Beans, Beans the magical fruit....

Recently, Derek cured and baked a fabulous Christmas Ham. I've been wondering what to have with it to round out a meal, although it is great on its own I think that it's better appreciated when served with complementing tastes. After doing some surfing (ok, I'm on Xmas vacay, so yeah) and realising that I've got some homemade BBQ sauce slowly dying in my fridge, I thought that baked beans sounded like a great option. Again, combining Smitten Kitchen and Epicurious, I've kinda come up with my own hybrid (pretty much based on what was handy, shopping is not an option today - it's New Years Day #1 and #2 I'm lazy)

I grew up with canned baked beans. They look pretty complicated when you look at them from the can (at least, they did to me when I was about 12!). Although, I'm not looking to repeat my canned bean tasting any time soon, I'm curious to see if homemade baked beans will taste as good with wieners as I remember the canned ones tasting. (I"ll let you know...)

Navy beans simmering comfortingly on the stove for about an hour and a half. Combining the ingredients for the sauce filled the house with this mustard, BBQ kind of smell... very cozy.

Here is the recipe for my Hybrid Baked Beans ;-)

2 cups of Navy beans (covered with double the amount of water and simmered for about an hour and a half)
1/2 red onion sliced thinly (could use more though)
5 slices of bacon chopped into rectangles
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup ketchup
1 cup BBQ sauce
3 lg tbsp molasses (I used dark)
3 tbsp mustard (I used grainy, dijon would work well too)
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (only Lea and Perrins of course!)
2 lg tbsp dark brown sugar
2 lg tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp pepper sauce
salt to taste
water during baking
Nearing the end of the boiling period for the beans. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Using dutch oven (oven safe) begin to saute bacon, onion and garlic for about 5 min. or until bacon is cooked and onion sweats. Add remained ingredients to bacon mixture. Feel free to play here. I would have added some dark beer or cheap rum if we had in the house. You may want to add a little more water (some of the water left from the beans would work best) if the sauce looks too thick to hold up to a long baking time. I found that during baking I needed to add water about every 45 min. and I turned the oven down to 300 after 1 hr or so and then down to 250 after the second hour.
Bake covered for about 5 hrs or until beans are soft and squishy.

I have to put a big p.s. at the end of this. The beans tasted great - awesome, in fact. They did,
after all, exceed my memories of canned baked beans with wieners!! However, the beans that I used were probably a little old (about a year in the cupboard - although, if they are dried does it make a difference?). I should probably have boiled in the beans in water alone for about 2 1/2 hrs or ideally in a pressure cooker. I have baked the beans for a really long time and then even finished them off on the stove for a bit. I think that in future, since I don't have a pressure cooker right now, I would probably used canned Navy beans.

Here we go again!

I usually find myself looking at January 1st an exhausted baker. I have two birthdays and Christmas to cook and bake for and things always come up at this time of year that you don't plan ahead for, requiring more cooking/baking time. This year, astonishingly, has not felt quite so exhausting. Maybe it's because work has been a little more stressful than usual, maybe it's because Derek has been home so much more this month or maybe just because I've discovered so many great food blogs with recipes that I have to try ... I'm not sure. As a result though baking has been a fun, creative outlet for me, rather than feeling exhausted, I feel exhilarated.

Our daughter has a piano recital tomorrow and, of course, it means I'm bringing a dessert. Of course I could (and will, in fact) bring the remains of the birthday cake that I made two days ago... but... this is a great excuse to try this recipe from Lottie + Doof that I've been eyeing for the last while. Does this look amazing, or what?????? (The reality is that they don't even want me to bring a second cake but... I do have a friend coming in from out of town so I need something...)

I made the cake this morning and it was easy and looks fantastic. I have to give props to the vanilla that I get at Williams Sonoma (see pic), beautiful stuff and makes a big difference in the taste.
I made a couple of changes to the recipe from Lottie + Doof, though nothing significant. After the cake was cooled, I poked some tiny holes in it and when the glaze was done I poured just enough to work it's way into the holes while the glaze was still hot. I let the rest of the glaze cool for about 5 min or so before topping the cake. Otherwise, I found that it was just too runny. Oh boy... it was Amazing though!

Props for the Ham

First of all, apparently a Ham is not really supposed to be called a 'Ham' unless it is the leg (Derek has done some thorough research).
Secondly, this is Derek's first attempt at Christmas Ham (even though ours is not the leg). It has been a tradition for his Mom to do a wonderfully home-cured Ham each year (along with Black Cake and a couple of other mouth watering Trinidadian delicacies that I won't mention yet). This year they (Derek and his Mom) decided to do it here in Toronto. I had nothing to do with this venture, it's all Derek and I think that it's impressive enough to merit some Blog space!
Derek cured it using a big needle and all!!! Quite a process all told. Sometime I'll do a more in-depth look at meat curing but for now just know that it requires time and space in the fridge for a couple of weeks (at least) and patience for those waiting to indulge.
Derek cooked it today and here is the result (notice the incredible tasty crackling on the top!!!)

I'm proud of Derek (xoxo) and my belly is happy!

Birthday Cake

Tomorrow our daughter turns 9. Wow! Birthdays are a big deal in our house, much bigger than Christmas (we don't do much in the way of gifts at Christmas for example). One way that I like to mark the day is to ask the birthday person what they would like to eat. Tomorrow's menu will be Lasagna and vanilla sponge cake with chocolate icing. (Our kids haven't figured out that they could ask to go to a restaurant yet but hey, I'm not knocking it!)

I found a new cake recipe to try. Looks good and promises to be the best birthday cake (once again, Smitten kitchen is my current, ultimate fave!).
I will be making my own icing (ie. my own recipe) which I am adding here. Warning, remember the not measuring thing from the previous post? Well, here's the proof:
Chocolate icing:
about 2 cups of icing sugar
about 3/4 of a cup of cocoa (maybe more)
between 1/4 and a 1/2 cup of room temp. butter (unsalted)
between 1/2 and 1 1/4 (yeah, that's right...) cream (milk in a pinch) or sour cream
maybe a touch of vanilla or splash of coffee or liquor of choice - to taste.
Squish butter until the lumps are gone. Sift icing sugar and cocoa into the butter bowl. Slowly (by about 1/2 cup portions) add in cream and mix after each addition until you get the icing consistency that you want.
Ok, so good luck with that one. I don't have a mixer of any kind (stand or hand!) and although I know it makes me one of a dying breed (or too cheap to cough up the dough for a stand-mixer), I'm doing it all by hand. It's actually a good work-out.
The cake looks fantastic. I think that this is the first time that I've used actual Buttermilk (rather than using reg. milk and adding vinegar to sour and thicken it). The proof will be in the pudding when we taste it tomorrow...

Bechamel Heaven

Bechamel sauce can be a bitch but Oh So awesome when you get it right. I've been making Bechamel since grade seven or eight Home Ec. class. However, as time passed I got a little over confident and decided that measuring signalled a lack of skill in the kitchen. As a result, my Bechamel has yielded varying degrees of success... that is until I rediscovered the joy of simplicity (and recipe) in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook (hello?) via Epicurious.

Really, what was I thinking. Who doesn't measure, especially when making Bechamel. Anyway, I'm humbled and my family is happy. No more lumps, no more adding milk 'cause it got too thick, no more scrambling to add flour after the fact because Wanda didn't measure! The results have given us wonderful scalloped potatoes and homemade Mac and Cheese (Awesome). It's surprisingly easy but the best comfort food evah!
Which brings me back to the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. My first experience with Fannie was in University. I had taken a job cooking for a couple in their eighties. They were wealthy, citoyens du monde who absolutely floored me one day when they casually told me that they had been friends with Jean Paul Lemieux!!! (what the what?!) They insisted on being served tea (on a silver tray of course) at 4pm and dinner was served at 7pm (with the table set formally and food served in silver). The job taught me a lot about trying new things though. I never knew ahead of time what I would be cooking and I only used the cookbooks that they had available and, you guessed it, Fannie Farmer was in their library! I'd like to take a look at that book again...

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St Michael's Choir School is celebrating it's 75th anniversary year of service to St Michael's Cathedral. Part of the school celebration is a trip to Italy where our boys from Grades 5 - 12 will be performing and celebrating Mass. This blog will be chronicling our adventures. Wanda Thorne is the Vocal Coach at St Michael's Choir School. Gerard Lewis is the Grade 7/8 Homeroom teacher at the Choir School.

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Wanda Thorne
St Michael's Choir School is celebrating it's 75th anniversary year of service to St Michael's Cathedral. Part of the school celebration is a trip to Italy where our boys from Grades 5 - 12 will be performing and celebrating Mass. This blog will be chronicling our adventures. Wanda Thorne is the Vocal Coach at St Michael's Choir School. Gerard Lewis is the Grade 7/8 Homeroom teacher at the Choir School.
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