Monday, April 29, 2013

Weekly Roundup - I Sea-Food & Mint Juleps

Dairy Farmers of Canada Clam Chowder - It's plain to see from reading my blog over the past few months that I have been on quite the seafood kick, with images of salmon, oysters, monkfish, and more continuously popping up on my feed. With seafood constantly on the brain, you can imagine my delight at being chosen as one of the competitors for the Creamy Seafood category in the Dairy Farmers of Canada Anyday Magic Cream Challenge. After attending the Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown in November, getting the opportunity to taste over 10 different Ocean Wise seafood chowders prepared by some of the best chefs in Toronto, I was inspired to create a chowder of my own. Being new to making chowders, I decided to use the classic New England clam chowder as my inspiration, but draw on some of the big flavours that I tasted at the Chowder Chowdown to amp up the comforting classic. I was so incredibly proud of the final result of my clam chowder. Full of hearty vegetables and big flavours, I couldn't get enough of my chowder and have been raving about it to all my friends and family ever since. Be sure to check out the Dairy Farmers of Canada Anyday Magic site on May 1st to see my recipe and make it yourself! And don't forget to vote for your favourite Creamy Seafood recipe (it's me...I'm the favourite! And don't you forget it!).

Mint Juleps - My boyfriend Chris impresses me in so many ways, I could write a blog solely on his many skills, talents, and pieces of knowledge that he feeds me with. One of Chris' skills that seems to benefit all of his friends and family is his ability to whip up a wicked cocktail. Knowing about his love for the classic Southern cocktail, the Mint Julep, I got him two beautiful Mint Julep glasses as part of his Christmas gift this year. A little out of season, Chris wasn't able to make Mint Juleps until Toronto finally began to thaw out last week, and lucky me, I got to be one of the first to try Chris' delicious Mint Julep in the classic silver cup. Beautiful, boozy, and delicious thanks to all that fresh mint, I can now say that Chris makes one mean Mint Julep. I will be your cocktail taste tester anytime baby!

Kingyo Toronto - It's always a bit of a challenge selecting a restaurant for my sister Justine's birthday each year, with her and her boyfriend being passionate restaurant-goers, and Justine wanting a special experience for her special day. After hearing all the hype about Kingyo Toronto, the newest restaurant to jump on the Izakaya train in Toronto, Justine was excited to try out the Vancouver chain restaurant on her big day! After sharing a number of dishes between our party, we can say that we were all very impressed with Kingyo (with exception to their lack-luster Legendary Chicken Wings by "Kinchan"), with their Ramen and Pork Belly standing out as our mouth-watering favourites. Although we drew a lot of comparisons to Guu Sakabar, another Izakaya that we frequent, it was the atmosphere and that killer ramen that made Kingyo stand out as our favourite...oh, and maybe the fact that you are sitting in a comfortable chair as opposed to a back-aching stool, and you can actually hear the person next to you speak. 

Salmon with Sriracha Lime Sauce - Craving a healthy and satisfying dinner, as well as wanting to take advantage of a visit to St. Lawrence Market, I was eager to try Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen's recipe for Salmon in a Sriracha Lime Sauce. This incredibly easy recipe was whipped up in next to no time at all, and was absolutely 'gimme-a-second-helping' delicious. Gwyneth calls this recipe one of her go-to's and I am happy to say that it has now become one of mine as well. Try it out, and I can guarantee it will become one of yours too. 

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Listening To:
The Chemical Brothers - The Salmon Dance

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Shrimp & Vegetable Summer Rolls

Armed with a new julienne peeler given to me by the Easter bunny herself (didn't you know the Easter bunny is a pretty redheaded woman from Toronto?...who happens to be my mother) I was ready to tackle a slew of new healthy recipes that I had begun collecting that all require the snazzy tool. On the top of my "healthy recipes to make" list? Shrimp & Vegetable Summer Rolls, light and fresh rice paper rolls filled with crisp julienned vegetables and jam packed with some of my favourite fresh herbs. Unlike deep fried spring rolls, summer rolls require no cooking at all, just a simple dip in warm water and the firm rice paper sheets turn malleable, and ready to fill with whatever filling you so choose. 

Dying to try out my new tool, I used carrots and cucumber as my initial inspiration to create this recipe. After picking up the veggies, all it took was a short stroll around my new favourite shopping ground, St. Lawrence market, to finalize the ingredients in the recipe. Wanting a big hit of freshness in every bite, I picked up some of my favourite fresh herbs, basil, cilantro, and mint. For a bit of crunch and substance, I chose kelp noodles as opposed to the more common rice noodles as a healthy alternative. I had first tried kelp noodles in the raw and vegan pad thai from Rawlicious, and was incredibly impressed by their interesting texture that gives you the same satisfied feeling after eating pasta noodles.  Also known as "sea tangle", kelp noodles require zero cooking and are made from kelp, an edible seaweed that is very low in calories. To contrast the crisp texture from the noodles and veggies, I wanted to add something creamy to my rolls. Creamy avocado, full of healthy fats, was an absolute no-brainer. Being on a bit of a seafood kick, I couldn't resist adding in some shrimp that I quickly thawed from the freezer. Picking the ingredients is of course the easy part, then came the production. 
In a matter of seconds I learned that my julienne peeler, the tool that inspired the whole recipe, was absolute garbage. The darned thing didn't want to slice anything but my thumb. I tried to prevail, attempting different techniques, and holding the carrots in different ways, but quite frankly, the peeler is just plain dangerous. A frustrated toss into the sink, and I had resorted back to my mandolin. You will notice that I don't list how much of each ingredient to put into each roll, this is because it's really up to you and what flavours and textures you want to stand out most, and how much you are able to comfortably wrap into the rolls. My first roll was a messy disaster, with the thin rice paper tearing, the filling bursting out all over my kitchen floor, while I quickly (and very unattractively, might I add) tried to catch whatever of the rice paper roll remained into my eager mouth. Although it seemed like a total waste at first, this initial mess of a roll actually helped me to quickly learn what I needed to adjust in the recipe. Another layer of rice paper, a little less kelp noodles and veggies, and a lot more herbs and I had the perfect balance of flavours and textures, as well as a perfect healthy snack! I was so incredibly happy with how my summer rolls turned out, sending off a care package of them to my mom, my sister, and my boyfriend, knowing that they would all love them just as much as I. I am happy to report that they did indeed share the love for the rolls, sending me many praises on my delicious work. I am looking forward to making these rolls as a refreshing snack all through the hot summer months! 

*I like to use VH Spicy Thai Chili sauce to dip my summer rolls into
Tip: Make this recipe vegan by omitting the shrimp!

20 rice paper sheets (22cm in diameter)
a large handful mixed greens
about 3 medium carrots, julienned
about 1 medium cucumber, seeded & julienned
about 3/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped 
about 3/4 cup mint, roughly chopped 
about 1/2 cup basil, roughly chopped 
1 large avocado, sliced
1 package kelp noodles
10 medium-sized cooked shrimp, halved
dipping sauce of your choice*

  1. Fill a medium-large bowl with warm water, lay down a clean dry towel on your work surface, and set up all ingredients in a production line. 
  2. Dip one rice paper sheet into the warm water for about 5-seconds, or until malleable. Lay flat on the towel, and lightly dab dry with another clean towel. Dip a second rice paper sheet in the warm water until softened, and lay directly on top of the first sheet. Dap to dry. 
  3. Starting with the mixed greens, lay a small amount of each filling ingredient onto the roll, adding 1 shrimp to each roll, about 3/4 of the way up the roll. For the best flavour add lots of the fresh herbs, adding slightly less basil than the cilantro and mint. Gently fold the top lip of the rice paper over the filling, and fold the two sides in. Gently roll the rice paper to create a package with the filling inside. Taste. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. You should be left with 10 rolls (minus the sacrificial first taste-testing roll). 
  4. Chill until ready to serve with your choice of dipping sauce. Serve within the first 24-hours of making. 

Listening To:
Queen - Bicycle race

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Dear Landlord, I want to ride my bicycle...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Chocolate Cheesecake Strawberries

When faced with the challenge of creating a gluten-free, kosher-for-Passover dessert, I can't help but let out a long, make that groan. Creating a kosher-for-Passover dessert is enough of a challenge already, throw in gluten-free and I'm out the door! Because I was only asked to bring two additions to our quickie Passover meal this year with my dad, my Zhada (who is celiac), and I, I figured I would have to at least give it a shot as opposed to sneaking off to buy a pre-made dessert...and possibly pass it off as my own. My history with making gluten-free baked goods hasn't exactly been a pleasant one, with cakes that refuse to rise and maintain moisture, not to mention my frustration at the many different ingredients you need to make a tasty gluten-free baked good, and the high cost at which many of them are sold. I decided to bypass baking all together and create a fresh and relatively healthy dessert that I knew my family and I would enjoy. 

My Chocolate Cheesecake Strawberries are incredibly simple, easy to transport, gluten-free, kosher-for-Passover, adorable, and last but certainly not least, delicious and wildly addictive! The sweet strawberries are complimented perfectly with the tangy and creamy mascarpone cheese surprise filling, with the light dip of chocolate and toasted pecans tying the dessert together. My favourite part of this dessert? Seeing my Zhada's reaction as I brought the strawberries out, and watching him happily devour two in next to no time at all. 

about 1 lb strawberries
4 oz. mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
1 tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla 
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
about 1/3 cup pecans, lightly toasted and chopped

  1. Remove hull from strawberries, and carefully cut a slightly larger hole inside of strawberry.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together mascarpone with icing sugar. Add lemon zest and vanilla and mix to combine. 
  3. Scoop mascarpone mixture into a piping bag and carefully pipe into the centre of the strawberries.  Refrigerate for at least a half hour, to allow filling to set.
  4. In a double boiler, melt chocolate chips at medium heat. Put the chopped nuts in a small bowl next to the chocolate.
  5. Carefully dip the end of the strawberry into the chocolate and then immediately into the chopped nuts. Place, chocolate side down, on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining strawberries. Chill for at least another half hour to allow chocolate to set. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to enjoy! They will keep for up to 2 days. 

Listening To:
Mount Kimbie - Made To Stray

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Beet & Sweet Potato Ravioli

I have known Danielle from Baked Soap Co. and Sweet & Splendid Bakeshop for years now, but it wasn't until we got together for a macaron making day that we realized just how much we have in common. I love finding interesting new people to share my love of cooking with, and it seemed Danielle shared that same love. Before hugging each other goodbye after she had taught me to make Chocolate Peanut Butter Macarons in her home, we promised that we would get together again soon for a pasta making day. While Danielle is a natural when it comes to baking and had many things to teach me, I seem to be the more comfortable 'Danielle' when it comes to cooking! I invited Danielle into my home for a lesson on how to make fresh, homemade pasta. Two passionate Danielle's in the kitchen may sound like a disaster waiting to happen, but it turned out to be a fantastic experience, with incredibly delicious results! 
Wanting to make things a little more interesting, and make the production more suited to two people, we decided to make ravioli. Because I had made ravioli in the past, I wanted to take things a step further and experiment with making a type of pasta that I was not yet familiar with, beet pasta! To be honest, I didn't care at all if the beets added any additional flavour to the pasta sheets, it was the stunning ruby red colour I was after! That shocking bright red is beautiful in the pasta, but note that if you don't want your fingertips stained that same red, you probably want to buy yourself some latex gloves when peeling the beets and kneading the dough. I, on the other hand, embrace those red fingertips as marks of honor!
Although we made up the recipe for our orange sweet potato filling (I was all about colour that week!), we found a recipe for Beet Pasta by Martha Stewart that we decided to follow...even though we rarely trust Martha recipes, and we both believe that Martha secretly leaves out one ingredient in each recipe to make sure no one can live up to her success. Despite our mutual trust issues with Martha Stewart recipes, and the fact that we were short on time and only rested out dough for about 40-minutes, the pasta turned out fantastic! We crated a very simple filling featuring roasted sweet potatoes, fresh ricotta, salt and pepper, and topped our little red pasta pockets in an olive and walnut oil mixture and lightly toasted pine nuts. Before digging in, Danielle asked if I had any good balsamic vinegar to lightly drizzle over her serving. I have to say, I thought it was a bit of a strange request at first, thinking that the filling should shine through on its own, but after trying my first bite, I realized that a very light drizzle of really good quality, aged balsamic vinegar was exactly what our pasta needed! The vinegar cut through the sweetness of the filling, adding another dimension to the final dish. By the end of our ravioli-making-mission, as we sprawled out on the couch, eating the fruits of our labour, we were smiling ear-to-ear, so incredibly proud of the dish we had created together. After having so much success we would be crazy to stop there. We are currently planning our next cooking day together, this time taking on Mexican cuisine by making fried fish tacos, a recipe that Danielle has experience with making! I can't wait to get in the kitchen with my new foodie buddy again and tell you all about our tasty results! 

* To save on time and energy roast sweet potatoes and beets at the same time!

2 medium-sized sweet potatoes
1 shallot, minced
1/2 cup ricotta
olive oil, for roasting & cooking
salt and pepper, to taste

2 medium-sized beets (equals 2 cups pureed), trimmed
1 1/2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
2 eggs
2 egg yolks, separated (one for dough, one for assembly)
1 tsp salt

pine nuts, toasted
olive oil
walnut oil
parmesano reggiano, grated
good quality, aged balsamic vinegar

  1. *Cut sweet potatoes in half lengthwise and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and place on baking sheet flesh-side down. Bake at 375º for about 30-minutes, or until tender when inserted into the centre with a fork.  Let cool.
  2. Once sweet potatoes are cooled, scoop out the flesh of the potato into the bowl of a food processor. Heat about 1 tbsp olive oil at medium heat in a small sauté pan, add shallots and cook until translucent. Add to bowl of food processor. Add the ricotta, taste and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside until ready to use.
Pasta & Assembly
  1. *Coat beets in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Wrap tightly in aluminum foil and place on baking sheet. Bake at 375º for about 1 hour or until beets are tender when inserted into the centre with a fork. Let cool. Rub beets with paper towels to remove skins. Puree in food processor (you should have 1/2 cup puree).
  2. Add eggs and one yolk to beet puree in food processor, and process until combined. Add flour and 1 heaping teaspoon salt and process until dough just comes together, about 20 seconds. 
  3. Transfer dough to a well-floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes), adding up to 2-tablespoons flour if dough is sticky. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and rest for at least 45-minutes (if you have the time, rest for 2 hours). 
  4. Tear off a baseball-sized piece of dough, and recover remaining dough with plastic wrap. Flatten dough into an oblong shape. Dust dough very lightly with flour and feed dough slowly through the pasta machines widest setting. Turn the dial to the next narrower setting and feed dough through. Continue this, turning the dial to a finer setting each time until you have fed the dough through the finest setting. You may feed the dough through each setting twice. 
  5. Lay dough sheet out on a clean, dry towel. Fold dough in half and cut into approximate squares (don't worry if they're not perfect, I like the rustic shapes). Place remaining egg yolk in a small bowl and lightly beat. Place filling in a pastry bag and pipe about a teaspoon of filling into the centre of half of the squares of dough. Lightly brush edges of squares with egg yolk. Place the remaining dough pieces on top and pinch dough to close, being careful to squeeze out any air bubbles inside. Dip prongs of a fork into flour and scallop edges. Set aside on a baking sheet to "dry". Continue with remaining dough and filling.
  6. When all dough has been turned into ravioli, fill a large pot with heavily-salted water and bring to a boil. Boil ravioli for 4 minutes, being sure not to crowd pot. Drain. 
  7. In medium-large saucepan heat desired amount of olive oil and walnut oil. Add cooked ravioli and toss in oil to coat. Plate, and top with pine nuts and a light drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately. 
Listening To:
Kurt Vile - Baby's Arms

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Weekly Roundup - Making My TUM Happy

Danielle's Ravioli Making Day - I have known Danielle from Baked Soap Co. and Sweet & Splendid Bakeshop for years now, but it wasn't until we got together for a macaron making day that we realized just how much we have in common. I love finding interesting new people to share my love of cooking with, and it seemed Danielle shared that same love. Before hugging each other goodbye after she had taught me to make Chocolate Peanut Butter Macarons in her home, we promised that we would get together again soon for a pasta making day. While Danielle is a natural when it comes to baking and had many things to teach me, I seem to be the more comfortable 'Danielle' when it comes to cooking! I invited Danielle into my home for a lesson on how to make fresh pasta.

Wanting to make things a little more interesting, we decided to make ravioli. Because I had made ravioli in the past, I wanted to take things a step further and experiment with making a type of pasta that I was not yet familiar with, beet pasta! Danielle and I had such a great time making Martha Stewart's recipe for Beet Pasta (even though we rarely trust Martha recipes, and we both believe that Martha secretly leaves out one ingredient in each recipe to make sure no one can live up to her success) and created a fantastic recipe of our own for a sweet potato filling and simple topping for our ravioli. Our ravioli turned out so delicious and stunning (I mean look at that photo, those little babies are a thing of beauty!) I would be crazy not to post the recipe! I promise to have it up soon!

Carrot Tzimmes - Even though we weren't able to get the whole family together this year for a traditional Passover dinner, my dad and I wanted to do something special for my Zhada to draw attention to the special Jewish holiday. My dad picked up a bunch of tasty dishes from Good Bye Gluten for my Zhada (he has been Celiac for years), leaving me with the job of making carrot tzimmes and a gluten free, kosher for Passover dessert. I turned to the recipe for Carrot Tzimmes that my family has been using for years, and tried to make it a little more interesting by picking up purple and white carrots, as well as the more common orange, to add a little colour to the sweet carrot side dish. The carrots turned out great! I was pleasantly surprised by the crunchy texture that the purple and white carrots added to the dish.

Chocolate Cheesecake Strawberries - Left with the challenge of coming up with a gluten free and kosher for Passover dessert for my Zhada, my dad, and myself, I eventually decided upon making Chocolate Cheesecake Strawberries. Fresh strawberries are dipped in semi-sweet chocolate and chopped pecans. Take a bite and you'll find a surprise...Cheesecake! Or at least a filling that will trick you into believing it's cheesecake. Sweet mascarpone cheese with a hint of vanilla and lemon zest is the creamy surprise filling piped inside each strawberry. The best part about this dessert? Seeing my Zhada's excited and delighted reaction as he took his first bite. He loved it, and devoured two in no time at all. Recipe will be posted soon!

Happy Easter From Laura Secord - A great big thank you to Laura Secord for being so kind and sending me a box of Easter chocolates and a big Laura Secord Cream Egg as an Easter gift! What a sweet way to ring in one of the biggest chocolate-eating holidays of the year!
Summer Rolls - The Easter bunny knows me so well! I don't know how that fuzzy creature knew that I had been wanting a julienne peeler. He/she must be psychic...or spying on me. Either way, I am so very thankful to have received the peeler I had been itching for for months now as apart of my Easter morning gift! One of the main reasons I had wanted the peeler was so that I could begin making my very own rice paper rolls, filled with perfect, crisp, julienned vegetables. For my first attempt at rice paper rolls, I decided to make fresh, healthy, and herbaceous Vegetable & Shrimp Summer Rolls! Although my first summer roll was a bit of a disaster, with the rice paper roll barely making it around the filling, and the filling spilling out all down my chin and onto my shirt, I quickly got the hang of it and ended up with ten perfect summer rolls! I was very happy with the end result, sending some off to my mom, my sister, and my boyfriend, wanting to show off my summer roll making skills! Yet another recipe that I was really proud of creating. You can count on this one being up on the blog soon!

Seafood Night: Mussels - With my boyfriend Chris living in a swanky new condo right by St. Lawrence Market, we have been going a little wild taking advantage of all the fresh and abundant produce, meats, and fish that he now has access to almost right outside his door. After having so much success (not to mention a great time) making arctic char together, we decided to have a seafood night this past Wednesday. Both tired and grumpy, it would have been really easy for us to have failed our seafood mission, but I'm happy to report that both of our dishes turned out fantastic!

My contribution to seafood night was Mussels in White Wine, a recipe by my future best friend (yes, in my dreams) Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. Having never made mussels before, I was a little nervous about how the shellfish would turn out. I was petrified of us getting sick and took extra care to check every single mussel a total of three times (maybe excessive, maybe brilliant?) to make sure every mussel was alive before steaming. Even though I may have suffered an injury thanks to an old can opener and a cruel aluminum tin that wanted to murder my thumb, I was really happy with how the mussels turned out, with only a few minor modifications for next time. I would recommend trying out Ina's recipe, but maybe add a little extra chopped tomatoes when you make it so that sauce is extra delicious when sopping up with fresh baguette.

Seafood Night: Bacon Wrapped Monkfish in a Red Wine Reduction - Without a doubt, the star of seafood night was Chris' Bacon Wrapped Monkfish in a Red Wine Reduction. With a name like that, how could it not? I had never tried monkfish before, but Chris had told me to expect something similar to the texture and flavour of lobster, but without the labour of dealing with a shell. First off the dish looked so appealing on the plate, with the beautiful piece of market-fresh fish in the centre, expertly wrapped in medium-cut bacon, held together by a rosemary sprig, and drizzled with a deep red wine sauce. The look of the dish alone had me all hot and bothered knowing that my boyfriend had created such a striking meal, you can imagine how I felt after taking a damn good. Chris was right, monkfish really does remind me of lobster, with its buttery flavour and texture. The crispy and salty bacon contrasted wonderfully with the subtle monkfish, with the buttery red wine reduction tying the whole dish together. Good luck to Chris in the future after building up my expectations with such incredible meals so early on in our relationship. HAH! Pressure's on! 

Toronto Underground Market - As you've probably noticed by now, mine and Chris' best date nights seem to revolve around food...come to think of it, we have rarely had a date night that doesn't involve food. I'm not complaining. After a crazy week of Chris getting settled into his new condo and entertaining friends, it was really nice to spend some quality time, just the two of us, tasting through the many offerings available at the Toronto Underground Market this past weekend. I had been hearing so many wonderful things about TUM for the past year, so expectations were definitely high.

Although the event certainly hit our wallets quickly with ticket prices just over $20, and each dish costing around $5 once inside, it was great to be able to try out so many different interesting tastes all in one place. Pictured here was one of our favourite tastes of the festival, Hot Bunzz Brazilian Pulled BBQ Beef Bun and Wild Boar Bun with black truffles. Even though we only stayed for a couple hours (we were freezing out bunzz off!) I was surprised at how many tastes we were able to try in that short time. Although I had heard about the long lines you encounter at TUM, we were lucky and didn't have to wait in many. Any lines we did wait in (even the intimidating Fidel Gastro line) moved quite quickly and was well worth the wait! My only criticism? I think the curators of the event should take more care to choose more of a variation of dishes. There seemed to be an excess of pork at the event, with almost every single vendor featuring pulled pork or pork belly, and even a vendor dedicated solely to bacon. If you have yet to check out TUM, make sure to stay updated on their next event by following their twitter account! 

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Listening To:
Beatrice Eli - Violent Silence