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.

Follow me on Twitter!
Like me on Facebook!
Follow me on Instagram!
Follow me on Pinterest!

Listening To:
Arcade Fire - Porno

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!