Living in Vancouver with a dog, child and another one on the way, we knew that renting a bigger space would be a challenge. The rental vacancies are extremely competitive and even if you secure a place there’s a chance that you might lose it with your landlord cashing in on the hot real estate market. It was time to settle down and create some roots here.
A lot of people say that when you buy a house you’ll just know “it’s the one”. That wasn’t really the case with this house. Everything about it was old. The carpets were stained at the house and a weird funk to it. I spent about 10 minutes in there before I had to leave. My impression of the house? “It has potential.” Even in its fixer upper state, we still had to deal with 8 other people bidding on the house, but we finally lucked out.
I knew this was going to be a big job. Nothing had been updated since it was built, including appliances. There wasn’t a room that wouldn’t involve some sort of work. Asbestos was abated, carpets were immediately ripped out and replaced with wood flooring and we were waiting on permits to tear down the walls. We love the open concept look and the kitchen layout wasn’t functional with its small space and my (ahem) large collection of kitchen wares.
One thing I learned about this process is that it’s a very slow one. We’re still undergoing renos and won’t be completely done until next year (at least I hope). Finding a contractor was difficult with many of them booked months in advance.
This was our set up for awhile: No stove, no sink on the main floor (later we got a temporary laundry tub put in and it made a world of difference), no microwave. Easiest thing to live without? Microwave. Even after the kitchen was complete we didn’t get one for another few months. Hardest thing to live without? Kitchen sink. I’d have to wash all the dishes upstairs, pregnant.
To get our open concept kitchen we needed a permit to bring down walls and that took 4 weeks. Without the permit, no major work could be done. Even the flooring on the main level couldn’t be done because the wall had to come down first. Looking back, I’m amazed how we lived through this. During this time the most valuable assets were the toaster oven (roast chicken!) and the grill.
It’s been a long silence on my end. I have 45 posts in draft mode and a number of them are cookbook reviews started in 2014. To be honest, life got in the way and more importantly I felt I was unable to live up to the expectations that I felt a food blog should have.
So I’m going to dial it back and do what I can. I still get excited when I get a cookbook and there are a ton that I’m looking forward to getting this fall.
In the mean time, this has happened:
We bought a house that was a fixer upper. This was the kitchen complete with appliances from the year it was built, 1980:
We’re still living in renovation mode, but the worst is over with. Walls were torn down and my dream kitchen was built.
And then this guy came along:
Image by Cradled Creations
He’s almost 2 months old and it’s a completely different ballgame when you also have an almost 3 year old. All the time consuming recipes that I could spend hours in the kitchen? Not so much. Meal kit deliveries so we don’t end up eating cereal at night? Yes, please.
Hoping to share with you guys more frequently this time around.
The weather has been a bit wonky here. Feels like summer one day and chilly the next. This is a perfect cozy meal. I wrote about this recipe a long time ago, but my very amateur photography skills didn’t display it in the best light. This is a post worth repeating.
The household (read: the husband) doesn’t eat red meat, but I don’t miss it with this recipe. The bbq sauce is worthy for vegans and meat eaters alike. Even if you’re not a big tofu fan, it’s worth making the sauce. This is a great vegan recipe to have in your repertoire.
Pomegranate molasses are called for in this recipe. You can find it in Middle Eastern grocery stores, but I’ve also found the ingredient quite easily in gourmet shops.
Pomegranate BBQ Tofu (from Vegan with a Vengeance)
1. Marinate the tofu in 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon tamari. Bake on a baking sheet for 15 minutes in the oven then flip the slices and bake for 15 minutes longer.
2. Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a saucepan over medium heat sauté the shallots and the garlic for about 5 minutes, add the 5 spice and sauté 1 minute more. Add the rest of the ingredients in order of the recipe. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and let simmer for 20 minutes. Stir frequently.
3. When the tofu is done, smother with the sauce and bake for 15 minutes longer. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.
The Dirty Apron is a cooking school and delicatessen in Vancouver. I’ve heard that their classes are great, but I haven’t made it out there yet. I had a great experience at a cooking class I took in Toronto. You get to learn new techniques, but I think the best aspect of those classes is how social it is. It’s fun for everyone to sit down and eat together.
The Dirty Apron now has a cookbook
with fail-proof recipes. So if you can’t make it to there, this book has a bunch of recipes from the cooking school as well as from their catering menu.
The skill level ranges from beginner (smoked salmon bagels with lemon and dill cream cheese) to advanced (crab cannelloni). There isn’t a “mains” chapter, but instead a “meat and poultry” and “seafood”. Looking through the pages, there are very few vegetarian dishes. The ones that are there are mostly salads. If you’re a vegetarian, this book may not be your thing. For me, most of these recipes aren’t simple enough for weeknight fare (especially with a baby!). These are the recipes to pull out for weekends or when company is coming over. I like the chef notes that are accompanied with the recipe like what items can be prepped in advance.
I put a lot of faith in this book and made my Thanksgiving dinner from it. I made the roasted turkey breast and boneless roasted stuffed turkey leg with cranberry compote. It was just R and I (and baby) for dinner, so I just made the turkey breast instead of doing a whole turkey. Everything came together with ease and it was a low stress affair. I brined the breast first for two hours using the Cook’s Illustrated brine that is a sugar and salt solution to keep things simple. For the stuffing, I substituted hazelnuts for the chestnuts because I couldn’t find any in the store. These were game changer recipes for me! The stuffing was better than the one that I always do and the turkey was incredibly moist.
With Halloween just around the corner, I wanted to make the dirty twixter bars. They’re described as a combination of a Twix and Skor The recipe is a bit time consuming as you need to make the shortbread base, dulce de leche and then the salted caramel ganache. I guess to simplify things you can always buy the dulce de leche. I broke it up into two days making the base on the first day and then everything else the next day. For the ganache, I simply just stirred everything together. Two reasons: my immersion blender is busted and the baby was asleep. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can do this with a food processor. Just put the chopped chocolate in the bowl and with the motor running pour the caramel mixture in.
For the dulce de leche, it tells you to boil the cans with water. I’ve heard about about cans exploding (this usually happens when there isn’t enough water covering them). Exploding cans make me nervous and I’d be likely to forget to check to see if there’s enough water covering them. Most importantly, on the can of condensed milk it has a warning to not heat the can. So I used the less nerve-wracking oven method. David Lebovitz’s dulce de leche recipe is simple. Pour the contents into a glass pan that’s nested in a deeper dish, add water and in an hour or so you get the same result.
These bars are rich and gooey. Don’t be caught without a napkin when eating these! The mix of dark chocolate with milk and the fleur de sel makes them not overly sweet. People who have eaten them have used the word “amazing” to describe them. Note: it’s best to cut these when they’re cold. My dulce de leche wasn’t that firm so it oozed when I cut them. For the cleanest cuts, use a long serrated knife and wipe clean.
The Dirty Twixter Bars
Original recipe yields 36 bars, but you can halve the recipe and make it in a 9×13 pan
Brown sugar shortbread base
1 cup brown sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon vanilla paste
2 cups unsalted butter, in small cubes
Dulce de leche filling
2 cans (each 12 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
Salted caramel ganache
9 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1 lb plus 2 1/2 oz milk chocolate, roughly choped
1 cup unsalted butter
2 1/4 cup whipping cream
2 1/2 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup water
2 1/2 teaspoons fleur de sel
2 teaspoons vanilla paste
Brown sugar shortbread base Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 12×16 inch half sheet pan that has a 1-inch rim with aluminum foil. Spray the pan with nonstick cooking spray and line it with parchment paper. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the brown sugar and flour until combined. Add the vanilla and beat until well mixed. Slowly add the butter, one cube at a time, and beat at medium-low until the dough is just combined. Press the shortbread dough evenly into the prepared pan, then prick it all over with a fork. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until set and lightly golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Dulce de leche filling Place the cans in a pot large enough to cover them with 4 inches of water. Add the water, bring to a boil on high heat and cook, uncovered for 4 hours, checking occasionally to be sure the water is still covering the cans. (Add more water, if necessary, to be sure the cans are constantly covered with water.) Turn off the heat and set aside, leaving the cans in the water until everything comes to room temperature.
Open the cans and spoon the sticky brown dulce de leche into a bowl. Using a spoon, stir until the mixture is smooth, then spread it over the shortbread base. Sprinkle evenly with fleur de sel. Set aside.
Salted caramel ganache Place the dark and milk chocolates in a large heatproof bowl and set aside. Combine the butter and cream in a small pot over low heat and cook until warm to the touch. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Heat the sugar and water in a large pot over high heat and boil the mixture, without stirring, until it reaches 250F (use a candy thermometer to test the temperature.) slowly pour the cream mixture into this syrup to make a caramel. Stir in the fleur de sel and vanilla, then pour the salted caramel over the combined chocolates and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Using a handheld blender, emulsify the mixture to make a ganache. Avoid making large bubbles. Pour this ganache over the dulce de leche and refrigerate the bars overnight. Cut into individual bars before serving.
Keeps refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Note: Make sure to sprinkle a thin line of fleur de sel on top to make this an extra-special indulgence Excerpted with permission from The Dirty Apron Cookbook by David Robertson (Figure.1)
Disclosure: I received a review copy. As always, my opinions are my own and I did not receive any compensation for this post.
I’m attending the FBC conference this weekend! Even though I don’t update the blog often, I really wanted to go for the learning experience and to meet other bloggers. I was sent some swag from Nordic Ware (one of the sponsors) and had the opportunity to review some of the products (disclosure: a review gives me a chance to win $500 in product from Nordic Ware). Can I say how impressed I was with what I got?! I had to pick up the package and wasn’t expecting anything big, so I was completely surprised to see a gigantic parcel.
I’ve been using the bowls on an almost daily basis. They’re lightweight, dishwasher safe and microwaveable. I like the non-skid bottom which helps keep things in place when mixing. The microwaveable feature helps when you’ve forgotten to soften butter:
The sheet pan is very big. Here’s a comparison with one of my other pans:
This is excellent for cookies. Usually I get pretty lazy and I try and squish as many cookies in the pan as possible. The bigger pan means more cookies. Perfect for the ginger cookies I made (which makes like 25 dozen teeny tiny cookies!).
The pan is lighter than my regular ones so I’m not sure how it will withstand extreme high heat. It held up perfectly for these cookies.
I can’t wait to try out the other products. The pinata cake seems like a perfect choice for a smash cake for my soon-to-be one year old (how does time fly so fast?).