Wednesday, May 11, 2016

All You Need Is Cheese Poutine

If you had a chance to read my previous post on my experience at the Grate Canadian Cheese Cook-Off last month, you'll understand just how lucky we are in Canada are to have such a wide range of different types of cheese produced right here in our own beautiful country. Though Canada produces around 1000 different types of 100% Canadian cheese, there is one type that has become somewhat iconic with Canadian food culture, and that would be the humble cheese curd.

Cheese curds are the solid parts of soured milk, which yes, makes them sound grossly unappetizing, but if you've ever tasted cheese curds, you'll know just how wonderful they truly are. With their firm texture that gives way to a delightful "squeak" when bitten into, and their meltability when heated, cheese curds are totally addictive when eaten on their own, but become something both magical and completely gluttonous when paired, as they traditionally are here in Canada, with crispy french fries and hot-from-the-stove gravy to make poutine.

Upon leaving the Grate Canadian Cheese Cook-Off, I was thrilled to discover a fresh package of cheese curds from the Cheese Boutique in my generous swag bag. I have always wanted to make poutine from scratch, but for whatever reason had not previously attempted to make the Quebec classic. With beautiful, high-quality curds from Toronto's favourite cheese shop on hand, it was time to make poutine from scratch.
Remember, the squeakiest curds are the freshest curds, so be sure to eat them the day they were made!
Because I have a bit of a fear of frying on my stove-top, and because I wanted to make this dish sliiightly less gluttonous, I chose to bake my fries in the oven. Even though my fries were oven-baked, I wanted them to get nice and crisp as though they were fried. In order to achieve the optimum amount of crispiness I soaked my cut fries in cold water (and a pinch of a sugar for extra sweetness) for 30-minutes to allow some of the starch from the potatoes to sink to the bottom of the water. I rinsed the soaked potatoes to remove any excess starch, and dried them as much as I possibly could with clean kitchen towels. A quick toss with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and a bit of paprika and my fries were ready to hit the parchment-lined pan and go into the hot oven.

While my fries were baking, I whipped up Chuck Hughes easy homemade poutine gravy. Though Chuck recommends using a good-quality veal stock, I only had beef stock on hand, which proved to be a great alternative! With the addition of chopped shallots, garlic, ketchup, cider vinegar, peppercorns, and Worcestershire sauce, Chuck's gravy had a great full flavour and a good spoon-coating texture that would grip the fries and cheese curds nicely.

I was so happy with how my first attempt at homemade poutine turned out! The gravy was so much easier than I ever thought it would be (and turned out so tasty!), and the cheese curds were just plain glorious! Though poutine isn't exactly an every-day kind of dish, it was such a nice treat to get to indulge in, especially with the satisfaction of knowing I made it all by myself!

Click here to get Chuck Hughes recipe for Chuck's Awesome Poutine

Let me know how you liked the recipe! Tweet me on Twitter: @thisgingerrose.

Listening To:
Radiohead - Daydreaming 
This album!!! SO GOOD!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Grate Canadian Cheese Cook-Off - Mac & Cheese Edition

Chef Thompson, Chef Feswick, Chef Farrell, and Chef Gomes with their mac & cheese creations. Photo courtesy of DDB PR. 
I have a weakness for both cheese and puns, so it would come as no surprise that even though I'm not always the biggest fan of media events, I couldn't help but reply with an enthusiastic "YES!" when invited to attend the Grate Canadian Cheese Cook-Off last month. The competition, which was apart of the Toronto Food & Drink Market, pitted four top chefs, each from different parts of Canada, against one another to create the ultimate Canadian mac and cheese. 

With last years winner of the Grate Canadian Cheese Cook-Off, Chef Andrew Farrell, participating once again, as well as a Top Chef Canada participant, Chef Nicole Gomes, in the competition, the stakes were high for who would receive the coveted Cheese Grater Award. Former Second City member and current home economist Mairlyn Smith was our host for the afternoon, guiding us through the competition as we watched first Chef Andrew Farrell (2 Doors Down Food & Wine - Halifax, NS) and Chef Thompson Tran (The Wooden Boat - Port Moody, BC) go head-to-head with only 30-minutes to make their mac and cheese, followed by Chef Nicole Gomes (Nicole Gourmet - Calgary , AB) and Chef Alexandra Feswick (The Drake Hotel - Toronto, ON). 
Chef Nicole Gomes and Chef Alexandra Feswick working on their mac & cheese.
It was great to get to see the chefs in action and hear all about the inspiration behind each of their dishes. While the chefs scurried around the kitchen, we were introduced to the judges of the competition, Afrim Pristine (owner of the Cheese Boutique, which Mairlyn Smith so lovingly called "like a sex shop but for cheese"), Vanessa Simmons (Cheese Sommelier at Savvy Company), Georgs Kolesnikovs (of cheeselover.ca and the Great Canadian Cheese Festival), and Rita DeMontis (Sun Media Food Editor). It was clear to see the judges passion for Canadian cheese as they told us all about their favourite Canadian cheeses, what they love about Canadian cheese, and what they would be looking for in the ultimate mac and cheese. 

So what is it that makes Canadian cheese so great? Afrim Pristine had the best response to that question, talking about the amazing versatility and extremely wide variety of fantastic cheese that we produce here in Canada. Sure there are other parts of the world that produce great cheese, but often it's only a select few cheeses that they produce, while here in Canada we produce around 1000 types of 100% Canadian cheese! It was only fitting to compete for the ultimate mac and cheese seeing as Canadian's eat more mac and cheese per person than any other country in the world! I guess we really love our cheese! Unsurprisingly, when I asked the judges what their number one mac and cheese faux pas would be, they all agreed "not enough cheese!" They also commented on their distaste for runny sauce, not enough variety of cheese (a great mac and cheese should have more than one type of cheese), soggy noodles, and cheese not being the main flavour of the dish. 
Chef Nicole Gome's Apple Beer Mac & Cheese
With those things in mind, the chefs confidently brought their final mac and cheese creations up to the judges to critique. Chef Andrew Farrell created a Smoky Cauli-Power Mac & Cheese with a cauliflower sauce, aged cheddar cheese and blue cheese, and topped with crispy roasted cauliflower, cremini mushrooms, and panko breadcrumbs. Chef Thompson Tran created a Cod You Believe It's Shmoked Mac n' Cheese with smoked BC black cod (to highlight BC's abundance of fresh sustainable seafood), truffle oil, serrano chili peppers, chopped cabbage, tarragon, and Emmental and aged cheddar. Chef Nicole Gomes created an Apple Beer Mac & Cheese with strong IPA beer, grated golden delicious apples, a crispy panko topping, and five different Canadian cheeses, which included Black River Medium Cheddar, Muenster, Gunn's Hill Five Brothers, Sylvan Star Smoked Gouda, and Raclette. Chef Alexandra Feswick created a Nutty Home-Style Mac & Cheese with Jerusalem artichokes, beech mushrooms, a crispy panko, sage, Alpindon cheese, and hazelnut topping, as well as four other cheeses in the sauce, which included aged cheddar, Niagara Gold, Blue d'Elizabeth, and more Alpindon.

Though all of the chefs final dishes no doubt wowed the judges (I was conveniently sitting right next to them and was eavesdropping the whole time!) there could be only one winner. With her focus on comfort, her wide variety of Canadian cheese, and fantastic flavour and texture, Chef Alexandra Feswick's Nutty Home-Style Mac & Cheese was the winner of the competition! Being a newbie-fan to Jerusalem artichokes, I personally had a soft spot for Chef Feswick's mac and cheese, and was hoping she would win. Though Chef Feswick's mac and cheese was my favourite of the day, the other three followed very close behind! 
Chef Alexandra Feswick with her winning mac & cheese creation. Photo courtesy of DDB PR.
What I really loved about all four dishes was how imaginative they each were, featuring unusual ingredients that you often wouldn't find in mac and cheese. I love seeing these unusual and gourmet flavours in mac and cheese like this because it's such a great way of inspiring parents to look beyond the traditional mac and cheese. Adding these bold and unfamiliar flavours to something that is very familiar with childen, mac and cheese, is such a great way to introduce new flavours to your kids! You may not be able to get your child to eat something like black cod or Jerusalem artichokes, but I bet you'll have a way better chance when you hide them in their favourite cheesy pasta dish! 

As I stated previously, I don't always love media events, but I was so glad that I attended this one! I felt like I really learned a lot from all of the chefs and judges, not only about mac and cheese, but Canadian cheese in general. I walked away with so much new knowledge, a folder full of all of the participating chefs mac and cheese recipes, and a package of squeaky Cheese Boutique cheese curds for my own enjoyment! My love affair with cheese continues on...

To check out all four mac and cheese recipes from the competition visit dairygoodness.ca.

Listening To:
Nothing but Beyoncé Lemonade for the next month

Monday, April 11, 2016

Raspberry Ricotta Crepes

We take food very seriously in our household. We don't skip meals, we rarely cut corners with prepared foods, we take pride in bringing delicious and unique meals to our table on a regular basis, and we top it all off with some of the very best ingredients. 

Ok, I know what some of you are thinking...I sound like a bit of a food snob (cringe!). Food snobs are the WORST, I know, but in this particular instance, I feel like 'food snob' may just be a euphemism for food enthusiast, am I right? So maybe I like to have $8 fermented, cultured, grass-fed butter in my fridge, $9 boxes of flaked sea salt from England in my cupboard, and the occasional $7 loaf of organic cilantro and olive bread made in the traditional French method on my counter. I see that all as just being someone with an appreciation for excellent food! Don't get me wrong, we're certainly not buying organics and speciality foods all the time, but there are just some products that I consider essentials (ie. bread, butter, and salt) that can completely transform the way you eat every single day. 

There are some products that aren't even considered "specialty" or "gourmet" and have a low price-point that we have become very accustomed to, such as jam. Though we've tried many local jams made from Mennonites, certified organic, with low-sugar and all those other buzzwords that I need not waste time typing, we love to have plain ol' Smuckers Raspberry Jam in our fridge at all times for spreading on toast. So a few weeks ago when our Smuckers Raspberry Jam supply was running low, and there was none on sale, I took a risk and purchased an on-sale, grocery store-branded jam with low-pectin that I was so sure would be just as great as our beloved Smuckers. To put it simply, I was wrong. It just wasn't the same. So with a fridge full of rejected jams (including those organic, local, Mennonite-made jams from many moons ago) I began brainstorming different recipes that would allow me to use up these "rejected jams" in ways other than spreading on toast. 

With a container of ricotta cheese begging to be used up, as well as some ruby red raspberries, I dreamt up a quick and simple recipe for Raspberry Ricotta Crepes that would allow me to use up more than just my low-pectin jam in a delicious and satisfying way! 
Why didn't I post ingredient quantities for the filling?
I've started posting recipes that do not include exact ingredient quantities to allow you to get the experience with winging it in the kitchen. I want you to have the confidence to be able to season and taste on your own with just the ingredients as a guide. I'm hoping that this will encourage you to go out of your comfort zone and experiment based on what you have. Not listing exact amounts for the ingredients will hopefully make you realize that recipes are not set in stone. Don't have raspberries on hand? How about strawberries? Play with recipes based on what you have on hand already! Yes, the success of many baked recipes comes down to science, but with practice and a some basic food knowledge you'll be able to play around with those recipes as well. 

I also didn't include ingredient amounts for this particular recipe because I didn't fill all of my crepes with the raspberry and ricotta filling. I just made a single serving for myself, meaning I had lots of crepe batter leftover. I like to keep any unused crepe batter in my fridge for a few days to allow me to whip up quick and tasty meals with ease, once again using up whatever I have on hand. One of my go-to's for leftover crepe batter is a simple ham and cheese crepe that, with the batter already prepared, takes less than five-minutes to get on the table! 

Ingredients:
Crepes
1 cup milk
3/4 cup flour
3 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
Filling
ricotta
lemon zest
icing sugar
raspberry jam
fresh raspberries

Directions:
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together milk, flour, eggs, vegetable oil, sugar, and salt. Cover and chill for 1-hour.
  2. In a small bowl stir together ricotta with some lemon zest. Sweeten to taste with icing sugar. 
  3. Set a small crepe pan or non-stick pan to medium heat. Lightly spray pan with cooking spray and add about 1/3-cup crepe batter and swirl pan so that batter spreads evenly. When the top of the crepe begins to look matte and is no longer wet, flip crepe and turn off heat. With the crepe still in the pan, add about 3-Tbsp of the ricotta mixture to half of the crepe, and drizzle in about 1-2 Tbsp raspberry jam. Fold crepe and serve immediately with fresh raspberries on top. Repeat with remaining crepes. 
Listening To:

Monday, April 4, 2016

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Oh joy! Spring has arrived! Or...has it? There's a thick blanket of snow on my balcony and a chill in the air. Excuse my language, but what the f**k?!?! I guess there's nothing left to do but embrace what little time we have left of soup weather by indulging in a cheese-and-cream-filled soup. Enter Broccoli Cheddar Soup, one of my favourite excuses for eating melted cheese. Some soups I get sick of after the first bowl, but Broccoli Cheddar, I could eat that shit for days on end! It's just so comforting, hearty, and stick-to-your-ribs-delicious that I don't think I could ever get sick of it.
You can always add but you can never take away!
Though I've listed ingredient amounts with this recipe, I encourage you to forget about your measuring cups and spoons and just eyeball everything. Soups are so incredibly forgiving and are a great way to practice your improvised cooking skills. It's all about adding little bits at a time, tasting as you go, and remembering the golden rule of "you can always add, but you can never take away."

Tweet me @thisgingerrose to let me know what you thought of my recipe, or tag a photo of your soup on Instagram @gingerrosefood
Remember:
- Why do we cut our vegetables into the same size? So they cook at the same time! 
- Soups are so forgiving, so ingredient amounts can be flexible based on what you have. You can also play around with using other vegetables that you have on hand such as carrots and celery.

* If your soup tastes like it's missing something ask yourself is it salt? Pepper? If it's not salt and pepper, it's likely that it's missing some acid. Try stirring in a little bit of fresh lemon juice and see if that does the trick! 

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 dried bay leaf
4 heads of broccoli, chopped into 1-inch pieces
2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces
3 Tbsp sour cream
3/4 cup half-and-half cream
salt & pepper to season (preferably white pepper)
cheddar cheese, grated, to garnish (optional)
soup cream, to garnish (optional)
walnuts, toasted, chopped, to garnish (optional)

Directions:
  1. In a large pot or dutch oven set to medium-heat, heat butter and olive oil. Add onion and cook until softened and translucent. Add garlic and cook, while stirring, for 30-seconds. 
  2. Add stock, bay leaf, broccoli, and potatoes and cook for about 30-minutes or until broccoli and potatoes are very tender. Let cool.
  3. Remove bay leaf and discard. Pour soup mixture into the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Pour back into pot along with cream and re-heat. Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper. Stir in sour cream. Taste and season once again, if needed*. 
  4. Serve immediately garnished with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, and chopped walnuts, or refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Cocoa & Raspberry Chia Seed Pudding

Image by me, Danielle Rose
We all have that number one insecurity that always seems to be lurking behind you any time you start to feel confident in yourself. For myself that number one insecurity has been my skin. Ever since high school and especially in university I have suffered from acne. Though it's had it's ups and downs with deep, dark, scary downs in university that often left me feeling such extreme self hate that I wouldn't want to leave my bedroom. I would fake sick just so I wouldn't have to go to work and have the beautiful people I worked with see my embarrassing skin. I would keep my head down in lectures to try to cover my face with my hair so no one would have to see my face. I remember bursting into tears while catching a glimpse of my reflection while out at a restaurant with my mom because I thought I looked like a monster. As extreme as this all sounds, and though my skin has drastically improved, I still have those days where I feel like a monster. 
Image by me, Danielle Rose
Through the many ups and downs with my skin I've learned that much of my skin issues have to do with my diet. Of course there's the obvious food no-no's for having clear skin like reducing the amount of alcohol I consume (thank goodness I hardly drink at all) as well as greasy and fried foods (damn, I love those!), but what I didn't realize was affecting my skin so much was dairy. Now if you know me at all you will know that cheese is my secret lover. We have had a passionate affair since I first tasted it and I refuse to ever let go. So if I'm going to be keeping my dear cheese present in my daily life, I'm going to have to be extra diligent about reducing all the other dairy I consume. 

With a new healthy diet on my mind since, you guessed it, January, I've been trying to curb my late afternoon foodie cravings each day with a yogurt and granola bowl as a way of upping my fruit intake as well as delivering other great health benefits such as probiotics, chia seeds, flax, and more. Though those yogurt and granola bowls were awesome for keeping me satiated throughout the day and gave me a great boost of energy, my skin was not happy with having all this dairy in my system. I started breaking out like crazy igniting the awful pattern of self hate that I'm all too familiar with.
Image by me, Danielle Rose
Thanks to my savvy Pinterest hunting, I was able to come up with an alternative to my fruit and yogurt bowls in the form of chia seed pudding. I have kept a steady supply of chia seeds in my kitchen ever since I first learned about its incredible health benefits, which include being packed with antioxidants, fibre, protein, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Completely flavourless and very tiny, chia seeds have been great for shaking into salads, onto my yogurt bowls, in smoothies, and so much more. More than just a garnish for adding a hit of nutrients, chia seeds are also fantastic thanks to their texture when moistened. Chia seeds are a lifesaver for vegans, as they are a fantastic egg substitute when stirred with some water and left to rest. When moistened, chia seeds expand and take on an almost gelatinous texture, giving them the ability to bind many different foods. The binding properties in chia seeds make them the magic ingredient in creating a vegan pudding, ie. chia seed pudding.
Photograph by Kristi Giambattista
Because chia seeds have no flavour, they are a wonderful base for pudding, allowing you to get creative and play around with different flavours. This time, inspired by a recipe by Minimalist Baker, I chose to make a cocoa flavoured chia pudding, seasoned with cinnamon, a little bit of sea salt, and a touch of maple syrup for sweetness. Chia seed pudding is insanely easy to make, just stir and let rest, that's it! It's ease of preparation means you can whip up a big batch on a weeknight and spoon them into individual jars, topped as you wish, so you can have a variation of chia puddings each day, all week long! Though it may not be quite as creamy and decadent as a traditional pudding, it certainly satisfies a craving for pudding thanks to the delicious combination of chocolate, cinnamon, raspberries, and coconut. I love that I can still have my easy and healthy afternoon treat each day, without worrying about how it will affect my skin. Give my chia pudding a try and let me know on Twitter if I've made you a chia convert. Tweet me: @thisgingerrose. 

The above image was photographed by the talented Kristi Giambattista. Check out more of Kristi's work on her website!

Recipe adapted from Minimalist Baker
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups almond milk (I used Vanilla flavoured)
1/3 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup cocoa powder (I use Valrhona cocoa powder)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp sea salt
agave syrup or maple syrup to taste (because I used the Vanilla flavoured almond milk, I didn't need to add much additional sweetness)
fresh raspberries
toasted coconut, for garnish
chocolate curls, for garnish

Directions:
  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together almond milk, chia seeds, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk vigorously until well combined and no lumps remain.
  2. Taste and season with agave or maple syrup and additional cinnamon and vanilla, if needed. Stir to combine.
  3. Transfer to a jar and chill for at least 3-5 hours, preferably overnight.
  4. Spoon desired amount into a jar or serving dish. Top with fresh raspberries, toasted coconut, and chocolate curls and enjoy! 
Listening To:

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Asparagus Prosciutto & Ricotta Crostini with Arugula

My Opa (my grandfather) has sold his home and is moving in less than a month. Besides the many photo albums, fancy barware, and furniture that needs to be cleared from his home, is much of my immediate family's belongings. When we sold our family home almost four years ago, there were so many special treasures that we wanted to keep but had no room to store in our new tiny apartment. Alas, my poor Oma and Opa were left with a basement full of all our old memories (which may be a euphemism for "old junk") until we could figure out what to do with it all. Though we still haven't a clue what to do with all of our old mementos, the time has come to take it all back, which inevitably means a nostalgic walk down memory lane. 

Each time I see my mom I get a delivery of some of my old memories (*cough* junk!) for me to sort through and store in my own home. Though there's surely been a lot of useless crap that I've come across that I haven't a clue why I ever saved, there have been some really memorable and personal belongings that I'm so, so glad I held onto (or my mom coerced me to hold onto). The most special boxes I've come across so far are the ones that contain old sketchbooks! 
For as long as I can remember I have kept a sketchbook. Actually, I should correct that to for as long as I can remember I have kept numerous sketchbooks! I always have one for concentrated illustration, one for practicing my handwriting, one for scrapbooking, one for a journal, one for recipes, one for brainstorming, one for painting, one for - oh dear lord, there's too many to count, and you get the gist! The point is, I clearly have too many sketchbooks for my own good, but my sketchbooks are the main destination where I get to express myself in whichever way I so choose. Coming across an old sketchbook from University, when I first began my blog, was really interesting. Tucked between carefully-written song lyrics (so emo!) and drawings of quirky villains were brainstorming sketches of future recipes. 
It was so amazing to be able to look back on the many different recipe and flavour combinations that I had come up with while my blog was still so new and fresh. Some of them turned into great blog posts and recipes that I've shared right here, though so many of them have remained just a dream. Looking back, I can't help but want to kick myself for never making so many of these fantastic recipe ideas a reality! Though I can't turn back time, I can catch up by reigniting my inspiration for recipe development by making all of my old recipes concepts a reality! 

One of my old recipe concepts that I was really eager to create was a crostini topped with ricotta, roasted asparagus, prosciutto, and arugula. I could tell just by reading it that it was going to be great! I love this combination of ingredients for the way all of the different flavours and textures contrast with one another. I love how the creamy and subtle ricotta plays off of the super salty prosciutto, crunchy asparagus, and peppery arugula. These crostini made the perfect casual weekend lunch for my boyfriend Chris and I, though thanks to there beautiful appearance, these would also be fantastic served for guests! If you plan on serving these for friends and family when entertaining, I recommend making the ricotta mixture in advance and keeping in the fridge until ready to assemble so that you can whip these up in under 10 minutes when ready to serve! 
Note: I chose not to include ingredient amounts in this recipe to encourage you to learn how to taste and season on your own and be able to adapt this recipe from a lunch for two to a party for 10! 
Ingredients:
ricotta
lemon zest
asparagus, trimmed
good quality bread (I like to use either a multigrain or light rye loaf from Stonemill Bakehouse), sliced thin
prosciutto
arugula
good quality extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to season
Maldon Salt, to taste (optional)

Directions:
  1. In a small bowl, stir together ricotta (you will need about 1-Tbsp/crostini) with some fresh lemon zest (about 1-pinch/crostini) and some salt and pepper to taste. Keep covered in fridge until ready to assemble. 
  2. Lay asparagus (2 spears per crostini) on a toaster oven-sized baking sheet and drizzle lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast at 350º in a toaster oven until tender (about 5-10 minutes). Cut each spear in half and set aside.
  3. Toast bread until crisp and golden. 
  4. In a small bowl lightly toss a handful of arugula with a very light drizzle of olive oil. 
  5. Spread each toast evenly with ricotta. Top with asparagus and then a slice of prosciutto. Top with arugula and drizzle lightly with good quality olive oil and a light sprinkle of Maldon Salt. Serve immediately. 
Listening To:

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Arugula & Egg Salad Crostini & How To Get Excited About Choosing "Yes" Foods

You know how every few months I go on a "health-kick" and write about 3-5 posts on my new healthy lifestyle, just to post about how I gorged on pie right after? Yeah, I'm right in the middle of one of those. 

While this may seem to be just another repeat of the same somewhat toxic pattern of healthy vs. unhealthy eating that I've gone through more times than I can count, what sets this time apart is my expectations of myself and my perspective. Previously whenever I would begin a new health kick, I would start by cutting out the bad foods, the foods that were absolute no-no's for my new diet. That, my friends, would be mistake number one. Instead of taking the time to focus on the "no" foods, I should have changed my perspective to get excited about all of the vibrant and flavourful "yes" foods that I was opening up my palate to! How could I ever expect to keep up a healthy diet with such a negative perspective? The trick I've found is to find new ways to get excited about all of those yes foods! 

So how does one get excited about clean eating? I mean, kale and lentils aren't exactly the most thrilling ingredients on paper, so what can we do to encourage ourselves to reach for ingredients that aren't hanging out at the "cool table" as opposed to the easy, ready-to-eat, big flavour bombs that can satisfy in seconds? I believe that for many people, myself included, the key to getting excited about healthy eating is all about convenience and building flavour. 

The only way that I can keep up a healthy diet is by having healthy, flavour-building ingredients right at my fingertips every single day. Sure, that maybe means taking an extra trip to the grocery store each week to stock up on fresh items like leafy greens, fruit, vegetables, and protein, but there are also so many other ingredients that you can keep  for months in your pantry or your freezer that can help to layer flavour for healthy meals and snacks. Nuts, seeds, dried fruit, coconut, oils, dried herbs,  spices, mustards, and more are all fantastic ingredients for adding a big punch of flavour and texture to a dish in mere seconds! 

I like to take the time at the start of each week to toast up a batch of mixed nuts and coconut to store in airtight containers to have on hand all week to dress up salads, yogurt and chia seeds bowls, soups, stir-fry's and more! Think about it, are you really going to choose a plain mixed green salad that will still take at least seven-minutes to prepare over a juicy and hot burger that you can pay $1.99 for and have ready in less than 2-minutes? If you have those healthy and flavourful ingredients prepped and on hand that can turn that bland mixed green salad into something spectacular, you just might! My go-to quickie salad has become greens tossed in a homemade dressing (prepped in advance) with toasted mixed nuts, dried cranberries and figs, homemade croutons (prepped in advance) and some sort of fruit (apples, mandarin oranges, and berries are all great options!).

This weekend when a late afternoon hunger storm hit my belly, I was tempted to rush out and grab my favourite $2.99 bacon and cheddar perogies with sour cream at the local Hungarian takeout joint. Just as I was about to reach for my coat to give in to the temptation of sautéed bacon, potatoes, and onions, I remembered all that prep I had previously done in the week and realized that I already had a fantastic lunch in the works! With pre-boiled eggs in the fridge, as well as some arugula, and green onions, I could see how easily I could have a delicious lunch ready in less time than it would take me to go out and purchase pre-made perogies. No, an egg salad sandwich doesn't sound as appetizing as bacon and cheddar perogies slathered with sour cream, but an an egg salad crostini with Koslik's Triple Crunch Mustard, and green onions, topped lightly dressed arugula, extra virgin olive oil, fresh-cracked pepper, and Maldon salt sounds pretty freaking wonderful if you ask me! Again, it's all about building the flavour! 

I began with delicious Prince Edward County Rye bread and spread some rich grass-fed butter on top to prevent any sogginess from the egg salad. The egg salad was seasoned to perfection with more than just salt and pepper, but with Koslik's Triple Crunch Mustard, mayonnaise, and green onions. The arugula garnish was given the same amount of care as the rest of the dish, by being tossed in a light lemon vinaigrette (literally just lemon and olive oil with salt and pepper). The whole dish was finished off with a little bit more fresh cracked pepper, Maldon Salt (a crystallized finishing salt that provides both texture and a "clean" salt flavour), and a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. As you can see, this dish is all about building flavour on flavour, and texture on texture, which makes the final result irresistible, satisfying, and positively delicious! Perogies who? Sorry, forgot all about those potatoes and bacon, this crostini is just too good! 

Listening To:

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Pulse-Packed Chilli

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend Pulse Feast, the Canadian launch party for the International Year of Pulses. Confession: When I received my invitation for the event, I had no clue what the hell pulses were. In all honesty, in my quick scan of the invite, in the midst of the busy holiday season, I somehow got the impression that pulses had something to do with food trends. Though pulses aren't a word to describe food trends as a whole, they are actually a food trend for 2016 in itself. In fact, the United Nations declared 2016 to be the International Year of Pulses! So what the heck are pulses? 'Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. Pulses grow in pods and come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colours." Some pulses that you may be familiar with, and may already be apart of your diet are dry beans, dry broad beans,  dry peas, chickpeas, and lentils, as well as six other less popular varieties that I haven't mentioned. 

Though pulses may be considered a major food trend for 2016, the host of Canada's Pulse Feast, Chef Michael Smith, disputes that pulses aren't a trend at all, they're here to stay! Thanks to their versatility, sustainability, affordability, and vast health benefits, Chef Michael Smith believes that pulses will soon become apart of Canadians everyday diet. As a way of inspiring North Americans to eat more pulses the Pulse Pledge campaign was launched in conjunction with the International Year of Pulses kickoff. The Pulse Pledge is a 10-week campaign that encourages North Americans to commit to eating pulses at least once a week, each week for the 10-week period. The goal is  that the healthy habit of eating pulses on a regular basis will continue past the designated 10-weeks.

After taking my own Pulse Pledge at the Pulse Feast, I was inspired to make a hearty pulse-packed chilli that would allow me to get my pulse intake throughout the week as I continued to eat leftovers. I love this chilli recipe because it's super easy, is big on flavour, is incredibly satisfying, and will provide leftovers for the rest of the week. Though I like to simmer my chilli on the stove for at least an hour to let all of the flavours develop, this dish can easily be rushed and be on the table in less than an hour when short on time, sacrificing the flavour only minutely. Though canned pulses aren't the ideal thanks to their added sodium content, I often cook with canned beans and chickpeas because they're so incredibly convenient. Because this recipe is all about ease, I chose to use a canned bean and chickpea medley for my chilli. When purchasing canned pulses I try and look for ones that have reduced sodium or are from a brands healthy line (for instance President's Choice Blue Menu). To ensure that I can control the amount of sodium going into my chilli, I also make sure to rinse my canned beans and chickpeas very well and strain before adding them in. 

Give my Pulse-Packed Chilli a try this week and let me know how you enjoyed it on Twitter: @thisgingerrose. Also, be sure to take the Pulse Pledge yourself and commit yourself to eating pulses every single week for the next 10-weeks! 

Source: Pulses.org

Please adjust the spices based on your own heat tolerance. I can handle a lot of heat and usually use this as my base and add more heat if needed, though this may be quite spicy for some. 
** If you're in a hurry, you can simmer the chilli for as little as 30-minutes, though some flavour may be sacrificed. 

Ingredients:
about 2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, small dice
4 stalks of celery, peeled, small dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 lb. lean ground beef
1 jar (680mL) strained tomatoes (no salt-added)
1 can (540mL) six-bean medley, well rinsed (I like President's Choice Blue Menu)
2 Tbsp. red pepper flakes*
1 chipotle in adobo sauce, minced + 2 Tbsp. adobo sauce*
1 Tbsp. chilli powder*
cheddar cheese, grated, for garnish (optional)
fresh cilantro, finely chopped, for garnish (optional)
sour cream, for garnish (optional)
salt, to taste

Directions:
  1. In a a large pot set to medium heat, warm olive oil. Add onion and celery and sweat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant (about 30-seconds).
  2. Add ground beef and break up with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through. 
  3. Add strained tomatoes, bean medley, red pepper flakes, chipotle, adobo sauce, and chilli powder. and stir to combine. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for at least an hour in order to impart the most flavour**. Taste and season as needed with salt and additional chilli powder. Serve immediately garnished with cheese, cilantro, and sour cream, or continue simmering on stove for up to 3-hours until ready to serve. Chilli may be kept in fridge for 3-4 days or up to 6-months in the freezer. 

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Orecchiette Pugliese

Being a quote-unquote "foodie" I like to have a lot of variety in the type of foods that I eat. I get bored quite easily with dishes and have been known to say that I have "overdosed" on a particular dish after having it one too many times within a short period of time. Despite my, let's call it "fickle" palate, when it comes to the food that I consume at work, it's all about routine and repetition. 

Pretty much every single time that I have a shift at the restaurant I will order myself a big ol' bowl of either Funghi Risotto or Orecchiette Pugliese. It may be the fact that there are only so many dishes that I can quickly wolf down at work while standing in a small corner of a hidden server station, without having to use more than one utensil, and that I can easily digest, or it may be because they're just so damn good that I have no problem eating them on a near-daily basis. I'd say it's likely a combination of all of the above, but the fact that our Funghi Risotto and Orecchiette Pugliese are just so knock-your-socks-off delicious certainly makes it easy to consume almost every day.

Although I look forward to going into work just for our risotto and orecchiette, and despite the fact that I already eat it way more times in a week than I care to admit, I still find myself craving both dishes on my days off at home. Being such a simple dish, I have tried to recreate the orecchiette from work several times at home, but each time something was slightly off. I would never follow a recipe, simply winging it with the ingredients that I knew were present in the dish, which always seemed to result in a dry, oily, and quite bland bowl of pasta. With such an incredibly simple dish, it's easy for things to go wrong. You really have to have the highest quality ingredients in order to get the optimal flavour, as well as be spot on in your execution and quantities of ingredients. 

Desperate for my homemade orecchiette to be just as fantastic as the one from work, I finally gave in and started working with the very same recipe we use at the restaurant. Though I was fortunate enough to get an exact copy of the specs that our chefs use in the kitchen, lucky for you our Executive Chef Doug Neigel's recipe for Mercatto's Orecchiette Pugliese was featured in the Toronto Cooks cookbook for you to enjoy! 

This is one of my all-time favourite pasta dishes thanks to its simplicity and perfect balance of flavours and textures. I love the way the rich and salty fennel sausage plays off of the bitter and crunchy rapini, and that bit of heat that lingers on the tongue from the razer-thin slices of fresh hot peppers. In my opinion its the Padano cheese that ties the whole dish together, which I both toss in and grate on top with reckless abandon (the chefs all know I always order my orecchiette with a request for "CHEESE CHEESE CHEESE" typed into the chit). 

TIPS FOR COOKING ORECCHIETTE PUGLIESE:
Undercook Your Pasta - In order to achieve the best results with this dish I recommend undercooking your pasta, taking it out even before it reaches al dente. Remember that your pasta will continue to cook when you toss it together with the other ingredients, so ensuring that it's still fairly tough when taken out of the boiling water will save you in the end. 

Keep Your Rapini Crisp - Just like you don't want mushy noodles you also don't want mushy rapini. When boiling your rapini, you are literally dropping it into the heavily salted water, and then taking it straight out. Fifteen seconds in the boiling water and straight into an ice bath is all you need to get tender, yet still crunchy rapini. To reduce any chewiness in the rapini, I like to peel the stalks with a vegetable peeler to remove any of fibrous strands. 

Use The Best Sausage - I also recommend finding the absolute best fennel sausage you can get your hands on! It's the flavour of the sausage that will really permeate into the whole dish, giving it it's addictive flavour. Though the fennel sausage I buy at my local market isn't quite as good as  the one used in Mercatto's kitchen, I add in some extra fennel seed and dried chilli flakes to amp up the flavour. 

Season Every Step - Lastly, it's super important to season every step of the way in order to get that great hit of flavour when ready to serve. Season your pasta water well as well as the water to boil the rapini. Also, be sure to season your rapini and when you sauté it in the pan and, if needed, add additional seasoning to your sausage. This will all help to build the flavour naturally. 


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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Food Court Presents Cooking By Hand

2015, the year I fell in love with food photography! Getting to work as a brand ambassador for Kraft Canada last year was an extraordinary experience for me in so many ways, though, more than anything the most important thing that it did for me was spark my interest in food photography. Having the responsibility of putting out fresh content and alluring photos each week for a year motivated me to learn more about the craft that I have always been so fascinated in, and continue practicing on a near-daily basis. 
Since my year-long stint with Kraft ended in September, I've had to find clever new ways of inspiring unique content and different foodie subjects for me to photograph. In the midst of the service industry holiday madness, with barely a moment to catch my breath, I was given the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes as the exclusive photographer for Food Court's latest pop-up event Cooking By Hand. Despite my extreme need to Netfix-and-chill at the time, I happily sacrificed my one night off to get the chance to take my still-foreign-in-my-hand camera out for a spin to capture someone else's foodie creations for a change. 
I had previously heard about Food Court through social media, as their striking progress and recipe development photos would pop up on my feed. I was completely taken by the attention to detail and care that was so obviously taken in creating these beautiful, handmade Italian classics-with-a-twist. It was truly a treat to get to literally go behind-the-scenes in the kitchen and capture all of the exciting action as each dish was thoughtfully executed and plated by Chef Jeffrey Bovis. Here's a little taste of my experience at Food Court Presents Cooking By Hand
Stay up-to-date with all of Food Court's upcoming events by following them on Instagram and Facebook

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