Saturday, April 21, 2012

Make your vote count!

Want to be an online judge for the Ontario Wine Awards? Now you can! Make your opinion known and vote on the Best Label Design for this years awards! As a thank you for your vote, you will automatically be entered into a contest for a chance to win two tickets to sip & Savour Ontario, taking place on October 4th at Steam Whistle Brewery.  Let the voting begin! Vote now!

Listening To:
Diplo ft. Nicki B - Express Yourself

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Leftover Lovin': Stuffed French Toast

I hate when food goes to waste, even worse when it's really good food! It eats me up inside, and I feel guilty all week long knowing that good food had to go into the garbage. I consider this just about every time I cook or bake anything, doing whatever I can to incorporate whichever ingredients are nearing their final days into my meal. I also consider this while I'm cooking, making sure that I always have the right ratio of sauce to noodles so that none is left over without it's partner in crime, as well as my cheese blintzes, stuffing the crêpes so they're practically bursting at the seams thanks to the overload of stuffing. The problem with trying to use every single little bit of food up all the time, is that leftovers can often be the best inspiration for other meals. Take my cheese blintzes for instance, to be honest with you, I don't really like when my cheese blintzes are filled to the brim as I had been making them. I found when there was so much filling, it distracted from the delicate flavours and texture of the crêpe. So when I opted to stuff my blintzes less, I made sure to begin my leftover filling brainstorming right away to ensure that it would indeed get used up!

For years and years I have been wanting to make stuffed french toast, imaging the incredible contrast in both flavours and textures thanks to the addition of a creamy filling. As much as I wanted to try stuffed french toast, I really wanted someone else to make it for me. It looked like way too much work to have to make a filling from scratch, just to attempt to stuff it into a tiny crevice in the bread, that I believed would inevitably shred apart. With my leftover cheese blintz filling waiting patiently in my fridge, I had found my solution to making a stuffed french toast filling from scratch! With a few minor adjustments to sweeten up the already tangy filling, and add some more flavours and textures thanks to the addition of fresh strawberries and toasted almonds I had created my new favourite indulgent breakfast!

Tip: Be patient and gentle when stuffing the filling into the bread. Add a little bit at a time and you shouldn't come across any issues.

Note: I am fully aware of the many sexual innuendoes in this post, but it really couldn't have been written any other way! So laugh it up! I sure did!

1 slice challah bread, thick-cut
1 egg, lightly beaten
splash of milk
2 shakes cinnamon
3 strawberries, finely chopped,
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon
butter for frying
2 strawberries, sliced for garnish
handful of sliced almonds, lightly toasted
maple syrup, for serving

1. Cut the thick slice of challah into halves, making two triangles. Using a small serrated knife, carefully cut a slit into the centre of each half, leaving a border around the edges so that the bread holds together. This is where you will be stuffing the filling. Set aside.

2. In a shallow dish, whisk together the egg, a splash of milk, and two shakes of cinnamon. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl, mix together the leftover cheese blintz filling, the 3 finely chopped strawberries, vanilla extract, and cinnamon. Using a small spoon, carefully and gently stuff the filling inside the slits in both halves of the challah bread. Once bread is stuffed, dip and coat both sides in egg mixture.

4. Melt butter in a skillet or griddle at medium heat. Add the stuffed french toast into the pan and cook until golden on both sides. Serve immediately garnished with the sliced strawberries, almonds, and maple syrup!

Listening To:
TV On The Radio - Will Do

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Click here for my cheese blintz recipe!!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

RAW: The Great Toronto Tartare-Off!

I have learned over the past two years that a Grapes For Humanity event is a successful event! Always full of imagination (do you remember a Chocolate Wine Fantasy at the Four Seasons?) and talent, Grapes For Humanity continues to successfully merge the worlds of food and wine while raising funds for those in immediate need. Recently Grapes For Humanity held another successful and exciting event, RAW: The Great Toronto Tartare-Off, to raise funds to build a high school in Guatemala. Held at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, RAW brought together some of Toronto's hottest chefs and even a chef flown in from Yellowknife to battle for the title of King or Queen of tartare. With an impressive judging table including my personal favourite, Geddy Lee from Rush (rock stars will always be my favourite!), the pressure was on to create the most impressive meat, seafood, or vegetarian tartare to go along with its paired wine.

New to the world of tartare, I decided to put all of my inhibitions aside and try every single tartare and wine that RAW had to offer. Although I found myself a bit tartare'd out after getting through about 60% of the pairings, my newfound appreciation for the raw culinary creations kept me driven to try them all! Although La Palette had the most striking presentation at their table, with handmade rustic branches delicately holding cones filled with Venison Tartare, it was Epic's Wild Boar Tartare that really caught my attention! Yes I had my personal favourites, but it was up to the judges to make the final decision of who would be crowned the winner in both the amateur and professional chef categories. Out of the four amateur chefs participating, it was Paul Pender of Tawse Winery (you may remember Pender for being named Winemaker of the Year at this years Ontario Wine Awards) who had the honor of claiming the top spot with his Traditional Beef Tenderloin Tartare (I do recall going back for seconds at his station!). Out of the many very talented professional chefs, Lorenzo Loseto from George was the standout, taking the top spot of the evening with his beautiful Cobia Tartare topped with skewered crispy potato chips. I absolutely loved the flavour of Loseto's Cobia Tartare, but it was the textural contrast from the crispy potato chips that really made the dish stand out. Totally and completely tartare'd out, with a nice little buzz in me from the many fantastic wines that I tried, I went home excited about all of the new raw dishes I can now say I have tasted!

Listening To:
The Smiths - Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now

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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Cheaters Handbook: Giada de Laurentiis' Strawberry Mascarpone Cake

I love going the distance and making as much as I can from scratch as often as I can, but there are certain times of the year when it seems like everything is happening all at once, and the words "scratch made" can send you into a absolute tizzy! For my moms birthday this year I wanted to make her a really special meal that would make her feel loved on her special day. For a while I had been planning on making fresh handmade fettuccine with shrimp in a spicy lemon sauce, an almost completely scratch made dish (other than my little cheat of using frozen shrimp. Shhh don't tell!) as well as a scratch made birthday Strawberry Shortcake, similar to the one she bought for my party on my birthday. But as her birthday quickly began to approach so did my hours at work, other friends birthdays, family obligations, and so on. With a wild schedule on my hands, the thought of making both fresh pasta, an extremely labor intensive dish, and a scratch made cake with a recipe I had never tried, had me pretty freaked out. It was only two days before her birthday that I realized that I hardly had time to even make the fresh pasta for her special birthday meal! I had to change my game plan. With strawberry shortcake on the brain, it was easy for me to quickly find the perfect little cheat alternative for my moms birthday cake that would still be just as special for her!

A few years ago a friend had introduced me to Giada De Laurentiis' recipe for Strawberry and Mascarpone Filled Cupcakes. A fantastic cook and baker, I was surprised to see my friend using Vanilla cake mix as opposed to one of the recipes from one of her many cupcake cookbooks. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love those perfect moist and fluffy cupcakes that you get from a mix, but at the same time, there's no way you could ever get away with pretending you made them all yourself, they're just too perfect. I couldn't imagine how she would be able to disguise the obvious Duncan Hines vanilla cupcakes to her guests. Helping her through the process, it wasn't hard to see that my friend had her hands on one of the best dessert cheats I have ever come across! The cute cupcakes stuffed with the sweet mascarpone and strawberry mixture were absolutely to die for! The cake part of the cupcake was perfect, of course, but it was that delicious sweet cheese filling that had everyone in the room talking! Because she took the extra effort to inject the cupcakes with this delicious and out-of-the-ordinary filling, no one even questioned the authenticity of the cake. They couldn't have cared less whether or not the cake came from a mix. Thinking back on those incredible cupcakes, I knew I had found my moms birthday cake solution! Because I wanted to make a cake as opposed to cupcakes, and because I didn't have the expensive injector tool that my friend and Giada used for the cupcakes, I decided to make one round cake, cut it in half, and layer in the mascarpone and strawberry mixture in between the two cake slices. Absolutely beautiful and even more delicious the cake was a huge hit! Everyone loved my moms cheater birthday cake, and, just like the cupcakes that my friend had made, no one even thought to question whether the cake was from scratch or not!

This cheater recipe is definitely a MUST try! And hey, this just may be the Easter dessert recipe you've been looking for to serve to your family this Easter weekend!

Listening To:
The Maccabees - Toothpaste Kisses

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