May 31, 2012

It is true what they say about birthdays becoming less exciting as you get older. Not that I wasn't excited for my birthday. Birthdays seem a little bit scarier now. I decided for this one (a lady never reveals her age) I wanted to celebrate by doing something somewhat dramatic and kick off a new year and age in style. So instead of considering a tattoo--still not sure about that life decision--I decided to cut off all my hair. Well, not all of my hair. It is much shorter than I have ever gone before. I have always wanted to do it and, like birthdays now, it was a little scary but kind of fun when I got over the initial shock.

I am kind of loving it. I took some inspiration from some of my style crushes, such as Carey Mulligan and Agyness Deyn and it's something different. Sorry to talk about hair on a food blog. I realize for me, with an ultimate phobia of hair in my food, it is a weird side note and completely ironic. Onto my birthday food!

I requested homemade pizza as my birthday meal loaded with zucchini, tomatoes, onions, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. Mike also made a strawberry cheesecake for dessert. Birthday cake has no calories, right?

Like every year, there are always a lot of friend's birthdays in May, so some of us sometimes celebrate by having one big celebration to honour all the "May babies." One year I made a cake in the shape of a drum and cookies with everyone's faces on them.

Strawberry Ombre Cake

This year I took some inspiration from some cakes I saw on Pinterest and made an ombre cake. Ombre is the new rainbow, haven't you heard?

Instead of making seven individual coloured layers like the rainbow cake, this cake only required three different colours. I used red food colouring to make each layer slightly lighter or darker. But somehow I still used about 10 bowls in the process and ended up with a sink full of dishes and a stand mixer a little worse for wear.

I used this recipe for Strawberry Ombre Cake from Krissy's Creations. The cake has fresh, pureed strawberries in the batter and was a delicious fruity cake base. I baked each layer individually because I only have one 8" pan and tried to get the colours different from each other to make the ombre effect.

Then I built a cake in a few easy steps...

Step 1: pipe icing around the edge of the layer. Then spread the filling (I used strawberry jam) on top.
Step 2: Stack the other layer on top and repeat Step 1.

Then ice the first crumb layer with buttercream icing to solidify the layers together.

Then ice a second, smoother layer. I then used a #21 tip to pipe a pink shell pattern on the edges. The cake somewhat resembles one of those Barbie Birthday cakes I used to get for my birthday when I was younger, but I thought I had to have pink icing with the red/pink ombre design.

I piped "Happy Birthday" on top with my rusty piping skills. The cake was a big hit and I loved cutting into it and seeing the ombre effect even if the colours turned out slightly darker than expected.

The only problem with taking the cake somewhere was that I wasn't able to get a good picture of the layers--only a cell phone picture. Cake is meant to be shared and enjoyed with many obviously, so it was more about the experience of the cake than being a weirdo and taking a million photos of everything I make. Some people said the cake kind of tasted like pink lemonade. It was quite sweet with the addition of jam and buttercream icing as well and a refreshing choice for birthday cake.
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May 20, 2012

The May long weekend is always a fun one for me because it usually falls around my birthday. When I was younger I was convinced the Victoria Day fireworks were actually for my birthday. This year it falls on Wednesday, but the weekend is always a good time to celebrate. I started the weekend with a particular sweet treat:

Some cupcakes from a London bakery, "Hey Cupcake:" red velvet and smores flavour. Not wanting to sound like too much of a food snob, I had to see how they measured up to Toronto cupcakes. Buying cupcakes seems to be more of a "thing" in  Toronto, but it could be because there's more selection.

My verdict? The cupcakes were pretty good although the icing was quite "mousse" like and I usually like it on the sweeter, crunchier side; that's just me. They were massive cupcakes for the price ($2.69). I was rather impressed overall.

For dinner on Friday we had steak fajitas with guacamole and salsa. I hate peppers, so I grilled some zucchini instead and it actually worked well in the fajitas.

Yesterday, because we're clearly 80-years-old, we went to the Shaw Festival to see "Ragtime" (it was even a matinee). I usually have to see one or two summer theatre shows a year whether it's at the Stratford Festival or elsewhere. This year I was excited to see this show at the Shaw Festival. We decided instead of a fancy dinner afterwards we would go for a nice lunch instead before the show.

There are a ton of food options on Niagra-on-the-lake --some in the rather high price range. I chose the Epicurean. It's a cafeteria-style bistro restaurant with salads, sandwiches and freshly baked quiches. I got the cashew curry chicken sandwich on pumpernickel bread:

Mike got a sun dried tomato and chevre quiche with a caesar salad:

Yes, we're that annoying couple that shares everything when we go to restaurants. The quiche was probably the creamiest, cheesiest quiche I have ever tasted and the crust was huge. They had a bunch of different flavours, like seafood, leek and mushroom and broccoli and cheddar. It was a little too filling for me. I liked the sandwich, which was extremely fresh and jam packed with veggies and chicken.

During the intermission of the show we chilled on the theatre terrace. It was a nice day and kind of a shame to spend the afternoon in a dark theatre although definitely worth it to see the show. Afterwards we walked back downtown and braved the crowds at Cows Ice Cream for dessert.

You can't argue with "Canada's best ice cream" right? I ate mine too quickly to snap a picture, but it was heavenly peanut butter cup flavoured.

There are still two more days to fill of the long weekend, so I'm planning on some sunny patio time and board game playing. I've decided on Wednesday for my actual birthday I'm going to be dramatic and cut my hair really short, a.k.a Carey Mulligan-style. I feel like I need a change and a fresh, new look for the summer. Here's to another birthday and a new year!
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May 13, 2012

Last year I made Mike a rainbow cake for his birthday. You really can't beat a rainbow cake. Once you've made a rainbow cake every mention of a cake there after resembles a "remember that time you made that amazing rainbow cake? That was so awesome!" So this year, I really couldn't top that again.

My intention was to make chocolate donuts. I had never made donuts before and had a hankering for them, but I didn't have a donut pan. Being the resourceful person I am (at least I like to think so) I thought they would work without having to buy yet another speciality pan. I mean, how hard could it be to make a hole in a cake? I thought some clever manoeuvring could manipulate the batter into thinking it was a donut, but alas, after baking them in a muffin pan they ended up completely not like donuts at all and more like mini cakes.

I think my first mistake was looking for "baked" donut recipes and not "fried." The recipe I used for Baked Chocolate Donuts with Chocolate Glaze seemed more like a cake recipe and not a traditional donut recipe. I tried cutting a whole in the middle of one as a tester, but it ended up crumbling to bits.

I made the chocolate glaze from the recipe, which seemed like the only part resembling an actual donut actually, and dipped each "cake" in the glaze then topped them with festive sprinkles. So they were more like mini cakes, and not even really like cupcakes either, but chocolate with chocolate sauce is alright by me.

This weekend I had a craving for cupcakes, so I decided to make another chocolate dessert and hopefully make up for my somewhat sad birthday creation. Instead of making mini cakes again I decided to make a whole cake instead. Why not?

Chocolate Espresso Bundt Cake (adapted from this recipe)

1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup hot coffee
1 cup milk
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt


Preheat oven to 350 F. Put the chocolate chips on a bowl with the hot coffee and stir until melted. In another bowl, whisk the milk with the vinegar and set aside for a few minutes. Add the oil, sugar, vanilla and mix.
In a large bowl sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the wet ingredients slowly and mix. Pour the batter into a greased bundt pan. Bake for 32-35 minutes.

For the icing, I used the Wilton Buttercream Icing recipe and added cocoa powder for the chocolate flavouring.

Just when I thought I had made a successful dessert, the cake fell out in three giant chunks onto my cooling rack when I went to lift it out of the pan. I managed to stick it back together with some strategically placed chocolate icing.

Even though it looked rather horrendous, it still tasted really light and fluffy with a hint of coffee flavouring. So my attempts at birthday desserts weren't what I was hoping, but that's the fun of learning how to cook and bake I suppose. At least you can cover up your mistakes with lots of icing and sprinkles and no one is the wiser.
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May 07, 2012

You know you're a "foodie" when you'll stand in line for an hour for a grilled cheese sandwich. Seriously, at what point does my food truck obsession become a little too crazy? I think the fact that I followed some of my favourite Toronto trucks to Stratford, Ontario for a Food Truck Eats event yesterday says it all. To be fair, I only drove from London...

Yesterday was the opening of the Stratford Slow Foods Market for the season and they celebrated by having six awesome food trucks and five pop-up restaurants set up shop for the day in the Market Square. Frankly, the food trucks stole the show. Unfortunately we didn't even have time to check out the market, which I've been wanting to do for awhile, as we had to get back, but hopefully next time.

We tried to leave as early as we could for a Sunday morning, so we ended up getting there around 12:30 p.m (the event only ran until 2 p.m). We got there right in the middle of the action, as the square was packed with people and the lines were formed all the way throughout.

I rushed to my favourite cupcake truck, The Cupcake Diner, to stock up on cupcakes and they were sold out. According to someone in line they sold out of 1,000 cupcakes in 45 minutes! Apparently I'm not the only one who has gone food truck crazy.

A lot of the other trucks were selling out of menu items at lightning speed. Caplansky's Deli only had one menu item left when we walked past:

And Gorilla Cheese, with by far the biggest line, was doing equally brisk business. We staked out a spot in line and waited...and waited.

We took turns waiting in line and wandering around to check out the other options. Foie Gras cotton candy anyone?

Mike got a hot dog from Pazzo's pop-up restaurant for his "appetizer" while he was waiting for grilled cheese. I was really hoping Pazzo would serve up some of their amazing pizzas or breads, but for $4, their hot dogs with various toppings (he got cheddar jalepeno with homemade spicy corn salsa) were pretty good:

I went for Blue Donkey's Streatery --a truck I've been meaning to try for awhile now--that serves Greek fare like gyros, calamari pitas and fries with greek-style toppings.

I got a chicken gyros pita (sans fries inside) that was stuffed to the brim with bbq chicken, tomatoes, tzatziki and onions.

Then after an hour of waiting, with slightly sunburned faces and arms, we approached the front of the Gorilla Cheese truck...

And feasted upon the "Gordopolis" grilled cheese sandwich in all its glory stuffed with mozzarella, tomato, red onion, feta, black olives, oregano and tzatziki on multi-grain bread.

Was it worth standing in line for an hour and getting quite sunburnt? Absolutely, yes! I think there was actually $7.50 worth of cheese on the sandwich and the tanginess of the feta, olives and onions was unlike any grilled cheese I have ever had. I am so glad these food trucks are becoming so popular now and more people are finding out about them. I don't mind standing in line for good food.

Apparently the next big food truck event coming up is in Niagra on the May Long Weekend at Peller Estates Winery. Will I follow my favourite trucks even farther? I am so tempted...
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