Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Campbell's Summer Grains

Kelsey Brown of the food blog Happy Yolks
Writing a food blog has it's perks. I have to admit, it feels pretty damn cool to get to sit in media lounges with free wifi and swag; mingle with some of Toronto's top chefs; get to try products before they hit the market; have friends and acquaintances tell me I inspired them to cook something; the list goes on! Yes, there are some wonderful perks, but with any perks in life always comes the downside. My friends always tell me how cool it is that I get invited to so many interesting events in Toronto, and yes, "interesting" is the word to use. Sure, there are some events that are wonderful, educating me and allowing me to meet new and insightful people, but unfortunately for the most part most "media" events kind of suck. 
Fresh Apricot, Jalapeno, Mint Quinoa Salad
The problem with media events is the same problem I had in University, they make you feel like "just a number". They really don't give a crap who you are, other than the fact that you offer them free exposure. To many big companies they look to us bloggers and see "tweets," "Facebook posts." "blog posts," FREE! To sum it up, they basically want to use you. They don't really care about progressing their own brand and learning, or having the blogger walk away with something truly valuable, and the most unfortunate part of that is that many bloggers blog with that very goal in mind. My apologies for my candor, but many bloggers really just want free shit. So you can imagine my skepticism each time I am invited to a "blogger" or "media" event. Why do I continue going you ask? You're not the first. It's just apart of the gig, and despite the bad taste in my mouth that I often walk away with, networking is a very important aspect of trying to get into this very small, but growing industry. 

I felt that same uneasy skepticism about a month ago, as I walked to the St. Lawrence Market Kitchens to participate in Campbell's Canada's Summer Grains Series. How can you blame a gal with a big name like Campbell's on the event, and a young American food blogger as the host? The moment I walked up to the large kitchen doors, the PR team received their first point. Without so much as extending my hand, the PR rep already knew my name, knew my blog, and knew that I am currently in culinary school. Someone did their homework. I was impressed. I walked into the spacious kitchens, surprised that I had not been in this beautiful space as of yet, seeing as I am at St. Lawrence Market almost every weekend. I was greeted by more PR reps, Campbell's reps, and servers who offered me a selection of different spa waters while I mingled with arriving guests. The event scored their second point with me when I saw the attendees. I was apart of a small group of strong, independent woman, most of whom are recipe developers as well, and have already found some success in the industry. I couldn't help but smile knowing that I was selected to be apart of this intimate group. 
Just like me, one of Kelsey's favourite tools in the kitchen is her rasp
Point number 3: I met Kelsey from the blog Happy Yolks. Kelsey would be the American food blogger that Campbell's shipped in from Colorado to develop seven super grain recipes featuring Campbell's broths, as well as host the event. It was the mention of Kelsey in the invite that had me feeling like I was walking into another one of those "bad taste in my mouth" events. I pictured just another freebie-grabbing, disingenuous blogger talking at us for an hour. Had I read Kelsey's blog prior to the event, I would have known just how wrong I was. Oh, how thankful I was that I was so very wrong. Kelsey is one of those women that can light up an entire room with her positive energy, and boy did she ever. I think all of us were completely entranced by this successful, young woman (Kelsey's blog Happy Yolks was one of the finalists in the Best Cooking Blog category in the 2013 Saveur: Best Cooking Blog Awards), who was so incredibly down-to-earth, charming, talented, and made us feel as though we were just hanging out in a friends kitchen. Though she was younger than I, I had found a new inspiration in Kelsey. Kelsey's passion for cooking was clear in her delivery, as she demonstrated how to make three of the seven recipes she had developed for Campbell's
"It was SO refreshing to work with talented and inpsiring women who are less interested in the BUY BUY BUY message and focus on the LET'S ALL EAT WELL message." - Kelsey Brown of Happy Yolks, describing why she took part in Campbell's Summer Grains Series
Point number 4: The recipes rocked. With one summer grain side for every day of the week, I could actually see myself making each and every one of the beautifully colourful and flavourful recipes that Kelsey had created, featuring ancient grains and Campbell's. Having been previously out-of-the-loop when it came to ancient grains, other than the oh-so-popular quinoa of course, it was really beneficial for me to learn just how simple it is to prepare these different healthy grains. What really caught my attention was learning how easily digestible and healthy ancient grains are. Although I have had issues with digesting gluten and wheat in the past, that hasn't stopped me from eating all of my favourite carb-heavy foods. So learning about how I could substitute ancient grains for many of the hard-on-the-body grains that I was familiar with, was wonderful for me. 
Farro Caprese Salad
Although I truly enjoyed all of the summer sides that Kelsey had created, you must know by now that I always have my favourites. My first standout summer grain side was the Fresh Apricot, Jalapeno, Mint Quinoa Salad, and was actually the first recipe of the day that I chose to recreate in my own kitchen. I loved how simple this recipe was to make, as well as the contrast of the sweet and juicy apricots with the spicy bites of jalapeno, and the bright and fresh tasting mint. My second standout of the day was Roasted Spring Carrots Over Herbed Kamut with Horseradish Yogurt Sauce. I really liked the almost "al-dente" bite that the kamut gave to the dish, allowing it to standup to the zesty horseradish flavour and the texture of the whole roasted carrots. I also appreciated that Kelsey chose to utilize the slightly-bitter carrot top greens by incorporating that into the dish. My third standout was Shaved Fennel, Orange, Candied Pecans, and Toasted Millet. The slices of orange added a fantastic juicy freshness to the dish, and was a wonderful accompaniment to the crunchy and sweet candied pecans, and balanced by the thinly sliced fennel and red onion. It's also worth noting, that this was also the most beautifully-plated of all the dishes.

I was so glad that my initial skepticism didn't keep me away from this event. It's well-planned and executed events like this that restore my faith in this crazy food blogging scene that I've found myself in. I now have seven easy, go-to recipes that I can make for myself as well as for entertaining, that I know will leave me and my guests satisfied and happy, not to mention I walked away feeling so incredibly inspired by this bright new blogger. I encourage you to find your favourite Campbell's Summer Grain side to recreate in your own home, as well as check out Kelsey's blog Happy Yolks for yourself. I'm not just saying this, but Happy Yolks has actually become one of my new favourite blogs thanks to Kelsey's beautifully written and insightful posts, gorgeous photography, and unique recipes. I'm in the middle of a bit of a soul-searching expedition at the moment, laying awake each night wondering "who am I?", "what do I want?", "where do I want to go?" and Kelsey's blog was just the answer I needed to guide me through this confusing, yet thrilling faze of my life. I hope you find it as inspiring as I did. 
Kelsey's Fresh Apricot, Jalapeno, Mint Quinoa Salad recipe recreated in my own kitchen
  • Check out the seven Summer Grain recipes that Kelsey developed for Campbell's Canada here.
  • Check out Kelsey's gorgeous blog Happy Yolks here.  
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Monday, July 28, 2014

Market Inspired: Balsamic-Macerated Strawberry Shortcakes

Nothings marks the beginning of summer than quarts of fresh-picked, Ontario strawberries at the farmers market. Though peaches have got to be my number-one most anticipated fruit of the summer, there's something about the arrival of strawberries that always seems to turn me into a giddy school girl. Perhaps it's the fact that strawberries remain in the grocery store all year long, tempting me with their vibrant red colour and monstrous size, only to let me down each time with its crunchy texture (strawberries are not meant to be crunchy!) and tasteless flavour. Perhaps its the sentiment of being reminded of childhood summers picking strawberries at St. Andrews Acres with my mom. More than anything, I'm sure it's because strawberries always seem to be the first guest in attendance at Summer's "Welcome Back" party. The arrival of strawberries means the arrival of Ontario's superb summer bounty, and reminds us of the raspberries, cherries, peaches, and pears to come. 
I got so excited at the sight of Ontario strawberries at the first week of the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market that although I had planned on taking home different goods each week, I just couldn't help myself from taking home strawberries for at least six weeks in a row! Each week I would purchase a quart (or two!) from the lovely duo manning the Bizjak Farms tent and would chat with them about all the delicious desserts I had planned on making with my strawberry haul. Upon my return at the Bizjak Farms tent each week for more strawberries, I was always asked what I had ended up making with all those strawberries, only to be faced with the same answer each week, "I just ate them all out of the quart! They were too good to bake with!" And they were. Those juicy, bright red, little strawberries were so incredible on their own, I couldn't even think of manipulating them into the pies, cakes, and tarts that I had previously been so eager to make. 
As the rows and rows of strawberries began to dwindle in the past few weeks at the market, I knew my opportunity to create a market-inspired strawberry recipe was going to pass me by if I didn't do something quick! Not wanting to destroy the great fresh flavour of the fresh in-season strawberries, I decided to make very simple strawberry shortcakes using a recipe for Classic Strawberry Shortcakes I had found on the Williams-Sonoma website, which would allow me to feature strawberries as the star of the dessert, without sacrificing their fresh-picked flavour. Though I love the simple flavours in classic strawberry shortcakes, I wanted to kick the recipe up a bit and give it a more complex flavour, ultimately adding depth to a traditionally very uncomplicated dish. To achieve the depth of flavour that I had in mind, I decided to cut back on the amount of sugar that is generally used to macerate the strawberries (softening them and releasing their sweet juices), and instead just use a sprinkle and allow the powers of very good quality balsamic vinegar to soften the strawberries and release their juices to create a tangy balsamic-strawberry juice. The strawberry shortcakes turned out fantastic, and turned out to be the perfect dish to allow Ontario strawberries to shine like the star that they are! 

Visit the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market website for more details.

Note: I chose to cut the strawberries in half as opposed to in 1/4-inch slices because I wanted to manipulate the strawberries as little as possible. If you prefer, you may cut into slices.

* Turbinado sugar is a large-granulated, raw, brown sugar that adds a nice little crunch to the top of the shortcakes.

** I turned out the dough and formed into a rectangle, and cut the dough into six even squares. I found the shortcakes to be a little tougher in texture than I had hoped, so I would suggest using the ice cream scoop method to achieve the fluffiest shortcakes. 

Recipe slightly adapted from Williams-Sonoma
For the shortcakes:
1 2/3 cup flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
3/4 tsp salt
8 tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
about 2 tbsp milk (optional)
about 1 tbsp turbinado sugar (optional) *
For the strawberries:
4 cups strawberries, hulled & cut in half, keeping small strawberries whole
1 tbsp sugar
enough balsamic vinegar to coat strawberries
For the whipped cream:
3/4 cup heavy cream, well chilled
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

  1. To make the shortcakes, preheat the oven to 400ยบ. 
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt until well blended. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the pieces are no larger than peas. Add the buttermilk and vanilla and gently toss with a fork or rubber spatula until the flour is just moistened and the ingredients are just blended. Do not over-mix.
  3. At this point you may either turn out the shaggy dough onto a well-floured surface and form into a rectangle, to be cut into six even squares/rectangles and placed on an ungreased non-stick baking sheet OR you may use a quick-release ice cream scoop and scoop out the dough onto an ungreased non-stick baking sheet, making sure to space the shortcakes well-apart.** Brush the tops of the shortcakes with milk and sprinkle generously with the turbinado sugar. Bake until puffed and golden for about 15-18 minutes. 
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the strawberries. In a bowl toss together the strawberries with the sugar and balsamic vinegar. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator until ready to serve.
  5. To make the whipped cream, pour the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla into a bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form and the cream is billowy, about 2 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, for up to two hours.
  6. To serve, carefully cut the shortcakes in half horizontally and place the bottom halves facing-up on serving dishes. Evenly spoon over the strawberries and the balsamic-strawberry juice. Top evenly with whipped cream, and place the top piece of the shortcake on top. Serve immediately.
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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Market Inspired: Caprese Salad

Is there a more perfect sight in the world than a farm fresh, colourful, spontaneously placed caprese salad? Is there a more perfect taste? If there is, I've certainly never seen it or tasted it. With the first of the colourful, multi-sized, farm fresh tomatoes finding their way into local farmers' markets, I've found myself more and more taken by the vibrant, bright colours and big, sweet, and juicy flavours from Ontario's most loved savoury fruit. My newfound love for the humble, Ontario-grown tomato has me so utterly smitten, that I was even moved to change the header on my webpage to reflect this new inspiration. I recently shared a quote that summed up the experience of eating a farm-fresh tomato perfectly: 
"It's difficult to think of anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato." - Lewis Grizzard
It's true. Not one bitter thought could permeate the blissful barrier of flavour that tomatoes welcome upon biting into. With dancing, colourful tomatoes on my brain last week at the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market, it was an absolute must for me to stop by the Cookstown Greens tent to chat with my new friend John about all the different varieties of tomatoes we are now beginning to see in our province. There was no doubt that I was walking home with a bag of those red, orange, yellow, and purple balls of perfection, to be utilized in the only way I could imagine, paired with Monforte Dairy Water Buffalo Fresco Cheese (similar buffalo mozzarella, but more crumbly and absolutely divine!) as apart of a simple caprese salad. Toss in my best quality olive oil that I got from an olive press in the Golan Heights in Israel, some leaves of fresh basil growing on my kitchen windowsill, and finish it off with a generous turn of fresh cracked pepper, and one of the most perfect sights and tastes in the world (no hyperbole here) is complete. 
Visit the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market webpage to learn more about our growing community market.

Note: I have not provided the quantity of each ingredient, as it is really not needed. When preparing, just remember that each bite should contain every ingredient. I prefer to go a little heavier on the cheese,  basil, and olive oil rather than not have enough.

small Ontario farm-fresh tomatoes (a combination of different varieties and sizes)
Monforte Dairy Water Buffalo Fresco cheese
fresh basil leaves
very good quality extra virgin olive oil
fresh cracked pepper

  1. Cut some of the larger and medium-sized tomatoes in half, leaving the remainder of the tomatoes in tact. Tear off pieces of the cheese and place overtop. 
  2. Tear the basil leaves overtop and drizzle over enough olive oil so that each tomato gets a slick coating. Finish with fresh cracked pepper. 
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