March 01, 2007


Lately, I've been doing a fair amount of travelling in rental cars. My company will only pay for standard cars, but I've gotten a different car each time. This isn't going to be really detailed - I'm not a car person.

The first car I got was a PT Cruiser. It was really comfortable, seemed powerful enough and had a lot of luxury features. The interior space seemed really big. The power steering and automatic transmission were very smooth.

By contrast, the Kia Spectra felt like a toy. There was a lot of plastic in the interior and the steering wheel felt cheap. The power steering was underpowered and the engine felt weak.

Most recently, I got the Kia Magentis. The most interesting thing about it is the 'shiftronic' sports-style automatic transmission that lets you select your gears. That was kind of fun, and actually useful for easy passing on the highway. The trim level was much more luxurious and the engine was a bit stronger than the Spectra.

I think I liked driving the PT Cruiser best, even though it's a bit ugly.

Posted by JAY at 05:53 PM | Comments (0)

March 07, 2007

Deathly Ill

Groan. I've picked up a flu bug. I think from my sister who was really the only person visiting me.

I figured if I worked at home, I could still work - but I started aching in all my joints and couldn't concentrate. So I called in sick after a teleconference which I had to chair and was totally out of breath. Then I tried to sleep, but phlegm keeps building up in my throat and then I can't breathe. Finally, I made an emergency call to the parents who brought over some cold medicine. I'm now waiting for it to kick in and drinking a too-strong garlic chicken soup to try to recover by tomorrow, when I'm supposed to visit an office for a meeting.

Posted by JAY at 04:58 PM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2007

Opportunities Overload

Ugh. Lately, there seem to be a lot of internal job competitions happening in my department and they're stressing me out a bit. I've submitted applications and/or written tests for 3 other job competitions, but this last one is more than I can bear right now.

I'm currently doing a developmental assignment as a technical Team Leader and it's rewarding, but very hectic. Meanwhile, I'm trying to provide as much support as I can to my home office, because they're currently without support. Capping it all off, I'm sick and miserable, and I can't call in sick because there's too much going on at work. If I weren't doing this assignment, I'd definitely be sick in bed.

So yes, I'm whining.

Posted by JAY at 06:51 PM | Comments (0)

March 20, 2007

Techniques for Biscuits

I got some tips for making buttermilk biscuits from the latest issue of Fine Cooking at the library. It borrows techniques from puff pastry making. I'm going to incorporate them into the original recipe as they make for a higher, flakier biscuit. I've modified the method slighly using parchment paper, which makes it much easier. You can see the difference - the front and back-right biscuit were done the new way while the middle-left one was done the old way.

1. Higher heat: preheat the oven to 415F and reduce heat to 390 when you put in the biscuits. Bake for 15-18 min.

2. Butter: slice the cold butter into small 1cm x 3cm x 0.3cm slices into the flour mix. Then, use your fingertips to press them into even thinner sheets. Then stir in the buttermilk.

3. Pour the mixture out on a lightly floured parchment lined baking sheet. Instead of kneading, pat the mix out into a rectangle about 2 cm thick. Tri-fold the rectangle as if it were a letter that you were going to put into an envelope (bottom to middle, then the top over both. Use the parchment paper to lift the folds over each other.

Pat the folded layers back into a 2 cm thick rectangle (it'll be longer the other way now) Tri-fold again (side to middle, other side over.

Pat and repeat one more time, then cut into squares (remembering to trim all outer edges!)

Posted by JAY at 12:17 PM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2007

Recipe: Oil Biscuits

Dom's mother made these hard, fennel flavored biscuits and they go wonderfully dunked in hot soup. I asked Dom to get the recipe for me and he went and watched while his mom made a batch of them and made notes (his mom doesn't use a recipe). Thanks for taking all that trouble Dom!

I've had the recipe for a long time, waiting to try it. These turned out really well. When using for soup dunking, they're best a couple of days old and then microwaved for about 15 seconds on high. Then they're satisfyingly chewy. I've really cut down the proportions of the mammoth batch that Dom's mom makes and quantified things a bit (Dom's instructions: Proof/Roll out/Proof). I don't usually put fat in my bread, but it does give the dough a beautiful smooth texture. These freeze well wrapped in foil.

2-3 cups flour
1 cup water
1 tsp fennel seeds/anise seeds (go lighter if you use anise)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tbs instant yeast
2 tbs olive oil

Whisk together 1 cup of flour, the salt, the sugar and the yeast.

Heat the water to 130F. Stir in the oil and then stir the liquid into the flour mixture.
Stirr in the fennel seeds (I gave them a bit of a pound with the mortar and pestle first.)

Knead with dough hook (or by hand) adding more flour until you have a smooth dough.

Let rise in an oiled bowl covered with saran and let rise until doubled in height (about 1/2 - 1 hour).

Punch down, knead and then shape into rings (cut into balls, poke a hole with a finger and then spin). You want the holes fairly large because they'll close a bit when they rise.

Put the rings on a parchment lined baking sheet. Let rise until almost doubled in size (about 1/2 hour).

Bake the biscuits in a preheated 350F oven for 20-30 minutes. If you'd like them to be a bit harder, you can turn the oven off and leave them in a bit longer (maybe take them off the tray and let them rest on the oven rack).

Posted by JAY at 01:22 PM | Comments (0)

March 31, 2007

Dave's New Car

Dave's new car is a BMW 328i (I think! Silly BMW all Flash page, so this link is to a review). He just picked it up today and it's really nice. Integrated iPod connector, auto dimming mirrors, individual heating controls - even little gadgets that extend the seatbelts toward you when you start the car.

Speaking of starting the car - you insert your keychain into a slot and press a button to start the car, which is pretty neat. Dave let me drive it for a bit and it handles really well and the engine is really quiet - I'm a bit out of practice driving a standard, though. We went to Toronto and got a great deal on a meal.

Posted by JAY at 08:26 PM | Comments (0)

Restaurant: Urban

Today Dave and I visited Urban Restaurant on King Street in Toronto. It was the last day that they were offering the Winterlicious prix fixe promotion. There were several options for a starter/main/dessert for the low price of $35 plus tax/tip. Service was polite without being smothering and the decor, which can be seen on their website, is cozy and very comfortable.

I selected:
Confit of Duck Salad
Osso Bucco
Banana Walnut and White Chocolate Baked in Phyllo with a Peppermint Berry Compote

The server started us off with a complementary bowl of rustic bread and hummus. Yummy - but possibly I ate too much of it as I was pretty full by the end of the meal. The server generously offered more but we declined.

The duck confit salad, instead of being served with the expected strips of duck, came with an entire thigh and leg quarter. It included a heirloom cherry tomato (very sweet, orange and no acidity). Arugulat was well dressed and very tasty, and a celeriac slaw was beside it. I enjoyed all of it immensely.

The osso bucco was perfectly cooked, with the meat of a huge shank tenderly falling off the bone into a rich wine sauce. Unadvertised pine nuts, nicely browned were pointed out proudly by the server were used as garnish. The sauted mushrooms and tiny bits of fried potato hash were also delicious.

Dessert was a bit of a disappointment after the first two courses, though it was servicable. Honestly, the bananas and walnuts were a bit heavy in the phyllo wrapping and didn't really go well with the strawberry and chocolate garnishes. The strawberry compote tasted a bit limp and I didn't detect any peppermint. I kind of wished I'd selected the more predictable creme brulee option instead.

Overall, the meal was exceptional and great value (though the a la carte menu is much more expensive). Service was attentive and polite. At this price, I would definitely go again if the opportunity presents itself. We got there early on a Saturday afternoon (5pm) and the restaurant began filling up as we had our meal.

Urban Restaurant
303 King Street W
Toronto ON
M5V 1J5

Posted by JAY at 09:06 PM | Comments (0)