Recipes inspired by Musicals: Wicked

Sunday, July 31, 2011

One of the blessings of living in Toronto is that we get some terrific theatre.  An amazing number of shows are put on every year – new shows, revivals, long runs, short runs, popular and obscure.  There really is something for everyone.

But one of the drawbacks is that, with so much great theatre, it’s easy to miss something good.  That’s what happened to us with the 2005 tour of Wicked.  Shortly after it left town, the girls went to summer camp and came back singing the songs from the show that apparently everyone else their age had seen.  “Never mind,” I thought.  “When Wicked comes back to town, we’ll go.”

Year after desolate year passed, with no Wicked.  I began to think my unborn grandchildren would be at camp before it came back to Toronto.  Then last year came the announcement that Wicked was returning in the fall of 2010.  A witch on broomstick couldn’t have snapped up tickets faster than I did.  The five-year wait was worth it to see this magical production.  The showstopping piece, "Defying Gravity", took my breath away. 

These meringues defy gravity too.  (You were wondering when I’d get around to the recipe?)  I love meringues – hence my blog title – and I’m not sure how I blogged for a year before posting a recipe for them.  Like Wicked, these meringues were worth the wait, the perfect mix of crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.  The slightly tart raspberries and fluffy whipped cream were the ideal complement.  As Elphaba sang to Glinda, “Together we’re unlimited/Together we’ll be the greatest team/There’s ever been.”

Meringues Chantilly
(From Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris)
Makes 12 meringues

For meringues:
6 egg whites, at room temperature
¼ tsp cream of tartar
kosher salt
1 ½ cups granulated sugar, divided
½ tsp pure vanilla extract

For raspberry sauce:
1 half-pint fresh raspberries
½ cup sugar
1 cup good-quality raspberry jam
1 Tbsp framboise liqueur (optional; I didn’t use this)

For whipped cream:
2 cups cold heavy cream
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

3 pints raspberries

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Using a small glass and a pencil, draw six 3 ½ inch circles on each piece of paper.  Turn the paper face-down on the baking sheets.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar and a large pinch of salt on medium speed until frothy.  Add 1 cup of the sugar and raise the speed to high until the egg whites form very stiff peaks.  Whisk in the vanilla.  Carefully fold the remaining ½ cup of sugar into the meringue.  With a large star-shaped pastry tip, pipe a disc of meringue inside each circle.  Pipe another layer around the edge to form the sides of the shells.

Bake for 2 hours, or until the meringues are dry and crisp but not browned.  Turn off the heat and allow the meringues to set in the oven for 4 hours or overnight.

For the raspberry sauce, place the raspberries, sugar and ¼ cup water in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 4 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the jam and framboise.  Pour through a sieve to remove some of the seeds.  Chill.

For the whipped cream, beat cream until it starts to thicken.  Add sugar and vanilla and whip until the cream forms peaks.

To serve, fill each shell with whipped cream, top with berries, and serve on a puddle of raspberry sauce.  

Blogging anniversary

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Thanks to all of you for your kind comments on my new blog format. I wanted a new look to celebrate my one-year blogging anniversary.  The actual anniversary was July 8, but hopefully it’s not too late to celebrate by sharing some of my favourite posts of the past year.

The post that had the most comments was Raspberry Buttermilk Cake. Maybe that’s because I gushed about it so much.  It’s incredibly simple, but definitely my favourite cake recipe.  If you love desserts where the fruit is the star, give it a try!

My most popular travel post was La Pedrera, Antoni Gaudi’s wonderful masterpiece in Barcelona.  It had over 500 page views, more than double any other post.  Maybe a lot of you are traveling to Spain this summer; if so, I promise you’ll love this amazing building.

The posts I had the most fun writing were The Top Ten Reasons, The Alcazar (the words aren’t mine, but the inspiration is), and any of this month’s recipes inspired by musicals.

And, at risk of sounding like I peaked early, my favourite recipe is still the first one I posted, my Grandma Baker’s ginger cookies (pictured at the top of this post).  Try them – I promise you’ll love them.

Most of all, I’ve enjoyed becoming part of the blogging community and getting to know some of my fellow bloggers.  Whether you follow me through Facebook or Twitter, through your own blog, or by checking in every couple of weeks to see what’s new, it really means a lot to me when you read my words.  You’re the best audience any blogger could ask for!

Thursday's Child: Laguardia, Spain

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Laguardia, Spain is a bit off the beaten path. Unlike the other towns I’ve written about this month, it isn’t a major tourist destination.  But it’s well worth a short detour to visit this tiny village in the La Rioja region of Spain.

Laguardia is a medieval walled town that has changed very little over the centuries. In the tenth century, a castle was built on the site, two towers of which remain today.  In the thirteenth century the town was settled and the city walls were built.  Many of those original walls and buildings still survive.

In the Middle Ages, villagers built tunnels under the city to store their food and as refuge during sieges.  However, this created instability and for that reason no cars are allowed within the town.  Now those tunnels are used as wine cellars. But because the grape harvest has to be carried on people’s backs, only two bodegas currently operate in town. 

The medieval walls and cobblestone streets would be a good enough reason to visit Laguardia.  But it’s also home to the beautiful Church of Santa Maria de los Reyes.  Usually kept locked, the church is opened once a day for a Spanish-speaking tour.  Although we don’t speak Spanish, we took the tour for the chance to see the stunning carved gothic portico that leads into the church.  In the seventeenth century, a fa├žade was built around it for protection, and that’s why much of the stunning colour has survived.

Laguardia is small enough that you can easily walk it completely in an hour or so.  But if you pause to admire the wonderful architecture and the beautiful views, you’ll be captivated for much longer.

Recipes inspired by musicals: Oliver!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

One of the first non-animated musicals I saw was Oliver!  In the days before DVDs or even videos, my local school hosted movie nights as a money-maker.  The principal set up a projector, and a gym full of families watched the movie of the month.  As a child, I found this movie terribly sad, but the music is wonderful.  “Consider Yourself”, “I’d do Anything” and “Reviewing the Situation” are just some of the songs I can still sing all these years later.

You’d probably guess that I’d use a recipe inspired by “Food, Glorious Food”.  I must admit, that song gave me lots of options, from gruel to pease pudding to cold jelly and custard. But inspiration led me to perhaps the most famous line from the show.  It’s mealtime at the workhouse, and Oliver dares to ask the officer in charge:

“Please, sir, I want s’more.”

(Yes I know, he actually said “some more”.  Grant me a little poetic license here.)

Oliver would have thought he’d died and gone to heaven if he’d eaten this S’more Pie.  It’s surprisingly easy, even if you make the marshmallow topping from scratch like I did.  You could easily substitute store-bought marshmallows; it probably would have been more practical, given the heat and humidity on the day I made the pie.  The weather cost me some volume in the marshmallows, but the taste more than made up for it.  Also, as a family we prefer sweet to bittersweet chocolate, but I used equal amounts in this recipe to counteract the sweetness of the marshmallow topping. 

This pie is a grown-up version of my favourite childhood camp treat.  Food, glorious food, indeed! 

S’more Pie
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

For crust:
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 cup graham wafer crumbs
½ tsp sugar

For chocolate cream filling:
7 oz  (about 200 grams) good quality chocolate, finely chopped (I used half milk chocolate and half bittersweet)
1 cup heavy cream
1 large egg, at room temperature for 30 minutes

For marshmallow topping:
1 tsp unflavoured gelatin
½ cup cold water
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
½ tsp vanilla
vegetable oil for greasing

Special equipment: a candy thermometer

For the graham cracker crust, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the crust ingredients and press into the sides and bottom of a 9” pie plate.  Bake 10 minutes, then allow to cool for at least 45 minutes.

For the chocolate cream filling, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Put chopped chocolate in a large bowl.  Bring the cream just barely to boil in a heavy saucepan, then pour hot cream over the chocolate.  Let stand 1 minute, then gently stir until the chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.  Gently whisk in egg and a pinch of salt until combined and pour into graham cracker crumb crust.  The crust will be about half full.  Cover the pie with foil and bake until filling is softly set and trembles slightly in the centre when gently shaken, about 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool pie to room temperature on a rack (filling will firm as it cools) about one hour.

For the marshmallow topping, sprinkle gelatin over ¼ cup cold water in a large, deep, heatproof bowl and let stand until softened, about one minute.  Set aside.  Stir together sugar, corn syrup, a pinch of salt and the remaining ¼ cup water in a heavy saucepan.  Bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then boil until thermometer registers 260 degrees.  When it reaches that temperature, remove from heat.  Immediately begin beating the water and gelatin mixture with an electric mixer at medium speed, then carefully pour in the hot syrup in a slow stream, beating continuously.  Avoid hitting the beaters and side of bowl with the hot syrup.  When the syrup has all been added, increase beater speed to high and continue beating until mixture is tripled in volume and very thick, about 5 minutes.  Add vanilla and beat until combined, then immediately spoon topping onto centre of pie filling; it will slowly spread to cover top of pie.  Chill uncovered for one hour, then cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap or foil, oil side down, and chill at least three more hours.  At this point, pie can be chilled for up to one day.

Just before serving, brown the topping.  Preheat broiler.  Cover the edge of the pie with foil.  (I forgot this step, and the sides of the crust got a little dark.)  Broil pie 3 to 4 inches from the heat, rotating pie as necessary, until marshmallow topping is golden brown.  Don’t leave the pie to go and do anything else, because it will darken in a hurry.  Serve immediately.

By the way, after you've made the marshmallows, you'll find baked-on crystallized sugar in the saucepan, which will seem impossible to remove.  After the marshmallow has been poured on the pie and it's been set aside to cool, simply pour some water into the saucepan and put it back on the stove at high heat.  If your beaters got crystallized sugar on them too, put them in the saucepan at the same time.  As the water boils, the crystallized sugar will dissolve.  Clean as usual.

Thursday's Child: Trinity, Newfoundland

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What’s not to love about a village where you can see both a pageant commemorating local history and an iceberg?

Trinity, Newfoundland was first settled in the sixteenth century, and later became an important centre for the fishing industry.  Today, it’s a major attraction for its summer theatre.  Rising Tide Theatre puts on a full array of shows, but none is more popular than its annual pageant.  This show is staged throughout the town, and the audience follows the performers to the church, the fishery and the harbour, sharing in moments both comical and tragic from the town’s history. The girls loved the pirate invasion; Andrew and I were moved by the tale of the fishermen who were frozen to death just off the shore. More than anything, the pageant demonstrates the perseverance and courage of the local community through years of hardship.

And that iceberg?  May is the time to visit Newfoundland if you’re looking for icebergs, but we managed to see a smallish one just outside of Trinity when we visited in August 2007.

We spent two nights in Trinity.  Much of its charm was simply in exploring – there are plenty of trails and historical buildings to discover.  And for all the excitement of a town pageant and an iceberg, the part I loved most about Trinity was walking in and around this tiny, well-preserved village.

Recipes inspired by musicals: Oklahoma!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

You’ve got to love a musical that has an exclamation mark in its title.

When I was growing up, my parents bought my sister and I a couple of Reader’s Digest compilation records.  (Sadly, I will have lost many of my younger readers already.  I suggest you google “record”, and continue by googling “Reader’s Digest”, and you’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about.)

Our favourite four-album collection was called “The Wonderful World of Music for Children”, and the record we played the most was “Songs from Great Shows”.  All of the songs were great, but none was more magical than “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” from Oklahoma!    How can you not love a song with lyrics like these:

“Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry
When I take you out in the surrey
When I take you out in the surrey with the fringe on top!
Watch that fringe and see how it flutters
When I drive them high-steppin’ strutters
Nosy folks’ll peek through their shutters and their eyes will pop!”

Yes, more exclamation marks.           

The story revolves around a box social dance.  Each of the girls in the neighbourhood prepares a box lunch, which is auctioned off to raise money for the schoolhouse.  The successful bidder gets to eat the lunch with the girl who prepared it.  The tension surrounds Laurey (played by Shirley Jones, in her first movie role), whose lunch is bid on by both cowboy Curley and the cruel farm hand Jud.

Curley would have loved finding Pasta, Pesto and Peas in his box lunch.  The recipe is taken from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Parties! (Yet another exclamation mark!)  If you take it on a picnic, just keep the salad chilled in a cooler until you’re ready to serve it.  I think you’ll enjoy it so much, you’ll find it earns an exclamation mark of its own.

Pasta, Pesto, and Peas

3/4 pound (about 340 grams) fusilli pasta
3/4 pound (about 340 grams) bow-tie pasta
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 1/2 cups pesto
10-ounce package (300 grams) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/4 cups good mayonnaise
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Cook the fusilli and bow ties separately in a large pot of boiling salted water for 10 to 12 minutes, until each pasta is al dente.  Drain and toss into a bowl with the olive oil.  Cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree the pesto, spinach and lemon juice.  Add the mayonnaise and continue to puree.

Add the pesto mixture to the cooled pasta, then add the Parmesan cheese, peas, pine nuts and salt.  Mix well and season to taste.

Thursday's Child: Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sometimes visiting a beautiful village can be a mixed blessing.

The town of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic was such a blessing.  There’s no doubt that it’s one of the prettiest towns we’ve seen. Like San Gimignano, Cesky Krumlov is protected by UNESCO as a world heritage site because of its lovely medieval buildings.  However, unlike San Gimignano, we visited Cesky Krumlov before we knew the cardinal rule of travel – never visit a “charming village” on a day trip. That’s because everyone else in the world is also visiting it on a day trip.  The town was blanketed with crowds, and we surged up the hill to the castle like a family of salmon desperately swimming upstream with their five hundred best friends.

We didn’t regret visiting. Our favourite part of the day was eating lunch on a terrace overlooking the castle.  We enjoyed our Pilsner Urquells while the girls sipped orange Fanta beside us.  In the serenity of those moments, we could imagine what it might be like to visit Cesky Krumlov when it was quieter.

Miraculously, our pictures reflect the charm of the town rather than the maelstrom of the crowd.  And I’d still recommend you visit this lovely village.  Just promise me you’ll spend a night there or see it in the off-season.  That way you can enjoy the cobblestone streets, the red roofs and the medieval buildings without the presence of those five hundred best friends.

Recipes inspired by musicals: Guys and Dolls

Sunday, July 10, 2011
Sarah:  These are delicious.  What did you call them?

Sky:  Dulce de leche.

Sarah:  Dulce de leche.  What’s in it, besides milk?

Sky:  Oh, sugar, and a sort of natural flavoring.

Sarah:  What’s the name of the flavoring?

Sky: Bacardi.

Sarah:  It’s very good.  I think I’ll have another one.

Guys and Dolls is a musical that unites the worlds of small-time gambling and the Salvation Army.  Sarah Brown is the earnest leader of the Save-A-Soul Mission, which is about to be closed unless she can convert some sinners. In the meantime, Nathan Detroit made a bet with Sky Masterson, challenging Sky to get Sarah to accompany him to Cuba.  Sky succeeds by promising to deliver “one dozen genuine sinners” (the other gamblers) to her mission later that week to prevent it from being closed.

While in Havana, Sky introduces Sarah to the delightful flavour of dulce de leche.  My version of this recipe isn’t spiked with Bacardi, but it doesn’t need to be.  The caramel sweetness of the dulce de leche plays perfectly against the cocoa brownies.  I’d happily travel to Havana myself for a taste of one of these.  I've used Alice Medrich's wonderful Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter recipe and David Lebovitz's dulce de leche.  You could buy the dulce de leche already made, but this is an easy and inexpensive way to make it yourself.

If you aren’t familiar with Guys and Dolls, listen to the soundtrack from the brilliant 1992 Broadway revival of this show.  Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat”, sung by one of the gamblers pretending to be saved, is possibly the funniest and most inspiring musical number ever written.

And how were the brownies?  They’re very good.  I think I’ll have another one.

Dulce de Leche Brownies
(adapted from Countless Calories, with recipes from David Lebovitz and Alice Medrich)


10 Tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups sugar
¾ cup cocoa
2 tsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 Tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup dulce de leche (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line 8 x 8 x 2 inch metal baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang.

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat.  Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat; immediately add sugar, cocoa, water, vanilla and salt.  Stir to blend.  Let cool five minutes (mixture will still be warm).  Add eggs to hot mixture one at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition.  When the mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended.  Beat vigorously (mixture will be quite thick).

Transfer half the batter into the prepared pan.  Drop half of the dulce de leche, evenly spaced, over the brownie batter, then drag a knife through to swirl it slightly.  Spread remaining brownie batter over, then drop spoonfuls of the remaining dulce de leche in dollops over the top of the brownie batter.  Use a knife to swirl dulce de leche slightly.

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the centre emerges slightly moist with batter, about 45 minutes.  Let cool completely before cutting.

Dulce de leche

1 can (400 g) sweetened condensed milk
pinch kosher salt or sea salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Pour sweetened condensed milk into a glass pie plate or pyrex baking dish.  Stir in salt.

Set the pie plate inside a roasting pan and add hot water until it reaches halfway up the side of the pie plate.
Cover the pie plate snugly with foil, tucking it in around the sides at the top.  Bake between 1 ¼ tand 1 ½ hours.  (While baking, check occasionally and add more water to the roasting pan if necessary.) 
Once the dulce de leche has browned, remove from the oven and let cool.  Whisk until smooth.  Store in the fridge until ready to use.

Thursday's Child: San Gimignano, Italy

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Although we often plan our trips around big cities or spectacular sights, sometimes it’s the small villages that capture our hearts.  This month I’ll be writing about four of them that we’ll never forget.

Tuscany is full of beautiful towns, but none are lovelier than San Gimignano.  This medieval village has been recognized by UNESCO for its towers.  Fourteen still remain, but at its peak of power (in the 13th and 14th centuries), over seventy towers dominated the skyline.  San Gimignano is set on a hill, and views of the countryside are breathtaking. It’s worth a visit just to watch the sunset.  Listening to the church bells tolling in the background as the sun faded behind the hills and rolling fields is one of the loveliest moments I’ve experienced.

We deliberately stayed just outside the town when we visited.  Because of its beauty, it’s an enormously popular day trip from Florence and other Tuscan towns, and tiny villages can quickly be overwhelmed by big groups.  So we enjoyed our Tuscan days elsewhere, and came back to San Gimignano in the evenings when it was practically deserted and we could enjoy the golden buildings and the sunset in peace.

A Month of Recipes Inspired by Musicals: The Sound of Music

Sunday, July 3, 2011

In earlier posts, I’ve mentioned my love of old movie musicals.  And it’s surprising how often food pops up in these musicals.  So what could be better than posting a month’s worth of recipes inspired by those wonderful shows?

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you already know how much I love The Sound of Music. Most of you will know the story of Maria, the nun-turned-nanny who won the hearts of the seven von Trapp children and their father, with her loving nature and beautiful voice. 

For my Sound of Music recipe, I considered making a cup of tea (a drink with jam and bread), but that seemed uninspired.  Instead, I remembered the scene where Maria comforts the little girls during a thunderstorm.  Soon, all of the children end up in the room (either from their own rooms, or from a date with Rolf) and Maria sings about her favorite things to cheer them up.  “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,” she sings.  And, for the purpose of today’s blog, “crisp apple strudels”. 

Apple strudel is the ultimate Austrian dessert, so I chose a recipe developed by the Austrian chef that I know best, Wolfgang Puck, and his pastry chef, Sherry Yard.  It has a flaky phyllo crust and is packed with fruit.  I’m not sure that my strudel reaches the heights of the one I ate in Mondsee, Austria on the Sound of Music tour.  But for a Canadian replica, it ranks right up there with bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens.

Apple strudel (makes two strudels)


4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced feather thin
1/4 cup lemon juice (1 lemon)
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup dried cherries or raisins
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 Tbsp butter, melted (for cooking bread crumbs)
2 Tbsp butter, melted (for brushing phyllo)
Optional:  extra sugar and cinnamon to brush along the top of strudel
10 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed, about 17” x 12” each

In a medium bowl, toss together the apples and lemon juice. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon and cherries or raisins. Add to the apples and set aside.

Stir bread crumbs in butter until coated and golden brown and crispy.  Set aside to cool completely.

Place one sheet dough on a piece of parchment paper. With your fingers, gently brush dough with melted butter.  (Don’t use a pastry brush as that will rip it.)  Repeat until you've laid down five sheets of dough, each with butter.

Spread half the bread crumbs along the long (17”) side, in a two to three inch line, one inch from the bottom of the dough.

Place half the prepared apple mixture on the line of bread crumbs.  Using the parchment paper to get started, roll up the dough jelly-roll style. With a knife, trim ends and tuck end of dough. Brush dough with melted butter and place on a cookie sheet.  If desired, sprinkle with extra cinnamon and sugar.  Before baking, score the top of the strudel about 2” apart to help with cutting it after baked.

Repeat with second half of ingredients.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes. Turn cookie sheet around in the oven and cover with foil.  Continue to bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown.