Green tea white chocolate chunk cookies (experiments with matcha powder)

New favourite cookie alert. Too good not to share.

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Lately, a few of my co-workers and I have become obsessed with DAVIDsTEA. Perhaps it’s because the extended winter (there’s still a wall of snow here in Sudbury) has my inner self yearning to be awash in warmth, or perhaps it’s the “got to try ’em all” mentality that the promise of delectable tea creates. For those who don’t know what DAVID’sTEA is, it’s like a bulk store for gourmet teas. I’ve been to stores in both Ottawa and Toronto, and they all have the same feel – bright, clean lines with an entire wall of shelving filled up with colourful canisters that look like time capsules. From these cylinder silver containers, one usually sniffs five+ different teas, your nose filled by a disarming number of loose leaf combinations that smell liked freshly baked muffins (especially a tea called “forever nuts”) and play dough (an oolong tea called “happy kombucha” with mango and pineapple had me particularly nostalgic). I always pray my nose doesn’t drip into the sample sniffers. Our web editor Wendy always jokes that if she doesn’t like the tea flavour, should could always just use it as potpourri.

I’ve always been a little skeptical of fancy teas, mostly because I get a little freaked out when people try to capture what I have determined to be “food tastes” in hot drinks. As is, I only started liking tea a few years ago, primarily because of the fact that, growing up in a half-Chinese, half-Irish household, drinking tea is part of the fabric of life. I remember visiting Ireland as a kid and begging for a glass of milk as my young Irish cousins sipped their Red Rose mugs. Like I didn’t already stand out enough.

Anyways, that’s why I was startlingly surprised to fall in love with DAVIDsTEA. My affection started slowly, with a simple “Creme of Earl Grey” purchase. Now I find myself browsing the website on a daily basis, my indecision (thankfully) being the only thing between me and a giant box of tea.

But I did manage one purchase: a 50 gram bag of matcha powder.

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Matcha powder is finely ground green tea that resembles a Shrek-coloured talcum powder. It’s what is used as the flavour and colour in such favourites as green tea ice cream, green tea cakes, etc. etc. It was also my worst enemy when I worked at Starbucks in grade 12. Back then (and still now, I believe), Starbucks had its “green tea lattes,” a special blend of matcha powder, boiling water and steamed milk. The matcha powder came in these big silver bags, the likes of which baristas had to transfer into some other storage container. When this task fell upon me, I would always try to gingerly create the finest of tears in the bag. Despite my best efforts, I nearly always ended up with green tea sediment on my black dress pants and a plume of powder up my nose. Thank goodness it always smelled divine.

I’ve looked to buy matcha powder in the past, but my purchases have always been deterred by the cost and size of the bag. The price is for a reason – it can take up to an hour to grind just 30 grams of matcha powder. So when I saw that DAVIDsTEA sold 50 gram-sized bags for $14, I jumped at the opportunity to try my hand at some green tea desserts.

Namely these cookies.

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As mentioned in the first line of this post, these were pretty unbelievable. The white chocolate complemented the green tea flavour – one that grew on you as your continued to eat the cookie. Kind of like how spicy food takes a while to build in intensity. It wasn’t an overwhelming flavour either, so if you were to eat the cookies with a blindfold, you might not be able to put your finger on what it was that was causing the taste. I made two batches over three days this month, mostly because I knew I had to blog about them. I brought the first set of cookies into work, where even the most monstrous-looking desserts get inhaled in about 0.04 seconds. There were a few “but these are the same colour as vegetables!!!!” stares, but those quickly dissipated. Hey, it’s not easy being green, or so I hear.

PS: So I didn’t blog about these in time for St. Patrick’s Day. Well, there’s always Easter!

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February 14: Annual day of paper crafts and cookies*

*Also known by most as Valentine’s Day.

So here’s the thing. I’m obsessed with Valentine’s Day for all the wrong reasons. I don’t like the phoney (sounding like Holden Caulfield here) romance of it – the rush of people to buy flowers and cakes and fine dinners for their loved ones, because it’s the one time during the year they feel as though they need to make an effort. Is that cynical? I think it is. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Maybe the real reason for my not liking Valentine’s Day is because I once had to use a teddy bear-shaped paddle to spank a man dressed up as Cupid for a television story in j-school. Folks, that footage still exists somewhere. Ten thousand buckets of tears to whomever can uncover it.

What do like about Valentine’s Day is the excuse to make crafts and cookies, treats that I hope are so carefully and lovingly created that they can make up for the fact that I can sometimes be a cynical bum.

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Like Christmas, to me the mid-February affair is more about the lead-up than the actual day – the time before the event when, every night for a week, I’m yanking my craft drawer off its night-table tracks and plopping it down on our gaudy lime green craft table cloth. Valentine’s Day is an invitation to make something – and not just any something, but paper somethings. A time to put my rainbow hued collection of bits and bobs to good use. And unlike birthdays, I don’t get to make just one card, but rather a whole collection for a whole lot of wonderful people. As you can see, I have selfish, DIY motives behind this day, too.

As with all card-making, I very much try and match my creation to its intended receiver. Example: My friend Yoshi who owns Café Petit Gâteau in downtown Sudbury got a little cupcake card, complete with a muffin liner flower on the inside. Ella, my former classmate and fellow Ottawa food-lover, got a card embellished with a whole pile of doughnuts, a throwback to the Capital city’s fairly recent revelation that it is (and rightfully so) in love with the deep-fried dessert. And so on and so forth.

card collage

The cards were mailed off in homemade envelopes (I always get really into making these bizarrely-shaped cards, before realizing that, damnit, they do not fit in any standard postage packages). Out of five cards for out-of-town friends, I managed to create one envelope. Just one. Jen made the rest. While an experienced cutter, gluer, and marker-user, paper folding is an area in which I lack all skill. As a 10-year-old, the only thing I could ever make in my Origami kit was the paper crane, and even then, that was only because I was so determined after reading one of my favourite childhood books, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. Anyways, digressing like crazy here, but point is: Jen is far more proficient at envelopes, and made a lovely set of them. Some were two shades of pink, some had zigzag-ed edges. All (except mine) were great.

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And, of course, what would DIY Valentine’s Day be without baking. Actually, what would any night with me be without baking?

Jen, Ian and I had a team effort cookie-making session into the late hours of Valentine’s eve. Here’s how that developed:

1. Hilary decides to bake cookies for work. Because, if nothing else, Valentine’s Day is about showing your appreciation for the friends and co-workers you admire.

2. Jen suggests making a cookie cutter out of a tin can. Hilary hesitates, Jen persists. She proceedds to make an impressive mould out of an old chick pea tin.

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“CRUSHED IT” – Jenifer Norwell

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3. Sugar cookies are made.

From here, the decorating was improvised step-by-step. I originally planned to cut another mini heart inside the heart cookie, and melt Jolly Rancher candies inside, through which creating a stained-glass effect. However, liking the unusual chick pea can heart shape so much, I decided against it, and turned these into little mouse (or some other animal of your choice) cookies. The discovery of decorations was swift.

“Hmm, what can I use for the nose?” A: Why, those “pretty bubble” pink dragées that I bought two years ago at the fancy kitchen store near my Ottawa house.

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“Uhh, what about the eyes?” A: Easy, chocolate chips. Bake the cookies without them and put them on immediately after, so they melt to the top.

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“Okay, but it needs ears.” A: OH, I just happen to have this tube of red icing sitting in my closet. I was going to use to make the laces on a baseball cake in the summer. (note: it was too late to make homemade icing. I only have so much energy on Thursday nights)

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It all worked out. I think, anyways.

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Oh right. Here! Have a Valentine’s Day kitty. I love you, Norbert.

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Guinness chocolate cupcakes with Bailey’s buttercream (Movember cupcakes)

We had another bake sale at work. Jen, Ian and I bake an absurd amount of things for these occasions.

Our contribution: six banana bread loaves, three dozen cookies, three dozen cinnamon buns, 16 moustached cupcakes

(Also, work and life have been super busy lately, hence my tendency to slack on blogging)

Unlike bake sales past that have lined up nicely with some festive celebration (Thanksgiving and whatnot), this mid-November bake sale could not be pegged to any calendar date. Or so I thought. That’s when I was inspired by facial hair – the fuzzy upper lips that are driving our society into a state of barbaric teenstachedom. Movember.

Other than lip fuzz, the other thing I think of when someone says “Movember” is Ottawa chocolatier Jen Winter with koko chocolates. Last November Jen came out with a brilliant quartet of chocolates in what she considered “manly” flavours: a double-smoked bacon with a hint of maple, a milk chocolate ganache infused with Glenmorangie scotch, espresso and “the koko” – a 75 per cent Venezuelan dark chocolate ganache. With part of the proceeds going to prostate cancer research, Jen’s chocolates were sweet for more than one reason. I saw Jen again earlier this month at Urban Craft in Ottawa, and was pleased to see she had continued her Movember line – adding these amazing seasonal ‘staches to the mix.

Inspired by Jen’s chocolates, I set out to create a chocolate dessert of my own. I knew I wanted to incorporate lots of alcohol into these cupcakes, so I adapted Smitten Kitchen’s Car Bomb Cupcakes (which look unbelievable) and used the Bailey’s buttercream icing recipe I first created for my green velvet cupcakes on St. Patrick’s Day last March. While much of the beer flavour baked off, it did leave the cake with a moist and even consistency. Absolutely delicious, though I regret eating my cupcake prior to icing and moustache-ing.

In an appropriate turn of events, all four people who bought these cupcakes were men, two of whom had decided to take part in this month’s furry fundraiser. I delivered the cupcakes and snapped their picture.

In other news, chocolate ganache remains the bane of my existence. The chocolate-whipped cream combination insists on seizing up as soon as I’m about to do anything with it. On the bright side, I think I would be positively masterful at making chocolate truffles. My first batch of ganache solidified in the piping bag, and, after shovelling fingerfuls of it into my mouth to soothe my sadness, I mixed it with a bit of boiled water and was on my way. The moustaches need a bit of grooming, but they’ll do.

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Living the life of leafsure (fall wrap-up, Halloween, and orange chocolate yogurt cake)

Forgive me for that pun.

An end-of-Fall blog post seems inappropriate at this point in November.

Most parts of northern Ontario have already had their first encounter with a snowy friend, and leaves that once clung to the maple trees in our front yard have since drifted to the ground. Fallen, rotten, raked. I am justifying this blog post now on the presumption that it is still autumn in the community where you’re living. Also, a slight Halloween wrap-up post is totally necessary because I believe my frugal AND seasonally-appropriate costume choice must be shown to the world.

But first: fall. Jen and I spent a few hours raking the front and backyard two weekends ago. Ian had done the same just days earlier, however many more leaves had fallen since, creating a matted gold carpet atop the grass.
I’m not a particularly effective raker, however I do happen to be an accomplished leaf-jumper. I am of the belief that no pile of leaves is complete without being collapsed in at least once. Jen and I did our part to ensure this.

Since our front yard clean-up corresponded with the last weekend before Halloween, I was also faced with the task of finding a costume for a get together at my friend’s place that night. I inherently leave Halloween until the last minute every single year, and had already used my procrastination-heavy, improvised-as-hell costume idea last year when I paired my rainbow screen inspired Douglas Coupland shirt dress with a pizza box and donned pipe cleaner antennae. Thats another thing – I’m not a fan of slutty or uncreative Halloween costumes. For the past three years I’ve taken pride in my costume being something you’ve probably never see before – something a little bit kooky. That normally translates to my costume being difficult to understand for anyone who has been drinking. Case in point: I was a California Roll in third-year university, and people kept asking me if I was a soap dish. A soap dish!!! Really??!? Is anyone ever really a hand sanitation holder for Halloween? Anyways, Halloween is something I give no thought to until the day of the party, when, in typical Hilary fashion, I go completely bananas with panic.
The Hilary of Halloween’s past: harajuku girl and a California Roll
And so, with no Halloween costume at 2 p.m. on the day of my party, I set out to transform myself into a leaf bag. I had already been inside one of the bags, after all, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch.

Head pieces also prevail when designing my last minute costume. Be it a tiny cardboard sushi headband or pipe cleaner antennae, I’m going for the head-to-toe look. So naturally I used a needle and thread to sew freshly plucked leaves onto a headband. Matched with these earrings I made in September (see, this costume was as totally meant to be), I was all set.

Jen and Ian also took a last minute approach to Halloween, and came up with equally as creative and downright topical costumes.

Locked out NHL player and a Quebec protester
THE FOOD PART
And because I like to include something food-related with every blog post, here are a few pictures of an orange and chocolate marble yogurt cake I made sometime around Halloween. It was super moist (thanks, yogurt) and paired perfectly with a dollop of cinnamon whipped cream.

And because every blog post nowadays seems to end with a picture of Norbert…

I love you, I hate you, I love you, I hate you

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Unconventional Saturday nights: The cake painting party

You may recall me mentioning at the end of August that I had moved. Well, it has happened again.

And I’m happy to announce that my new roommates are Jen and Ian, two of my favourite Sudbury friends, the likes of whom I’ve mentioned in random letter dinner and bake sale blog posts. I work with Jen at CBC and would frequently visit their old apartment for rainy nights of Catan, cheesecake, and the opportunity to be sassed out by their cute cat Norbert (more affectionately known as Norb).

Jen and Ian during one of our summer hiking excursions
Norb, up to no good

So here I am, sitting in my new home, typing away on a wireless network that is named after a feline. For the first time in two months I feel settled and at ease. I never really felt at home in the room I was renting before, a tiny bedroom in house I found posted on Kijiji. That place didn’t have the same level of roommate friendship that I’ve come to take for granted over the past four years. I’m already feeling happier and healthier, and am finally living with people who equally enjoy watching Project Runway, eating, biking, and talking about current affairs.

As for the eating part, I’m lucky Jen and Ian enjoy food just as much as I do. They’ve transformed their living room space into a giant dining room, and we often eat dinner together after work. I’ve forgotten how good an influence it can be to live with healthy eaters…I’m finding my food motivation again and am so relieved.

In addition to eating, Jen loves to paint…

…and her and Ian’s entire house is filled with beautiful landscapes and abstracts, each done by Jen or an equally great artist.

Yesterday Jen was working on painting an Autumnal scene, one inspired by a picture either she or I took when we hiked the Cup and Saucer trail on Manitoulin Island over Thanksgiving weekend. As she carefully melded “cool reds” and “warm reds” together on the large canvas, I was leaning on the counter brainstorming what dessert to make. I finally settled on making a Halloween-themed yogurt marble cake, and had pulled out my box of gel food colouring to see if I had sufficient colours to make a deep pumpkin hue. As I sorted through my collection of 12 different dyes, I found myself comparing the burgundies and yellows to the colours Jen was using in her own painting palette.

That’s when a wave of inspiration hit me: we should paint cakes!

I blurted my idea out loud to Jen who, being a creative type like myself, immediately agreed.

At first the idea was to have her replicate the landscape scene onto a 9×13 inch cake. After discussing for a bit, we decided to do something a little more fun: cut the cake into four parts so we could each “paint” our own mini masterpiece.

The cake and the photo inspiration

Steve came over, and “painting” (as well as pizza eating, but check back for that post later) ensued.

Jen and Ian being in love, painted cake style

Then we managed to ward off the sugar comas for long enough to get through a delightful game of Catan. Cake eating, wine drinking, Catan playing, and friends. The makings of a good night.

I got longest road, but Jen won

In case you’re wondering, our canvas cake was a simple white cake recipe I found on the Internet, with a bit of orange zest ground into the white sugar to add a light flavour. A dash of orange extract was also added because, well, why the hell not. This will work with any plain cake recipe, though.

The icing was a simple vanilla buttercream with gel food colouring mixed in. We used normal, medium-sized Ziplock bags to pipe the icing onto the cake. I felt as though I was attending a five-year-olds birthday party with these cakes, and it was brilliant.

There’s nothing quite like ending the night with a rainbow tongue and a sore stomach. I ate three pieces of leftover cake this afternoon.