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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Chronicles of an Awesome (Foodie) Vacation!

So, as I mentioned in my previous post, I am on vacation! Visiting some of my favorite places en route back home, and making sure that I stuff myself silly!

Seriously, my life revolves around food. We have been on vacation for 10 days, and every day is filled with our favorites from the past. The first stop was Toronto. Over Easy breakfast stop, St Lawrence Market, street Hot Dog with all the fixin's, and the Bier Markt. And I cannot forget the great sandwich spread that I detailed in my last blog post. Great times with friends and family.

Next stop was Austin, Texas. Home of Margaritas, Tex Mex, BBQ and everything else, all in excess! As you can see, nothing beats lunch at our favorite spot, Enoteca on South Congress. Unfortunately, my favorite dish of mussels and fries was not available (until October!!), but we enjoyed the antipasti, charcuterie, suppli (fried risotto balls filled with cheese and served with spicy tomato sauce), calamari, and a proscuitto pizza with arugula, egg, and truffle oil. Yum yum yum!

Of course, we also had to stop for Eggs Francisco at Kerby Lane. This breakfast favorite is composed on English Muffins topped with scrambled eggs, tomato, avocado, bacon and queso (melted cheese dip). Served with choice of 2 sides (we chose home fries and fruit....gotta be healthy).

We also saved room for Dim Sum up north at Shanghai, coffee at Jo's, drinks at the Hula Hut, tons of tex mex favorites, and of course, BBQ at Salt Lick in Driftwood!

Only 10 days in, and I can feel my waistline expanding and my smile getting wider. This is just the start of an amazing vacation!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Russell's Impromptu Artisinal Sandwich Shop

Sorry I haven't been in touch for a while, but things have been busy and I am now on vacation in Canada.

At the moment, I am not cooking much as I am not at home, but I joined my dear friends at their place for lunch the other day, and had to share this simple entertaining idea.

Here's the scenario... With very little notice, your friends decide to join you in the early afternoon (in this case, we were "the friends"). In this situation, is lunch in order? Should you cook something? Arrange snacks? Just drinks? What to do?

Certainly, there is no easy answer. If you cook something, and they are not hungry, not only do you potentially waste, but you could also make them feel forced to eat, since you went to the trouble of cooking. But if you assume that it's drinks and snacks only, and they come over famished, they may not enjoy their time as much (I mean, I know when I am hungry, I get cranky. Can't speak for the rest of you though).

So, what is the answer? Do what Russell did in setting up a beautiful spread of breads, deli meats, cheeses, fixins for sandwiches and a few accompaniments (dried fruit and nuts, pasta salad), all of which were available already prepared at the local grocery store. Minimal effort, but maximum impact, if you set it up right.

Notice that I said that his spread was "beautiful." Presentation is really key here because you want your guests to feel like you expected them. Not that you noticed from their faces that they were hungry then threw all the stuff in a pile on the table. Then, everyone can help themselves, eating as much or as little as they like and using the ingredients they want. The setting is casual, comfortable, and a great way to catch up with friends.

The best part about this set up is that nothing gets wasted. If it's not eaten, it gets repacked and saved for tomorrow's lunch. No harm done.

So next time you have company coming over at the last minute, don't sweat. Just play it smart like Russ and your guests will be able to enjoy the great company over a casual bite. And I assure you, make it beautiful and you will get compliments equal to those you would get if you slaved over the stove for hours.

Here are a few ideas of what you could include in your spread, but of course, use your imagination!
Ideas for the Sandwiches
Selection of bread rolls, flat breads, and crisp breads
Sliced Tomatoes, Red Onions, Cucumbers, and Other Assorted Veggies
A Selection of Sliced Deli Meats
A Selection of Sliced Cheeses
Mustard, Mayonnaise
Mixed Lettuces

Pasta Salad
Marinated Olives
Stuffed Marinated Peppers
Mixed Nuts
Dried Fruits

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Patriotic Vanilla Cake with Butter Cream Frosting

So, it was my husband’s birthday. And instead of making the usual chocolate cake, I decided to go for something a little daring… vanilla. Vanilla cake with buttercream icing. Risky right? Well, it was. Risky because it wasn’t the go to chocolate cake that you saw in one of my previous blogs. And risky because I wasn’t 100% certain that he would love it. Well, okay, that’s a lie. He loves sweets. But chocolate is hard to compete with.

I surprised him with a small early birthday party last month when we were in France with a small gathering of his close friends. For this occasion, we ordered a turtle shaped cake (raspberry sponge inside) to play on his French nickname “Tortue” (literally- turtle). The cake was stunning! Thus, the stakes for his actual birthday cake were even higher. Not only was I competing with my own staple rich chocolate cake which he loves, but I was also competing artistically with the turtle cake.
So, what was I going to do? Flavor wise, I decided it would be vanilla. Something different and equally tasty (I hoped). Esthetically, I knew I could not pull off a cool shape like the turtle. I was stumped. I had no idea what I was going to do. Then, the night before, I had an idea. The patriotic French husband’s birthday cake. Layers of red, white, and blue vanilla sponge complemented with a vanilla butter cream frosting.

The impression this cake makes immediately depends on how you decorate the outside. I went for a plain looking cake (white with blue writing), because I wanted the impact to come when the cake was sliced.

Now you are probably asking… did he like it? Well, I think you can see that for yourself.
Patriotic Vanilla Cake with Butter Cream Frosting
Makes a 3 layer cake - 9" Round

1 ½ cups Butter, Room Temp
2 cups White Sugar
9 Eggs
3 tsp Vanilla
4 ½ cups Flour
4 ½ tsp Baking Powder
¾ tsp Salt
¾ cup Milk

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each egg is added. Add vanilla and stir.
In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, and salt.
Add dry ingredients about 1 cup at a time, alternating with milk and mixing well.

Optional Step: To color the cake: Divide the batter into 3 equal portions in 3 separate bowls. To each bowl, add a few drops of food coloring as necessary and mix until color is even. ( I colored one red, one blue, and left the third without coloring).

Lightly grease three 9” (23 cm) round cake pans and line bottoms with parchment paper. Fill each cake pan with batter. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool for about 15 minutes before removing from the pans. Cool completely on wire racks before frosting.

Vanilla Butter Cream Frosting
3 cups Icing Sugar
¾ cup Butter, Room Temp
3 tsp Whipping Cream
1 ½ tsp Vanilla Extract
Optional: Food Coloring

Cream butter with vanilla. Add icing sugar and cream. Beat well until light and fluffy. Add more icing sugar to thicken or whipping cream to thin as necessary.

When the cakes are cool, shave the tops of the bottom 2 layers to that they are even. Add an even layer of frosting onto the bottom layer of cake. Place the second layer on top and add a second even layer of frosting. Place the final layer of cake on top. Frost the entire cake with the remaining icing. Decorate as desired.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Whole Wheat Strawberry Lemon Tart

Today, I am in the mood for something sweet and that reminds me of summer. So, I am going to make a tart. Now, if I was back in North America, I would be picking whatever berries look fresh and taste sweet. But, since I am in Dubai, where good tasting berries are scarce (most are ripened on their way over and taste like nothing), I am going to use frozen.

I am going to make this tart with Whole Wheat Flour. Why? Because I enjoy the crunch and texture of a whole wheat tart. But please, feel free to make a white tart shell if you wish!

Whole Wheat Strawberry Lemon Tart
Makes 1 tart
For Tart Pastry:
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/8 tsp salt
½ cup butter
3 tbsp ice cold water

For Strawberries:
400 grams (about 3 cups) of Strawberries ( Fresh if possible)
3 tbsp white sugar
Zest of ½ lemon
Juice of whole lemon
1 tbsp cornstarch
Bake for 25 minutes at 180 degrees

For Custard Filling:
Mix 2 eggs
½ cup heavy whipping cream
¼ cup sugar

To Make Tart Pastry:
Mix the flour and the salt in a medium bowl or food processor.

Add the cold butter pieces and cut in using a pastry blender or by pulsing in the food processor.

Add ice water, 1/2 tbsp at a time until the dough forms into a ball. Gather up and pat into a disk. If possible, refrigerate dough for 30 minutes before rolling out.

When ready to use, roll dough out on a lightly floured board. Gently fold into quarters using a little flour as needed to prevent sticking. Place dough in pie plate and carefully unfold, fitting loosely and then pressing into place. Trim the edges and crimp for a decorative crust.

To Make Filling:
In a large bowl, toss strawberries with sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Place in the tart shell and bake for 25 minutes at
180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Farenheit). until strawberries have softened and tart is beginning to brown.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs. Add whipping cream and sugar, and mix well. Pour this mixture into the half baked tart. Bake for another 30 minutes until custard is set.

Allow the tart to cool for about 15 minutes before removing from tart pan.