More Shameless Self-Promotion: Of Chocolate and Savvy Food Apps

It’s been a busy week, kicking off with a rather uncharacteristic move for me. I made a recipe video, and actually put it up on YouTube. For real.

You see, I’m not typically one who puts myself out there. I much prefer to hide somewhere in the background making sarcastic comments and rude gestures, but generally preferring not to be a centre of attention. But in order to get anywhere, in terms of career networking and the like, society seems to favour the extrovert-types. That whole ‘squeakiest wheel gets the grease’ kind of mentality. That’s why blogging and Twitter are so appealing to me – they allow me to engage in a certain amount of extrovert-esque behaviour while hiding behind a carefully edited Internet presence. Trouble is, I’m not all that good at the editing part  which means it’s often pretty much what you see is what you get, and I’m even worse when it comes to the ass-kissing, which is the other method that society prefers. And then there’s that horrible habit I have of going off on tangents that bear little to no resemblance to the original topic at hand…

What was I talking about? Oh right, my video.

I didn’t just randomly decide to ‘challenge myself’ by making a video – I had a reason to do it. A contest held by Canadian chocolate company, Purdy’s Chocolates, that I found out about on Twitter is what compelled me; the grand prize up for grabs is a trip for two to The Chocolate Show in New York City. I thought to myself, what do I have to lose exactly? And since I just happened to weasel my way into a very casual position at a local chocolate shop (more on that later – still very new), it seemed rather fitting as a next step. All I needed to do was come up with a concept. That’s where daily baking and Food Gawker-stalking come in really handy – they serve as excellent sources for inspiration. The only thing I really knew for sure is that I wanted to do something using bacon, because I’m a huge fan of the chocolate and bacon combination. And I know for a fact I’m not the only one. I also wanted to do something that represents my love of 50s culture, rock n’ roll and Southern food. So, not too tall of an order, right?

And then it hit me: Elvis bars. Or, so to avoid any messy copyright issues with Graceland, Fit for The King bars. A deliriously delicious combination of those things Elvis held most dear: peanut butter, banana, and bacon. It was a flavour combination first introduced to me by a cupcake called the Hunka-Hunka Burnin’ Love, which is comprised of a banana cupcake topped with peanut butter buttercream and a slice of bacon. In short, it’s the best little piece of Memphis flavour north of the Mason-Dixon line. But I didn’t want to copy this or even make another cupcake version, I wanted to make it into a candy. A bit more research led me to  look at penuches and pralines, so I figured I would just combine the two concepts into one and make it a praline cut in squares. This reflects my own baking roots that started in my mother’s kitchen with the trusty Women’s Institute cookbook at my side – those ladies do love their bars. I also somehow managed to incorporate my own Anglo-Scottish heritage into the candy’s design: with its peanut butter praline base topped with a mix of chopped up peanut brittle, banana chips and candied bacon it resembles the popular tea-time treat, Millionaire’s Shortbread.

So I entered, and have made it to the finals. Not by sheer talent, mind you, but by virtue of being one of only three who actually entered. But hey – it’s a start, right? And although my recipe will ultimately be made and judged by their head chocolatier and a panel of judges at their offices in Vancouver, they are still offering the public a chance to vote on their favourites via their Facebook page. Which leads me – finally – to the purpose of writing all of this: please…VOTE FOR ME! Basically, I’ve never really been in a position to win anything before – possibly because I don’t tend to even put myself in the running – but  perhaps this could mark a turning point? If people seem to like my video or recipe, perhaps that might be enough to inspire the confidence to do more of both.

The YouTube link for the video is here, where you’ll find the recipe listed in the description. Feel free to share and comment, just please – not on my chins. I’m not sure whether it’s the camera angle, the camera itself, or the cumulative effect of doing nothing but baking up sweets or making chocolates for the past few months, but let’s just say that I’m not a fan of myself on camera. Cast your vote here before 9pm Pacific time on Sunday, October 21st

Oh, and seeing how it’s the weekend and all, you may want to check out my latest post for She’s So Savvy. It’s about the various food iPhone apps I use on an almost daily basis, whenever I’m looking for something to make or go eat somewhere new. You can read it here.

 

Monthworth of Baking – A Photographic Medley

Okay, maybe it’s not an entire month, but it certainly feels that way. All I know for sure is that it’s been a damn long time since I posted anything about the baking I’ve been doing, so much so that I’m not sure I’ll be able to catch up if devote a post to each one. So I’m going to have to cheat a little and post ’em all in one shot.

At least you’ll get pictures and the links to the recipes that inspired them. Hopefully I will be able to go back to my regular bake-then-post model soon, but it just seems like life has had a habit of getting away from me. For example, can you believe it’s already the middle of August?? That just seems so crazy to me!

Anyway, enough stalling – here we go.

The Quest for that perfect French Vanilla Ice Cream, inspired by David Lebovitz’s recipe. Of course. Although, sadly, I’m still in search of that deceptively simple yet elusive flavour. This was a great ice cream, don’t get me wrong, but it just felt a bit too close to frozen custard.

The Quest continues. Anyone have any tried-and-true recipes they care to point me in the direction of, feel free!

Pink Popcorn Candy Balls, made as party favours for a three year old’s birthday party.

Recipe inspired in part by Making Great Candy and also from popcorn machine manual that included a couple of suggested recipes.

Here’s a tip: don’t overlook these  manuals. What you may think is just some instructions for use and warranty limitations could be a goldmine of classic recipe inspiration.

 

Rhubarb Custard Pie with Strawberry-Sour Cream Ice Cream

I’ve begun a whole new love affair with rhubarb. I don’t put any extra sugar on it which allows for that natural tartness to come through.

My mouth is kind of starting to water just thinking about it. The recipe for the pie came from a Women’s Institute cookbook (home of all great pie recipes) while the ice cream – which might just be the very best strawberry ice cream I’ve ever tasted – came from here. I feel it’s important to note that the blogger was inspired by Lebovitz’s book,The Perfect Scoop.

Pate de Choux. My first attempt at making choux pastry. 

I have never in my life turned an oven up so high, plus I have the horrible habit of not being able to keep the door closed because I want to see what’s going on (and the inside light doesn’t work right now on my antique Eaton Viking), so not being able to do that for the first ten minutes was agony. But, I suppose, we have to suffer for our art. Sigh… 

This recipe comes from a book that has become my kitchen sidekick, The Baking Answer Book.

I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to…well, a lot of things, but I was constantly Googling random things like why the butter and water has to be so cold when using it for pastry (so that it will create pockets of steam that lead to a flakier crust), so this book has saved me from hours of wasted time that would have been better used baking as well as excess data usage on my iPhone!

 

Blueberry Quinoa Muffins came out of two things: a general curiosity and the lack of oatmeal for Sunday morning breakfast. I have been wanting to experiment with sweeter dishes using quinoa, so I swapped out the water you would normally boil the quinoa in for soy milk and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. The result was somewhere between an oatmeal and a rice pudding consistency – it was quite tasty, but thick enough to grout your tile if you let it stand too long.

I noticed that there was quite a bit left over, so not wanting to waste any of it I set about finding something to use the remaining quinoa. Although I look all over the Web for alternatives,  I should really know by now that there are generally two sites I can count on for most things: David Lebovitz and Martha Stewart. But I don’t mind – most of the thrill is in the chase, isn’t it?

I used Martha’s  recipe for the muffins, swapping out the vegetable oil for butter and the raisins for frozen blueberries. I did have to Google whether it was better to use frozen or fresh blueberries in baking – as it turns out frozen is the better choice as they hold their shape during the baking process and lend a nice extra bit of moisture to the overall texture of the finished product. This is probably common knowledge for most of you, but keep in mind – I’m new to this. Forgive me?

Macarons, since I’ve discovered how to do them, are my new obsession. It seemed only natural to pair it with another one of my latest obsessions: lemon.

The result? A macaron that tastes  almost exactly like lemon meringue pie. The ones pictured here deviate somewhat from the typical rounds, but take note: they do indeed have pied and therefore qualifies them as actual macarons. Siames twins and heart-shaped, but macarons nonetheless.

Recipe for both macaron shells and lemon curd filling from another kitchen sidekick of mine, I Love Macarons

 

Phew… I think that should just about do it. I may have almost got caught up here. I’m sure there’s something missing here, but these are the highlights that have come out of my sweet little kitchen over the past few weeks. I used more of my cookbooks than usual, which is good since that means they aren’t sitting around collecting dust.

Enjoy!