Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Market Inspired: Caprese Salad

Is there a more perfect sight in the world than a farm fresh, colourful, spontaneously placed caprese salad? Is there a more perfect taste? If there is, I've certainly never seen it or tasted it. With the first of the colourful, multi-sized, farm fresh tomatoes finding their way into local farmers' markets, I've found myself more and more taken by the vibrant, bright colours and big, sweet, and juicy flavours from Ontario's most loved savoury fruit. My newfound love for the humble, Ontario-grown tomato has me so utterly smitten, that I was even moved to change the header on my webpage to reflect this new inspiration. I recently shared a quote that summed up the experience of eating a farm-fresh tomato perfectly: 
"It's difficult to think of anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato." - Lewis Grizzard
It's true. Not one bitter thought could permeate the blissful barrier of flavour that tomatoes welcome upon biting into. With dancing, colourful tomatoes on my brain last week at the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market, it was an absolute must for me to stop by the Cookstown Greens tent to chat with my new friend John about all the different varieties of tomatoes we are now beginning to see in our province. There was no doubt that I was walking home with a bag of those red, orange, yellow, and purple balls of perfection, to be utilized in the only way I could imagine, paired with Monforte Dairy Water Buffalo Fresco Cheese (similar buffalo mozzarella, but more crumbly and absolutely divine!) as apart of a simple caprese salad. Toss in my best quality olive oil that I got from an olive press in the Golan Heights in Israel, some leaves of fresh basil growing on my kitchen windowsill, and finish it off with a generous turn of fresh cracked pepper, and one of the most perfect sights and tastes in the world (no hyperbole here) is complete. 
Visit the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market webpage to learn more about our growing community market.

Note: I have not provided the quantity of each ingredient, as it is really not needed. When preparing, just remember that each bite should contain every ingredient. I prefer to go a little heavier on the cheese,  basil, and olive oil rather than not have enough.

Ingredients:
small Ontario farm-fresh tomatoes (a combination of different varieties and sizes)
Monforte Dairy Water Buffalo Fresco cheese
fresh basil leaves
very good quality extra virgin olive oil
fresh cracked pepper

Directions:
  1. Cut some of the larger and medium-sized tomatoes in half, leaving the remainder of the tomatoes in tact. Tear off pieces of the cheese and place overtop. 
  2. Tear the basil leaves overtop and drizzle over enough olive oil so that each tomato gets a slick coating. Finish with fresh cracked pepper. 
Listening To:

Friday, June 27, 2014

How do I Herbamare?

A month ago I was approached by A.Vogel, a company known being a pioneer for natural health, and was asked "how do I Herbamare?" How do I what? Until then I was unaware as to how to Herbamare. Although I had previously never heard of the seasoned sea salt that has been a staple in Europe for decades, I became intrigued by this new product as soon as the word "organic" came into my sight. I have always been one to turn to fresh and unprocessed foods as opposed to convenience foods when it comes to cooking, not wanting to add any additional preservatives and other garbage into my body that it really doesn't need, but when I found out about the blend of twelve certified organic herbs that go into Herbamare, they had officially had my attention. 
Featuring twelve of some of my favourite flavours, which include: celery, leek, watercress, onions, chives, parsley, lovage, garlic, basil, rosemary, thyme, and kelp; I could already start brainstorming all of the areas where Herbamare could add more flavour into my quickie, I-have-no-time-to-waste meals. More than just being certified organic, I also appreciated that one of the three flavours of Herbamare was actually sodium-free, making it the perfect alternative to salt for many members of my family who have health concerns and have been struggling to cut back on their salt intake. 
Once I received my package containing all of the three flavours (Original, Zesty, and Sodium-Free), I got right to it and began sprinkling the different flavours of Herbamare on just about any savoury dish I could find that needed an extra lil' somethin' somethin'. If you've ever heard of Umami, which is often cited as being "the fifth taste" or "the savoury taste," you will understand what Herbamare can bring to everyday dishes. Often people compare umami to the artificially produced MSG, for being that kick of flavour that can turn a dish into something that you can't help but go back for more, but unlike MSG, which leaves you feeling out-of-sorts, umami is harmless. Herbamare was a welcome addition to all different types of meals and dishes thanks to its certified organic and kosher stamps as well as containing no additives nor MSG.  
So what were my favourite ways to use Herbamare this month? More than anything, I loved the sodium-free Herbamare as great way for my grandfather to not compromise on taste while trying to cut back on his salt intake. For myself, I loved sprinkling the Zesty Herbamare on soups to add a hit of spice, and added the Original flavour to all different types of things like pestos, unbaked pizza crust, grilled meats, and particularly loved sprinkling it on the freshest of local produce, as a way of keeping the integrity of the original vegetable, while enhancing its flavours. 

So now that I've shared my experience with Herbamare, it's time for you to share yours! Try A.Vogel's Herbamare for yourself! See what type of new and unique ways you can use Herbamare in your own kitchen, and share your findings on Twitter and Facebook using the #Herbamare hashtag. 

Listening To:
LCD Soundsystem - Home

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Market Inspired: Garlic Scape Pesto

Strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb, tomatoes, apples; We are all familiar with the basic go-to finds that most people gravitate toward at an Ontario market, but it's the lesser known produce, the black sheep of the market if you will, that has really been getting my attention as of late. Now that the market has been open for almost one month, I've had the opportunity to purchase goods from almost every single vendor featured at the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market, many of which have been those very basics that I just listed. Of course all of them were incredibly delicious, and completely incomparable to the flavourless variety that gets shipped in from miles and miles away to our supermarkets. Though despite how delicious my fresh market finds were, it wasn't anything I hadn't had before.  

It was last week at Pete's Fresh Organics stand, as I was just about to hand over a $5 bill for a bag of beautiful farm-grown lettuce, that I saw them. I had been seeing the words "garlic scapes" slowly trickling into my Twitter and Facebook feeds, as all of my foodie friends and acquaintances proclaimed their desire at obtaining these mysterious, curly, chive-like greens while they still remained during their very short season. The more those two words kept appearing seemingly everywhere I looked, the more it felt like everyone was apart of a club that I wasn't included in. With my last five-dollars in my hand, I put down the bag of lettuce and began inspecting this mysterious find. They looked like chives to me, but curly and much harder in texture. I knew they were coveted, but what in the world do you even do with garlic scapes?
When surrounded by farmers and foodies alike, it came as no surprise that the moment the question "what do I do with garlic scapes?" left my lips, a response was enthusiastically tossed back at me from the lovely girl manning the Monforte Dairy stand. With a smile so wide, and a wild eagerness in her voice, I knew I could trust her when she suggested I make garlic scape pesto. 

The following day I could think of nothing other than lugging out my food processor to whirr up a big batch of garlic scape pesto. I hadn't a clue if I would even like the flavour of it, but was so excited at the prospect of discovering a new taste, that I simply could not get those whimsical looking greens out of my mind. With pizza on the menu for Friday nights dinner, I knew that would be the perfect opportunity for me to get to utilize my big bag of garlic scapes (that, by the way, only cost me $2). 

After a quick Google search on how to go about making the pesto, I learned that the whole garlic scape may be consumed, but the pointed tip after the pale yellow bulb is quite fibrous, and is recommended to be removed. I speedily chopped up my scapes, tossed them into the bowl of the food processor with some grated Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and lightly toasted pine nuts, and whirred away! That smell. I can't believe we live in the year 2014, and we still don't have smellovision. I wish I could convey to you the intensity of that spicy, fresh, zingy smell that wafted out from my food processor bowl. Heavenly. Although I was so taken by the smell of my newly-made pesto, and a quick taste told me it was delicious, I was still a little skeptical that it would actually be good spread on pizza. 
We divided up the pizza dough in half, and one of the halves into quarters so that we could make three different pizzas, one with classic tomato sauce, and two different varieties featuring the garlic scape pesto as the base. That first bite sent waves of both bliss and regret. Bliss at the taste of this intense new flavour that had previously been missing from my life, and regret at not having spread the pesto on all of the pizza dough. It was so incredibly delicious. The only upside to not using all of the pesto that evening? Leftovers to toss into pasta! 

The next time you visit your local farmers market, ask around. What's new? What's interesting? What's different? Don't be afraid of new finds. The answers to all of your mystery ingredient questions are literally at your fingertips, and you may be surprised at what new favourite dishes you may come up with thanks to taking a chance on something out-of-the-ordinary! Garlic scape season is incredibly short, so keep your eyes peeled and get them while you can! 

* The pointed tip after the pale yellow bulb of the garlic scape is very fibrous, and should be removed. Also remove any flowers that may remain.

Tip: When adding to pasta, add extra olive oil and some of the starchy pasta water.

Ingredients:
about 20-30 garlic scapes, trimmed*
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
about 1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to season

Directions:
  1. In the bowl of a food processor toss in the garlic scapes, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and the olive oil and blend until finely chopped, but still slightly chunky. Taste and season with salt and pepper and additional olive oil, if needed. Keep in fridge until ready to use for up to 1-week or freeze. 
What did I put on my garlic scape pizza?
Pizza #1: Spread the garlic scapes evenly over the rolled out dough (I like a really thin crust for this pizza). Sprinkle over grated Mozzarella cheese, thinly-sliced zucchini, and Serrano ham.

Pizza #2: Spread the garlic scapes evenly over thinly-rolled out dough. Sprinkle over grated Mozzarella cheese, thinly-sliced zucchini, and sliced tomatoes.

Listening To:

Monday, June 16, 2014

Market Inspired: Shiitake Mushroom & Leek Risotto

It's gotta be one of the best feelings in the world, watching as something that was once just a concept, just a dream, come to fruition with such success! It's been only two weeks of having the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market open for business, but already our little dream-come-to-life has been filling me with so much inspiration! Getting to work at the market each Thursday, interacting with the farmers, artisans, and chefs who work so hard to come into the city to proudly sell their wares and share their love for Ontario, has been such a fulfilling experience for me. I love getting to explore all the new produce, products, and dishes on display each week, with my imagination going wild at the possibilities for play in the kitchen. 

So incredibly overwhelmed by the spectacular selection on opening day, it took me a while to decide what exactly I would make from my market finds on day one. With my grocery bag already filled with 100-Acre Bakery Walnut Sourdough and Sundried Tomato Sourdough bread, Mad Gringo Hot Sauce BBQ Sauce, Albion Hills Farm Pepperettes, and Allison's At The Best Frozen Chicken Curry Pot Pies, and my belly full of a steak and grilled bell pepper sandwich from Localista food truck, I had to stop getting distracted by food I could begin devouring immediately, and start thinking about a special meal I could prepare for the weekend. 

After chatting with the lovely couple from Waymac Mushroom Farm about all of the incredible health benefits of mushrooms, particularly shiitake mushrooms, I couldn't get the idea of a savoury shiitake mushroom risotto out of my head. Anne from Waymac assured me that although I was more familiar with creminis for risotto, the shiitakes would leave me very pleased with my results. With a paper bag full of Waymacs gorgeous shiitakes, I made my way over the stunning presentation of vegetables at Highmark Farms tent, with my sights set on fresh leeks. Although the bright green asparagus would have been a delicious addition to the risotto, I wanted something that would compliment the shiitakes, but not overpower it. With their delicate yet distinct flavour that can be compared to a very subtle garlic and onion flavour, leeks were the perfect accompaniment to the shiitakes. 

Come Sunday night, after a busy weekend, I couldn't wait to attack my market finds in the kitchen by preparing a special market-inspired Shiitake Mushroom & Leek Risotto for my mom and my boyfriend Chris. With Chris being Italian, I was a little nervous that my risotto wouldn't be up to par, but thank goodness for those market finds, with their big fresh flavours, and wonderful textures, my risotto turned out pretty damn awesome...if I do say so myself! I was so proud of the results, and kept rejecting my lemon chicken, that was also served that evening, to go back for more servings of risotto. As if I wasn't amped up enough at the idea of cooking with my market finds each week, after finding such success with my market-inspired Shiitake Mushroom & Leek Risotto, I was downright giddy walking through the market this week, dreaming up what market meal I would create next! 

Be sure to come by the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market at Avenue Road and Roe Avenue each Thursday from 3:00 - 7:00 pm! 

* You will likely not need all of the chicken stock, but it's good to have heated on hand just in case.

Ingredients:
4 tbsp cold butter, separated
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 leek, white and light green parts only, finely chopped
1 Ib shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 cups arborio rice
about 3/4 cup dry white wine
approximately 900 mL low-sodium chicken stock*
salt & white pepper to season
about 2/3 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
a handful fresh parsley, finely chopped, to garnish

Directions:
  1. Place chicken broth in a medium pot on the stove. Bring to a boil, and reduce to simmer.
  2. Heat a large skillet to medium heat. Add 2 tbsp butter and melt. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally for 1-2 minutes. Add the leeks and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add the shiitake mushrooms and cook until liquid has been released and evaporated, and mushrooms are softened.
  3. Add the arborio rice to the mushroom mixture and coat in vegetable and butter mixture and heat through, about 1-2 minutes. 
  4. Add just enough wine to cover mixture and cook until reduced by half. 
  5. Pour in 2 large ladles of chicken stock and cook, stirring constantly. You want your mixture to remain soupy at all times. As the rice soaks up the liquid, continue to add ladles of chicken stock in, seasoning with salt and white pepper at each new addition. Continue repeating this process, while tasting for seasoning often, until the rice has reached an "al dente" texture (about 20-minutes). Finish by stirring in 2 tbsp cold butter and grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Garnish with parsley and additional Parmigiano Reggiano and serve immediately.
Listening To:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Butternut Squash Cannelloni

Another great month participating in the Dairy Goodness Great Cream Challenge completed! I had such a fun time coming up with my Butternut Squash Cannelloni recipe for the May Stuffed Pasta Challenge, inspired by an old Leftover Lovin' recipe that I made back in 2011. While the Leftover Lovin' recipe was all about using up whatever was left in the fridge and creating a serving for one, my Dairy Goodness challenge recipe amped up the original recipe with a knock-your-socks-off, almost-too-easy-to-be-true creamy white sauce, and a savory and sweet butternut squash filling that keeps you coming back for more! 

Although my Butternut Squash Cannelloni certainly wasn't the most photogenic of dishes (resulting in my sad number of votes), I was so so happy with how the taste turned out! Although I didn't win the challenge this month, I don't see myself as a loser because I came out of this challenge with a new favourite crowd-pleasing dish that I look forward to serving to my family and friends for years to come!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Filling can be made in advance.

Ingredients:
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into medium chunks
1 large shallot, quartered
1 garlic clove, pureed 
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 leaves sage, very finely chopped
3/4 cup Ricotta cheese
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
salt and white pepper to season
1 egg
1 1/2 cups dry pressed cottage cheese
1 cup 5% cream
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
salt and white pepper to season
1-360g package fresh lasagna sheets
olive oil, for drizzling as needed
1 1/2 cups tomato passata (or tomato purée)

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 400º. Lightly grease a medium baking sheet and add squash and shallots. Top with garlic and butter and toss to evenly coat. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until fork tender. Remove from oven and cool.
  2. Place squash and shallot mixture in the bowl of a food processor. Add sage, ricotta, 1/3 cup parmesan cheese and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Taste again and season once more if needed. Add the egg and blend to combine. Pour filling in a bowl and set aside*.
  3. In the bowl of a food processor, add the dry pressed cottage cheese, cream and 1/3 cup parmesan cheese. Blend until smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  4. Cook pasta sheets for 1-2 minutes in boiling salted water. Remove pasta sheets from water one at a time and place on a baking sheet. To prevent sticking, drizzle each sheet of pasta lightly with olive oil before adding the next one on top.
  5. Preheat oven to 350º. In a medium-large baking dish, pour in a thin layer of the passata and spread evenly with a spoon to cover the dish. 
  6. Cut the pasta sheets down the centre width-wise so you have about 12 rectangles. Working one at a time, place about 1/3 cup butternut squash filling down the length of one side of the rectangle, and gently roll up. Place in the baking dish seam side down and repeat with remaining pasta sheets, placing each rolled cannelloni next to each other.
  7. Spread a layer of tomato passata over the cannelloni so that they are all coated in an even layer. Spoon the white cream sauce in dollops over the passata-topped cannelloni. Bake until heated through for 20-30 minutes. 
  8. Plate and drizzle with remaining cream sauce and serve immediately.

Listening To:
Max Frost - Nice and Slow

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Introducing The sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market

For years I have been working for an annual event that I have always been very proud to say that I am apart of. In its ten years since launching, sip & Savour Ontario has grown to become one of the most well respected events in Toronto thanks to its commitment to bringing education, support, and accessibility of Ontario's local wine, culinary, and agricultural industries to the public. 

With this year marking sip & Savour Ontario's ten year anniversary, we wanted to do something a little different. In response to the publics growing interest in having regular access to locally farmed and produced, ethically sound products in Toronto, sip & Savour Ontario has launched its first urban farm and artisan market at Avenue Road and Roe Avenue in North York. Each Thursday commencing June 5th until October 30th, from 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm, the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market invites the community to sip and savour the best of Ontario's enviable bounty and show their support for local Ontario food growers and producers. 

The urban market philosophy will reflect the same ideology behind the sip & Savour Ontario annual fair, while raising consumer awareness about how farmers markets support the local economy. The sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market will give the community an opportunity to put a face to their food through interaction with local farmers, as well as educational information on where their food comes from and the benefits of supporting local industries. 
The sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market

 The Roe Loop
Avenue Road & Roe Avenue

Thursdays 3:00 pm - 7:00 pm
June 5 - October 30

 100-Acre Bakery
Albion Hills Farm
Allison's at the Best
Alzheimer Society of Toronto
Bizjak Farms
Carter Farms
Cookstown Greens Inc.
Harvest Goodies
 Highmark Farms
Localista Food Truck
Mad Gringo Hot Sauce
Millcreek Flower Farm
Monforte Dairy
Pablo the Dog
Pioneer Brand Honey
Skinlicious Soaps Ltd.
SoupHerb Soups
The Backyard Urban Farm Company (BUFCO)
Waymac Farms

I hope that my readers will have an opportunity to come out and support this very exciting endeavor! If you do, look for the little red-headed gal and come say "hi!" Cheers, to going local!

Listening To:

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Perfect Weekends Begin & End With Pisco Sours

It's that time Toronto! It's time for shorts and skirts, patios and pitchers, frolicking with friends, bikes and baseball games, and sweet, sweet spontaneity! The warm weather has finally arrived and with it comes those perfect fun and sun packed weekends that seem to go on forever, yet still end far too soon. To kick off what has officially been the first five-star weather weekend of Spring 2014 in Toronto, my boyfriend Chris was able to track down a bottle of Chilean Pisco, a boozy fruit liquor that is the main component to one of my favourite Summer cocktails, Pisco Sours. 

I had my first Pisco Sour experience less than two hours after landing in Chile for an adventure-filled vacation with my dad seven years ago (SEVEN YEARS AGO?! Where did the time go?). I was jet lagged but dying to hit the lounge chair by the pool of our hotel, desperate to feel the sun on my Vitamin D-deprived skin after escaping Toronto's cruel February chill. The moment my tush hit the chair I was presented with my very first Pisco Sour. So delighted to be in such a beautiful foreign country relaxing by the pool, I downed my drink, not realizing that the citrusy, easy-drinking cocktail actually contains a whopping three shots of the 41% spirit. I was a goner. I spent the remainder of the afternoon passed out and drooling in my lounge chair, while the sun burnt my fair, milk-coloured skin. That damn delicious cocktail took the wind right out of me, but that certainly didn't stop me from having at least one Pisco Sour every day for the remainder of my trip. 

It probably would have been a good idea to fill Chris in on that story, before we started drinking our Pisco Sours, as the poor guy didn't have a clue what he was getting himself into. He read "fruit liquor" and thought "oh like a Campari! Like an aperitivo!" It wasn't until we had drained our glasses and Chris went to pour more of what remained in the cocktail shaker, that he got a real whiff of the Pisco and realized how similar it smells to Tequila. A quick peek at the alcohol percentage on the bottle and it was back to chugging water! Just like after my first boozy Pisco experience, Chris had become hooked on the South American cocktail, declaring it to be our drink of the Summer! I sure didn't oppose! Recipes for Pisco Sours differ slightly, but here is one that my dad and I made a few years ago.
With the sun blazing and not a cloud in the sky on Saturday morning, Chris and I had our sights set on bikes! We headed over to Queen West to check out the selection at the Giant store. Thanks to my guy doing some initial bike research for me, we quickly found a reasonably-priced dream bike that had great value, was light and speedy, had good design features, and was cute and sporty looking. We took her out for a test ride and I fell in love! It had to be mine! I purchased my first good bike with a skip in my step and a smile plastered on my face. 
After all that excitement and test riding, we had worked up an appetite and decided to go around the corner to check out North Of Brooklyn Pizzeria, a gourmet pizza shop we have been meaning to try since opening. The small and dark largely-takeout shop features wood and metal accents with four tables for two and bar seating. We each picked up a slice of their Pepperoni and Margherita pizza and a can of, Howe Sound Lager and tucked in. The perfectly thin hand-stretched crust was very tasty and topped with an absolutely delicious hand-crushed tomato sauce, with wonderful concentrated tomato flavour and just enough Buffalo Mozzarella, pepperoni, and basil. I particularly liked the extra touch of sesame seeds that lined the crust of the pepperoni pizza, giving it a nutty bite. It's rare to find such great gourmet pizza sold by-the-slice in the Toronto, and with North Of Brooklyn taking such great care in producing a high-quality product, there's no doubt that their slices take the lead!
There's no better way to end one of those perfect Spring weekends than at a packed Jays game, with the dome open, beers, and good friends! To celebrate another Jays sweep we all headed back to Chris' condo to send the weekend off in the only way we knew how, more Pisco Sours! Cheers to a Spring and Summer filled with gorgeous weekends just like this!

Listening To:

Friday, May 23, 2014

Quinoa-Stuffed Butternut Squash: Celebrating Celiac Awareness Month with Campbell's

I was probably in grade five or six when I first learned what Celiac disease was. My Zhada was diagnosed with it, which at the time didn't mean much to me other than less challah at our Shabbat dinners. It wasn't until a few months after that when one of my best friends at the time, Nikki, was also diagnosed with the disease that I realized how much it can affect ones life. I witnessed Nikki's frustration at not being able to eat pizza at parties with all of her friends, or eat her moms amazing Israeli couscous salads that drove everyone wild at BBQ's, as well as watching her give in to temptation, and be faced with horrible, debilitating stomach pains for the remainder of her day. I thought it was so unusual that all of a sudden I knew two people who had this strange disease that was previously foreign to me. Being such a big food lover myself, with my favourite foods at the time being pasta, pizza, baguette, breaded chicken fingers, and pie (I swear I wasn't a fat kid) I couldn't understand how my Zhada and Nikki would be able to happily go about their days excluding these wonderful treats that I had taken for granted my whole life. 

Now it seems you can't go through one day without hearing the words "gluten-free," with a huge spike in the Celiac population in Canada, and much greater access to gluten-free products. Although many people claim to be gluten intolerant (which recent research has shown is actually a fallacy), those actually struggling with Celiac disease have much more serious repercussions to going against a gluten-free diet such as the inability of your body to absorb important nutrients (such as protein, fat, carbohydrates, and minerals) as well as symptoms such as anemia, chronic diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, cramps, bloating, and irritability. Not fun. 
For the month of May the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness has declared it to be Celiac Awareness Month to spread information, tips, recipes, and more all about the disease that now affects 1 in 133 persons in Canada. To take part in this health-focused month, Campbell's Canada challenged select Canadian food bloggers to help raise awareness for Celiac disease, by creating a unique, gluten-free recipe featuring their newly launched No Salt Added Ready To Use Vegetable Broth (that is of course, gluten-free!). Campbell's generously sent myself and the rest of the bloggers participating their brand new broth for us to play around with, and create something we would be proud to share and serve to our Celiac friends and family. After much thought and research I finally came up with a recipe for Quinoa-Stuffed Butternut Squash with sauteed spinach, onions, sage, ricotta, and Parmesan cheese that I knew anyone (Celiac or not!) would go wild for! This is a great side dish to serve at parties thanks to its large portions and striking presentation, and is a cinch to prepare! 

To encourage readers and at-home cooks to play around with their own gluten-free recipes, Campbell's has been kind enough to provide me with coupons for FREE cartons of their No Salt Added Ready To Use Vegetable Broth for me to give out to my readers! Want to get your hands on some free Campbell's broth? The first 25 readers to comment on this post will have a coupon sent directly to them*!  #CampbellsGlutenFree #promo
*Coupons will only be sent within Ontario.

Ingredients:
1 medium/large butternut squash
olive oil for roasting & frying
1 cup quinoa
2 cups Campbell's No Salt Added Ready To Use Vegetable Broth
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 handfuls baby spinach
4 heaping tbsp ricotta cheese
2 sage leaves, very finely chopped
salt & white pepper to season
about 2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut vertically down the centre of the butternut squash. Rub exposed flesh with olive oil and place, cut side down on a baking sheet. Bake for 40-60 minutes, or until fork tender. Cool until ready to handle.
  2. In the last half hour of the squash baking, prepare the filling. Add quinoa to a medium pot and add the Campbell's vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, reduce to low, cover and cook for 15-minutes. Turn off heat and let stand for 5-minutes. Fluff with a fork.
  3. In a medium sauté pan, heat about 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add the onion and cook until translucent and softened. Add the garlic and spinach and stir. Cover with a lid and steam for 1-2 minutes, or until spinach has wilted. Remove from heat.
  4. Carefully cut a 1/2-inch border around the inside of the butternut squash flesh, and scoop out flesh inside (leaving just enough to allow the squash to stand up and act as a carrier for the quinoa filling). Add the scooped out flesh to the cooked quinoa and combine with a fork while mashing the squash.
  5. Add the onion and spinach mixture, ricotta, and sage to the quinoa mixture. Stir to combine. Taste and season with salt and white pepper as needed. Taste again and season once more if needed. Fill hallowed out squash shells evenly with quinoa mixture and top with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. 
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until re-heated. Serve immediately. 

Listening To:
Misun - Eli Eli

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sip & Shuck with Stoneleigh

The idea of a wine tasting for a novice wine drinker often conjures up the image of cold dispositions, upturned noses, pretension, and comments on legs and notes (are we talking about stockings and music sheets here?), not to mention the fear of humiliation at the thought of making an improper judgement or comment on a particular wine. Years ago I would have said that that description is absolutely accurate, having had my share of experiences at wine tastings that left me feeling awkward and out of place. That was until I was introduced to the iYellow Wine Club
Back then Toronto's hottest wine club was just finding their footing in this competitive industry of food and wine, making a statement at each event with their eye-catching "I♥Ontario Wine" T-shirts. Today founder Angela Aiello has truly made a name for herself in the industry, known for shattering the myth of wine tasting snobbery, and instead creating a welcoming environment that both experienced and amateur wine tasters can feel at home and comfortable in. That welcoming and comfortable environment was surely put to the test last week when I, a confidence-lacking wine drinker and often socially awkward klutz, was invited to the newly launched iYellow Wine Cave to Sip & Shuck with Stoneleigh Wines. 
So excited to spend an evening in the Queen West wine cave that I had heard so much buzz about, sipping wine and slurping back my favourite mollusks, I had skimmed through my invite, not noticing that I was indeed given a +1. Let the awkwardness ensue! It was apparent from the moment I entered the graffiti-splashed alleyway door of the cave that I was the only solo wine taster in attendance. Lucky for me, this was not any old wine tasting, it was an iYellow one! Phew! I spent the first few minutes of my arrival walking around the cozy and stylish cave, taking in all of the eclectic little details from the mismatched lighting fixtures, chalkboard walls, vintage bookshelves, and old paintings in antique frames. I was wowed by the attention to detail and care in which the cave was decorated, giving attendees the feeling of walking into your parents basement...that had been taken over by their fixie-riding, craft beer-drinking, plaid-donning grown-up children. It was that laid-back atmosphere that put me at ease, and made me feel comfortable striking up a conversation with friendly-faced strangers...and I'm sure that first glass of Stoneleigh white didn't hurt either. 
I had the pleasure of sharing my first glass of wine with the lovely Erin from the blog College Street Closet and her friend Katie from the new blog Torontoholic. We sipped the bright and fresh tasting Stoneleigh white label Sauvignon Blanc while we chatted about our love of oysters and cheese. Although Erin is an East Coast gal, her and Katie had never shucked oysters before, a sin that had to be corrected immediately. We made our way over to the oyster sucking station, that encouraged attendees to slip on a pair of protective gloves and try their hand at shucking oysters themselves. Having shucked many an oyster myself, I took on the role of photographer as Erin and Katie shucked their very first oysters with ease! That called for another glass of wine!
We headed over to the red wine station where Ange just happened to be pouring and sharing her knowledge on the two pinot noirs being featured. The first was Stoneleigh's white label pinot, which Ange told us was a great intro-to-pinot wine with approachable soft and supple tannins and flavours of ripe, dark berry fruit and cherry with lingering fruit sweetness. I enjoyed the white label, but it was the grey label pinot that stood out for me, with a rich and fleshy palate of black doris plum, dark chocolate, and berry fruit. 
With liquid confidence surging through my veins, I turned into little miss social butterfly and found another two drinking and oyster-slurping buddies in the sweet and hilarious Sarah from the blog Metamorphocity (which I highly recommend reading!) and her friend and analogue photographer Emma. We shared restaurant horrors and recommendations while laughing and sipping on the black label Sauvignon Blanc, which featured a palate of honeydew melon and grapefruit with nuances of zesty citrus (my kinda white!). It was then that my regret over not bringing a +1 subsided, so pleased to have gotten the opportunity to have met such wonderful, like-minded individuals. This is precisely what makes iYellow wine events so unique. I walked into the event nervous and tense, unsure of whether I would feel comfortable flying solo at a wine tasting, and walked out with a skip in my step, feeling confident and inspired, after having such a wonderful time with complete strangers, who in that short amount of time I had learned so much from. I predict that I will become very familiar with the iYellow Wine Cave, eager to attend many more events and tastings in the future! 

Listening To:

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Kitchen Waltz & Thai Chicken Skewers

I used to be one of those people who hated cooking in the kitchen with anybody else. I was that dreaded person who would lose her mind over improperly cut avocados, over-mixed pancake batter, over-cooked chicken, and others getting in my way or invading my space. This possessive kitchen behavior would turn what should have been a pleasant dining experience into the oh-so-sassy "I'm not even hungry anymore." I was a real hoot to cook with, can you tell? 

I remember seeing my parents cook wonderful and far too lavish meals together in the kitchen, gliding between each other, and sharing what little counter space they had with ease as though it was a dance. Had we had a surveillance camera in my kitchen (because everyone has one in their kitchen, right?) I have no doubt that their seamless kitchen waltz would have made quite the performance. A two-step over to the oven. The hustle to get to the sink. The foxtrot to the fridge. I always envied their kitchen dance, so sure that I would never get to tango in my kitchen with a lover, due to my controlling kitchen ways.

It was on a quiet, weeknight evening last winter that I finally got to partake in the kitchen boogie, jive, and jig. It was that night that I knew I had found my kitchen dancing partner in my boyfriend Chris, while undertaking the large job of preparing a slow-cooked, multi-step pulled pork with coleslaw and beans. We swayed, frolic'd, pranced, and twisted our way around Chris' little kitchen, as we carefully prepared what would turn out to be the best pulled pork I've ever had. We haven't stopped our kitchen waltz since! 

Now my concerns in the kitchen are no longer cooperating with others and finding my kitchen dancing buddy, but finding quick and simple meals that Chris and I can prepare together on a whim. We are always talking about interesting food experiences and tastes that we have had, yet when it comes to thinking up meal ideas in a hurry (and sometimes not even in a hurry) we always seem to draw a blank. Just last week we wandered around the grocery store together, wracking our hungry brains for an uncomplicated dinner idea that would utilize the chicken breasts that were on sale that evening. Our struggle to think of a meal idea based around something as simple as chicken made me realize that I need to start arming myself with a repertoire of easy, weeknight meals that require little shopping and can be prepared in a short period of time. Pinterest beware! 

Wanting to build my file of easy, weeknight chicken recipes this week, I came across Williams & Sonoma's recipe for Thai Chicken Satays, which required little preparation, zero grocery shopping (I already had the chicken breasts in the fridge), and took all of 6-8-min to cook! The marinade was a cinch to assemble, merely throwing some of my favourite ingredients (hello ginger, peanut butter, sesame oil, and cilantro!) into a bowl and whisking until combined. What I appreciated about this recipe was that although they suggested marinating the chicken in the fridge for two hours, which I often find unreasonable on a busy weeknight, they also gave the option of marinating outside of the fridge for as little as 10-minutes, perfect for my Tuesday night! I also liked that this recipe is meant to be prepared on the BBQ (oh how I wish I had a BBQ), but they also provided directions for cooking the chicken under the broiler. With my lack of grill, I had to turn to my trusty broiler to cook the chicken, being careful not to overcook. Although the chicken didn't have that wonderful browned appearance that I find so appealing from meats cooked on the grill, it had a big hit of flavour thanks to the marinade and reserved sauce for dipping. The Thai Chicken Skewers were a standout hit, and undoubtably made it into my weeknight meal idea file, as well as a text to Chris declaring "I have found our next delicious and easy chicken recipe!" So Chris, you ready to dance?

On My Mind:
Have you voted for my Butternut Squash Cannelloni recipe for the Great Cream Challenge yet?

Help save our bees and join the March Against Monsanto tomorrow!

Listening To: