Archives for September 2008

Spiced Golden Plum Jam

Freshly-made jars of yellow plum jam bask in the afternoon sun

It’s so easy to wax poetic about the autumn season: the colors of the leaves, the cool mornings, the appearance of handknit woolies for the little ones, and the abundance of stunning produce at the open air markets. It’s a gorgeous season to revel in and every time it rolls around I am happy to be in Quebec.
My early childhood years were spent in the Yukon where fall was nonexistent. One day it would be summer, with green hills and bright yellow zucchini flowers blooming in the kitchen garden, and the next day I would wake up to frosted window panes. If I scratched a peek hole with my fingernail, I would see a motionless Lake Laberge, completely iced over, a brown frost-killed garden and the breath from the goats hanging in the cold air as they chewed their cud.
Winter. It always struck without warning and when it arrived, it stayed for almost nine months. Fortunately, as an energetic nature-loving little girl, I embraced winter for all that it offered: sledding parties with hot cocoa on the wood stove, ice skating for miles and miles, snow ice cream, igloos and cross-country skiing.
But why am I talking about winter? I’m shivering just thinking about it! Where was I? Oh yes, Autumn in Quebec.

This time of the year always makes me want to hole up in the kitchen for days on end with the finest ingredients of the season and create copious amounts of food. Pies stuffed full of apples, velvety squash soups, slowly braised meats with herbs, beans baked in apple cider, and the list goes on.
If I have my way, October is going to be a very busy month Under the High Chair.
For now, though, I am working on preserving some of summer’s last produce before moving on to the fall goods. This spiced yellow plum jam turned out so well, it left me asking myself why on earth I had never made plum jam before?!
It’s tart taste and gorgeous sunny color is a joy to wake up to in the morning. The spices add a subtle complexity that you might not catch until after your first cup of coffee.
Best enjoyed on fresh scones.

OK, so this is the “Aimee’s Speedy, Somewhat Controversial, But Tried and True Version” of the jam. For the original, no shortcuts version, go here. You may be surprised to know that most people I talk to sterilize their jars in their dishwasher and find that as long as you are ladling HOT fruit into HOT jars and topping with a HOT lid (and never touch the inside of the jar) the jams seal themselves and there is no need to process in hot water afterward. This is now my method for jam and I haven’t had any problems. Of course with the amount of sugar in the jam and the speed at which they get consumed around here, there’s no chance of them ever going bad!
What’s your canning method? Any thoughts?

Spiced Golden Plum Jam

3 1/2 lbs golden plums, washed
1/2 cup apple juice
4 inch cinnamon stick
6 green cardamom pods, bruised
4 whole cloves
6 2/3 cups sugar
1 pouch liquid pectin

Prepare your canning station by collecting all your tools: a pair of tongs, a 1-cup glass measuring cup, a wide-mouth jar funnel, a spatula and a few clean dish towels, one of those awesome wands with a magnet on the end for lifting the lids out of the hot water.
Place 8-250 ml in an empty dishwasher (this is not the time to clean breakfast dishes as well)and run a cycle. When jars are on the dry cycle, start your jam.
Place your sealing discs ( the lids) in a small pot and cover with hot water. Keep very hot, but do not boil. Place jar rings within easy reach.

Half, pit and roughly chop plums. Tie spices together in a square of cheesecloth for a spice bag.
In a large, deep stainless steel saucepan, combine prepared plums, apple juice and spice bag. Over medium heat, bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Partially cover, reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set spice bag aside to be added in later.

In a clean stainless steel saucepan, combine 4-1/2 cups (1.125 L) of the cooked mixture, spice bag, 1/2 tsp (2 ml) butter or margarine (to reduce foaming) and all of the sugar. Over high heat, stirring constantly, bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Stir in the liquid pectin. Boil hard, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Remove from heat, skim off foam and discard spice bag.
Using a tea towel to protect your fingers from the heat, take a hot jar from the dishwasher and place on your counter.
Ladle hot jam into a hot jar to within 1/4 inch of top of jar (head space). Using nonmetallic utensil, remove air bubbles and adjust head space, if required, by adding more jam. Wipe jar rim removing any food residue. Center hot sealing disc on clean jar rim. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight.

Spread out a tea towel on your counter and place the jar of jam on it. Repeat canning process with remaining seven jars.
Leave jars to cool 24 hours with out touching them. After 24 hours is up, check that all jars have sealed. If any have not, store them in the fridge and use first. Store the rest in a cool, dark place.

For more Jam & Jelly recipes visit these posts:

Maple Apple Butter
Crabapple Jelly

Banana Chocolate-Chip Cake with Rich Maple Frosting for my birthday boy

So, it’s about an hour before guests are to arrive and the birthday boy, Noah, is out on the deck helping his dad decorate for the party. There’s a banner that said “Happy Birthday” on the clothes line, a colorful homemade pinata stuffed full of candy dangling above the grass, and a row of be-jeweled handcrafted party hats lined up awaiting the little guests. All of a sudden, Noah, who has observed almost all the preparation and can hardly contain his anticipation, stops and looks up at me with a worried look on his face.
“Mummy!” He says anxiously. “We need CAKE!”
Of course I had to laugh, first of all because it was obvious in his mind that no party was complete without a cake; and secondly, it was too cute of him to worry that his mama just might have forgotten such an essential part of his big day. Little did he know what I had been working on while he was asleep the night before and what was hidden away in the fridge…

We had a lovely party, despite it being rather hectic, and there was everything a good party should have, even if you’re just three years old: good friends, good food, good weather (!) and plenty of laughs.

The little ones played croquet in the late afternoon sun while I put the finishing touches on the massive taco bar in the kitchen. Then we laid out an assortment of autumn squashes, gourds and pumpkins in the grass and worked up an appetite playing ‘Pumpkin Hop’ (which is an age-appropriate game for 2 and 3-year old’s, in case you were wondering why you hadn’t heard of it.)

After stuffing ourselves with tacos, soft wraps and tostadas with plenty of salsa cruda, the children took turns trying to bust open the pinata. Apparently I construct a solid pinata, because, despite the best efforts of two little boys with big sticks, it required the arms of an uncle to spill its guts. I don’t think that is a sight Noah will soon forget: raining candy. For someone who is seldom allowed sweets, it was amazing to be allowed to fill his pockets and mouth right then and there. He’s been taking about it every day since and has suggested a few time that we make ‘another pinata’.

By now Noah had only asked me about birthday cake about five times and finally it was time! As I set the rather large cake in front of him he shrieked:

“Mummy, I need a FORK!”

To which I informed him that there were certain rituals such as singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to be performed first.
So as soon as the song was sung and the candles blown out, he repeated his request, equally as loud. The urgency of this child! There’s no question, by the third birthday, they know what it’s all about.

I figured this was probably the last birthday that I could get away with decorating the cake however I wanted, as next year there could very well be a request for a ‘Cars’ cake or some pre-historic creature cake that I will have to attempt. I had known for a while how I wanted to decorate this cake since my son’s name is Noah…and well, you can probably figure the rest out!
The design is made out of rolled fondant, colored with food colouring paste, cut out with an x-acto knife and painted with more food coloring. The eyes are black sesame seeds and the ‘sand’ is maple sugar. This part was so much fun to do!

Noah had requested ‘chocolate-chip cake’ at some point prior to the big day which made me decide to go with a Banana Chocolate-Chip cake. The maple frosting was merely inspired by a late-night rummage in the pantry where I happened upon some specialty maple products such as sugar, spread and syrup and thought hmm…, maple would be great with the banana.
Turns out it was OK! And Noah loved it. I think we’ll be converting this recipe into cupcakes very soon.

A little off the food topic (although they did require cooking) are these homemade take-home gifts that I made for the guests. I didn’t want to give out another plastic toy that was doomed to just break and end up in a landfill somewhere, but wanted a ‘greener’ gift. My recipe for play dough came in handy here as I made several batches and colored them into pretty colors. I packaged the balls in Tupperware, something that can be reused long after the play dough is finished, and attached a little plastic cookie cutter for making shapes with the dough.

Here are the recipes, free of charge as usual!

Play Dough
4 cups of plain flour
4 cups of water
2 cups salt
1 teaspoon cooking oil

Food colouring

1 tbsp cream of tartar

-Gather the necessary ingredients and mix the dry ingredients together.
-Mix all of the ingredients in a large pan and heat it over medium heat.
-Stir constantly until the dough feels like stiff, smooth, mashed potatoes. At this point, take it off the stove. Once it has cooled enough, knead it until it is blended smoothly.
-Divide the dough into several balls. Add food colouring to each ball and knead until colour is blended in. This works best if the dough is still warm.
-Store the dough in an airtight container or bag.
Banana Cake (adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook)

1/4 lb (1 stick) sweet butter
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs, separated
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup dark chocolate chips

-Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour two 9-inch layer cake pans.
-Cream butter and sugar together. Add egg yolks and beat well. Add mashed bananas, mixing thoroughly.
-Sift dry ingredients and add to butter mixture. Stir until just combined in. Add buttermilk and vanilla. Beat egg whites to soft peaks. Fold into batter gently. Sprinkle in chocolate chips and fold together.
-Pour batter into the prepared pans. Set on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
-Cool in pans on a rack for 10 minutes. Unmold and cool on rack for 2 hours.
-When cooled, place one layer on a serving plate and frost with Rich Maple Frosting. Cover with second layer and cover cake with remaining frosting.

( I doubled this recipe and made 2-11’cake pans)

Rich Maple Frosting

1 lb (2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature
250 grams (1 pkg) cream cheese, room temperature
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons pure Maple Syrup
2 Tablespoons coffee cream (10%)
4 cups powdered sugar

-Cream the butter and the cream cheese together in an electric mixer. Add the brown sugar, vanilla and maple syrup and beat for about a minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Be sure mixture is smooth, ingredients are well incorporated and there are no syrup streaks in the icing. Add 2 cups icing sugar and mix slowly. Add the cream and mix until smooth. Add remaining 2 cups icing sugar and mix well.
-Frosting will be quite thin.

Peach Tart Tatin

Just a quick post today as we are all a-flutter getting ready for Noah’s third birthday! There is still a homemade pinata to paint, balloons to blow up, a dozen lemons to squeeze for his favorite drink (lemonade) and most importantly, a cake to decorate. I’m sure I’ll be up far into the night icing it-I don’t want to start it until he is fast asleep!!
At some point amidst all the busyness, I’m sure I will be shedding a tear or two over the fact that my baby, my firstborn, is growing up. Sniff!

We went for a walk yesterday, a few of Autumn’s early fallen leaves crunching under our feet, bundled up in warm sweaters, talking the whole way. At the stop sign he declared:

“A-R-R-E-T. That spells ‘Stop’.” and I had to laugh. Only in Quebec can things be this confusing for a child.

I had to post this peach tart tatin because it was one of my favorite desserts last month. There’s still plenty of gorgeous stone fruits available; it’s certainly not too late to make this for yourself. You really need a dessert to dig into as you get comfy on the sofa in the evening and welcome all your favorite TV shows back, right? (Top Chef: where ARE you?)

OK, so I don’t have a recipe for this, as I literally just melted some butter, added a sprinkling of brown sugar and the peach halves to the pan. I then dusted the peaches in cinnamon and topped the whole thing with a round of chilled puff pastry. Into the oven it went until the pastry was golden brown.
If you’ve made an apple tart tatin, you can make this! If not, you might want leave this useless post and check out a real recipe for tart tatin.

That’s it!

SHF: Baby Girl Cupcakes and the Giveaway Winner!

First of all, let’s not waste any time in announcing the winner of the spice kit from Under the High Chair’s second birthday dinner. Rest assured that the selection of the winner was done in a most thorough way, overseen by my husband, the engineer in the family.

And the winner is…Jill!!!
Whoot! Whoot! Congratulations!
Jill, please contact me via email with your address and information and I’ll get your present out to you as fast as I can!
A big thanks to all who participated and left such great comments! This was the first giveaway I’ve done, but it certainly won’t be the last–it was so much fun to see people popping in from the four corners of the globe…and two hundred comments is such a nice round number for the draw.

And now for some of the most girly-girl cupcakes you will ever see…

My self-appointed mission was as follows: bake cupcakes for two-week-old Amber’s baby shower and make them as pink and girly as possible, because with three men in the house, we never get to play with glitter, sprinkles and pink food coloring, let alone even make cupcakes.

Yep, life would be different if I had girls. Oh, it’s not that I’m complaining, you’ve seen my boys and I love them fiercely, but let me put things into perspective for you:

This is the first time homemade cupcakes have been featured on UtHC.

That’s right, we just celebrated two years of posts and all this time you have been deprived of cupcakes. Everywhere else, cupcakes are flaunting themselves, blogs are devoted to them, boutiques specialize in them and celebrities crave them. I mean, it’s practically the decade of the cupcake and although I’ve kept you up to date with the best cupcakes in the city, I haven’t been baking any myself.

Why such a dearth of the pretty little things? I’m not quite sure, but there must be a reason, and I intend to get to the bottom of it. Is it just because I have no girls to bake with? A husband who demands “Give me a real cake, woman”? (okay, kidding about that last one, he’d get a lot more than real cake if he called me ‘woman’.)

Anyway, enough with the introspection, I’ve finally made some cupcakes and although they came out rather garish (I might even say ghastly), I had a heck of a lot of fun playing on my Pretty in Pink theme.

I was bemused when one girl at the shower turned to me, half eaten cupcake in hand, and said

“So what flavor would you say these were anyway?”

Hmm, good question. Vanilla? Buttermilk? Is pink a flavor?

Here’s how I arrived at my final product:
For the cupcake itself, I adapted a recipe for Buttermilk Red Velvet from Joy the Baker, using less red food coloring and doubling the amount of vanilla; it was fluffy and moist, not to mention hot pink!!

I frosted the cupcakes with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting which Joy frequently pairs with Red Velvet Cake and I am in full support of that marriage. Yum!

Edible glitter and sprinkles adorn the frosting and finally, the cupcakes are topped with cut-out hearts of rolled fondant. The baby’s name is hand painted onto the hearts with food coloring. Voila.

Long after these cupcakes were consumed at the baby shower and the leftover frosting eaten with a spoon, I happened upon foodbeam’s Sugar High Friday event: Cupcakes, the final chapter.
(You can read more about the SHF, the ‘international sweet tooth blogging extravaganza’ here)

It crossed my mind to submit these cupcakes, but then told myself, naw, who am I kidding? It’s Fanny, for pete’s sake! I didn’t even get to do an official photo shoot for the cupcakes, what you see was snapped at the shower while I ignored Mateo’s complaining from his car seat in the corner. (Bad mother) There was no way I could send my insanely pink baby girl cupcakes in response to her call for “delicious cupcakes, baked with flair, sophistication and novelty’.

But then I kept reading Fanny’s post and somewhere in it she said ‘most importantly, have fun‘, and that’s precisely what I did with these cupcakes. I mean, edible sprinkles and light pink fondant? I had a blast.
So be sure to check out at the end of the month for the round-up of cupcakes, and please, go easy on my entry, okay?

Here are the recipes if you are interested in making your own really pink cupcakes.

Buttermilk Pink Velvet Cupcakes

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

2 large eggs, at room temp

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 Tablespoons Red Food coloring 1. Preheat the oven to 325. Sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add the kosher salt after sifting and set aside. Measure out the buttermilk and red food coloring. Add the dye to the buttermilk for easier incorporation later. 2. Cream the butter and the sugar using an electric mixer, until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, letting the eggs beat for 1 mintue in between additions. Scrape down the bowl in between additions. Add vanilla and beat well.
3. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the wet ingredients. Start by adding one third of the flour mixture. Mix just to incorporate. Add half of the buttermilk. Add another one third of the flour mixture. Mix to incorporate. Add the last half of buttermilk, followed by the last third of flour. 4. Spoon into paper lined cupcake pans. Check the cupcakes after 12 minutes.
Makes 16 small or 12 large cupcakes.
Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting 1 1/2 cups butter, softened 8oz cream cheese, softened 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed 1 teaspoon vanilla extract pinch of salt 4-6 cups powdered sugar 2-4 tablespoons milk depending on desired consistency Cream the cream cheese in an electric mixer for 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl and add the butter, beating for 1-2 minutes, or until incorporated. (Be sure that the two are at room temperature. Cold cream cheese or butter can make your frosting lumpy.) Add the brown sugar, pinch of salt and vanilla extract, and beat until incorporated. Turn off mixer and add 2 cups of powdered sugar. Turn the mixer on a low speed so the sugar doesn’t fly out of the bowl. Slowly add more sugar alternately with the milk until you reach your desired consistency.

Happy Birthday to UtHC and a Giveaway Present for You!

Today is our second birthday here at Under the High Chair and I am celebrating by giving you a present! Find out at the end of the post how you can win this world-class spice kit for your own cooking pleasure!

Today we are celebrating two years of blogging! Hip hip hooray! Go ahead, give us a pat on the back. I’m so excited about this post! Don’t go anywhere!

I was thinking last night about how I wanted to sum up this past year of blogging. I was imagining how I would go on and on about how busy the year was, how I wasn’t sure how we would get over the hump (sorry, bad pun) of having a baby and how that would affect my blogging time, but shucks, who wants to read about all that?The bottom line is: I’m still here and more importantly, so are you!

I want to say a big ‘thank you’ to my readers, both those of you who have been with me since day one and the new arrivals; you guys are the best!

There are two things I would like to do for you to show my appreciation, one is a virtual dinner party that you are all invited to (also to showcase a few dishes from this past year) and second, a fantastic giveaway that I intend to ship anywhere in the world (or deliver in person if the lucky winner is local)!! So, hurry, cancel whatever you were doing tonight, and get over here!

First up: Dinner Party

I’ve said before, picking a favorite dish or post on Under the High Chair is like being asked who I love more, Noah or Mateo: completely impossible to answer. So don’t consider these dishes to be my final word on my ultimate best dish, but more like recipes I can’t get enough of, my fall-back dishes for entertaining and food that is just so good you forget all your troubles.

So come on in and kick your shoes off!

I would love to wake up your palate with my most seductive amuse bouche, Foie Gras Sushi with Pears and Ice Cider Reduction. Enjoy it while you are curled up on the sofa or perched on my piano bench; it’s a perfect way to start the evening.
A glass of chilled ice cider goes with it and a few napkins; it’s pretty messy and meant to be eaten in two big bites. No nibbling here! It’s important to get all the components – nori, rice, wasabi, pear, seared foie gras and ice cider reduction – in your mouth at the same time. Cheers!

Leave your glass at the sink and please take a place at the table!
If you found the sushi very rich, you were absolutely right, but now here is a crisp, fresh appetizer with enough acidity to make your taste buds pucker: Winter Salad of Russet Apple, Pomegranate and Toasted Pecans with a Picked Shallot and Apple Cider Vinaigrette. Here’s a reminder that fall is just around the corner!
Russet apples happen to be my favorite, but any kind of apple would be lovely in this salad. Cipollini onions are also great instead of shallots, thinly sliced into pretty half moon wedges.

Excuse me for a moment, while I take this focaccia out of the oven. It’s best served piping hot, and so easy to make, I whipped it up during the boys’ nap time so we could enjoy it with our pasta.
Yeah, there’s a story to go along with it about how I got started in professional cooking over ten years ago.
What? You can’t believe I had time to make bread? For you, anything!

As a rule I don’t usually make pasta for guests–it’s so weekday dinner, but, mama mia, this recipe for Seafood Creole Tagliatelle is unlike any pasta you have ever tasted. I should have been grilling all summer long, but instead I found myself, night after night, grinding spices, peeling shrimp and stirring together this decadent dish. Many guests partook of it at my table, and although I tried every time to make extra so we could have leftovers, there was never one noodle left. Even my not-so-adventurous father-in-law (love ya, B!) had third helpings and when offered my famous Caesar salad, said “No thanks, I’m just going to eat pasta until I explode.”
‘Nuff said. Enjoy!

Well, I hope you still have some room left. Let me just warm up my espresso machine. Since this is a virtual dinner party anyway, we’ll pretend I have that $6000 Jura X9 I was drooling over the other day at my fave kitchen store. Espresso or chai latte? The latter would go better with our dessert.
I love pairing spices with chocolate, and this decadent Chocolate Chai Cheesecake is a perfect example. Not a very glamorous dessert (cheesecakes always seem kind of stodgy to me) but you’ll be won over with the first bite.

You can undo the button on your jeans if you have to, I won’t tell anyone; I know, I’m stuffed too!
Don’t worry about the dishes, I never let my guests do them. Shoo.

Thanks for joining me for this birthday dinner! Cheers!

And now for the giveaway!

I wanted to do this for my birthday, but for one reason or another, it didn’t happen; fortunately this is the perfect opportunity to make your day and introduce you to some products from my friend, Philippe de Vienne. I’ve talked about him enough around here so he really doesn’t need an introduction.
Longtime staples in my kitchen– and in professional gourmet kitchens around town–this spice kit will leave you begging for more! This little package contains staples like cumin and cardamom, but also includes some more exotic spices such as long pepper, which is a stunning addition to this Milk Chocolate Pudding— but there I go again with my chocolate and spice fad.

To win this “Kitchen 101-Base Spices” starter kit all you have to do is leave a comment between today, Saturday, September 6 and Saturday, September 13.
I will do a random draw of your names and notify the winner here on Sunday. As I said before, I’ll ship anywhere in the world, and if the lucky winner is local, I will deliver it in person if you wish.
Please no anonymous comments, that’s so boring. Good luck!

Ed Note: If you missed the first year of Under the High Chair, this post sums it up for you in a nutshell. There’s even a fancy-shmancy slide show for your viewing pleasure!