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Two big things that have helped me make it through grad school are booze and chocolate. I’m not going to lie, I’m not ashamed. A glass of wine, a pint of beer, a square of dark chocolate, a decadent cupcake; surely they are betting for me than the ibuprofen popping I used to medicate my stress with in high school? Right? C’mon!

Okay, so maybe not the best solutions, but certainly delicious ones. So what could possibly bet better than bringing together my two dear friends? And when could be a more appropriate day to mix beer and baking than St. Patrick’s day?

I wish I could take credit for the stroke of genius that is the combination of Guinness and chocolate. But alas I am not the first nor the last to venture into this territory. Google the tasty combination and bookmark tons of recipes for cake, cupcakes, brownies and pudding that will make you drool. I can’t wait to experiment again next year.

The recipe I used is the Chocolate Stout Cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I wanted to bring my goodies to school and make them as friendly to as many eating habits and allergies as possible. Unfortunately, my LCBO did not carry any stout except Guinness, which is not technically vegan. Click here to learn more about Guinness’ processing and for a list of vegan stouts.

These cupcakes were delightful. They were so tender and fluffy, but with a rich flavour and a bitter aftertaste from the Guinness – in a good way. I considered icing them, but the crumb topping turned out to be the perfect touch. Even if you are not a stout person, you will like these cupcakes, as the stout really only rounds the flavour out and does not overpower the chocolate. If you are a stout person, I’d try using only 1/2 cup soymilk and up the stout to a 1/2 cup. I made three batches and gradually upped the ante each time, but next time I will just plunge for the full half cup and see if the Guinness comes through more.

I am, in fact, eating a cupcake right now in between marking papers and reading poetry. And I’m thinking maybe, just maybe, if I can have chocolate and beer by my side, I can survive a life of academia. ; )

Oh, and the best part?

Leftover Guinness of course!

What interesting food/booze combinations do you love?

Whenever the Winter Olympics roll around I shock my friends: I’m into sports?! I’m into hockey!?

I am notoriously unathletic and uninterested in sports. But for some reason the Winter Olympics pique my interest and I spend two weeks neglecting my school work and drinking beer (well, this year – four years ago I wasn’t quite of age in Canada!). And like every good Canadian my blood pressure doesn’t quite go down until we’ve secured golds in both women’s and men’s hockey. Which means my blood pressure hasn’t been down for eight years.

I’ve spent the past few days telling everyone who will listen that Canada has won the most golds ever this Olympics – not most for Canada, most for any country. EVER. My little Canadian heart can’t help but swell with pride. I jumped up and down and screamed when Crosby scored the winning goal. I almost cried watching Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue receive their golds in ice dancing – the first Canadians and youngest ever dancers to do so (side note: I had grade ten English class with Scott. It has made me reflect on what I’ve done since then…talk about fuel for my quarter-life crisis!).

This patriotism is another factor that surprises my peers during the Olympics. For years I’ve been talking about how much I can’t wait to live abroad and in September I will be moving to London, England to make that a reality. I am so excited and thrilled that I’m living out a dream I’ve had since I was a tiny tot.

But knowing these are my last few months in my native nation (though I’m pretty sure I’ll be back), I’ve realised how much I will miss it. I know I’m ready to leave, but I think I’ll be surprised how hard the homesickness will hit. I truly love Canada and believe it is one of the best countries in the world, and if I ever do settle down permanently, I don’t think I could or would anywhere else. I have travelled from the east coast to the west and while some argue that Canada has no defined culture, I know it has a lot to offer. I can’t wait until I can see it all again.

That being said, I had to honour my wonderful, Olympic booty-kicking country on Sunday with some Red Velvet Cake with (white) Cream Cheese Frosting. I also needed some cake to comfort me; my nerves were off the charts!

I used Paula Deen‘s recipe, but upped the cocoa to two tablespoons. I’d never had Red Velvet cake before (I know, weird!) and honestly…I wasn’t impressed. I’m going to attempt this again because I’m convinced this cake should be heavenly.

So while my Olympic pride is overflowing, my pride in Harper and his government is not so much. Having had a nice vacay at the Olympics, Harper gets back to business by changing our national anthem?!

Honestly, I don’t really care – I guess I get the gender neutral argument. I’m confused as to why references to God are okay, and would much rather have that changed. Overall though I have to ask – do you not have anything better to do?! Oh, Canada.

Anyway, since we were on the topic of red and white, I thought I’d give my two cents.

Anyone know some yummy, rich, foolproof Red Velvet recipes? Do share!

Homemade Hot Chocolate

I’ve been debating how much to get into the quarter-life crisis aspect of this blog. While in high school I had no problem sharing my angst-ridden emotion state with the blogosphere, in my twenties that thought makes my skin crawl.

So let’s just say, I’m not having a good year. It’s a bit hard to get up and put effort into getting dressed, putting on a smile and heading to class, to tutorial, sometimes even making lunch seems an insurmountable task when dealing with a cream dressing bottle that does not have the proper lid and so soaks your salad thus rendering it inedible. This can result in a salad being chucked across the room and the serious contemplation of running away to Africa, as I used to say as a child.

I’m told this is rather normal for MA students, so don’t call the therapist! I self medicate anyway – with homemade hot chocolate!

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Homemade Hot Chocolate

*this recipe was really made impromptu and so I don’t know if these are the actual measurements. I found this rather chocolatey, but not too chocolatey. However, depending on your preferences, you might want to scale back or scale up. Also, had I used my dark chocolate, it would have been vegan, but alas I went for bittersweet.

**this makes two teacups or one big mug!

Ingredients

1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or just use all chocolate almond milk if you want it more chocolatey!)

1 cup unsweetened chocolate almond milk

1 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1-ish tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 tablespoon-ish Splenda

1/2 tsp vanilla (I used more vanilla, but it was a bit too vanilla-y)

Directions (not sure if they are really necessary, but it feels more profesh to have them!)

Heat almond milks in a small saucepan. Addt chopped bittersweet chocolate and stir until melted and incorporated. Stir in cocoa powder, vanilla and Splenda and drink up!

Oh, and if you happen to have whipped cream in the house, I imagine that’d be sublime!

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The perfect quarter-life crisis remedy. Enjoy with biscotti or your favourite tea time treat! I also enjoyed some with some crystallized ginger on the side, which was divine.

truepenny

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and www.nanaimo.ca.

Nanaimo Bars are from Nanaimo, British Columbia. However, the story of these Nanaimo Bars takes us to a different Canadian city, arguably its most famous: Toronto.

Growing up a little over an hour away from Toronto I of course have ventured to the city many times. It wasn’t my first time to the city, but my first memory of Toronto sort-of-indirectly inspired my flavours for this month’s DB Challenge.

It was, I believe, my first time going up the CN Tower. We stood on the glass floor, which funnily enough I can no longer do without panicking a little bit. My childhood self was far more adventurous than my current self. We went to the spinning restaurant at the top, and my sister and I ordered Shirley Temples. They came in glasses shaped like the Tower which we kept as souvenirs.

However, the best part of that day really actually had nothing to do with Toronto at all. It was, of course, a book! A booked called, Sleeping Dragons All Around by Sheree Fitch, illustrated by Michele Nidenoff. This book certainly triggered my love of dragons, as well as my fascination with layer cakes, though baking them would not come for a long time (and still I don’t bake them that often). Dragons and cake? This is making about as much sense as piano and pumpkin pie, I think.

The protagonist, in a pink nightgown, is desperately craving leftovers of the Mocha Maple Chocolate Cake just waiting to be eaten in the fridge downstairs. So she tiptoes, tiptoes softly to the kitchen. But the catch is – there are a ton of sleeping dragons throughout her house. The illustrations are fantastic, and the alliterative language just bounces on your tongue – just as delicious as a Mocha Maple Chocolate Cake.

Anyway, long story short, it turns out the dragons are not so vicious and only want a share of the Mocha Maple Chocolate Cake. So they eat cake, dance in the kitchen and don’t do the dishes! Naturally, since reading that book I’ve desperately wanted to make a Mocha Maple Chocolate Cake. However, I don’t think it’d be quite so satisfactory without the dancing dragons.

Now, somewhat an adult, there are dragons of a different kind in life. My ex-roommate, a fan of Nanaimo Bars, was hosting a birthday party this past weekend. However, there were some dramatic dragons supposed to be in attendence, which is enough to make anyone nervous. Inspired by the Canadian theme and the lessons learned from Sheree Fitch (that Mocha Maple Chocolate Cake appeases even dragons, dispells drama and encourages dancing), I thought some Mocha Maple Nanaimo Bars were in order.

I am a bad Canadian, and usually not a fan of Nanaimo Bars. I, like many, usually find them too sweet. I certainly expected these to be even sweeter than usual (Elissa at 17 and Baking also went with maple flavour and wasn’t a fan), but for some reason I really liked these. Perhaps the mocha mellowed it out, but due to being distracted by my Robinson Crusoe audiobook, I had to add the instant coffee after I had mixed the base all together, which meant it didn’t get distributed evenly, so I’m not sure it played that much of a role in the overall flavour. It could also be that I kept the same ingredient amounts, but doubled the pan-size, making thin bars that weren’t too overwhelming.

And so, I brought the bars to the party hoping, like Fitch’s dragons, they would be sweet enough to smooth over the bitter tension everyone was anxious for. The night was fun, and we all danced into the wee hours of the morning – and we certainly did not do the dishes! We woke up the next morning to find cake all over the kitchen floor. Must have been those pesky dragons.

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I did not plan it, but I am glad pie is my first entry on here. Well, pasties or hand-pies to be more precise. Why? Because pie has been and always will be my absolute favourite baked good. I feel as though pies really say a lot about who I am (flaky, buttery…filled with a gooey, sweet, fruity filling? Hm, maybe not so much).

So when my interest in baking sparked, pie was the first thing I made. Or rather, after making my first pie from scratch, my interest in baking started. Pie seems like a good place to begin, precisely because it was where it all began.

My Opa would often bake apple pie when we went over for dinner. Eating-wise, I actually usually would rather eat more of my meal and have a small dessert, despite of my love of baking. But when I could see that fresh-baked pie waiting on the kitchen counter, I would scarf back as little food as possible and save lots of room for pie. At least two pieces, sometimes three. And I was no obese child. I suppose over-eating isn’t something to brag about, but the amount of pie I could pack away back then without feeling sick or gaining a pound makes me extremely jealous. This earned me the reputation as the apple pie girl. One year for Christmas, I actually got a pie for Christmas from my Opa. My sister got a ton of black olives. This says a lot about our personalities, I think.

My rolled-out dough looks like Africa!

My Opa is just recently 78 and he hasn’t been able to make pie for a while. Now, whenever the family needs a pie, the duty falls to me, and I am more than happy to oblige. And I hear that I am not half bad at it either!

The first pie I  made from scratch was apple and was for my boyfriend, A. I’ve basically stuck with the same recipe since then, as it has yet to fail me. But I’ve tweaked a few things to make it my own, such as baking it in a cake dish so it’s deep and stuffed full with apples. Mm.

But, as you have likely gleaned from the title of this post, this is not about apple pie (I haven’t made an apple pie in a while actually, but I’ll be sure to now!). It is about pumpkin pasties.

Pumpkin pasties are my number two pie-related specialty. I made them the first time for the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which I suppose proves that I am indeed a bookish baker.

To be honest, this is the first time I truly understood the expression “easy as pie.” Despite all the times I’ve made pie, I’m always extremely nervous and unsure during the baking process. This time my dough worked out perfectly, and I didn’t second-guess how much water to add, trusting my pie-loving gut. I use Anna Olson’s pastry recipe, which has never let me down; but this time, for whatever reason, was certainly the best crust I have ever made! (I linked to Anna’s pumpkin pie recipe, but I didn’t actually use this recipe for the filling)

So, what does a piano have to do with this?

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A manifesto of sorts

My story is not an extraordinary one. I am a twenty-something who left her undergrad imagining she would and could do grand things; that she would follow her heart, not her wallet, to success; that money was no object.

This is the thing: money is no object, as long as you have enough to live. And, unfortunately, part-way through her Masters, this twenty-something soon realized that an MA in English did not exactly guarantee employment. Far from it.

But the real existential crisis here? I’m not so sure I’m doing what I love. I love books. I truly do. I even love to discuss books “intellectually.” But do I really want to commit my life to the academic institution, churning out potentially uninspired papers simply because my contract demands research? Do I really find all this theory and academic jargon enlightening, or do we just read it because someone has to read all the papers that over-stressed, under-paid faculty churns out in attempt to appear impressive enough to get on the tenure track?

I seem very negative, but these are truly just questions. I don’t know what the answers are – even if some of the theory is shilpit, and even if some of what I produce is too, maybe the enlightening moments, the proud moments, the moments when my perspective is turned utterly upside down and my mind is opened further that I thought possible…maybe that is enough for me. Maybe it isn’t. The short story: I’m here to figure it out.

The only other thing I love as much as books (and potentially surpassing my bookish passions – we shall see) is my love of food. I love to eat, I love to read recipes and menus, I love to think about food, I love to watch cooking shows, read cookbooks and peruse food magazines. I like to cook, but I love to bake. What am I going to do with my future? I don’t know, but it sure feels damn good to stop worrying about it for a minute. I just worry about the immediate future – will this crust be flaky? Will this cake rise? Will my macarons actually resemble macarons? (So far “no” to the last, and “sometimes” to the former two). Sure there are crises (oh, the crises!), but I can always pick up my rolling pin again and one day, I will kick those macarons’ asses (though I suppose taking a rolling pin to them might be my problem!)

And then…suddenly…it occurred to me…baking! Potential career track, and something I love. But love, as much as Sesame Street and motivational speakers wish to tell you, does not always necessarily equal talent. So am I good enough?

I hope so. I think I can be. But I am going to spend the next year or so tackling baking (and cooking) of every sort, perfecting my skills so one day I will absolutely blow the Cordon Bleu Paris away (or maybe just some cooking college in Southwestern Ontario).

And if my disillusionment lifts and I decide academia is the path for me? Well, then at least I can bring some killer snacks to the department parties!

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So, that’s the jist. Join me, a young, slightly cynical but overally optimistic (“bittersweet” we might say) student at a cross-roads in life; a cross-roads that sometimes feels just like a dead end. I’m going to bake my way out of my quarter-life crisis, and hopefully not get too fat in the process.

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Goals:

  • learn more about the science of baking
  • learn more about French cooking
  • learn more about myself
  • be inspired
  • learn to love pineapple, the only food I cannot stand
  • learn to make near-perfect macarons
  • …and somehow lose weight! : S

Yours,

truepenny