Monday, April 29, 2013

A Twist on Banana Bread: Cake Balls

 Having gotten back into the kitchen and making more dinners and also starting to bake again, I couldn't help but try something new with banana bread.
It's a staple recipe - when you have bananas that start to get a little too brown my fail safe is a loaf (or two) of banana bread. I've tried different variations to keep it fresh. I made one with an oreo cookie crumb bottom, with sliced bananas layered inside the bread, with eggies, with caramel chocolate chips, etc.
This time, having had some success with my red velvet cake pops, I decided I would turn my banana bread into cake balls!
  • Preheat oven to 350 degress.
  • Beat 1/4 cup butter with 3/4 cup sugar. Add in 1 egg and mix until combined.
  • Mix in 2 medium bananas, 1 tbsp vanilla, 1/4 cup milk, and mix until smooth.
  • Add in 1 1/4 cup flour, 1 tsp baking soda, and 1 tsp salt and mix until combined.
  • Bake for about 45 mins to 1 hour or until a tester inserted into the cake comes out clean. For cake balls/pops I find it's better to use a cake that is still a bit soft so err on the side of 45 mins rather than an hour.
  • Let the banana bread cool completely then crumble into peices. If your bread is crustier (like mine was) pop it into a blender and pulvarize it down into breadcrumbs.
  • Mix with 1/2 cup Philadelphia chocolate spread. Form into balls and put in the fridge for at least 30 mins.
  • Melt 1 bag of chocolate melts then dip each ball into the chocolate, letting the excess drip off. Allow the chocolate shell to harden
    I decorated mine with banana candies as well as with dried banana chips.

    Saturday, April 27, 2013

    Pretzel Bread

    I was obviously on a bit of a baking blitz last week because I also found time to bake up these tasty little pretzel bread balls.
    Quick, easy, and really tasty, even without the brownish colouring on top that would have made them more pretzel-looking.

    (recipe from

    1. Mix together 3 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp salt, and 1 tbsp yeast in big bowl. Mix together 1/4 cup oil and 1 cup warm water and add this to the sugar and yeast mix.
    2. Add 3 cups flour and mix to a nice doughy (not sticky) consistency. Knead with mixer a few minutes.
    3. Divide dough into 12 balls and shape into rolls or balls and let rise on greased foil cover sheet for 20-30 minute until nice and puffy. 
    4. Meanwhile, bring 6 cups water and 3 tbsp baking soda to a SIMMER in a wide pan with straight sides and preheat oven to 375.
    5. Place 4 rolls in the water and simmer 1 minute then flip and simmer 1 minute more.
    6. Drain and place on cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining rolls.
    7. Brush rolls with egg white and sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Slash decoratively with a SHARP blade.
    8. Bake until 'pretzel' brown, about 12-15 minutes.

    Friday, April 26, 2013

    Restaurant Review: Balsamico

    As I mentioned yesterday, John and I went out for a much needed dinner on Saturday night.
    Being big fans of Italian food, we've hit the Italian restaurants around us many times. We were looking for someplace we hadn't been but that was still within walking distance.
    After a quick interet search we landed on Balsamico.
    We made reservations for 6:30 and it's a good thing we did because even though when we walked in there was only one other couple, every single table had a reserved sign on it. And this place picked up around 7:30 to the point where it was packed.
    We split a half litre of a pinot grigio and a caprese salad ($9.95) to start.
    I think the salad we got was a daily special because I believe he said it was buffalo mozarella and not bocconcini. The cheese melted in your mouth and was with the tomatoes, arugula, and blasamic vinegar it was to die for.  
    For the main course John ordered the Pappardelle al porcini ($15.95)
    [Porcini Mushrooms And Roasted Red Peppers In A Tomato Cream Sauce] which he enjoyed.
    I ordered the Linguine Fra Diovolo ($14.95)
     [Italian Spicy Sausage,Baby Arugula,Cherry Tomato,Chili Flakes In A White Wine Sauce]
    It was very good and I really enjoyed the arugula on top. Mixed in with the sauce and the parmesan and pepper it was a nice touch.
    The service was fantastic (brought us another basket of bread after we downed the first one in minutes) and we were fortunate enough to be seated right by the window (where we watched renegade snowflakes fall from the sky). The food was also well worth the walk over.
    One thing I didn't like personally was that pretty much all of the pasta options contained either seafood or mushrooms or both - two things I dislike. So it narrowed my options quite a bit. I'm sure I could have asked for another dish sans muchrooms but I don't like to be picky.
    My meal was delicious though and I'd recommend checking this place out if you're a fan of Italian food done right.

    Tuesday, April 23, 2013

    German Chocolate Cupcakes & Blackberry Buttercream

    On Saturday night, following a wonderful dinner at Balsamico restaurant (review post to come!), John and I went home to spend an evening baking cupcakes, eating said cupcakes, and watching Mad Men.

    Our (read: my) original plan was lofty: to pick 3 recipes each and make 6 batches of cupcakes.
    We ended up with one and then the following day my mom and I made lemon cupcakes.

    For our cupcake date we picked a Martha recipe for German Chocolate Cupcakes.
    I've made these several times before and I'm never disappointed with the results.

    John did all of the baking, I stood back and read out the instructions. The only time I touched the bowl was to show him how to cream the butter and sugar.
    He even decorated his with Philadelphia chocolate spread (super addictive, keep your spoons out of it or I promise you'll eat way more of it than you should) and candy pebbles and army men (bottom right).
    I topped a few of the chocolate cupcakes with the blackberry buttercream I made which, if I can be totally honest, is the best icing I've ever ever EVER made.

    German Chocolate Cupcakes
    (A Martha Stewart recipe)
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush standard muffin tins with butter; dust with cake flour, tapping out excess. Whisk together 2 cups cake flour, 1 tsp baking soda, and 3/4 tsp salt.
    2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream  3/4 cup butter and 1 1/3 cup sugar until pale and fluffy. Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in 1 1/2 tsp vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of 1 cup buttermilk, and beating until combined after each. Beat in 5 ounces (about 2/3 cup) melted chocolate until combined.
    3. Divide batter evenly among prepared cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 10 minutes. Run a small offset spatula or knife around the edges to loosen; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored up to 3 days at room temperature in airtight containers.
    4. Spread frosting on top of each cupcake. Serve immediately.

    Blackberry Buttercream

    1. Beat 1 cup butter with 1 tsp vanilla until smooth.
    2. Add in 4 cups of icing sugar, one cup at a time until creamy.
    3. Using a blender, puree 1 cup blackberries. Fold into icing then spread or pipe onto cupcakes.


    Let's Get Physical

    I've talked a bit about my need to keep running and to get in better shape but - with the exception of one week where I ate as much as I possibly could and countered it with a lot of sitting on the couch - I've managed to stick with it.
    I've been running in training for the Sporting Life 10K (this will be my 5th year running I think!) and just recently, spurred on by a mysteriously energetic 17 km run, I signed myself up for the Toronto Goodlife Half Marathon on May 5th.
    I had been going back and forth in my mind about doing it and I finally hit the register button on Sunday evening. As soon as I did I was filled with a sense of excitement and also a growing sense of impending doom.
    Was this foolish? Can I really train for 21km in two weeks?
    I've been going for regular 10 + km runs so I think I can.
    Plus registering for runs keeps me motivated and pushes me to get out of bed and into a pair of running shoes on those days when I'd rather watch daytime TV and eat all of my meals at once.
    Spring has finally shown up in this beautiful city which makes running outside oh so much more enjoyable.
    It also means that summer and bikini season is also on the horizon.
    My goal is to get in decent shape for the May long weekend.
    --> keep running on a regular schedule
    --> do my squats & lunges to tighten the glutes
    --> add in exercises for my arms and upper body, which I too often neglect
    Make some fitness goals of your own and join me!
    One month to the long weekend!

    Friday, April 19, 2013

    Uncle Betty's Diner

    On Tuesday John called in sick to work so we had a leisurely lazy day together and in the evening once we were sufficiently bored from staying inside all day we went for a walk to get some coffee.
    The place John wanted to go was closed so I suggested a place not too far that I had been wanting to try out for a little while.
    Uncle Betty's Diner just looks like a fun place to eat.
    The staff are very friendly and the donut making machine inside makes for some unique decor.
    We got coffees and couldn't resist ordering a donut ice cream sandwich.
    It was as good as it sounds like it should be.
    Uncle Betty's makes their own Dreesen's donuts (apparently quite famed in NYC) so we figured we had to try one.
    John opted for the powdered donut with oreo ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate sauce and cookie crumbs.
    While it doesn't win the prize for craziest thing I've eaten regarding donuts (see the Krispy Kreme hamburger from the Ex a few summer's ago) it was probably the best thing I've had involving donuts.
    If you get the chance check this place out.
    The menu is full of classic diner food and I would like to go back and try some of their crazy poutines.
    The website can be found here
    Next on my donut list is THIS PLACE (actual website here).

    Saturday, April 13, 2013

    Birthdays & Blue Jays & Sammies

    I think when it becomes a habit to go so long in between blog posts I can stop apologizing for my absences.
    While I haven't completely gotten out of my slump yet (my plenty-o'-days-off has helped) I've been trying to keep myself busy with things.
    Like baking!
    My dad and my sister's boyfriend both celebrated birthdays (on Sunday and Tuesday, respectively) so I ate a lot of red velvet cake. My mom bought these incredible huge cupcakes from costco and I made a batch of cake pops the day after.
    I have to say these were my best batch yet (ed note: I've made 2 batches. Ever.)
    The recipe I used called for coffee in the batter which gave the cake an interesting extra flavour. I'll find the recipe and post it later.
    I've also been fortunate enough to have gone to 2 Blue Jays games so far this season including the home opener. Unfortunately they lost both games (as, also unfortunately, seems to be the trend so far) but I can't say I didn't have fun.
    The opener was the most packed I've ever seen the SkyDome and despite getting beaten embarassingly by the Red Sox, for my dad's birthday we got to see two - count 'em, TWO - fans run onto the field and be taken off in handcuffs. On seperate occasions in separate innings. The first guy slide into second then took off so fast he almost made it over the outfield wall. So close. The second guy.... well, he got dragged out by his shirt by two police officers.
    I've also been running a lot and going to the gym (including a squat challenge for the month) which has been good for my mood and my health.

    Having not slept very well last night, then working from 7-3, then not being able to nap before work tonight, I debated calling in sick. But after a very headachey and dizzy walk to get sandwiches for dinner, I filled my belly with a chicken sandwich from this place and was able to take a quick 1 hour nap.

    Boar sandwiches on Yonge, near Davisville. Hidden almost behind another restaurant, just off on a side street called Glebe.  
    Brother to the Black Camel, famous for their sandwiches.

    I got the chicken sandwich (cause they were out of sausage) with lemon garlic aioli, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers and provolone cheese.
    It was delicious and very filling and now I really want to try the Black Camel.
    Anyway, that's it for now.
    I'll try to post more regularly if I can!