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Excited about tomorrow!

The new Canada’s Food Guide will be released tomorrow!

Tomorrow is the long awaited release of the new Canada’s Food Guide! And this baker/blogger/dietitian is so excited that I likely won’t be able to sleep tonight!

Even in light of the changes, I don’t expect this blog to change too much. Unfortunately I don’t think that the new Canada’s Food Guide with have a cookie group, lol. But one of the things that I do hope to see is an emphasis on enjoying food, celebrating food related traditions and eating mindfully. And those my friends, are positive and welcome changes! I’ll post tomorrow after the big announcement! We’ll share a great cookie recipe in celebration!

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Fat Tony’s deep fried Mars Bar…it really is amazing!

Tonight I had occasion to visit a restaurant in my hometown of Pictou, Nova Scotia and experience something that I have wanted to experience for a long, long time – a deep fried Mars bar! I associate the deep fried Mars bar with the Ontario food truck scene so I was excited to hear that they were on a local NS restaurant menu. The NS restaurant in question was Fat Tony’s on Pictou’s waterfront, in beautiful coastal Nova Scotia Canada. I paired my deep fried Mars bar with a Maple Vodka coffee (I so know I have the name wrong on this coffee, which is unfortunate as I highly recommend it), so the night was particularly decadent, and one that I likely won’t be in any hurry to log into my MyFitness app! Oh well, Christmas comes but once a year….

By this time in my new career as a food blogger, I wanted to be well into a rich food blogging streak of an every-second-day blog describing homemade goodies made from my beautiful retirement home kitchen in Pictou, Nova Scotia, but the gods of weather, household power, and all things baking have dealt me yet another horrible and unexpected delay, another cruel twist of fate. A few weeks ago, Nova Scotia had a wind storm which knocked out the power in this neck of the woods, and when the power was restored a day or so later, a power surge knocked out my brand new double banked oven, plus a few other brand new appliances and many of our lightbulbs and wall sockets, so yet again, I find myself without a way to actually bake. So instead I will tell you all about the amazing deep fried Mars Bar as offered by Fat Tony’s in Pictou Nova Scotia.

Don’t count the grams of fat or the grams of sugar….just eat it!

This delectable dessert is entirely homemade at Fat Tony’s restaurant. I thought, reasonably, given the fact that they have a fairly expansive menu (they have great seafood options) that the desserts might be brought in prepared and ready to cook. So I asked our waiter whether the Mars bar was brought in frozen and then deep-fried and garnished. She confirmed that indeed the dessert was made entirely onsite, which in itself gives me a lot of confidence in the products provided by this restaurant. The dessert itself was outstanding! The Mars bar had melted to the just right stage (like it was lukewarm – milk chocolate, caramel and nougat intermingling – covered with a crispy coating, so decadent!). It was garnished with just enough vanilla ice cream, and a side of whipped cream, provided just in case I hadn’t eaten enough fat today. A drizzle of chocolate sauce completes the look and the experience. It’s a good thing I had missed supper! Yum!

When I was a child and young adult, the building that Fat Tony’s is in was a Stedman’s store, one of the red and white themed department stores that typified small town Nova Scotia of the 1970s and 1980s . I used to go into this store to pick up items that I might have forgotten when I was at a larger mall, or sometimes, when I was coming home from the upper Pictou County town of New Glasgow with my Mum, she would say, “let’s stop by Stedman’s and see what they have.” And I always agreed! I remember that they had a great craft section. I’ve always been an avid knitter. During one trip to Stedman’s I got sufficient yarn to make a fisherman’s knit sweater (quite appropriate considering Pictou is the fisher capital of the universe). More exciting to me was that there was a special on yarn that day and I got enough yarn to make a cardigan (which I still have by the way) for less than $10.

When you walk into Fat Tony’s there is no evidence of the old Stedman’s store. The ambiance is great, the dining area spacious, and the wait staff very friendly. The building has also had garage doors installed, to be opened to a patio enjoyed by days much warmer than today’s December weather. But as much as I rave, the highest compliment was paid to Fat Tony’s by my mother-in-law, who looked around at the setting and said, “This is something that you’d see in Halifax!” High praise indeed, and a great deep fried Mars bar! Thank you Fat Tony’s!

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The pre-holiday “let’s get your game face on” blog

Hi everyone,

It’s been over a week since my last blog.  My day job is as a business professor so it’s been a bit busy with end of term activities.  All of that is over (except the actual exams, and the marking of exams, lol) and I’m feeling a strong urge to get in the kitchen and start baking up a storm.  The issue is, everyone else is feeling the same way, and the treats are starting to appear in abundance…everywhere.  In fact, when I took the customary plate of donuts to the last class in one of my courses, the students groaned and said, “this is the third time we’ve been offered donuts today!”  They ate them of course, and took the leftovers back to their residence with them, so I don’t count it as a true complaint.  But it made me think a bit about my own strategies heading into the holiday season. Unlike my undergraduate students, I am a 50+ year old lady with a slow metabolism and short stature – my “MyFitness” app subtracts available calories from me on most days!  I had better approach the holiday eating season with some sort of plan!  So, before I blog about the amazing carrot cake that is currently in the oven, I thought I’d tell you about how I am approaching the holidays from a balance point of view.

Since I’m not in the classroom again until early January, I plan to be on the walking trails, clocking up the miles (kilometres here in Canada) and getting some balance in my head space.  I had planned to start a fitness walking program this fall.  I had just come from a very busy job, living in a beautiful area of Canada, that although beautiful, also came with a minimum of a 60 minute commute one way, and that was on a low traffic day.  My DH and I were coming to grips with impending retirement from the Canadian Armed Forces, and thinking towards transitioning from careers that we loved and that we had done since our early 20s, and that in itself is quite stressful.  In September I took one last military posting to the Royal Military College of Canada to get some academic experience, and hopefully give us some breathing room as we made all the other decisions impacting our lives.  So it was a period of transition, and it would have been a great time to start that walking program.  And then in early October, I didn’t watch my step.  I slipped and fell, and broke my fibula.  Instead of a fitness walking program, I spent the fall elevating my leg and complaining that I didn’t have any shoes that fit.  But now that leg is healed, I have no more work related scheduling issues, and I have two very willing walking partners – my 6 month old and 20 month old Labrador retrievers!

The plan to increase my walking is great.  But beyond walking, I need to do a few other things to realize my plan to make it the other side of the holidays still wearing the same size pants.  My main approach to managing with the culinary related stresses of the holidays involves the principles of mindfulness.  There are lots of sites that describe mindfulness in terms of eating, but the concept is simple.  You need to be aware of how and why you are eating.  In practical terms, have some structure around meals – sit down at the table to eat as a family vice snacking while doing something else.  Eat when you are hungry; and not past the point of feeling full.  When I know there will be lots of treats at a gathering, I try to make sure that I am not overly hungry before I go.  An easy way of doing this is to eat something that provides a little protein right before you go – a little bit of greek yoghurt is a good example, or a boiled egg or small piece of cheese.  It makes it easier to resist if you’re not dealing with hunger.  

Try to identify whether you are eating as a response to emotion (sadness, boredom, stress). In terms of emotional eating or boredom eating, this is an issue I have dealt with.  I have spent a great deal of my life taking formal education, and during my MBA, I developed the habit of snacking as I wrote term papers.  I didn’t even realize it was a habit until I started my PhD a couple of years later.  The PhD was a lot longer degree in terms of time and required a whole lot more term papers.  I had to become very mindful of the habits that surrounded my writing ritual before it became extremely unhealthy.  Sitting at a computer writing for long periods of time is unhealthy enough, without the added unmindful eating.

So, this holiday season, I will increase my walking, take in the beautiful late fall air, keep structure around my eating (and at the same time enjoy my family’s company at mealtimes, win win!), and ensure that I keep my hunger under control before I head out to the culinary events that mark Christmas and New Year’s in Canada.  Above all, I will be kind to myself, be realistic in my expectations, and absolutely enjoy making more culinary related traditions to share with family and friends!  Have a safe and amazing start to your own holiday season!

Yours in visions of sugar plums!

Victoria Sweet

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A beautiful naked lemon cake on a snowy day

So now that the cake is baked and cooled, the next step is to inject it with some amazing premade lemon curd.  There are recipes for homemade curd, and I urge you to try them, because at the end of the day, homemade is always best.  The only issue that I’ve found with homemade lemon curd is that the recipes typically make a large volume, and then you need friends who are appreciative of lemon curd to gift it to.  So for today, we will go with store bought curd to avoid this predicament.

I said in an earlier blog that in order to inject the lemon cake with curd, you needed a long nosed piping tube.  Most craft stores in my area carry Wilton products, and Wilton calls this tip a”filling tip”. Here is a picture of it so you’ll know what you are looking for.

You’ll see that there is also a piping bag beside the filling tip.  Again, I use Wilton reusable piping bags, largely because that’s what is available in the stores where I live, and  Wilton piping bags are also household baker sized, meaning that they come in various sizes to support the batch sizes that most home bakers would be producing.  My son (the apprentice chef) does not like to bake so he gifted me with the institutional sized piping bags that he had in culinary school.  The next time I have 50 or so people over to dinner, I’ll be able to pipe a lovely potato topping on my very large Shepherd’s Pie that I make them.

The next step is to put the tip on the piping bag and fill the bag with lemon curd.  The best way to do this is to put the tip on the bag  and then put the bag and tip over an open glass to hold the bag portion open while you fill it up with curd.  Some folks use a coupler to hold the bag in place, this is especially helpful if changing the tips out a lot as you do when decorating, but since we are just using curd today, I forewent the coupler.

Here is a picture of the piping bag ready to go.  The more experienced bakers following the blog will tell me that this piping bag is not secure enough around tip, and that it’s going to explode.  You can see that there’s a bit of curd seeping between the piping bag and the tip. It didn’t explode, but it likely would have had I been working on a bigger cake. 

Twist off the top of the piping bag, insert the tip into the cake and squeeze gently until a little dab of curd shows up on the cake.  Repeat around the layer for as much as you would like.  More insertions of curd means more lemony goodness!  Repeat for both layers.  If there are small mounds of curd on top of your layers, just take a flat knife and smooth it over the top of the layer.  We are going to eventually frost the cake so we don’t want too much visible curd.  Next take a small bowl, add the juice from half of a freshly squeezed lemon, add 2 tablespoons of sugar and mix until the sugar is dissolved.  Take a fork, put several fork holes on the top of each layer and carefully drizzle the sugar/lemon juice over the layers over the holes to let it drain into the cake.  Try to coat the layers with the rest of the mixture.  This helps keep any of the crumbs in place for the final icing, and gives another lemony area to hit your taste buds when we finally get to eat this gem.

Depending on how uniform you want your cake to look, you might have wanted to torte the cake.  Torting the cake is simply levelling it off by cutting off the peak that occurred during baking.  There are tools that you can buy that make sure you cut evenly.  For this cake we are going for the natural look.  In addition, there wasn’t a lot of leavening in this recipe (baking soda only, not baking powder) so it is a flatter, denser cake than some recipes.  So, we aren’t going to torte it.  If we had, then we would have done that before adding the glaze and injecting it with curd.

So what is a naked cake you ask?  I’m not sure when and how it all started but the naked cake fad has been making its way onto cake decorating blogs for some time now, and the results are beautiful.  The technique looks simple, but it really isn’t as easy as it looks.  A naked cake has just a little bit of cake showing through the frosting, and it’s almost like applying just pretty crumb coat of frosting, and then deciding that this is enough.  I wanted to try it for this particular cake because the lemon flavour of the cake needs to be front and centre, not the sight and flavour of the frosting.  The finished cake is below.

Naked Lemon Cake a la Victoria Sweet

Lemon Butter icing recipe

1 cup butter (room temperature, margarine can be substituted)

1/4 cup lemon juice

rind of one lemon

4 cups icing sugar

Beat butter until light, add icing sugar alternately with lemon juice, add lemon zest.  Beat until smooth.  Apply to cake on top and side.  Let the crumbs shine through! Try to keep your 6 month old Labrador out of the cake until you can take its picture (her teeth marks are on the other side). Enjoy!

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When you buy lemons, bake cake!

It’s snowing outside and people are starting to  put up their holiday lights around us, so it’s beginning to feel a bit Christmasy.  DH and I went downtown Kingston Ontario to start on our Christmas shopping yesterday, and in one shoppe, my eyes were drawn to a pretty little bottle of lemon curd on the shelf.  I looked at him and asked, “how does lemon loaf sound?”  He said enthusiastically “sounds good but only if you inject it with some of that lemon curd” and today’s blog was borne.

There are many lemon loaf or lemon cake recipes but I prefer a lemon cake that is denser in nature, more lemon, less sweet. So, I’m looking for a recipe that is more pound cake, less butter cake. When DH asked for the “lemon injection” what he meant was that I would put that delicious lemon curd in a piping bag, attach a long-nosed tip to it and squeeze lemon curd into the baked cake.  Yum, yum and double yum!

You’ve probably figured out by now that I don’t develop my own recipes.  I let other more creative people do that, I just “Victoria sweet” them up a little bit, adding my own twist.

Today’s recipe is based on Epicurious’ Sour Cream and Lemon Pound Cake.  It is a great recipe in its own right and likely doesn’t need the edits, but hey, that’s just an unfortunate part of my obsessive-compulsive personality – I need to mix it up a bit.  And although I’ve lessened the sugar, suggested that you could change the fat source, and substituted yoghurt for sour cream, this lovely cake still falls square into the “treat” category.  I just couldn’t adjust it enough to say it was part of the bread group!

Here’s how I made it –

Ingredients

3 cups cake flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature (you could use margarine but it will make it taste a bit less rich.  It would still be okay, just not a “pure pound cake”)

2 cups of sugar (the originally recipe calls for 3; it makes a really sweet cake and we’re injecting it with lemon curd so by making the cake less sweet, it allows that curd flavour to really stand out)

6 eggs, at room temperature

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

1 cup plain greek yoghurt (the original recipe calls for sour cream; plain greek yoghurt is the same texture and achieves the same flavour effect)

Method

Preheat oven to 325F. Prepare your pans (to “prepare your pans”, grease them with a fat (I usually use whatever fat I’m using in the recipe to do this, and then I put a layer of parchment paper on the bottom. After all this work you don’t want the baked cake to stick to the bottom of the pan.). The original recipe calls for a 16 cup tube pan; based on the amount of batter that will work great.  I used 2 x 6″ round cake pans; filled them with 2 cups of batter each and had batter left over for 10 cupcakes.

Sift flour, baking soda into a medium bowl. Beat butter until fluffy. Add sugar gradually, beat 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beat just until combined. Beat in lemon juice and peel.  With rubber spatula, mix in dry ingredients, mix in sour cream.  Put batter into prepared pans.  I run a knife through the batter at this point to get rid of large air bubbles, or drop the pan on the countertop a couple of times to do the same thing.  You want a finished cake that is dense, with a uniform crumb pattern and no big bubbles.

Bake until the tester inserted near the centre comes clean.  For a tube pan this is about 1 hour and 30 minutes; for my 2 x 6″ pans it is about 45 minutes; for the cupcakes it is about 30 minutes.

Turn the cakes out on a rack right side up (carefully take off the parchment from the bottom, you can let them cool partially before you do that).  Let cool completely before you frost.

Next blog?  I’ll tell you how to add the lemon curd injection and frost it as a “naked cake”!  Stay tuned.

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Let’s talk sugar!

As we get closer to the holiday baking season, it might be a good time to talk about sugar. Most of us know that we should limit our sugar intake, but exactly what does that mean and more importantly, how does it impact our baking?

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) released guidance recommending that for both adults and children, consumption of free sugars should not exceed 10% of total daily intake, and if possible should be kept to below 5% of total daily food intake.  The WHO points out that sugar doesn’t provide any nutrients, just calories.  Reduction of total free sugar intake will help with our society’s increasing incidence of obesity, and therefore decrease risk of other diseases and conditions such as heart disease and dental cavities.  The entire WHO document can be found here.

So….what is a free sugar?  The WHO defines a free sugar as “monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates” (www.who.int).  The WHO takes the stand that limiting intake of sugary beverages such as soda is a good place to start our attempts to reduce free sugar intake, but for those of us who do not consume soda, there are certainly other sources that we can address.  Sugars added as part of the food preparation or manufacturing process or by us as bakers count as free sugars.  Therefore, the sugars in the recipes on this baking blog also count as free sugars.  The joy of baking for ourselves is that we can control the sugar we add.  In many of the recipes that I prepare for my family I reduce the sugar, and I invite you to further reduce the amount of sugar in them to continue your efforts to meet the WHO guidelines.  If you set it as a personal goal to keep simple sugar intake to 10% of total caloric intake, then there is still room for the occasional cookie.  As always, moderation is the key.

Is there such a thing as a more healthy sugar?  Is honey or brown sugar better than white?  Sugar is sugar – none of the sugars (brown, white, icing, honey, rice sugar, maple sugar, fructose, sucrose) provide anything to your diet in significant amounts other than calories and all fall into the category of free sugars that the WHO is urging us to reduce.

What about the sugars in whole fruits and vegetables?  Sugars do naturally occur in whole fruits and vegetables, but these sugars are beautifully wrapped in a package that also includes fibre, vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients.  The sugars found in whole fruit and vegetables (not juices) do not count as free sugars, and recent studies show that Canadians do not eat sufficient amounts of especially vegetables, and in many cases fruit.  Consuming a wide variety of whole fruit and vegetables forms part of a healthy diet.  Try to chose different whole fruits and vegetables in your family’s diet so that you have a varied intake of minerals and vitamins.  A word of caution – use whole fruits not fruit juices to ensure that you also get the added fibre.  Fruit juices and juice concentrates are in the list of items under the “free sugar” category on the WHO website.  For suggested serving amounts of whole fruits and vegetables, see Canada’s Food Guide on the Health Canada website.

I am a huge fan of cooking and baking at home because it puts us in control of what we eat.  We can adjust recipes in order to limit some ingredients and increase other ingredients to suit the need of our families and meet our personal nutrition goals.  An example of this is substituting whole grain flours for white in baked goods in order to increase the fibre.  When we produce food in our own kitchens we are in control of the end product.  When we buy a product in a store, all we can do is read the label.  And even if we can’t reduce sugar in a recipe as much as we might like, we know everything that we put into that product and that knowledge is power.

Until next time!

Victoria

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Hug your fridge and stove

For the last six weeks my family has been flying without a full sized refrigerator and stove.  You might ask, “How is it even possible that you could think of starting a food blog without something to cook on?”  It’s a valid question. I’m not sure if I’ve told you this yet but my family is in transition, well more accurately, my dh and I are in transition.  We are both retiring very soon from the Canadian Armed Forces, but I had the opportunity to do one more exciting job in a different city, so we sold our house and took a posting.   We’ve bought our retirement house (1500 km away from where we currently live) and we are looking so forward to living in that beautiful house.  Unfortunately, because our employer has restrictions on retirement move benefits, we are only able to move our furniture once.  We couldn’t move some furniture to the new house and leave some other furniture in our current rental accommodation to take with us when we finally retire.  Since we wanted to really enjoy our retirement home on the times we visit, we made the plunge and moved all the furniture from our current rental accommodation to our retirement home.  When I say all of our furniture, I mean ALL of our furniture.  The moving truck came six weeks ago, and took all of our stuff to the new house.  After the truck left, we could hear echos in the rooms and we immediately questioned the sanity of our decision.

Since that fateful day six weeks ago, we have been living in a 1000 square foot house furnished with 2 beds, 2 living room chairs, a bar fridge and a second hand table and chair set we bought from kijiji.  “Treat it as an adventure!” dh and I said to each other.  We figured that we’ve lived with less stuff when we deployed, and we survived those experiences.  We had also bought beautiful shiny new appliances for our newly purchased home to replace the still very serviceable but less shiny older appliances that came with the home purchase.  So the retirement house that is 1500 km away had 2 fridges, 2 stoves, 2 dishwashers (you get the picture) and the house we live in had none.

So, tonight, the less shiny still very serviceable appliances are coming up on the back of a friend’s truck and they are being delivered here, to the very vacant house we are living in, and I couldn’t be any more excited.  It’s better than Christmas, it’s better than a butter tart party.  I’ll be able to bake again.  And the best thing about this rental house?  It isn’t hooked up to a fire alarm monitoring service so there will be no phone calls to disturb my baking.  Stay tuned for the blog.