On why I hate sandwiches but love Meat & Bread

This is what I think of when I hear the word sandwich.

Take a look at the other members of Chow.com’s Sandwich Hall of Shame >

My sandwich trauma stems from a childhood overrun with Wonderbread and  lunch meats of questionable provenance: liverwurst, bologna, spam, Vienna sausage. [Spam and Vienna sausage are magic with rice, though.]

Wham, Bam, Spam!
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License by Kevin H.

Scarred by this kind of sandwich history, I find myself amazed at how I have come to frequent Meat & Bread, one of Gastown’s newest breed of minimalist, casual eatery.

Meat & Bread: storefront

The restaurant is exactly what it claims to be: a place with a small but stellar selection of meat and bread. You will find 4 sandwiches to pick from on any given day.

Meat & Bread: porchetta

Porchetta, $8. They pronounce it like “pork-etta”. Fattylicious roast pork chopped together with its juicy stuffings and topped with salsa verde. My favourite.

Meat & Bread: meatball sandwich

Meatball, $8. 3-5 giant, oozy, spicy rounds of pork drenched in housemade sambal. My husband’s favourite.

Meat & Bread: daily special

Daily Special, $8. Previous offerings have included jerk chicken, duck confit with blue cheese, and braised turkey leg. You can check out what is on feature that day by visiting their website before you arrive. I occasionally cheat on my porchetta with these temptations, and it is a constant battle at the counter between the tried-and-true and the I-can’t-believe-you-can-offer-that-in-a-sandwich.

Grilled Cheese, $7. Shaved onion and aged white cheddar melting goo between generously buttered toast. I ordered it once for my daughter but she kept stealing bites from my porchetta…so no photo, sorry.

Meat & Bread: maple bacon ice cream sandwich

They do veer off course to entice you with their single dessert item, which is simply labelled ice cream sandwich on their menu board. Don’t be fooled…this is a to-die-for concoction of maple & bacon ice cream, sandwiched between stroopwafel-like wafers that are similarly infused with piggy grease. If you haven’t tried this out yet, I suggest you split one of their regular sandwiches with a friend so you can have enough room in your belly for dessert.

Photo courtesy © Cathy Burrell of Cathy Eats

If you like their housemade mustard and sambal as much as we do, grab a jar off the shelf near the entrance and keep it in your fridge for sandwich emergencies. Extra handy when you take M&B fare to go and find, like we have, that the usual dollop of mustard present on your cutting board plate is unfortunately not something that can be easily transported.

Meat & Bread: Coca-Cola alternatives

There’s not much to dislike, but I have found a few minor areas for improvement:

  1. Stock Coca-Cola. The mom & pop colas are just not cutting it for me. I feel like a jerk for smuggling in my favourite carbonated bevvie from the pocket of my daughter’s diaper bag. [UPDATE: They now sell locally made Sip sodas–these herb-infused sparkling waters are a great fallback, but I still ask for less guilt and more Coke, pretty please.]
  2. Be open for dinner. One diner came by at 5:05pm and was aghast to see that he was too late for a sandwich. He looked at my cousin, who was on her way out, and asked, “Nooo…?”. “Yes,” she replied sadly. “No! No,” he exclaimed. My cousin looked sympathetic. Up and shaking went his fist, and from his mouth came a wail straight out of a Star Trek epic: “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” I hope he got his sandwich fix the next day.
  3. Be open on Sundays. I need you guys 7 days a week!

Maybe I’ll see you at the Meat & Bread communal table one day soon.

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Halloween 2011, Trick Edition: Pumpkin and date hand pie party favours

Jack o' lantern pumpkin and date hand pies

My birthday came and went this year without an explicitly planned Birthday Cake of Immortality (BCI). It was no real skin off my back to skip a year, as the 13-course Peking Duck banquet we threw at Red Star suited me just fine.

Red Star: Peking duck

It was brought to my attention, however, that the party favours that we created for our 30 guests not only made Halloweentastic gourmet treats but met the standards for a Birthday Cake of Immortality (a metaphoric eating of flesh).

Now that you’re done looking at previous BCIs and have managed to push your nausea down, I’ll share our tricks for creating these less controversial, delicious, and seasonally appropriate hand pies filled with pumpkin and Medjool dates.

The Filling

Time to meander over to The Cooking Photographer. Laura’s recipe is the one that came up when I Googled “jack o’ lantern hand pie”, and after seeing her handiwork, no other hand pie would do for my guests.

Since I needed 4x the number of hand pies that Laura’s recipe made, I naturally made 4x the amount of filling that a single batch called for. Big mistake!

Pumpkin and Medjool date pie filling

That’s all we needed per hand pie: a spoonful! One batch of filling was therefore more than enough to fill the 30 hand pies we made. It’s not too horrible if you make too much, though; stuff the remainder into a normal-sized pie and you’re all set.

The Dough

Rolling out the dough

My well-tempered friend Eagranie Yuh came over last August and taught me her tried-and-true pie pastry technique, which she had, in turn, learned from Kate McDermott, Seattle baker extraordinaire.

To give both ladies their proper due, I will simply link to their respective articles. Click away!

These particular hand pies were commemorating a Peking Duck dinner so I veered slightly off-recipe, using a smidgen less of leaf lard and making up for it with a heaping tablespoon of duck fat.

Specialized Tools

Since Laura clearly described how to cut, fill, and bake the hand pies, I won’t bother reiterating the assembly instructions here. Instead, I’ll share a few tips that may save you time and ruined tester pies.

To get your pies looking like a right old jack o’ lantern, find your neighbourhood Williams Sonoma and get these babies:

We chose not to cut out a nose in our hand pies, as doing so would have left us little room around the edges to seal the sides of the pie together. Similarly, we opted for the mouths and eyes that balanced our desire to have the filling stick out with our need to keep the pies sealed.

I didn’t want to create a separate label in the party favour bag to say thank you, so spending $30 on this message cutter set just to be able to press “Thank You” on the back side of the pie was well worth it. Also rationalized that this set would come in handy for future occasions where I feel like writing graffiti on my desserts.

I thought they came out pretty well, don’t you?

 

High Tea Series: The Urban Tea Merchant

Urban Tea: petite afternoon tea

It’s been a while since the last installment of my High Tea Series, but that is not because I haven’t been to tea lately. In fact, afternoon tea is probably the most stable gourmet routine I’ve had in the past year (my weekly trips to Uva notwithstanding – you can’t beat having such an awesome eatery at the foot of your building). However, my sense of adventure in trying new tea houses has been severely diminished** by having found what I feel to be the perfect luxury tea time in the city.

The Urban Tea Merchant: teapot waterfall

The Urban Tea Merchant moved within walking distance of our abode last year with the opening of their second location on Alberni & Burrard. The salon room possesses a tranquil opulence akin to your favourite day spa; it’s a welcome oasis amidst the bustle of Georgia Street.

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About the tea

The Urban Tea Merchant: pu-erh tea with a splash of milk

Afternoon tea is ironically less about the tea than it is about the accoutrements. At the outset, it was the preciousness of cucumber sandwich triangles, crusts without, and scones smothered in jelly and Devonshire cream that got me addicted to the whole experience. I barely registered the tea itself other than to wash down the goodies – and for the most part, the drink was so unremarkable at tea houses that it wouldn’t have made an impression even if I had been paying attention.

It took The Urban Tea Merchant to revert my focus back to the tea. And theirs is a global collection that has deeply impressed me with its clean notes, consistent quality, shelf life, and out-of-the-tin aromatics.

Urban Tea Merchant: Sweetheart afternoon tea

My favourite aspect of The Urban Tea Merchant — which I shall henceforth refer to as UTM for brevity’s sake — is the spectrum of options on menu. The tea list is a four-page pamphlet organized by country of origin, with secondary columns indicating type (black vs green vs rooibos, and so on) and one-line tasting notes…it’s a datasheet that seduces my inner nerd!

If you are overwhelmed by choice or don’t know where to begin exploring, ask your server. They’ll inquire into your tea preferences and usher giant canisters of tea to your table for you to inspect to your heart’s content. [You could discuss the finer points of a particular blend until your curiosity is sated, and even sign up for a one-to-one tea consult if you want a more educational experience.]

Urban Tea: two bins high

Once you choose, your tea will be brewed at the tea bar to the exacting specifications required for that particular brew. It’ll be strained of the tea leaves before being placed into your teapot and swirled in a most stylish, aerating fashion into your cup.

The Urban Tea Merchant: pro pour

My pot has been resteeped without extra charge if I happen to run through the entire serving, but one pot is usually more than enough for me. In fact, I savour my teacup for so long that my next portion is at least 15 minutes after the first…which makes the prior straining of the tea leaves a much appreciated detail of the service.

Favourite teas to date

Urban Tea Merchant: Theodor tea line

Urban Tea: green tea latte Urban Tea: iced Melange O Urban Tea: Tetrahizon byzantine, on ice

I usually ask my server to introduce me to a new tea each time I visit, so here’s a quick matrix of the ones that have captured my heart. I’ll update this list as others come across my radar.

Name Type My Notes Price
Chamann Flavoured rooibos My favourite tea out of everything I’ve tried. I’ll never run out of this in my pantry if I can help it. $32.95 per tin
Earl Grey Royal Black My usual afternoon tea selection when I want a milk-and-sugar experience. $32.95 per tin
Melange O Black Floral and fruity black tea that I drink iced on a hot summer’s day. $32.95 per tin
Milky Oolong Oolong Milky, creamy oolong taste even when served clear. I splurged on 50g of this on a friend’s recommendation and don’t regret the spend. I break this out to pamper myself or impress my guests. $66 per 100g

About the food

Urban Tea: Mad Hatter children's tea Easter sweets

Few, if any, tea houses in town can match UTM in the selection, consistency, themes, and variation of the food presented with your afternoon tea service.  The scones are delectable and flavours are rotated so that your table gets a full selection; the smoked chicken tian, now served in a mini waffle cone, is more addictive than the hardest street drug.

Urban Tea: Mad Hatter children's tea savouries

The macarons that are flown in from Paris are difficult to top, even if I did wish it was possible to be served local macarons without sacrificing quality. Perhaps things will change once their new neighbour moves in this year.

Urban Tea: macaron rainbow

There’s also an exemplary à la carte menu of casseroles, sandwiches, and nibbles for those with specific cravings or a smaller appetite. Many of my friends swear by the pear and brie sandwich. I’m partial to the pot pie, myself.

Urban Tea: Scone and iced tea

Getting your money’s worth

You do pay for all the quality that you get. The Signature Afternoon Tea runs at $48 per person, while the other options range from $20-30 a pop. This puts UTM in the upper end of the pricing spectrum, but they’re hardly alone at the top. The Fairmont Empress in Victoria still takes the title at $55 a person, while Bacchus and the Empress’ Vancouver counterparts start at $30.

Urban Tea: signature afternoon tea nibbles

If we’re talking about value, however, your money goes a lot further at UTM than at the others in the business of luxury tea. Practically every food item served is top-notch: the savouries are excellent, the scones one of the best in town, and the desserts worth saving room for. If you go out for afternoon tea a lot, you’ll know that inconsistency across these tiers is rampant. I’ve griped about it when trying the tea services at Bacchus, Secret Garden, and Adonia. But no complaints here.

The Urban Tea Merchant: orange and ginger scone

If a high price is a dealbreaker, that doesn’t mean you should strike UTM off your list:

  • Go splitsies. The $48 Signature Afternoon Tea is a lot of food for one person, even on an empty stomach; the Petit Afternoon Tea is consequently my staple. However, the Signature can be a great choice to split between 2 people with a light appetite or those who want to go lighter on the wallet. There’s a surcharge – around $10 to cover the 2nd diner’s drink and such – but it’ll allow you to experience the exclusive nibbles offered in their top-tier tea service for ~$30 each.
  • Order à la carte. You could grab your choice of a $3 scone and a $5 pot or an $8 sandwich with your tea without causing your wallet to cry. The macarons are a buck and change apiece if you want to go the sweet route.
  • Book a featured tea service. UTM announces featured tea services every month, usually at a discount to the regular price. I’ve enjoyed the occasional Petite Afternoon Tea at a $19 price point – it’s usually $25 a person.
  • Go for brunch. Start the day off with elegance – the Signature Brunch Service is $24 and the Petite Brunch Service is only $16.

The verdict

The Urban Tea Merchant is unequivocally my tea salon of choice in the greater Vancouver area. I go there so often, in fact, that the staff has watched my daughter grow from infancy to toddlerhood.

Urban Tea: Reza's youngest customer?

Urban Tea Merchant: 2 tea canisters high Urban Tea: tea helper Urban Tea: scavenger hunt delight Urban Tea: Easter grape juice Urban Tea: two bins high

If you haven’t tried them yet, save up your pennies and go. And call me up so I can join you!

The Urban Tea Merchant on Urbanspoon

The Urban Tea Merchant
G3 – 825 Main Street | West Vancouver | 604-926-3392
1070 W. Georgia Street | Downtown | (604) 692-0071
urbantea.com

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** PS: Don’t fret. This post does not conclude additions to the High Tea Series. I have a backlog of experiences to recap from 4 of the tea salons on my list, plus a particularly impressive afternoon tea nestled in the woodlands around Harrison Mills.

A one-pot, two-dish Filipino recipe for under $10

Ginisang bitsuelas and torta

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My mother taught me another recipe from our family’s archives the last time we visited her in Everett. It was an instant hit in our household, not only for its economy but for its amazing versatility. I’ve been tweaking and perfecting these variations for my non-Filipino and vegetarian guinea pigs; they insist that it’s time to share the details with them (and the world).

Since this recipe can make two different dishes, I’ve separated the ingredient lists and steps below into the base sautée, the green bean variation, and the potato variation.

Our favourite way to take advantage of this? We make the base, use a third of it for the green bean stir-fry to serve immediately, and use the same pan to make the potato variation from the remaining base, which is reserved in the fridge and then finished for a hearty breakfast the following morning.

When you try it out, let me know how you vary the recipe to suit your household’s palate.

The base sautée

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 lb lean ground pork [vegetarian: omit or substitute diced extra firm tofu]
  • 2 tablespoons a) fish sauce, b) tamari soy sauce, or c) light soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced

Directions

  1. In a large wok or skillet, sweat garlic and onion in oil over low heat until onions are translucent. Don’t burn the garlic.
  2. Increase heat to med/high and add pork, fish sauce, and water. Stir to break the pork into tiny chunks. Cover and boil for 20 minutes until pork is cooked and liquid is completely absorbed.  [Vegetarian: skip step or use tofu and soy instead.]
  3. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in tomatoes and cook until soft and thoroughly incorporated.

Dish #1: Ginisang Bitsuelas (sautéed green beans)

Ginisang bitsuelas (saute?ed green beans)

Ingredients

  • 1/3 of the base sautée, above
  • 1/2 lb green beans, thinly sliced on the oblique
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Freshly cracked ground pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Using a sharp knife or mandolin, thinly slice your stash of green beans at a steep 20 degree angle. (That’s about as steep as the slant of a sandwich board.) If you’re really handy with a razor blade or are as old-school as my mom is, take a razor like the one above and shave off the slices like you would peel a carrot. Just don’t catch your wrist in it…

Razor blade, by scottfeldstein on Flickr

Razor blade, by scottfeldstein on Flickr (Creative Commons)

  1. Stir the green beans into the base sautée. Cover and cook on low/med heat until green beans soften and intensify their verdant colour. Don’t overcook – you want ’em al dente for best mouthfeel results.
  2. Add butter and pepper to taste. If it isn’t salty enough, reseason with fish or soy sauce. Serve on a mound of steamed rice.

Dish #2: Torta (Filipino frittata)

Torta and banana ketchup

Ingredients

  • 3/4 of the base sautée, above
  • 1 medium Russet potato, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • Freshly cracked ground pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Add potato to base sautée. Cover and cook on low/med heat until potatoes are softened.
  2. Transfer to a large bowl and cool mixture in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. At this point, you can also call it a night and do the rest in the morning.
  3. Whisk eggs. Pour into cooled base and mix thoroughly.
  4. Heat oil on low heat in non-stick skillet or wok. Pour in a circle of the egg batter – about 3 heaping tablespoons’ worth. Season with pepper if desired. Cook, covered, until egg is firmly set.
  5. Flip over – using a plate if the torta is larger than your flipper – and cook reverse side for 1 minute or till lightly browned.
  6. Served with steamed rice and a side of (banana) ketchup or sweet and sour sauce.

My football food locks for Super Bowl XLV deliciousness

T minus 24 hours till Super Bowl XLV! It totally sucks that my team didn’t make it this year, but I will still join fellow embittered football fans this Super Bowl Sunday to watch the remaining teams go head-to-head. At least they are two teams that I would be happy to cheer for: the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. My money’s on the Packers for fear of the repercussions (they’re the team of the best man at our wedding, whose wrath I do not wish to raise).

Our usual Super Bowl ritual involves preparing a feast fit for the game, which is more often than not tailored to the teams that are playing. Since I’ve already done my due diligence about generic plus pro-Steelers football fare when I wrote about the big game in 2009, I will simply recap those details for you here so to pay more attention on how you could represent the Packers at your Super Bowl party.

Go Packers! Cheesehead food and drink

Tom the Cheesehead

Photo credit: Bjorn Hanson (Creative Commons)

What you can make to celebrate Green Bay will likely involve cheese. Cheese made in Wisconsin, to be precise. Ideally, cheese that looks like the wedge above. If you can fashion it into a hat on your head, give yourself bonus points. You could probably make a drinking game out of it: take a swig every time you spot a close-up of a Packers fan in this head gear.

Speaking of drinks…Wisconsin is home to many a good brewery but the best are difficult to get in Vancouver. If you are really dying to get a beer of appropriate origin, you could always default to MGD.

Solids

Liquids

Go Steelers! Pro-Pittsburgh food and drink

Roethlis-burger sliders

Last time Pittsburgh was in the running, we created Ben Roethlis-Burger sliders that appeased our guests and all the meat-loving deities that exist in our universe. We’ll probably repeat these again to represent the Steelers as cooking this is probably easier than finding Iron City in town!

Want something you can just heat and serve? Apparently the perogy is much heralded in Pennsylvania.

Solids

Liquids

Other football-friendly eats

Spicy oven-baked chicken wings

If you don’t care to pick sides or just want to have stuff to eat that washes down nicely with a cold brew, consider these options. Warning: not for the faint of stomach, and definitely not for vegetarians.

  • Bacon bourbon popcornSarah Sprague had me at ‘bacon’. She had my husband at ‘popcorn’. With over a kilo of Chilliwack organic popping corn in our pantry, it would be a travesty to not attempt this recipe as soon as freaking possible.
  • Our rendition of Spicy Oven-Baked Chicken Wings (adapted from Fearless in the Kitchen: Innovative Recipes for the Uninhibited Cook by Christine Cushing)
  • Memphis Blues Super Bowl Party Pak – Don’t have a grill or the time? Feed 8 people with a slew of barbecued meats, chili and wings. Order ahead for this $95 eat-in /take-out special.

Enjoy the game around town

If the bar scene is more your style, check out what some of  Vancouver’s pubs and restaurants are offering for sustenance on February 6, 2011.  Know of others showing the game in the city? Drop me a comment here.

  • Red Card – Settle in as early as 1pm to get your fill of $5 Kronenbourgh lagers and sample the game specials: hot wings galore and Super Bowl chili with the requisite cornbread on the side.
  • Library Square Public House – or choose the Donnelly Group pub nearest to you. Come in after 3:30pm.
  • Kingston Taphouse – 11am marks the start of Kingston’s Super Bowl specials.  Buy a $10 ticket to assure you a seat, a Prime Rib Burger and some Granville Island Beer. You might even win a trip for 2 to Vegas.
  • Memphis Blues’ Super Bowl All-You-Can-Eat Party – If you haven’t called them to book your table yet, get on the phone right now. $20 gets you unlimited mini-ribs and fries, and buckets of Rocky Mountain Pilsner will be going for $10.

Other Super Bowl XLV resources

These additional sites may help you with the planning of this year’s Super Bowl shenanigans. Of note is the article with Southern recipes – a nod to the fact that the game’s being played this year at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.

What will you eat and drink on Super Bowl Sunday? Send me your tips and/or your favourite Super Bowl recipes.

My mother-in-law’s Christmas Eve tourtière recipe

Since my husband will miss two Christmases in a row with his family in Winnipeg, I decided to surprise him at dinner tonight with the meal that his mother serves the family every Christmas Eve: greek salad and tourtière.

slice of tourtière (by Karen Hamilton)

I had to call my mother-in-law for the recipe this week. It was one of those family recipes that hasn’t really been documented. Technically, she does have her notes jotted down somewhere, and I’m sure it was based on someone else’s recipe once upon a time, but my MIL does this savoury pie with her eyes closed nowadays. I hope I can do it justice and transport my husband if only briefly to his mother’s dinner table tonight.

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For the pastry

You could always buy pastry shells from your local grocer, but for me and my family, Christmas is about making everything from scratch!

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 lb of (Tenderflake) lard, very cold
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2 cups ice cold water

Mix first 4 ingredients above in a large bowl. Integrate the lard using a pastry cutter.

Using a cup measure, break in 1 whole egg and add in 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Add enough ice cold water to make 3/4 cup liquid. Sprinkle this liquid over the lard mixture and toss together.

Divide into 5 equal pieces. For each pie you’ll make, roll out 2 pieces large enough for your pie plate. Shape remaining pieces into flattened discs and wrap in wax paper. You can freeze these in a large freezer bag for 3-6 months.

For the filling

  • 2 lbs lean ground pork
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon pepper (generous grind)
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of thyme, savoury, sage (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (1/3 teaspoon adding optional spices)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic (optional)
  • 1 cup boiling water (kettle)
  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs

On medium to high heat, crumble pork into frying pan. Add water, garlic, onion, and spices. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes.

Cover and simmer for another 20 minutes. If there’s more than a 1/2 cup of fat in the pan, take out all but a 1/4 cup.

Mix in 1/4 cup of fresh bread crumbs and let cool completely.

Final Assembly

Lay one piece of your rolled out dough into pie pan. Fill to the brim with the meat mixture.

Lay the second piece of rolled dough over the pie. Press edges down with tines of a fork and cut excess off with a knife. Make Christmasy shapes to top pie with the excess dough. My mother-in-law does holly berries and leaves.

Brush top of pie with heavy cream or egg mixture (1 egg and 1 tablespoon water, beaten together). Lay down pasty dough decorations. Brush decorations very lightly with the cream or egg mixture.

Bake in oven at 375F for 30-40 minutes . You know it’s ready when dough is golden brown and sticking a knife into the very centre of the pie comes out piping hot.

Making ahead

If all you want to do on Christmas Eve is pop a pie into the oven, you can prepare everything in advance. As mentioned above, the pastry dough will keep 3-6 months in the freezer. You can make the filling up to a week in advance and assemble the final pie for the freezer.

To do so, wrap your uncooked pie in 2 layers of saran wrap and a layer of foil and place in your freezer. Thaw in the fridge the morning that you plan to serve your tourtière at dinner.

tortiere (by Karen Hamilton)

Bon appétit and have a wonderful Christmas Eve!

On the making of an edible Stay Puft Marshmallow Man

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man birthday cake

My 30th birthday called for another Birthday Cake of Immortality project. This time, we decided to re-create Ghostbusters’ Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in – of course – homemade marshmallow. No corners were cut: it was 3D with a little bit of help from my large cutting board to stay upright, with legs made of marshmallow fondant so not to collapse in an immediate heap during the party.

What you’ll need to make this yourself

Ingredients per marshmallow batch (2 batches made a week ahead)

We needed two batches of marshmallow for this project. The first gave us the first dome halves of the head and body plus Mr. Stay Puft’s hat. The second gave us the other halves of the head and body with enough leftover batter for a mini-muffin pan that would mold us cute little arm segments.

  • 1/2 cup white/light corn syrup or the equivalent in liquid glucose
  • 2 cups of granulated sugar
  • Two separate 1/2 cup measurements of very (ice) cold water
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2.5 tablespoons of gelatin (~47.5mL)

Ingredients for marshmallow fondant (1 batch, split into several colours, made days ahead)

Since we needed a denser base for the legs of our marshmallow man, we decided to employ marshmallow fondant for the legs. We also reserved a bit of this fondant, tinged with the appropriate food colouring, to give us Stay Puft’s clothing and hat detail.

  • 1 16 ounce bag of mini marshmallows
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 lbs confectioners’ or icing sugar (~8 cups)

Ingredients for royal icing (1 batch on Assembly Day)

We used royal icing to glue together all the body parts. In retrospect, we should have allowed the body to set in the freezer so that the icing froze or dried before we made the cake upright. Keep this in mind if you re-attempt this project.

  • 3 ounces (pasteurized) egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups confectioners’ or icing sugar

Supplies

Most marshmallow recipes call for a 9×13 baking pan, resulting in about 96 cubes of 1″ marshmallow goodness. Since we were creating a monster, we had to figure out how to mold our creation into round shapes instead. This is the arsenal we wound up collecting for this project:

  • Parchment paper
  • 3 round bowls for molds – we used 2 stainless steel mixing bowl for head + body and a tiny ramekin for the hat
  • Mini-muffin pan or piping bag for arm segment molds
  • Piping bag for marshmallow fondant / icing detailing
  • 2 large cutting boards
  • A heckofalot of icing or confectioner’s sugar at the ready (at least one package, but have 2 just in case)
  • Cooking spray or vegetable oil
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Stand mixer with balloon whisk attachment
  • Hand mixer
  • 3 quart saucepan
  • Candy thermometer (one that works!) and knowledge of what the candy soft ball stage looks like

Making the marshmallow

Homemade marshmallows: prepping molds with icing sugar and parchment paper

Grease molds with oil and line bottom with parchment paper. Sprinkle crazily with icing sugar till it looks like a blanket of snow. Better to have more icing sugar than you need, because marshmallow is extremely sticky.

Homemade marshmallows: blooming the gelatin

Pour 1/2 cup of ice cold water into your stand mixer’s bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin on top and let bloom while you move on to the next step.

Homemade marshmallows: soft ball sugar stage

In your (small to medium sized) saucepan, stir together the sugar, salt, corn syrup or glucose, and remaining cold water with a wooden spoon. Set element to low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to medium and stop stirring, using a combination of your candy thermometer and cold water tests to stop at the point where your sugar syrup reaches the soft ball stage.

Don’t rely just on a thermometer reading like we did for our first batch. Your syrup should be clear, around the 230-240F mark depending on your altitude, and should form a pliant ball when dropped into cold water. You’ve gone way too far if your syrup turns colour.

Homemade marshmallows: sugar and gelatin whipped till white and gooey

Pour your sugar syrup over the bloomed gelatin. It’ll start to bubble and froth so just be careful not to get hit by the candy splatter.

Set your bowl into the stand mixer and gear your whisk up to high (8-10 on a Kitchenaid mixer), starting slowing from Stir and making your way up to high speeds in increments. This will let your super hot sugar cool without splattering you and your home with liquid that will burn your delicate spots.

Once up to speed, whip for approximately 6 minutes until your mixture has tripled in volume, turned marshmallow white, and starts to pull away from the edge of the mixing bowl like chewing gum from the underside of a desk.

Homemade marshmallows: egg whites, stiff peaks

During those 6 minutes, whip your egg whites in a separate bowl with your hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Don’t do this step any earlier or you’ll find that your egg whites will deflate or re-liquidate on you.

Homemade marshmallows: folding in vanilla and egg whites

Slip the vanilla and whipped egg whites into your stand mixer batter and whip just long enough to incorporate the three together into one silky smooth batter of marshmallow yum. It should look like this:

Homemade marshmallows: batter complete

Pour into your readied molds, using a spatula if you need to, but try not to get anything else in the batter — it’ll stick to everything!

If you have extra batter left over, pour it into a prepped rectangular baking pan sized small enough to contain the batter in an inch-high layer.

Marshmallow arm segments

Dust with another generous layer of icing sugar and place in your fridge, uncovered, at least 3 hours or overnight.

When your molds are set, take out your icing sugar and an airtight container system that you can use to store your marshmallow in the fridge. Dip a small, sharp knife into icing sugar and pry the marshmallow out of the molds. Remove the parchment paper from your marshmallow and dust the areas that were in contact with the mold with more icing sugar. Close your container and place in your fridge until assembly. These babies will keep like this for up to one week.

Homemade marshmallows: 1 batch down, 2 to go

Making the marshmallow fondant

I don’t have pictures of this process as Jason had followed this recipe and this twopart video tutorial from the comfort of his own home. Hayley, our resident fondant expert, did email the following steps and tips to share with you:

  1. Prepare a workspace: Using shortening, grease a counter top or cutting board large enough to knead the fondant. Keep shortening accessible and in a container from which you can scoop out additional shortening with your fingers (I usually put about 1/2 c. in a small bowl).  Open your bag of icing sugar.
  2. Put entire bag of marshmallows in a microwave-proof bowl and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of water.
  3. Melt marshmallows in 20-30 second intervals, stirring between each.
  4. When all the lumps are melted, start adding icing sugar in intervals, stirring gently to incorporate.
  5. After several additions of icing sugar, the dough will become stiff enough to knead. You will use almost the entire bag of icing sugar.
  6. You are now ready to start kneading. Grease your hands generously! Front and back of both hands plus in between your fingers.
  7. Remove mixing spoon and with greased hands, begin kneading in the bowl until all the incing sugar from the bowl has been incorporated.
  8. Remove dough from bowl and knead on greased cutting board/counter top, adding additional icing sugar as needed.
  9. Keep your workspace well greased! Until your dough comes together, it will be very sticky and re-greasing of both your hands and kneading area will be necessary.
  10. If your fondant looks tough or dry, add additional shortening.
  11. Knead until the dough comes togther and is smooth in texture.

Your end product should be smooth and even in texture, very pliable but strong. Rub fondant with a small amount of shortening on both sides and cover well in plastic wrap until ready to use.

Game Day finishing touches

Piecing together the head and body

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man birthday cake

Prepare a batch of royal icing using this Alton Brown recipe or something similar. Spread a layer of icing on each of the flat sides of the 4 domes you have for the head and body. Form a large sphere for the body and a smaller sphere for the head.

Unlike what we did, place spheres uncovered in the fridge or freezer to let the icing harden as you assemble the rest of Mr. Stay Puft.

Marshmallow fondant and icing details

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man birthday cake

Based on the size of your body, warm up and shape flattened discs of marshmallow fondant to create 2 stacks of fondant legs, like above. We used 75% of our fondant batch to form 6 discs.

The rest of the fondant was then tinged generously with blue food colouring and rolled out into a 1/8 or 1/4″ thick layer, from which we cut a large rectangle for Stay Puft’s bib and a long stripe to wrap around the base of his hat. We draped the bib over the top of the body and piped lines of white royal icing to achieve his sailor panache.

We bought a tube  of brown gel and red icing paste to paint on eyes, a mouth, and the red ribbon at the bottom of the blue bib. You can do the same or choose different methods to attach these details to your marshmallow man.

Final assembly

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man birthday cake

On a cutting board wrapped in cling film, we attached the head, body, hat, and fondant legs to each other using the remaining royal icing. We pierced the body with two bamboo skewers where the arms should go, and stacked the arm segments from our mini-muffin molds onto the sticks until we achieved an arm length we liked. The final arm was not skewered through all the way and was stacked with the non-flat side out to imply ghostly fingershapes.

It’s Alive!

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man birthday cake

Throughout our house party where we served him up, Mr. Stay Puft remained horizontal on said cutting board until we were ready for dessert. We then used two cutting boards to get him upright for 5 minutes – long enough for our guests to take rounds of photos with him intact.

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man birthday cake

Before long, our hunger and the non-set state of our royal icing caused our dear marshmallow man to be pulled apart and knifed into 1″ segments, to be served on the cutting board along with graham crackers and mini-Rolos for a s’moretastic cake alternative for my 30th birthday.

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Birthday cakes of immortality

My extended family has a strange birthday ritual. Every year, my cousin and her brother toast each other with red wine on their birthdays, declaring,

To our immortality and amateur vampirism…the secret is eating babies.

I cannot fathom how this inside joke was ever spawned, nor do I fully understand their propensity towards the macabre, but ever since my cousins described this rite to me a few years ago, a spin-off ritual emerged. We’ve become known for holding baking days for Birthday Cakes of Immortality: concept cakes that do not cater to mainstream tastes.

Birthday Cakes of Immortality (by tiny bites)

Have you run away yet? No? Then take a look at the three cakes that we’ve concocted in my kitchen to date.

The Baby Cake

Baby, up close

The first Birthday Cake of Immortality evolved out the discovery of my cousins’ birthday ritual. We pondered how to append the “eating babies” part of the toast to the act of drinking red wine without getting arrested for indecency, cannibalism, or worse. The answer: rounds of sponge cake layered with strawberry jam; flesh-coloured buttercream frosting; licorice umbilical cord. A friend belatedly suggested a strawberry Jell-o placenta.

Of the 5 witnesses present on this day, only myself and my cousin Leanne were able to dig in. Team member Jason could only stomach the cake bits that were shaved off the final product.

I know I will look back at this project after birthing our daughter in January and throw up in my mouth a little.

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Operation ‘Operation’

Operation

My 29th birthday was the occasion for trying a cake that looked and acted like one of our favourite Milton Bradley board games. Dubbed Operation ‘Operation, the project called for a gigantic dessert in the shape of a man under surgery. Jason, Leanne, and I again formed the core cake-making team. Four red velvet cakes layered atop a large wooden cutting board formed the basis of the body and flesh-coloured fondant was rolled on top. Marshmallow fondant bones were precisely shaped by our guest contributor, Hayley.

We took this cake to Boneta and had a blast playing and ingesting this edible board game with our dinner guests and curious kitchen / front-of-the-house staff.

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The Bacon Cake

Bacon and maple syrup layer

Our latest project focussed on Leanne’s favourite ingredient: bacon. I had long wanted to make her a cake infused with pork — can you think of a better way to pay compliment to a Filipino?

The logistics fell into place as Leanne, Jason, and I toured the grocery store on Baking Day for inspiration. The cake base would be savoury rather than sweet, the cornbread recipe coming from the new cookbook by Memphis Blues (my cousin’s favourite eatery). Use of maple syrup and Pralines & Cream ice cream would eliminate the tedious task of making and applying frosting. My recently acquired skill of bacon weaving would be leveraged to top the cake with the star ingredient; the remaining bacon slices in the pack were crumbled up and inserted as layer filling along with a generous drench of maple syrup.

The outcome was divine. It was like breakfast, lunch, and dessert rolled into one.

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Brainstorming for October 28th

The next Birthday Cake of Immortality will be for my birthday around the Halloween season. We’re currently at a loss for what to make, but there’s still time to think of something. Any ideas? Please share.

And you are more than welcome to participate in the next round…as a baker, eater, or both.

High Tea Series: T Room and Bakery

Of the four afternoon tea experiences I’ve had since my High Tea Series began, it is strange that the first one I embarked upon is the last one I’m writing about. It’s not that I was reluctant to publicize the place – more that the days slipped by without me ever taking the topic off the backburner. Thank goodness for Blogathon days! You and I both get to catch up on the subjects I should have brought up long ago.

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Anyhoo, let’s get back on that subject of the T Room & Bakery in Point Grey.

T Room: tea and cookies

Design partner Jason Lau accompanied me on my first afternoon tea excursion to the hard-to-spot T Room along the far west stretch of 10th Avenue. Finding the storefront, which presents itself more like a cookware store than a tea room, was worth it: the left-hand side was a cozy but bright and modern bakery, with plenty of kitchen gadgets to peruse on the store off to the right.

Afternoon tea at T Room & Bakery

We were seated for our $13 mini-tea at 2pm to a table decked with spring flowers and plateware adorned with a scroll wrapped in green ribbon. Unravelling it revealed the tea menu – and what a menu it was! Nearly 40 varieties to choose from, as easily seen from the wall of leaves to my back. I went dizzy with choice.

Inside the T Room

Luckily, our server was more than happy to recommend a tea to fit our individual tastes. Within minutes, we each settled on a tea: I with an unusual fruit tea and Jason with a black tea variant. Wish I could tell you more details, but my mommy brain is blanking on me at the moment.

Afternoon tea at T Room & Bakery

While I cannot report the specific tasting notes this far removed from the experience, I can tell you that unlike most other afternoon teas I’ve had, this first visit still strikes up memories of delight, intrigue, and curiosity to explore the rest of their tea arsenal. Jason enjoyed his tea as much as I did mine, though I must say that in hindsight, I really should have ordered a tea that went with the food that came with our service.

Afternoon tea at T Room & Bakery

The 3 tiers that came with expedience sported your standard afternoon tea fare: savoury sandwiches, scones, and desserts at the top. Other than the desserts, which numbered one per person, we were treated to at least two of each item. I’m not sure if this was because we were a table of 2 and they had a minimum service amount, but we did deliberately order the mini-tea and were surprised by the quantity.

Afternoon tea at T Room & Bakery

The consistently of quality was what struck me most about the dainties we sampled. Usually, the places I’ve tried excel at savouries, or have terrific scones, or make fabulous sweets to the detriment of the other categories. Here, we were satisfied with the entire selection, though I cannot say that any one tier would get top ranking against the others I’ve now had.

The verdict

By the end of our meal, we still had half of our food left on our plates. Not because we didn’t want to eat it (it sure was good enough for that) but because we couldn’t possibly stuff ourselves further.

This quantity, combined with the consistent quality of both food and drink plus the cheapest price tag I’ve seen yet, makes the T Room my value pick for anyone that wants good eats without paying a premium for the typical chintzy or ritzy atmosphere.

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My mother-in-law’s recipe for Winnipeg Folk Fest cookies

My mother-in-law in Winnipeg is an amazing cook, and I am so thankful that she shares her recipe trove with her family and friends. One of my favourite cookies that she makes in the summer is her Winnipeg Folk Fest cookies, so named for the music and hempy festival that occurs in the city around this time of year.

Winnipeg Folk Fest cookies

As she says, “These are not the official cookies of the Winnipeg Folk Fest, but they are so wholesome and hippy-like that they should be!”

I baked a batch of these to share with our fellow Blogathoners at The Workspace, and another batch will be made for the Tiny Bites Grand Prize (that you might win if you donate before 6am!)

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup flax
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 1/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup grated coconut

Directions

  1. Mix butter with sugars.
  2. Add eggs, water & vanilla and mix well.
  3. Add all the dry ingredients and stir.
  4. Chill dough for 30 minutes.
  5. Drop by the spoonful onto a greased baking sheet and bake at 350F for 12–15 minutes.

When done, they should be lightly browned and firm to the touch. Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies.

Giveaway alert!

Another unannounced giveaway for all you generous Blogathon 2009 donors. Please give a round of applause for Jason L., who has won a batch of these Winnipeg Folk Fest cookies, made with love by yours truly.

It’s not too late to get in your donation to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank and for the last 2 prizes left to draw: the $450 Tiny Bites Grand Prize and the Top Donor dinner for 2, traipsing through the culinary excellence of Blue Water Cafe, CinCin, and West!