Duchess Bake Shop – Cookbook Launch

One does not attend the beautiful surroundings of Duchess Bake Shop (especially when a string quartet is playing) when one has a red, raw, drippy nose, wads of damp Kleenex up sleeves, in pockets, in hand) and a cough that sounds like a sea lion arf arf arfing for a fishie at Sea World. No indeed. One stays at home and employs two drinking buddies (albeit social media junkies and food lovers) to go in their stead.

@habanerogal (Laurel) and @super_su (Suzanne) seemed keen, so off they went. Their mission? To be the first to see the Duchess Bake Shop’s new cookbook, sip champagne, and getting a behind-the-scenes tour of the Duchess kitchen.

While at home in my ugliest pajamas, a corner of tissue rolled to a point and stuffed up one nostril, I kept an eye on the Twitter feed to see what I was missing. I wanted to weep. The pictures, as you can see, are amazing. And I wanted to weep not only because I was missing the event, but because I was so proud that Edmonton has such an elegant, tasteful shop within its heart. And Duchess just isn’t pretty to look at. The products it produces are beautifully created and, the best part, taste absolutely sublime.

I’ve been going to Duchess since it opened and have always been partial to their lemon tart, key lime pie and pretty little macarons. At the last Earl’s menu launch, fellow food appreciator Gail Hall and ladies washroom partner (you know what I mean…. we ladies go in pairs) of Seasoned Solutions was explaining that Duchess has The Best almond croissants. Tell me this…. how can you hear the words, “Best Almond Croissants” and not rise to the challenge? How? I know some (perhaps a lot) of you can, and that’s why you are at a reasonable body weight. But when I hear “best of” I think impossible! How? Let me be the judge!

Early the next morning I was in the car zooming off to Duchess to be there at opening to see/taste for myself. Did I buy one? Heavens no. When judging, you must buy two, just to make sure the quality is consistent! And it was. My toes curl as I type… the kind of curl toes do when the body is in rapture.

Anyone who goes into Duchess will feel special and will reach for their heads to make sure their crowns and tiaras are in place. The service and attention you receive at the counter is consistently polite, efficient and eager to please. You will feel part of the beauty of Duchess.

Lucky for us, Duchess has captured their recipes in their new cookbook. I have not seen it myself, but have seen some of the recipes they are sharing, like one of life’s pretty treasures, Vanilla Madeleines. Other than having a special Madeleine baking tray (you more than likely have a friend with one that has it buried in the back of the cupboard and if you ask nicely would lend it to you), these are super simple to create in your very own kitchen.

So friends….if you are in Edmonton and haven’t been to Duchess yet, please go. It is perfect when you want a place to have coffee with a friend, when you want to gain friends and influence people by sharing a Tarte Montreal at work, or when you want to take home almond croissants to have with coffee in your pajamas in front of the TV.

Here’s some great photos @habanerogal took from the event. Kudo’s to both @super_su and @habanerogal for doing an awesome job of taking in the ambiance, sampling the food and drink, and giving me the swag bag (you two are real pals. If it were me, I would have kept it run off to Mexico) and reporting back! Good work, both of you!

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A Caribbean Thanksgiving

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I’m always game for a free sample, who isn’t? Just look at Costco. The end of each aisle looks like feeding time at the koi pond. However, instead of having to fight off crowds at Costco, in my inbox was a pleasant e-mail from the GraceKennedy food people from Jamaica offering free samples of their Caribbean spices. All I had to do is say “yes please”, and a week or so later, a box brimming with bottles of rubs and sauces arrived.

I have made my own marinades and attempted a few dry rubs, which work just fine. And although my spice cupboard is fully stocked, my spice blends end up tasting mostly the same. I was excited to try the marinade samples.

We have tried both the Pineapple Coconut Sensation (which I mistakenly used as a rub instead of a sauce…. no problem though. The extra sugar gave the meat nice crusty bits), and the Roasted Garlic and Peppers blend. Both are delicious. The sauces taste great. We have tried them with both pork and chicken, and the meat has come out tender and delicious on both counts.

So if you want to shake up your spice flavours, I do encourage you to try a bottle of Grace Caribbean Tradition spice blends.

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Crabapple Jelly

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This autumn, Michael noticing crabapple trees heavy with fruit along his bike commute, was inspired to make his World Famous Crabapple jelly. It’s quite the lengthy operation.

He started by asking the business owners if it would be okay to pick the crabs. The response was “yes please do because they are falling on the cars”. The following week, on a pleasant Saturday he headed down to pick the fruit. I stopped in to say hello wondering how he planned on carrying two full shopping bags back home on his bike (I took them back in the car). It’s beautiful to be out on a warm fall day, the sun shining in your face, sniffing the smell of fallen leaves, rotting apples, swatting wasps, staring at people staring at you picking apples from a private business’s property.

The bags of apples sat in our storage room for another week, giving Michael time to round up canning jars, and scent our little apartment in a beautiful way that reminds me of my grandparents home when I was a tiny tot.

After another week, Michael cut each of the little apples in half, tossed them in a soup cauldron stems and all, and boiled them. After the boil and cool-down, he strains the juice through cheese cloth overnight:

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Because this is a Process, he bottles the juice up in clean 4 litre milk jugs and takes up every available space in the fridge for ANOTHER WEEK.

On a sunny Saturday morning, Michael carefully measures and calculates the amount of sugar required, and boils the juice and sugar mixture. Whilst this takes place the jars are sterilized, and carefully filled. Then the morning is filled with the sound of the lids popping, followed by Michael giving out a hearty cheer after each pop.

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At long, long last, we have a table full of jewel toned jelly, perfect for topping fresh bread and butter.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Kettlecorn

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Do I really need to say more?

Popcorn, Indiana sent me a sample of their new Chocolate Peanut Butter Kettlecorn.

Let me tell you about it. Ready?

It’s crunchy, salty popcorn with a velvety smooth peanut butter chocolate drizzle. The perfect snack when you want something salty, crunchy, sweet, rich and quite frankly, something that tastes absolutely sinful. Sinful, but not obscene like double deep fried Mars bars. Oh no, this treat is, without a doubt, my new Go To snack food when I need to console myself with food. Yes, yes, yes, I should put on my sneakers and go for a long walk in the fresh air to console my aching psyche.  But sometimes (although with me it happens more often than not), nothing says, “there there” like a delicious snack.

P1020950My sample arrived in a 156 g bag, and is available in major grocery stores. It advertises on its front, ZERO trans fat, Gluten Free, and 100% natural. It did not taste fake. It tasted delicious. On the back of the bag their story starts with “We Get It” and tell us they know “we crave a snack that’s completely decadent, completely over-the-top, completely life-altering.

It definitely achieves over-the-top, but life-altering? Perhaps, but only because it was so rich and sinful I am sitting here pledging to the diet gods that, “I will never eat like this again”.

It’s 140 calories per 1.5 cup (cups of popcorn are dismally small). It has 7 g of fat, 90 mg of sodium, 19 g of carbs, and 2 g of protein. It does contain peanuts, milk and soy.

If you are looking for something new, different and decadent, this is the stuff to try. Just don’t forget to get outdoors and have a walk afterwards.

 

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Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

This afternoon Michael took command of kitchen and gave me strict instructions to STAY OUT. Shortly after I hear rummaging in the fridge. Rummaging in the storage room. Chopping. The sound of our tiny food processor whirring. Several audible questioning humphs, followed by increasingly more positive sounding mmm… mmmm…. MMMMMMMs!

After a few minutes, I hear, “You have GOT to try this!”. Out of the kitchen comes my hubby, beaming face, and arm outstretched holding a piece of Italian bread with a generous spoonful of his inaugural batch of homemade sun-dried tomato pesto (without pine nuts he adds quickly). I hush him when he wonders if it is a true pesto if it doesn’t have pine nuts. “Who cares?” I ask. As long it tastes good, that’s all that matters. And it was good. Delicious in fact.

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P1020948Michael Walsh’s Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto (without Pine Nuts)

3/4 cup (ish) sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil, drained)

Garlic (4 big cloves)

4 tbsp (ish) Olive Oil

Salt (to taste)

1 tsp (ish) Basil (dried leaves, because that’s what we had on hand)

Whir in a food processor until very well blended.

When I quizzed Michael about amounts, he stressed the importance of adding “ish’s” after every measure. He provided his best guess for you to use as a guideline.

 

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David’s Tea

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What? It’s wrong to have a beer accompany my weekend afternoon mug of tea?

In 2012 I did a post on tea, in particular my long standing favourite, Earl Grey. To do research for the post, I had written to a number of tea companies and got generous samples of their teas to try. One of these, David’s Tea, I remember well because their samples were generous and introduced me to varieties of Earl Grey I had never heard of before.

At the time however, I was quite overwhelmed with all the tea that was given to me, and didn’t want to play favourites with one company over another, because all the tea was good.

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Michael’s tea-tin, full of Tetley. Beside that is my Tetley green, some tea from the Empress in Victoria. On the shelf is the coffee grinder and bag of Transcend beans that smell so awesome words can’t describe it.

I’ve always been a lover of tea, and just the other day after a particularly warming cup, declared to Michael that “Tea makes me feel good – it’s sort of like a nice warming of the tummy, followed by the all-over warm-fuzzies you feel after watching pandas go down a slide, followed by the feeling you have been hugged nicely by someone you love”. I further declared that “Coffee does not make me feel this way. Coffee makes me feel obligated to run through the apartment, and start projects like dusting, vacuuming, organizing cupboards, making a macrame plant hangar, and bake a cake designed to look like a princess from the Disney film, Frozen…..all at the same time”.

Michael blinked at me with the patience that he has, so I continued with my observation.

“Then I will realize after emptying our storage cupboard to look for vacuum bags, a fresh Swiffer duster, macrame boards, flour, and Frost princess cake molds that we don’t have these items! I will try to calm my nerves by sucking back another mug of coffee, but of course it doesn’t work! The anxiety and despair I feel for being so behind in my projects has risen to a level that any rational thought has no room to be considered and my mind is already jumping in the car and racing through rush hour traffic to get cleaning supplies from Wal-Mart on one end of the city, macrame boards from Michael’s Craft Store on the other, and then try desperately not to terrify a child in Safeway as I shout at them to quickly describe what a Frost princess looks like while I pick up flour that I forgot to get at Wal-Mart, along with the Frost princess mold at Michael’s Craft Store. At this point, I would be prepared to bake a sponge cake and whittle a Frost princess from it.”

While telling this story to Michael, he gently yawns and stretches like a cat that just woke from nap, and strokes my back in a soothing way while my pupils dilate, un-dilate, dilate, and my chest heaves from the heart palpitations.

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More tea. Tea in tins. Tea in small round containers. Tea in bags. The bagged tea is from David’s Tea and covers oolong to green to black to herbal varieties.

I drink two, maybe threeorfourorfive, cups of coffee a day, but thought I should try to drink nothing but tea.

Day 1 of my new exclusive tea drinking went well. No headaches. A peaceful calm came over me. I didn’t feel I had to rush to do anything. I felt peace. Glorious peaceful peace. But peace doesn’t mean content with one’s tea supply. Suddenly my world of Earl Grey seemed awfully small, so with my new relaxed state of mind, took a relaxed lunch break at work and wandered over to Edmonton City Centre to check out the teas at David’s Tea.

I came home with assortments of oolong, blacks, greens and herbal. I attempted to discuss pu-erh tea with the person behind the counter, but when I said, “Oh, you have a lot of poo-air” the person looked just a little horrified.  I abandoned further discussion on that type of tea.

I will not bore you with describing all the teas I got because tea is such an individual thing. Michael drinks regular Tetley, day in and day out. This has been going on for decades. I need to change things up every now and then, and David’s Tea allows that to happen. What I particularly like about them is the ability to buy very small amounts just to try. I have always turned my nose up at fruit infused tea, but came home with a few samples that have change my mind.

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Michael’s tea pot because he likes his tea out of a pot. I’m content with a mug, but just recently bought a pineapple pot from David’s Tea because it was on sale 40% off.

After two full days of tea only, I did feel far more relaxed, and had no headaches. On Day 3, I made the mistake of picking up a bag of Transcend Coffee beans I had purchased last week, and squished the bag. The scent of fresh, delicious coffee wafted out, and realized right then, that I could never give up coffee entirely. I am trying now to have just one maybetwo coffees a day, and fill in the rest with tea. Everything in moderation as they say.

 

 

 

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Food – Some Thoughts

I sit here in the cool breeze of our 25 year old floor fan, watching Guest-cat’s hair float in the sun beam, listening to my possessed iTunes library (I shut off iTunes. iTunes starts up again. Repeat), and wonder what on earth I could possibly write about. Let’s go free form:

Lays Ketchup Potato Chips
My cubicle neighbour is selling snack size potato chips. I rarely eat potato chips, but at 50 cents a bag and with a gentle-push on my chair, I can roll right on over and make my purchase. Who can resist the bargain and convenience? I have eaten my way through three bags. They don’t taste even remotely like ketchup. Perhaps it should be catsup chips. That I could understand.

Gin and Tonic
What’s a Walsh Cooks blog post without mentioning gin and tonic. Enough said.

Keurig and K-Cups
I resisted this for years, thinking it was a fad that go the way of mood rings and pet rocks. They still exist. We got one at work. I am completely sold on the convenience. Now I spent minutes a month looking for cheap k-cups, drawing Pro and Con diagrams in my mind about getting a machine for our apartment. I’m not quite there yet, since I’m the only coffee drinker in this home, but still…. And by the way, President’s Choice generic cup Dark Roast is A W E S O M E. It turns me from nasty mean morning person into happy dancing nice person after only one sip.

Eggs
Buy from a local farmer. Get the pretty coloured ones in pink and green and blue. No other egg will ever compare to these. The fact I just bought 18 white eggs from Save-on for cheap is irrelevant. Do as I say. Not as I do.

Dish Cloths
Tell me what makes them stink after a day, why this happens and what I can do to stop it (other than bleaching them into pale, colourless squares of fabric). We are clean people. Our dish rags are apparently swimming in filth and disease. I honestly can’t think of what crap we are wiping up to make them smell so bad.

Octopus
I am excited and delighted to be invited by people at Sabor Divino for a media night event. I talked to a friend about the place and he rattled off a few items on their menu to me. Octopus was one of them. I love seafood. Fish seafood. Shrimp seafood. Lobster seafood. I have even eaten baby octopus. Deep fried to smithereens baby octopus (no, it wasn’t wearing diapers and didn’t have a soother in its mouth – I know you pictured it that way, but it didn’t). But this sounds like adult octopus. Octopus that the Portugese eat every Wednesday for supper, like we eat BBQ burgers. Octopus that could call a World Cup game. Octopus that could squeeze me until my head pops off. Octopus that can suction cup onto my back and make for a difficult and awkward day at work. I am a bit nervous about this, but will live up to my tag line in Twitter, “Everything. At least once”.

And with that my lovely two readers in Brazil, I am calling it a night.

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Rocky Mountain Icehouse

IMG_2676Michael and I got a sneak peek at the too-cool-for-words, super relaxed Rocky Mountain Icehouse, located at 10516 Jasper Avenue.

Wayne and Susan have done it again. They have taken the best bits of the Cask & Barrel -  the cozy seating, best drinks, awesome music (live and playlist), and great design… and ramped it up into a beautifully designed, comfortable space in the old Jasper Block.

Jasper Block_1The main floor of the old Jasper Block has been completely gutted and designed into a flexible, comfortable space to enjoy time with friends, listen to some great music, nosh on delicious food (the menu is exciting – topping the list? Pig Nuts!), and most important, still encourages the art of conversation.

IMG_2673We attended a sneak peek. I will not give away all the secrets because to get the full effect, you must go and check it out for yourself (plus my pictures don’t do it justice).

IMG_2668The Grand Opening is July 25 and 26, starting at 4 pm both days.

We hope to see you there!

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Sponge Cake

Happy first day summer! The sun is shining, the leaf curler caterpillars are dangling from the trees, friends are meeting on sunny patios for icy beverages, having great conversation and giving away eggs (thank you @Super_Su!).

P1020678 Not regular eggs either. These are beautiful farm fresh eggs which I am sure were laid by the prettiest chickens in Alberta. Look carefully, some are blue and green! The city girl in me wants to know how a robin mated with a chicken to come up with a blue egg… but I have been assured (perhaps comforted) that robins and chickens are not going at it behind the coop. And I’m sure someone out there sighing deeply and rolling their eyes and wants to leave a comment that chickens don’t need to “go at it” in order to lay an egg for breakfast. I don’t know about these things. Let’s leave it a mystery for now.

Now the thing is, I went to Seba Beach a few weeks ago and popped in at the farmers market. I came home with a dozen farm fresh eggs from Nature Spring Farm. We love our eggs Michael and I do, but two dozen is a bit much. What to do?

Sponge cake.

I could hear Mom’s voice in my head from ages ago…. “If you ever have a lot of eggs to use up, make a sponge cake”. So I did. It takes six eggs. And a lot of stamina.

P1020679If you have a modern kitchen you probably have a Kitchen Aid mixer you bought at Costco, which cracks and separates the eggs for you, beats yolks to a buttery yellow froth, self cleans, then beats whites to stiff peaks. I don’t have that luxury. I used my little electric hand mixer quite successfully, but it took away 10 MINUTES OF MY LIFE. I am kidding. Not about the 10 minutes, but I went in to a sort of trance, occasionally snapping out of it when the thought of the hand-mixer slipping and chewing through my fingers would pop in my head.

P1020684P1020687P1020688P1020689P1020691P1020692P1020693P1020695The recipe I used is in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. There are many recipes on the net.

But what does one do, once one has baked a sponge cake? You make a Victoria Sponge. That’s what you do. And here’s how:

Find a sponge cake, slice it, put a nice smear of raspberry or strawberry jam on half, fill with fresh whipped cream, and add another slice of sponge cake. If you want to get all fancy-schmancy, dust with powdered sugar. Serve with…… ?  Tea of course!

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Gin! The 2014 Season has Begun

Today I am enjoying my first (second if we must be honest) gin and tonic of 2014. Hoorah for gin!

The idea was planted in my head mid-day when I realized that my plans to do 1,427 “things” at work today would not happen. I settled for two “things” (but they were pretty important so am living quite happily with my under-achievement).

I have resumed commuting to and fro from work and home on foot, and the hills I face each way seem to be getting steeper. Today, instead of the “just make it to the next tree”, “make it to the next crack in the path” self-talk I sometimes have to do to help motivate me on my climb, on the way home I had visions of a gin and tonic. It looked something like this:

P1020675The climb home went much faster with the promise of a G & T at the end of the walk. We are talking about climbing Grierson Hill and Scona Road hill in Edmonton. I can’t even begin to think what imagery I would need to climb Everest!

IMPORTANT:  For those healthy people out there, or those who are taking me literally, I would not allow myself to drink my G & Ts until properly re-hydrated with plain old water-water, and after a nice long shower. Now if it were beer we were talking about…..

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