The Sweetest Crumb

Strawberry Soup with Basil Caviar

Hi friends!

I don’t know about you guys but I love making unusual desserts. I’m not saying I have anything against the classics… but sometimes I just get the urge to try something new. Strawberry soup with dessert caviar seemed the like the perfect, unique creation to try out.

This strawberry soup recipe is from Sprinkle Bakes. Heather’s blog constantly inspires me and I find myself with an ever-growing list of her recipes that I can’t wait to try. They are not only delicious but also artistic and creative. If you love baking with an artistic flare, check out her site.

Anyways, back to the soup! It’s an excellent dessert for summer when you’re not thrilled at the prospects of spending a day slaving away in an overheated kitchen. The soup is very easy to put together and can be made ahead of time. I used farm-grown strawberries in my soup which were so sweet and flavourful (not like those tasteless grocery store berries we’re used to seeing throughout the winter – bleh!). Since the strawberries were so sweet, I cut the sugar in half which resulted in a more refreshing summer dessert. Feel free to add the full amount of sugar or add sugar to taste.

Ok so another reason why I was so keen to try this recipe is because of the dessert caviar garnish. I’ve been meaning to play around with dessert caviar for a while now but was a little intimidated by the process. However, my dessert caviar was a total success!

Dessert caviar is made by first creating a very flavourful liquid, combining it with gelatin and slowly adding drops of this liquid into a very cold volume of chilled oil. As the gelatinous mixture makes contact with the cold oil, it forms perfect spheres. You can find a fantastic step-by-step tutorial on Sprinkle Bakes on how to make dessert caviar. Surprisingly, the process was quite simple.

I love the idea of using dessert caviar as a garnish since your flavour possibilities are endless. For the strawberry soup, I decided to go with a basil dessert caviar. I picked up some amazing Thai basil from Gull Valley Greenhouses at my local farmer’s market – it made for a very tasty and fresh dessert caviar. To make the liquid for the basil caviar see below.

Along with the caviar, you can garnish your soup with whipped cream or fresh basil.

Basil Dessert Caviar

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By Genia Rodnyansky Published: June 24, 2013

  • Yield: about 1 cup of liquid

Hi friends! I don't know about you guys but I love making unusual desserts. I'm not saying I have anything against the classics... …

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup filtered water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup fresh Thai basil leaves

Instructions

  1. Bring water and sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan, mixing to dissolve sugar.
  2. Remove from heat and add in basil leaves. Mix to combine.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend until smooth. Strain mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Use the strained basil syrup and proceed using the Sprinkle Bakes tutorial.

    A Week of Stay-cation (Part 2)

    Happy weekend, friends!

    Since my last post was dedicated to the Canadian Food Experience Project, I still owe you guys the second part of my stay-cation food adventures. Anyone who knows me well, will know that a week of stay-cation could not possibly be complete without some type of baking and sweet treats. So here is what I got up to:

    Grapefruit Ginger Meringue Tarts

    First I decided to experiment with the lemon meringue tarts I had made a few months earlier, tweeking the recipe a bit. I stuck with the amazing pâte sucrée tart crust recipe I used last time (from the Bouchon Bakery book). This tart crust is perfect – crisp, rich and sweet (perfect for pairing with citrus fruits). The dough is made using a “fraisage” technique which essentially involves smearing the dough with the heel of your hand. This yields a dough which is incredibly well mixed and makes the tart less prone to cracking.

    Next, instead of sticking with the traditional lemon meringue tarts, I decided to spice things up and make grapefruit ginger meringue tarts. Grapefruit curd gave the filling a strong tart flavour which paired well with the sweet meringue. I added fresh ginger juice (thank goodness for our juicer which made the job way easier!) to give the curd a bit of a kick. Overall, the tarts were tasty, just as beautiful as last time and a great alternative for when you aren’t in the mood for traditional lemon meringue.

    Baker for a Day (Night)

    Another highlight of my week was getting to spend one day in the life of a professional baker. The owners of a local bakery were gracious enough to invite me to join them on one of their shifts when they found out about my passion for baking! So here are some things I wanted to share about the experience:

    • Baking professionally involves waking up at crazy hours and often working through the night. I arrived from my shift just before 3am and worked until about 9am! This is something we often forget as at home bakers and definitely something we should appreciate when we’re picking up our fresh bread first thing in the morning.
    • Baking is incredibly demanding physically. Bakers often lose a lot of weight when they start working in their trade which is not surprising considering how much physical labour is involved. You are constantly using your body to lift heavy items, work with huge mixers and knead countless loaves of bread.
    • When working at home, you can easily spend hours, sometimes days, creating and perfecting one batch of pastries – not so in a professional kitchen. I was so impressed with how quickly the bakers work to ensure everything goes out in time. I felt like before I even had a chance to learn the shaping technique for a given loaf, it was finished and whisked away to rise. It was truly like an assembly line of dough :)

    Overall, as an avid baker, I loved the opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at how the professionals do it. And I got to take away these pretzels that we made that night.

    Date at Duchess

    Lastly, I ended my week off with a date with Sean at Duchess Bake Shop. I know I always gush about how awesome this place is… but its hands down my favourite place to acquire dessert in the city. We’ve seen some new desserts there lately which appear to be summer-inspired like this delicious strawberry mousse we scarfed down. If you haven’t been to Duchess and are in the Edmonton area, definitely make your way over for an unforgettable treat.

    Hope you guys are all inspired to take a stay-cation now.

    As always, thanks for reading!

     

    The Canadian Food Experience Project: My First Authentic Canadian Food Memory

    Happy Friday, everyone!

    Today I wanted to share a new project that I’m participating in. Valerie Lugonja of A Canadian Foodie has put together the Canadian Food Experience Project which begins on June 7, 2013. She’s gathered together a group of Canadian food writers and bloggers who will write monthly articles on pre-determined Canadian food topics. The project will help us explore and share our Canadian food identity which, I know, is sometimes hard to do. Honestly, how many of us have struggled to explain what Canadian cuisine is when we meet travellers from other countries? Maple syrup, poutine, caesars… and my list is basically complete ;)

    I am really excited to join in on the project with so many great writers and Canadian food advocates. I hope you guys enjoy these monthly posts and encourage you to take a look at the articles of other participants.

    My First Authentic Canadian Food Memory

    Since my family immigrated to Canada when I was 6 years old, my first Canadian food experience (authentic or not) took place in 1994. Staying in a hotel our first week in Canada, we discovered both Raisin Bran cereal and peanut butter (in those little single-serving squares) at breakfast. Having just arrived in Canada, both of these foods were entirely foreign to us and I whole-heartedly believed they were authentic Canadian foods. Not to mention, I thought these were the most delicious foods in the world! As a result, I remember eating A LOT of Raisin Bran and peanut butter in our first year in Canada.

    Things have changed slightly now. First off, I can’t stand Raisin Bran anymore. Second, I realized that those typical hotel breakfast foods may not be as authentically Canadian as the 6-year old version of me thought.

    So what was my first authentic Canadian food memory? What is authentically Canadian food? It has to be more than just poutine (although poutine IS delicious).

    For me, Canadian food is food which is influenced by the countless cultures which co-exist and shape our country. It can be the French Canadian cuisine or what’s served at that one Chinese food restaurant which can be found in virtually every small town in Alberta. But also, Canadian cuisine is food which celebrates the produce and livestock that we are proud to have locally: British Columbia salmon or sea buckthorn berries that grow throughout the prairies.

    So while I can’t easily pinpoint my first food memory, there are a few which particularly stand out. First, is having Christmas dinners where the food is clearly from a mix of our traditional and adopted cultures. On our table you will find a stuffed turkey and cranberry sauce, dishes almost unheard of back home, as well as many Ukrainian salads and sides including rye toast and caviar. I also have fond memories of joining my parents in foraging for mushrooms in the forest and picking Saskatoon berries until our baskets and stomachs were full. Finally, I can recall being out with my parents where we fished for trout, later hearing it crackle in tinfoil while it cooked over our campground fire.

    While none of these memories have a poutine in sight, I think they are all authentically Canadian in their own way.


    A Week of Stay-cation (Part 1)

    Hello everyone!

    As I mentioned last time, I just had a wonderful week of vacation from work. It was my first ever “stay-cation” and I loved it! I basically pretended I was a house-wife all week (one can dream right?) ;) . I used the time to catch up on life, make some recipes from my “to try” list and roll out my yoga mat a few extra times. I thought I would share some of the things I got up to during the week:

    Pistachio Falafel from Sprouted Kitchen

    Having lived in Israel for three years while I was growing up, I love love love falafel! Sadly, though, I am often disappointed with the quality of falafel in Edmonton and have yet to find a falafel which I deem worthy (if you guys have a place you love, let me know!). Naturally, when I saw this pistachio falafel recipe posted on Sprouted Kitchen, I was intrigued. It’s been on my “to-try” list ever since and I was happy to have the chance to cross it off recently.

    Like everything on Sprouted Kitchen, the falafel was fresh and healthy. While the ingredient list is a bit longer, most of the items you likely already have at home. Plus, the falafel is so easy to put together since the food processor does most of the work for you. I loved all the herbs which were used in the recipe (fresh mint and cilantro really made a huge difference) as well as the addition of pistachios to the classic chickpea recipe.

    I made the tomato salsa and tahini sauce that Sara recommended and I totally loved the falafel (as did Sean). It was definitely better than any falalfel I have tried in Edmonton and next time I will double the recipe and freeze the leftovers. So good!

    Apple Kale Salad from Seven Spoons

    First of all, let me just say that I am awful at estimating how much kale there is in one bunch at the store. I definitely purchased way too much and after making this salad twice, the fridge is still packed with kale. I will need to make kale chips soon to use up the rest….

    That being said, this salad is great! I made it with three different types of kale (lacinato, redbor kale and curly kale), crisp apples from the farmer’s market, assorted sprouts and nuts (pecans, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds). The dressing is made with tahini, miso (not the actual miso paste but the broth made from it – you can find it at Asian supermarkets) and orange juice (I substituted grapefruit which worked great). The salad dressing instructions involve adding a lot of ingredients to taste: vinegar, lemon juice and oil. Like Tara said, the dressing should make you want to “smack your lips” so just play with it until the dressing tastes delicious and you want to lick it off the spoon.

    I loved how hearty this salad was – since kale is such a sturdy green, you can easily make it the night before and take it for lunch at work. If you want to make the meal more substantial, you can add grilled chicken or salmon on top.

    Japanese-inspired Vegetable Pancakes from Smitten Kitchen

    I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart (and stomach) for potato pancakes so these veggie pancakes seemed like the next logical step. They are made with cabbage, carrots, kale and green onions. They are easy to make, freeze well and would make a great appetizer or dinner.

    Next time, though, I would use fewer eggs (this may be only because we use farm eggs at my house and they are often much larger than store-bought eggs). Also, instead of serving these with the tangy sauce, I would like to see them paired with a sauce with stronger Asian flavours – ginger, sesame or peanut?

    Planting the Herb Garden

    I took advantage of the good weather during my time off to start our herb garden.

    Most of my seedlings were purchased from local farmer’s markets and greenhouses. I always try to purchase seedlings which haven’t been treated with any artificial fertilizers or pesticides since I will be using the herbs to cook with.

    This year, I planted:

    • basil
    • mint
    • oregano
    • rosemary
    • sage
    • thyme

    Along with using them in cooking, I also use fresh herbs to make flavoured water throughout the summer. It’s so easy to make a big pitcher of delicious water (such as blackberry-sage or strawberry-basil) and it really encourages you to stay well-hydrated.

    Alright guys, since this post is getting a little lengthly, I’m going to cut it off here and I’ll resume next time with some of the sweet things I enjoyed on my week off.

    Thanks for reading!

    Chocolate Chia Pudding

    Happy Wednesday, everyone!

    This week I’m on vacation and let me tell you, it is glorious! I decided to just stay in Edmonton and use the time to relax and catch up on life. It’s my first stay-cation and I’m loving it! There has been a lot of cooking, gardening and yoga so far.

    I started the week off by making a batch of healthy chia pudding for breakfasts. Yes, that’s right – a pudding made of the same seeds that brought you the Chia Pet! Chia seeds have some great health benefits. I’m not a nutritionalist by any means but have heard that Chia seeds are high in fibre, protein, Omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, potassium, etc.

    They are easy to sneak into your diet by adding to smoothies, sprinkling on oatmeal or adding to juice or water.

    Or you can make chia pudding!

    When mixed with a liquid, chia seeds expand a lot! They absorb the liquid, swell up and take on a gelatine-like consistency. This quality makes chia pudding possibly the easiest thing to make :)

    To make the pudding, you simply combine the chia seeds with the milk of your choice (I used cow milk but almond or soy would work great too), add sweetener and any flavourings you like such as cocoa and vanilla. Stir well and let sit overnight in the fridge to thicken. I like to use a large mason jar so I can shake it up easily. I served my chia pudding with coconut whipped cream which was both as delicious and easy to make as Angela from Oh She Glows promised. If served for dessert, you can sprinkle with chocolate shavings too.

    The pudding is chocolatey and will satisfy your sweet tooth while still being incredibly healthy. You can tailor the consistency and sweetness to your own tastes by adding more or less milk and sweetener. However, this pudding will not have the consistency of a typical pudding. Some people love the consistency right away and others find it a bit strange and an acquired taste. Either way, I think it’s definitely worth a try!

    Chocolate Chia Pudding

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    By Genia Rodnyansky Published: May 20, 2013

    • Yield: makes about 4 cups

    Happy Wednesday, everyone! This week I'm on vacation and let me tell you, it is glorious! I decided to just stay in Edmonton and …

    Ingredients

    • 3/4 cup chia seeds
    • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
    • 3 tbsp coconut sugar or other sweetener of your choice
    • 3 cups milk cow, almond or soy
    • 2 tsp vanilla extract

    Instructions

    1. Combine chia seeds, coconut sugar and cocoa in a medium bowl and mix together. Use the back of the spoon to blend, making sure there are no cocoa clumps left.
    2. Combine chia seed mixture with milk in a large bowl or mason jar. Add vanilla extract and mix thoroughly.
    3. Cover and allow to sit overnight in the fridge to thicken. Serve with whipped coconut cream, chocolate shavings or fresh fruit.

       

      Grenadine – who knew it was so easy?

      Happy mothers day to all the mamas out there! I will keep this post nice and quick since I am making dinner for my parents tonight and need to get started with prep.

      I promised you guys the grenadine recipe I used for these Shirley temple cupcakes so that’s what I’m going to share today!

      Store bought grenadine is essentially a chemically-filled, red sweet syrup – high up on the ingredient list are high fructose corn syrup and red dye #40. I don’t really find that this syrup has anything to offer other than its bright red colour.

      Real grenadine is a syrup made from reduced pomegranate juice. A good quality pomegranate juice is quite easy to find these days and fairly inexpensive if you look in the right place (my recommendation for fellow Edmontonians is to try the Italian Centre Shop). To sweeten the juice you can either use granulated sugar or a brown sugar which will result in a caramel-like flavour. You can also add lemon juice or other fruits (mango, pineapple, pear etc.) to the juice to help your grenadine develop a more complex flavour. The variation I made has mango, pineapple and brown sugar but feel free to experiment and tailer to your own tastes.

      The pomegrate juice is reduced over a constant simmer until it thickens and you have a nice concentrated syrup. I reduced mine by about 2/3 of the initial volume and the result was a very thick, almost molasses-like syrup – perfect for using in baking. You may want to keep yours a bit less concentrated and less thick depending on what you are using it for. For cocktails, reduce by about one half the original volume (20 minutes of simmering). And remember, the syrup thickens as it cools.

      So what are some common uses of grenadine? It can be used in cocktails (alcoholic and not) such as Tequila Sunrise and Shirley Temples. Of course, it can be used in baking these cute Shirley Temple cupcakes, but is also delicious just drizzled on ice cream or sorbet.

      Enjoy!

       

      Grenadine Syrup

      grenadine drinks

      By Genia Rodnyansky Published: May 12, 2013

        Happy mothers day to all the mamas out there! I will keep this post nice and quick since I am making dinner for my parents tonight and …

        Ingredients

        • 1 bottle unsweetened pomegranate juice about 1 litre
        • 1/2 cup mango chopped
        • 1/2 cup pineapple chopped
        • 1 cup sugar granulated or brown

        Instructions

        1. Pour the pomegranate juice into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add mango and pineapple. Over low-medium heat bring just to a simmer and reduce by about one quarter. Stir occasionally to make sure fruits don't stick to the bottom but do not stir constantly.
        2. Add the sugar and reduce a bit more - until reduced by about one half of the original volume. If you want a thicker syrup, continue simmering for 5 more minutes. Let cool before using in baking or cocktails. Grenadine will last for at least 2 weeks in the fridge.

          Shirley Temple Cupcakes

          Hi friends!

          Lately I’ve been feeling that this year has been crazy for big changes. It seems like everyone around me has something big going on in their life – they’re either getting married, buying houses, changing careers or popping out babies. I guess it’s natural since most of the people I know are in their mid twenties. But sometimes I just don’t want to feel like an adult, with adult responsibilities and these expected major life changes. Sometimes all I really want to do is pencil roll down a grassy hill and blow some soap bubbles. And you know what else goes great with being a care-free kid rolling down a hill? These Shirley Temple inspired cupcakes!

          For those who might not know what a Shirley Temple is (I only discovered them as an adult and usually end up adding a little vodka to mine), they are a traditional children’s drink (when made without the vodka of course) made with either ginger ale or a citrusy soda, grenadine and topped with a maraschino cherry.

          These cupcakes are made with two different batters. The yellow batter is flavoured with lemon soda, lemon extract and lime zest to mimick the 7-Up or other citrusy carbonated beverage used in a Shirley Temple. The red batter on the bottom is flavoured with grenadine. While you can easily acquire store bought grenadine, making your own is super easy and results in a much tastier, healthier product – the first two ingredients in your homemade grenadine won’t be high fructose corn syrup and red dye #40! (I’ll post the grenadine recipe I used next time.) The frosting was a swiss meringue buttercream, flavoured with cherry syrup and topped with a cherry of course.

          To be honest, the cupcakes did not taste especially like Shirley Temples. However, they were super cute, would definitely satisfy your sweet tooth and would be great for a birthday party or really anytime you want to feel more like a kid!

          Hope you guys like the cupcakes and if anyone is with me on escaping adulthood once in a while, we should arrange a pencil-rolling play date. I’ll bring the cupcakes!

          Shirley Temple Cupcakes

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          By Genia Rodnyansky Published: May 7, 2013

          • Yield: about 12 cupcakes

          Hi friends! Lately I've been feeling that this year has been crazy for big changes. It seems like everyone around me has something …

          Ingredients

          • 1 1/2 cups, plus 2 tbsp flour
          • 1 tsp baking powder
          • 1/2 tsp salt
          • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick) room temperature
          • 1 cup sugar
          • 2 large eggs room temperature
          • 1/2 cup citrusy soda such as limonada or 7-Up
          • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or paste
          • 1/2 tsp lemon extract
          • 1/2 tsp lime zest
          • 2 tbsp grenadine syrup
          • red food colouring
          • 12 maraschino cherries

          Instructions

          1. Preheat your oven to 350F. In a medium bowl combine 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder and salt.
          2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter and sugar. Mix until fluffy on medium high speed.
          3. Add eggs to the butter mixture, one at a time, mixing until combined.
          4. Add one third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Alternate with the citrus soda, adding one half of soda at a time. End by adding the remaining third of flour and mix until combined.
          5. Add the vanilla, lemon extract and lime zest to the batter. Mix until combined.
          6. Remove about 3/4 cup of the batter and place into a medium bowl. Add the 2 tbsp of grenadine syrup and the remaining flour to this batter, mixing until uniform. Tint with food colouring until the desired shade of red is achieved.
          7. Line your muffin tins with paper liners and spread the red batter on the bottom of each liner. I used a piping bag to make this step easier and less messy.
          8. Top the red batter with the remaining yellow batter - being careful not to mix the two colours.
          9. Bake for about 20 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Once cupcakes are cooled, frost with cherry swiss meringue buttercream and top with a maraschino cherry.

            To make the cherry swiss meringue buttercream, I made the usual swiss meringue buttercream and added about 3 tbsp of cherry syrup along with the vanilla in step 3. I used a Monin cherry syrup but found that the cherry flavour could have been stronger. Next time, I might look for a flavour extract or try reducing the syrup before adding it into the buttercream.

            Perfect Lemon Meringue Tarts from Bouchon

            Happy weekend, friends!

            I’ve been writing a lot lately about recipes I’ve tried from my Bouchon Bakery book. What can I say? – I love this book so much! But as I’ve warned before, the recipes in it are generally not the quickest to whip together. They are recipes which need some preparation (you will often require ingredients which are unlikely to be found in the common kitchen cupboard), patience and a large chunk of time. But, they are recipes which are perfect for special occasions such as Sean’s birthday!

            Since Sean loves citrusy desserts, I thought the perfect choice for his birthday was a batch of lemon meringue tarts. While Bouchon’s recipes may not always be simple, the result is always well worth the effort. These lemon meringue tarts turned out perfect. I would not have changed a single thing! The tart crust was sweet and crunchy and filled with a silky, smooth lemon curd. Next, a very thin round of madeleine cake was placed on top of the curd. This cake is used to absorb any liquid from the meringue as well as provide another layer of surprise texture to the tart. Swiss meringue is then piped on top of the tarts and torched until browned – amazing!

            Step one was making pâte sucrée for the tart shells. Pâte sucrée is a sweet dough which is great to use with fillings that are less sweet, or tart and citrusy. The dough had to be made in advance and chilled thoroughly. Much like most other recipes I’ve tried in the Bouchon book, chilling is essential and I found myself transferring the dough to and from the fridge several times to maintain the right temperature and ensure the dough was easy to work with.

            The lemon curd should also be made in advance. I used half Eureka lemons (the standard, grocery store variety) and half Meyer lemons. The choice to use Meyer lemons came partly because of their slightly different flavour and partly because they were on sale at Costco ;) For a twist on the classic lemon meringue tart, you could also make an orange or grapefruit curd instead. The curd turned out great and I would have gladly eaten it in spoonfuls if there had been any left after filling the tarts. To make it flawlessly smooth, I strained it several times through a fine sieve and blended in my Vitamix. The curd should be cooled before filling tarts (and you should also have your madeline cake ready before filling).

            The madeleine cake has a subtle, sweet flavour. It is made by spreading the batter in a thin layer on a baking sheet and baking until cooked through but not browned. The cake layer is then frozen which makes it easier to cut into rounds. The rounds are placed directly on top of the lemon curd.

            The swiss meringue is probably the easiest part of the tarts to prepare – just two ingredients: sugar and egg whites. Once stiff peaks are formed, pipe the meringue onto the tarts and use an offset spatula to make peaks and shape the meringue as desired.

            Now you can pull out your creme brûlée torch (or if you’re like me, your industrial gas torch from Home Depot) and brown the meringue.

            Overall, the tarts were a huge success! If you don’t have the Bouchon Bakery book, the recipe has been published here for anyone looking to give it a try. I recommend making it over a few days and chilling the dough and curd to make the process go smoothly and stress-free. Enjoy!

             

            Celebrating Alberta Food – Eat Alberta 2013

            So yesterday was the best day I’ve had in a while! Not only was I not preparing, or even thinking about taxes, but I spent the entire day enjoying myself at Eat Alberta with Sean and Sarah! For those of you not familiar with Eat Alberta, it is a one-day conference which brings together hundreds of food fanatics from all over Alberta – chefs, farmers, butchers, gardeners and anyone who just loves food.

            The day started off with a keynote speaker. Jeff Senger talked about his transition from city living as an accountant to purchasing a piece of land in rural Alberta, raising an impressive amount of livestock and running a butcher shop. It was so refreshing to hear accounts from Jeff and others at Eat Alberta who all value local food, a healthy lifestyle and following their passion. It was also a nice reminder that there are so many local producers who can supply meat which comes from livestock that is healthy and humanely treated.

            Next, each participant had four sessions to attend (with a delicious lunch in the middle). The sessions were determined by the track you selected when purchasing your ticket. There were so many options – everything from sausage making to foraging for mushrooms to making ricotta cheese. It was so hard to choose! Me and Sean decided to do different sessions to maximize the knowledge (and delicious food) we would take away.

            PICKLES!

            My first sessions was pickling! I’ve been wanting to try pickling for a while now. Since I can easily eat a jar of pickled green beans in one sitting, I figured I should probably learn how to make my own. We learned some basics such as the vinegar-water ratio, spicing with different flavours and canning. We each walked away with two jars of beautifully preserved pickles – it has taken all my willpower to wait and not pop these jars open immediately.

            Local Beer Tasting

            Next up, and before lunch, was the local beer tasting. We were informed that the best time to perform a tasting is in the morning when your palette is more sensitive to identifying the various flavours. We receieved a brief introduction on the brewing history in Edmonton and proceeded to taste 7 local brews. My favourites from the collection are two summer fruit ales from Alley Kat.

            The first is Aprikat wheat ale. This is a beer I’ve enjoyed many times before and will surely have many more times. It is flavoured with natural apricot extracts and the flavour is fruity, crisp and refreshing. It is not too sweet as you often find with fruit brews. This is a long-time favourite of mine.

            The second beer is Alley Kat‘s seasonal Summer Squeeze. Another fruit ale, this one is flavoured with both real grapefruits and natural grapefruit extract. The taste is crisp and citrusy – perfect for summers on the patio. I will definitely be getting a few boxes of the Summer Squeeze while it’s still in season!

            Urban Farming

            After lunch, we had a fantastic presentation by Travis Kennedy of Lactuca Farms on urban farming. Lactuca Farms is an operation run out of Travis’ backyard and allows him to supply enough greens and produce to both feed his own family and sell at local farmer’s markets. The session discussed how to maximize production in a small space and in the short Alberta growing season. The secret (along with dedicated weeding) is using cold frames with insulated covers. For anyone interested in more information on cold frames, Kevin Kossowan provides some great info here and here.

            Saskatoon Pie Making

            The last session of the day was saskatoon pie making. Pie crust, like everything else, depends on personal taste. For me, it has to be flakey and sweet. I’ve been looking for my perfect pie crust for a while now – getting recipes online, from baking classes and those passed on from grandmas. Nothing has made the cut for me yet. However, I think the pie crust we made yesterday was my favourite thus far! It was definitely the flakiest. The secret to flakey crust is not over-working the dough, using butter and keeping your ingredients cold!

            The filling was made of saskatoon berries, rhubarb and orange… mmm. Just talking about it makes me wish we hadn’t eaten it already.

            In Sean’s sessions, he managed to snag a sourdough starter (named “Julie”) which I’m sure will inspire some great recipes in the future. He also made a batch of ricotta cheese which we have already used to in tonight’s dinner (lasagna), learned about how to find and use edible plants in the Edmonton area and took part in a meat tasting.

            After the sessions were complete, there was a series of lightening talks put on by some great local organizations. Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton (OFRE) harvests fruit in residential areas that would otherwise go unpicked and wasted. The fruit that is picked is then distributed evenly between the residents who own the trees (if they want it), the volunteer pickers, OFRE and donated to those in need. OFRE gives everyone in the community an opportunity to enjoy local, fresh fruit.

            The Alberta Mycological Society aims to teach the public about local mushroom species and holds numerous mushroom walks throughout the spring and summer. Anyone can join a walk and benefit from some expert guidance on how to locate mushrooms, which ones to eat and which ones to avoid.

            After all the formal presentations were complete, there was a “Wine Down” where each participant received a delicious taster plate, made entirely of local ingredients, and tasty fruit wine from local wineries (Barr Estate Winery and Field Stone Wines). We had some time to socialize with other attendees and presenters.

            Overall, I had a blast at Eat Alberta! I loved seeing so many like-minded people who are passionate about natural food, local ingredients and culinary education. It really made me proud to live in a place like Edmonton where there are so many inspiring chefs and food advocates. I can’t wait to see what great things our community will do next and will be keeping an eye out for future Eat Alberta events! A piece of advice for those looking to register in next year’s event – register early as the sessions fill up fast.

            Black Sesame Lemon Cupcakes

            Is anyone else bored with cupcakes? Lately I’ve been feeling like cupcakes are just old news. Sure they’re great in their individual paper liners and colourful frosting… but they just seem overdone. There are cupcake shops in every part of town, they’re commonly served at weddings and I’ve made them so many times and for so many occasions that I could probably whip up a batch in my sleep. I was just tired of the same old boring cupcakes… until I discovered the Sprinkle Bakes blog a couple weeks ago! Heather is amazing! Her creations are truly artistic and she will revive your baking if you’re in a cupcake rut like me. She has everything from cupcakes made with wine to cupcakes with a flaming strawberry on top and tonnes of non-cupccake recipes if you just can’t stand cupcakes all together ;)

            So when my turn came around to bring in baking to work (we have a rotating pastry schedule) I decided to make these black sesame lemon cupcakes!

            The thing that really intrigued me about them is the beautiful grey colour (they’d be perfect for a 50 Shades of Grey party). And to make them even more awesome, on the inside, they’re filled with delicious lemon curd. I love the contrasts in colour and flavour.

            A lot of effort went into these guys. First off, I couldn’t find any black sesame paste in any Asian market nearby. I decided to make my own using the Sprinkle Bakes recipe. I liked making it myself since I knew exactly what was in it and could keep out any yucky preservatives. If you’re planning on making it yourself, you should know that the paste will taste somewhat bitter(sweet) when it is done. Don’t panic (like I did). The black sesame seeds naturally have a bitter quality to them but when added to the cupcake batter will taste great. I loved the paste so much that I’m thinking of making ice cream with it when the snow melts and ice cream season finally gets here (it’s April and we have a snow storm warning this weekend).

            My batter was a beautiful grey colour just as promised.

            As were the baked cupcakes…

            After these guys cooled, I filled them with lemon curd.

            For the frosting, I strayed from the recipe Heather suggested. I have a super tasty swiss meringue buttercream recipe that I swear by. I altered this recipe slightly by adding 2 tsp of lemon extract instead of vanilla and 1/4 cup of the lemon curd once all the butter had been added. The result was a fantastic lemon buttercream which paired so well with the sesame cupcakes.

            Sprinkled with some extra sesame seeds, these cupcakes were a hit! I would gladly make these again. The cakes were so moist and the lemon curd did not disappoint. My only complaint has to do with black gel food colouring. I had heard that using black gel food colouring is often ineffective because with a bit of time the colour turns purple. Since I didn’t have any black powdered colour, I decided to risk it. Well, let me tell you that all the things I heard were true. By the morning after I iced the cupcakes, they had turned a lovely shade of purple.

            I’m definitely going to acquire some black powdered colour next time! For anyone looking to whip up a batch, the recipe can be found here. Let me know how they turn out!