Tuesday, 18 November 2014

(Super belated) October Favourites

I contemplated skipping October favourites because it is already so late into November but October was just too wonderful to not blog about. A lot happened in October and here are some highlights: 
1. I did a lot of baking! I tried out the apple pie buttermilk biscuits recipe as part of Joy the Baker's baking bootcamp and I can't wait to try out the new challenge she posted this month. My relatives came over from the US and from China, so I did some baking for them as well. My favourite baked goods this month? Lemon and raspberry bars with a rosemary almond shortbread crust! I am also obsessed with the rosemary olive oil cookies from the Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee book. When I was at Blue Bottle Coffee in New York, I was a tad too full to try out their baked goods, but I am glad I got their book so I can recreate the pastries at home.
2. I met a new friend at my favourite cafe (Le Marche St. George!) and did some catching up with my food buddy Ting at the restaurant Wildebeest in Gastown. Ting and I have been wanting to try Wildebeest for quite some time and I am so glad we decided to go one Thursday evening. There is an egg dish on their menu and it is a complete game changer. Farm egg cooked at 63 degrees, placed on top of a barley risotto, topped with comte cheese and crispy garlic bits. I'll let you wrap your mind around that, It was so delicious that I might've went back to Wildebeest two days later...
3. I got to spend some time with my favourite  in Victoria discovering popsicle shops, trying out new cafes, and celebrating his birthday. Hope you enjoyed your birthday weekend and your gifts (and copious amounts of coffee beans) : )
4. I received my package from my pen pal! I met Liang on instagram and we bonded over photos of coffee and cafes in New York (that's where she is located). Liang is a talented designer and she sent over a beautiful letter along with postcards she designed, as well as a really nice wooden spoon for my future food photos. I freakin' love pen pals and snail mail.
5. I spent thanksgiving studying for my stats midterm, but I still managed to have a lovely Thanksgiving weekend. Calming Vancouver rain, perfectly mellow playlists, and a Thanksgiving lunch box with all the works - what more can a girl ask for.
6. I received a postcard from my favourite lifestyle and food photographer that she sent when she was on her travels in Europe. Joann of Slice of Pai is amazing and you definitely need to check out her work if you're not familiar with it already.

...And I think that pretty much sums up my October!
I hope you had a lovely October as well.
Amy

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Recipe: Peanut Butter Cookies Three-Ways

What I am about to say may come as a shock, but I feel like it is only right for me to address it (in a very public fashion). I never liked peanut butter until this year. I never liked it as a kid and I have never liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I have had one PB&J sandwich in my childhood and I thought it was gross. This could be due to the fact that the PB&J sandwich was first presented to me by an airline company as part of their kid's meal. Maybe.

Sometime this year I decided to give peanut butter a second chance. I started off with a nibble of a Starbucks peanut butter cookie. Then I went to try Kraft peanut butter and that led me to try freshly ground peanut butter from Whole Foods. Baby Steps. Foot in the door phenomenon. Whatever you want to call it, I am now obsessed with peanut butter. I have had so much peanut butter in the last little while that I am pretty sure I made up for all the years that I have been going peanut butter-free. I am also pretty sure I have reached my peanut butter quota for a 23-year old person. Just kidding. There is no such quota. Give me another jar. Preferably honey peanut butter topped with a bit of sea salt. Heaven.

It only felt right to ask for forgiveness from the peanut butter gods for my 22 years of pure ignorance by making a copious amount of peanut butter cookies. They are a classic and this classic has been missing in all my life. That's why I had to make 50 of these damn cookies in one afternoon. Don't worry - I'm not going to give you a recipe for just 50 plain (but still ultra delicious) PB cookies. I'm going to give you a 3-in-1 type of recipe. One peanut butter cookie dough base and three types of PB cookies. You're welcome.

Classic Peanut Butter Cookie "Base" Dough
What you will need:
1. One cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
2. Three quarter cup granulated sugar
3. Three quarter cup brown sugar
4. Two eggs
5. Three teaspoon vanilla extract
6. One cup (approximate one jar) of creamy unsalted peanut butter
*You want to use the more "processed" type of peanut butter, like the original Kraft or Skippy. Natural peanut butters that tend to separate into a layer of oil and a layer of peanut paste will make a greasier cookie
7. Three cups and a pinch more of all-purpose flour
8. One teaspoon baking soda
9. One teaspoon baking powder
10. Half teaspoon salt 
Yields: approximately 45-50 cookies (15 for each type!)

Cream together the butter and both sugars, then add in the eggs. Next, add in the vanilla and the peanut butter. Mix until well incorporated. 

In a clean bowl, combine your dry ingredients - AP flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. 

Add the wet ingredients to your dry ingredients. After you have finished making this peanut butter cookie base, divide the dough into three equal portions, one for each type of peanut butter cookie. 
Classic Peanut Butter Cookies
You're all set for your classic peanut butter cookies. Roll the dough into balls and these are ready to go in the oven at 350F for about 13 - 15 minutes, or until the edges turn golden brown.

Marbled Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cookies
What you will need in addition to the classic peanut butter cookie dough base:
1. One tablespoon cocoa powder

Take portion of your classic peanut butter dough base and divide it into two parts - one for the PB portion and the other for the chocolate swirl. Add the one tablespoon of cocoa powder to one of the portioned out cookie dough. I know, I know. I'm not suppose to add a dry ingredient like cocoa powder to the cookie dough...but hey, it is so much more work for us to divide the the wet and dry ingredients each into three, add cocoa powder to one of the dry ingredient portions, then make the cookie dough base. I swear, if you mix well and sift the cocoa powder evenly onto the dough base, you will not have a problem with clumpy cocoa powder in your dough. You gotta trust me on this one.

After you have created a chocolate cookie dough, gently fold the chocolate dough into the peanut butter dough. Keyword, gently. You don't want your marbled cookie to look like an indecisive cookie that could not make the decision to whether become a PB cookie or a full on chocolate cookie. You want to be able to see the swirls.

Roll out the dough into balls and bake at 350F for 13 - 15 minutes, or until the edges turn golden brown.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Jam Drops 
What you will need in addition to the classic peanut butter cookie dough base:
1. Half cup of jam/jelly of your choice

Finally we got to the last variation. At this point you're probably sick of seeing the word 'peanut butter' for the hundredth time. Roll out the dough into dough balls and use your thumb to create a little well in the centre of each dough ball. Take (tea)spoonful of jam and drop it in the centre. Bake these how you would bake the other PB cookies - at 350F for 13 - 15 minutes.
BAM. All done. One cookie dough base, three types of peanut butter cookies. If you bring all three varieties to a party, people are going to think "oh, you really shouldn't have" (please, we all know they are eyeing those cookies) and that you spent soooo much time making the cookies. The fact that all the cookies came from one dough base? We'll keep that a secret between you and me.

My favourite are the marbled cookies because they taste exactly like a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup. A little hilarious side story to all this? Baking 50 cookies in one afternoon was obviously not enough. Cheesy sage cornbread muffins were also made that same afternoon. #behindthescenes
Until next time,
Happy baking!

PS. I actually have a few DIY posts lined up.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Making bread for the first time: pumpkin soft pretzels!

I made bread for the first time! Yup, I did! I am a huge fan of Le Creme de la Crumb - all of her recipes always look so delicious. When I saw that she posted up a recipe for these cinnamon sugar pumpkin soft pretzels, I knew I had to recreate those flavours in my kitchen. I used a combination of her recipe and another basic soft pretzel recipe to make my soft pretzels. The only part where I really deviated from the Le Creme de la Crumb recipe was the part about letting the dough rest and puff up. I let the dough rest for a full hour instead of the ten minutes she suggested. I also used pumpkin spice emulsion instead of pumpkin pie spice (I just had a bottle handy in my pantry!).

I am so glad I chose soft pretzels to be my first bread attempt because they are actually really simple and super fun to make. Instead of kneading the dough by hand for the entire process, I used the hook attachment on my mixer (for the first time!) to do all the work. I still kneaded the dough just a bit to get a feel for kneading dough ; )

For the full recipe and the original instructions (with a resting time of 10 minutes), you can check out Le Creme de la Crumb's post. PS. She even makes a cream cheese drizzle for them!

Here was my take on these fall-appropriate cinnamon sugar pumpkin soft pretzels:






Happy baking and early (Canadian) thanksgiving!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

September Favourites

At the end of every month I get really excited because I love love love putting together my monthly favourites. Wait. Amy, you've only done one other favourites post...how can you say that they are your favourite ones to do? Well. I intended to do one for every month during summer...but somehow, by some freak of nature, I did not. Ha.

Let's get back to the important stuff - September was pretty much a mixed bag. School started - ick. But I also did some pretty cool things, drank a few cups of great coffee, and made some really cool new friends.

So, here are some of my favourites:
1. I got to spend several lovely afternoons with my favourite at some of my favourite cafes. Coffee and cafe highlights of the month? Finally trying Hey Happy, discovering Supersonic Roasters coffee at Revolver, and soaking in all the coffee shop vibes at Le Marche St. George. Ps. Earnest Ice Cream's raspberry ice cream is to die for.
2. A lot of baking! I came up with my own recipe for spicy chocolate snickerdoodle cookies and worked with yeast/tried making bread for the first time! Verdict? I love watching bread dough rise - it is so exciting!
3. Meeting Celine and Christina for lunch at Finch's Market. I got to know Celine and Christina over instagram and we all bonded over quaint cafes and beautiful calligraphy. You know you were meant to be friends when you all show up in some variation of each other's outfits. I am so excited to meet up with them next.
4. Making new friends 2.0 - I now have a pen pal! I have been following Liang (she's in New York!) on instagram for quite and bit and she has been following me as well. I am pretty sure we started chatting over similar cafe photos and hashtags. I know, I know. That probably sounds pretty lame to you, but I think it is a completely kickass experience. Liang received my little package for her already and I am expecting to receive hers next week : )
5. Catching up with old friends. Jennifer and I met in university and we share similar sentiments over cats, stats homework, and cook book photography. We spent a rainy afternoon at Timbertrain and it was oh so lovely.
6. Getting to see my barista friend Edison doing his thing! I met Edison through playing volleyball and we would have the occasional chat about coffee and his contempt over the #dailycortado hashtag (Sorry, Patrick!). I knew him when he was working at Forty Ninth Parallel but never got a chance to catch him while he was working. Since then he has started working at Beaucoup Bakery as a barista. I dropped by with a few friends last week and Edison made us the perfect cups of coffee. 
7. Celebrating national coffee day by making a quick stop at Revolver (they were serving Supersonic that day too!) before work.
8. Not pictured, but just as awesome - finally, and I mean FINALLY, trying the breakfast sandwiches from the Yolk's foodtruck. They got me at 'lemon truffle hash browns.'

That's it! October is going to be a busy month but I know it's going to be great. 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Recipe: Soft and Chewy Snickerdoodles

So this year has been an exciting year. Don't worry, I'm not going to ramble some more about how great my New York trip was (I can ramble forever). This year I turned over a new leaf. No guys. This is very serious. I am completely serious. This year, I started really liking things I didn't really like before. "What do you mean, Amy," you might ask. Well, my food preferences really changed! My palette started resembling the taste palette of a normal human being. I started liking avocado, peanut butter, tomatoes, peas (sorry, I still don't like frozen peas though), and cinnamon. What? I know it's pretty blasphemous that I never liked avocados and peanut butter before. I used to poke out the avocado from my California rolls. I don't know what sparked this change, but I ain't complaining because avocados are amazing. 

Because I was never really a fan of cinnamon except on an occasional churro at the summer fair, I never really liked snickerdoodle cookies. The combination of cinnamon spice and tanginess never worked for me...until now. Now I am obsessed - with both making them and eating them. I love making them because a) the word snickerdoodle itself is so fun to say, b) I love the look of them...seriously those cracks! and c) most people love snickerdoodles and when you offer them a homemade snickerdoodle cookie, you automatically get ten extra brownie points. Not that I count my brownie points or anything. 

Even though I just started liking snickerdoodles, I have already developed a preference for a certain kind of snickerdoodle cookie. I like them soft and chewy, versus the really thin and crispy kind. Actually, I think I prefer most of my cookies to be soft-baked cookies. 

So here is my take on a former enemy, but now bff kind of cookie - soft-baked snickerdoodles, slightly adapted from the recipe on Sally's Baking Addiction.

What you will need:
1. Half cup unsalted butter (at room temperature)
2. Half cup granulated sugar
3. Half an egg 
(I know, I know..what is half an egg. I whisked the egg and used half of the liquid. I just didn't want to make 30 cookies. Who needs 30 cookies? Well I can eat all 30...)
4. Two teaspoon vanilla extract
5. One and a half cup all purpose flour
6. One teaspoon cream of tartar (you can't omit this!)
7. Half teaspoon baking soda
8. One and a quarter teaspoon ground cinnamon
9. Quarter teaspoon salt 

Cinnamon sugar:
1. One-eighth cup granulated sugar
2. Half teaspoon cinnamon 
*You will probably have extra...I just save the extra cinnamon sugar in a container..just because you never know when you will need cinnamon sugar!

Yields: 13 - 15 two-bite cookies 
Preheat the oven at 375F. In a standing mixer (or by hand!) cream together the butter and the granulated sugar. Add in half an egg and the vanilla extract. 

In a separate bowl, combine all your dry ingredients. Don't skimp out on cream of tartar. Snickerdoodles need the cream of tartar - it is what makes them soft, gives them the tang, and gives them the nice crackly texture upon baking. Get yourself some cream of tartar and I promise that you will find other uses for it (and because I will posting many more recipes that call for cream of tartar).

Combine the wet and dry ingredients by adding the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix until just combined. Feel free to chill the dough before rolling it out into little cookie dough balls, but chilling doesn't make the biggest difference with this recipe - I tried it both ways. 

Stick these into the oven for about 10 minutes, until the edges just turn golden brown. Please don't over-bake them - they are intended to be soft and chewy and not hard as a rock. These will stay soft for a couple of days. I saved one for two days just to make sure they stayed soft....it was very hard resisting the temptation to eat my tester cookie on the first day!

PS. It is really exciting watching the top of the snickerdoodles crack.

Let the cookies cool for about 5 minutes before removing them from the cookie sheet.

These are so soft and chewy...it's like biting into a cinnamon cloud of happiness. No exaggeration. They are really easy to make and because no dough chilling is required, you can make and bake these in under 30 minutes. Efficiency and deliciousness? Why the heck not. 

Eat them all in one sitting or try and pace yourself with the cookies. It will be hard though.

PS. I am currently working on my very own spicy chocolate snickerdoodle cookie recipe (with cayenne in the cookie and in the cinnamon sugar dusting!). Just doing a few more test batches to ensure the perfect cookie. Here is just a small sneak peak ; ) I wasn't lying when I said you will find other uses for the cream of tartar. Yup, you will be biting into clouds of chocolatey cinnamon goodness.


Friday, 19 September 2014

...And that's a wrap, summer 2014.

Is it a little too late to be doing a summer favourites blog post? Well, I take the saying 'better late than never' very seriously. Summer 2014 was pretty fantastic -  I tried out a bunch of new restaurants, caffeinated really often, and had the best vacation ever in New York. I also invested in a KitchenAid standing mixer and started my little baking adventure. I have been a less active in the DIY front, but I am really pleased with all the new experiences I had this summer. 

If you know me, you know I am obsessed with Instagram. Somebody should have warned me that I would be decreasing my life productivity by like 30% once I sign up for Instagram. (The other 70% of productivity is claimed by Netflix). I am pretty active on Instagram, hashtagging my daily #coffee and all my #baking ventures. I just love how Instagram is like a mini portable gallery you can carry around with you. This summer is when I really started using Instagram and while scrolling through my gallery I realized that I am so happy with how this summer turned out. So I wanted to do a quick recap of it here...both for you and for myself. I categorized all my "favourites" (though almost every experience I had can be called a favourite) to give this post some structure. 

I am hoping to do monthly favourites at the of each month - so I can look back and reflect on all the cool things I got to do and try. I have been asked by quite a few friends to blog about my coffee/cafe and restaurant experiences but I'm not sure if I am capable of reviewing or let alone critiquing a place. So this will have to do for now. I can let you know of the places I tried and liked! Enough rambling, be prepared for pictures overload.

Baking favourites:
I know, I know. This is pretty much a collage of everything I baked this summer. I just couldn't play favourites for this because baking is still so novel and exciting to me! Every baking adventure is like a little lesson for me to learn about ingredients, textures, and temperatures. But if I had to pick a favourite, it would be making donuts. I love baking donuts and people just seem to be extra happy when you give them a donut!  

Favourite experiences & moments:
After I made the collage, I realized most of these are food-related :$ The best kind of people are the people who love eating right? 

This summer I got a chance to catch up with old friends and make new friends. Some highlights include:
1. Finally trying out restaurants that have been on my list for a while, like The Acorn, L'Abattoir, and the Pourhouse for some live jazz music.
2. Catching up with old friends and bonding even more over sharing plates and creative unconventional desserts.  
3. Having afternoon tea at Van Dusen Garden's Truffles Cafe before heading to see Bard on the Beach. Truffles Fine Foods contacted me and said they would set up something for me the next time I visited the garden. I had the afternoon tea set there and the experience was great! They offer a good variety of both sweet and savoury items. Unlike other afternoon tea sets with the traditional cucumber and egg salad tea sandwiches, Truffles Cafe lets you choose your own sandwich from their sandwich menu. I went with turkey and brie on cranberry bread. They cut up the sandwich into small two-bite pieces and it was great! The afternoon tea experience there is a bit more casual than places like Secret Garden or Urban Tea Merchant, so it is great if you are looking for something more relaxed. They also put together picnic baskets (which was fantastic!) and even cater as well.
4. Having an al fresco dinner party with friends. My friends Ivy and Eunice hosted their own version of a Diner en Blanc...and it was had a Midsummer Night's Dream theme!
5. Finding a few new favourites with my favourite in Victoria, BC, like Parsonage Cafe, Il Terrazzo, and Jam Cafe. (I need a Charlie  bowl from Jam Cafe, pronto.) Any city can be a great city with great company. 
6. Recreating one of my favourite meals (a la Little Collins) from my New York trip. I can eat avocado toast for days...especially if its mashed with feta cheese an topped with chilli flakes and pepitas. 

Summer highlight & NYC favourites:
So this gets it's own little section because to lump my New York experience into the general summer highlights above would not be doing it any justice. I feel like this small little collage isn't doing it much justice either..but...I have to start somewhere, right? Okay. New York. I have been wanting to go since...I don't even know. Actually scratch that. I have been wanting to go ever since I started getting into coffee and cafés. I had (and I still work on it!) a list of cafés in New York I wanted to try. This trip came together because of this list...and a few impulsive decisions (not on my part though, I swear). I got to try most of the cafés on my list like Little Collins, Cafe Grumpy, Bluebird Coffeeshop, Gasoline Alley, and Happy Bones (where I got to witness the Instagram-ing action of @aguynamedpatrick in real life!). And don't even get me started about the food in New York...the ramen and steamed buns from Momofuku, the olive oil cake from Abraco (yes, I had a slice of cake on my list of things to eat in nyc), the chicken and waffles from Pies 'n Thighs, the entire Buvette experience...the list goes on forever. I did my fair share of touristy things too but I really believe that submerging yourself into the cafe and restaurant scene of a city is one of the best ways to experience a city. I went to the New York Public Library, Grand Central Terminal, and even had a makeshift picnic at Central Park (followed by a trek to Laduree for macarons). I also have a new found love for walking 50 blocks (no exaggeration) to Trader Joe's, going down every single aisle at TJs, and walking the 50 blocks back. And the company. The company. It wouldn't have been the same without the company. I have never been this attached to a city and I am already started a list of cafés to try for my second visit.

You didn't think I would let you go without making you look at the coffee I consumed in New York, did you? Well the coffee scene in New York was pretty much on point. Here are just a few of the many cups I had/shared....just because there aren't enough photos in this post. Obviously.
Until next summer...New York, I love you. 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

(Buy or) DIY: Tiffany Rhinestone Infinity Bracelet

Hello! Are you shocked that you didn't see the word 'recipe' in the title? 'Cause I sure am. I have been in my own little baking world lately that I have been neglecting the DIY and crafting aspects of my blog. That being said...in no way am I claiming that I'm a baker. I just enjoy experimenting and crafting little treats in my kitchen. 

I have been wanting to do this 'DIY' for a while but at the same time I hesitate to even call it a DIY because it is so simple. Maybe I should start a new series..a Buy or DIY series where I remake simple pieces one would otherwise pay a lot of money for. Maybe? 

Infinity bracelets from Tiffany & Co. are always super popular. I can safely say that because my first Tiffany-inspired double chain infinity bracelet post is one of my most popular posts on Constellation Inspiration. Tiffany came out with another variation of the infinity bracelet - a diamond infinity charm bracelet.
I know, I know. It is $2250 because it is pretty much made of diamonds...but I don't think I'm going to be spending two grand on a bracelet any time soon.

I found these rhinestone infinity connector charms and thought they would be the perfect 'I-don't-want-to-spend-two-thousand-dollars' replacement for the Tiffany bracelet. 
What you will need:
1. Infinity charm
2. Silver chain 
3. Jump rings
4. Lobster clasp


I'm going to attempt to sum up all the steps in one sentence: open jump ring, attach charm to chain with jump ring (do the same on both sides), and attach clasp at either end. Bam. Done. Just saved two thousand dollars. You're welcome.
It makes me feel a tad bit uneasy for posting such a simple 'tutorial.' Oh well, maybe this will inspire you to make your own...until you have saved up enough to splurge on the real thing. 

Until next time, happy DIY-ing!