Friday, July 17, 2009

Tamara's Block Party '09

Hmmm... what do you do, when you're bored at home and need to beat the summer, mid-week blues?? Head out to your local new-channel's block-party of course :P

On July 15th, my family attended the local news-station's bbq, picnic, block-party, shin-dig hosted by their weather woman. The party was held at Queen's Park and incidentally the weather was perfect, not too sunny and not too cool. Normally, I'm not one to stand in line for 1 1/2 hours to be one of the first 1,500 people to a party but this was a different story. You see, my family can never pass up the chance to get free food :P And if you were one of the first 1,500 people at the party you'd get a free dinner made by Mr. Mike's Steakhouse and Grill. Also, this party was the site of the release of the 3rd collectors pin for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics... and, having already collected pins 1 and 2, we couldn't just pass up the chance to get the next installment! That'd be crazy!

We had no idea how many people would actually be attending this bbq/picnic thing, but when we arrived (an hour and a half before the tents opened) the line up was already about 400people long. By the time the block-party opened it's doors, the line up had grown to triple it's size! The entire park was filled with a really squiggly, swervy line-up of probably more than 1,500 people! I sure hope that everyone who took time out of their day to line-up got at least a pin or a free-meal... I know I would be peeved if, after waiting 2+hours in the sun, I ended up getting nothing.

When I first stepped in-line, at around 3:00pm I wasn't hungry at all. But, by the time we actually got into the "free-food" line-up, it was 5:00pm and the smell of the freshly grilled burgers was tantalizing my taste buds and making my stomach grumble. I had never tried Mr. Mike's before, I often drive by their Langley location but have always brushed it off as being "just another steakhouse". Sadly, they did not serve up steak (I didn't think they would, because that'd mean grilling up 1,500 steaks for free... probably putting them in debt :P). But, they did serve up a mean burger with a side of caesar salad. The burger was "Mike's Classic", an angus steak burger placed on a bbq-toasted garlic frenchbread, topped with cheese, a pickle and an amazing burger sauce (I'd say even better than White Spot's Triple-O sauce! *gasp* I know!). The burger was huge, and I actually needed help finishing it off... the bread was so delicious, and has now made me a fan of serving burgers on garlic baguettes. Great idea Mr. Mikes!! Great idea :) When I move into my condo, I'll be closer to the local Mr. Mikes, so maybe I'll become a regular... I wonder if they'll serve just the french bread just by itself??

AAHHH!! This burger was AMAZING!

Anyways, the block-party itself was fantastic. The musical performers were called "Dr. Strangelove" and they played an amazing array of oldies, but with a contemporary twist. A couple MJ songs were played, some Aerosmith, some Janice Joplin and a couple folk-country-tunes. It was fun to see the little tykes running around the playground and the water-park section of Queen's Park. All-in-all, this was a fun outing for the family... sometimes it's tough to convince my sisters to get their butts out of their computer chairs and get some fresh air :P

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Water Chestnut Cake

Yesterday was a very hot day, the sun was shining and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. In the sweltering heat, I decided to take a break from baking and wanted to make a more refreshingly cool dessert. I had this package of water-chestnut flour in my pantry and decided that this would be the perfect moment to experiment with making one of my mom's favorite chilled desserts... water chestnut cake. I had never used this chestnut flour before, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect upon opening the box. The flour was a bit different than rice flour, potato flour and tapioca flour... instead of the powdery texture, this chestnut flour was a bit more clumpy and in little crystals.

I used the recipe on the back of the chestnut flour box, and the dessert came out very nicely. The recipe uses very few ingredients, and is almost no effort at all. It just takes time to have to steam the dessert, and then chill it in the fridge... so if you want to eat it for dessert, it's best that you make and steam it well ahead of time so that you have adequate time to get the cake to it's perfect chilled temperature before serving.

Water Chestnut Cake
Yields 1- 8inch round cake

- 250g water chestnut flour (half of the box)
- 500ml water
- 1 can of water chestnuts, drained and chopped
- 750ml water
- 1 1/4 cup - 2 cups rock sugar/golden rock sugar (depending on how sweet you like your cake)

1. Combine the flour with the 500ml water, mixing thoroughly until all clumps are dissolved.
2. In a large sauce-pan, dissolve the sugar with 750ml of water over medium heat.
3. Once boiling, add in the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and stir until the mixture begins to thicken and bubble. Add in the chopped water chestnuts, stirring until they are evenly distributed.
4. Pour the thicken cake "batter" into a greased 8-inch pan, and steam on high for 30minutes.
5. Once cooked, allow to cool to room temperature. Then place cake in the fridge until firmed and cold throughout. Slice and serve.

My mom was so excited that I had prepared this dish. She's a fan of the "not-so-sweet" chestnut cake, and so I didn't add too much sugar. With so few ingredients needed, this recipe is a breeze to make and yet has such a wonderful flavor to it. Water chestnut itself is quite refreshing, but in this cake form it was divine!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Iced Lemon Cookies

So, I had one small little lemon lingering about in the crisper drawer of my fridge and decided to make something out of it before it went soft and mushy. Yet, in scouring the gazillion recipes online that use lemon, most of them required 2 lemons for the recipe to be completed. I was not about to go out of my way, drive to the store, and buy one lemon in order to simply finish up the one lone lemon I had left over, so I kept on searching the internet. Finally, I came across this recipe for Lemon-Honey Drop Cookies on

Just looking at the photo made my mouth water. And all I needed was one lemon! Score!! The recipe was very simple and quick; it only took about 5 minutes of prep work (to squeeze the lemon juice, and grate the rind) and then 5 minutes of mixing... pop it into the oven for 12 minutes and voila! deliciously fragrant and refreshing lemon cookies!

The cookies turned out more like mini scones, in that they were fairly moist and soft and the lemon glaze was nicely tart. The cookies puffed up nicely in the oven, and retained their height... If you're a fan of lemons and soft, tender scone-like cookies then this recipe is a must try!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

June Daring Bakers Challenge: Bakewell Tart

Well, the move from my house into my new condo seems to be throwing me off just a little! Can't believe I just realized that it was July!! I was so busy June 30th.... working a 12hour shift at the hospital; and then on July 1st I was doing a 10k run, followed by hours of moving furniture into the new place, so I didn't even think twice about posting my challenge. I did complete the challenge however so here it is... my bakewell tart!

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

Bakewell Tart ... er pudding

Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes

Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)

Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart

Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

Prep time: 15-20 minutes

Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)

15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes


Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened

125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in color and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow color.

These tarts/pudding pies were absolutely fantastic! I loved the almond flavor and texture imparted upon the filling, and it was paired so well with the mixed berry jam. Since my younger sister is allergic to ground-nuts and tree-nuts I used my ever-favorite substitute for a half of the batter... ground up pine nuts! She enjoyed the dessert as much as the rest of my family and even had seconds :P

Well, it's time to organize and de-clutter more of my belongings in order to bring them over to the condo!! AAHHH, I never knew that I was such a pack-rat... it's kind of crazy! Oh, and FYI all of my baking utensils are definitely coming with me to the new place :) ... can't live without baking!