Monday, February 27, 2012

Peter's Wonderful Spanikopita and Tyropita

It's always fascinating to me how things happen in spurts. Do you ever notice that you can be driving along and all of a sudden traffic slows to a grinding halt and seems to crawl for what feels like forever and then all of a sudden it's clear again? I don't get how that works. A friend once told me it's a mathematical wave. Alrighty then, all clarified. The other thing that I often notice is that you can have a couple of weeks of nothing really going on and then it seems that you're double booked every day and don't know what to do first.

Actor Boy's birthday was on the horizon. He was also performing the same day and Psychgrad was coming in from Ottawa. In addition, we had the whole family coming to celebrate AB's birthday. I truly didn't have the time to start messing around in the kitchen and decided that I was going to turn to fellow blogger friend Peter from Kalofagas. I've followed Peter's blog for years and have a lot of respect for his connection to his heritage and cuisine. I've replicated some of his recipes and haven't been disappointed once. When Peter announced that he would be selling phyllo pies I knew that, if I served something from Peter's kitchen, there would be absolutely no disappointments. Besides, I feel very strongly about helping out fellow bloggers. How many people do you know who are still stretching their own phyllo? Seriously!!!

I ordered a large spanikopita:

and a small tyropita:

served with a quick cole slaw:

and a quinoa and edamame salad:

When I picked up the pies, I have to admit, I was pretty stoked. They looked amazing and were scored for cutting and ready for the oven complete with very clear instructions. I even got carry out service to the car :).

My family is always pretty openly opinionated about the food that's served. Buying these pies from Peter was probably one of the smarter things I've done in a while. Everyone not only loved them but continue to rave about how great they were. Everyone took home leftovers which, for me, is a very huge thumbs up sign. I'd order again and again!!! If you're in the Toronto area, get in touch with Peter. He's adding things to his roster as I'm writing this post. The refreshing component to all of this is that Peter genuinely cares about the food he creates and has a fabulous sense of customer service and satisfaction. I even received a follow up email to make sure I was totally satisfied. My rating on the pies would definitely be a 5 out of 5!!!!


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie

Please tell me if I'm being petty. Maybe all of this food blogging has skewed my view of reality.

Here's the situation:

Friends invited us over for dinner this past weekend.  Well, initially they invited us over a month ago and then cancelled.  Then they rescheduled about 2 weeks ago.  We've had dinner parties with this couple before and it has always been enjoyable. In the past, we've had meals like BBQ steak, thai chicken pasta, skirt steak, BBQ chicken, etc. at each other's homes. So, not gourmet, but made from scratch meals that require some effort from the host.

When I received the invitation, I offered to bring something. In the end, we decided that I would bring dessert. I set out scouring recipes on the internet. I even asked for feedback on options I was considering on Twitter. I spent the majority of my Saturday getting the groceries and making this recipe that I found on Slow Like Honey.

(story to be continued after recipe...)

Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie
Adapted from: Food and Wine, November 2011
Servings: 10-12 servings

1 1/2 cups fine graham cracker crumbs (about 7 ounces)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 large egg yolks
2 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 medium bananas, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Chocolate shavings, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a food processor, combine the graham cracker crumbs with the sugar, cinnamon, salt and melted butter and pulse until the crumbs are moistened. Press the crumbs evenly into a 9- to 10-inch, deep-dish glass or ceramic pie plate. Bake for about 8 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned and set. Let cool completely.

In a large saucepan (preferably with a rounded bottom), combine the granulated sugar with the cornstarch, egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the milk and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the remaining 2 cups of milk and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until the custard is very thick, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla extract until the butter is melted. Pour half of the vanilla custard into a medium bowl.

Whisk the chopped chocolate into the custard in the saucepan until it is melted.

Spread the chocolate custard evenly in the pie crust and top with the sliced bananas.

Carefully spread the vanilla custard over the bananas.

Refrigerate the banana cream pie until it is well chilled, at least 6 hours and preferably overnight.

In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the heavy cream with the confectioners’ sugar until it is softly whipped. Mound the whipped cream on top of the pie. Garnish the banana cream pie with chocolate shavings and serve.

Make Ahead The banana cream pie can be prepared through Step 3 and refrigerated for up to 3 days. The crust can be frozen for up to 2 weeks.

Verdict: I was really pleased with how the pie turned out. For the second time, my concern about having a crust that falls apart has led me to press the pie crust together quite tightly. As a result, the crust was more difficult to break apart than I would like. The custard was very good. The recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate. I could only find semi-sweet. Apparently semi-sweet chocolate generally has more sugar in it than bitter-sweet. Personally, even with the semi-sweet chocolate, I found that there was a slight bitterness to the chocolate. But, I should mention that I do not like strong chocolate flavours. I'd take milk chocolate over dark chocolate any day.

Now, back to the story...

We sat down for dinner and were served fries, heated up from a frozen package and meatballs, also store bought and heated up from a frozen state.

I don't get it! Why invite people over for dinner if you don't want to make dinner? Now I'm worrying that something is wrong.  How would you feel if you were invited over for pre-made processed frozen food?


Monday, February 20, 2012

Red Velvet Lentil Cupcakes

Today's post is special. Not just because it documents making these delicious cupcakes:

This post is special because it's a collaboration post, written by me and my friend, "Ron". Ron and I have been taking on "kitchen projects" ever since we discovered that we can bake/cook together and keep our friendship in tact. It all started with an explosion of cookies, then we moved on to preserving peach jam, apple pie filling, apple sauce and tomato sauce.

Our collaborations work well. When one person is fading, the other takes the lead and when one person is veering too far from the recipe (*Ron*), the other reminds him that we don't want to ruin everything.

So....without further ado....HERE'S RON!


I’ve always been a fan of the lentil. As a university student living on next to nothing, I have fond memories of boiling water with lentils on a hot plate and adding a dash of curry powder – both quick and delicious! When Psychgrad mentioned that was holding a contest for the best lentil recipe, I screamed a little. Not out of fear, but out of excitement because I always love an adventure in the kitchen.  

At the end of the post, we explain how the contest works and how you can
 help us win (or at least have a decent showing).  

Canadian lentils are itty-bitty nutrition powerhouses. One cup of lentils contains 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fibre. What’s more, lentils are jam packed with vitamins and minerals including iron and manganese. Lentils are inexpensive and easy to prepare as they don’t require soaking like beans, and can be cooked in about 20 minutes.

In deciding on a recipe to submit we threw around a number of ideas like a curry (too cliché), a salad (too easy) or soup (too fussy). I thought back to when Psychgrad and I had cupcakes at Flour Shoppe and it came to me – why don’t we make lentil cupcakes?!

We quickly decided to make red velvet lentil cupcakes.  But, we figured that since we were including a health-conscious ingredient like lentils, we had to find a natural alternative to red food colouring.  After doing some research, we found that red beets would be perfect for this.  If stored properly, beets can keep for a long time, making them perfect for winter baking experiments!

We started off with two approaches. In the first, we take a gluten free spin by replacing white flour with finely ground dry lentils or lentil flour.

In the second, we add cooked red lentils to the cake batter as a way to increase the nutritional value of the sweet treat.

Recipe #1 Gluten Free Red Velvet Lentil Cupcake 

1 large red beet (3/4 cup of puree)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 package (~120 g) of cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 cups of white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp of vanilla
1 cups lentil flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp cocoa powder

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Bake beets for about 40 minutes (until soft).  While beets are cooking, prepare your lentil flour by pulverizing them in a higher power blender like a vitamix or blendtec.

Note: Preparing the beets ahead of time would speed things up.

2. Once beets have cooled, peel beats and cut into large chunks.  Place into food processor and blend until smooth.

3. Cream together butter and cream cheese.  Add sugar and blend until smooth.  Add eggs and vanilla and blend together.

4.  In a separate bowl, blend together flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa.  

5.  Slowly incorporate dry ingredients into wet ingredients.

6.  Fold pureed beets into mixture.

7, Fill cupcake cups about 2/3 full.  Bake for 20 minutes.

Note: makes about 12 cupcakes. 

Verdict: The result is similar in texture to a corn meal muffin, but tastes surprisingly good!  The next recipe, which uses all-purpose flour instead of lentil flour, tends to come out less dense and redder in colour.  The red lentil flour has an orange tint to it, which is visible inside the cupcake, whereas the white all-purpose flour results in a more brilliant and consistent red throughout.

Recipe #2: Red Velvet Lentil Cupcake

This version of the recipe is practically the same as the first, but uses all-purpose flour instead of lentil flour.  As well, 1/2 cup of cooked lentils (pureed) are added just before folding in the pureed beets.

To ice the cupcakes, we used a simple butter cream recipe like the one described here. Our icing technique followed that used by Babycakes in New York City, as shown in this video with David Lebovitz and Erin McKenna. Psychgrad had some trouble with the “dip, dip, swirl”, but I thought it was a breeze ;-).

The final product was really delicious.  We loved that the lentils offered a great, gluten free option.  The leftovers all went over to a friend's for a Hockey Day in Canada party and were well-received by everyone there.

Now...for the contest part of this.  We need your help!  There are two ways you can help:

#1  Points in this contest are awarded based on the number of "likes" a submission gets on Facebook.  Please click on Lentil Canada's Facebook page, scroll down to our submission and click on "like".

#2  Comment on this post.  We always love your comments.  But, for this post, we really need your comments because points are allotted based on the number of comments we receive on the post.  


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Oatmeal Cookies and the TFX Non Stick

I have for years been in love with my silpat I've used it for baking many times over and thanked France for this invention I can't even tell you how many times. Well, move over Silpat, there's a new kid in town - it's called the TFX Non-Stick.

I got very interested in the TFX Non Stick a short while ago when I visited a fellow Torontonian blog Torview Toronto . I hadn't seen this product in Canada and really needed to learn more. The distributor - Engstrom Trading out of Houston, TX was so generous to let me try out the product.

Like the Silpat, it can be reused over and over again and will withstand oven temperatures of up to 500 F. The TFX is light weight (love that feature), very pliable and can be cut to fit your pan size or can be used as is. I seriously love that feature. Big check mark for me over the Silpat. The other feature I really like is how easy it is to store - folds, rolls and tucks away really easily without taking up space. I think the clincher is price - you can buy 3 TFX sheets to one Silpat and have similar end results.

We're in California on vacation until April so I made a point of bringing the TFX with me. Cookies were on everyone's wish list so we took out the Quaker Oats cylinder and started playing around with their recipe for Oatmeal Raisin cookies (the one under the lid of the cylinder top). We added a little here, took a little away and before we knew it we had a delicious cookie, sugar reduced with a texture of a granola bar.

3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur white whole wheat)
1 tsp baking soda;
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups Quaker Oats (either quick or old fashioned)
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1. Heat oven to 350 F. In large bowl, beat butter and sugars with beater until creamy.
2. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well.
3. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, mixing well.
4. Add oats, raisins, dates and walnuts; mix well.
5. Form into cookies either by dropping from a tablespoon or forming by hand.

6. Bake 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly on sheet and remove to wire rack to cool completely.

No. 1 - Cookies were brilliant - not sweet, great texture, exactly the type of cookies I love.
No. 2 - Cleanup with the TFX is a breeze - quick wipe, good to go - can it get any easier?

It's not often that I'll endorse a product with such passion - this one is a winner. It's so light weight that ordering it online is a no brainer and worth it!!! Psychgrad, you may like this one but trust me, you're not getting your hands on mine - order your own :).


Monday, February 13, 2012

Eating Out in San Francisco

My favourite trips are ones where we have access to kitchen facilities.  That's a big part of the reason why we often opt to stay in hostels.  

There's part of me that feels that, as a food blogger (and someone that enjoys food, in general), I should be exploring as many restaurants as possible while travelling.  But, the truth is that I generally prefer cooking my own food.  Without fail, my most memorable meals are ones that use simple, fresh ingredients.

Case in point.  Let me start with my favourite meal while travelling in San Francisco.

This meal was actually from a small cafe in Sausalito.  We took a day trip to Muir Woods, to see some massive Redwoods.  On the way back, we had about an hour in Sausalito to explore.  We didn't know where to go to eat, but took our chances on the Sausalito Bakery & Cafe.

Fresh fruit, fresh Greek salad and a blueberry bread pudding that is to die for!  I think I need to add bread pudding to my list of recipes to try.   

This is the stuff that long-lasting cravings are made of.

Sausalito Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

I also really enjoyed San Francisco Fish Company's fish and chips at the Ferry Building.  Maybe I'm easily impressed, but I've never been served take out fish and chips with both tartar and fish sauce.  Not to mention that the fish was really fresh.  I'll vote this meal as my 2nd favourite.     

Continuing on, my third favourite meal came from The Grove on Mission Street.  We went for an early breakfast and both liked our food and the energy in the tree-filled space.

The Grove Yerba Buena on Urbanspoon

I enjoyed my meal at the Sears Fine Food, a San Francisco institution.  It was about as enjoyable as the meal at the Grove.  But, a bill for breakfast that was somewhere in the neighbourhood of $45.00 somehow affects the taste left my mouth.

I don't think they're hurting for customers, though.  This is the lineup out the door as we were leaving the restaurant:

I had the french toast, which was pretty standard.  I wish it included more strawberries on the side.  I think I had 2-3 little bits of strawberry/slice.  

I thought it was pretty funny that when I asked about the extra cost for syrup, the waitress explained that that's just for maple syrup.  She explained that syrup comes with the french toast and that it tastes totally fine and that it's not necessary to get the maple syrup, unless your from Canada.  I didn't know we were so particular about our syrup.     

R got Sears' World Famous 18 Swedish pancakes.    

I was a bit worried that these pancakes might, each, end up being the size of the plate.  But, the proportions turned out to be reasonable, given the number. 

Sears Fine Foods on Urbanspoon

Boudin is a prominent fixture in Fisherman's Wharf.  They have quite the operation going there.  Between a takeaway counter, specialty food shop area, bakery and full service restaurant, it's the kind of place you have to visit at least once.

They're known for their sourdough bread.  I thought it was quite cool to watch the baskets of bread travel around the store.

You can also spend some time watching the bakers making various shaped bread creations.

We also went for dinner at Bistro Boudin, a full service restaurant.  The service was very good, but the meal was mixed.  I order Angel Hair Pasta with Grilled Shrimp.  The menu indicated that it included vine-ripened tomato arrabiatta and garlic.  I liked the tomato sauce.  But it lacked the spiciness you would expect of an arrabiatta sauce.  I also wasn't keen on the spice on the shrimp.  It tasted like a cajun seasoning, which didn't really work with a simple tomato sauce.  After donating my shrimp to R and adding chilli peppers to the tomato sauce, I was content.

R ordered the Sourdough Gnocchi Al Pesto with Lobster.  I didn't really see the appeal in what appears to be a fried chive topping.  R enjoyed his meal, but was quite happy to be given half of my meal because he was still hungry after finishing his.

Bistro Boudin on Urbanspoon

Near the end of our trip, we were getting tired.  It was raining for two days straight and I really didn't want to figure out three meals a day anymore.  We decided to just go out and find a place to eat, which was a mistake because we ended up getting soaked while walking to the Ferry Building.  We ended up going to Gott's Roadside

I got a grilled cheese sandwich, which is something I've never ordered at a restaurant before.  R is an expert grilled-cheese sandwich maker, so I haven't felt the need to order it elsewhere.  In general, the food was okay.  But, combined with being tired and wet, I just wanted to get back to the hotel, take a warm shower and go to bed.

Gott's Roadside on Urbanspoon

I had the highest hopes for what turned out to be my least favourite restaurant experience.  Our friends raved about Fang Restaurant before we left for San Francisco.  So, we were eager to the try the place.  We made a reservation for 7:15 and showed up at that time.  We waited for 40 minutes for a table to become available.  I felt like I was in combination of Seinfeld episodes.  What is the point of taking reservations if you can't keep the reservation?

We also knew to expect the owner to come by and inquire about whether we had been at the restaurant before.  Since we hadn't, we knew there was a good chance that the owner would just say "ok, I'll take care of you."  I was pretty leery about this because I had a couple of dishes in mind, but Mr. Fang was gone before I could say anything.

The first dish, which was a pork sandwich, was decent.  But, not something I would have ordered.

The other dishes, a crunchy rice, creamy lobster soup and white fish were dishes that I would never order and didn't enjoy.  But, I guess what annoyed me more than anything is that I had to ask for a glass of water 5 times before someone actually brought one.  The last request was more of a minor freak out where I basically said, "what does a person need to do to get water in here?"  I know, not the best version of me...but I was hungry, disappointed with the food, still adjusting to a time difference (and hence eating at what seemed like 11:30pm) and very thirsty.

I would not go back to this restaurant.

Fang on Urbanspoon

Aside from eating out, we generally picked up food at grocery stores.  We quickly learned that having store membership cards can make a big difference in the price of the products.  This led to kind of an awkward, "we are the worst liars ever" situation.

Basically, we overheard a customer telling other tourists was his Safeway card number was.  When we went to check out, we said we have a membership, but didn't have our card.  So, the cashier said, "just enter your phone number into the typepad."

WHAT?  A phone number?  This was not part of our deception plan.  We explained that we just want to give our Safeway number.  She repeated that we should just enter our phone number.  I'm thinking "LOOK --- I don't know this guy's phone number, I just know his Safeway number."  She could tell we were utterly confused, so she explained that our phone number IS our Safeway number.

Oh...yes...of course.  What was I thinking.

The best part is when the cashier starting calling R this other guy's name: Thor.

Stay tuned for another San Francisco post sharing some of the sites we visited.

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