Sunday, August 31, 2008

baking berry stella

It was because of the leftover oatmeal.

Wait, let me try that again. I wasn't inspired to bake a version of Starbucks Baked Berry Stella because of leftover oatmeal. But leftover oatmeal certainly pushed me in the right direction of creating a recipe that came very close to the taste of the original.

I was inspired because of my love of all things baked, and because I was less than overwhelmed by the taste of the original Stella, despite its cool name and shape (I tried one three times--sorry Stella fans!). And then there was the challenge laid out for me.

one little stella all alone...

I love a good baking challenge. But I have so little time these days, especially now that the Boo is walking (or rather, running!). And then of course, I had to enjoy the warm, sunny summer weather. But when 50% of your visitors come to your blog because of search terms like baked+berry+stella+recipe, you have to answer the challenge.

To do that, I needed a little help. I love to bake, but I'm certainly not good enough to be able to invent something off the top of my head. Like many a baker, I've learned that correct proportions are very important when it comes to baking. You can overdo oregano or basil in an entree, but mess up the delicate balance between flour, eggs, baking soda and sugar and you may have a soggy mess, or a hockey puck on your hands. I've baked at least one chewy birthday cake in my time...but I digress.

calls for some others, on the phone...*

I blame fate for making me cook too much oatmeal. I mean, I've been making oatmeal for myself since I was a girl, and it's become one of the favorite breakfasts in our house, summer or winter. So my instincts for the right amount of water and oatmeal are good. Darned good. Except for a few weeks ago, when I made such an outlandishly large amount of oatmeal there was no way that the four of us could possibly consume it all.

But I couldn't throw it away. Something in the back of my head was telling me I could use it for something else, so I froze it (works well, by the way).

When I had a chance to search google for a recipe, I found one for an oatmeal chocolate chip cake. See, I wasn't even thinking about berry stellas.

But I bookmarked it. And then the wheels in my brain started turning, and the challenge popped back into my head. I compared the ingredients of the cake with the ingredients for the baked berry stella and--low and behold-- they were pretty close. Then I went back to the list of ingredients for the stella and made a few adjustments to the recipe I had found. And then, one evening, I got a few hours to myself to bake it.

It looked good. It smelled great. But I wanted objectivity. I needed taste testers. So I called on my usual suspects: BIL, GIL, my husband, the Bean and the Boo. GIL's dad even joined in on the fun. It wasn't entirely objective, but we tried. We bought two Stellas and cut everything into pieces. I told everyone I wanted a completely honest truth. This was for the blog, after all...

Here's what they told me: the Starbucks Stellas had a cool shape and more berries, but they were chewy, gooey and tasted undercooked. My version was lighter, fluffier and tasted more like a cake (which is exactly what I was going for since I found the Starbucks version was too chewy and dense as well). Of the six testers, only one person preferred the original Stella (and that would be my three-year-old Bean. Total honesty as always ;-))

So now, I'm passing this recipe onto all of you. It wasn't about matching the ingredients and their proportions exactly ( who needs invert syrup with all the other sweeteners in the recipe?). It was about having fun.

Baked Berry Stella, foodonthebrain style
I don't profess this to be the recipe to end all recipes. I'm sure there are a number of modifications that can be made to suit your tastes. I've suggested substitutions at the end and you can come up with your own. Your tastebuds will thank you.

[My thanks again to the publisher of the What's Cooking? blog for the basis for this recipe]

2 cups cooked oats (oatmeal)
1/3 cup melted butter
1/3 cup of applesauce (or any fruit puree - I used apple/blueberry)
1 egg
1/4 cup alfalfa honey
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
1/2 tbsp cinnamon
1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup blueberries
1 cup raspberries (or any other favourite berry)
1/4 cup raw oats
optional: a dash of flaxseed


Melt the butter and mix it in with the cooked oatmeal. If it seems to get lighter and fluffier, that's a good thing. Add the applesauce.

In a separate bowl, combine the egg and honey. Add it to the other wet ingredients.

Combine the sugar, cinnamon, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a third bowl. Add the flaxseed at this point if you wish. Mix well and then add to the wet ingredients. Stir until all traces of the dry ingredients are gone (do not overmix).

Pour into loaf tin, or spoon into muffin tins (2/3-3/4 full). I was able to make 12 mini muffins and fill a 8x10 pan. I suspect this would make 12 regular sized muffins.

Top with berries and raw oats. Bake at 350 F for 25-30 minutes.

Possible substitutions:
  • Try 1 cup diced fresh peaches or nectarines instead of raspberries
  • Reduce the amount of sugar by 1/2 cup
  • If you choose to omit the honey, make sure to add one egg and also omit the baking powder (one egg=1/4 cup of liquid + 1/2 tsp baking powder)
  • mix up the flours a little - I used 1/2 cup of buckwheat flour and 1 1/4 cups of wholewheat flour

*with apologies to Sandra Boynton, and any other hippos I may have offended...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The meals of Hollyhock

As promised - a visual sampling of the meals that I ate while at Hollyhock (Friday, August 15-Sunday, August 17). A grand total of two dinners, two breakfasts, and one lunch. All the meals were prepared with fresh ingredients, and many of the ingredients came from the large garden that sits in between the reception/registration hall and the kitchen/dining hall.

I still have a real shyness when it comes to taking pictures of food in public places, as well as asking too many questions about the food. So I apologize to those of you reading, because I know that would provide an additional dimension to the stories of my visit.

Here's a photo of the board that lists all the ingredients that are used in their dishes on a daily basis.

We arrived in time for dinner on Friday night, after having left Vancouver first thing Friday morning. Travelling by car/ferry to Cortes Island is an all-day event. It took us a grand total of three ferries to get to the island, and at least 4 hours of driving up Vancouver Island and across Quadra and Cortes Islands to finally arrive at Hollyhock.

The scenery, however, is breathtaking. Cruising alongside the sights and smells of the Pacific Ocean on Highway 19A from Nanaimo to Campbell River brought back many childhood memories of summers spent on the beach, digging for clams and building sandcastles.

We were also fortunate enough to gain the company of a lovely woman from Calgary (who I will call the PR lady) who had taken the bus to Campbell River to catch the ferries to Hollyhock.

We'd like to thank the "Ferry Godfather" (the BC Ferries employee in the tollbooth) who sized us up and deemed us suitable travelling companions for the PR lady. This seemed to us to be a common occurance at the Campbell River ferry terminal. In our case, my friend the doctor and I found that we had many common bonds with her beyond our shared destination, which made for some lively conversations and a feeling of true kinship.

Friday August 15: DINNER

As mentioned, the food is all freshly prepared with many ingredients coming right from the Hollyhock garden. It's not super fancy or gourmet, but it certainly was delicious.

Because of the sheer amount of people who attend (during our stay, there were 3 courses running and an assortment of people like us who were just there for a break), meals are served buffet style.

Feeling the effects of the three hour timezone difference, I went to sleep very soon after dinner.

Our dorm, the Carousel, was nestled in the trees, just up the pathway from the dining hall. There are also private cottages available for individuals and couple who want more privacy. All the accomodations at Hollyhock are simple, clean and rustic.

Saturday, August 16 : BREAKFAST
I really enjoyed the meals when there were cheery messages on the board. This was the menu that greeted us on Saturday morning. The eggs were a real success with everyone -- every time I went to serve myself, or try and get a picture, they were almost all gone.

Saturday, August 16: LUNCH

The salmon polenta casserole and sesame home fries were the only dishes I recognized from the cookbook I own. I was pleased to discover that it tasted just like when I made it. It speaks highly of the cookbook in two ways: one: the recipes have been well tested, and two: they are easy enough for someone else to make them at home. I have since discovered the recipes for the granola, the wheat bread and the ginger iced tea in my cookbook - so I will be able to make them myself the next time I feel homesick for the Hollyhock experience.

The whole wheat bread was very hearty and tasted great with the peanut butter they offered. The ginger tea was mild enough that I was able to recommend it to a mother who was trying to find something for her young child to drink with dinner. Both of these items were part of their 24-hour self serve bar.

That was another great thing I loved about Hollyhock. I went on my own without the Bean and the Boo, but many people brought their children with them. One parent would take the course, while the other could take the kids off for a walk in the woods, or down to the beach to play.

Saturday, August 16: DINNER

I had never heard of red quinoa before, so this was an exciting discovery. It also gave me an idea of something I could do with some Adzuki beans I have in my kitchen. Taratour sauce is a middle Eastern sauce served with falafels or shwarma that is like hummus, but without the chickpeas. Basic ingredients include tahini, water, garlic and lemon juice. Other recipes I found online include olive oil, cumin and parsley as other ingredients. Although I did not ask for the recipe, my sense is they stayed with the simple basics.

Saturday night we signed up for a Bioluminesence paddle. Imagine the beauty of kayaking into the direction of a brilliantly-setting sun, and in behind, the light the full moon. Bioluminesence refers to the phtyoplankton that were in the water. When we moved our hands back and forth, or dipped the kayak paddle in, they would light up like fireflies, giving the impression of sparkles in the water.

Sunday, August 17: BREAKFAST

My last meal at Hollyhock, and one of the simplest announcements of what would be served for that meal at Hollyhock. I missed out on the Blueberry muffins (shocking, I know, since they had chocolate in them), but today was the day to try the famous Hollyhock granola.

mmmmmmm....wholesome, hearty granola.

The essence of my visit: it was hard to leave such a peaceful, secluded and natural surrounding. Hollyhock is a great place to get away from the stuff of life and find areas of peace and quiet. I found a place where I could swim, hike, and kayak, but return to a sense of luxury (massages!), healthy, substantial meals and conversations with a wide variety of very interesting people.

Leafing through their catalogue, I discovered that they offer a 5 day course in their kitchen. Anyone interested in signing up with me? ;-)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Omnivore's One Hundred

I'm back, but still digesting recovering from my whirlwind trip west. In a word, the trip was captivating.

The meals, the scenery, the people I met -- all met and exceeded my expectations.

But I'm saving the details for another post.

I found this list while checking out some different food blogs tonight. I like the original creator's definition of omnivore, and had to test myself to see just how brave I really am when it comes to being experimental with food. As per the instructions, I've bolded the things I've tried, and crossed out the things I never would. I counted 41 things I have tried, with only 6 things that I never would.

I'm feeling pretty good about my onimvorousness right now.

If you copy this list to your blog, here's what you need to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:
1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari

12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat - as long as the hair has all been removed
42. Whole insects - they serve them covered in chocolate, right?
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi - in the form of paste
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky - Green Tea is the best!
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam - one word: why?
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta

99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

headed to Hollyhock

I'm breaking free of being a "mom" for a while to spend a few days in total rest and relaxation on Cortes Island, BC. The Hollyhock retreat, to be exact. I've never been, but I am meeting a friend of mine (and photographer of the above picture) who makes a point of going at least once a year when she's had enough of the hustle and bustle of her life as a family doc.

If you have read any of my previous postings, you know that I am a big fan of their cookbook: Hollyhock Cooks: Food to Nourish Mind, Body and Soil. You can only imagine how excited I am that I will be able to try their food as they prepare it!

Will they let me bring a camera into the dining room? Will I get over the nerdy feeling I get every time I take a picture of food in front of anyone but my family? (Thankfully, they have finally grown accustomed to waiting for me to finish taking pictures before we sit down to eat anything).

My sister thinks I should bring the recipe book and ask for autographs (and she thinks I'm odd).
I'll be gone for five days. In addition to eating what I think will be delicious food, I'll get a chance to kayak and have a massage. My idea of bliss...

And when I come back, I promise I will post the results of my quest to make Baked Berry Stellas.

Monday, August 11, 2008

edamame with salmon

Only days after posting my tribute to Sher of What did You Eat, I was inspired to try her suggested variation on Edamame and Scallops using salmon.

This time I used black sesame seeds, orange sweet pepper and a little bit of wasabi in the salad.

I also simplified my standard salmon glaze. I used the honey and mustard as a base, and then added a little bit of lime juice. I omitted the sesame and cumin seeds so that it would not detract from the salad and puree. Preparation of the salmon filets remains the same.

The result? Absolutely fresh and deliciously light-tasting. The boys polished off all their salmon and my husband went for seconds on the puree.

I wish I had made this for my foodie sisters-in-law....there's always next year!

Salmon Ingredients and Preparation
4 8 oz salmon filets
2 tbsp mustard a l'ancienne (has the seeds in it)
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp lime juice

If the glaze seems too runny, you can add a bit more mustard or honey, depending on your preferences.

Pre-heat oven to 350F. Lay a piece of foil on a cookie sheet. Lay the salmon filets on the sheet skin side down. In a small bowl, mix the mustard, honey and lime juice together. Brush onto the salmon. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the salmon is cooked through. It's done when you can slide a lifter underneath the meat and lift it off the foil while the skin stays.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

eating raw oysters: a do-it-yourself experience

Things I love about our annual beach vacation:

We found the sweetest little cottage.
It's 500 meters from the beach.
We go at the same time as my husband's other siblings.
When we get together, it's usually over food.
We eat a lot of seafood.
My sisters-in-law appreciate good food as much as I do.
We always have bonfires at night.
Did I mention we spend a lot of time at the beach?

My husband comes from a family of four kids. His parents and sister (I'll call her SIL) still live in the area, but my husband and his two brothers (BIL and the other, older brother I'll call Big BIL) have moved away. Every summer, we all try to get to the same part of the New Brunswick coast at the same time for a couple of weeks of rest and relaxation.

You know you're on vacation when the toughest decisions you have every day are "Should we go to the beach?" and "What should we eat?". Unless it was raining, the answer to the former question for us was "Yes." And the latter? "Seafood."

We treated ourselves and our families to a procession of shrimp, scallops, steak, chicken, (my sicilian) meatballs , salmon, mussels, lobster, crab, scallops and...oysters.

Ours were of the Richibucto, shuck-it-yourself variety. In my opinion, serving oysters as an appetizer makes any dinner, even the most simple one, seem that much fancier.

Big BIL was an oyster virigin who was quickly converted. My own husband became a master at shucking. We bought them by the case ( 30 oysters each) and went through 3 cases in 3 days between 6 adults. Some of the older kids tried them, but for the most part, it was an indulgence for the grownups.

We bought a special oyster-shucking tool (pictured above) , and Youtube provided a great tutorial on the intricacies of shucking oysters properly.

There weren't too many suggestions on the Internet on what to serve with raw oysters. In the end, we settled on three sauces to sprinkle directly on the oyster: lemon juice, and two kinds of hot sauce: Frank's Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce and Frank's RedHot Chili 'n Lime. I think most of us preferred the hot sauces to the lemon juice, and Frank's Original won out over the Chili n' Lime (my personal favorite).

This was just one of the food-related moments that helped define vacation for me this year. I have lots more to share.. so I hope you'll come back.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Edamame for Sher

While on vacation, we would go into town every once in a while to visit with my husband's parents or his sister. I would sometimes take advantage of these opportunities to check my email and peruse a few of my favorite blogs.

It was on one of these visits that I stumbled across news of Sher--the creator of What Did You Eat?-- and her unexpected death from heart attack.

This news affected me in a way I would not have expected. Although, I have never met her, never corresponded with her, I was saddened because her blog has had a big impact on the recipes I cook, and my blog.

I found Sher's blog by fluke. I was searching for creative ways to use edamame and came across a recipe for Scallops with Edamame that Sher had posted only a few weeks earlier. Not only did Sher's recipe sound delicious, her photographs were mouthwatering as well. This was the first recipe from someone's blog that I ever cooked.

Inspired and impressed, I bookmarked her blog. I checked back regularly to see what else she was cooking. It was also one of the first blogs I added to my blog roll, under the heading "blogs that inspire me".

Following Sher's blog opened my eyes to the wider food blogging community that exists online. I joined the Presto Pasta Nights roundup after finding it through her posts. In addition to crediting her for my membership in the roundup, I always looked forward to Sher's contributions to PPN. I will feel like something is missing in future roundups.

Sher passed away on July 20, and a special tribute to her influence on the food blog community was organized for July 27. There are many eloquent tributes from people who knew her a lot better than I did. I wanted to write something as well because she had such a strong influence on my blog.

Sher, thank you for all the ways you have inspired me, and many others who knew you and followed your blog. You will be missed.

Sher's recipe for Scallops with Edamame Salad and Puree
(originally from Martha Stewart Living)

Serves 4

Start with a 16 ounce bag of frozen shelled edamame and divide according to below to make the salad and puree:

1/2 cup shelled edamame, cooked according to package instructions
1/2 cup red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon white or black sesame seed
1 Tablespoon lime juice
1/2 Asian chili paste
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
freshly ground black pepper
Combine all the ingredients and set aside.

2-1/2 cups of the cooked edamame, (The rest of the package)
1/4 cup lime juice
1/3 cup water
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon saltground pepper

If the soy beans are warm when you make this, the puree will be ready to use. If you make it in advance, reheat it in a small skillet or the microwave.

Process all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth.

Making the dish
12 sea scallops
1 teaspoon saltpepper
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Season both sides of the scallops with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet until very hot, but not smoking. Cook the scallops until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes per side. Don't over cook! The scallops should still show some translucent flesh.

Divide the warm puree among serving plates, top with scallops and the salad.