Rhubarb and Mascarpone

I’m in a Starbucks, sitting at a window seat from which my field of vision spills out like the sun onto a lightly bleached lower Spadina. It’s hard to believe the Thursday rain, the February pain. It feels, even if it’s not the case, that summer’s speaking. It just feels that way. But I still have my soft-spun sweater on, my hair still cascades my lower back. No, my closet hasn’t moulted, and my hair’s still a winter mane. I might be hesitant. I just might.

What am I waiting for? Rather, what do I hope awaits me? Or take hope from the equation and let’s be real.

What now? What then?

If I wished time would stop, it wouldn’t, not for me. Because the clouds won’t stay up forever. They all fall from their little heaven. Because seeds don’t sleep forever. They all come back alive from the dead.

Yes, there’s a foot still for the asparagus to grow. A few more hues until the rhubarb is red. A couple nights before the ramps go hide. And a blink of eye before fiddlehead becomes fern.

Yes, time’s on its way. And since it won’t stop for me, then it may as well be. Be, for me. Yes, I know it. It’s coming, a time just for me. I just don’t know when.

Like spring. Like seasons. We know it’s coming. Just not exactly when.

Caramelized Rhubarb, Whipped Mascarpone, Dried Rose
Caramelized Rhubarb, Whipped Mascarpone, Dried Rose

Homemade Mascarpone

  • 500 ml heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  1. In a sauce pan, heat the cream gently to a low simmer (180°F), and keep it at that state for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
  2. Add the lemon juice and continue simmering and stirring for another 3 minutes. Be careful not to boil the cream.
  3. Remove from the heat and pour into a mason jar for a loose mascarpone, or pour into a sieve with a double-layer of cheesecloth set over a large bowl if you want a thicker consistency.
  4. Cool completely then refrigerate overnight to set. Discard any excess whey that may have accumulated. This will keep nicely for about a week in your fridge.

Caramelized Rhubarb

  • 1 bunch, about 2lbs fresh rhubarb, cut into 2-inch batons
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • Pinch sea salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F with the rack in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Toss the rhubarb with oil, sugar, and salt.
  3. Arranger the rhubarb, concave side down on the baking sheet. Sprinkle any leftover sugar on top.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes or until caramelized and flattened.
  5. Cool completely and store in the fridge.

Dried Rose Dust

  • 1/2 c dried rosehips
  1. Place the rosehips in a clean spice grinder and blitz ti as fine as possible.
  2. Gently tap the powder through a fine sieve and discard any larger bits or leftover fuzz.
  3. Store the passed rose powder in a small clean jar and seal tightly. Use within a month.

Caramelized Rhubarb with Whipped Mascarpone, and Dried Rose

serves 6-8

  • Caramelized Rhubarb
  • Homemade Mascarpone
  • Dried Rose Dust
  • honey, preferably lavender or orange blossom
  • your favourite granola
  1. Lift the rhubarb gently from the baking dish and arrange on serving plates.
  2. Whip the mascarpone to stiff peaks (I used the loose version). Spoon dollops of this onto the rhubarb.
  3. Add a light dusting of rose by tapping it through a sieve over the mascarpone.
  4. Garnish with granola and a generous drizzle of honey.
  5. Serve immediately.

Ube Cheesecake

Quickie post today, recipe only.

Ube Cheesecake with Toasted Coconut Crust and Blackberries
Ube Cheesecake with Toasted Coconut Crust and Blackberries

Ube Cheesecake with Toasted Coconut Crust and Blackberries

Makes a moderately tall, 9-inch cake – serves 12

Toasted Coconut Crust:

  • 1 c unsweetened dessicated coconut
  • 1 sleeve Maria biscuits, roughly broken up
  • 1/3 c coconut oil, melted
  1. In a skillet, stir the coconut over medium heat until golden, crisp, and aromatic. Transfer to a plate, spreading it out evenly, and let cool completely.
  2. Add the toasted coconut and Maria biscuits to a blender or food processor and blend do a sand consistency.
  3. Transfer the crumb mixture to a bowl and stir in the coconut oil until the mixture resembles damp sand.
  4. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper and press the crumb mixture firmly into the pan to form the crust.
  5. Chill the crust thoroughly in the fridge, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  6. Bake the crust for 20 minutes, or until golden and lightly browned along the edge.
  7. Cool completely while you make the cheesecake batter.

Ube Cheesecake Filling

  • 2 small ube or purple sweet potato – scrubbed clean and steamed until tender
  • 750 g 2% cottage cheese
  • 500 g full fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 2/3 c sugar
  • 1 tsp coconut extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, with a rack set at the lowest part of the oven and a rack at the center. Place a sheet pan on the lower rack.
  2. Break the steamed ube into pieces and blend on LOW SPEED until smooth and thick with the cottage cheese. (Vigorous blending may destroy the protein structure of the curds and prevent your cheesecake from setting properly. You’ll know you’ve taken it too far when you’ve essentially liquefied the mixture.)
  3. Beat the cream cheese, sugar, coconut extract, and vanilla extract in a large bowl until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until smooth.
  4. Pour the ube mixture into the cream cheese mixture and stir until thoroughly combined.
  5. Once your oven is preheated, pour water into the preheated sheet pan (step 1) to quickly create steam.
  6. Pour the cheesecake batter into the prepared crust, place on another sheet pan, and bake on the top rack for 50-60 minutes, or until the edge is slightly puffed and only the center has a slight jiggle.
  7. Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake to cool until warm enough to touch with the oven door slightly ajar.
  8. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before covering with foil and chilling completely in the fridge (preferably overnight).
  9. Run a thin blade between the cheesecake edge and sides of the pan before unmolding.
  10. Top with blackberries, whipped coconut cream, diced mango, or any other topping that you feel like.
  11. Slice with a sharp chef’s knife dipped in hot water, cleaning and reheating the blade between each slice.

White Elephant – the Recipes

Three weeks ago in the midst of exams, presentations, and papers due I drew up a menu. Not just for fun, though I do that too, but for the biggest dinner I’ve ever hosted. A baker’s dozen, myself included. For Christmas, a week before. For a mismatched squad, one who brings peanut butter to every gathering, one who polishes off casseroles like a legitimate black hole, one who makes killer salads but cannot have tomatoes nor chocolate, one who ran out of luck with lactose but still hasn’t gotten over milk, and a handful more.

When I shared the night’s menu on where else but good ol’ Insta, I received a few inquiries of whether the menu was for a restaurant opening in the new year, or for a pop-up. Unfortunately, neither. At least for the short and foresee-able future.

As for the actual night, three questions passed around the table along with the bread and butter (with my answers) were:

1. What is your favourite Christmas carol?

For those of you who know me, this question basically forces me to pick a piece of straw out of a haystack. I do not like Christmas music, it must be the bells. If I must, I’d probably choose one in a minor key, so Mary Did You Know. Silent Night isn’t bad either. O Holy Night has lots of potential, might be my top pick for next year. But that’s next year.

2. What was your 2017 highlight?

This question had me. 2017 was huge for me. So blessed, so moved, so unexpected. I started the year in Baltimore, managing the most challenging project for which I’ve ever taken full responsibility (at the time), outside of the familiarity that is Canada. In May, with but a week’s time for transition, I returned to Waterloo and began what I thought would be just another term. Little did I know, it was this past summer when I’d meet some of my closest and most inspiring friends. I popped back in Vancouver at the end of the summer, where I was humbled by the amazing work God is doing in the lives of the young adults I used to mentor. Came September, and returning for a second school term in a row, I thought I was headed towards a sure-fire burnout. Instead, I fell in love with a ministry which is so real, so powerful, so alive. In awe at how God has orchestrated every detail this year. Oh, and did I mention that I’ve gotten my degree? Yeah, that too.

3. Do you like eggnog?

I’ve never tried it until the day after the dinner (when I learned, to my surprise, that there were three cartons of the stuff in my fridge). I made it into ice cream, and put it on apple crisp. I liked it that way. Still don’t think I’d drink it straight though. I sneak it into my mum’s coffee. Kevin likes it though, especially with a glug of Bailey’s slipped in.

Now, enough about me. Let’s get down to the grub. All of these were featured on December 18, 2017.

Since God chose you

to be the holy people he loves,

you must clothe yourselves

with tenderhearted mercy, kindness,

humility, gentleness, and patience. 

Make allowance for each other’s faults,

and forgive anyone who offends you.

Remember,

the Lord forgave you,

so you must forgive others. 

Above all, clothe yourselves with love,

which binds us all together

in perfect harmony.

Colossians 3:12-14

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Salt and Pepper Peanuts and Broiled Dates with Prosciutto

Salt and Pepper Peanuts – makes 2 cups

  • 2 cups raw red skinned peanuts
  • 1 large garlic clove, grated to a fine paste
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground five-spice
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  1. In a colander, rinse the peanuts under cold water thoroughly.
  2. Transfer the rinsed peanuts to a large microwave safe bowl and toss to evenly coat with the remaining ingredients.
  3. Microwave on HIGH for 3 minutes. Stir, and microwave 1 additional minute at a time, stirring in between each minute, until completely dry, golden, and fragrant.
  4. Cool completely then store in an airtight container at room temperature. Can be made up to 2 weeks in advance.

Broiled Dates with Prosciutto – serves 12

  • 12 medjool dates, pitted
  • 4 slices prosciutto
  • espresso balsamic reduction*
  1. To make the espresso balsamic reduction, combine 1 tbsp espresso, 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, and 2 tsp honey in a small saucepan until sticky. Cool completely.
  2. Cut the prosciutto slices into four lengthwise. Scrunch each piece up and stuff them into the dates’ cut.
  3. Broil or bake at 425 degrees F until the dates are caramelized on top.
  4. Transfer to a plate, drizzle with the espresso balsamic reduction. Serve immediately.

Young Greens with Yuzu and Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette – serves 6 (double up for 12)

  • 2 tbsp yuzu tea preserves (marmalade will work in a cinch)
  • 1 tbsp good mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 8 cups young salad greens (mesclun, baby arugula, mache, Bibb lettuce, are all good)
  1. In a large salad bowl, whisk together all ingredients except for the greens until creamy and emulsified.
  2. Add the salad greens and toss until evenly coated. Serve immediately.

Butternut Mac and Cheese – serves 12

  • 1 small butternut squash, halved and seeded
  • 1 white onion, peeled and halved
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • 200 ml heavy cream
  • dash of grated nutmeg
  • 6 thick slices bacon, diced
  • 2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 500 g rice elbow macaroni (or other fun, short, chunky shape)
  • 300 g extra old white cheddar, grated
  1. Place the garlic cloves, squash and onion halves cut side down on a parchment lined baking tray and bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes, 1 hour, and 45 minutes respectively (or until tender). Let cool slightly.
  2. Place the roasted vegetables in a blender with the cream and nutmeg. Blend until completely smooth (add a splash of water if necessary to keep things moving). Season well and set aside.
  3. In a large pan, fry the bacon on medium heat until well rendered. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add the sliced onions to the pan and fry on high heat until browned and soft. Remove from the heat.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil Season heavily with salt and add the pasta. Stir until the water returns to a simmer. Cook until completely tender – 2 to 3 minuted more than the recommended time on the package.
  5. SAVE THE PASTA WATER!!! Fish out the pasta with a slotted spoon and add it to the large pan with the caramelized onions. Add the squash puree and bacon and stir over medium heat, adding a ladle of pasta water at a time until the mixture comes together but is loose, almost risotto-like. (Make sure you have enough liquid in the mixture, otherwise it will be dry after baking.)
  6. Transfer to a large casserole dish and top with the cheese. Bake at 400 degrees F for 30-40 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and golden. If the top hasn’t browned by then, just broil it for 3-5 minutes until it’s crisp and golden.
  7. Serve immediately.
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Maple Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Way Too Much Bacon

Maple Glazed Brussels Sprouts with way to much Bacon – serves 12

  • 3 lb small Brussels sprouts, halved
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 400 g thick sliced bacon, diced
  • 1/4 c maple syrup
  • 1/4 c balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 c soy sauce
  1. Toss the Brussels sprouts with the oil and sea salt and spread onto a baking sheet. Roast for 20-25 minutes at 425 degrees F until browned and tender.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large pan fry up the bacon until crisp and rendered. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
  3. Add the roasted Brussels sprouts to the pan and fry for 1-2 minutes on medium heat. Add the maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, an soy sauce. Cook and stir until the sprouts are coated and the glaze turns sticky. Return the bacon to the pan and toss to coat.
  4. Serve immediately.
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176-hr Wind Cured Roast Duck

WARNING: this recipe demands a certain level of commitment. Please proceed at your own discretion.

176-hour Wind Cured Roast Duck – serves 8

  • 1 fresh young duck, (or previously frozen and defrosted)
  • 1 orange, zest only
  • 1 tbsp ground Chinese five spice
  • 1 tbsp szechuan peppercorns, toasted and ground
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup whiskey
  1. Rinse the duck thoroughly under cold water and pat dry with kitchen paper towel. Set aside.
  2. In a food processor, combine the orange zest, spices, salt, and sugar. Pulse until a wet sand forms.
  3. Brush the duck all over with whiskey, then rub generously inside and out with the spice curing mixture. Patting any extra on the breasts and in the cavity.
  4. If temperatures will remain under -4 degrees C, transfer the duck onto a rack and place it in a cardboard box, uncovered, outside, to cure for 7 days. Otherwise, place on a rack on top of a baking sheet in your fridge for a week (this will not be as good, just sayin’).
  5. On the eighth day, take your duck inside. No need to wait for it to defrost. Rinse under cold water and rub off any spices still clinging onto the skin. Pat dry completely and score the skin on the breasts at 1 cm intervals.
  6. Place back on the rack and in a roasting dish. Roast at 275 degrees F for 7 hours. Increase the temperature to 350 degrees for the last hour, the skin should be very crisp and richly browned all over. RESERVE THE RENDERED FAT!!!
  7. Let rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.
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Thyme and Duck Fat Roast Spuds

Thyme and Duck Fat Roast Spuds – serves 12

  • 18 medium Yukon gold potatoes, washed and scrubbed
  • rendered fat from 1 slow-roasted duck (recipe above)
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • fine sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • sage pesto, thinned with olive oil (regular pesto recipe, just use half sage half basil)
  1. Place the potatoes in a large pot. Add enough cold water to cover and season the water heavily with kosher salt.
  2. Bring the pot to a simmer and continue for 20-25 minutes or until the potatoes are completely tender. Drain.
  3. Place a potato on a flat surface and press down with the bottom of a plate until the potato is about 1 inch thick. Transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining potatoes.
  4. Season the potatoes with salt, pepper, and sprinkle over the thyme leaves. Top with a spoonful of duck fat.
  5. Roast at 415 degrees F until crisp golden, about 15-20 minutes. Flip the potatoes over, season again with salt, pepper, and thyme, and continue roasting for about 10-15 minutes until the other side is crisp golden.
  6. Top with the thinned sage pesto and serve immediately.
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Sweet Cheese Plate

NOTE: this isn’t really a recipe, just a bunch of things that go well with certain cheeses. Rule I generally go by: a) have odd-numbers of cheese types (1, 3, 5, or 7), b) cut the cheese before your guests do so they have something to follow, c) have at least one cheese that you’ve never tried or you’re sure your guests have never tried.

Sweet Cheese Plate – serves as much or as little as you’d like

  • Chevre or goat cheese – honeycomb, black pepper, candied kumquat, walnuts
  • Manchego – persimmon, roasted almonds, currant preserves, dried cranberries
  • St. Andre – grapes, dark chocolate covered espresso beans, roasted hazelnuts, bosc pears
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Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies and Cardamom Rye Apple Crumble

Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies – makes 24 to 36 depending on size

  • 1 c butter, softened
  • 1 c packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 10 ml vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 3 ml fine sea salt
  • 1 c white chocolate, chopped
  • 1 c dried cranberries, de-clumped
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F on convection bake.
  2. Cream together the butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla until the sugar is no longer gritty.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the creamed mixture to the flour and mix until a rough dough forms.
  4. Add the chocolate and cranberries. Mix, until a dough forms once again. Cover and chill for 2 hours or overnight
  5. Use an ice cream scoop to help with portion size, scoop mounds of cookie dough onto non-stick cookie sheets (or line a regular with parchment paper). Gently press down on the rounded tops so that they are evenly thick throughout.
  6. Bake for 9 to 10 minutes until edges are just starting to turn golden. Let cool for 10 minutes until transferring them to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Cardamom Rye Apple Crumble – serves 12

For the apple filling:

  • 3 lbs small local apples, UNPEELED, cored and thinly sliced (my current favourite is Ida Red)
  • juice from 1 lime
  • 2/3 c packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 c corn starch
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt

For the crumble:

  • 1 c butter, softened
  • 1 c oat flour
  • 1 1/2 c dark rye flour
  • 1 c instant rolled oats
  • 1 c packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tbsp fine sea salt
  1. For the apples, sift together the brown sugar, corn starch, 1 tbsp cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl.
  2. Add the apples and lime juice and toss with your hands until evenly combined.
  3. To make the crumble, place all ingredients in a stand mixer and mix on medium low speed with the paddle attachment until clumped and crumbly.
  4. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, with the rack placed in the lowest part of the oven.
  5. Arrange the apple slices as tightly as possible in a deep 9 or 10-inch pie dish. Pour over any juices left at the bottom of the bowl. Carefully pile on the crumble mixture. (This is a ridiculously massive apple crumble, I am aware, but it’s worth it!).
  6. Place the pie dish on a large baking sheet and place on the lowest rack in the oven. Bake for 80-90 minutes, or until the juices bubble over and the top is completely crisp.
  7. Cool for 10-15 minutes before serving, or cool completely. It will stay crisp for at least 3 days at room temperature, so you can definitely make this ahead.

So there, all the recipes that went into one dinner.

Excuse My Political Incorrectness

“History is the running record of mankind trudging like a blind idiot through an endless pile of retrospectively unenlightened shit. Like Mike in Suits, if you will.”

A few mornings ago I woke up to an article from the National Post titled “Everything is offensive: Here are Canada’s other politically incorrect place names” in which the writer Tristin Hopper wittily drew the parallel between many of Canada’s key historical figures and your obliviously racist grandmother. The article was written in response to a dispute last last week brought up by the Ontario elementary teacher’s union to eradicate all John A. Macdonald references in school names.

The reason for this?

JMac, the first Prime Minister of Canada (long dead for 126 years), is now being called ‘the architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples’ and according to some, should thus be whitewashed from public memory. Felipe Pareja, the teacher who brought up the issue claimed that “it might be difficult for Indigenous students and teachers to go to a school named after someone who he says was complicit in the genocide of Indigenous people.”

While it was ruled that the right to remove or keep the the school names remains with individual school boards across Ontario, this is hardly the first (or last) we’ll be hearing about our ‘politically incorrect’ past. Statues of Confederate ‘heroes’ are being torn down across the US as modern society repaints them as white supremacists, slave-owners, and sexist scum of history. Toronto’s own Ryerson University is also under scrutiny as Ryerson becomes brandished as the pioneer of residential schools designed to assimilate Indigenous children.

It seems that North American societies are dead set on disowning much of its past, retaining only the scraps that are politically correct, which begs the question: what exactly is politically correct?

Practical answer: not much.

Dictionary.com answer: conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.

(If you had to read that definition more than once, don’t feel bad, I did that too. That sentence structure is pretty convoluted.)

But history is extremely offensive.

History is the running record of mankind (no I will not instead use the word ‘humankind’) trudging like a blind idiot through an endless pile of retrospectively unenlightened shit. Like Mike in Suits, if you will.

We’ve hated, discriminated, misunderstood, persecuted, tortured, feared, abused, robbed, and competed against our brothers and sisters for as long as we’ve existed, and it still happens now. The West’s insatiable appetite for cheap oil has driven us to rob the people of Equatorian Guinea of their access to acceptable standards of living, while pampering the corrupt Obiang clan to insupportable excess. Demand for cheap textiles from countries in Southeast Asia means that women are paid such dismal wages that they are structurally forced to work as prostitutes in order to make a living.

And here we are, making a fuss about something that happened over a century ago. I’m not saying that we should forget about what we have done here in Canada. I’m saying the exact opposite – that we need to recognize that it’s not about being politically correct or incorrect, but rather about reconciliation and advancement. And changing a couple of school names, or all of them as the proof by induction suggests, gets us nowhere near either of those.

Changing ‘British Columbia’ to ‘Province A’ does nothing to atone for our colonial past, to change the fact that Christopher Columbus came with guns and ships, and cheated the First Nations people of their birthright. In fact, changing it to ‘Province A’ might lead us to forget this segment before we can truly address it and make right our wrongs.

Making such a big splash about JMac also drowns out more pressing topics (given our society’s goldfish attention span), such as the lack of clean water in roughly two-thirds of water systems in Aboriginal communities.

Yes, I get it, changing a name is quick and satisfying, quoting how much we’ve spent on infrastructure makes us look big and generous. But these issues are deeper than that, and while it may be out of good intentions that these kinks on the surface, the damage may incur not all that far down the road may have our grand-children thinking we were politically unenlightened buffoons.

Blessed are the peacemakers:

for they shall be called

the children of God.

Matthew 5:9

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Niagara Lavender Peach Crostata with Buckwheat Crust

Buckwheat Pastry

  • 125 g buckwheat flour
  • 125 g pastry flour
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3/4 c cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 2/3 c cold water
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  1. In a food processor, pulse together the flours, salt, and sugar until thoroughly combined.
  2. Add all of the butter, and pulse 3-5 times until you’re left with pea-sized chunks that are coated in flour – do not over-process!!
  3. Stir together the water and vinegar, and drizzle it in while pulsing until the dough comes together into a single mass. You may need a couple tablespoons more depending on the mood of your flour.
  4. Dump the dough out onto a piece of clingfilm spread on a clean surface. Dust lightly and pat into an inch-thick round. Wrap tightly and chill for at least an hour or overnight.
  5. Dust your clean working surface generously with all purpose flour. Take out your dough from the fridge, unwrap it, and dust it on all sides with flour so it doesn’t stick.
  6. Working quickly so it doesn’t soften too much, roll the dough out into a 1/4-inch thick rectangle. With the short edge parallel to your body. Fold the top third down towards the center, and the bottom third up towards the center as well to form 3 layers, gently brushing away any excess flour with a pastry brush. Fold the rectangle in half crosswise so you have roughly a square, again brushing away any excess flour. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least an hour or overnight.
  7. Repeat step 6.
  8. The pastry now has 36 layers, and can either be frozen for up to 2 months, or 1 week in the fridge, tightly wrapped.

Niagara Lavender Peach Crostata

  • 6-8 slightly underripe Niagara peaches, sliced (if you can’t get these in your area, seek out any local peach or nectarine that has a bolder flavour and some acidity)
  • scant 3/4 c sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp water as egg wash
  • white sugar, as needed for crust
  • 1 tsp culinary grade lavender
  • 1 Buckwheat Pastry (above)
  1. Preheat the oven to 365 degrees F, with the rack placed on the lowest level.
  2. In a large bowl, toss together the peaches and sugar. Set aside.
  3. Roll out the pastry dough to a 1/4-inch round (it doesn’t have to be perfect). Roll it up gently around your rolling pin to pick it up and drape it onto a 10-inch fluted pie tin with a removable bottom (9-inch works as well, you’ll just have a taller tart). Gently ease the dough into the corners of the tin, leaving the edges hanging.
  4. Fill the lined tin with the peach and sugar mixture. Fold the hanging edges over the filling, pressing gently to hold it in place.
  5. Brush the edges with egg wash and sprinkle generously with sugar.
  6. Place the tin on a baking sheet (to catch any juices) and bake on the lowest rack for at least 60-75 minutes, or until the crust is completely golden brown and crisp when tapped.
  7. Serve warm or cold with cream, whipped to soft peaks with some vanilla paste.
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Niagara Lavender Peach Crostata with Softly Whipped Chantilly

Enjoy!

Does ice cream make kids smarter?

I enjoy reading The Economist during dinnertime, a source of convenient insight and quick information that I generally trust to have some level of class and be reasonably unbiased. In the rare cases where opinion is wheeled onto center stage on a trolley, it would be clearly labelled “THIS IS AN OPINION. NOT FACT”, so nobody unknowingly swallows it to end up suffering an ill reaction. But a couple weeks ago, an article The beneficial effects of ice-cream on intelligence – a delicious correlation left me in want. Sure, it reminded me that I hadn’t had ice cream in weeks, but the article straight up from its title, made me spit out half of my dinner (a confit tuna tartine, if you were wondering).

It’s like that moment when you hear the bubble containing your prince charming pops and out hops a silly google-eyed frog.

First, correlation is correlation is JUST correlation. And not in a million years, not EVER, will it mean causation. Consider two statements:

  1. Red cars are more likely to be involved in car accidents than any other colour.
  2. Driving a red car is more dangerous than driving a car of any other colour.

Both say the same thing, right?

Not quite. The first one is a statement about correlation and the second is about causation. A correlation acknowledges a pattern in an observation. It is a description, and is completely acceptable. However, the second is a statement of a causation, that the colour red itself has an influence on a driver’s likelihood of getting into a car accident. This is not acceptable, because obviously if the colour red really made a car more dangerous, all the red cars would be recalled. In this case, it is actually psychology at work as seeing the colour red tends to arouse excitement and aggression in people, and drivers of red cars usually pick that colour because its boldness resonates with them. I’m probably wrong with this last explanation, but forgive me, I’m no psychologist.

Now, back to ice cream. From the graph, one could say that for most countries higher per capita consumption of ice cream tend to be observed with a higher PISA educational performance test score. But by stating that eating ice cream somehow makes you smarter, they’re implying a cause and effect relationship that is found not even in the most all-things-fit dietitian’s handbook. But of course, most people would’ve already headed out to grab a tub of Breyers or Ben and Jerry’s upon reading the title.

But let me make this clear, despite my burning desire for the opposite to be true: ice cream does not make you smarter.

Scooping back into the graph, you’ll see a bunch of uber-smart Asian kids from rich East Asian countries (Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong) who are way too smart for the amount of ice cream they eat. (Them Asian parents are strict!) Some rich white countries who are eating way too much ice cream for their brain to absorb (brainfreeze!). And places like Peru, Brazil, Germany, and Canada where the kids are eating just the right amount of ice cream for their IQ.

That definitely made logical sense to me.

Said no one ever.

So how do we explain this weird semi-solid pattern? I’m no economist, or social scientist, or education specialist or whatever, but I do know a thing or two about ice cream, so let’s start there.

There are a few things that ice cream needs: ice, and cream. See? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure stuff out.

Now ice** does this inconvenient thing where it melts, so in order to have ice (or ice cream), we need refrigerators. Refrigerators are one of the best things that came out of the industrial revolution. They are typically quite pricey, and you’d only get one if there’s a reliable source of electricity in your house. Even now they are only widely distributed in fully industrialized countries. In India, for example, less than 10% of households have a refrigerator (only a portion of which would include a freezer). In the United States on the other hand, of those households below the poverty line (living off less than $1 per day per person), 97.8% have a refrigerator. In other words, the availability of refrigeration, depends on the presence and extent of a nation’s level of industrialization, wealth, and access to stable sources of electricity. This would explain why developing countries don’t eat much ice cream.

As for this cream thing, it comes from dairy cows which require tons of land. In East Asia, the population density index or number of people per square kilometer is between 336.33 for Japan and 7987.52 for Singapore. Compare that to the average minimum land requirement per dairy cow of 0.0074 square kilometers or maximum density of 135.91 cows per km2 , and you’ll realize that a single cow can be worth up to 59 people in terms of land requirements. Now you see why dairy’s just not that big a deal in East Asia, in fact, signing up to do dairy production in East Asia is probably the worst deal ever. The unavailability of dairy, and the fact that East Asian food cultures were virtually dairy-free for thousands of years largely explains why Asian kids don’t eat much ice cream.

For developed nations with tons of land for their population such as Australia, Sweden, Finland, and United States whose population densities range from 2.91 to 32.45, they have the perfect conditions for eating ice cream. And I mean, it’s ice cream, so sky’s the limit.

Now what about the middle countries that seem to follow the rule? A bunch of things, but the main relationship between ice cream consumption and educational test scores among kids I would say is this: since ice cream is more or less a product of wealth, industrialization, basic utilities and infrastructure, land, and western culture, it should be closely related to student test scores which shares much of the same inputs. (Again, East Asian culture would be an outlier as its emphasis on early education exceeds that of the already strong emphasis in Western culture. And land isn’t really an issue with learning.)

I don’t blame the Economist, really, after all the fun the article provided me. But now I wonder what they’ll post next – “Eating rice turns you Asian”? That’ll be a fun one.

**Ice cream used to be cream poured into a bucket surrounded by ice, have ice cream machines now, where you freeze the bowl so you don’t need chunks of ice.

For the foolishness of God

is wiser than human wisdom,

and the weakness of God

is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:25

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Orange Pekoe Ice Cream

Orange Pekoe Ice Cream – about 1 pint

  • 375 ml half-and-half or 18% cream
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 165 g brown sugar
  • 8 orange pekoe tea bags, cut open
  • 2 earl grey tea bags, cut open
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  1. Empty the tea bags into a small saucepot and pour in the cream. Bring almost to a simmer on medium low heat, stirring constantly.  Turn off the heat as soon as the mixture begins to boil. Remove from heat and place on a trivet. Cover and let steep for 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk together the yolk, sugar, and salt until pale.
  3. Strain the steeped cream through a fine sieve into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to prevent cooking the eggs.
  4. Strain the mixture through the sieve again back into the saucepot.
  5. Cook on medium low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat.
  6. Cool completely before chilling overnight in the fridge.
  7. Once the custard is completely chilled, churn in an ice cream machine for about 25-30 minutes, or until the consistency of buttercream frosting. (I like to churn it slightly past the creamy gelato stage because I find the ice creams tend to be a bit too solid and hard to scoop with the smaller amount of air incorporated.)
  8. Enjoy immediately (the biggest joy of making your own ice cream), or

The teas suggested here are just the beginning – I’ve made the same recipe using chai and thai tea as well, I just can’t tell which one I like better! Want to next-level it? Scoop it into a whisky glass and top with home-cooked boba! You’re welcome.

Equal and Distinct

It’s been a while since I last posted, so forgive me if my words seem a little rusty. And no, I haven’t forgotten the whole debate thing, but when I have a recipe that really excites me, I don’t want any distraction – I just want to get it on the table.

 

As many of you know, dessert-for-breakfast is a pretty standard card on my table. From apple pie, to pain au chocolat, to honey kasutera, and black sesame tang yuan – you see why I have no trouble waking up each morning.

This week, it’s been brownies. The first batch had crisp, crumbly edges and a dense interior. I ate these for breakfast for five days straight, and they were fine, but far from perfect. They were a little too tall, a little too crumbly, and they didn’t have the shiny craggle-top. So I changed a few things – same ingredients, same measurements, different technique, and these came out.

I tried to give as much detail as possible and as much reasoning as possible to demystify what makes a ‘perfect’ brownie and in a way that you’d remember. And by the way, these are gluten free – not because I was trying to go for a GF recipe, but because I love the combination of dark chocolate and buckwheat, and believe it or not, I find it much easier to work with.

“I have always loved you,”

says the Lord.

Malachi 1:2

Dark Chocolate Buckwheat Brownies

Dark Chocolate Buckwheat Brownies – makes 1 8 by 8 inch slab

  • 4 free range eggs, at room temperature
  • 180 ml packed golden sugar
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 60 ml olive oil
  • 125 ml unsalted butter
  • 300 ml chopped dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips
  • 240 ml buckwheat flour
  1. Place the eggs, sugar, salt, and olive oil in a mixing bowl and beat with a fork until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside. (Using a fork instead of a whisk or electric beaters will minimize the amount of air incorporated into the batter, giving you denser and fudgier brownies. The dissolved sugar that binds with the egg forms a skin as it dries during the beginning stages of baking – similar to the smooth shell of macarons.)
  2. In a small saucepot, melt the butter over medium low heat, swirling occasionally. As soon as the butter is melted, add all of the chocolate and turn off the heat. Let the mixture sit for 30 seconds, then stir gently for about 2 minutes until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. (Butter melts at 35°C, and chocolate melts at 30°C. Since the eggs only coagulate at around 60°C, you should have no problem combining the two directly.)
  3. Pour all of the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and mix with a fork until smooth and shiny. Add all of the buckwheat flour and fold it in gently with a fork, making sure you get rid of any lumps. (The finished batter should be smooth, shiny, and considerably runny for a brownie. Don’t worry, it only seems very runny because it has tons of melted fat and un-coagulated protein.)
  4. Line an 8-by-8 inch square baking pan with parchment extending up the sides and pour in the batter. Tap it firmly against your counter for 5-7 times to get rid of any air bubbles. (Air bubbles will rise to the surface during baking and break the craggly skin you want.)
  5. Allow the mixture to rest for 20-30 minutes as you preheat the oven to 325°F, placing the rack slightly above the middle of the oven. (Most recipes will give 350°F as the temperature setting, but the same ingredient transformations such as proteins denaturing, sugars rearranging, and starches gelatinizing can all happen at a lower temperature. In addition, the low temperature ensures that the cooking is more even since heat travels through mediums at a constant speed regardless of the difference between the surrounding temperature and the medium’s temperature, and a slower and lesser rise which will not disturb the delicate wafer-thin skin that forms at the top nor turn the brownie cake-y.)
  6. Bake for 28-30 minutes, or until the middle is puffed up, shiny, but still jiggles when you shake it gently. (The middle only puffs up because the moisture there is heated through, becoming steam which rises, but it is still wobbly which means that the starches haven’t completely expanded and set up. In other words, it’s cooked but not over-baked.)
  7. Place directly on the counter and cool to room temperature. If you would like, now is the time to sprinkle on some fleur de sel – while it’s hot and still giving off steam so it sticks. (You want to cool the brownie down as quickly as possible so that the center stops cooking immediately, contracts back down, and turns the smooth shiny skin into the craggle-top. Air is a poor conductor of heat, so cooling it on a rack is about as ineffective as you can do. If you have a marble countertop that is the best way to go.)
  8. Chill completely in the refrigerator, uncovered, for about 2 hours. Once chilled, lift the brownie slab from the pan by holding the extended sides of parchment. Cut into 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, or 16 slices – whatever you fancy. I like  to cut them into 6 pieces, makes the perfect breakfast size for me. (Chilling the brownies before slicing solidifies the butter and chocolate fats, giving you cleaner edges.)

You can bring them back to room temperature to serve once you’ve cut them, pop them in the microwave for 30 seconds so they get all gooey, or have them straight from the fridge. I prefer the last one.

Now, how many brownie points did I just earn?