “make 15 new food or drink items that I’ve never made before”. And I managed to blow this one out of the water, with 19 new food items!

Chocolate buttercream frosting 1-Jan-2015
sweet and spicy pecans and cashews 12-Jan-2015
caramelized onion, mushroom, apple and Gruyère puff pastry bites 12-Jan-2015
cucumbers with salmon whip and dill whip 12-Jan-2015
slow cooker gingered chickpea and tomato stew 12-Jan-2015
cheese puffs 12-Jan-2015
homemade sour mix 12-Jan-2015
Swiss cheese beer bread 4-Feb-2015
potato, cheddar & beer soup 4-Feb-2015
beer marinated pork chops 4-Feb-2015
brown ale potato galette 12-Mar-2015
black bean & mushroom tortilla casserole 12-Mar-2015
spent grain dog biscuits 28-Mar-2015
rice pilaf 29-Mar-2015
BBQ short ribs 14-Jun-2015
grilled potato skins 4-Jul-2015
blondies 14-Sep-2015
ameretti 23-Dec-2015
roasted beets 24-Dec-2015

As you can see from the above list, I started the year off strong by making a new item on New Year’s Day, and then 6 new items on Jan 12 (for my birthday party). I also owe several of these items to the fact that my friend Amy and I started home brewing beer and our first batch was rather undercarbonated so I found some recipes that used beer as an ingredient to use up the under carbonated beer. And just as I typed  that I realized that I forgot to include all the beer I made on this list, as they are totally drink items that I’ve never made before!! They are:

  • winter ale
  • blonde ale
  • stout
  • hefeweizen

So that’s 23 new items I made this year! Go me!

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Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

I’m cooking beets for Christmas dinner. Wait, why did you think I had a big knife and red on my gloves?

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Christmas Baking 2015

For the official record1, the following baked goods were baked at the annual Snow family Christmas baking extravaganza 2015:

My Mom:

    • Tiger Cookies

Tiger cookies

    • Cranberry Nut Clusters

White Chocolate Nut Clusters

  • Fake Nanaimo Bars2

Fake Nanaimo Bars
Nancy (my sister):

    • brown sugar jam cookies

Jam sandwich cookies

  • cheese crackers

Daniel (Nancy’s friend):

  • lemon squares
  • almond crescent cookies

Beth:

  • shortbread cookies
  • amaretti
Ameretti

Amaretti dough

Ameretti

Amaretti cookies – pre-baking

Ameretti

Amaretti cookies – baked

Ameretti

Amaretti cookies – close up

  1. My blog is the official record. []
  2. Which I’ve been referring to as “Parksville Bars”. Parksville is the town next to Nanaimo. []

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Tomorrow is Christmas Baking Day

My baking plans for tomorrow include:

  • shortbread cookies, the cookies that I’m legally obligated to make every Christmas
  • amaretti, which I’ve never made before but expect to be delicious!

I will report back once all the baking is complete!