Friday, March 19, 2010

Hello Goodbye!

For any of you out there still wondering what the heck is going on with this void of a blog, take heart!

My writing and adventures will continue over at Cake and Cordial, a new blog that I am working on with my friend Alison. It's a cross-Atlantic examination of how to squeeze the most happiness out of your days!

So I hope to see you all over at Cake and Cordial. The first post is about to go up!

In the meantime....

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Look, I am still alive!

Just to prove I'm still alive and kicking, here is a link to a post about something I baked! Hooray!

Also, in honour of October (Halloween month!) here is a picture I took of Frankenstein's monster eating a Whopper:

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Movie Review: Julie & Julia

A condensed version of this post is available here.

As is known to most people who read my blog (Hi Mom!), my part-time job is at The Cookbook Store. There are many positive things about working at the store, including being surrounded by fabulous books and people all the time, but also the occasional “get-in-free” card to some pretty cool events. Most recently I was given the opportunity to attend an advance screening of the new film Julie & Julia, and was completely smitten.

The film takes its name from food-blogger turned memoirist Julie Powell’s first book, in which she chronicles her decision to cook and blog her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One. The book itself is an entertaining exploration of a young woman trying to come to terms with the sometimes frustrating doldrums of adulthood, while still cultivating a sense of joy, creativity and accomplishment.

Screenwriter and director Nora Ephron skillfully takes the story one step further, by additionally adapting from Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France. This second book documents the years in which Mrs. Child initially learned to cook, developed her insatiable passion for French food, and laboured to complete and publish the same book on which Powell focuses.

The story seamlessly bounces back and forth between New York circa 2003 and late 1940s Paris, documenting both Julie’s and Julia’s challenges, triumphs, sorrows and joys. Ephron does a wonderful job highlighting the similarities in the lives of these two food obsessed, yet very different women. Both are portrayed as charming but normal, experiencing the whole gamut of emotions everyday life can bring, successfully allowing for a genuine personal connection between the audience and the characters on screen. As is usual for most book-to-screen adapatations, noticeable liberties are taken with both stories, but the spirit of each book is truly given justice. In fact, after having enjoyed each of these women’s memoirs, I would venture to say that the interlacing and juxtaposition of the two lives makes for an even more enjoyable experience than the two separately.

As the doting husbands, both Stanley Tucci (Paul Child) and Chris Messina (Eric Powell) give endearing performances. Well executed and droll appearances by bit players Linda Emond (Simone Beck), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Julie’s Friend Sarah) and Frances Sternhagen playing Joy of Cooking’s author Irma Rombauer, are also noteworthy. Amy Adams’ Julie Powell wins you over as a regular gal fighting her way through French cookery (and is much less annoying than the trailer makes her appear). And of course, Meryl Streep is her usual phenomenal, chamelon-like self, portraying the excitable, unmistakable Julia Child, with a dead-on rendition of that marvelous warbling, sing song voice proclaiming to all “Bon appetit!

Opens Friday, August 7th, 2009.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Not-quite-belated Happy Easter!

For those of you out there who have been gorging on family dinners (of ham, or turkey, or maybe even lamb!), or for those of you who have just been embracing the lovely weather we lucked out with this long weekend, here are some little blurbs of happiness that I'm sending to you!

1. What I have chosen to believe are a pair of mourning doves have taken up residence in my backyard. Here is a photo that I snuck of one on the deck. It is ruffling its feathers in this picture, so it's hard to see its slender, elegant neck. Naysayers might think I just snapped a photo of a pigeon, but in real life the birds are much more delicate looking, and more muted in colour, than your average city pigeon. Also, there are only two of them... which to me says that these are mourning doves (aka turtledoves).

2. I had a lovely weekend in relation to food. The regular Easter fare was enjoyed at a family dinner, as well as the first ice cream of the season (shared with my sisters and my fella). PLUS there was lots of delicious Easter chocolate, and la pièce de résistance: a wonderful celebratory dinner at Sidecar, where the cocktails were excellent, the food was solid and the service was both amusing and impressive.

3. I am currently sitting at my computer, happily avoiding studying, enjoying the end of a Hot Cross Bun that I made today and drinking some milk thistle tea (in a vague attempt to help my liver deal with this weekend's indulgences -- see number 2.)

4. And finally, some Christmas cakes cleverly disguised for spring (which I made in my baking class at school). Enjoy!


"Yule" Log #1.

"Yule" Log #2.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Like Buttah: A Visit to Pain Perdu

Pain Perdu
736 St. Clair Ave W, Toronto

Last summer a friend of mine revealed to a few of us the wonder that is the pain perdu at (where else?) Pain Perdu. Ever since, my pal Robyn and I have been off-and-on talking about making the trek up to St. Clair W. to taste this ooey-gooey french toast-astrophe.

Recently we finally committed, and met at Christie Station to take the (pretty infrequent) Christie bus northward. A short block west of Christie & St. Clair, on the north side of the street, we found the restaurant-bakery. The cheerful blue and cream exterior was nearly as inviting as the delicious buttery aroma that hit us the minute we opened the door. It was so amazing, my already grumbling stomach could hardly take it!

Pain Perdu is NOT a French bakery, and this is clearly demarcated by a big Basque flag hanging near the cash register. I do believe I would be safe in assuming, however, that the origins of the bakery are in Northern Basque Country, which occupies three French provinces. French is clearly the first language of this bakery, with employees conversing with local francophones who stop in for baguettes and croissants, and most of the signage written en français.

I immediately order a café au lait ($3.50), as I'm jonseing for my daily caffeine fix and must get that off my brain while I decide on what other delectables to consume.

Robyn goes straight for the pain perdu ($7.95), as she has been dreaming about it for months. I ponder awhile more, and decide I'm looking for something a bit more savoury. The selection of yummy looking quiches seems appealing, and the duck confit plate also has its allure. But I decide to go with their made-to-order casse-croûtes (i.e. snacks). I choose the brie ($8.95) - because I'm a sucker for all things creamy - with a salad ($3.50).

The café au lait arrives and it is truly french in style, with the smokiness of the roast predominant even through the frothy milk. I tend to enjoy bitter coffees, but I'm not sure I could handle this one without the di-lait-tion (ha ha ha, I am so funny!).

Next to arrive is the pain perdu. It is better than we imagined and it is beautiful! Look:

It is a custardy slab of french toast, covered in crème anglaise, fresh fruit (at this point in time it is pineapple -- but rumour has it they serve whatever is seasonally appropriate) and a berry (raspberry, we think) coulis. Clearly I can't let Robyn suffer through this alone, so I help her out a bit. This is definitely the star of the restaurant, and I ended up being incredibly I will obviously have to return for my own at some point in time.

My brie casse-croûte and salad arrive and it looks fresh and appealing. The salad is a bright green bib covered with house-made vinaigrette and the plate comes with petits cornichons and cherry tomatoes. Voilà!

The baguette is buttered and delicious and the brie is tasty, but doesn't stand out as much as I was hoping. Still it is creamy and satisfy, and the veg is a good contrast. I feel satisfied and smugly healthy.

As health was not my goal, I decided to spoil the feeling by purchasing some take-home treats. I was interested to find an assortment of prepared-in-store vinaigrette and jellies available to purchase, as well as a sign revealing $42 orders of foie gras were being taken.

As Pain Perdu has been 3-times voted Best Croissant by the
Toronto Star, I decided that I NEEDED one (as did Robyn, who needed more than one! yum!). I also picked up another of their specialities, a gateau Basque (available in single to 8 person serving sizes). I also got to sample a pretty blue meringue at the counter, which reminded me of cotton candy at summer fairs.

I waited approximately 1 hour before I ate the croissant ($1.90 ea) - it was calling my name. And after doing so I can understand why its a city-wide champ. It was ridiculously buttery without being greasy, with a toasty, caramelized crust, and a flaky yet chewy interior. When I return for my own serving of pain perdu I will definitely be taking more than one of these home with me!

The single-serving gateau Basque ($4.10 ea) I took to class with me and split with a friend. It was tasty (also deliciously buttery) with a nicely balanced cream filling. It didn't send me to the moon (perhaps I'd just had too many carbs at that point), but it would be a good item to serve with a strong cup of black tea.

So if this review has convinced you that you too need some Pain Perdu in your life (and I hope it has) let me know and we can go!

Or at least pick me up a croissant! :)

Lunch for one with fancy coffee and a take-home goody(tax included): aprx. $17.00 (tip extra)

Rating: 3.5 dishes out of 5

Friday, March 27, 2009

Springtime Day-cation

The past few weeks in Toronto have been a lovely sigh of relief for me, as I shed my winter coat and boots and enjoy the extra sunlight hours later into the day. SPRINGTIME is here! And I LOVE IT!

So to celebrate this awesomeness, my friend Courtney and I decided to explore a part of the city that neither of us were previously very familiar with. As we're both studying pastry arts, lots of sugar was consumed as we walked down Queen Street East, through Leslieville and Riverside. I took a few pictures to photojournal-ize our day. ENJOY!

We started at Coxwell Avenue and walked west along Queen. Very close to the beginning of our walk we saw this:

I first heard about Kakayo Chocolate Company when I met the owner -- and chocolatier -- at a trade show I worked. She seemed really nice, and I later read (multiple times) that her product was amazing, but since I hardly ever go to the east side of the city I'd never made it here until now.

AMAZING chocolates! I got the Salted Caramel, the Chai Masala (which, incidentally, is vegan) and the Pumpkin Pie. The Chai Masala was interesting and tasty, but the Pumpkin Pie truffle blew me away! It had such a wonderful custardy texture, surrounded by beautiful, snappy chocolate and with the perfect intensity of pie spice. Guh...I want another right now!

We sauntered past Red Rocket Coffee, as neither of us needed more caffeine at that point, but we did catch a glimpse of this awesome old-timey streetcar in the TTC yards across the street:

Next stop on our sugar high was:

Here we see Courtney examining the wares of Altitude Baking's homey bake shop. I really enjoyed the atmosphere, and the Neiman Marcus cookie that I purchased has put me on an oatmeal and chocolate chip rampage since then.

Plus they gave us these adorable, springtime appropriate, mini-tulip sugar cookies:

We also wanted to try Sweet Bliss Baking Company, but it was not open on weekdays for the month of March. I found this strange, but as I longingly peered through the windows I vowed I'd be back to try it on a day it would be open.

We did, however, come across this lovely vintage shop instead.

I could have spent hours poking around, but more sugar was calling! And we found it at It's the Icing on the Cake, an incredibly friendly and cheerful shop. Our stomachs were getting the better of us at this point, so we decided to split a vanilla cupcake instead of cramming a full one into each of our mouths. As demonstrated below, we destroyed it in the process:

The cake was nice, with good, not-too-sweet flavour and a fluffy texture. The icing on the cupcake (ha... get it?) was fine, but it still hasn't swayed my best cupcake in Toronto vote from The Cupcakery in Corso Italia.

But, while enjoying our cupcake we did get to meet a new friend!

This is Sam. We took care of Sam for a bit while his friend went in to buy some cake. He was lovely and shook hands very politely. He also kept us very aware of all people and canines approaching with friendly shout outs. What a nice guy!

I have to say that Leslieville is definitely one of the friendliest areas of Toronto that I have ever been. Everyone in the shops and on the street were so happy to exchange a few words and a smile. It was a very cozy feeling neighbourhood, whose inhabitants clearly support the local businesses, and the businesses support the community and each other.

For instance, while browsing the beautiful clothing and accessories at Nathalie-Roze & Co. the cheery and casually chummy shopkeeper pointed us toward two more foodie must-sees in the neighbourhood: Brick Street Bread (where Courtney was ecstatic to find Hot Cross Buns) and Leslieville Cheese Market (where we gawked at all the delicious cheeses and sandwich options, and I left with some chevre and a bag of cheese curds).

Continuing west we emerged from beneath a train overpass and arrived in Riverside. When you enter Riverside from this direction the first street that you hit is this one:

Unfortunately The Zits weren't hanging around, but we did find the following sweet little birdie prints just below our feet:

Riverside was really pretty and had some great architecture. I thought that this old bank building was particularly interesting:

Riverside brought us to the two last edible stops on our adventure. Ambiance Chocolat, where Courtney indulged in a few more chocolates (which she said were very tasty), and LPK's Culinary Groove, where I sampled the spicy chevre shortbread that I can't get off my mind. I've been scouring the Internet for a similar recipe, so if anyone can point me in the right direction please do!

All in all, it was a fantastic day and I look forward to exploring even more neighbourhoods through the upcoming warmer months! Bring on the sun!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cupcake FAIL

Sometimes you come across a little gem of fun and you think, "This is the perfect place for me to flex my skillful muscles, be creative, and practice my craft." That's what I thought when I came across this, in celebration of Toronto's 175th Birthday. I brainstormed, consulted friends, took the required trips to the bulk store, and when push-came-to-shove... I procrastinated.

What resulted was me waking up 4 hours before the deadline and slopping together these beauties:

Not my finest work. And honestly, not my worst either. But definitely not something I would say I was ecstatic about. To help explain my motivation, here is the blurb I sent in with the photo:

"With this cupcake I've taken the red velvet cupcake on a detour to Toronto, where it decided to have a change of hue -- to our ubiquitous Toronto blue. Topped with frosty white marshmallow frosting it conjures images of skaters at Nathan Phillips Square, and tastes like a yummy cup of hot chocolate. Enjoy!"

To check out the worthy winners you can go here. Also, congratulations to my friend John who made the honourable mentions list, with probably the most edible looking (and delicious sounding) of all the cupcakes featured on the page, the Mill Street Coffee Porter cupcake! Yum!

So we take this as a learning experience, and note that attention should be given to my decorating, photography and time management skills. But that's what mistakes are for... right? And despite all that, those who ate the cupcakes said that they tasted pretty darn good. I think Toronto would forgive me my mishaps and embrace the tasty-goodness, so to that I say, "Happy Belated Birthday Toronto! Enjoy my mess!"

For those wishing to improve on my cupcake decorating fiasco, here's the recipe I developed, with inspiration from Cupcakes Galore by Gail Wagman:

makes approximately 18 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
2 C all-purpose flour
2 TB cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp each baking soda, salt, vanilla extract, white vinegar
1/2 C unsalted butter
1 1/2 C sugar
2 eggs

1 C plain yogurt
about 1/2 a bottle of blue food dye and 1/4 bottle of red...or whatever you like as my colour was still more teal than I wanted but I gave up in frustration....

Whisk together dry ingredients, set aside. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla, white vinegar and eggs (one at a time) to butter & sugar mixture, combining well. Alternate adding the flour mixture and yogurt, both starting and ending with yogurt. Mix in your food colouring until you reach the desired colour. Spoon into lined muffin tins until about 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 F. Remove from oven and let cool completely before decorating.

For the frosting & decoration:

2 egg whites
pinch of salt

3/4 C sugar
1/4 C dark corn syrup (gives a molassesy flavour, but doesn't affect the colour, if you use light corn syrup or a simple syrup I would add a tsp of your choice of flavour while the mixture is whipping.)

sanding sugar
silver dragees

Combine whites, salt, sugar and syrup in a double boiler over simmering water and whisk until the sugar has completely dissolved (about 3 minutes). Remove from heat and whip at high speed for 7-10 minutes. A this point you should have stiff peaks, and the frosting should be spread ASAP, before it begins to set and is harder to spread. Decorate with suggested items, or whatever the heck you want!