Friday, December 9, 2011

Dessert Before Dinner 2: Now with a wine pairing!

Gingerbread cupcakes.
This month for Dessert Before Dinner, we headed back down to the Little Cakes Cupcakes tasting night at With Love Bridal in Stittsville. I know: we will indeed travel a great distance if it means perfect cupcakes. In case you still don't know, Little Cakes Cupcakes makes mini- and full-sized cupcakes by custom-order for any event, and is carried weekly in the Stittsville shop called Scrumptious. Last week, we tasted nearly a dozen different delectable flavours, but one stood out as a clear winner for our post this month: the eggnog cupcake.


 The eggnog cupcake looked deceptively benign. Except for the tiny speckles of nutmeg, it looked very similar to its cousin, the vanilla cupcake. Holding this beauty up to your nose, you will inhale a sweet vanilla scent with a creamy undertone. The icing is a rich, nutmeg-y buttercream, dense and subtly flavoured. The cake, in Little Cakes’ signature moist style, held the rest of the eggnog flavour notes.

Separately, both parts of the cupcake were sweet yet demure, with gentle flavours that politely introduced themselves to the surface of your tongue before stretching out and really settling in. But together, the icing and the cake packed a wallop of eggnoggy goodness that had me flashing back to childhood Christmases when I drank oodles of the stuff, frosty-cold, while devouring my grandmother’s shortbreads.

For two people who have become adult lactose-phobes, this cupcake was a bittersweet (emphasis on sweet) reminder of the wonderful, full-bodied flavour that is eggnog. Hats off to Little Cakes for creating this delectable treat. We heartily recommend picking up a couple dozen of their mini eggnog cupcakes for your holiday party this year!

Some gratuitous cupcake porn for you all:
Cake pops: the best in the city.

Mmmmmm, Brian LOVES cupcakes.

Cue the bass guitar makeout music...oh yeahhhh.

Let's be honest: we all need a glass of wine before we start cooking.
Brian's wine recommendation: Ruffino chianti 2007 from Tuscany, Italy- A reddish purple colour, this wine's aroma and flavour is rich in raspberry and cherry. It also has subtle spicy notes with a touch of pepper, medium body, medium tannin, and has a medium but firm finish. This wine was an interesting pairing for fried rice; usually it is better paired with pasta’s acidic sauce, however the play of the rich fruity flavours really accented the Worcestershire and the saltiness of the soya sauce. The wine really allowed the chicken and egg to play in the forefront. If you are in Ontario it can be found at the LCBO, product code 1743, for $14.95. -Brian
Dinner is down, dirty, and simple this month. I have wanted to learn the knack of fried rice for over a  year now, and found that my attempts never worked out. I’ll admit, I never grabbed a recipe, thinking to myself, “How hard could this be?” Apparently, if you don’t know the tricks of it, it’s impossible. Brian ate my horrendous errors on several occasions as I tried in vain to somehow mix egg, veggies, and rice in a wok without creating the world’s most disgusting mashed-up omelette. Finally I had a lightbulb moment: ask Alison, my award-winning food blogger friend who writes Ali Does ItHerself. Ali has helped me with a few other recipes including tofu au gratin which became a household favourite and introduced us to chevre cheese. I sent a tweet her way, and within days Alison had come to my rescue with a simple-sounding fried rice recipe. You can check Alison’s fried rice recipe out right here.

Apparently the trick to fried rice that I wasn’t getting is that you cook things in a specific order. This makes sense, of course; like all science, the order of events plays a major role in the final outcome. The way that I was attempting fried rice was a bit like a kid who mixes the baking soda together with the vinegar, then tries to build the papier mache volcano around the foaming mess. Here’s the proper order of events (and the recipe, basically):

Ingredients (and the order of events):

1. onions, garlic, oil. Cook.
2. chicken cubes: cook.
3. egg: cook.
4. veggies: heat through.
5. rice: heat through. Add soy sauce.

That’s the recipe, minus the amounts; we proportionately increased our quantities to feed three adults and three growing boys, and it wasn’t too hard except the wok got really full. We also substituted some of the veggies for what we had on hand: Ali didn’t use yellow carrots and mushrooms, but that’s okay; I think it’s more authentic when you just use what you have around, and they were still Asian-appropriate.

Baby, I can see your halo.
By working in this order, everything is cooked through, and cooked an appropriate length of time. The simple trick that makes all the difference between a mess and a meal: make that halo of cooked chicken and pour your egg into the middle, then scramble your egg within that halo without disturbing the chicken too much. Previously I had attempted to scramble the egg with everything else, resulting in egg-coated veggies and chicken. It’s not good. The halo technique works like a charm.

I think we’re all missing the really exciting part of this recipe: Jordan used real meat. Yes, that’s right, I, Jordan, queen of the avoidance-based vegetarian cooking, used raw meat in a recipe. Yes, I made Brian cube the chicken, and no, I didn’t touch it, and yes, I demanded that everything the chicken had even looked at be scrubbed down immediately. But once it was in the wok, it was easy to watch it cook and see when it was done.

We tweaked this recipe by adding some Worcestershire sauce, which I know isn’t Asian but it’s delicious. I also really wanted to add something else…lemongrass, maybe? I couldn’t figure it out. My mom loved it and said stop fussing with it, so it must have been pretty good. I personally was impressed by how little oil went into it; I suspect this is not the case when you buy it at a take-out place.

We made this dish for six people: Mom, Dad, me, Brian, and two teenage exchange students that my parents are housing. It was served as a side dish with ravioli, which was made just in case I totally screwed up…and even as a side dish,  six people ate the entire triple-batch in one sitting. I was particularly pleased that Jay, their Asian student, wolfed down two huge helpings and loved it. Somehow, I felt that if Jay liked it and this is a dish from his end of the world, I must have done it pretty well.

So there we have it: one more recipe that I can pull off…as long as someone’s there to cut up the chicken and bleach the whole kitchen.

Big fat thank you’s go to Alison of Ali Does It Herself, for her ongoing recipe help! Follow her on Twitter or see her blog.


  1. Woohoo! Glad it worked out! Ask me anytime. <3

  2. Fried rice is something many oriental households turn to to use up leftover steamed rice and other bits of meat and vegetable they have leftover in the fridge. Post Thanksgiving turkey? Cube up the meat and make some fried rice! Heck spam fried rice can be tasty!

    The trick to fried rice, if there is one, is indeed to make that well to scramble your eggs. Then again, Jenn and I also like the fried rice where the egg coats the ingredients. To avoid the fried rice omelet, make sure you've much more rice than egg.

    Just as Alison used enamel coated cast iron, we recommend a well seasoned cast iron skillet or wok to make fried rice. The rice crisps better and seasoned cast iron, being non stick, means your ingredients move around much easier...Besides cast iron lasts forever, so long as you care for your cookware.

    Next time you cook fried rice, may I suggest leaving out the soy? Season with salt. Soy can be overpowering when it comes to your ingredients for fried rice.