Wednesday, July 27, 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Home

I've been inspired by Kristen to put up a second post today. This is where we're both headed later today. In fact, this picture is of the resort where the wedding reception we're attending will take place. It's also the bay my parent's cottage is on. I cannot wait to smell that salt air. PEI, here we come.

Review: Le Cafe at the National Arts Centre

My friend, Michelle, and I spent some time this past weekend enjoying brunch on the patio of Le Cafe at the NAC in downtown Ottawa. As expected, the food was delicious. I was, however, a little surprised to discover that not much had changed on the menu in the year and a half since I'd been there before. Regardless, the food was tasty. My personal favorite being General Blackie's chicken, Chef Michael Blackie's take on General Tso's chicken.

Being that this is a blog that is mostly focused on baking and sweets I thought I'd give a quick overview of the desserts I tried. There were quiet a few of the standard food service dessert items that I recognized from my time working in a restaurant, my office cafeteria, and M&M - lemon squares, cheesecake squares, brownies, carrot cake, etc. I decided to try the items that looked the most likely to be made on site. 

The macaron was quite delicious. This was one of the first "real" ones I've tried. The first bite or two didn't have a huge amount of flavor but the taste of chocolate got stronger as it went on. Michelle, who is quite a macaron connoisseur, said that the texture was nice and light. I would go back for another one of these. They had three or four different flavors available on the buffet. 

This was a chocolate peanut butter mousse of some sort. It was actually quite tasty. The chopped nuts on top provided a nice contrast in texture that complimented the smoothness of the mousse. It wasn't too sweet which was also nice. 

I'm not usually a huge fan of creme brulee but I quite enjoyed this one. Nothing fancy. Just a nice vanilla custard (you could see the vanilla beans) with a crunchy caramelized sugar top. This was the only one that had me scraping the bottom of the dish trying to get out every last bit.

This trifle was not my favorite. The cake layer was some kind of spice cake which I was certainly not expecting. The mousse on this one had a good flavor but the texture was quite grainy. I definitely didn't finish this one.

Overall, the desserts were okay. I had higher expectations knowing the reputation of Chef Blackie. I do realize that trying to prepare desserts for a busy buffet doesn't allow for a whole lot of freedom. Super elaborate and fancy desserts aren't really practical in this setting. I think my interest was piqued enough that I'd like to go back at lunch or dinner and try one of the desserts from the menu. This one alone sounds like it would be worth the trip...
C.hocolate M.arshmallow P.eanut - Valrhona chocolate ice cream, hard crack sugar top, marshmallow topping, organic honey baked peanuts
Do you have any favorite restaurant desserts? Or any favorite restaurants to go to for dessert?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: Icicle Treats

I can't even remember how I came across them but I've been following Icicle Treats (@IcicleTreats) on Twitter for awhile. I read all about the molds getting stuck in customs, finding a space in which to make their icy treats, getting the trikes licensed to sell, and successfully producing the first batches of ice pops. I've been dying to try them for a long time and when I saw this tweet last week, I knew I had to take advantage...I made it there by 11:03.

Icicle Treats is run by Erin Kennedy. She makes the homemade popsicles using as many local and organic ingredients as possible. She also mentioned that she never adds sugar - only agave nectar when a little bit of extra sweetness is absolutely necessary. I overheard her saying she simply throws the ingredients into the blender and the resulting puree makes up the pops. The business is run out of the catering kitchen of The Red Apron on Gladstone here in Ottawa. Besides the vending carts, the pops are also available for sale at The Red Apron and Thyme & Again on Wellington in Wellington West for $3.00 each. 

The cart outside Thyme & Again
There is a huge list of flavors available on the Icicle Treats website including blueberry lemonade, root beer float, peach basil, pink lemonade, chocolate coconut cream (I want to try this one!!!), Mexican chocolate, and honeydew lime. The selection Erin brought with her for sampling on Saturday included watermelon lime, mango peach, chocolate banana, and pineapple coconut. I was torn but decided to go with pineapple coconut and I was not disappointed. 

Erin helped me out with my photography
The pineapple coconut pop was made with fresh pineapple and coconut cream. Pretty much a pina colada without the rum. Although, Erin did mention it might be a good idea to try to add it in and make a boozy treat. She had previously tweeted about a successful batch of champagne and raspberry pops for a special event. I certainly wouldn't argue with a spiked frozen treat. Other potentially alcoholic flavors mentioned on the website include mimosa, peach-riesling coconut cream, and blackberry cabernet. Mmm. I think I may need to create some kind of even just to get some of these made.

This was really tasty and refreshing. The prefect treat for a hot summer day. The pineapple was still chunky enough that I could still tell there was real fruit in there. I'm definitely going to have to make the effort to go back to Thyme & Again or track down the cart to try another flavor. I'm really glad to see a local business getting off the ground. I really hope they continue to do well. Track them down and try them out!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Allergy-Friendly Cupcakes

I consider myself lucky. As far as I know, I’m not allergic to anything. Definitely not any foods anyway. This past weekend I took on what I consider to be one of my greatest baking challenges yet – making an allergy-friendly cupcake that didn’t taste like one.

A few weeks ago, a friend approached me and asked if I could make cupcakes for her sister’s surprise bachelorette party. Not a problem. Then she reminded me of the allergies I needed to accommodate. The cupcakes had to be free of wheat (not necessarily free of gluten), dairy, nuts, and sulphites. Phew. Normally I’m quite nervous at the prospect of accommodating an allergy. In this case, all involved were adults who weren’t anaphylactic to any of the previously mentioned items.

I spent a lot of time online trying to figure out which ingredients were safe and which recipes would be best suited to all of the substitutions. My vegan cupcake book, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, was a great starting point for the dairy-free aspect of things. In the end though, I decided to modify the ever popular Coconut Lime cupcakes and make them allergy-friendly.

Getting rid of the dairy was easy. Since there was already a coconut component to the cupcake I substituted coconut milk (being careful to find one that was sulphite-free) for the buttermilk. Next, I found out there’s a ratio for substituting oil for butter in baking. Use about ¾ the amount of oil as you would butter. There were no nuts in the original recipe, nor did any of the ingredients contain anything. The hardest thing to substitute was the good old all-purpose flour. After much research, I decided to use a gluten-free flour blend I came across on Martha’s website. It was made up of a mix of rice flour (I mixed white and brown), tapioca flour, and potato starch. It seemed to be the most popular mix for baking I found mentioned on multiple sites. With all of the ingredients sorted out I was set!

This may be the first recipe I feel I’ve adapted enough to post it as my own…

Gluten-free, Dairy-free Coconut Lime Cupcakes
Adapted from Coconut & Lime
(makes 12 to 16)  

1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour
1 cup sugar
7 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup coconut milk
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons lime juice (about 1 lime)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
zest of one lime (or more to taste)


Preheat the oven to 350. Line 12 wells in a cupcake tin with baking papers. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the oil, zest, vanilla, and sugar until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the juice. Alternately add the flour mixture and coconut milk, beginning and ending with flour. Fill each baking cup two-thirds full. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean, about 15 minutes.

For the frosting I used Martha Stewart’s Basic Buttercream (my new favorite) and substituted 1 cup of President’s Choice lactose-free margarine for the butter. I find spreading icing to be too time consuming so I just used a large freezer bag with the corner cut off to quickly pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes. Then I dipped the frosted cupcakes into toasted coconut to finish it off. Sulphite-free coconut can be found at health food stores. In this case, I just left the coconut off of a couple of them for the one person with the sulphite sensitivity.

They were a hit! I made a test batch early in the week (and used my co-workers as taste testers) to make sure that they were edible. Even I thought they were tasty. Of course the texture will never be quite the same as all-purpose flour but the flavor was quite good. I thought the frosting might be gross with the margarine but I actually loved the flavor and the ease of using the margarine. No worrying that you’ve left it out long enough to soften. It also piped beautifully. I will probably use the margarine in place of butter again. The bride-to-be was thrilled when she found out that she was able to eat the cupcakes, as was her friend who has Celiac disease.

While I won’t be making these kinds of substitutions on a regular basis (gluten-free flour is expensive!!), I am glad that I gave it a try.

Are there any of your favorite recipes that you’ve adapted to accommodate allergies?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Share Your Sweets: Creamy

This week's theme for Share Your Sweets on Serious Eats was creamy. I had a hard time with this one. A lot of the creamy desserts I think of are so simple and I kept trying to convince myself that I needed to make something more complicated. In the end I made a dessert that couldn't have been more simple. A version of Pineapple Delight

I remember my mom making this dessert for a dinner party she threw when I was probably about 10. When I called her the other day, she claimed she'd only ever made it the one time but I've remembered it ever since. The version she made was so simple - graham crust, whipped cream, and crushed pineapple. She originally got the recipe from my grandmother. I'd searched for the recipe online before and had never been able to find anything that seemed right. The other day I learned it was because the standard recipe includes a second filling layer of eggs, butter, and icing sugar that my mom chose to leave out because, in her version of the recipe, it wasn't cooked. She (and I) have a thing about uncooked eggs. I was always thinking the recipes looked wrong because there was too much going on. Once she shared this little tidbit the recipes I was finding made a lot more sense.

Action shot

Crushed pineapple, whipped cream, and vanilla bean for good measure

A few extra graham crumbs on top and you're good to go. There's something so deliciously rich but refreshing about this dessert. The cream makes it taste satisfying somehow and the pineapple gives it just a hint of refreshing sweet and sour. If you're looking for something quick and relatively simple, I highly recommend this one. Maybe it'll become a new family favorite. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Baby Shower Cupcakes

A few weeks ago I was asked to make cupcakes for a mega baby shower we were having at the office. There is most definitely something in the water one point this year 9 of 140ish employees were pregnant. There are so many babies on the way that the shower was for three of the first time moms-to-be. I was given free reign over what I wanted to make. That's a lot of pressure. I wanted to go with a pink and blue theme and decided to make strawberry and blueberry cupcakes. I like to give options when I'm feeding a lot of people. 

I didn't get entirely creative. Given the number of cupcakes I was making, I didn't want to start off with a completely new recipe in case it failed miserably. I made the same base as the rhubarb cupcakes I've described a couple of times before. Instead of rhubarb I added blueberries to one batch and diced strawberries to the other. Simple as that!

The plan was to make the cooked flour frosting I love so much and use blue for the blueberry and pink for the strawberry. Logical, right? The only problem was that I had MAJOR issues with the frosting. I'm not sure what happened but when I added the butter to the cooked flour base it completely separated and got really oily and gross looking. It was really too bad it didn't work out because it still tasted delicious. In the end I had to run out to the GT Boutique down the street to clear them out of icing sugar so I could make Martha's fluffy frosting. A super basic and delicious standby. Then, of course, I ran into another issue. The No Name butter I was using was super yellow and my blue and pink frosting turned out to more like mint green and salmon. Sigh. In the end, they were still pastel colors and baby shower appropriate, but I knew that they didn't look like I'd envisioned.

No one else seemed to mind the colors. I got a lot of compliments from my co-workers, which was nice. It's always good to hear others like what you're doing. 

Coming up next - I'm attempting my first allergy-friendly baking this coming weekend. Wheat, nut and dairy-free. This should be interesting.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Share Your Sweets: Fruit

The theme for this week's Share Your Sweets on Serious Eats is fruit. It just so happened that one of my very good friends was celebrating her birthday this weekend (happy birthday Kristen!) and I was going to attend her birthday party. I offered to bring something sweet and managed to  incorporate fruit into her tasty birthday treats. I know she loves lime so, after much back and forth, I decided to depart a little bit from my typical cupcake and I made mini lime cheesecakes with sour cream and raspberries. 

I started off with this recipe for key lime cheesecake pie from Kraft Canada. I kind of merged it with this recipe for coconut cream mini cheesecakes from the same site. They were my inspiration for the individual portions, sour cream topping, and I used it to figure out the baking time for the scaled down size. All in all the whole process was pretty simple. I started off with the crust (obviously). I had some ginger cookies kicking around in the cupboard so I threw some in the mini processor and added the cookie to replace about half of the graham crumbs in the crust. The recipe was very simple - 1 1/2 cups of cookie crumbs and 1/4 cup of melted butter. One slight mistake I made was adding 1/4 cup butter, melted instead of 1/4 cup of melted butter. Sounds minor but the mix came out a bit greasier than I would have anticipated.

One tablespoon of crumbs went into each cup. I portioned it out into 24 cups but I ended up only having enough filling for 20. If I were to make these again I would reduce to 18 cheesecakes and have a little more crust and filling for each one. I also doubled the amount of lime zest and juice that went into the batter. I generally find citrus recipes don't include enough to really be able to taste it so I always increase the amounts.

Out of the oven

The finished product

When I first tried one of these, I thought it was still a bit too tangy so I doubled the amount of sugar in the rest of the sour cream. I thought it helped a bit without making the dessert overly sweet. I thought they were quite delicious. Everyone at the party seemed to enjoy them. I would definitely make some other variation of these again. A good number of portions with minimal ingredients and they look great on the plate!

Are you a cheesecake fan? If so, what's your favorite flavor? If not, why?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Turnovers

Last weekend I was lucky enough to come across local rhubarb and strawberries at the grocery store. I figured neither one was going to be around for too much longer so I'd better take advantage while I could. I wanted to make something tasty that wasn't too complicated so I decided to try my hand at turnovers. 

I started off with frozen puff pastry from the grocery store. I may be an adventurous  baker but even I'm not crazy enough to try to make my own puff pastry. Especially in the a tiny kitchen with weak air conditioning. Then I made a strawberry rhubarb compote to use for the filling. Basically just a mix of chopped strawberries and rhubarb, some sugar, a little cornstarch and a bit of water. Most recipes I came across mentioned cutting the sheet of pastry into 4 and making large turnovers. I decided I wanted to have more to share so I cut each sheet into 16. After putting them together, I can see why they suggest the larger squares. The process was very messy but the taste was probably the same. 

A lot of them exploded but the filling was easily stuffed back in

A little egg wash and large crystal sugar topped things off
I thought these were delicious. I nice small treat. They did lose their crispiness after they were stored overnight but they were still tasty. If I were to make them again I think I would definitely try out the larger size. I think it might be easier and you'd definitely get more filling per turnover. I froze some of them after assembly and I'm going to try to bake them from frozen some day when I need a little pick me up. Hopefully they'll work out just as well that way.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Chocolate Covered Ice Cream Bars

One of the main food sites I follow on a regular basis is Serious Eats. I was introduced by one of my co-workers not too long after starting my current job. It's a great general food site/blog. They do reviews, recipes, advice, etc. There are lots of sub-sections of the site and they recently started up a new one - Serious Eats Sweets. One of the new features is a weekly challenge of sorts. They determine the theme and readers can submit pictures of recipes they've made that fall within that theme. I'm going to try to keep up with the challenge for as long as I can, either submitting pictures of things I've already made or making new recipes to fall within the theme. The new slideshows are posted on the site every Thursday. Last week I was able to submit a picture of my rhubarb cupcakes as part of the Share Your Sweets Summer Desserts feature. 

The theme for this week is "Cool Off". I chose to make a recipe I'd seen on the site the week before - homemade chocolate covered ice cream bars. Mmm. Pretty simple...melt some chocolate with a bit of oil to keep it liquid, cut up a pint of ice cream, stick in some sticks, dip in chocolate and freeze. The recipe I used can be found here. I did make a slight modification. I only had a large bag of chocolate chips so I used 9 oz of chocolate and 5 tablespoons of canola oil for the chocolate dip.

Just like the ice cream sandwiches, start with the best

Cut off the bottom of the carton

Cookie dough and brownies

Slice the pint into 4 and add sticks. I had to use skewers

Dip in the cooled melted chocolate and decorate (if you want)

In theory, this is a super simple and tasty treat. However, I quickly learned that my freezer isn't cold enough to make the process as easy as it could be. No matter how long I left the slices in there, I couldn't get them to freeze really hard. I think the chocolate process would be a lot easier with solidly frozen ice cream. I also couldn't find food grade popsicle sticks so I tried to make due with two skewers. That didn't work out so well either. The skewers seemed to cut the slices in half. The one ice cream bar pictured is the only one that turned out remotely photo worthy. Although they weren't pretty, they sure are tasty! I would try them again. The combinations you could make are endless. 

What is your favorite ice cream treat on a hot summer day?
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