Let him eat cake

Birthdays are a perfect time to get creative, and for people who love to bake making a homemade cake is the obvious way to go. Some people are great at decorating, some make balloon animals, me – I bake. So for Andrew’s birthday I took his favorite theme (next to horror movies or music – maybe I’ll try one of those next year) Space! I made him a space themed cake.

You can do one of two things, make cake batter from scratch or use boxed cake mix. I honestly don’t think it makes you a bad person or means you care any less if you use boxed mix when you’re pressed for time. Same with the icing, pick which side you want to be on; make your own or use premade. Either way, the cake assembly will be the same. You will need: cake batter (enough for two layers), icing, food coloring and any accessories or candies that you want to add.

Find a large piece of cardboard or a box, and cover it with foil. This will make a great base for your cake.

Bake your cake in square or round pans, you will need two full cake slabs to make a two tiered cake.

While your cake is baking, mix your icing. I used a combination of mainly blue colouring with a few drops red added slowly to make a very pale blue (almost grey). I used this as to cover the base I constructed the cake on and to make it look like a planet, with craters and an uneven texture by pushing it with a spoon (I was trying to make it look like the moon).

Next add your sheet of cake, I trimmed the top off to make it flat. Add a layer of icing to this layer, and top with the second layer of cake. From here, ice the entire cake top and sides (I used a much more vibrant shade of blue as “the sky”).

The fun part is decorating. I went to a toy store and found some great figurines, the entire solar system in miniature along with astronauts and space equipment. I placed the planets on the cake, dotted the entire cake with yellow icing as “stars” then placed the space explorers around the cake.

This is how it turned out:

Andrew was surprised, and I was so happy I was able to make his birthday special. (It’s really hard to surprise someone when you live together – a.k.a please leave for a few hours). We celebrated with great friends and food, and I look forward to making personal cakes a bit of a birthday tradition.

If you don’t have time or feel like making the cake yourself, why not buy a premade cake and decorate it with icing and personal touches? The fact that you took the time and wanted to make something unique is guaranteed to make anyone feel extra special.

Happy birthday Andrew!

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Cheeseburger Pizza

Craving fast food but can’t choose between a burger or slice of pizza? Well it turns out you can have both! I’ve seen cheeseburger pizza as an option when ordering delivery, and even though I’ve never ordered it I was curious. So, I tried to recreate it at home and actually it was pretty amazing.

Brown ground beef (you can use vegetarian ground beef substitute if you are a vegetarian, or if you’re trying to cut back on the amount of meat in your diet) with diced onions, fresh cracked pepper, Worcestershire sauce and chili flakes.

Instead of using traditional pizza dough, we used leftover puff pastry rolled out with a bit of flour. Otherwise you can just as easily use a premade pizza base or even pita shells. Top with tomato sauce. (I added red peppers, not really a “cheeseburger topping” but I was trying to add a bit of veggies to make this slightly healthier.)

Add the browned beef to the pizza, then top with shredded cheese.

Bake in a preheated oven at 350 F for 20 minutes, or until the dough is cooked through and the cheese melted.

I was curious, but not brave enough, to try this with sliced pickles. If anyone tries it let me know what it’s like!


French Toast with Figs

French toast is really quick and easy for a weekend brunch, you can pretty much top them with whatever fresh fruit is in season. I made these with fresh figs that I cooked in a splash of dry red wine – they weren’t as sweet as using berries but still tasted great. (Sautéed apples are still my favorite.)

Clean and dice the figs (or other fruit), heat a pan on medium and add the fruit with a splash of red wine. Once cooked through, mix to create an even fruit puree. (If you like you can add sugar to the fruit while cooking to make it sweeter.)

For basic french toast, whisk together 2 eggs with milk, brown sugar , cinnamon and vanilla. Dip your bread slices into the egg mixture and place in a heated pan with melted butter.  Top the french toast with fresh fruit mixture and enjoy!


Channel your inner Italian by making gnocchi! (Well, unless you are Italian I guess)

One of my best memories living with my old roommate Marissa was making homemade gnocchi from her grandmother’s recipe. It was a lot of fun, and ever since then I have loved fresh handmade gnocchi. This recipe is from the book Cook with Jamie (one of my favorite cookbooks, I’m a huge fan of Jamie Oliver.)

What you need (for 6 servings):

  • 6 medium potatoes
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • nutmeg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • all-purpose flour

First, preheat the oven to 425 F and rub the potatoes with olive oil, pricking them with a fork to let steam escape. Bake the potatoes for about an hour until they are fluffy on the inside.

Cut the potatoes in half, and scoop out the inside putting it through a potato ricer (I bought mine at Homesense but you can get one at most kitchen supply stores).

When you have all your potatoes… riced? (I don’t know the technical term, sorry) add a dash of nutmeg, salt (1 tablespoon) and pepper (just a pinch), the egg yolk and a few handfuls of flour. Mix thoroughly.  Now this is the tricky part about gnocchi and you might have to try it a few times before you get it just right. You need to add enough flour to make a dry dough, if it’s too dry add a bit of water and if it’s too wet you’ll need to add more flour. Aim for the texture of play dough and you’ll be fine.

Once you have the dough, roll it our on a floured surface in little tubes and cut them into 1 inch pieces or half inch pieces. To test your gnocchi place one in a pot of boiling water. If it falls apart you need to add more flour to your dough. These are basically potato so you need to be careful with them, they aren’t noodles!

Once your gnocchi is rolled and cut, place it on a floured tray in the fridge for 10 – 20 minutes to set. After setting you can cook them right away, or put the tray in the freezer to freeze the gnocchi then put them into bags to be cooked another day. I doubled the recipe and made some for dinner, and froze a few bags to use whenever we have gnocchi cravings.

The sauce that you use it up to you really; tomato, cream, pesto etc. Oh, and make sure to clean up all the flour from the kitchen. There will be a lot, unless you’re a lot neater than I am. (It was like a flour bomb went off in there!)

If you give it a try, let me know how it turns out!


What to make your Dad on Father’s Day? Manly crepes, obviously.

That’s right, crepes. But not just any old crepes, manly crepes. Crepes that have lots of cheese, big pieces of mushroom and maybe a chunk of bacon or prosciutto in there. That’s the kind of thing any dad would love to have made for him on Father’s Day.

Crepes are actually incredibly easy to make, and can be filled with just about anything. They can be topped with fruit cooked in wine, slices of steak and blue cheese or even grilled veggies. My Dad is the one who taught me how to make crepes growing up, and so I thought I would share this meal idea just before Father’s Day.

There are a lot of crepe recipes out there, they use very  few ingredients mixed until smooth. I used this basic crepe recipe from Allrecipes.com

What you need

  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

To make the batter mix the flour and eggs, then slowly add the milk and water. Once smooth add the salt and melted butter and combine.

Heat a nonstick pan and add about ½ a cup of batter, then tilt the pan  in circles so that the batter spreads out thinly. Keep turning the pan until the batter isn’t thinning anymore and has spread as evenly as it will go. Once browned, flip and cook the other side. Crepes cook very quickly, so keep an eye on them. (Sneaky crepes...)

In another skillet cook your filling. I used a combination of spinach and portabella mushrooms that I cooked with two cloves of garlic then added salt and pepper.

Arrange the crepe on a plate, add cheese and a line of filling. Roll the crepe. Repeat and arrange them beside each other, garnish with parsley or spice of your choice.

I also made a simple arugula salad, very popular in Italian cooking. (Yes, I made French crepes and an Italian salad. Very multicultural of me, right?) This salad is simple but tastes great, just toss baby arugula leaves with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper until evenly coated.

Feel free to try out a lot of combinations and come out with your own signature style of crepes, here are a few that I really like:

  • Blue cheese, fresh fig and prosciutto
  • Brie red pepper and chorizo
  • Asparagus with hollandaise sauce
  • Berries simmered in red wine
  • Banana, coconut and nutella

Quick and easy wonton appetizers

I’m a big fan of appetizers, they give people something to nibble on while you finish making dinner. Our kitchen is a bit on the small side, and having anyone hovering around me while I cook drives me crazy. My solution is to open a bottle of wine and have a bunch of appetizers in the other room to distract people from “that woman who keeps shouting at us to get out of the kitchen”.

My mom taught me how to make appetizers by using wonton wrappers to create a shell for the ingredients. So far, everyone who has tried them loves them. This includes the pug, who is basically a vacum cleaner substitute.

 

What you need:

  • 500g sausage meat
  • 3 green onions
  • 2 large green peppers
  • 1 bottle of ranch dressing
  • 1 package of shredded cheese
  • 1 package of wonton wrappers

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To create the “basket” you place two wonton wrappers so that they cover the sides of a muffin tin. If you use a mini-muffin tin you might only need one.

 

Bake the shell in the oven for 10 minutes or until browned at the edges.

 

While the shells are baking, sauté the sausage, green onion and peppers until cooked through.

 

Slowly add cheese and dressing until blended, but not to the point of being overly liquid. For me that was approximately half a package of shredded cheese and 1/3 bottle of ranch dressing.

 

Fill the shells with the mixture, and put back in the oven to bake for 5 minutes.

 

Ta-daaaa!

A lot of different combinations will work for the filling, but here are a few that I like;

  • Blue cheese, spinach and bacon
  • Mushrooms, red peppers and goat cheese
  • Cranberry, turkey and a slice of brie

I haven’t tried to fill them with a type of dessert yet, but I think they would work pretty well to serve up a scoop if ice cream or a bit of mixed fruit topped with whipped cream. You really can’t go wrong.

Enjoy!


Eating Other People’s Food – Vienna Edition

You know those people who always say “I don’t want to enter that draw, I never win anything.” I was one of those people. My advice to you, ENTER CONTESTS! ALWAYS ENTER THEM! Because sometimes you win, in my case, a trip for two to Vienna after celebrating the one year anniversary of In Toronto Magazine. So this post is not really about food and recipes as it is sharing a bit about my lovely trip to Austria.

First though we had to find care for this little guy while we were gone.

 

After a very extensive search to find what would make me most comfortable, Barks and Purrs in Toronto were wonderful. I would use them again in a heartbeat.

The food

So, a bit about the food. It was good, some better than others, but to be fair I’m not really a “meat and potatoes” kind of girl. I love starch and protein as much as the next person but in small doses. I’m also a big fan of spice, and found a few of the meals a bit bland. We ended up splitting a lot of foods to try as much local cuisine as we could. I really could have done with a bit more veggies but hey – we were on vacation.

 

My favorite meal was the hands down the Goulash, and I tried it at a few places. I’m going to try to make it again here in Canada and will post a recipe once I get it just right. It was delicious, slow cooked and topped with fresh herbs and sometimes a bit of sour cream.

 

 

The sights

Vienna is beautiful. Seriously postcard perfect, clean, and the architecture was breathtaking. In hindsight I’m sure it wasn’t hard to spot the tourists because we were walking around taking picture after picture of their homes. Their shops. Even their fruit stands.

 

My favorite thing about visiting other countries is trying the local food and drinks, it’s one of the main reasons I love to travel. And sometimes you see some pretty strange-looking things… (this sort of looks like a laughing package of cigarettes to me – anyone know what this is?)

Anyone love to travel to try new foods? If so, I would love to hear about any favorite meals that you’ve tried out of the country!