Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Spring Clean Your Routine!

Though it may not seem like it, thanks to these chilly temperatures and stubborn snow, Spring is here! Before you can even think of spring cleaning your closet (because let's face it, there's no point putting away those boots and winter coat quite yet) take the time to spring clean your routine! Spring is a time of renewal and rebirth, so what better time to take the opportunity to clean up your daily routine by introducing some positive changes that will leave you feeling spectacular inside and out!

1) Start each day with warm water with lemon & positive affirmations
Enjoying a mug of warm water with lemon every morning before your coffee or breakfast is a great way to boost your metabolism and flush toxins out of your system, not to mention kick start your hydration for the day. While you're waiting for the water to boil, make a point of looking in the mirror and talking to yourself (yup, I said talk to yourself!), look into your own face and remind yourself what you are grateful of about yourself and your life. Starting your day with positive affirmations will allow you to start your day on a positive note, and will help you keep that positive energy grooving through you all day long!

2) Resist technology
It's easy to get sucked into the vortex of emails and social media first thing in the morning, especially with so many of us using our phone as our alarm clock. I understand the feeling of wanting to get caught up with what is going on in the world right when you wake up, but this is also a way of stressing yourself out right smack at the start of your day. Resist. Allow yourself to enjoy the first half hour to an hour of your morning. Try starting your day with a few sun salutations, play music, sing (even if you fear driving your neighbors insane), think about what you are looking forward to about the day and not what you fear.

3) Go green
It's amazing how many vitamins and minerals are packed into dark green leafy vegetables, but with a busy and on-the-run schedule, it can sometimes be tricky to find a way to make those green wonders apart of your daily diet. To make sure that I am getting enough dark green leafy veg in my diet each day I always make sure to keep my fridge stocked with lots of fresh spinach, whatever berries I can get my hands on, and fresh or frozen bananas. Making a green smoothie is super quick, easy, and will leave you feeling energized and invigorated! No time to make one during your busy day? Whirr one up the evening before to have ready in the fridge before you head out the next morning. I like to make my green smoothies with one or two big handfuls of fresh spinach, one banana, 3-4 strawberries, a tablespoon of chia seeds, and about 1/2 cup - 3/4 cup orange juice or coconut milk. I promise, you will hardly taste the spinach but it will do wonders for your body!

4) Take time to write
Keeping a diary isn't just for schoolgirls with heart-wrenching crushes. Keeping a journal is a great way to get to know yourself, vent, keep your goals on track, and understand what the heck is going on in that complicated head of yours. Don't let yourself feel silly about writing in it, remember that this is just for you. It's about the process of writing not about re-reading past entries (which we all know can feel incredibly embarrassing). 

5) Sweat
Force yourself to get active in an activity that you enjoy. Dance, run, do yoga or pilates, take a kickboxing class, go cycling, hike, whatever! Just do something that you find fun and allows your body to move and sweat out the toxins trapped within it. Taking part in physical activity will not only help your overall body health, but the health of your mind as well, raising your endorphins and self confidence! How much activity is enough? For lower impact activity you will have to put in more time (60-minutes), for moderate activity you should be putting in anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, and for high impact activity you can do as little as 20 to 30 minutes. Make sure to get that 20-60 minutes in at least 3 times a week for the best inside and out results. 

6) Scrub-a-dub-dub 
With shorts, skirts, dresses, and bathing suits on the way you want your skin looking its best, so take the time once or twice a week to scrub your body to reveal silky and glowing skin. More and more research is coming to light about the positive effects of dry skin brushing such as its detoxifying effects, how it can help prevent and get rid of cellulite, stimulate your circulation, and more! So how does one skin brush? It's easy! Invest in an all-natural skin brush from a health store, and in the morning before you step into the shower lightly brush your dry skin in a circular motion, starting from your feet and moving all the way up to the top of your neck. If you're not into the idea of skin brushing, why not use an exfoliating scrub. My favourite is an all-natural Olive Wash & Exfoliant that I brought home with me on my trip to Israel a couple years ago. Though you can purchase this scrub online and have it delivered to your home, I bought mine in the olive oil mill where it is made. The scrub, which is made primarily from olive pulp, smells fresh and delicious, leaves my skin incredibly soft and glowing, and has also helped to get rid of my acne (yup, you can even use it on your face as this product is an exfoliant, cleanser, and toner all in one!). If you're on a budget, it's easy to make your very own customized scrub right at home! Simply combine coffee grinds, sea salt, coconut oil, brown sugar, and baking soda to scrub all over your skin while showering. 

Listening To:
Broken Bells - Holding On For Life

Friday, April 4, 2014

Rose's Roundup - Memories Of Perfect Breakfasts & Exploring German Cuisine

Waffle Eggs Bennie - There's only so many times that my chef school teacher can tell us that "Hollandaise is the most difficult sauce to master" before I get off my tush and prove that lil' ol' me can master the famously tricky sauce. I have made hollandaise in the past and it came out marvelously! I must say that my marvelous hollandaise sauce results were thanks to a trick I learned from my celebrity chef hero Ina Garten, who taught me (and I suppose the rest of the Food Network-watching world) how easy hollandaise sauce can be when armed with a trusty blender. No, it's certainly not the traditional arm workout over a bain-marie method, but if the results are just as silky, tangy, and voluminous then who cares? But hearing Chef Frank repeatedly tell us how famously difficult it is,  made me second guess my hollandaise making skills.

It was the morning before our class on sauces (where I knew Chef Frank would be striking hollandaise fear into our heads once again) that I decided to remind myself that Ina's blender trick would defy the hollandaise success odds. It was a delivery of my Oma's famous (in our family at least) German waffles  that struck the match of inspiration, sending me on an eggs benedict mission. I knew Oma's waffles would be the perfect bed for a mess of poached eggs, crispy prosciutto (no bacon? no problem!), fresh chives, and of course a blanket of lemony hollandaise. It took all of 3-minutes (no exaggeration!) to make Ina's perfect hollandaise sauce in a blender, and all of 10-minutes to savour each and every bite of sweet and salty goodness. I couldn't help but walk into class that night with my head held high, a smirk on my face, knowing that I defied hollandaise success odds that morning. 
Chicken Crepes - My love/hate relationship with chicken crepes started years ago at BOOM Breakfast Co. We shared an intimate morning together as I dug into it's soft exterior to reveal its savory, cheesy insides, and swooned over the rich and creamy sauce that soaked up each bite. Love at first bite. Our love affair continued as I ordered those sinful chicken crepes each and every time I went to BOOM, not once regretting never having tried any other dish on their generous menu. But as they say, all good things must come to an end. My dear, beautiful chicken crepes did the unthinkable and skipped town on me. Vanished without a trace. Gone, never to be seen again! I remember turning the newly laminated menu over and over in my clammy hands, baffled and heartbroken that my appetite could be betrayed in such a way! They had changed their menu, and the crepes were gone. After a brief mourning period that included salty-tear-garnished eggs benedict, I shook myself off and proclaimed that I would replicate my dear chicken crepes, making them even better than before! 

I won't share with you my agony at attempting to recreate the crepes that I loved so dearly, because, quite frankly, it would bore you to the same tears that I shed at each failed chicken crepe attempt. It wasn't until last semester in Chef Skills 1 where I learned the basics of sauce making, producing with care the five mother sauces, that I understood how I could bring my long gone chicken crepes back to life. By using a simple chicken velouté recipe I was finally able to reclaim the most true-to-the-original chicken crepe sauce as of yet. Though I had finally created a recipe for chicken crepes that wouldn't leave me feeling dejected, and though I went back for seconds, truly enjoying each bite, my crepes are not perfect yet (key word!). So I will refrain from posting the recipe for you until I am sure that it will incite the same lust that I felt with that first bite of chicken crepes from BOOM
Ina's Herb-Marinated Pork Tenderloin - In a fit of jealousy, thanks to the famously fickle Taylor Swift's Instagram photo, of her in my future-best-friend Ina Garten's Hampton kitchen, I scoured the web for an Ina recipe that would maybe, just maybe, bring us closer together. Of course such nonsense would only make sense to a lunatic red head with her head in the clouds (and my clouds are made of burrata cheese, by the way), but in my strange red head, carefully crafting an Ina recipe would mean pushing miss Swift aside (does she even cook?!) and leave room for moi. 

With a fridge full of options and a seemingly endless string of Ina recipes, it took longer than normal to settle on a dinner choice. Perhaps it was because I just couldn't envision little country croonin' Swift digging into a big chunk of pork, that had me finally decide on making Ina's Herb-Marinated Pork Tenderloin. More than that, the recipe sounded fast, simple, required no grocery shopping, and was sure to be delicious. Even though Ina's Herb-Marinated Pork Tenderloin likely didn't help to advance my friendship with Ina in any way, it was a wonderfully comforting way to end a chilly late winter day, and I recommend you give it a try. Ina, if you're out there, I'm a great listener, I'm a hoot be around, and will shower you with love and compliments. Let's be friends. Just say the word and I'll book my Porter flight for a visit. 
The Musket Jaeger Schnitzel - Essays and exams can be excruciating, but nothing, no nothing, comes close to being as painful as doing group assignments. The major final assignment for my Food Theory 1 class was to make a presentation and tasting about a country of our choice. With many members of our group having ties to the beer-guzzling, schnitzel-eating European country Germany, it was easy to decide on Deutschland as our country of choice. It took all of two weeks to discover that my group work fears were thankfully misguided, with a group of seven who were not only willing to share the workload, but were also interesting, smart, and great fun to be around. 

With part of our assignment requiring us to visit an authentic German restaurant, we carpooled over to The Musket in Etobicoke, where chef Richard Esner serves up an array of authentic German dishes. Lucky for our group, almost all of us had different tastes, allowing us to get a sight of many of the specialties offered on the large menu. It was the savory mushroom sauce that left me salivating like Pavlov's dog, that made me order the Jaeger Schnizle, a thin and tender piece of pork, swimming in a full-flavoured mushroom sauce, alongside tangy purple cabbage, and simple roasted potatoes. If the image alone doesn't have you throwing your coat and shoes on to head out to Etobicoke, let me tell you, that Jaeger Schnitzel was like biting into a piece of German heaven. I think I could have very well slurped a whole bowl of that mushroom sauce all by itself, it was so tasty! All around, the whole meal was a wonderful success, with each group member devouring every bite of their appropriately massive portion. We cheers-ed our Hacker-Pschorre Weisse to a fantastic meal and what was sure to be a wonderful presentation! 
Oma's Cabbage Rolls - My Food Theory 1 project on Germany has been such wonderful fun, allowing us to visit a German restaurant, market, and learn the history behind the western-central country's rich history of food and drink, but nothing for this project has been such a delight as getting to go into my Oma's kitchen to learn how to make her dance-in-your-chair delectable German Cabbage Rolls. I had always assumed that Oma's cabbage rolls were an endeavor that would require your full attention all day, with so many different parts that make up the final dish. Surely her cabbage rolls must mean a laborious all-day process of first making the filling, then making the sauce, then carefully forming the cabbage bundles by hand, and cooking them off.

With the camera rolling in order to capture Oma's charm and every step of her recipe, as European grandmothers never seem to measure anything, Oma answered my question of "do cabbage rolls take very long to make?" with a head tilt and "mmm, not really." Liar, I thought! There was no way those tasty little bundles of beef, pork, and rice could mmm, not really take long. As she loves to do, Oma proved me wrong. Maybe it was because I was having so much fun by my Oma's side that made time fly, or maybe Oma was right, but the cabbage rolls seemed to be coming out of the oven in a tangle of steam and fragrant gravy in next to no time. I'm so glad that I finally learned how to make Oma's remarkably simple cabbage rolls, but more than anything I am so happy to have a video of my spunky, adorable Oma doing what she does best in the kitchen, that I will cherish forever. Watch my Oma in action here.
Fresh Pasta with Bolognese Sauce - Sunday night is family night in my family, meaning myself and sometimes my sister and her live-in boyfriend enjoying a large meal, lovingly prepared by my mom. There once was a time when I would eagerly take part in preparing our Sunday evening feast, a time before I lost myself in the sticky, beer-covered bar that I called my job for the past two years, where the Sunday brunch shift was mine. The Sunday brunch shift not only meant early endings on Saturday nights, due to early wake-ups on Sunday mornings, but also not being able to return home until just before whatever roast, stew, or slow-cooked creation was to be plated. For the past two years I missed being able to provide my family with a meal full of love on Sunday nights. So on my very first Sunday evening free from the bar, I decided to take the time to make ribbons of homemade pasta enveloped in a hearty beef and pork bolognese. 

This was my second attempt at making bolognese, having first made it as a teamwork dinner with my boyfriend Chris a few months ago. Our attempt at making fresh pasta and bolognese was a fantastic success minus one little misstep. The al dente pasta noodles that Chris masterfully made were wonderful, but my bolognese, though delicious, was thrown off ever so slightly by the addition of smoked pancetta. Though pancetta most certainly adds a great deal of depth of flavour to a bolognese sauce, the smokiness was a little too overpowering for our taste buds. With that in mind, I chose to use regular pancetta this time around, sure that that would result in a perfectly meaty bolognese. Though my sauce was once again very tasty and was enjoyed by all present, I now found that the sauce seemed to be missing something. Although I would not use all smoked pancetta in my sauce, I believe that a combo of both regular and smoked pancetta would send this comforting dish to new heights. Here's to round three! 

On My Mind:
This gorgeous Victorian London home for sale is right up my alley thanks to it's beautiful backyard, classic detailing, and spaceship attic...yup, you hear right, spaceship attic. 

I like to be prepared in case of an emergency, so if ever I need to spring myself free of zip ties entrapping my wrists in their constricting grip, I now feel adequately prepared.

There's nothing like adding another novel to your favourite book list. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami was an absolute pleasure to read, without question making it into my favourite book list.

Ever wonder what flying is like from the perspective of a pelican?

Only Bowie could get me so excited about a video game

Nice aim there, Kessel.

Why my meal at Yours Truly was one of my most memorable to date. True culinary art at its best.

Me, as a child in a nutshell...or should I say, in a church. I could swear this was me.

So much wanderlust right now thanks to talented photographer Vanessa Paxton's stunningly exquisite video of her experience traveling through Thailand. 

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Listening To:
Spoon - Don't You Evah

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hot Honey Garlic Wings

Today makes it officially one week since my last day at the soul-sucking, tired pub that I had been working at for almost two years. Although I feel great relief leaving a place that was bad for my self esteem and personal and professional development, there are still many things that I will miss, and in fact already miss. Firstly, a week without my lovely co-workers who had become part of family has felt like an eternity. I miss our stories, tricks, dancing, singing, silly voices, and hijinks and hope so deeply that we can hold onto that as we pursue new paths. Despite the stress it caused me at the time, I miss the crazy characters that stuck to the bar like fruit flies on a hot day, merely for the zany stories that I could share and act out once back in the comfort of my own home. And though I hate to say it, I can't help but miss the terrible-for-my-diet pub food that I would get to indulge in almost every shift. 

Perhaps it's because I miss all of what I've left behind, or maybe it's just as simple as I was craving wings, but digging into a big serving of hot and spicy wings may always remind me of the two years I spent playing the role of "waitress." No matter the reason, wings were a fantastic choice to make for myself and mom in the midst of a busy and productive week full of school assignments, presentations, and projects, and trying to wrap my head around finding a job that will allow me to get my foot in the door to start my career. My Hot Honey Garlic Wings may taste nothing like those from the pub (oh these babies are worlds better!), but they still give me that same feeling of escape that I would feel when I got those 5-10 minutes to myself to sit at the bar and ignore everyone around me for a break. Super quick, sticky, and sweet with a big hit of heat, these wings are a great escape for anybody to indulge in! 

Note: I know, my wings got a little bit too crispy, looking a little burnt in some spots. Be careful with that broiler folks! It works fast!

Ingredients
24 chicken wings
1/4 cup brown sugar
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1 cup water, separated, plus more if desired
3 tbsp honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup chilli sauce 
3 tbsp Sriracha Hot Sauce
5 dashes Franks Red Hot Sauce
2 tbsp corn starch
salt and pepper to season

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 375º. Lightly spray a baking sheet (preferably nonstick) with oil. Arrange chicken wings in a single layer and lightly season with salt and pepper. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until crispy. 
  2. Towards the end of the chicken wings baking, begin the sauce. In a small saucepan set to medium heat, bring the brown sugar, garlic, ginger, 1/2 cup water, honey, soy sauce, chilli sauce, Sriracha Hot Sauce, and Franks Red Hot Sauce to a boil. 
  3. Add the remaining 1/2 cup water to a small bowl and stir in the corn starch. Stir into the sauce and continue cooking until thickened. You may add more water at this point if you so desire.
  4. Remove chicken wings from oven and place in a medium bowl. Add the sauce and toss to coat evenly. Arrange the coated chicken wings back on the baking sheet and place back in the oven. Set the oven to broil, and bake for another 8-10 minutes. Keep your eyes on the wings so they don't burn! Serve immediately.
Listening To:

Thursday, March 27, 2014

In The Kitchen With Oma: A lesson on making German cabbage rolls

When people ask me what or who inspired me to start cooking, I always give the same answer 1) my mom, who would always let me stand on a stool in the kitchen with her, and let me get messy by helping her out in any way I could, and 2) my Oma, who always gave her grandkids a job to help her in the kitchen while making one of her delicious German dishes. I always loved those one-on-one moments in the kitchen with both my mom and my Oma, and only wish that I had time for more of that now. 

This month I was given the opportunity to go back in the kitchen with my Oma for a day of German cooking, thanks to my Food Theory class at George Brown Chef School requiring us to do a group presentation on a region of the world of our choice. With many of our group members having friends, family, and neighbors who are German, it was easy for us to pick the beer drinking, sausage eating country for our assignment. I always struggle with finding a unique and interesting way to grab the audiences attention when doing a school presentation, not wanting to give just another lame and tired Power Point that puts the class to sleep. I knew that with my Oma's vibrant personality, I had to find a way of incorporating her into my presentation. It didn't take long for me to decide to feature my lovely Oma in a short video about making one traditional German dish.

Although there are so many delicious German dishes that my Oma makes, she had her heart set on making her out-of-this-world cabbage rolls, something that I simply couldn't refuse because seriously, they are so damn good!  Although cabbage rolls were not first created in Germany, they are a dish that much of Europe has adopted, made their own, and consume on a regular basis, and Germany has become one of those places that has truly made the dish part of their diet. I hope you enjoy my video In The Kitchen With Oma: A lesson on making German cabbage rolls. It was an absolute pleasure to shoot and spend the day with her. Thank you so much, Oma! I love you! You are the best! 

Listening To:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I WON! {French Onion Mac & Cheese}

Just a wee bit overdue (in true Danielle fashion), I want to thank everyone who took the time to vote, support, and share my recipe for the Dairy Goodness Anyday Magic Comforting Mac & Cheese challenge. I am so very happy to report that my recipe for French Onion Mac & Cheese won the challenge with a whopping 1302 votes! I am so blown away by the amount of support that came my way during this challenge, and obviously could have gotten this far without it. Thank you so much for putting a smile on my face each and every morning of the challenge. It was a truly a pleasure coming up with my mac and cheese recipe, which combined two of my favourite cheesy dishes into one indulgent treat! Now that the challenge is over I am happy to be able to share my recipe with you right here and hope that you enjoy this recipe just as much my family and myself did! 

Ingredients
4 tbso butter, divided (plus more for buttering serving dishes)
1 1/2 red onions, sliced
4 tbsp dry red wine (or beef broth)
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups 10% cream
1/3 cup beef broth
3 slices white bread, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tbsp butter, melted
3 tbsp flour
2 1/2 cups Canadian cheddar cheese, shredded (reserve 1/4 cup for topping)
1 1/2 cups Canadian Gruyere, shredded (reserve 1/2 cup for topping)
1 tsp salt
generous pinch of white pepper
2 cups elbow macaroni, cooked al dente

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 375º. Butter 4 individual oven-proof soup bowls and set aside.
  2. In a medium sauté pan, heat 1 tbsp butter at medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the red onion and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until very soft and caramelized (about 15 minutes). In the last five minutes of cooking, add the red wine and thyme and raise heat to medium. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. In a medium pot set to medium heat, add the milk, cream, and beef broth and heat until warm. Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. In a small bowl, toss the diced white bread with the melted butter until evenly coated and set aside.
  5. In a large pot add the remaining 3 tbsp butter and melt at medium heat. When the butter begins to froth, add the flour and whisk to incorporate for 1 minute. Add the warm cream mixture (this mixture should warm not how. You want it below the temperature of the flour and butter mixture) a bit at a time, while stirring and thickening. Once all of the cream mixture has been added, continue cooking for about 3-5 minutes while mixture thickens slightly. Stir occasionally.
  6. Remove cream mixture from heat and stir in cheddar (reserving 1/4 cup for topping), Gruyere (reserving 1/2 cup for topping), and caramelized onion mixture. Taste and season additionally with salt and pepper, if needed. Stir in the elbow macaroni, and evenly scoop into buttered  soup bowls.
  7. Top the filled soup bowls evenly with the diced, buttered bread and then the reserved cheeses and place on a baking sheet. Place in oven for 30 minutes, or until topping becomes golden.
  8. Serve immediately.
Listening To:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Castles, Wynds, Closes, Ghosts, & Scotch in Edinburgh

On a rainy, grey morning Chris, Melissa, myself, and Melissa's friend Kayla arrived in Edinburgh Scotland. Despite the rain, we couldn't help but already be charmed by this mysterious city, as our cab drove past streets lined with little cottages in the foreground of the lush green landscape. The rain began to dissipate just as our cab pulled up to Cumberland Street, where we had rented a cute, little, modern lower-level apartment on VRBO for the next two nights and three days. It's amazing how much you appreciate the little things when on vacation, like opening up the lockbox provided for us to find a skeleton key to unlock the apartment door. We squealed with glee at the sight of this simple skeleton key, already deciding in our minds that this skeleton key was a symbol of this mysterious old city, just waiting for us to explore! After dropping off our luggage, it was time to walk up the hill to take in all the extraordinary sights down the Royal Mile. 

The Royal Mile is known as being the heart of Scotland's historic capital, running straight through Edinburgh's Old Town, connecting the breathtaking Edinburgh Castle, which rests upon a base of volcanic rock, with the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Overwhelmed by the beautiful historic architecture surrounding us, we took those first few hours as an opportunity to take in some of the sights, and in true UK fashion, grab a couple pints and some grub at a pub on Rose Street. 
After some short exploring and stuffing our faces with sausage and mash, fish and chips, and pints of Guinness, we succumbed to our exhaustion and took the misty rain as an opportunity to grab a not-so-quick nap at our rental apartment, so we would have lots of energy to make it up to the castle later that afternoon. After our much-needed nap, we felt energized and ready to walk through the royal mile and up to Edinburgh Castle. Although the tours of the castle were already done for the day, the mere sight of the stunning, ancient Edinburgh Castle was enough to send us all into a tizzy! The castle alone was of course stunning, but I can't forget to mention the magnificent view that the large, volcanic hill affords you of both the New and Old town, allowing you to take everything in all at once. High off our castle photo shoot, we walked back down the Royal Mile to pop into a few shops and purchase some Celtic jewelry at an outdoor stand before the sun set. 

As darkness loomed, our thirst kicked in and we were once again ready for another pint! Our mighty navigator, Chris, led us to The Abbotsford Pub in New Town, Edinburgh, built in 1902. The Abbotsford Pub was absolutely beautiful, featuring exquisite Edwardian pub design, with a classic island bar carved from Spanish Mahogany and an intricate Jacobean ceiling.  Although their pub fare sounded above the ordinary, Chris had bigger plans for us, with a pin on his Google map at a restaurant called The Dogs

The Dogs was appealing for us because we love dogs! Just kidding! We do love dogs, but what really caught our attention was the mouthwatering menu filled with unique takes on Scottish classics at very reasonable prices. One of the things we noticed in Edinburgh was that the food tended to range from very low quality pub fare, to extremely high end dining with staggeringly high prices, and not a whole lot in between. So The Dogs, with its delicious sounding menu and fair prices was like finding treasure! With no reservation, we were very happy to be accommodated immediately, simply warned that we would have a short seating, as the table was reserved in a couple hours. 

The quiet and intimate atmosphere of the canine-themed restaurant was a welcome change from the bustling pub scene we were so familiar with throughout the UK. This change in mood required a change in beverage, switching from beer to wine that would pair with our meals. After promising all of my foodie friends in Toronto that I would try the Scottish favourite Haggis while in Edinburgh, I had no choice but to order the Lamb Barnsley Chop with Haggis Hash, Braised Cabbage, & Tarragon Gravy as my entrée. Although I was a little uneasy about the idea of eating haggis (sheep's heart, liver, and lungs, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and stock, encased in the animals stomach) I was so pleasantly surprised at the delicious, savory flavour the haggis added to the potato hash, not to mention my succulent, tender lamp chop, with the ever so slightly bitter braised cabbage playing the perfect accompaniment. There was a chorus of "mmm's" ringing through the quiet space as all of us cleaned off our plates, satisfied with this special Scottish fare. Stuffed to the brim, with a bit of a buzz from the wine and beer, it was off to bed for us sleepyheads, with lots of tours planned for the following day. 
With plans of hitting up The Scotch Whiskey Experience tour on our second morning in Edinburgh, there wasn't a chance we would be skipping breakfast that day! Just a short walk from our apartment was Eteaket, a bright and welcoming tea room that specializes in ethically-sourced, exceptional loose leaf teas. After cramming ourselves into a tight, corner seat by the window, we ordered a round of tea lattes, with myself ordering Eteaket's specialty, their Chai Latte, made with their secret recipe. I've had many Chai lattes before, and have always enjoyed them, but this was no ordinary Chai latte, with an intense flavour from the blend of spices and topped with a garnish of spices to give you a hint as to what you are sipping. To go along with my tea, I ordered simple poached eggs with toast. A lovely way to start another busy day in the UK! 
After breakfast we excitedly headed over to Castlehill to take part in The Scotch Whiskey Experience, AKA Chris' number one reason for coming to Scotland! The tour is designed to give you the full scotch whiskey experience by first taking you through their interactive swirling, bubbling barrel ride, allowing guests to become apart of the scotch whiskey making process, with narration by a friendly ghost. After you are taken through each step of the scotch whiskey making process, guests are guided up to a private room where a scotch whiskey expert leads an introduction to the aromas found in various types of whiskey. We were each given a little scratch-and-sniff card with the names of the various regions within Scotland, each one identified with a different colour. One at a time, we were taken through each region, beginning the lesson on each one with our guide asking us to scratch the designated area on our scratch-and-sniff cards of that particular region, and asking us what we smelt. Through this, we were taught all about the dominant flavours that are found in scotch whiskeys made in those different regions. Those flavours were:
Lowland - Grapefruit
Highland - Vanilla
Speyside - Banana
Islay - Peat
With this as a reference, we were each asked to pick which flavour we were drawn to most, and were then poured a glass (which we were later gifted!) of a whiskey from that region. Not much of a whiskey fan myself, after understanding how scotch whiskey gets made and learning about why certain flavours are present, I found a new appreciation for the punchy liquor...but this doesn't mean I was able to finish my glass! This next part of the experience was my favourite, as we were led into a room that was entirely lined with bottles upon bottles of scotch whiskey, which we soon learned was the largest scotch whiskey collection in the entire world! The look on Chris' face was absolutely priceless! The man was in his glory! Then came the part he was really looking forward to, the scotch tasting! Chris had purchased the Gold Experience Tour, which gave him a flight of four scotch whiskeys that ranged from light flavoured, to strong and peaty. What a treat for him! An extra special treat for Chris came when he purchased a rare and fairly reasonable bottle of Scotch to take home with him. My guy works so incredibly hard, he most certainly deserves a nice bottle!

After the scotch whiskey experience, we found a cheap restaurant nearby to satisfy our hunger. Plain "American" greasy fare, there isn't much to report on that restaurant other than, it was cheap and it filled our growling bellies! It was off to do some more exploring and shopping after that.

Thanks to a suggestion from an old friend who lives in Edinburgh, we had eagerly signed ourselves up for the Ghost & Torture Tour from Auld Reekie Tours, a decision that us ladies would later regret. My friend Lyle had promised us that the ghost tour would be a great way to learn about the history of Edinburgh in a fun and frightening way. I love me some history mixed with entertainment, so I figured this would be a cool and funny experience. Now after the fact, 'funny' is definitely not the word I would use to describe the tour, as our eerie guide took us through the dark underground vaults and torture rooms, while passionately telling us horrifying stories of the tortures that went on in Edinburgh back in the day, as well as ghost experiences that guests have had while on the tour. Shaking and white as...well, you guessed it, white as a ghost, we ended the tour, sure that we would never get a wink of sleep ever again! 

Thank goodness for fun bars with charming bartenders and wicked music, the Victoria Bar in Leith was just what we needed to take our minds off of our terrifying ghost tour experience. 
We awoke on Wednesday morning, sad that this was our final day in beautiful Edinburgh, but excited to take part in The Real Mary King's Close Tour. After grabbing a quick bite at our favourite Edinburgh breakfast spot Eteaket, we rushed back up to the Royal Mile to make it in time for our tour, which would take us through a network of hidden underground streets and spaces which were once inhabited by Mary King (a prominent businesswoman in the 1630's), and are now buried underground, shrouded in myths and mystery! Although this tour hinted at possibly being a repeat of the blood curdling ghost tour we had experienced the previous night, The Real Mary King's Close Tour was only similar to the prior tour in its historical base, as our costumed character tour guide shared with us the true tales of how families lived in this underground town many centuries ago. 

With a few hours to spare before our short flight back to London, we decided to take some time to relax with a good meal and chat about everything we had experienced on our little excursion. Back on Rose Street we stowed our luggage and quickly got a table at Jamie's Italian, Jamie Oliver's large Italian eatery known for their large cheese and charcuterie planks and fresh pastas. Exhausted from a very busy three days, it was so nice to slide into our seats and indulge in Jamie's Meat Plank which featured fennel salami, pistachio mortadella, prosciutto, schiacciata piccante, buffalo mozzarella with chili & mint, pecorino with chili jam, green chillies, green olives, Gaeta, caper berries & shaved carrot & beets with lemon and mint. Following the plank, we shared a plate of Crispy Tomato & Mozzarella Risotto Balls, doused in a spicy arrabbiata sauce, and I dived into my large plate of Tagliatelle Bolognese. Everything was so incredibly delicious and, believe it or not, so much lighter and easy on the stomach than all the greasy, heavy pub food we had been eating. The only thing that could have made our experience at Jamie's Italian better? Why, if Jamie Oliver himself showed up, of course! 

With full bellies and happy hearts, we sleepily boarded our EasyJet flight back to London to continue our UK adventure! 

Listening To:

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

London, England: Camden Market

After a great nights sleep in our cozy hotel bed and a light breakfast of custard pastries from the local Costa Coffee shop, Chris and I were ready to delve into day two of our London adventure! After having so much fun walking around Portobello Market the previous day, Melissa and her friends decided to take us to another well known market in London, Camden Market, known to be one of the busiest weekend markets in London, with Sunday's trading day being the most lively. This Sunday was certainly no exception with streams of people snaking through the many incense-filled lanes lined with stalls, selling everything from hot prepared food, fashions, jewelry, vintage goods, and crafts from all over the world.  With so many beautiful offerings, I found myself overwhelmed and unsure as to how I could possibly fit everything I loved into my luggage. Hand painted ceramic bowls, striking textiles, haunting paintings, and vintage bar trays were just a few of the treasures I had hopes of coveting, had I thought of packing less in my luggage to allow more London goodies to fill it to take home. I'll have to remember that for my next trip to London!

After popping into just about every little shop within the market with wide eyes, it was of course time to enjoy a pint. We found ourselves in The Cuban Bar right in the heart of the market, a bar that fit the bill for us, purely because we could get a table and fast service. The Cuban Bar was nothing particularly special during the day (when you have great company, that's all you really need!) but Melissa told us to try and come back at night when the restaurant turns into a lively lounge filled with Cuban music and lots of dancing.

Still getting over our jet lag, and with an early flight to Edinburgh in the morning, we decided to have a quiet night in at Melissa's flat, picking up some beer from the off-license a few doors down, enjoying the hockey game like the true Canadian's we are, and digging into a big plate of pasta made by one of Melissa's roommates. We had a big day ahead of us! Stay tuned for our experience in Edinburgh, Scotland!

Listening To:
Sorcha Richardson - Last Train

Thursday, February 27, 2014

London, England: Day 1 - Portobello Market & Wahaca Mexican Eating

Back to reality. After ten enchanting days of bopping around London, England and Edinburgh, Scotland it's back to reality for this little dreamer. That sinking, back-to-reality feeling at the end of a wonderful trip can feel so heartbreaking at times, that you can't help but wonder "was it worth it?" We all know the answer is always a resounding YES! Getting the opportunity to travel to the UK with someone I love, to experience all of the unique sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and so much more in a foreign country that ignited a fire in my soul can never be something I could ever regret. Thankfully I have so many fabulous memories that I can hold onto to keep that fire alive and, hopefully, will help to shake up my own routine-filled life. 

So enough with back-to-reality pity party, it's time to focus on a trip that I will be talking about for years to come! I arrived in London, England with my boyfriend Chris to visit his sister Melissa who is currently living in England (lucky gal!) working as a teacher. After hugs, hellos, and a big breakfast of eggs, toast, and bacon made by Melissa's roommate, the Canadian crew was off to enjoy our first London market experience. Melissa was so excited to take us to the world famous Portobello market, a street market that runs right through the heart of Notting Hill, taking up most of Portobello Road, with stand after stand selling antiques, fruits and vegetables, striking fashions and jewelry, and fresh, hot prepared food. 

It took all of two minutes for me to regret that large breakfast with so many tasty offerings being served up at each stand, the most appealing of which was the massive vats of fresh and colourful paella, filled with every shellfish imaginable. The smells as you walked past each booth was positively intoxicating, begging you to sample each and every dish. If only the servings of paella weren't quite so large I would have undoubtably given in to the mouth-watering Spanish dish...I'm still kicking myself for not. 

It was at the fresh churro stand that I had to stop to purchase and order for Chris, Melissa, and I to share, with each order containing far more churros than I could ever dream of eating. Prepared to order, the cinnamon and sugar dusted churros were just the pick-me-up I needed to do a little shoe shopping. I had heard that the shoe selection in London is wonderful, but was warned about the high cost of everything. To my delight, the rumors of London's beautiful shoe selection was true, but that high cost was pure hogwash as all three of us walked away with a pair of shoes much cheaper than we would have ever found in Toronto! High from our shoe purchases, we decided it was time for another snack. The long line up at the falafel stand was a telltale sign of high quality and flavour, so we joined the line for a quick falafel break. Although I didn't order a falafel myself (I was the mooch stealing bites from Chris and Melissa), I was once again kicking myself for my full stomach and not ordering one. These falafels were outstanding, and comparable to the falafels found throughout Israel, but with a Lebanese twist. The perfect fried-to-order, crispy on the outside, soft and moist on the inside falafel balls were drizzled in a zingy chilli-peanut sauce that gave this familiar dish an exotic twist that I couldn't get enough of...and let's not forget their impossibly creamy humous! With such a large Mediterranean community in Toronto, why can't we have falafels like this?  

It was definitely beer O'clock after all that walking around, so we wandered into the quirky, open-facade Mau Mau Bar for a couple of beers and on-the-house cocktails. This old school London bar had a laid back attitude that was just what we were looking for after winding through the crowds on Portobello Road. The friendly bartender was awesome, chatty, and generous giving Chris a Manhattan and a Negroni on the house! Hooray for British hospitality! 
After checking into the Crown Moran Hotel and a much needed nap in what was possibly the coziest bed I have ever been in, we were back out with our Oyster cards in hand, to hop on a double decker bus and the tube to meet up with our Canadian crew for our first dinner in London at Wahaca Mexican Eating in Covent Garden. Chris had raved about the popular Mexican restaurant from his last trip to London, emphasizing their fresh ingredients, reasonable prices, and great tequila selection. With a massive lineup that filled the lobby and wound up the stairs, we were nervous about getting a table any time within the hour, but lucky for us, a large reservation had not shown up, and we were able to snag a table for seven immediately! 

The menu, which is filled with an assortment of authentic Mexican street food, is made with care using the freshest of ingredients, which are all sourced as ethically and locally as possible. Encouraged to share, we started off our meal with mortars filled with tomato dotted guacamole and tortilla chips and, of course, margaritas! From there, Chris and I shared an order of Pork Pibil Tacos (slow cooked pork in Yucatecan marinade with fiery pickled onions), Chicken Mole Tacos (tender chicken in a rich red Coloradito mole sauce from Oaxaca), Chorizo and Potato Quesadillas (British chorizo, made with their own special recipe, with fresh thyme and steamed potato), Slow-Cooked Pork Burritos (toasted flour tortillas wrapped around slow-cooked pork, with frijoles, shredded cabbage, green rice, crema, avocado salsa, pink pickled onions, habanero chillies, and Baja cheese), and Spicy Slaw (shredded cabbage and red onion in a spicy dressing). Every dish (minus the lackluster not-spicy-at-all slaw) was fantastic, with the Pork Pibil and Chicken Mole tacos being our favourite! We ended our lovely meal with a couple of rounds of tequila shots to toast to an inevitable incredible trip! 

Despite our let jag and tired bodies, we had to do it up on our first night, so we headed down the road to the multi-floor Porterhouse Bar for live music and more pints! 

Stay tuned for Day Two and our visit to Camden Market!

Listening To:
Soko - We Might Be Dead By Tomorrow

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Baked Coconut Shrimp

When your city turns into a snow globe and you have the day off work and school, there's not a chance you're going to go out grocery shopping! It was one of those nights where you scour the fridge and pantry for any possible collection of ingredients that could somehow turn into a satisfying meal, allowing you to forget about your inevitable messy commute come the following morning. When I failed to find any leftovers or raw ingredients in the fridge that I could magically whip into something, I immediately turned to my good ol' standby frozen, raw shrimp. There is never a time when my freezer does not contain at least one bag of frozen, raw shrimp so that on nights such as this, I don't have to reluctantly open a box of macaroni and florescent orange cheese powder to sustain me for the evening. With recent dreams of beaches, sand, and coconuts floating through my red head, I couldn't help but be drawn to the bag of unsweetened shredded coconut in the freezer, just begging to be used as a crispy coating for my frozen shrimp. 

I tend to turn my kitchen into a disaster zone whenever there is any type of breading involved, so I expected this evenings dinner of coconut shrimp to be no exception, especially considering this was my first go at making the sweet and savory delight. Thankfully the coconut shrimp production line proved to be far more tidy than the spaetzle and veal scallopini tornado of 2014, and in less than 10-minutes, my little shrimps were coated in a mixture of toasted coconut and panko breadcrumbs and baking in the oven. When a new dish goes as smoothly as that, I can't help but assume it's going to be a bit of a failure come that first bite, but my baked coconut shrimp was an absolute gold medal winner in my books! A little pre-toast of the coconut and panko breadcrumbs in a dry pan proved to be beneficial, giving the shrimp coating a wonderful crunchy texture, and enhancing the nutty flavour of the coconut. It's that great crispy texture that surprised me and made me wonder why I was ever bothering to purchase pre-made frozen coconut shrimp in the past, which had always left me unsatisfied, disappointed in the flimsy, almost-soggy texture that they would always come out as. With such wonderful flavour, texture, and ease of production I will absolutely be adding this recipe to my "Danielle's Favourites" section of the blog. Now excuse me while I slip back into my dream of sun, sand, and coconuts. 

Ingredients:
1 Ib raw shrimp (fresh or thawed from frozen), peeled, deveined, & patted dry with a paper towel
salt, to season
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
3 tbsp flour
1 egg, beaten
oil for baking pan
spicy dipping sauce, for serving (I like to use a Thai dipping sauce)

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 425º.
  2. In a medium pan, add the coconut and panko breadcrumbs and toast at medium heat until golden. Keep a close eye on the pan as they will go from golden to burnt very quickly! Spoon into a small bowl immediately to prevent further browning. Add a pinch of salt to the mixture.
  3. Lightly sprinkle a pinch or two of salt over the shrimp to season. 
  4. Pour the flour and beaten egg into two separate small bowls. Lightly spray or rub a medium-large baking sheet with olive oil or coconut oil. Line up your station so you have first your shrimp, then the bowl of flour, then the bowl of beaten egg, then the bowl of coconut and panko, then your baking sheet, all in a line.
  5. Dip a shrimp into the flour to coat evenly, lightly shaking off any excess. Dip the flour dusted shrimp into the egg mixture to coat, then into the coconut and panko mixture, pressing to coat. Place the coated shrimp onto the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining shrimp. 
  6. Bake for 10 minutes. Flip shrimp using tongs, and bake for an additional 6-7 minutes. Serve immediately with spicy dipping sauce. 

Listening To:
Beyoncé - XO

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Herb Spaetzle: Reconnecting With My German Roots

Have you ever tried to rub off caked on spaetzle batter off of your arm?

No one ever warned me just how messy making spaetzle can be...not to mention playing a side dish to breaded veal scallopini (just imagine a dredging liquid and breadcrumb explosion all over your kitchen). I tried to make it as tidy as possible, laying out my mise en place, and trying to think ahead....but no. No one gave me any tips to avoid a veal scallopini and spaetzle explosion all over my kitchen and myself, so that's where I come in. Making spaetzle and veal scallopini can be extremely simple, you just need to follow a few tricks and guidelines to avoid having to rip off your arm hairs when attempting to rub off that glue-like, caked on spaetzle off of your arm. Your welcome, in advance. 

First off, you might be wondering 'what is spaetzle?' Spaetzle is a traditional German dish that is a cross between pasta and very dense gnocchi. A dough/batter is whipped up with eggs, flour, milk and seasoning, and is pushed through the holes of a colander (or spaetzle maker) to drop directly into salted boiling water to create little dumplings that are often served alongside meat, at times just simply tossed in butter, and often served with a sauce or gravy overtop. Growing up with German grandparents, spaetzle was one of the German dishes that I was proud to have tried. Although spaetzle wasn't as common as cabbage rolls and sausage on our dinner table, I would always relish the moment's that I could sop up those little, dense dumplings in my Oma's thick mushroom gravy. I haven't had spaetzle in years, with my last memory of it being from a package from the grocery store, but a recent project for school on the food and nutrition in Germany inspired me to make that nostalgic dish once again.

So how does one avoid a breadcrumb, dredging mixture, and spaetzle batter explosion? First off, if you are making veal scallopini alongside your homemade spaetzle, get the veal breading over with right off the bat. Set up your dredging station with three shallow dishes. In the first dish place your beaten eggs, in the second dish place your seasoned breadcrumbs, and leave the final dish bare for the breaded veal to be contained in. Keeping one hand clean, dip the pounded raw veal into the egg mixture until well coated, then place directly into the breading mixture to coat evenly. Place the breaded veal in your third clean dish. Repeat until all the veal is breaded. Place the breaded veal in the fridge until ready to fry. Clean up your work station and then begin your spaetzle. This is the most crucial part of avoiding a mess, don't try to do everything all at once. Take it one step at a time. Once you have boiled your spaetzle you can begin frying your veal. While the veal is frying is the perfect time to reheat your spaetzle in a hot pan with butter (lots of it!). The rest of my advice for making easy and mess-free spaetzle is listed in the instructions below. The best advice I can give you is to have everything you will possibly need for making your spaetlze on hand and ready to go. Spaetzle cooks very quickly, so you don't have time to go searching through your drawers for a slotted spoon, or rushing around your kitchen to create an ice bath. Get all that stuff out of the way before you begin. By setting up your work station properly and taking things one step at a time, you will see just how easy this traditional German dish can be, and how rewarding it is once sitting down for that first bite of buttery, chewy spaetzle. 

What would I try next time?
Now that I can make delicious plain herb spaetzle, I'd like to experiment with all different types of flavours! I'd like to think of some of my favourite pasta dishes and mimic those flavours, try out different sauces and batters (why not spinach spaetzle?), think of different toppings like crispy and garlicky breadcrumbs or parmesan cheese.

* If there are larger leaves that you don't think will fit through the colander holes, give the thyme a quick rough chop.
** In terms of batter consistency, thick of a thick cake batter that you would need to press down with a spatula to even out.
*** An ice bath is just as it sounds, a bowl of ice water. An ice bath is used to quickly stop the cooking process of your product. To help fish out your product, set a colander resting inside.
**** With an active simmer, you want to see active movement in the water, not a roaring boil that will tear your spaetzle apart.
***** At this step you may reserve your spaetzle to serve at another time. To reheat, simply follow step 8 when ready to serve.

Ingredients:
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves*
1 1/2 tbsp fresh chives, finely sliced
1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
a large pinch of white pepper, plus more to taste
2 - 3 cups flour
water for boiling
1/4 cup butter
1 sprig fresh thyme

Directions:
  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add a large pinch of salt to water. While water is coming to a boil, prepare the spaetzle batter.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the beaten eggs with the milk, nutmeg, thyme, chives, salt, and white pepper. 
  3. Add the flour, a bit at a time until you have a thick batter. NOTE: You likely will not need all 3-cups of flour. Just keep adding until dough reaches the proper consistency.** Set aside.
  4. Set up your spaetzle making station: Have a colander on hand to push your batter though, set up an ice bath*** with a second colander resting in it to shock your spaetzle, have a slotted spoon ready to fish out the cooked spaetzle, have a bowl scraper or a spatula on hand to use to push the batter through the colander. Adjust the heat on the stove so that the boiling water is at a very active simmer****
  5. With the colander to form the spaetzle held steady over the boiling water, pour in about 1/3 of your spaetzle batter. Using a bowl scraper or spatula, press the batter through the colander holes so that the batter falls directly into the boiling water. Pour in enough so that you do not crowd the pot. Cook for about 1-2 minutes. While spaetzle is cooking, rest the colander in the bowl containing the remaining batter. 
  6. After 1-2 minutes of cooking, remove the spaetzle with a slotted spoon and place directly into the colander in the ice bath. Continue repeating steps until no batter remains.
  7. Remove the colander from the ice bath and drain the spaetzle.***** 
  8. In a medium-large saucepan melt the butter at medium heat and add a sprig of thyme. When butter begins to foam, add the drained spaetzle. Cook for 4-5 minutes until spaetzle is re-heated and begins to colour. Taste and re-season with salt and white pepper. Taste again. Re-season if necessary. Serve immediately with fresh thyme as a garnish.