Category Archives: Blatherings

What I Learnt Auditioning for The Great Canadian Baking Show

Blueberry and Lemon Scones, baked in front of the judges, in a test kitchen.

What with my insomnia and all, I’m often up baking at midnight. One evening as I was waiting for some muffins to come out of the oven, I scrolled down my facebook feed and saw a sponsored post mentioning that the Great Canadian Baking Show was looking for people to apply to be on the show.

I figured, why not? I filled in the online application, hit the send button, and didn’t give it a second thought.

THAT MAGICAL FEELING…AND HOW I GOT THE AUDITION

I’m not one for superstition, but sometimes serendipity feels like it’s congealing into fate. Why do I say this? Well!

I had my family over for dinner maybe a month ago, and my sister mentioned that she had a colleague who had sent in the application for the show. I mentioned offhandedly that I had also applied. My sister was surprised I had never told her (“What? You applied? You didn’t tell me!!!”) but I honestly felt that the chances of ever hearing back after sending in that online application were close to nil. Two days later, I heard from the producers. (They liked my application!) I also passed the phone interview and bingo-bango, I was invited to audition in person! (Invite-only! I felt special.)

I found out where the auditions for central Canada were being held. Where? Around the corner from my condo. Literally — not figuratively — around the corner. Someone flew in from Montreal, another came from Sudbury. Me? I walked around the corner.

Nice work(place) if you can get it!

We were to bring our signature dish to the audition. I baked chocolate-cherry brownies, topped with a whipped ganache. The cherries (dried sour Montmorency cherries) were soaked in wine first, for an extra oomph. The ganache was spread ever so prettily with an off-set spatula and looked so smooth and glossy. I brought samples to my workplace and everyone swooned.

Once at the auditions, I found out that the recipe that we would be baking in front of the judges was…scones! I had JUST made blueberry and lemon scones two days prior, so the technique was still fresh in my head. (Don’t overwork the dough! Dust the blueberries with flour before adding to batter! Fluff the flour with a fork before measuring it! Bake scones close together for soft sides and far apart for crunchy sides!)

As I told a judge, I cook with enthusiasm!

I felt a bit like outside forces were conspiring to help me out. Everything was just falling into place so easily!

And then.

NOT BEST IN SHOW, BUT…STILL PRETTY DARN GOOD!

I am 99.9 % certain I didn’t make that show. And add in an additional .99999 to infinity. So yeah, I’m pretty sure.

Why? Because I don’t feel my brownies, however scrumptious and tasty and perfectly chewy and flavourful and smooth (I could go on) held up well compared to the showiness of some of the other desserts (BIG desserts! SHOWY desserts!)

As well, my scones just did not reflect my baking ability. *shakes fist at malfunctioning convection oven*

Plus, the on-camera interviewer didn’t ask me the same questions that she asked everyone else! I had some great stories and anecdotes to share based on what they asked EVERYONE else, and then they asked me some bland questions.

So I felt my brownies were blah, my scones were bleh, and then my answers were bland. Blah, bleh, and bland do not equal #GreatCanadianBakingShow or #CBC primetime.

But! Towards the end of the audition, all the attendees got together and shared their baking. We all tasted each other’s treats and packed some to go home with. My brownies? Gone. They got eaten! The staff of the show and my fellow attendees apparently couldn’t resist a good, solid chocolate brownie. Balm for my wilted ego.

Awkward photo of my baking submission, awkwardly plated at the last minute.

THINGS I LEARNT WHILE EATING CAKE. AND DONUTS. AND SCONES. AND CUPCAKES. AND COOKIES.

Publicity starts with generating buzz. While we had to sign waivers and confidentiality forms, we were also encouraged to take photos with signage and to post/tweet/whatever with “hashtag Great Canadian Baking Show” and “hashtag CBC”. If all the audition attendees, their family, friends, and social media connections, watch the show, well, you’ve just cultivated yourself a pretty large audience, and that’s without doing any actual paid advertising.

The majority of the show applicants are white, thirty-something females. And mostly quite slender (How? Do they not eat their baking?). <– I asked several people this, and it turns out a number of them run triathalons or do ironman races. I’ll just be over here in the corner eating my scones, thank you very much.

Always pack some chocolate syrup in your purse. #TrueStory At the last moment, when heading out the door to the audition, I threw some chocolate syrup in my purse, along with some dried cranberries, and some cocoa powder. When it turned out that we were to plate our desserts for the judges, I was able to fancy up the cake stand with a dusting of cocoa powder and a few drizzles of chocolate syrup. Phew!

An outsize personality will probably get you places, even in sedate, uber-nice Canada. I fully expect the show participants to have some colour to their personality. Me, while I can be both an extrovert and an introvert (that’s a Gemini for you!), I felt I presented as an introvert, and I don’t think that was in my favour.

Speaking of uber-nice, Canadians really are nice! At one point I was perched on a counter in the test kitchen as I was waiting for everyone else to finish up (I finished my scones early! Yay, me!) and I guess I looked a bit discouraged, because several people tried to cheer me up. The judges: “I love cherries. And chocolate!” and “Don’t worry, we know the ovens aren’t working properly. The last group burnt their scones.” Even my fellow audition attendees were super nice: “Here, let me share the cream for the glaze.” and “Oh, you’re not done with the oven? I’ll wait, you take your time.” and “Good luck! I told everyone that your brownies had a special ingredient!” <– Not sure if this was actually helpful. But I know she meant well!

Fancy-pants showstopper pieces are the way to go. I was going for flavour, ingredients, and technique, but if I had to do it again, I’d go for something big, like a croquembouche tower crossed with a everything-but-the-kitchen-sink cake, dusted with edible gold and multiple pronged pieces of homemade spun sugar. Think big, think fancy, or go for really simple (but UNIQUE!) and do that EXPERTLY!

Technique is all well and good, but looks will get you everywhere. My scones tasted fabulous. They were light and fluffy, studded with juicy blueberries, and the flavour of the fresh lemon zest came through both in the scone and in the drizzle on top. However, they looked like a wet flop. Because…

Messed up ovens will mess you up. I’ve never used a convection oven before and of all the times to start, it had to be at my baking audition. And then that oven didn’t work! I mean, how can a 425 degree oven not bake scones fully when they’re in almost double the time the recipe called for? Felt more like a 325 degree oven.

“We just have a few more questions for X,Y, and Z” is code for “You made the cut.” I don’t know for sure that this is the case, but I’m pretty sure! Interestingly, there was a lot of overlap between X, Y, and Z, and who I personally think will make it to the next level. Needless to say, I was not X, Y, or Z.

Some of the baked goods, before the attendees fell on them like a plague of locusts. #LocustNumberOneRightHere

WHO DO I THINK WILL WIN?

There were four people in my audition that I think have the potential to make it to the next round (or show!). Someone who made absolutely perfect whole wheat bread, semi-rustic style but with a fancy razor-slashed design and dusted with flour; someone who had the perfect personality to show up on TV (loud, fun, and laughs a lot); and someone who made a fancy-pants cake topped with macarons and fresh flowers (and even dusted the flowers with edible gold). An honourable mention for my nominations is someone who made chocolate-dipped shortbread. These were perfect little sticks of shortbread, dipped in dark chocolate on the bottom, dipped in caramel on the top, drizzled with more chocolate, and then topped with the perfect little twirl of candied orange peel. Just perfect technique.

My overall takeaway? If you’re auditioning, you do you, boo, and don’t take the audition to heart that much. The auditions are just a snapshot of a certain moment in time for your baking, and if you’re having a bad day (or a bad oven!), it’s game over, even if you actually know what you’re doing. Enjoy the experience. And anyway…there’s always season two!

Next Post: Pea Soup, with or without Ham. And what to do with Too Many Scones. All the scones. My freezer is really, really full of scones. Did I mention the scones?

New Year, New Blogging Goals (Plus Dreams of Chocolate-Dipped Kale)

Happy New Year to all!

Happy New Year to all!

A New Year means Big Dreams for my blog! And more importantly, lots of delicious things! I’ve got some pea soup simmering on the stove right now, and dreams of faro and quinoa dance in my head. I was watching a cooking show last night and now I’m all about the ancient grains! (For about two days and then it’s probably back to chocolate. Mmm…chocolate! I wonder what chocolate-dipped kale tastes like?)

I rarely do New Year’s resolutions, as my attitude is why wait until the New Year to make life changes or achieve goals? If there’s something I want to do, I generally go after it when I think of it. (As in the case of chocolate-dipped kale. I think this is something I need to pursue!) However, I do have some goals for my blog for this year. I like to dream big — as P.T. Barnum once said, if you aim for the moon, you may hit the stars! So, my goals for my blog for this year include:

  • complete the Elite Blogging Academy 3.0 course (I’ve signed up already, and am waiting for the doors to open)
  • get a sponsored post
  • monetize my blog (specifically by adding in ads, looking into affiliate marketing, but first and foremost, by putting up a page that states my ‘ethics in blogging’ promise to my readers, followed by a ‘work with me’ page)
  • switch platforms to a more polished and professional one (I’m thinking of the foodie pro theme on the genesis platform)
  • switch to an automated email platform (probably paying for mailchimp, as well as continuing to pay for a P.O. Box)
  • hit 10,000 views/month
  • revamp my pinterest strategy
  • build my email list

So, you know, nothing big! *Any readers who blog will now be clutching their sides and roaring with laughter*

These are all doable goals, but will require consistent, sustained effort. Which is slightly at odds with my no-stress-no-editorial-schedule-blogging-as-fun-not-side-hustle approach to blogging. Which I also want to keep. Hmm. But I’m confident that I can reconcile the two! (As in the case of chocolate dipped kale — healthy AND tasty! Now on my list of recipes-to-make.)

Do you have any New Year’s goals? Any recipes that you’re longing to make/conquer/eat? Regardless, Happy New Year’s to all! And may this year be a fruitful and tasty one!

Next Post: For all my talk of ancient grains, I still have some peppermint buttercream sitting in my fridge and staring at me with limpid eyes. So the first thing on my baking list is probably the chocolate whoopie pies with peppermint buttercream that I mentioned earlier! Definitely an achievable goal. 🙂

Indian Food Adventures, Part I: Grind-Your-Own Garam Masala (And Authenticity in Friendships)

Like a painter's palette, except in spice.

Like a painter’s palette, except in spice.

I’ve been promising you all the recipe for a grind-your-own garam masala for a while now, and today is the day in which I reveal all! Or at least reveal the recipe. Is surprisingly easy!

I think I’ve said before that I used to work in the non-profit sector, and over the years and through different jobs, I’ve made some solid friendships with some really amazing people. You know when you have friends who are smart and funny and thoughtful and passionate and just plain fun? And when you get together with them, no matter how much time has gone by, it feels like you’ve just picked up where you left off? And spending time with them leaves you energized? I’ve been lucky enough to meet a solid handful of friends like this though my work, and my friend Olethea (and her husband Martin!) are two of these people.

I had dinner with them a few months ago, and one of the dishes that they made for me was soooo good, that I asked for the recipe, and Miss O kindly obliged. I’m going to split the dish into two different posts, one for the garam masala spice, and one for the chana masala (a chickpea dish which uses the garam masala spice). And then I’m going to do a third post, which uses the chana masala as the stuffing in a samosa. (Miss O, you inspired me!)

Shall we make some garam masala? Let’s!

Grind-Your-Own Garam Masala

  • 1/8 c. cumin powder (or slightly less than 1/4 c. cumin seeds)
  • 1/4 c. coriander seeds (or 1/8 c. ground coriander)
  • 1/2 stick small cinnamon (or 1 tbsp. cinnamon)
  • 1 tbsp. ground cloves (or slightly more whole cloves)
  • 1 tbsp. ground cardamom (or a heaping tbsp. unground)
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 3/4 tbsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp. ground nutmeg

I’ve listed some of the ingredients in the amounts that they would be if they were ground as well as in the amounts to use if they weren’t ground. You can use what you’d like. If they’re not ground, they’ll give a better flavour, but hey, you do you! (I did whatever I had in my kitchen, which was ground everything. Except bay leaves.)  Mix all the ground ingredients together. Toast any un-ground ingredients, including the bay leaves, in a frying pan until fragrant. Then grind the toasted ingredients in a spice grinder and combine with the rest of the ingredients. And…done! You go, you kitchen whiz, you!

Grinding up spice is so satisfying! (This spice grinder was last year's Christmas gift to me from the DH.)

Grinding up spice is so satisfying! (This spice grinder was last year’s Christmas gift to me from the DH. It’s great for grinding toasted flax seeds.)

This spice will stay good for years if kept in a sealed container in a cool dry place. If you don’t think you would use it all, why not share the Indian spice love and give little packets of it as gifts? I came across the most clever packaging idea the other day — I think it’d be perfect for this!

Oh, and speaking of friendships, I was talking with my mom on the phone just now, telling her that I had just made some garam masala, and she shared a reminiscence. Years ago, my mom had run out of garam masala at the last minute of dinner preparations, and as opposed to running out to the store, had asked a neighbour if she could borrow a bit. The neighbour said sure and then took a long time to actually come up with the ingredient. Why? Apparently she was making it from scratch! Now THAT’S authentic Indian food!

Next Post: Probably a mandarin-flavoured dessert! Because I love sweets. And then back to adventures in Indian food!

Foodie Book Review: Some Reflections on Rice, plus Jennifer Klinec’s “The Temporary Bride”

This is the only rice that I have in my cupboards, and it's been there forever and a day. Why? Because...gird yourselves...I don't like rice.

This is the only rice that I have in my cupboards, and it’s been there forever and a day. Why? Because…gird yourselves…I don’t like rice.

Today’s post is a leeeetle bit of a departure from the usual, but it’s about a book about food…so close enough, says I! The book? Jennifer Klinec’s “The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Food and Love in Iran”.

Let me start off by saying that I don’t like rice. Never have, not even as a child. To me, rice is just unappealing. I do like a few bites of steamed sticky rice, and rice is sushi is a-ok, but otherwise…blech.

So for me to say that after reading this book, I wanted to go out and eat some rice…well, that says a lot about the power of the book.  But not just any rice! No, just the Iranian rice, the rich, buttery, crunchy, golden rice crust at the bottom of a dish of Iranian-style rice. This is not just any rice, and after reading Jennifer’s description of this rice, I really want to eat some

The Temporary Bride is the first book from this author, and I have to say, I was pretty impressed with the writing. Want to know more about the book? Here’s my version of a synopsis:

Growing up as the daughter of hard-working Canadian immigrant parents who ran a successful but demanding business, Jennifer was very independent from a young age. Studying in Europe as a teenager, she taught herself how to cook, and never looked back. After working in the banking industry in England for several years, she quit the corporate life to start her own cooking school. While successful, this was a big departure from the sort of work (and lifestyle) she previously had. (Btw, the pomegranate martinis she talks about? I want one. Now, please.)

Wanting to learn new cooking techniques, Jennifer travels to Iran, where she meets up with Vahid, a young Iranian, whose mother teaches her how to cook traditional Iranian dishes. Over the course of the weeks that she visits with his family, she and Vahid learn about each others cultures, and a slow-burning but strong flame sparks between them. Jennifer extends her stay in Iran, and Vahid joins her, and they sneak stolen moments together, trying to hide from the censorious eye of the government.

But how to be in love and express it? This is where an old custom/law comes into play: the temporary bridal contract. I first heard about it years ago, as a way for people to have sex within the religious and cultural laws of traditional Islamic countries. Of course, I read about it in a feminist context, which saw it as a way for men to have sanctioned sex, while the women were seen as blemished for not being a virgin if they then got married, permanently, later. Or, you know, if anyone ever heard about it. The way I learned about it, it was almost sanctioned prostitution, with concomitant social judgements. Like I said, I first learned about it in a feminist context.

So it was interesting to see how Jennifer and Vahid, two modern people from such different cultures, used this old custom/law/what-have-you, and made it work for them. I don’t want to spoil the book for you, but I will say that it was not what I expected, and it was interesting to see how their relationship started and grew.

That said, can I talk about the food? Oh, the FOOD! Jennifer writes about food in a such a way that you not only know that she loooooves food and loves everything about it, but you really want to eat the dish that she’s making, right now, because OMG it sounds sooo gooood!

Like that rice dish. I mean, really. Me, wanting to eat rice? That’s some powerful foodie writing, right there!

My recommendation? Five whisks up! Read this book and enjoy the descriptions of the food. Ah, food — glorious food!

Next Post: More glorious food! Homemade peanut butter cups and wine jelly bonbons? Or Grind-Your-Own Garam Masala? Subscribe and find out!

Rewind! Chocolate Bubble Eclairs & an Apple Update

Plated for your chocolicious delight!

Plated for your chocolicious delight!

AN APPLE UPDATE:

Guess what? Remember when I posted about how I had entered the Apple Crisp Recipe Competition for the Canadian Baking and Sweets Show? And how I was a finalist? It took place this past Saturday, and…I won! I came home with a gorgeous gift basket of cupcake-baking supplies as well as a cookware set worth $500. Was very exciting! The recipes of the finalists were sent out to a third party kitchen to ensure that they were replicable, and the judges tasted the dishes in front of the crowd at the show. The DH was there when I won, and he is just the sweetest guy. He’s so proud of me! I mean, I’m proud of me too, but I recognize it was just one contest. The DH? Sent emails to my family, his family, and his coworkers, and mentioned it in phone calls to his friends. Like I said, isn’t he just the sweetest? I do heart that man!

REWIND TIME!

And speaking of sweetness, I just made some Chocolate Bubble Éclairs for the latest in my online bake-a-long with the Baking Chez Moi group. Although technically they weren’t BUBBLE éclairs. But I’ll get to that in a minute!

Whenever there are three Tuesdays in the month, the third Tuesday is time for a “rewind” — whatever recipe you missed or wish to redo, that’s what you do. I had made the Crackle-Topped Bubble Éclairs previously, but while the crackle topping was fabulous, the éclairs fell once out of the oven. My takeaway from that trial was that one must leave the éclairs in the oven longer that one thinks, until they look almost too brown.

So that’s what I did this time! And they turned out great! Except that I didn’t pipe them close enough so they turned out to be more cream puff than bubble éclair. Oh well! I used pearl sugar on top as opposed to the crackle topping that I did last time, and I’m rather pleased with the result. Although I ran out of eggs, so I didn’t do an egg wash prior to sprinkling on the sugar. They still turned out pretty perfectly!

I'm really happy with how these turned out!

I’m really happy with how these turned out!

I filled some with regular Whipped Cream, and some with a sort of Dark Chocolate Expresso Whipped Cream. I melted some 90% Dark Chocolate with some butter and milk and once cooled, blended it with some whipped cream and instant coffee granules. If you don’t like your sweets too sweet, this is the filling for you! You can really taste that almost bitter dark chocolate — these were definitely my favourites!

I’ve packed them away for the DH to take to work tomorrow (20 dark chocolate expresso ones and 20 whipped cream ones. Oh ok, 19 and 21! I couldn’t resist one last chocolate one *grin*). I know that éclairs/cream puffs/whatever you call them are best the same day, so I hope they hold up until the DH gets to work tomorrow. Eh. Worst case, they’re just not as uber-fresh as right now. I think they’ll still taste nice on a coffee break, right?

Next Post: Am dreaming of my favourite bok choy dish, but will likely my long-promised homemade peanut butter cups and wine jelly bonbons. Mmm…they’re all so good, how can I choose?