Tuesday, August 28, 2012

This ain't my Momma's cake!

Lazy Daisy Cake
Well, actually it is, but not quite.  For a while now I have been wanting to make a Lazy Daisy Cake which is a basic white cake with a coconut topping that I remember from being a kid.  I do not actually remember my Mom making it often but I have this small vignette memory of asking her about the name and liking the coconut topping and that has made the nostalgia factor quite high.

After getting the 'fancy' coconut sometime ago and using most of it for something else I finally got to the lazy daisy cake last Thursday night.  My first challenge was finding a recipe.  Though I remember my Mom having it in her personal recipe book - a little book of clear index card protectors with hand written recipe cards (they said "recipe card" at the top in orange script and were lined in orange with a special spot to note the source of your recipe) - it is not one that I have anymore and my Mom isn't around to ask either.  I was a bit skeptical about typing "lazy daisy cake" into the search bar but I got lots of results and chose this recipe at cooks.com.

It turned out to be the easy, quick recipe I was expecting and the much anticipated coconut topping that you baked on was there too.  Everything went well, the baking time was right on and I placed my topping on the warm cake, spread it out and put it back in the oven at low broil.  I walked away.

When I checked back things looked pretty good, the edges looked right and the topping was quite brown.  I took it out and realized that all was not as great as I had hoped, the centre was still very moist and slightly sunken.  Drat.

I could have just left it, and that is likely what my Mom would have done.  Putting it back under the broiler would have burnt it and there was nothing inedible about it.  Aaaanndddd, here is where we leave my Momma behind.  Faced with the dilemma of how to brown and crisp up the centre to perfect the cake I did what any self-respecting 21st century foodie with a very well equipped amateur kitchen would do - I got out the blow torch.

Lighting up the torch I began moving it briskly over the centre of the cake.  Quickly the coconut topping began sizzling and shortly I had some browning.  I kept at it though trying for the crispness of the perimeter.  In not too long, I started to have blackening - uh-oh.  I shut off the torch and re-assessed.  I could have walked away.  Instead, realizing I still didn't have the dry, crispness I sought I moved some of the topping around, thinning the centre slightly and moving some of the dark bit out of the line of fire.  Back to the torching, same process, its getting closer now.  Oh, starting to blacken again.  Torch off.  And out.  Enough I decided.  I did not have look as right as the edges but it was closer, and I was starting to be sure that I would be serving Cajun-topped cake if I didn't just walk away.
...and now with the blackened bits...

I realize that ending is a bit anti-climactic.  No burning cake - or kitchen - and it was even quite good eating, but let's look at the aftermath a bit.  As I said, it was a good cake.  Light, moist and buttery with the topping offering a slightly caramel crunch.  Then there was the middle of the top, not so much caramel, but rather chemically and charred.  As I ate I was reminded of my blow torch technique with each charcoal flavoured and fuel scented bite.

I am happy with the cake, and some nostalgia was served, but next time I will just not dump all the cold topping in the middle of the cake but spoon small amounts over the whole top and spread from there in hopes of minimizing the issue I encountered this time.  I will also accept a slightly moist, chewy topping in the middle if I must and pass on the blow torch topping.  Not crisp seems preferable to chemical charcoal for me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Is Corn Maltodextrin the same as Tapioca Maltodextrin?

I tried to make an olive oil powder with the maltodextrin I bought yesterday at Lifestyles Market.  The olive oil powder is supposed to melt in your mouth, that is not really what happened.  The result was nothing worth eating and it left me with a small gummy bit of something in my mouth.  

There are two reasons it may not have worked - either I made a mistake in the recipe or the maltodextrin is not the right type.  The one I used was made from corn and the recipes seem to call from tapioca maltodextrin.   I can not find anything online which definitively tells me that the difference matters.   The corn based maltodextrin I bought is supposed to be good for many of the uses expected such as thickening a smoothie and such.  

I followed the recipe as it was outlined though I needed a lot more maltodextrin.  Various other recipes said I would need a much larger portion of maltodextrin than this recipe called for.   The result looks like what I saw in the pictures so I really think there has to be a substantive difference between the two maltodextrins.

Playing with my food

I will be posting some pictures and videos of what I have been doing soon, but here is a bit of what I have been experimenting with in the house.

Exploring molecular gastronomy online - there are some interesting videos at youtube by Molecule-R.  A lot of it is not very hard to do at all and after having watched numerous videos I am convinced I can do most of it.  I thought I would start with what I had in my kitchen - agar agar.

Agar agar - I have used it to make sheets of the following:  apple cider vinegar, lemonade, and peach juice.  The liquid with agar agar was brought to boiling and then poured on a cookie sheet.   The liquid gelled rather quickly, only a few minutes and I could lift the sheets off of the cookie sheet.

The sheets of the liquids are cool and have an interesting texture when you eat them.  I have not tried using them in any dish yet.  This is mainly because I am experimenting with what it takes to create the sheets.  I have had one that was a bit too firm, though this made it very easy to handle.  Another one was not firm enough and I had trouble getting it off of the cookie sheet.   I will film the process sometime later this week.

I also used it to help set some peach jam, I was short on pectin.  This seems to have worked well and therefore I decided to try it on some blackberries and see if I could make a functional small batch of jam.   The stuff set but it is too firm to be a jam.  

Exploring what supplies I can get at Lifestyles Market - they have a large and interesting selection of ingredients you need to experiment with your food.  They have agar agar, maltodextrin, xantham gum, soy lecithin, citric acid, Irish moss, and more.  The only thing they do not have is sodium alginate/calcium lactate.

I did not buy much at Lifestyles but I did buy some maltodextrin yesterday and want to try experimenting with it.   The stuff can make a liquid into a powder that melts when it comes in contact with moisture.  The most common thing people seem to make is olive oil powder which I will try later today.

I also purchased some Himalayan rock salt.  It is a bit pricey as a salt, but as a cool item it is cheap.  I bought half a dozen salt rocks, and rock is the right word as they are 1 cm by 2-3 cm in size.   My youngest son thought they were ice cubes.   I need to find a good way to take pictures of them.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Stephen at the pizza making course

Stephen took an adult cooking course last night at Cook Culture in the Atrium from Dwane MacIssac.  This is a few moments of Stephen assembling his own pizza - I did not think to grab the phone fast enough to get it all.

Sheila took some pictures and I will post them up here shortly.  

Stephen was much younger than all the rest of the people in the course which made it a bit strange to see him there and to drop him off.   Stephen is 12 now, but he is a young looking 12.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Two visits with a Pig

Pig Decor

A couple of months ago when Daniel was graduating and getting a haircut at Liberty Barbershop we decided to lunch at Pig BBQ Joint as both located in the Atrium building on Blanshard between Yates and Johnson.
I fell in love with pig over a buffalo and blue cheese schnitzel slider they served at the 2011 Culinaire Event but Bernard has always been less of a fan, though not a hater, as you can see by his initial review of the place.  On this particular Saturday they had a full size variant of the schnitzel slider on which is what I had and I continued my love of Pig.  Bernard on the other hand continued his rather rocky relationship when he opted to try their Brisket Burrito.  The meat itself was, as it always seems to be at Pig, quite tasty.  However, the rice that accompanied it in the wrap was not stellar at all.

Now, Bernard tends to be more critical than I when it comes to dining out, and also more willing to say something about it.  This has created some stress in our dining experiences both because I am a bit uncomfortable with bringing it up and because it often becomes a minor confrontation that doesn't end well - at least for me.  In his defense, Bernard does have legitimate complaints, and that overcooked, mealy, gluey rice in the burrito was no exception, but his complaints are often met with some level of hostility or apathy that is upsetting and really not ideal customer service.

Why am I writing about this now, over a month later?  Why am I on about reactions to complaints? To answer the second question first - because we experienced a very different response to Bernard's complaint that day. He debated even saying anything not wanting to be brushed off or to argued with about the crappy rice.  Finally, he did go and talk to the woman at the till.  He returned impressed, and a bit surprised, they had not only accepted the validity of his complaint and offered him a different meal but when he turned down a replacement they gave him two $5 gift cards.  He was very happy, not just with their honest concern about the food but that they actually offered him something to compensate him.

I was happily finishing my schnitzel burger, relieved that no uncomfortable scene unfolded, when I noticed one of the staff erasing something form the inside menu board, and then proceed to the outside one.  With some amazement - and much delight - we realized they had removed the offending food from the list.  Hoorah!  We thanked the staff member for their very good response to Bernard's concern and applauded their great customer service.  The staff member was a bit confused that we would be so excited - after all she said - that rice wasn't right and we wouldn't want anymore people getting poor food.  What a delight it was to see that attitude.

Now we go back to the first question about why I am writing this so long after the fact - and for that matter - what's up with the title?  Tonight we were dropping Stephen off for a pizza making course at Cook Culture that his grandparents gave him for his birthday and decided to make use of our gift cards to Pig.  What was our experience this time?  Sadly, no schnitzel sandwich for me - but I enjoyed their basic pulled pork sandwich and Stephen devoured his absolutely smothered Chili Cheese Dog.

The Chili-Cheese Dog
The crowning moment though was Bernard's dinner.  After all it was his dubious lunch that had got us the gift cards so would our return visit redeem the Pig?  Bernard ordered a special again, this time the honey garlic chicken wings.  I noticed he worked his way through them quite quickly and with no complaint, so I knew they were okay, but the final word came a bit after dinner on the ride home when he told me they were the best wings he had ever had.  A tasty but not overpowering sauce, very crispy skin and juicy, succulent meat.  On a bit of a butcher's side not they looked like legs rather than wings - but they definitely came from a chicken and weren't the fingers either.
Honey Garlic Wings

A happy ending for this tale of two Pig visits and kudos for the good business and food practices that turned a rocky visit into a triumphant return trip.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Stephen's Strawberry Jam

My 12 year old son Stephen makes and sells jam.   At the moment he has strawberry jam available in three sizes, 125ml, 250ml and 500ml.

The jam is made with strawberries from Galey's farm, Pamona's pectin, lemon juice and sugar.   The jam is low sugar with 2/3s of the jam being fruit as opposed to most homemade jams that are more than 50% sugar.

The prices he sells them for:
125ml - $4
250ml - $6
500ml - $10

You can purchase it from him by calling 250-298-7501

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Famoso Neapolitan Pizza

Sheila and I were part of the group of people here in town invited to the opening evening of the new Famoso Neapolitan Pizza in Market Square.   We were surprised by the invite but it seems this blog caught their eye.

We could not bring our normal camera because we broke the SD card earlier in the day and we need to buy a new one, so the pictures I have do not do justice to the food or restaurant.

There is no way Famoso is going to ever avoid being compared to Prima Strada which is not really going to be fair on them as the two restaurants are not really direct competitors.

Prima Strada is a great restaurant but it is really a place for serious foodies and and in many ways not the general public as such.   Famoso is a much more accessible place to be introduced to real Neapolitan pizza and with a broader menu it allows groups with less adventurous people to come along.

Prima Strada is in a wood fired oven, Famoso seems to use a purpose built gas fired oven.   This means Famoso has more control and consistency over the baking of the pizzas.  When they are up to speed the pizzas should all be consistent day in and day out.   At Prima Strada the wood firing means that the crust often has bubbles that have burnt.  Most times there are only a couple but I have had some where there are really too many and the whole pizza gets a carbon aftertaste.

Both places offer Neapolitan pizza which is not what the term pizza means to most people.  In North America the public has become used to the pizza as a huge mass of toppings with think gooey cheese and a lot of sauce with all of this baked at a lower temperature than is ideal.   The North American pizza is not about the dough and Pizza Hut takes this to the ultimate extent with their stuffed crusts.   Neapoltian pizza is something very different and requires a rethink of what you understand to be a pizza.

A Neapolitan pizza is made with OO flour, a very fine low gluten flour from Italy - I had no idea it was low gluten and was surprised at this as I expected pizza dough would need to have a lot of gluten to stretch enough.   The pizza is covered with a small amout of sauce and toppings and the cheese never coats the whole top of the pizza.   It them goes in the oven for 90 seconds at a temperature of 900 degrees.

We arrived for the 8:30 sitting and were ushered to our table.   We were given the oven roasted olives with a spicy olive oil as a starter, I was impressed as these were the best olives I have ever eaten in my life.  We are also both given an Italian Spritz cocktail to start - prosecco, aperol and soda water.

I had the Siciliana pizza and it clearly had the basis for a great pizza but the execution fell short.   There was too much sauce on the dough and this meant that as soon as it was cut the pizza started to get soggy.   A Neapolitan pizza requires a thin skiff of sauce and that really takes time for the people making them and for the public eating them to get used to.  When the first Prima Strada opened on Cook Street the soggy pizza situation happened there.   I also have to question the choice of one of the hams on the pizza, it was a salt cured ham that is naturally damp and I suspect added to the soggy crust.

Sheila had the Margherita and it was well done.   I did not get a chance to try a slice so I can not tell you how it tasted, but Sheila seemed very happy with it.
Sheila's Margherita

I had the lemon sorbetto, I love a good lemon sorbetto, something that is so easy find in much of Europe but something way to rare in Canada.  Famoso has a relationship with Fiasco Gelato of Calgary, who supply them.   The lemon sorbetto was very good and the portion was generous.   James from Fiasco was on hand for the opening and we talked with him for awhile.   Hopefully in the future Fiasco Gelato will be for sale by the pint at Famoso.

Sheila ordered the Dolce & Banana desert - it was more than big enough for two people but only $7.  It is oven roasted bananas covered in caramelized brown sugar, crushed pecans and a caramel sauce.  It is then topped with a scoop of the Fiasco vanilla gelato.

The prices are generally quite reasonable with some good deals such as a free gelato scoop for kids 12 and younger.

After the meal there was a talk by one of the founders, Justin Lussier, about the story of Famoso and then a demonstration of how the pizza is made.

Famoso was started by Justin together Jason Allard and Christian Bullock in Edmonton not that many years ago, the partners all look like they are only around 30 years old.   They have expanded quickly with 15 locations already.   As of now there are eight in the Edmonton area, two in Calgary, one in Jasper, one in Vancouver, two in Toronto and now the newest on in Victoria.

Wednesday night was a training night, a dress rehearsal before opening to the public this weekend.   In general things worked well though a few minor glitches happened but I am sure those will be gone by now.

My biggest concern about the restaurant is how loud it is, there were times when the noise almost made conversation impossible.   We talked with the local franchise owner, Corey Arsenault, about this and I hope that he finds some way to soften the walls or ceiling so that the noise is not over powering.

Could I do this at home?  No, I can not cook the pizza at the temperatures needed and we do not have the right dough to make the pizza.   The gelato is of a quality that we can not do in our house, we would have to invest in a bunch of equipment to make it.

Will we go back?   Yes because it will work better for us with the kids than Prima Strada.

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