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