Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Spooktacular Halloween

Poodle and Howling Wolves ~ pumpkins carved by Sally Rae
Halloween night is full of amusement, friends, neighbors and most definitely fun. It is a time to indulge in a few sweets, dress up in costumes and fill the night air with laughter ...maybe even some fireworks. It is a great time to decorate, carve pumpkins, to eat and celebrate. Spooky food preparation for your Halloween gathering should be easy and fun. 'Graveyard Pudding' is a super-fast, fun cooking activity to do with the kids. You can make the pudding from scratch with your favorite recipe or use instant pudding mix. For the candy, sprinkles, chocolate cookie crumbs and other decorations, I shop at the Bulk Barn in Courtenay. I love the fact that I can buy small amounts, only what I need with no left-overs. If you have not yet been to The Bulk Barn, it is a must see especially if you enjoy cake decorating. Locally you can find them at 3175 Cliffe Avenue, Courtenay BC. Give this spooky Halloween dessert a try, it is suitable for kids and adults alike. 

Spooky Graveyard Pudding
Graveyard Pudding  
  ~makes enough to serve 18 little ghosts and goblins~
2 pkg. JELL-O instant chocolate pudding      
3-1/2 cups cold milk
1-1/2 cups fresh whipping cream  (*see note)
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3-4 Tbsp. confectioner's sugar
1-1/4 cups chocolate cookie crumbs
Assorted decorations; oblong vanilla sandwich cookies, decorating gel or icing, candy pumpkins, gummy worms, gummy rats, candy corn etc.

With an electric mixer, whip the fresh cream with vanilla and icing sugar to firm peaks, set aside. In a large bowl, beat the pudding mixes and milk with a wire whisk or electric mixer for 2 minutes. Let stand for about 5 minutes. 
Stir into the chocolate pudding; 1/2 cup chocolate cookie crumbs and 2 cups of the sweet, whipped cream. Spread pudding mixture into a 9x13-inch dish. Sprinkle with remaining cookie crumbs. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, decorate the sandwich cookies with decorator gel or icing to resemble tombstones.
Just before serving, insert the decorated cookies into the dessert, add candies. Drop large spoons of whipped cream onto the dessert to resemble ghosts.

*NOTE: you can substitute a 12oz. tub of COOL WHIP topping for the fresh whipped cream. Remember to defrost it ahead of time!

Enjoy a safe and spooky Halloween! Next week more about chocolate, till then...
Bon Appetit!

Photos and food preparation by Sally Rae

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tools Of The Trade

It is 'Chocolate Season' at my house! Producing handmade truffles is a labor intensive project, so I will spend a few posts on one of my favorite topics....Chocolate!! 

Belgian Callebaut Chocolate Slabs
I use only Belgian Callebaut dark, milk and white chocolate; I purchase it in 5 kg slabs. Pictured below on the right, are some tools required for the job. From left to right in the photo are the tools I use for breaking down the chocolate slabs to decorating and packing the truffles. 
Start with a sturdy, hardwood cutting board. To break down the chocolate slabs, I use an ice carving tool, then chop the chunks with a 10" serrated French Knife into small pieces for tempering or making ganache. Ganache (the truffle filling) in its most basic form consists of chocolate and whipping cream, I also add becomes liquid decadence. Once completely cooled, the now solid ganache is portioned with a #100 scoop and formed into the truffle fillings, then allowed to cool and set overnight.

The dipping chocolate is 'tempered' (see 'Helpful Tips' on
Tools of the Trade
my website in a stainless steel bowl set over hot water. I use a chopstick to stir and the thermometer is always in the bowl to assure the temperature stays exactly where I need it. Each ganache filling is then dipped in tempered chocolate and set on a wax (or parchment) paper lined bake sheet. I use dipping forks (they are available in plastic or metal) and find the work is faster and less wasteful than using my fingers in the chocolate.

Dark Choc. Ganache~White Tempered Choc.~Dipped Truffles

The trays of dipped truffles sit at a cool room temperature until the chocolate is firm and then decorated using a piping bag and decorator tip. Once the chocolates are cooled and set, a cotton glove is used to handle them. This prevents any damage from the warmth of your hand or fingerprints on the finished chocolates.
In a few weeks I will have some photos of the finished product. Until then, I am working on a quick and easy Spooky Halloween treat. 
Till next week, Bon Appetit!

Photos in my kitchen ~ by Sally Rae

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Inside Scoop

Have you ever wondered how bakers produce dozens of cookies and cupcakes so uniform in size?
One of the most important factors to the bottom line in the food service industry is portion control. Commercial kitchens and bakeries use ice cream scoops (aka dishers) to portion foods quickly and efficiently. In baking, uniform size and quantities of batter also ensure that cookies, muffins and cupcakes bake evenly. These 'scoops' have a curved blade that moves inside, along the semi-spherical surface at a squeeze of the handle, and back again to release the food. In addition to their use in baking, scoops also ensure consistent portioning for hamburgers, meatballs, serving mashed potatoes, portioning individual fruit or meat tarts etc. 

Commercial grade scoops are numbered in sizes that represent quart fractions. For example; a #20 scoop should hold 1/20th of a quart. In other words, it takes 20 scoops to fill a quart. The real problem is that the quart fraction is only followed loosely and capacity varies between manufacturers. In spite of numerous discrepancies, inaccurate scoops are not defective or inferior. Scoops are primarily a portioning tool, not a measuring tool, so if you find some that fit your recipes there is no need to worry about standards and measurements. 
Recipes do not generally tell you what size scoop to use. In most cases a #12 or #16 scoop should be fine for cupcake and muffin recipes. I make notes on all my recipes with the size of scoop used and how many portions it makes. For example; I use a #100 scoop to portion cooled ganache for chocolate truffle fillings, for cupcakes and muffins 1-2x #30 scoops depending on the size of the tin, for cookies I use a #20 or #30 scoop and so on. 

Commercial Scoops #20, #24, #30, #40, #50, #100 and #150
Commercial scoops can be purchased at Campbell River Restaurant Supplies Ltd. They are open to the public at 851-13th Ave, Campbell River, BC, call them toll free at 1-800-663-2298 or on the web at   
My two, trusty #100 scoops are being put to work this week. I have started production of my Handmade Chocolate Truffles for Christmas... more on that next week.
Bon Appetit!

Photo by Sally Rae  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Time to Give Thanks

Sunshine Squash
This weekend, Canadians around the world will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Along with a feast and giving thanks surrounded by friends and family, it is time to put the garden to bed. With rain in the forecast this weekend, I have had a few very busy days to wrap up the yard and garden for the season. The lawns have been mowed, delicate plants have been moved closer to the house or into the greenhouse for when the temperature dips too low, the winter squash are in and the garden has been cleaned out, mulched and put to bed.

Butternut and Sunshine Squash Harvest 2014
I grew only two varieties of winter squash this year but the fruits are heavy and large. One of my favorite autumn recipes is 'Curry Roasted Squash' from my cookbook, 'For the Love of Food'. I double the recipe below and transform the leftovers into soup.

Curry Roasted Squash ~ Yield: 6 servings
1-1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. curry powder
Pinch of hot pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. coarse ground black pepper
3 pounds butternut or buttercup squash
1 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley 

Peel the squash and remove seeds. Cut into 1/2 to 3/4-inch cubes, set aside. Preheat oven to 375F. In a small saucepan over low heat; combine oil, butter, curry powder, pepper flakes, salt and pepper; heat 2 minutes stirring occasionally.
In a shallow roasting pan, toss squash with curry mixture until coated. Roast squash at 375F for 30 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.
Taste and adjust seasoning, sprinkle with parsley.

Now that the rain has begun, it is time to change gears to indoor work, in particular, time to start working on the chocolates and truffles for Christmas. More on that subject with photos in the weeks to come! 
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your encouragement and support.
Till next week, Bon Appetit and Happy Thanksgiving! 

Photos ~ Winter Squash in the garden and 2014 harvest ~ by Sally Rae

Friday, October 10, 2014

Strawberries in October

While most of Denman Island looks forward to the Apple Festival this weekend... I was in the garden today picking and savouring sweet, juicy strawberries. Yes, you read this right! We have had little to no rain this month and with warmer temperatures the berries continued to ripen. My Seascape Strawberries were still loaded with huge green berries and flowers that would never reach maturity. Rather than let the plants use more energy, it was time to cut them down in preparation for their winter straw mulch. With rain predicted for all of next week, the berries would begin to rot and mold anyways. 

Fresh Denman Island Strawberries for Thanksgiving!
In the past, I have tried to ripen the prolific fall crop of berries to no avail. It is always sad to pick and discard half a pail of unripe fruit. This is the first year that I have had a successful, ripe harvest this late in the season and it is nothing short of spectacular!

Photo ~ Fresh strawberries from my garden on Denman Island ~ by Sally Rae

Friday, October 3, 2014

The 'Perfect Pickler'

Since reading an incredible little book titled 'The Cultured Cabbage', I have been inspired to produce and consume fermented vegetables. These lactic acid-fermented vegetables are not only tasty but highly nutritious and low in calories. Research shows that lactic acid-fermented foods stimulate digestive secretions, detoxify and activate the intestines to prevent constipation. They support the body's immune system, eliminate disease causing 'bad' bacteria and reintroduce friendly 'good' bacteria which are necessary for healthy digestion.  
First test... day one, just brine and cauliflower
My initial search was for a fool-proof crock, specifically a German-made Harsch Stoneware Fermentation Crock. The price and shipping costs were discouraging to say the least. Then I found information on a small, jar top, single batch fermentation system called 'The Perfect Pickler'. 

Not an easy find locally, but I managed to get one at Buckerfield's in Nanaimo. My first test was a quart jar of organic cauliflower. It took four days to complete fermentation at the specified temperature, then I promptly devoured the quart within the next few days. 
I was hooked!
Since February I have made a few recipes from their 'Instruction CookBooklet'; Garlic-Pepper Sauerkraut, Hot and Mild Euro-Kimchi, Full Sour Garlicky Dill Pickles, Dilled Cauliflower, and recently (see below) a 2 quart jar of Euro-Kimchi and red & green cabbage Sauerkraut. Just a few days ago, my final harvest of Cool Breeze cucumbers were transformed into Full Sour Garlicky Dills with daikon radish slices.
The Perfect Pickler System fits onto any size of wide mouth canning jar. It is quick and easy to use, making fresh cultured vegetables at home.
Euro-Kimchi ~ Red and Green 'Kraut ~ Dills with Daikon

I had a conversation with Gloria about stocking this item at Denman Hardware and am thrilled to say they are now listed as a retailer on the website at 
If you are interested, contact Gloria at Denman Hardware (250) 335-2400.
Till next week, Bon Appetit!

Photos ~ February and October 2014 ~ by Sally Rae