Monthly Archives: February 2010

Baking Supply Adventure at Degrees

Although my baking activity has been somewhat dormant this past week, I have a best friend’s birthday cake to make tonight/tomorrow and an order of cupcakes to prepare for a baby shower next weekend (I’m calling this my first legitimate order!!!) So this weekend I have to do quite a bit of work/brainstorming and in between, play with some fondant to familiarize myself with the baby shower idea. (little fondant babies in little fondant blankies on top a cupcake!) This means I get to do one of my favourite things – visit a kitchen store to pick up some materials. It’s been somewhat difficult to locate my ideal spot in the city – there are no Michael’s or Bulk Barn’s around… but I have found a little gem called Degrees on Yonge Street (north of Eglinton) This one-stop shop has everything from high-grade chopping knives to edible gold leaf. My first visit to the shop resulted in quite a large visa bill, but I’m okay with that… at least this time around I know I need to bring a list and stick to it!

I love taking on new projects and testing myself – the only way to perfect my skills are to work harder and explore all possibilities. Although most of my skill is self-taught, I’ve decided to take things even further. This coming fall I will be enrolling in (drum roll please) NIGHT SCHOOL. Sounds somewhat daunting but I feel learning should be infinite; I want to take in as much as possible! George Brown provides a pretty extensive and exciting palette of baking arts continuing education programs. I can’t wait!

Wish you were all here – the smell of chocolate cake fills the house…!

P.S. – Go Canada!


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Yonge & Eglinton Adventure: Kale

Today I had the pleasure of visiting the vegan/vegetarian/macrobiotic restaurant called Kale. It’s located in the heart of Yonge and Eglinton. I am not overly picky with food and I am by no means vegan or a vegetarian, but I do enjoy eating healthy so thought I’d try it out. The setup is very minimalist – there’s a small salad/hot food bar with plates or take out trays to fill. Once you’ve selected a spread of yummy things to eat, it’s now time to pay, which is the worst part because it can be rather pricey (for a small take-out sized container that wasn’t completely full, I paid over $9) On the contrary, you are paying for organic foods prepared with healthy ingredients.

I tried a little bit of everything: a carrot salad, ratatouille, tomato-based pasta, quinoa salad, and a cabbage salad. All were quite delicious (with the exception of the extremely bland ratatouille) I needed a little extra salt, but I am a sodium fiend. I can’t say this will be a regular lunch spot, as I usually pack something from home, but it’s a nice healthy treat once in awhile. I would definitely recommend this for a quick lunch – beats high calorie fast food any day!

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Although I would never trust a skinny baker (just kidding!) how does one enjoy such treats, yet still maintain a healthy figure? Over the past few years my interest in food has lead to an interest in health and the role that our diets play in our overall mental and physical wellness. I’ve tried many different approaches and in the end have often felt rather frustrated and lost with all the health crazes – which do I follow? I think it takes time to find a diet that fits your lifestyle – I’ve been researching avidly for 4 years and still can’t find my perfect balance.

So since it’s almost March, I’ve decided to start a new approach to my diet. Smaller portions, more living foods (fresh fruit and veg), a little less refined sugars, more tea, more fish, lean meats, and limited dairy. I think the key to my overall goal is moderation – I can’t just go cold turkey without my favourites (pizza, sandwiches, etc) but I can eat less of it.

And then there’s exercise… Rock climbing is my go-to. It’s fun, stimulating, challenging and burns up to 700 cals/hour! I love it, and can already see the definition in my arms, but I won’t stop there. The ever-so-feared jogging has been something I am slowly getting back into (I typically don’t run unless I am being chased) So let’s hope I am dedicated to this mighty plan.

Finally, I leave you with a recipe – the main purpose of this blog… it’s a healthy treat that can be made in a jiffy!

Vanola Granola Bars
Makes 16 Bars

These are SUPER easy to make and SUPER versatile.

We’ve all heard of super foods: nuts, grains, flax, chia, salba, etc… so feel free to substitute any of the below!

First, grab a big bowl and a spoon and start to gather your ingredients, I used the following:

2 – 3 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup dried cranberries
½ cup pecans
¾ cup shredded coconut
1/3 cup ground flax meal

Mix everything together (I didn’t measure, just grabbed handfuls of things so please use my measurements to your preference)

Now we need something to bind this all together:

¾ cup crunch peanut butter
½ cup agave syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon

Mix below ingredients into a saucepan, until peanut butter is melted and everything is incorporated.

Pour over dry mix and stir until combined – press into 9 x 9 baking sheet and sprinkle with a half cup of mini chocolate chips. Pop into the freezer for a half hour and cut into 16 squares. (if there is not enough liquid to bind together, melt a little bit more of the peanut butter and stir in – if there is too much liquid, add some more oats or dried fruit)

I keep these in the freezer and eat them cold – absolutely delicious and can be great for a quick burst of energy.


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The Good Stuff

I’ll be honest, I’ve been slacking in the baking department. If it were up to me, I’d bake everyday, but I can’t. Between a full time job, plenty of finances to take care of (baking is expensive!) and a ton of other to-do’s, it’s not as easy as I would prefer. But if I can’t get around to baking, I can still think and talk about it.

So we’ve all got the point – I’m no pastry expert, but I think over the many years I’ve been in the kitchen, I’ve gained a lot of experience and knowledge of what makes a kitchen work. If I were to have a list of top 5 kitchen-must-haves, then here’s what it would be:

  1. Kitchen Aid Mixer – I got one of these for my 18th birthday. I know, I know, they’re not cheap… but if you’ve got a little extra cash hanging around, or want to save up for one, I would highly recommend it. With one of these machines, baking becomes a lot easier AND it helps reach that next step of almost-perfection. Just imagine never having to worry about another batch of horrid, dense muffins. And not only does it perform like a champ, but the variety of colours are fun (mine is red!)
  2. Good quality vanilla extract – I cannot begin to stress the importance of quality vanilla. Please!! Avoid artificial by any means – if you’re a traveler, take it upon yourself to pick up a bottle from all of your destinations… Tahitian, Madagascar bourbon – it’s all good! Even better, try some vanilla bean paste, it will add those little tasty specks of vanilla bean throughout your baked goods.
  3. A sifter – I know that sifting flour and cocoa adds an extra step to the baking process but I am all for this one. Especially when you’re making cake batter/icings, it’s really important to avoid those lumps. That small extra step can make a huge difference in your end result.
  4. Baking pans – They really aren’t expensive and slowly collecting over time is always a good idea. Start with a traditional square or round cake pan and go from there. It also depends what you enjoy baking. If you like muffins I would highly recommend a muffin-top pan (greatest invention ever) If you’re an angel food/coffee cake person invest in bundts… and if you like to make cakes, start buying different sizes of spring form pans because they’re great for all sorts of desserts. There really is a pan for everything but if you’re just starting out, here’s a good list: 1 loaf pan, 2 large baking sheets, a pie dish, 9 x 13 square pan, muffin/cupcake pan and a 9 inch spring form pan.
  5. An assortment of recipe books – My first (legit) baking book was Anna Olson’s Sugar. Now you can barely read the pages because they’re covered in cookie dough and flour, but that’s not the point. Once you have a few decent cookbooks and easy go-to recipes, you can start to experiment. Toss in your own flavours, add and take out a few things – baking is a science but once you’re comfortable with the ingredients and understand their importance, there is nothing holding you back. I get all my greatest recipes and concoctions from other bakers but I always try and make it my own. There’s nothing better than treating friends and family to something sweet, but having part ownership of that recipe can be a proud moment.

Yesterday evening I made pie pops (again) for my work meeting today. I think they’ll be a hit!

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Gimme a Break

I needed a break from the city bustle, so I took one. This past weekend I went up north with a few friends to go ice fishing. Although our luck wasn’t the greatest, we did get a few nibbles… there was no loot (or I should say Trout) to bring home, but we had a great time rippin’ around on ATV’s on a frozen Georgian Bay (and drinking cabernet sauvignon by an outdoor fire!) We even celebrated winter glory the next evening by going tobogganing. The food situation was incredible, courtesy of my parents. We ate homemade soup, sticky buns, 20 pounds of chicken wings!!! Homemade vanilla ice cream with blueberry oatmeal cookies and a drizzle of caramel. (Mmm…) All in all, it was an awesome time.

This week I’m stuck in rut – winter in the city can be somewhat depressing, but that’s why I bake! To bring smiles to mid-winter frowns. I’ve got a whole whack of pie filling in the fridge still from my pie-pops, so I need to find a good use for it. Brainstorming session begins… now.

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The Answer

I’ve never really thought of baking from any other perspective other than looking good and tasting great… but latelyI’ve been trying to think differently. What about being inventive in a whimsical way? Yesterday evening, for Superbowl Sunday, I made pie pops. Easiest dessert ever! Really fun to make but even more enjoyable to eat. To save time I picked up some ready-made pastry (Pillsbury pie crust) and a couple cans of pie filling – this makes things SO easy to prepare. An even mix of hearts and circles, courtesy of my massive cookie cutter collection, makes for some variety and an even sprinkling of cinnamon sugar, atop an apple pop is a great touch.

Obviously pie pops take a fun approach to a slice of boring ol’ pie. Thinking in this new way has inspired an even quirkier dessert. I can’t share the details – they’re too yummy – but I will let you know it’s a cookie. I do need to set aside a little time this week to prepare them, but I have a feeling the end result will make you go, ‘Huh?’.


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It’s superbowl Sunday – whatchou sayin’? We’re having spaghetti, caesar salad, rye and pie on a stick! GOOO SAINTS!

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