Shortbread Caramel Bars and a little Redemption

Life Lesson:  Learn from crap and move on.
I don't enjoy staying angry/upset/depressed for long.  It's... well, depressing (huh?).  Glean what you can learn from a bad situation and move forward, look ahead.  And that, my peeps, is exactly what I did.
Feeling completely shattered by my failed cake - seriously though, isn't that just a little unbalanced of me.  Don't you think? - I decided that what was needed was to wash that cake right out of my hair.
Cue 'New Project'.
I have a list in my bookmarks bar called 'Must Try It'.  All the recipes that I see on sites that I know I want to make but am not going to make them in the immediate future go to this bookmark.  The list is long and takes in just about anything you could imagine.  I'm figuring that soon I'll have to divide it up.  You know, 'Sweets I Must Try', 'Greens I Must Try', 'Cass. I Must Try'... you get it.  I'm going to need a bigger bookmarks bar.  One of the most recent items to hit the 'Must Try' bar though are these puppies... I need a long weekend for that though.  I'm thinking that my next long one will be Easter and that might just be the perfect time... if I can wait that long.
So, long story short... these were sitting in my 'Must Try' just waiting for the appropriate time.  That time, and I knew it would come, when decadence and over-indulgence were the tone of the day.  A time when the combination of shortbread, caramel and dark chocolate would lick my wounds for me and soothe me into comforting happy land again.  A time when simmering, bubbling, multi-stepped recipes would be just the thing to restore addled nerves.

That day my friends, arrived yesterday.  I find it absolutely soothing to bake or chop veggies or nurse something cooking on the stove.  It's like therapy.  I can stand for a few minutes, chopping, mixing, stirring, pouring and at the end of it I've got something we can all enjoy.  It's like running and Yoga... it clears my head.
So, after the cheapest therapy session ever and with a very clear head (won't last long), here are the bars that have restored my equilibrium again.  Thank you 'Not Without Salt' and thank you dark chocolate (fairly traded of course) and caramel.  Big Sigh.

Homemade Twix Bars (adapted from 'Not Without Salt' - p.s. she has really nice pictures)

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 tbsp of crushed rice crispies cereal (yeah, seriously - my addition, Ashley uses actual rice that she whizzes, also an option for 'ya)
1/2 cup + 3 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Prepare a 9x13 inch baking pan by spraying it OR lining it with parchment (or aluminum foil) and using a little butter to grease the paper.
Mix the flour, sugar, salt, crushed rice (crispies) together in a bowl.  Add the butter and cut it together.  You can use a pastry cutter or two knives.  Cut the mixture until it forms a crumb like texture.
Pour the crumbs into the baking pan and press into the pan until it's packed on the bottom.
Bake for 12 min.  Turn the pan in the oven and bake for another 10 or so.  Until the crust is golden at the edges.
Remove from oven and cool (you can turn off the oven now)

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup Lyle's Golden Syrup
1 tsp fresh lemon juice (I didn't have any lemon so I had to leave this out)
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 tsp salt (plus more for sprinkling)

Combine the sugar, water and Golden syrup in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  Heat together and let it come to a boil.  Do not stir it any more.

Using a candy thermometer, continue to boil the mixture until it reaches 300 degrees F.  Remove from heat and let it sit for a minute, until it stops bubbling.
Carefully add in the cream (this will cause a huge bubbling up to happen again), whisk it together well and then add in the sweetened condensed milk.  Whisk and return to heat.  Might want to turn the heat down a bit now because this can burn easily (yup that means I burned it a little bit) and continue whisking gently.  Add the salt.  Let this mixture come up to 240 degrees F.  Remove from the heat and pour over the shortbread.  Sprinkle a little more salt over the caramel layer.

Let this set for at least two hours.

6 oz. dark chocolate
3 tbsp unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter together over simmering water (could microwave if you wanted).  Once melted together.  Pour over the set caramel.  Spread evenly.  Let this set.  You might want to refridgerate it for a while as well.

Cut the bars once everything has set.  Cutting works well if they are cold.  You might want to wipe off the knife in between cutting or even butter the knife a little bit.

Cardamom Coffee Cake Downer

Yesterday blew chunks.
It shouldn't have blown chunks.  It should have been amazing.  I'm on vacay from work, we've been doing fun things, we even got the bikes out yesterday and started tuning up and biking a little bit.  But the day just totally blew for me despite everything else.
Let me reverse for a moment... back to 1994.
I'm in University.  I have the Moosewood Cookbook as my favourite, most beloved and (nearly) most used cookbook.  I'm broke.  I want to make this cake.  Cardamom Coffee Cake it's called.  It calls for a whole pound of butter, 2 whole cups of sour cream and 4 eggs.  I'm broke.  I can't spend that kind of money on one cake.
Fast Forward to 2011.  I still want to make the cake.  I'm not as broke but I ain't rollin' in it.  I'm still balking at the pound of butter.  I decide that nothing sounds better to me than a lovely, light, cakey coffee cake infused with cardamom spice.  I decide to go ahead and try it because the world is potentially falling apart and this could be my last chance... and I have to use up this damned sour cream.  I make the cake and.... it BITES!
yeah... totally BITES.  Total and utter disappointment.  My poor family suffered the rest of the day with me in a depressed angry funk.  I had two people taste test it for me just so that I know I'm not crazy.  Those people told me that it wasn't as bad as I've described but I'm sure that they're just being nice.

Here is the synopsis:
1.  I think that it simply has too much butter.
2.  I think that brown sugar might not be the way to go.
3.  I think that between the brown sugar and nut mixture and the butter in the cake it's too overpowering and the cardamom is completely lost.
4.  It needs more cardamom!

I don't want to include the recipe because I'm angry at it (ok and yeah... I adapted it a little bit).  I can't eat the cake because I'm mad.
Moosewood is still my favourite cookbook and I've made some lovely desserts from the book.  This one however, won't be a repeat for me.  Ugh... I've gotta find something good to bake to make up for this disappointment and boost my bruised ego.

Cardamom Coffee Cake adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook

1 lb (2 cups) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups packed light brown sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp powdered cardamom
2 cups sour cream (yogurt or buttermilk)

Nut Mixture:
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour a 10 inch tube pan.
Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.
In a large bowl beat the butter and brown sugar until it's light and fluffy.  Add in the eggs (one at a time, mixing each one in) and then the vanilla.  Beat well.
Add the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream - beginning and ending with the flour.  Don't overmix.
Combine the nut mixture in a bowl.
Spoon 1/3 of the batter into the pan.  Sprinkle with half the nut mixture.  Spoon another 1/3 of the batter over that.  Sprinkle the other half of the nut mixture.   Spoon the remainder of the cake on top.  Spread lightly.
Bake about 1 1/4 hrs or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for about 15 min. or so and then remove to a wire rack to cool.

Of Japan/Of Tomorrow and Of the Past... Shrove Tuesday Crepes

What can I say?
What can anyone say?  There has been so much said already.  There are so many images.  Images that you never want to have in your head let alone have to live through.  My heart is broken for Japan and for the millions of people who are there right now in shock and mourning and the millions more who are suffering the grief all over our planet.  I will be honest with you, it's very hard right now not to feel powerless.  There really is nothing that I can do at the moment but pray.  I will give my money towards some kind of help but I'm waiting for the dust to settle and to see what kind of organisations move in before I start giving (that sounds bad but really I want to make sure that I'm giving money responsibly... that's all) and in the meantime I send love, in thought and emotion.  Because right now I just do not know what else to do.
My thankfulness for my life here doesn't make it any easier to hear about what's going halfway around the world.  However, I do have a family and a life here that needs to be lived as well.  Times like these should make us even more determined to do all that we can with the time that we are given.  Whether or not you believe in an afterlife is beside the fact.  Every moment of every day gives us an opportunity.  We can live in it, with all the joy, pain, love, disappointment, anticipation, frustration, contentment and so on.  Or we can choose to shut it out and live for some future time - I'll feel better, I'm too tired, it's too late, it's not that important anyway... you know the phrases - that may or may not ever come.
If my world ended today I know that I would find a lot of comfort in knowing that I did as much as I could to make the most of every day, the big things and the little, the close friends and the far, and that I lived my life in a way that truly reflected how I felt about the world around me.
Yeah, I know... Corny... whatever... there it is.
P.S.  I made crepes.  I made them a week late.  I know that shrove Tuesday was last week but last week I was working and this week I'm on March Break.  So we had crepes and sauteed pears and chocolate sauce.  I prefer these without the chocolate and with Maple Syrup instead.  I would also gladly have these crepes with something savoury and yummy in the middle.  Hmmmm...

Crepes with Pears, Apples and Chocolate Sauce
serves 4

1 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
300 ml milk
1 egg + 1 yolk
dash of vanilla
2 tbsp melted butter

2 small apples, cored and cut into thick slices
2 pears, cored and cut into thick slices
2 tbsp brown sugar
butter for frying

Heat a large caste iron frying pan until it's quite hot and then turn down the heat to just below medium.
Combine the flour and sugar in a large bowl.  Mix and add in the milk, egg, egg yolk, vanilla and melted butter.  Mix just until incorporated.
Add some oil to the pan.
Add about a 1/2 cup of the crepe mixture at a time.  Quickly move the pan around so that the liquid can spread out a bit more.  Cook for just a couple of minutes on each side.  The crepe should be golden brown on each side.  Remove to a warm plate.

In the same hot frying pan (if you wish to use another by all means do).  Add a little butter to the pan and then throw in the fruit.  Do make sure that the pan is quite hot - you don't want to cook the fruit for long otherwise it will turn into applesauce (not a bad thing but rather quite a different thing altogether).  Add in the brown sugar and toss carefully.  Let them cook fast, 2 or 3 minutes should do it and then place them in a bowl.

In a small bowl combine about a half cup of cream, 1 heaping tbsp unsalted butter and about 50 gr. dark chocolate.  Fit the bowl over a pot of lightly simmering water (don't let the water touch the bottom of the bowl).  Heat the chocolate mixture until the chocolate is melted.

To serve:
Place a crepe on your plate.
Place the fruit in the crepe and fold the crepe in half.
Drizzle chocolate sauce (or maple syrup) over the crepe.  If you want to get really extravagant here add an little whipped cream.
Say 'Thank You for life, love and all things fat'

The Sugar Bush and March Break

It's March Break.  Middle of March.  The clocks have gone forward.  The end of Winter approaches.

Things we have already done:
Gotten nails done (a girlie treat with Kid #1) and had a lovely Thai lunch with friends.
Seen Rango with the kiddies and had a great pub dinner.

That's only two days in.  Today we decided to head out to the sugar bush.  There is one close(ish) to my parents place and so we all met up.

Now I have to admit that I don't have a whole lot of experience with the sugar shack.  Even though I lived in Montreal for seven years I didn't go to an 'out of the city' sugarbush.  They held something at the Atwater Market for us city folk who didn't have the means to get themselves out of the city and get to a proper sugaring off.  Let me tell you though, it's no joke in Quebec.  These sugar bush things are serious.  Legend (that's what it amounts to for me as yet) has it that one can go for a sugaring off and get endless amounts of food and maple syrup to go on it.  The food is even cooked with maple syrup.  There is the obligatory making candy with hot syrup and cold snow.  There is the horse driven wagon riding... it sounds amazing.

The Sugar Bush that we went to had pancakes.  Not cooked with maple syrup but certainly served on the side (it was cold though - boo - warm syrup is so much better).  We had the wagon ride though.

Yeah - that's me with Kid #1, Kid #2 and my DAD.

What made it even better was that wagon ride was led by a family friend so my Dad got a good chat in as well.

We saw how  they collect the syrup from the trees.  Both in the old way...

And in the new way....

And how they boil the stuff down to make it into proper maple syrup...

What can I say.  On a beautiful, sunny day at the end of winter in Ontario can you think of something more quintessentially Canadian to do?  Someday we'll drive ourselves down to Quebec and find our way to a big time sugaring off and I'll finally find out if all of the legends are true.  For now, we got a great walk in the fresh (brisk) air, met with family and ran into a friend and indulged in some pancakes and all around felt utterly and completely Canadian.... I even bought some stuff to bring home (hehehe... recipes to follow...)

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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.

My Favourite Cookbooks

  • Naparima Girls High School Cookbook
  • The Silver Palate Cookbook
  • More-with-Less Cookbook
  • Moosewood Cookbook

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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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