Monday, December 9, 2013

Compliments Presents: Jamie Oliver Discovers Canada

Melt In The Mouth Beef Blade Pot Roast; Old-School Holiday Ham; Easy Cookin' Flattened Chicken; Heart-Warming Apple & Berry Crisp
Years ago I used to be obsessed with the Food Network. I was the kind of obsessive Food Network junkie that would have the food-centric network on in the background all day long, no matter what I was doing. It's been a few years since I've kicked my Food Network-watching habit, tired with the many reality TV shows and disingenuous plucky hosts that seem to have taken over the channel, but the one Food Network personality that I will always, and I mean always, stop and watch for is Jamie Oliver. Jamie has always been my absolute favourite food personality thanks to his wonderful recipe creations that always leave me drooling, his commitment to helping to create a healthier future, how genuine and personable he always comes across, and his all around positive attitude that is downright infectious! I truly trust Jamie's opinions and advice, which is why I was so excited to hear that he had partnered with Canadian grocery chain Sobey's to create a line of food products inspired by his travels throughout our beautiful country. Last week I had the opportunity to try all fourteen better food options that were tested, tasted, and approved by Jamie Oliver himself, as well as meet the Sobey's team that worked alongside Jamie and his recipe development team to bring these wonderful products to life! 
Nice & Spicy Indian-Style Dahl Dip; A Taste of Tuscany Italian-Style Bean Dip; Zingy Moroccan-Style Hummus
Myself, along with a group of other eager food bloggers and recipe developers were welcomed to sit down to a nine-course dinner at Nella Cucina, compliments of Sobey's, to try the entire line of products. I wasn't quite sure how the products would fare, as I find a lot of packaged products like this can be very hit or miss, but with Jamie's stamp of approval on all of the products served, I was sure that I wouldn't be let down. Sure enough, I was so extremely impressed by the whole Compliments Presents: Jamie Discovers Canada line. Of course I like to prepare meals from scratch as often as possible, but with numerous jobs, plus night school, and a social life that I try to keep afloat, scratch-made meals aren't always a reality, which is why I can see myself turning to the Jamie Oliver and Sobey's line to aid in bringing healthy and well rounded meals to the table when I find myself in a bind for time. I really liked almost all of the products in the line (I have to admit, the Seafood Pie was a wee bit too fishy for my taste buds) but I always like to fill you in on my favourites. My first favourite taste of the evening was in the very first course that was served to us. Jamies three Greek yogurt and hummus dips all featured a wonderfully creamy texture and big flavours that were not short on complexity and depth. My favourite of the three flavours of dips was the Zingy Moroccan-Style Hummus, topped with spicy harissa, which was certainly not timid in the spice department with my piece of flatbread topped with a big dollop of that spicy harissa. 
Tear & Share Fruit & Nut Loaf; Heavenly Roasted Garlic & Rosemary Focaccia; A Dolce Twist Sweet Cherry Focaccia
The next course served to us was probably my all-around standout of the night, the bread course. All three breads in the Jamie Discovers Canada line were absolutely fantastic! I completely swooned over them, and even found myself asking for seconds! The bread course featured: Tear & Share Fruit & Nut Loaf, Heavenly Roasted Garlic & Rosemary Focaccia, and A Dolce Twist Sweet Cherry Focaccia. These breads are all begging to be served when entertaining, being the type of short cut that you would be proud to serve your guests. Trust me, go to Sobey's now and buy all three! You will not be disappointed! 
Gooey In The Middle Festive Brownie
I don't have much of a sweet tooth, almost always preferring savory to sweet, but my final two favourite tastes were both desserts! The first to be served was the Gooey In The Middle Festive Brownie. This dark chocolate brownie is ooey gooey perfection, packed with lots of dried fruits (this made me nervous to hear at first, but they were SO good in the brownie!) and both pecans and walnuts for crunch. An item that you will find in the freezer section, I love the idea of keeping these brownies on hand for unexpected guests during the holidays...or maybe even for those tough winter days that require brownie comfort at the end of them. I have a package of these babies in my fridge right now and it requires all of my strength to not go in there and thaw the whole package right now! The good news is, you can remove part of the package of brownies to thaw, while leaving the rest in the freezer for another time, so you can manage your dessert portions carefully. 
Simply Incredible Banoffee Cakes
My final favourite taste of the night was the hands-down crowd favourite, and apparently had Jamie slamming his spoon down in delight, declaring that this was best thing he had tasted out the whole line! The product developers told us that Jamie was a little skeptical about the idea of a toffee-soaked cake at first, unsure if it fit with the rest of the collection and his taste. He looked at the cake and asked what the "little black specks" were. When he found out that they were from the bananas that make up the little bundt cakes, his interest was peaked. He took a bite, an the rest is spoon-slamming history! He loved the Simply Incredible Banoffee Cakes! To keep these cakes on the healthier side, Jamie suggests sharing the fairly large portioned cakes, and with such decadent flavour, you just may want to. I personally would have my own, eat half after dinner, then save the other half for my midnight snack! Yum! These were so sinfully delicious! 

I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to taste the Compliments Presents: Jamie Discovers Canada Line and hear all about the process from the product developers. This is a line that I would really feel good about purchasing for myself, my friends, and my family with so many of the ingredients sourced from Canada, so few preservatives and other suspect ingredients, such easy preparation, and sold at such a reasonable cost! These products won't be in stores forever, with plans of bringing out another Spring/Summer line and another holiday line in the future, so get your hands on them while you can! 

Listening To:
New Order - Age Of Consent 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

There's A New Burger In Town: The P&L Burger

The burger wars of Toronto continue with a new burger in town that everyone seems to be talking about, The P&L Burger, a burger and malt shop created by the team behind Parts & Labour. After winning first place at the Toronto edition of the Country Music Television (CMT) Burger Wars, chef Matty Matheson and Parts & Labour were overwhelmed by the positive attention their classic P&L burger started receiving. As more and more people began to frequent Parts & Labour purely for their award-winning burger, owners Jesse Girard and Richard Lambert, along with Matheson felt it was time to step up their burger game and open a shop solely dedicated to Matty's mouthwatering burgers. I had the opportunity to check out the new Queen West space before they officially opened their doors to the public, for a private media preview event and got to taste almost all fifteen menu items! 
The P&L Burger menu board; The Deluxe; Chef Matty Matheson; The Castor
All of the burgers on the menu (minus their veggie burger) are made of seven ounces of Ontario chuck (ground in-house daily) and are cooked medium-rare with each burger varying in their toppings. The first burger served to us was the classic award-winning P&L topped with cheddar cheese, bacon-onion jam, iceberg lettuce, and dill pickle mayo. That first bite said it all! That tender, fall-apart-in-your-mouth (and your hands!) patty was extraordinary, with the savory, salty toppings complimenting yet not overpowering the star-of-the-show patty. I am always partial to a classic bacon cheeseburger, so the next burger served, The Deluxe, was right up my alley featuring bacon, American cheese, tomato, red onion, iceberg lettuce, and P&L sauce. Melt in your mouth perfection! The third burger served to us was the clear crowd favourite. The Castor (named after their designers Castor Design) features thinly sliced peameal bacon, cheddar cheese, crispy onions, iceberg lettuce, and BBQ sauce and had everyone in the room (minus the one vegetarian in attendance) swooning! This burger had it all, although would most definitely require a nap after consuming the whole thing. 
The P&L team; The Italian; Kale Caesar; The Philly
It's at this point that I begin to regret not wearing bottoms with an elasticized waist (what was I thinking?!). Thank goodness they were only serving the burgers to us by the quarter, or else I would have had to be wheeled right out of the event! Although I truly enjoyed all of the burgers, my final standout of the day was chef Matty's favourite, The Italian. Although The Italian had many people in the room rushing to the bar for water to ease the spicy heat that tickled their tongues, I loved that kick of spice that The Italian served up thanks to the addition of roasted hot and sweet peppers. Doused in sweet and slightly acidic tomato sauce, this burger also featured mozzarella cheese and sautéed onions. You may be wondering about that lone vegetarian that I mentioned earlier was at the event, what in the hell was a vegetarian doing at a burger event? More than just chuck burgers, P&L also has a great veggie burger option, The Big Tempeh featuring classic toppings that included cheddar cheese, tomato, pickle, onions, iceberg lettuce, and P&L sauce. In addition to expected menu items like fries, onion rings, and poutine (with MONSTER cheese curds!), P&L also has a lighter side option their Kale Caesar Salad, with super garlicky house-made dressing, tender kale, lots of fresh grated parmesan cheese, and big crispy croutons, a side that any vegetarian and meat lover would go nuts over! 
Being a burger-lover and an indecisive Libra, it's hard for me to pick my favourite burger in the city with so many fantastic options to choose from, but I have to say that The P&L Burger officially makes my exclusive list as one of my favourite burgers in Toronto! Open to the public as of yesterday, definitely make the time to check out what is sure to be a new Toronto favourite! You won't be able to miss their striking, bright P&L sign out front! 

Listening To:

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Weekly Roundup - The Neverending Cold

Last Week At Chef School - Of course with only a few classes remaining in my first course at George Brown Chef School I would get terribly ill, so when I say "last week at chef school" I really mean two weeks ago at chef school, as I did not attend last weeks class, fearing for both my classmates and my own safety as I was deep in the midst of this terrible, seemingly neverending cold. Not surprisingly Sandwich Week at chef school was one of the easiest as of yet, with much of our cooking done as a team. With an invitation to an awesome-sounding event the same night as class, I was tempted to skip a class as simple as sandwich making, but then I asked myself "what sets apart a homemade sandwich from an 'industry level' sandwich?" Why is it that sandwiches and wraps taste so much better when you buy them at a restaurant or take-away? I wasn't quite sure. After the calmest class of them all so far, I now know that a lot of it has to do with common sense.

I learned that in order to keep the bread fresh and prevent it from going soggy, you should always coat the bread in some sort of spread, whether that's a mayo, tapenade, or other spread, you want to create a layer that separates your toppings from your bread or tortilla, while also helping it to stick together. You should also consider the order of ingredients that you put in your sandwich, for instance, in The Grilled Vegetable Paninis that we prepared in class we placed the roasted red peppers between the grilled zucchini, onion, and eggplant because it contains the most moisture. You should also consider where the sandwich is being served, our Smoked Salmon & Cucumber Tea Sandwiches and Open Face Shrimp Salad Sandwiches would be the type of sandwich served at a party or event, so you want them to be easy to hold and bite into so smartly-dressed guests don't make a mess of their outfit.
Feeding A Cold - Desperate to get rid of my horrible, gross, cold I tried to focus on eating healthy foods that would encourage my body to get better. Here is one example of a healthy and easy meal that I made for myself in an attempt to kick my Fall cold. Baked sweet potato with sautéed onions (onions love to help fight colds!) with mascarpone cheese, sautéed garlic spinach (the spinach helped to keep my iron levels up while the garlic acts as a cold fighting superhero!), worst-breath garlic bread with Summer Fresh Jalapeno Greek Yogurt Dip (spice helps your body to sweat out the toxins from the cold, with the greek yogurt giving your body the good bacteria it craves), and last but certainly not least, a special delivery from my Oma (my German grandmother), her family-favourite chicken noodle soup (filled with lots of love, which is the ultimate cold fighter!).
This Week At Chef School - How is it that some of the simplest-sounding classes at Chef School seem to end up being the most difficult? Just like Salad Week kicked my butt in class, Soup Week pretty much knocked me to the ground! On the menu this week was:
Beef Consommé
Butternut Squash Soup
Clam Chowder
Hot & Sour Soup
With a menu that included four soups to present, with access to only three burners, I knew it was bound to be a difficult and messy week. Although I have made Butternut Squash Soup and Clam Chowder before, and knew them to be relatively easy, it's a whole other ball game juggling those plus two more all at once. It was downright scary, let me tell you! I actually wondered at one point in the class if I was even going to be able to serve all four soups in time for "service". The soup that was by far the trickiest and longest to prepare was the Beef Consommé. Prior to my class, I had no clue how beef consommé was made, and now after learning the extremely odd process to achieving a perfect clear beef consommé, I wonder who in the heck would have ever thought to try this method to begin with. The strange process to making beef consommé begins by whipping egg whites until slightly frothy to loosen them up. You then add raw ground beef to the egg whites, breaking it up with your whisk so they combine. To that you add a mirepoix of onion, carrot, celery, leeks, and tomato concassé, mix, then stir in cold beef broth. Pour into a stock pot, throw in a spice bag and brulé onion and place on a stove just under medium heat, so you get some movement in the water, but you are not allowing the mixture to boil. After about 20-minutes or so, the meat, vegetable, and egg white mixture rises to the top and begins to form what is known as a "raft", a sold piece of grey sludge that allows the beef broth to bubble around the sides and stream into the centre of the raft to naturally filter out the impurities in the stock, resulting in a clear consommé that lets you to see down into the bottom of the bowl. How crazy is that?! I can't imagine how anyone would have thought to invent such a weird process. 

What did I learn this week?
  • How to make a beef consommé.
  • A trick to naturally thickening a soup is to grate raw potatoes into the soup.
  • Another trick to thickening up a soup (although it does not last forever) is by creating a slurry of cornstarch and cold water and stirring that into your soup. The cornstarch will eventually break down, so this trick only works for serving right away.
  • Hot & Sour Soup is probably the easiest and fastest soup ever! 
  • Add clams to clam chowder very late in the cooking process so they don't get rubbery.
On My Mind:
Best socks ever! I must own you!

If you haven't watched this unique interactive video for Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone", you must right now! Make sure to flip through the channels while watching.

Finally Martha doesn't make me feel like a complete failure when it comes to food. Hey Martha, your food photography sucks!

The Historic Distillery District's Christmas market is back! Make sure to check it out before it closes on December 15!

Please take a moment and check out my friends passion project "Michael Was Here" a short film about two estranged sisters who are reunited after the death of their brother, and sent on a road trip to fulfill his last will and testament. They need support to get this inspiring project up and running, so please donate whatever you can through their Indigogo campaign! 

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Listening To:
David Bowie - Let's Dance

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

DFC's Baked Nutty Berry French Toast

Ever since I was just a wee little ginger kid I have always loved looking at recipes. Long before the days of food blogs and Pinterest I would have to satisfy my recipe browsing cravings by looking through my moms recipe books over and over again, as well as the few magazines we subscribed to. As much as I enjoyed the assortment of beautifully styled recipes inspired by the season that would fill the glossy pages of our magazines each month, there was actually another recipe resource that I would look forward to the most each year, the annual Dairy Farmers of Canada Milk Calendar that would always hang inside our cupboard in the kitchen. I just loved how each month would feature a recipe that truly reflected the season, not to mention how accessible all of the recipes were, catered to the average Canadian family. I remember getting so excited to be able to flip the calendar to the next page each month, revealing a new and tempting recipe for my family and I to try. Now many years later, my interest in looking at recipes has increased tenfold with so many new ways to access new and interesting recipes. Despite having the ability to access millions of recipes right at my fingertips, I can't help but still get excited whenever that Milk Calendar arrives at our door! 

This years Milk Calendar just may be the most exciting of all as the Dairy Farmers of Canada have reached out to real Canadian dairy farmers and their families to offer up some of their favourite recipes featuring the goodness of 100% Canadian milk. I was lucky enough to be apart of a group of food bloggers who were sent an early edition of the calendar, as well as all of the ingredients to make Baked Nutty Berry French Toast from Catherine Agar from Kouwenberg Dairy Inc. With a very busy week, I was unsure of when I would get the opportunity to make this interesting take on a breakfast classic, but with such a simple recipe, with much of it prepared the evening before, it was insanely simple and quick to get this beautiful breakfast on the table. With the bread all puffed up from being soaked overnight and baked in the rich, sweet custard and the vibrant berries bubbling on top, this dish looks absolutely irresistible, and let me tell you, it tasted just as great as it looked! I have to admit that I strayed from the recipe a little by swapping out the fairly thinly sliced multi-grain bread that was sent to me for a thick, eggy challah bread (my favourite for french toast!) and, because my boyfriend didn't own a glass baking dish, I used a dark baking pan instead, lowering the heat by 25º and the cooking time by about 10-minutes. It was so great to wake up all sleepy (and sick with a cold!) knowing that breakfast was already prepared the night before, and all it needed was 30-minutes in the oven! Perfect for feeding a crowd with little effort, I think this recipe may just become a Christmas morning tradition for my family and I!

Recipe by Catherine Agar
6 thick slices bread (about 3/4-inch/2cm)
4 eggs
3/4 cup packed brown sugar, divided
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup butter, melted, plus more for greasing pan
4 cups mixed berries (thawed and drained if frozen)

  1. Butter a 13 x 9-inch glass baking dish. Arrange bread in a single layer in dish.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, 1/2 cup brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg until blended. Whisk in the milk and vanilla. Pour evenly over bread. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 400º. 
  4. In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, pecans, and melted butter.
  5. Spread berries evenly over soaked bread. Sprinkle evenly over the brown sugar and pecan mixture. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until bread is puffed in the centre and fruit is bubbling. 
  6. Serve immediately with maple syrup. 

Listening To:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Mini Potato & Kale Gratins Featuring Summer Fresh Kale Dip

Getting to take part in the Summer Fresh 2013 Blogger Tour was a ton of fun and a great way to learn about how a large and successful company like that runs, but one of the best parts of the day was getting to try out a number of Summer Fresh's new products! All of the products I got to try were fantastic, but the one that I couldn't get off my mind was, surprise surprise, Summer Fresh Kale Dip.

My love affair with kale continues with this new and easy way to make kale apart of your diet. It's easy to get sick of kale when you are continually using it in the same way, which for me is always a mostly raw salad, but Summer Fresh's new Kale Dip allows you to make kale apart of just about any meal in a new and interesting way. Before ending our day-long tour, Summer Fresh handed each of us a large box full of exciting new Summer Fresh products (with the kale dip being a last minute addition) and asked us to play around with them to create an appetizer AKA "Appy" recipe featuring one of the products they sent home with us. The best part about all this? All of the submitted Appy recipes will be voted on by the public, and the winner will win a grand prize worth $850!

With a fridge full of new Summer Fresh products I was inspired to cook up a storm! I tried making a number of different recipes using the products provided, some of which were tasty successes, and others...not so much. The hands down winner in my book was the Mini Potato & Kale Gratins that I made, featuring Summer Fresh's Kale Dip. I knew I wanted my recipe to feature mostly vegetables, with very few ingredients and steps to make. With scalloped potatoes still fresh in my mind from perfecting them at chef school, I had the idea of creating mini potato gratins using Summer Fresh Kale Dip in between the layers of potato and gruyere cheese, as opposed to the most commonly used milk or cream. I had no clue if my recipe would work out, especially after seeing the disaster that was my  baked bloomin' onion that I had intended to be dipped into Summer Fresh's Jalapeno Greek Yogurt Dip, but amazingly, they turned out so fantastic! The tiny gratins, which were made in muffin tins, are the perfect Appy size, were crazy easy to make, and tasted so incredibly delicious thanks to the creaminess that the Summer Fresh Kale Dip added to the dish. Whether I win the contest or not, I already feel like a winner having this great recipe to turn to for my next party or gathering!

See it up on the Summer Fresh site here!

3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled & very thinly sliced
1 x 227g/8oz Summer Fresh Kale Dip
about 3/4 cup gruyere cheese, grated
butter, to grease pan
salt & pepper, to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 375º. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin with buter.
  2. Layer one or two potato slices into the bottom of each muffin cup. 
  3. Top with about 1/2 tsp Kale Dip, a very light sprinkle of gruyere, and a bit of salt and pepper. Continue layering potatoes with the kale dip, cheese, salt, and pepper until potatoes reach the top of the cup. 
  4. Cover tray with tin foil and bake for about 30-minutes, or until tender when inserted into the centre with a knife. Remove foil half way through cooking. Run a knife around each cup and carefully pop out and serve immediately. 
Listening To:

Friday, November 8, 2013

Weekly Roundup - Chef School is Heating Up!

Last Week At Chef School - Here I thought the bean and rice week was the tastiest week I would have in my course at chef shcool...then I found out we were making fresh pasta! YESSSS!!! Anyone who knows me knows that I go absolutely weak at the knees for delicate, fresh pasta noodles. It's my all-time favourite food, the one that I request for every birthday, and crave when I'm feeling down. I also adore making fresh pasta, making it with my sister and her boyfriend, with my boyfriend, and on my own. There's something very therapeutic about creating something so delicious and hands on from scratch. Naturally, I knew I would excel in class this week (at least I hoped!) and was really excited about taking on this very tasty menu. On the menu last week we served up:
Fresh Pappardelle
Dried Pappardelle
Pesto Sauce
Butternut Squash Barley Pilaf
The biggest thing that I learned and benefitted from in class this week was how to prevent your noodles from sticking, which has always been my biggest issue with making pasta in the past. I had heard that a little semolina flour sprinkled over your freshly cut noodles should do the trick, but I guess I was skeptical and never gave that simple step a shot. Turns out that step totally works and allowed me to lay out my fresh noodles on top of each other (which was unheard of in the past without using semolina, as you would be left with a big blob of sticking dough) and separate them easily. My pasta turned out perfect, dressed in a perfect garlicky and herbaceous pesto sauce. As I pointed out earlier, I also loved the polenta that I made in class, which was free of lumps and tasted so delightfully rich. I was surprised at how much I also loved the Butternut Squash Barley Pilaf, which had a fantastic texture and savory flavour. What a delicious week for leftovers! I can happily say that I had a very filling dinner full of leftovers the next day, as well as a couple lunches of leftovers! 

What did I learn last week?
  • To prevent your freshly-cut pasta noodles from sticking, simply sprinkle over a dusting of semolina flour.
  • Polenta is another dish that forces you to man the stove to determine its success. You have to be constantly at the stove, stirring your polenta, and adding more liquid when necessary to create the perfect creamy and slightly loose texture. 
  • If your polenta is thickening up too quickly, don't be afraid to add more liquid. Have a pot of warm water or stock on the stove to ladle into your polenta as it is cooking to keep that creamy texture.
  • Cook your polenta on a very low flame! Polenta wants your time, care, and attention.
Arancini - Risotto, that delightfully indulgent, creamy, buttery, cheesy, Italian rice dish that tempts me on every Italian restaurant menu, yet I never make at home. After hearing how tricky it can be to achieve that perfect creamy and slightly runny consistency and tender yet firm grains for risotto, I have always been too nervous to attempt to make the Italian indulgence in my own kitchen. This week in class my teacher broke down the steps to creating the perfect risotto, and I quickly learned that finding success in risotto is less about skill and more about the attention that you give it. As long as you man that stove, never leaving the risotto for more than a few seconds, and are consistent about adding new additions of hot stock and stirring, you should find yourself with a deliciously creamy and comforting risotto that you would be proud to serve your family and friends. Another trick to making good risotto is timing. As soon as that risotto comes off your stove, you better have warmed bowls ready so that you can serve it up immediately. Risotto is incredible when served right away, but a mere few minutes later the risotto begins to thicken and harden, becoming gummy, and losing that beautiful creamy consistency that you worked so hard for.

So what the heck do you do with leftover risotto? Throw all your hard work and expensive ingredients in the garbage? Not a chance! The tastiest way to utilize leftover risotto is by mixing it up with some beaten eggs, breadcrumbs, and seasoning, rolling them into balls, stuffing them with cheese, and deep frying to create Arancini. Aw hell yeah! And you thought risotto couldn't get any better!  This is precisely what I did with all of my leftover risotto from class, and let me tell you it was fantastic! I will definitely be posting the recipe for these crispy, creamy, and cheesy little bites soon!

2013 Pumpkin Carving - One of my favourite holidays all year long is Halloween. Sure dressing up, decorating, and gorging myself on sweet treats is a ton of fun, but really my absolute favourite part of Halloween is carving my pumpkin, a tradition that my dad has gotten me excited about ever since I was a kid. Being an artist, my dad has always created the most magnificent pumpkins that would always "wow" all of our neighbors. When I became old enough to be comfortable and safe with an x-acto blade, my dad started teaching me all of his pumpkin carving tricks so that soon we had a family of striking pumpkins on our front porch for our neighbors to take photos of each year. With last Halloween being our final year in our family home, and living in an apartment now, there didn't seem like much of a point to carve a pumpkin other than my sheer glee at skillfully taking a knife to a large vegetable for pure artistic expression. Luckily, for the sake of my pumpkin carving tradition, the pub that I work at purchased some pumpkins to decorate the space. I of course jumped at the opportunity to carve a pumpkin once again. Although it wasn't exactly on display for the neighborhood children as it rested behind the bar full of regulars sipping their Canadian Tall Boys, it was really fun to be able to carve a pumpkin once again and hear how much the regulars appreciated seeing something a little bit different. In this photo my pumpkin is looking a little worse for wear, a week after it was carved, with its mouth caving in and filled with candy wrappers, but try and use your imagination for how it originally looked!

Pulled Pork & Polenta - Taking evening culinary school classes is so awesome in so many ways, but the one thing that drives me crazy is having class right smack in the middle of dinner time. I often feel inclined to have a second light late lunch before class as opposed to a more filling dinner so that I won't feel weighed down while running around the George Brown kitchen. The problem with this is about an hour and a half into class I am starving, which certainly doesn't help when you have to cook a full menu each class, with no time for snacking. This week I was smart and went for a satisfying meal that I knew would keep me full and active all through class. With leftover pulled pork in the fridge (thanks mom!) and no bread or mashed potatoes for serving, I decided to turn to one of my newly acquired George Brown recipes to give me a base for the pulled pork. After enjoying the creamy polenta we cooked in class last week so much, and enjoying the leftovers cut up and fried all week long, I couldn't help but want to make more! Although it meant manning the stove for about 15 minutes, it was quick and easy to prepare a creamy polenta base that would soak up the savory, spicy juices from the pulled pork. Quick, satisfying, and oh so delicious, my leftover pulled pork with polenta was the perfect dish to devour before class.

This Week At Chef School - Who would have ever thought that Salad week at chef school would be one of the most difficult to manage our time as of yet? Yeah, you heard me, SALADS! You know, the simple thing that you whip together in two minutes to add something green to the side of your plate. Being someone who really enjoys a great salad, and has the ability to create a new one from scratch in a few minutes, it baffled my mind that salad week somehow became one of the most stressful. The truth is, it can be very simple and quick to prepare a good salad, but when you are making everything by hand, it takes a little elbow grease and patience. Opening a jar of mayonnaise takes all of two seconds, but whipping mayonnaise by hand requires a little more time and a lot more effort, so much effort that my wrist still hurts from whipping that damn egg yolk and vegetable oil mixture. Of course in class they want to teach us the classic way to make everything, so a good steel bowl and a heavy duty whisk was our equipment to make a nice thick, stick-to-the-spoon mayonnaise, but have no fear because making mayonnaise at home can take just a couple more minutes than opening up a jar of the store bought stuff, all you need is an immersion blender, food processor, or blender, and ta da! You have beautiful, thick, additive-free mayo! Mayonnaise was included in salad week because mayonnaise is actually a very common base for many of salad dressings we are most familiar with, for instance Caesar dressing, Thousand Island dressing, and French dressing. Of course we also learned how to make a simple citrus dressing, which taught us the ratio and tips to emulsify two unmixables such as citrus juice and olive oil. It was a very busy class, with lots of running around, cleaning, whipping, and mess to create a menu that included:
Green Salad with Orange Segments & Citrus Dressing
Caesar Salad
Quinoa Salad
Couscous Salad

What did I learn this week?
  • The trick to getting a thick mayonnaise and preventing it from "breaking" (not emulsifying, resulting in a loose consistency) is to very slowly pour your oil down the side of the bowl while whisking fast with your wrist, not your arm.
  • To remove pin bones from anchovies, simply run your fingers along them and remove any that stick out with your fingers.
  • To make your homemade Caesar dressing last longer, add the parmesan cheese when tossing the salad, not right into the dressing itself.
On My Mind:

It's important to know when to turn in your kazoo. I'm just about ready!

This makes my blood bubble. 

An interesting look at the hard truth about girl-on-guy rape.

I guess Astronaut Chris Hadfield isn't as...down to earth as we had thought.

More blood bubbling: A comparison of Girls Life vs. Boys Life magazine covers.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Summer Fresh Blogger Tour: Real Food For Real People

When I find a product or a company that I love, I turn into a sort of cheerleader for it. I'm that person that wants to share that love with everyone I know so that maybe that product or company will in some way improve a friend or family members day, whether that means using a face cleanser that leaves their skin free of impurities or a salad that will blow their mind in the flavour and health department. Summer Fresh Salads has been a company that I have been a cheerleader for for years now. Thanks to their ever-growing line of salads, dips, sauces, and so much more that all feature innovative ingredients with a focus on health and wellness, I have been a proud supporter of this Canadian company for changing the way that I snack. Long gone are the bags of chips or high sodium crackers with overly processed dips, as I have welcomed the many variations of hummus, greek yogurt dips, and high in protein and fiber salads that Summer Fresh offers. It's so easy to be let down when you have such high expectations of a company, and let me tell you, after talking with numerous people who have worked with Summer Fresh, my expectations were sky high. So when I had the opportunity to join nineteen other food bloggers in a tour of the Summer Fresh headquarters, including the plant where all of their products get made, I jumped at the chance to see for myself whether or not this company lived up to all the hype. 
As a group of twenty, eager, women food bloggers, it was clear right off the bat that our day was going to feel more like a bunch of gals just hanging out and sharing interests, as opposed to a day of blog work. This immediate female bonding session was thanks to Susan Niczowski, President and creator of Summer Fresh, who led our tour of the Summer Fresh headquarters with a smile on her face, making us all feel so welcome and comfortable with her unbelievably down-to-earth attitude. Susan shared with us her experience going from chemistry student to the president of one of the 50 best managed companies in Canada for seven consecutive years! It all started in 1991 when Susan and her mother felt that there was a void in the market for fresh, healthy, gourmet salads that are accessible for the average consumer to bring into their home. Think about it. I know when I was a kid, you could hardly find any healthy and fresh dips and salads in the grocery store. Now look how massive that fresh dip and salad aisle is, as so many other companies have picked up on Summer Fresh's success. Now, 23 years later, Summer Fresh products can be found in just about every grocery store in Canada (not to mention in the US) and I bet in just about every Canadian home, as well as restaurants, retail stores, caterers and more! As Susan passionately shared with us how the family company has evolved and how their products are created, it's clear to see that they never for a second lose sight of their consumer. Summer Fresh is dedicated to providing their consumers with fresh, quality ingredients and products, that are held to the highest standards and testing, that will make peoples lives easier and tastier! 
I was completely blown away at the companies attention to detail, from their health and safety standards to the way in which their products are packaged, Summer Fresh thinks of it all. To ensure the consistency, integrity, and safety of their products, all of their dips, salads, and sauces are made in small batches, with each batch going through a round of testing in their fully equipped microbiologist operated in-house laboratory, and are made to order. After donning a lab coat, hair net, and safety boots and getting to actually walk through the plant where everything gets made, it appears almost obsessive the way in which they oversee the safety of their products, but really, it's incredibly proactive and brilliant!  I also couldn't believe that many of their vegetables are actually cut by hand, and their roasted red peppers and eggplant are not pre-roasted, but roasted in their "kitchen" to make sure that they are getting that authentic roasted flavour that you would find if you roasted vegetables in your own home. They happened to be roasting eggplant when we walked through the plant, and let me tell you, that smell was fantastic! I also learned that many of their products are kosher (with a separate part of their plant exclusively for their kosher product production), organically certified, and gluten free. 
Spicy Mini Taco Tostadas featuring Summer Fresh Bruschetta
With her laser-cut faux leather dress, bright scarf, killer shoes, and perfect manicure, it was obvious that Susan is girl of my own, the woman loves fashion! This love of fashion is transferred to her products as well, trademarking the phrase "Food is fashion", which explains the way food trends are reflected by the season, just like fashion! You'll notice that the Summer Fresh products you find in stores will change throughout the year as certain ingredients become more readily available, and lifestyles inevitably change. For instance, right now Summer Fresh is focused on the Fall and holiday season as they are beginning to bring out new products that reflect the colder months, as well as simple recipes featuring these products that aid in entertaining during the busy holiday season. After our tour of the plant, we had the opportunity to taste some of these new products and recipes. With the launch of their new Appy recipe collection, which features simple and nutritious recipes for people to serve when entertaining, the staff at Summer Fresh had set up a room as though we were entering a holiday party, with all of the tables beautifully decorated and displaying the various new products and recipes featuring them. 
Butter Chicken Pizzettes featuring Summer Fresh Butter Chicken Cooking Sauce
With everything laid out so thoughtfully, it made it easy to see how I could feature these same recipes when I entertain in my own home. Not only were the appetizers lovely to look at, they were also really unique and absolutely delicious! I truly loved every one, but of course I always have my favourite tastes of the day. Hands down, my favourite taste of the day was the Cheesy Olive Bloomin' Bread featuring Summer Fresh White Cheddar and Parmigiano Dip and Summer Fresh Olive and Tomato Bruschetta (one of their new products). This creamy and savory pull-apart bread was incredibly addictive and had me going back for more, more times that I care to share. Another favourite taste of the day was  the Summer Fresh Mousse Desserts! The individually packaged gluten-free mousses are available in four different flavours including Chocolate (my favourite!) and Sweet Salted Caramel, and are already garnished and presented in delicate little dishes so that all of the prep work is done for you! It's safe to say that I am a little bit obsessed with these creamy, heavenly desserts and will most definitely be serving them up at my next gathering with friends! 
Artichoke & Asiago Carrot Pappardelle featuring Summer Fresh Artichoke & Asiago Dip (Canada's #1 selling dip!)
After spending all day at Summer Fresh I cannot express to you how unbelievably impressed I am with this company. It displayed so much confidence to be able to lead us through every step that they go through in bringing out their products, most notably walking us through their plant. Getting to see first hand how much care they take in bringing out the highest quality products, under the most careful health and safety practices, and their dedication to offering real food for real people gave me so much respect for this family company. One of the biggest things that was clear to me at the end of the day was how much they truly care about their consumers, and aim to make them as happy and satisfied as physically possible, which I feel is a rare gem these days. I feel so grateful that Summer Fresh allowed me the opportunity to learn about how quality products are made in such a hands on way, and left me so inspired seeing this confident, strong, and absolutely lovely woman running this huge, successful business with her family, and after only 23 years! I can honestly say that I have nothing but wonderful things to say about that brand. I am really interested to see how the Summer Fresh brand grows as they pick up on new trends and evolve. I felt good supporting Summer Fresh in the past, but I now feel downright proud supporting such a fantastic Canadian company! 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Kale & Apple Salad With Nuts & Goat Cheese

I know. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "enough with the damn kale Danielle!" You're probably reading this wondering how in the heck I'm not sick of kale yet. 'How the hell is this chick not sick of this leafy green that she seems to be using in the same way over and over again?! What a hoot this chick must be with her never-ending kale salads.' I have to be honest, after making so many different variations on kale salads this summer, I was just as sick of kale as you would imagine I would be. I was just about to throw in the towel (or the kale!) and whip out a box of KD or frozen hot and spicy chicken fingers, when I realized that if I didn't eat that last half bunch of kale that very day, it would go bad, a thought that would surely traumatize me for the rest of the week, meaning sleepless nights laying  in bed feeling guilty self-hatred about wasting good food. I knew that if I was going to make good use out of that kale, I would have to get creative and come up with a completely different type of kale salad from anything I have made before. With a big bowl full of fresh, hand-picked Ontario apples, that task wasn't too daunting. As soon as I got out my pad of foolscap to start jotting down kale salad ideas, scribbling down different flavour combinations that would shine with apples and kale, my stomach began to rumble and I started to get excited about kale once again. Who woulda thunk it? 

My apple and kale salad turned out to be just the combination I was looking for to drag me out of my kale rut. The crunchy, sweet, and slightly tart Ontario apples worked perfectly against the slightly bitter kale. I knew that I would have to play with textures to get me devouring this salad until the bottom of the bowl, so I first toasted up some slivered almonds for a crunch and warm, nutty flavour, as well as a handful of trail mix filled with an assortment of other whole nuts (including peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and raisins). To contrast all that crunch from the nuts and the apple, I crumbled in some tangy goat cheese to add a wonderful creaminess. A light sprinkle of some chia seeds for extra healthy points, and a drizzle of some store-bought vinaigrette dressing (yes, I cheated a little!) and this salad was ready for tasting! One taste said it all. This is was definitely my new favourite salad, not just kale salad, but salad in general! It had everything I was looking for in terms of health benefits and big flavours, and made me forget all about that box of KD and frozen chicken fingers! 

Don't choose a creamy vinaigrette as the goat cheese will already give the salad the creaminess to offset the crunch from the other toppings.

(serves one)
1/2 bunch kale, washed, dried, torn into smaller pieces
about 1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium eating apple (I used Cortland thanks to its sweet and juicy flavour with just a bit of tartness. Cortlands also take longer to brown, which makes them great for salads!), cut into 1-cm strips 
handful of slivered almonds, toasted
handful of trail mix
about 1/4 cup goat cheese
1 tbsp chia seeds
vinaigrette of your choice* (I used a pear and blue cheese vinaigrette that worked great!)
salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

  1. Add kale to a medium mixing bowl and drizzle with about 1 tbsp olive oil. Sprinkle over a pinch of salt. Using clean fingertips, massage kale for about 1-minute, or until the kale has softened slightly and is not tough. 
  2. Add in the apple strips, slivered almonds, trail mix, goat cheese, and chia seeds and toss. Add the vinaigrette (a bit at a time so you don't overdress) and toss. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Taste once more and season again if needed. Serve immediately! 

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Weekly Roundup - Feeling Thankful for Beautiful Ontario & Nostalgia-Inducing Food

Andrews' Scenic Acres - When I was little one of my favourite activities to do in the Fall was visit Andrews' Scenic Acres with my family. The festive farm and market was always my favourite thanks to the endless amount of pumpkins that scattered their fields, their petting zoo, their little market with fresh pies, tarts, apple cider, and more, their haunted forest (even though it left me shrieking into my mothers arms at that young age), and, more than anything, I loved their fresh corn on the cob. There's nothing like fresh sweet Ontario corn, but what made me fall in love with Andrews' Acres corn, was the butter. Andrews' Acres knows how to do corn right by serving up their fresh, farm-picked corn on the cob next to a big stockpot full of melted butter, so you can dip your corn on the cob right into that baby, add some salt and pepper and you have the tastiest corn imaginable!

Nostalgic for those Fall memories as a child, my mom and I decided to spend our saturday up North at our ol' stompin' ground Andrews Scenic Acres. Although the farm and market looked the same, they were now filled with a loud crowd of families and lots of very misbehaved children (screaming children...lots and lots of screaming and crying children not appreciating the beauty of an Ontario farm in the Fall). Back when I was a kid, the farm used to be so peaceful and calm, but now it seems to be turning into Chudleigh's Farms younger and almost just as popular sister (by the way, the line for cars to just get into Chudleigh's was absolutely insane!). Despite the large mass of people taking over the once peaceful farm, I was ecstatic to see that that same old corn on the cob stand was still there, and still featured my beloved stockpot of melted butter! My mom and I couldn't wait another moment, we hit up that stand as soon as we got in, and dug into my favourite Fall treat as a child. I have to say, that corn was just as fantastic as I remember it to be. Even though it may be loud and filled with people, I think I have to make that butter-soaked corn at Andrews' Acres a Fall tradition! 

Thanksgiving - Thanksgiving has always been one of my favourite holidays, which may have something to do with the immense amount of delicious food. For years my family had hosted Thanksgiving at our family home, with our gorgeous backyard full of changing colour trees setting the perfect backdrop for the occasion. Having sold our beautiful home last year, and now living in a tiny apartment, we were unable to play host to our families Thanksgiving meal, and handed the reins over to my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Ron to host. It felt weird driving up to Brampton to meet up with the rest of the family for our meal, like it wasn't really Thanksgiving. It wasn't until the meal was served that those Thanksgiving feelings kicked in. That same meal, with dishes contributed by almost every family member (I had to work earlier and sadly couldn't make anything), brought back so many wonderful Thanksgiving memories and made me realize that all those familiar Thanksgiving dishes can evoke feelings of family, comfort, and tradition, better than any setting could. I felt very thankful this year to be surrounded by such a loving family, who also happen to be awesome cooks, and indulge in a delicious comforting meal with them to reflect on the things we have to be thankful for this year. 

Rose & Son's Brunch - After falling in love with Rose & Son's backyard smokehouse Big Crow last week, taking advantage of their newly launched brunch menu, I have been raving about it to just about everyone I know all week long. It had to be absolute torture living with me all week as the words "Big Crow" kept coming out of my mouth at every turn. It came as no surprise that on Monday when my mom and I wanted to head out for a Thanksgiving brunch, she wanted to go nowhere else by Big Crow. Without delay, we headed over to Dupont to let her experience their sinfully delicious brunch. Unfortunately upon arrival we found out that Big Crow was closed for the holiday, but to our delight Rose & Son's was open, with a short ten minute wait for a table for two. After a lovely stroll around the Annex while we waited for our table, we were seated in the small space, with our stomachs growling, and our eyes darting around to all neighboring tables for ordering inspiration (you could hear rumblings all over with diners proclaiming "these are the best eggs I've ever eaten").

With both my mom and I setting our sights on their Griddled Brie Cornbread with Brisket, Fried Egg, Maple Syrup, & Chili Sauce, we decided to share the outrageous sounding dish, as well as their Smoked Lox & Eggs with Toast, Horseradish, Capers, & Schmlatz so that we could taste more of the menu in one go. As much as I loved my Pork & Beans at Big Crow last week, they didn't hold a candle to that brisket and cornbread dish. Dear lord, was that ever incredible. It was the perfect brunch dish. Yes, I said perfect. Perfection. I wouldn't change a thing. In fact, I'm still dreaming about that dish today...and drooling. Never in my life have I eaten such an incredible brunch dish. Don't get me wrong, the lox and eggs were also off the charts, but nothing compares to that brisket and cornbread. It's the perfect slightly sweet, soft, crumbly, and crunchy outside cornbread that makes the dish so special. The sweet cornbread, doused in maple syrup is complimented by the savory, smokey brisket, with the brie adding a great creamy texture, and the chili sauce brightening the whole dish up. You must try this dish. I repeat, you MUST try this dish! 

Rose & Son's Brunch - Not quite as glamourous as the brisket and cornbread captured on camera, Rose & Son's Lox & Eggs with Toast, Horseradish, Capers, & Schmaltz was also a wonderful way to start Thanksgiving day. Salty smoked salmon pieces are found in every bite of the buttery scrambled eggs, dotted with briny capers and zesty thinly sliced red onions, with the schmaltz adding a hit of underlying savory flavour, and the toast acting as a base for every bite. What is schmaltz, you ask? Schmaltz is chicken or goose fat that has been rendered down to create the most delicious addition to heck, just about anything! Schmaltz is often found in Yiddish cooking, for example, one of my favourites, matzo balls. You don't see many dishes like this on very many brunch menus in the city, especially done this successfully. This was the perfect lighter accompaniment to the extraordinarily rich brisket and cornbread.
Evergreen Brickworks - After enjoying the best brunch ever at Rose & Son's with my mom, we headed over to the Evergreen Brickworks to enjoy the stunning weather. Even thought the Brickworks was filled with just as many families with young children as Andrew's Acres was, these kids were far more well behaved and quiet, enjoying all of the fun outdoor activities the centre has to offer. With the warn Fall sun beating down on us, we strolled through the paths, taking in the exquisite scenery, and snapping photos of the unbelievable Fall colours at every turn. It was so beautiful. What a lovely way to spend Thanksgiving day!

Evergreen Brickworks - This little lady here is my mom, totally in her element, enjoying the beautiful outdoors on our walk at the Evergreen Brickworks. She makes a great walking partner!

Kale & Apple Salad - You can't go up North this time of year in Ontario without taking advantage of the wonderful apples we are so lucky to have in season. With a big bowl full of personally picked apples from our little excursion up North a few days prior, I felt inspired to create a kale salad featuring crisp and slightly tart Ontario apples. Just when I was starting to feel sick of kale, this incredibly tasty salad renewed my love for the healthy green, featuring Ontario apples, toasted slivered almonds, trail mix, chia seeds, and goat cheese. I loved this salad so much, I will definitely be posting the recipe for you soon! This salad was also a great opportunity for me to practice my batonnet cut on the apples, which I will be tested on this week at my practical exam at George Brown chef school.

This Week At Chef School - This week at George Brown Chef School our focus was on rice and legumes with our menu covering:
Braised Navy Beans
Lentils & Celery Root
Saffron Tea
Saffron Pilaf
I was pretty nervous about this weeks class, with seemingly so much to get done, including the infamously tricky risotto on the menu. Risotto is so tricky because, for one thing, it requires constant attention, you must be at your stove throughout the entire cooking process, stirring your Arborio rice so that the starches don't stick to the bottom of your pan, adding ladles of hot chicken stock to allow the short and starchy short grain rice to slowly cook and soak up the liquid and flavour from the stock. More than just giving risotto constant attention, the Italian dish is also tricky because you must ensure to serve it at just the right moment. You want the rice to be tender, but still have a bit of a bite to it (think of al dente pasta), with the consistency wet so that when shaken it pools out around the dish, but not so wet that you get any puddling. Not only do you have to know when to stop cooking your risotto, you also have to know when to serve it, which is immediately! Risotto is meant to be served as soon as it comes off the stove, if not, the starches kick in and you get a gluey, sticky rice. 

Despite being super nervous about trying my hand at making risotto from scratch for the first time, I am so proud to say that my final dish came out near perfect! My only criticism from our chef was that I could have added a touch more pepper, and I could have cooked it about 30 seconds longer to get rid of a bit more of the liquid, but otherwise my texture was spot on! Yay! With a few small criticisms here and there from my other dishes (with my lentils and celery root declared "perfect" by our chef!), I'd say I did pretty darn good this week! Each week I find myself becoming more calm and confident in the kitchen, and more importantly, I have more and more fun in the kitchen with each new lesson! I can't say it enough how happy I am that I finally signed up for culinary school! This just feels so right!

What else did I learn this week?
On My Mind:
Banksy is playing with the idea of high vs. low art once again in this video of a pop up stand in New York selling his authentic prints. 

Why I try to drink warm lemon water throughout the day. 

Could it be? Was the final episode of Breaking Bad just a fantasy in Walter Whites mind? 

Dream come true!! 30,000 tonnes of European cheese could be coming to Canada!

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mott's Clamato Thanksgiving Day Caesar

Mott's Clamato has your Thanksgiving cocktail covered with their festive take on a Thanksgiving Bloody Caesar. The classic Caesar cocktail is given a Thanksgiving twist thanks to the addition of a thanksgiving favourite, cranberries. There's nothing like that combo of sweet and savory to get my mouth watering! Make Canada's Cocktail Thanksgiving Day Caesar apart of your family's holiday celebration! 

Glass: Highball
Rim: Fresh cracked salt & pepper
Garnish: Turkey, cheese, & cranberries on a skewer or rosemary sprig

1 oz. gin
2 dashes hot sauce
3 dashes Worcestershire Sauce
1 oz. cranberry juice
3 oz. Mott's Clamato Original

  1. Rim the glass.
  2. Fill the glass with ice.
  3. Add ingredients in order listed above.
  4. Stir.
  5. Garnish.

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Weekly Roundup - A Big Week For Comfort Food

Big Crow Brunch - My new trick to getting into the most buzzed about restaurants in our growing foodie city is to be ahead of the game and go before the buzz has truly kicked in! This trick worked wonders for my boyfriend Chris and I when we checked out Hudson Kitchen on it's fourth night of service for cocktails (grabbing a seat at their bar in no time!), and once again we found success when we checked out Anthony Rose's (unfortunately no relation to myself) barbeque joint Big Crow merely hours after hearing that they had opened for weekend brunch service. After a nice and rare little sleep-in on Saturday morning, Chris and I hopped in the car and headed over to Dupont to see if we could manage to squeeze ourselves in at a table for two. After hearing about the insane long lines for brunch at Rose's main restaurant Rose & Son's, I made sure to call on our way to see if it was even worth trying to get into Big Crow for brunch. The incredibly friendly hostess on the phone (big bonus points for positive attitude!) gave us the go, and told us we wouldn't have trouble if we were on our way. As expected, Rose & Son's was buzzing, with the doorway filled up with a line of eager customers hungry for brunch. We walked right on past Rose & Son's (even though I need to go there for brunch as well!) and headed on back to the covered patio of Big Crow where we were lucky to find numerous tables empty and waiting for us! I guess most people didn't know that they had opened for brunch yet, and Chris and I were once again ahead of the game! 

What drew me to Big Crow for brunch other than the Rose name (not because I share the name, but because Chef Anthony Rose has made such a positive name for himself in Toronto) was the menu. Each and every dish sounded like it was out of my fantasy brunch list, with classic breakfast comfort foods given a unique twist. Warning, if you are looking for your basic eggs and toast, don't come here! This place is for people seeking big flavours and creative combinations. With Chris snapping up the Soft & Sexy Maple & Cheese Grits with Fried Egg & Mushrooms (we can't ever order the same thing!) I went for the equally enticing Pork & Beans with fried egg, cornbread, maple syrup, and chili pepper sauce. I was in comfort food heaven as I dug my spoon into the messy pile of goodness that was promptly served to us. A simple dish can take on a whole new life when made with care and with the right ingredients, and that is exactly how my pork and beans were treated. Of course I had to sneak a bite of Chris' grits, which were just as swoon-worthy as my dish. With great food, a fantastic atmosphere (I felt like I was relaxing at a cottage!), and spot on service, I will definitely be coming back to Big Crow soon to make it through their entire menu! Next on my list to try? Big Crow's Smoked Mozzarella & Brisket Roast with Garlic Bread, Fried Egg, Whiskey Onions, and Mustard. 

Kale Salad - After indulging in just about everything I could get my hands on during my birth-week, it was time to wave the white flag and give my tired and bloated body a rest with some healthy eating. It's no secret that I am a big fan of kale, the dark leafy green with big health appeal, so when it's time to start thinking healthy in the kitchen, I seem to always turn to kale to get me back on track. Because kale sits heavier in the stomach (it doesn't make you feel bloated and gross, just full and satisfied) I have been getting into the habit of eating kale before my evening classes and shifts at work so that I won't be keeling over with heartburn (as I did several days last week) or grumbling with hunger after eating an improper meal beforehand. Kale has the ability to deliver a delicious meal that will give me the energy to take on my class or a serving shift with gusto and last all night long! The salad that I found myself making numerous times this week was a kale salad with a hard boiled egg, multi-coloured cherry tomatoes, avocado, and sautéed onions, in a simple grainy mustard and honey vinaigrette. I love how beautiful and colourful this salad is, with big flavours in every bite. Mix it up real good to allow the avocado to break down and act as a sort of creamy dressing to go along with the homemade vinaigrette. Keep your eyes peeled for the recipe as I will be posting it soon!

Soy & Sesame Kale Chips - My favourite way to eat kale is raw in a salad, but the idea of 'kale chips' had always intrigued me. Make something crispy and salty, and suddenly it tricks your taste buds into thinking your being indulgent. As much as I had wanted to try kale chips, I never really bought the idea of them being all that flavourful. I knew that when I was to try my hand at the healthy chip I would have to add something to it to give it another hit of flavour. It wasn't until I came across a recipe on the lifestyle blog A Cup Of Jo for what she considers to be "the best kale chips" that I was finally convinced to make them. What got me excited about this recipe was the addition of soy sauce and sesame seeds, adding that extra hit of flavour that I was hoping for. These chips were incredibly fast to prepare and turned out to be just the snack I was looking for (you know, the kind of snack that you eat not because you're hungry, but because you're bored) with the soy sauce and sesame seeds keeping me coming back for more and more...but with zero guilt! Kale chips certainly won't be replacing any potato chip cravings that I may have, but they are a great healthy snack to munch on on the regular. 

This Week At Chef School - This week at chef school was hands down the tastiest week as of yet as we learned how to cook the comfort food staple potatoes in a variety of different ways. Although our chef warned us that this week was going to be a tricky one to organize our time and have everything hot, ready, and properly cooked for 'service', it seemed to be the smoothest one for our class...despite a small fire by one student and myself burning my hand on a scorching hot pot handle. On our menu this week was:

Boiled Mini Red Potatoes
The most basic in potato cookery. You must master a perfectly cooked boiled potato before you really know how to properly cook a potato.
French Fries
Perfectly cooked french fries are blanched once in oil at low-heat, drained, & then fried again at a higher heat to create perfect 'crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside' french fries.
Duchesse Potatoes
Boiled Yukon Gold potatoes are riced, seasoned, & piped into rosettes to bake in the oven for a crispy shell & creamy, fluffy filling.
Fondant Potatoes
Peeled & halved Yukon Gold potatoes are 'turned' (pared down to a classic barrel shape) & braised in the oven in a seasoned chicken stock.
Scalloped Potatoes
Thinly sliced potatoes are layered alternately with a seasoned cream sauce, gruyere, parmesan, & salt & pepper & baked in the oven to create a decadent potato casserole.

So after all that potato cooking goodness, what did I learn at school this week?
  • I am never using the salamander ever again! A salamander is a broiler that our chef warned us against, as it gets extremely hot and can quickly add too much 'artificial looking' colour to your product. At five minutes to service, myself and a few other students felt desperate to add some colour to the top of our dishes to present. Our Dushesse potatoes, Fondant Potatoes, and Scallop Potatoes were to be presented with a golden brown colour on top, a colour that my oven didn't seem to want to give to my product. I made a snap decision and (while burning my hand) moved my Fondant Potatoes out of the oven and under the salamander. In the one minute it took for me to run my burn under cold water, I had burnt the top of almost all of my little Fondant Potatoes. Luckily I had two presentable ones to be graded by our chef. Lesson learned, I will never use the salamander again!
  • The perfect french fries are fried twice, once in oil at low heat until about 60% cooked, then once again at high heat for the perfect 'crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside' french fries.
  • Don't place your sliced potatoes for Scallop Potatoes in water until ready to cook. You don't want to rise away the starch in the potato that will act like a glue to hold your casserole together.
  • When making Duchesse Potatoes, you must work fast! You want your potato mixture to be hot while you pipe it so that you get the most beautiful and sturdy rosettes. 
  • The kitchen is not always filled with unpleasant egos! I feel so lucky to be apart of a class filled with such supportive, encouraging, and positive people who seem to always have each others backs. It's a pleasure to share the kitchen with you all!
On My Mind:
This is so stunningly beautiful.

As one of my birthday gifts this year my good friend Rita was kind enough to treat me to see the Mirvish production of Les Misérables. Although I don't see too much theatre these days (bad theatre student!) this show absolutely blew me away thanks to the unbelievably talented cast! Never before have I seen a show with such a strong cast that were able to bring me to tears and chills throughout the entire performance. Thank you so much to Rita for treating me to such a memorable night! 

Interesting article on the racial implications of the hatred of Chris Brown. 

I was a Disney princess girl and I turned out aiiight, but when I have children I will take a cue from this mother who dressed her daughter as five empowering and inspirational women!

Being a server I can totally relate to this article on why everyone should work in "the industry" for at least two years of their life.

Check out this cute and quirky infographic on Beer vs. Wine. Which do you prefer? 

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