Thursday, December 29, 2011

Spaghettini with Cream Sauce & Avocado Bacon Sundried Tomato Pesto Sandiwch


I think a lot. An action, a nuance, a lingering stare; a single gesture dissected in my head in the search of a hidden meaning. My mom says that my overthinking is the reason why I get headaches so often. I don't know if she's right or not, but I'll think about it.


I do my best thinking outside. The crisp, cool air helps cut through my muddled contemplations, leaving everything crystal clear. Sitting on cold bench outside the community center one afternoon last week, my mind drifted endlessly. Only once did it strike me that it was extremely cold outside and that was only after I had been sitting on the bench for a good twenty minutes. The idea that I would get sick after had not even occured to me until I woke up the next morning with a pounding headache. Oh, yes, my Christmas was wonderful.


The next couple of days were a blur of headaches, raspy voices, congestion, and coughing. A couple days later, I was feeling well enough (or at least I thought I was) to go to the mall to see a movie with friends. The headache came back with a vengeance, as did the coughing. My head throbbed in rhythm to my feet pounding the ground. Moving was a painful act in itself and focusing on anything caused a strain to my eyes. I was cold and then hot and then cold again.


The next morning, I felt a little bit better than I had the day before. My head was still throbbing lightly and I felt nauseous, but definitely an improvement. Still, I felt tired and groggy and unfocused. My mom took my temperature and declared that I had a fever. “Oh,” I said. Now that she mentioned it, a fever would totally explain the pounding headache and the cold-hot-cold spells. (Being sick obviously did away with my reasoning abilities.) She fed me a Tylenol and I retired to me room to rest.


Within the hour, I the headache had subsided and I was feeling much better. Suddenly, I was ravenous. All I wanted was some comfort food. And what’s more comforting than a big plate of rich Spaghettini with Cream Sauce made with heavy cream and parmesan? Or a hearty Avocado Bacon Sundried Tomato Pesto Sandwich? Nothing, except maybe a warm bowl of classic chicken noodle soup.
 

Orange Vanilla Cake with Chocolate Italian Meringue Frosting

You’d think that the last two weeks of school before the winter break would be the most relaxing, but you’d be wrong. Over the last couple of weeks before the holidays, I’ve had more tests, quizzes, assignments, and essays due than I can count. Now that the holidays are finally, finally here, I actually have time to sit back and catch my breath. Although it seems as though the school year is passing by in a blink of an eye, I feel like I’m losing momentum. With each passing school day, it became increasingly difficult to drag my exhausted body out of bed.


Alas, bliss has arrived in the form of two uninterrupted weeks of vacation. How I wish it were a month. Two weeks definitely isn’t enough time for me to catch up on all my missed sleep, reading, and baking or to recharge emotionally. Towering stacks of books have piled up on my desk, threatening to tip over.  In many a hurried fit, various cakes, choux pastry shells, pie crusts and other miscellaneous goods have been stowed away in my freezer.


On Christmas Eve, I went out to all-you-can-eat sushi with friends and then went home and indulged myself with a couple good novels. All in all, a most relaxing day, productive in terms of its unproductiveness. On Christmas Day, I woke up late and slipped into my favourite white and gray striped long sleeve tee, plaid pyjama pants, and cozy gray knit Ugg boots, my throat tight and my head pounding. Obviously, the hour I had spent outside in the -5 degree weather the day before (in my fashionable but thin jacket) was catching up with me. My family was hosting a holiday dinner with our relatives, so I ignored the headache and got to work on a cake.


Layers of vanilla cake were separated by a thick orange curd and frosted in a dreamy chocolate orange Italian meringue frosting. The cake was moist and rich and the curd sweet and thick, but the real focus of the cake was the frosting. Dreamy—I cannot think any other word to describe the chocolate frosting other than dreamy. The stuff is so good that you’ll find yourself licking the bowl clean.  

Click below for the recipe.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Homemade Granola

Waking up leisurely to a bowl of yogurt and granola on the last day of school is pretty much my definition of a great start to the holidays. Yogurt and granola just makes me so... happy.


So I have a thing for yogurt and granola. It started with my younger brother and his unhealthy obsession with cereal. (I swear, the reason why the kid is as skinny as a stick is because his diet consists mostly of milk and Cheerios. At least the milk is helping him grow up.)


Anyways, my mom buys a lot of cereal. At one point, we had about two dozen boxes of the same kind of cereal sitting in our pantry because it was on sale. After about the ninth box, it’s safe to say that we all got sick of corn flakes and begged our mom to never buy that much of the same kind of cereal ever again.


So now we only have about seven different types of cereal. I’ve tried quinoa puffs, wholegrain cereal made with amaranth, corn flakes, corn puffs, but not one kind of cereal seemed to make an impression on me. I’d choke down the box of cereal in anticipation for the next flavour, which usually turned out to be as disappointing as the last. Whereas my younger brother Kyle enjoys his cereal with milk, I like eating mine with yogurt, which is probably why the majority of the cereals didn’t seem to work for me. By the last spoonful, the cereal had become a tasteless paste.


But then, I tried granola. Mhmm, wholesome, natural, deliciously crunchy granola that doesn’t go soft on you like corn flakes. The things I love the most about homemade granola are that it’s super healthy and you can use whatever fruit or nuts you prefer. Over the last couple months I’ve acquired bag upon bag of healthy grains and nuts. So I made myself a huge batch of granola using all the oatmeal, oat bran, shredded coconut, dried fruit, and cashews in my baking cupboard.

Nutty, slightly sweet, and golden brown, this granola is delicious with yogurt or milk.

Happy Holidays!

Click below for the recipe.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Teppanyaki


I love teppanyaki. Not only is the food delicious, but you truly get to eat with your eyes first. On the other hand, watching the food cook in front of you is almost torturous when you’re hungry as hell. 



A couple weeks ago, we went to a teppanyaki restaurant to celebrate my best friend Jennifer’s sixteenth birthday. We had gone to the same restaurant last year and I had gone home with a Styrofoam box filled with leftovers. This year, I vowed to eat everything.


We started with a simple salad, sushi, sashimi, and tempura while we watched the teppanyaki chef sear the salmon. 


Next came the vegetables and the onion volcano.





 

The steak was perfectly cooked at medium rare and cut like butter.



As if I weren’t full enough already, there was also grilled chicken.




And mango ice cream for dessert, which I didn’t eat, in an attempt to save room in my bulging stomach for the Lemon Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake.
 

But, other than the ice cream, I managed to eat everything, down to the last grain of rice, a feat some of the boys even couldn't accomplish. 




Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lemon Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake


A couple weeks ago, my best friend Jennifer (finally) turned sixteen. It occurred to me that while she is but sixteen, I’m already looking forward to my seventeenth birthday. Seventeen. How old that sounds.


Last year, we went to a teppanyaki restaurant to celebrate Jennifer’s birthday. I love teppanyaki because it’s like dinner and a show. Soup, salad, sushi, sashimi, salmon, steak, stir-fry vegetables, chicken, dessert; how I gorged myself. Yet I couldn't finish it all.  


This year, we went back to the same teppanyaki restaurant. Obviously, the meal wouldn’t be complete unless I baked something for dessert. I had baked a cake for her in previous years, but she didn’t particularly enjoy it. As I vaguely recalled a distant conversation about sweets, I remembered Jennifer mentioning that she liked cheesecake. “Blueberry,” she said definitively when I asked her what flavour.


So I scoured the internet for blueberry cheesecake recipes. Not one satisfied my vision of a blueberry cheesecake, so I created my own version based on various recipes. I started off with a blueberry sauce, cooked until slightly thickened over the stove top and left to cool. Then I whipped up a classic graham cracker crumb crust and blind baked it.


The filling was simple: cream cheese, sugar, milk, sour cream, eggs, and a splash of vanilla and some lemon zest. Then I poured half the filling into the crust and some of the blueberry sauce over top.  I used a butter-knife to create a marbled effect and then repeated with the remaining filling and some of the blueberry sauce.


I used a 7-inch springform pan, but in retrospect, I should have used an 8-inch. The 7-inch pan was filled to the brim and threatening to spill over.

I really love the swirled look of the cheesecake, but the huge crack running down the center kind of ruined it for me. One of the recipes I adapted mine from recommended leaving the cheesecake in the oven to cool for several hours to prevent the cracking. The thing is, in my house, you never know when one of brothers decides that he’s hungry and preheats the oven to make roast potatoes. I decided to just take the cheesecake out of the oven, lest somebody accidentally preheated the oven to bake something else.  


The teppanyaki lunch was delicious, but what I was really looking forward to was the cheesecake. You know something is good when you don’t want to give it away.

Happy (belated) Sixteenth Birthday, Jennifer! You're the Woody to my Buzzy. 

Click on the recipe below.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Black Sesame Shortbread Cookies

Barbers have such a stressful job. One wrong snip, one misheard word, and the customer will be harbouring ill will every time she looks in the mirror for the next couple months. That’s a lot of negative karma going around.


In seventh grade, I experience a traumatic haircut. At just past the shoulders, my dark brown hair was neither straight nor wavy. I was attempting to grow it out in the hopes that length would convince my hair to commit to straightness. So I asked the barber for a trim, who misheard and ended up hacking off a good four inches of my hair. Tragic, yes, but at least my side-swept bangs were left intact.


Staring into the mirror that night, I vowed to grow my hair out until it was gloriously long and flouncy and straight. At twelve, I figured that it would take roughly three years to grow it out to an acceptable length. For the next four years, I went to a different barber. “Just a trim,” I’d say politely every time he asked how much hair I’d like to take off.


Three years came and went and I’m still growing my hair out. Somewhere along the lines, I had decided that I would donate my hair to charity, though I couldn't seem to bring myself to part with my mane last winter when the charity had come by our school to collect hair. I guess I figure that if I grow my hair out even longer, it won’t be quite as short when ten inches is shaved off.  

A couple weeks ago, I decided that I couldn’t deal with side bangs anymore. There were only two options: to let my bangs grow out long enough so that I could tuck them behind my ear or to just hack them off. I chose the latter; I’m somewhat impatient and immediate gratification definitely suits me more in this case. But seeing as drawing/cutting/walking in straight lines are not my forte—not to mention the fact that I had just nicked myself with a pair of scissors—I thought it would be best to leave it the professionals.


The next day, I went to the barber shop near my dad’s workplace and asked the lady for straight bangs. “Just bangs?” she asked, eyeing my waist-length hair. I answered yes; I was still in the hair-growing-out phase and my biannual haircut wasn’t due for another couple months. Snip, Snip, Snip, went her scissors and instantly, my bangs hung straight, covering my forehead like a thick curtain.
My mom retrieved her wallet from her purse and opened it to pay, but the barber merely shook her head. “I just cut her bangs,” she said. Touched, I decided that I would make her some Black Sesame Shortbread Cookies and send them to her with my dad when he went to work the next day.

These cookies also happen to be the ones that I sent to Nicola, Melissa, and Heather as a part of The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, hosted by Lindsay and Julie. I hope you guys enjoy these!

Click below for the recipe.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Black Forest Cake


A mistake isn’t a mistake unless you fail to learn something from it. When I cut myself with a steakknife, I learned that:
  • steak knives are really sharp and shouldn’t be used to pit avocados, ever
  • I might as well go to ER to get my finger stitched up since healthcare is free in Canada
  • if I ask really nicely and show her the cut on my finger, the receptionist will change the TV channel to Food Network
  • some people scream and thrash attempt to run away at the sight of surgical needles

Really, life is just a learning experience. At least now I know what to do if I injure myself again.


 I injured myself again.

This time, it wasn’t with a steak knife and it wasn’t because I was trying to pit an avocado. This time, I wasn’t even in a kitchen. This time, I was holding a pair of scissors. 

That’s right: I cut myself with scissors. In all my years of school and arts and crafts, I have never, ever, not once cut myself with scissors. Until last weekend, anyways. As a child, I scoffed at the kid-safe plastic scissors meant for paper only. I figured that no one was dumb enough to put his or her finger in between the blades and cut. 


It was an accident, of course. It’s always an accident. I was at the mall volunteering my time to gift-wrap boxes for charity. It was the last week of November and the Christmas panic hadn’t set in yet, so we’d only had about five customers. In between the five elusive customers (and the hordes of people asking us where the Urban Eatery was located—it was slightly annoying to repeat the same response every two minutes, but without those people, we would have been very lonely), I was folding boxes, cranes, and stars out of the leftover wrapping paper. I was also teaching Kevin, the only other volunteer who was my age, how to fold stars out of strips of paper.


So while Kevin was folding paper stars, I made an origami box. I’d taped one part incorrectly, so I grabbed the scissors to cut it. One snip and I ended up cutting through a good chunk of the flesh on my finger as well. The pain was instantaneous, but I didn’t feel the panic set in like the last time I’d cut myself with the knife. Instead, a peculiar kind of feeling washed over me as I stared the fat droplet of blood ooze out of the cut. It was like time had slowed down and that what I was watching had already happened. I briefly wondered if this was like pricking your finger for blood to check sugar levels.


I inspected the cut. It didn’t look too deep, though it was hard to tell with the blood. Calmly, I informed the supervisor that I needed a band-aid and she walked me to guest services (where people really should be going for info if they want to know where the new food court is located). She wiped off the blood with an alcohol wipe and that was that. I got through the rest of my shift, thankfully, without another incident.


Now, onto this Black Forest Cake. If it isn’t obvious yet, I’ve been stringing you along, luring you with pictures of cake while digressing about a completely unrelated event which only happened within the same time span of two days. Anyways, I made this cake during my weekly baking lesson at George Brown College. It’s surprisingly moist and doesn’t taste of injury or scissor-cuts. 


Click below for the recipe.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cream Puffs


Cream puffs are a cause for celebration, an ode to happiness, a work of deliciously edible art. Last Friday, Jenny and I made cream puffs during our baking lesson at George Brown College. Stomachs filled with pastry and cream, we left the building with boxes and boxes of cream-filled, chocolate-drizzled, icing sugar-dusted cream puffs. Obviously, the pastries attracted quite a bit of attraction on our trip home.


We collapsed onto the subway chairs, the boxes perched perilously on our shaky knees. Usually, on typical subway rides, I ignore the presence of other commuters as they ignore me (stranger danger and all). After Jenny got off at her stop, a guy sat down in front of me. Stealing a glance at the box of cream puffs, he commented that the pastries looked really delicious.


I got off the train and exited the station. As I rode the escalator up, a man who was coming down, peered at the cream puffs, craning his neck to get a good look. “Cream puffs,” I said, in explanation. “Those look really good!” he shouted to me as he continued to go down on the escalator and I went up.


I set my boxes down on a bench and called my mom, who was picking me up from the subway station. When I turned around, I noticed that the elderly gentleman who had been sitting on the other side of the bench had been staring at my pastries. He was too polite to say anything, so I smiled at him and left.


Needless to say, I was quite amused. The soft rolls that I had made last week had been in a brown paper bag and so had the bran muffins and tea biscuits of the week before, so I was new to the experience of carrying open face boxes containing delicious desserts in public places. Who knew that a box of cream puffs could garner so many lingering looks and solicitous stares?


Click below for the recipe

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