Monday, August 29, 2011

Canadian versus American Foods

When this post goes online I will be at home in Prince Edward Island enjoying a mini family reunion with my aunt, uncle, and cousins from the US. Their visit got me thinking about the different foods that are available on either side of the border. 

My cousins grew up outside of Boston but were both born in Canada and came back every summer to go to camp in Nova Scotia and to visit my family and our grandparents. As a result, they were exposed to all of the goodies that Canada has to offer. Every time we went to visit on family day at camp I remember bringing them Coffee Crisp bars. When I went to visit the family a couple of years ago I asked my cousin what I could bring her from the North and her response was "All Dressed chips, Fudgee-Os, Bick's Onion Relish, and Coffee Crisp". I happily obliged. 

Basically an Oreo with chocolate filling and a better cookie

They didn't have the onion when I was taking the picture but this one is my favorite.

A variety of "Canadian" chocolate bars
As I was strolling through the grocery store I started thinking about other things I didn't think were available in the US. 

I've read about Americans bringing an extra suitcase to fill up with cereal.

My favorite peanut butter and a Canadian staple
There are also a few foods that are a bit different on either side of the border.

Kraft Dinner becomes plain old Macaroni and Cheese.

Top: Canadian Smarties are candy coated chocolate Bottom: American Smarties (Rockets in Canada)

The distinct differences between available foods has always sort of amazed me. I know there are different regulations regarding labeling and manufacturing requirements but I've never quite understood why there isn't more crossover. I guess the different markets probably have something to do with it. There are even differences from one end of this country to the other. 

Stay tuned for my next post. I went down to Watertown, NY with my brother over the weekend and tried to inventory as many "American" foods as I could. 

Is there anything that you seek out when you cross the border (in either direction)?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

One of my co-workers asked if I could make some cupcakes for a wedding shower she was throwing. Of course I said yes. The shower had a wine and cheese theme and we decided to play off that and chose chocolate stout cupcakes. 

I've had this recipe on hand for along time. When I was getting ready for Cupcake Camp last year these made the short list but I just never got around to trying them out. Not even for St. Patrick's Day. Go figure! I had printed off a number of recipes that were pretty similar. I think they were all variations of one another but in the end, I decided to try out Dave Lieberman's recipe

The recipe was very straightforward except for one missing piece of information. He specifies "one bottle of beer" but how much is a bottle? I had come across another version of the recipe that said to use one cup, so that's what I used. It seemed to work. Also, I used an espresso beer. Chocolate recipes often call for espresso to bring out the flavor of the chocolate, and stout kind of tastes like coffee, so I thought it would be a good match. 

I didn't use the frosting suggested in Dave's recipe. I've always found that frosting with milk or cream in it ends up being too soft. I knew I wanted to pipe the frosting on these so I used good old Martha's cream cheese butter cream instead. I also jazzed it up a little with some vanilla bean and dusted them with cocoa powder to finish them off.  


Packed up and ready for delivery
I got a lot of compliments on the frosting for these. It was nice and fluffy and not too rich like cream cheese frosting can sometimes be. My best guess is that the richness of the cream cheese is cut by the butter. That's right. I said I think the butter make it seem less rich. 

I thought the texture of these cupcakes was perfect. I also loved to combination of the cream cheese with the chocolatey, sort of bitter cake. I found the aftertaste of the stout to be a little strong, but some of my tasters told me I was crazy. Maybe I was just expecting it to be there and I was paying more attention to it than the others. This recipe is certainly a keeper. It was super easy and made two dozen generous cupcakes. 

What's your favorite recipe with booze?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Double Chocolate Baked Doughnuts

The other night I was craving chocolate. I was also extremely bored and it was still pretty early in the evening so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and make something to satisfy my craving. After a quick internet search I found the solution to my problem - double chocolate baked doughnuts. Ever since I made my first batch of cinnamon sugar doughnuts I've been waiting for the right time to try some more.

I found a good looking recipe on the blog, Milk & Honey. These turned out to be a great solution for a weeknight baking endeavor. They came together really quickly and I had all of the ingredients in the cupboard. I did hold myself back a little and decided I'd only make half the recipe. It was a pretty easy recipe to cut in half. A quick tip - when I half a recipe that only calls for one egg, I just use the white. I figure it's probably about half the egg and the healthier half to boot. Alternatively, you could whisk up a whole egg and measure out half of it. 

Ready for the oven

I had the same problem with these as I did with the cinnamon sugar doughnuts. I had a really hard time getting them out of the pan. You can see a few chunks out of a couple of them where I had to pry them out of the pan. It might also have something to do with my impatience. I tried to get these out of the pan ASAP thinking that would keep them from sticking. It probably hurt more than it helped. I really need to invest in some cooking spray. 

The glaze for these doughnuts was super easy too. The recipe calls for melting the chocolate chips, corn syrup, butter, and vanilla in a double boiler on the stove. Instead, I just threw it all in a glass mixing bowl and melted it in the microwave. Take it out and stir every 30 seconds until everything is melted. Simple as that. The doughnuts were dipped in the glaze and sprinkled with different toppings. I always have sprinkles on hand and noticed I had a few toffee bit in the cupboard so I used those too. 

Toffee bits

Sprinkles make me happy

These were delicious. The texture was lighter and they tasted more like the "real thing" that you'd get at a coffee shop than the cinnamon doughnuts did. The glaze had good flavor and wasn't too sweet. I would certainly make these again. They became a bit messy because I threw them in a container while the glaze was still pretty soft. Like I said, I'm impatient. 

Do you ever throw something together to satisfy a craving?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sushi Cupcakes

A few weeks ago a couple of the girls in the office, Caitlyn (@lizard _princess) and Kelly, made some amazingly decorated cupcakes for a coworker's birthday. Said coworker really likes sushi and had chosen a sushi restaurant for her birthday lunch so, naturally, "sushi" cupcakes were the ideal treat. I was fortunate enough to hear about these and get a few pictures before they were devoured.

It's amazing what you can do with vanilla cupcakes, white frosting, and some fairly common candy. I was thoroughly impressed with the attention to detail. I think the "wasabi" is the touch that takes them over the edge. I also never would have thought to use white sprinkles as a stand in for white rice. I also loved the presentation. Nice touch.  

While on the topic of sweets that look like sushi, I thought I'd throw in a picture of the Rice Krispie treat "sushi" my friend, Janelle, made me for my very own birthday. That was the first time I'd seen this kind of thing in person and I sure was impressed. 

Photo courtesy of Janelle's facebook page
All in all, I think these girls all did an amazing job decorating their treats. Thanks for letting me use them as material for a post! Keep the creative ideas coming.

Have you ever made something sweet that looked like something savory? Or the opposite?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Delicious Doughnuts

As much as I love making cupcakes, I've been looking for something different to try out lately. I can't remember where I first saw the idea but baked doughnuts seemed like a good thing to tackle next. They're relatively healthy, just a customizable as a cupcake, and who doesn't love doughnuts??

I'd had my eye out for a doughnut pan for a while and happened to come across one at HomeSense (for a great price) not too long ago. You can also find them them at Amazon and other online stores. 

The next step was to decide on a recipe to start out with. I went with a classic nutmeg and cinnamon cake doughnut recipe from King Arthur Flour that seemed relatively simple and had great reviews. I also liked that it required ingredients that I always have on hand. I used buttermilk powder and water as recommended in the recipe, but I think it might have worked out better with yogurt or sour cream. I'll have to try them that way the next time. 

When the recipe tells you to fill the cavities 2/3 full and grease the pan generously, they're not kidding. I filled these way too far and had a hard time getting them out of the pan because they rose over the middle bit that makes the whole. They were also hard to get out because I didn't use cooking spray to grease the pans. I think that is key. There is very little fat in the batter to the doughnuts tend to stick. I did grease the pan with oil but I found it really just beaded off the non-stick coating and pooled at the bottom of the pan.

The finished product was quite tasty and looked like "real" doughnuts! I covered them in cinnamon and white sugar after I pried them out of the pan. I didn't use anything to get the coating to stick. I just threw them in a bowl and hoped for the best. I'll admit - I didn't love the first one I had. I found the flavor and texture improved overnight. They got good reviews at the office as well. The texture is definitely similar to a cake doughnut you would find at a coffee shop. There's definitely no mistaking them for a classic, deep fried doughnut but they're good in their own right.

I think the doughnut pan is a winner. I have a lot of ideas for this contraption.

What's your favorite kind of doughnut? And how do you spell it - doughnut or donut?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: 32,000 ft


Monday, August 8, 2011

Island Fare: Cows Ice Cream

When I am home in PEI I am lucky enough to be less than five minutes away from the Cows Ice Cream Creamery. For those who aren’t familiar, Cows is an Island staple. They started selling their ice cream out in Cavendish (home of Anne of Green Gables) in 1983. Since then they have expanded their offerings to include more than 32 flavors of ice cream. There are currently 5 locations in PEI, one in Halifax, one in Niagara, one in Banff, and one in Whistler.

I’ll be honest…I wasn’t a huge fan of Cows until I spent my first summer working at the Cavendish Boardwalk. Over the summer I managed to make friends with a few of the people working at Cows and took full advantage of my access to $1 staff cones. I think I tried just about every available flavour that summer. I also used to think it was prohibitively expensive but, in my old age, I realize it’s really not that bad. A single cone (two scoops and up to two flavors) in a freshly made waffle cone comes in just under $5. The flavors also change daily depending on what runs out and what else they've got in the freezer. 

Flavors and prices
Freshly made waffle cones. I love that smell.
The Cows website claims there are three factors that make their ice cream so good:
1.    High (16%) butterfat content
2.    Minimum air creates a high density, slow to melt in your mouth ice cream
3.    Good ingredients like fresh cream, real eggs, sugar, pure natural vanilla, fresh PEI berries, and cocoa imported from Holland

Cows is also well known for their parody t-shirts and merchandise. These shirts were all the rage when I was in elementary school. I remember they were a very popular gift to give at birthday parties. They’ve evolved from generally funny word play to cowifying pop culture phenomena. Some of them are quite clever.

This is my current favorite. I think I want the mug.
This past visit had me trying out one new flavour and two that were definitely around last summer. Moo Henry (the new one reminiscent of an Oh Henry bar) is vanilla ice cream with gooey caramel swirl, brown sugar fudge, peanuts, and chocolate pieces. It was quite tasty. The caramel was a perfect consistency and the peanuts were a nice surprise. I didn’t come across them until I got into the second scoop. 

On my second trip I decided to maximize my scoopage and get two flavors in my single cone. Fluff ‘n Udder (fluffer nutter) is chocolate ice cream with marshmallow swirl and mini peanut butter cups. I had been disappointed by this one last year but, in this scoop, it redeemed itself. My second scoop was Peanut Butter Cup Cup - peanut butter ice cream with peanut butter swirl and mini peanut butter cups. Delicious! This scoop was also way better than I remembered it being.

Peanut Butter Cup Cup on top and Fluff 'n Udder on the bottom

All in all, if you find yourself in PEI, you should definitely track down a scoop of Cows. Even if you don’t like ice cream, the stores are fun to browse through and there's usually a large cow statue outside to take a picture with.

Do you have a favorite brand or flavor of ice cream that makes you think of home?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

An Island Wedding

This past weekend I was lucky to get to attend the long awaited wedding of my friends, Janelle and Vince. Everyone had a great time celebrating with the lovely couple and it was a great chance to expose some friends to their first taste of PEI. I always love when friends come to visit for the first time. Watching other people experience what I grew up with (and grew to take for granted) is always fun. You don’t always appreciate it while you live there but it really is a special place.

After a lovely ceremony we headed out to Stanhope for the reception. During the break in between my friends and I headed to Richard’s for a lobster roll to tide us over (featured yesterday). The reception was held at the Stanhope Beach Resort right on the point overlooking Covehead Bay and harbour. Unfortunately, due to the less than ideal weather, I don’t have any pictures of the view but it really is beautiful. The area is probably one of my favourite places on the Island but I may be biased. This is where my family and my dad’s siblings have had cottages for years and I spent many a summer out there growing up.
The decorations were beautiful. I had been listening to Janelle’s ideas for well over a year and I was so glad to see everything turned out exactly as she had envisioned. The food at the reception was amazing. Sorry to my other married friends but I think this was possibly the best wedding food I’ve ever had - salads, rolls (the hidden pretzel rolls were especially popular), pickled beets, bread and butter pickles, roasted baby red potatoes, mixed veggies (that didn’t look like they were from the freezer), barbecued chicken, and carved roast beef. Delicious. The dessert buffet was none too shabby either – peanut butter cup cheesecake, apple cinnamon cheesecake, chocolate torte, white chocolate dipped cookies, berry trifle, and white cake with lemon curd. I’m sure I’m missing something. I didn’t try all of it but, sadly, I did try most of it and I’d have to say the peanut butter cup cheesecake and lemon curd cake were my favorites. 

After all this there was still more to eat! In lieu of a full wedding cake the happy couple chose a few tiers of mixed mini cupcakes with a small cake on top. 

The cupcakes were made by Jennifer Prinz of City View Bakehouse in Charlottetown. They looked great and tasted even better. My first visit was conservative. I tried a chocolate cupcake topped with dulce de leche and espresso buttercream. It was really tasty. Nice moist cake and flavourful buttercream. Around 1 am, when the party was winding down and the entire supply of cupcake was still sitting in the corner, a few of us basically attacked the display and tried each flavour one after another. We felt we were doing our duty as friends of the bride and groom. We couldn’t let these delicious cupcakes go to waste! I ended up trying vanilla with lemon curd, double chocolate mint, and carrot with cream cheese frosting. For some reason we were all especially excited to find the carrot cupcakes hiding at the back. The cream cheese frosting was to die for. I wish I had taken a picture of the aftermath. A big pile of abandoned cupcake liners were left behind.
I really enjoyed these cupcakes and that’s a big thing for me to say. I’m usually especially hard on cupcakes from professional bakeries but these truly were delicious. They weren’t dry. You could tell the frosting wasn’t made with shortening. The texture was great. I think I’m going to have to hit up the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market when I’m home next month and try out some of Jennifer’s other treats.
All in all, it was a great weekend with great food and even greater friends. I’m so happy I was able to be a part of it all!
What’s the best wedding food you’ve ever had?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Lobster Roll

Perfect lobster roll from Richard's Fresh Seafood at Covehead Wharf, PEI
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