Posts filed under ‘Food’

Butter Tarts in Canada

Butter Tarts Issues – Greeting cards and other things…

OK… So, we were visiting the Vancouver Art Gallery downtown. They were showing Cezanne on the first floor and it was great. Even though we aren’t very big fans of modern art, there were some interesting pieces/displays on the 2nd floor of modern Chinese art.


sketch of card

Anyway, we were in the gift shop and I was looking for possibly a post card of the MadeIn Company’s exercise stuff [about the middle of the page is a video with the exercise stuff; it’s really entertaining if you have ever seen a yoga exercise video] and they had some very tongue-in-cheek greeting cards making fun of various aspects of Canadian culture. One card was on butter tarts and basically said: Raisins or walnuts? Runny or firm? I thought this was so funny because there are some very similar heated debates in the US in such matters (e.g., light or dark syrup for a pecan pie, marshmallows or savory sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving, but I digress.)

We had been in Vancouver for days but, unlike other trips where we’d visit several bakeries, we actually focused on chocolate (both solid and liquid) and Asian/Native People’s food. So, when I saw the card, I wanted to understand the butter tart debate.


sketch of butter tart

First, there are many sites that discuss the debates surrounding butter tarts. One organization ran a contest and the results outline the issues (see Canada site Better Butter Tarts). Here are two: The Brandon Sun website or ctv website . Runny versus firm refers to the texture of the finished product. They are runny when you take them out of the oven and the top is firm to touch but jiggles a little and, when you bite into them, the center is runny. The debate about raisins or walnuts is actually a little more complicated. Either the tart has no add-ins (plain) or it can have raisins or nuts (and some say both?!). One site said that the corn syrup in Canada is different from what is found here in the US and not golden syrup (as in England). Some people add maple syrup or replace the corn syrup with maple syrup – although others say that it must have corn syrup. It’s fascinating.

So, after studying many of these recipes, I came up with my combination version. My daughter said that it’s a little bit Canadian because I’m a little Canadian (since my mother was born there).ayl butter tart 2015

The Butter Tart (Adrienne’s version)

*The debate – firm versus runny. We’re going to try for more firm just because we like more firm but it seems like there’s a split and also that some people like the top firm with runniness underneath.

*The debate – nothing, raisins and/or nuts. We’re going to use nuts because we like them. We love pecans but it definitely seems like a “no-no”. If I like this recipe, I may end up adding them.

**Note: Some people say that the Canadian corn syrup is different from American. It’s more golden colored but it’s not golden syrup. So, I decided to do part maple syrup.

**Note 2: The original recipe probably did not have cream or milk. I am not including cream or milk in my version right now. I may add it later and will add the optional amount below.

*I’m using my own pate brise (regular pie crust dough). Some people have used a puff pastry like dough. Most people use their own favorite recipe (including one with cream cheese but I have a hard time believing cream cheese was in the original.)


1/3 C (2 .67 ou/75 g) butter
¼ C brown sugar
¼ C corn syrup
¼ C maple syrup (using grade B)
2 eggs
(2 T milk or cream optional)
1 tsp vanilla
pinch salt
½ C walnuts (toasted and roughly chopped)
your favorite pie dough recipe


  1. Preheat oven to 450°. Spray tart tin (or tins). Use a cookie sheet to avoid spilling.
  2. Roll pie dough until thin. Use a cookie cutter that is just slightly larger than the whole of your pie tart pan holes. Put dough into tart pans and lightly dock. Put into fridge for about 10 min.
  3. If you’re going to par-bake, cut pieces of parchment to line tart tins. Use a few pie weights in each whole. Par-bake. (You don’t have to do this part but I like my tart dough very baked.) Bake 10 min. Remove from oven. Remove pie weights and liners.
  4. Pour filling about 2/3 full or just below rim.   Reduce heat to 350°. Put back into the oven for 8-15 min. (Less if you want runny ones.) Cool.

**The family loved these butter tarts. I am likely to make them again – maybe mixing it up. For example, I could see using all maple syrup and no corn syrup, using pecans, or trying raisins and nuts. Quite fun when you’re not being too serious.


April 28, 2015 at 6:09 pm Leave a comment

Taking courses….Food Science and beyond

Hi!  Needless to say, I’ve been off doing a lot of stuff these last few years.  It’s been hard to find my center after my mother passed but things are getting better.

Anyway, I’ve been taking on-line classes.  The first one I took was last summer on food science from Coursera.  It was interesting, for the most part, but not heavy weight.

On the other hand, the course on graphic novels was fun but intense.  My daughter who does amazing manga drawings was my inspiration.  I loved getting back in touch with classic American comics, updating my knowledge about today’s comics and graphic novels, and learning how to analyze graphic novels as literature, as well as, creating my own little comic.

Peaches Are Life30001wm

The picture to the left is the front page of my final project.

I didn’t expect the course to make me late for starting the Edx Gastronomy course on the Science of Food.  This was quite a step up from the Coursera course – with famous chefs and Harvard profs and Harold McGee.  (He’s a really nice man.  I remember pondering a question about pasta and wine and he took the time to answer me.)  While I wish I had reviewed my chemistry before taking the course, I enjoyed learning so much more.  My project was on the effect of fats on bread doughs and the PDF is here:

effects of fat 2014 v2

Basically, I first examined when the best time to add fat might be and then I performed an experiment where I varied the type of fat used and compared to a control condition with no fat.  I  measured weight, height, volume, and elasticity, using just the tools that I had at home.  The pictures are in the appendices but I’ve included a few here just to give you a flavor of the results:


Left, I’m measuring compression for elasticity calculations.

Below is the result of the compression for Exp2…


Next I’m measuring volume with the displacement of rice…


Left, the overall results.

Generally, I enjoyed learning new techniques and reviewing chemistry.  I have a renewed interest in going back to my food testing… and also taking more courses.  I’m hoping to create a graphic novel cookbook of recipes for my daughter over the next few years… wish me luck!

March 12, 2014 at 9:43 pm Leave a comment

Untangling My Chopsticks by Victoria Riccardi

Before I left for Japan, I read a lot of non-fiction – travel guides, specialty books, personal memoirs, etc.  There wasn’t enough time to read everything.  Anyway, I did start this book before leaving and then finished it when I came back.  As I said in my previous message, I do post on Goodreads for my books and this site for my food/travel adventures.  This is a second crossover.

*Untangling My Chopsticks is a biography in the same tradition as Under the Tuscan Sun or On Rue Tatin.  Basically, she travels to a foreign country, encounters difficulties, but manages to overcome and survive.  This sentence shows what is common but doesn’t really capture the whole story or some of the very charming characters that helped along the way.  Some of the help she receives follows a distinctly Japanese way of doing things and the reader is given an insight into what it might be like to try to live and work as an expatriate.  Not only does she learn tea kaiseki, she leaves with lifelong friendships.  If you’re headed to Japan, and Kyoto in particular, this would be one to skim.  It’s not quite as dreamy and story-like as the other books but it does give you a flavor of Kyoto.  I particularly liked the author’s description of making mochi.

*As in many of these books (fiction & non-fiction), there are recipes at the end of the chapters.  I made two recipes from the book.  The first one I made was the green tea ice cream. Rather than brewing tea, this recipe uses matcha – a concentrated green tea powder.   This is more true to Japanese flavors and Asian flavors in general – the ice cream is not sickeningly sweet and the tea flavor is very strong.  You can adjust the strength of the tea flavor by using less matcha.  You can also make a simplified version of this recipe by adding matcha to softened vanilla ice cream.

The second one I made was the Year Crossing Buckwheat noodles.  I did not use the fish cake – instead I used marinated tempeh.  I loved the flavor of the broth here and the runny egg yolk just adds another dimension.  For the fish cakes, you could probably also substituted cooked fresh fish or marinated/cooked tofu, as well.  I’d still like to try some of the author’s tofu recipes.

*After having visited Japan, I can tell you that it’s sometimes incredibly difficult, with the language the hardest part (at least for me).  With my upbringing and familiarity with Asian cultures in general, after one week I was able to blend.  However, I couldn’t really ask the more difficult questions or convey the more complicated ideas.  Of all the cities we visited, though, I loved Kyoto the best (with Nara a close second) but Tokyo was actually quite do-able for a big city and really, really clean.

*I loved trying all the different types of kaiseki meals when we were in Japan and you can read about one in my previous post.  (I will get to posting about some other meals.)  However, we found that the food from snack food to high end specialty restaurants was made with care and service was excellent.

August 5, 2012 at 9:26 pm 1 comment

Kaiseki in Tokyo

After a pretty hairy spring (great b-day celebration followed the day after by my mother’s passing), we finally took off for Japan.  This was our first trip and although I tried to do planning, with all the other stuff going on, it was pretty tough.


I started writing about Japan but then thought it was a bit boring.  Rather than going through things in some organized fashion, I think it might make sense to just jump around and include notes every so often.

~During our visit, we tried 3 different kaiseki meals.  These are traditional, multi-course meals – served with quiet beauty (read about them here ).  The last of these was Nakaiseki Sen; Setagaya-ku  Shimouma 5-35-5 2nd Floor Tokyo.   It is actually a shojin ryori style, that is, all vegetarian with a Buddhist leaning.

~Because this restaurant is likely closing next month (at least that’s what the person who made the reservation told us), I will start with it first.

~The chef of Nakaiseki Sen is Yomiko Kano.  You can read about her here .  Essentially, as with all kaiseki meals, hers uses seasonal, local ingredients with a distinctly simpler country-style form.

Here are pictures from the meal:

~plum alcohol/green tea

~peanut tofu, baby corn, black beans, soy, seaweed

~pureed zucchini strips, with chestnut, enoki mushrooms, wasabi

~peas – tofu base, asparagus




~yuba, aloe gelato, seaweed gelatin

~ginger rice, miso soup, pickled veggies



~At the end of the meal, they presented us with chopsticks. You can see them on the side of the setting for dessert.

carrot cake (gelatinous rather than flour based)

~As with many things in Japan, even though there was a communication gap, everyone was very kind and patient with us, as we were with them, and things ended well.  This was a delicious, beautiful meal in a locale that was both modern and traditional at the same time.

~Details:  You need to call or ask someone to call for you to get a reservation.  We took a taxi who let us off near the complex.  From the outside, it looks like a regular apartment building.  Inside you’ll find a beautifully appointed, multi-room place – wood floors and wood panels.  (I can’t tell you how many times we got lost trying to find places.  Google maps often dropped us in the back of buildings.)

July 29, 2012 at 6:47 pm Leave a comment

Brownies & Broomsticks – a tasty book review

Well, I’ve been meaning to write for a while but life has intervened this year to keep me from getting anything done – one step forward, two steps back, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, I have managed to read a lot and have been keeping track of my books on Goodreads.  If you haven’t been there, then I highly recommend it.  You can get book recommendations that are related to your bookshelf and can be used as an addition to Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

So… what am I posting about today?  I read a lot of food related non-fiction; however often I read food related fiction, as well.  On Goodreads, you can find a section for people who read food in fiction.  Cooking from these fiction books has only marginally interested me; but, somehow, I just felt moved to try it yesterday.

The book:   Brownies & Broomsticks by Bailey Cates.

Summary:  Katie is left by her fiance and leaves her job to help her aunt and uncle start a bakery.  In a sense, she is starting all over.  Circumstances cause a much disliked woman in the community to be killed outside of the bakery and her uncle is accused of having killed the woman.  Katie is determined to find the killer and clear her uncle’s name.  This is a classic mystery novel scenario; however, a long the way, she discovers that her aunt is a witch and that she may be one, too.

What I disliked:  There was one section right in the beginning that seemed very disjointed.  This may be due to trying to fill in Katie’s background with the current action.

What I liked:  The ending was exciting and the mix of witchcraft did not seem over blown.

The recipes:  There were two recipes at the end.  Both sounded interesting; and, since my sister was bringing lamb chops and I was making sides, these two seemed to fit in with the dinner schedule.

*Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies – These are essentially straight brownies with a peanut butter mixture spread on top. The only change I made to the batter was to add chocolate chips and reduce the amount of sugar.  For the PB mixture, I reduced the butter by one half and mixed in 2 tablespoons of peanut oil.  (This reduces the saturated fat but still leaves the mixture smooth enough to put on top.)  I could not drizzle the mixture.  Instead I made lines of PB mixture across the sheet.  Then I took a knife and went up one way and back down to cover the length.  The pattern caused a lot of oohs and ahs when presented.  The extended family loved it.

*Cheddar-Sage scones:  OK… I don’t like sage – thyme was substituted.  I also wanted more servings and so I cut more triangles.  The baking time was not decreased, however, because I wanted them to be crispy and golden.  The extended family liked the way the cheddar flavor popped and were convinced it was due to baking just a bit longer.  If you try baking longer, be careful; because too much longer can produce a dry scone.  Although the flavor was good the next day, they were really best on the first day.

Take home message:  I think these two recipes were a success.  I think I might now try to make more of the recipes I encounter in the fiction that I’ve been reading.  Hopefully I’ll be inspired by something soon.

July 13, 2012 at 7:17 pm Leave a comment

Cooking some meals from Ferran Adria’s new book, The Family Meal

The hardest part of making dinner for the extended family (or even on a regular weeknight with just the 3 of us) is figuring out what to make.  Making meals is not at all difficult.  So, when I saw reviews for Ferran Adria’s new book, The Family Meal, I thought it would be fun to see what set meals he has.

~The beginning of the book describes ingredients and cooking techniques, as well as philosophy.  Clearly, getting everything ready makes things easier.  He also includes basic sauces that are used in many of the recipes.  (One short cut is to buy some of these pre-made.)

~In any case, as would be expected, when you’re cooking for extended family, there’s always food preferences to consider and dietary restrictions, not to mention Lent.  It’s nice to see all 31 meals laid out in a calendar form – You can easily choose things to mix & match meals.  Although the chef discusses side dishes in a small section, each the meal contains an appetizer, main, and dessert; each set has meat or fish.  So, if you’re vegetarian, this would not be the book for you.  Also, given our changes, I have definitely added sides of vegetables or salad to each of the meals I tried.

~What’s nice about the recipes is that each step is shown but you can get this type of cooking notes from looking at websites.  Still, it does give a benchmark.

Caesar Salad

#1:  For my first try, I combined the Caesar salad and Santiago cake from Meal 1 with the Pasta Bolognese from Meal 2.   Both the salad and the pasta were very good.



*For the pasta, I increased the quantities for the recipe to make it a main but not by much and it worked well.  

Rather than increasing all the meat, I added tempeh (steamed and separated) to the mix. The combination of meats in the pasta was perfect; the tempeh added texture but did not add a huge vegetable flavor. (Note that I’m only showing the sauce.)

*The biggest problem I had was with the Santiago cake.  The proportions for a regular pan size seem just off.  The first panel said to grease a 12×20” square pan but the amount of batter seems like too little for that size pan.  I tried a 9” spring form to start but ended up changing it to an 8” spring form.  Without having transferred, I think it would have ended up just a bit better with no altitude adjustment necessary.  The flavor was good and so might be worth trying again.

#2:  For try 2, I made the roasted vegetables and salmon stewed with lentils from Meal 29, and the chocolate cookies from Meal 2.  I made rolls to go with the meal because I thought it would be nice to have something to dip into the stew.  Since I didn’t have much time, I made quick cooking tapioca with coconut milk.

*The roasted vegetables were good but quite standard – nothing special. (I don’t like eggplant and so subbed zucchini.)

*The salmon stewed in lentils were delicious.  This dish required the sofrito and the picada sauces – both smelled and tasted great.  They may have added to the dish’s flavor but also disappeared a bit into the sauce.  It was hard to tell that the extra work had gone into it.

Salmon with Lentils

*The chocolate cookies ended up OK but were again a problem.  The batter was too running to shape into anything.  I added just enough additional flour to get to hold.  As you can see, I rolled and put into a paper towel roll to keep in a circular shape.  However, when I took them out, even after the long freezer stay, they were so soft that I ended up scooping.  If I were to make these again, I would add a lot more flour (and maybe some cocoa to keep the chocolate intensity).  On the other hand, one could just add a bit more flour, as I did above, and then just scoop onto the pans…quite good made in this way, too.

#3:  For try 3, I made the cheeseburger from Meal 1, and the coconut  macaroons from Meal 6.  I served this with a focaccia, details below.

*The cheeseburger mixture is reminiscent of a meat loaf mixture.  The added ingredients help to make the burger stay moister.

*The focaccia I made came from Nancy Silverton that you can find on the Los Angeles Times website ( Nancy Silverton’s foccacia.)  Because I was using this recipe with the cheese burgers, I kept the top simple with fresh thyme and a drizzle of olive oil on the top and baked as described in the topping recipes.  It was delicious.

*I made the macaroons with the regular sugared coconut shreds from the regular grocery store.  So, I reduced the sugar by a half (and could probably reduce it more).  It turned out perfectly.  As a gluten free treat, it’s also incredibly useful to have in the arsenal.

*I served the macaroons along side some tapioca pudding.  Just to let you know, I’ve been very excited about cooking with small pearl tapioca – as opposed to quick cooking.  While it does take a significantly longer time to cook, the texture is unique and completely worth it.

#4:  For the try 4, I made the roasted chicken and pineapple dessert from Meal 22, and the Tagliatelle carbonara from Meal 2.

*I followed the directions for the chicken as directed, with the chicken placed breast-side down first and then flipped over.  This seemed a bit unnecessary and the top seemed a little flat out of the oven.  However, since I served the pieces sliced on a platter, no one saw the top but me.  (Note that I used a roasting thermometer that lets you set an ending temperature.)  The chicken was juicy and delicious.

*The carbonara is interesting because it’s not exactly like an Italian carbonara but does have some similarities.  I think it relies less on the cheese than on just pure fat.  In the recipe, the bacon is fried and then cream is added.  This is cooked for 20 minutes (which flavors the cream).  If I were making this dish again, I would drain the bacon and then cook the bacon and cream together.  This wouldn’t diminish the amount of fat in the dish by a whole lot and make it just slightly healthier.  I made the recipe for 6 servings but used only 4 yolks.  This was just fine and also reduced some of the fat.  Note that to make the dish even healthier, I really lightly blanched some asparagus to add.  With the pieces of bacon and asparagus, it was so pretty.

*I decided to use honey in place of the molasses for the pineapple dessert.  I also baked the pineapple a little in the oven before cutting into serving slices and continuing with the recipe. I warmed the honey in the microwave and then zested the lime on top.  It was great.

~What do I think?  Nice, instructive, flexible…  Heavy on the protein — The combinations could use more added vegetables.  One could skip the appetizer and add that extra vegetable or add vegetables into the various dishes (as I did with the carbonara dish.

*The dishes with protein work really well.  They work true to the recipe and require a little less intuition.  The baked goods needed a little more cooking by feel in order to make work.  (The pineapple dish obviously didn’t require any adjustments but it’s more of a “way to serve” rather than a recipe.)  I would try some of them again but might research to check proportions before starting.

*Note that the quantitites are a bit large and so you can easily adjust the appetizer recipes up by a little to make them into the main and the main could be adjusted down a little to make normal portion sizes.  (Portion size is extremely important.  You can eat a little bit fattier or “bad for you” things, if you keep the portion sizes reasonable.)

~Would I do any of these menus again?  Well, loosely speaking, I would.  Actually, I didn’t do a single one of the menus as laid out – instead I mixed and matched.  This was easy to do because everything was presented so nicely in the calendar form.

March 19, 2012 at 3:03 pm Leave a comment

Chinese New Year 2012 (including Superbowl Sunday)

Gung Hay Fat Choy – Happy Chinese New Year.

This year was different, as I suppose it is most years; but, of course, it was a bit more noticeable this year.  15 days allows usually for 2 weekends with 2 big Chinese banquets.  Since the whole thing started on a Monday, it was hard to justify stopping everything to do a banquet.  Instead I brought lunch in for mother from Zoe Ma Ma (a great local hole-in-the-wall Chinese place in downtown Boulder).  She was confused until she started to eat the noodles…!  After gymnastics, we met my sister and her family at another non-fancy Chinese restaurant in north Boulder.  It was fun all around and with no cleaning.

~Over the course of the next few days, I incorporated the dishes that needed to be eaten and tried new Asian dishes.  (On the first day, we had dan tart – custard tarts, almond jello with fruit, and CNY candy from the red box.)  We ate steamed fish, long noodles, etc.  We brought in many items for my mother.  I made ji (traditional rice noodle dish), orange beef, gai lan, and almond jello; my sister made lamb and broccoli, walnut shrimp, and a Japanese bean/rice mixture.

The last dessert I made for that big celebration with mom was Pichet Ong’s pineapple tarts – that look like little tangerines. (See The Sweet Spot.) I made them last year but this year I made just a few modifications and it seemed to go a bit more easily than the year before.  They tasted amazing.

Then over the whole course of the 2 weeks: dan go (egg steamed sponge cake), almond cookies, Japanese Wagu hamburgers, steamed whole fish, peanut noodles, and steamed fat go little cakes.




~Between Superbowl Sunday and Chinese New Year this year, we also celebrated National Chocolate Cake day!  Here are the cupcakes I made:

~Superbowl Sunday fell the day before the end of CNY.  We (my sister’s family and my family) have a great time making all sorts of bad-for-you-foods – noshing and watching the game and commercials.  This time only one of us was truly invested and so it was a bit more relaxing.  We could enjoy the exciting ending without getting knots in our stomach.  Anyway, my sister used her new 3 crock crockpot for queso, vegetarian chili, and regular chili and she brought 3 other dips with chips.  My daughter made a shortbread sandwich cookie – the first time she did everything with just coaching and hints from me….(She even made her own homemade vanilla pudding mixture to use in the cookie recipe.)

~I made 3 types of wings – 2 different Asian wings and 1 very hot Tobasco wing (using the Tobasco wing sauce, along with another secret mixture) and non-alcoholic sangria.




I also made Boston cream pie (because it was suggested on some site) using Gale Gand’s cake, a pastry cream from some where else, and my own chocolate glaze.  Finally, I usually make regular nachos but decided to make a sweet nacho… crisped tortilla triangles with cinnamon sugar in the oven, sprinkled melted milk chocolate and homemade dulce de leche sauce, finely chopped fruit, and shavings of white chocolate…. The last was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.

This was in some ways a more relaxing way to do things and very much more multi-cultural due to Superbowl Sunday coming at the end.  It did feel very much like we celebrated the whole time and everyone left with good feelings…  Gung Hay Fat Choy — I hope your year will be a good one.

February 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm 2 comments

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