Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cook the Cover: Canadian Living May 2014

Happy spring everyone! Although it still doesn't feel like spring here in Toronto, we're still getting bouts of cool temperature and snow flurries. It'll truly be spring when I can wear my ballet flats and spring jacket to work. For now, I'm still rocking the boots and wool coat.

This month, we were given a salad recipe to try. For me, this was an adventurous one to try. I love a good salad, but I like them green! Iceberg lettuce, arugula, or even spring mix, those are my favourite leafy greens. But cabbage, let alone red cabbage? Fennel? These two ingredients were out of my comfort zone. I do have to acknowledge that I like that Canadian Living is challenging me, it's the reason I signed up to cook the covers in the first place! I want to learn about new things that I normally wouldn't pick up and expand my tastebuds, so to speak.
Sesame Chicken with Fennel and Orange Salad
Shopping List: boneless skinless chicken breasts, salt and pepper, sesame seeds, liquid honey, lime juice, mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, mustard, garlic, fennel, red cabbage, cilantro, and orange.
I whisked together the mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, mustard, and garlic.

Sob! I really dislike mayonnaise. It is not a staple in my pantry and I never use it on sandwiches or anything else. But, I wanted to give this recipe a true test so I could report back to you, so I bought mayo. Even Howard cringed when it went into our shopping basket. Another condiment I dislike is mustard - Howard's not with me on this one though - and we had this in the fridge. I was starting to wonder if I would like this salad dressing. So far it included two ingredients that I normally don't eat.
I had to take a photograph of the first fennel I ever purchased. It looks pretty cute, like a little heart in some ways. I had no idea how to prepare it so I may have watched a YouTube video to find out. If you're trying it out for the first time too, this is how you core and slice fennel:
  1. Slice the bottom of the bulb (the line on the left of the top photograph).
  2. Remove the outer white layer.
  3. No stalks in this recipe, so slice those off as well (the line on the right of the top photograph).
  4. Cut the bulb in half. To core it, make two cuts (the green lines on the top photograph) on the bottom half.
  5. You're finished coring it! Thinly slice the fennel. It'll smell like licorice.
I also took a photo of the first red cabbage I bought. It's such a deep purple and felt like shiny leather. It was pretty tough too, I wonder if there's a way to soften up the cabbage?
Mixing in the fennel and cilantro with the salad dressing.
For the chicken, mix the honey, sesame seeds, and lime juice together. Sorry that I don't have a photo of the grilling chicken. I'm not able to work carefully with heat and my camera yet. Plus, the instructions told me to cover the chicken with a lid!
While the chicken is cooking, slice the orange, this should go on the salad last. Once the chicken is done, slice and top it on the fennel and orange salad, serve right away!

What can I say about this recipe? The chicken I would add to my repertoire for future use. I like eating honey glazed chicken and the sesame seeds were a nice touch. Orange slices in my salad? I like that too.

But . . . this salad isn't something I would want to eat again. It includes a lot of strong flavours - fennel, red cabbage, and cilantro. It also includes things I personally don't like - mayonnaise, mustard, and fennel. But that's just me. Howard didn't seem to mind it, his only comment being that the dressing was really creamy. That surprised me too because the image on the cover doesn't show the creamy dressing. However, if I were to make the salad again, I would probably slice the fennel even smaller. And I would use a mandolin for the red cabbage.

See what other bloggers thought about the recipe here.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post by Canadian Living and I received compensation for it. There was no requirement to produce a positive review of this recipe. All opinions are our own.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Surprise-Inside Cakes

I have been following Amanda on iambaker.net for a long time now. She has a great collection of topic-specific blogs and even prettier posts about sweet and savory confections. I couldn't wait for her book, Surprise-Inside Cakes, to release! If you were particularly fond of the tutorials she's shared on her blog like I was - Ghost Cake, BOO Cake, and the Countdown Cake, you'll enjoy this book. You can feel the patience she's giving with her clear cut instructions. I was also lucky enough to be able to connect with Amanda and ask her a few questions about the process!
Sylvia: Did anyone take a look under the dust jacket? I love that there's something special stamped on the case. How do you read the symbols stamped on the case? It is still "Surprise-Inside Cake" or "You never know what you'll get inside a cake"?

Amanda: That just depends on who is reading it! ;)
Sylvia: Okay, how many cakes did you go through to make this book? You mention baking over 50 cakes in 30 days in the acknowledgments, do you have an exact number? I am just trying to imagine all the ingredients you would have had to stock up on! How many carton of eggs, milk, and sticks of butter? How many bags of sugar? I'm not even a "number" person, but I find this fascinating!

Amanda: I made about 60 cakes all together. It was an insane amount of ingredients! I was buying flour and sugar in 25 lg. bags and running out frequently! I didn't keep track of specific numbers, but I definitely got strange looks at the grocery store! :)

Sylvia: How many attempts are required for you to be satisfied with the surprise inside? Do you do a lot of trial-and-error or at the level you are now, are you able to hit it bang on during your first attempt? Was there a cake design in the book that required more than a few tries before you were happy with it?

Amanda: Since I had a short timeline for the book, I would often think of a cake and then make it. If the design was awful and unrecognizable, it didn't make it in the book! Some of the cakes we left in are rough-around-the-edges, but I left them in for sentimental reasons or for inspiration.

Sylvia: You take beautiful photos for you blog, I was a bit surprised to see that you didn't take them for the book. How was it working with Susan Powers?

Amanda: Susan is so talented and added a level of sophistication for the book that I greatly lacked.
Sylvia: I have to say, I loved reading each cake introduction, you have a great personality that shines through and you're thoughtful in each of your cake dedications. In response to your Kiss Cake and also being from Canada, I would love to see a maple leaf inside a cake! I do hope you'll try it soon! The one about Beth Moore made me laugh, so often we think BFFs are made through cake!

Amanda: Thank you! I am now starting to work with twice-baked cakes and could easily do a leaf now! Will hopefully blog that soon! :)

Sylvia: Is there a second book in the works?

Amanda: Nope! No second book right now.

Sylvia: Okay, last one! Favorite dessert in the whole wide world?

Amanda: Mr. Donut donuts with frosting inside and powdered sugar outside. I haven't seen a Mr. Donut in 15 years… how I long for those delectable treats!
My favourite design in the book is the Herringbone Cake. To my dismay, it's the most difficult one by Amanda's standard. So I'm just going to bookmark this until I reach the expert level to attempt it!
Rudolph!
Bunny! I seem to be drawn to all the animal cakes.
Now for the fun part, if you want this cook to bee yours (see what I did there?), enter by leaving a comment below telling me what design you'd like to find in a surprise-inside cake. North American mailing address only and giveaway ends on April 8, 2014 at midnight EST. Please leave me a way of contacting you (e-mail address, twitter handle, etc.), otherwise, check back when the winners are announced!

Disclaimer: A copy of Surprise-Inside Cakes by Amanda Rettke was sent to us for review. There was no requirement to produce a positive review of this book. All opinions are our own.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread

"I can't even deal."
That line pretty much sums up this recipe. I first bookmarked and saved this recipe from Joy the Baker and could not let it go this past week. Maybe it's because I was on the verge of getting sick and looking at her post and dreaming about this bread provided comfort. Or maybe because I'm a sucker for cinnamon sugar. And bread.
My bread doesn't look as tidy and neat as Joy's loaf, but I'm sure that it tasted just as good. Seriously, I was going ballistic when this came out of the oven. It was warm and gooey and sticky and had lovely little crunchy bites to it.
I did this part the night before: In a small saucepan, melt together 1/3 cup of milk and half a stick of unsalted butter until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat and add 1/4 cup of water and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Let the mixture stand for a minute or two.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, whisk together 2 cups of all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, 2 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Then, use your dough hook on the stand mixer and pour in the milk mixture with the dry ingredients. Crack 2 large eggs in a small bowl and whisk it together. Add the eggs into the batter and mix until combined. Add an additional 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour and stir until combined.

Place the dough is a large, greased bowl and cover it with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Set it near a warm spot and let it rest for about an hour. It should double in size. After the dough has doubled in size, refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, let the dough rest on the counter for 30 minutes. In the meantime, whisk together 1 cup of granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg. Using a small saucepan, melt half a stick of unsalted butter until it is brown. Be careful here, once you see the butter colour change, you can remove it from the heat because it'll keep cooking and you don't want the butter to turn dark brown or burn.

Deflate the dough and knead 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour into it. I found that 1 tablespoon was enough before the dough became too dry. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, take out your rolling pin and lightly flour your work surface. This was the part I realized that I didn't pack a rolling pin during our move. There were three sitting in the drawer of my parent's house and I had to resort to using a wine bottle. But it worked! Roll the dough as flat as it will go. Use a pastry brush to slather on the brown butter. Then sprinkle the cinnamon/nutmeg sugar on it. The brown butter will melt some of the sugar, but not to worry, keep sprinkling until the sugar doesn't disappear.
Cut the dough into squares, peel them off your work surface and stack them into your greased loaf pan or muffin tin.
Let the dough rest again for half an hour and it will poof up in size.
Look at how poofy the dough is!
Did you notice that in the after photo, the top left corner in the muffin tin is missing a slice? It popped out. Seriously. There was one lone piece of bread in my oven beside the pan. I have no idea how it flew out leaving three behind. If it was trying to escape, it's plan backfired because I ate that piece first.
Bake at 350°F (176°C) for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the bread cool and rest. Eat immediately. Because you've already did so much work, kick up your feet and enjoy. You don't have to do anything else that day.
If there happen to be leftovers the next day, microwave the loaf for 20-25 seconds to get that fresh out of the oven feeling again. Trust us on that. It will taste better!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cook the Cover: Canadian Living April 2014

We're back! This time with a fresh trifle from the Canadian Living Test Kitchen.

Even though it doesn't feel like spring yet, this bright dessert will give you a little kick to your step. Plan ahead for this showstopper and make the orange vanilla bean custard and rhubarb sauce the night before. After the custard and sauce are chilled overnight, you can assemble the dessert in the morning and it'll be ready for dinner time!

You might already have some of these dessert staples in your kitchen - sugar, eggs, vanilla bean, milk, cornstarch - and would only have to pick up the fresh fruits, juice, and pound cake. And, if you don't have a trifle bowl (like me), I'll show you a different presentation approach! So needless to say, I was pretty excited to tackle this recipe because I've never made a trifle before and never worked with rhubarb either.

Layered Strawberry Rhubarb Trifle
Shopping List: strawberries, vanilla pound cake, oranges, whipping cream, sugar, vanilla bean, eggs, milk, cornstarch, rhubarb, and orange juice.

I love making vanilla bean custard, it always feels like magic when you can see something transform right before your eyes. Keep whisking and the custard will turn thick.
This is what ". . . thick enough to mound on spoon . . ." looks like. And do you see the glorious vanilla bean specks?
Rhubarb! I have never bought or cooked rhubarb before. I hear it is quite tasty and it took me two grocery store visits before finding it (Loblaws had a bunch). They weren't labeled on the shelf so I took the precaution to ask store workers and shoppers to confirm that I was holding rhubarb. It looks like red celery with lettuce-like leaves. I also had to look up how to clean and prepare it. Just give it a good scrub in cold water and cut off the leaves and the bottom of the stalk. Whatever you do, don't eat the leaves!
Cut them up into 1 cm pieces.
Voilà! Rhubarb sauce! The middle melts away when you're cooking it, leaving only the bright red and stringy outer layer.
So, no trifle bowl? Make individual sized trifles with mason jars or glass cups! I used a round cookie cutter on the pound cake.
Drop it in your jar.
Drizzle with rhubarb sauce.
Top with strawberries.
Cover with orange vanilla bean custard and start again with the pound cake slice.
I was able to get three slices of pound cake in there. Try to leave the top garnished with strawberries. With this method, I was able to make six jars of trifle.
When ready to serve, dig in! Would I recommend sharing this delicious trifle? Yes. Two can enjoy one mason jar of trifle. But . . . one can also polish it off too. I've tried it both ways, a dessert all for myself and I shared it with Howard too. Depends how hungry you are!

I think it was a successful first run with rhubarb. I'll have to try it by itself next time since I wasn't sure if it really shined with the orange juice mixed into it.

The orange vanilla bean custard is a winner and if you want to go the extra mile and earn a gold star, make your own pound cake! Oh and if you want a prettier presentation? Make sure each layer touches the edge of your jar/glass/bowl so that the sauce and custard doesn't run down the sides. I was using chopsticks to help lay out the strawberry layers. It takes patience and practice to prevent the whole thing from looking like a jar of custard.

See what other bloggers thought about the recipe here.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post by Canadian Living and I received compensation for it. There was no requirement to produce a positive review of this recipe. All opinions are our own.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Wedding Blues

It has been five months since Howard proposed to me in the lovely meadow of Central Park. I think we were able to get away with not having finalized plans for our wedding during the first few months. We were also happily settling into our new home and finding a routine and diving straight into work. But now that we're into the fifth month and reaching the sixth - almost half a year - people are starting to ask questions. Difficult to answer questions.

When are you getting married?
Where are you getting married?
Seriously, when are you getting married?

Uh-oh. We're starting to feel the pressure. And we understand! Don't get us wrong, we do. Our family and friends need to know and plan for the occasion. Everyone's busy and everyone has their own plans and budgets in the upcoming years too. Each time someone asks us, I panic because it reminds me that this should be on our to-do list and it isn't anywhere near the top. We haven't really started talking about it but we've come up with some ideas after talking with friends who went through the whole ordeal last year.

Number one. Do what YOU want.
I don't feel that this is going to be tough for Howard and I. We've been thoroughly warned that we might piss some people off by going this route, but we're both very stubborn people and if we have to say no to something or someone, we're not going to have any trouble doing so. What do we know we want? A wedding in 2015. A small and close-knit group of people at our wedding. Nor do we want to be meeting people for the first time at our wedding. Sorry, if we don't actually know you, you're not invited!

Number two. Set a budget.
There's no doubt about it and endless jokes about prices once the word wedding is included. Weddings can be expensive. Find something you're comfortable with. No one wants to start their marriage off in debt! We have come up with a small budget that we think is reasonable and afforadable and won't make us hermits for the rest of our lives.

Number three. Decide on a venue.
This is where we're having the most trouble!
On the one hand, having the wedding at Toronto means that more of our family and friends can attend. We'll have more control over the details and get to source everything to our liking. The huge setback is the price. After coming up with the estimated cost of the venue we like, the caterer, the furniture rental, and all associated taxes and fees, we were already going way over budget. This wasn't even including decorations, flowers, alcohol, cake, tuxedos, or dresses yet!
Solution number two (not a very popular one for guests), have a destination wedding. We are leaning heavily (pretty much decided) with this decision as we can find an all-inclusive Caribbean resort under our budget. There will be food, fun, music, and beautiful weather (when is hurricane season again?). Will our family and friends come? Some will, some won't. But doesn't a stress free week on an island sound more appealing to numerous service and vendor fees? Once we book the flight and resort, we won't have to do anything else! The only headache is narrowing it down to one island and one resort. We'd like to find a place that is known for food as well since we are food lovers! St. Lucia? Grenada? Saint Martin?

Number four. Ask for help!
As you can see . . . this is what we have to show for after five months of wedding "planning." We're stuck on number three. (Obviously it would be lovely to win the lottery and not have to worry about all of this.) What did you do for your wedding? Have you been to a destination wedding? Did you have a destination wedding? What are some websites that you've found useful? What are your tips and suggestions? What all-inclusive resorts have you been to and would recommend?
After doing some research, we're thinking April, May, or September. Narrowing it down to Jamaica and the Bahamas, but we're still open to feedback on islands and resorts!
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