November 18, 2012

I am almost in winter hibernation mode: I have that constant cold feeling only defeated by wearing sweaters and hiding under blankets, I have been cravings carbs like nobody's business and I have also not enjoyed scraping ice off of my car windows.


Of course, with the holiday season near, I am also craving ALL the sweet things, such as cake and pie, both of which I made this week. It's hard to say which is better. There have been many battles--or just one notable epic battle--pitting fluffy, sugary cake against sweet, hearty pie. Personally, I am a pie person. I like cake, but I can only eat it in small doses before wanting to pass out from a sugar induced coma. Granted, cakes are a lot prettier, but pie is the winner for me when it comes to taste.


I also love food trucks. Whenever there is a food truck in town I most likely know about it. Although the Jack Astor's food truck was more of a promotional stunt and not an actual food truck, I couldn't resist free food on a Friday. They were offering complimentary new menu items in London over the weekend at various stops. I am willing to stand outside in the cold for the sake of "trucking." First off was a sample of their new Feta Guacamole with red onion, black beans and roasted poblano peppers. It was pretty standard guacamole with a bit of a spicy kick. 


The entree I sampled was "One Really, Really Big Meatball" of beef, veal and pork in a garlic tomato sauce with bucatini pasta. The other option was "Junk Boat Chicken:" crispy fried chicken in garlic and ginger sauce with jasmine rice and seasonal vegetables. The meatball actually was a really big meatball and the sauce had a pretty good balance of sweetness and herbs. 


Overall, not bad for restaurant chain food and free too. Speaking of restaurant food, every time I hear the words "Festive Special" on the radio my heart yearns for some Swiss Chalet winter goodness. It's not the holiday season without a chicken dinner followed by Lindt chocolates.


Then there was the cake I baked and decorated this week (like there is ever really a reason to bake a cake). I made one box of cake mix into four mini cakes because I wanted to practice my piping skills.


I also made one batch of buttercream icing and filled the layers with homemade strawberry jam for extra sweetness because they needed more sugar.


I played around with various piping techniques, such as the rosette, shell border, star fill-in and zigzag pattern. My piping bags and tips should probably come out of hibernation a little more because my lettering and outlining was a little shaky. Some coloured sugar never hurts to "cover" things up though.


Then there's the pumpkin pie I made this weekend. Americans are celebrating their Thanksgiving right now and I am a little jealous. Canadians had ours about a month ago and it definitely didn't feel like the holiday season was beginning then. However, we do get to take advantage of Black Friday deals and shopping that has somehow become popular here.

 

There is still a lot of pumpkin on grocery store shelves though and they always make a great Christmas dessert too. I always use the recipe written inside the label of E.D Smith's Pure Pumpkin.

E.D Smith's Traditional Pumpkin Pie 

2 eggs
1/2 can Pure Pumpkin
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1 unbaked homemade pie shell or frozen deep dish pie shell

Directions:

1. Beat eggs lightly in medium bowl. Add pumpkin, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt; str until well combined. Blend in the milk.
2. Pour filling in pie shell. Bake at 425F for 15 min.
3. Reduce oven temperature to 350F and continue baking 30 to 35 min. longer or until knife inserted in centre comes out clean. Cool.

Makes 1 pie. To make 2 pies, use 1 can Pure Pumpkin and double all other ingredients.

For the crust I used this recipe for the "perfect pie crust" that I found on Pinterest. The recipe uses a butter and vegetable shortening mix instead of straight butter usually used in pie dough.


This was the first time I've used shortening in a pie crust. The dough was a little greasier than I'm used to, but I enjoyed the taste and it would also work well for a savoury pie.


I rolled the dough into the pie plate and crimped the edges with a fork. Then I filled the crust with the pumpkin mixture and cut out heart shapes from cookie cutters using the leftover dough.


If you love pie, there is still time to submit your link to the Love The Pie link-up. If you have a pie recipe, link it up with Tidy Mom. If you're a U.S resident you can enter to win a new Whirlpool Range, so come join Love the Pie with TidyMom sponsored by Whirlpool and enter to win a new Whirlpool Range.


You can also post your recipe on Twitter with the hashtag #LovethePie. Even if you can't enter--or technically enjoy American Thanksgiving--there are plenty of pie recipes and photos to check out.
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November 10, 2012

Singapore is one cool place. With a population of about 5 million, it is one of the wealthiest city-states in the world. And although it is one of the smallest countries with a land area of about 710 square km, it has an overwhelming financial wealth, as well as a wealth of culture, architecture, technology and history--and don't forget its prime geographical position. Established by Thomas Stamford Raffles in the 19th century as a trading post, the sea town soon attracted commercial and trade success from China, India, Indonesia, the Malay Peninsula and the Middle East as evident in its now four official languages: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil.

In Singapore you will find warm weather, clean streets, futuristic skyscrapers, modern necessities and a variety of cuisines and food delights at your fingertips. The residents love to shop, hang out at hawker centres and take in all sorts of entertainment. As Lonely Planet says, it's the "perfect pit stop to recover from the rough-and-tumble of the rest of Southeast Asia." The culture in Singapore is the perfect representation of a "melting pot."


Singapore was the first stop on our Asian adventure and although there were a lot of food highlights on the trip, it was my first love when it came to finding good food for good prices. Sometimes, you’re just drawn to places and you feel there's a reason you need to go there. I felt that way about Southeast Asia for some reason and Singapore was the perfect, relaxed place to start my journey.



There were so many neat things to do and places to see. Some highlights for me included Sentosa Island, The Singapore Zoo and Night Safari, Marina Bay, Orchard Road, Clarkes Quay and exploring the neat neighbourhood pockets of shopping, entertainment, food and atmosphere.

After about 15 hours flying from Toronto to Hong Kong and then 5 hours to Singapore, we finally arrived in Asia. We took the metro system from the airport to the hostel and when we came up from the subway platform, we were welcomed by the sights and sounds of Chinatown at nighttime:


For a second I thought we had emerged into a different world and I realized that yes, we were actually on the other side of the world. The hostel was cozy and the location couldn't have been better as it was surrounded by outdoor market stalls, temples, hawker centres and malls. I highly recommend 5footway.inn Project Chinatown found on Hostelworld.com.

For the first few days I had quite a bit of jetlag, so my appetite wasn't the greatest. Being in a plane for 20 hours will truly test the depths of your soul and strength. I didn't want to waste any travel time though, even though I learned after a few weeks that it's alright to take a few "rest days." For the first few days we took it easy by walking around, ducking into any mall we could for momentary relief from the heat and trying some recommended food spots. I don't know why you would ever cook for yourself in Singapore when endless options--usually cooked right in front of your eyes--are available anywhere and anytime, such as this enormous plate of chicken fried rice.


First off, let me introduce you to my good friend the "chilli crab;" it is not however, a kind friend to white shorts or your budget for that matter. First you pick out your own special friend from the collection:


The waitress actually brought around a bucket with a few live crabs in it for us to pick out which one we wanted. A note on buying chilli crabs: we paid $75 for the whole crab and it was definitely the most expensive meal we had in Southeast Asia, but it's one of those things you have to try. At least the beer was cheap.  



This was the aftermath of the chilli crab consumption. You really can't be self conscious when you're constantly licking your fingers and wiping chilli sauce from your mouth.


As well as street-side restaurants and stalls, the infamous Hawker centres offer a variety of cuisines, including Chinese, Malay, Indian, Indonesian and much more. Singapore isn't known as the cheapest place in all of Southeast Asia, but most of the dishes we had were usually less than $5.

Maxwell Food Centre--one of the city's best hawker centres and right down the street from our hostel--has more than 100 stalls and is open 24 hours a day. It was also featured on Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations." You don't argue with Bourdain as this sign pinned next to one of the stalls pointed out:



I went there! Like he says in the video, "if you love food, this might just be the best place on earth." There was something so simple about the dish of boiled chicken and white rice. The hawker centres are sweaty, people are pushy and good luck finding a table, but man, there's definitely something about the experience (and the signature "Chicken Rice"). After six weeks in Asia I had consumed more white rice than I could ever have imagined.


I don't normally like to go to the same food place twice while traveling, but we had to go back to the Maxwell Centre the next night to try another stall. This time we had duck over noodles that was a little too drenched in sauce for my liking, but with those prices you can't complain.


They have also redefined the food court over there. Like Bourdain says, "where in America the food court is the nexus of all things generic and awful, in Singapore, these open-to-the-street food centres, coffee shops and hawker centres offer a near limitless variety of Malay, Chinese and Indian dishes." Pictured below is a Chinese seafood soup served with white rice and a Korean bibimbap with various condiments; just an example of the variety of cuisines offered.


There are also limitless options when it comes to desserts. In the VivaCity food court after a trip to Sentosa Island, I had a snow cone-like concoctions with different flavours of ice syrup, creamed corn, condensed milk, red beans and jello. It was a strange and colourful dessert that somehow all worked together.

Singapore is a warm place. Actually, it's downright sweltering, especially in the summer months. So I appreciated the refreshing ice and jelly desserts as well. My favourite flavour combination that I found was lemongrass and aloe vera jelly. Somehow if I made these things at home they would seem strange, but here, it somehow works and its an appreciation of being creative with simple flavours and ingredients.


(Photo one: source; Photo two: source)


There are so many weird and wonderful things in Singapore that just seem so normal to everyone else. Maybe we take ourselves too seriously in North America. Where else in the world could food court and fast food be the best food around? And who mixes beans, jello and syrups together over ice?! Singapore is a mishmash of different cultures, styles and eras that could at first seem odd all smushed together on one island, but somehow that’s the charm of the place.
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November 06, 2012

I have been making my own bread for awhile now. It started with making my own pizza dough and then progressed to learning about the "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" method. Their master recipe is basically fool-proof and involves making a simple dough then storing it in the fridge and ripping off pieces whenever you want to make a loaf. Of course we're always looking for simpler and faster ways of doing anything these days.


I got a bread machine for Christmas last year and have been looking for recipes to try. The bread machine is great: dump the ingredients into the machine, press a button and let it do the work. I didn't know it can get any easier than "bread in five minutes a day." With a bread machine, the amount of work you don't have to do is almost astonishing. 

I got 300 Best Canadian Bread Machine Recipes in the mail recently from Robert Rose. The book--by Donna Washburn and Heather Butt--is THE comprehensive bread machine book full of recipes, instructions and techniques and everything you need to know about making bread in a machine. 



I didn't realize there were that many variations of flour, water and yeast--300 in this book to be exact. There are all sorts of bread recipes, such as low-fat, international and gluten-free, and even recipes for pitas, bagels, pizza dough and dessert loaves. Each recipe even has measurements to make different size loaves, so you know exactly what you need to make a 1.5 or 2 lb loaf and how many servings each recipe yields. 
My kitchen is starting to look like a little bit like a space station control panel. I have a Burr coffee grinder that takes up quite a bit of space, plus a coffee machine, espresso machine, kettle and toaster. The thing with appliances is you seem to accumulate them, but never get rid of them. The bread machine is quite large, so it doesn't actually fit in the kitchen. I have to plug it in on the floor when I want to make bread. The cat was quite curious about the machine and its constant whirring:


Remember Tim Horton's soup in a bread bowl? I think every Canadian does. For a brief period of time they offered chicken stew or chilli in a bread bowl and the country rejoiced at the concept that you could "eat the bowl too!" It really was a glorious moment for Canada. 


These bread bowls are just as good although they are quite dense. Be prepared for a heavy meal, especially if you're filling them with chilli or a thick soup. 

Soup-in-a-bread-bowl (pg. 306)
Makes 4 bowls

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp packed brown sugar
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour or bread flour
3/4 cup cracked wheat
1/2 cup buttermilk powder
1 1/4 tsp breach machine or instant yeast


Measure ingredients into baking pan. Insert pan into the oven chamber. Select Dough Cycle. Remove dough to a lightly floured surface. Cover with a large bowl and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. 


Divide the dough into 4 portions. Form into balls 3 1/2 inches (9 cm) in diameter and at least 2 1/2 inches (6 cm) high. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 30 to 45 minutes or until doubled in volume. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375F. Bake in a preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes. When cool, cut out the center, leaving at least a 1-inch (2.5 cm) thickness of bread on the bottom and the sides. Fill with hot soup and serve. 


I also made the Tomato Rosemary Ciabatta recipe (pg. 201) from the book. The recipe includes sun-dried tomatoes and dried rosemary for extra flavour. 


The method was similar to the bread bowls. Pour the ingredients into the pan and set the bread machine to the dough cycle. 


Then let the dough rise for 30-45 minutes and bake for 25-30 minutes. The recipe made enough dough for two ciabatta flatbreads. 


Both recipes tasted great and didn't have too much of that "soda" or "yeast" taste for homemade bread. There are so many more recipes I want to try from this book, such as Greek-style pitas, parmesan rosemary bread sticks and maple banana flaxseed bread. I have a feeling the bread machine will be making an appearance and churning out the smell of freshly baked bread for awhile now. 

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experiences.  
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