Saturday, September 24, 2011

Blueberry Streusel Scones

You feel that? There's that chill in the air. No matter how much I enjoy baking, feeling that incredible calm that comes with mixing batter, rolling dough, and measuring out ingredients juuust so, the thought of heating up the kitchen when the sun is blazing outside seems absolutely cruel to me. There's no doubt about it, my poor oven ( my best friend come the winter time) gets neglected, alienated, abandoned during the balmy summer months. It's right when that first chilly September day hits that I feel the itch. Like some invisible force pulling me to my oven, I can't help but start daydreaming about all the delicious baked goods I can begin to create come the chilly Fall and Winter months. So when that first cool day arrived a few weeks ago (oh man this post is overdue!) I couldn't help but bring out the flour, sugar, measuring cups and so on, to make a late afternoon treat, Blueberry Streusel Scones.

I have tried making scones years ago and other than my yummy Berry Scones, they have always been a failure as I seemed to enjoy mixing the dough so much, I would always be left with dry and crumbly scones once I removed them from the oven. The trick is to handle the dough as little as possible. With this trick in mind, I adjusted the Blueberry Streusel Scone recipe I found from ever so slightly, merely changing the directions and not the ingredients. To my delight, my scones ended up having the perfect texture! Light, moist, with a slight crumble, enough sweetness to eat on their own, but only just enough so that they wouldn't be too sweet if anyone wanted to spread their with jam. They were exactly the type of baked treat I needed on that chilly day to put a mile on my face despite the weather making me feel blue.

2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
6 tbsp cold butter, cut into pieces
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk or cream + more for brushing
Streusel Topping
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp cold butter, cut into pieces

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter or two knives. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. Gently fold in the blueberries. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture.

2. In a small bowl combine the cream, beaten egg, and vanilla. Add this mixture to the well in the flour mixture and, using a spoon, stir just until dough comes together. Using clean hands, knead the dough 4 or 5 times right inside the bowl, scraping up any leftover flour mixture at the bottom of the bowl.

3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat dough into a circle that is about 7-inches round and about 1 1/2-inches thick. Divide the circle into 8 triangles. Place scones on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat mat. Brush the tops with milk or cream.

4. In a small bowl prepare the streusel topping. Whisk together the sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Using clean hands add the butter and begin mixing together until mixture is crumbly. Top each scone with streusel mixture and bake for about 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a scone comes out clean.

Listening To:

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

LCBO GoLocal Niagara Wine Tour

Harvest time is known to be the best time to visit wine country, so as soon as I felt that first chill in the air, I joined my fellow Ontario food and wine bloggers on the LCBO GoLocal Niagara Wine Tour, a day dedicated to learning and experiencing what makes Ontario VQA wine and Ontario wine country so special.
We began our wine country experience by hopping on the exclusive LCBO GoLocal VIA train (that's right, we got our very own train for the tour! SWAG!) where we got to mingle and catch up with the other bloggers in attendance, while munching on our VIA first class breakfast. During the speedy train ride into Niagara, we were introduced to three guest speakers who educated us on the significance and advantages of producing cool climate wines, understanding terroir in Ontario, and the importance of creating a deeper connection to the wine through visiting wine country.

Although we often associate warmer climate regions with successful wine making, Ontario, as a cool climate wine producing region, is actually at an advantage. An obvious advantage is the length of the growing season, as a cool climate allows for our grape growing season to be extended. A cool climate also allows for the natural sweetness and acidity of the grapes to be released, resulting in a more natural flavour and no need for modification. This leads into Terroir, which, as you have learned from my previous entries on Bordeaux wine, "refers to the vineyard-specific environmental differences (such as soil types, drainage, local micro-climates, and sun exposure). Terroir is the biggest difference as to why the same varietals all taste differently from around the world and even from back to back vineyards." ( Climate is one aspect of Terroir, but one that, in turn, affects all of the other factors of Terroir, such as soil. Ontario's cool climate results in a fantastic soil for grape growing. Ontario wine makers are now paying close attention to their vineyards terroir, and even the environmental differences from one side of their vineyard compared to the other. Consider the many environmental differences within the Niagara region where you will see all different types of soil from sandy gravel to heavy clay. It's through touring these wineries, and getting to speak directly with the winemakers that you get a much better sense of the wine, as you can experience first-hand all the many environmental factors each winery is working with, as well as get to know the characters and stories that helped create the wine. This will not only give you a better sense of the wine and why it tastes that way, but also helps to build a personal relationship with that winery and specific wine and help to develop a story, because let's face it, wine drinking is about so much more than just tasting the wine. And let's not forget the many fantastic restaurants that our Ontario wineries have created. Many Ontario wineries today are known just as much for their culinary achievements as they are for their wine.

When we arrived in St. Catharines we were split up into two groups, with each group visiting a different winery and tasting a different selection of wines that reflected the theme they were given. The group themes reflect the way in which Ontario wines are going to be organized in the LCBO to help people track down their favourite Ontario VQA wine with ease. My group headed to Coyote's Run Estate Winery with the theme Crisp and Zesty, where we got to meet representatives from not only Coyote's Run, but also Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery and Jackson Triggs Vintners. As we tasted each of the seven wines, the representatives elaborated on the terroir that helped to create the wines we were drinking, as well as told us helpful (especially so for a newbie like me!) tasting notes for each one. The wines from this tasting that stood out the most for me were:

Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery - 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
  • Peninsula Ridge is known for their Sauvignon Blanc wines.
  • This particular one was cold fermented in stainless steel with a wide variety of yeast, with the lees contact for almost a year.
  • Flavours of greenery, gooseberry, pineapple, and passionfruit.
Coyote's Run Estate Winery - 2009 Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir
  • Red Paw vs. Black Paw refers to the two different types of clay found on the vineyard.
  • Traditional maceration and fermentation in small open-top fermentors and aged 14 months in French oak barriques.
  • Bouquet of violets, strawberry jam and cedar. Flavours of strawberry, cranberry with a velvety texture and sweet oak tannin.
After all that wine tasting, we had definitely worked up an appetite. I was thrilled to learn that the surprise lunch that was kept secret from us all morning was supplied by two food trucks! Both El Gastronomo Vagabundo and Gorilla Cheese were parked outside Creekside Estate Winery, ready to serve! I could not wipe the smile off my face! After just missing out on El Gastronomo's tacos that I had heard so much about at Food Truck Eats, I was one of the first in line to get my hands on them this time around. I placed an order for their Fish Tacos with local corn salsa, Bajan hot sauce, and sour cream, as well as their Local Heirloom Tomato Salad with watermelon, jalapenos, Upper Canada Cheese, basil pesto, and sumac. Both dishes were off the charts delicious! The fish in the tacos was perfectly flakey with a light and crisp batter, complimented by the contrast of the sweet corn and spicy hot sauce, all wrapped up in a warm and soft homemade tortilla. The tacos were great, but WOAH that salad was one of the best and most unique salads I have had the pleasure of tasting. A flavour explosion in my mouth, I couldn't get enough of this gorgeous salad, jam packed with bold flavours, once again contrasting both sweet and spicy. Of course lunch wouldn't be complete without more wine! Creekside set up a little tasting bar for us where they had a selection of wine pairings based on what we had ordered at the trucks. El Gastronomo 's menu was paired with:

Creekside 2010 Sauvignon Blanc
  • Sauvignon Blanc is the varietal that made Creekside famous!
  • This wine is classically fresh and zesty with grassy gooseberry aromas with a touch of citrus.
  • Bright acidity makes this wine truly refreshing.
Creekside 2008 Shiraz
  • Medium bodied with ripe plum and black pepper spice.
  • An intriguing mix of elegant and robust.
  • Displays the vintage's bright acidity and intense structure, making it cellar worthy for years to come!
The wine tasting continued after lunch where we were once again split up into two groups, with new wineries and new themes! This time my group headed to Malivoire Winery with the theme Ripe and Smooth. Just like at Coyote's Run, we were again greeted by representatives from Malivoire, Strewn Winery, and Cave Spring Cellars. I enjoyed a number of the wines I tasted at the final tasting of the day, but my standout pick for not only the final tasting, but out of all the wines I tasted throughout the day was:

Cave Spring Cellars - 2009 Pinot Noir Niagara Peninsula
  • Lighter colour, which tend to be more light in flavour and harmonious when they're young.
  • Silky textures on the palate, with light and delicate tannins.
  • More angular than the other wines tasted.
  • Flavours of strawberry, sweet cherry, and rose.
I can honestly say that I gained more knowledge on Ontario wine in that one day than I have in all the years I have been learning about Ontario wine combined. Sure, this is largely due to my maturation since first visiting Ontario wine country years ago, but our fantastic hosts, representatives, wine makers, and bloggers that were so kind and generous in sharing their experience and knowledge on the subject throughout the day, were absolutely essential in enriching the whole experience. I can give you no better advice than to go and visit Ontario wine country yourself and experience the excellence our province has to offer!

Listening To:
Beastie Boys - Intergalactic

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tomato Bruschetta

My dad's office is conveniently located next to a wonderful flower shop. It's easy to see from taking a quick glance around our house that my dad has developed a great relationship with the florists over the years, as they send him home with flowers, herbs, plants, fruits and veggies, sometimes as much as several times a week. So when my dad brought home a big box filled with pounds and pounds of Ontario tomatoes, the pressure was on to quickly think up some delicious summer tomato dishes to use up the fruit before it went bad. With a thriving basil plant in my garden, there was no question in my mind what I was going to make.

Bruschetta is one of my favourite appetizers to order at a restaurant. Just like sushi, bruschetta is one of those dishes that I could be in the mood to eat any time of day, any time of year. Just put a plate of it in front of me and it will surely be devoured in a matter of moments. I remember a few years ago my family fell in love with a packaged tomato bruschetta mix that we used to pick up at Costco all the time. When I say all the time, I absolutely mean that. We loved that bruschetta mix so much we not only topped our toasted bread with it, but added it to omelettes, pastas, quiches, pizzas, you name it! So as soon as I saw all those beautiful ripe tomatoes just waiting to be cooked with, I immediately thought back on those lovely bruschetta memories. I couldn't believe that I had never made bruschetta from scratch before. With only a few simple ingredients, bruschetta is so super simple to make. In fact, you can even prepare the tomato topping in advance, and toast and assemble the bread when it's time for dinner, or, if entertaining, when your guests arrive. I whipped up the bruschetta in no time, and proudly served it to my family, knowing damn well that my fresh tomato bruschetta would blow Costco's out of the water. Sure enough my family went nuts over my bruschetta, proclaiming that we would never again buy bought bruschetta mix ever again!

Note: You may be wondering why I keep specifying that this is a tomato bruschetta. The reason is that bruschetta actually just means toasted bread. Sure we are most familiar to the juicy tomato topping most found in restaurants, but in fact you can top bruschetta with just about anything! I love to get ideas on what to top my bruschetta with from Pizzeria Libretto's menu or twitter feed. They change their homemade bruschetta all the time, always coming up with unique flavour combinations utilizing what's in season. Play around with your bruschetta! You'll be amazed by how versatile it can be!

2 tomatoes, chopped into about 1/2-inch pieces, with as much seeds removed as possible
6 basil leaves, chopped
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 baguette or country loaf cut into about 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch slices
olive oil
fresh garlic
salt and pepper to season

1. In a medium bowl, stir together the chopped tomatoes with the basil and balsamic vinegar. Set aside.

2. Lay out the slices of bread on a baking sheet and brush the tops with olive oil. Toast in a 350-400º oven until bread is toasted, golden-brown and crisp.

3. Remove from oven and immediately rub the top of each slice with fresh garlic. Top with tomato mixture and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Listening To:
lykke li - knocked up

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Quinoa Stuffed Eggplant

Although I've cooked with it numerous times now, quinoa remains a bit of a foreign ingredient to me. Having only made it into a salad, I was itching to utilize it in one of the interesting ways I had heard about. Quinoa burgers, quinoa onion rings, quinoa meatloaf, they all sounded so intriguing to me! So when my mom brought a beautiful purple eggplant home from the grocery store and suggested making some sort of stuffed eggplant, the lightbulb in my brain instantly lit up. Quinoa stuffed eggplant was the answer! My mom seemed skeptical. She had heard of stuffing eggplant with rice, but quinoa? Just like me, quinoa is still very much a foreign ingredient for my mom. She began enacting the tell tale signs that she wasn't on board with the idea. Her voice softens, her eyes shift, she pauses after every word or so "well...sure...I've never heard of that...but...ya, try it...". It's easy to get a little nervous at this point, worried that your diners won't like the dish that you're about to prepare, but I felt confident that I could win her over!

Part way through the cooking process I began to become a little skeptical myself. The roasted veggies weren't becoming as soft as I had liked and the dish wasn't looking as aesthetically pleasing as I had hoped. Maybe this wasn't a winner afterall? Nope, that wasn't gonna stop me! I continued cooking, tasting as I went. I stuffed my filling back into the eggplant shells (nervous that the softened skins would collapse when filled and baked again), and topped it with a generous sprinkling of parmesan cheese at my moms suggestion. Sure enough, just as I had initially thought, my quinoa stuffed eggplant turned out absolutely delicious! The flavours were all right on point, the eggplant shells had indeed held up during the second bake, and the presentation looked fantastic! This is exactly the type of dish I'm most proud to call my own. I created it all on instinct by following my gut and tasting every step of the way, and not once did I refer to any other recipe. This baby was all my own! Healthy, delicious, unique, and striking, this dish is definitely getting a "Danielle's Favourites" tag!

Tip: You can easily turn this into a vegan dish by cutting out the parmesan cheese.

1 medium/large eggplant, cut in half lengthwise
1 red bell pepper (may substitute with any colour of bell pepper), chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
about 2-3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1/2 - 3/4 cup tomato sauce
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp garlic
about 2-3 tbsp parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

1. Using a sharp knife cut through the inside of the eggplant to cut a sort of grid, making sure to not cut through the skin of the eggplant and leaving about a quarter-inch border all around. Using a spoon, scoop out the inside of the eggplant, once again leaving about a quarter-inch border around.

2. In a medium baking dish, toss in the scooped out eggplant. Set aside the hollowed eggplant shells. Add the chopped red pepper and onion to the baking dish and drizzle over half of the olive oil. Add in the oregano and garlic, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Pour the remaining olive oil inside the eggplant shell, rub to coat and place in baking dish cut side down. Bake in a 400º oven for 35-40 minutes, or until vegetables have softened, stirring occasionally.

3. In the meantime, cook the quinoa. In a small pot stir together the quinoa and water, set on the stove, uncovered, at high heat until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Once cooked, allow quinoa to rest in pot for 5 minutes. Then fluff with a fork.

4. Once chopped vegetables have cooked, toss them into the quinoa with the tomato sauce and basil and season with salt and pepper. Scoop quinoa mixture evenly into the roasted eggplant shells and top with the parmesan cheese. Bake for another 10-15 minutes. Serve hot.

Listening To:
Lana Del Rey- Video Games

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Grilled Peaches with Burrata & Prosciutto

Where did the summer go? This seems to be the question on everyones mind for the last few weeks...although when I ask that question it sounds a lot more hostile! I've spent the last few weeks totally in denial that Summer was about to come to an end. With this being my last Summer in my home's beautiful backyard (my family is selling the home that I've lived in my whole life this Fall) I've been scared out of my mind about this chapter of my life coming to an end (and now the tears begin). With this and other factors weighing on my mind for the Summer, I'm sad to say that I've pushed away a lot of responsibilities, commitments, and opportunities. It's one thing to focus on the positive, but it's a whole other ball game when you completely neglect anything that might be a little difficult, stressful, or challenging. It's funny that when you think you are pushing away all the negative, in turn you actually push out a whole lot of positive as well. And that's just what I did. When you don't force yourself to truck through those challenging situations you don't gain anything in the end.

My blog was one of the many things that I pushed away this Summer. I felt paralyzed by all of the stress in my life, and felt like keeping up my blog, cooking, writing, and networking would just add to my stress. Now I look back on my Summer, my few recipes that I've posted, the wonderful opportunities that I failed to act on, and my gorgeous herb garden that will begin to die in only a few weeks, and feel such deep regret that I didn't take advantage of it all. I forgot how incredibly happy it makes me to serve a meal that I'm proud of; to share a recipe with friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers; to feel inspired by a new ingredient; to go outside of my boundaries and take a chance; to have someone tell me how great my dish looked or tasted; to get recognition from an unlikely source. Without trucking through the hard work I was never able to gain any of those wonderful and fulfilling benefits. Refusing to let myself slump back into that paralyzed state with this newfound regret, I'm choosing to look at my Summer as a lesson. Nothing of any value can come about without hard work. Those people that seem to get handed everything? Forget about them! That's not reality and that's not how you're going to feel fulfilled at the end of the day. Do what you love, and don't let anything (I mean ANYTHING) get in the way of that.

So I guess you're wondering what the hell this has to do with grilled peaches? The truth is, I've actually written this very entry about five times in the past two weeks, each time finding myself going off topic and getting lost on a tangent about personal issues that don't have a damn thing to do with peaches! So instead of fighting all those feelings that were dying to be put into words and published for everyone to see, I decided to just give in and get it all out so I can move on...and talk about peaches!

After feeling down and out and overwhelmed, it can be difficult to throw yourself back into the game. When you find yourself in this position, the best advice I can give you is to start simple. My Grilled Peaches with Burrata and Prosciutto recipe reflects this idea. This simple yet elegant dish was the perfect recipe for me to create to get myself feeling motivated again. With it's minimal ingredients, incredibly easy and quick assembly, and the stunning final result, my Grilled Peaches with Burrata and Prosciutto was neither intimidating nor overwhelming. It reminded me how simple it can be to gain all of those amazing and fulfilling benefits that comes from applying yourself. I felt so proud to serve this gorgeous dish to my family and taste how wonderful it turned out, and now I am so excited to be sharing it with you all! I promise you, this recipe will bring you as much joy as it did for me with the wonderful contrast of textures, with the silky, creamy burrata cheese and juicy Ontario peaches, and flavours, from the sweet peaches and salty prosciutto. It's amazing what a mere four ingredients can create! With food this simple and tasty, you really can't help but smile once again!

Tip: Pick up your burrata cheese in Kensington market (if you live in Toronto), they sell it around half the cost of other cheese retailers. And if burrata is still out of your budget, substitute with buffalo mozzarella or even ricotta cheese.

3 peaches, cut in half with pits removed
1 ball of burrata cheese
4-6 prosciutto slices
about 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

1. Place peaches, cut side down, on an oiled grill or grill pan set to medium-high heat. Allow peaches to grill for about 6-8 minutes or until peach is warm to the touch and grill marks are visible.

2. While peaches are grilling, slice burrata into six slices. Set aside.

3. Once peaches are grilled, lay them out on a serving tray and top each peach halve with a slice of burrata. Tear the prosciutto slices and place them around the dish. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper.

Listening To:
Amy Winehouse - Love is a Losing Game

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