Friday, May 30, 2008

Sterling Steakhouse


You wouldn't know it by our more recent posts, but I swear, we do eat meals and not just cakes and cupcakes. This Wilton course has created a (couple of) monster(s) and now I'm just looking for recipes that will allow me to use my new-found cake decorating skills.

The other part of shying away from cooking (in place of baking) is probably the warm weather. I'm trying to get out an enjoy the warm weather and everything that comes along with it.



You wouldn't believe the flack I got for asking my friend to hold the ice cream while taking a picture of it. Plus, a man walking by was so curious about my multiple photos of the ice cream, he asked "Is this your first ice cream of the year?", to which my friend responded "I think it's her first ice cream ever". Oh the taunting I go through to share my food with the blogging world.

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, R and I went out for an anniversary dinner at Sterling Restaurant. It was our 7th anniversary. We basically consider the day we moved in together to be our anniversary because we pretty much became a couple when we committed to sharing a room together in a 3 bedroom flat in London. I was mid-way through my undergraduate degree and decided that I wanted to go off on my own and experience more of the world. R, who is from a smallish city a province away from me pretty much had the same idea. Things could have worked out terribly. We tried to safeguard against this by making a rule that no one could come home to a sock on the doorknob. Thankfully, this never became an issue and luckily, the living together thing stuck because 7 years later, we're together and happy. Ok...enough of the mushy stuff. Let's get to the food.

I'm always on the look out for a good steakhouse. Growing up Hy's was one of my favorite restaurants. Today, I'm less enthusiastic about them, although they do make a good steak. This time, I took the recommendation of a colleague and checked out a steakhouse across the river from me.





The decor was very nice with a bronze ceiling, basic table decor, and crisp linens



It's the first time I've been to a restaurant where they actually show you your piece of meat before they cook it. I'm not really sure what to look for in a good cut of meat - tips? I had the New York Strip, R had the Filet Mignon. I looked at the meat, noted that it did, in fact, look like meat and nodded my head to the waiter indicating that I was in support of him cooking said piece of meat.

We also both ordered a caeser salad, which I was very happy with.



It's probably the best presentation for a caesar salad that I've ever seen.

The steak was quite good, but I think that they were more true to the medium rare that I ordered than I had originally anticipated. I usually like my steak pink inside, but this one was more on the blue side inside. As long as I didn't look at the colour, it was still good.



We also ordered a half bottle of this wine in anticipation of our upcoming trip to France.



R left today to start an intensive course (as part of his MBA) in France and I'll be joining him in a couple of weeks. We'll be spending time in a couple of different areas but will mainly vacation in the Bordeaux and Dordogne region. If anyone has been there and has any suggestions, please please please pass them on!

Sterling Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Apologies to Cakelaw for being so slow on recognizing the award she passed on to us.



This award is a special one and took a little thinking (that's always dangerous) because to say "you made my day" means that in some way, maybe we made a difference. We think that's a special thing and want to share it with others who have given us the same in kind. I know everybody says this but truly, there are so many who make our day in one way or another - either with some wisdom, some laughter or kindness or all of the above. This time round, here are our picks for this award:

1. Peter at Kolafagus who on a daily basis teaches us more about Greek food and culture in a way that is both a great learning and often a pretty good laugh.

2. Ben at What's Cooking always brings a smile to our faces. We've affectionately named him Mango Man for his ability to create such a variety of mango main ingredient dishes. Ben always has a thoughtful and kind thing to say on the blogs he visits and is generally an overall nice guy.

3. Brentwood Kitchen Shopper who keeps us posted on the latest and most interesting gadgets for the kitchen cook. If you're into aprons, she's got some pretty cool ones on the blog right now.

4. Next award goes to Recipe Girl. Her recipes all look so good. When visiting Giz a couple of weekends ago, I noticed that both she and I had printed off this recipe. Definitely check out her blog.

5. Last, but not least is Cooking with Anne. Anne's blog includes some great recipes and product reviews. I had to laugh when looking at Anne's blog the other day - she has a picture of her 7 kids looking happy. Most of the pictures of Actorboy and me required some sort of bribe or warning to get us to not fight with each other. That Anne can get all 7 of her kids to look happy in a picture is impressive. StumbleUpon

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Chocolate Cupcakes with Strawberry Chocolate Ganache




Every time I go to Cupcake Bakeshop by Chokylit, I seem to get this little thought process going and before I know it, I'm in the kitchen checking the larder to see if I have enough of all the ingredients to replicate a particular recipe. This time was no different.

Whipping cream - check
strawberries - check
Unsweetened cocoa powder - check
Do I feel like doing this now? Hmmm... - Check
Am I out of my mind? - Check
Am I sorry I made them - abslutely not - except I have to give them away otherwise I'll eat them.

A chocolate cupcake (not from a mix) filled with diced strawberries mixed with chocolate ganache - are you kidding me??? I only wish I could take credit for this invention.

If you haven't visited her blog, do make a point of checking it out. She has amazing recipes on her site and a real flair for artistry.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cupcakes

(this makes 8 regular cupcakes)
Preheat oven to 350 F

1/4 c (1/2 stick butter) room temperature
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup high quality unsweetened cocoa powder like the Vahlrona brand
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

1. Beat butter until softened. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes)
2. Add egg and beat until well combined
3. Measure the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder into a small sized bowl. Stir to combine.
4. Measure out the milk and vanilla and stir to combine
5. Add about 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar and beat to combine. Add about a half of the milk/vanilla and heat to combine



Strawberry Ganache Filling and Ganache Glaze

4.5 oz (128 g) Valrhona 85% cacoa (or any bittersweet chocolate)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch salt
1/3 cut strawberrries, dice.

1. Chop chocolate and transfer into a heat proof bowl (I used pyrex and it was fine)



2. Heat cream until bubbles form around the edge of the pan, pour cream over the chocolate.
3. Let sit for 1 minute and then stir until combined.


4. Add vanilla and salt. Stir until combined.
5. Divide the ganache in two approximate equal portions. In he first portion, mix in the chopped strawberries. Transfer to refrigerator to chill.
6. Leave the second portion on the counter to cool down. You want the filling to thicke up before the glaze. Once the filling is thick, fill the cupcakes wih it. Then glaze with the glaze. (see assembly instructions below)

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 cups powdered sugar (I used 2)

1. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy
2. Add the milk, vanilla extract and 2 cups of powdered sugar and beat at low speed, occasionally stopping to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, until light and fluffy. Add more powdered sugar to arrive at your desired consistency and sweetness.

Assembly:

1. Fill the cupcakes with the strawberry ganache filling using the cone method.
2. Spoon a tablespoon of glaze on each filled cupcake and smooth



3. Top with buttercream frosting

StumbleUpon

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daring Bakers - Opera Cake





You know that old expression "If I can do this, anybody can". Well, let me tell you.... We finally took the plunge and joined The Daring Bakers. I decided, with Psychgrad kicking and screaming that it would be growthful to stretch ourselves a little. Neither Psychgrad or I are what one would call "bakers" but then if you want to get better at something, it's all about going outside of your comfort zone and working on learning a new skill. I mean, really, how hard can it be? You read a recipe, you follow the instructions, voila you have a finished product. All I can say is "folks...I have a whole new found respect for the people who put out these works of art". I'll get into that a little later.

The Daring Bakers challenge this month is hosted by , Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, Lisa of La Mia Cucina , and co-hosted by Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea of Whiskful. I'd like to acknowledge the hosts of this challenge and the members of the academy (oops..that's another speech)

The hosts for this event are dedicating this month's challenge to Barbara of Winos and Foodies. Barbara, an honourary Daring Baker is the force behind the food blog event called A Taste of Yellow supporting the LiveSTRONG foundation started by Lance Armstrong. Since what I do in my private life (when I'm not blogging that is) is so closely linked to causes, I have designed this bracelet in dedication of Barbara's energy and effort to helping find a cure. Since all of my bracelets are named, this one will be called Barbara and carries the silver awareness pendant symbolic of general cancer.


I had never even heard of an Opera cake, let alone had a clue about how to create one. Thank goodness for recipes and clear directions. I now know that it's a cake made up of (usually) five components: a joconde (a cake layer), a syrup (to wet the jaconde), a buttercream (to fill some of the layers), a ganache or mousse (to top the final cake layer) and a glaze to cover the final layer of cake or of ganache/mousse). So when I read that, all I could say, and out loud I might add, was OY FREAKING VEY!!!!


There's a "but" in all this. The but is that once I sat down and read the instructions - especially the 40th time which is when I think I started getting it, I realized that if I broke it down to it's component parts, it wouldn't be quite as daunting as I thought. And, thankfully, I didn't have to start and complete the whole project at once - I could spread it out over several days. There were some hiccups along the way and although I'm sure it doesn't have the polish of a seasoned baker, my "accomplishment" gives me a sense of pride...and I'm even here to tell the story.

Of course, after toiling with probably what has been my greatest baking challenge thus far, I walked into a local market and in their bakery, what do I see but these absolutely gorgeous pieces of opera cake with Opera piped across each piece - perfectly formed, gorgeous to look at. I rationalized the whole thing by saying "I'm sure they've got a system and this is clearly not the first time they've done this". I have an even greater appreciation for bakers - I mean they were charging $2.75 for a slice of this cake and I thought "are you kidding me - it's gotta be worth $7.50/slice at the very least. This thing is work!!!" Then I did the math - about 20 pieces to a full cake x $7.50/slice - that would be $150. for the cake. Sounds pretty decent to me.

The verdict: Being a Daring Baker is somewhat like being a frog. I know you're looking at me and saying "huh???" so here's the explanation in a joke.

For the Novice Baker:

"Once upon a time, there was a frog who fell into a bucket of cream. The side of the bucket was so high that he could not jump out. He knew if he stopped swimming he would sink and drown. So the frog paddled around in the cream all night. By morning, he'd whipped it into firm butter and was able to jump up to freedom.
Persistence and attitude are the ticket to success."


You can find the recipe at any of the host sites. StumbleUpon

Monday, May 26, 2008

She Said-She Said: Cake Decorating - Class 3


Before we get to our review of the third Wilton Cake Decorating class, level one, we wanted to let you know that we're planning...



In the next little while, we'll be annoucing some exciting details for our upcoming event. Expect a couple of twists and turns. We're taking Tried, Tested and True to the next level.

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Now...for our third installment of of She Said - She Said...For the first two installments, click here and here.

The writing in black is Giz's and the writing in red is Psychgrad's.

Don't get me wrong - I'm all into cute but why do I feel like I'm doing a remake of Chuckie ?


I was adament that I would not be making a clown. I have no need for clowns and am not particularly into making them. This picture of me at 2 years of age provides some insight into the underlying reasons for my current clown issues (courtesy of Giz handing me to It's cousin while on a family trip to Hawaii).



But, when Giz gave me three free clown heads, I gave in and made my first, second and last clown ever:



I also made some basic cupcakes for my neighbour and a cupcake for my and R's 7th anniversary. I'll post more about the meal we had in an upcoming post. It was really good.

Today's class focused more around technique and consistencies.



I'm getting that it's all about practise - practise creating the right consistency for your icing, practising correct techniques in creating an even flow for design, practising how much pressure to apply to your decorator bag as you dispense the icing...



Lidia shows us how to achieve correct positioning, correct pressure - she does make it look rather easy .. until the bag gets in your hand.



In our class everyone made the clown cake. We could have done the muffins as an option but since I had already baked all of the cakes I would need for Session 1, I just went with the group.

In my class, everyone made cupcakes. I really recommend it so that you can practice different techniques on different cupcakes.

One of the girls made a multiple personality clown - one head - several bodies - now I'm having nightmares that just feed into the whole Chuckie thing.



I was really trying to finish up my cake so got pretty impatient towards the end and just wanted to get it done. The whole class is only 2 hours and I'm sure if I made 100 clown cakes I could knock them off in about 10 minutes each but for now 2 hours just barely covers it.



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We still have some awards to pass on, but we'll save that for a future post. StumbleUpon

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Almost like Lesley Stowe Crackers


Just before we get into today's recipe and oh boy, it's a good one - let's just take a minute to have an award ceremony.



Our kindred spirit That Girl at Paved With Good Intentions" has so generously offered up this "I Love You This Much Award". We're so grateful and coming from That Girl makes it even so much more special. Thank you (bowing) - let's have a group hug now. In keeping with the sharing of these awards, Psychgrad and I always have this ..ahem...conversation about who we should be sharing it with. A lot of energy goes into making blogs interesting so that people will want to come back and visit (kind of like making friends), entertaining enough without being offensive and filled with recipes that whet the appetite (literally).

This time round our picks are:

1. Grace at A Southern Grace" who always makes me smile. She has this honesty about her and writes in a way that just makes you want to keep on reading.

2. Vicarious Foodie " a self proclaimed mayonnaise lover is my go to person any time I want to find a celebrity chef type recipe. And the photography..oh my - if only my best pictures looked like her worst.

3. Fellow Torontonian Big Black Dog". First of all, anybody who names their food blog Big Black Dog really deserves a hug. More importantly, when your dogs are so important, it tells me that you're heart is in the right place and when you couple a love of food with a love of animals, how can you possibly not deserve this award (not to mention of course the recipes are great too)

4. Claudia at Cook, Eat, Fret who just seems to always pull it together and has learned to adapt and thrive no matter what.

5. Culinary Bazaar" who sees food as an art and so successfully captures what she sets out to see. I would gladly take any of her pictures and put them up on the wall of my kitchen. Gorgeous!!!

Now - on to the recipe of the day. How many of you have ever made crackers? It seems like the most unlikely thing to do in the kitchen. But, when your favourites are about $6.00/box and the box is pretty small, it's worth giving it a shot - no? After much research I found this recipe and decided to give it a try.



Ingredients:

Combine in a bowl:



1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup flax or wheat germ (I used wheat germ)
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, chopped
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp brown sugar



Set aside.

In a saucepan, over low heat, for less than one minute, combine:

1/4 cup buttermilk (for vegans add a little vinegar to soy milk)
2 tbsp blackstrap molasses

Gradually add wet ingredients to dry until dough just starts to hold together. (I didn't use all the liquid for this to happen)



Roll as thinly as possible between two sheets of parchment paper and bake with both sheets of parchment paper still in tact in a slow oven (250 degrees) for one hour.



After 30 minutes, take off top sheet of parchment paper

When one hour is up, turn off oven with crisps still inside. Go watch t.v., read a book, do some work - just forget about them.



Come back a few hours later when they're completely dried and break into bite-sized pieces.

Store in moisture resistent container (glass works)

Verdict: As much as I'm crazy about Lesley Stowe crackers - these are a fraction of the cost and really crunchy and flavourful.

For those who don't know what Lesley Stowe crackers are - I would call them the designer cracker that comes in a variety of flavours and fabulous with a variety of nice cheeses. My favourite so far is the combination of cracker and goat cheese or feta cheese with cranberry.

There's no question that I would make these again. Next time I'll add dried mango, dried cranberry and maybe something peppery. (one ingredient per batch)
I would package these in a rustic package combined with a nice cheese and a bow as a house warming gift. StumbleUpon

Friday, May 23, 2008

Raspberry Oatmeal Squares


This isn't the first time I've had success with a recipe of Elly's. I also tried out her za'atar recipe and have continued to enjoy it with other recipes.

If you haven't checked out Elly's blog or her upcoming Eat to the Beat event, make sure to visit her.

I'm submitting this recipe to Ruth's Bookmarked Recipes, a weekly event where we get to highlight eachother's recipes.



Raspberry Oatmeal Squares


1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1.25 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 cups old fashioned oats, divided
1 cup raspberry preserves (or jam)

Preheat your oven to 350 and position the rack to the middle of the oven. Grease a 9" square pan with butter or cooking spray.

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 2-3 minutes). Beat in the egg and vanilla extract until incorporated. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until well combined, and stir in 1.75 cups of the oats.

Press 2/3 of the mixture into your baking pan to form a crust.



Spread the raspberry jam evenly over the crust.



To the remaining mixture, add the remaining 1/4 cup oats. Crumble that mixture over the jam.


Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.



StumbleUpon

Thursday, May 22, 2008

PB&J Smoothie




I hadn't noticed The Great Peanut Butter Exhibition on it's first roundup - dummy me - how could that have happened. Hosted by Foodaphillia and The Peanut Butter Boy , the first round for PB cookies is already in the news stands - you have to visit these blogs. If you or anybody you even remotely know even so much as likes the colour of peanut butter, you must check them both out. What fun.

This time, I wasn't going to be left in the dust since we're now talking peanut butter as breakfast food and, well... say no more.







While on extended stay in the U.S., I got completely hooked on PB&J Smoothies from Planet Smoothie . My Planet Smoothie obsession became a morning ritual - as soon as the local shop opened, there I was looking for a PB&J breakfast smoothie. When I came home to Canada, the only way I'd replicate this delightful treat was by making it myself. Fast forward 2 years and I'm still in love with this smoothie. Although mine is not exactly like the one from Planet Smoothie - they add energy boosters and other good secret ingredients, this one is pretty darned close.

The beauty of this meal in a glass is that all you need is a trusty....





PB&J Smoothie

1 Banana
1/2 cup strawberries
1 heaping tablespoon smooth peanut butter
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (optional)
ice cubes

Everything goes into the blender - ice last and bing bang boom...you have the best darned smoothie around and it's thick like a milkshake and oooohhhh so satisfying. Life can only be good after a morning start like this.

Warning: Highly Addictive!!!
Don't come back and tell me I didn't warn you :) StumbleUpon

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

She Said-She Said - Cake Decorating: Class 2


A big thank you to Cakelaw for passing on the You Make My Day Award to me and Giz. Cakelaw is a lawyer from Australia. She has a great mix of cooking and baking and has also recently taken a cake decorating course. If you haven't checked out her blog, make sure you do.



Giz and I will have to duke it out over which blogs will be the next recipients over this awards (there are just too many great blogs out there!)

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This week is only going to be a single "she said" because Giz had to miss her 2nd cake decorating class.

The second class was less confusing than the first. My teacher is friendly and well-intentioned but gets a bit mean in the heat of the moment. She gets a bit gruff when she sees you doing something incorrectly.

We were told that we would probably have enough time to finish decorating our cakes in the second class, but I didn't even start mine. It wasn't until I returned home and got the urge around 10pm that I even started my cake.

Instead, in class we used our practice board (the yellow thingy).



Everyone else in the class made the traditional rainbow cake. Here, you can see a classmate of mine transfering her rainbow design that she created using piping gel.



Me, I decided to go with a "character cake", a sunflower:



Unfortunately, I learned the semi-hard way that you shouldn't use margarine to grease the pan. I've since bought the Wilton Cake Release product.



Even though the top layer of the cake stuck to the pan, the shape was still retained, and as you'll see, it's covered up in the end.



I used the chocolate buttercream recipe (no food colouring) to create the centre (seeds) of the sunflower.



Following that, I spent about 2 hours piping little yellow starts around the rest of the cake



Midway through, my hand started hurting.



But I stuck it out...





Overall, I was very happy with my first cake. I think I've mastered tips 16 and 21. It took my hand a while to recover. Note to self: don't fill up the bag too much. Saving time to reduce the number of times you have to add icing is not worth the pain associated with squeezing a full icing bag for two hours. StumbleUpon
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