Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Butter my butt and call me bread...

First of all, I apologize that you cannot *smell* the pictures below... they simply do not do justice to the breads I baked this week. While I've had some hits and misses in the kitchen lately, the one thing that has been coming out consistently well is the bread. And that makes me very happy.

I think this may be what Heaven smells like...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

These look good enough to eat...

I should not be this excited about some foam core, cross-stitch fabric and a couple of lightbulbs. But I am. 

This afternoon I went and got materials to build my own lightbox to help with taking better pictures. I got the lighting cord at Ikea, the bulbs at the hardware store and the rest (foam core, poster board, etc) at the dollar store. Total spent was about $20, the lightbulbs being $12 of that. Total time putting it together was about 30 minutes, and the end result gives me photos like this:

And this:

I used the tutorial found here to help build it. The finished product is about 18 inches tall and very light, so I can move it around easily and store it simply. The poster board serves as the backdrop (and/or to help bounce light from the back or sides as needed), but I can easily use a sheet, tea towels, etc as I wish. I'm so tickled by the outcome!!! Yay! 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lacking inspiration

Maybe having spent the better part of the month wrestling with a flu/cold bug is taking it's toll, but I'm trying to write out my menu/grocery list for the next two weeks, and I got nuthin'. Seriously.... just.... nothing.

Being the end(ish) of winter, there's practically nothing in season here and I'm soup-ed and stew-ed out for the season. I've been slowly working my way through things discovered in the depths of the freezer the past few weeks, and don't have a lot left to use. So... what to cook, then? I have no clue.... nothing sounds good.

Of course, watching Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations isn't exactly helping. Hmm... grilled lungs or a brain sandwich, perhaps? *hork*

Friday, February 24, 2012

Crappy pictures of other people's food

Came across this article this morning and had to share. Jason Kessler, otherwise known as The Nitpicker, has some things to say about your food photography skills. And mine. You may want to sit down.... he's not gentle about it. ;)

But he is entertaining, and quite right. "Believe me, there's a special place in hell for people who let calamari get cold just so they can achieve the Perfect Shot." One of the things I hesitate most about are the photos I put in my post. Too many? Too few? Are they good enough? Does anyone actually care about this?! I have a post on bread baking that I haven't posted yet simply because I'm not happy with the pictures I've taken of the loaves of bread I baked. While they were incredibly delicious and the apartment smelled like what I imagine Heaven does, they are decidedly not exciting on (digital) film. Feh.

I studied photography, for pete's sake... i should be able to do this better! Ah, yes, but I did black and white darkroom photography, not this new-fangled digital stuff! *waves her cane in the air, angrily* And if it's one thing the cookbooks of the 60's have taught me, food DOES NOT look good in black and white. Hell, I recently got the hang of white balance on the camera I use for most of my shots and felt like I'd earned a Nobel prize.

The above is why I positively salivate (and weep bitterly) when I see other bloggers offering workshops, such as the food styling and photographing workshop happening in Whistler, BC with Cannelle et Vanille, or the one offered (in France! *sob*) by Tartine Gourmande. But! I can't afford to run off to either BC or France to learn to take pretty pictures, so I'll just have to keep plugging away on my own ;) 

Next on my to do list is to build a DIY softbox to my picture taking needs. I don't have a lot of natural light in my apartment, and absolutely none in the kitchen (what i wouldn't give to have a kitchen window!) so i either need to shoot under fluorescent lighting or wait until the weekend for daylight, which isn't always convenient. Maybe a project for this coming weekend... that, and a lot more practise. I hear it makes perfect. ;) 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Say it with pancakes...

Today is Pancake Day! While I'm not Christian, I can certainly appreciate a day celebrating pancakes :D In honor of this wonderful holiday, we had flaxseed crepes with homemade applesauce:

Yay for pancakes!!! Thank you, that is all.

Baking with Julia: Chocolate Truffle Tartlets

I made these little beauties last week, and every time I say the word "tartlets", I do this (not the "call me Judy" bit, the repeating 'tartlet' bit. Be warned, slightly strong language at the beginning ;) :

Obscure Friends references aside, they came out perfectly! Being the more difficult of the two recipes for the month, I was a little worried at first, as I've never really made anything like this, but they really weren't that difficult to do. I set aside the afternoon so I wouldn't be rushed, and everything went quite smoothly. The crusts were probably the toughest part, as I'm not used to working quick with a dough like that. But I kept my finger tips cool by dipping them in ice water now and then, and tried hard not to overwork it... at the end they seemed a bit melty so I probably let them get too warm, but they baked up fine and the finished product was tasty, if a little crumbly.  

Here they are before baking:

And here is the end result, as B and I had them for dessert one evening:

I didn't take any pictures of the texture inside the tartlet because, frankly, I was too busy enjoying it. But the inside stays thick and gooey, much like a truffle, and paired with the whipped cream and berries they were incredibly delicious. The tartness of the strawberries went perfectly with the rich chocolate.

From one recipe, I had enough to make 8 tartlets, so we ate a few of them and the others were wrapped and frozen. Last night I unwrapped a few and let them thaw in the fridge, and they were just as good as the first night we had them. You can find the recipe with one of this week's hosts: A Whisk and A Spoon,  Spike Does Stuff, Good Eats 'n Sweet Treats, and CookBookHabit.

The chocolate crust was good, but the next time I have a dessert to make for a crowd, I may very well get some pre-made tart shells and fill them with the truffle filling and top with fresh berries or perhaps a coulis. Mmm... that is *definitely* going on my 'to do' list!!!

*Note: At first I was going to simply do one large tart, because I already have a large tart pan, but I stumbled across a set of 6 small ones (pictured above before baking) at a local dollar store. I've noticed a number in the group commenting that they didn't want to spend a small fortune on getting the tins... don't forget to check out your local dollar/discount stores, or even thrift stores! You'd be surprised what you might find! ;) 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dark Days Drop Out

Well, I give up. Sort of. I've become rather disillusioned with the Dark Days challenge of late, so have finally decided to stop participating in it. Not that any of you are going to lose sleep over it, I know, but I felt the need to say it out loud, at least ;) 

I've learned some interesting things over the past few months and will continue to search out local products, but sadly the challenge did not live up to my expectations. I had hoped for more interaction with the group so we could help and learn from one another and our experiences, especially those of us that were fairly new to the whole SOLE thing. But, since I didn't find any other participants who were local to me, I didn't really have anyone local to commiserate with. Also, the activity on the Google group for the challenge stopped shortly after the challenge began, so no discussion there either. All that left was the weekly round-up posts, and even those have been hit and miss as the last few ones I haven't been included in, despite having submitted my posts to the moderator on time. 

Oh well... a little disappointing, though not an entirely wasted experience. Next weekend we will be hosting a fondue/cheese tasting evening and I will be using it as an excuse to highlight some Quebec cheeses. I'll be sure to post plenty of pictures :) 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Tales of black wool and fancy poutine

The end of January was our 8th anniversary, so rather than go out to a fancy dinner or go to a movie, B and I planned a weekend trip down into the states to attend the Black Wool Workshop at Cold Antler Farm. I do my fair share of knitting and crochet when the weather turns cold, but I stick to the basics (read: rectangular things). So the idea of taking raw wool from sheep on the farm and processing it into yarn sounded like a fun way to spend a winter afternoon. And B graciously agreed to go along, though I'm sure it wasn't his idea of the perfect weekend away ;)

Cold Antler Farm

Monday, February 6, 2012

Baking with Julia: White Loaves

Ahhh.... yeast bread, how I love thee...

Here we have the glorious results of the first Baking with Julia recipe, White Loaves. The recipe yields two loaves of soft, pillowy bread, and makes your house smell wonderful, to boot. I made one just a regular white loaf and the other with a cinnamon swirl. Before signing up for this challenge, I had decided that this year I would finally overcome my fear of yeast and learn to make proper bread. It's not that the process is overly difficult, it's just rather intimidating. The yeast has to be coaxed back into life, and everything from the temperature to the chlorine in the water can prevent that from happening. Then once you have the dough, you have to knead it.... but it you over-knead or under-knead horrible things will happen. (trust me, i've encountered those horrible, brick-like things before) Plus there are hours upon hours of rising time and baking it in a regular oven is apparently a recipe for failure, you should have baking stones and water vapor and a black chicken to wave over the stove while it bakes. (the bread, not the chicken) Yet bread is such a basic thing... surely it can't be *that* difficult?!

Well, it turns out it's not ;) I followed the recipe and a few good tutorials on proper kneading technique/time (I found the one at The Kitchen particularly helpful), and the results were pretty outstanding. I found that familiarizing myself with all of the steps first helped me feel more in control. Also I used a few little tips like using bottled water instead of tap (apparently hard water or highly chlorinated water can adversely affect the yeast) and using bread flour with it's slightly higher gluten content to stack the odds in my favor. Since B and I are only two in the house and I feared it would go stale before we could finish both loaves, I sent some with him to his parents' place one afternoon, and his dad has not stopped talking about it since. He has kindly offered to take any surplus loaves off my hands in the future ;) All in all, I'm very happy with how it turned out! I even indulged one evening and had toast from the plain white loaf and my first-ever (slightly overdone) soft-boiled egg for dinner... it was utter simplicity, but paired with a warm mug of tea it was heavenly.

I see many more loaves of bread in my future, and I'm sure not all of them will turn out as well as these did, but I'm looking forward to the practice! ;)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Ginger ale and saltines

Just a quick update... I'm still back here but have been taken out of commission this week by a nasty bug. I have some interesting stuff to write about, but am forcing myself to take it easy and get better so I can get back on my feet and back to business! Hopefully this weekend will see me getting out of my pjs and posting about the very interesting weekend B and I had recently, as well as posting the results of the first Baking with Julia recipe: white loaves! Sounds dull, I know, but considering one of my "to do"s for 2012 was to learn to bake better bread, I'm pretty excited. In the mean time, carry on... I will rejoin the land of the living soon :)