Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sloppy Joes

Damn, when I was little I sure had it good! Of course I was sadly unaware of it at the time, but I was so incredibly fortunate growing up to have two parents that were awesome cooks! I suppose I just figured that all parents cooked like that and I never quite put two and two together and realized why all my friends wanted to come over to my house for dinner. My parents are often at their best in the kitchen, moving around the space as though they are performing a choreographed dance, tasting, mixing, and searching out ingredients instinctively knowing each others tastes and wants. They didn't just cook out of necessity, they cooked because of their passion for good food, good flavours, and the feeling you get when you enjoy a great dish. This lead them to discover new dishes to serve to my sister and I all the time. You would have thought we would have been in our absolute glory having meals like that all the time, but naturally the grass is always greener on the other side. I remember watching commercials for Hamburger Helper and longing to try that cheesy meaty dinner from a box, totally baffled that my mom had never wanted to buy it. The same went for frozen dinners, I thought it was just so cute and cool that each dish had its own little compartment in the plastic like your plate was made for meal. I swooned over the scene in It Takes Two with the Olsen twins when the character Alyssa ate her first Sloppy Joe, wishing that I could take my first bite of that messy concoction along with her! Alas, we never had meals like that in the Rose house.

Now into my twenties, often having to come up with something on my own before running out the door, or picking up the slack with the cooking when the parentals are busy, I certainly appreciate those regular home cooked meals from my past. You will never find one of those classic frozen dinners in my fridge, and I will never serve them to my own family. Although I'm still mildly curious about Hamburger Helper, the appeal is gone and I have still never tasted it. Now Sloppy Joes, on the other hand, are a totally different story. My interest in Sloppy Joes has remained just as strong over the years, despite the fact that up until a few months ago when I made this dish (jeeze another overdue blog post!) I had never even tasted a Sloppy Joe before. I think it had something to do with all that messiness and sauciness that just had me hooked! The time had come for me to fulfill my lifelong dream of having a Sloppy Joe for dinner! Just as I had imagined and heard, I whipped up the Sloppy Joes so incredibly quickly, using a recipe as a guideline and tasting and adding ingredients as I went. Just as I had always imagined, the Sloppy Joes were delicious! Served on a soft bun, the fresh bread soaked up the delicious sweet and spicy sauce that enveloped the savory ground beef, with texture in every bite from crunchy sweet yellow bell peppers. My parents both loved their Sloppy Joes and wondered aloud why they had never made them for my sister and I growing up. My future children (NOT ANY TIME SOON!) are definitely in for a treat!

1/2 yellow onion
1 lb ground beef (lean)
1/2 yellow pepper, diced
1/2 cup chili sauce
1/2 cup barbeque sauce
1 tsp prepared yellow mustard
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp brown sugar
chili powder, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
soft buns for serving

1. In a medium skillet set to medium heat, sauté the onion until translucent. Add the ground beef and yellow pepper and continue cooking, while breaking up the meat with a spatula, until meat has browned. Drain off any liquids.

2. Stir in the chili sauce, barbecue sauce, prepared yellow mustard, garlic powder, and brown sugar. Taste and season with chili powder and salt and pepper according to taste. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve hot on fresh soft buns.

Listening To:

Gourmet Food & Wine Expo

In a city filled to the brim with food events taking place just about every other day, it's difficult to decide which ones you would be willing to spend your hard-earned money on. Having attended food and beverage events in Toronto for quite a number of years now, I have a much better understanding of what to look for ahead of time to gage whether or not the event is worth my time and money. Years ago I vowed that I was no longer willing to shell out what little money I had for tickets to the many food and beverage expos that take place in Toronto. I was irritated by having to pay generally a minimum of $20 just to enter a building jam-packed with a hungry crowd, only to pay more money for anything I was interested in sampling. Don't get me wrong, I am ALL for sampling a variety of products, allowing me to experience new flavours and brands, but at the same time, I am a woman with a lot of pride and I won't be very pleased unless I have been given my money's worth, which I had found to be a rarity. Despite my dislike for expos, I am still one hell of a food lover and couldn't imagine turning down tickets to the VIP night of the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo kindly offered to me by Mott's Clamato, one of the exhibitors and show features at the expo. So off I went on Thursday night, with my mom in tow, to experience what the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo had to offer.

Immediately I was taken aback by the crowds, which were still pouring in as I arrived 2 hours into the event. I quickly remembered why I always like to bring a small purse and take advantage of coat check as I tried to maneuver my big bowling ball of a purse and Fall coat through the chaos, all the while being aware not to knock any glasses over! With stomach's growling, we quickly made our way over to the food section of the event to sample some gourmet food offerings. Sample tickets are purchased upon entry, which act as the show's currency. You may only buy sheets of at least 20 sample tickets at a time, with each ticket representing $1. The booths offer samples that can cost anywhere from 1 to 7 tickets (on average from what I observed). We promptly scanned the selection and decided which dishes we felt were the biggest bang for the buck. I'm sorry to say that I was quite disappointed by the selection. I was hoping to be impressed by the assortment of gourmet food the expo would offer, but was saddened to see just how little "gourmet" food there truly was, as well as realizing how fast we were going to blow through our sample tickets, as most samples cost around 4 tickets. My general rule of thumb at these types of events is to observe where the line ups are which will tell you what samples people are enjoying the most. Despite the crowds, lines were short and fast moving, so we decided to line up for the longest one at Milagro, serving up tacos, margaritas, and tequila shots. We each got a pulled pork taco at only 3 sample tickets each and devoured it in next to no time. I'm taco spoiled thanks to my amazing experience at La Carnita at Food Truck Eats, but Milagro's tacos were nothing to turn my nose up at. Tender, juicy, with great acidity and toppings I thoroughly enjoyed Milagro's taco and could have gone back for more! We then went to Highway 61's booth, a barbeque restaurant both my mom and I were familiar with. We have enjoyed their barbeque platters in the the past along with their onion rings, baked beans, and fries, but have never ordered their crab cakes, one of my food weaknesses. For another 3 sample tickets each we both got a bite sized crab cake that didn't exactly leave me weak at the knees due to its fishy flavour. Of course I had to check out the Mott's Clamato booth and get my hands on a spicy caesar, which I knew could do no wrong.

Never one to disappoint, Mott's not only impressed me with their caesar, which was right on point, but also with their Caesar School, which unfortunately was all full by the time we went over. The Mott's Clamato booth is a wonderful example of the benefits of attending an expo like this. It's learning experiences like this that allow attendees to truly take advantage of what the expo has to offer, and leave with new knowledge on the product, brand, and how they can replicate what they have tasted at home. For no additional charge or sample tickets, you could sign up to sit in on Mott's Clamato's Caesar School where their charming drink master teaches you how to make and perfect different types of unique caesars. Although I was unable to sit in on this, it appeared to be very similar to the types of mixing that took place at the Coast to Coast Caesar Toast in the summer, which I learned so much from.

I couldn't believe how fast the time flew by the time we had finished our caesars. At 8:45 anxiety kicked in as I realized I had only 15 minutes to head over to the Food Network stage and find a prime spot to plant myself, to get the best view of their celebrity chef Chuck Hugh's from one of my favourite Food Network show's Chuck's Day Off. Off to the side, but with a perfect view of the stage, my mom and I waited for the man of the hour to walk out. A laid back Chuck came out with that same charm, charisma, and black T-shirt we all know and love from his show, happily answering questions from the audience and telling us all about what Chuck's Day Off has in store for the future, a new special he worked on Chuck's Week Off in Mexico, and his incredible experience with The Next Iron Chef. I was lucky enough to get to ask Chuck a question myself, while keeping my nerves in check as he stood less than a foot away from me and stared into my bewildered eyes. With much of the audience frustrating me asking non-food related questions such as "do you have a girlfriend?" and "what do you think of the occupy movement?", I asked Chuck if he were stranded on a deserted island, what five ingredients would he want with him? He gladly answered 1) Water 2) Butter 3) Hot Sauce 4) Bacon 5)....honestly, I couldn't catch what he said here but I believe it was Wu Tang? Can anyone confirm this? I know it was a music artist, but I can't remember who. Help a sister out if you were in attendance and remember! The highlight of my night, I walked away with a big stupid grin on my face and a new hunger for another food sample!

We finished off the expo by grabbing the pulled pork sliders from Lou Dawgs at 5 sample tickets for 2 sliders. The sliders were tasty with the tender pork and sweet and smokey Lou Dawgs barbeque sauce that our server recommended. No better way to end the evening than barbeque sauce dripping down your chin right? We left with extremely lame GFWE gift bags on our arms and that same stupid "omg I just talked to Chuck Hugh's" grin on my face. It's clear to see that my feelings on food and beverage expos has not changed much but I do have some positive things to note. No I would not recommend anyone to attend the expo if you are just looking to try some interesting food. But if you are looking to get the opportunity to sample all different types of wine from all around the world, learn some new tips and tricks on mixing cocktails, and meet your favourite celebrity chef, then yes, by all means brave the cold and head down to the convention centre, but not before scouring the web for a promotional code to get you cheaper entry fee. I suppose one of the biggest reasons why I was so disappointed in the expo was that I have been very lucky to have attended so many other incredible food and beverage events in Toronto in the past that I not only enjoyed more, but felt I got more value for the time and money I had spent. Consider sip & Savour Ontario with an entry fee of $65. Sure this sounds like a lot of money to spend on one evening, but that entry fee is your only cost for the night as you are able to sample as much wine as you like once inside, as well as sample gourmet food from some of the province's top restaurants and chefs. At the expo you are paying $18 entry fee plus service charges, around $40 on average on sampling tickets to get a full experience of the event, plus $20 parking, and this doesn't get you even near the quality of food that sip & Savour offered. You can make the same comparison with the expo and Food Truck Eats, an event that I was extremely impressed with. I found the food from Food Truck Eats to be of a higher quality and far more unique than the food served at the expo, and with each dish costing no more than $5, you can't compare the value. I don't like writing negative reviews on my blog, but in this instance I felt the need to express my constructive criticism. Before you purchase tickets to any food and beverage event in Toronto make sure to do your research. Look up promotional codes to cut the cost of entry, read up on what features the show has to offer and which brands and products the show will be exhibiting, find people who have attended the event in previous years and ask them questions about the value and quality, and remember that just because an event is highly advertised doesn't mean it will be a great event. I by no means wrote this to offend anyone taking part in the GFWE, I just want my blog to reflect my honest opinion and perhaps allow my readers to walk away having learnt something new. Please continue to show your support for Toronto's incredible food and beverage scene!

Listening To:
Frank Ocean - Thinking About You

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Last week, when reading over my entry on my Pumpkin Ravioli with Sage Butter Sauce, I couldn't help but wonder why I chose to go the savory route when I was hit with pumpkin inspiration due to the constant flow of comments on the now extremely popular Pumpkin Spice Latte. I know I didn't want to make a drink (I retract my statement in that last entry about me being horrible at making coffee, I used to work at a café and pastry shop and I can make one mean cappuccino, latte, and macchiato using an espresso machine) but how come I didn't choose to make a pumpkin spice dessert to go along with a warm drink? The truth is, my taste buds like to go back and forth between craving sweet and savory all the time. Just a few weeks ago all I could think about was herbs, spices, meats, etc. choosing chips and dip as my after-dinner snack as opposed to a baked good. And yet here I am now, finding myself scouring the cupboards, fridge, and freezer for any hint of a dessert after each and every meal, choosing pancakes and waffles for breakfast rather than my old standby toast and a fried egg. So sure enough, being in my sugar and spice and everything nice mode while reading the pumpkin ravioli entry, I was struck again with seasonal pumpkin inspiration. I imagined the perfect little dessert that I could take with me to work to snack on that would epitomize all of my favourite things about Fall, just as I had with my Pumpkin Ravioli entree.

After spending more time than necessary looking at an abundance of pumpkin spice food porn, searching all the many pumpkin spice recipes that are available on the internet, I decided to make Pumpkin Spice Cookies. I found a simple recipe for Pumpkin Spice cookies on that sounded promising, so out came the leftover pumpkin in the fridge, the sugar, flour, KitchenAid, and even a mortar and pestle for hand grinding my spices! I was all set and ready for pumpkin spice heaven! Other than grinding my own spices, this recipe was incredibly fast and quick to follow, and truly the only reason why I hand-ground some of my spices was because I only had whole cloves and nutmeg in my cupboard, so I had to make due. The cookies turned out really yummy, but of course I always have my revisions. This brings up a whole new topic that I feel the need to discuss.

It's tricky when you still consider yourself to still be a fairly new cook (I know I've been cooking for as long as I can remember, but I still have SO much to learn!) and want to try out all the fantastic sounding recipes that you come across online, in magazines and books, etc. You want to share a delicious recipe with everyone, but do you really have the right to when the recipe is not your own? I consider my blog a resource that people can use to obtain tasty and simple recipes that they can feel confident has been tested in a home kitchen. And true, I always cite where I have gotten the recipes that are not my own, but I still feel strange about publishing a recipe that people, if they do not read the entry in full, may assume to be my own. After much thought, I decided that the only way that i can feel confident delivering these recipes to you is if I offer something valuable that the recipe and website is not already offering such as special tips, tricks, and revisions that I feel allow you to take the recipe a little bit closer to perfection. So although's recipe for Pumpkin Spice Cookies was great, I feel that my recipe, complete with my own revisions, will be your new Fall favourite! With a texture soft like cake with a crunch and nuttiness from chopped walnuts, the sweetness of the pumpkin, and the kick from the spice, these cookies truly succeed in epitomizing Fall!

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup lightly toasted walnuts, chopped
1/3 cup golden raisins (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and salt, and set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter with the white and brown sugar. Add the pumpkin, egg, and 1 tsp vanilla and beat until creamy. Mix in the dry ingredients, walnuts, and raisins, making sure to not over-mix.

3. Drop onto a lined cookie sheet by tablespoonfuls, flattening slightly. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Best eaten warm out of the oven, but cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 1 week.

Listening To:
M83 - Midnight City .mp3
Found at bee mp3 search engine

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pumpkin Ravioli in a Sage Butter Sauce

Click on just about any girls Twitter or Facebook timeline within the past month, and you're sure to find a post about the beloved Pumpkin Spice Latte. I've never been one to get too excited about handing over a five-dollar bill for one calorie-filled drink that I will slowly sip until the last few gulps inevitably turns cold, I personally would rather save my toonies for the bar and cab rides home. No, the expensive seasonal drink craze isn't for me, but I absolutely understand the appeal of indulging in a comforting cup of well...Fall. What I think people love about that special latte is the memories it conjures up, the feelings you can't help but come over you with each warming sip, reminding you about all the beautiful things that come with this chilly yet spectacular season. Visits to the pumpkin patch, hay rides, carving out Halloween pumpkins, pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, the Pumpkin Spice Latte symbolizes all of these wonderful special occasions and memories, allowing you to experience the joys of Fall any ordinary day of the week! I am notorious for making pretty terrible coffee and breaking just about any coffee maker I've come into contact with, so there wasn't a chance in hell that I was going to try and replicate the seasonal drink. With pumpkin ravioli on the brain thanks to both new issues of Food & Drink and Food & Wine magazines featuring the recipe, I knew I had found my Fall-inspired dish!

After a bit of research and recipe comparison, I came up with my own recipe for the ravioli that was as simple as possible, but still had great flavour. I thought back on a dinner I had last year at Parts and Labour in Toronto where I was served an absolutely delicious pumpkin ravioli, that shouted FALL with each bite. What made that ravioli stand out so much was the simplicity of the dish and the extra little bit of texture they added with the addition of toasted pumpkin seeds. Because I know how incredibly labour-intensive it is to make your own pasta from scratch, I nixed that and opted to use purchased wonton wrappers instead, cutting down a huge chunk of prep time. The delicately flavoured final product was fantastic, taking my taste buds back to that delicious memory from Parts and Labour and of course all the other exciting Fall milestones. This is a great dish to transport you to your favourite Fall memory any day of the week!

Tip: Take this dish to new heights by drizzling a bit of truffle oil on top before serving.

1 cup pure pumpkin puree (from a can)
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 tbsp parmesan cheese, grated + more for garnish
2-3 tbsp unseasoned breadcrumbs
1 package wonton wrappers
1/4 cup unsalted butter
about 6-8 sage leaves
a handful of pumpkin seeds (lightly toasted)

1. In a medium bowl mix together the pumpkin puree, ricotta cheese, salt, nutmeg, and parmesan cheese. Add the breadcrumbs one tablespoon at a time until mixture begins to come together and isn't as moist.

2. Set up an assembly station, laying out the wonton wrappers, the pumpkin mixture, a small bowl of water, and a baking sheet to lay the ravioli on. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of the pumpkin mixture into the centre of the wrappers. Dip a clean finger into the bowl of water and moisten the edges of the wrappers. Fold over the wrappers to create a triangle bundle filled with the pumpkin mixture, pinch the edges to seal and squeeze out any air pockets. Lay out on the baking sheet.

3. Once raviolis have all been filled (you will have about 40-50 raviolis) boil a large pot of well-salted water. Reduce heat to a gentle boil and carefully drop in the raviolis (they will be delicate). Gently stir and boil for 3-4 minutes. Carefully drain water.

4. In a large pan melt the butter at medium heat. Immediately add the sage leaves. Once butter begins to foam, use a spoon to scoop out the white milk solids, working quickly so the butter doesn't burn. When the butter begins to brown, turn off heat immediately. Transfer raviolis to a serving dish and top with the sage butter. Sprinkle with toasted pumpkin seeds and parmesan cheese. Serve immediately!

Listening To:
Beyoncé - Countdown

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