Sunday, August 16, 2015

Smiling

Sometimes other people know best.

This was one of those situations where I was pretty adamant that I did not want a bridal shower or bachelorette party. I was serious and stayed strong. But then finally gave in after they asked me for the fiftieth time. Fine! Do it, whatever you want! No one listens to the bride anyways!

I caved and agreed to a small bridal shower (still a big no to the bachelorette party) and to my maid of honour's delight, she got to plan a tea party for me.
You know what? My bridal party has got skills. And game. They completely blew me away. Prior to the party, the only thing I did was give them a list of all the ladies invited to the wedding. Threw in a few activity ideas. And that was that. They did everything else. So I went in not knowing what to expect . . .
But look at the spread! These were all homemade! Unbelievable as they look store bought, but my maid of honour made lots and lots of tea sandwiches. One of my bridesmaids made three different types of scones: lemon poppyseed, berry, and a chocolate chip one. The other bridesmaid made a cherry crumble and blueberry crumble.
My bridesmaids are busy people. Always on the go and taking care of their energetic kids. So I was so touched that they squeezed in some baking time for me. And they didn't just make one flavour, they had to go for the gold star and make a variety!
Then there was the decoration. Silver, white, and pink balloons to match what their bouquets will be on the wedding day. Black and white HOWIA sign to match our classic wedding theme - also homemade. At first glance, I thought they bought the letters from a craft store!
Throw in my favourite colour of teal, a pretty table runner, mason jar centerpieces, and a cheese platter, this tea party had me speechless. My mom and future mother-in-law also pitched in a brought lots of food and desserts. A few aunts and friends couldn't make it, but we still had a great time playing games and catching up.
There was even a designated seat for me. I was scolded many times to stay under the Bride-To-Be bunting (also homemade by my bridesmaid). Look at how cute those paper ribbons are! Seriously Pinterest worthy!
We were pretty full from lunch, but you can't have a bridal shower for a dessert lover without dessert! There were lots of cakes and cookies and squares to be eaten and shared. Look, even teapot shaped cookies!
We obviously don't believe in sugar overload.
Or portion control. We will just eat and eat and eat. I do feel that I'm eating a lot more desserts these days - it's what all brides do a month before their wedding, right?

Also, we had yellow watermelon. And coconut lime sparkling beverages. And I ate sugar snap peas (I absolutely hate peas, especially those in the frozen medley with carrots).
Doing what I do best, cutting into a delicious chocolate cake. (For those of you who haven't seen me in contacts, I am not cutting the cake blind. I do occasionally wear them! And also for those of you who haven't seen me with wavy hair, I did attempt to curl them, but my hair likes to go back to being pin straight after awhile.)

Why the heck am I even having my wedding at a restaurant? My bridal party could totally cater.
Oh and those cute milk carton party favours? Another amazing DIY project by one of my bridesmaids. The were all personalized boxes of tea so that guests could take home a memento of the tea party.
Yup, the tags and labels were all personalized "S"ylvia tea!!!

I think everyone left smiling and I couldn't thank my friends more. They did so much to make the afternoon special for me. Hugs and thank you to Megan, Diana, and Laura!!! I am so excited for the big day because they'll be there to support me. =)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Vietnamese Braised Beef and Ice Cream Spring Rolls

It's been a wonderful food weekend. Sometimes, you bookmark a recipe that you just have to make as soon as possible. It happened twice this week! This is so rare that you'd think I'd win the lottery or something (which by the way, Lotto Max is still at a grand prize of 50 million with fifty 1 million prizes - come on ticket, just a measly million please).
The first one is from Steph's blog, i am a food blog, with her Vietnamese Braised Beef Taco post. If you know me, you know that I love tacos. Any given night if you ask me what I want to eat, it'll most likely be tacos (or sushi). So I went out and bought the 2 1/2 pounds of boneless chuck roast. Do you ever feel grown up going to the butcher? I do. I feel so much more like a cook when I get to unwrap the butcher paper and cut off the tied string. Or maybe I just like unwrapping presents.

Total aside and speaking of feeling like a grown up, I finally bought a new work bag. I've been alternating between my high school backpack and my weekend camera bag for my commute. But Howard finally said, enough is enough, and forced me to look professional. Thanks for looking out for me? Hahaha, it's a colour-blocked tote bag in light and dark camel. The best part is, the base is wide enough to fit my lunch box, which was my main criteria.
In other grown up news (geez, I'm all about growing up today), my maid of honour bought me an early wedding present last month and I used it for the first time today. Oh beautiful round cocotte, how I adore thee! I think I might like it more than my cast iron skillet, less oil splatter as I brown the meat.

So where are the tacos? Well, I did buy the tortillas, but at the last minute, I boiled some noodles to go with the Vietnamese braised beef. This way, I didn't waste any of that delicious juicy stew, the noodles soaked it all up and then it went in my belly. I hope you get a chance to try the recipe. It was quick and easy, just make sure you start in the afternoon and then let it braise until dinner time. You brown the meat, cook the onion, shallots, garlic, carrots, and tomatoes. Add the beef stock and then throw in more aromatics like star anise, cinnamon, five spice, bay leaves, and fish sauce. Then pop it in the oven for the flavour magic to happen.

Even though I took all the ingredients out, I forgot the brown sugar. It was sitting on the counter top and I was too lazy to take the cocotte out of the oven. But guess what? It came out tasty so I won't know what I'm really missing.
The second one is from Lady and Pups who posted Ice Cream-Spring Rolls with Ground Peanut Brittle. I've had this twice this weekend. Mainly because I have so much ground peanut brittle left over (am I not sprinkling enough on my ice cream?!?) and because it's freaking delicious. The crepes are so easy to make, it's only three ingredients! We have an assortment of green tea, mango, and red bean ice cream in the freezer - aren't those everyone's staples? Then we bought an assortment of mochi - green tea, strawberry, vanilla, and red bean.

The photo above is red bean everything - ice cream and mochi. Did you know that peanut brittle can be used for anything? Put it on fruit or try sprinkling it on savoury food. It should be the new condiment, sold with ketchup and mustard.

Peanut brittle.
Peanut brittle.
Peanut brittle.
Peanut brittle.
Peanut brittle.
Peanut brittle.
Peanut brittle.
Peanut brittle.
Peanut brittle.
Peanut brittle.

You know that scene in Chef where he makes ground brittle and splashes it over the dessert? I now appreciate the beauty of that scene even more.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Glazed Eggplant: Two Ways

Last night at the grocery store, Howard and I saw a stack of beautiful eggplants (also called aubergines). You know that feeling when you see something shiny and you want it? We saw the deep purple jewel sitting on the table and couldn't resist. Yeah, we get that feeling a lot, it's hard to stop impulse purchases. In this case, I was justifying it to Howard saying I had two eggplant recipes bookmarked at home.

And I did, they were both for glazed Japanese/Asian eggplants. Oops. But you know what? These recipes work for your standard eggplant as well. The great thing about the two recipes was that they both called for a preheated oven at 400°F (205°C).
First up, the miso sesame-glazed eggplant (page 138) from My New Roots. I thought it would be the glaze that would be different, but so was the baking technique! After halving and scoring the eggplant, I brushed it with olive oil (Sarah calls for coconut oil or melted ghee, which I sadly do not have). Then, place the eggplant with the cut side up on the sheet and bake for 25 minutes.
Oh my gosh! Isn't that amazing? The cut lines expanded the eggplant a bit, telling us it's ready for the glaze.
This glaze is easy to whip up, but first, my disclaimer! The original recipe is for two eggplants, but I only needed it for one, so I halved the ingredients and then ran out of measuring spoons and didn't have brown rice vinegar, so I eventually winged it. If you want the original instructions, you'll have to check the book! So back to the glaze, I used: 1 tablespoon of white miso, 1/2 tablespoon of white rice vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of maple syrup, 1/2 tablespoon of tahini, and a sprinkle of white and black sesame seeds. Mix that all up and brush it on the eggplant. Set under the broiler for 3 minutes.
The second glaze recipe is from Seven Spoons. Tara instructs us to score the eggplant, brush the entire thing with sesame oil, place it face down on the sheet, and also bake it for 25 minutes. As a result, the eggplant doesn't have the expanded ridges, but there's more browning on the flesh portion.

To make this one, you need 1 tablespoon of mirin, 1/2 tablespoon of fruit juice, 1 tablespoon of white miso, 1/2 tablespoon of honey, and 1/2 tablespoon of sesame oil. There's an extra step, you place this all in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil for 2 minutes. Again, I halved the original recipe and substituted ingredients I didn't have on hand, so check the cookbook.

Then you flip the eggplant over, brush it with the glaze, and top it with sesame seeds. Again, under the broiler for 3 minutes. I also roasted some shallots alongside this one, it's the glazed eggplant with roasted shallots and greens from page 81.
So here they were! Easy to share on a baking sheet since the cooking times and temperatures were the same. I garnished Sarah's version with scallions (see above), and topped Tara's version with the roasted shallots (see below). Thank you Sarah and Tara for letting me justify buying the shiny purple eggplants and for the great meal we had.
I described it as eating eggplant crème brûlée to my friend. You can break the crunchy "caramel" glaze and then scoop the soft and creamy eggplant out. But then you have to go back and eat the outer layer as well, so cut it into pieces so enjoy everything in a bite.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Blog Tour: The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman

Good morning!

I'm honoured to be hosting today's blog tour stop for The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman. You might remember this middle-grade series which started with All Four Stars when I participated in my first book blog tour last year (and made osmanthus crème brûlée). In the first book, we're introduced to eleven-year-old foodie Gladys Gatsby who has to convince her takeout-loving parents that cooking is fun as well as plan her first restaurant review and remain an anonymous critic for the city's largest paper. All while fitting in to do "regular" activities that kids her age do (you know, make a few supportive friends and get invited to the most exclusive birthday party).

In the sequel, we follow twelve-year-old Gladys Gatsby on her summer plans. I don't know about you, but I'm really looking forward to summer and reading about Gladys adventures brought me back to fond camp memories and a longing to visit New York City again.

The Stars of Summer
Written by Tara Dairman
Hardcover | 366 pages | Ages 8–12
ISBN 978-0-39917-069-0

Gladys is looking forward to a quiet summer at home, learn a few new dishes and cooking techniques, and hopefully get assigned another restaurant review. But first, a birthday!

To celebrate turning twelve, Gladys' parents take her to a Spanish restaurant in Manhattan for tapas, joining her are her friends Parm Singh, Charissa Bentley, and Sandy Anderson. Personalities clash, but once they plan their food orders (to try as many dishes as they can on the menu), and the food arrives, the chaos begins! The worst part is . . . the gifts! Charissa gives Gladys a whole summer of joining her at Camp Bentley. Yup, the one Charissa's parents run.

Camp life isn't easy. There's an annoying "celebrity" camper (spoiler: the celebrity is an author. I love that authors are considered celebrities here), she has to learn how to swim, and she's not exactly loved and praised for her lunch-making skills. On top of that, she's been assigned to find the best hot dog in New York City.

I thought it would be fun to plan a hot dog taste test in my own city. So if I were ever assigned to look for the best hot dog in Toronto, here are three spots I would visit:

There are so many sausage options here! Playing it safe, I would want to try the beef/coriander, pork/chili paste, or turkey/cilantro/jalepeño. The lamb/harissa, pheasant apple/sundried tomato, and wild boar mushroom/tea. All on a toasted fresh bun of course!

No question about it, I would pick the Korean beef ribs, kimchi, sasame seeds, and scallions hot dog to try first. I love it when Korean food is paired with anything. Then the Po'Boy hot dog with panko fried shrimp, lettuce, Horseradish mayo, and hot sauce. Just because I love the n'walins vibe!

They have a Toronto dog, so I think it's a given to try the one named after the city! It features berkshire pork belly, peameal bacon from St. Lawrence market, cheddar mayo, and onion strings. My next pick would be the Spicy Thai Dog with chicken breast, green curry, lime leaves, basil, mango salad, peanut satay sauce, and toasted coconut. Then, the Chicago Shout-Out featuring local beef chuck and pork shoulder, yellowy mustard, sweet pickle relish, raw onion, tomato, pepperoncini, and celery salt.

But, like Gladys, I find that it's the people you're with and the experiences you're sharing that make the hot dog meal memorable. For instance, I have fond memories of eating hot dogs with my family at Ikea or Costco. Simply because it's a treat to get something to munch on when your parents are shopping. As a kid, you're given a few dollars to exchange it for a hot dog and drink. There's something fun about getting that foiled wrapped hot dog or packaged in identical paper holders. Or the meals you have on the sidewalks when you're downtown and the sizzling hot dog is the most delicious thing you've eaten all day. Everyone's standing around with their own customized toppings, while the ketchup is dripping down your shirt and pants (no? just me?). Or the times when you're on holiday or visiting a tourist attraction and it's hot dogs for everyone at the zoo, amusement park, or museum. Those are the moments when you have the best hot dog. Years later, I don't think it would be one at a sit-down restaurant that I'll remember.

Unless it's a boy who likes you and takes you to a restaurant where there's a sandwich named after you. But, let me get back on track here. Gladys learns to survive camp and even enjoy it. She bonds with her parents through private swimming lessons and city shenanigans. And she learns how to deal with tricky people in sticky situations. If you're looking for a heartwarming, funny, and food-filled read, this is it. You can't help but crack a smile when you start, chuckle quietly as you're a few chapters in, then laugh out loud and shake your head at the same time. The ending makes you want to applaud and cheer for the good guys. Gladys will remind you of yourself as a kid and for children reading it, they'll want to be in Gladys' group of friends. I hear there's a third book in the works and I can't wait to read it!

Thanks for stopping by, please visit the other bloggers on the tour:
Monday, April 27: Katie/Bookish Illuminations
Tuesday, April 28: Aeicha/Word Spelunking and Emma/Awkwordly Emma
Wednesday, April 29: Sylvia/A Baked Creation (that's me!)
Thursday, April 30: Bonnie /For the Love of Words
Friday, May 1: Lisa/Fic Talk
Monday, May 4: Lucy/The Reading Date
Tuesday, May 5: LAUNCH DAY!
Wednesday, May 6: Dahlia/Daily Dahlia
Thursday, May 7: Karen/For What it’s Worth
Friday, May 8: Jen/Pop! Goes the Reader
Monday, May 11: Stephanie/Kitchen Frolic
Tuesday, May 12: Brenda/Log Cabin Library
Wednesday, May 13: Michael/Project Mayhem and Wendy/The Midnight Garden

Tara Dairman is the author of All Four Stars, which was named an Amazon Best Book of the and a Mighty Girl Top Book of 2014 for Teens and Tweens. She is also a playwright and recovering world traveler. She grew up in New York and received a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College. After surviving the world's longest honeymoon (two years, seventy-four countries!), she now lives in Colorado with her husband and their trusty waffle iron.

Credits: Blog tour button / Kristin Rae; Book cover / Kelly Murphy

Disclaimer: An ARC of The Stars of Summer was sent to me from Putnam/Penguin for the blog tour.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cheddar Swirl Buns

One day, Howard and I came upon a bagel bakery that also sold other baked goods. Browsing up and down the small aisles, we came upon cheese buns. Howard gave me that look, you know the one when the other person wants to buy something? He wanted to buy the cheese buns. Instead, we walked over to the grocery store and bought cheddar. I convinced him that I knew of a great recipe and I'd make it for him at home.

What I had in mine were the Smitten Kitchen cheddar swirl breakfast buns. I remember having them at the blogger brunch years before and have been waiting for a good time to make them. I guess this was as good as any other time. I also want to make that apple pie from the brunch one day!
I didn't start out very well, as I opened a package of gelatin instead of yeast. Oops!
Cheddar Swirl Buns
Recipe adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
(Makes 12 buns)

3 cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of salt
Black pepper
1 tablespoon of sugar
2 1/4 teaspoon of instant yeast
1 cup of milk
4 tablespoons of melted unsalted butter
1/2 cup of grated white onion
1 1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons of minced fresh dill (I omitted this)
1/4 teaspoons of salt
Black pepper
  1. Whisk the flour, salt, pepper, and sugar in a bowl. Set aside.
  2. In your stand mixer, whisk the yeast with the milk until it dissolves. Add in the dry ingredients and melted butter. 
  3. Using the dough hook, mix on low for about 6 minutes.
  4. Place the dough in a covered bowl and let it rest for 2 hours.
  5. Make the filling by mixing the onion, cheese, (dill if using), salt, and pepper together.
  6. Scoop the dough out and roll out into a 12-by-16 rectangle on a floured surface (or baking pan in my case).
  7. Spread the filling over the rectangle dough and roll into a log.
  8. Use a sharp knife to cut the log into twelve 1-inch bun.
  9. Line the bottom of a baking pan and arrange the twelve buns, with some space in between them. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for another two hours.
  10. Preheat your oven to 350°F, bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the tops are golden and the cheese is bubbling. Serve right away!
You want to know what else is wonderful from making this recipe? Your place will smell amazing. Savoury cheese and onion wafts in and out of your kitchen, making your stomach grumble with hunger.
Somebody forgot to brush the tops with melted butter. Another oops! If you've been counting, that's two mistakes (where oh where is my memory going). So much for the golden colour, but the cheese was bubbling! So the buns were looking pale, but they still tasted great.
We were able to keep these in the fridge and warm them up during the the week. Just so you know, we didn't gobble all twelve buns in one sitting. That should be made clear. Although it was tempting to reach for another one, especially when they were fresh from the oven. We would suggest making these for a brunch or group gathering so they can all be eaten at once.
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