Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pistachio Macarons

Two weeks ago was my boyfriend Chris' 26th birthday. With this being our first birthday celebrated together, the pressure was on to make sure Chris felt extra special on his day...especially when I had been dropping sneaky hints about what I was arranging for his day for weeks (talk about digging yourself into a hole!). As I've mentioned before in my post on how to make French macarons, Chris was the number-one supporter of my macaron making, signing me up for a Parisian macaron making class at Le Dolci for Christmas, and sending so much positive feedback my way after trying my hand at making macarons all on my own. Chris and I share so many things in common, and yet another one of our many similarities is that both of our favourite flavours of macarons is pistachio. That was it. I knew that in order to get the biggest smile on that bearded face of his on his birthday, was to present him with a box of homemade pistachio macarons. The only problem? Getting my hands on pistachio paste, a silky-smooth paste made from ground pistachios, that is incredibly hard to find in Toronto. 

Chris had mentioned to me (that sneaky devil) that apparently the Cheese Boutique in Etobicoke is one of the only places in the city that sells the rare paste. With time running out, and a crazy busy schedule, trekking out to the Cheese Boutique wasn't a viable option. I was ready to throw in the towel and attempt to make a buttercream filling sans the paste. Happy I was not. Knowing that all the top patisseries in the city use pistachio paste in their macarons, I was pretty bummed by the thought of my macarons not resembling our favourites that we had come to know so well. It's at this moment that my superhero once again came through for me. didn't know that I had my very own superhero? I've talked about her before, but you probably know her by the title "mom". My mom is my very own superhero, saving my ass time and time again, there to step in right as I begin to raise my white flag. Despite telling her that there wasn't a chance she would be able to find the paste in such short time, in a matter of five-minutes that clever mother of mine had tracked down the paste! Literally right across the street from where I work, is a specialty food shop that carries the paste. Ararat International Fine Foods is my idea of heaven on earth, filled with unusual gourmet foods from Europe, the Middle East, and Canada, with jars of pistachio paste right at the front counter! With everything I needed to make patisserie-shop-quality pistachio macarons, I was ready to once again take a chance at making those damn difficult, finicky French cookies.
It felt great to have so much confidence making macarons this time around, now having the experience to really get the feel for the right texture for each step, as well as perfecting my folding, piping, and french meringue-making techniques. I felt relaxed and composed, as opposed to stressed and frantic, which is how I felt the last time...much of which, had to do with using way too small piping bags, resulting in the sticky almond flour batter getting ALL over me. Like ALL over me. On my clothes, up my forearms, in my hair, on my face....EVERYWHERE! So note: use large piping bags!! I also learned this time around that you can't be impatient with letting your macarons rest once you've piped them. You want them to me matte, and have formed a shell on top from drying. Not allowing them that drying time will result in your macarons cracking or bursting once placed in the oven. Lastly, I learned that although you don't want your macarons to wiggle around too much before removing from the oven, they can do so just a bit. To test whether your macarons are ready to be removed from the oven, I lightly tap the top of one to see if it wiggles. This time I waited for the macarons to be firm before removing them, which I quickly discovered results in a very dry, crisp, and crumbly macaron. The texture you are aiming for is crisp on the outside, and chewy on the inside, which means waiting for your macarons to be fairly firm, but still have a very slight wiggle to them when tapped. Although the flavour was there with the delicious buttercream filling made from pistachio paste, I wasn't too pleased with that dry, crisp, and crumbly texture. 
Unable to make them all over again, and knowing that Chris would appreciate them no matter what, I wrapped up 26 dry, yet tasty macarons in a personalized birthday box for Chris. The hunt for the paste and the labour to make those tricky French cookies was all worth it as soon as I saw Chris' face light up at the sight of them (they did look pretty damn perfect!)! He tasted one right away, and despite the less than perfect texture, he absolutely loved it! I was so happy to discover that leaving the macarons out at room temperature for a night, rehydrated them and made them the perfect patisserie-shop-like texture! Success! I feel like a macaron-making pro! 

Big thanks to Madalina from Duhlicious for supplying me with a fantastic recipe for Pistachio Buttercream Filling! I turned to Duhlicious for the recipe once again, after having so much success with  her recipe for macarons and Lemon Cream Cheese filling. If you're interested in learning to make perfect Parisian macarons, I highly suggest signing up for a macaron making class at Le Dolci with the talented Madalina as your teacher!  

Click here for a recipe and guide on making macarons!
Click here for the recipe for delicious Pistachio Buttercream Filling!

Listening To:
Noah and the Whale - Five Years Time

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Weekly Roundup - Experimenting with Comfort Foods

Pistachio Macarons - Two weeks ago was my boyfriend Chris' 26th birthday. With this being our first birthday celebrated together, the pressure was on to make sure Chris felt extra special on his day. As I've mentioned before in my post on how to make French macarons, Chris was the number-one supporter of my macaron making, signing me up for a Parisian macaron making class at Le Dolci for Christmas, and sending so much positive feedback my way after trying my hand at making macarons all on my own. Chris and I share so many things in common, and yet another one of our many similarities is that both of our favourite flavours of macarons is pistachio. That was it. I knew that in order to get the biggest smile on that bearded face of his on his birthday, was to present him with a box of homemade pistachio macarons. Despite how difficult it is to track down pistachio paste in the city, my mom was able to find the delicious, silky-smooth paste at the specialty food store Ararat International Fine Foods. With a heck of a lot more confidence than my last batch of macarons, I was able to successfully make fifty-five beautiful, store-bought-looking pistachio macarons, with 26 of them wrapped up in a special birthday box just for Chris! The hunt for the paste and the labour to make those tricky French cookies was all worth it as soon as I saw Chris' face light up at the sight of them! Recipe coming soon!

Terroni - Miserable with the cold, windy, and snowy weather taking over Toronto the day before the official first day of Spring, one of my co-workers Kate and I headed out to Terroni on Yonge to treat ourselves to a delicious Italian meal and cocktails! I started my meal with a tasty and refreshing ginger and lemonade cocktail (that definitely hit the spot after a trek on the TTC) and their Ferinata con le Barbabietole salad, with chickpea pancake, roasted beets, heirloom carrots, ricotta salata, arugula, watercress, sunflower sprouts, pistachios, and mint. I loved my cocktail, but I have to say I was disappointed with my salad choice. The chickpea pancake was tasty, but I found the beet salad lacking in flavour. Despite my disappointment with the salad, it was actually a good thing that I ordered that, as it was part of my inspiration to create my own Roasted Beet Salad the next day! For my entree, I chose Tagliatelle alla Bolognese. Simple, fresh, comforting, and delicious, the Tagliatelle alla Bolognese, with its fresh house-made noodles and rich sauce, was perfect and exactly what I was craving.

Beet & Sweet Potato Pancakes - With two leftover roasted beets in the fridge crying out to be used after making my Roasted Beet Salad, I wanted to create something interesting that I had never experimented with before. After much thought and research, I decided to try making beet and sweet potato pancakes with a horseradish cream. Although the flavour was spot on with the sweet beets and potatoes, contrasted by the zesty horseradish sour cream, I had a lot of difficulty trying to get the pancakes to hold together. Yes I added flour, yes I added egg, no, I have no idea how to fix this problem. Perhaps more egg? More flour? Only one way to find out! I will definitely be trying my hand at these delicious little fried cakes again.

Healthy Teamwork Dinner - One of my favourite things to do on a beautiful sunny day is visit one of my favourite parts of Toronto, Kensington Market. On Saturday Chris and I did just that. With our Ray Bans on, we happily strolled from store to store, checking out bikes and produce, getting us excited about biking and creating meals together in the future. After learning so much about Hooked Inc. thanks to my relationship with the Ocean Wise organization, I was interested in checking out the store and picking up some fresh, sustainable, Canadian fish for dinner. Although I realized the day after that it's halibut season, and we probably should have picked up a couple filets of the beautiful fish thriving in Canada right now, we decided on East Coast oysters and arctic char, a fish that neither of us had prepared before. I have never had a bad experience eating arctic char, so I was pretty confident that we would be pleased with our results no matter what. After slurping back a few oysters, Chris and I began creating our healthy fish dinner. We quickly found a simple recipe to make a broiled chipotle lime arctic char, and began working on our marinade. While Chris minced the garlic and chipotle for the marinade, I began washing and massaging the kale that we had also picked up from the market, to be used as a side salad. In what seemed like no time at all, we had whipped up chipotle lime arctic char, a pan-roasted cherry tomato and caramelized onion kale salad with a grainy dijon dressing, resting on medley of beans. Everything turned out fantastic! We were so pleased with our delicious results thanks to our teamwork in the kitchen, and also felt great about eating such a healthy and satisfying meal. Get the recipe for the chipotle lime arctic char here!

Honorable Mention:
Acadia - For Chris' 26th birthday dinner, I wanted to take him somewhere really special. After having such a wonderful meal at Yours Truly, Toronto Life's number-one choice for the best new restaurants in 2012, it was a no-brainer to turn to Toronto Life's number-two spot (as well as Joanne Kate's number-two spot) Acadia. Thanks to all of their positive press throughout the past year, we walked into the tiny and cozy restaurant with high expectations. With such high hopes, it would have been easy to have left disappointed, but with their quality, attention to detail, and unique take on plating and combining ingredients, techniques, and various cuisines, Acadia succeeded in giving us a fantastic dining experience. The highlight of our meal that we can't seem to stop talking about? Acadia's take on Southern grits. The creamy, pimento cheese-flavoured grits sit in a light bath of smoky ham hock broth, with a generous amount of Gulf shrimp nestled within the South Carolina-ordered grits (that's the best place in the world to get grits!). Sigh...pure heaven. Not only was our meal spectacular, we were also blown away by the unparalleled service. I was taken by surprise when each time Chris would excuse himself to go to the bathroom, the host would swiftly arrive at his vacated seat to tuck in his chair, just-so, and place his napkin and cutlery in the exact spot they were when we had first sat down. 

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Listening To:
Grimes - Skin

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Roasted Beet Salad with Figs & Ricotta

Hooray to sticking with my health kick! It's been a few weeks now of trying to adapt my diet to a healthier lifestyle, and I think I'm starting to finally get in the groove of things and find a good balance between naughty and nice dishes. My diet really hasn't changed all that much. I haven't eliminated anything from my diet at all, just reduced the volume in which I eat those naughty foods (caffeine, cheese, white flours, etc.) and introduced a lot more fruits and veggies that I definitely wasn't getting enough of prior to the kick. These changes have progressed from being a chore that I would huff and puff about, to an inspiration, getting me excited to create dishes that I feel good about putting into my body. 
One of the best things that has inspired me to create new and exciting healthy dishes has been appreciating the beauty of a healthy dish. You simply cannot compare the colour palette to that of a healthy, well rounded dish, to a plate of "naughty" food. Just think of all the many exquisite colours that are found in nature, in fruits and vegetables that give back so much to our bodies. Greens in every shade, reds, purples, yellows, oranges, blues, the list can go on and on. Now compare that to naughty foods, where almost all of what you find is a bland degrade of whites, greys, and browns. That's not to say that there aren't some fantastic foods that do wonders for the body that fall into the boring colour category, (garlic and coconut, I'm talkin' bout you!) but as a general guide, it's colour that you should be seeking.

Todays recipe was inspired by beautiful colours and thought-out plating. I wanted to create a healthy salad that I could get excited about eating, just by looking at it. With red and golden beets as my inspiration, I built this recipe based on things in my fridge that needed to be used up (where pretty much every one of my best recipes is born). With a carton of figs on there very last day, begging to be used up before the dreaded toss in the compost, pistachios left over from making pistachio macarons last week (recipe will be posted soon!), and a half-full container of ricotta left over from a roasted butternut squash and ricotta pasta from last week as well, this recipe effortlessly built itself. Vibrant red and golden beets rest atop mixed greens lightly dressed with a honey, walnut, and balsamic dressing, scattered with nutty green pistachios, sensual red, purple, and golden figs, chia seeds (a super food!), and creamy pillows of ricotta. I can get used to a diet this beautiful.

Tip: This salad is perfect for entertaining! The beets can be roasted the day before to save you time the day of, and the striking presentation will wow your guests.

* To remove pistachio skins, cover pistachios with boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and rub vigorously with a clean kitchen towel. The skins will rub right off. Do this step before roasting.

3 medium-sized beets, stemmed with greens removed (I used a mixture of both red and golden)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp liquid honey
1 tbsp walnut oil
1 tbsp olive oil
3-4 handfuls of mixed greens
1 tbsp chia seeds (optional)
4 ripe figs, quartered
1/2 cup ricotta
1/4 cup pistachios, toasted with skins removed*
olive oil (plus more for roasting beets)
salt and fresh ground pepper, to season

  1. Preheat oven to 350ยบ. Lightly coat beets in olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Wrap individually in tin foil and roast for 1 hour to 1.25 hrs, or until tender when inserted with a fork. Unwrap from tin foil and set aside to cool. Once cooled, either remove skins with a paring knife, or by rubbing with a paper towel. Slice into 1/4-inch thick rounds.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the balsamic vinegar and honey. While continuing to whisk slowly pour in the olive oil and walnut oil in a thin, continuous stream. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  3. In a medium bowl toss together the mixed greens with the dressing, adding a little dressing at a time to ensure you do not over-dress. You may have some dressing remaining.
  4. Plate the dressed greens and sprinkle with chia seeds. Top with sliced beets (alternating in colours), figs, ricotta, and pistachios. Drizzle lightly with good quality olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Listening To:
LCD Soundsystem - Dance Yrself Clean

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Weekly Roundup - Rock On To Being Healthy!

Rock Lobster Co. - I have written about my best friend Alex on my blog many times before thanks to our love of food! For as long as I can remember, Alex and I have been going out for catch-up dinners together, trying out new restaurants, chatting for hours (often being the last patrons in the restaurant or coffee shop) about just about every topic on the planet, and always leaving stuffed to the brim with our deep love for another reaffirmed. For our most recent restaurant catch-up, we decided to try out Rock Lobster Co., the much-hyped new Ossington lobster restaurant. I had been to Rock Lobster's pop up shop a couple of times before and thought their Lobster Rolls were pretty good (although a little heavy on the mayo), and was curious to see what else they had up their sleeve. After ordering a round of oysters, and Lobster Mac n Cheese for myself, as well as trying Alex's Lobster Rock Lobster Caesar (complete with a lobster tail garnish) and Lobster Poutine, I walked away feeling very much how I did after trying their Lobster Rolls at their pop up shop, pretty 'meh'. I mean, lobster is lobster, I'm going to be happy no matter what, but I found everything just under the mark. For instance, my lobster mac & cheese was lacking in the lobster department. I was craving lots of lobster, or at least a few good chunks, but it seemed the lobster pieces were few and far between. With a good atmosphere, friendly staff (including the chef who was checking on each and every table to make sure they were enjoying their experience), and the fact that Rock Lobster is filling a void in the Toronto restaurant scene (you won't find another reasonably priced, trendy shellfish resto), I was still interested to give Rock Lobster another shot.

Healthy Breakie - A few weeks ago I mentioned that I am trying to pay closer attention to my health and what I put in my body. I am very happy to report that my health kick is still going strong! Yes, I do cheat with things like Lobster Mac & Cheese now and then, but I make sure to balance out those naughty dishes with uber-healthy ones. My focus when eating healthy is to raise my alkaline levels in order to balance out the crazy amount of acidity currently making a home in my body. This healthy breakfast is an example of how I have been trying to do. A runny-yolk poached egg sits atop a bed of spinach, topped with chopped avocado and tomatoes, tossed in a garlic-heavy balsamic dressing, and dusted with cayenne pepper. The spinach in the salad acts as my main acidity warrior, fighting to moderate my pH levels, as dark leafy greens are one of the best ways to raise ones alkaline levels. Over and above spinach, I have featured many other super foods in this dish: tomatoes, avocado, garlic, and cayenne pepper are all considered super foods with an insane amount of health benefits. Wish me luck as my new healthy lifestyle continues!

Afternoon With Oma & Opa - Nothing says "comfort" like an afternoon with your grandparents. Craving a visit with them (it had been far too long), I decided to spend the afternoon with my Oma and Opa, catching up on life, sipping on wine and coffee, and, of course, indulging in Oma's delicious food! One of the highlights of Oma's incredible smorgasbord of food was her freshly made pea soup. Aaaah comfort in a bowl.

Rock Lobster Co. - A week after my first visit to Rock Lobster Co. with Alex, my friend Robin was dying to check out the place with our friend Rommi and myself. Despite the fact that I wasn't all that crazy about my first visit and was eager to try one of the many other new and buzzed about restaurants in the city, Robin was set on getting her hands on some lobster! Because I still wanted to give the place another chance, I gave in, and off we went back to Ossington to let Robin and Rommi try it out. This time I ordered the Lobster Cappuccino, Rock Lobster's take on a lobster bisque, and their Jerk Crab & Shrimp. Once again, I found myself disappointed with the lobster bisque. Although I liked the little lobster toast that accompanied the dish, topped with the same filling found in their lobster roll, I was hoping for a creamier texture and more chunks of lobster in the bique. The saving grace in the meal was their jerk crab and shrimp. Both the crab and shrimp were tender and delicious, and I loved the spicy jerk seasoning, lime and cilantro that dressed the shellfish. 

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Listening To:
Animal Collective - My Girls

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