Friday, December 31, 2010

PBG Recipe: Meringues (aka. my first recipe with the new KitchenAid!)

First things first...this was the very first recipe to be made using my new KitchenAid Stand Up Mixer.  Yay!  I can not express how excited I am to finally have one of these babies sitting on my counter top.


It was a breeze to use and did a fantastic job with the egg whites. I would not have had the patience to do these by hand. I have visions of cakes and cupcakes for my brother's birthday in February. 

I am hoping you also notice the photos for this post.  They are the first food shots taken with the new Cannon Rebel T2i camera, which I am also in love with.



A warning, these meringues are SWEET. Almost a little too sweet. I think the next time I make these I will cut back a little on the sugar and maybe fold in some chocolate chips...yum. But, I decided for my first attempt to follow Laura Calder's recipe since it promised chewy centers which is exactly what I wanted.


Ingredients
4 egg whites (at room temperature)
pinch salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
2/3 cup vanilla sugar
2/3 cup icing sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Directions
  • Whip the whites and salt into stiff peaks.
  • Stir the cream of tartar into the vanilla sugar. Slowly add the sugar mixture to the whites a spoonful at a time, until the meringue is stiff and the sugar has dissolved. You can tell if the sugar is dissolved if you take some between your fingers. If the mixture feels grainy the sugar is not fully dissolved.
  • Sift together the icing sugar and cornstarch.
  • Sift over the meringue and gently fold until fully incorporated.
  • Pipe or spoon the meringues onto a silpat or lined baking sheet.
  • Bake at 225ºF until cream-coloured and crisp on top when tapped, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
  • Remove from the oven. Cool on the trays. Store in an air-tight container.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Keeps on Giving

While Christmas day has come and gone already it still feels like the Holidays in the PBG household.  For the first time in years I decided not to do any official boxing week shopping.  The crowds are too much and the "sales" often last well into January.  Besides, I am trying to declutter my life so I am making only purchases that I love rather than purchases that I think I like. 

However, there were a few MAJOR purchase made online on Christmas day and boxing day.  Two very exciting purchases.  The first exciting purchase was a new Canon Rebel T2i DSLR camera.  I have been working with my Fujitsu point and shoot for a few years and it has taken some great pictures.  But, now that I am blogging and taking my photography much more seriously I really wanted a camera that would last me a long time.  I ordered it online from the Future Shop and it should be arriving today or tomorrow.  Woo hoo!

The second very exciting purchase is a Kitchen Aid stand up mixer.  The was such a great deal I couldn't pass it up.  Typically this unit sells for around $450 but with the Boxing Day discounts it only cost $199!!  It is chrome and I have already cleared a spot on my counter for this lovely beast.  I AM SO EXCITED!  The Kitchen Aid stand up mixer has been kind of a holy grail in my family for years but no one could ever justify the cost.  But, I was finally ready to take the plunge.

I can guarantee these two big purchases will result in more pictures and more baking on PBG.  I am so excited to start using both items.  They should be arriving either today or tomorrow.  I keep looking for the mail truck like a little kid waiting for Santa. 

I did make a short tip to the mall yesterday and found myself at the Gap.  I am trying to "think outside the box" with my wardrobe these days.  Buy a few things I might not normally wear.  There was 40% off everything that was already on sale so I got both pieces for just under $50.  yay!  I am planning to wear the outfit with opaque black tights and the retro black pumps I bought to wear to my holiday party.  Cute....I hope. 


Are you a boxing week shopper?  Do you find yourself doing more online shopping these days to avoid the crowds?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A PBG Christmas in Pictures











A Christmas Disaster Diverted

I almost had a Christmas disaster this year.  As you know, I am single this Christmas for the first time in about four years.  My ex's family was never very flexible regarding visits over the holidays.  We almost always had to work around their schedule.  So, over the years, my family has rearranged our entire Christmas schedule so I could drive 3 hours up north to be with my ex's family every Christmas day.  Don't get me wrong, my ex's family are fantastic people and we always had a great time when we visited.  Always.  But, now that they are not a part of my life I realized that I was so accommodating that I had compromised myself out of Christmas with my own family.

I panicked.   Alone?  On Christmas?  I was already having a hard time putting on the cheer and enjoying the holidays as a sad single.  This realization that I might be alone on Christmas day was heartbreaking.  I spent the week leading up to Christmas shopping and baking and visiting with friends to take my mind off it. 

Then, a few days before Christmas my Brother came to my rescue.  For the first time in 8 years he did not have to be with his girlfriend's family on Christmas day.  So, I was invited over, along with my mom and step dad to have Christmas with him and is lovely ladies - the girlfriend Melanie (who we love!) and her daughter Maddie (who, as a tween, can be hard to love but we love her nonetheless).

My brother and I have a special relationship.  We did not always see eye-to-eye growing up.  He made some decisions I did not agree with and I am sure I did the same.  So, there was a time we didn't really talk much.  But, I always knew if I needed him he would always be there.  Despite some years in his youth were he was a lost soul, he finally found himself about 6 years ago.  He is now an awesome step-dad to Maddie and a fabulous house husband to Melanie.  With his help, she was able to finish school while raising a child with more than a few issues.  He was able to go back to school to get his degree as a Personal Support Worker.  He is a loving and caring man and thanks to him I had a happy Christmas day.

I love you Stephen, Melanie and Maddie.  You will never know how much your kindness meant to me this year.   

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Goal #2 Getting back into the Groove

A while ago I decided I needed to take a more active role in setting goals for myself.  The first step in the process was creating a vision board which I wrote about here.  As I mentioned, I am not very good at setting goals for myself.  That is not to say that I have not had success in my life or that I haven't achieved great things but the reality is that I never actually set out to achieve these successes, they just kind of happened.  While this worked for me while I was younger I am realizing that it is becoming more important for me to set some specific goals. 

The vision board has been helpful, I think.  I have it in my bedroom and I look at it every night before I go to sleep.  It's like a visual representation of my 5 year plan.  It has taken me a few months to recover from my break-up with the long term boyfriend.  These past few months have seen me working hard on my blog and on my job but I haven't been working on my health or my fitness.  I wasn't sleeping and therefore I was tired and maybe even a little depressed - so getting up at 6am to go to the gym just was not going to happen. 

But, with the holiday season upon us and a new year just around the corner I realize that I need to get back into some sort of fitness routine.  Thankfully (and despite my best efforts) I have managed my weight.  I think the combination of removing meat from my diet and just not being as hungry since I wasn't working out 5 days a week let my body adjust to the change without too much effort. 

So, one of my goals for the next few weeks is to start re-integrating fitness back into my life.  I will be starting  indoor Ultimate Frisbee season the first week of January - my lungs are going to thank me for that.  I think I will also try to go to some hot yoga classes while I am on vacation over the holidays.  I do NOT want to be one of those New Year's Resolution gym people - I hate those people.  So, I don't think I will be hitting the gym like a fiend or anything.  But, I will ease back into my fitness routine.



I really believe that activity and fitness is an important part of the life I want to have.  I am looking forward to getting back into the groove.  Look out, here I come. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

PBG Recipe: Shortbread Drop Cookies

Are you sick of Holiday treats and cookies yet?  No?  Me neither.  I decided that it wouldn't be the Holidays without melt in your mouth shortbread cookies.  These cookies are dead simple and yet so yummy and buttery and gooooood. 



Shortbread Drop Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Whip butter until fluffy.
  • Stir in the confectioners' sugar, cornstarch, and flour. Beat on low for one minute, then on high for 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Drop cookies by spoonfuls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  • Bake for 12 minutes.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Social Carnivore

You may remember that I have been working hard and reducing the amount of meat in my diet.  So far, so good...sort of.  I have not cut out meat totally but I have been eating vegetarian about 90% of the time.  Since this whole thing is new to me I have had a few slip ups.  The funniest incident was at a party.  I decided I was hungry so I headed over to the food table.  I grabbed some cheese, veggies and dip, chips, taco dip, meatballs, apple-curry dip...the works.  It wasn't until an hour later that I realized I had shovelled in 5 Swedish meatballs and didn't even flinch.  Too funny!

I have been describing myself a Social Carnivore.  You know how some people only smoke socially or only drink on special occasions.  That's me with meat.  I never cook meat at home but if I am out for dinner or at a party or family function I will allow myself to have meat if the vegetarian options are just not going to cut it.  Like Thanksgiving dinner...potatoes and peas was not going to be enough for a big eater like me.  And I do love me some Turkey.


So far I feel pretty good about my choices.  My motivation for eating vegetarian is animal welfare rather than nutrition.  So, if someone else has chosen to serve meat at their party or function, I do not want to be rude.  Besides, the animal they have chosen to eat has already been purchased and prepared so I am not saving any animals by refusing the meat. 

Do you have any strong convictions when it comes to your food?  Are you a vegetarian?  A vegan?  Do you only eat ethical animal protein?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

PBG Recipe: Cranberry Persimmon Relish with Vanilla Bean

Having never eaten Persimmon before I decided to pick one up at the grocery store last week.  Unfortunately, since I am not familiar with these fruits I did not realize that there are some that can be eaten raw and some that need to be cooked.  The kind I purchased has to be cooked as it was very high in tannins.  This gives your mouth a very dry and fuzzy feeling when eating this fruit raw. 

Since I had a bag of cranberries in the fridge from a previous cooking failure I decided to make some special Cranberry Sauce for Christmas Dinner.  This sauce is very fragrant and sweet.  It could be used as a jam for breakfast or with your Turkey on Christmas Day.

Cranberry Persimmon Relish with Vanilla Bean
1 bag cranberries, rinsed and picked through
juice from 4 clementines
2 persimmons, peeled and diced
2/3 - 3/4 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 Vanilla bean pod, split down the length of the bean

Directions
1.  Add all ingredients to a saucepan.  Place pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
2.  Lower heat to medium and cook for about 15 minutes or until the cranberries burst, stirring occasionally.
3.  Remove from heat and allow cranberry sauce to cool for at least 10 minutes.  Remove Vanilla bean pod before serving.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

PBG Recipe: Brown Sugar Shortbread Cookies

Shortbread cookies are a classic Holiday cookie.  I tooks a basic shortbread recipe and tweaked it to make it PBG style.  I swapped out brown sugar instead of white and added my favourite ingredient...chocolate.

Brown Sugar Shortbread Cookies
1 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
pinch of salt
dark chocolate chips or chunks

1.  Cream butter and sugar together.
2.  Add flour gradually to the bowl using a mixer or your hands.
3.  Roll the dough into 1 inch balls and drop on a place on a non-stick cookie sheet.
4.  Flatten each cookie with a wet fork. 
5.  Press a small piece of chocolate into the middle of each cookie.
6.  Bake a 325 for 20 minutes. 


Look Out Martha Stewart

I have been on a domestic rampage this weekend.  I can't seem to stay out of the kitchen.  It must be the Holidays.  This weekend I have tried several new recipes including...

Candied nuts...some sweet and some sweet with heat
Broccoli and Cheese Soup
Brown Sugar Shortbread
Cranberry Persimmon Relish with Vanilla Bean
Vanilla Sugar and Lemon Sugar

Some of these will be Holiday gifts and some of them are just for me!  I have never been very good or very interested in baking but it seems that something has awoken my inner baker these days.  My brother has always been the better chef so I would be lying if I said a little sibling rivalry might be involved as well. 

I will be sure to post the official recipes for these goodies this week, just in case you want to make some for your family. 

There is also some Holiday decor at my house.  I have to be honest, while I do love the Holidays I have never been a big fan of Christmas Trees.  This is the first time in about 8 years that I have bothered with a tree.  The turquoise and silver theme is fun and not too traditional, I think.  I have added some ribbon since I took this picture but now the light is all gone so no more pictures.   The picture below looks a little naked but in person the tree really looks lovely. 


Do you celebrate Christmas?  Do you have a different tradition in your culture that you are practicing this time of year?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Snowmagedon

Welcome to Southwestern Ontario in the winter.  We have had more snow this week than we had all last winter.  The last time we had a storm like this I was only a year old.  The city was shut down for three days.  My office was closed for two days.  I work with lawyers and lawyers NEVER want to stop working so it is an amazing thing that they allowed the office to be closed. 


I knew the storm was really serious when I found out that they closed the mall.  The mall!!  Can you believe it?  The snow finally stopped on Friday.  We had over a meter of snow this week but the city is finally back to normal.


The weatherman is calling for a little more snow this weekend.  Nothing like we saw this week but when you already have a meter of snow to contend with just a couple of inches can be a disaster. 




Friday, December 10, 2010

Snowman Soup

Sounds tasty, doesn't it?  Ok, I don't really have a recipe for Snowman Soup.  But I did have a very yummy mug of hot chocolate today.  See...

 And the best part is...I made it myself.  That's right!  That edible art is a PBG Original creation.  As a member of the Social Committee at my office part of my job is to ensure that there are lots of treats available to everyone in the office as often as possible.  My co-workers are food fanatics and they love themselves some treats.  So, when the holidays rolled around it only made sense that the Social Committee would pump up the treat quota. 

My co-worker and fellow Social Committee member Alison came up with the idea to give everyone in the office a Holiday mug.  We added a candy cane and a poem and dropped them on everyone's desk this morning.  Now, if that wasn't good enough we brought in all the fixin's for the perfect mug of hot chocolate - whipped cream, marshmallows, chocolate chips, sprinkles, cinnamon sticks, peppermint flavouring, vanilla flavouring, chocolate syrup and caramel syrup.  It was a Hot Chocolate Buffet and it was spectacular.

My perfect creation included mini marshmallows, whipped cream, chocolate chips, sprinkles, coloured sugar and a splash of peppermint.  I was amazing!!  And the best part was that I made it myself.  It looks like it could have come out of a Starbucks advertisement, doesn't it?

I think it is safe to say that most of my office mates were happy with this week's Holiday surprise.  I can't wait to do it all again next week.  I won't tell you now, but I think everyone will be happy.

Does your office do anything fun to celebrate the Holidays?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

PBG Recipe: Pumpkin Pie Cinnamon Rolls

If you haven't already heard I am buried under 3 feet of snow and have started to go a little stir-crazy. 


So, with some time on my hands I decided to try something not yet attempted by yours truly.  Cinnamon Rolls....in other words, real baking.  This was going to involve yeast, and kneading, and waiting and rolling and baking.  But, I figured I would give it a try. 


I adapted my recipe from Angela over at Oh She Glows and boy am I glad I did.  These are the best recipe I have ever made.  Ever.  In the history of all my many meals and recipe attempts this was my biggest success.  Hers were vegan, mine are not.  I had butter and eggs on hand so I figured I might as well use them.   

I will warn you in advance that although this recipe is not difficult it is time consuming.   Be sure to give yourself enough time to make them so you are not baking then at 10pm...not that that happened to me or anything.

Here is what you will need:

The Dough
4 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 cup warm water
2/3 cup unsalted butter
1 cup milk
1 egg
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
6 cups all purpose flour
  
Pecan Cinnamon Streusel Filling
1/2 cup butter, softened but not melted
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp cinnamon
1 cup walnuts, chopped

Pan Sauce
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar

Pumpkin Pie Filling
1 cup pumpkin, canned
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp milk
1 tbsp of Pumpkin Pie spice (add more or less according to your taste)

Frosting
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar

Let's get the dough started:
  • Combine the wet dough ingredients (milk, sugar, butter, salt) in a small sauce pan. Heat on medium until all ingredients are combined.
  • Lightly beat the egg in a small bowl.  Add a small amount of the warm liquid to temper the egg and prevent it from scrambling.  Add the egg mixture into the warm liquid ingredients and stir.  Remove from the heat and allow it to cool.
  • Mix instant yeast with warm water and sugar in a small bowl.
  • Measure 4 cups of the flour and place in a very large bowl.
  • Add in the yeast mixture to warm liquid and add this mixture to the flour and stir with a large wooden spoon until combined.
  • Add in the remaining 2 cups of flour. Mix until combined then use your hands to roughly knead the dough for just a few seconds to help it come together.
  • Place the dough (and flour) onto a floured counter.
  • Knead the dough for 8 minutes until it is no longer sticky to the touch.
  • Shape into a ball and place into an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the oven with the light on and let it rise for 90 minutes.
Prepare the pumpkin pie filling:
  • Combine pumpkin and sugar in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat.
  • Mix corn starch and milk together and ensure there are no lumps.  Add this mixture to the pumpkin mixture.
  • Add Pumpkin Pie Spice.
  • Stir until thickened.  Approximately 5 minutes.

Prepare the Walnut cinnamon streusel filling:
  • In a bowl, mix 1 cup chopped and toasted walnuts, 1 cup sugar, and 3 tbsp cinnamon together and set aside.
Back to the dough:
  • After 90 minutes of rising, poke the dough to make sure that it is ready. If you poke the dough and it does NOT spring back up, it is ready.
  • Spread out the dough into a large 15 inch by 20 inch rectangle using a rolling pin or your hands.
  • Spread on the butter (1/2 cup slightly softened).
  • Take the pumpkin pie filling and spread it on top of the butter.  
  • Sprinkle on the entire amount of the walnut cinnamon streusel sugar topping.
Now it's time to roll:
  • Grab the short end of the dough and roll all of the dough into a log.
  • Cut the log into approximately 16 rolls.  
Every pan needs a sauce:
  • Mix butter and sugar mixture together until melted and combined and pour into large casserole dish.
  • Place the cut rolls into the pan. Cover with plastic wrap, place into the oven with the light on, and allow it to rise for another 45 more minutes.

Now for the icing on the cake rolls:
  • Combine maple syrup and confectioner's sugar in a small bowl.
And back to the dough:
  • After the second rise, remove the buns from the oven and preheat to 350F.
  • After preheating the oven, remove plastic wrap and place casserole dish into the oven.
  • Bake rolls for 25-27 minutes at 350F until golden in colour. Remove from oven and allow it to cool for 10 minutes
And for that final touch: 
Frost your buns any way you like! You may have to thin out the frosting a bit with more
milk depending on how you want to use the frosting. If you want to pipe it on, it is the
perfect consistency as is, but if you want to drizzle, more milk (start with 1 tsp at a time)
may be needed.

 

Snow Day x2

One of the consequences of living in Southwestern Ontario is dealing with the snow.  Some winters (like last winter) are easy peasy.  A few minor snow storms and that's about it.  Other years we get tonnes and tonnes of snow. 

This week is a not so gentle reminder of how much snow we can get here.  Since noon on Sunday we have been buried under a meter of snow...and it just keeps falling.  They are calling for another 20 - 30 cm today and tomorrow.  They might even declare it a state of emergency.  Check out my back yard.



My office has actually been closed for the past 2 days.  The malls even closed 4 hours early yesterday.  And you know I judge the seriousness of an emergency based on whether or not the retail stores stay open.  I am even considering hitting up the mall tonight - we live close enough to walk and I bet there isn't a soul to be found shopping in weather like this. 

Unfortunatly, I am able to work from home so I don't actually get the day off.  So, even though I get to do it in my PJs I still have to do actual work.  Boo!  Oh well, It's been great to just lay on the couch with my laptop and work.  Being housebound for 2 days has made me a little antsy so I even tried my hand at a little baking last night and it was an epic success if I do say so myself.  EPIC!  I will be giving you the details in a later post. 

How is the weather in your part of the world?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

PBG Recipe: Oh Baby Bars

Peanut butter and chocolate...together?  Yes, please.  I adapted this recipe from Jenna at Eat, Live, Run.  Thanks Jenna, these were a big hit with everyone who tried them.



Oh Baby Bars
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
12 ounces dark chocolate
1 T butter

Blend together the brown sugar, powdered sugar, butter and peanut butter into a smooth paste. Press into the bottom of a nine by nine inch pan.

Melt the chocolate with the tablespoon of butter over very low heat (or in a microwave). Pour melted chocolate over the peanut butter crust and stick in the fridge for an hour to harden.

Cut into squares and serve!

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

And, of course, I mean Holiday Party season.  I love the holidays and I especially love Holiday parties.  Sadly, I do not have many to attend this year but I will be making the best of the one's I do attend.  Last week I had my office Holiday Party.  You probably don't know this about me but I am a member of my office Social Committee.  What does that mean, exactly?  It means that I get to order birthday cake and help organize Holiday Parties. 

We booked at the London Club.  This is a members only club in London, Ontario.  It is fancy AND schmancy. 




We booked the Bowling Alley which is a long narrow room with a bar at one end and seating at the other.  There were cocktails followed buy dinner and mingling.  It was a good time.  The only disappointment was my dinner.

As you know, I am a flexatarian so I do my best to order vegetarian options when they are available.  This year's meal selections included a vegetarin option so I thought I might as well try it.  When it come time for our dinner to be served my meal started with a lovely root vegetable soup.  Some people choose to order the salad which also looked good.  Then our main entrees were delivered.  The other choices were Arctic Char and Turkey.  These were served with a mountain of garlic mashed potatos and a side of seasonal veggies.  Both of these choices looked awesome. 

Then, my entree came.  I was starving so I was looking forward to it.  When the waitress placed my entree in from of me I thought it was some kind of mistake.  I had a very yummy looking tower of grilled portabella mushrooms and zucchini with goat cheese....and that's it.  No potatos, no seasonal veggies.  My heart sank.  This was it?  This was my whole meal?  I was going to starve.  Everyone was looking at my plate wondering what the heck I had ordered.  And quite frankly, so was I.  Just because I am a vegetarian doesn't mean I don't need a substantial meal.  I am not on a diet...I am just concerned with animal welfare.  I will admit that the mushroom tower was very tasty but I clearly looked pathetic and hungry becasue my table mate offered most of her mashed potatos and veggies off her own plate.  She has kids so she is likely used to having to share.  If it wasn't for her I most certainly would have starved. 

The rest of the evening was filled with friends, chatter and drinks.  As with every holiday party there was one guest who felt the need to show his true colours (free beer and wine will do that to people).  Apparently he spent a large part of the evening telling anyone who would listen his views on the current cultural state of the country.  But, despite his efforts to be offensive he wasn't able to dampen everyone's fun. 

I hope everyone had a good time.  I am looking forward to the rest of the holiday season.