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Carbs for a Cause

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Yesterday was our annual Upscale Bake Sale as part of the CBC Suncor Energy Food Bank Drive.

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Aviv Fried was back this year with enormous quantities of bread and three kinds of scones from his Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, and Brûlée Patisserie brought dozens of mini cranberry loaves.

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Decadent Desserts brought fancy cakes and a gluten-free Yule log Buttercream Bakeshoppe brought cupcakes. Joining us for the first time this year, Yann Haute Patisserie with pain au chocolat, croissants and other flaky pastries, Wild Grainz with freshly baked loaves and shortbread, Sweet Provocateur

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with festively packaged cookies, loaves and buttercrunch, and the folks from Cruffs were going fast and furious custom-filling cream puffs with chocolate-hazelnut, vanilla and strawberry pastry cream.

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Each bakery donated their time and baked goods, and many came down to help and chat with folks coming to buy their wares, with 100% of the proceeds going to the Calgary Inter-faith Food Bank. The numbers aren’t in yet, but when I left they had already tallied up $3500.

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An enormous THANK YOU to all the bakers, volunteers, Suncor Energy and everyone who came down, creating a lineup that snaked under the escalator and past the Starbucks, to buy some baking. It was perfect. I had goosebumps for a full hour.

I baked too – jars of homemade Christmas Granola, bags of Molasses Crinkles, and bowls of Vanilla Bean Shortbread and Skibo Castle Ginger Crunch.

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The shortbread felt like a bit of a copout, but running low on time and wanting to make lots of batches of something delicious, I settled on the simplest, most delicious shortbread, made with Madagascar vanilla bean paste, which is far more inexpensive than vanilla beans, but you still get those little seeds you can see speckled throughout the shortbread. I used my grandma’s cookie stamp, which someone made out of clay. I used to roll balls of dough and squish it down with the stamp; now I slice off a log of dough, then imprint with the stamp and the dough doesn’t crack around the edges. You don’t need a stamp – this dough could be chilled, then rolled and cut into little stars, or sliced and baked as is, or rolled into balls, indented with your thumb and filled with jam, or patted into 9-inch pans and baked, then cut into wedges. It’s shortbread – there are so many things to be done with it.

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Shortbread is perfect for cookie exchanges – tuck into small bowls lined with tissue, then slide into cellophane bags and tie with a ribbon; or fill small glass jars.

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Vanilla Bean Shortbread

3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg yolk
1-2 tsp. vanilla bean paste, or 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar and salt with an electric mixer for 2 minutes, until pale and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla.

Add the flour and stir just until you have a soft dough. Shape it into two or three logs, wrap and refrigerate for an hour (or up to a few days) or freeze for up to 6 months.

When ready to bake, let sit on the countertop until it softens a bit, then slice 1/4″ thick, press with a cookie stamp (if you like) and bake on a parchment-lined sheet at 350F for 12-14 minutes, or until pale golden around the edges. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Makes 3-4 dozen cookies.

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December 08 2011 | cookies & squares and eating out | 3 Comments »

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This here? My Favourite View From a Porta-Potty.

Remember when I used to post what I ate for dinner every night? Yeah, me too. Now when I fall asleep or need to meet a deadline (not nearly as much fun as propping my laptop up in bed and recounting our evening meal – OK, maybe the sleeping part is) and a day or two slips by, the events of the day before yesterday seem so day before yesterday. But I don’t want the weekend to slip by unreported. Even though I didn’t actually cook anything. I didn’t actually cook anything!

(Dinner tonight was roast chicken, roughly smashed potatoes and some baby zucchini, quickly fried up in a skillet with oil and garlic. There, now you’re up to speed.)

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We skipped out for a quick getaway to Jasper – the highway 93 is as stunning as any I’ve ever driven, and yet we had only seen it in winter. I imagined it would be gorgeous in fall, and it was. Just completely. (I’d show you, but it was raining.)

Our destination: the Jasper Park Lodge. One thing I love about this place is that you can go and then just hang on the property – you never have to leave. Well, you do on Sunday at checkout.

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We sat by the fireplace and ordered bison burgers and mushroom ravioli with crème fraîche. We played ping pong. We high-fived a bear.

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I even snuck away to their brand-new spa. For research purposes, of course.

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We rented a canoe and paddled around the lake. Which I didn’t manage to document because a) it was rainy and b) we were in a boat, after it had been raining. You understand. I was willing to get my butt wet, but not my camera. (Yes, I have taken to using the word butt. W thinks it’s hilarious.)

Even rain can’t put a damper on your weekend when this is the view from your cabin window.

And I was introduced to artichoke dip poppers – the best use of leftover artichoke dip (apparently it exists) I’ve ever seen. I’ve baked one tonight for the express purpose of poppers tomorrow. It probably won’t matter that I picked off and ate all the bubbly cheese on top.

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October 03 2011 | eating out | 14 Comments »

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