Thursday, July 12, 2018

Lots of Chocolate Cupcakes

So I love to bake. As much as I love to cook and have the freedom to try different things and not follow the rules or measure carefully. That being said I find baking to be almost magical. That you take certain items, add them together and put them in the oven and something completely different comes out at the end. Now I know and understand thanks to Good Eats and Alton Brown that this is science - it is the reason  why you have to be so specific when baking.
That being said I still find it fascinating. Not to mention I am spending more time now trying to figure out how to make things on my own without a recipe (I just got a book called Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking) It's an inexpensive book and seems interesting.  I am waiting to try something out until I don't really need it to turn out just in case. 

That being said one of my favourite things to experiment with these days are cupcakes! I took cake decorating classes and when we went to class I would go the easy route and buy the often $1 cake mix and just make that (I mean come on - how easy and simple is that!!) It wasn't until the Monkey's birthday a couple of years ago that I started really making my own cake instead of using a mix (now I never use a mix).  All because she said "Mom, your really not making me a home made cake if it is from a box" - I signed because she was right so I pulled out my trusty cookbook Canadian Living: The Ultimate Cookbook and found a classic chocolate cake recipe - it seemed pretty easy - like ok really easy. This is by far the best - hands down - cake recipe ever! I say this because I have had people convert to actually eating cake and convert to liking chocolate cake once they try this recipe. It is good because it's chococlatey without being an overwhelming chocolate. 
As directed in the recipe I always use coffee instead of water to help bring out the flavour. However at times I have changed that up and have also used mulled red wine (especially around Christmas) I have also done a coffee and Khalua mix with a Bailey's Icing (a B52 cupcake!) the possibilities are endless once you get the basic cake down! Including the variety of different butter cream icing you can use to decorate it with.

The best part about this recipe is that I can usually get it made and in the oven within about 5 to 8 minutes! (you may be asking about the coffee - I usually make that using the Keurig or lately a french press and all I do is put Ice in a bag and let it sit in the hot coffee to cool it down before adding it to the mix. 

Classic Chocolate cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups brewed coffee or water (I would never water - coffee makes them SO much better! it must be cool not HOT when adding to the cake batter)
1 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla 
3 tbsp cider vinegar (I have used apple cider because I couldn't find plain cider and it worked fine) 

Preheat the oven to 350 Degrees 
Cake: Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, line the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside,
Cupcakes: Line 24 cupcake tins with liners and set aside. 
  • In bowl, whisk flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.
  • Whisk in coffee, oil and vanilla. Stir in the vinegar. (I usually just combine this all in one large glass measuring cup) 
  • Divide evenly between the cupcake tins or cake pan (I found for the cupcakes they were almost all of the way full). 
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes for the cake or 18-20 minutes for cupcakes. Make sure you test with a tester.
  • Let cool for 10 minutes and then invert cake pan onto a cooling rack or remove the cupcakes from the tins. 

Bailey's Butter Cream Icing
1 lbs Icing sugar (measure by weight)
1 cup butter
8 tsp of Bailey's

Monday, July 9, 2018

So I Sous Vide

Anova Precision Cooker
Ok - so let me start with the excitement about getting a precision cooker!  I have seen them used on a couple of different cooking shows and was interested in them.  Then a friend started posting some interesting stuff that she was making using sous vide so this had me start researching and looking some more. 

Basically sous vide means literally to cook something under vacuum. Basically you cook what ever the item is in a sealed container that has not air (so a bag that is vacuumed sealed or a ziplock back that has all of the tire pressed out of it or in canning jars) and the container is then placed in water and the water is kept circulating and at a constant temperature. The food cooks slowly in some cases more slowly than a slow cooker - but what you can cook is way more versatile than a slow cooker.
Steak, Fries and Chimichurri
So you may be asking why would you want to use this if you can just use a slow cooker?  The precision nature of the cooking method - I have overcooked lots of things in my day (I'm guessing I am not the only one). In the oven, slow cooker, stove, or BBQ it is easy to over cook something especially if you are distracted by other things or when you are trying to prepare multiple things.  The nice thing is that basically you cannot overcook the food because the the food item can never get hotter than the water bath it is placed in. The process also retains the juices and flavours that would otherwise be lost in the cooking process. 

So steak sous vide vs. BBQ - on the BBQ you heat the grill up often reaching temperatures of 400 to 500 F on the grill - then you put the steak on - this means that if you are not perfect in your timing and pull the steak off at the right time the steak can go over the desired temperature for doneness (for me medium rare - which means pulling it off around 135F and then letting it rest to continue cooking up to 145 F (residual heat right?!) Well - the steak I did in the sous vide was suppose to cook for 1 hour at 129F but I got distracted and it was in the water bath for 90 minutes and still came out perfectly medium rare!

I ended up getting the Anova Precision Cooker (Bluetooth and Wifi version) (click here to visit the store) for my birthday and ended up taking it to the lake to try out a few different things. After the steak one of the first things I made was the Creme Brûlée and I have to say it was by far the easiest and best version I have made and it was so much easier than making a regular version. It was a little tricky getting to learn about how to stack and place jars properly in the water but the results were amazing! 

The only downside - I could not get the bluetooth to work while at the lake and this version is only   compatible with a 2.4 GHz internet connection so I had to manually set and adjust the machine at the lake (I mean good because you don't have to rely on the app but on the other hand just very annoying). I have to figure out the Bluetooth connection. 

The other downside - I only have one lol!  I was also a good learning experience. Despite what I knew about the method of cooking it was suggested I try potatoes (requires a high temperature) at the same time as chicken (low temperature) and it didn't work - which is fine because the potatoes were amazing on the BBQ.  Now you do not need any special equipment when you get started aside from the precision cooker you can just use a pot. However, I either have a really huge stock pot (22L+ or a smaller size soup pot) barely enough room to have put my steaks in never mind trying to cover them with water. So I did end up picking up containers from a kitchen supply store. I also did this because I learned one other thing from the vast amount of resources available online - it is a great idea to cover the water in some fashion (ping pong balls, foils, lid) to prevent heat loss and evaporation. The other reason for getting the camber (plastic) container was for insulation. The plastic will help retain heat in the water where metal is meant to distribute water. 

Other nice part - we learned that you can cook from frozen!  Which means I can prep chicken breast, throw them in the freezer and then when ready just throw them in for the sous vide and have them turn out perfectly!

At the end of the day - if you are going to invest in something else for the kitchen and want something you can use to impress guests and make easy meals I highly recommend the Anova!  It was also great because we did eggs for a big group at the lake and they cooked and held at perfection while I made Ham and Cheese Egg Crepes with Mustard Sauce (I'll post that recipe later but it was a great savoury rendition of a classically sweet dish!). I just now have to figure out how to get a second one or their new Nano version.  (Note: we managed to get ours on a sweet deal for Father's Day!!) 

Some great resources:

I am still looking for a good "cookbook" that deals more with this method of cooking so if you have a recommendation!