Friday, January 23, 2015

Ina Knows Best: The Ultimate Aglio E Olio

It's 6:00 pm on a Wednesday and there's nothing to make for dinner! This may sound alarming for some, or perhaps may just be a warning to the lacklustre meal that is surely ahead, but to me it means that I'm in store for a delicious and satisfying dinner that will take minimal effort, and leave me with a full belly, leftovers for lunch, a smile on my face, and olive oil running down my chin. I'm talking about the beauty in the simplicity of Aglio E Olio, which translates to "garlic and oil" referring to the Italian quickie-meal, pasta (generally spaghetti) with garlic and olive oil. 

For something so incredibly simple, it's amazing how much of an impression this dish can make. My boyfriend, Chris, and his friends for one, adore this dish with such passion that I don't think there has been a gathering where the suggestion of making it hasn't come up. I've lost count of the number of times they have disputed who makes the best aglio e olio, or what little detail makes their aglio e olio stand out, because with a dish this straightforward it really is all in the details! 

Despite everyone thinking that their aglio e olio is the best, I have to give the top award to my dear lovely Ina Garten, because well, Ina knows best! When Chris first came across this recipe we were skeptical whether the method made any sense. It seemed incredibly strange to firstly, begin the whole process by cooking the pasta, secondly, to cook the garlic in so much pasta water (1 1/2 cups!). We were imagining noodles drowning in bland garlic water. How dare I distrust my dear future-best-friend, Ina! I should have known that Ina always knows best! Of course Ina's take on aglio e olio was absolutely fantastic, and quickly became my boyfriend and I's go-to dinner! The addition of the pasta water, reduced to enhance the flavour of the garlic, prevented us from feeling like we had to douse our pasta in cups of olive oil to impart flavour, as well as helping the olive oil and garlic sauce to stick to the noodles, thanks to the starch in the cooking water. 

Although Ina's recipe is great on it's own, I would suggest rendering down some pancetta or better yet, sopressata, at the beginning of cooking. Set meat aside it aside after cooking and toss it in again at the end of cooking to reheat. That spicy, salty bite does wonders for this dish! Another great tip is to make some homemade garlic breadcrumbs to garnish the pasta to give a little bit of crunch to each bite. 

Check out Ina's recipe for Aglio E Olio here!

Listening To:
Caribou - Dive

Friday, January 9, 2015

Empty-The-Freezer Banana Nut Muffins

Happy new year, dear readers! I hope you all had a wonderful and safe holiday season and have already kicked off 2015 to a great start! I have spent the majority of 2015 laying on my couch being a nasty mucous monster (apologies for giving you such a gross visual on a food blog, of all places) and coughing up a storm to my not-so-new roommates delight (that's right friends, I have updates!). I, like it seems most people in Toronto as of late, have been struck with a vicious two-week long cold, leaving me largely immobile, lazy, and indulging in lots of self pity for my very gross and stuffed-up state. 

Over the last few days, as my energy has begun to come back and I've started to feel like a real human again, I've had a lot of time to reflect on this past year, looking at what I've accomplished, what I had hoped to accomplish, and what I want out of this new year. Just like many new years of past, I once again have vowed to myself to focus more on my blog, putting as much of my creative energy into it as possible. I know, for the past while I have totally fallen off the grid in terms of Ginger Rose, focusing my time and energy on an exciting new project (hello Kraft Food Hacks!) as well as a wonderful new living situation, that has allowed me to fall asleep and wake up with a smile on my face just about every single day. 

In October I moved into a beautiful condo with the man I love, which has given me a much needed fresh start as I begin a new phase of my life. This is the first time in my life that I have not lived under my mothers (and best friends!) roof, which, let me tell you, feels so incredibly liberating! Don't get me wrong, living with my mom was so lovely in so many ways, but being able to have this new sense of freedom and responsibility, while living side-by-side with my incredible boyfriend, Chris, has been amazing! 

I could go on and on listing all of the things that I adore about living on my own, but they would come as no surprise. The real surprise for me was discovering just how much I enjoy taking care of my own space, my own home. I love being able to take pride in having a clean, tidy, and stylish home that I am always so thrilled to welcome guests into. I look forward to coming home and fluffing the pillows and wiping the kitchen counter, just to stand back and view my space with the same satisfaction as receiving an 'A' on a University paper. Thank goodness Chris shares this same value or I would surely come across as some sort of psycho killer. Just like myself, Chris views maintaining our space as a fun activity that we can take part in together, almost like a real life game of Tetris. 

Last week, as 2014 was coming to a close, both Chris and I were feeling the need to rearrange parts of our space, giving it the same fresh start we knew we both needed this year. The first step in our mission was to tackle the freezer, going through each and every nook and cranny to eliminate all of the nonsense and organize the remnants of what was left. What was left was a drawer full of over 10 frozen bananas (are we monkeys?!), 4 containers of pecans, 3 bags of coconut, 2 bags of chocolate chips, and oh so very much more. There was no doubt about it, banana muffins were in order! 

I quickly found a simple and delicious-sounding banana muffin recipe that would allow me to use up as much of the bananas, coconut, and nuts from the freezer as physically possible. The muffins turned out incredible, with a sweet crumble topping giving the muffins a wonderful crunch, and nuts and chocolate chips in every bite! 

What are you hoping to accomplish this year? 

* This will allow your muffins to be extra moist!

Recipe adapted from
6 bananas, very ripe 
2 eggs
1 cup butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup pecans, chopped and lightly toasted 
3/4 cup chocolate chips
Crumble Topping:
4 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
2/3 cup quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup pecans, chopped

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line with paper liners.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the bananas and blend at medium-speed until mashed. 
  3. Add the eggs, melted butter, and vanilla and blend well to combine. 
  4. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. 
  5. With the mixer on low, add in the flour mixture in 4 increments, until just blended.  Stir in the pecans and chocolate chips by hand. 
  6. Fill the muffin cups 3/4 of the way up with the muffin batter. Fill any empty muffin cups half way with water.*
  7. In a small bowl mix together the crumble topping ingredients. Top each muffin evenly with the crumble topping and bake for 17-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean. Enjoy!

Listening To:
Caribou - Our Love

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hack the Holidays

Festive Ice Cubes
The tree is up, the gifts are purchased, and there is a blanket of snow collecting on my balcony (not to mention a canopy of white continuing to sail down from above. There's no doubt about it, the holidays are fast approaching! 
Peanut Butter Holiday Pancakes
With Christmas only two weeks away (where did the time go?!) it's right about now that everyone begins to freak out over everything that must be checked off their 'to do' list in the coming weeks, in the midst of what is absolutely the busiest and most stressful time of year. With so much to accomplish, and so little time, I am surprisingly far calmer than I've been in previous years. No, I haven't just discovered online shopping (but yes, that is probably the #1 stress reducer to take advantage of during the holidays), but I have discovered a not-so-secret secret to calmly and happily getting through the holidays. The secret, my friends is none other than the oh so wonderful world of food and life hacks! 
Fruity Holiday Ice-n-Pipe
Working on the Kraft Food Hacks campaign has given me the opportunity to search high and low through the dense interweb to find all of the very best hacks to get myself through the holidays. Through my research and testing in the kitchen, I've been able to locate the most successful and helpful of hacks, as well as debunk those that unfortunately result in disappointing failures. I've come up with some really fun and clever ones that have stretched my imagination and am really excited to share with you. My first holiday food hack entry is up on the Kraft Food Hacks blog and is one that I absolutely adore! Head on over to the Food Hacks blog to check out my latest entry on creating Festive Ice Cubes, and be sure to come back over the coming weeks to see what other holiday hacks I have in store for you! Also be sure to follow me along on the Food Hacks Twitter page (@FoodHacks) for even more holiday hacks to make your life a little easier!

Do you have a great holiday hack you want to share? Tweet me: @FoodHacks and let's get hacking! 

Listening To:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Chilly Days = Chili Nights

Homemade Jamie Oliver Winter Nights Chili
Yesterday was the first real snowfall in Toronto, and this morning my window is decorated with frosty snowflakes. It's official, Winter is coming! 

Although I don't want that exclamation point mistaken for enthusiasm (as someone with a circulation problem, Winter is not my season!), I can't help but feel an odd sense of relief as I willingly give in to all of the indulgent comforts that this season begs for. Cozy sweaters, fuzzy slippers, fur-lined coats, spiked hot chocolate, and, most importantly, comfort food, make Winter in Toronto bearable, and sometimes even enjoyable. 

Pardon my obvious correlation, but chilly days have me thinking of nothing other than a big ol' bowl of comfort, AKA chili! I learned to make chili from my mom, who has a knack for making an incredibly tasty bowl of chili that tastes like it was cooking on the stove all day, when really, she can get the whole bowl on the table in under an hour! Although Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory informed me that chili containing beans, actually isn't the traditional way of making the rich and meaty stew, I love the addition of beans that my mom has in her chili, along with ground beef, mirepoix, canned tomatoes, and her special blend of herbs and spices. It warms me up and gives me fuzzy, nostalgic feelings about growing up in her love-filled home. 
My lovely Oma, the Chili Cook-Off First Place Winner!
My mom learned to make her chili from my Oma, who makes a very similar version, though sometimes adds the oh-so-controversial ingredient pasta noodles to hers to give it extra substance. I can only imagine the secrets my Oma keeps in her chili, always finding a way of sneaking mystery ingredients like bacon fat, and leftover roasts into her dishes to give them incredible depth. Her chili is so fantastic that this week she even won first place at her church's Chili competition, inspiring me to write this very post. Although my Oma was the grand winner of the day, my Opa got an honorable mention for being in the doghouse for being a judge who did not vote for his own wife's chili! It's funny, no matter how partial you are to the way a certain dish is made, having enjoyed it like that for most of your life, you can't help but be stricken with delight at the surprising taste of a dish made in a different way.

Having grown up eating my mom and my Oma's ground beef and beans chili, I couldn't help but be intrigued when reading Jamie Oliver's recipe for Winter Nights Chili in his new cookbook Comfort Food (see top photo). Jamie's chili was unlike anything I had ever heard of before, containing both beef brisket and pork belly, along with an array of vegetables including butternut squash and red and yellow bell peppers, as well as a crunchy apple and red onion salsa to top it all off. With so many great flavours and textures featured in one bowl, I had to give his recipe a try! 

Slow cooked throughout the day, the chili had a wonderful depth of flavour, reminiscent of dishes found in the best smokehouses. After giving the chili a taste while still on the stove, I realized that although I love big flavours, one of the beauties of chili is in its simplicity. With this in mind, I decided to omit the apple and red onion salsa, allowing the spicy chili to speak for itself. The final dish was fantastic, and one I was proud to serve to my boyfriends family, but although I couldn't get enough of the chili that first night, I found myself craving my mom and my Oma's chili the following day. There's something about a family favourite that will always have a hold on my taste buds and my soul.  Nostalgia has a hold on me, and it wont let go. 

What is your favourite way of preparing chili? How did your family make chili growing up? What is it about chili that evokes feeling of comfort and safety? Let's chat! 

Listening To:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Just for the Hack of it!

Just over six months ago I quit my job. I threw in the towel (er...should I say apron?) to focus on making my dreams and my goals a reality. I laid everything out on the table for all to see, which for me was incredibly scary knowing that if I failed, all within my social circle and beyond would know. I called out to friends, family, and acquaintances through various means of social media, emails, texts, and phone calls asking for their help and their guidance in making this crazy foodie dream of mine realized. Some people thought I was crazy, drawing my mind to a quote from one of my favourite songs:
"Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock." Arcade Fire - Sprawl II
 But I refused to punch that metaphorical clock! I knew this was the path I had to go on (or at the very least try!) and I knew this was something that I was good at, which isn't always easy for someone as hard on themselves as myself to admit. Yes, there were absolutely a number of occasions where I had to stop and ask myself "what the hell was I thinking?!" wondering if this vision of how I wanted my future to play out was merely a fantasy that I had created in my head, but alas I persevered. 

And here I am today, about to share with you my very first blog post on the Kraft Canada Food Hacks website, fittingly posted on my birthday! It's weird, part of me had complete blind faith that I would get to this moment, yet the very practical part of my brain is still in complete disbelief that I actually made this happen, and so quickly at that. True, I've been writing Ginger Rose for over five years now, but I feel it wasn't until I put it all on the line and voiced my ambitions that the ball finally started rolling. Put that positive energy and goals out there, and you shall receive! 
So without further ado, I ecstatically introduce to you the Kraft Canada Food Hacks blog, written by yours truly! The first blog post is a fun little Q&A that I did with Kraft about my experience and history with food hacking, getting new readers and devoted Kraft fans to learn a little bit more about myself. 

The second post is where I get cookin', sharing with you one of my favourite food hacks that I've come across, the Grilled Chicken Caesar Wafflewich! I absolutely adore panini sandwiches, allowing sandwiches to have a great moist and soft filling, while giving a fantastic crunchy texture to the outside, not to mention cutting down on mess by making the dish more compact in size (but certainly not in flavour!). Without a panini press, it's difficult to get that same panini-pressed texture and flavour that I crave from some of my favourite sandwich shops and restaurants. Say hello to the good ol' family waffle-maker, here to save the day! Who knew that an appliance that I already had in my home could create the same results as a bulky panini press that I thought was absolutely crucial in achieving a delicious panini?! With comforting familiar flavours similar to a club sandwich (substituting the chicken for what is traditionally used, turkey) the Grilled Chicken Caesar Wafflewich is sure to become your new favourite lunch-time treat! 

Check out the recipe for my Grilled Chicken Caesar Wafflewich as well as my Q&A and tell me what you think! I will be taking over the @foodhacks Twitter page, where I will be sharing all of the many food hacks that I invent and come across. I encourage you to tweet me, comment on my posts, write me on my Ginger Rose Facebook page and email me to share your own food hacking experiences! Have a hack you think I'd like? I want to know! Let's get the food hack conversation started! 

Listening To:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

GLAD Fresh Food Challenge

Long before I had to begin worrying about money, budgeting, and bills I had the message "waste is bad" firmly engrained in my head. With my mom growing up with European parents who lived through the war, the 'waste not, want not' mentality was passed down through to my immediate family, meaning always finishing the food on your plate; spending an extra couple seconds getting every last drop out of the orange juice container or milk bag; and even such wild penny-pinching-practices like machine-washing J-cloths after being used. It always seemed like a bit of a nuisance for my very fortunate sister and I growing up, not being able to look at the big picture and see how all these little savings can actually add up to be quite significant in the end. 
Now, being in my late twenties, I have become painfully aware of each and every fruit or vegetable that goes mouldy in my fridge, leftovers that go uneaten, and dry goods that go rancid. Sure, having to pay for my own things absolutely brought my attention to food waste, but more than that, it was about those values that my parents had instilled in me growing up, finally making sense to me. As I grew up I started to place more value on the things that I had previously taken for granted in my life. I started to understand that not everyone has the privilege to eat healthy and fresh meals everyday, and how quickly my life could very well go in the same direction. 
Instead of looking at food waste as an irritant, forcing me to eat things before they go bad, whether I liked them or not, I started looking at potential food waste as an opportunity. I decided to be inspired by potential waste, rather than feel hindered by it. I started consciously making the effort to go through my kitchen regularly and come up with interesting and delicious dishes that would allow me to incorporate all of those almost-ready-for-the-trash ingredients that could have contributed to my weekly food waste. I now take pride in throwing out as little food as I do, knowing that the things that I have spent my hard-earned money on are helping to nourish me, and is not getting thrown in the trash. 
With my waste not, want not values seeping into just about every blog post I write, I jumped at the chance to get to take part in the GLAD Fresh Food Challenge! From October 1st to October 15th myself as well as a slew of other Canadians have committed to having zero food waste! Not a single leaf of lettuce, not a single slice of apple pie (but really, who would waste apple pie?!) could go to waste in that two week period. With such an emphasis on reducing food waste in my everyday life, I had figured that I would be a pro at the challenge, and would succeed with flying colours, but I gotta say it was certainly tougher than I had thought. This challenge made me very aware of everything I purchase each day, portion sizes, tricking myself into eating the same thing in different ways in order to use it up, and also taking the care and time to wrap and package any leftover food properly. After two weeks of next to zero food waste (I regretfully admit that a few strawberries and cherry tomatoes went bad) I have come up with a number of tips to share for you to help you to cut down on the food waste in your own home. 
  1. Wrap leftovers immediately - Wrap any leftover ingredients or meals as soon as possible, and in the most effective way possible. For instance, wrap blocks of cheese in a tightly-wrapped layer of GLAD Cling Wrap and then place in a small GLAD zipper bag and place in your cheese drawer. Wrap any leftover chicken, meat, or fish in GLAD Press 'n Seal to lock in all that freshness. Wrap any leftover candy and nuts in a GLAD zipper bag. 
  2. Label all leftovers - Right after you have wrapped up or packaged your leftovers, write directly on the bag or container, or on a piece of masking tape what the contents are as well as the date they were made/packaged. 
  3. Organize your fridge - Organize your fridge regularly to make sure you know exactly what is in there and what needs to be used up. Try and designate a specific area of your fridge solely for things that need to be eaten, so that family members and roommates are made aware of what they should be eating.
  4. Leave notes - Leave cute notes in your kitchen for family members and roommates to make them aware of what they should eat before it goes bad. For instance, my boyfriend got a note saying "Yum! There's delicious cherry tomatoes, basil, and Buffalo Mozzarella in the fridge! Maybe someone should have some caprese salad with dinner!" 
  5. Get creative with leftovers - Look for ways to reinvent your leftovers into something else so that you don't get sick of eating the same thing. For example, last week I made a delicious chilli with pork belly and brisket, and there were a ton of leftovers! With a great combination like pork belly and brisket, I knew that some of the leftover chilli would make a fantastic base for a Shepherds pie! Other examples could be making bread pudding or a Panzanella salad with leftover bread, or tossing almost-ready-for-the-trash berries into a cake or smoothie.
  6. Make smoothie bags - Toss any leftover pre-washed fruits and vegetables into GLAD zipper bags to freeze individual portion sizes for smoothies! Cut down on waste, and cut down on the time it takes to make your morning smoothie! 
How do you cut down on food waste?

Listening To:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I Am Food Hacks

Dear readers, I have to tell you that I have been holding in a secret. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you will have already heard the great reveal, but if not, now is the time for me to happily spill the beans that I had been holding in for weeks. Just over two weeks ago I received the incredible news that Kraft Canada has named me Canada's Ultimate Food Hacker!! From the moment I first heard about the Kraft competition to search for Canada's Ultimate Food Hacker, I knew it had to be mine, combining all of the things I love into one perfect year-long role. If you recall my blog post from August, as I progressed to the next round of the competition, you will remember just how incredibly hopeful I was to make it here. Right when I felt like throwing in the towel, and giving up on this crazy foodie dream of mine, the Food Hacks opportunity talked into my life, and here I am today being declared the winner! 

So what exactly does it mean to be Canada's Ultimate Food Hacker? As Kraft Canada's Ultimate Food Hacker, I will be taking over the Food Hacks social media pages to get to share with you my successes and failures, as I hunt down and experiment with just about every clever food hack that I can get my hands on! Basically, I want to give Canadians the tools to make life in the kitchen a little more interesting, fun, and efficient by providing clever food hacks that will allow you to elevate a meal, perfect a cooking method, or create an epic flavour infusion with ease! By engaging with you through Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Vine, as well as sharing weekly blog posts on the Kraft Canada What's Cooking blog on my trials and tribulations of food hacking, I hope to create a community of innovative Food Hackers that can learn and thrive from one another. I'm so madly excited to not only get to express my creativity with this role, but to also open up my audience to a whole new slew of smart and interesting foodies who I may not have had the chance to meet before. I can't wait to get the conversation going with all of you and hear about your own experiences with food hacks. Let's start sharing! I want to know what food hacks you've tried! What worked? What failed? What food hacks are you dying to try? Let's talk!  

Be sure to follow the @foodhacks Twitter page to stay up-to-date with all the latest food hacks and chat with me about your own food hack experiences! Also be sure to check out the Food Hacks webpage to see all of the amazing hacked recipes that Kraft has already created! I can't wait to go on this journey with you! 

Relive my Food Hacks video submission here for an awesome hack on how to peel multiple cloves of garlic all at once! 

Listening To:

Monday, October 6, 2014

Dairy Goodness Great Cream Challenge - Fall Harvest Veggie Challenge: Creamy Vegetable Gratin

Another year of the Dairy Goodness Great Cream Challenge has come to an end for me. Although I have been participating in the Great Cream Challenge for the past few years, this year was particularly special for me, getting to showcase not one, but three cream-filled recipes! Participating in the challenge is always a blast, but there's really nothing like getting to say you've WON a challenge! I felt so lucky to have won the Comforting Mac & Cheese Challenge with my Fresh Onion Mac & Cheese, and to have come so very close this time around in the Fall Harvest Veggie Challenge with my Creamy Vegetable Gratin (701 votes ain't too shabby!).
When coming up with my recipe for this past months challenge, I wanted to come up with something that utilized an assortment of different Fall harvest veggies, but was also incredibly comforting. With scalloped potatoes being one of my favourite Fall comfort foods (my mom makes it every Thanksgiving!), I wanted to make my own version of that, but kicked up using an array of different vegetables like sweet potatoes, zucchini, carrots, and even a layer of sautéed kale! I give you my Creamy Vegetable Gratin
I loved all of the different layers of flavour that goes into this dish, with the star ingredient, cream, along with gruyere and parmesan cheese acting as the creamy glue to hold the casserole all together. This dish would be a fantastic addition to your family's Thanksgiving meal coming up this weekend! Give it a try and let me know how it goes! 

Tip: Cut down on prep time by slicing all of the vegetables excluding the Yukon Gold potatoes in advance! 

2 tbsp butter, divided (plus more for greasing the baking dish)
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced divided
10 large leaves of kale (curly or black), chopped small
salt and white pepper to season
2 cups 35% cream
1/2 onion, make sure the root is still intact
1 bay leaf
4 cloves
3 sprigs thyme, divided
1 large sweet potato, peeled and thinly sliced
2 large Yukon Gild potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup shredded Gruyere 
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 medium yellow zucchini (summer squash), thinly sliced lengthwise 
3 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs 

  1. Heat a large sauté pan to medium heat. Add 1 tbsp butter. When butter is melted and begins to foam, add the shallot and sweat. Add 1 minced garlic clove and cook until fragrant (20-30 seconds). Add the kale and reduce to medium-low. Cook until kale until wilted, tossing occasionally. Season with salt and white pepper and set aside.
  2. While the kale is cooking, prepare the cream. Pour the cream into a small saucepan and set to medium heat. Cut a slit into the half piece of onion and stick a bay leaf inside. Poke the cloves into the onion and submerge in the cream along with 1 sprig of thyme. Right when steam begins to come off of the cream, remove from heat, remove onion  with spices and herbs, and set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 400º. Butter and 11x7-inch glass baking dish and add a spoonful of the flavoured cream mixture. Add 1 layer of sweet and yukon gold potatoes, making sure to lightly overlap the slices. Season lightly with salt and white pepper, and drizzle in some of the cream. Top with a light layer of Gruyere and Parmesan. Repeat process of layering in different slices of vegetables (a different vegetable on each layer), seasoning, and adding cream and cheese until vegetables reach the middle of the dish. Add the kale mixture to make the middle layer of the casserole, and repeat the vegetable, seasoning, cream, and cheese layering process until the vegetables reach the top of the baking dish.
  4. Melt the remaining butter in a small bowl in the microwave. Add in the remaining minced clove of garlic, the leaves from the remaining thyme sprigs, and panko breadcrumbs. Toss to coat. Sprinkle on top of the layered vegetables, along with any remaining cheese. Bake for about 60-minutes or until tender when pierced with a knife. Serve immediately.

Listening To:
Fleetwood Mac - Rhiannon Live 1976 (Stevie SLAYS this performance!)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

VOTE! The Great Cream Challenge: Fall Harvest Veggie Challenge - Creamy Vegetable Gratin

Hey foodie friends! If you don't follow me on Twitter and Facebook (what the heck? Follow me already!) you may not have heard that I am once again participating in the Dairy Goodness Great Cream Challenge this month! This month is all about embracing that chill in the air, with this rounds theme being The Fall Harvest Veggie Challenge. For this challenge, I wanted to create a recipe that utilized many different Fall harvest veggies, but was also incredibly comforting. With scalloped potatoes being one of my favourite Fall comfort foods (my mom makes it every Thanksgiving!), I wanted to make my own version of that, but kicked up using an array of different vegetables like sweet potatoes, zucchini, carrots, and even a layer of sautéed kale! I give you my Creamy Vegetable Gratin

I loved all of the different layers of flavour that goes into this dish, with the star ingredient, cream, along with gruyere and parmesan cheese acting as the creamy glue to hold the casserole all together. This dish would be a fantastic addition to any Thanksgiving meal! Please take a moment to VOTE for my recipe before the contest comes to an end on Tuesday September 30th (my birthday!). 

Click HERE to VOTE for my Creamy Vegetable Gratin in the Great Cream Challenge!

Listening To:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Recipe Testing with Roasted Golden Beet Soup

Ever since I was a little girl, my food hero has always been my Oma, my mothers German mother. My foodie admiration over my Oma had to have started with her sneaking me naughty treats that I wasn't supposed to have, behind my mothers back when I was just a wee little gingy. My foodie admiration for my hilarious Oma grew as I started helping her out in the kitchen, rolling and cutting cookie dough, beating eggs, dusting icing sugar on treats, and so much more. I adored my Oma's cooking as a child, but I didn't see her as the cooking and baking wizard that she truly is until I started really playing around in my own kitchen all by myself. It was only then that I realized how special her natural knack for creating the most satisfying of comfort foods really was. She had a way about making flavours explode in your mouth, seasoning and adding her secret little touches until the dish was just so. It was this natural knack for seasoning and flavouring that I always admired and aspired to have myself, and one that comes to mind almost each and every time I find myself in the kitchen.

It was last week after I unexpectedly had a free weekday to myself to play in the kitchen, that I was faced with three golden beets the size of my head, that I purchased from Pete's Fresh Organics at the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market, that my Oma's cooking once again popped into my head. One of my Oma's most beloved signature dishes is her out-of-this-world beet borscht. Made with beef shank and lots of love, her beet borscht is one of the most delicious and satisfying comfort foods to ever touch my tongue. So naturally, at the sight of those giant, golden beets, I could think of nothing else but trying to create a golden beet soup that maybe, just maybe, might compare to my Oma's infamous borscht. 

Having cooked mainly with red beets in the past, and after seeing lots and lots of golden beet salads and not a whole lot else in my research, I was a little weary at whether golden beets would work just well as red beets when made into soup. Some sources stated that golden beets are sweeter and more flavourful than red beets, while other sources stated the exact opposite! I had no idea if the golden beets would work at all, but the only way to find out was to try! 

With a cool chill in the air, I didn't feel like venturing out to get groceries, so I decided to make the soup using only what I had on hand. To mimic the meaty flavour of the beef shank in my Oma's soup, I sautéed some chopped bacon, cooked the onion in the bacon fat, and re-added the bacon back into my soup while it simmered, as well as adding a rich beef stock. I also chose to grate the beets after being roasted to create the same texture that my Oma's red beets had in her borscht. I added basic flavour enhancers like salt, white pepper, a bay leaf, and garlic before and while the soup was simmering, thinking that that would be everything I needed to achieve a flavourful soup. I was wrong. After simmering for a half hour, as I kept tasting and lightly adding salt and pepper, my soup still tasted very bland and lack-luster. It was here that I lost all chance at posting an exact recipe for the blog right away as well as replicating my Oma's borscht, as I began to transfer cups of the soup to various different pots, and play with different arrangements of seasonings and spices in each one, finding the perfect combination that could make soup worthy of serving to anyone but myself. 
A little lemon juice, grated ginger, cayenne pepper, cumin, a whirr of the immersion blender, and a quick strain through a sieve got my soup to a place that I can say was absolutely incredible! It was when I decided to follow my intuition and trust my taste buds, as opposed to trying to copy someone else's dish, that I was able to achieve greatness (yes, the soup was THAT great!) and something that I could be proud to say was uniquely my own. 

This soup was a great lesson in cooking inspiration. It showed me that although something may spark an idea in the kitchen, you have to trust yourself and your taste buds above all else, and be willing to take some chances every now and then in order to get the results you crave. My Oma's tried and true comforting German recipes will always inspire me in the kitchen, but it's her natural kitchen wizardry, and knack for going with the flow and trusting her instincts that has truly shaped me to be the cook I am today. No, my Roasted Golden Beet Soup didn't taste anything like my Oma's beet borsht, but it was just as delicious and may just spark some other passionate foodie to try and replicate in the kitchen!

* Note: Because I have only made this recipe once and there was so much seasoning play involved, the recipe is not exact yet. I am hoping to make it again soon so I can post an exact recipe for you to try, but until then, I welcome those familiar and confident with seasoning to have a try at making this. You're going to have to do a lot of tasting, have a lot of patience, and add your seasonings and spices little by little, but if you trust your intuition, I think you will too will be proud of your final product! 

** Beets may be roasted and grated in advance, and left in the fridge until ready to use.

*** Remember, when seasoning you can always add, but you can never take away! Use a very light hand when seasoning, and always taste before adding more!

3 very large golden beets (or enough beets to equal 3 very large beets), greens cut off
olive oil
2 strips of bacon, diced small
1 tbsp butter
1 small yellow onion, diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced or pureed
4 cups beef stock
1 bay leaf
sour cream stirred with a little lemon juice to garnish
Seasoning to play with:*
salt and white pepper to season
approximately 2 tsp lemon juice
approximately 1 pinch cumin
approximately 1/2 - 1 tsp grated ginger
approximately 1 pinch cayenne pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Rub beets in olive oil and place in baking dish. Bake for 1 hour to 1.25 hours or until tender when pierced with a fork. Allow to cool. When cooled, rub with a dry paper towel to remove skins. Grate roasted beets into a bowl and set aside.**
  2. In a large soup pot, add the bacon and turn heat to medium - medium/low. Cooking, stirring occasionally until browned and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. 
  3. Drizzle about 1 tbsp of olive oil and the butter into the soup pot. When heated, add in the onion and sweat, stirring occasionally until soft and translucent. Add in the garlic in the 30-seconds of cooking.
  4. Add in one cup of the beef stock to deglaze the pan, and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to release any browned bits. Add the remaining 3-cups of stock. Add bay leaf and grated beets. When warm, taste, and season with salt and white pepper. Reduce heat, and allow to simmer for 30-minutes.
  5. Remove bay leaf and puree using an immersion blender, or transfer to a blender or food processor to puree until smooth. Strain and press the soup mixture through a sieve, and re-heat, if needed, on the stove. Taste and season a little at a time with the lemon juice, cumin, ginger, cayenne pepper, and salt and white pepper. Continue tasting and seasoning until just right!***
  6. Ladle into serving bowls and top with a drizzle of the lemon sour cream. Serve hot. 

Listening To:
Michael Jackson - Beat It (or should I say "Beet It?" hah!)