MoCupcakes, No Problem!

The manliest cupcake. Does that sound like a contradiction? I wasn’t sure what to expect when asked to be a judge in the MoCupcakes event that took place at Transcend Garneau last Monday, but it sure sounded like it would be a tasty task.

MoCupcakeYEG

Cupcakes galore!

MoCupcakes is one event in the Movember arsenal to help raise awareness of and funds to fight prostate cancer, a disease that 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with in their lifetime. Although the campaign has been around for a few years (yes, it is the reason for the unsightly moustaches seen in November), 2010 has been the most successful year by far, having raised over $800,000, contributing to the over $20 million raised in Canada.

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Demistache

So, why cupcakes? Well, why not? From the MoCupcakes website:

Why not combine an iconic feminine baked delight  “cupcakes” and mash it up with a historically masculine cause that is changing the face of men’s health?

Jas Darrah was the mastermind behind Edmonton MoCupcakes, soliciting six bakers and five judges to determine the city’s manliest cupcake. The team at Transcend (who were also growing ‘staches for the cause), were generous enough to donate the venue, with staff agreeing to work on their own time when the shop closed for the night. Bravo.

MoCupcakeYEG

Jas explains the rules

Each of the six competitors were given an opportunity to describe their creation to the crowd, knowing that the name and explanation of their cupcake would be worth 10 out of the possible 30 points (10 additional points were awarded for the look, and the last 10 for taste).

MoCupcakeYEG

Jerry introduces his cupcake

Bacon enthusiast Jerry Aulenbach did not disappoint – his Cheddar Bacon Mo-fin with a chocolate ganache was a play on sweet and savoury flavours. But he even had bacon-less versions for those needing a kosher cupcake!

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Cheddar Bacon Mo-Fin

Although Ailynn Santos of Whimsical Cupcakes wasn’t on hand for the presentations, her box of “Big Poppa” cupcakes were accompanied with an explanation that the moustachioed cupcake featured a spice base and root beer frosting. The straw cigarette was a nice touch.

MoCupcakeYEG

Big Poppa

The cupcakes from Upper Crust were about twice the size of the others, and gorgeously showcased Edmonton’s most popular professional sports teams – right down to an Oilers decal made of icing and a football constructed from a chocolate-covered almond.

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Sports-themed cupcakes

Transcend’s own Chad Moss offered a Chocolate Beet-down Mo-cake, using his wife Thea’s recipe. Though he would not divulge whether or not bacon fat was added to the batter, his cupcake was made using local ingredients where possible.

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Chocolate Beet-down Mo-cake

Food blogger Chris Falconer offered his own interpretation of a cupcake with his Sunday Dinner Mancake, featuring a toasted bread crisp surrounding the ground beef, bacon and parmesan centre, then topped with a goat cheese mashed potato fondant and a maple sugar crisp. Talk about a dinner in cupcake form!

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Sunday Dinner Mancake

Last but certainly not least, Jas’s wife Linda Affolder presented her tool-belt wearing Stud Muffins – an encapsulation of men with their “strong chocolate exterior”, a shot of Guinness in the frosting, and a soft caramel centre. The fleur de sel sprinkling was icing on the cake.

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Stud Muffins

Alongside Kerry Powell, Ryan Jespersen, Seth Glick, and Nathan Box, we had the arduous task of assigning scores to each of the cupcakes. I know I was glad to have a rubric to fall back on.

MoCupcakeYEG

Cheers!

Who has the best milk moustache?

Nate means business!

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The judging

That said, Linda’s salty-sweet Stud Muffin was my personal favourite – the combination of the dark chocolate, caramel centre, and fleur de sel was just perfect, and made me wonder why the local cupcakeries aren’t already capitalizing on those flavours (Linda’s recipe can be found here).

MoCupcakeYEG

It’s a hard job, but somebody’s got to do it!

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The judging remnants (all taken home and finished later)

The winners, you ask? Chris’ savoury cupcake earned 125 out of a possible 150 points for third place.

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Chris and Sarah toy with their prize

Second place was awarded to Chad for his beet cupcake, who earned 132.5 points.

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Chad accepts his prize from Jas

And Linda, with 140.5 points, won first. She was unfailingly humble even then!

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Kerry bestows the feather boa to the MoCupcake champion

Thanks to Jas for organizing the event – it was great fun to be a part of! And a big thanks to the bakers for contributing their time and efforts to the cause.

Mack did an awesome job with the photos! You can see his entire photo set here.

Whimsical Cake Studio: Garneau Edition

have a soft spot for Whimsical Cake Studio (I have to stop myself from referring to them as “Whimsical Cupcakes” every time). Whimsical was one of the first full-time cupcake purveyors in the city, before the cupcake colonization of Whyte Avenue. It was also their cupcakes that initially drew me to the City Centre Market, where I now spend nearly every Saturday morning between May and October. Moreover, picking up a couple of their cupcakes was an annual tradition for a few years running, the perfect single-serving treat to help ring in a friend’s September birthday.

Whimsical Cake Studio at the City Centre Market

Edmonton’s cupcake landscape has changed in the past few years. Several home-based cupcake businesses have sprung up, as well as Flirt, The Cake Studio, and two locations of Fuss. Whimsical Cake Studio was tucked for several years in the suburban recesses of Riverbend, where I only had the opportunity to visit once, but this month, they moved into their renovated, more visible location right next to the Garneau Theatre (the best news about their move, besides the fact that combined with T2, daCapo, High Level Diner and the Sugar Bowl, among others, this little strip is a force to be reckoned with, is that a walkable cupcakery crawl is now possible!). Mack and I checked our their new digs over the weekend on our way home from the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market.

Whimsical Cake Studio

It’s a bright and beautiful space, hues of sweet baby blue and cotton candy pink contrasting with the stalwart heritage brick. A small seating area with brightly coloured, albeit a haphazard collection, of lounge chairs occupies one side, right next to a sprinkle station (too cute). I love how customers are able to peer into the open bakery, between the racks of still-cooling and just-iced cupcakes. Prices are slightly cheaper than nearby cupcakeries ($2.75/cupcake vs. $2.95 and $16 for half a dozen).

Interior

Sprinkle station!

Cupcakes galore

We picked up four cupcakes to share with Mack’s Grandma later that night – raspberry, cookies and cream, Smarties and hazelnut chocolate. They hit the spot – moist and not too sweet, we all enjoyed them (I loved the addition of crushed Smarties on mine too – the extra crunch and pop of colour made it more fun to eat).

Our cupcake bounty

I’ll be back to Whimsical Cake Studio some time, most likely in combination with a coffee at daCapo or T2, or before a movie next door at Garneau. Note also that Whimsical is hosting their grand opening on April 17 – nothing says happiness like free cake samples!

Whimsical Cake Studio
8716 109 Street
(780) 988-2253
Monday 11am-5pm, Tuesday-Friday 10am-7pm, Saturday 10am-5pm

Value-priced Cupcakes: The Cake House

Though my homeward bound bus drops me off right around the corner from The Cake House, it took an after work need for pick-me-up sugar to finally gave me the push to walk through the shop’s doors.

Owner Silvia Salas has twenty years of baking experience. She spent a year working for Fuss Cupcakes, and this year, decided to branch out on her own – The Cake House has been open for about six months. Though her main focus is on special occasion cakes (customers come from as far away as Devon to order her 100% nut free creations), she also offers smaller cakes, pies and cupcakes.

The Cake House

Though the exterior of barred windows and functional interior aren’t as charming as the other cupcakeries like Flirt and Whimsical Cake Studio (plus, no seating area), Silvia’s warmth and friendliness makes up for it somewhat. More than that, the cupcakes are the most economical in the city – just $1.75 each, $10 for a half dozen, and $19.50 for a dozen.

There were more than a dozen flavours to choose from on my visit, including red velvet, oreo and caramel. I picked out French vanilla for myself, and a carrot cupcake for Mack. I brought them home, and couldn’t help but dig in right away – the cake base was moist and not too sweet, and while buttercream icing is not my favourite, I didn’t mind Silvia’s version as much – the super-creamy texture probably had something to do with it. Mack loved his cupcake as well, cinnamon spiced to perfection.

French Vanilla and Carrot Cupcakes

For the price, The Cake House offers very good value – worth checking out if you need a cupcake fix that won’t break the bank.

The Cake House
12415 – 107 Avenue
(780) 451-8882
Monday-Friday 10am-5:30pm, Saturday 10am-4pm

Day 5 in DC: Tourist Mashup

The muggiest day to greet us in DC was also our tardiest start, indicative of our exhaustion the night before. We finally left the hotel at 10:30, and determined to try an alternative to Starbucks, sought out the nearest location of Caribou Coffee.

With their wooden beams, hardwood floor and stone fireplace, it would have been easy to mistake the interior of Caribou Coffee with that of a Montana’s. There was no line-up (unlike our hotel’s neighbourhood Starbucks), and I liked the cheeky statements printed on the napkins. The coffee itself wasn’t bad, though drowned in milk as it were I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell otherwise.

 

A cabin or a coffee shop?

Our first planned stop for the day was the last of the major memorials we hadn’t yet seen – the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. At some point after we departed the Metro we must have made a wrong turn, because we ended up not at the memorial, but at a waterfront lined with seafood stalls.

Seafood market

Crabs galore!

The aromas drifting from the area weren’t exactly pleasant – seafood never fares well in open air on hot days. There was some agreeable cookery going on though – with “fresh” (trucked in) fish, crabs, and other shellfish being offered alongside lemonade and ice cream. We were able to sample some fried fish, which satisfied our seafood curiosity.

A man among fish

Across and under a bridge, we finally reached the Jefferson Memorial. Away from the Mall attractions, it was relatively quiet, and free from large school groups. Situated on the Tidal Basin as well, this memorial was in the perfect spot to capture breezes that came off the water. I’m sure cherry blossoms would add a touch of magic to the park, but even without them, the tree-lined area was lovely, and brought me back to the West Wing episode of “Mandatory Minimums” where Toby and Andie take their walk around the basin.

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson, the primary author of the Constitution, was quite scholarly, making the Greek columns very appropriate for his memorial. Though the statues of Lincoln and Jefferson are apparently the same height, the Lincoln Memorial still trumps all others in grandness and impact.

Jefferson Memorial

We walked across the basin to spend the best $10 we had all trip – on paddleboats! The $10 secured a rental for an hour, which was more than enough time to explore the reachable corners of Tidal Basin, and to access one of the best frontal views of the Jefferson Memorial. And after rushing from place to place for the last few days, it was nice to kick back and relax out on the water.

Jefferson Memorial from Tidal Basin

Mack on the Berry (photo #2 – yes, even on the water)

Marines and POTUS helicopters flew overhead in the direction of the White House a few times, as did numerous domestic flights in and out of Reagan National Airport. The airspace in DC was undoubtedly always busy.

POTUS Helicopter overhead

Off the water, we took a quick ice cream break at one of the strategically-placed tourist-oriented confectionary traps, and hopped on the Metro to get to our lunch destination – Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street.

Our piecemeal day continued with a return to our hotel to change (a nod to our most formal dining experience in DC), then hoofed it to Georgetown. It was absolutely boiling at this point, so our trek was most uncomfortable for Mack, to say the least, dressed in a long-sleeve dress shirt. He was a trooper though, as we made the most of our time by shopping in the district, where I picked up some gifts at the lovely gift and stationary store Paper Source and elsewhere.

I heart Georgetown

A picturesque garden in the middle of Georgetown

A Georgetown shopping centre

We made sure to stop at Dean and Deluca, which in Georgetown was not only a café, but a full-on specialty grocer. We overturned many products to find astronomical prices, and contented ourselves with two rounded D & D mugs, which we had admired from afar in New York.

Dean & Deluca

Not a wine cellar, but hall

Bulk candies are always more expensive when stored in glass jars

On Bruce’s recommendation, we also visited Georgetown Cupcake, where the line-up was out the door. Granted, the tiny storefront could only contain so many, but given the number of large boxes waiting to be picked up, we were sure that walk-in customers formed only a tiny branch of their business.

They had a dozen varieties to choose from, all temptingly displayed on tiered stands at the order counter. After patrons put in their order, they had to pass the funds across to the staff person on the other side of the tiers, creating an awkward exchange for both parties (and a potentially messy one, even though a sign read that ‘cakes on display were indeed for display only).

Cupcakes!

At $2.75 a pop, the cupcakes seemed to be on par or slightly more expensive than the Canadian bakeries I have visited. I decided on a fairly classic flavour – vanilla² – while Mack opted for something a little less run-of-the-mill – carrot cake.

On the corner of Georgetown and cupcake

The vanilla bean cake was pretty tasty – flavoured and flecked nicely, but with sweetness in check. I was saddened to find that the icing was made with cream cheese, however, as I am not a fan. On the other hand, the cream cheese base did mean that the icing didn’t melt as fast as its, say, buttercream counterparts, and as Mack adores cream cheese, he unsurprisingly enjoyed his treat more than I did.

We ended the night at dinner – an upscale restaurant called Hook.

You can read Mack’s Day 5 recap here.

Food Notes for June 29, 2009

  • Connect2Edmonton asked me to write a guest column about food. I came up with a piece about an Edmonton “dining passport”. Thanks for the opportunity, C2E!
  • Liane posted on her blog that Bistro Praha, which was heavily damaged in the Ramsay Building fire, will be relocating to Tower II of the Icon Tower.
  • From Chris’s blog – there’s a new cupcake store that opened on June 27: Cake Couture (15008 87 Avenue, 780-709-1682). While I’m sure Edmonton can support the growing number of cupcake boutiques, one has to wonder why no one has situated a bakery in downtown Edmonton, where office workers may wander in for an afternoon pick-me-up, and custom orders would presumably be in high demand.
  • The Culina Family of restaurants finally launched their new website, complete with a rebranding of Passa Tempo, which is now BiBO. The site has the option for each restaurant to have a blog, but we will see if if the promise for content holds true.
  • The Taste of Edmonton, which runs July 17-26, have released their menus. It’s nice to see some new restaurants participating (Padmanadi, The Hat), but given other great sample events that are more economical and serve higher quality food, I have to seriously think about spending my dollar at Churchill.
  • Michael Pollan was at UBC last week speaking at a fundraising event to help protect the UBC farmland from residence expansion. The event was followed up by a tasting featuring local produce and ingredients.
  • Via the blog Eat. Drink. Better., a link to the recent bylaw passed in Toronto that will require buildings of a certain size to have either a green or a cool roof. So progressive – who knew I’d be applauding Toronto?
  • When I interviewed Rob Feenie back in February, I asked him about the possibility of sourcing local ingredients. He said it might be possible, working with a local producer. Well, Chipotle, a popular Mexican chain based in the U.S., is doing it on a large scale, and has made a commitment to purchase at least 25% of one ingredient from small or mid-size farms within 200 miles of their 760 stores in the country. I didn’t think such a shift would be logistically possible – bravo to them for making the effort.
  • Mack sent me an article from the Boston Globe about the proliferation of restaurants using Twitter as a vehicle for publicity and interaction with customers. C’mon, Edmonton restaurants – jump on the bandwagon!
  • I had seen a sandwich board advertising a new “Indian fusion” restaurant – I didn’t know that the name of the restaurant was actually Indian Fusion (10322 111 Street, 780-752-5500).

 

Indian Fusion: The Curry House

  • My family received our order of 1/4 of a cow this past week, which worked out to 183lbs. We immediately dug into our steak stash – when Mack took his first bite, he commented, “it tastes organic,” haha. I don’t think my palate can make that distinction, but it was pretty darn good steak.

 

Mack’s steak and potato

  • My coworkers surprised me with a giant cupcake from Flirt last week to help me celebrate my birthday! I suspected nothing, even when one of my coworkers asked several questions relating to cupcake boutiques in the city. I am happy to report that it was delicious – the icing wasn’t overly sweet, and several coworkers commented that the cake had a nice texture. Thanks, guys!

 

The first super-sized cupcake Flirt has ever made

Sweets on Whyte: Fuss Cupcakes and Coney Island Candy

After a quick trip through the always bustling Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market, we had some time to kill on Whyte before a matinee play, so we took the time to visit a few new additions to the neighbourhood.

An article in the Journal on Saturday pointed to the recent cupcake explosion on Whyte Ave – Flirt Cupcakes opened their doors in February, and Fuss Cupcakes followed with an Old Strathcona outpost that opened this past Wednesday. I have been pretty impressed by Flirt so far (I like their online ordering system, and their beautiful pink gift boxes), but to be fair, having met and interviewed the proprietors probably lends some bias in their direction.

Fuss has been in cupcake business at their flagship west end location (17298 Stony Plain Road) for nearly three years, and was originally known as The Cupcake Bakeshoppe & Cafe. I visited back in the fall of 2006, and was less than impressed with the cupcake – it had been refrigerated (a cupcake faux pas in my book), and the icing tasted artificial. I hadn’t been back to give them a second chance, which probably had more to do with their location than anything else, but was eager to see if they had improved their cupcakes during my time away.

Fuss Cupcakes interior

Fuss sets themselves apart from Flirt primarily by their distinction as being the only “nut free” cupcake bakery in the city, and by offering a large eat-in space. In addition to their cupcakes, Fuss also offers specialty coffees, teas, and floats. Branded merchandise was on sale, including this cheeky shirt:

“Legalize Frostitution!”

There were handy color postcards next to the counter, listing the sixteen standard cupcake varieties offered daily. For the Mother’s Day long weekend, Fuss was offering an additional strawberry and chocolate ganache special.

Order counter

I have to say Flirt does a better job with making their cupcakes look attractive to the customer – while Fuss definitely seemed to have an edge on ensuring a healthy supply of all flavours, I found their fluorescent-lit display a bit sterile and as Mack noted, made the cupcakes seem mass-produced.

Cupcakes

At $2.95 a pop. Fuss shares Flirt’s price point per cupcake. We decided to get one each (to be consumed while waiting in line at the theatre) – The Diva (strawberry icing) for me, and The Flawless Carat (carrot cake with cream cheese icing) for Mack.

Our cupcakes

The clear clamshell definitely loses out to Flirt’s recyclable packaging, and Mack didn’t like that the cupcake wasn’t firmly held in its place, rolling around as we walked. We both really liked the moist and airy cake however (and I was happy to find that they were at room temperature). Mack’s carrot base had a nice cinnamon aroma throughout, while my vanilla cake had just the right amount of flavour. The icing-to-cake ratio was something to be desired though. Mack liked the icing, and said it was less sweet than Flirt. I found it all right, but as someone who would choose something other than buttercream every time, that was no surprise.

It will be interesting to see how the “cupcake war” plays out as the months get warmer, and each shop experiences a fair bit of foot traffic from both tourists and regulars alike.

Our next stop was Coney Island Candy (10345 82 Avenue), a shop we wouldn’t have seen had it not been for the sandwich board on the sidewalk.

Coney Island Candy

It’s a shop for the visual sense, that’s for sure, filled with fun carney-inspired posters and bright displays reminiscent of the 1920s midway at Fort Edmonton Park.

Interior

The shop steps in to fill the void left when Carol’s Quality Sweets was forced to relocate after the fire on Whyte Ave. With over 500 varieties of candy (continuously being added to), including over 200 bulk options, Coney Island is a kid’s dream.

Even better, Coney Island also stocks novelties perfect for gift giving – I’m sure I could have spent more time peering at the various displays, but I did spy bacon mints and bacon floss – the perfect present for any bacon lover.

Open since March, I’m sure Coney Island will continue to draw in the young, and the young at heart.

Fuss Cupcakes
10441 82 Avenue NW
(780) 761-3877

Coney Island Candy
10345 82 Avenue
(780) 438-9003

Food Notes for February 17, 2009

  • If you missed it, I’m organizing a meetup for Edmonton foodies. Join us at the Blue Plate Diner on February 26 at 6:30pm if you’re interested in meeting some of the people behind the city’s food blogs! Just remember to include your name on the wiki before February 22.
  • The list of participating restaurants in Edmonton’s 6th annual Downtown Dining Week, which runs March 6-15,  is up, though menus have yet to be posted. Calgary’s event, which runs March 9-15, will be making their list public on Thursday. I have to say I am way more excited for the latter.
  • Thanks to a comment from Jim and Loosen Your Belt and Eat Around Edmonton, I now know that the Whyte Avenue cupcake store just east of Gateway Boulevard, Flirt Cupcakes, is now open. They charge, for the record, $2.95 a cupcake. Apparently the one next to Funky Pickle is also open – anyone know what it is called?
  • Liane Faulder had the opportunity to interview New York Times columnist Mark Bittman last week about his new book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating. I’m interested in the recipes included – apparently over 75 of them.
  • New labelling regulations for organic products sold in Canada will commence June 30: “under the new federal regulations, only products with organic content greater than 95 per cent can be labelled organic, and use the new logo from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Foodstuffs with at least 70 per cent organic content can call themselves ‘organic products,’ but cannot use the logo.”
  • Max Satanove, of “Max’s Food Basket” fame (a weekly instalment that compared common grocery products) passed away on January 27. Foodie Suz wrote about his contributions here.
  • Todd Babiak wrote an interesting article about the ubiquitous presence of television screens in the city’s restaurants. I know I don’t mind them, but then again, it definitely marks the establishment as one that’s less than formal.
  • Dickson’s on vacation in Asia, and among other things, has stumbled upon some erm, interesting theme restaurants in Taiwan. One was a hospital-themed one, with waitresses dressed in nursing uniforms serving mystery concoctions to guests from plastic syringes. No, you read that correctly.
  • Starbucks’ latest cash grab: instant coffee called VIA Ready Brew. Why, Howard Schultz, why?
  • Eater’s series called “To Catch a Critic” (which strives to obtain photographs of New York’s top restaurant reviewers) makes me laugh. It makes me wonder if any Edmonton establishments ever had a photo of Judy Schultz posted up in their kitchen, heh.
  • I had a quick lunch at Caffe Sorrentino (10665 109 Street) last week. Talk about fast food – by the time I sat down, my slice of mostly hot lasagne ($8.50) was brought to me – it made me wonder if they microwaved it. They scrimped on the cheese, and tried to hide this by doling out extra sauce, but it was definitely noticeable. With the large windows and coffee bar, the cafe provides a nice atmosphere, but food-wise, they’re a bit weak.

 

Lasagne from Caffe Sorrentino

Food Notes for February 9, 2009

  • Late reporting on a number of restaurant closures, from Chowhound – The Mill (8109 101 Street) is now Maki-Maki, which is offering 10% off for the month of February, La Tapa (10523 99 Avenue) closed at the end of last year, and Grandma D’s BBQ Cookhouse (16336 111 Avenue) early in January. Churros King (10152A 82 Avenue) also closed, to be replaced by a cupcake store (see below).
  • Speaking of cupcakes, Whimsical Cupcakes will be offering cupcake and cake decorating classes.
  • The Journal reviewed Savour Divino on Saturday, and gave it a positive rating. The restaurant is hosting an open house and gala on February 10 at 5:30pm.
  • The Globe awarded Daniel Boulud’s incarnation of Lumiere in Vancouver a glowing review last week.
  • If anyone were to make me Twitter more, it would be Ruth Reichl.
  • This site will either make you hungry or want to hurl.
  • And onto thoughtfully-prepared food, via Urban Diner, AnnaTheRed’s beautiful bento boxes, including my favourite – a Wall-E inspired sandwich and a farm scene.
  • This is a cute way of seeing what to eat that’s in season in New York – a local foods wheel. Alberta has a Savour Regional Flavour Seasonal Fresh Food Guide, but it’s really not the same.
  • On a dinner break at the food security conference a week ago, I headed to Quan’s Cafe (11148 142 Street NW) across the street for a bite to eat. It turns out they are only open for take-out from 4-6pm, so I had to grab my pho and eat, inconspicuously in a coffee shop. It was to determine from styrofoam containers whether or not the soup is worth returning for (particularly because their hours of operation are so tight), but I do like the interior at the very least.

 

Quan’s Cafe interior

  • Has anyone else ever had the fruit flan from Sunterra? I heart the chocolate-coated shortbread crust so light, it almost tastes like a meringue.

 

Fruit Flan from Sunterra

  • Very Eater of us, but we couldn’t resist taking a photo of the exterior of the “CUPCAKES coming soon” sign (in the location that formerly housed Churros King in Old Strathcona). It’s really about time a cupcakes store made it to Whyte Avenue – Calgary’s 17th Avenue equivalent has two, maybe more. Mack’s photo even made it onto Cupcakes Takes the Cake!

 

Coming soon!

The Cooking Chronicles: Neopolitan Cupcakes

I am a perfectionist when it comes to the creation of my dishes, especially with regards to its ultimate appearance – food does, after all, begin with a strong visual connection. In my short time of culinary experimentation, I haven’t yet been defeated by a recipe. I came close to my first yesterday.

For a nice Valentine’s Day treat for my coworkers, I was debating between red velvet cupcakes and a Neopolitan version. I ended up deciding upon the latter, if not only because of the more unusual strawberry-scented icing.

I find that the time estimates given on recipes are a misnomer, or perhaps I am just too slow. I also think the two batters called for threw me for a loop; I couldn’t for the life of me remember if I had added enough flour to the chocolate batch. Thankfully, the cakes themselves turned out okay, and actually, the flavour of the chocolate half was lighter, sweeter, and tastier than Ina’s recipe (I think it has to do with the milk).

As for the icing…it unfortunately fit my pattern of not being able to make an “untested” (read: non-celebrity chef/recognized cookbook affiliated) recipe work for me. It was a complicated one, starting with the heating of four egg whites with sugar (leading to the first catastrophe– note to self: do not use Dollarama glass bowls as a double boiler), then intense whipping with the electric mixer. I think I underbeat the mixture at this stage, halting just before the formation of stiff peaks, and added the butter too quickly. As well, though I do have access to a KitchenAid mixer, I didn’t want to take on the necessary clean up afterwards, so I stuck with the standard egg beaters instead of using the recommended paddle attachment. This was my second error – the mixture, upon addition of the jam, ended up with the consistency of wet whipping cream, and tasted like it too. All that work for what appears to be artificially-flavoured whipping cream. Yes, it was easier to get into the piping bag because it was moist, but squeezed through a star tip, enough liquid was coming through that the “icing” was literally dripping down the sides of the cupcake.

I chose the most presentable cupcakes for my colleagues, topped it off with a mini conversation heart, and gave one each to them this morning. They did enjoy them, and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! (And for you romantics out there, you’re not alone in your belief of love at first sight.)

Neopolitan Cupcakes

2007: A Year of Culinary Highlights

2007 was a great year. For food, that is.

I was fortunae enough to travel to Europe this summer, and to New York in December. At home in Edmonton, I sampled the fare at several new restaurants (or at least, “new” to me), and discovered some now-favorites.

In no particular order, here are a few of my culinary highlights from the past year.

  • Eating the best pizza of my life first at Vancouver’s Bridges, then in a small sidestreet restaurant in Florence.

  • Asiago, Parmesan and Mozzerella Pizza from Bridges

    Navona Notte from a restaurant with that namesake

  • (With Mack’s help) Throwing my first ever dinner party!
  • Panna Cotta amidst a candlelit table

  • Many a good meal at my beloved Blue Plate Diner.
  • Comfort food at its best – the Herbed Meatloaf from Blue Plate Diner

  • The discovery of a stellar diner in Calgary, a wonderful lunch spot in downtown Edmonton, a historic house for more than just tea, a comfortable greasy spoon, and a chic cafe for fab pizza and panini sandwiches.
  • Frittata from Diner Deluxe

    Chicken Cordon Bleu from Shine Bistro

    Cranberry Brie Sandwich from Arbor Restaurant in Rutherford House

    Poutine from Route 99 Diner

    Vegetarian Panini Sandwich from Leva Capuccino Bar

  • Exhausting my cupcake phase: first in Calgary; then in Vancouver; Edmonton; and finally New York (and of course, I made my own too).
  • From Calgary’s Buttercream Bakeshoppe

    From Calgary’s Crave

    From Vancouver’s Cupcakes

    From Edmonton’s Whimsical Cupcakes

    From New York’s Magnolia Bakery

    An Ina Garten recipe for Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing

  • Experiencing the gold standard for eating out at Becco in New York, which balanced the line between fine dining and comfort.

Outside Becco

  • An invitation to participate in a Market Fresh Cooking Class with Judy Schultz and Gail Hall, which started to get me thinking about seasonal cooking and utilizing farmer’s markets.

With my fellow Journal winners, Gail Hall, and Judy Schultz

I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2008!