Monday, September 24, 2012

Baking therapy

 I like to bake.
There is something in following a recipe that makes me happy, that makes me find my inner peace. Do not ask me to cook, this only applies to baking. No 'season to taste', 'a pinch of ' or 'add more if..' in baking recipes. It is down to a science. A science that says if you follow the steps, you will end up with a perfectly good end product, no need for prior experience (although preferred!). If nothing else is going the way it should, the certainty of following a recipe and getting exactly what the picture shows could be therapy in itself.

Harvest fruit pie
A lot of people ask me where I learned how to bake. Well, it helps that my mom baked for fun too. I grew up in a kitchen smelling of vanilla and flour. I've seen my share of baking casualties, I have had a few myself. But mostly, watching my mom bake over the years, I necessarily picked up a few tricks and tips. Some things which makes sense to me but not necessarily obvious to others. I realize how much I know about baking when I bake with my cousin. In any other way, she has shown me how to live, how to save, how to make the best of everything, from folding a fitted sheet, to the best way to store tupperwares. But baking is my domain.

Chocolate cheesecake, chocolate mousse and sprinkle cupcakes
The one thing that my mom and I do differently is that she would stick to a good recipe when she finds one. I'm more of an experimental baker. I would repeat a recipe but only if I've got rave reviews about it and if I need to bake something that is a 100% reliable. Reliability in this case is based on whether I have done something successfully on the first try or not.

Buttermilk scones

Red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing
Triple chocolate mousse cake
Raspberry Coffee log
 Sometimes I pick a recipe for the challenge, but mostly I pick recipes based on whether I would like to eat it or not. Although most times, I end up not eating what I bake. My coworkers though, have tried most of the things I've baked over the years. I have been using recipes from Decadent Desserts, the Magnolia Bakery book, Kraft Canada magazines and from random internet recipe websites.

Chocolate orange mousse cake
Double chocolate chip cookies

White Chocolate orange cake

Monday, September 03, 2012

The art of hosting a dinner party

Two weeks ago, I hosted my first dinner party for more than 4 people.
It is not that I have never had more than 4 people over, but up to two weeks ago, it had always been a potluck if there were more than 5 at the table.

This was planned in a few days because a couple of my friends were going back home for good and she only let me know on the Monday that she would be free on Wednesday. So there I was on the Monday planning the menu and grocery list. The dessert was made on the Monday night, groceries were done on Tuesday night and everything was cut and ready to go for when I came home on Wednesday after work.

Everything went smoothly, all the steps were planned, I needed to do an additional batch of sauce for the scalloped potatoes, but other than that, I was not far off in my planning. By the time the last guests arrived, the food was ready.

Au menu: pineapple glazed ham, scalloped potatoes, quiche and cobb salad followed by creme caramel.

Yes, everything went into the oven. I'm not a good cook. I hardly ever taste the food I'm making. But cooking the food is not the only thing on your mind when hosting a dinner party. The house has to be cleaned, all the guests need to know how to get to your place, and you have to go get them when they arrive if you live in a high rise building like I do.  All these little details which by themselves are not a big deal, but when put together, make hosting a dinner party a stressful endeavor, prone to disaster in so many ways. I felt quite grown up when it all went well.

Funnily enough, I had to throw another such dinner party yesterday. Not under the best circumstances, but at least this time, it was mostly family, so if I botched it, it would have been okay.
The menu this time was simpler, chicken pasta primavera and creme brulée. I made some sweet potato fritters as appetizers and my younger cousin made some stuffed mushrooms. The problem was that this time I had to cater to 10 people's dinner needs! Try to cook pasta for 10 people in a medium pot!

Growing up, my mom always hosted family dinner parties at home. My dad's sisters (he has four sisters back home) will all come with their families every other month or so. How the hell did my mom do it? The food was hardly ever burnt and there was always a lot of leftovers. The secret I believe is to be good at estimating how long cutting and chopping will take, and how long each dish needs to be cooked...and then it is to keep calm even when people start showing up! It is okay if you are still cooking when your guests show up, this is not 'Come dine with me' you do not get judged on your entertaining skills as well! These are just your family or friends, they will still be around if you are a bad cook, or if something does not go as planned. They might just never accept another invite from you again  :P