Friday, June 27, 2014

How do I Herbamare?

A month ago I was approached by A.Vogel, a company known being a pioneer for natural health, and was asked "how do I Herbamare?" How do I what? Until then I was unaware as to how to Herbamare. Although I had previously never heard of the seasoned sea salt that has been a staple in Europe for decades, I became intrigued by this new product as soon as the word "organic" came into my sight. I have always been one to turn to fresh and unprocessed foods as opposed to convenience foods when it comes to cooking, not wanting to add any additional preservatives and other garbage into my body that it really doesn't need, but when I found out about the blend of twelve certified organic herbs that go into Herbamare, they had officially had my attention. 
Featuring twelve of some of my favourite flavours, which include: celery, leek, watercress, onions, chives, parsley, lovage, garlic, basil, rosemary, thyme, and kelp; I could already start brainstorming all of the areas where Herbamare could add more flavour into my quickie, I-have-no-time-to-waste meals. More than just being certified organic, I also appreciated that one of the three flavours of Herbamare was actually sodium-free, making it the perfect alternative to salt for many members of my family who have health concerns and have been struggling to cut back on their salt intake. 
Once I received my package containing all of the three flavours (Original, Zesty, and Sodium-Free), I got right to it and began sprinkling the different flavours of Herbamare on just about any savoury dish I could find that needed an extra lil' somethin' somethin'. If you've ever heard of Umami, which is often cited as being "the fifth taste" or "the savoury taste," you will understand what Herbamare can bring to everyday dishes. Often people compare umami to the artificially produced MSG, for being that kick of flavour that can turn a dish into something that you can't help but go back for more, but unlike MSG, which leaves you feeling out-of-sorts, umami is harmless. Herbamare was a welcome addition to all different types of meals and dishes thanks to its certified organic and kosher stamps as well as containing no additives nor MSG.  
So what were my favourite ways to use Herbamare this month? More than anything, I loved the sodium-free Herbamare as great way for my grandfather to not compromise on taste while trying to cut back on his salt intake. For myself, I loved sprinkling the Zesty Herbamare on soups to add a hit of spice, and added the Original flavour to all different types of things like pestos, unbaked pizza crust, grilled meats, and particularly loved sprinkling it on the freshest of local produce, as a way of keeping the integrity of the original vegetable, while enhancing its flavours. 

So now that I've shared my experience with Herbamare, it's time for you to share yours! Try A.Vogel's Herbamare for yourself! See what type of new and unique ways you can use Herbamare in your own kitchen, and share your findings on Twitter and Facebook using the #Herbamare hashtag. 

Listening To:
LCD Soundsystem - Home

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Market Inspired: Garlic Scape Pesto

Strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb, tomatoes, apples; We are all familiar with the basic go-to finds that most people gravitate toward at an Ontario market, but it's the lesser known produce, the black sheep of the market if you will, that has really been getting my attention as of late. Now that the market has been open for almost one month, I've had the opportunity to purchase goods from almost every single vendor featured at the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market, many of which have been those very basics that I just listed. Of course all of them were incredibly delicious, and completely incomparable to the flavourless variety that gets shipped in from miles and miles away to our supermarkets. Though despite how delicious my fresh market finds were, it wasn't anything I hadn't had before.  

It was last week at Pete's Fresh Organics stand, as I was just about to hand over a $5 bill for a bag of beautiful farm-grown lettuce, that I saw them. I had been seeing the words "garlic scapes" slowly trickling into my Twitter and Facebook feeds, as all of my foodie friends and acquaintances proclaimed their desire at obtaining these mysterious, curly, chive-like greens while they still remained during their very short season. The more those two words kept appearing seemingly everywhere I looked, the more it felt like everyone was apart of a club that I wasn't included in. With my last five-dollars in my hand, I put down the bag of lettuce and began inspecting this mysterious find. They looked like chives to me, but curly and much harder in texture. I knew they were coveted, but what in the world do you even do with garlic scapes?
When surrounded by farmers and foodies alike, it came as no surprise that the moment the question "what do I do with garlic scapes?" left my lips, a response was enthusiastically tossed back at me from the lovely girl manning the Monforte Dairy stand. With a smile so wide, and a wild eagerness in her voice, I knew I could trust her when she suggested I make garlic scape pesto. 

The following day I could think of nothing other than lugging out my food processor to whirr up a big batch of garlic scape pesto. I hadn't a clue if I would even like the flavour of it, but was so excited at the prospect of discovering a new taste, that I simply could not get those whimsical looking greens out of my mind. With pizza on the menu for Friday nights dinner, I knew that would be the perfect opportunity for me to get to utilize my big bag of garlic scapes (that, by the way, only cost me $2). 

After a quick Google search on how to go about making the pesto, I learned that the whole garlic scape may be consumed, but the pointed tip after the pale yellow bulb is quite fibrous, and is recommended to be removed. I speedily chopped up my scapes, tossed them into the bowl of the food processor with some grated Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and lightly toasted pine nuts, and whirred away! That smell. I can't believe we live in the year 2014, and we still don't have smellovision. I wish I could convey to you the intensity of that spicy, fresh, zingy smell that wafted out from my food processor bowl. Heavenly. Although I was so taken by the smell of my newly-made pesto, and a quick taste told me it was delicious, I was still a little skeptical that it would actually be good spread on pizza. 
We divided up the pizza dough in half, and one of the halves into quarters so that we could make three different pizzas, one with classic tomato sauce, and two different varieties featuring the garlic scape pesto as the base. That first bite sent waves of both bliss and regret. Bliss at the taste of this intense new flavour that had previously been missing from my life, and regret at not having spread the pesto on all of the pizza dough. It was so incredibly delicious. The only upside to not using all of the pesto that evening? Leftovers to toss into pasta! 

The next time you visit your local farmers market, ask around. What's new? What's interesting? What's different? Don't be afraid of new finds. The answers to all of your mystery ingredient questions are literally at your fingertips, and you may be surprised at what new favourite dishes you may come up with thanks to taking a chance on something out-of-the-ordinary! Garlic scape season is incredibly short, so keep your eyes peeled and get them while you can! 

* The pointed tip after the pale yellow bulb of the garlic scape is very fibrous, and should be removed. Also remove any flowers that may remain.

Tip: When adding to pasta, add extra olive oil and some of the starchy pasta water.

about 20-30 garlic scapes, trimmed*
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
about 1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to season

  1. In the bowl of a food processor toss in the garlic scapes, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and the olive oil and blend until finely chopped, but still slightly chunky. Taste and season with salt and pepper and additional olive oil, if needed. Keep in fridge until ready to use for up to 1-week or freeze. 
What did I put on my garlic scape pizza?
Pizza #1: Spread the garlic scapes evenly over the rolled out dough (I like a really thin crust for this pizza). Sprinkle over grated Mozzarella cheese, thinly-sliced zucchini, and Serrano ham.

Pizza #2: Spread the garlic scapes evenly over thinly-rolled out dough. Sprinkle over grated Mozzarella cheese, thinly-sliced zucchini, and sliced tomatoes.

Listening To:

Monday, June 16, 2014

Market Inspired: Shiitake Mushroom & Leek Risotto

It's gotta be one of the best feelings in the world, watching as something that was once just a concept, just a dream, come to fruition with such success! It's been only two weeks of having the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market open for business, but already our little dream-come-to-life has been filling me with so much inspiration! Getting to work at the market each Thursday, interacting with the farmers, artisans, and chefs who work so hard to come into the city to proudly sell their wares and share their love for Ontario, has been such a fulfilling experience for me. I love getting to explore all the new produce, products, and dishes on display each week, with my imagination going wild at the possibilities for play in the kitchen. 

So incredibly overwhelmed by the spectacular selection on opening day, it took me a while to decide what exactly I would make from my market finds on day one. With my grocery bag already filled with 100-Acre Bakery Walnut Sourdough and Sundried Tomato Sourdough bread, Mad Gringo Hot Sauce BBQ Sauce, Albion Hills Farm Pepperettes, and Allison's At The Best Frozen Chicken Curry Pot Pies, and my belly full of a steak and grilled bell pepper sandwich from Localista food truck, I had to stop getting distracted by food I could begin devouring immediately, and start thinking about a special meal I could prepare for the weekend. 

After chatting with the lovely couple from Waymac Mushroom Farm about all of the incredible health benefits of mushrooms, particularly shiitake mushrooms, I couldn't get the idea of a savoury shiitake mushroom risotto out of my head. Anne from Waymac assured me that although I was more familiar with creminis for risotto, the shiitakes would leave me very pleased with my results. With a paper bag full of Waymacs gorgeous shiitakes, I made my way over the stunning presentation of vegetables at Highmark Farms tent, with my sights set on fresh leeks. Although the bright green asparagus would have been a delicious addition to the risotto, I wanted something that would compliment the shiitakes, but not overpower it. With their delicate yet distinct flavour that can be compared to a very subtle garlic and onion flavour, leeks were the perfect accompaniment to the shiitakes. 

Come Sunday night, after a busy weekend, I couldn't wait to attack my market finds in the kitchen by preparing a special market-inspired Shiitake Mushroom & Leek Risotto for my mom and my boyfriend Chris. With Chris being Italian, I was a little nervous that my risotto wouldn't be up to par, but thank goodness for those market finds, with their big fresh flavours, and wonderful textures, my risotto turned out pretty damn awesome...if I do say so myself! I was so proud of the results, and kept rejecting my lemon chicken, that was also served that evening, to go back for more servings of risotto. As if I wasn't amped up enough at the idea of cooking with my market finds each week, after finding such success with my market-inspired Shiitake Mushroom & Leek Risotto, I was downright giddy walking through the market this week, dreaming up what market meal I would create next! 

Be sure to come by the sip & Savour Ontario Farm & Artisan Market at Avenue Road and Roe Avenue each Thursday from 3:00 - 7:00 pm! 

* You will likely not need all of the chicken stock, but it's good to have heated on hand just in case.

4 tbsp cold butter, separated
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 leek, white and light green parts only, finely chopped
1 Ib shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 cups arborio rice
about 3/4 cup dry white wine
approximately 900 mL low-sodium chicken stock*
salt & white pepper to season
about 2/3 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
a handful fresh parsley, finely chopped, to garnish

  1. Place chicken broth in a medium pot on the stove. Bring to a boil, and reduce to simmer.
  2. Heat a large skillet to medium heat. Add 2 tbsp butter and melt. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally for 1-2 minutes. Add the leeks and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add the shiitake mushrooms and cook until liquid has been released and evaporated, and mushrooms are softened.
  3. Add the arborio rice to the mushroom mixture and coat in vegetable and butter mixture and heat through, about 1-2 minutes. 
  4. Add just enough wine to cover mixture and cook until reduced by half. 
  5. Pour in 2 large ladles of chicken stock and cook, stirring constantly. You want your mixture to remain soupy at all times. As the rice soaks up the liquid, continue to add ladles of chicken stock in, seasoning with salt and white pepper at each new addition. Continue repeating this process, while tasting for seasoning often, until the rice has reached an "al dente" texture (about 20-minutes). Finish by stirring in 2 tbsp cold butter and grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Garnish with parsley and additional Parmigiano Reggiano and serve immediately.
Listening To:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Butternut Squash Cannelloni

Another great month participating in the Dairy Goodness Great Cream Challenge completed! I had such a fun time coming up with my Butternut Squash Cannelloni recipe for the May Stuffed Pasta Challenge, inspired by an old Leftover Lovin' recipe that I made back in 2011. While the Leftover Lovin' recipe was all about using up whatever was left in the fridge and creating a serving for one, my Dairy Goodness challenge recipe amped up the original recipe with a knock-your-socks-off, almost-too-easy-to-be-true creamy white sauce, and a savory and sweet butternut squash filling that keeps you coming back for more! 

Although my Butternut Squash Cannelloni certainly wasn't the most photogenic of dishes (resulting in my sad number of votes), I was so so happy with how the taste turned out! Although I didn't win the challenge this month, I don't see myself as a loser because I came out of this challenge with a new favourite crowd-pleasing dish that I look forward to serving to my family and friends for years to come!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Filling can be made in advance.

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into medium chunks
1 large shallot, quartered
1 garlic clove, pureed 
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 leaves sage, very finely chopped
3/4 cup Ricotta cheese
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
salt and white pepper to season
1 egg
1 1/2 cups dry pressed cottage cheese
1 cup 5% cream
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
salt and white pepper to season
1-360g package fresh lasagna sheets
olive oil, for drizzling as needed
1 1/2 cups tomato passata (or tomato purée)

  1. Preheat oven to 400º. Lightly grease a medium baking sheet and add squash and shallots. Top with garlic and butter and toss to evenly coat. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until fork tender. Remove from oven and cool.
  2. Place squash and shallot mixture in the bowl of a food processor. Add sage, ricotta, 1/3 cup parmesan cheese and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Taste again and season once more if needed. Add the egg and blend to combine. Pour filling in a bowl and set aside*.
  3. In the bowl of a food processor, add the dry pressed cottage cheese, cream and 1/3 cup parmesan cheese. Blend until smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  4. Cook pasta sheets for 1-2 minutes in boiling salted water. Remove pasta sheets from water one at a time and place on a baking sheet. To prevent sticking, drizzle each sheet of pasta lightly with olive oil before adding the next one on top.
  5. Preheat oven to 350º. In a medium-large baking dish, pour in a thin layer of the passata and spread evenly with a spoon to cover the dish. 
  6. Cut the pasta sheets down the centre width-wise so you have about 12 rectangles. Working one at a time, place about 1/3 cup butternut squash filling down the length of one side of the rectangle, and gently roll up. Place in the baking dish seam side down and repeat with remaining pasta sheets, placing each rolled cannelloni next to each other.
  7. Spread a layer of tomato passata over the cannelloni so that they are all coated in an even layer. Spoon the white cream sauce in dollops over the passata-topped cannelloni. Bake until heated through for 20-30 minutes. 
  8. Plate and drizzle with remaining cream sauce and serve immediately.

Listening To:
Max Frost - Nice and Slow