Candied Squash Seeds

I have an interesting relationship with pumpkins and their seeds. As kids, we would carve a pumpkin every Halloween and my mom would roast off the seeds with just oil, salt and pepper. This sounds good in theory but I can say that years later, there are still only a few things I hate more than sticking my hands in a pumpkin and scooping out its slimy guts. I cringe just thinking about it. And that smell? Ugh I just want to gag. Actually I think it is the smell over the tactile experience that really does me in. Which makes sense actually because the chemical receptors in our noses that detect odour connect to the olfactory bulb which then connects to the amygdala in the brain. What does this mean in English? Essentially the amygdala is one of the key centres in the brain when it comes to the emotional salience of memories. Thus certain smells can actually conjure up specific memories. So when you hear people saying that a batch of cookies brings them back to their grandma’s kitchen as a little kid, there is some scientific truth to it.

Candied squash seeds

To bring this all back to pumpkins, when I cut one open and smell it, it is just like I have been transported back to my kitchen a few days before Halloween and immediately my stomach turns. This applies to squash too. See then when I smell the seeds roasting, I am really conflicted because as much as they smell good, it still reminds me of that raw pumpkin stench. I know, I should probably see a psychologist and have this dealt with.
I would like to say I am going somewhere with this, but I’m not really. It has gotten better over the years, I am not as repulsed as I used to be but it’s definitely not my favourite smell in the world. Baring this slight phobia in mind, it is perfectly logical that I would roast off a kabocha squash and candy the seeds, no? I candy nuts and seeds all the time but this was my first time applying the technique to squash seeds. That being said, I think it made the grossness of dealing with squash guts totally worth it. Crystallized sugar gets me every time. I think I can actually eat these candied squash seeds. Moral of the story; the ends can justify the means. If you don’t like an ingredient, make something really delicious with it and that can all change.
Candied squash seeds
Candied Squash Seeds
Ingredients
seeds from one squash (or pumpkin), be that kabocha, acorn or butternut, cleaned and dried off
about 1/2 cup white sugar
a splash of water
Instructions
1. Put the sugar in a saucepan with a splash of water, just to help it dissolve. This technique is similar to the beginnings of a caramel but you actually want the sugar to crystallize. Cook the sugar over medium/high heating, stirring as much as you want until it becomes thick and bubbly.
2. Once it looks somewhat white and crystallized, add in the pumpkin seeds. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it goes from shiny and syrupy to dry and sandy. You will know the seeds are done because they will stop sticking together and separate into individual nuggets of seedy sugary delight.
3. Toss the candied squash seeds into a bowl and allow them to cool slightly before consumption. They can be eaten as is are used as a garnish for salads or even fall desserts. Also, they will keep well in an airtight container for about 1 week.
Candied squash seeds

Halloween Candy Bread Pudding

We had all of 5 trick-or-treaters show up for Halloween this year; dismal turn-out, I know. But it made for lots of leftover candy. Depending on how you look at it, that is either really bad – more candy to eat – or really good – more candy to eat. I’m going with really good. Especially because it led to this Halloween candy bread pudding. Everyone puts leftover candy in bark and cookies and blondies so I figured I would try something different. Watch, now you are all going to jump on the Halloween candy bread pudding bandwagon, I just know it.
Halloween Candy Bread Pudding
That wasn’t the only great idea I had. I got thinking about Halloween candy and trick-or-treating, which naturally brought me to psychology. A logical progression, obviously. I started wondering if any studies had been done related to the topic. I mean, a lot of really weird experiments have been run in the field of psychology so some crazy back in the 60’s or 70’s must have looked at Halloween. And what do you know, back in 1976 there was a study published titled “Effects of Deindividuation Variables on Stealing Among Halloween Trick-or-Treaters”. Don’t worry, it’s a lot simpler than it sounds.
 
Essentially what they did was stage an experiment in 27 homes in Seattle on Halloween night. Here is a lowdown of the set-up:
 
– a female experimenter greeted the kids when they came to the door (keep in mind these kids just thought it was any old house and all they wanted was their candy).
– in the entrance there was a table with both Halloween candy and money. The kids were told that they were only allowed to take 1 piece of candy. The money was not mentioned by the experimenter.
– she then left the room and they had another researcher hiding in the back, recording what the kids did.
 
Are you still with me? Good.
 
Here’s where things got interesting. They varied the conditions so that some kids remained anonymous and others did not. What does this mean? Well the experimenter asked the non-anonymous kids what their names were and where they lived. Obviously not creepy or pedaphilic in the slightest. They found that the kids who remained anonymous were more likely to take extra candy and more likely to steal the money. Rates of stealing were even higher when the kids were in a group vs. trick-or-treating alone. This suggested that the kids were modelling their behaviour after that of their peers. In the anonymous condition, if the first child in the group transgressed and took extra, there was a 83.3% chance that at least one other child would as well. But if the first child only took one piece of candy, 88.6% of their peers did as well. I know this was done back in 1976 but I think it’s safe to say that peer influence in kids is pretty huge.
 
What else has this study taught us? Well first of all, if you don’t want kids stealing from you, be sure to ask for their full name and address. The parents might call the cops but at least you will still have all of your possessions. More importantly though, to all you kids out there, don’t give into peer pressure. Sure it’s only Halloween candy now but who knows what that could escalate to? On the bright side, all it takes is one good role model to set the tone. One good role model and a complete stranger who wants to know every detail of your life. Awesome.
 
I love the experiments they were allowed to run back before ethics were ever considered. Imagine replicating this study today. You would be labelled as a sex offender before you even had the chance to explain yourself. Really, you might as well park a white van on the driveway while you are at it. It does make for interesting reading though!
Halloween Candy Bread Pudding
Halloween Candy Bread Pudding
Halloween Candy Bread Pudding

Halloween Candy Bread Pudding
Makes 9 portions

Ingredients

5 eggs
3/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cup milk
6 hot dog buns, cubed (or 5-6 cups of cubed, dry bread)
1 – 1 1/2 cups leftover Halloween candy (I used Smarties and chopped up Aero bars)

Instructions

1. Heat your oven to 325F. Line a 9″ pan with parchment paper.
2. Whisk together the eggs and sugar until smooth. Add in the milk and whisk to incorporate.
3. Mix the dry bread cubes into the custard. Allow it to stand for at least 5 minutes to soak up some of the liquid.
4. Once the custard has been absorbed by the bread, stir in the Halloween candy, reserving a handful or so to sprinkle over the top.
5. Pour the bread pudding into the pan and level out the top. Sprinkle it with the reserved candy and bake, covered (with tin foil), at 325F for about 45 minutes. After 40 minutes, you can remove the foil and allow the top to brown for the remaining 5 minutes.
6. Cool slightly, slice and serve. Bread pudding can be made in advance and then reheated either in the oven or in a pan (in which case I coat each portion with sugar to develop a nice crust on the outside). Refrigerate any leftovers for later.

Halloween Candy Bread Pudding
Halloween Candy Bread Pudding
Halloween Candy Bread Pudding
References
Diener, E., Beaman, A., Fraser, S. & Kelem, R. (1976). Effects of deindividuation variables on stealing among Halloween trick-or-treaters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33(2), 178-183.

a MUCH needed update

Why hello there readers of the Starving Student, remember me? Probably not, I’ve been a horrible person lately. To say I have neglected my blog would be an understatement. 2 posts this month and only 13 in all of 2012 (14 now!!!)? Yikes…. I sure fell off the bandwagon somewhere along the lines.

But enough with all the pessimism and negativity, it’s time for an update. A much needed update at that! All the things that have taken priority over this blog, well I am finally going to share. After I figure out where to begin….

So I guess that’s it for today folks, I will post again when I finally figure out how to collaborate my life during the past few months into one cohesive post. In the meantime, I will at least provide a picture. Adios amigos!

Oh come on people, have some faith in me, if only a little bit. I said it was time for an update and believe me, you are going to get an update.

Let’s go back to where it all began, on September 22, many years ago, I was born. Ok, seriously. I suppose the last time I blogged with any degree of significance was Christmas. That gives a good 3 and a half months to catch up on.

January was a bit of a write-off. Charlottetown in January – honestly, all I did was go to school, then go to work. Then school then work then school then work. Next.

February was pretty fun. I headed back west to Edmonton for my cousin’s wedding. What a whirlwind tour. Over 10 hours of travel and I was there a whopping 2 days. But still, super fun.

Upon my return to Charlottetown I wasted no time getting back into the thick of things. I decided to enter the 2012 Mission Impulseible Competition with my partner Jonah. The purpose of the event was to promote pulses of all shapes and sizes; beans, legumes, lentils, etc. Little did I know that the humble black bean would consume my life for the next 2 months. Even my roommate was sick of hearing about beans (not to mention taste-testing them) by the end of it all.

At one point I even spent a good half hour making this:

See, beans caused my mental deterioration.

But in the end of it all, it was definitely worth it. We placed third, however the experience both in product development and marketing was truly invaluable. Needless to say, I am taking a break from beans for a while.

In the midst of all the competition chaos, I went home to Calgary for spring break. It was kind of a surreal 10 days. All I could think about was beans but at the same time, I kept telling myself, “Mallory relax, you’re on vacation, beans can wait.”

“No they can’t self!!!!!!! Shut it and stop telling me what to do!”

Anyways I spent some time out at our family condo in Canmore, my favorite place in the world. If there was anything that helped me take my mind off of the competition it was skiing at Lake Louise. It’s not hard to see why.

I did lots of cooking and baking for the fam jam, including these pretzels from The Wednesday Chef. I don’t think we bought bread from the grocery store all week.

Also, I finally got to eat at The Coup, a vegetarian restaurant on 17th Ave that I have been meaning to try for ages. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures (I was too busy eating), but the falafel quesadilla was amazing! Spicy and crunchy and garlicky and surprisingly meaty for something that did not contain an ounce of meat.

Too soon I was back in Charlottetown and Mission Impulseible 2012 was upon us. The competition itself was actually in Halifax. I spent the night there and had the opportunity to eat at Jane’s on the Common.

 Arugula salad with toasted hazelnuts, risotto cakes with melted brie and vegan chocolate mousse (using silken tofu) for dessert. No complaints, it was all great.

Ok so there’s January, February and March in a nutshell, now for April. The month of PEI Burger Love on the Island. Another competition, go figure. It’s a promotional event and a bunch of restaurants in Charlottetown and area have created their own unique burgers using PEI beef. Customers vote for their favorite and at the end of the month we will see who is the winner.

As if I don’t make enough of them at work, I made some at home the other day too.

At the Brickhouse ours is called the Executive. We are doing a 6 oz. patty topped with double smoked bacon and pepper gouda with crispy fried onions, red pepper jam, spicy aioli, lettuce and cabbage, all on a homemade pretzel bun. That’s where I come in. Last Saturday I made 105 pretzel buns. Yep, 105. And by the end of the night, they were almost all gone. I don’t even eat meat but I’m an advocate for the Executive. I’ve definitely consumed enough of the buns! If you are in the area, I highly recommend that you come in and try it! I forgot to mention that they are even topped off with a deep fried pickle.

What else, what else? I entered a recipe contest at my school to promote tomatoes. I decided to try something different and whip up some tomato cupcakes.

I am also racing in the 2012 Underwear Affair when I get back in Calgary in June, June 2 to be exact. It’s an event to raise money and awareness for cancers below the waist. Anyone who wishes to donate can follow the link in the upper right-hand corner of my page. I would love all the support I can get, thanks!

And in between beans, burgers, tomatoes, running and everything else, there’s been….

Compressed melon. Vac-packed, frozen and thawed, creating a texture similar to sashimi.

More macaron. You thought I was done with them? Think again. This time chocolate ones at work.

A big ‘ol block of butter. Try spreading that on your toast.

 Candy! Who knew that some sugar and baking soda could be so delicious.

Sandwiches. All anyone ever wanted in life was a good sandwich, right?

Crepes with Nutella, raspberry jam and blackberries. An excellent way to start your day.

Happy Sunday everyone! See you in another 6 months 😉 Nah, I will be back later in the week with the crepe recipe. Cheerio!

Salted Butter Caramels

One of my favorite childhood memories – Sunday dinner at my grandparent’s house. And the best part about Sunday dinner at my grandparent’s house – the Werther’s candy I would eat by the handful. I would even stock up for the ride home…which lasted all of 15 minutes. It’s really surprising I wasn’t more of a chubster!
Anyways, the point is, I love anything that combines the 2 concepts “creamy” and “caramel”. Especially when it is homemade with only 4 simple but perfect ingredients: butter, cream, sugar and sea salt. Sorry Werther’s but when it comes to salted butter caramels, made from scratch no less, you don’t stand a chance!
I have made some really good, and some really bad caramel attempts in the past so I wasn’t sure what to expect from David Lebovitz’s recipe (although I will admit, my expectations were considerably high because he is a genius with anything sweet). I followed the instructions to a T, except for the ingredient list itself. I made the executive decision to omit the corn syrup (actually it was a pretty easy decision, it’s difficult to use something that you don’t have) and the vanilla (same reason). Instead I substituted the syrup for an extra 1/2 cup of sugar and about 1/4 cup of water. The only issue with this is that the corn syrup prevents the sugar from crystallizing. Basically it provides insurance that you won’t screw up. So why didn’t I use it again??? If you know anything about me and my candy-making escapades, I was truly destined for failure. Somehow though, I managed to not only succeed in making the caramels, they were easily the best I have ever created. Either I was amazingly lucky, or I am finally starting to get the hang of hot sugar and all of its finicky wickedness.

Salted butter caramels

Ingredients:

-3/4 cup (180 ml) heavy cream
-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, bean paste, or powder (this isn’t crucial, if you don’t have it, don’t worry)
-rounded 1/2 teaspoon + 1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt
-1/2 cup (160 g) light corn syrup, golden syrup or rice syrup
-1 cup (200 g) sugar (if you omit the corn syrup like I did, increase this amount to 1 1/2 cups in addition to 1/4 cup of water)
-4 tablespoons (60 g), total, salted butter, cubed, at room temperature

1. Line a pan with foil and spray the inside with cooking spray. Personally I used a mini pyrex dish, neglected to use the foil and opted to directly grease the pan instead. It worked, but it made the caramels harder to remove.
2. Heat the cream with 2 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan with the vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt until the mixture begins to boil. Remove from heat, cover, and keep warm while you cook the syrup.

Salted butter caramels

3. In a medium, heavy duty saucepan (make sure it is large enough, you don’t want the hot sugar to boil over!), fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the corn syrup, golden, or rice syrup with the sugar, and cook, stirring gently, to make sure the sugar melts smoothly. Once the mixture is melted together and the sugar is evenly moistened, only stir is as necessary to keep it from getting any hot spots.
If you are going to live on the edge and substitute the corn syrup for sugar, follow the exact same directions. Stirring too often will actually promote crystallization so resist the urge to do so. Chances are, the mixture will crystallize to some extent. Don’t freak out and chuck everything in the garbage (yes I have done this before, how did you guess?), it will sort itself out. DON’T touch it, don’t swirl it, nothing. Let it keep cooking and as the syrup changes color, becoming a rich, amber, the crystals will magically disappear. I have no idea why it happens, but in my experiences it just does, and that is all that matters! Actually now I am curious, I will probably go Google the answer…

Salted butter caramels
4. Cook until the syrup reaches 310ºF (155ºC). Again, it will change to an amber color. Just don’t leave it on the heat too long or it will burn and then all of your efforts were for nothing.
To get an accurate reading while the syrup is cooking, tilt the saucepan to make sure the bulb of the thermometer is fully submerged in the syrup, tilting the pan if necessary.
Salted butter caramels
As you can see it crystallized quite heavily along the outside edges but the rest still turned perfectly golden.
4. Turn off the heat and stir in the warm cream mixture, until smooth.
Salted butter caramels
5. Turn the heat back on and cook the mixture to 260F (127C). This is also known as the hard ball stage. Meaning that if you pour a few drips of the mixture into a glass of cold water, they will seize up and form hard little pearls.
Salted butter caramels
6. Remove the pan from the heat, lift out the thermometer, and stir in the cubes of butter, until it’s melted and the mixture smooth.
Salted butter caramels
Despite the fact that it was filled with burning hot sugar, I still managed to lick the bowl!
7. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and wait ten minutes, then sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of the sea salt over the top. Set on a cool rack and let cool completely. Once cool, lift out the foil with the caramel, peel away the foil, and slice the bar of caramel with a long, sharp knife into squares or rectangles. It really helps if the knife is hot because this allows for clean, smooth cuts.
Salted butter caramels
I individually wrapped each candy in cling wrap so they are readily available for consumption! Plus they can keep for about a month (but there is no way mine are lasting that long!). Regardless, there will be no need to buy any Werther’s for a while!
Salted butter caramels
Salted butter caramels
Salted butter caramels

PS. Follow this link for ten tips to making caramel from David Lebovitz. This might help if you too rebelliously decide to forget about the corn syrup.

Fudge Failure

I have what you could call a “love/hate” relationship with chocolate fudge. Actually it is with homemade candies in general, but let’s leave that discussion for another day.
Chocolate fudge, it really doesn’t sound all that complicated. Mix up some chocolate, sugar, cream, butter, etc. boil it down, beat it up, chill it and you are ready to indulge. Ha! If only it were that simple.

Chocolate fudge
All it takes to make chocolate fudge! Well at least ingredients wise…
Chocolate fudge
Throw everything it the pot.

 

A candy thermometer, definitely a must when making fudge!

 

It seems fool proof but there are so many ways you can manage to screw it up. Temperature is key – if it is a degree too cold, you end up with chocolate soup and if it is a degree too hot, you end up with a chocolate rock (this I can say from experience). And then there is the beating process to consider, this is crucial! Your arm will feel like it is about to fall off, but if you don’t keep going until it is adequately thickened, it will be too gooey to actually cut into squares (this I can ALSO say from experience). After all that, hopefully I haven’t scared you away from trying to make it!
I have made the stuff more times than I can count, but only twice in recent memory has it actually turned out the way I wanted it to (probably two of the most satisfying moments in my entire lifetime!!!). Unfortunately that was not the case today.
Chocolate fudge
Bring it to a boil, stirring constantly.

 

I tried a new recipe from All Recipes, mainly because it had only 5 ingredients and the directions were super straight forward. As far as I know, there is nothing wrong with the recipe itself, it was my lack of execution that led to my demise. Everything was going so well too! I used my candy thermometer to cook the mixture to the soft ball stage. I even checked to make sure that it formed soft balls when dropped in cold water. So at least I know I was right up to that point. After removing it from the heat, I added the butter and began to beat the crap out of it. Honestly, I was beating that wooden spoon so hard that my right hand is now covered in blisters! I was so into it, I had this athletic stance and everything to optimize my power (anyone who knows me is aware of my lack of upper body strength). Good thing I did this before my shower because I worked up a sweat just stirring a stupid batch of fudge! I looked at the clock and realized that I had spent over half an hour taking my anger out on that evil pile of chocolate goo. EVIL! By that point I figured it had to be good enough so I scraped it into a greased pan and popped it in the fridge to chill.
Chocolate fudge
Turn it down to a simmer and cook until the mixture reaches 240 F (soft ball stage).
Chocolate fudge
Not quite there yet.
Chocolate fudge
We are good to go, remove it from the heat!
Chocolate fudge
Add the butter (I also placed the bowl in an ice bath to help cool it down).
Chocolate fudge
Before beating (and also pre-blisters).
Chocolate fudge
It was significantly lighter, and my hands were bleeding, so I decided to stop…bad choice. It had yet to lose its sheen so it wasn’t ready yet, dispite what my arm was telling me!
I made my way off to school, forgot about it, and carried on with the rest of my day. Back home, I prepared myself and opened up the fridge. You have to understand that I have become accustomed to “fudge failure”, considering my success rate is probably hovering under the 10 percent mark. I poked at it timidly and my heart sank. Damn it! Why do the fudge gods hate me so much???
How’d you manage that?…oh, just making fudge!

 

It was still too soft so I decided to improvise. I scooped it out, rolled it up and coated the balls in cocoa. Chocolate fudge became chocolate fudge truffles!
Chocolate fudge
Maybe I am just not meant to made fudge. If I cook it to the right temperature, I fail to beat it enough. Yet when I beat it enough, it doesn’t matter anyways because I cooked it to the wrong temperature! Although the fudge may have won this battle, next time I will be back with a vengeance. And also with a nice, strong, cute boy to help me beat it!

OLD FASHIONED CHOCOLATE FUDGE (from allrecipes.com)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

    1. Grease an 8×8 inch square baking pan. Set aside.

 

  • Combine sugar, cocoa and milk in a medium saucepan. Stir to blend, then bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer. Do not stir again.

 

 

  • Place candy thermometer in pan and cook until temperature reaches 238 degrees F(114 degrees C) (on my thermometer the soft ball stage was marked at 240 so I cooked it until that point, at 238 the “soft balls” were not forming yet). If you are not using a thermometer, then cook until a drop of this mixture in a cup of cold water forms a soft ball. Feel the ball with your fingers to make sure it is the right consistency. It should flatten when pressed between your fingers.
  • Remove from heat. Add butter or margarine and vanilla extract. Beat with a wooden spoon until the fudge loses its sheen (which mine apparently did not). Do not under beat (this is where I went wrong guys, clearly they added this comment to the recipe for a reason! So beat it until you cannot beat anymore, and then still keep beating!!!).
  • Pour into prepared pan and let cool. Cut into about 60 squares.