Friday, June 8, 2012

CSA Week 1

 I was so excited to get our first basket! DH picked it up while I was at work, and when I got home he had it all spread out on the table (except for the fridge stuff) for me to see and he took a picture too.

All in all, we got:
  • Green Leaf Lettuce
  • Mini Romaine
  • Hot House Tomato
  • Green Kale
  • Seedless Cucumber
  • Cauliflower
  • Asparagus
  • Green Onions
  • Rhubarb
  • Chocolate Plum Tomatoes
  • Rainbow Sweet Potatoes
  • Beet Thinnings (baby beets with the greens attached)
  • Apples
  • Strawberries (quart)
  • Locally packaged frozen blueberries
  • Raw Goats Milk Feta Cheese
  • Breadcrumbs from a local bakery

As soon as we got it, I made us a little snack plate from some of the plum tomatoes, strawberries and cheese. When I took bite of the tomato I was delighted at just how tomato-ey it tasted. But when I took a bite of the strawberry I was almost sad to realize I had completely forgotten what strawberries taste like! DH said the same thing. We've grown so accustomed to eating the enormous strawberries that taste like water that our grocery store sells that we forgot about the lovely sweetness and the depth of flavour a strawberry can have. Really and truly forgot.

So I'm already sold on this. I'm so glad we signed up for it! At $53/week, it's a bit more expensive than the grocery store, but I don't think it's that really much more expensive. I think we got good value in this basket (although DH was a bit miffed about getting breadcrumbs as our pantry item). And if we can get through all of those greens, I will be so proud of us!

The first thing I did this morning was use the rhubarb to make an upside down cake (sorry my photography isn't as good as DH's).

Here's the recipe, which was actually recommended to us by the CSA (they give us recipe ideas for some of the basket contents each week).

This cake is incredible! So soft and dense, and the rhubarb is so juicy that it totally soaks the cake. After making this, I have no idea why anyone uses pineapple, the juiciness of the rhubarb is so much better!

Eating Better - A Four Month Trial

DH and I made a decision this summer to try to eat better. The tough part was figuring out what better means. We settled on trying to eat as much local, organic, seasonal food as possible, to eat more produce (especially cruciferous greens) and cut out processed foods. We decided to do our best to support local farmers who work on a smaller scale to produce good, nutritious food and take care of the earth, but in practice it's a little tricky to find them when you live in the heart of a big city. Our other priorities were to reduce our carbon footprint by reducing how much imported food we eat and to buy hormone/pesticide free when the cost isn't prohibitive in the hopes of getting a little more nutritional value out of our food. We're also trying to eat non-corn fed meat because we feel we eat too much corn already given that it's hidden in everything.

We both have a distrust for "organic" labels given how loosely regulated the use of that word is, so we're not really willing to pay an extra $4/lb for butter with the word organic on the label. Given how much butter I use in my baking, there is no way it would be feasible for what we both perceive as a small marginal benefit.

Finding a source for produce was the easiest part. We joined a local CSA that we trust carefully screens its farmers with similar goals in mind. We can pick up our food basket from them once every two weeks and it will contain fruits, veggies, a cheese and a pantry item. Next was finding a source for meat. We have two butchers in our area who sell local and/or organic meats as well as grass-fed beef, so we're going to start buying from them instead of the grocery store. It's a bit further of a walk to get to them, but that's good for us too.

We're still working out what we're going to do about dairy. Our local grocery store carries some organic, local dairy, but the cost is very high. And there are some things I'm not willing to give up, like my mini probiotic yogurt drinks. Grains like flour and cereal are also something that we have not yet found a feasible way to buy locally, we use way too much of them to bear the cost increase.

So we're not the most hardcore local/organic foodies, but we're trying really hard to make a few changes for the better where it makes sense for use. We've committed to this as a trial for the summer. In September we'll carefully consider if we're feeling healthier, if the food is tasting better, if we feel good about our environmental impact and if it's worth the extra that we're spending, and we'll make a decision as to whether it's worth it to keep on with it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lion and Tiger Cake

I've been making a few cakes lately for BF's work. As a result, I had some fondant kicking around, so since BF's birthday was last Sunday I decided to make him a cake!

It was supposed to be tiny. After all, there are only two of us and since we haven't lived here very long we don't have a lot of friends here and didn't throw a party.

So I used my smallest pan, a 6" round and made three layers. When I asked BF what flavour he wanted, the only answer I got was "fruit", so I made a basic yellow cake with a little almond extract and threw in loads of blueberries. I cooked up a strawberry sauce on the stove and used that to fill between the layers. As I was assembling it, I felt like I was playing with an easy bake oven because the layers were so small.

I frosted the cake with vanilla-almond buttercream, and covered the whole thing with a thin layer of marshmallow fondant. I learned that the taller the cake, the tougher it is to cover with fondant because the edges wrinkle more the further down you go. I didn't manage to get it perfectly smooth, but it was fine for just the two of us.

The lion and the tiger are made of fondant as well. This was my first attempt at making figures out of fondant and I think they turned out pretty cute! They were about three inches long and two inches tall. I made them ahead of time so they would have time to dry, but when I tried to link their tails together when I set them on the cake, the tiger's tail broke off! So I had to redo it, but it turned out good in the end.

I just did a basic bead border out of buttercream at the the bottom. See how much better I matched the icing colour to the fondant this time?

For how small it was supposed to be, it still made way too much. BF and I each had a slice, he took half of what was left to his work and it fed his whole team! And there's still half left in the fridge.

The flavours came out amazing, the cake was super moist, so I'm really happy with it! I think I'm getting better at making cakes!

Monday, March 22, 2010

PacMan Cookies

I know I haven't posted in quite a long time, but I made some cookies this weekend that I thought were too cute not to post.

Somehow it came to my attention that when flipped upside down, a tulip cookie cutter looks just like a PacMan ghost.

And once I had this information, I couldn't get it out of my head. I had no good reason to bake cookies, but for some reason I couldn't resist. So here they are:
They're just basic sugar cookies with royal icing. The sugar cookie recipe is from allrecipes here and the royal icing recipe is posted here. I used a Wilton tulip cutter for the ghosts (about 1.5") and a circle cutter for PacMan. I had a tiny little triangle cutter that I used to cut out his mouth, but a knife would work just as well. And the dots were made with a tiny circle cutter.

It took two batches of royal icing. I divided it into half cup portions and coloured one red, one orange, one yellow, one blue and one the lightest purple I could do (because the ghost is almost white in the game) and I left one bowl white. Each of these I diluted with water slightly to make them runny enough that I could just dip the cookies in. Then I took another 1/4 cup of white and coloured another 1/4 cup black in a stiffer consistency to pipe the eyes. I piped the whites of the eyes with a #5 tip and the blacks with a #3 tip.

I'm thrilled with how cute they turned out. And of course a batch of cookies makes more than eight little one inch cookies. So I made some more!

264 cookies. Or as BF says, 256 bits plus a byte.

I'm not sure why I felt the need to individually pack them neatly into bags, I think it's because I want to make sure that anyone who eats them gets a complete set so they can play with them first! BF is going to bring some to work and so am I, but I haven't figured out what to do with the rest of them yet.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Taste Trippin' Party!

Last night I went to a taste trippin' party at the Drake hotel in Toronto (I'm living in the city now).

This is something I have wanted to do for at least a year. I was so excited! At a taste trippin' party you eat something called a Miracle Berry. It has a funny effect on your tongue that makes it so that everything sour tastes sweet for the next hour. I've been dying to know if it really works.

So BF and I headed over and were each presented with a berry in a shot glass and a sheet of instructions.
You put the berry in your mouth, remove the skin and pulp and let the seed rest on your tongue for two minutes. Spit it out, and two minutes later you're ready to go!

They had all kinds of foods to try. There were lemons, limes, oranges, sour soothers, pickles, cheeses, brussel sprouts, mustards and apple cider vinegar to drink. This had better work!

The lemons and limes tasted just like candy! I was amazed! The flavour of the limes was indistinguishable from sweetened limeade. The oranges were so sweet that I actually didn't care for them. BF normally has no tolerance for sour food so he was pretty excited too.

Next I tried one of the pickles and a creamy cheese. I was disappointed to find that the restaurant had provided us with sweet gherkins and feta cheese, I wanted something with bite! Later I found out that they were in fact very, very sour pickles and sharp goat cheese, it was just that under the influence of the miracle berry, I honestly couldn't tell!

There was a gruyere cheese that tasted normal, the berry didn't seem to affect it. The sour soothers just tasted like regular candy, say Swedish berries. The mustards were intensified in flavour. I could barely eat them they were so strong! The brussel sprouts were delicious! They just tasted like yummy raw vegetable with none of the bitterness that makes uncooked brussel sprouts generally so unpalatable. And the vinegar had such a pleasant taste, unlike anything I've ever tasted before. John couldn't get enough of it.

The experience lasted about 20 or 25 minutes before it started to wear off. It lingered for about an hour after that, so the lemon wedges went from tasting like sweet candy to tasting like sour candy to tasting like sour lemons.

Afterwards we walked down the street to a bar for some drinks. They all tasted funny because of the berry. I had a cosmo and all I could taste was the vodka at first because the berry took away all of the bite of the lime and the cranberry. BF's beer was sweet and delicious and without the bitter aftertaste. As time went on though and the berry wore of I realized it was actually a really well made cosmo and I actually didn't like BF's beer after all.

It was a really cool experience, I think everyone should try it at least once. Although we had the actually berries, you can also order the berry in tablet form, I know ThinkGeek carries it here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wilton Course 3 - Final Cake

Last night I finished up Wilton Course 3 at Michael's. Check out my cake!I'm so glad I took this class because making this cake has taught me so much! I learned that I actually like making cakes. I always thought that I would infinitely prefer cupcakes but as it turns out, cake decorating lets you use some different skill sets that I find both fun and challenging. I also learned how much work goes into a tiered cake. I put about 15 hours into making this. I am much more appreciative now when I see a really beautiful cake because I can better understand what it takes to put something like that together.

And I'm pretty sure I learned some technical skills in there somewhere too.

On to the cake!

I went with lemon cake and almond buttercream frosting. I used a cake mix (eep!) for this since it was just a practice cake. I use two vanilla mixes and substitued the juice from three lemons for part of the water. I also grated the rind of the lemons and threw that in. It turned out yummy, lemony and not at all tart. Next time I might use one more lemon because I like some tartness. The bottom tier is two stacked 10" round cakes and the top is two 6" stacked cakes. One cake mix was exactly enough to make a 6" inch cake and a 10" cake so it worked out pretty well. I didn't make any fancy fillings, I just put buttercream between the layers.

I leveled the cakes, did a buttercream crumb coat, let that chill for a bit in the fridge and then did a thicker coat of the buttercream. Next I covered them in homemade marshmallow fondant.

With the leftover fondant, I punch out some tiny flowers and stuck them on the cake randomly with a bit of water.

The roses were all done in advance. My sister came over and we sat around making roses all day since she was making the same cake except that her flowers were yellow. It took about 8.5 hours for me to finish all of my roses. There are 20 large roses, 11 medium roses, and 8 little rosebuds and 40 leaves. I ended up having 5 roses left that I didn't use though. The Wilton method of making fondant roses is just to make a small cone of fondant, stick it on a tooth pick and then use a 5-petal flower cutter to cut out three flowers which you then stab through the toothpick and wrap the petals around the center cone. There are some great tutorials on youtube that can show you how to do this.

Next came the hard part: transporting the cake to class. I put the 10" cake on a 12" cakeboard that I made from cardboard and aluminum foil, and the the 6" cake on a 6"cakeboard (since it sits on a plastic tray when the cake is done) and held them on a large board in my lap, trying not to let them slide around when we went over a bump.

In retrospect, I probably didn't need to actually go to the class because I knew how to assemble the rest of the cake on my own and it was even tougher to get it home, but I guess it's good that I went because I got to see everyone else's cakes and pick up my certificate.

In class, the first thing I did was pipe the border along the bottom of both tiers. You start with a #18 shell border, followed by a #86 ruffle and then a #16 shell border along the top of the ruffle. Then I stacked the tiers using pillars that push straight through the bottom tier so that they can support the weight of the top tier (the parts came in the course kit).

The next step was to attach the roses. I found this to be the toughest part. I basically just set the roses on the cake and rearranged them until I found an arrangement that I was happy with before I actually started attaching them. The ones on top of the cake are attached with buttercream while the ones along the sides are attached with toothpicks since the buttercream isn't strong enough to hold them. I stuck the leaves in along the sides and in between the roses to fill any gaps. The very last step was to pipe little dots in the center of the little white flowers using a #3 tip.

Here is a picture of the top of the cake so you can see a little bit more detail. Overall, I'm happy with my cake, but if I was doing it again, there are some things I would do differently.

  • I would stack three cakes for each tier instead of 2
  • I would made a separate batch of white icing using shortening instead of butter for the ruffle border so that it matched better.
  • I would try to get the petals on the roses thinner.
After flipping through the book for Course 4, I've decided that there isn't enough new information there to make it worth taking course. I bought the course kit (50% off with a coupon) and I will pick up the book as well and work through the exercises, but since there are no pretty final cakes to be made in that class, I'm not going to bother.

All in all, I definitely recommend the Wilton courses at Michaels. I learned so much by making the cakes that I did and it's renewed my interest in decorative work with different forms of sugar. And for under $30 per course, you can't really beat the price.

So I've got this huge cake now and no event to take it to. I think BF is going to end up taking it to work. Hopefully they enjoy it! I also have a whole lot of fondant left over so I think I may use it in some cupcakes this weekend. We'll see!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wilton Course 3 - My first fondant covered cake!

Some of you might remember that my sister and I were taking Wilton cake decorating courses at Michael's late last year. Well, one month off of classes turned into several, but this month we finally got it together and went back for course 3. This class covers fondant covered cakes, fondant roses, some new types of royal icing flowers (morning glories, poinsettias, Easter lilies and petunias) and constructing 2-tiered cakes.

So far it's been a blast! Last night we made fondant covered cakes. This was my first time covering a cake with fondant. The closest thing I had ever done previously was to cover some fruit cakes with marzipan at Christmas. Of course with marzipan, the buttercream goes on top, so it hides any spots where you might have messed up a bit. With fondant, the buttercream goes underneath, so it's important for the fondant to be smooth and beautiful. I think for my first try, my cake turned out great! Here it is:

The cake itself is a 2-layer 9" square. I usually just use a cake mix for class. This time I used a devil's food mix and added 1/2 cup of Nutella to the batter. Next time I think I would add closer to a cup since it didn't come out as nutty as I would have liked. Next I put a mixture of 50/50 vanilla buttercream and Nutella in between the layers and frosted the cake with the rest of the vanilla buttercream.

The truth is that I don't much care for Wilton brand prepackaged fondant, and in my experience most people don't, so I decided to give homemade marshmallow fondant a try. I used a recipe that seems to be floating all over the internet, so I'm not sure who to credit it to. Here it is:

Recipe: Marshmallow Fondant

16 oz (454 gram) bag plain small marshmallows
2 Tbsp water
shortening, for greasing bowls
1-2 tsp flavoring
2 lb confectioner’s sugar minus 1 cup
pinch of salt

Grease a microwave safe bowl, a spoon, the dough hook, and the bowl of your stand mixer with shortening.

Place the marshmallows and water in the greased microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 60 seconds. Stir with the greased spoon. If all the marshmallows have not melted, microwave for 30 seconds more. Stir in flavoring and water.

Place confectioner’s sugar and salt in the stand mixer bowl, and make a well in the center. Pour in the marshmallow mix and turn the mixer on to the lowest setting. When it sounds strained, increase the mixer speed up one setting. Turn off the mixer once all sugar has been incorporated. If the fondant is sticky, add the reserved confectioner’s sugar 1/4 cup at a time.

Turn fondant out onto plastic wrap. Rub a bit of shortening on the outside of the ball. Wrap in plastic wrap, place in a ziploc bag, and let rest for at least 2-3 hours. Keep unused portions covered when not using. If the fondant becomes stiff, place in microwave for 20 seconds at a time until pliable.

Roll out on a greased mat/fondant circle to the desired thickness.

Verdict: This stuff is delicious. Much better than Wilton in terms of flavour. I did find it quite a bit tougher to roll out however, and had a hard time getting it as thin as I would have liked. It was definitely worth the effort though, given how much better it tastes.

Once the cake was covered, the rest was a breeze. I just cut out two pink ribbons (1 1/2" wide) and then the pieces for the bow (we had templates for that ). The flowers were punched out of white fondant with a cutter and I rolled the little pink centers by hand before finding out that you can just use your #12 tip as a cutter for these. All of the decorations were 'glued' together using some clear vanilla and a paintbrush. The bottom border is piped buttercream using a #5 tip.
I didn't think I would enjoy eating a fondant covered cake, but I actually really like the marshmallow fondant, and there's enough buttercream going on under there that the cake is still nice and moist. Making this cake has completely changed my mind about fondant, I can't wait to make more of these!

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