Monday, September 1, 2014

Foodie.com: Collecting Perfect Pasta Dishes

While brushing my teeth in the bathroom a couple weeks ago my mom came up to me and rested herself on the doorframe, looking distraught. Worried, I asked her what was wrong. She shook her head, took a big sigh, looked off into the distance and proclaimed "I'm addicted to Pinterest." Well mama bear, you ain't the only one addicted to the image collecting site! I myself can safely say that I have also become addicted to Pinterest, so much so that I have now created a total of 36 boards, and that doesn't include the nine secret boards that I am also collecting. Yes, I am officially a Pinterest hoarder. 

Now, as much as Pinterest has helped me to organize inspiring images and ideas in a easy-to-navigate and clean way, with so many boards on my profile it's become really tricky to organize everything within each collection, particularly when it comes to my recipe collections. Because my Pinterest profile is about more than just recipe collecting (I collect everything from outfits, gift-wrapping, and DIY ideas to images of gorgeous typography and photography) I don't want to clutter up my profile with a ton of different recipe boards. So I simply have a few boards for recipes with very generic titles like "Recipes To Make" and "Sweet," which isn't entirely helpful to my at times OCD ways. 

Enter Foodie.com. Foodie.com is the answer to all of my recipe hoarding dreams. Foodie is another collecting site, but this time specifically for, you guessed it, all things food! Foodie has allowed me to begin breaking down those very broad categories like "Recipes To Make" and "Sweet" into more specific categories like "Perfect Pasta Dishes" and "Gluten Free Desserts," or even "Mom's Birthday Dinner." Although I have just started collecting on my Foodie account, I have already drooled all over myself (well, maybe just a bit of drool) collecting recipes to feature in what will likely become my favourite board, "Perfect Pasta Dishes." This collection of pasta recipes is full of mouth-watering comfort dishes featuring my favourite carb (pasta!) from an array of different recipe sites that I enjoy frequenting, some of which I have made in the past (such as Giada De Laurentiis' Short Ribs with Tagliatelle) and some I am itching to try my hand at. Check out my Perfect Pasta Dishes board for yourself to get inspired and ease your way into the Fall season, and make sure to follow my profile to see all the different recipe boards that I will be creating.

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Foodie.com. All opinions are my own.

Listening To:
Sia - Chandelier

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Toronto Beer Fest 2014

Just as July starts to wind down and August begins to peek its sunny head out, I can't help but begin ticking off my essential summer checklist. My essential summer checklist is a combination of nostalgia-inducing old favourites such as 'visit Centre Island' and "enjoy a picnic in a park," to new favourites like "ride my bike to Belwoods for beers and books" and "attend an outdoor concert." With 2014 being my third year attending the Toronto Festival of Beer, the massive beer-guzzling festival has officially made it onto my essential summer checklist. The festival, which is sponsored by The Beer Store, has become one of those events that is just so quintessentially summer to me. Running around outdoors, day drinking, making new friends, enjoying new experiences; the Toronto Festival of Beer ticks off all the right boxes for a spectacular summer day! 
(From top left) Left Field Brewing; The menu at Left Field Brewing; A festival favourite, Beau's Brewing Co.; The menu at Beau's Brewing Co.
It's crazy to look back on my past Beer Fest entries to see just how much my palate has grown since attending for the first time three years ago. I remember being intimidated by all the different types of beer that at the time I was so unfamiliar with. More than that, I was so overwhelmed by the fact that I hadn't a clue what type of beer I really liked, and was apprehensive about which beers to choose. Would I be judged if I chose a the "wrong" beer? As my taste has grown over the years and beer has played a more prominent role in my daily life (at times too much so), I've learned that the amazing thing about Beer Fest, is that there really isn't a "wrong" beer to choose. Everyone is at the festival to have fun, to learn, and to educate, without judgement. With that being said, although there are really no "wrong" beers to choose from at Beer Fest, there is definitely a right and wrong way of taking part in the Beer Fest experience. 
Me (Danielle Rose) catching major shade from this Bulls fan!
So, how does one do Beer Fest the "right" way? The first thing is to forget all about the beers you've already tried. You've tried them, you've formed an opinion about them, you know where to get them, now move on! Beer Fest is all about introducing yourself to new flavours, but that doesn't mean you should avoid the brewers that you've already tried. Just because you've only ever found one type of beer from a particular brewer at the Beer Store or LCBO doesn't mean that they don't have more to offer. For me, my favourite part about Beer Fest is getting to try all the wacky and unique beers that are hard to find at a liquor store or, even better, are in limited release, meaning that that may be your only chance to try that particular brew. This is particularly true when you venture into the Local Ontario tent, which is always my first stop at the festival (after the Media Tent of course), as I am guaranteed to start off sipping on a winner! 
(From top left) Flying Monkeys Orangemungus Radler; Flying Monkeys beer menu; Great Lakes Brewery; Hop City Brewing.
My favourite brewer for tasting limited released brews is always Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery, who's motto "normal is weird" is clearly represented in their extensive list of offerings at the festival. This year, their tap list was so large that they had to set up two pouring stations in order to feature all sixteen brews, which ranged from a boozy 9.3% ABV to a very light 4% ABV. With quirky names like "Strawberry Beers Forever" and "She Gives Good Hop," you can expect your taste buds to be enlightened with new tastes and big flavours that cater to both new and seasoned beer drinkers. For novice beer drinkers and those who prefer lighter and sweeter beers, Flying Monkeys offers a range of beers that feature fruits like lemons, strawberries, and oranges (orange creamsicle to be exact!) that are low in alcohol percentage. For those who prefer punchier beers with stronger flavours and unique undertones, Flying Monkeys delivers with brews that have notes of hops, fennel, and rye.
(From top left) Hop City Lawn Chair and Sommersby Cider being poured in the Media Tent; Me (Danielle Rose) with some strangers...don't remember this photo being taken; Collective Arts Brewing; Junction Brewery.
Another favourite that I am sure to check as soon as I catch a glimpse of their logo is Beau's All Natural Brewing Co. More than just hipster-looking signage and packaging, Beau's has become a festival favourite thanks to their commitment to quality and use of all-natural ingredients such as certified organic hops and malts and local spring water. Having gone for more heavy-sitting beers with strong hops flavours at last years fest, this year I tended to lean more towards crisp and refreshing beers, which meant I was always on the hunt for the word "saison" at each brew station. Saison is a type of pale ale that is highly carbonated that features fruity and spicy flavours, making it extremely refreshing for a hot summer day. With Kissmeyer Nordic Saison on the menu at Beau's, it wasn't hard for me to choose which of their fantastic options I would try. Brewed with a bouquet of organic sea buckthorn berries and rosehips, as well as an infusion of fresh local rhubarb, Beau's Kissmeyer Nordic Saison offers medium bitterness, along with spicy, floral, and fruity aromas, and finishes slightly fruity, tart, and crisp. 
Me (Danielle Rose) finishing off one of many brews.
Another brew that got points from me for being a great summer beer option, was Granville Island Brewing's Hefeweizen. With aromas of ripe banana, clove, and bready malt notes and flavours of clove, banana, and orange with a medium-body and a dry, crisp finish, Hefeweizen is a great wheat beer to enjoy with rich foods on a hot day. 
Me (Danielle Rose)...I think I've had a bit too much to drink...
When looking for a summer brew that featured more of a rich malt flavour, I turned to Left Field Brewery's Maris Pale Ale. Maris Pale Ale was inspired by Roger Maris, who made history when he beat Babe Ruth's home run record in 1961. With its crisp taste and familiar flavours, Left Field's Maris is reminscent of Roger Maris' straight, and to-the-point ball-playing, that was never flashy or boastful.
(From top left) Red Racer IPA; Red Racer IPA; Me (Danielle Rose) and a stranger...again only vaguely remember taking this photo; Red Racer.
It would be a shame to go to Beer Fest and only taste light and refreshing brews, so I got my hop fix in the form of Red Racer IPA from Central City Brewers and Distillers. Red Racer got my attention...or should I say my redheaded sister and I got their attention, thanks to their striking label featuring a pin-up inspired redhead on a bike, which they called out to us as we almost passed saying "Hey! You're on our label!" Maybe it's narcissism, but I just couldn't turn down a statement like that. I had to give it a try. I loved the intense aroma and long, lingering hops finish from their IPA. 
Me (Danielle Rose) excitedly approaching the Porchetta and Co. tent.
(From top left) Porchetta and Co.; Me (Danielle Rose) devouring my porchetta sandwich; Porchetta sandwich; Me, very pleased with my sandwich.
This is where things get fuzzy, fizzy, and hazy. With all that beer in your system, there are only so many postcards, coasters, and photos that will jog your memory into remembering what stood out at the festival. But of course, I always remember the food! With my sister Justine and I as a team, we love to try several food options throughout the day to allow us to have more tastes than our tummies can take all alone. We started our food journey with a sandwich from Porchetta and Co. Although I have had their delicious, classic porchetta sandwiches before, Justine had not, something I couldn't fathom and had to fix immediately. Just as I was after my first bite, Justine was positively smitten by the juicy layers of pork shoulder, pork belly, and prosciutto mixed in with crunchy crackling and served on an incredibly fresh bun. It was the perfect snack to begin soaking up all that liquor! 
(From top left) Fidel Gastro's Pork Belly Sandwich; Me (Danielle Rose) enjoying another summer brew; The crowd taking in Matthew Good Band; Side Launch Brewing.
Next stop on the food train was one of our festival favourites, Fidel Gastros. Last year we were blown away by Fidel Gastro's Alabama Tailgators, resulting in us each getting several servings to ourselves Although we were disappointed not to see the savoury bites of Alabama Tailgators on the menu this year at the festival, we were happy with getting another pork sandwich in our bellies. We opted to go with their Pork Belly Sandwich that was served on a soft bun with slaw and a drizzle of mayo. Greasy, crispy, and soft perfection. I'm pretty sure that sandwich saved me from abandoning my tickets and going home early. 
(From top left) Hot Bunzz; Me, holding my Hot Bunzz (innuendo unintended, but hilarious!); Lobster and Bison Short Rib Hot Bunzz; Me holding my Hot Bunzz (again, innuendo unintended, but hilarious!).
Our final taste of the day was at Hot Bunzz. I had tried Hot Bunzz last year at TUM and was impressed with their array of savoury fillings, freshly baked in a soft, warm bun. I was eager to try a different flavour this time around and selected a duo of a lobster and Bison short rib Hot Bunzz. The lobster Hot Bunzz was a much welcomed departure from red meat at the festival, and was just as buttery and delightful as I had imagined it would be. I could have easily had two lobster bunzz all to myself!
Me (Danielle Rose) looking like I've had just about enough beer for a century.
Another fantastic Toronto Festival of Beer complete! I can't wait to take on the fest next year with hopes of seeing many new local brewers!

Photography by Justine Rose.

Listening To:
Wild Nothing - Chinatown

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Market Inspired: Tomato & Cream Cheese Tart

Although it states right up there in the title that this a market-inspired dish, it is actually much more of a Food Hack-inspired dish. These past two weeks have felt like the part of my heart and my head where creativity lies have been hooked up to a defibrillator and have been shocked back into gear. It was only a few short weeks ago that I was crying on my boyfriend Chris' balcony, forlorn over what felt the apparent loss of my creativity and motivation. I was standing at a fork in the road with one direction pointing towards a sensible, steady office job, and the other up in the clouds towards this strange foggy dream that I've been chasing, and I was distraught over the fact that I was just about ready to give up the latter. It's a weird and unexplainable fact of life that Florence Welch so eloquently wrote into one of her hit songs: "It's always darkest before the dawn." No, this past month hasn't been my darkest of times, but it's certainly been confusing as hell, as I've tried with all my might to make sense of combining what I want out of my life (creative stimulation, passion, joy, success, freedom) with what I need out of my life (money and stability). 
Life is like opening that stubborn tight-fitting lid on a jar. Right when you're about to give it all up and quit or ask for help, the lid pops loose! And that's exactly what happened with me. Right when I felt so incredibly lost and unsure of myself, opportunity knocked in the form of a contest that had "this is your dream Danielle!" written all over it! The Kraft Food Hacks competition that I wrote a little bit about in my last entry, would be an absolute dream come true. More than a dream, I can see a reality in it. I can see my future in that role, and that alone was the push I needed to get myself back into gear, and feel that spark that I felt I had been missing as of late. 

On Monday night I participated in Round 2 of the competition, a Twitter party/Interview where finalists and other party guests were asked a series of eight food-hack-related questions to test our originality and creativity, engagement and personal presence, and relevancy of our answers to the questions asked. Although it was my very first Twitter party, and it was at first extremely overwhelming, I feel confident that I put my best face forward and maybe (just maybe!) I could be chosen as one of the three finalists to be judged in Round 3. 
With Food Hacks on the brain last night, I could think of nothing else but creating something hack-worthy and delicious with the leftover Homemade Fresh Garlic & Herb Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese that I made for my Peeling Lots of Garlic Hack that I demonstrated in my video submission. I also had beautiful, colourful tomatoes from the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market leftover, as well as some shallots, basil, and puff pastry that needed to go. A match made in heaven! The tart was quick-as-can-be to prepare and came out looking and tasting restaurant-worthy, thanks to the creamy addition of the flavourful cream cheese and the pop of the sweet juice of the market-fresh tomatoes. This food-hack is a definite winner in my books! 

Note: My puff pastry doesn't look quite as "puffed" as it should because the tart was a very last-minute idea, so I had to do a quickie thaw, which affects the rise of the dough.

Ingredients:
1 sheet puff pastry 
125 g Plain Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese (1/2 a package), softened
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp each basil, dill, flat-leaf parsley, green onions, finely chopped
2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
a drizzle of olive oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 tbsp dry white wine
4 leaves fresh basil, chiffonade 
salt and white pepper, to season

Directions:
  1. Stir together the softened cream cheese with the crushed garlic and chopped herbs. Set aside.
  2. Heat a medium-sized pan to medium-low heat. Coat the pan with a drizzle of olive oil. Add the shallots and cook until very soft and translucent. Increase heat to medium and add the white wine. Continue cooking until wine has evaporated. Remove from heat and set aside
  3. Preheat oven to 400º. Roll out the puff pastry to make slightly larger and thinner. Use your discretion.
  4.  Spread the cream cheese over the puff pastry, leaving a 1/2-inch - 3/4-inch border. Season with salt and white pepper. Top evenly with the cooked shallots. Top evenly with the cherry tomatoes and season lightly with salt and white pepper. Bake for 30-minutes or until pastry is puffed and golden. Top with fresh basil and serve immediately. 
Listening To:

Friday, August 8, 2014

Kraft Food Hacks

Hello friends! I have some very exciting news! This past week I participated in a contest that seriously could not have come at a better time, and yesterday I found out that I have been named a finalist! So what is this contest that I am oh so mysteriously alluding to? I am one of the contenders to become Kraft Canada's next Food Hacker! What is a Food Hacker, you ask? A Food Hacker is a savvy individual who knows their way around a kitchen and is able to elevate a meal, perfect a cooking method, or create an epic flavour infusion with ease! This person must also be fluent in the language of social media (*ahem* I already get paid to do that), comfortable and charming in front of the camera (*cough, cough* Theatre school grad right here), be naturally creative (ummm...I may be the only 26-year old I know who still has a craft closet that is the same size as my clothing closet), and have great kitchen skills (why yes, I am a George Brown culinary student).

This opportunity just sounds way too perfect for me, as I am known by my friends and family for being able to create inventive and interesting meal solutions with next to zero resources. I often refer to this as creating "something from nothing." I find myself creating something from nothing on a daily basis, thanks to my hatred of food waste and money-conscious mind, and am so excited to get a chance to show Canada just what I have to offer! Heck, I even food hack-ed my breakfast last weekend when my boyfriend Chris said that he had "absolutely nothing to make" in his kitchen. Let me tell you, "nothing" rarely means "nothing!" There's always something! After a quick rummage around his fridge and cupboards, I whipped up a quickie Hot Dog Bun French Toast topped with fresh peaches, maple syrup, and a dusting of icing sugar! It was delicious! Mission accomplished: Breakfast hacked.
The first round of the competition asked applicants to create a one-minute or less video that demonstrated one of our favourite food hacks, using at least one Kraft ingredient. One of my favourite food hacks was one that I learned from Chef Frank in culinary school, and that is how to peel multiple cloves of garlic all at once without getting sticky, smelly garlic fingers. This hack is effective and quite fun and was a riot to be able to film while making my homemade, fresh garlic and herb cream cheese using Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Of course Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese already makes a delicious Garlic & Herb variety that I often purchase myself, but I love being able to select my own choice of fresh herbs and spices, and really, you can't deny that fresh herbaceous flavour! Check out my video to learn how!

The second round of the competition takes place this Monday evening in the form of a Twitter party (AKA Twitter interview) between the finalists as well as lovely folks such as yourself! The Twitter party will take place between 8:00 - 9:00 PM EST and will require us finalists to answer seven questions within the hour period to demonstrate why we should be the face of Kraft Canada Food Hacks. I am really excited (but also incredibly nervous) for Monday and hope that my readers are able to join in on the fun as well! To be a guest at the Food Hacks Twitter party, click here to learn more and RSVP! Wish me luck!!

To see my own version of Food Hacks that I have been posting on my blog for years, check out my Cheaters Handbook recipes!

Listening To:

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Campbell's Summer Grains

Kelsey Brown of the food blog Happy Yolks
Writing a food blog has it's perks. I have to admit, it feels pretty damn cool to get to sit in media lounges with free wifi and swag; mingle with some of Toronto's top chefs; get to try products before they hit the market; have friends and acquaintances tell me I inspired them to cook something; the list goes on! Yes, there are some wonderful perks, but with any perks in life always comes the downside. My friends always tell me how cool it is that I get invited to so many interesting events in Toronto, and yes, "interesting" is the word to use. Sure, there are some events that are wonderful, educating me and allowing me to meet new and insightful people, but unfortunately for the most part most "media" events kind of suck. 
Fresh Apricot, Jalapeno, Mint Quinoa Salad
The problem with media events is the same problem I had in University, they make you feel like "just a number". They really don't give a crap who you are, other than the fact that you offer them free exposure. To many big companies they look to us bloggers and see "tweets," "Facebook posts." "blog posts," FREE! To sum it up, they basically want to use you. They don't really care about progressing their own brand and learning, or having the blogger walk away with something truly valuable, and the most unfortunate part of that is that many bloggers blog with that very goal in mind. My apologies for my candor, but many bloggers really just want free shit. So you can imagine my skepticism each time I am invited to a "blogger" or "media" event. Why do I continue going you ask? You're not the first. It's just apart of the gig, and despite the bad taste in my mouth that I often walk away with, networking is a very important aspect of trying to get into this very small, but growing industry. 

I felt that same uneasy skepticism about a month ago, as I walked to the St. Lawrence Market Kitchens to participate in Campbell's Canada's Summer Grains Series. How can you blame a gal with a big name like Campbell's on the event, and a young American food blogger as the host? The moment I walked up to the large kitchen doors, the PR team received their first point. Without so much as extending my hand, the PR rep already knew my name, knew my blog, and knew that I am currently in culinary school. Someone did their homework. I was impressed. I walked into the spacious kitchens, surprised that I had not been in this beautiful space as of yet, seeing as I am at St. Lawrence Market almost every weekend. I was greeted by more PR reps, Campbell's reps, and servers who offered me a selection of different spa waters while I mingled with arriving guests. The event scored their second point with me when I saw the attendees. I was apart of a small group of strong, independent woman, most of whom are recipe developers as well, and have already found some success in the industry. I couldn't help but smile knowing that I was selected to be apart of this intimate group. 
Just like me, one of Kelsey's favourite tools in the kitchen is her rasp
Point number 3: I met Kelsey from the blog Happy Yolks. Kelsey would be the American food blogger that Campbell's shipped in from Colorado to develop seven super grain recipes featuring Campbell's broths, as well as host the event. It was the mention of Kelsey in the invite that had me feeling like I was walking into another one of those "bad taste in my mouth" events. I pictured just another freebie-grabbing, disingenuous blogger talking at us for an hour. Had I read Kelsey's blog prior to the event, I would have known just how wrong I was. Oh, how thankful I was that I was so very wrong. Kelsey is one of those women that can light up an entire room with her positive energy, and boy did she ever. I think all of us were completely entranced by this successful, young woman (Kelsey's blog Happy Yolks was one of the finalists in the Best Cooking Blog category in the 2013 Saveur: Best Cooking Blog Awards), who was so incredibly down-to-earth, charming, talented, and made us feel as though we were just hanging out in a friends kitchen. Though she was younger than I, I had found a new inspiration in Kelsey. Kelsey's passion for cooking was clear in her delivery, as she demonstrated how to make three of the seven recipes she had developed for Campbell's
"It was SO refreshing to work with talented and inpsiring women who are less interested in the BUY BUY BUY message and focus on the LET'S ALL EAT WELL message." - Kelsey Brown of Happy Yolks, describing why she took part in Campbell's Summer Grains Series
Point number 4: The recipes rocked. With one summer grain side for every day of the week, I could actually see myself making each and every one of the beautifully colourful and flavourful recipes that Kelsey had created, featuring ancient grains and Campbell's. Having been previously out-of-the-loop when it came to ancient grains, other than the oh-so-popular quinoa of course, it was really beneficial for me to learn just how simple it is to prepare these different healthy grains. What really caught my attention was learning how easily digestible and healthy ancient grains are. Although I have had issues with digesting gluten and wheat in the past, that hasn't stopped me from eating all of my favourite carb-heavy foods. So learning about how I could substitute ancient grains for many of the hard-on-the-body grains that I was familiar with, was wonderful for me. 
Farro Caprese Salad
Although I truly enjoyed all of the summer sides that Kelsey had created, you must know by now that I always have my favourites. My first standout summer grain side was the Fresh Apricot, Jalapeno, Mint Quinoa Salad, and was actually the first recipe of the day that I chose to recreate in my own kitchen. I loved how simple this recipe was to make, as well as the contrast of the sweet and juicy apricots with the spicy bites of jalapeno, and the bright and fresh tasting mint. My second standout of the day was Roasted Spring Carrots Over Herbed Kamut with Horseradish Yogurt Sauce. I really liked the almost "al-dente" bite that the kamut gave to the dish, allowing it to standup to the zesty horseradish flavour and the texture of the whole roasted carrots. I also appreciated that Kelsey chose to utilize the slightly-bitter carrot top greens by incorporating that into the dish. My third standout was Shaved Fennel, Orange, Candied Pecans, and Toasted Millet. The slices of orange added a fantastic juicy freshness to the dish, and was a wonderful accompaniment to the crunchy and sweet candied pecans, and balanced by the thinly sliced fennel and red onion. It's also worth noting, that this was also the most beautifully-plated of all the dishes.

I was so glad that my initial skepticism didn't keep me away from this event. It's well-planned and executed events like this that restore my faith in this crazy food blogging scene that I've found myself in. I now have seven easy, go-to recipes that I can make for myself as well as for entertaining, that I know will leave me and my guests satisfied and happy, not to mention I walked away feeling so incredibly inspired by this bright new blogger. I encourage you to find your favourite Campbell's Summer Grain side to recreate in your own home, as well as check out Kelsey's blog Happy Yolks for yourself. I'm not just saying this, but Happy Yolks has actually become one of my new favourite blogs thanks to Kelsey's beautifully written and insightful posts, gorgeous photography, and unique recipes. I'm in the middle of a bit of a soul-searching expedition at the moment, laying awake each night wondering "who am I?", "what do I want?", "where do I want to go?" and Kelsey's blog was just the answer I needed to guide me through this confusing, yet thrilling faze of my life. I hope you find it as inspiring as I did. 
Kelsey's Fresh Apricot, Jalapeno, Mint Quinoa Salad recipe recreated in my own kitchen
  • Check out the seven Summer Grain recipes that Kelsey developed for Campbell's Canada here.
  • Check out Kelsey's gorgeous blog Happy Yolks here.  
Listening To:

Monday, July 28, 2014

Market Inspired: Balsamic-Macerated Strawberry Shortcakes

Nothings marks the beginning of summer than quarts of fresh-picked, Ontario strawberries at the farmers market. Though peaches have got to be my number-one most anticipated fruit of the summer, there's something about the arrival of strawberries that always seems to turn me into a giddy school girl. Perhaps it's the fact that strawberries remain in the grocery store all year long, tempting me with their vibrant red colour and monstrous size, only to let me down each time with its crunchy texture (strawberries are not meant to be crunchy!) and tasteless flavour. Perhaps its the sentiment of being reminded of childhood summers picking strawberries at St. Andrews Acres with my mom. More than anything, I'm sure it's because strawberries always seem to be the first guest in attendance at Summer's "Welcome Back" party. The arrival of strawberries means the arrival of Ontario's superb summer bounty, and reminds us of the raspberries, cherries, peaches, and pears to come. 
I got so excited at the sight of Ontario strawberries at the first week of the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market that although I had planned on taking home different goods each week, I just couldn't help myself from taking home strawberries for at least six weeks in a row! Each week I would purchase a quart (or two!) from the lovely duo manning the Bizjak Farms tent and would chat with them about all the delicious desserts I had planned on making with my strawberry haul. Upon my return at the Bizjak Farms tent each week for more strawberries, I was always asked what I had ended up making with all those strawberries, only to be faced with the same answer each week, "I just ate them all out of the quart! They were too good to bake with!" And they were. Those juicy, bright red, little strawberries were so incredible on their own, I couldn't even think of manipulating them into the pies, cakes, and tarts that I had previously been so eager to make. 
As the rows and rows of strawberries began to dwindle in the past few weeks at the market, I knew my opportunity to create a market-inspired strawberry recipe was going to pass me by if I didn't do something quick! Not wanting to destroy the great fresh flavour of the fresh in-season strawberries, I decided to make very simple strawberry shortcakes using a recipe for Classic Strawberry Shortcakes I had found on the Williams-Sonoma website, which would allow me to feature strawberries as the star of the dessert, without sacrificing their fresh-picked flavour. Though I love the simple flavours in classic strawberry shortcakes, I wanted to kick the recipe up a bit and give it a more complex flavour, ultimately adding depth to a traditionally very uncomplicated dish. To achieve the depth of flavour that I had in mind, I decided to cut back on the amount of sugar that is generally used to macerate the strawberries (softening them and releasing their sweet juices), and instead just use a sprinkle and allow the powers of very good quality balsamic vinegar to soften the strawberries and release their juices to create a tangy balsamic-strawberry juice. The strawberry shortcakes turned out fantastic, and turned out to be the perfect dish to allow Ontario strawberries to shine like the star that they are! 

Visit the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market website for more details.

Note: I chose to cut the strawberries in half as opposed to in 1/4-inch slices because I wanted to manipulate the strawberries as little as possible. If you prefer, you may cut into slices.

* Turbinado sugar is a large-granulated, raw, brown sugar that adds a nice little crunch to the top of the shortcakes.

** I turned out the dough and formed into a rectangle, and cut the dough into six even squares. I found the shortcakes to be a little tougher in texture than I had hoped, so I would suggest using the ice cream scoop method to achieve the fluffiest shortcakes. 

Recipe slightly adapted from Williams-Sonoma
Ingredients:
For the shortcakes:
1 2/3 cup flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
3/4 tsp salt
8 tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
about 2 tbsp milk (optional)
about 1 tbsp turbinado sugar (optional) *
For the strawberries:
4 cups strawberries, hulled & cut in half, keeping small strawberries whole
1 tbsp sugar
enough balsamic vinegar to coat strawberries
For the whipped cream:
3/4 cup heavy cream, well chilled
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:
  1. To make the shortcakes, preheat the oven to 400º. 
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt until well blended. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the pieces are no larger than peas. Add the buttermilk and vanilla and gently toss with a fork or rubber spatula until the flour is just moistened and the ingredients are just blended. Do not over-mix.
  3. At this point you may either turn out the shaggy dough onto a well-floured surface and form into a rectangle, to be cut into six even squares/rectangles and placed on an ungreased non-stick baking sheet OR you may use a quick-release ice cream scoop and scoop out the dough onto an ungreased non-stick baking sheet, making sure to space the shortcakes well-apart.** Brush the tops of the shortcakes with milk and sprinkle generously with the turbinado sugar. Bake until puffed and golden for about 15-18 minutes. 
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the strawberries. In a bowl toss together the strawberries with the sugar and balsamic vinegar. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator until ready to serve.
  5. To make the whipped cream, pour the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla into a bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form and the cream is billowy, about 2 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, for up to two hours.
  6. To serve, carefully cut the shortcakes in half horizontally and place the bottom halves facing-up on serving dishes. Evenly spoon over the strawberries and the balsamic-strawberry juice. Top evenly with whipped cream, and place the top piece of the shortcake on top. Serve immediately.
Listening To:

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.
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