New Thing #22: Bake A Pie From Scratch

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I love pie. But as they say on Top Chef, I’m a cook, not a pastry chef.

My grandfather lived with us growing up and one of the few things that he’d make in the kitchen (aside from amazing home fried potato chips) was apple pie. I’d sit and watch him roll out dough, mix the spices and peel and core the apples all by hand. The smell that comes when apples, cinnamon and heat come together would permeate the entire house as only those ingredients together can. And god was it good.

That’s not to say my father, when so inclined couldn’t put together a fantastic pie himself; it’s just that my Grandpa’s was the first, and will always be the best pie I’ll ever eat in my life. 

So today I set to bake my very own apple pie from scratch. Aside from a few false starts with the pastry and a crust that turned the whole thing into more of an apple crumble than a pie it tasted fantastic. 

I also have a much greater respect for those bakers that spend their days churning out pie after pie after pie. I’m sure your pastry skills bet better over time, and that my next pie crust will improve. But I’d say all in all it wasn’t half bad for never having baked anything before in my life.

And thanks to my lovely daughter Audrey for helping out and only wrecking the dough once.

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New Thing #21: Salt Spring Island Goat Cheese

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Every so often I venture over to the local Whole Foods for lunch. In order to get to the surprisingly reasonable buffet items they offer I have to pass the mammoth cheese station. And in that cheese station I often spy these Salt Spring Island goat cheeses topped with various delicious looking edibles. They’re just so perfectly packaged, you just want to pull a spoon our of your pocket and dig in right there. So when I was shopping at our local Loblaws today and spied one I spontaneously threw it in the cart. 

I should mention there was no price on it and when I got home my wife found the $14 item on our bill. And she doesn’t even like goat cheese.

But it was worth it. Man is this good goat cheese. Topped with basil leaves and surrounded in olive oil it’s some of the smoothest goat cheese I’ve ever had. There is a nice hint of basil but nothing overpowering. For a $14 treat I can’t complain.

Especially considering I descimated half of the block within 20 minutes.

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New Thing #20: Roasting Coffee Beans

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A day doesn’t often go by that I don’t indulge in at least one latte. Although I’ve never found any interest in brewed coffee, there’s something about espresso that just does it for me. That’s why I’ve always wondered what sort of a difference roasting my own coffee beans would make in the flavour of the espresso I make at home.

I grabbed a bag of Taman Dadar Java from the Merchants of Green Coffee and went to work. I used the popcorn maker method since it seems to do the most even job on the beans according to my research online. It also seemed to be dead nuts simple, which is always a plus for me.

The roasting itself went off without a hitch, but how does it taste? Well, you’ll have to check back tomorrow because they’re supposed to rest for a day before grinding. Sorry. 

[UPDATE]

What a fantastic way to start the morning. The green beans I’d roasted ground up beautifully, giving off a nice mild aroma. That smell translated wonderfully into a very sweet shot that wasn’t too acidic and really opened up as I drank it.

It might just be that the Intelligentsia beans that I normally use are past their prime but this is the best shot I’ve pulled off my machine in a very long time. And yes, even the crema was more abundant. My machine doesn’t normally produce an aweful lot of the stuff so it’s hard to pick out in the photos attached, but believe me it was more.

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New Thing #19: Gorilla Tripod

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I’ve always thought that these GorillaMobile tripods for the iPhone were some pretty wicked little devices. However, until now I couldn’t justify spending the money on one. But now that I’m shooting videos for this blog I finally bit the bullet and man are they cool.

The fact that I can strap my iPhone or regular point and shoot camera into this rig and get just about any angle for video shooting is amazing. The hardware is rock solid and I feel no qualms about latching it on  to something and walking away.

Maybe it’s the world we live in today, but I am always blown away when something I buy actually performs at the level it advertises itself as. 

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New Thing #18: Sugar Apple

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I saw these sugar apples at T&T Supermarket and was intrigued; these were completely foreign to me. So I picked up a couple to try.

I’m glad I did, even though there is a lot more work than reward to eating the fruit. The seeds are toxic and it’s the meat housing those seeds that are the yummy bits. I’d liken it to a brazil nut for effort vs food. The taste makes up for it though. 

The meat is very sweet and silky in texture. It almost has a hint of mango underneath but smoother. I decimated an entire fruit and had to keep myself from eating the second one so that I can share it with my family later tonight.

They’re definitely a treat.

[UPDATE] Having eaten the second sugar apple for dessert tonight I heartily endorse the use of a grapefruit spoon if you have one. It makes the whole thing go a lot quicker.

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New Thing #17: Tamarind Juice

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I’m sure my Southeast Asian friends are going to hate me for this, but I just don’t like the taste of tamarind. At least not in any way that I’ve had to date.

When I’ve decided to use tamarind sauce in the past, it’s been in sauce form. I’ll try dipping my samosas or pakoras in it from time to time, waiting for that magical moment when I “get” why people like it. But I always find it overpowering the taste of what I’m eating, rather than complimenting it.

So I figured I’d try it on its own by opening up a can of tamarind juice from Thai Agri Foods Public Company Limited. An hour and a cup of tea later I still taste it on my tongue.

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New Thing #16: Make Hot and Sour Soup

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Ever since I first started washing dishes at Lotus Garden in Grimsby as a teenager I’ve been enamoured with hot and sour soup.

The friendliest, and probably best of the cooks there was named Johnson and I’ve been searching for a hot and sour soup in Toronto that even comes close to his recipe.

Factor in my recent visit to T&T Supermarket and came to the conclusion that I should try and make one myself.

I used this recipe from epicurious.com and you can see the results for yourself in the pictures attached to this post.

It turned out great, as far as soups go, but nothing like Johnson’s version. At least it gave me a chance to add some dried asian ingredients to my pantry and introduced me to lilly pods. I’m almost sad that I didn’t have a cold right now so that it could have been knocked right out of me. As my daughter said “too picey!”.

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New Thing #15: Earth: The Book

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It came as a complete surprise to me that the folks over at The Daily Show have a followup to America: The Book on shelves. Thankfully, Earth: The Book is just as irreverantly funny as its predecessor. Science geekery, politics and pop-culture are all perfectly blending into this laugh-out-loud compilation. 

This is required bathroom reading at its best.

And before anyone thinks this is a cop-out of a new thing, please bear in mind that I’m still a little laid up from that surgery on Friday. Believe me, I’d love to be able to climb the CN tower or ride a mechanical bull right now. As it is, the next few days have the distinct possibility of being pretty pedestrian.

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New Thing #14: Ola Dubh

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I don’t have anything more to say that’s not in the video above, except for a big thank you to my wife for giving this to me. My only regret is only having one to enjoy.

[Update] Here’s a link to the fine Ola Dubh.

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New Thing #13: Elective Surgery

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Don’t worry. I’m fine. But I’ll try to avoid operating rooms as much as possible for the rest of my life.

Now here’s a video of a kitten being chased by a Dalek.

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