I Love Nieces to Pieces

Hey Crabby, it was great having you over the other night.

You know how crazy busy I’ve been with my nieces visiting from far-flung cities and my mom in the hospital with a broken arm. Things are starting to get back to some kind of normal and I’m trying to catch up on my blogging.

My niece V, from Montreal, was in town for a week (not nearly long enough). She brought me a nice, fatty smoked brisket from Schwartz’s. We ate half of it in sandwiches and I have the other half in my freezer.

Here she is with Kekumazooo (on the left) from Belua Designs at the Strathcona market. It was her birthday present from me.

Sisters: K (left) and V

Last Tuesday we all went to Boualouang Laos & Thai restaurant for V’s farewell dinner. I took K there the last time she was in town and she wanted to go back.

A complimentary amuse bouche. It looks a little anemic but WOW! the flavours were great – spicy and intense. From what I remember, it was a scallop and shredded green mango with peanut on a crispy (shrimp?) cracker.

A big bowl of Tom-Yum soup, full of shrimps and mushrooms.

Smoky Thai iced tea to quench the fire. I adore the stuff.

Yaw-Tawt-Goong with Avocado – deep fried spring roll with shrimp, avocado and sweet mayonnaise. A lovely contrast between crisp and creamy.

Spicy Phanaeng curry with beef – probably my favourite dish of the evening. I would have been happy just eating the rich gravy from this dish over coconut rice.

Pad-Kee-Mouw (Drunken Noodles – no idea why they’re called that).

Pad-Ka-Pow with mussels. It had straw mushrooms, long green beans, hot basil and red chilies. Looked to me like there were two kinds of mussels in this dish, including the large New Zealand ones with green-tinged shells. I thought they were huge but K says they’re even bigger in New Zealand (she gets to eat them fresh, not frozen like we get them here).

Nice face

The girls helped their baba celebrate her birthday with tiramisu cake. Fall is birthday season in the Poutine family (mine’s just over a month away [cough]). K’s was last Monday. Here’s her present from me:

I took her to Duchess Bakery for all the pastry she could eat. Luckily she’s small.

This is her mom (my sister), looking like she’s already on a sugar high – but she hasn’t had a bite yet.

We started with cake.

A mini Duchess

A mini Duke (cut in three for sharing)

and a lemon custard tart. All so good, but my favourite was the Duke – dark, chocolately and rich. Also loved the lemon tart. The Duchess not so much (I love marzipan but there’s something about fondant-covered cakes that just puts me off).

We also got a plate of macarons. K was too full from cake to eat hers so she took them home for later.

Well, it’s a start. More to come.

Posted by Jean Poutine

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West Coast Excursion: Part I

Went on a whirlwind trip to the west coast recently. I slept in 5 beds in 10 days, but that’s another story.

A delightful start to the trip was a visit with Niece CS in Victoria. My niece is a foody, so we had a great time in restaurants and cooking together at home. I especially liked the Superior cafe, which she thought I would enjoy because of its artyness, botanicalness and good foodness. Here is the entry into the cafe and patio.

We looked inside first. The cafe hosts art exhibits and live music. The decor is very arty.

The tables have glass tops with nature dioramas within that are changed to new and wacky ones all the time. This one has bones and shells on sand and pebbles.

Even the washrooms are arty.

It was a gorgeous sunny day (I had to go to the west coast to get sun), so we sat outside on the patio. We got there in the middle of the afternoon so we had the place to ourselves.

It is  a beautiful rain-forest type patio, lush and cool. The artyness continues outside. There was a snake tree the day we were there, but on another day you might find shoes in the trees.

The tables outside are made of slate with fresh flowers in bowls in the centre of the tables. The staff write different random table names in chalk every day.

We sat at the Apple table and had yummy root chips and dip with a lovely glass of Zanatta Damasco. It is from a Cowichan Valley winery, King Crabby! The Week in Alcohol blog describes it as having a Bride-of-Frankenstein lineage. We thought it was a perfect summer outdoor wine.

It seemed only appropriate to order the Smoked Tuna & Apple salad. It also included crisp strips of kohlrabi, pea shoots and a creamy goddess dressing topped with black sesame seeds. It went perfectly with the Liberace flatbread (figs, prosciutto, goat cheese and caramelized onions). Both delicious.

We finished off lunch with a Ginger Cake topped with salted caramel sauce and caramel ice cream. The waiter, who is also one of their visual artists, suggested Tea for Sad People. She insisted that we didn’t look sad – she just thought it would go brilliantly with the Ginger Cake. And it did – it was a minty, floraly, something else – made by a friend of the cafe owner. The Ginger Cake was dense and warm and completely satisfying.

So if you’re in Victoria, make time for a visit to the Superior cafe. It lives up to its name.

A not-sad and well-fed Truly Scrumptious and Niece CS. Thanks Niece!

Posted by Truly Scrumptious.

Nanking (Jelly) Syrup use #1

Although it has been very cold lately, I had a hankering for some popsicles over the weekend. So I used a jar of our Nanking jelly, added water and froze. The result was sweet but tangy. Basically exactly how the jelly would have tasted. The colour was a beautiful rich pinky red.

One jar of jelly down, nine more to go. I challenge you to find a better way to use your ten jars.

Posted by King Crabby

Tri-Colour Harvest Vegetable Cake

Saturday

I thought the produce at the Old Strathcona Farmers Market was more plentiful and beautiful than usual this week

but that’s probably a function of me getting there earlier

before all the good stuff was gone.

I can’t remember what gave me the idea, but I’ve had it kicking around in my head for a while now,

and this weekend I finally decided it was time to do it

while local farm vegetables are in such glorious profusion.

I think I’ve told you my idea, Crabby, for a multi-layered vegetable cake. Like a carrot cake, but each layer would be made from a different vegetable, and each layer would be a different, vibrant colour (natural colours only, no food colouring allowed).

One layer would be carrot cake, of course. Beets seem a natural, for the extraordinary colour (there are lots of beet cakes online but they tend to have chocolate in them). Zucchini would work.

I used this recipe as the basis for the cake batter. I mixed it as per the recipe, without adding the grated vegetables. I divided the batter equally into three bowls (this cake requires a lot of washing up).

I grated the vegetables finely, reasoning that they would be dispersed more evenly through the batter than if I grated them coarsely, producing a brighter colour once it’s baked. That’s my theory anway, we’ll see how it pans out.

I wanted to pair each vegetable with a single spice, something to complement it without disguising its vegetable essence. I considered cinnamon for the carrot layer (of course), but the recipe I used as my starting point also has ginger in it and I thought that was a much better idea.

What spice to go with beets? I’m not sure why, but cardamom came to mind. It may turn out to be a mistake – I hope not. I crushed some whole green cardamom pods and extracted the seeds. I was thinking it might be more interesting to have little bursts of intense fresh cardamom flavour from seeds than to use ground cardamom.

I folded the grated vegetables and their respective spices into the batter.

Carrot and a scant teaspoon of chopped ginger (don’t want to overdo it).

Mixed.

Beets and cardamom.

Look at that colour!

Zucchini has a lot of water so I squeezed most of it out before measuring. I couldn’t think of a spice that would complement zucchini without squashing (bad pun) its delicate flavour, so I used a little bit of fresh thyme for a herbal accent.

Because I wanted a rich green colour, I used all of the skin and only a bit of the flesh. You could use smaller zucchinis to get a higher surface-area to flesh ratio.

The beet layer had a rich reddish brown crust when it came out of the oven. I’m hoping the interior will be intensely red – like red velvet cake.

Compared to the carrot layer (left).

Because the different vegetables have different amounts of moisture, each layer had a different cooking time. The carrot layer was ready after 25 minutes, the zucchini needed 30 minutes and the beet layer took 35.

Zucchini layer.

All the layers look to have turned out beautifully. I’m putting them in the fridge overnight and I’ll ice the cake tomorrow before taking it to my parents’ house for Sunday supper.

Sunday

Here it is, all finished. You can see the “ribs” of the cake sticking through. That always happens to me. There never seems to be enough icing to completely hide the cake. I think the frosting recipe should be increased a bit because of the extra layer that needs to be filled.

I was going to cut it in 12, but but they were fairly large slices so I started making them smaller. You can easily cut this cake into 16 pieces.

On my first glimpse of the interior I was disappointed that the beet layer (top) wasn’t the red I was dreaming of. It was the more the color of a spice cake. The zucchini layer had a nice light green tinge with one vibrant green streak – I guess I didn’t mix it enough. Too bad the whole layer wasn’t this colour. The carrot layer had the best, most consistent colour. I guess I had some pretty unrealistic ideas about how the colours were going to turn out.

The real

The ideal

It tasted great though and I was very please with the results. It has a nice texture that isn’t as dense as a typical carrot cake.

The carrot combo worked well – just the right balance of carrot and zingy ginger. The zucchini layer was a real surprise. The thyme complemented the subtle flavour of zucchini without overwhelming it. The beet layer, however, had no discernible beet flavour – only cardamom. I don’t think you’d know it was a beet cake in a blind tasting. I guess this is good news if you don’t like beets (and it seems a lot of people don’t). Though the cardamom was very prominent it wasn’t at all unpleasant.

I’m not sure how often I’d make all three layers, but I’d happily make any of these cakes again individually.

Here’s my recipe:

TRI-COLOUR HARVEST VEGETABLE LAYER CAKE

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 2/3 cup packed finely grated carrots
  • 2/3 cup packed finely grated beets
  • 2/3 cup packed finely grated zucchini (squeeze out water before measuring)
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom seeds (or ground cardamom)
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Grease three 8 inch layer cake pans and line the bottoms of the pans with a circle of parchment paper.

Scrape carrots and beets. Finely grate carrots, beets and zucchini (including skin) separately and set aside (make sure to thoroughly rinse grater after each vegetable to avoid “cross contamination”).

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In bowl of electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the eggs until frothy (about 1 minute). Gradually add the sugar and beat until the batter is thick and light colored (about 3 – 4 minutes). Add the oil in a steady stream, then beat in the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat just until incorporated. Fold in applesauce.

Measure cake batter (there should be approximately 6 cups). Divide into three equal parts in separate bowls. To one bowl, add grated carrots and ginger, stir to combine. Pour into prepared cake pan.

To the second bowl, add beets and cardamom to batter and stir to combine. Pour into prepared cake pan.

Add the zucchini and thyme to batter in third bowl and stir to combine. Pour into prepared cake pan. (If you don’t want to dirty three bowls, you can make the batters in sequence in the same bowl but be sure to rinse it well after each batch).

Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (times will vary depending on the moisture content of the vegetables – test each pan separately).

Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. After about 5 to 10 minutes, invert the cakes onto wire rack, remove the pans and parchment paper and cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 package (8 ounces/225 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest

In bowl of electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese and butter until blended. Gradually add the icing sugar and beat, on low speed, until fully incorporated and smooth. Beat in vanilla extract, lemon juice and zest.

To assemble: With a serrated knife, cut the tops off the bottom and middle cake layer so that they’re flat for stacking (you can also trim the top layer if you want the cake to have a flat top). Place one of the trimmed layers onto your serving plate. Spread with about a quarter of the frosting. Gently place the other trimmed layer on top and spread with another quarter of the frosting. Place the top, untrimmed layer on top and spread the rest of the frosting over the top and sides of the cake.

Posted by Jean Poutine

Waffle Wednesday

As you will recall, Jean, a little over a month ago I posted that I had an Eva Sweet waffle. I went to work the next day and bragged to all my co-workers how delicious they were.

Since my office is in the south-east, only one of my co-workers had heard of Eva Sweet and he rarely has meetings downtown. He had the genius idea of asking if they would be willing to come to our office after their shift downtown. Thus was “Waffle Wednesday” born. For weeks all anyone at the office could talk about was waffles.

He was scheduled to arrive around 2:30 pm, but when I went outside at that time there were 20 people waiting and no waffle truck. The waffle mob started to panic. Is the waffle truck coming? Do you think he’s lost? Someone saw him drive by and the organizer of Waffle Wednesday started running after the truck. Eva Sweet had turned into the wrong parking lot. Gasp. Instantly someone got in their car to chase him down and another person called 411 to get his phone number. In the end, the waffle truck arrived and mouths started salivating when he cranked up the waffle makers.

There were so many combinations to choose from – cinnamon, maple and vanilla waffles; for toppings you could get whipped cream, caramel, strawberry, blueberry, raspberry or maple syrup. I had the vanilla waffle with whipped cream and caramel sauce – just the right amount of sweetness for my liking. The waffle was crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. The caramel sauce was so silky I could’ve had a cup of it to go. Hardly anyone at the office got the same combination of toppings.

Our office manager had strawberry and whipped cream.

Jane Fondant just had whipped cream.

Our correspondent Truly Scrumptious had hers with whipped cream and blueberry.

We invited friends, family and work neighbours to join us, which is why I invited you, JP. Did you get whipped cream on yours? I can’t tell by the photo, but I have never known you to pass up whipped cream.

I just noticed that we both posted photos of each other eating today. You look very surprised in this photograph, but the look works for you.

Maybe I will have to get a job downtown so everyday could be Waffle Wednesday.

Posted by King Crabby

Sweet, sweet waffles

I had a bit of a crap day today, Jean. It all started with the parking machine at an Impark lot downtown not working and went downhill from there. Just when I was about to write the day off I smelled… waffles. I looked up and I had stumbled on Eva Sweet Waffles. I saw street food mentioned on Eat My Words a week or two ago, but since I don’t usually work downtown I never thought I would have the chance to try one. Even though I just finished lunch, I could not resist. I got a vanilla waffle (they also have cinnamon and maple) with whipped cream and caramel sauce. Yes, it was as sweet as it sounds. They are Liege waffles made with a pearl-like sugar. As I waited for my waffle, I had a great conversation with the vendor who showed me a photo of his waffle car in Belgium. If you watch Throwdown With Bobby Flay, he had a throwdown with a Liege waffle street vendor. Bobby lost. I think Bobby would lose to Eva Sweet.

Posted by King Crabby


Tastes Like Summer

I’m talkin’ ice cream.

Devonian Botanic Gardens

We laughed about Maple Walnut being “old people” ice cream.

What kid would choose choose it when there’s Tiger or Rainbow – or the mysterious Wet Paint? Maple Walnut sounds like expensive furniture that’s built to last generations.

I see that MacKay’s Cochrane Ice Cream is available at the newly opened cafe in the Old Strathcona Antique Mall (you can also buy it at Sunterra).

Old Strathcona Antique Mall

It’s extra yummy because it’s extra fatty – made with  17% butterfat, versus 10% to 12% in most commercial ice cream.

According to MacKay’s website, their top flavour is… Maple Walnut.

MacKay’s Ice Cream, Cochrane, Alberta, May 2001

What’s your favourite ice cream (or gelato), Crabby? Right now, mine is the Mayan chocolate (with cinnamon & chili seeds) at Da Capo. I usually pair it with a scoop of something bland like Ricotta to cut the heat.

Posted by Jean Poutine