Sunday, August 30, 2009

World's Best Garlic Bread

It has been very cold and rainy around here lately, which has made me kind of grouchy. Well, if the weather can't be nice, at least I can try to cheer myself up with food! Last night we made a gigantic pot of chili for supper, and today Jeff slaved away over a homemade pasta sauce made from local tomatoes. I decided that my life-changing* garlic bread would be a fitting contribution to this comforting Sunday night dinner.
*not an exaggeration

***Disclaimer: Readers should be advised that the following recipe may ruin their enjoyment of regular garlic bread.***

When I make garlic bread, I like to make my own roasted garlic butter. It's so easy, yet so very delicious! If you've never tried roasted garlic, you are missing out on one of life's most mouth-watering experiences. Once roasted, garlic is smooth and mellow, with a deliciously nutty taste that doesn't sting in the least. I can't do it justice with a simple description; you must try it yourself.

All you have to do is peel a bulb of garlic until you get down to the skins that cover the individual cloves; then, cut through the tips of the cloves so that they're exposed while the bulb remains intact. Drizzle the garlic bulb with olive oil, rub it into the cloves with your fingers, and top with salt and pepper. Wrap the whole thing in aluminum foil, and it's ready to roast.

Once your kitchen smells amazing, your bundle of joy is ready to be opened. The bulb is done roasting when the cloves are golden and soft, and the papery skins are browned.

Once it has cooled enough to be handled, just hold the bulb in your hand and squeeze it. The cloves will slide out of the bulb like butter.

Speaking of butter...

Hello, dear friend.

Mix your roasted garlic into one softened stick of butter. You've now made real, homemade garlic butter, in less time than it would take you to pick up a container of "garlic spread" from the grocery store deli. Roasted garlic butter just makes sense!

Here's how I like to proceed: I toast a loaf of crusty bread in the oven, just until it's warm; that way, the garlic butter spreads very easily on the bread halves.

I top them with more freshly cracked pepper, then broil until the butter is sizzling, and the garlic pieces and the edges of the bread are nice and golden brown.

I always slice my garlic bread into really thin slices. I was trying to remember why, and then I realized that that's just how my mom used to slice garlic bread on spaghetti nights. It just tastes better that way!

Most of the time, I like to keep my garlic bread simple. However, I do like to sprinkle some chopped fresh Italian parsley on top for a dash of colour.

Oh, my. There's nothing more to say.

Except: you must make this. You must make this now.

Boy, do I love rainy days.

World's Best Garlic Bread: The recipe

Amanda's notes: I roast the foil-covered bulb directly on the oven rack, although a muffin pan can come in handy for this purpose.
Leftover garlic butter is great on grilled cheese sandwiches or steak.

1 garlic bulb
1 stick butter, softened
1 loaf crusty bread
salt and freshly cracked pepper
fresh Italian parsley, chopped


Preheat oven to 400F.

Peel garlic bulb until you're left with the skins of the individual cloves. Slice off the top of the bulb, so that the tip of each clove is removed. Drizzle and rub with olive oil, season. Wrap in foil, and roast in oven for 30-40 min, until cloves are golden, and papery skins are browned. Cool.

Squeeze cloves into a bowl, and mix with butter. Meanwhile, warm loaf of bread or bread halves in oven. Spread garlic butter on bread halves, top with freshly cracked pepper, broil until golden brown.

Slice garlic bread into thin slices, sprinkle with parsley.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Icing: A Success Story

As much as I love to cook, I am a terrible baker. I always get flustered, I always make a huge mess in the kitchen, and I always make myself nauseous from sampling too much batter. Most disappointing is the fact that I fail more often than not, especially when it comes to cake. Jeff recently had a milestone birthday, and, since his favourite cake in the whole world is carrot cake with cream cheese icing, I planned on making one for his birthday party.

You must understand how nervous I was about this cake. This was my third attempt at making a carrot cake for Jeff; the first time, I bought pre-grated carrots that didn't cook down into the cake, resulting in a stringy, crunchy mess that had to be eaten with the use of a knife (Jeff: "This is great, honey! Best carrot cake I've ever had!") The second time, although I hand-grated my carrots, I suspect I either over-mixed the batter or didn't add enough flour, because the cake didn't rise at all (Jeff: "This is amazing! I couldn't ask for a better birthday cake!") They say the third time's the charm, so I had high hopes that I would finally get it right.

I did a couple of things differently this time; to begin, I decided to grate the carrots on the finer side of my grater, so that I'd get a really smooth batter.

Most importantly, I think, I also tried to stay calm and take my time, carefully measuring all of my dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. The lovely colour you see there is cinnamon and nutmeg, which give carrot cake its classic spiciness.

In another bowl went the wet ingredients: oil, eggs, both brown and white sugar, and vanilla.

The idea with separating the ingredients is that you can completely smooth out the wet ones before adding them to the dry ones, so that you don't over-mix the batter. Lumps are good in cake batter, because they produce air pockets during baking, which makes the cake fluffy (see, I'm aware of all the theory; it's just when it comes to practice that I'm a clumsy mess.)

Once the two are combined, you stir just until it's moistened. I find that trusting my judgement when following a baking recipe is hard, but I just went for an incorporated-yet-still-lumpy look to the batter (and tried really hard not to panic.)

I say "yes!" to adding crushed pineapple and walnuts. I really like them in carrot cake, but to each their own. Just a gentle stir into the batter, and then the whole thing goes into a greased pan.

I crossed my fingers, popped it in the oven, and spent the next half hour on the couch, moaning from the pain (read: sampling raw batter). However, once I got a glimpse of my cake, all of my worries and discomfort faded...

The cake looked like, well, a real cake! It had risen, and everything! Tears of joy sprang to my eyes as I hopped around, hooting and hollering, scaring the crap out of Jeff and the dog. Ah, what a moment.

As the cake cooled, I moved on to the cream cheese icing, which I decided to sweeten partly with maple syrup, one of Jeff's favourite flavours. I iced the cake, but there's no photographic evidence of the final product; it was, to put it bluntly, hideous. Who cares what the outside looks like, though, when the inside looks like this?

Folks, I finally did it. This carrot cake was extremely moist and fluffy, with the perfect amount of spice. The maple syrup acted as a subtle, yet intriguing background flavour in the icing, which I very much enjoyed. All in all, I was very pleased, and proud to serve the cake to our friends in honour of Jeff's birthday. (Jeff: "Not that I didn't love the other ones, but this one is your best!")

Lessons I learned: to calm down, take my time, trust my judgement, and stay away from the batter. I'm so jazzed, and ready for more! Anyone have a birthday coming up?

The Recipe: Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Icing

I followed this Canadian Living recipe to the letter to make the cake, except that I substituted walnuts for the pecans. To make the maple cream cheese icing, I omitted the vanilla, and added about 3 tbsp of pure maple syrup. I also used more icing sugar than this recipe called for, about 3 cups in total.


Monday, August 10, 2009

The Joy of Leftovers: Sunday Brunch Hash

My sister was up for a visit last week, and I made her a potato salad. I absentmindedly boiled almost double the amount of potatoes that I needed, so I had quite a bit of leftover quartered red potatoes in my fridge.

When Sunday morning came along, I was a bit gloomy because my sister had left; therefore, I decided to cheer myself up by taking those potatoes and making something delicious and comforting: a potato hash.

I chopped up an onion and a green pepper, and sliced some cremini mushrooms. I then sauteed the onion and mushrooms in some butter, until softened. My kitchen smelled wonderful, and already I felt rejuvenated.

In went the potatoes, that I mashed into the pan. Since I like my potatoes with a bit of a crunch to them, I really wanted them to crisp up in the butter and form a crust on the bottom.

Once the potatoes had warmed through, I mixed in the chopped green pepper and some crumbled bacon, along with salt and freshly cracked pepper, and garlic powder.

As if all that wasn't enough in the way of comfort, I decided that my hash would need some cheese; I settled on grating a block of old cheddar, to provide a bit of sharpness.

I sprinkled the cheese all over the hash, and then set my oven-proof skillet under the broiler for a few minutes. When I removed the bubbly hash from the oven, there was a gasp of delight from my audience (Jeff). It was quite a sight!

It was hard to restrain myself from digging in and eating my brunch right off of the stove, but I had even bigger plans in mind; I topped my hash with a fried egg (I was aiming for over-easy, but I got distracted. Does anyone else find that timing breakfast dishes is one of life's biggest challenges?)

This hash was just what I needed to pick me up on a Sunday. The potatoes were so creamy, yet crispy and browned on the bottom. The onion and mushrooms were soft and fragrant, while the green pepper remained crunchy, and, along with the crispy bacon, improved the overall texture of the hash. Finally, the bubbly cheese just knocked this hash out of the park.

Trashy? Maybe. Delicious? Absolutely! Sometimes, that's all that matters.