Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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Sourdough Starter

And speaking of pandemic baking, I finally did something that I’ve been meaning to do for ages: make a sourdough starter1!

Well, I’m attempting to make a sourdough starter, at least. I won’t know for several days if it worked out or not. I decided to go old school and create it from just flour and water and whatever wild yeast are floating around. It takes a bit longer – and I’m sure has a higher failure rate – than making it from packaged yeast, but I figure I have time to spare, so may as well go for it.

My plan is to make this sourdough starter and maintain it and pass it along to others, so that generations from now people will say “This sourdough starter was created during the great pandemic of 2020!” And maybe people will search on the Wayback Machine and find this blog posting and say “So that’s what my sourdough starter looked like on the day it was born!”


The recipe is literally to just mix together and 4 oz of flour and 4 oz of water and then let it sit on the top of your fridge for a day, and then you feed it over several days and hope the yeast start doing their yeast thing.

Here’s what it looked like when I mixed it together today:

Sourdough Starter - Day 1

The consistency at this stage is thick and sticky:

Sourdough Starter - Day 1

And here it is, sitting on top of my fridge:

Sourdough Starter - Day 1

I’ve set a reminder to feed it after 24 hours have passed. Very excited to see what happens over the next few days!

Also, like a good scientist, I decided to make a lab book to document my process:

Sourdough Starter - Day 1 - Lab Book

My friend Paul informed me that if this batch doesn’t work, I should try using pineapple juice instead of water, as it’s the right pH to favourite the good wild yeast. So I have a plan B if this batch doesn’t work.

I promised my friend Heather that she will be the first recipient of my sourdough starter once it is ready to be shared. Heather is a public health nurse on the front lines of the pandemic – translation: she’s a freaking hero! Thanks for everything you do, Heather! You are a rock star!

  1. Since sourdough starter something I’ve never made before, it counts towards my 2020 goal of making foods that I’ve never made before. And then when I bake my first loaf of sourdough bread, it will be another thing I’ve never made before and will count towards my 2020 goal of baking 20 times. And I also have “bake sourdough bread” on my list of 101 things to do in 1001 days, so really this is like the most efficient goal achieving act I’ve ever done! []

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Cyberbaking – It’s Not Just for Christmas Anymore!

As you may recall, my family and I love to bake. And sometimes at Christmas, if I’m not in Ontario visiting, we cyberbake: I bake in my kitchen in BC and my mom and my sister bake in my sister’s kitchen in Toronto and we videochat while we do said baking1.

Well, I’m really missing my family while everyone is isolating in our own homes during the pandemic. I know it’s kind of silly, because I often only see my family at Christmastime anyway, but (a) before the pandemic hit, I was planning to go to a conference in Ottawa in June and was planning to see my family then (but of course that is now not going to happen), and (b) it’s different when you don’t have a *choice*. Back in the old timey days where we could just hop on a plane whenever we wanted to, I at least had the option to go see my family. Now, since non-essential travel is a no-no, that choice is taken away, so it feels harder. I know it’s important that we all hunker down at this point to manage this pandemic, but I’m still acutely aware of missing my family. AnywayI digress…

A few days ago, I suggested that we all get on our webcams and bake together today. My mom in her house, my sister and her family in their house, and me in my condo. It really is fun to just chit chat and bake and be “together” even though we are apart.

My sister made cinnamon rolls and two loaves of bread shaped like turtles. She also taught my about “parbaking” – where you bake bread to about 80% of the way done and then freeze it. When you want to eat it, you bake it the rest of the way. So that’s a pretty great idea for when you have the urge to bake a bunch of stuff but you are stuck in a condo with just two people who shouldn’t each several loaves of bread in a day. I also realized that since “parbaking” means “partway baking”, that “parboiling” just means “partway boiling”. I would face palm, but touching one’s face is frowned upon these days.

My niece made snickerdoodles and my nephew made chocolate chip cookies. Last Christmas I gave my nephew a “virtual reality” baking set because I knew he likes baking and apparently he only wants to use the measuring cups from his set when he bakes. So nice to see that he likes his present!

My mom made a modified shepherd’s pie, using up some things she had around the house.

I decided to make carrot cake. I’ve never made carrot cake before, so it counts towards my goal of making 20 new foods this year). Plus I have a giant bag of carrots from the last time we went to Costco, so it seemed like a good way to use some of them up! I got my mom to send me my Uncle Stephen’s carrot cake recipe and I have to say, it is delicious.

I posted that before I made the cream cheese icing. Mmmm, cream cheese icing!

As always, the down side of cyberbaking is that you can’t taste what each other are baking! Fortunately, I have a bunch of carrot cake with which to console myself.

  1. As aside: this past December was so busy that I didn’t do any Christmas baking at all. None! That’s the first time in my life that I can remember not doing Christmas baking. I think maybe I upset the balance of the universe and that caused our current apocalypse. If so, sorry about that! []

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Merry Atypical Christmas

Typically I spend most of my Christmas break catching up on writing the eleventy thousand blog postings that I was too busy to write during the year, along with reading books for fun and maybe watching some movies, and definitely Christmas baking. But this year has been a bit of an anomaly, mostly because I was asked to teach a couple of new courses next year, so I have spent most of my Christmas break developing course materials rather than doing all of those things. And my family did two different cookie exchanges before I got to Ontario, so my sister’s place was so well stocked with cookies that it was unnecessary to do our usual Christmas baking extravaganza.

In lieu of Christmas baking, I made some chocolate hockey sticks and pucks for friends and colleagues, and today for Christmas dinner dessert I made a sugar pie. Sugar pie is a French Canadian delicacy that I’ve always wanted to try making, so today seemed like a good time to do it.

 
 
 
 
 
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I made Sugar Pie for Christmas dinner dessert.

A post shared by Beth Snow (@drbethsnow) on

In lieu of reading for fun and blogging, I’ve read 1.5 textbooks!

But don’t feel too bad for me – Christmas was spent with my family, eating delicious Christmas dinner, and giving each other a crazy amount of presents (translation: I was spoiled as usual). 

And now I have 14 more days to get the first new course ready to go! Wish me luck!

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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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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!

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What recipe are you known for amongst your friends and family?

Here we go with using the Dec 2014 blogging prompts.

What recipe are you known for amongst your friends and family?

Shortbread cookiesI make the best shortbread in the world. I learned my Great Granny Snow’s secret recipe from my Aunt Wendy. Why Great Granny chose Aunt Wendy from among all her granddaughters to teach, and why Aunt Wendy chose me from among all her nieces to teach, is a mystery, but I believe it’s ‘cuz Aunty Wendy loved me the best! (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on that, Aunt Wendy).

Now, there are two things about this recipe. One thing is that it is really all in the technique. I could give you the list of ingredients (even the super secret tip about one of the ingredients) and the instructions, but you wouldn’t be able to make these cookies. When my Aunt Wendy taught me this recipe, she showed me something about the dough that I have never told anyone and never written down. And it is the key to making the best shortbread in the world.

The second thing is – I don’t even like shortbread.

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Making Dinner With A Little Vitamin Beer

A friend of mine and I have taken up home brewing, because science. It’s a long story that I’ll blog about later, but suffice it to say that we recently finished our first batch and it was, shall we say, suboptimally carbonated. Tasted quite good for a first batch, if I do say so myself, but one can only drink so much undercarbonated beer, so I came up with the idea that I should look up some recipes for things you can make with beer, because beer. And I came up with the following, all of which tasted pretty darned good, if I do say so myself!

Swiss Cheese Beer Bread:

Swiss Cheese Beer Bread

This was really quick to make and really tasty, if you are in the mood for a dense bread. I had read the comments on the recipe before I made this and noted that someone had commented that it didn’t take nearly as long as to bake as the 50-60 minutes stated in the recipe, so I made sure to check on it early and it ended up only taking about 35 minutes to bake!

Savory Beer Pork Chops:

Savory Beer Pork Chops

These pork chops were also pretty delicious. As well, when I put the brown sugar into the beer to make the marinade, the beer foamed up and looked like real beer!

Homebrewed Beer

Potato Beer Cheese Soup:

Potato Beer Cheese Soup

This was a pretty good soup – and I generally don’t even like soup!

And so I was 3 for 3 on delicious tasting recipes. Can’t say that this was the healthiest meal I’ve ever eaten – pro tip: when you meal is all beige, something is drastically wrong in the nutrition department.

In addition to finding a way to not waste beer1 and making a delcious dinner, I also managed to bring the number of new food items I’ve made this year to 10 and so I’ve officially completed 67% of my goal to make 15 new food items in 2015 and it’s only February!

  1. Which I’m relatively certain is at least a misdemeanour, if not a full out crime. []

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New Foods I Made in 2014

Another item from my goals for 2014 list that I figured deserved its own posting was make 14 new food items that I’ve never made before1. And this goal I not only achieved, but I actually surpassed!

This year, I made:

IMG_7382

Salad rolls that I made with my friend Kim

Homemade Spinach Pasta

Homemade pasta that I made with my friend Linda. Topped with pesto and feta!

IMG_7483

BBQ chicken, corn-on-the-cob, roasted potatoes, and grilled zucchini

I also made guacamole devilled eggs a couple of times this year and I think the first time I made them was in 2014, but I’m not 100% sure I didn’t make them the previous year, so I’m not going to count them just in case. As well, I made *5* new drinks that I’d never made before – The Suffering Bastard, The Leveraged Synergy, and the Value Added Leveraged Synergy (all at my “I’m finished my MBA” party!) and the Mortgage Margarita and strawberry lemonade (for my housewarming party) – but I’m not counting those since the goal stated “food items”, but not beverages. But I don’t need to since, as you can see from the list, I actually made *19* food items this year! Hopefully I won’t regret using up extra new ideas this year when it comes time to try to come up with 15 new food and/or drink items to make in 2015!

  1. I see now that I look at the goals that I said that all the items “must be blogged about”. And while I didn’t blog about them all at the time I did them, I did keep track and now I’m blogging about them, so that totally counts! []
  2. This one has a back story. I was having a bunch of friends over for dinner and decided that I would try my hand at Baked Alaska. When I told Kalev, he got upset, saying “What are the vegetarians supposed to eat??” And I was confused and said, “What’s not vegetarian about ice cream and meringue?” It turned out, he was thinking of Beef Wellington, not Baked Alaska! So another time when he was coming over for dinner, I decided to make a vegetarian version of Beef Wellington, which turned out to be quite delicious! []
  3. I’ve made lasagna before, but not with tofu in place of ricotta cheese. It actually was quite tasty! []
  4. I wasn’t too big a fan of these myself. []
  5. I had a bunch of limes leftover from margarita making, so I tried this recipe, but it turned out that I much prefer the honey mustard dressing that I first tried making earlier and which is now my staple. []

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Christmas Baking 2014

Sadly, this year I did not get to cyber-bake with my family, as my sister et al decided to spend the past week in Jamaica. Before they left was too early to do Christmas baking, so they will be doing their Christmas baking in the next few days. I have to work until Christmas Eve, so I can’t do my baking when they do theirs. And so I did my Christmas baking on my own, spread out over a few different evenings, instead of one giant 12 hour baking day like I usually do.

This year’s holiday treats included a few new recipes and a couple of classics.

Biscotti

My first ever batch of biscotti
My first ever batch of biscotti

I’ve never made biscotti before and I was surprised how easy it was to make. It’s a simple dough, baked in a loaf shape, cut into biscotti shape, then baked again. And then you drizzle some melted chocolate over them and omg, so delicious! And fancy looking! Here’s the recipe that I used.

Chocolate Peanut Clusters

Chocolate peanut clusters
Chocolate peanut clusters
Chocolate peanut clusters

I chose this one because it was an extremely simple one. Throw various types of peanuts and chocolates into a crock pot and let everything melt. Spoon melted goo onto parchment paper and let it set. The end.

Here’s the recipe I used for these.

Fudge

I also decided to make some fudge, basically because fudge is made using sweetened condensed milk and Christmas baking is not complete unless I get to lick the lid from a can of sweetened condensed milk1. However, my first attempt at making fudge this year was an epic, epic, delicious but gooey failure.

Attempt at maple fudge

Fudge attempt #1: FAIL!

I decided to try making maple fudge, the recipe for which was basically sweetened condensed milk (read: sugar sugar sugar and a wee bit of milk), brown sugar (i.e., sugar), and maple syrup (also known as sugar). Sadly, the fudge never set and, in retrospect, I realize I probably should have used a candy thermometer instead of being lazy and just cooking it for the length of time mentioned in the recipe.

So instead I decided to go back to tried and true chocolate fudge, which started to set pretty much as I melting the chocolate with the sweetened condensed milk.

Chocolate fudge

Fudge attempt #2: Tried and true!

Shortbread

And since it’s Christmas, I am obligated to make shortbread cookies because I was long ago entrusted with my Great Granny Snow’s shortbread recipe, which makes the best shortbread in the world, according to people who like shortbread2. I didn’t bother to take any pictures of it, since it looks the same as it does every year.

While I definitely missed virtually hanging out with my fam while we baked, I can say that splitting up Christmas baking across a few evenings is way less exhausting than a marathon baking session. Also, based on feedback from those to whom I have given some of these baked goods, the quality of said baked goods did not suffer3. At any rate, Christmas baking is done and everyone who gets some of this baking will probably gain 5 lbs because it’s 97% butter and/or sugar. Hooray!

  1. Usually this is accompanied by my mother going “You’ll cut your tongue if you do that!” and me never cutting my tongue. And I’m happy to report that I have successfully made it through my 37th year without actually cutting my tongue on the lid from a can of sweetened condensed milk. []
  2. Which I don’t, so I can’t really verify personally. []
  3. Maple fudge failure notwithstanding. []