How to Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

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The ingredients list of a recipe is a precious thing. Each item has its purpose whether it’s for leavening, binding, texture, or flavour. Vanilla extract can (and will) be found in almost every recipe to awaken the flavour of your baking even if vanilla is not the main event featured in your dessert. She is always there.

And how often do we “settle” for artificial vanilla extract? I’ve definitely arrived at the grocery story and stared at a self where a large bottle of artificial vanilla extract ($3.99 CA) towered over a tiny bottle of pure vanilla extract ($12.99 CA) and thought, “Good enough.”

While vanilla bean pods aren’t that cheap either (I believe Bulk Barn carries them at $7.99 CA for two pods), making your own for that amount will definitely leave your pantry with more than 43 mL of vanilla extract. And all you need in addition to vanilla pods to make that happen is vodka.

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Bacon Jam is My Jam

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And now for something completely a little different.

When you think about jam, a medley of fruit usually comes to mind. Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, currants, apricot, and but not limited to pear (cinnamon pear is my favourite jam and I only seem to find it at hidden farmers’ markets.) It turns out anything can be “jammed” and bacon is no exception. The sweet element comes from the caramelizing of onions but the wow factor as to how it’s used is completely up to you.

(But seriously, if this doesn’t make its way into a grilled cheese sandwich, I don’t think I can help you.)

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Ferrero Rocher Mini Cupcakes

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When the holiday season rolls around, I’m guaranteed to find Ferrero Rochers under the Christmas tree each year. They are not for me. They are for everybody… or at least anybody who remembers that my mother always wraps a few containers of these delectable chocolate morsels for the usual holiday sweet tooth craving.

To me, Ferrero Rochers are a Christmas thing. Always have been.

But here’s the thing about Ferrero Rochers… they are made available all year round.

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Barcelona & Mallorca: A Journey of Food and More Food

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“I don’t know a culture until I can eat it.” — Me

I’ve recently returned from a lovely vacation to Barcelona and Mallorca with a good friend. And while we succumbed to Spain’s penchant for siestas once in a while, we also allowed ourselves time to indulge in the cuisine Barcelona and Mallorca had to offer… like, A LOT!

My journey began with my very first (and certainly not last) glass of Cava and a charcuterie board at El Nacional, which is an upscale tapas bar offering a number of different restaurants and bars under its roof where legs of cured pig hung from the bar ready to be carved for its patrons.

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The following morning, we sought out Two Schmucks in the Raval. While not serving traditional Spanish fare, the UK-run bar offered delicious drinks and brunch — the drinks came in handy as we waited two hours for their chef to arrive. Now, that could easily lead to a negative review but the owners were so accommodating, buying us a round of drinks and providing amazing snacks to tie us over (capping our stay off with a couple of shots of Elderflower). As for the actual food, there was really only one option that stood out: Chicken and jalapeno cheddar waffles… and it was worth the wait.

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Paco Meralgo was one of many tapas restaurants we went to. The thing with tapas is that the same items will show up on every menu so it’s very easy to fall into the habit of comparing one night to the next. One such item is Burrata, a creamy mozzarella, usually served with pesto and olive oil. Paco Meralgo served it on a bed of cherry tomatoes with balsamic vinegar drizzled over the Burrata. We had Burrata at other places later on during our trip but this one takes the cake.

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Other common items also include tomato bread, patatas bravas and croquette. All a treat to my feed hole.

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I wish all food was served as small snacks like tapas. But you know what they are missing (for better or worst)? Small cocktail sticks jabbed into them!

That was my segue to pinchos.

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There is a specific distinction between tapas and pinchos (and pintxos) that I really don’t feel like getting into. Read all about it here! My understanding as an intro to pinchos is:

  • they have cocktail sticks jabbed into them
  • they are served cold
  • they are put on display on the bar where you can pick and choose them like a buffet (or more accurately, a cafeteria as seen in TV)
  • they are usually, but not always, served on a slice of baguette

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I almost feel like this next section deserves its own blog post but here we are at La Boqueria. This food market swam with cured meats, cheese, fresh fish, spices, and treats.

In other words… Heaven.

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Near La Boqueria are two other must-haves while in Spain: churros and nougat from Torrons Vicens (the latter also has a large stand in the market). We enjoyed our churros with dark chocolate in a nice cafe called Granja Dulcinea. Seriously, nothing disappointed on this trip, food-wise.

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On our last night in Barcelona, we took in a recommendation for a place that someone says has the “best paella.”

Fact: this place does not serve paella.

However, Casa Lolea might have been my favourite restaurant we visited in Barcelona, lack of paella notwithstanding.

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They distribute their own sangria (surprisingly, this is the first time I’ve had sangria while on this trip. It only took 4 days… SHAME!) and it was a pleasant surprise to find a shop at the airport that carried their line.

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Where was I? Oh, yeah… FOOD!

One after the other, we were treated to the most delightful meal. From brie cheese with apple and tomato, mushroom risotto with black truffle, blini marinated salmon with yogurt and honey truffle to patatas bravas made their way (traditionally the potatoes are cubed and fried) and tomato bread.

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The tomato bread is another item that is quite common at every restaurant (most places offered it for free). At Casa Lolea, we got a tutorial on how to prepare it as it was delivered to us deconstructed.

  1. Cut the garlic and rub it on the bread.
  2. Cut the tomato and then liberally rub that on the bread.
  3. Drizzle olive oil over it.
  4. Salt to taste.
  5. Eat. Repeat.

And that’s it! It was a delicious journey of Spanish food that…

Oh, what’s that? I’m not done yet? I haven’t even had paella yet? Well, then.

For our first night in Mallorca we had a goal: eat some fucking paella. And eat it, we did. We found an elegant restaurant near our hotel called Ca’n Manolo where we finally had some paella.

Full disclosure: I’m not a huge seafood person. I’ll eat it on occasion, but it is never my first choice. Ca’n Manolo had an option for “un-shelled” mixed paella. Every bite was a flavourful moment to savour. It was a great way to enter the second leg of the trip.

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If you’ve frequent my blog at all, you’d know my focus is always on desserts. And if you’ve gotten this far in this blog post, you’d notice a severe lack of desserts. Well, I finally made room for some, forcing myself to say no to a third serving of paella… toughest thing I’ve ever done but it was for the greater good (the greater good).

Hola, flan (also know as creme caramel)!

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I might still be on a post-vacation high, but the food in Spain might be among my favourite in Europe, having previously been to France and Italy… this is a bold statement!

If eating is a way to explore one’s culture and history then I am so very glad to have met you, Spain. I raise a glass of Cava to you! xoxo

A studious bear for a growing girl


When your friends ask you to make a smashing cake with cupcakes for their little girl’s first birthday, it’s impossible to say no especially when the given criteria includes reading and animals. The result is a fun little cake featuring teddy bear on a grassy hilltop learning how to read.

The studious bear was shaped using sculpting chocolate while the toadstools and flowers were made from fondant.

A Hacker’s Guide to Homemade Ice Cream

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We are deep into summer and I regret to say that I’ve been neglecting my oven (as well as this blog) during these heated months.

What’s a girl to do?

Alas, lo and behold there is a no churn/no machine/no ice + salt method for making homemade ice cream that can be found on various sites on the Internet Super Highway. It only has two ingredients in its base recipe; the rest is your imagination and pantry capacity.

So chill out and check it out!

Base Ice Cream Recipe

Ingredients

500 mL heavy cream
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk

  • Whip heavy cream to soft peaks.
  • Stir in sweetened condensed milk and continue to whip cream to stiff peaks.

Chocolate
Mix in ½ cup chocolate syrup (chocolate sundae topping works). I also happen to have a package of Soma’s hot chocolate mix which is filled with shaved dark chocolate so I stirred in about ½ cup or more of that.

Vanilla
Stir in 1 tbsp. vanilla extract and the seeds of 1 vanilla bean pod.

Caramel
Substitute the sweetened condensed milk with dulce de leche.

Blueberry
Add a cup of frozen blueberries.

Pistachio
Add a package of Pistachio Jello mix (Warning: the finished texture will be different from the others. Like, should I be concerned that this recipe melted at a completely different rate than the others?) Coarsely chop pistachio nuts and stir into cream mixture. Feel free to add some green food colouring to the mixture.

  • Put mixture in a freezer-safe container and chill for about 6 hours.

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Pistachio Ice Cream

The Cake Gotham Deserves

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I love any kind of decorating challenge but my eyes glaze over with excitement when I’m asked to make a Star Wars cake or a Bubble Bobble cake. So imagine my face when I was asked to make a Batman cake with full reign on design. Choosing the design was the real challenge because, as you can imagine after over 75 years,  Batman has gone through so many makeovers, shifts in tones, different forms of media, all contributing to its iconic status in our popular culture.

I went with Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s Batman + Adam West’s “POW!” and “BAM!”

He also has no arms because I suck at molding appendages.

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Happy birthday, Dad!

(This is not his cake but I’d feel like a dick if I didn’t say that)