Thank you for the amazing 8 years here at A Baked Creation, we can't thank you enough for the memories! But we've decided to move over to a new site - Sincerely, Syl. Please join us there for future posts on all the things you loved here!


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Blog Tour: The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman

Good morning!

I'm honoured to be hosting today's blog tour stop for The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman. You might remember this middle-grade series which started with All Four Stars when I participated in my first book blog tour last year (and made osmanthus crème brûlée). In the first book, we're introduced to eleven-year-old foodie Gladys Gatsby who has to convince her takeout-loving parents that cooking is fun as well as plan her first restaurant review and remain an anonymous critic for the city's largest paper. All while fitting in to do "regular" activities that kids her age do (you know, make a few supportive friends and get invited to the most exclusive birthday party).

In the sequel, we follow twelve-year-old Gladys Gatsby on her summer plans. I don't know about you, but I'm really looking forward to summer and reading about Gladys adventures brought me back to fond camp memories and a longing to visit New York City again.

The Stars of Summer
Written by Tara Dairman
Hardcover | 366 pages | Ages 8–12
ISBN 978-0-39917-069-0

Gladys is looking forward to a quiet summer at home, learn a few new dishes and cooking techniques, and hopefully get assigned another restaurant review. But first, a birthday!

To celebrate turning twelve, Gladys' parents take her to a Spanish restaurant in Manhattan for tapas, joining her are her friends Parm Singh, Charissa Bentley, and Sandy Anderson. Personalities clash, but once they plan their food orders (to try as many dishes as they can on the menu), and the food arrives, the chaos begins! The worst part is . . . the gifts! Charissa gives Gladys a whole summer of joining her at Camp Bentley. Yup, the one Charissa's parents run.

Camp life isn't easy. There's an annoying "celebrity" camper (spoiler: the celebrity is an author. I love that authors are considered celebrities here), she has to learn how to swim, and she's not exactly loved and praised for her lunch-making skills. On top of that, she's been assigned to find the best hot dog in New York City.

I thought it would be fun to plan a hot dog taste test in my own city. So if I were ever assigned to look for the best hot dog in Toronto, here are three spots I would visit:

There are so many sausage options here! Playing it safe, I would want to try the beef/coriander, pork/chili paste, or turkey/cilantro/jalepeño. The lamb/harissa, pheasant apple/sundried tomato, and wild boar mushroom/tea. All on a toasted fresh bun of course!

No question about it, I would pick the Korean beef ribs, kimchi, sasame seeds, and scallions hot dog to try first. I love it when Korean food is paired with anything. Then the Po'Boy hot dog with panko fried shrimp, lettuce, Horseradish mayo, and hot sauce. Just because I love the n'walins vibe!

They have a Toronto dog, so I think it's a given to try the one named after the city! It features berkshire pork belly, peameal bacon from St. Lawrence market, cheddar mayo, and onion strings. My next pick would be the Spicy Thai Dog with chicken breast, green curry, lime leaves, basil, mango salad, peanut satay sauce, and toasted coconut. Then, the Chicago Shout-Out featuring local beef chuck and pork shoulder, yellowy mustard, sweet pickle relish, raw onion, tomato, pepperoncini, and celery salt.

But, like Gladys, I find that it's the people you're with and the experiences you're sharing that make the hot dog meal memorable. For instance, I have fond memories of eating hot dogs with my family at Ikea or Costco. Simply because it's a treat to get something to munch on when your parents are shopping. As a kid, you're given a few dollars to exchange it for a hot dog and drink. There's something fun about getting that foiled wrapped hot dog or packaged in identical paper holders. Or the meals you have on the sidewalks when you're downtown and the sizzling hot dog is the most delicious thing you've eaten all day. Everyone's standing around with their own customized toppings, while the ketchup is dripping down your shirt and pants (no? just me?). Or the times when you're on holiday or visiting a tourist attraction and it's hot dogs for everyone at the zoo, amusement park, or museum. Those are the moments when you have the best hot dog. Years later, I don't think it would be one at a sit-down restaurant that I'll remember.

Unless it's a boy who likes you and takes you to a restaurant where there's a sandwich named after you. But, let me get back on track here. Gladys learns to survive camp and even enjoy it. She bonds with her parents through private swimming lessons and city shenanigans. And she learns how to deal with tricky people in sticky situations. If you're looking for a heartwarming, funny, and food-filled read, this is it. You can't help but crack a smile when you start, chuckle quietly as you're a few chapters in, then laugh out loud and shake your head at the same time. The ending makes you want to applaud and cheer for the good guys. Gladys will remind you of yourself as a kid and for children reading it, they'll want to be in Gladys' group of friends. I hear there's a third book in the works and I can't wait to read it!

Thanks for stopping by, please visit the other bloggers on the tour:
Monday, April 27: Katie/Bookish Illuminations
Tuesday, April 28: Aeicha/Word Spelunking and Emma/Awkwordly Emma
Wednesday, April 29: Sylvia/A Baked Creation (that's me!)
Thursday, April 30: Bonnie /For the Love of Words
Friday, May 1: Lisa/Fic Talk
Monday, May 4: Lucy/The Reading Date
Tuesday, May 5: LAUNCH DAY!
Wednesday, May 6: Dahlia/Daily Dahlia
Thursday, May 7: Karen/For What it’s Worth
Friday, May 8: Jen/Pop! Goes the Reader
Monday, May 11: Stephanie/Kitchen Frolic
Tuesday, May 12: Brenda/Log Cabin Library
Wednesday, May 13: Michael/Project Mayhem and Wendy/The Midnight Garden

Tara Dairman is the author of All Four Stars, which was named an Amazon Best Book of the and a Mighty Girl Top Book of 2014 for Teens and Tweens. She is also a playwright and recovering world traveler. She grew up in New York and received a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College. After surviving the world's longest honeymoon (two years, seventy-four countries!), she now lives in Colorado with her husband and their trusty waffle iron.

Credits: Blog tour button / Kristin Rae; Book cover / Kelly Murphy

Disclaimer: An ARC of The Stars of Summer was sent to me from Putnam/Penguin for the blog tour.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cheddar Swirl Buns

One day, Howard and I came upon a bagel bakery that also sold other baked goods. Browsing up and down the small aisles, we came upon cheese buns. Howard gave me that look, you know the one when the other person wants to buy something? He wanted to buy the cheese buns. Instead, we walked over to the grocery store and bought cheddar. I convinced him that I knew of a great recipe and I'd make it for him at home.

What I had in mine were the Smitten Kitchen cheddar swirl breakfast buns. I remember having them at the blogger brunch years before and have been waiting for a good time to make them. I guess this was as good as any other time. I also want to make that apple pie from the brunch one day!
I didn't start out very well, as I opened a package of gelatin instead of yeast. Oops!
Cheddar Swirl Buns
Recipe adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
(Makes 12 buns)

3 cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of salt
Black pepper
1 tablespoon of sugar
2 1/4 teaspoon of instant yeast
1 cup of milk
4 tablespoons of melted unsalted butter
1/2 cup of grated white onion
1 1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons of minced fresh dill (I omitted this)
1/4 teaspoons of salt
Black pepper
  1. Whisk the flour, salt, pepper, and sugar in a bowl. Set aside.
  2. In your stand mixer, whisk the yeast with the milk until it dissolves. Add in the dry ingredients and melted butter. 
  3. Using the dough hook, mix on low for about 6 minutes.
  4. Place the dough in a covered bowl and let it rest for 2 hours.
  5. Make the filling by mixing the onion, cheese, (dill if using), salt, and pepper together.
  6. Scoop the dough out and roll out into a 12-by-16 rectangle on a floured surface (or baking pan in my case).
  7. Spread the filling over the rectangle dough and roll into a log.
  8. Use a sharp knife to cut the log into twelve 1-inch bun.
  9. Line the bottom of a baking pan and arrange the twelve buns, with some space in between them. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for another two hours.
  10. Preheat your oven to 350°F, bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the tops are golden and the cheese is bubbling. Serve right away!
You want to know what else is wonderful from making this recipe? Your place will smell amazing. Savoury cheese and onion wafts in and out of your kitchen, making your stomach grumble with hunger.
Somebody forgot to brush the tops with melted butter. Another oops! If you've been counting, that's two mistakes (where oh where is my memory going). So much for the golden colour, but the cheese was bubbling! So the buns were looking pale, but they still tasted great.
We were able to keep these in the fridge and warm them up during the the week. Just so you know, we didn't gobble all twelve buns in one sitting. That should be made clear. Although it was tempting to reach for another one, especially when they were fresh from the oven. We would suggest making these for a brunch or group gathering so they can all be eaten at once.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Basic, Great Chocolate Chip Cookies

There has been so many great new cookbook releases this spring, I can barely keep up! What's wonderful about these titles are the quality of material coming from Canadian authors: Sara Britton of My New Roots, Rosie Alyea of Sweetapolita, and Tara O'Brady of Seven Spoons. I meant to do a post for each book as they released, but the weekends just seem to fly by (why aren't weekends three days instead of two?).

But I had three beautiful bars of chocolate, the cookbook, and Tara's post to get me off my butt to make something. Plus, who can resist basic, great chocolate chip cookies?
Look how beautiful the tasting bars are! I've never used Valrhona chocolates before, but I've heard about their excellent reputation. Plus, they're always getting mentions in cookbooks where chefs repeat: use quality products. Really, I felt like Charlie from the Chocolate Factory when I ripped off the gold foil and saw the gorgeous design on these bars.
I felt like I was destroying art chopping up the chocolate bars. But at least they had a guideline of grids on it. You can chop them up a bit smaller, but I wanted to be able to taste each different chocolate piece in the cookie.
Do you like the sweet and salty combination? I found that the little sprinkle of sea salt on top was strong, so don't go overboard! Just put less than a pinch on top of the batter.

Basic, Great Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe adapted from Seven Spoons by Tara O'Brady
(Makes about 24 cookies)

1 cup of unsalted butter
3 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
210 grams of chopped chocolate (Tara calls for 340 grams of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate)
Flaky sea salt (optional)
  1. Preheat your oven to 360°F (180°C) - don't forget to check with an oven thermometer. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Place the butter in a saucepan and melt on the lowest setting. You want the butter to melt, but not sizzle and lose moisture.
  3. Take a chef knife and chop up your chocolate. I used three 70 gram bars of 32% cacao, 46% cacao, and 72% cacao. I combined all three together so that the cookies would get a mix of blond, milk, and dark chocolate bits in it.
  4. In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Using a stand mixer, pour in both sugars and the melted butter. Whisk until combined. Add in the eggs one at a time. Pour in the vanilla extract. Once it's blended, switch the whisk attachment to the paddle or use a spatula.
  6. Carefully add in the dry ingredients and mix a little bit (doesn't have to be well blended at this point).
  7. Add in the chopped chocolate and fold into the batter until well combined. The less mixing you do when the dry ingredients are added, the better. You don't want the batter to become too doughy and smooth.
  8. At this stage, you can refrigerate the batter. I did for 5 minutes because the batter was looking a bit shiny and it is mentioned in Tara's notes - thanks for troubleshooting!
  9. Scoop out about 3 tablespoons of batter and form it into a ball. Place on parchment paper and space each one 3 inches apart. Optional, sprinkle the top with flaky sea salt. I did for 12 and left the other 12 as is.
  10. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. When you take them out, let them rest for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.
I love how quickly the cookie batter came together, there's no need to chill the dough for hours or overnight. All about the immediate gratification here.
Unbelievable. Just because I'm standing on a chair taking cookie photos, it doesn't mean someone should swoop in and grab one. Luckily, I caught the thief red-handed in the photo and was able to confront them later.
Oh these cookies are good. They're soft and chewy on the inside. And yes, they're cookies worth dreaming about and craving for. They would make a great base for nutty cookies too (walnuts or pecans anyone?).
Happy publication day Tara!