Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pink Sparkly Balls!

Oh, I can see the Google results now... this is safe for work though, no worries here!

There will be a lot of gratuitous photo-age in today's post - it's a summary of 3 days blood, sweat, and... wait, nix those, just 3 days of kitchen dalliance. The only reason this project took three days of course was that I got tired and lazy part way though the final steps and so let the fridge keep these little guys nice and firm while I vegged out on the couch (and listened to the soundtrack to Mamma Mia over and over and over... I'm in love with it).

I'll let the dirty minds out there fill in all the connotations that "firm pink balls" brings out (trust me, my sister's got you all beat on the timing for that one). Even I started making wisecracks (to myself, sadly, I am ever-alone in my kitchen it seems!) as I fondled - er... hand-shaped - 60 of these truffle-like confections. Thanks to Bakerella for the inspiration!

I of course wasn't content with the Red Velvet variant. Ohh, nosiree. I mean, I love Red Velvet as much as everyone else out there does, I mean come on who doesn't like chocolate cake when it's that pretty? But I knew I'd be covering these in bittersweet chocolate, and that they would all be going into my mom's workplace (well, almost all of them... I've saved one of each batch for both my dad and Andrew, and a small bag of the Coconut-Rum ones went with my grandparents). Most of Mom's workplace is made up of sweet teeth, but considering the last thing to go in were my (very well-recieved) Carnival Cookies, I wanted to jazz up the whole chocolate routine. I did like the colour contrast idea, though, so I dug through my box of extracts and came up with coconut and rum extracts, rose water and a super-concentrated cherry flavouring. Why not do two batches? I reasoned, it's just a few more ingredients!

Out came the good old recipe binder, with an eggless, butterless and milkless recipe from a source lost long long ago! A few tweaks here and there, a dash of food colouring and BAM! The basics of cake-ballage were born.

Now to differ the outsides of the treats. I made and boxed up the coconut ones before taking any photos (which explains the vibrant pinkness of this post!) so for the cherry-rosewater batch I drizzled white chocolate haphazardly over the tray before sprinkling them with red sanding sugar. For some odd reason, the white chocolate didn't set completely by the time I went to bed 6 hours later, so I threw them in the fridge overnight. I love modern technology, don't you?

Being that my house was rather warm while I was making these, I needed to chill them overnight before dipping them in chocolate (I used coating chocolate over chocolate bark, don't know what the difference is though! Otherwise, I followed Bakerella's method - with the exception that I only used about 1/4 cup of vanilla frosting per round, thinned with a touch of whole milk.
I also did two dippings' worth of coatings, since I lack any finesse when it comes to candy-coating and there were both patches missing chocolate and rough, ridgy bits. As you can see, they didn't become perfect but they are coated, and I came away from that experience with very brown fingernails and a newfound appreciation for candymakers and chocolatiers!

Each moist, fluffy cake round made about 30 "truffle-size" balls, but if you're serving these AS cake, they're about 8-person cakes (or cupcakes!).

Where Did the Rum Go? Cake
Serves 8
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup raw cane sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup water
1/4 cup oil
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 tbsp coconut extract
1/2 tbsp rum extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8" cake pan
  2. Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Combine remaining ingredients in another bowl, add to the dry mix and beat well (using electric beaters for 2 minutes or by hand for about 4 - you want it totally smooth).
  4. Bake for 35 minutes.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 214.5
Total Fat: 7.2 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 0.9 mg
Total Carbs: 35.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.0 g
Protein: 3.1 g

The following is a crazily hot pink cake (hence the photos), and the amount of cherry extract is correct - I used LorAnn's flavouring which is about 10x stronger than the average!

Cherry in the Roses Cake
Serves 8
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup raw cane sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup water
1/4 cup oil
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 tbsp red food colouring
1 tsp rosewater
1/8 tsp concentrated cherry flavouring (or 1/2 tbsp regular)
1 tsp vanilla

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8" cake pan.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Combine remaining ingredients in another bowl, add to the dry mix and beat well (using electric beaters for 2 minutes or by hand for about 4 - you want it totally smooth).
  4. Bake for 35 minutes.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 212.0
Total Fat: 7.2 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 0.9 mg
Total Carbs: 35.6 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.0 g
Protein: 2.9 g

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

After the Rain...

Finally! The week of constant rain we had been getting here finally let up for a day, and knowing what lay in store for me, I headed outside to our giant vegetable garden. Two garbage bags of pesky weeds later (why do they grow so fast?) I was finally able to start harvesting. And WHAT a harvest!

The photo doesn't do justice to what is still laying out there for me, but I gave in to my aching knees and itchy arms (apparently I'm allergic to something out there) after an hour, and called it a day. The white bowl is filled with the infamous purple beans, and I filled another, equally-sized bowl with those Hungarian Wax Peppers. A tiny green pepper and a baby Roma tomato rounded out the haul. I don't have a speck of a clue as to what's going to happen to all of this stuff (not to mention the other bean plants that I didn't manage to harvest), so I just left it all on our kitchen table for the "powers that be" to deal with.

While I was outside I had a tray of goodies chilling. What were they?? Well, you're going to have to wait, since I haven't finished them yet! They sure are popular in the foodie blog-o-sphere though...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Put A Smile on Your Face!

Don't you just love the things that bring you right back to your "youthful" days, when your shopping list consisted not of bread, milk and eggs, but of a bag of five cent candy, a bottle of pop and maybe a freezie from the corner store? It feels like it's been a lifetime since then (though really it's only been about 8 years)! My friends and I would wander back from the local corner store with the ever-changing management and reinforced windows to my basement and spend a good 4 hours watching bad, old TV movies and just being us! Nothing ever seemed to worry or really concern us all too much, apart from the typical pre-teen / teenager drama, and my mom knew that more often than not we would be "plus two" for dinner! She really did spoil us with her generous attention, cooking and advice!

I was able to re-capture a snippet of those seemingly long-ago days last week, by way of the radio gods! The song "Smile" by Vitamin C (of "Graduation" fame, and not much else that I can think of) was the thing that sparked me to make these cute little sugar-biscuits, as for some inexplicable reason it was on the radio twice that day while I was in the car! Forgive my nostalgic waverings, but if you don't know the song (or, you know, want to hear it again) I found it for you! I'm going to include my cookies in Elly Says Opa!'s quarterly round-up of musically inspired cooking, titled "Eat to the Beat". Now get your toes a tappin!

Given the tone of the song, not to mention the lyrics, it's no surprise that when I became bored later that afternoon I took a cue and made my own smiles to share with those around me! The reviews from my mom's work (and my mom herself!) were that they were not like sugar cookies (so sweet that you wanted to scrape your tongue) but almost a shortbread that had a great tender texture. The flavour of coconut is prominent, as it should be... they're coconut cookies!

Coconut-Cashew Smiles
Serves 24
5 tbsp sugar
pinch salt
1/3 cup shortening
1 tbsp coconut extract
1 1/4 cups pastry flour
3 tbsp coconut flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp coconut milk (not lite)
48 large chocolate chips
12 cashews, halved lengthwise
  1. Cream together sugar, salt and shortening until fluffy.
  2. Add extract, beat well.
  3. Combine flours and baking powder, gently mix in alternately with the coconut milk to form a smooth mixture.
  4. Work dough into a disc on a lightly floured surface.
  5. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 24 hours.
  6. Preheat oven to 400F.
  7. Roll out dough to 1/4" thick, cut out shapes with cookie cutters and decorate with cashews and chocolate chips (or anything else you desire... I like making the smileys!).
  8. Bake 7-8 minutes.
  9. Cool on sheets 5 minutes and remove to wire rack.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 79.8
Total Fat: 4.0 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 2.0 mg
Total Carbs: 9.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.0 g
Protein: 1.3 g

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Too Tired to Cook

I can't seem to shake this drowsy, dopey feeling I've had since yesterday, so I'm opting too not use any sort of implements that could catch fire to anything today! Instead I'll pass on some awesome recipes for things you can't eat, but that are super-easy to make. These colognes are so yummy-smelling, and I have to say that in a decorated glass vial they are a beautiful gift! I'm going to be making these for Christmas gifts, and since they take about 5 weeks to "marinate" I'll just make sure I store some of my garden's herbs!

I can't even decide which of the two scents I'm making are my favourite, since I'm very "bi-polar" when it comes to things like jewelry and scent! Andrew will tell you that anytime - I'm either very bohemian with wood, beads and natural, "hippie" clothing all the way, or I'm classic, refined and simple with very little (if any) in the way of jewelry or adornment. I call it flexibility, he calls it impossible! Either way, these are two very different but equally natural scents that are a treat for anyone.

What's your favourite smell? A perfume? A baking loaf of bread? A savoury, simmering stew or roasting chicken? Or even something as simple as the pages of an old, cherished book? Feel free to let me know in the comment field!

Earth Element Cologne
Makes 2 cups worth
A spicy and "grounding", let lightweight scent that blends comforting vanilla, spices and bay leaves for an exotic, alluring aroma.
1 whole vanilla bean, scored
2 teaspoons whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
3 tbsp grated orange zest
5 bay leaves
2 cups plain vodka
  1. Combine all ingredients in a jar.
  2. Cover and shake well, then leave for 4-5 weeks. Shake daily.
  3. Strain and bottle for gifts, or keep all to yourself!

Water Garden Cologne
Makes about 2 cups
Wonderful for those Summer days, or when you want to have a fresh aroma without smelling "perfumey". The mint helps cool you off while the lime zest and lavender add a subtle fragrance.
Grated zest of 2 limes
Juice of 1/2 a lime
1 cup lavender flowers (dried or fresh)
1 cup fresh peppermint leaves, torn
2 cups plain vodka

  1. Combine all ingredients in a jar.
  2. Shake well, cover and store 5 weeks, shaking daily.
  3. Strain and bottle

A question on the topic of citrus - has anyone noticed a lack of bottled lemon juice in the stores lately? Andrew just stopped by drop off the last two bottles of the stuff that he could find anywhere in the Durham region! The shelves are wiped clean, and I go through about 2 bottles a week (I like my tea)! What gives? If anyone knows why that is can you please drop me a comment? I'd love to know.

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Yum" Outside My Door

I've decided I have garden love. Actually, before I even started typing this shot (while I waited for the photos to load) I went to let the dog out, and wound up spending 1/2 hour outside pulling weeds! I come by it honestly, though, since my mom is equally guilty in doing that!

Aside from an embarassingly large armload of unwanted greenery (and unfortunately, the majority of my radish plants, which died due to overcrowding) I managed to procure a bagful of mixed produce from my now bountiful garden. In that bag was the first of the season's tomatoes, a few leaves of Tuscan kale, and a whack-load of assorted beans.

I mentioned a while back when I first started the garden, waaay back in March, a few of the other offerings from my garden, but I have to say my favourite harvest so far are these purple beans! As you can see from the (blurry, sorry!) cross-section I took, they are in fact green inside, and when you cook them - even for as little as two minutes - they go from violet to emerald! Needless to say, to preserve the nutritents as much as possible, steam them until just crisp-tender, about 5 minutes or so. They'll lose their purple colour but not the incredibly important vitamin boost! We're growing another of my favourites, Romano beans, as well this year, but my stapfather seems to steal them all on me! If I can get my hands on some though, A Veggie Venture has this awesome looking recipe that I will definitely be keeping on hand.

All in all, this was a simple, satisfying lunch made super easy, since all the stuff came out of my garden (except the lettuce, which I picked up at the farmer's market, and the hummus, which was storebought - Wendy and Barb's Skinny Dips is what I used). If you don't happen to have purple beans, just swap colours!

Purple Bean and Tomato Salad
Serves 1
6 oz green or purple beans, chopped into 1" pieces
3 tbsp Skinny Dips hummus
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp oregano
1 sprig parsley, minced
3 oz iceberg or Romaine lettuce, shredded
1 plum tomato, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly
fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Steam the bean pieces 4 minutes over boiling water. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together hummus, lemon juice, oregano and parsley. Set aside.
  3. Place lettuce in a salad bowl.
  4. Top with tomato slices and warm, steamed beans.
  5. Season with pepper.
  6. Pour hummus mixture overtop of everything, toss lightly to coat.
  7. Serve immediately.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 122.6
Total Fat: 1.3 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 414.3 mg
Total Carbs: 25.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 9.0 g
Protein: 5.9 g

Whatever your gardens bring you, enjoy it while you can! God knows come January we'll all be hankering for that dirt-under-the-fingernails feeling again!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Can I Take Your Order?

I was browsing the Q&A section of Yahoo a few days ago when I saw a rather interesting question - did anyone have a recipe for Lonely Chicago Pie?. Never having heard of that particular recipe, but unwilling to let it go (yes, I'm stubborn like that!) I did some Google-ing and discovered (as most of you already know) that it was an imaginary recipe from the movie Waitress - which is still on my to-do list! However, I was not completely at a loss... made-up the pie may be, but I had a description! Pairing that with the iota of culinary knowledge that I had, and presto! a new, copycat-but-not-really concoction was born!

Now normally I wouldn't pass on a recipe without testing it, but this just sounded too good to pass up! Besides, the main component of the pie is a tried and tested recipe from my grandma, so I doubt it's too far removed from it's tasty self! If you're looking for more pie recipes from the movie, someone put together this handy site with some of the other offerings!

Lonely Toronto (or Chicago) Pie
Serves 12
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp tapioca flour
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp melted, salted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups 1% milk
1 (9 or 10 inch) unbaked deep-dish pie crust
1/2 cup fresh strawberries or blackberries, lightly crushed
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp salted butter

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, tapioca flour, and cinnamon.
  3. Add the beaten egg, butter, and vanilla. Mix well, and add the milk.
  4. Pour mixture into crust.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350F and bake 40 minutes.
  6. Top pie evenly with crushed berries, return to oven and bake 10 minutes longer.
  7. Let cool completely on rack.
  8. Melt together chocolate chips and 1 tsp butter, pour thoroughly over baked pie.
  9. Allow to chill in fridge before serving.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 296.7
Total Fat: 13.8 g
Cholesterol: 25.1 mg
Sodium: 191.9 mg
Total Carbs: 42.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.0 g
Protein: 3.1 g

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fiddle Sticks!

Sigh. I am notoriously bad at taking photos of what I cook, it seems. Not that there's been a lack of cooking! Actually, when I stopped by Sweetnicks to check out this week's (and sadly, the final) installment of the ARF / 5-A-Day event, I noticed a post Cate had written which mentioned her son's recently found love for Beefaroni but not, however, for the canned version. I happened to have a version of my own lying dormant in my files so I made up a small batch of it for lunch on Monday. After eating it, I then thought to take a photo. Oh well. Next time!

This particular recipe (which I'm passing onto Ruth's event, Presto Pasta Nights, even though I am lacking a real photo - enjoy the styled one from Google!) I actually re-converted from a veganized version I made up when I first started not being able to tolerate meat. I'm going to give both the measurements for the meat-eater's and the vegan's renditions, since I have them on hand! It's been so long since I've had the Chef that I honestly don't remember what it tastes like, but this is a sweetly sauced, meaty dish that is awesome next to a salad for lunch, and for dinner I would probably serve bigger bowls of it (the serving sze for this recipe is a little on the "wee" side - it is scaled for kids!) with some steamed veggies (or even these carrots... mmm) on the side, or I'd stir them right in! I like one-pot meals, what can I say? Well, here's hoping that if Nicholas tries my 'roni that it beats out the can!

Katie (writer of Thyme for Cooking fame) is hosting PPN this week, so be sure to check out her blog on Friday for some other pasta dishes, too!

You can make this meal vegan by swapping out the beef for 3/4 cup TVP granules (I like Bob's Red Mill) soaked in a little more than 1/2 cup hot water for 5-10 minutes.

Un - Canned Beefaroni (or "Mock-a-roni")
Serves 4 children or lunch servings
4 oz (uncooked) whole wheat elbow macaroni (or try the "Smart" white-whole-wheat)
12 ounces extra-lean ground beef (or TVP substitute, see above)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp onion powder
1 (10.75 oz) can condensed tomato soup
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 tbsp brown sugar
salt and pepper
  1. Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a large pan, brown beef*.
  3. Stir in garlic and onion powder, cook until fragrant (about 2-3 minutes).
  4. Stir in condensed soup, tomato paste, water and sugar. Bring to a simmer.
  5. Stir in cooked pasta, taste and add salt and pepper as required (I like a lot of pepper, use what you like).
  6. Serve hot.

*Note: if using TVP, add it along with the soup addition.

Amount Per Serving (With Beef)
Calories: 321.7
Total Fat: 15.2 g
Cholesterol: 58.7 mg
Sodium: 508.4 mg
Total Carbs: 27.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.6 g
Protein: 20.2 g

Amount Per Serving (With TVP)
Calories: 182.6
Total Fat: 0.7 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium 453.8: mg
Total Carbs: 32.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 5.6 g
Protein 13.3: g

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Today's Special

I just finished watching an old (re-run, of course!) episode of Michael Smith's show Chef at Large. If you don't live in Canada, or have never had the opportunity to catch any of his other shows (The Inn Chef, Chef at Home and a new one for the fall - Chef Abroad), you just may know Michael Smith's name from Valli's blog, when she made either his oh-so-good chocolate chippers (NYT recipe be damned, I like my Canadian cookies!) or more recently, his salsa salad. The episode I caught today had the Chef travelling close to home (well, my home, since I believe he still currently lives in Nova Scotia - by Ruth!). He visited Toronto's most unique dinner theatre by far - the Famous People Players - and helped create that night's meal with all the other performers, who pull triple duty as cooks and servers.

What makes the FFP troupe (and this recipe) so special is the fact that everyone working there - from the starring role to the end-of-show walk on - has a form of mental or physical disability. I went to the theatre with my class as a young'un (I couldn't have been older than 5), and I didn't know that part about the franchise until well after my third or fourth trip there (by then I was easily 16!). You could never tell, I swear, and the whole show is amazingly choreographed, done completely in the dark, with only black light illuminating select props and costume pieces. Their trademark symbol is the glowing gloves, top hat and cane. If you are ever in Toronto I urge you to try to see whatever the current show is - it's a night of awesome music, laughter, great food and inspiration!

These carrots are simple, good food, and were served with the chicken, rice and green beans I had the last time I visited. It holds a special memory for me, as I was there with my best friend, her mom and a bunch of the specialists from Toronto's University Health Network - some of which later became my doctors! The best part of the night was two-fold: I got the chance to get up and dance with the performers during one skit, and I got to see a doctor of all people, refuse to eat his veggies! I, of course, happily took his, and hopefully you'll find a love for these as part of Cate's ARF / 5-A-Day event this week.

Famous People's Carrots
Serves 4
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup honey
1/2 can (6oz) frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1 red onion, minced
1/2 tbsp dried basil
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
1/2 tsp Tabasco
1 tbsp paprika
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into sticks

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a deep casserole with lightly greased foil (for easy cleanup).
  2. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients, tossing the carrots to coat them well.
  3. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until tender and the glaze is reduced.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 134.8
Total Fat: 0.6 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 121.9 mg
Total Carbs: 32.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.9 g
Protein: 2.4 g

It is also with a heavy heart that I mention the sudden passing of a fellow food blogger, What Did You Eat?'s Sher, on Sunday morning. I only knew her through her blog and her delicious contributions to Presto Pasta Nights, but it is a shock and a deeply felt pang that by now has resonated through the spheres of writing she contributed to. My thoughts are with her friends and family, and those wishing to express condolences can find a tribute to Sher at A Fridge Full of Food.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Come On, Just a Taste!

I promise! It may be a sweet, creamy entry for this month's Sugar High Fridays today, but it is fruity, keeping in with the theme of Berries (chosen by FoodBlogga's Susan) and since each serving is (literally) a single-shot ordeal, it won't impact any bikini bodies or 6-packs out there too much. Besides, if you're serving these at a party along with oh, I don't know, some raspberry tuiles after an elegant cocktail menu, you know that just a little bit of decadence at the end of the meal caps things off nicely without the weight of a more winter-friendly flourless torte or the over-creaminess of a tiramisu.

My choice of blackberries and cherries for this particular creation was simply based on what lay in our fridge today. I personally prefer raspberries, but the SB took them all (3 containers worth!) and in retrospect the blackberries look nicer (I knew I saved those mini cocktail glasses for something!). You can pick whatever type of small (or small-cut) fruit that you like to go with these, blueberries and diced peaches would be great with the basal flavour of the vanilla ice cream, or earlier in the summer (next year!) try minced kiwi and strawberries! I'd only reccomend to stay away from the harder fruits like apples, or already "creamy" ones like bananas. Compare and contrast, as they say! I do have to say that the red/white combo makes these a great addition to Zorra's Swiss National Day event that she is celebrating on August first!
My one caveat with this tiny, fruity glass of goodness is that you must - without doubt, no exceptions - use a high-quality, decadent, delicious and favourite ice cream. Pick one like the yummy Vanilla Honey Bee from Haagen Dazs (or for the vegans / lactose-avoiders out there, Soy Delicious' Purely Decadent Vanilla) that you would never allow yourself to buy at the store normally. There's no point in dealing with the aftertaste of a low-fat, low-sugar, air-with-flavour ice cream for a tablespoon! Just stash the half-empty container in the deep freeze (covered with all the good-for-you stuff) after the party to avoid making, say, 4 or 5 of them a night!

Kick up your heels tonight and share a taste of the good life!

Tiny Tastes For Two
Serves 2
2 tbsp premium vanilla ice cream
2 blackberries
2 cherries, with stem
  1. Thoroughly chill two shot glasses or small cocktail glasses.
  2. Scoop 1 tbsp of ice cream into each cold glass.
  3. Decorate with 1 blackberry and 1 cherry.
  4. Serve with tiny spoons (like egg spoons) and savour!
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 41.9
Total Fat: 2.2 g
Cholesterol: 13.7 mg
Sodium: 6.2 mg
Total Carbs: 4.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.5 g
Protein: 0.8 g

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sunny Days Ahead

My mom loves key lime pie. Every time we went down to St. Petersburg, Florida when I was younger (to visit Busch Gardens and play on the beach, of course!), we would stop at one of the Publix markets by the Sand Castle resorts we stayed at. It was always a Publix, and if we were lucky, it would be the one with the small ice cream shop right next door (which I doubt still exists, but I digress). Along with our week's worth of groceries (including at least two bunches of bananas for my little sister - potassium phase - and as many cherries and peaches as I could carry, plus a package of those individual-size cereal boxes), we would unfailingly bring back a delicious, creamy Florida staple: the key lime pie. No meringue for us, and there never will be if my mom and I have any say in the matter, for we (meaning my parents and I, my sister was too young (and picky) to appreciate it) would simply devour the slabs of custardy, tangy condesed milk and graham cracker crumbs as we sipped our Kool-Aid on the beach. Are you jealous yet? Yeah, I wish I remembered more of it too! By the time I was old enough to actually remember my vacations thoroughly (and take photos myself) we had switched vacation locations to Walt Disney World in Orlando.

Now, I have no problem whatsoever with us making the switch to WDW (actually, I'm reeking with jealousy since two of my highschool friends now WORK there!). I had outgrown Busch Gardens' charm, and Teaghan was just getting old enough to appreciate the younger offerings of the Mouse. The only problem with being at the Resort instead of our beloved Sand Castles was the lack of our grocery pit stops. We stayed in the Disney hotels and had a dining plan, so simply had no need to shop for extra food outside. As a result, our pie ritual ended, and since then we only managed to enjoy a slice of Florida sunshine (as my mom calls it) when my grandparents brought us back these packet mixes from their Winter snowbirding stints in Miami.

As luck would have it, though, we (or more accurately, my Mom) was given one such package for her birthday from said grandparents, and we hoarded it in our pantry, unopened and even untouched out of the knowledge that once we made the mix, it would all be over too quickly. Of course, I mean, we could order mass quantities of the stuff online, but it would taint the memories we've attached to those small, canvas-wrapped gifts. Until now, that is!

Yup, my mom gave me the go-ahead to tear open the little foil baggie inside the Summery green wrapper, and make up a pie for her to take to our family reunion on Saturday. It was painful, I tell you! Not only could I smell the sunshine as the water and (blessedly un-shamrock-green... that was always a tad unnerving) limey mix whisked with the decadent "secret ingredient" - a can of Eagle Brand - but I couldn't taste it!! Pre-illness, I would have not only licked the spatula but taken a spoon to the bowl of filling before adding the rest to the (rather shabbily *sigh* home-made) crust. Now, I just mixed and poured like a well-behaved baker *ahem, mixer* would, and stuck it into the fridge ASAP so I wouldn't be tempted to make myself ill (I really wouldn't appreciate that this weekend, what with a school reunion and a promising golf game on the books!). I even imparted the old Weight Watcher trick of filling up the mixing bowl with soapy water to stop myself from getting the drips off the edges! But no matter. The pie is chilling happily in the fridge, and I was able to savour a bit of my childhood in theory!

I don't have a "from scratch" recipe for you today (or even a photo, cause I'm cool like that LOL!), seeing as I did make this fresh-yet-rich pie from a mix and a can, but I will point you in the direction of another limey recipe I fully intend to make once I get my hands on some coloured candy wafers: the Key Lime Cups from Genesis of a Cook. Check them out, if you are anywhere near as big a KLP fan as my mom or me, you will be tempted for the creamy goodness too!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

More Spice is Rather Nice!

I almost didn't decide to post today, since I didn't actually cook anything today (other than a bowl of kasha for dinner). I spent most of my day on the road back and forth between a Nuclear Imaging scan at the Stouffville hospital (which actually took two trips - one for the prep shot and one for the actual scan) and a delicious sushi lunch with my favourite partners in crime from the Exxon team in North York. Today's group outing was extra special, since it included not only the regulars, but my mom and a special guest visitor from Budapest named Gabriella (hi Gabriella, if you ever read this!). So it was breakfast and lunch on the road, seeing as I slept in (damn those necessary evils that are sleeping pills!) and grabbed a bowl of cereal to eat in the car!

Aaanyway, I did make a rather awesome and "rapidfire" lunch yesterday when I had just a little bit more time on my hands. This definitely can be whipped up in about 15 minutes if you have pre-chopped veggies on hand, but I didn't so I took the extra time! It's definitely a spicy, but dry, curry, so either tone down the curry if you know you can't take the heat, or take a large glass of water to the table with you and get in your 8-10 glasses a day! (I opted for the latter option, since for my test prep I had to "keep drinking as much as possible", plus I just plain like spicy!) If you can't find cellophane noodles in your grocery (I found them near the gross Mr. Noodle packets), swap in pre-cooked vermicelli or spaghetti - I did that back in my collegiate days!

This simple, spicy curry is going in as my addition to Ruth's Presto Pasta Nights, which is being hosted by her wonderful self this week (for the next few hosts, check this link). Enjoy your noodle noshes, everyone!

Spicy Yellow Prawn Noodles
Serves 2
4 oz cellophane noodles
1 cup cauliflower, chopped finely
1/4 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 tbsp ginger, grated
6 oz raw, medium shrimp - peeled and de-veined
1 1/2 cups Napa cabbage, shredded
1/2 cup bean sprouts
3 tbsp water
1/2 tbsp curry powder
pinch cinnamon
1/2 tbsp tamari
  1. Soak noodles in boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Heat 1/4 cup of water in a deep skillet or wok.
  3. Add cauliflower and cover the pan, steam 2 minutes.
  4. Add onion, garlic and ginger, cook 2-3 minutes longer.
  5. Stir in shrimp and cabbage. Saute until the shrimp are almost cooked through.
  6. Add reserved noodles, bean sprouts, water, curry powder, cinnamon and tamari.
  7. Toss well and continue cooking until shrimp are pink, and everything is coated in curry mixture.
  8. Immediately remove to plates and serve.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 333.5
Total Fat: 1.9 g
Cholesterol: 129.2 mg
Sodium: 409.5 mg
Total Carbs: 58.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.4 g
Protein: 20.9 g

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Quick Lunch

It's no secret that I love spicy food, and curries were something I indulged in from an early age. Whether it was Chinese - restaurant takeout or an old teacher's freshly made, crispy samosas, I would lap up every last bite with abandon.

Now, some years later, both the samosas and Chinese takeout have exited my diet, but my curry love remains. Workman Publishing relit the flame when they sent me 660 Curries (and I do apologize to them for taking so long to write up this review), which is a delicious (albeit very lengthy) read. It's length is testament to the detail of both the recipe ingredients and the preparation, and also gives the reader a view into the historical roots of the complex cuisines of India. Most of the recipes have me chomping at the bit to make, filled with aromatics and vegetables I've never used before but would love to try!

However, most of these ingredients are not found in any typical grocery, and since I don't live near an Indian marketplace and can't order certain ingredients online, I'll have to wait for an excursion downtown (and a free weekend - most of the recipes are time consuming) to see if the recipes taste as delicious as they sound. Even then, the majority of the taste testing will be done by people other than me... the amounts of ghee, oil and coconut cream in the dishes - though reduced from the traditional amounts - would not bode well with my digestive system.

If you do happen to be blessed with a well-stocked pantry (with plenty of rice) and a family of curry hounds, I urge you to look through the book and try whatever strikes your fancy. The sections are well marked, with indications as to the star players (be it legume, meat or seafood) as well as a well-written section on accompaniments. There are even recipes for the basic elements of curry, from a myriad of masala blends to instructions on creating ghee or yogurt at home. Again, granted you have the time (though several of the basic recipes can be made in bulk and kept for later), you can experience the delights that are the authentic Indian curries, much like those piping hot samosas I indulged in years ago.

If you aren't graced with an entire free day to cook beans or simmer sauces, there are solutions in the pages of 660 Curries. This is my (de-oiled, very inauthentic but ARF / 5-A-Day - worthy!) version of a dish Raghavan Iyer titles Lilva Nu Shaak - green beans with tomatoes and spices. I can't find the asafetida (or hing) powder that Iyer raves about using, but until I can track it down I'll use garlic and onions, which apparently reflect the taste of this overwhelmingly "aromatic" spice.

Lilva Nu Shaak
Serves 4
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp ground cumin
1 - 1 1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp brown sugar (or jaggery if available)
1/2 tsp asafetida (optional, swap in a clove of garlic and 1-2 tbsp minced onion)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 lb fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2" pieces
1 cup water
1 large tomato, chopped
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
  1. Heat a spray of PAM (or similar) in a large nonstick saucepan over medium-high.
  2. Add mustard seeds, and cook 30 seconds.
  3. Add coriander, salt, cumin, cayenne, sugar, asafetida and turmeric. Stir off the heat 30 seconds longer.
  4. Add the beans and return the pan to the heat.
  5. Toss beans with the spice blend.
  6. Pour in water and tomato.
  7. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes.
  8. Divide between serving bowls, top with cilantro and serve.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 46.9
Total Fat: 0.3 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 11.1 mg
Total Carbs: 10.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 4.4 g
Protein: 2.5 g

Friday, July 11, 2008

Send in the Carnival Clowns!

Like I've posted before, most of my baking ideas come to me when I'm standing in the aisles of one of my two local Bulk Barns, staring at the bins and bins of food. Suddenly a scoop of macadamia nuts transforms into a Christmas cookie, a previously undiscovered flour becomes a friend's birthday cake or a savoury snack, a whole pile of seemingly unrelated odds and ends form nourishing soup mixes, and all the remaining odds and ends are worked into cookies, biscotti and almost infinite varieties of muffins! This week found me in the checkout line clutching three tiny "remnant bags" of goodies - peanut butter chips, toffee crumbles and Andrew's latest discovery - chocolate-coated sunflower seeds! What can I say, the colours dragged me right in and I had to get them!

Of course, I knew it would be cookie time. I adored chocolate chip and Skor bit cookies as a (younger) teen, particularly those that a small shop near my dad's old house sold frozen every summer. They never got a chance to thaw before I got at them - frozen was just too good! The toffee slowly melted into a buttery lava as you slowly chewed on a piece at a time, and it easily took you half an hour to eat one! I can't remember the name of the place now (**UPDATE: it was called Baker Hill & Needful Things, and it's gone :-( ), but these cookies share the same toffee element and remind me of those long ago summers. To me, toffee and peanut butter mean that there has to be an element of chocolate involved too, and the vibrancy of the sunflower seeds indicated that it should be in the form of the cookie dough itself.

Now, to find a recipe! I didn't have any tofu on hand, which nixed my favourite cookie recipe, and I had a striking lack of solid fats in my pantry too - only 1/2 stick of margarine, no butter, and only enough shortening to get me through my most recent bakery orders (they cleaned me out of bananas too :-)... they love their banana bread!). Onto the good old laptop I went, where I found inspiration in a vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe from the vegan goddess herself - Dreena Burton. I took the basics of the recipe and (admittedly) bastardized it to suit my own needs. The result was nothing less than spectacular, if I do say so myself! Flat, chewy not crunchy, and tender without falling apart (thank you, toffee bits!), with only 1/4 cup of oil in the batch too! I definitely added more than the suggested amount of "add-ins" though... I may cut back on it next time around, depending on what the guinea... I mean, taste-testers at my mom's work have to say.

My mom did try one out though, just barely cool, and she raved about it's texture and diverse flavours. I think they have enough personality to fit in with Indigo's Wonderland birthday bash that she's having on her blog to celebrate turning 18, too! They aren't anything like a Nightmare Before Christmas cake or a Sweeney Todd meat pie (yes, I'm a Tim Burton nut), but they're special in their own way! Plus, if clowns and bright colours scare you than these are the perfect Halloween cookie! Happy birthday, Indigo, and enjoy your first job hosting a blogging event!

Carnival Cookies
Makes 12
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup corn syrup
1/2 tbsp vanilla
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup peanut butter chips
1/4 cup Skor toffee pieces
1/4 cup candy - coated sunflower seeds
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F, and line a baking hseet with parchment.
  2. Whisk the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the brown sugar, corn syrup vanilla and oil until well combined.
  4. Add to the dry ingredients, mixing slightly.
  5. Fold in peanut butter chips, Skor pieces and sunflower seeds until just combined. Do not over - mix.
  6. Drop spoonfuls of batter onto prepared sheets.
  7. Bake 9-10 minutes.
  8. Let cool one minute on sheets, then remove to wire rack and cool completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 172.4
Total Fat: 8.1 g
Cholesterol: 1.8 mg
Sodium: 36.5 mg
Total Carbs: 23.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.9 g
Protein: 2.6 g

Thursday, July 10, 2008

In Grandma's Hand

Sometimes, the best recipes aren't new inventions, filled with exotic, expensive ingredients and using cooking techniques you need a science degree to understand. More often than not, they're simple, easy, tried-and-true classics that we find in our mothers' and grandmothers' recipe boxes. Worn, torn and covered in too many stains to bother counting, these are more than words on a piece of stiff card - they're a part of us, our families, and a piece of what brings everyone together regardless of worldly turmoil... a good, hot meal at the kitchen table. I'm going to be periodically posting recipes which I've found in my mom's "Black Box" that remind me of those times around the table (under the label "Classic Family Recipes"). These recipes could have beeen shared at many tables, from ours at home, to my grandma's on Sundays or the occasional special concoction that I brought home from school on the Fridays I took Home Ec. Feel free to comment on any or all of them, or let me know your own culinary traditions in a note in the comment field!

Ironic as it is (being 30C outside with air humid enough to swim through), the first recipe I found in my travels through the box is one written in my grandma's handwriting for Mushroom Bisque. My grandma used to make this soup all the time - tangy, rich and creamy, and filled with browned mushrooms and onions - especially when she was on her Weight Watchers diet back in the late 90's. I never knew that the soup was in any way low-cal or low-fat until I ran it through my calculator today... heck, at a measly 65 calories per bowl, you can feel awesome about sneaking that second creamy bowl! Just make sure to do it before the soup cools down - heating the soup back to boiling after the yogurt is added not only will curdle it (ew!) but will also kill the good bacteria in the cooling addition.

Mushroom Bisque
Serves 4
3 tbsp diced onion
1/4 cup water
1/2 lb sliced mushrooms
2 tbsp flour
3 cups rich vegetable stock
1 tbsp sherry
1/2 cup lowfat (not fat-free) plain yogurt
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

  1. Saute the onion in 2 tbsp of the water until translucent.
  2. Add mushrooms and remaining water, cook 7-8 minutes, stirring constantly.
  3. Sprinkle in flour and stir in well.
  4. Slowly add the stock and sherry, stirring constantly. Cook 5 minutes longer.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in yogurt, salt and pepper just before serving.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 65.4
Total Fat: 0.7 g
Cholesterol: 1.8 mg
Sodium: 729.3 mg
Total Carbs: 10.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.9 g
Protein: 3.8 g
WW Points: 1

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Salt vs. Sourdough: The Battle

I figured out today just how temperamental yeast - any yeast - can be when exposed to a vast quantity of salt. My stepfather has a major "salt tooth", and when I made my classic sourdough boule the last time he lamented the lack of seasoning, even asking my mother if I put salt in the dough (he thought I was asleep on the couch at the time after being sick all night, but alas, I was still awake! Ah, the things you learn...). Frustrated yet again that I had failed to please the discerning palate of my stepdad, which also eschews garlic, onions and anything less than whole milk, I vowed to find a recipe that was salty enough for him, even if I had to add an entire box of it and jeopardize his blood pressure (which is always low anyway).

Though I did add salt to that boule, it was half the amount I used for these tiny buns that are reminiscent of the Filipino pan de sal (quite literally, salt bread). I say these are reminiscent of pan de sal as even though it mimics the characterstic breadcrumb shell, it differs in make-up from both the historical (lean) dough and the more modern style, which is enriched with eggs, milk and lard. I know lard is traditional in a lot of South-East Asian (and Southern U.S.) cooking, but I cannot bring myself to allow it into my kitchen. Sorry!

Instead, I settled on a recipe halfway between the two extremes - butter, not lard, a pinch of sugar and my handy sourdough starter being the main players. I made tiny buns this time around for taste test purposes (and a perfect addition to Bread Baking Day at My Diverse Kitchen this month!), but if they're a hit I'll make the sandwich-sized ones my recipe calls for. These do take a long time to rise though - the salt heavily tempers the sourdough yeast, so what was a 1 1/2 hour rise for the boule ended up being almost a 12 hour (first) rise for the pan de sal. The second rise was almost 3 hours, but it was worth it - these mini crispy-edged pillows melt in your mouth.

Sourdough Pan De Sal Rolls
Serves 8
2 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup recently fed sourdough starter
2 tbsp melted, salted butter
1 cup water
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
  1. Combine 1 cup bread flour, the whole wheat flour, salt and sugar until well blended.
  2. Combine the starter, butter and water, blend into the dry mix.
  3. Add in the rest of the flour gradually, while mixing, until dough comes together and cleans the sides of the bowl.
  4. Let rise, covered, until doubled - can be up to 12 hours.
  5. Divide dough into 8 pieces and shape into rolls. Brush each with water.
  6. Place bread crumbs in a shallow dish and dip rolls until coated well.
  7. Arrange on lightly greased baking sheets, 2 inches apart.
  8. Let rise 2 hours, or until doubled in volume.
  9. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  10. Bake rolls for 20-25 minutes, and serve warm or room temperature.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 232.7
Total Fat: 4.1 g
Cholesterol: 7.6 mg
Sodium: 71.3 mg
Total Carbs: 42.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.0 g
Protein: 7.1 g

What's even better about this particular recipe is that it's a great method of culinary recycling - the crumb coat layer is pulverized bits of previous loaves we just couldn't get to in time! Normally we save them all in the freezer for Thanksgiving turkey, but now that I'm making a lot more bread we have a lot more ends! Yay for waste-free cooking!

A timely addition to my waste-free post, though, is this wonderful gift that I recieved from my publisher, FoodBuzz! Organic, sturdy cotton woven into a handy shopping bag perfect for those emergency grocery runs! Thanks FoodBuzz!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The End Notes of the B-Day Meal

I told you yesterday that I'd get back to the healthy stuff soon, well, I have the perfect thing! Rich, creamy, cheesy goodness, that was another hit at Andrew's birthday dinner!

But wait, Sarah, don't you have something to sumbit for Cate's ARF / 5-A-Day event?? Cheese doesn't fit into that at all!!!

Well, have no fear, this is a low fat, high calcium, vitamin filled (112.7 % of the RDA of Vitamin C!) side dish - one I would gladly eat as a meal unto itself! Herbs, spices, and a heady dose of Dijon mustard make themselves at home with a thick and rich (low-fat!) Cheddar cheese sauce fortified with skim milk powder for extra richness.

Spicy Herbed Cauliflower Cheese
Serves 4
1 medium head cauliflower, chopped
1/4 cup skim milk powder
3 tbsp flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp basil
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp coarse ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups skim milk
1/3 cup shredded low-fat old Cheddar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard

  1. Steam the cauliflower until just tender, 3 - 4 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and keep warm.
  2. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the dry milk powder, flour, salt, herbs and spices.
  3. Place pan over medium heat, and slowly whisk in the skim milk until no lumps remain.
  4. Cook, whisking, over medium heat for 5 minutes.
  5. Stir in the cheese and cook until melted.
  6. Whisk in the mustard.
  7. Pour sauce over the cooked cauliflower in the serving dish and toss to combine well.
  8. Serve immediately.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 113.8
Total Fat: 1.1 g
Cholesterol: 5.2 mg
Sodium: 271.3 mg
Total Carbs: 15.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.6 g
Protein: 10.8 g

This is another one of my mom's recipes, can you tell I'm developing a theme here? Well, after searching through her "big black box" for yesterday's short rib recipe, I found a pile of recipes that she had either made for me before or that she had talked about while recounting stories of her life "pre-kids", living in a Jewish-Greek neighbourhood in Toronto. As I type out copies of these carefully handwritten pieces of history, I'll share them with you as well. Maybe they will inspire some of your own families' foodie memories!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Ta - Da!

So as of this morning, Andrew is now officially legal internationally! I made him pancakes (using the Bob's Red Mill mix that was in the goodie box I won from Culinate early last month) for breakfast before heading out to Canada's Wonderland for a day in the scorching sun! I did ride the new Behemoth (for anyone who knows what I'm talking about... if you don't you can check it out here) - and I have a nice little bruise on my lower back to show for it! Of course we had to walk around the park a TON to work off the calories from his super-special birthday dinner last night, which culminated in the cutting of his cake!! Isn't the cross-section pretty?? I know it had to have been good too, because he doesn't have much of a sweet tooth, but polished off TWO slices! I'll have to ask him later if he liked my cake better than my mom's short ribs (dangerous question - do you slight the future wife or the future MIL??). If I ever manage to place my cooking anywhere near my mom's I'll consider myself lucky - she is the best cook I have ever had the pleasure of working with and eating from!!

For now, I give you her special short rib recipe - now, this is NOT NOT NOT NOT (did I mention NOT?) a dieter's food in the least - 1 serving has 3/4 your total intake of calories! Buuuutttt, everyone needs to indulge once in a while, right?? Enjoy the fall-off-the-bone deliciousness over rice (like my mom does) or egg noodles, or even on some crusty bread (like this, perhaps?). The top photo is one I snuck of the ribs about halfway through their cooking time (at 4 or 5 hours in), and the bottom - well, that's of Andrew's plate before he added the salad and rice to it. Sneaky photography rules! I did have some shots of him blowing out the candles on his cake, but he'd kill me if I made them public. I value my life for the moment!

Mom's Man-Hunter Short Ribs
*Note about this recipe: It took two crock pots for us to make the full 6 lbs this recipe makes, which served my mom, step dad, stepbrother and Andrew with 2 small portions left over. If you need to buy a slow cooker, I recommend one of these. And this is the wine we used... go B.C.!*
Serves 8
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
6 lbs bone-in beef short ribs
2 tbsp olive oil
3 large Vidalia onions, sliced
2 8-oz cans mushrooms, drained
1 cup full-bodied red wine
1 cup chili sauce
3 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tbsp chili powder
  1. Combine flour, salt and pepper. Dredge ribs in the mixture, shaking off excess.
  2. Heat oil in a large saute pan, brown ribs on all sides and remove them to the crockpot (for this amount we need two), pouring off excess fat.
  3. Add onions and mushrooms to the crockpot.
  4. In a bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients.
  5. Pour over ribs in the pots, cover and cook 8 hours on LOW.
  6. After 8 hours, turn control to HI and uncover. Cook 15 - 20 minutes, until condensed to your liking.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 1,463.0
Total Fat: 127.7 g
Cholesterol: 258.8 mg
Sodium: 521.8 mg
Total Carbs: 19.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.8 g
Protein: 52.4 g

Tomorrow is back to the health food - I promise! Broccoli and cauliflower, with a healthy, spice-spiked cheese sauce, all for ARF!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Survey Says... No Recipe Today

I burned my tongue badly yesterday (damn my obsession with green tea!) and so haven't been too apt to cooking anything. That said, either tomorrow or Tuesday I'll have Andrew's birthday meal recipe (mmm... short ribs - and CAKE!) to share with everyone for ARF / 5-A-Day at Sweetnicks, which I regrettably missed last week (though not the cake, that was Friday, remember? Maybe cross-section photos though).

So, for filler, here's my answers to a foodie survey (which I know is very old and tired on the blogs, so I'm not tagging anyone) that I found on Eat... and Be Merry. Read if you like, I won't be hurt if you don't (pshht, like I'd know!) and if you haven't done this yet and want to, feel free to let me know! I'd love to read your responses.
  1. How do you like your eggs?
    Cheesy scrambled (with either Mozzarella cheese-strings or processed cheese slices - but only when Grandpa made ‘em!), or French toast or over-medium, back when I could eat them.
  2. How do you take your coffee/tea?
    Can't have the coffee anymore, but I drink my green and herbal teas straight up, and my decaf orange pekoe iced with lemon and honey or Sugar Twin.
  3. Favourite breakfast food?
    Fake French toast (egg whites only) made with stevia, maple extract and pie spice and topped with cranberry sauce, or Kamut puffs plain, no milk (ew, milk in cereal!)
  4. Peanut butter: Smooth or crunchy?
    Smooth... I miss PB!
  5. What kind of dressing on your salad?
    I loved the Caesar back in the day, but I like plain malt or sherry vinegar now.
  6. Coke or Pepsi?
    Decaf Coke.
  7. You’re feeling lazy, what do you make?
    You know, I never feel too lazy to cook myself a good meal. Cooking is entertainment for me. So, I'd have to say Japanese-flavoured bulgur wheat and Savoy cabbage topped with sashimi grade tuna.
  8. You’re feeling really lazy. What kind of pizza do you order?
    Oh God, PIZZA?! Are we assuming I can eat it and not get sick? Yes? Okay then - goat cheese, lots of red sauce, broccoli, shrimp, mushrooms, tomatoes and onions. Thin crust. Mmmm...
  9. You feel like cooking. What do you make?
    Usually it's a baking thing. Bread, brownies and cookies are good stress relievers for me. If it has to be cooking savoury, I like making cabbage rolls and lasagne.
  10. Do any foods bring back good memories?
    Very un-foodie, but Passion Flakes, canned frosting, refrigerated cookie dough and stale marshmallows bring back awesome memories of grade 9 bus trips. Rice Krispie squares and Chocolate Chip cookies a la JCR bring back good memories of cooking class!
  11. Do any foods bring back bad memories?
    Rum balls, 2L bottles of Coke and No Name PB - ick.
  12. Do any foods remind you of someone?
    Mincemeat tarts, pancakes and BBQ'd potatoes remind me of my dad. Egg-and-flour battered pork tenderloin cutlets as well as challah and brioche remind me of my mom. Passion flakes remind me of my friends James, Heather, John, John and Erika.
  13. Is there a food you refuse to eat?
    Um, theres a few ;-). Avocado, grapefruit, egg salad and coconut cream pie spring immediately to mind. Oh, and the odd Jell-O and Cool Whip mould thing Andrew's dad makes every Christmas. I can`t get over the texture.
  14. What was your favourite food as a child?
    Mac & Cheese (KD or Presidents Choice white cheddar), baked cheese capelletti, chocolate cake and my moms shortbreads.
  15. Is there a food that you hated as a child but now like?
    Brussels sprouts, green beans, rice, beets, green and black tea.
  16. Is there a food that you liked as a child but now hate?
    Coffee (drank it from when I was 5ish, now it makes me wretch!), scalloped potatoes, iced cappuccinos (trust me, once you fill and clean those machines at Tims, you never want another).
  17. Favourite fruit and vegetable?
    Fruit - Fresh, in season peaches, honeycrisp apples or Asian pears. Vegetable - Savoy cabbage, Brussels sprouts or tomatoes.
  18. Favourite junk food?
    Dark chocolate (70% or bust!).
  19. Favourite between meal snack?
    Well, I eat pretty much constantly but it`s usually the same thing. I`ll say unsweetened almond milk with cocoa powder and sugar free coffee flavouring syrup. Or fruit.
  20. Do you have any weird food habits?
    I eat very slowly, and hate people watching me eat (usually because what I eat isn't "normal" food) and I only eat my cold cereal dry.
  21. You’re on a diet. What food(s) do you fill up on?
    Haha... basically what I eat now - whole grains with limited wheat, lots of water, beans and tons of veggies.
  22. You’re off your diet. Now what would you like?
    4-cheese baked capelletti, a slice of brownie caramel cheesecake and a giant Disney World cinnamon bun - extra icing. Oh, and a double chocolate Costco muffin.
  23. How spicy do you order Indian/Thai?
    Medium - hot.
  24. Can I get you a drink?
    Water?? I don't drink.
  25. Red or White Wine?
    Neither, hate the taste.
  26. Favourite dessert?
    Caramel brownie cheesecake, my mom's red velvet cake, hazelnut baklava
  27. The perfect nightcap?
    Bailey's in a cup of hot chocolate

Friday, July 4, 2008

Birthday Cake: The Fall and the Redemption

If your browser doesn't like photos, look away now. This is a soap opera in photo-vision, about my trials and tribulations during my quest to make Andrew's birthday cake... *sob*.

Okay, yes, total overacting. But I told you it was a soap opera. Let's start at the beginning, shall we? I wrote about this particular recipe before (ironically, similar results, go figure) but this time instead of little tasting cakes I made the Full Monty version: a double-decker 9" masterpiece. Or sort of. As you can see (both in this post and yesterday's), the cake part wasn't too happy about coming out of the (well-greased and floured) pans. Sigh. I debated trashing it and running out for a cake mix, but no, this was Andrew's birthday cake and you only turn 21 once, he needs a special treat. So says my brain. So, Plan Massive Salvage Attempt was born. I stacked and crumb-coated the layers last night while fighting tears of depression and frustration, then stuck the ugly beast into the fridge while I recuperated. By the time I got around to the second icing layer (AKA "The Reconstruction"), I was feeling a bit better and a little bit more creative.

Slowly, the sagging, bowed-in sides of the cake evened out and became creamy white (and anyone with a heart - who wants it to stay beating - probably doesn't want to know how much "cement" that took to pull off), the sparsely frosted, cracked top got a delicious cookie-crumb buttercream hat, and back into the fridge the beast went to set while I cleaned up, made a cheesecake (um, yeah... I was up to my eyeballs in sugar and white chocolate today) and got my gear together for Stage III of Plan Massive Salvage Attempt - the decoration.

Now, professional cake decorator I am not (I don't even know how I got through that part at George Brown College - compassionate professor, no doubt), but I preserved and wrangled my piping bag and star tip to form some borders on the upper and lower edges of the (now thoroughly chilled) cake. If nothing else, the borders covered up the bits and pieces of the cake edges that my knife missed on the first and second base coats, and gave me a "glue" for the final touch - halved dark chocolate wafers marking the cake into 12 slices. Looking at it now, it's like a tarantula, but with luck those eating it will be too blissed out on their sugar-highs to care.

This was a fun learning experience, if nothing else, and thanks to Andrew for letting me make (and butcher, and reconstruct) his 21st birthday cake. I've made notes for the next time I do cake:
  1. Crumb coats are tricky at the time, but make the rest of the frosting SO MUCH EASIER later.
  2. Palette knives are optional (I used a plain old butter knife - what a $12 waste that palette knife was!).
  3. However, some sort of piping bag (even a Ziploc with a snipped corner) is not. Piped borders can cover all!
  4. Chill, chill, chill. Both the cake and you. Repeatedly.
  5. If all else fails, add chocolate. Nothing beats chocolate.
  6. It's cake. Not the end of the world. You can hide the evidence, or (like me) post it on Flickr, your FaceBook page and your blog for the world to see.

So, here's the recipe again, updated as per my experiences, for those of you who missed the cupcake saga (though do take a gander at that as well, since the photography is better). The frosting job I did is as follows:

- In between layers, a thin base of vanilla frosting followed by a layer of chocolate cookie frosting.
- Plain vanilla crumb coat all over.
- Cookie crumb frosting for top final layer.
- Sides and borders done in plain vanilla

Torta Stracciatella Alla Andrew
Serves 12
8 oz high-quality white chocolate, chopped
3 cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup shortening
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 teaspoons vanilla
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup water
¾ cup broken (not crushed) chocolate cookie wafers (like Mr. Christies)
A LOT of buttercream frosting (I used a combo of homemade and - gasp! - canned [I added the crumbs to this])

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour three 9 inch round cake pans.
  2. Melt the white chocolate, being careful not to scorch it. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  4. Separately, cream the shortening and white sugar.
  5. Beat in the melted white chocolate, the applesauce and the vanilla.
  6. Mix the cream, buttermilk and water together.
  7. In three additions, with electric beaters, alternately beat the flour mixture and the milk mixture into the creamed mixture.
  8. Beat only until just smooth.
  9. Fold in cookie chunks by hand. The batter will be THICK.
  10. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  11. Bake for 40 minutes, or until tests done. Allow to cool thoroughly before frosting.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 696.4
Total Fat: 29.7 g
Cholesterol: 31.9 mg
Sodium: 85.7 mg
Total Carbs: 103.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.1 g
Protein: 5.7 g