The healing power of pastry

As Edward Norton once said to Robin Williams in the movie “Death to Smoochy”, “We all got our bad days.”

Sometimes, to get through the bad days, you just have to do something that makes you feel good – and in my case, that often ends up being something culinary. I like a challenge – and I like the feeling I get when I succeed. (This feeling is much unlike the time I decided to try making corn tortillas – used the wrong kind of flour – and failed miserably. The feeling I got when we had to go to the store and buy them after was a bad feeling – one of defeat.)

Recently, some good (and beautiful and talented and wonderful and charming – is it working? are they listening – we love you and your pastry delivery) friends of ours made (AND DELIVERED) “Pain au Chocolat” – it was amazing, flaky, buttery, chocolaty (I feel like there should be an “e” in chocolaty but spellcheck is telling me otherwise) – and so so good.

Thus, on a day when my ego needed some boosting, I decided to give it a try and dive headlong in to my own puff pastry adventure. Terrifying? Yes. Satisfying? Oh, yes.

From the soothing hum of my mixer affixed with dough-hook, to the scraping and smooshing of butter and flour, all the way to the strong-arm of the dough rolling avec fondant roller and wine bottle – this was an experience I wish to repeat again and again – for more than just the house that smells of butter and chocolate. I would repeat this just for the glory any day. Yes folks, in the folds and the layers, there is a certain freedom to be found – there is release. There is butter – my god – there is so much butter. And yes, in that bubbling and puffing up of pastry and ego when you realize you’ve done it correctly, and that it worked the way it was supposed to, there is glory.

Pain au Chocolat

I used two recipes online for my adventure – this one (Simply So Good) for the ingredients and method, and this one (Graces Sweet Life) for the step by step photos.

Next time, I would probably splurge and get myself a real rolling pin – but you can get by without (I used a little fondant roller and a wine bottle, but things ended up a little uneven) and I would have used a ruler to measure properly so I got more uniformity in size and shape.

Here are some photos of the process as it happened in my kitchen! (sadly I missed photographing one of the most important steps – folding the butter square in to the pastry – but there are many to be seen online!)

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I strongly urge you to try this – it’s a lot of fun and so totally worth it in the end – and did I mention delicious? Among all of the other things that this is, the main one is delicious. So, on those days when you just can’t seem to get going – sit back, get yourself a coffee, and tuck in to one of these bad boys. (I just said tuck in, hehehe, thank you for that Jamie Oliver ;) )

All the best to all of you – I have mucho exciting career news at the moment – stay tuned for more on all of that here when I come up with a way to relate it to food. In the meantime you can read all about it here on my facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/AllisonCroweMusic . ( Seriously though, I will come up with a post all about it once I find a delicious celebratory food to relate to it all, as there is so truly much to celebrate it’s hard to fit in one post! ;)  )

In other news, I have just discovered the awesomeness that is Battlestar Galactica – which is probably why I felt the need to make such an intense and motivational speech about pastry and butter. Holy frack. Starbuck is my hero. (aside from all the other shows that I loved already – Community, Parks and Rec, the Walking Dead, the Killing – the list goes on.)

At any rate, take care of eachother – love and hugs and healing pastry to you all. xoxo

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The Recital

First half of the recital
Twinkle twinkle Repeats
Varying levels of skill
From the scratchiest scratch
To the boldest tone
Composers names
In my mind and this scratchiest scratch
Of a performance dress
Tights constricting me in to
A gilded sausage
_____________________________
In the meantime:
Terrified.
feel like hours passed
piano I’d practiced
Lost halfway through the song
A blank stare
A racing heart
A fast pace off the stage
Too much time spent
Learning the composers names
______________________________
Years pass
The names come easier
I stop less halfway through
And when I do
I pretend like it was on purpose
Rather than running away
I sit In my scratchy dress
I still hate tights
I wonder what it’s like to play
Twinkle twinkle with a bow
_______________________
Great grandfather
The traveling fiddle player
A gypsy in his time
Letters home to his daughter
In my hand
Music beautifully notated,
staves by hand
his violin, unstrung, fading velvet,
sits high
I wonder what it’s like
To make it sing
_________________________________
More years
Holiday, light and laughter
A violin, strung and delicate velvet
Resin and bow
Set beneath deep blue satin
And I set about to play
Variations of
Twinkle twinkle
Until it no longer scratches
As much as an itchy recital dress
As I realize I am finally, at 30,
In the first half of the recital.
________________________________________
 

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Chocolate Covered Strawberry Shortcake

I seriously love making my own cake for my birthday, and it’s only because I just really love making cake. I swear it’s not a control thing- it’s not! I swear! But it IS a love of cake thing. Recently, I celebrated my 30th birthday, and it got me to thinking of all of my years on this earth so far.

I have these memories of when I was little – of the happy sort, that are almost all infused with warm sun rays coming in through a window and soft lighting (even though one of theses particular memories is from indoors during the evening) – of being at my favourite restaurant (yes, I had one of those even when I was a little girl) that just happened to be owned by family friends. I loved it there. It was called the Grotto and I still get sad when I realize that it’s gone.

My entire family used to eat at The Grotto on every Christmas Eve, and then head to our friends for a jazz jam – it was the best. The grotto was also the first place that I ever tried sushi, and they had some of the best curry, that I can actually almost taste now just thinking back on it…well, anyways – back to this particular memory.

They knew me pretty well there.

I often ordered the stir-fry, maybe had a delicious Shirley Temple to drink, (they always came with little plastic mermaids and monkeys skewered through the cherries – which i saved) and my brother often had a dessert called Mud Pie – which seemed like some kind of crazy grown up dessert to me when I was little because a) it was huge and b) it had coffee in it. COFFEE.

For me, however – because I was obviously super awesome – I enjoyed a special dessert that wasn’t even on the menu. A giant – GIANT – chocolate covered strawberry.

In my mind and memory – those strawberries were bigger than my whole hand – (maybe at that time they WERE) and the chocolate was just this insanely decadent treat. (…though I didn’t think that at the time, because I didn’t know the word “decadent’ yet) It was my absolute favourite.

The other memory I have, also including strawberries, is of my Kindergarten teacher Mrs. Ficket  (who I absolutely adored) and the “Strawberry Tea” that she used to hold at our elementary school. Kids and parents would attend the Strawberry Tea, and would be served tea and Strawberry Shortcake (who was one of my favourite dolls, as well hehe) – and it was so delicious. I looked forward to it every year, even as I got older.

At any rate, for my 30th birthday this year, I thought back on some of these old memories and of foods come and gone ( I think about food a lot ) – and these two stuck out – so, what I made was some sort of crazy super dessert.

 Chocolate Covered Strawberry Shortcake.

Essentially I made vanilla bean cake (4 layers for 2 cakes), placed sliced strawberries soaked in sugar and chocolate ganache in the middle, and then I covered the whole thing in a vanilla frosting – to be topped with giant chocolate covered strawberries.

First, I made the vegan vanilla bean cake – click here for the recipe – which is from the amazing Isa Moskowitz at the Post Punk Kitchen (seriously, check her out – she’s my favourite) and let that cool and do its thing for a bit.

While all of that was happening, I made the ganache, also from Isa – for which there is a link here. (the ganache recipe is within!)

As those were cooling, I chopped up the strawberries to be soaked in sugar – honestly I didn’t measure here at all.. for two cakes it was roughly 2 pints of strawberries minus the 10 that I covered in chocolate – and the sugar I had left.. haha.

Next up were the chocolate covered strawberries. SUPER easy. All I did was microwave some chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet ghirardhelli for everything in this recipe) at about 30 second intervals, stirring each time I checked on it until it was all melty and delicious – then dipped them in using a lot of swirling motion and getting my hands all chocolately, and then let them set on a silpat. (which is new to me, and which I now have and which I love – but parchment paper also works!)

Next – the frosting, also vegan, also from the internet! Click here for the recipe. This made a super fluffly light frosting – perfect for this cake! I changed it up slightly and used rice milk instead of soy milk because I prefer the taste. I think almond milk would also be good.

And so, last but not least, was the assembly. I made two two layer cakes (not tutu, I was never good at ballet) , filled the center first with ganache and then lay half the strawberry slices over the ganach, put on the top, and then let that cool a couple hours.

After that was all good and firm, I did a crumb coat of frosting, let that chill a bit, and then did the final coat – and arranged the strawberries on top!

I hope that if you try this you enjoy it  and then serve it to all of your friends ASAP – I loved it and had the best birthday filled with lovely people – and it was also like both of those childhood memories wrapped in to one sort of super-meta-memory!

Until next time, take care,

Alley

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30? Well, okay. I guess?

*note – no recipes here, but there will be a cake recipe and post in a few days!

 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I love my birthday. I love the
month of November, and I love the number 16 – I even love the year 1981 –
all in a wildly narcissistic fashion. So should you! (for your day,
respectively – or, hey, mine if you want to) I will have a blast, and there
will be cake. It’s 30 that I’m not so sure about.

I distinctly recall how old I used to think that 30 was when I was younger –
there’s even a line in an old Deana Carter song ‘Strawberry Wine’ about
remembering when 30 was old. (also, her biggest fear was September, when he
had to go – I digress.) (That I just said “an old Deana Carter song” and
meant it also is a bit disturbing.)

Personally, I don’t feel a day over 16 – and when I was 16 I felt old and
sad a lot of the time. I did a lot of wishing I could just fast-forward
beyond my crazy youth to become instantly old and wise and look back on the
things that were happening then with humour and a fount of knowledge instead
of fear and confusion.

Truthfully, I’m glad that didn’t happen, (the non-event of time travel not
withstanding), and that I experienced everything in between then and now
that I have – because it’s been a hell of a ride – and I didn’t really have
to wait that long, in the grand scheme of things, to be able to look back on
things the way I can now.

Personally and career-wise, (which are so interlocked it’s sometimes hard to
define the lines between them), I’ve gone through what I needed to go
through to be who I am right now. I needed those times. I needed to learn
what I didn’t want, what I wouldn’t go through again, and to learn to
communicate all of those things through music, writing, conversation, and
expression – and with other people.

Know who I am now? Me neither. Not completely. I’m learning that doesn’t
matter so long as you’re true to yourself. The rest follows. It does. I
promise.

I’ve put myself through enough trials at this point, and I’ve spent so much
time locked up in my own head, that quite frankly, I want to do put all I
have in to everything in life and just enjoy it. I want to learn everything.
I want to see everything. I want to love everyone.

Now, I’ve heard a lot that 30 is the new 20 – and I have no idea what that
means. In fact, I don’t even WANT that to be the case. To me, 30 is still
30, and, scary as that is to me, I’m glad to not be 20 anymore. I was so
constantly confused and heartbroken and filled with self-hatred when I was
20 – that it’s a great place to be beyond.

I am excited to be on the other side of all that now, and I am looking
forward to new adventures and appreciating all of the previous ones. I’m
even excited to look back on this in 30 years and realize how naïve I was
turning 30.

I’ve shed some old fears, and have occasionally developed new ones – but I
feel younger, more open-minded and more battle-ready than ever. I can
finally lift that sword out of that stone – now I just have to figure out
what to do with it. First, I’ll cut the cake. =

ps. I took this pic in Cow Head, NL when I was there this summer -

I was in love with this mug.

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Fall? Bread.

I love autumn. It’s my favourite time of year. My birthday falls in the fall. I slip and fall less in the fall because it’s not quite as cold as the winter, not as careless as the summer, not as wet as the spring, and.. oh that’s all of the seasons. Right. Anyways, I took that picture in the summer, so I guess it’s kind of unrelated – but I just love what these look like when the wind hits them.

Anyways, for some reason, whenever I think of the Fall, I think of bread. I also think of bread when I think of summer, winter, spring, or giraffes. Bread is delicious. If I love it so much why don’t I just marry it? I’m not sure – probably because I ate all of it before it got the chance to pop the question.

While not a loaf of bread per se, I made this pizza dough the other day, and it was amazing, and doubled as a delicious foccacia: http://www.thejoykitchen.com/recipe.lasso?recipe=1116. I used a cup of whole wheat flour and just a bit less flour over all, and about a pack and a half of yeast in mine, so just kind of feel it out. For the record, when I’ve used too much whole wheat before, it hasn’t risen as well – haven’t figured that one out yet! I don’t have a picture because I was too busy eating it… It rose beautifully and was deliciously crusty. I am starting to think that I posted this recipe before. I am pretty sure that I did – and with good reason.

Another fun thing I am doing this fall is a show in Ladysmith, on Vancouver Island on Sept 23rd. If you’re around there, I’d love to see you! It will be the anniversary of a lovely local couple there, as well as my company’s 10th anniversary celebration. Who knew?!

At any rate, while there are no pictures of food on this post on this food blog (oops), here’s a poem about bread, and autumn, and night time, and baths, and pyjamas (how do you SPELL that word?!), and tea, and stuff.

-

I gave up on the sun long ago,

choosing the moon’s soft assurance to bring me down

the sun’s wide eyed smile

nowhere near the beauty of the moon’s soft frown

less bold, quieter, a safer place

to cough these devils from my throat

 

cool, dry comfort in borrowed blankets

wild eyed lovers given way to sleepy faced companions

everyones egos dropped

for shakin heads and shrugged shoulders

tension releasing as dawns day lets go to the nights dusk

and settles in

kettles boiling, steeped herbs steaming the air

sweet perfumed comfort – a deep breath – first in, then out

as frost lands first delicate on blades of grass

 

yeast within tepid water

honey to feed it, time to watch it grow

flour sprinkled somewhat indelicately

learning this dance a bit better with each batch

dough kneading in and out and around

when with cloth settled,

filling its bowl with puffy clouded girth

punched down, breathing a sigh of relief

 

it wakes again to become the sweet heady scent of home

crust flaking, inside a yield

warm and melting the days ration

in to a golden sun of passion

every bit tasted on its way to filling bellies

 

soaking bones and skin in cozy water

flowers and extracts, salts and oils

wringing hair clean and new

dried with fluffy towels enrobed in clean cotton

drifting off to sound and precious sleep.

-

Happy autumn, everyone!

take care,

Allison :)

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Wiener dogs, school treats and a slice of cheesecake.

Hey everybody!

This entry is going to be long – and contains links to three recipes for three very different occasions, from three different excellent foodblogs – I do so love the internet. Read on!

I know it’s been a while, so long in fact that I have completely new hair from the last time I posted. This is not a rare happening, but a happening all the same – and it shows at the very least a day has passed – in this case, quite a few days!

Today is a very special day. Today is the 2nd birthday of this guy:

Happy birthday Linkers!!

In honor of his birthday, I’ve baked him up some wiener dog shaped cookies – and you can find the recipe HERE! (I added the word “dog”here at the start, even though I normally wouldn’t, to make it clear that these aren’t cookies for a bachelorette party – from this point on I shall say wiener, and wiener alone.)

This particular wiener is my best friend – no joke. In the summer he’s the perfect companion for swims and walks, and in the winter or if I’m not feeling well, he makes the perfect hot-wiener bottle to warm my feet.

He’s a good guy. Solid, dependable, and incredibly long.

So for you today, on this day of your wienerness, I bake you these cookies. That look like you. I hope that isn’t a form of cannibalism. (cookie cutters – Bulk Barn – 89 cents – woot!)

Next up, churros.

My manfriend Adam has been back at school this year, getting his education degree – and that means a lot of being away, but a lot of going away treats – I’ve made these twice for these types of times. I’m no photographer, but I couldn’t pass up taking pictures of these – the chocolate sauce was ridiculous – creamy and dark chocolatey with a hint of cinnamon and orange steeped in to the cream. The churros themselves crispy and sweet on the outside and soft and yielding on the inside, perfectly light and airy to counterbalance their fried heavy madness.

Think mini-donuts, fresh out of a truck at the fair – best eaten straight out of the oil. These are not a health food.

I found the process for these fascinating, cooking the dough on the stovetop, piping it out with a piping bag in to the hot oil – super fun. One tip, and this is probably a no-brainer for people who work with piping bags often, hahaha, but seriously, don’t overfill the bag or else you’ll have a crazy mess squeeze out the top of it. It happened to me twice. That and make sure your frosting tip is securely in the piping bag – or else. Just trust me. That happened to me twice too.

CLICK HERE for the recipes! (the first time I made these I used bakers chocolate in the dip, the second time we splurged and got a giant Ghirardhelli dark chocolate bar – both were delicious, but seriously, splurge on the bigger bar – I mean if you are going to have deep fried dough with sugar on it, you may as well go all the way with it. And please, DO steep the cinnamon sticks and orange zest in the cream, it is SO worth it.)

Speaking of health food, my last little note here is, during a fun but too-brief visit with my mom last week, we made this savoury cheesecake:

If you are eating a bit lighter, but want a treat – something creamy and cheesy and decadent within reason – a slice of this is delicious! Think the flavours of quiche but instead of egg, a whole lotta creamy cheesy deliciousness. This was a huge hit with us! We served it with a simple bunch of arugala. Again, it’s cheese – but all lighter types!. ;) You can find the recipe here: Savoury Cheesecake (I totally copied the arugala garnish from that site, too! hehe)

Anyways, happy birthday Linkers, all the best to Adam on his homestretch of school, and safe travels to my mom! (she’s already been back home a week now but, you know, it can’t hurt!) ;)

Take care, and love your friends.

Cheers,

Alley :)

ps.On a musical note, (har har), I came across this video yesterday of Oscar Peterson playing in Denmark – if you want to feel music hit straight to your heart, and see crazy complex piano lines made to look as simple as taking a breath – check this out. This remains one of my favourite songs in the world. Also, Youtube is so awesome.

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No Whey! (Palak Paneer)

Hello everyone and welcome to todays instalment of a really bad play on words!

First off – I couldn’t help myself – so let’s just get the apologies out of the way to start with, and then on to the cheese-making! (I could put a few more bad jokes RIGHT THERE but I will control myself.) Anyways, sorry.

Secondly, many of the photos here were taken by my boyfriend Adam – just so you know! I found it very difficult to make cheese and be a photo taker at the same time so he stepped in valiantly. Timing is everything.

All that said – I would like to share with you a recipe for the simplest most delicious homemade cheese I’ve ever had. (Mind you, it’s the ONLY homemade cheese I’ve ever had – I haven’t experiment with rennets and things and made cheddar and the like… I hope to – but I digress…)

First a little backstory.

Every time I head home to Nanaimo, I essentially force my parents (I’m a terrible daughter) to take me for dinner at Amrikko’s Indian Grill. It is, by far, my favourite place for Indian food – it is just so, so freaking good. I always overeat there – (the onion bhaji – so crazy delicious)(navrattan korma)(butter chicken)(everything vindaloo)(and then the dips – THE DIPS – some sort of crazy delicious mint dip and then a sweet delicious one..) – and then, my favourite dish, Palak Paneer. Palak Paneer is essentially a light but firm cheese (paneer – it has a similar texture but totally different taste to something like Haloumi or Feta – and can be grilled) tossed in a deliciously spiced spinach (or palak) sauce.

When I’m not home in Nanaimo, I often find myself dreaming of palak paneer – and finally I have been pushed over the edge, and have decided to make my own.

Paneer, the cheese part of the palak paneer, is actually amazingly simple to make, once you get the hang of it. It has taken me a few times to get said hang of it, but I think i’ve got it down to a rough art now. (…not to be confused with a fine art. – I still screw up sometimes.) If you love cheese as much as I do – AND I REALLY LOVE CHEESE – the spark that the following knowledge to be shared will give you in your heart is nothing short of an emotional epiphany.

YES – you can make your own cheese. It may take a few times to get the hang of it – but get the hang of it you will – and will be forever changed.

I’ve made this a few times for veggie curries and things, this being the first time I’ve ever made full-on palak paneer – and here are the ingredients.

Paneer

  • 1 Litre Milk (I use %2, but if you want a richer cheese go for full fat – and apparently you can even use light or skim milk)
  • 2 tbls of lemon juice

And that’s it.

Here’s what to do:

Put the milk on to boil – making sure to stir it enough so that it doesn’t burn on the bottom. I’ve had the most success with a large metal pot – large enough to hold boiling milk – and have failed miserably with a porcelain dutch oven type pot. Perhaps someone sciencey can tell me why. Something about reactions and metals and science. Sure, why not.

Anyhow, once the milk comes to a boil (and you will know, it expands like CRAZY so keep a close eye on it – and, once again, make sure your pot is large enough to handle this or else you’ll have a milky mess on your hands – it’s happened to me – and it is not pretty), add your lemon juice to the mix and reduce the heat to medium low while stirring – until large curds are formed and they seperate from an almost clear whey. You will know when this happens – the seperation should be pretty obvious. If it’s not, put it on to boil again and add more lemon juice (or vinegar if you like – or citric acid and water apparently) and try again.

When you are happy with how your curds have separated from the whey, pour the mixture in to a cheese cloth hanging above a bowl. Myself, I don’t have a cheese cloth – so I used a sieve and a piece of paper towel…

When I realized THAT was a horrible mistake, I quickly transferred the almost papery cheese (oops) to an unused pair of silver tights with the legs tied off. Perfect. (I didn’t taste any silver when I ate it…)

Once all of your liquid is drained, depending on how firm you want the cheese, weigh down with a custard dish and small waving happy stone cat and put in the fridge while you make your sauce. (or, you know, whatever you have to weigh it down.)(And yes, that is cat food in the background – we are protecting it from the dog. Gross? Maybe. Necessary? Definitely.)

I find with this cheese, timing is everything. Don’t add the lemon juice before it totally boils like crazy – and make sure to keep on the heat until the curds are separated to your approval.

For the palak part, I simply boiled about 5 or 6 big handfuls of spinach in water for about 5 minutes, drained, and pureed in a blender with 2 chopped tomatoes.

I added that mixture to already toasted and heated vegetable oil, garlic, ginger, onion (you’ll want to chop yours smaller than mine – I was really really hungry and impatient by this point), and spices. I am pretty sure there was cumin, fennel, cardamom, coriander, turmeric, white pepper, salt and chili powder in there, but to be honest, I’m not sure. I have a bunch of unnamed bags from bulk barn. I made sure to not add anything like cinnamon sugar – and that’s all I know.

For a better and more exact recipe, do google palak paneer recipes – there are tons out there. I always find the simplest the best!

While that was happening, I chopped the paneer in to pretty little bite sized pieces (I sprinkled it with sea salt first – to taste) and fried in a touch of oil on both sides til nice and golden brown – tossed it all together, and enjoyed copiously.

I hope that you enjoy this as much as I do. Because I do. A lot.

I’m headed on tour soon, so in my next entry I will add a few tour dates to the recipe.

Take care and talk soon,

still waiting for spring,

Alley :O)

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