Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Toronto Beer Fest 2014

Just as July starts to wind down and August begins to peek its sunny head out, I can't help but begin ticking off my essential summer checklist. My essential summer checklist is a combination of nostalgia-inducing old favourites such as 'visit Centre Island' and "enjoy a picnic in a park," to new favourites like "ride my bike to Belwoods for beers and books" and "attend an outdoor concert." With 2014 being my third year attending the Toronto Festival of Beer, the massive beer-guzzling festival has officially made it onto my essential summer checklist. The festival, which is sponsored by The Beer Store, has become one of those events that is just so quintessentially summer to me. Running around outdoors, day drinking, making new friends, enjoying new experiences; the Toronto Festival of Beer ticks off all the right boxes for a spectacular summer day! 
(From top left) Left Field Brewing; The menu at Left Field Brewing; A festival favourite, Beau's Brewing Co.; The menu at Beau's Brewing Co.
It's crazy to look back on my past Beer Fest entries to see just how much my palate has grown since attending for the first time three years ago. I remember being intimidated by all the different types of beer that at the time I was so unfamiliar with. More than that, I was so overwhelmed by the fact that I hadn't a clue what type of beer I really liked, and was apprehensive about which beers to choose. Would I be judged if I chose a the "wrong" beer? As my taste has grown over the years and beer has played a more prominent role in my daily life (at times too much so), I've learned that the amazing thing about Beer Fest, is that there really isn't a "wrong" beer to choose. Everyone is at the festival to have fun, to learn, and to educate, without judgement. With that being said, although there are really no "wrong" beers to choose from at Beer Fest, there is definitely a right and wrong way of taking part in the Beer Fest experience. 
Me (Danielle Rose) catching major shade from this Bulls fan!
So, how does one do Beer Fest the "right" way? The first thing is to forget all about the beers you've already tried. You've tried them, you've formed an opinion about them, you know where to get them, now move on! Beer Fest is all about introducing yourself to new flavours, but that doesn't mean you should avoid the brewers that you've already tried. Just because you've only ever found one type of beer from a particular brewer at the Beer Store or LCBO doesn't mean that they don't have more to offer. For me, my favourite part about Beer Fest is getting to try all the wacky and unique beers that are hard to find at a liquor store or, even better, are in limited release, meaning that that may be your only chance to try that particular brew. This is particularly true when you venture into the Local Ontario tent, which is always my first stop at the festival (after the Media Tent of course), as I am guaranteed to start off sipping on a winner! 
(From top left) Flying Monkeys Orangemungus Radler; Flying Monkeys beer menu; Great Lakes Brewery; Hop City Brewing.
My favourite brewer for tasting limited released brews is always Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery, who's motto "normal is weird" is clearly represented in their extensive list of offerings at the festival. This year, their tap list was so large that they had to set up two pouring stations in order to feature all sixteen brews, which ranged from a boozy 9.3% ABV to a very light 4% ABV. With quirky names like "Strawberry Beers Forever" and "She Gives Good Hop," you can expect your taste buds to be enlightened with new tastes and big flavours that cater to both new and seasoned beer drinkers. For novice beer drinkers and those who prefer lighter and sweeter beers, Flying Monkeys offers a range of beers that feature fruits like lemons, strawberries, and oranges (orange creamsicle to be exact!) that are low in alcohol percentage. For those who prefer punchier beers with stronger flavours and unique undertones, Flying Monkeys delivers with brews that have notes of hops, fennel, and rye.
(From top left) Hop City Lawn Chair and Sommersby Cider being poured in the Media Tent; Me (Danielle Rose) with some strangers...don't remember this photo being taken; Collective Arts Brewing; Junction Brewery.
Another favourite that I am sure to check as soon as I catch a glimpse of their logo is Beau's All Natural Brewing Co. More than just hipster-looking signage and packaging, Beau's has become a festival favourite thanks to their commitment to quality and use of all-natural ingredients such as certified organic hops and malts and local spring water. Having gone for more heavy-sitting beers with strong hops flavours at last years fest, this year I tended to lean more towards crisp and refreshing beers, which meant I was always on the hunt for the word "saison" at each brew station. Saison is a type of pale ale that is highly carbonated that features fruity and spicy flavours, making it extremely refreshing for a hot summer day. With Kissmeyer Nordic Saison on the menu at Beau's, it wasn't hard for me to choose which of their fantastic options I would try. Brewed with a bouquet of organic sea buckthorn berries and rosehips, as well as an infusion of fresh local rhubarb, Beau's Kissmeyer Nordic Saison offers medium bitterness, along with spicy, floral, and fruity aromas, and finishes slightly fruity, tart, and crisp. 
Me (Danielle Rose) finishing off one of many brews.
Another brew that got points from me for being a great summer beer option, was Granville Island Brewing's Hefeweizen. With aromas of ripe banana, clove, and bready malt notes and flavours of clove, banana, and orange with a medium-body and a dry, crisp finish, Hefeweizen is a great wheat beer to enjoy with rich foods on a hot day. 
Me (Danielle Rose)...I think I've had a bit too much to drink...
When looking for a summer brew that featured more of a rich malt flavour, I turned to Left Field Brewery's Maris Pale Ale. Maris Pale Ale was inspired by Roger Maris, who made history when he beat Babe Ruth's home run record in 1961. With its crisp taste and familiar flavours, Left Field's Maris is reminscent of Roger Maris' straight, and to-the-point ball-playing, that was never flashy or boastful.
(From top left) Red Racer IPA; Red Racer IPA; Me (Danielle Rose) and a stranger...again only vaguely remember taking this photo; Red Racer.
It would be a shame to go to Beer Fest and only taste light and refreshing brews, so I got my hop fix in the form of Red Racer IPA from Central City Brewers and Distillers. Red Racer got my attention...or should I say my redheaded sister and I got their attention, thanks to their striking label featuring a pin-up inspired redhead on a bike, which they called out to us as we almost passed saying "Hey! You're on our label!" Maybe it's narcissism, but I just couldn't turn down a statement like that. I had to give it a try. I loved the intense aroma and long, lingering hops finish from their IPA. 
Me (Danielle Rose) excitedly approaching the Porchetta and Co. tent.
(From top left) Porchetta and Co.; Me (Danielle Rose) devouring my porchetta sandwich; Porchetta sandwich; Me, very pleased with my sandwich.
This is where things get fuzzy, fizzy, and hazy. With all that beer in your system, there are only so many postcards, coasters, and photos that will jog your memory into remembering what stood out at the festival. But of course, I always remember the food! With my sister Justine and I as a team, we love to try several food options throughout the day to allow us to have more tastes than our tummies can take all alone. We started our food journey with a sandwich from Porchetta and Co. Although I have had their delicious, classic porchetta sandwiches before, Justine had not, something I couldn't fathom and had to fix immediately. Just as I was after my first bite, Justine was positively smitten by the juicy layers of pork shoulder, pork belly, and prosciutto mixed in with crunchy crackling and served on an incredibly fresh bun. It was the perfect snack to begin soaking up all that liquor! 
(From top left) Fidel Gastro's Pork Belly Sandwich; Me (Danielle Rose) enjoying another summer brew; The crowd taking in Matthew Good Band; Side Launch Brewing.
Next stop on the food train was one of our festival favourites, Fidel Gastros. Last year we were blown away by Fidel Gastro's Alabama Tailgators, resulting in us each getting several servings to ourselves Although we were disappointed not to see the savoury bites of Alabama Tailgators on the menu this year at the festival, we were happy with getting another pork sandwich in our bellies. We opted to go with their Pork Belly Sandwich that was served on a soft bun with slaw and a drizzle of mayo. Greasy, crispy, and soft perfection. I'm pretty sure that sandwich saved me from abandoning my tickets and going home early. 
(From top left) Hot Bunzz; Me, holding my Hot Bunzz (innuendo unintended, but hilarious!); Lobster and Bison Short Rib Hot Bunzz; Me holding my Hot Bunzz (again, innuendo unintended, but hilarious!).
Our final taste of the day was at Hot Bunzz. I had tried Hot Bunzz last year at TUM and was impressed with their array of savoury fillings, freshly baked in a soft, warm bun. I was eager to try a different flavour this time around and selected a duo of a lobster and Bison short rib Hot Bunzz. The lobster Hot Bunzz was a much welcomed departure from red meat at the festival, and was just as buttery and delightful as I had imagined it would be. I could have easily had two lobster bunzz all to myself!
Me (Danielle Rose) looking like I've had just about enough beer for a century.
Another fantastic Toronto Festival of Beer complete! I can't wait to take on the fest next year with hopes of seeing many new local brewers!

Photography by Justine Rose.

Listening To:
Wild Nothing - Chinatown

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Market Inspired: Tomato & Cream Cheese Tart

Although it states right up there in the title that this a market-inspired dish, it is actually much more of a Food Hack-inspired dish. These past two weeks have felt like the part of my heart and my head where creativity lies have been hooked up to a defibrillator and have been shocked back into gear. It was only a few short weeks ago that I was crying on my boyfriend Chris' balcony, forlorn over what felt the apparent loss of my creativity and motivation. I was standing at a fork in the road with one direction pointing towards a sensible, steady office job, and the other up in the clouds towards this strange foggy dream that I've been chasing, and I was distraught over the fact that I was just about ready to give up the latter. It's a weird and unexplainable fact of life that Florence Welch so eloquently wrote into one of her hit songs: "It's always darkest before the dawn." No, this past month hasn't been my darkest of times, but it's certainly been confusing as hell, as I've tried with all my might to make sense of combining what I want out of my life (creative stimulation, passion, joy, success, freedom) with what I need out of my life (money and stability). 
Life is like opening that stubborn tight-fitting lid on a jar. Right when you're about to give it all up and quit or ask for help, the lid pops loose! And that's exactly what happened with me. Right when I felt so incredibly lost and unsure of myself, opportunity knocked in the form of a contest that had "this is your dream Danielle!" written all over it! The Kraft Food Hacks competition that I wrote a little bit about in my last entry, would be an absolute dream come true. More than a dream, I can see a reality in it. I can see my future in that role, and that alone was the push I needed to get myself back into gear, and feel that spark that I felt I had been missing as of late. 

On Monday night I participated in Round 2 of the competition, a Twitter party/Interview where finalists and other party guests were asked a series of eight food-hack-related questions to test our originality and creativity, engagement and personal presence, and relevancy of our answers to the questions asked. Although it was my very first Twitter party, and it was at first extremely overwhelming, I feel confident that I put my best face forward and maybe (just maybe!) I could be chosen as one of the three finalists to be judged in Round 3. 
With Food Hacks on the brain last night, I could think of nothing else but creating something hack-worthy and delicious with the leftover Homemade Fresh Garlic & Herb Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese that I made for my Peeling Lots of Garlic Hack that I demonstrated in my video submission. I also had beautiful, colourful tomatoes from the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market leftover, as well as some shallots, basil, and puff pastry that needed to go. A match made in heaven! The tart was quick-as-can-be to prepare and came out looking and tasting restaurant-worthy, thanks to the creamy addition of the flavourful cream cheese and the pop of the sweet juice of the market-fresh tomatoes. This food-hack is a definite winner in my books! 

Note: My puff pastry doesn't look quite as "puffed" as it should because the tart was a very last-minute idea, so I had to do a quickie thaw, which affects the rise of the dough.

1 sheet puff pastry 
125 g Plain Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese (1/2 a package), softened
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp each basil, dill, flat-leaf parsley, green onions, finely chopped
2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
a drizzle of olive oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 tbsp dry white wine
4 leaves fresh basil, chiffonade 
salt and white pepper, to season

  1. Stir together the softened cream cheese with the crushed garlic and chopped herbs. Set aside.
  2. Heat a medium-sized pan to medium-low heat. Coat the pan with a drizzle of olive oil. Add the shallots and cook until very soft and translucent. Increase heat to medium and add the white wine. Continue cooking until wine has evaporated. Remove from heat and set aside
  3. Preheat oven to 400ยบ. Roll out the puff pastry to make slightly larger and thinner. Use your discretion.
  4.  Spread the cream cheese over the puff pastry, leaving a 1/2-inch - 3/4-inch border. Season with salt and white pepper. Top evenly with the cooked shallots. Top evenly with the cherry tomatoes and season lightly with salt and white pepper. Bake for 30-minutes or until pastry is puffed and golden. Top with fresh basil and serve immediately. 
Listening To:

Friday, August 8, 2014

Kraft Food Hacks

Hello friends! I have some very exciting news! This past week I participated in a contest that seriously could not have come at a better time, and yesterday I found out that I have been named a finalist! So what is this contest that I am oh so mysteriously alluding to? I am one of the contenders to become Kraft Canada's next Food Hacker! What is a Food Hacker, you ask? A Food Hacker is a savvy individual who knows their way around a kitchen and is able to elevate a meal, perfect a cooking method, or create an epic flavour infusion with ease! This person must also be fluent in the language of social media (*ahem* I already get paid to do that), comfortable and charming in front of the camera (*cough, cough* Theatre school grad right here), be naturally creative (ummm...I may be the only 26-year old I know who still has a craft closet that is the same size as my clothing closet), and have great kitchen skills (why yes, I am a George Brown culinary student).

This opportunity just sounds way too perfect for me, as I am known by my friends and family for being able to create inventive and interesting meal solutions with next to zero resources. I often refer to this as creating "something from nothing." I find myself creating something from nothing on a daily basis, thanks to my hatred of food waste and money-conscious mind, and am so excited to get a chance to show Canada just what I have to offer! Heck, I even food hack-ed my breakfast last weekend when my boyfriend Chris said that he had "absolutely nothing to make" in his kitchen. Let me tell you, "nothing" rarely means "nothing!" There's always something! After a quick rummage around his fridge and cupboards, I whipped up a quickie Hot Dog Bun French Toast topped with fresh peaches, maple syrup, and a dusting of icing sugar! It was delicious! Mission accomplished: Breakfast hacked.
The first round of the competition asked applicants to create a one-minute or less video that demonstrated one of our favourite food hacks, using at least one Kraft ingredient. One of my favourite food hacks was one that I learned from Chef Frank in culinary school, and that is how to peel multiple cloves of garlic all at once without getting sticky, smelly garlic fingers. This hack is effective and quite fun and was a riot to be able to film while making my homemade, fresh garlic and herb cream cheese using Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Of course Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese already makes a delicious Garlic & Herb variety that I often purchase myself, but I love being able to select my own choice of fresh herbs and spices, and really, you can't deny that fresh herbaceous flavour! Check out my video to learn how!

The second round of the competition takes place this Monday evening in the form of a Twitter party (AKA Twitter interview) between the finalists as well as lovely folks such as yourself! The Twitter party will take place between 8:00 - 9:00 PM EST and will require us finalists to answer seven questions within the hour period to demonstrate why we should be the face of Kraft Canada Food Hacks. I am really excited (but also incredibly nervous) for Monday and hope that my readers are able to join in on the fun as well! To be a guest at the Food Hacks Twitter party, click here to learn more and RSVP! Wish me luck!!

To see my own version of Food Hacks that I have been posting on my blog for years, check out my Cheaters Handbook recipes!

Listening To: