Budget-Friendly Bites: Chianti Cafe & Restaurant

Chianti Cafe (10501-82 Avenue NW) is a decent place for a pasta fix. Reasonable prices, and decent food. They are also very active in the community, being longstanding supporters of various charitable organizations and art festivals in Edmonton! For instance, the Alberta AdaptAbilities Association Walk4Abilities Kickoff Dinner, that took place last week :)

I've been to the place quite a few times before, and decided to make a compilation post for it from my various visits :)
Chianti is located on Whyte Ave where the old post office used to be! I love historical buildings...
The entrance area. The walls are covered in posters from the Fringe for the past several years.
The bar and booths area. To the left of the bar, is a display of desserts (including tiramisu, of course).  
The hall goes all the way to the back where there's this kind of room. It often gets booked for parties and charity dinners. 
Best time to go? Monday or Tuesdays when all pasta is on special for $9.99, of course! The great thing is that they offer pasta all day long from 11:00am to 11:00pm :D This ad is brought to you courtesy of The Gateway (U of A's newspaper).
Linguine Alla Marinara - baby shrimps and clams with tomato sauce, topped with parsley, freshly grated parmesan, and ground black pepper. I find that their linguine noodles are a little thick, but for the price you pay (on Mondays and Tuesdays), it's not bad. 
Linguine Mare E Monte - scallops, mushrooms, peas, garlic, and cream
Fettuccine Du Chef - homemade spinach noodles with smoked salmon, mushrooms, cream and pesto.
Pasta is always accompanied with fresh rolls. Tasty and fresh, but they are quite floury on the outside > <

Yay, pasta frenzy poster, and a table full of people who probably thought I was weird for taking a picture in that direction. 
For a quick lunch (or dinner in case you won't be consume a full plate of pasta for lunch like me) close to campus, Chianti is a pretty decent option! To be honest, their food isn't wow, but it isn't bad, especially given the price you pay. And when you can't exactly afford Sicilian Pasta Kitchen, Oliveto Trattoria, or Piccolino Bistro, why not?


Chianti Cafe on Urbanspoon

B-b-b-baking: Shoo, pastries!

In the spirit of trying new things, I decided to give profiteroles/choux pastries a shot today.

I absolutely looove choux pastry. They are so light, airy, and go with basically any kind of filling. Of course the best fillings are cream-based whether ice cream, whipped cream, or chantilly cream. Cream is the good stuff.

I think I learned the basic formula for profiteroles from my foods class at some point - 1 cup liquid, 1/2 cup butter, 1 teaspoon of salt or sugar, 1 cup of flour, and 4 eggs. Since that was in my head, I tried giving things a shot without referring to a recipe. That was not a good decision. It took me 3 tries to figure out that I missed out an important step, and in the process, I used a whole dozen of eggs. It's a good thing that I buy my own eggs for baking, or I'd get an earful from my parents for sure.

When in doubt, consult Gordon Ramsay - The F Word, Season 3. I realized that for the first 2 attempts, I didn't bring the butter mixture to a rolling boil. Not smart. The rolling boil brings the mixture to the right temperature and helps incorporate all the air into the pastry to make it puff puff puff. Without that, you get what I made the first two times, 8 eggs later. = =

Things I have learned today about choux pastry:
- In preparation of the dough, you must bring the butter mixture to a rolling boil to incorporate the air that contributes the "puff" in the "cream puff".
- It goes best with anything cream-based. For instance, whipped cream or icecream :D
- As with any other form of pastry, there is something magical about it that makes savoury or sweet fillings acceptable choices.
- Choux pastry needs to be made with butter and eggs to get the proper structure and flavour. It's just one of those things you don't adjust.
Batch #1. What the heck are these? Buttery layered dinner roll biscuit things that taste like butter. I didn't bother taking pictures of Batch #2 because they were pretty much the same, but smaller. 
Cross-section of Batch #1.
Put them into a plastic bag with a bread tag to make it look like you bought them from the store! Remember to let them cool completely before doing so though...mine ended up deflating between home and my destination.
They're finally puffing up. Kind of mutating in the process, but that's okay with me :D
A batch of successfully made choux pastries. Win.
Choux Pastry
*Makes 17 oddly amateurly-shaped profiteroles*
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp table salt
4 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 395 F.
2. Add water, salt, and butter into a large pan on medium-low heat until the butter is melted. Turn up the heat and bring the butter mixture to a rolling boil.
3. Sift in the flour and fold into the butter mixture with a wooden spoon until incorporated.
4. Beat in the eggs one at a time until incorporated. You should have a beautifully smooth paste that holds together. If not, try again. For me, the third time was the charm? *half-hearted smile*
5. Plop the mixture into a piping bag, or a large ziploc bag with a bit of the corner snipped off.
6. Pipe into rounds on your baking sheets, leaving some space in between so that they don't get stuck together. They end up mutating a bit and lifting off of the paper while baking in the oven. Wet your finger tip and dab any sharp tips and peaks so that they don't burn.
7. Bake for 18-20 min until lightly browned.
8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before filling with all your heart's desires.

Once you get the hang of these, it's no sweat. It's just figuring out how to do them the first time that's frustrating (for people like me).

P was kind enough to "whip" up some coconut milk whipped cream to enjoy these with. (Ha ha.) And for the record, they were delicious...

Next time, I will try making something fancy out of choux pastry. These look pretty awesome...

One step closer to mastering the art of the patisserie!



Cravings: Anko (Red Bean Paste)

I am one for Asian sweets, and one of my favourite flavours ever is red bean, especially in the form of red bean paste a.k.a anko in Japan. I love the flavour, the slight sweetness, and the smooth texture. Black sesame is even better, but I'll leave that for another day.

I've only made anko once before, and it wasn't all by myself and it was when I was little, so this was quite the adventure. For whatever reason, I decided to soak a whole package (i.e. 850 grams) of dried red beans overnight to make into anko the next day. I ended up making about 5 cups of anko in total. That's 5 cups of red bean paste! Because there were so many soaked beans, I had to separate it into 3 batches...well, 2 and a half.

The original idea was to make something vegan-friendly and gluten-free for the staff at my workplace in honour of my least favourite "special occasion", Valentine's Day. Regardless, I take any opportunity I can to bake/make food things. My love for food and food things runs pretty deep. So, I thought of making ichigo daifuku which is basically a strawberry wrapped in red bean paste wrapped in mochi/rice cake. I had never actually had the combination of flavours until I made these, but it somehow tastes deeelicious together.

So, here I had 5 cups of anko which was more than enough for my daifuku. I decided to make a small batch of anpan (red bean buns), which didn't turn out exactly how I wanted them to, but the anko saved them. In total, in addition to my 8 anpan, I made 8 large ichigo daifuku (because I had some ginormous strawberries), 10 regular sized ichigo daifuku, and 15 pink daifuku without strawberries. The last bit of it went into making 2 slices of anko toast and 9 anko pancakes. A whole glorious week of anko? Yes please!

Things I have learned today about anko (red bean paste):
- Red beans are NOT the same as red kidney beans.
- In Japan, there are 2 main types of anko - tsubuan and koshian. Tsubuan is prepared by boiling the red beans, and later evaporating the liquid, and reducing them into a thick mixture with sugar. Koshian is tsubuan that is passed through a sieve in order to remove the bean skins, leaving only a fine, smooth paste.
- Anko, once prepared is very easy to use as a versatile filling for practically anything. It can also be used to make red bean soup.
- The ingredients used to make anko are actually very simple, and it is just the process of making the anko that is a little bit time consuming. (But to me, it is sooo worth it.)
- When cooking your beans, a good ratio is 1 part beans to 2 parts water, so that the beans stay fully submerged while boiling away.
- The red beans are cooked properly when you can easily smush one with your finger. (I'm a fraidy cat when it comes to burning myself, so I do the test by plopping a bean on the stove surface, and smushing it with a chopstick.)
- Smooth, sweet anko is amaaaaazing, but that's not really new.
February 13, AM: Stage 1 Anko (Tsubuan)!
February 13, AM: Stage 2 Anko (Koshian)!
Anko/Red Bean Paste (adapted from Just One Cookbook)
*Makes ~2 cups of anko*
3 cup dried red beans
6 cups water (for soaking)
6 cups water (for cooking)
1 cup white granulated sugar

1. Soak the red beans in water at room temperature overnight (or for at least 6 hours). 
2. Drain the beans from the soaking water.
3. Place the beans into a large pot, fill with water, and bring to a boil.
4. Once boiling, bring the heat down to medium-low (between 3-4 on my stove which has a scale of 8). Simmer for about 45 minutes or until the beans are cooked through. You can test this by being a chicken and plopping a bean on the surface of your stove and seeing if you can smush it easily with a chopstick. You can also take one and smush it in the palm of your hand with your finger, but it'll be hot. 
5. When the beans are cooked, drain them, and place them back into the pot. Leave the heat on medium-low so you don't burn the product. 
6. Add the sugar into the red beans, and mix with a wooden spatula over the heat until the liquid is gone, then remove from heat. What you have now is tsubuan. You can use this as it is if you'd like, or continue to make koshian.
7. Use the wooden spatula to pass the tsubuan through a sieve with holes small enough to hold back the bean skins. Be careful not to drop any bean skins into the smooth paste. If you do, just fish them out. 
8. Et voila! A beautifully fine and smooth red bean paste ready for use or direct consumption ;)

February 13, AM: Mutant anpan! These anpan could have been cared for a bit more, but I was attempting to multitask. I was using one hand to prepare the anpan, and the other to keep watch over the anko on the stove. I used a small dish in my left hand to sloppily sprinkle black sesame seeds on the tops, so they aren't as pretty as the ones in the Chinese bakeries :/ There are also little pockets of egg in the nooks and crannies because someone in my house used the pastry brush on a heated pan, which destroyed the bristles (*twitch*). As a result, I had to use a teaspoon to pour the eggwash over top of the buns, but it sank to the edges... another error I made was while making the bun dough - I used salt instead of sugar with the yeast, so it was more like bread rather than a sweet bun. The anko did help though.
Anpan (adapted from RunnyRunny999)
*Makes 8-10 anpan*
(The recipe did make 8, but I think that the bread to anko ratio was a bit imbalanced. I would probably make 10 buns instead.)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 package instant yeast
1 tsp sugar
2 eggs
2 Tbsp all vegetable shortening
8 Tbsp anko
1 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp black sesame seeds

1. Combine flour, yeast, sugar, 1 egg, and shortening. Knead sticky dough for about 10 min. Place in an oiled bowl covered in plastic wrap, and put in the microwave with a cup of hot water. Do NOT turn on the microwave. This is just to utilize the "vacuum" like properties. Let rise for 1 hour.
2. While the dough is rising, line a loaf pan with parchment paper. 
3. Shape anko into 1 tablespoon balls, and set aside in the fridge. Prepare an eggwash with the remaining egg and water.
4. Flour the back of a baking sheet for rolling and shaping your buns. Preheat the oven to 350F. 
5. After the dough has risen, gently punch it down and split into 8-10 equal portions. Flatten each portion into a circle, place one anko ball in the centre, and pinch, twist, and seal into a bun. Place the bun into the loaf pan. Repeat this for all buns. 
6. Coat each bun with an egg wash, and sprinkle with black sesame seeds.
7. Bake for 20-25 min.
8. Nom nom nom.

February 13, PM: The chilled fillings for the ichigo daifuku: strawberries wrapped in anko!  I got my strawberries from Superstore, and some of them were gigantic. I ended up making 18 ichigo daifuku in total - 8 large ones and 10 more normal sized ones.
February 13, PM: A cross-section of one of the ichigo daifuku so that you can see the layers of strawberry, anko, and mochi :) I also made a bunch of daifuku that looked more like those flat, glutinous rice cakes you see at T&T and such, except not as tidy looking. In honour of Valentine's Day, I even tinted them pink with some red food colouring. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of those, so my apologies.
Ichigo Daifuku (adapted from Just One Cookbook)
*Makes 6 normal-sized ichigo daifuku or 3 large ones*
10 Tbsp mochiko
2 Tbsp white granulated sugar
150 ml water
1 cup tapioca starch
6 small strawberries/3 gigantic strawberries
1/2 cup anko

Warning - Making these is really messy. You will get sticky rice gunk and flour and starch on your fingers.
(As a note, I would also use shiratamako as opposed to mochiko because mochiko tends to make them softer, and therefore less able to maintain a sturdy, even shape around the strawberries. The taste is still good though!)
1. Wash and pit strawberries. Wrap each strawberry with a layer of anko so that their tips still stick out. Set aside and chill in the fridge until ready for use.
2. Prepare a cutting board coated with tapioca starch, and a small bowl of tapioca starch to flour your hands later.
2. Add mochiko, sugar, and water into a microwaveable bowl, and use a wet spatula to combine. Place in the microwave on high for 1 minute.
3. Remove the mixture from the microwave, and stir it until evenly distributed. Place in the microwave for another minute.
4. Remove the mixture from the microwave, stir, and place back into the microwave for another 30 seconds.
5. Remove from the microwave, and scrape hot mixture onto cutting board. Fold over once to make it less sticky. Be careful when working with this, because it is very hot. Flour your hands with tapioca starch.
6. Divide the hot mochi into 6 equal portions. Flip and pat one portion into a circle, and place one anko strawberry in the centre. Quickly use the mochi to wrap the strawberry. Repeat for all 6 strawberries. You need to work quickly because the flexibility of the mochi changes as it cools.
7. Enjoy right away, or cover with plastic wrap and store in a sealed container at room temperature.

February 17: I was craving something mildly sweet for a nighttime snack, so I made anko toast which is essentially anko spread on top of toast. It was pretty tasty, although it would have been better if it was white bread...we only had 60% whole wheat at home ._.
Anko Toast
2 slices of bread
3-4 Tbsp koshian 

1. Toast two slices of bread.
2. Spread a couple tablespoons of anko evenly over the toast. 
3. Consume.

February 18: Anko pancakes for breakfast! I would have preferred a slightly stronger red bean flavour, but not bad for the first try. Too bad I only had 1 cup of anko left :/ My brother and I enjoyed these this morning! Smooth, fluffy pancakes with a hint of red bean. As always, I enjoy my pancakes with a plain spread of margarine. My brother opted for a drizzle of honey.

Red Bean Pancakes (adapted from Just One Cookbook)
*Makes 9 small pancakes*
1 cup koshian (You could try using tsubuan as well, but I like smooth pancakes.)
2 tbsp water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup soy milk

1. Over medium heat, combine koshian and water to make a loose, fluffy paste. Remove from heat and set aside. (I didn't bring my paste to a boil because it was homemade. As always, if you use canned products, it might be a good idea to do so.)
2. Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl. Add egg, vanilla, and milk to make a smooth pancake batter.
3. Fold in the red bean paste just until combined.
4. Pre-heat the oven to 200F with an ovenproof baking dish to keep your pancakes warm later.
5. Over medium-low heat, add a bit of oil into a pan. Use about 1/4 cup batter for each pancake. Flip with a spatula when the edges become dried and stay open, and cook other side until golden brown. (I like to oil the pan between batches so that the colours of each pancake are even.) Place cooked pancakes into the baking dish in the oven to keep warm. Repeat until all batter is used.
6. Enjoy with whatever toppings you like. I bet they'd taste good with whipped cream...

This week of anko has been amazing! I feel kind of inspired to explore further into the world of Asian sweets...black sesame, taro, lotus seed, custard...the possibilities are endless! Just in time for reading week too! ^ ^



Love for the Locals: Barb and Ernie's

Barb and Ernie's German Country Inn (9906-72 Ave) is a place you'll pass by so many times. That's what happened for my family and I for so long, until one day, I asked my dad if he wanted to go with me. I get all of the gluttony from my dad, so he is always totally gung ho for eggs benedict if I ask him. Now, I've been here for a total of 10 times, and vow to return.

Today, I grabbed breakfast with P, who hadn't yet been to Barb and Ernie's. And honestly, what would be a better start to reading week than that? They open pretty early at 8:00am on the weekends, and get a pretty constantly packed house by 10:00am until about 2:00pm, but even so, the wait isn't that long. But...as always, it's nicer to beat the rush. They're also open Tuesday through Friday starting bright and early from 7:00am. Surprisingly (or not), Barb and Ernie's seems to be pretty popular among university students rather than just older folk and the German community, which is awesome.  

Pretty well across the street from Ecole J. H. Picard, the location is kind of weird, and so is the miniscule parking space, but it is definitely an Edmonton gem. As always, I am a big fan of authentic local businesses in Edmonton, so be sure to start at least one of your days with a full breakfast at Barb and Ernie's! (They also do take-out~)  

The staff and owners are all so hardworking and friendly and clearly enjoy what they do! 

It's not something a university student would be able to afford for breakfast every day as they are priced at around $11-19 per plate depending on what you get, but you shouldn't be having eggs benedict/pancakes/Belgian waffles/bratwurst/etc. every day anyways. Also, toppings for their eggs benedict range from their original ham to smoked salmon to a 7 oz. steak. My bacon eggs benedict was $10.95, I believe. I've tried the bacon, original ham, and smoked salmon eggs benedicts at Barb and Ernie's but bacon is still my favourite. First of all, it's BACON. Second of all, the ham and smoked salmon are tend to be a bit much for my limited tolerance of salt. Portion-wise, they give you a whackload of whatever you order, so all is good. Quality is always consistently delicious.

All eggs benedict orders come with half a plateful of homemade fluffy shredded hashbrowns, 2 perfectly poached eggs on an English muffin, topped with a delicious white wine Hollandaise sauce, and some pieces of fresh, seasonal fruit. I have yet to try anything aside from eggs benedict, but I wouldn't go anywhere else for it.
Barb and Ernie's - Self-proclaimed best eggs benedict in town.  I think I could second that.
The sign and the outside of Barb and Ernie's. Apparently there's a German buffet every Tuesday. I've only ever been here for the eggs benedict though. 
My go-to egg's benny in Edmonton - Bacon Eggs Benedict.
P opted for the Bratwurst Eggs Benedict. I forgot to take a picture of it, but Barb and Ernie's has their own homemade mustard which apparently goes very well with bratwurst among other things.
If you want a good eggs benedict that isn't sky high like in Hotel Macdonald, give Barb and Ernie's a try and let me know what you think!


Barb & Ernie's on Urbanspoon


Cravings: Quick-Fix "Lattes"

Yeah yeah yeah. I know, I'm probably going to be coldly rejected by the barista community. To hopefully keep the peace, "latte" is in quotation marks. I'm sorry, but sometimes I can't afford the $4-5 for a decent latte, so this is what I do.

Things I have learned today about "lattes":
- They are not even half as good as real lattes.
- Like lattes, you can use coffee or any kind of tea. If you're using coffee, I say go with the cheap instant stuff so you won't look back on it being all sad about how you wasted some fine coffee.
- As with your typical tea brewing, it is best not to use a particularly acidic tea or the milk will curdle.
- It sort of justifies the idea of making a mug cake...sort of. You know, those cakes you make by microwaving cake stuff in a mug in the microwave.
- It only takes about 2-3 minutes.

Quick-fix "latte": Jasmine Soy Latte from my microwave.
Legit latte: Earl Grey Soy Latte from Three Bananas Cafe.
Essentially, here's how it goes...

Quick-Fix "Lattes"
1 mug milk (any kind of your choice)
1 tea bag (any kind of your choice)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp raw sugar

1. Microwave the mug of milk on high for 1 minute. Take out to stir, and put in for 1 more minute.
2. Dissolve the sugar and vanilla into the hot milk.
3. Add your one tea bag into the mug and "brew" for a few minutes.
4. Stir lightly with a spoon and enjoy. 

Chyup...Thaaat's about it. You can't have high standards for this kind of latte though. It will definitely not taste as good as those properly baristed by baristas :P