31 March 2014

Sugar Woods

While there are many things I love about living in the Maritimes there is one thing that I really dislike... 

Spring.

or more accurately - the lack of it. Today I enjoyed another snow day (actually freezing rain day but there is still about two feet of snow in my yard). At this time of year I want to be feeling like farmer's market season is just ahead of me. But, everytime I think spring might be coming...I get another snow day. I do love snow days but tomorrow is April...April and it is supposed to snow...again. 


But, even though I really don't like this weather there is one thing about it that I do love...


maple syrup. Seriously...I know I have posted about Maple Syrup before but maple syrup could possibly be what I am most patriotic about. I love living near the sugar woods. 


Maple syrup is what gets me through a Nova Scotia spring with a smile on my face. Without this lousy spring weather of warming up and then freezing again we wouldn't have this sweet, yummy, perfect, goodness. 


I loved taking the family for a hike in the sugar woods this week.



Maple syrup is one of my favourite things about Nova Scotia so I guess I can't really complain about the weather.


This week we visited the Fenwick sugar woods. There are three camps we visited - no one was boiling syrup when we were there - but they were making maple leaves at one of the camps.


Once the thickened syrup is poured they have to work quickly...


It was so fun watching them work.


The sugar syrup set very quickly and after only a couple of minutes they were able to pop out the finished candy.


We of course had to buy some maple leaves from each of the camps to compare. The middle camp was the creamiest and my favourite. Although, with the only ingredient being maple syrup they all tasted very similar and were all delicious. We also bought and tasted maple cream, maple taffy and of course maple syrup.


After the woods we went back to our church for a pancake and sausage supper with maple syrup of course.


So good!

17 March 2014

Sweet!

This month in school we have been focusing on food photography.


This has been my favourite unit so far. Going into photography school I knew that I wanted to learn more about photographing food. I have been open to new experiences and thought that I might find something new that would excite me even more...I haven't. Food is still my favourite. I really love shooting in natural light ...


 but I have been learning how to do some fun stuff in the studio as well. 


I love shooting food. I think it could be because I love cooking and baking so much and I have very little time to make anything interesting. With food as my homework I can spend more time in the kitchen without feeling guilty. Not that anyone really complains when I spend more time in the kitchen...


I'm excited about the new things I am learning. I think I am improving...at least I hope I am.

This quadruple chocolate cheesecake is one of my favourite desserts. It is my most requested cake. I've been making it for a number of years and I have yet to find a recipe that is better. The recipe is an old Philadelphia cream cheese recipe that I haven't really changed all that much.

I use a 9" springform cake pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

The crust is a basic Oreo cookie crust using 1 1/4 cup boxed cookie crumbs (feel free to make your own chocolate wafers and crush them yourself - I did that once - I do love making things from scratch, but life is short and I have to draw the line somewhere. I find the boxed crumbs work perfectly). Add 1/4 cup melted butter to the crumbs and stir to combine. Press evenly into the bottom of the pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for ten minutes. Take out of oven and cool on cooling rack. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees F

The filling is: 3 - 250 g. packages of room temperature Philadelphia full fat block cream cheese - I have tried light and I don't think it is as good. I have also tried other brands and they are not as good. This is not a paid advertisement, but if the Philadelphia cream cheese company - aka Kraft - wants to send me some free product I will be happy to take it! I'll just say again - It really needs to be the Philadelphia - regular full fat - block styled - cream cheese...

I mix the cream cheese in my trusty kitchen-aid mixer ( I may as well continue with my advertising theme - and yes I do love my kitchen-aid mixer - and again - not getting paid to say that). I add three large eggs, 3/4 cup sugar and 1 tsp vanilla and mix until combined well and smooth.

While this is mixing, I melt - in two separate double boilers/bain maries - 3 oz. of dark chocolate in one and 3 oz. white chocolate in the other (or if you are careful you can melt the chocolates in the microwave just watch that they don't burn). For this cake I think it is really important to use good quality chocolate. I like to use either Lindt or Callebaut.

When the chocolate is melted, I divide the cream cheese mixture in half. In one half I stir in the dark chocolate and in the other I stir in the white chocolate. I pour the dark chocolate mixture onto the crust and spread it out evenly. Then I carefully scoop the white chocolate batter on top and carefully spread it over the dark chocolate layer.

I put the cake in the preheated 425 degree F oven and bake for 10 minutes. Then I turn down the heat to 250 degrees and bake for another half hour or until the cake looks soft in the middle still but not overly jiggly (Although once I forgot to change the temperatures and baked the cake at 350 the entire time and it still tasted great...so you choose what works best for you).

Take it out of the oven  - run a thin knife or cake spatula around the sides and let cool on a wire rack. When cool remove sides of pan.

In a saucepan - pour in 3/4 cup whipping cream and simmer on low heat. Add 6 oz dark chocolate (again using the best quality you can find). Stir until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is silky smooth...pour or spoon over the cheesecake until the entire cake is covered - make sure the chocolate ganache glaze is not too hot when you do this - or too cold for that matter... chill for at least three hours in the fridge. The cake tastes best the next day.

This cheesecake is so good that if it doesn't turn out perfectly (as mine sometimes don't - as any experienced baker will notice) it doesn't really matter. The people you serve it too will love it anyway.

Can't wait to try something new in the kitchen this week-end...

15 March 2014

Mini Road Trip - Saint John

As I sit writing this it sounds like it is raining. It is making me smile. The sun is shining beautifully through my window warming my cheeks and the snow is rapidly melting tricking my ears into thinking it is raining. I'm not getting too excited yet though...there is still two feet of snow in my front yard and the snow mountain my husband made from shovelling the driveway is still over my head. But, if I squint my eyes really tightly and look outside I can imagine it is almost spring.

Last week I had spring break from school. But, since I attend school in a different province from my kids...they have spring break this week. I wanted to have at least one day off together to do something fun - so I pulled them out of school one day last week and we took a mini road trip to Saint John, New Brunswick.

It has been so long since we have had a road trip together! (We currently have two exchange students living with us, which brings our family number up to eight and we do not have a vehicle that seats eight. But, there was a day last week where one of our students was on a ski trip and so the rest of us jumped at the chance to take off for the day).


I also had a food photography assignment for school and Saint John has a really cool, old market. Also, our favourite missionary had been recently transferred to Saint John and we all missed him already and wanted to see him. So it was a win-win-win-win kind of a day. We started our day with lunch at Billy's...


Billy's was a restaurant that gave me a free lunch when I was a travel agent visiting Saint John for the first time in 1998...


I remembered it being really good and since it was still there I thought it must be okay... our family has been sampling fish and chips all over the maritimes and I find it a good way to make an equal comparison between local restaurants.


This one was pretty good...not the best...but also quite far from the worst. I think we all enjoyed our lunch.


We had a good visit with Elder D - aside from the usual crowd control we had to do with the boys. With all the good-byes my boys have had to make over the past few years it was good to see someone they had just said good-bye to - reminding them that good-byes aren't always permanent. At the end of lunch the owner asked if they wanted to hold a lobster...and really what's cooler than holding a lobster.


After lunch we headed into the market so I could work on my food photography skills...


I've heard that photography like writing takes ten years to become professional...I still have a few to go...but I like the practice.


The market is still in winter mode and is really a glorified grocery store this time of year as far as food goes...


But, everything was still really beautiful and I had fun rushing around taking pictures - yes, rushing - remember I had five kids with me!


We ended our day with a visit to the Saint John museum - we had a lot of fun looking at (and playing a little) with the exhibits. We love museums and haven't been able to visit one for awhile so it was really fun being able to spend a few hours there.

We all had a really fun day although it left us all craving a longer road trip. My daughter keeps asking when we are moving west again...

I still haven't completely finished unpacking from this move!

I know I have a few things left to accomplish here...but who knows where life will take us - it's one big adventure.

30 January 2014

Homemade Beef Jerky

This week-end I finally made beef jerky and it was so easy. 

Time consuming…but easy.


All I did was: 

1. Buy a roast. I used a sirloin tip because it was on sale. It was about three pounds. I think a round roast would probably work better but this was fine. I put it in the freezer for a few hours and then cut off as much fat as I could. I then sliced it into very thin slices about 1/4 inch thick.

2. Next I mixed a marinade together in a ziploc bag. I used 1/3 cup of worcestershire sauce, 1/2 cup tamari, 2 tsp sriracha hot sauce, 1 tsp fresh ground pepper, 1 tsp smoked salt (sea salt could be used instead), 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp onion powder, and 1 tsp smoked paprika. I just put all the ingredients in a ziploc bag and squished them up a bit. Then I tossed the meat in the bag, sealed it and massaged the marinade into the meat trying to coat every piece. 

3. I put the meat in the fridge and let it sit, turning it occasionally for about 24 hours.

4. The oven was preheated to 170 degrees F.* I pulled out a couple of cookie trays and placed cooling racks on top of them and placed the meat on the racks. I put two trays in the oven and waited. 

5. The thinnest pieces were ready after about four hours. I continued to add extra pieces of meat as I took pieces out. (I couldn't fit all the meat on my racks at once). The entire process took about twelve hours. Around 2am I started getting a little jealous of everybody who has two ovens…


The jerky turned out really good. Although, I will admit a couple of pieces were a bit too dry because I dozed off for a bit around 4am and didn't get them out of the oven at the right time. But they were still pretty good. The kids loved it. The biggest problem I had was it disappeared way too quickly. 

But isn't that always the way with good food. You spend hours preparing it and it disappears in minutes. I always like to think the faster it disappears the better it is. 

As an added bonus, I think I have earned a new level in superhero status with my boys…homemade jerky. Try it…your kids (and your husband) will think you are awesome.

*I am not an expert in food safety and am not sure if this is the current recommended temperature…it's just the lowest setting on my oven.