Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Carrot Cake - A Lighter Version


A long time favourite, carrot cake is the heavy weight of all cakes. I always wanted to stick to the recipe and always felt like I was just ingesting way too much oil in one recipe for my personal taste. After thinking about how to change it up, I decided to cut back on the 1 1/2 cups of oil to 1/2 cup and add in 1/2 cup of applesauce, cut back on the sugar as well as using light cream cheese. Honestly, you wouldn't know the difference.

I took this cake to a party and the praises were all 5 Star with at least 2 people saying it was the very best carrot cake they'd ever tasted. The moral of the story is that you don't have to deny yourself a dessert when you really think about the ingredients.



Ingredients

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
4 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups finely grated carrots (about 3-4 medium sized)
1 cup raisins
1 8 oz can crushed pineapple (well drained)
1 cup shredded coconut (either sweetened or unsweetened)
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (divided)

Method:

Oven at 325 F. Bake for 40-50 minutes.
Lightly grease 3 - 9x1 1/2" round baking pans, add a round of parchment or wax paper on the bottom of each pan and lightly grease the paper (trust me this is a critical part of the recipe)

1. Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl; stir to blend
2. Add eggs, oil, applesauce, shredded carrots and vanilla and beat until well blended.
3. Stir in pineapple, coconuts, raisins and 1/2 cup of nuts. Divide evenly into 3 - 9x1 1/2 inch round baking pans.
4. Cool on baking rack for 5 minutes and then unmold to continue cooling.
5. Frost cake with cream cheese icing and top with remaining nuts. (I put frosting in between each layer quite lightly and then spread the balance over the top and around the cake)

For the Frosting:

3/4 lb. light cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 lb unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 cups sifted icing sugar

1. Mix cream cheese and butter until very smooth
2. Add vanilla extract
3. Add in icing sugar and mix to a smooth consistency (3-5 minutes) StumbleUpon

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Local Festivities


I interrupt my Wedding Story blogging to update you on my growing collection of summer photos/experiences.

Aside from some overly humid weather that is fairly common in these parts, I love what summer has to offer. Markets are in full swing, the streets are alive, festival galore -- what's not to like?

Some of these pictures date back over month or so now, which is terrible...But wedding activities trumped everything.

Tulip Festival is always a big draw. This festival began as a result of the Dutch royal family sending 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa in gratitude for Canadians having sheltered Princess Juliana and her daughters for three years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, in the Second World War. At the beginning of May, the parks are filled with thousands of beautiful tulips, with lots of family activities.









It used to be that the Tulip Festival held daily concerts in Major's Hill Park. But, with the unpredictability of weather at the beginning of May, attendance was low and the festival was closed to bankruptcy. In 2007, the festival was reorganised under new leadership. The festival was redesigned to focus on promoting international friendship, the original symbolic role of the gift of tulips.


Along this theme, the International Pavillion features "stations" where about 20 countries are represented. There you can buy (mainly) overpriced goods and food.

I chose a Turkish dish (forgot the name) -- it was a pita-type dough with a spinach and cheese interior.







My attitude about the pavilion is that it's a nice thing to do, but the quality of food is poor and the prices are high.

But, now that the pavilion is housed at Lansdowne Park, you can combine a day at the Tulip Festival with a day at the Farmer's Market (if you go on a Sunday). That's exactly what I did.

The Farmer's Market guarantees that any products sold there are locally made/grown. In early May, there wasn't a lot of produce to buy, but they did have a little petting zoo and canned food.


There's something I love about taking pictures of goats. They have so much personality, I always want to personify them and imagine what they're thinking (aside from "does this hand have food for me to eat?")

This guy is thinking, "Clearly, I should not be in this pen with the rest of these heathens" (said in the Queen's English).

For a while now, I've been meaning to highlight a local baker/food blogger who has a stand at the market.

Plum Cake brings a mix of seasonal, local products to the market. She offers a variety of tarts, cakes, pastries, and macarons.

Here's a pictures from my trip in May.


I went again today hoping to get some macarons. But learned that they're big sellers. So, I'll have to show up earlier next time. Instead I picked up a Strawberry Tartlette with pink peppercorn meringue (the meringue wasn't photo-worthy after carting it home - definitely stomach-worthy though) and a Rhubarb flan with graham streusel (the white parts are from the other tartlette's meringue)


I really liked the graham streusel. But, my mission for macarons continues.

Over the past five days, one of the big local events has been Ribfest. Ribfest is the closest we have to a Southern USA-style cookoff. Although it doesn't come near to the bbq culture depicted in the south, it's a hugely popular event in Ottawa. For 5 days, Sparks Street is inundated with 11 bbq rib stands.

Here's the signage for some of them:




I find some of the behind the scenes details fascinating...Like this post, written by one of the judges of the competition.

The rib are primarily cooked in a smoker and then moved to the grill for a slathering of bbq sauce just before being sold.




Any guesses for what these guys make in a day? According to the link, above, a smoker holds 162 racks of ribs (this will vary from vendor to vendor) and a vendor fills it up 6 times/day. If all they sold were full racks of ribs, they would make around $20 000 each a day. But, they sell a variety of other items, chicken, pulled pork, half slabs, etc. Quite the money maker.

The first day we went, each person ordered a half slab and we shared each other's to find the best one (of the four). For the most part, they tasted fairly similarly with some variation in the sauce and juiciness.


We also returned yesterday because R wanted to get a pulled pork salad. Not my cup of tea...But, great for meatlovers.


StumbleUpon

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Wedding Story: Part 2


Ahhh! The guests are coming! The guests are coming! Wednesday marked the completion of the cookies (thank goodness!), some more baking and preparation of the baskets. I had been collecting items for a while.


The baskets included:

- baskets from Canadian tire
- gum
- city maps
- bottled water
- kleenex
- fruit (bananas, apples and oranges)
- the lovely bride and groom cookies
- Oatmeal on the Go bars

I also added some more personalized items, depending on the needs/likes of the guests (e.g., nut free chocolate, wine for drinkers, pop for my dad, etc.).


At the last minute, Giz and I decided to add another baked-good and because I had a bunch of frozen bananas, we went with mini banana loaves. The recipe comes from Flour Bakery in Chicago.

Mini Banana Loaf
source

Ingredients

* 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
* 2 eggs
* 1/2 cup oil
* 3 1/2 bananas, very ripe, mashed
* 2 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 2/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped (I excluded this)

Directions

Set oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a loaf pan with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Beat sugar and eggs with a whisk until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Drizzle in oil. Add mashed bananas, creme fraiche, and vanilla. Fold in dry ingredients and nuts. Pour into a lined loaf pan and bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. One recipe makes about 12 loaves.



Overall, the baskets worked over very well. The guests really liked them and I didn't regret the effort (despite the fuss R made about being anti-basket). The only problem was that the basket delivered to my uncle and Baba didn't make it to their room. While visiting their suite, I suggested that they use the map that I put in their basket and my uncle said, "what basket?"

Huh? What basket? The one that was delivered to your room.

Nope - no basket.

Went to the front desk to figure out what the heck happened. Turns out - they put a basket in the room ahead of time and ended up switching the room that my uncle and Baba were put in. They then checked someone else into the original room (where the basket was located) and the basket was never seen again. It's not like it was a random-looking basket -- it has the card attached with a welcome note from me and R saying how glad we were to have them in town to celebrate with us.

Seriously - who goes through a basket in a hotel room that clearly isn't for them? But really, it's the hotel's fault. To compensate, we're apparently getting a free night in the hotel. Quite disappointing too because this basket was one that had a number of unique items because this uncle is a health nut and Baba is fussy.


I'll leave you with this video of poor R. I can't remember what he was zesting lemons for, but he was already tired of baking/cooking and doing dishes. If he only knew what the rest of the week would bring...

StumbleUpon

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wedding Story: Part 1


Preamble: I know Giz already posted about some of this... but consider that the unauthorized (read: Giz has no patience) version.
*********************************************************
I'm married! Wedding celebrations were a bit intense -- so I'm taking some time to recuperate. I'll take a couple of posts to tell you about everything. When the professional pictures are available, I'll show some to you as well. I actually took some with the blog in mind. :) Hopefully they'll turn out.

The weekend was jammed packed -- Saturday was my convocation and R's was on Sunday. So, we're now officially Dr. and Mr.. So far the answer the question everyone likes to ask is...No, I don't feel any different. So far, being married and living together doesn't feel any different from "living in sin".

The "week" started off with Giz coming to stay with us for 5 nights (but who's counting?). The rest of the time, she stayed in a hotel. Among the three of us (me, R and Giz), we have an expression: "a week is never enough". Say it like an old Jewish mother. The new expression is "10 days is more than enough".

Upon her arrival, Giz went steadily to work on her cookies. You'll remember them from this post here . We put our heads together and came up with a cute design. Giz probably spent 25 hours working on these cookies (for more details, see an upcoming post by R where he will recommend a food intervention).






These suckers consumed my entire apartment, including the daybed Giz slept on. Of the approximately 220 cookies that were made, we have 5 left.

I took in about 45 to work thinking that I would bring most of them home. I must have underestimated the power of "word of cookie".

The week prior, I got a call from R's boss asking me to be in on a surprise potluck they were throwing on his last day at work. I wasn't sure if I would be able to make it across town during my lunch break, but managed to sneak away for a bit. R was so shocked, it took him a few seconds to even figure out who I was - it was so out of context for me to be in his office.



R is a bit of a prankster in the sense that he likes to play on people's gullabilities* (is that even a word?). His boss was so thrilled to pull this surprise off, she was in tears.



With a week off of work and about 25 family members soon being added to the mix, my stress level started to rise on the Wednesday....

* R has managed to, on various occasions, convince Giz that we are going to live as human shields in Afghanistan (no disrespect intended). He also managed to convince Giz that customer service at our grocery store informed him that icing sugar sales have gone up 600% since she came to town. StumbleUpon

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Stuffed Salsa Pork Tenderloin


For frequent followers of Equal Opportunity Kitchen, you may remember me talking about being a BzzAgent. BzzAgents are voluntary word of mouth marketers who test a product, write a review and share the news. If it's not ringing a bell, make sure to check them out here . As agents you are introduced to several "campaigns" and have the opportunity to chose as they come available. A recent campaign from Canadian Pork Producers interested me. I've never been particularly shy about sharing that I've always had a fear of pork. I just really had no idea how to cook it since it's never been a meat source familiar in my diet. This campaign has made a huge difference to both my ability to cook pork and also my interest in wanting to try different cuts.



The label indicates that the store bought cut of meat is Canadian raised. Perfect! It's important to support our local farmers.

Off I went certain that finding Canadian raised pork would be no problem to find in any of Toronto’s major supermarket chains. I must say I was shocked and rather dismayed when I went into a Loblaws Superstore and found not a single indicator of any of the meat products being Canadian. It must be some mistake I thought so I went to the meat counter and asked the clerk where the Canadian raised beef and pork was. She looked at me with bleary eyes and continued to tell me that Loblaws was a Canadian grocery chain. Pretty sly I thought so I went back at her and said where are labels on the Canadian pork? Her response : “We don’t carry that kind of pork, just what’s in the cooler”. Still not satisfied I asked, “so does that mean that your meat products are NOT Canadian? Her response – “just what’s on the shelf ma’am”. By this time I was getting annoyed – firstly for being called ma’am – what the heck does that mean? More importantly, a chain the size of Loblaws that has flags throughout the store touting “1000 Canadian Flavours” is rather misleading when it seems that their products aren’t Canadian. So I said “thank you ma’am (I had to do it) and left the store. It’s all about Canadian pork so I felt I really had to be true to the program.

My message to Canadian Pork producers – lean more heavily on Loblaws. For those of us who care about supporting our local economy, Loblaws can only lose by not supporting local farmers. Being the big mouth that I am, I’ve made a point of sharing this information with several of my friends who were also rather surprised. We’re all rethinking where we actually do our grocery shopping.

Look for the sticker!!!
Tell everyone to look for the Canadian pork sticker when at the store. If they don't see a sticker, they can ask the meat manager where the pork is from. After all, that will help your friends find the Canadian pork they're looking for!

Salsa Stuffed Pork Tenderloin



Ingredients

1 Pork Tenderloin 12-16 oz
1 Heaping Tablespoon garlic (minced)
1 Heaping Tablespoon dried (or fresh) parsley
1/3 - 1/2 cup medium salsa
Pepper to taste

Method:

1. Remove silverskin from tenderloin

2. Cut pork lengthwise to open it like a book (not all the way through)
3. Mix together garlic, parsley, salsa and pepper.


Fill tenderloin (moderately)

4. Fold over the tenderloin and hold together with toothpicks. Tip: Put the toothpicks in on the long side and not up and down otherwise you'll have some challenges on the grill.
5. Place on medium high grill and turn just until there's a slight bit of pink on the inside.


6. Transfer to a plate and tent with tin foil for approximately 5 minutes.
7. Remove toothpicks and slice at an angle.


All pork cuts (with the exception of ribs) qualify as "lean" or "extra lean" and fit well into a healthy eating plan. Check out the information and recipes available at Pork Fits . StumbleUpon

Sunday, June 21, 2009

We're Baaaack!!!


We've had 2 graduations and a wedding.... all over one weekend ... and boy, are we tired. Psychgrad and "R" are now Mr and Mrs (how wierd that sounds for me - I still see a little girl picking cucumbers out of grampa's garden). Don't worry Psychgrad - I won't get cheesy on you (any more). We're still putting pictures together and I'll let Psychgrad decide on which ones make the grade.

Psychgrad, R and I spent small quarters together from June 6th - June 16th. Every discussion turned into a debate that we threaten to tell the blogging world about. I can't even count how many visits there were to grocery stores and how many dishes got washed.

R is preparing to write an, "Equal Opportunity Kitchen Exposed" post about our insanity.

For today, we'll leave you with only a few of the pictures that were part of the many food extraveganzas.










We're slowly getting back in the groove and more regular posts. StumbleUpon
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