Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rosh Hashanah-Inspired French Toast

Being raised with a Christian mother and a Jewish father, religion in my home was more about upholding traditions and building strong values rather than following a more traditional path that many of my friends experienced. With a powerful spirituality within myself, I never felt like I was missing out on anything not following a specific religion. My family still celebrated and participated in as many cultural holidays as we could, meaning lots of valuable family time and, as with most holidays, lots of delicious food! Though I write this on Yom Kippur, the holiday that most non-jews know of as "the fasting holiday" (I should note that Yom Kippur is actually known as the day of Atonement, as well as being the holiest day of the year), I'm going to throw things back to a week ago when we celebrated the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. 

Rosh Hashanah marks the first day of a ten day period where we are to reflect on ourselves and our actions and repent for those in which we are not proud of. The ten day period leads ups to today, Yom Kippur, where we are to spend the entirety of the day fasting and in prayer before indulging in a festive meal to break the fast (also known as the break relation to breakfast). With religion being more about building values in our home, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were understood to me through their symbols. Rosh Hashanah was always known to me as "the apples and honey holiday," as the two are traditionally eaten together to symbolize a sweet year. Yom Kippur to me was known as "the fasting holiday," as well as the holiday that I was allowed to stay home from school if I participated in the fast and took time within my day to reflect on my year, my actions, and myself. 

Though I will not be participating in the Yom Kippur fast today, I will certainly take the time to uphold the tradition of self reflection and examination. To begin the ten day holy period on Rosh Hashanah, I took a bit of an unorthodox approach to celebrating the holiday, with the symbol of apples and honey as my inspiration. To ring in the Jewish new year in the sweetest way I could think of, I whipped up a Rosh Hashanah-inspired french toast featuring, of course, apples and honey! A slice of some raisin challah (a Rosh Hashanah tradition!), a quick chop of an apple, and a little time spent caramelizing with some butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon was all I needed to take my regular french toast up a notch and make it appropriate for the Jewish New Year. As well as drizzling some local Maple Syrup on top of the warm and spongy treat, I also drizzled a little bit of honey for traditions sake. My Rosh Hashanah-inspired french toast was incredibly delicious, and a wonderful way to start this holy period of the year!

1 egg, beaten
1 tsp milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
dash of cinnamon
2 thick slices raisin challah
1 tbsp butter
maple syrup, for serving
honey, for serving
Apple Compote:
1 apple, small dice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp brown sugar
splash of water

  1. Add beaten egg to a shallow dish and add milk, vanilla extract, and dash of cinnamon and beat. Add challah slices, one at a time, and turn to coat. Allow to rest in egg mixture to soak up as much as possible.
  2. Meanwhile make apple compote. Heat a small pot to medium heat. Add apples, cinnamon, brown sugar, and splash of water and stir. Cook, stirring occasionally, until apples are soft and tender. 
  3. Heat a non-stick skillet to medium heat. Melt butter and add egg soaked challah. Brown for about 2-3 minutes on one side, then flip and brown the other side. Serve immediately topped with apple compote, maple syrup, and honey.
Listening To:

Thursday, September 17, 2015

How To Cut Down On Food Waste: AKA How To Be A Food Hero

Without a doubt guilt is one of the worst, if not the worst, emotions on the planet. Unlike other emotions, which can often be fickle and easy to shake off, guilt has a way of sticking to you like that bit of glue from a band-aid that just won't seem to wash off. It eats you up inside, forcing you to obsess about it and think of nothing else. Of course we all make mistakes that can lead to us feeling that dreaded guilt, but the number one thing that makes me feel guilty more often than anything is the guilt from watching food in my home go to waste. 

I know, I've written about it so many times before, because, quite frankly, I haven't been able to fully break my habit of stopping food waste all together. It's not an easy thing! After a year of slacking on my food rescuing ways (I used to be so good!), I've decided to get my act together and take a stand to stop (or at least significantly reduce) the food waste in my home or, as I like to say, become a food hero! My first step to becoming a food hero was to declare September as No Waste September, using this month to aggressively tackle my food waste and see if I can carry this promise through to October. I'm hoping that by sharing my own personal tips and tricks for cutting down on food waste I'll be able to inspire my readers to do the same! Now who's ready to become a food hero with me?
Alert family members, live-in partners, and roommates of what foods need to get eaten
One of the biggest issues that leads to food waste has got to be a lack of communication. It's hard to know what needs to be eaten and what's about to go bad without clear communication amongst family, live-in partners, and roommates. I have a big chalkboard wall in my kitchen which allows me to very clearly communicate to my boyfriend Chris what we need to be eating. When we have an overflow of certain foods, leftovers that need to be eaten, or produce that's about to go bad, I immediately write it on the wall to give Chris guidance on what he should be eating. I love this idea because it forces those foods that can often get lost in the back of the fridge to be brought to the forefront and given the attention they need before expiring. 

Writing what needs to be used up on the chalkboard wall is also a fantastic way to inspire new meal ideas, allowing you to visually group certain foods and flavours together. For instance, I recently had zucchini, chopped onion, strained tomatoes, and ground beef written on the food hero wall, immediately that inspired me to make a bolognese sauce with diced zucchini thrown into the mirepoix. Just like that I had tackled four things on my food hero list!
Label everything in your fridge, including a date
Before packing leftovers or bits of remaining goods like broth, tomato sauce, or beans in the fridge, I always write a label for the container so I know 1) exactly what's in the container and 2) when it was made or first placed in the fridge. How many times have you found a random tupperware container in your fridge and not known what the hell was in there? Rather than playing the guesswork of the this-may-lead-to-food-poisoning game, 9 times out of 10 you will toss the anonymous tupperware container. 
A messy fridge can encourage people to only look at the front row, leaving plenty of good food to rot in the back of the fridge. I like to organize my fridge in sections grouping dairy, condiments, drinks, meats, leftovers, sauces, and so forth together so it's easy to get a quick inventory of what you have on hand. I like to place foods that need to be eaten the quickest right at the front of the fridge so it's the first thing you see when you open the door, often with a label that reads "EAT ME!" Keeping your fridge organized is also helpful in cutting down energy costs, reducing the amount of time you keep your fridge door open. It all adds up after all! 
Smoothies are a fantastic way to use up fruit about to go bad or frozen fruit previously rescued
When life gets hectic it can be difficult to cook every day of the week, making it hard to rescue food before it goes bad.  When I have a busy few days and food that's about to go bad, I try to take a few extra minutes to toss those foods in the freezer so that they don't end up in the trash. Frozen fruit is perfect for freezing for smoothies or that bit of summer freshness in a winter dessert. An ice cube tray is also your friend when it comes to freezing, acting as the perfect vehicle for freezing leftover broth, wine, herbs, and even juices for future use. When you come across a recipe that calls for a splash of wine, you'll be thankful for those frozen cubes of wine that you saved in the freezer!
Refrigerated biscuit dough or puff pastry are great things to have on hand for making quick pot pies
When I have to get creative with using up food, I'm always grateful that I think ahead. I always like to keep a package of puff pastry in the freezer, biscuit dough in the fridge, fresh herbs growing on my balcony, canned or jarred tomatoes and broth in the cupboard, as well as a wide selection of various condiments and sauces. These are the things that you don't have to worry about going bad that will save you when you need to use food up and don't want to make a trip to the store. Think of what ingredients you find yourself using most often that help to perk up meals and make sure you keep them stocked!
Here are some of my favourite ideas for how to use up leftovers!
  • Croutons & Crostini - Before bread becomes mouldy, cut it into cubes or thin slices and brush with olive oil to toast into homemade croutons or crostini. I like to brush on some minced garlic or use infused oils like rosemary olive oil to add an extra hit of flavour.
  • Shepherds Pie - The classic dish can be made with more than just ground meat and potatoes! Try making shepherds pie with leftover pulled pork and sweet potatoes. Get creative and play around with all sorts of different meats and vegetables. Why not short rib and turnips?
  • Stir Fry's - Stir fry's are one of the best ways for getting rid of a lot of vegetables in a hurry. Pretty much anything goes with a stir fry, so toss in whatever veg you can get your hands on!
  • Smoothies - Before your fruit (or even some vegetables) goes bad pack them up in freezer bags for quick and easy smoothies. I like to freeze spinach before it wilts to add some green to my homemade smoothies. 
  • Pot Pies - Whether it's chicken, beef, lamb, or even just a bunch of veg, pot pies are a great way to use up leftovers. I love adding leftover takeout curries to my chicken pot pies to instantly revamp leftover chicken into a curry pot pie!
Who want's to become a food hero with me? Tell me about how you cut down on food waste on Twitter: @thisgingerrose.

Listening To:

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Viva Italia - Part 2 - When Fantasy Becomes Reality

Exhausted from a 14 hour travel day, and lost sleep due to the stress of being rejected from my flight, racing to get an emergency passport, and finding a new flight, Chris and I decided to spend our first full day in Italy relaxing on the white sandy beach. It was so great to have an umbrella, two chairs, beach towels, and a spot on the beach reserved for us as apart of our accommodations with the Hotel Adriatico, and not have to worry about having to secure all that on our own. Finally we could truly relax with the feeling of the waves from the Adriatic sea rolling through our tired bodies.

There are certain visions ingrained in my mind as true Italian experiences, ones that I had pieced together from film and photographs, that I was unsure whether they were a reality or just a thing of fantasy. Visions of dining at large banquet tables, surrounded by beautiful people, in small alleyways, being served family-style, traditional, rustic Italian food, and experiencing that feeling of sheer bliss. As much as I craved those experiences before coming to Italy, I really wasn't sure if I had seen Big Night and Bicycle Thief one too many times for my own good, and had a crazy fantasy in my head that real life could never live up to. It was on our very first full day in Italy that I feel so lucky to say I had the privilege of experiencing one of those magical moments.
Though many of the people in the group we were traveling with promised me that our meal at Trattoria Da Peppe that evening would be incredible, in my head I kept thinking "I just met you, I don't know if I trust your opinion on food." An embarrassingly snobby thought, I must admit, though I'd been warned of the many tourist traps within Italy that lack authenticity and quality, while still receiving rave reviews from the streams of tourist that walk through their doors.
Filled with a mixture of skepticism and hope, we passed the buzzing restaurants in the centre of the city of Vasto, and walked through a small, dimly lit alleyway to arrive at a large banquet table set out for us outside of the ancient converted stable, which is now home to the cozy and welcoming Trattoria Da Peppe. Upon our arrival we were immediately greeted by Peppe himself, Giuseppe and his wife Maria, who gave us a quick tour of the space, telling us about its history as a stable, and showing us the small Argentinian-wood-burning oven that Giuseppe does his magic in, as well as the tiny windowless church adjacent to the restaurant, and the exquisite private gardens directly across the alley. I was already swept up in the drama and romanticism that Giuseppe and Maria so beautifully created, and our meal hadn't even begun!
After settling into our seats we were presented with homemade wine, bottles of sparkling water, and crusty bread, followed by an elaborate selection of lovingly-prepared antipasti. When I say "lovingly-prepared" I mean to evoke that same feeling you get when diving into your grandmothers cooking, you just know it was prepared with love and care. You can taste that love!
Though all of the antipasti was fantastic, the one dish that stood out to me as one of the best bites of food that has ever crossed my lips was Giuseppe's famous Cheese and Egg Balls, also known as Pallotte Cacio e Uova, or a type of polpette (meatball), but without the meat. Pallotte Cacio e Uova are known as being a "poor mans dish," the type of dish one would make to use up stale bread, eggs, and cheese and reinvent it into something comforting and delicious. Crustless stale bread is cut into cubes and soaked in water or milk to soften. The liquid is squeezed out and the bread gets mixed with beaten eggs, parsley, garlic, and a mixture of hard sharp cheeses, and rolled into small balls. The egg and cheese balls are then fried until golden, and transferred to simmer in homemade tomato sauce until the balls puff up from soaking up some of the savoury sauce. It sounds simple enough, though Giuseppe's Pallotte Cacio e Uova were truly extraordinary! Despite the fact that they were one of the first dishes presented to us and I knew there were many more dishes to come, I couldn't help but get my hands on as many of those delicious little bites of heaven as I could!
Those little bites of heaven were followed by cornmeal flatbreads topped with cicoria AKA. chicory, veal simmered in sauce, stuffed eggplant, homemade sausages, a selection of thinly-sliced char-grilled meats, salad, rum cake, and blueberry cheesecake. SWOON! I wish I could accurately express to you how truly extraordinary this meal was. Every single dish was out of this world incredible. I know, the hyperbole is at all time high right now, but I am not embellishing by any means how special this meal  actually was. Just incredible, and unlike anything I have ever experienced.

We walked back into the heart of the city with full bellies and happy hearts, to drink into the evening while revelling in the experience that we had just shared. Though I knew there was a lot of other fantastic food in Vasto that I had yet to try, I couldn't help but wish that we could experience another meal from Giuseppe again during our short trip.
Other Things Of Note:
Since coming home from Italy I have tried to recreate Giuseppe's Pallotte Cacio e Uova, and though mine were very tasty, they were nothing compared to the perfection that Giuseppe presented to us!

What made our meal so special at Trattoria Da Peppe was so much more than the food. From the moment we arrived at the restaurant we were treated like family and received hospitality unparalleled from any other restaurant I have ever been to.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of my Italian adventure to hear about my visit to Pescara and exploring the Medieval city of Vasto.

Listening To:
Jamie XX - Gosh

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Viva Italia - Part 1 - Also known as the time I almost wasn't allowed in the country

Me (Danielle Rose) in total bliss in Vasto, Italy
When I was 14 years old my mom told me to start a savings account. "One day you'll want to travel the world" she said, and encouraged me to start thinking of places I'd like to explore. With visions of nonnas rolling pasta dough, and pizza crusts bubbling out of wood-fired ovens, there was one place above all others that stirred my desire to travel, Italy. 

Though I've been lucky enough to travel to some extraordinary places since then, it wasn't until now that an opportunity to visit my dream country, Italy, finally arose! Thanks to an invitation from my boyfriend Chris' parents to join them, along with a large group of Italian friends, on a trip to Italy to trace their families roots, I could finally make my dreams of exploring the legendary "boot" a reality. 
The plan was to stay in the coastal town of Vasto, situated in Abruzzo's southern coast, adjacent to the Adriatic sea, and from there take day trips to visit the various towns from which Chris' ancestors were from. With several of the other families we were traveling with from Vasto, with friends and family still living in the beautiful town, it was easy to make Vasto our "home base" for the trip. 

Though our vacation got off to a rocky start (ummm...I was rejected from the plane AT THE GATE due to an apparently "expired passport," though my passport was actually due to expire this November 2015. See my angry Twitter rant for more info!), and with a day and a half of mine and Chris' trip lost, not to mention thousands of dollars down the drain thanks to having to purchase a new one-way ticket to Rome, we finally arrived at Fiumicino airport in Rome!
At the sight of a "Mozzarella Bar" in the airport after landing, I knew that all of our initial trouble to get here was worth it! Bring on the mozzarella! After downing prosciutto and mozzarella panini's and cold Fanta's, Chris and I hopped on the Dicarlo Bus (Italy's version of a Greyhound) to continue our long journey to Vasto. Though our string of bad luck seemed to persist through our trek to Vasto, having to switch from our comfortable, air conditioned and near-empty bus to a packed, hot, and smelly bus after blowing a tire, we were happy to be greeted with smiling (and teary-eyed) familiar faces upon our arrival.
We stowed our luggage in our gorgeous suite at the Hotel Adriatico, and quickly joined our friends and family to begin our adventure! After gorging ourselves on an Italian feast of an antipasti buffet, pasta fagioli, an array of grilled meats, a fruit platter, and dessert, we were off to take part in the excitement and energy thriving from Vasto Marina, as the town celebrated Notte Rosa, also known as Pink Night. Though Chris and I hardly had a wink of sleep for days, we managed to stay up until 3:30 AM, listening to live music, taking in the sights, and sipping on cool drinks, taken by the infectious energy of the festival. 

Other things of note:
The espresso was so good all over Italy, that even the espresso offered on the Dicarlo Bus was fantastic, and better than most of the espresso you can find in Toronto!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Italian adventure to hear about one of the most extraordinary meals of my life!

Listening To:
Jamie XX - Stranger In A Room