Friday, January 30, 2009

Cupcake Overload

jan31_02 copy

You’d think by this point, I’d be sick of cupcakes. It’s certainly been a bit of cupcake overload here this week, what with Cupcake Camp last Sunday, and then spending the rest of the week recovering from it. However, I managed to find a bit of gas left in the tank to crank out three more dozens of cupcakes for my classmates yesterday. Thursdays are long days for us, and I thought we’d probably be in need of a sugar-boost by mid-afternoon.

I had some leftover frosting and caramel sauce from Cupcake Camp that I had thrown into the freezer, so I knew that one dozen of the cupcakes would be the Chocolate Cinnamon Cupcakes with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting.

jan31_03 copy

The second dozen I made with my friend Jenna in mind. A few of us went for brunch at 7 West earlier this week, and while we were waiting for our meals to arrive, the waiter came out with this massive cake and displayed it on the counter. What was it? Banana chocolate. Which then resulted in the two of us fantasizing about chocolate banana cake for the next couple of minutes. After seeing that cake, I couldn’t get the image out of mind, and I knew the only way I could was to bake the cake myself. Out came my trusted banana muffin recipe (from the Williams-Sonoma collection), in which I replaced the walnuts with chocolate chips, and frosted them with a rich chocolate fudge icing.

My last dozen was a spur-of-the-moment decision. I had originally wanted to make coconut cupcakes, but was distraught when I discovered my local Sobey’s had a very, very pathetic selection of extracts available in their equally pathetic baking section (granted, I can’t really complain since it is a small store…). It was close to being a blizzard out there, and I was already went and cold so I made the executive decision to go home and simply whip up something with whatever I had in my fridge. I had Maltesers, and I had half a carton of whipped cream. Thus I baked Chocolate Malt Cupcakes with Chocolate Malt Whipped Cream.

jan31_01 copy

The chocolate malt cupcakes were incredibly rich and dense, having a brownie-like crumb that melted in your mouth, which paired nicely with the light whipped cream on top. (It’s is so delicious on its own! I’m definitely guilty of having eaten half a bowl of the leftover cream.) The banana chocolate cupcakes were pretty incredible though. It really does make a Cinderella story out of my simple and plain banana muffins. Topped with the fudge frosting and packed with chocolate chips, it’s in a whole different class. And we all know how chocolate and banana make a great pair together, and this fudge frosting is an absolute killer with the banana muffin.

Ok, now I’m officially cupcaked-out. At least for the next few weeks…

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

When Cupcakes Alliterate

Have we all recovered from the sugar-high madness that was Cupcake Camp 1.0 this past Sunday? I know I’m still a bit hungover from all the sugar consumed in the span of three hours that day, but it was certainly worth it. There were many beautifully decorated and delicious tasting cupcakes at the event. Once again, a huge thank you to Monica and Michelle for organizing the first ever Cupcake Camp in Toronto, as well as to my fellow bakers out there who shared their wonderful creations. I’m definitely looking forward to the next camp!

jan25_02 copy

As promised, I bring you a more detailed post about the cupcakes I made for Cupcake Camp. When my friend Suzie first informed me about Cupcake Camp, I immediately started digging through my collection of recipe books and magazines and googling online for inspiration. I dabbled with a few ideas here there, some using fruit, others being tea-infused, but deep-down, I think my heart was already set on making some form of a chocolate cupcake.

Originally, I planned to make a chocolate chestnut cupcake that would also make use of some liqueur in one form or another, but I had a hard time finding chestnut purée. My busy schedule since returning back the city after the holidays and beginning the second term of school, not to mention a lack of a car, afford me very little time to run away the city just for a can of chestnut puree.

Thus, on to plan B. I remembered this fabulous cake a fellow classmate made a while back for a presentation: vegan chocolate cinnamon. I absolutely fell in love with that cake; it was incredibly moist and the warmth of the cinnamon matched so well with the richness of the chocolate. Inspired by the cake, I decided to make Chocolate Cinnamon Cupcakes. I used my stand-by chocolate cupcake recipe, and simply threw in two heaping tablespoons of cinnamon.

jan25_01 copy

I also toyed with the idea of caramel while I was planning out my cupcake, and as a happy medium, I decided to incorporate the caramel into my frosting. I found a wonderful recipe for Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting on Ivonne’s blog, and I must say, this frosting is divine. Creamy, buttery and sweet, with the slight tang of cream cheese, it was the perfect match for the chocolate cinnamon cupcakes. My favourite was the caramel sauce, which tastes even better when you add a good pinch of salt for an instant salted caramel sauce.

These cupcakes smell heavenly yet sinful at the same time; open a box of them and you’ll get a whiff of the sweet, buttery caramel with the spiciness of the cinnamon. I dare you to resist having one! Funnily enough, the editor in me has just realised how alliteration-centric these cupcakes are. Chocolate Cinnamon Cupcakes with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting. Now say that five times fast.

jan25_09 copy

And on one final note regarding Cupcake Camp, I was finally able to try Suzie’s Chocolate Rolo Cupcakes today, which got great reviews from tasters on Sunday. A rich, chocolate cupcake (using the Magnolia recipe) with an incredibly creamy frosting (it’s my favourite part of the whole cupcake!), Suzie filled the centre with gooey caramel, replicating its namesake confectionary. These cupcakes are perfect for any chocoholic!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Gung Hey Fat Choy!

Happy Chinese New Year to all! It’s the biggest and most important holiday on the Chinese calendar—a time to reflect on the past year, and to look forward to a new year that will be filled with joy, peace, prosperity, good health, happiness, and most importantly, more good eats! My parents are coming down for a visit at the end of the week, and my mother already has a list of food she’ll bring for me! So for the next two weeks (since that’s how long the New Year festivities last), I’ll be taking a bit of a hiatus from my post-holiday diet to stuff my face to my little heart’s content with turnip and taro cakes, various fried pastries and many other delicious and traditional Chinese dishes.

I’ll admit, my talent for cooking Chinese food is sorely lacking, as I’ve stated before. I’ve fully taken advantage of my mother’s own brilliance in the kitchen, and while I can make a mean chocolate cake or lasagna, or even a fancy three-course dinner, I often find it a challenge to cook Chinese food well. Perhaps a lot of it has to do with my mom being such a good cook, and knowing that I could never excel in that culinary area as well as she can. But a quick phone call home to mom and some independent research online managed to temporarily curb my defect.

jan26_01 copy

Sweet and sour is pretty synonymous to Chinese food in the Western world, thanks to the popularity of sweet and sour pork and sweet and sour sauce. I’m a huge fan of sweet and sour myself; I love the combination of the sharp zing of the vinegar and the sweetness of the ketchup and sugar coating crispy pieces of fried meat. I made some Sweet and Sour Shrimp, pan-searing the shrimp instead of frying them before tossing them in a sweet and sour sauce made of sugar, ketchup and vinegar. The shrimp will taste extra delicious if you fry them (as will anything really, because who doesn’t secretly love fried food?!), but they work just as well pan-fried as I have done.

jan26_02 copy

I also made Braised Napa Cabbage with Conpoy. Fresh scallops are delicate in flavour, but conpoy (dried scallops) have a much deeper and pungent flavour to them. It makes an impact in dishes, and is balanced really nicely here with the sweetness of napa. There was also some fried garlic layered between the conpoy and napa, which gave the dish that little extra “oomph” on the flavour radar.

jan26_03 copy

North American has seen its fair share of fad diets in the past decade, and it wasn’t until recently that people have begun to once again embrace such indulgently rich foods like duck, foie gras and pork belly more openly. My mom makes an incredible braised pork belly dish every year for the new year festivities, made with dried preserved vegetables. It’s incredibly time consuming with the amount of work that goes into making it, but it’s absolutely worth it when you taste a bite of the tender, melt-in-your-mouth morsels of meat. I myself don’t have the patience or the desire to make such a dish for myself, so I made a simple Braised Pork Belly with Soy and Star Anise (very similar to red-braised pork). Red-Braised Pork Belly is a popular, homestyle dish that hails from the Hunan region. Braised in a mixture of dark soy sauce, sugar, star anise, ginger, garlic and cinnamon, the pork belly packs a lot of punch in depth and complexity of flavours. Most people like to enjoy eating the fatty pieces of pork with steamed buns, to help cut through the richness of the meat. I decided to skip the bun and wrapped them in some lettuce leaves along with a slice of cucumber.

The Year of the Ox seems to be starting off on the right note for me, and I can only hope that everyone else enjoys another year of delectable culinary delights! Here’s to a Happy New Year, and to many more days of happy cooking!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cupcake Camping in Toronto

Bake them, and they will come. That was certainly the case for Toronto’s first ever Cupcake Camp. Organizers Monica and Michelle were thinking they’d be lucky if 100 people showed up, but it was more like 300 plus that packed themselves in Labspace Studio to test out some tasty treats from Toronto bakers, both professional and hobbyist bakers like myself. With 39 bakers and about 1000 cupcakes on display, we certainly needed that many people to consume all the cupcakes!

jan25_03 copy

Cupcake Camp TO is actually a spinoff of a popular event held each year in San Francisco by the same name. It’s a gathering of cupcake bakers and lovers alike, where folks can get together, share their creations, eat some delicious cupcakes and chat with fellow bakers. My friend Suzie actually told me about the event, and I was instantly on board to go and bring some cupcakes myself. I mean, for $2, not only do I get a chance to showcase my cupcakes, but also eat some yummy cupcakes myself, as well as help a good cause (proceeds went to the Toronto Humane Society).

So with an empty stomach, I went off to Cupcake Camp, bringing along with me two dozen Chocolate Cinnamon Cupcakes with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting, pictured above. As 2 PM rolled around, the small studio was already packed with bakers and tasters, waiting to try the numerous varieties of cupcakes. Many of the cupcakes there were absolute masterpieces—beautifully crafted with interesting flavour combinations. I already zoned in on a couple of cupcakes I really wanted to try—the only thing was being able to fight through the crowd to get to them when they were presented!

jan25_04 copy

The first cupcake I tried was the Hungarian Doboush Torte, made by Janet Burnup. Suzie was nice enough to grab one for me! Not only was it stunning in presentation, but it was perhaps my favourite cupcake of the day: a moist, vanilla base with a scrumptious, creamy coffee buttercream. The best part was the surprise underneath the buttercream though—a crunchy layer of caramel! Every bite of this cupcake was pure heaven…

jan25_05 copy

Suzie then managed to show up in front of me with three cupcakes as I prepared to present my cupcakes to the crowd. After almost being manhandled by eager tasters, I escaped to our little tasting corner, where we split the cupcakes: Chocolate Malt by Krista Arndt, Peanut Butter and Banana by Kim Earles, and White Chocolate Raspberry by Team Delisio. The white chocolate raspberry had an incredibly delightful icing, with the slight tartness of the raspberries cutting through the richness and sweetness of the icing. Both the chocolate cupcakes were incredibly moist, and each had an unbelievably amazing icing. The chocolate malt really tasted like its chocolate counterpart, while there are no words to truly explain how delicious the banana buttercream was. It was so light!

jan25_06 copy

Next was a cute Asian fusion cupcake: Black Sesame and Matcha Icing by Andrea. I loved the cupcake base. The earthy, slightly bitter black sesame works so well here, and also made for a less sweeter cupcake, perfect for my palate. While I like matcha, I don’t think the icing worked as well here because the baker used a cream cheese frosting base, which I found overpowered the matcha. I would love to try this with a matcha buttercream if I ever have a chance to make this in the future!

Already stuffed, I was pretty much done for the day, but as I was heading out, I bumped into Joanna Bandziorowski, who I had been chatting with earlier. I was really interested in trying her Vanilla-Coconut-Fennel cupcake, and since she made mini ones, I decided to grab one. They smelled so sweet and vanilla-y, with flakes of coconut and fennel seed sprinkled throughout the cupcake. The perfect ending to an already perfect day!

jan25_07 copy

Well, let’s just say I’m all cupcaked out after consuming 5.5 cupcakes in the span of 3 hours. (OK, technically it’s 4 since I did split three of them with Suzie!). I still have one more cupcake waiting for me in the fridge for tomorrow, the masterpiece Fig-Walnut and Caramel cupcake by Valerie Foster! I’m slowly coming off my sugar high and I’ll have to hit the gym stat tomorrow, but right now, I’m just going to relish in the fact that I got to taste some amazing cupcakes today by some incredibly talented bakers. Cupcake Camp TO was definitely a huge success, and I’m already looking forward to the next one!

jan25_08 copy

Friday, January 23, 2009

What's For Lunch? -- A Twist on Tabbouleh

jan23_01 copy

It was another salad for lunch today, this time a spin-off on tabbouleh. Tabbouleh is a salad with roots from the Middle East. The traditional salad contains bulgur (cracked wheat), finely chopped parsley (and lots of it!) and mint, ripe tomato, green onions and simply dressed with some lemon juice, olive oil and sometimes some spices. It’s certainly not a salad for parsley-haters, since the majority of the salad is comprised of the herb, but it also makes for a light, refreshing and low-calorie meal for those who don’t mind it.

I was flipping through my latest issue of delicious a few weeks back when I came across a recipe for a White Bean Tabbouleh. Not only was I drawn by the beautiful and colourful picture of the dish, but I love how they added white beans to the salad. Instantly, the light appetizer has become a satisfying meal with the addition of some protein.

The recipe served the salad with some roasted cuttlefish, but I roasted a few shrimp instead. The beans also add another level of texture to the salad, adding a creaminess that plays off the crunch of the cucumbers and the graininess of the burghul. Chickpeas would be just as delicious in this salad, although you’ll be missing out on the creamy factor, and use curly parsley in place of the Italian variety for added texture.

jan23_02 copy

White Bean Tabbouleh with Roasted Shrimp
Adapted from delicious, Vol.5 Issue 1
Serves 2 as a main

1 vine-ripened tomatoes
1 heaping tbsp burghul (cracked wheat)
½ of a 400 g can white kidney beans (or cannellini), rinsed and drained
10 to 12 medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
¾ packed cup Italian or curly parsley, roughly chopped
¼ English cucumber, or ½ Lebanese cucumber, finely chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice, or to taste
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Finely chop tomato, and scrape into a bowl with any juices. Add the beans and burghul. Stir, then set aside so the burghul soaks up the juices.

Rinse the shrimp and pat dry with a paper towel. Place in a small bowl, and toss them with a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 5 to 6 minutes, or until done. Don’t overcook! Set aside.

Add the parsley, cucumber and lemon juice to the bean mixture and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Divide among two plates, top with the roasted shrimp, drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and serve.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Singing Praise to Salads

jan18_01 copy

There’s this lovely little café on the Danforth that I love to frequent for lunch. Mocha Mocha Café is a small establishment with only a handful of tables squished together that specializes in homestyle, comfort foods, serving a variety of salads, sandwiches and daily specials for a quick bite to eat. I’ve only ever had their salads when I’ve eaten here, but they have been some of the best salads I’ve ever had. They are always fresh, and the combination of ingredients makes for a hearty, comforting and satisfying meal (something that not all salads can achieve!).

What really makes Mocha Mocha’s salads so special (in my opinion), besides the fact that they’re always very fresh, is the addition of warm potatoes. Most people often pick salads because it’s healthy and because there are no carbs. Trust me, I’ve been one of those people who have sometimes picked to eat a salad over a club sandwich for those reasons. But the potatoes give you enough carbs to satisfy your hunger and give you energy for the rest of the afternoon. Plus the combination of the warm potatoes against the cool crispness of the lettuce is so comforting. I had lunch at Mocha Mocha this past week with a friend, who tried their Mediterranean salad for the first time and loved it. Alas, we ended up dreaming of salads with warm potatoes for the rest of the week.

jan18_02 copy

This sparked me to replicate Mocha Mocha’s Salad Niçoise for dinner the other day. I simply tossed some torn romaine lettuce with some balsamic vinaigrette, and topped it with chopped parsley, grated carrots, cucumber slices, roasted beets, hard-boiled egg, boiled potatoes and tuna salad (I mixed a can of drained tuna with 1 tablespoon of mayo and a handful of chopped parsley). It was so delicious and satisfying, and if you’re a salad hater, it’ll really change the way you think about salads!

Friday, January 16, 2009

What's For Lunch? -- Couscous Salad

Got the lunchbox blues? Sometimes I feel like I do. I'm the kind of person who always packs a lunch. Firstly, it much healthier and you actually know what you'll be ingesting, and secondly, it's a much cheaper option and when you're still a student like myself, you try to save every penny that you can. That being said, sometimes I get into a rut when coming up with fresh and exciting lunch ideas. Half the time I'm too busy to prep a fantastic lunch, and other times I'm just too plain lazy. But with my post-holiday diet going on, in which I've sworn off cheese (amongst many other sugar...and coffee!!), that means I also have to give up my usual of cheese and crackers.

jan16_01 copy

I used to always love bringing salads for lunch as well, but I always found it a bit time consuming with the chopping, and the fact that it took up more room in my bag. However, after a little hiatus, it was about time to get back into salads. I luckily dug up some couscous in the back of my cupboards yesterday, perfect for a couscous salad! I simply tossed the couscous with some soaked dried cherries, diced carrots and cucumbers, some finely chopped Italian parsley and green onions, and a balsamic vinaigrette. It was fast, easy, healthy and delicious! The best thing about couscous is that it can take about any kind of ingredients: add marinated and/or roasted vegetables and some feta for a Mediterranean couscous salad, or soak the couscous in orange juice and throw in other dried fruits like apricots and raisins for a sweet variety. The combinations are endless, and it’ll make lunch less bland when you have the opportunity to mix things up.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Little Bit of Flair

jan03_01 copy

Much belated, but happy new year to everyone nonetheless! I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday, filled with lots of yummy treats! I know it’s been a while since I’ve updated, and I apologize for that. This year’s holiday baking marathon really took a lot out of me. Baking for two week straight, and producing over 500 cookies made me suffer from a serious case of baking burnout by the end of it that I could barely muster up the energy to get into the kitchen much after that. Add in the fact that my sleeping schedule was absolutely atrocious, I figured that this rather sleep-deprived cook was safer out of the kitchen than in it.

I did treat the family to a New Year’s Eve meal of veal shanks and risotto, since my brother never got a chance to try the osso bucco I made over a year ago. I thought it would be fun to start off the year with a bit of flare, and after flipping through numerous books, I settled on making an Opéra cake.

If anyone has seen an Opera cake, it looks extraordinarily elegant, with its multi-layers of almond sponge, coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache. Its elegance makes it the star of any show, hence its name, as it was inspired by the grand elegance and theatricality of the opera.

jan03_02 copy

There are five key elements that make up an Opera cake: the almond sponge, the syrup that is used to soak the sponge, the coffee buttercream, the chocolate ganache, and the chocolate glaze. While it does seem daunting to even attempt this cake after reading the recipe and seeing how beautiful they look in professional French bakeries, it’s actually less complicated than it sounds. Granted, there are a lot of steps, since they are a lot of layers to the cake, but once you’ve prepared everything, assembling the cake doesn’t actually take a lot of time.

I used the recipe from Le Cordon Bleu, and it was fantastic. The almond sponge was incredibly light and moist. The only real complaint I had was that my buttercream curdled a bit, which didn’t give me a fluffy, smooth texture I was looking for, and I found the glaze to be a bit too much on the runny side, despite having already reduced some of the cream it asked for. For my first attempt though, I don’t think it turned out terribly bad, and like any French dessert, it was just the right sweetness. Be sure to serve your guests small slices of the cake though, because it is quite rich and heavy. And on a fun note, I bought some gold flakes before the holidays and finally found an occasion to whip them out and sprinkle them over the cake. What better way to usher in the new year with a bit of flair and good fortune, right?

  © Blogger templates 'Neuronic' by 2008

Back to TOP