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For New Year’s Eve, we did something really special, we purchased a high-end restaurant dinner kit from Chotto Matte, Toronto. The difference between a dinner kit and takeout is that you cook the kit at home instead of bringing home pre-cooked food; the kit provides all of the ingredients and instruction! We loved this idea for two reasons, we love Chotto Matte (had dinner there two years ago in London, England) and two, what a great way to spread out dinner on New Year’s Eve! We usually have friends over but of course, this year we were not able to because of Covid so we made our own exciting evening. I set up a photo area and mounted my phone on a tripod; I had pre-selected the plates each dish would be served in.

We began the evening with some tasty Sautéd Shisito Peppers. Now if you’ve never had Shisito peppers you’re in for a treat, just a little word of warning that although 90% of the peppers are sweet, there is the odd one that is super hot.

Each course was cooked and served in about 30-40 minute intervals to help spread the evening out. The choclo corn was an interesting dish; it is almost five time larger than North American corn but is creamy on the inside. Choclo corn is also referred to as Peruvian Corn or Giant Corn, they are super large kernels with a similar texture to that of Lupini beans with the exception that you can eat the skin. We cooked the kernels for 3 minutes in a small amount of water and then added the rocoto butter and cilantro provided. To say this was a spicy hot dish is an understatement. But it was tasty. Next time I don’t think I’ll put all of the rocoto butter in so it’s not nearly as spicy hot.

The first main we had was the Pollo Picante. The chicken was perfectly done, with a beautiful texture served on green causa which seems to be some type of potato. It had a strange texture and I wasn’t keen on the flavour (very starchy) but the chicken was lovely.

We had the black cod next, which was my favourite dish. Unfortunately the presentation wasn’t the greatest because the instructions had us remove the bones (there were no bones) after cooking and the fish just fell apart. It was lovely.

The final course was the Asado de Tira, a slow-cooked barbeque beef which was reheated in its plastic pouch in simmering water. The beef was very tender and presented more like a pulled beef (unfortunately, I completely forgot to photograph it). The purple potato was very interesting in that it presented as dark purple, unfortunately, it didn’t contrast much to the beef so you can’t see it even in the professional photos.

I loved everything about this meal kit, it was beautifully boxed and labelled and I loved all the little sauces in the super cute containers. The meal was a complete success. I wish more restaurants would prepare these kits for takeaway as I find high-end food doesn’t travel well as takeout, plus I really like the cooking part.

Disclaimer: We purchased this meal kit for full-price and my opinion is just that, my opinion.

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This post was written entirely on my iPhone 8, in the air, flying from Granada to Gatwick in a EasyJet sardine can.

By the time you read this post, we will have returned from a whirl-wind vacation to the UK and Spain to escape the freezing temperatures and snow of Toronto. Let me back up a bit, shortly after we returned from our month-long holiday in Arizona, we had a week or so of nothing but bleak, grey winter days and I hit my limit! My wonderful cousin let us stay in her flat on the Mediterranean coast in a cozy little town, in the province of Almeria, all I had to do was get through January and most of February; no problem because I had this to look forward to:

We flew into Gatwick and stayed the night in London, where we dined and saw the musical “Come from Away” (very good, by the way)! The next morning we boarded a commuter train to a small city near Manchester, where my friend and Master Chef runner-up, Dave Crichton, picked us up. Dave and his lovely wife Zahra gave us the grand tour, but the real highlight was that Dave cooked dinner for us! What an incredible treat to have a fellow blogger AND contestant of Master Chef UK 2018 cook for us! It was a feast to be reckoned with: emulsions, sauces, exotic meat and even a wonderful carrot ketchup! I know you are dying to know if he made us his famous Careless Whisper dessert, indeed he did! We sampled several flavour combinations with tea when we arrived at his home. The experience was exceptional.

For our dinner, Dave made us the most velvety, creamy Truffled Parmesan Mousse with a goats cheese, mushroom duxelles, tarragon, truffle stuffed morel. It was indeed very moreish.

The main course was fennel crusted Iberico Presa, seared and prepared sous vide, served over carrot ketchup, pumpkin seed pesto, Madeira jus garnished with the best tasting parsnip crisps! The flavours and textures were outstanding.

The finale was a delightful Miso and walnut butterscotch tart with black sesame ice cream. Now I don’t usually eat dessert and JT was eyeing my serving but to his dismay, I polished it off and nearly licked the plate clean!

Dave, Zahra, John and I

The following day, Dave and Zahra gave us the grand tour of Manchester and in the evening we were treated to dinner at Hispi Bistro in Didsbury (South Man). The meal was delicious but Dave’s cooking really stood out for me.

I must say that I am intimidated by the thought of cooking for he and Zahra when they visit us in Toronto or Arizona. But there were a few inspirational dishes we had during our stay in Spain. Something from Restaurante Alameda, Granada might just make the cut.

We literally stumbled upon Restaurante Alameda during our first few hours in Granada quite by accident, we were hunting for a lunch place! Sadly, it didn’t open until later so we made reservations for that very evening. It is Michelin rated but doesn’t have a star, yet.

I must tell you that the food impressed us, it was nicely presented but even more importantly, it was delicious. So delicious, in fact, that we made reservations for the next (our last) night in Granada.

The restaurant is contemporary in design with some rustic elements (like the back-lit birch half-logs along the wall) and effective function (such as the sound absorbing ceiling). The lighting is moody but enough to read by but not enough to have to wear sunglasses (as many European restaurants are!). The plates are rustic but tables are mostly covered in linens.

The first night we dined at 7:45, still considered early for Spaniards but more in line with how we like to eat. Service was fine, nothing outstanding, but relatively efficient (even if our waiter seemed a little overwhelmed). We received a little amuse bouche of a deep-fried phyllo wrapped prawn that was delicious (no photo) and then we shared a starter of Burrata (no photo) and locally grown tomatoes. If you’ve ever been to Spain, you will know that the tomatoes are exceptional! The best I’ve ever tasted. There were a variety of tomato species and they were all perfectly ripe and flavourful. The burrata had just the right amount of bite and creaminess! The dish was finished with sweet pepper flakes and dotted with little balsamic pearls.

My second course was an octopus carpaccio, it was deliciously thin and moreish, although, it could have used a touch more acidity than the little lemon pearls that speckled the plate.

JT had a cannelloni with veal ragout, that was more like a lasagna, none-the-less, it was outstanding! It was the reason why we decided to return the next night! Although the second night, we decided on only the burrata and the cannelloni to be shared! The pasta tasted homemade, the ragout was rich and meaty with a creamy béchamel and Ricotta. It was comfort-food at its best!

Sadly, the second night was a bit disappointing. Service seemed an afterthought; we were seated behind a table planning a wedding with what seemed like the catering director or owner, and they were definitely priority. Ambiance faltered as well, as the music kept cutting in and out of the speakers near us.

The burrata was again flawless, but the cannelloni came out barely lukewarm. Now, I don’t know about you, but I hesitate to send a dish back in an unfamiliar place. So we grinned and beared it. Still delicious but… Afterward, I mentioned it to our waiter, in a nice way, of course. I wasn’t sure it was understood but when he brought the bill, he told us that they had removed the cost of the cannelloni entirely! Now I realize that we should have said something at the time and not afterward, live and learn.

Notwithstanding, I am still comfortable in recommending this restaurant, and if I ever go back to Granada, I would consider dining there again.

Overall rating of Restaurante Alameda, Granada (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 3.5/5, food 4.5/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Disclaimer: We purchased our meals for full price and my opinion is just that, my opinion.

Restaurante Alameda, Granada

C/Rector Morata, 3 (Junto a Plaza del Carmen)
18009 Granada – España
Tel: +34 958 221 507
restaurante@alameda.com.es

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We were scheduled for a Progressive Dinner when we returned from Arizona. Our neighbours John and Nancy were the main-course hosts so they chose the theme: the Kentucky Derby. This group is a hoot and everyone chose something fun to wear that was indicative of the Derby. JT and Tom wore bow ties (JT made his bow-tie from a standard tie using this video, don’t you just love Google?!). Iona and I wore crazy hats and Nancy dressed up as a jockey, she is around 5 feet tall and really looked the part. Neighbour John dressed as a stable-hand, all in denim! It was a super fun night that ended somewhere around 2am!

People at the Derby seem to wear brightly coloured clothes and the guys always seem to sport bow ties.

I was responsible for dessert and I went a little crazy and did Mint Julep three ways: Panna Cotta, Macarons and Trifle! You may notice a sablé horse on the plate too but I didn’t like the recipe so it will be ignored. The desserts went over well, the bourbon was noticeable but not overwhelming, as was the mint. I doubt I’ll make these flavours again but it was fun for the night. And yes, we were served Mint Julep’s at Tom and Iona’s as part of our starters.


My crazy hat!

Kentucky Derby, Mint Julep Three Ways

  • Panna Cotta
  • Macarons
  • Trifle

Mint Julep Panna Cotta with White Chocolate Almond Crumb

To print the Mint Julep Panna Cotta, please click here.

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 8 g Powdered unflavored gelatin
  • 50 mL Cold water
  • 700 mL Whole milk
  • 75 g Sugar
  • 2 g Tonka bean, finely grated
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 g small bunch Fresh mint leaves, including stems
  • 1/4 tsp Real Mint extract
  • 65 mL Kentucky Bourbon (to taste and optional)
  • 1-2 tablespoon finely chopped mint leaves

Directions:

  1. Dissolve gelatin in the cold water. Set aside. Lightly rub vessels with a non-flavoured oil, set aside.
  2. Warm milk with sugar, grated tonka bean and cinnamon to 150° F (DO NOT BOIL), add mint leaves and allow to steep for 10 minutes Stir in gelatin until dissolved.
  3. Strain milk mixture through a fine sieve and discard mint. Into the strained mixture, stir in the mint extract and Kentucky Bourbon a little at a time, tasting each time until the desired flavour is achieved. Cool slightly.
  4. Pour into prepared vessels and chill for 2-4 hours or until set.

White Chocolate Almond Crumb

Ingredients:

  1. 50 g white chocolate chips
  2. 5 mL Bourbon
  3. 25 g ground almonds
  4. 15 g coconut flour

Directions:

  1. Melt the chocolate with the bourbon on low heat, stir in the ground almonds and coconut flour, it will be rather thick.
  2. Sprinkle/spread relatively thinly on a Silpat and bake for 3 minutes in a preheated 350° F oven, until golden.
  3. Cool completely and crumble with a fork until relatively fine. Reserve for assembly.

Please click here to print this recipe.

Serves 6

The Blueberries

Ingredients:

  • 300 g Blueberries
  • 125 mL Bourbon

Directions:

  1. Combine the blueberries and bourbon and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or one day.
  2. Strain, reserving the blueberry bourbon. Set aside until assembly.

The Sponge

Ingredients:

  • 4 large eggs
  • 120 g sugar
  • 120 g all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350° F. Line a 23 cm x 33 cm (9″ x 13″) cake pan or jelly roll pan with parchment paper, carefully folding the corners. Spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Separate the eggs into two medium bowls. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, but not dry. Set aside.
  3. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and creamy and falls in a thick ribbon.
  4. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the pale egg yolk mixture.
  5. Sift about 1/3 of the flour into the egg yolk mixture, then alternate folding in with the egg whites being careful not to deflate the batter.
  6. Once all of the egg whites and flour have been folded in, the mixture will be thick. Pour carefully into your prepared baking pan and spread out evenly. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until your cake tester comes out clean.
  7. Lift the cake out of the pan using the parchment edges and allow to cool completely.
  8. Measure your Mason jar diameter and select a round cookie cutter of similar size. Cut 12 rounds for the trifle and set aside.

Stabilized Mint Julep Whipping Cream

Ingredients:

  • 3 g unflavoured gelatin
  • 15 mL Cold water
  • 15 mL Bourbon
  • 1 mL mint extract
  • 125 mL whipping cream,
  • 8 g icing sugar
  • 2 g freshly chopped mint, as garnish

Directions:

  1. Dissolve the gelatin in the cold water, mix in the bourbon and mint extract, set aside.
  2. Whip the cream with the icing sugar. Add a bit of the whipped cream to the gelatin mixture and whisk well to combine. Strain this mixture if it’s lumpy. As you are whipping the cream, add the gelatin mixture and whip until well-combined.
  1. Layer one sponge round into the bottom of each mason jar, sprinkle about 5 mL to 10 mL of the reserved blueberry bourbon onto each sponge in the mason jar. Add about 15 blueberries on top of the sponge in each jar. Using a pipping bag, trop the blueberry layer with the stabilized whipped cream. Sprinkle lightly with the chopped mint garnish.
  2. Layer the second sponge on top of the whipped cream, sprinkle about 5 mL to 10 mL of the remainder of the reserved blueberry bourbon onto each sponge in the mason jar. Top with the whipped cream and finish with about 12-15 blueberries in each jar. Sprinkle with the remaining mint garnish. Tightly close lid and refrigerate until serving.

Mint Julep Macarons

Makes about 10 macarons (four ;-)for the cook!).

To print this recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 35 g blanched, finely ground almond meal or flour
  • 58 g icing sugar
  • 1 large egg white, room temperature
  • 25 g granulated sugar
  • A pinch of gel food colouring (I used green)

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350° F. Line your baking sheet with parchment with circle-round templates beneath it (this is a more detailed account of this recipe).
  2. Combine the almond meal with the icing sugar and sift a few times, discard or reserve the larger bits for something else.
  3. In the small bowl of your stand mixer, whisk the granulated sugar and egg white together by hand and then beat on #4 for 2 minutes, #6 for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the pinch of food colouring now and beat for a final two minutes on #8.
  5. Pipe onto the prepared parchment onto the circle-rounds. Tap the baking sheet on the counter to remove any air bubbles and bake for 13 minutes or until feet have developed but the cookie does NOT brown. Cool on parchment and remove carefully. Fill with Mint Julep Buttercream (recipe below).
  6. Unfilled cookies may be kept in the freezer for up to one month in an air-tight container.

Mint Julep Buttercream

Ingredients:

  • 57 g butter (softened)
  • 200 g icing sugar
  • 2.5 mL mint extract
  • 25 mL bourbon
  • 2.5 mL brandy
  • Gel food colouring of choice

Directions:

  1. Combine softened butter with the icing sugar, mint extract, bourbon and brandy and beat until extremely light and fluffy.
  2. I wanted this buttercream to resemble the colour of bourbon so I coloured it with a little brown, red and yellow gel colouring.
  3. Fill a piping bag with the buttercream and fill each half cookie carefully. Top with the second half of the cookie. Store on its side in an air-tight container in the fridge. Cookies remain fresh for up to one week. Allow to come to room temperature before serving, but make sure the room isn’t too warm otherwise the buttercream will melt.

Mint Julep Four Ways Plating

  1. Sprinkle the white chocolate crumb on one side of the plate. Top with the mint julep pannacotta and garnish with small mint leaves.
  2. Add the macaron on its side and finish with the uncovered trifle. Serve with a shot of bourbon, or pass like we did (I just thought it looked nice for the photo).

The horse cookie was a sablée that did not work out as well as I had hoped. Recipe will not be forthcoming. Yes, I bought a horse cookie cutter!

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It’s quite funny how the universe works, isn’t it? Case in point, we were down in Arizona in March-April and my dear friend Theresa decided to introduce me to a Moscow Mule, a refreshing alcoholic bevy served in a classic copper mug. I had never had one before. It is made with ginger beer and vodka and lime juice, and it is very tasty and refreshing. Fast forward a couple of months, I’m minding my own business and to my surprise, I receive an unsolicited email from a Canadian company out west who imports and sells their very own, wait for it…Moscow Mule mugs! What a coincidence indeed! We spoke on the telephone and I suggested that I could do a post for them, focussing on a recipe that would be served in said mug. Of course, they sent me a couple of their mugs so I can post pics of the recipe in them. The mugs are beautifully hand-hammered by an artisan group in India, but most importantly, they are lined with nickel lining. Apparently, using mugs without nickel can cause a series of serious health issues (so if you have such mugs, check to make sure they have a non-reactive lining and you are not drinking directly from a copper mug). This blog post talks about the importance of nickel lining.

The Moscow Muled mugs are reasonably priced at $16.60 Canadian ($12.50 US) each and would make great hostess gifts or stocking stuffers during the holidays.

I added a couple of cute tea towels, but another great idea would be a gingerbeer kit, complete with vodka, gingerbeer and limes!

Moscow Mules were invented circa 1941 in LA in a British pub called Cock ‘n’ Bull by their head bartender, Wes Price. The story is quite interesting, so if you wish, you may read about it here.

Take the worry out of the mug, Moscow Muled mugs are made with “100% pure high-grade and food-safe copper with an inner layer of high-grade nickel.”* Plus they look awesome and will keep your bevy cool on hot summer nights! I knew I wanted to make the Authentic Ginger Beer recipe on their website, it’s relatively easy (just a bit of time) and you probably already have all of the ingredients at home. The only thing I did to this tasty recipe is half it (there are only two of us and it still made around 4 litres) and I converted it to weights instead of volumes.

Raise a Moscow Muled mug with this tasty and refreshing drink, Cheers guys.

I was gifted with two Moscow Muled Mugs for this post, the opinions listed are my own.

*moscowmuled.com

I made new zippered covers for the sectional in the background, so happy with the way they turned out.

Moscow Muled Ginger Beer

Makes about 4 L of ginger beer.

For the original recipe, please click here.

Ingredients, Step 1 Ginger Bug:

  • 250 mL water
  • 15 g sugar
  • 13 g freshly grated ginger

Directions:

  1. Combine the freshly grated ginger with the sugar and water in a glass jar.
  2. Stir until sugar has entirely dissolved with a non-reactive spoon, like a wooden spoon or silicone spatula.
  3. With a clean tea-towel, cover the glass jar and secure it with rubber bands and allow to sit at room temperature for a total of 5 to 7 days.
  4. During these 5-7 days, every day, add another 13 g of freshly grated ginger and 15 g of sugar and stir until dissolved. Cover the glass jar with a towel or cloth, and secure it with rubber bands.
  5. The mixture will form bubbles around 5-7 days and at 7 days, it should smell sharp with a strong yeast aroma.

Ingredients, Step 2 Ginger Beer:

  • 85 g ginger root, peeled and grated
  • 3.5 L of filtered water
  • 2 g of sea salt
  • 300 g sugar (white or brown, I used white because I wanted a clear ginger beer)
  • 42 mL lemon juice
  • 250 mL of ginger bug

Directions:

  1. on the 5th or 7th day, combine 2 L of water, ginger, sugar and salt in a large non-reactive pot, bring to a boil then allow it to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring periodically to steep the ginger.
  2. Remove from the heat and add the remaining water. Allow this liquid to cool completely. Once cool, use a very fine sieve to strain the ginger to make a clear liquid. Pour the ginger bug into the mixture (make sure that it is room temperature, about 23° C or 74° F, as you will kill the ginger bug if it is hot).
  3. Add the lemon juice and stir well.
  4. Pour into sterilized bottles, making sure they are only about 2/3 full because this ginger beer will actually ferment and produce carbon dioxide.
  5. Store bottles in a warm, dark place away from light and allow it to ferment for about 10 days. Carefully loosen caps from time to time to relieve the pressure from fermentation (I did this once per day).
  6. Refrigerate the ginger beer when it has reached your preferred level of sweetness. Refrigeration causes the fermentation to stall significantly. The longer the fermentation, the less sweet your ginger beer will be. We fermented our lot for 10 days and it produced a gingery, slightly carbonated beer that wasn’t as sweet as I thought it would be.

I know there is no orange in the Moscow Mule recipe, I just wanted a hit of colour.

Notes:

  • I used recycled screw cap wine bottles, properly washed, rinsed and sanitized.
  • Make sure you tighten the screw caps well so the ginger beer can ferment. Also, make sure you release the CO2 every day, by opening the bottles and allowing them to exhale, so the bottles don’t explode.
  • Even after the ginger beer has fermented and is resting in the refrigerator, it contains a lot of effervescence, so be careful. Open bottles over the sink. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
  • I suspect there is some alcohol in the ginger beer I made, but I don’t know for certain.

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My blogger friend, David Crichton of Fine Dining at Home went all the way to the end of Master Chef UK, 2018! How COOL is THAT? I have to admit, I’m always a little envious of people who actually want to be in front of the camera, I always shy away from it. You may recall Dave and I met in 2016, in London and again in 2017, when he captained a Thomas Cook airplane to Toronto and JT and I were able to reciprocate his hospitality. Dave is so easy to get along with, that we fell right back into conversation as if no time had passed. When we got together, he mentioned that he was thinking of applying for Master Chef UK, Season 14. If anyone can do it, it would be Dave.Fine Dining at Home is a blog about upscale restaurant food you can serve in your own home. Dave makes the recipes easy to follow and uses unusual ingredients. JT and I were in Arizona when his episodes aired and they were addictive! We watched each show intently, fingers crossed that he would make the next round. Judges Gregg Wallace and John Torode never had a bad thing to say about Dave’s food. It was awesome. According to Wikipedia, more than 20,000 people applied to audition for the series in 2010 (45,000 THIS YEAR) and they whittle it down to 56! Can you imagine how stressful that would be? Dave kindly let me ask him a few questions about his experience and I thought you might enjoy it.

What is the process to become a contestant?
Dave: Quite straightforward. Fill in the online form. Then a telephone interview, if you’re successful with that you’re asked to take some food in and more questions. I guess after this it’s the luck of the gods that get you to the final 56.
Guinea fowl, Masterchef UK

Guinea fowl, French boned leg stuffed with brioche and rosemary and sweetcorn tempura

Were John and Gregg the judges in the interview process?
Dave: Invention tests are exactly that. No preparation, just cook. After this, you are given a little warning of a theme for the next round. This gets especially more difficult as the competition goes on and general life eats up your time. John and Gregg decide everything. They are the only two people you need to impress/influence.
How much time did you have before you had to appear on the show? How did you determine the dishes you would cook for the show? How many times did you practice each one?
Dave: I had about six weeks warning before my first heat. It was quite easy to determine what I’d cook. Just chose my favourite dishes that really say this is me on a plate. It then just became a matter of timings. Each dish would be only be tweaked to fit into the timescale. The hardest dish to practice for was actually my dessert in the final. It was a pistachio/Tonka bean panna cotta with citrus meringue, macerated berries and a basil gel. I had to invent my own way of making the gel. Trying to keep it green is very difficult. This probably took the best part of a day when I only had two to play with for the final three dishes.
Careless Whisper

Careless Wispa. We were given the topic of an idol. This was George Michael. It’s a 70% dark chocolate shell with salted butter caramel, dark chocolate mousse, balsamic vinegar and Greek Yoghurt ice cream

Did MC UK provide all of the ingredients for each dish? And were you able to put in an order for special ingredients? Were you limited by budget?
Dave: MC UK provide all the ingredients, which generally were amazing. There was no budget, but I chose to cook cheap food that everyone has access to and can relate to. I thought the judges can then appreciate the skill of the cook more. I blew the budget in the final though, one truffle for two portions of the starter!

This is the infamous Apple Crumble Mille Feuille that made a John cry!

How much time were you given with each brief before the show taping? Did you get the briefs in advance, all at once? What was the taping schedule, was it all at once or once every couple of days?
Dave: The whole show runs on a rolling schedule. Everything is drip fed to you. Themes for the next rounds etc. It was all generally filmed Monday-Friday.
It’s always a challenge to cook in someone else’s kitchen, did you get a chance to review the layout and equipment before taping the show or was it baptism by fire?
Dave: The first round really is a baptism of fire. You go in there completely blind. No one has any idea where the equipment is or what there is. You all just have to think on your feet. A great leveler.
One thing we kept commenting on was your controlled composure throughout the series, do you feel that your experience in being a commercial pilot helped? What were some of the techniques that you used to help control stress?
Dave: I certainly think my job helped. Panicking doesn’t solve anything. Problems will always occur, the sooner you can think straight to solve them, the better your chances of success. I was nervous, but I thought if I’m nervous how is everyone feeling? I just took it as if I was fighter, show no weakness. One of the best quotes I’ve ever heard was from Conor MacGregor(UFC fighter)
“Winners concentrate on winning, losers concentrate on winners” 
I believed in myself and didn’t worry about what anyone else was doing. Not in a cocky way, but why stress about something you have no control over.
Name two things that you learned from the Michelin Star chefs that you did not know before. Will we see them incorporated in dishes on the blog?
Dave: The Michelin star chefs were the highlight of the show for me. Just watching the way they work, learning their ethos quickly rubs off on you. From Tommy I finally learnt the secret to perfect ice cream and making the rocher shape. It’s all in the texture! From Ashley Palmer-Watts I learnt so many things, but mainly just to take the attitude of every ingredient and “what can I do to make it taste great?”
Do you know what you will do with your celebrity?
Dave: I wouldn’t say I have much celebrity, but I want to do a pop up once/twice a month so everyone can come and eat my food. I’d also like to explore the private dining and corporate dining world. It all fits in better with my flying. I’d also like to write a book based on my website. Just enough to keep me out of trouble.
Thank you so much for this lovely interview. JT and I are so happy for your success. I hope one day to sample your tasty dishes and not just drool over them on the computer! Hope to see you soon.
If you want to watch Dave in action, some kind soul posted the series on YouTube, Dave’s part starts at Episode 13 and goes all the way to Episode 25.

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Happy New Year!

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I wish you all the Merriest Christmas and the Happiest New Year! Thank you for your continued support, you have all made this blogging experience so much richer than I ever could have imagined, thank you.

Our neighbourhood progressive dinner party was scheduled for the Saturday after we returned home from Arizona; I didn’t think it would be a problem since we were responsible for hors d’œuvres and appetizers. Had I read more than the heading of the email from the organizers (the main course couple), I would have realized that things were to get a bit more complicated since one person decided to go vegetarian and dairy free (for health reasons). I love a challenge but I would have liked to experiment a bit more, notwithstanding, it turned out delicious so I documented the recipe for the future. Like most recipes, this tastes better the day after it is made!

South Western Bean Soup

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Serves 6-8 depending on serving size

To print recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 40 g black beans, soaked overnight
  • 160 g navy beans, soaked overnight
  • 100 g kidney beans, soaked overnight
  • 200 g sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 15 mL olive oil
  • 5 g toasted cumin
  • 2 g toasted coriander
  • pinch of chili powder, or to taste
  • 5 g smoked paprika, or to taste
  • 7 g cocoa powder
  • 10 g garlic, finely minced
  • 40 g tomato paste
  • 2 g puréed chipotle peppers
  • 750 mL vegetable stock
  • 250 mL passata
  • 165 g grilled corn, removed from cob
  • cilantro to garnish
  • sour cream or Greek yogurt to garnish
  • grated cheese to garnish
  • 125 mL creamed lentils (see notes)
  • 1 large avocado, cubed to garnish

Directions:

  1. Caramelize chopped onions in the olive oil. In the meantime, add the vegetable stock, passata, beans to the warm crock pot and put on high for 5 hours.
  2. Add the onions, all of the spices, tomato paste, and enchilada sauce and stir well. Cover and cook for 5 hours.
  3. When the beans are soft, add the creamed lentils and stir into the soup so it is consistent and creamy. Add the grilled corn kernels, and cook for an additional 30 minutes on high, stirring occasionally.
  4. Serve in warmed bowls and top with avocado, a spoonful of Greek yogurt, cilantro, and cheese. Serve immediately with Cornbread.

Notes:

  • I use lentils as a thickener particularly when I make gluten-free recipes. Simply cook lentils until soft and purée with a stick blender until smooth. Freeze the excess in an ice-cube tray and when frozen, pop into a zip lock bag.
  • I buy chipotle peppers in a can, purée and freeze the excess in an ice-cube tray and when frozen, pop into a zip lock bag, same goes for tomato paste.

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Our neighbourly South-Western- themed progressive dinner party was scheduled two days after we returned home from Arizona, I didn’t think it would be a problem because we were only responsible for hors d’œuvres and appetizers, easy-peasy! HA! Had I read more than the heading of the organizer’s email, I would have realized that things would get a bit more complicated since one person decided to go vegetarian, gluten and dairy free (for health reasons). But, you know me, I do love a challenge and as luck would have it, my experiments turned out even better than I expected! So much so, that JT has asked for it several times since, so I documented the recipe for the future use.

This recipe originated from Emeril Lagasse but I tweaked it a little bit. What attracted me to this recipe was, of course, that it was baked an not deep fried, and although deep fried would be awesome, it’s always nice to lower calories whenever possible particularly if you need not sacrifice flavour or texture! I think you will be very happy with the baked version (our group could not get enough of them)! I’ll speak to the vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy- free version in my notes below (no pics, sorry).

You can see how crispy these turned out.

Baked Jalapeño Poppers

Makes about 24 jalapeño poppers

For the original recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 12 fresh jalapeno peppers, halved lengthwise, stems, seeds and membranes removed
  • 170 g (6 oz) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 140 g (1 1/2 cups) grated sharp or old cheddar
  • 3 g (1/2 tsp) ground cumin
  • pinch of cayenne, or less, to taste
  • 2 large eggs
  • 30 mL (2 tbsp) milk
  • 8 tsp Essence, divided
  • 1 cup panko crumbs
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • non-stick spray

Directions:

  1. In a small mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and grated cheddar and mix well.
  2. Toast the cumin until you can smell the aroma, allow to cool and add to the cream cheese mixture and stir well. Set aside.
  3. Prepare your breading station by whisking 2 large eggs with 2 tsp of the Essence and the milk in a shallow bowl. In a second shallow bowl, mix 4 tsp of the Essence with the coconut flour. In the third shallow bowl, add 2 tsp of the Essence to the panko and mix well. Reserve remaining essence for the next time (and believe me, there will be a next time!)
  4. Fill each jalapeño densely with the cream cheese mixture, being careful not to mound it too high; continue filling until you have filled all of the jalapeño halves.
  5. Dredge each jalapeño half in the coconut flour, then dip into the egg mixture and repeat once more. Finally, dip each pepper into the panko and press panko into the jalapeño to coat well. Repeat until all are coated.
  6. Pre-heat the oven to  375° F. Place jalapeño cut side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Give each jalapeño a light coating with the non-stick spray. Bake for 30 minutes or until panko is golden and crisp.
  7. Serve warm with sour cream and salsa.

Notes:

  • For the vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free version, I simply replaced the cheeses with creamed lentils (about 1/4 cup cooked in vegetable broth and puréed with a stick blender) and the panko with shredded unsweetened coconut. Even the non-vegetarians loved them! (Sorry, no pics).
  • I use coconut flour for baked “fried” foods because the coconut has an unbelievable absorption property which makes the batter so much crispier than all-purpose flour.
  • I used gloves to protect my hands from the jalapeños as I cleaned them, you might consider doing this too.
  • Leftovers? Freeze unbaked jalapeños on a parchment-lined baking sheet and when frozen, pop them into a ziplock bag.To bake frozen jalapeños, no need to defrost, just bake for a little longer to crisp up.

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In October I did some really cool TV jobs! I cooked for the lovely and talented Chef Anjum Anand from her I love India Cookbook for Your Morning (click here to see the segment (about 1 min of commercials)) and Mark Bittman, the original author of the infamous No-Knead Bread! recipe (click here to see the segment (only about 30 seconds of commercials)) and Ocean Wise Executive Chef, Ned Bell from his beautiful new cookbook, Lure!

Ned is awesome! It was indeed a pleasure to work with him. Yes, those are ‘sensible shoes’ as a fellow food stylist recently mentioned on instagram!

Mark was incredibly humble and amazing to work with (although, I wish the camera-man would have said something about the angle of the burgers!)

Mark released his Tenth Anniversary Edition of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian cookbook, simple meatless recipes for great food! The book is enormous, over 700 pages and it’s packed with great info, techniques, and wonderful recipes.  Although Mark is not vegetarian, he believes we should be enjoying a more plant-based diet. What I liked about his recipes is that they are truly vegetarian and not just cop-out vegetarian like spaghetti with tomato sauce that you see on some menus! I cooked tofu, tempeh, seitan and a really interesting beet burger. The recipes were easy to follow and came together quickly without special equipment. I will definitely make a few again and even others from the delicious cookbook.

Although this recipe isn’t from his cookbook, it is indeed vegetarian.

Basil and Sun-dried Tomato Gougières

Makes about 50 gourgières. To print the recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 250 mL (1 cup) water
  • 128 g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • Pinch salt
  • 128 g (1 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 40 g (~1/4 cup) sun-dried tomatoes (not in oil)
  • 15 g (~3 cloves) garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 7 g  (~10) basil leaves, chiffonade

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425° F (218° C). Line a baking sheet with wet parchment paper (crumple the parchment into a ball and saturate with cold water and wring out, flatten with your hand on the baking sheet).
  2. In a heavy bottom saucepan, combine the water, butter, salt and garlic and heat until melted. Remove from heat and add the flour all at once, stirring well. Return to heat and cook for a couple of minutes until it comes away from the sides of the pan.
  3. Remove from the heat and beat in one egg at a time until fully incorporated, being careful not to scramble the eggs. Fold in the herbs and chopped sun-dried tomatoes.
  4. Using a small ice cream scoop dipped in water with a splash of oil, scoop out single balls onto the baking sheet about 5 cm (2 inches) apart. Bake for 20 minutes or until tops are golden and the puffs have poofed about double in size.
  5. Cool on a wire rack. Continue to bake until you have exhausted your batter.

A light and delicious cocktail nibble.

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In early August, JT and I had the honour of giving Dave (Fine Dining at Home) a foodie tour of our fair city. You see, Dave is a Captain of a Jet and was flying to the Big Smoke, so obviously, we wanted to take him on a foodie tour. It’s been a tour, a long time in the making, as soon as Dave mentioned that his airline would be flying to Toronto several months ago, I started making a list of things to do…it was long and heavy so the day before Dave’s arrival, JT and I sat down and made a lean list with opportunity to be spontaneous. Dave was a great guest, being very flexible to what we were going to do; it was a super hot and humid day so I also altered the tour to be more air conditioned car oriented than walking, even though we did our share of walking too!

It was a hot, humid day.

We started our day with the St. Lawrence Market, Toronto’s oldest market; it is made up of two stories of food and food related independent stores. While there, we had to have Toronto’s world famous Peameal Bacon on a bun (also known as back bacon or Canadian bacon) at the infamous Carousel Bakery. We loaded up our sandwiches with condiments and sat outside on picnic tables to have our breakfast! It’s a serious sandwich and I could only finish half of it! Then we toured the market, taking in the smells and sounds of Toronto’s culinary marketplace. We ended our tour in Placewares, one of my favourite kitchen stores in the city. From there, we detoured and walked along Front Street to see the new dog fountain (I know it’s not food, but it was along the way). We walked to Brookfield Place where we showed Dave the worlds largest underground pedestrian walking path, called PATH! Path sure comes in handy in the middle of winter when temperatures could be as low as -20° C because of wind chill! It’s basically a system connecting one food court to another under almost every building in downtown Toronto!

The dog fountain, they are all dog statues

Then we headed back to the car and did a little car tour of the city on our way to The Distillery District where we walked around the old distillery grounds and popped into Vom Fas, where I found a rather unique spice called Tasmanian pepper berry, that I had to have! While at The Distillery, we thought we would do a beer tour of Mill Street Brewery but sadly their tours only begin at 4pm and we didn’t want to wait around so I googled another brewery in the city and found that Steamwhistle did tours every 30 minutes. So off we went, unfortunately, the tour was very hot in some places which made it rather uncomfortable and made us sleepy, particularly with the free beer they offered. We decided that we needed lunch and we took Dave to our favourite French bistro, Le Select. By the time we finished lunch, we were all ready for a nap. We dropped Dave off at the hotel and beat the rush hour traffic home.

Dave generously gave me some gifts: Tonka Beans and a delicious bottle of Hungarian Tokay, dessert wine.

What are Tonka Beans? And, why can’t you buy them in the U.S.? They are the black seed of a South American tree that have a similar flavour to vanilla but more complex. Apparently they are poisonous if consumed in large quantities and are illegal in America! In 1995, Health Canada deemed them unacceptable as an additive in food and drugs but they are not illegal here! I guess Canadians are less likely to eat a tree full of them 😉!

A few months back, I had commented on a beautiful Tonka Bean panna cotta dessert that Dave had posted on his blog, hence the thoughtful gift, so I knew I had to make my interpretation. If you follow Dave’s blog, you will know that he makes rather fancy, labour intensive and multi-layered food and this lovely dessert was no exception; I, however, do not have the patience, so I cut it down to something I could do again, without being too labour intensive. Thank you Dave, for your generosity and inspiration. I thought the Tasmanian Pepper Berry that I picked up at Vom Fas would be a lovely accompaniment to the Tonka Bean Panna Cotta. The pepper berries have a distinct peppery flavour with hints of fruit and best of all, it lightly colours what you make a pink colour! I knew the panna cotta would be a winner.

Tonka Beans are mostly aromatic but there is unmistakable vanilla flavour with a subtle flowery, smoky cinnamon. It is rather complex and works well with both sweet and savoury applications. I can certainly see this as a flavouring in butternut squash soup or even a beautiful risotto.

Tonka Bean Panna Cotta on Chocolate Crumble with Almond Tuile

Makes 400 mL of panna cotta (I used 4 x 100 mL forms)

Tonka Bean Panna Cotta Ingredients:

  • 400 mL 1% milk
  • 25 g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 Tonka bean, finely grated
  • 5 Tasmanian pepper berries, chopped roughly
  • 8 g (1 packet) gelatine

Directions:

  1. Reserve about 25 mL milk and add the gelatin powder, stir, set aside.
  2. In a thick-bottom small pan, add the remaining 375 mL milk, sugar, Tonka Bean and Tasmanian pepper berries and heat until lightly boiling, stirring constantly.
  3. Strain through a fine sieve and pour the dairy mix into the gelatin dairy and stir until gelatin has entirely dissolved. Allow to cool to room temperature, then pour into vessels and refrigerate until set (4-6 hours or overnight).

Chocolate Crumble Ingredients:

  • 9 g butter
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 15 g coconut sugar
  • 16 g ground almonds
  • 8 g coconut flour
  • 6 g cocoa powder

Directions:

  1. Melt butter with the salt and pour over the sifted remaining ingredients and mix well. Spread evenly on a Silpat covered baking sheet and bake at 350° F for about 5-8 minutes. Allow to cool, then crumble.

Almond Tuile Ingredients:

  • 50 g sugar
  • 25 g sliced almonds

Directions:

  1. Caramelize the sugar, add the almonds and cook a bit more until the almonds are toasted.
  2. Spread thinly onto a Silpat and cool until hardened.
  3. Break into smaller bits and pulse in a food processor until sugar and almonds have broken down (I left a few in slightly larger chunks).
  4. Spread out onto a Silpat sheet and bake again for about 6 minutes in a 350° F oven, remove and cool slightly, cut or score while warm or break into uneven bits after it has hardened.

Assembly:

  1. Sprinkle a bit of the crumble onto each plate.
  2. Place the panna cotta on top of the crumble. Decorate with the tuile.

Notes:

  • This dessert is a celebration of flavours and textures; the chocolate crumble brings intense chocolate flavour and wonderful texture, juxtaposed to the smooth and creamy, exotically flavoured panna cotta. And then there is the tuile, easier to eat than brittle because it won’t break your teeth. Crumble, creamy, crunch. This is definitely a keeper recipe but I’m going to toss the moulds, they were not impressive!
  • Dave’s version had a fruit jelly cube and a chocolate mousse which I’m sure made it out of this world, but I was too lazy to add the two additional layers, even so, it was restaurant worthy!

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We had our 15th or 16th (I’ve lost count) progressive dinner recently. It was our turn to host the main course, so we got to choose the theme and we chose Canada’s 150th birthday! This opens up the menu to several options and we all did very well! We began our feast with appetizers at John and Nancy’s, they had a lovely selection of Canadian cheeses with a variety of crackers. We were up next and we chose Tourtière as our main course. We finished the evening off at Tom and Iona’s where we enjoyed a Canadian Touque cake! I wish I had taken a picture of it, but it was dark and we were already into a few bottles of vino! 😉

Tourtière is a traditional Québequois meat pie with as many variations on the recipe as there are families! So, of course, I had to put my own spin on it. But before I get to the recipe, allow me to give you a bit of history that I found interesting (like to learn more? This is a good article).

This was the first test recipe.

Tourtière can be traced back to the 1600’s, served on Christmas Eve as part of a massive réveillon after Christmas Mass, it is time-consuming and expensive to make. Original recipes were made of cubed meat instead of ground meat and usually contained a variety of pork, beef, veal and in some cases, wild game. The uniqueness of Tourtière comes from the spices used to flavour the meat blend, most commonly would be cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, summer savoury, and thyme. Some even added grated potato, bread crumbs or oatmeal to help soak up the liquid. The pastry is always a rich, savoury, buttery pastry in a pie form, or are baked in layers like a lasagna; I chose to make mine a log similar to Beef Wellington. I will say, it was tasty but I doubt I would make it again (unless it was a special request).

The first one looked a little rough.

The first recipe I tried included grated raw potato which was added to the browned meat at the end and stock poured over to help cook it. Both JT and I agreed that it lead to a starchy filling and I decided right then and there that I would not go that route. You do need a little something to absorb some of the flavouring liquid so I chose bread crumbs. For this quantity of meat, some recipes added an entire cup, but I really wanted to avoid that starchy, gummy texture so I reduced both the stock and breadcrumbs significantly and was much happier with the outcome. The other thing I did slightly differently, is I added cooked bacon! It really brought a nice, layer of flavour to the pie without being overly bacon-ie.

The pastry is rather rich and employs a completely different method than regular pastry, the butter is room temperature and is basically rubbed into the flour and then the lightly beaten eggs and water are added at once, using the paddle attachment until just combined. Then it is set into the refrigerator to allow for the butter to set. It is rather odd, but it does work and it does make a very rich pastry that is both delicate but firm enough to hold the heavy meat filling. I decorated the log with maple leafs and then I scored the leaves for effect.

Just about ready to be popped into the oven.

Tourtière

Please click here to print recipe
Serves 6, plus

Ingredients:

  • 100 g bacon
  • 275 g each beef, veal, and pork
  • 130 g onion, finely diced
  • 125 g celery, finely diced (roughly 2 ribs)
  • 10 g garlic, finely minced (roughly 2 cloves)
  • 125 mL beef stock
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 20-30 g bread crumbs (unseasoned and finely ground)
  • 1 tsp each, salt and pepper (less salt if your bacon was really salty or to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp dried thyme

Directions:

  1. Crisp the bacon. Reserve 30 mL (2 tbsp) of the rendered fat (set remainder aside if desired).
  2. Caramelize the onions in the 15 mL (1 tbsp) bacon fat. Near the end, add the garlic and stir until you can smell the aroma (this will cook further, later in the process). Reserve the onions and garlic mixture.
  3. Brown meat in batches using a little bit of the remaining 15 mL of bacon rendering. On the last batch of meat, deglaze the pan with a mixture of the beef stock and Worcestershire sauce.
  4. Turn the heat right down and return all of the meat to the pan, and add the celery and stir well.
  5. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs a little at a time while stirring to achieve a slightly drier texture but be careful, because it can make it mushy and starchy (I used about 20 g of the bread crumbs).
  6. Lightly toast the aromatic spices (nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon). Mix with salt, pepper and dried thyme and sprinkle evenly onto the meat mixture and stir well. Allow the meat to cool completely and then assemble into the pie crust.

 

This one turned out very well.

The Savoury Pastry Recipe

Please click here for original recipe. The recipe makes enough for 1 log.

Please click here to print this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 470 g cake and pastry flour
  • 12 g salt
  • 254 g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 125 mL cool water
  • 2 eggs

Directions:

  1. Combine flour, salt and smallish chunks of butter in the large bowl of your stand mixer, equipped with the paddle attachment. Mix until the butter is fully incorporated into the flour (should be mealy).
  2. Combine the water and eggs and mix well. Add the water egg mixture to the dough all at once and mix until just incorporated, the dough will be very shaggy.
  3. Transfer the dough without a lot of handling to a smaller bowl and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours so the butter can set.
  4. Turn the shaggy dough out and bring it together with your hands, flattening and folding the crumbs until it comes together.
  5. Roll as required or wrap and chill or freeze for future use.

 

May I offer you a slice? Please have some smoked ketchup with it.

Assembly:

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Bring the pastry out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes (or less if it is hot in your kitchen) before you wish to begin rolling. Roll pastry with a little flour on parchment paper.
  3. Roll a rectangle about 30 cm x 40 cm (12″ x 16″) and place the meat mixture into the centre in a long log, leaving space at each end. Fold up the ends and pinch closed and fold up the sides and pinch closed. Cut off excess pastry at the ends, reserve for decoration.
  4. Flip the entire log so that the seam is underneath. Roll the remaining pastry a little thinner than the rectangle and cut out shapes with a cookie cutter (I used a maple leaf).
  5. Lightly brush the pastry with the lightly beaten egg. Decorate with cut outs and then brush the cutouts with the remaining egg.
  6. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until pastry is golden and shiny. Slice into a variety of thicknesses to please all your guests.

Notes:

  • I served the Tourtière with Bacon Jam recipe and home made ketchup (recipe to come) and this Chutney.
  • Sides to consider: creamed corn, peas, green beans with garlic and almonds, and or mashed potatoes. It is a heavy meal so you may wish to include a salad.
  • JT made a wonderful no knead bread and I cut little patts of butter with my small maple leaf cookie cutter.

Night photos always suck.

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Last month we hosted dessert for our fifteenth(?) progressive dinner. Our neighbour, John selected Georgia State as the theme because of the Golf that was going on (what golf?) at that time so food had to be a Georgia favourite or something connected to the PGA. Of course, I went straight to the expert, my dear friend Betsy of Bits and Breadcrumbs for her advice and she really came through for me, Thank you, Betsy. I made three mini desserts, one of which, the Chocolate Pecan Pie is traditionally served at the Open, the other two were Southern favourites, Peach Crumble (recipe below) and Chess Pie, that I really just wanted to make. All of the desserts are miniatures because we always tend to over do it at these progressive dinners and I served them all in the living room at the coffee table, take as many or as few as you wish. I followed some tried and true recipes for the Chocolate Pecan Pie and the Chess Pie (see links above) and I loosely followed Betsy’s recipe for the crumble. Hope you don’t mind, Betsy, I combined a few ingredients from various southern recipes on your blog and I think I scored a hole in one! And that concludes my golfing puns!

So, let me tell you about our dinner! For the first course, Tom and Iona (read Iona) did a bunch of things, we began with an Arnold Palmer (with vodka)! I’d never heard of this concoction before this past February when we were in Arizona visiting friends, it was very tasty! Then, the food: Iona made Pimento Cheese sandwiches (OMG, so GOOD!), jalopeño Poppers (baked) and a wonderful bean and rice dish served in a glass. Then we had the main course, it was Mike Weir’s (Canadian) signature Master’s Dinner (I had no idea the winner can choose the dinner menu!) It was Elk and Arctic char (that’s a fish), with Canadian beer (I had some of his wine!). And, of course, there was dessert! We also set up a little putting green for fun!

 

Mini Chocolate Pecan Pies and Mini Chess Pies. How many would you have?

The putting green was quite successful!

Bourbon Peach Crumble: Progressive Dinner #15(?)

Makes 4 60 mL (2 oz) ramekins and 4 30 mL (1 oz) ramekins

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups roughly chopped peaches (I used frozen because it is not peach season)
  • Bourbon, to cover peaches for soaking
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar (reduce if your peaches are sweet, mine were not)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp soaking bourbon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • pinch of salt

Ingredients for the crumble:

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp toasted pecan pieces
  • 1/4 cup oats
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp Skor® bits
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Chop the peaches into wedges and then into thirds so they fit better in the ramekins.
  2. Add the peaches to bowl with a cover, and pour the bourbon over it so it covers all of the peaches, Soak peaches overnight in the fridge.
  3. The next day, strain the liquid from the peaches reserving 30 mL (2 tbsp), reserve the remainder for another use.
  4. Preheat the oven to 175° C (350° F).
  5. Spray the ramekins with non-stick baking spray.
  6. Combine the flour, cinnamon, reserved bourbon from soaking liquid, vanilla and salt and mix well. Sprinkle over the strained peaches and stir well to coat.
  7. Add roughly 15-30 mL (1-2 tbsp) of the coated peaches to each prepared ramekin.
  8. Combine the brown sugar, toasted pecans, oats, flour and cinnamon and mix well, cut in the butter until the butter is well mixed. Top each ramekin with about 15 mL (1 tbsp) of the crumble and then sprinkle about 1.5 mL (1/4 tsp) Skor bits over the top.
  9. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Allow to cool slightly to serve or reheat when ready to serve. Serve with stabilized Bourbon Whipped Cream (to stabilize whipping cream, please click here).

Oozy, boozy goodness. I intended for the sauce to drip and bake down the sides. No, really, I did!

Notes:

  • For the mini tarts, I used Martha Stewarts cream cheese pastry recipe, but I doubled it. You can freeze left over pastry dough.
  • I made 1/2 of this chess pie recipe and I netted about 20 tarts various sizes (although I only show the tear-drop shape in the photo. If I make this again, I’ll make half of the recipe.
  • I made 1/4 of this pecan pie recipe (I melted 10 g of semi-sweet chocolate, allow to cool, into the recipe) and netted about 14 small tarts (muffin tin-sized).

We added a few tee’s and golf balls but it was too dark for a pic.

MiniMeringueTarts_Rev

This shot is part of a creative collaboration I recently did with a professional photographer and prop stylist for our portfolios. I also served the little bite-sized lemon curd meringues for the progressive dinner just because you can’t have too much dessert! Photograph by Paula Wilson and Props by OK Props, Oksana Slavutych.

 

 

 

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CHilledAppleSoup_First

Recently, I assisted on a motion shoot (defined as a video/film shoot) on location at someone’s very lovely home. These shoots can be challenging particularly when the kitchen is part of the set that they are shooting. In the past, I’ve had to prepare everything in advance and simply plate on location (on the floor, no less) but this was a much bigger production and we were provided a specially designed portable, professional kitchen! This portable kitchen was such a luxury because we were off on our own (no one bugging us) with 2 ovens, 1 upright freezer, 2 refrigerators a bakers rack and lots of counter space! And best of all, we had Air Conditioning because with two full-sized ovens running at 218° C (425° F), it can get pretty toasty inside!

This is an example of a prep area that is less than perfect!

This is an example of a prep area that is less than perfect because the kitchen was part of the set!

The story of this professional kitchen is rather interesting. The creator noticed that Food Stylists were usually provided less than satisfactory circumstances even though the food they were preparing was the hero of the shoot, so this guy took it upon himself to purchase a cube truck and convert it to a professional kitchen, he has two now and is as busy as ever! To be honest, we cannot thank him enough, it is such a luxury (compared to prepping on portable burners in the garage or on the lawn!)

These shoots take many people to run smoothly, there are the usual suspects: director, camera people, prop stylists, food stylist and all the support staff! It’s a pretty amazing thing to be a part of. We even had our own on-site caterers (called Craft Truck) who provided delicious food throughout the day; for example, shortly after 7am, there was a BLT sandwich, then a granola berry parfait, then smoked salmon on toast smeared with cream cheese and capers (that one, I couldn’t resist, the rest of the snacks, I passed on), followed by a hot lunch of grilled salmon, grilled whole chicken legs, pork tenderloin, several salads, steamed veg, potatoes, rice and beans and a variety of desserts, then around 5pm, snack sandwiches were passed around. We were definitely well fed! Coffee, juice and water were available all day long.

KitchenTruck

This is the exterior of our mobile professional kitchen. Fortunately, we were parked at the end of the driveway so we only had a short run to the set.


KitchenTruck_2


Our portable kitchen is ready for action. Sebastion was setting up the kitchen, complete with stand alone freezer, 2 glass door refrigerators, 2 full-sized ovens, 2 sinks, a bakers’ rack and A/C!


KitchenTruck_3

There were 3 food stylists for this shoot (one lead and two assistants). We were non-stop from 7am until after 5 all day!

The food on site was plentiful and we were never hungry or in need but this chilled soup would have been a lovely addition considering how sweltering hot it was that day. Let’s just say I had a lovely glow on all day, if you know what I mean!!!

This is a refreshing, chilled soup served on a hot, muggy day in the city and it’s very easy to prepare.

Chilled Apple, Cucumber and Coconut Soup

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes 600 mL Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium shallot (about 30 g), finely chopped
  • 1 Granny Smith apple (about 175 g), cubed (reserve 1/4 for garnish, as pictured)
  • 2 stalks celery (about 60 g), roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp canola oil
  • 1 cup vegetable stock (I used pea broth*)
  • 1/3 English cucumber (about 65 g), roughly chopped.
  • 2 tbsp coconut milk powder (or to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Sauté chopped shallots until translucent. Add celery, apple and vegetable stock, cook until softened (about 10 minutes), . Remove from heat and add the cucumber.
  2. Using an immersion blender, blend several minutes until smooth.
  3. Chill for several hours or make a day or two in advance.
  4. Serve cold and garnish with very thinly sliced apples. For other garnishes, please see notes.
Apple Soup

A tasty and refreshing soup that is only lightly sweetened with apple flavour.

Notes:

  • The pea broth was the result of the liquid used to blanch freshly shelled peas and then I cooked the shells again, then strained the broth through a fine sieve.
  • I chose not to strain this soup through a fine sieve because after I blended it for several minutes, I didn’t mind the final texture (some apple skin and cucumber skin, you can see how minute they are in the photos).
  • The cucumber adds a piquant note, omit if you are adverse to such flavours.
  • The apple flavour is very subtle but adds a lovely sweetness and tartness to the soup. I did not add sugar, but if you like a sweeter soup, consider using a sweet apple (like Gala) or adding coconut sugar in addition to the coconut milk powder.
  • Consider garnishing with some crispy cooked bacon.
  • This soup would be elevated if you garnished it with one large scallop caramelised in butter and drizzle with the scallop butter.

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ChoppedLogoLast summer I received a most welcome email from my dear blogger friend, Lorraine Elliot of the famed Not Quite Nigella blog. She was coming to Canada as a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission and Tourism Yukon and she wondered would I be available to meet if she could arrange a slight diversion to Toronto! I was absolutely thrilled! Of course, I wrote back, who wouldn’t want to meet with one of their blogger heroes? I kept having to pinch myself! No, really!

I suspect that there were many arrangements to make/and subsequently change with the Canadian Tourism Commission so that Lorraine could be in TO for a couple of days. They booked her solid so it was a bit whirl-wind, but Lorraine made sure we had at least a half a day and it was awesome! (You can read about Lorraine’s Toronto experience here, here, here, here, and here). I had asked Lorraine to email me her Toronto schedule so that I could a) make the most of her time, and b) choose something to do that wasn’t on the Tourism Commission’s itinerary. I wanted to show her something unique.

Lorraine_Eva

I’m not too good at taking selfies.

I am very fortunate to know or be acquainted personally with many culinary giants in Toronto, mostly through my past life as a Client Service Rep for a design firm that specializes in Food Packaging, but some because of my current vocation, so I got out my address book. I called Claudia Bianchi, a very close friend of a friend, and an accomplished chef, food stylist and producer of several Food Network Canada shows. I knew Claudia was in the midst of the taping of Season 3 of Chopped Canada and I wondered if there might be an opportunity for us to visit the set and even stay a bit to check out the taping. Claudia very generously put me in touch with Cary Mignault, the PR guy for Chopped Canada, Season 3. It was such an amazing experience, Cary was open and more than happy to make the set visit happen. And such perfect timing too, because as it turned out, the day we visited the set was the LAST DAY of taping the show! Can you believe our fortuitousness? Had Lorraine made arrangements for the day after, it simply could not have happened and I would have been up the creek without a paddle!

I picked Lorraine up at the hotel at 7:30 am and we drove across town to Leslieville where they were taping Chopped Canada, Season 3. As soon as she stepped into the car, we talked and talked and talked, it was as if we were long lost friends! I can attest that Lorraine is as lovely, kind and sweet in person as she is on Social Media. Cary met us in the parking lot and we entered the building. To say this is a huge production is an understatement, there is even an enormous refrigerator/prep room filled with full-size refrigerators! And the set is outstanding, sparkly and new, filled with the latest gadgets and appliances, it is a cook’s dream!

FridgeRoom

The Fridge and Prep room

Fridge_PrepRoom

The off set Prep area.

Claudia met us on set and took us for a little tour, this little slide show includes some of the photos sent to me by Cary. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to chat with Claudia about the show, so here are some insights:

There are a total of ten judges who participate on the show, but there are only 3 seats actually on the show, the judges alternate depending on availability (read about the judges here). The judges are not just there to assess and evaluate the participants but their interaction also provide mentorship to each culinary participant. I enquired how the secret basket of ingredients are determined and Claudia said that she gets her inspiration from many places…it could be a trip to the market, a weekend at their cottage or perhaps her husband’s restaurant (Actinolite) or even some of the judges! And the ingredients need not be Canadian! I asked what ingredient was sourced from the furthest place, sadly she could not mention it as the show had not aired! As you can see from the slide show below, the on stage pantry is exceptionally stocked (here is a link to some great pantry photos (BTW, my friend the designer Kim Sewell, designed most of the labels because they were not permitted to have branded product on set!)).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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It’s been a wild and crazy couple of weeks. Some of you who are friends on Facebook have seen a little of what’s been going on at Kitchen Inspirations but for those who are not, here is a quick recap and a timely post for the In My Kitchen series.

JT and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. My, how time flies. (BTW,I was a child bride). We had about 50 people to our home and as luck would have it, it was rainy and cold all day, just like our wedding day so our garden party moved indoors. My cousin Lucy was a godsend as she helped fill glasses, replenish trays and clear out dirty dishes. I felt like a guest at my own party. Here are a few pics.

Macarons

I baked 146 macarons, some for the party and some for gift bags. The best ones were on the bottom t, they were coffee shells with coffee buttercream with chocolate dipped tops and bottoms with score bits (truth be told, the tops cracked so instead of tossing them, I dipped them in chocolate and score bits! BEST ONES EVER!)

Gifts

We packaged 2 macarons to go for each couple.

EvaJohnAnnivParty

I hacked an H&M dress by cutting off the sleeves and I added very expensive French lace to make a GOGO dress with bells sleeves! I also changed the neckline.

Desserts

There were more tasty desserts.

Thefood1

The food was cold and self-serve. I made pretzel buns

TheFood2

There was a lot of cheese too.

TheFood3

We had some fruit and veggies too.

We hardly had a crumb left, I felt like I didn’t have enough but JT thinks that it was just right. Do you generally feel better if you have too much food or just enough?

Last week, I was fortunate to have been recommended by a fellow food stylist for a television segment on our local City Line on City TV, a daily lifestyle talk show. I was cooking for Food Network, celebrity chef David Rocco. Because the segment was only 5 minutes long, I had to prepare the dish at various stages to allow the magic of TV to finish the dish in record time. Lifestyle talk shows are an interesting beast, so much prep for such short segments and what is even more surprising is the lack of space available for preparations on site. Fortunately, I had already done a segment on the Global Morning show so I was familiar with the limitations and extras that have to be done to make it a success, case in point, I had to bring props! That meant, shopping for props AND groceries. The recipe called for a cup of shelled sweets peas so I called on a group of friends and we sat and shelled peas the afternoon before. My call time was 9:15, I decided to get up early and make the dishes in the morning before I left so that they would be as fresh as possible. I made two batches of pasta, half cooked pancetta, fully cooked pancetta, chopped some shrimp and cooked some shrimp. I assembled the dish on set after the platter was chosen and garnished it close to shoot time. Even so, I still had to oil a few places as the lights dried it out. See the segment here.

DavidRoccoEva

Chef David Rocco and me. He was absolutely delightful.

CityLineSet2

Just prior to wheeling the kitchen on set, I still needed to ‘sauce’ the dish up a bit.

CityLineset1

The props, some I bought specifically for the show and some are mine from home or the cottage!

CityLine2

The go live to tape in front of a live studio audience. The host is Tracy Moore

CityLine

Tracy reviewing her lines before taping.

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TrioThaiDesserts_First

Last month we had another progressive dinner (number 11 to be exact) and we decided to make up some new rules. In general, we alternate clockwise for the courses and this time it was neighbours John and Nancy’s turn to make the main course. The first new rule is that the couple who has the main course chooses the theme. The second new rule, is that the main course couple may also invite a “guest couple” to participate in the eating but not in the making; having four courses has put the main course much too late in the evening (around 10:30-11) because we inevitably stay too long at each house! For this progressive dinner, John and Nancy chose Thai food because Nancy was recently in Thailand and had a marvellous time. It was our turn for dessert.

There aren’t too many desserts in Thailand and I recently learned that they generally don’t serve a sweet after dinner, desserts are usually saved for celebrations, like weddings. Thai desserts are often not sweet and sometimes even savoury (don’t you worry, I didn’t choose savoury (you know who you are!)). I did have a rather difficult time landing on three desserts that would WOW our party because I wanted to choose something obviously Thai and put my own spin on it. I finally chose a baked Coconut Custard Slice (from my Easy Thai-Style Cookery from the Australian Woman’s Weekly, published in 1996), also from the same cookbook, a Sticky Rice Pudding infused with Kafir Lime Leaves with a Coconut and Lime Custard and lastly a Mango Mousse garnished with a Mango Rose (from Epicurious). All three desserts were served in small portions, as above. I made all three in advance and portioned them out so that on the evening I needed only to plate them. These dinners always get out of control with the volume of food so small portions is all anyone ever wants, but I had made enough for leftovers in case someone wanted more. I really like coconut so both the custard cake and the rice pudding were high on my favourite list, but I have to say the mango mousse was also refreshing and delicious. Which one would you choose as your favourite?

A very nicely textured coconut lemon custard.

A very nicely textured coconut lemon custard.

Baked Coconut Custard Cake

Makes one 24 cm (9.5 inch) tart, about 1 cm (0.5 inch) deep.

For original recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) coconut cream
  • 1 cup 18% cream
  • eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened coconut, toasted
  • Lemon or Lime zest for garnish

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350° F. Prepare an 24 cm (9.5 inch) removable bottom scalloped tart pan by lightly greasing and lining the exterior bottom in foil making sure it comes up more than half way on the sides and is waterproof. Set aside.
  2. Combine coconut cream, cream, eggs and brown sugar in a heavy bottomed pan and stir over medium-low heat until warm; do not boil (the coconut cream will separate).
  3. Pour mixture into the prepared pan. Place the tart pan into larger pan that can accommodate enough boiling water to come halfway up the side of the tart pan.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes or until the centre of custard is just set. Cool custard for 30 minutes and then refrigerate custard 1 hour or 1-2 days before serving.
  5. Cut into wedges and sprinkle with extra coconut and lemon or lime zest, if desired.
RicePuddingCustard

A delicious rice pudding scented with kaffir lime leaves and a baked custard topping.

Kaffir Lime Sticky Rice Pudding

Serves 4 individual portions or 9 mini portions.

For original recipe, please click here.

Ingredients for the rice pudding:

  • 1/2 cup (100 g) short grain rice
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 cup (250 mL) coconut milk (including the cream)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) water
  • 10-20 dried kafir lime leaves (depending on how much you like kafir limes)
  • 2 tbsp white sesame seeds, toasted

Ingredients for the custard:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup (250ml) coconut milk, including the cream
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • juice from 1/2 a lime

Directions:

  1. Lightly grease nine 125 mL (1/2 cup) capacity ovenproof mason jars with coconut oil. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. Combine rice, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, coconut milk and water in a thick bottom pan, and slowly bring to a boil while stirring. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally until rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed (about 30 minutes). Cool slightly. Remove Kafir lime leaves, discard.
  3. To make the custard, combine the milk with the eggs, sugar and lime juice and whisk together. Set aside.
  4. To each prepared mason jar, add 2 slightly heaping tablespoons of the rice pudding and press into the bottom of the jar. Pour the prepared custard evenly into each of the nine jars.
  5. Place jars into a large rimmed pan and fill the pan with warm water to about 1/2 way up the mason jars. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 30 minutes or until custard has set.
  6. Remove jars and allow to cool. Refrigerate until 2 hours before serving, then remove from fridge and serve at room temperature garnished with the toasted sesame seeds.
MangoMousse

A lightly set mousse (not heavy on the gelatin) with a good punch of mango and a dash of lime.

Mango Mousse

Makes one 23 cm x 23 cm (9″ x 9″) pan of mousse.

For original recipe please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 1 envelope (1 tablespoon) unflavored gelatin
  • 500 mL (2 cups) fresh mango purée (about 4 small mangos)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (I used Greek)
  • 3 egg whites, beaten until stiff but not dry (you may substitute whipped cream for the egg whites, about 1 cup whipped)
  • 1 mango for rose garnises and lime zest

Directions:

  1. In a small saucepan sprinkle the gelatin over 1/4 cup cold water, let it soften for 1 minute, then heat the mixture over low heat, stirring until the gelatin is dissolved.
  2. In a blender or using an emersion blender, blend together the mango purée, sugar, vanilla, and yoghurt and add the gelatin mixture and blend the mixture well.
  3. Beat the egg whites (or whipping cream) until they hold stiff peaks, fold it into the mango mixture gently but thoroughly.
  4. Pour into a plastic-lined 23 cm x 23 cm (9″ x 9″) pan.
  5. Chill the mousse for at least 4 hours or overnight. Freeze for 30 minutes before serving (improves both the flavour and texture, and makes it much easier to handle).
  6. Cut 9 servings using a flower cookie cutter and place carefully on a plate, garnish with mango roses. To make mango roses, I simply used my vegetable peeler and peeled slices about 30 cm (12 inches) long from each mango and then rolled into a rose. I prepared the roses in advance to make serving easier.

 

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In my Kitchen (IMK)

I have finally gotten my act together to participate in the In My Kitchen series again, which is now hosted by the wonderful and talented Maureen over at The Orgasmic Chef, down under in Oz. I have wanted to participate again for some time, but when I have stuff to talk about, I haven’t the time and when I have time, I haven’t had stuff to talk about! Go figure.

So here goes, In My Kitchen this month:

My dear friend Barb (Profiteroles and Ponytails, who is presently taking a little break from blogging) always gives me a plethora of wonderful and unique things for Christmas and this past year was no exception. I have to admit, I was waiting for just the right recipe to showcase one of the treasures and what better than a post of In My Kitchen: It’s Gold Sea Salt.

GoldSeaSalt copy

Pink Himalayan Sea Salt with gold colour from my dear friend Barb. Pretty, isn’t it?

PB Bark

I used the gold sea salt on this unique bark. It does sparkle, doesn’t it? 😉

In My Kitchen I also have an authentic Falafel maker, a zucchini corer and Lee’s Ghee also from my dear friend Barb. I had no idea real falafels looked like mini doughnuts, did you know?

FelafelMaker

Cute little falafel maker

LeesGhee

I’m sure this is delicious!

I've been so busy making zucchini noodles, I'd completely forgotten about coring and stuffing this lovely veggy

I’ve been so busy making zucchini noodles, I’d completely forgotten about coring and stuffing this lovely veggy

Now rewind to August of last year when my dear friend Lorraine Elliot of Not Quite Nigella made a special point to meet me during her working visit to Canada. Lorraine brought me so many lovely things, but the thing that stands out the most In My Kitchen is the Beet Root Marmalade (to heck with relish, this is the BOMB on burgers!) and oven roasted macadamias with bush pepper spice and sea salt (I’m saving it for a special progressive dinner where I’ll use it to encrust a firm white fish) to name a few.

The beetroot marmalade is absolutely delicious!

The beetroot marmalade is absolutely delicious!

In My Kitchen is the lovely memory book of our recent trip to Arizona to visit our dear friends Paul & T. They were generous enough to invite us for a week (and we stayed 8 days!) to experience their “resort-style” community. News Flash: we LOVED it. We hope to spend a month down there next year, we’ll rent our own space, of course. If you’d like to see the whole book, please click here.

I always like to make a memory book of our vacations so that when I'm old and senile I'll remember what a great life I had!

I always like to make a memory book of our vacations so that when I’m old and senile I’ll remember what a great life I had!

And last but not least, In My Kitchen (well, it’s sort in my Living Room but only because it’s better light there) is Oscar, Oscar is my very first Meyer Lemon tree. I got Oscar late last summer and he produced several lemons but to my dismay, the wildlife ate them before I even had a chance. Last fall, when I brought Oscar inside, he continued to flower and around Christmas two of these flowers turned into fruit. Oscar sits by the glass doors facing East but I also have a grow light with a timer in case the yellow ball isn’t enough. I’m hoping to turn these two organic, Meyer lemons in Limoncello!

Oscar has grown his two lemons even larger since I took this photo!

Good ol’ Oscar has grown his two lemons even larger since I took this photo!

And that concludes my first installment of In My Kitchen. If you wish to participate, you must send Maureen and email of your intentions and make your post live by the 10th of the month.

 

 

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HomemadeButter_first

My dear Mom encouraged us as children to participate in cooking. Sometimes it was as simple as cleaning green beans or popping sweet peas out of their pods, whatever the task, it always resulted in increasing our comfort level in the kitchen for which, to this day I am truly grateful. One such exercise was to make whipped cream for a dessert topping. I must have been quite young because Mom set-up a workstation on the kitchen table so I could see inside the bowl of our olive green Iona Stand Mixer!

I no longer have the stand for the mixer.

I no longer have the stand for the mixer.

We poured the ice cold cream into an ice cold glass bowl and I started the mixer. I learned that starting the mixer on high only resulted in cream splashing all over my face! The bowl sat on some sort of ball-bearing Lazy Susan which you had to gently hold so the bowl wouldn’t spin out of control (I was in charge of that). As you undoubtedly already know, whipping cream to stiff peaks doesn’t take long, but I didn’t know that back then! Dear Mom was distracted and before I knew it, the cream began separate and turn to butter, the fat congealing and separating from the buttermilk. These types of “mistakes” never resulted in a scolding, they turned into lessons and this one became Butter Making 101! In those days we ate a lot of butter so Mom knew this lesson wouldn’t go to waste! Fortunately, dear Mom always had extra whipping cream in the refrigerator and so I learned to make two things that day: butter and whipping cream.

This is a great exercise for children but be careful because today’s stand mixers can be very dangerous for small hands.

Homemade Butter

Ingredients:

  • 1 L (8 cups) whipping cream (35% fat)
  • Pinch of salt (optional)
  • Cheese cloth and a fine sieve.

Directions:

  1. Place your stand mixer mixing bowl and whisk into the freezer for 10-15 minutes or until very cold.
  2. When bowl and whisk have chilled through, secure bowl to stand and add the cream. Slowly begin beating cream, adding a pinch of salt if desired.
  3. At about 10 minutes, the cream should begin to thicken and separate from the whey, once you have distinct separation stop beating. Voilà, you have made butter!
  4. Strain through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Reserve the buttermilk (I’ll use it to feed my sourdough starter), transfer butter to a resealable container and refrigerate. Or separate into smaller portion sizes and freeze. You will also need to squeeze excess buttermilk from the butter.
Butter_2

Deliciously creamy, homemade butter.

Notes:

  • You can make butter from any amount of whipping cream, I just had 1 litre left over from a gig.
  • I used my whisk attachment of my Kitchenaid stand mixer, but I’ve seen people do it in a blender too although I would find it too difficult to clean thoroughly.
  • Flavour butter with fresh herbs to make a compound butter and freeze in small portions to flavour fish, poultry or meats.
  • I chose not to salt my butter but you can add salt as you wish.
  • Butter freezes very well. Portion into 1/4 (125 mL) or 1/2 cup (250 mL) portions.
Portion size is 1 teaspoon.

Portion size is 1 teaspoon.

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Tiropitakia_First

Our tenth progressive dinner was this past Friday and the theme we chose was Greece. We chose Greece for a couple of reasons: we figured we would be knee deep in snow and a tip of the hat to the warm climate and mediterranean cuisine would be just what the doctor ordered and the other reason is that two of our neighbours were just there this summer visiting family!

Fortunately, winter has been somewhat mild this year (shhhhhhh)…not overly cold and although we have had a few flakes, we certainly don’t have the (any) accumulation we have had in the past. Here is a little blast from the past (December 11, 2014) for good measure! Click on the images to see a larger version.

So you can see why the Mediterranean cuisine seemed appropriate. I didn’t want to make something predictable and when I was chatting with the neighbour who went to Greece this summer, she suggested the slightly lesser known phyllo triangle called Tiropitakia which is like Spanakopita but without the vegetables, it’s just cheese! You had me at cheese! I decided to splurge and use butter to coat the phyllo sheets (I usually skip it because of the calories) and it really made the pastry beautifully crispy and flaky. I read quite a few recipes on line, some ven used gruyère and ricotta so I made some changes and used Greek Feta, goats cheese and a little parmesan. The combination made a lovely cheesy filling. I used an actual imported Greek  feta (Alra Feta) which is pretty difficult to come by in Toronto (we have a very strong cheese board in Canada) made with sheep and goats milk, it is far tangier than Canadian feta (and more expensive).

This hors d’œuvres freezes very well but you have to be very careful as the pastry becomes very brittle over time in the freezer. With all the holiday cheer going on in the next few weeks, I’m sure I’ll be popping a few in the oven every weekend for visitors.

Tiropitakia_7695

It’s a deliciously crispy hors d’œuvres. Please help yourself to one (or two).

Tiropitakia

Makes 48 5 cm (2 inch) triangles

Ingredients:

  • 300 g Greek Feta cheese, crumbled
  • 160 g goats cheese, crumbled
  • 25 g Parmesan Cheese, finely grated
  • 2 eggs, beaten lightly
  • 1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 8 sheets phyllo pastry, cut into 5 cm (2 inch) strips, long side.
  • 150 g unsalted butter, melted

Directions:

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, add the two eggs and pulse to beat slightly. Add all of the cheese and pulse a few times to combine well (do not turn into a paste). Add the parsley, nutmeg and freshly ground pepper and pulse to incorporate. Set aside.
  2. Cut each phyllo sheet into six, 5 cm (2 inch) strips along the long side. Brush generously with the melted butter. Add one tablespoon of the filling to one side of the long strip and begin to fold into a triangle as the diagram below suggests. Continue until you have used up all of the filling. I was able to get 48 triangles.
  3. Bake in a pre-heated 400° F (200° C) oven for 13-15 minutes or until nicely browned. Freeze on a piece of parchment and then gently place into a ziplock bag for future. Reheat frozen triangles at 350° F (176° C) for 10-12 minutes or until warmed through.

Folding Tiropitakia

Tiropitakia_7698

I usually don’t put egg into my spanakopita so these ones puffed up quite a bit more than the spanakopita does.

Notes

  • This recipe can also be made into squares. Use 5 sheets of Phyllo, generously buttered, in a 9″ x 9″ square pan. Add the filling and top with 5 additional, generously buttered sheets. Fold in the edges to make a neat square, add 2 more sheets, generously buttered, cut to the exact size (to make it pretty). Butter. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until nicely browned on top.
  • If you wish to save calories, skip the butter on each strip, just butter the triangle, both sides.
  • Some recipes added dill, but it was not comment.

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SushiThai_first

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a restaurant review. It’s not that we haven’t been going out (not the case at all) but I’ve been relatively uninspired, not by the restaurants or meals, just kind of an overall humdrum feeling. Night falls far too early and the days seem to be full of grey, mostly. On the plus side, it hasn’t snowed…yet. Most of the leaves have plummeted to earth and the birds and squirrels are running around frantically looking for food. The bird feeder needs refilling almost every two days; those little sparrows eat quite a bit! Speaking of eating…

Last spring I purchased a couple of Groupons for Sushi Thai on Bloor, a restaurant in our hood so that my Hungarian relatives could experience Thai food. We’ve been to Sushi Thai several times but I wanted to get as many plates for them as possible to vary their experience, hence the Groupon. What I completely forgot was that you can only use ONE Groupon per table and we weren’t going to sit at separate tables, so I had an extra Groupon left over for a lunch JT and I had recently.

I’m always surprised that this little place isn’t busier, the décor is contemporary Asian with some tasteful Thai embellishments; it has flattering lighting and the service is good with authentic Japanese staff with a reasonable command of English. The Sushi is fresh, delicious and often creatively prepared (piped mayo, toasted sesame or rice puffs etc. and decoratively laid out on a white plate). Both Thai and Japanese foods are also very good. Complimentary tea is not offered.

A delicious bowl of soup and salad.

A delicious bowl of soup and salad.

We both ordered the lunch specials ($11 each) that came with a small bowl of miso soup and a typical Japanese-style salad made with iceberg lettuce, a few shavings of carrot and beet, thinly sliced cucumber and radish and a slice of tomato dressed with a thousand island-style vinaigrette (it has been my experience that almost all the Japanese restaurants in Toronto make a salad like this, some better than others). The miso was warm, with lots of dashi and small cubes of soft tofu garnished with green onion. Some misos can be salty but this one was not. We both commented that it could have been warmer, of course, the day was one of the first of the colder days so we were still stinging!

Sushi

Just the perfect amount for lunch.

I ordered the Sushi plate which came with 11 pieces of tasty sushi. There were 3 salmon rolls, 3 tuna rolls, and 5 pieces of Nigiri: Tuna, Hamachi, Salmon, Shrimp and Surimi. I could do without the Surimi but it seems to be prevalent on the more budget conscious restaurants. The fish was fresh with a lovely soft texture and the wasabi was pungent!

A decent lunch portion.

A decent lunch portion.

JT ordered the Chicken Teriyaki which came with a good amount of thigh meat in a light teriyaki sauce and a reasonably large mound of rice and a few broccoli florets, all garnished with some white sesame seeds. The chicken was tender and all of the fat had been properly trimmed off (you’d be surprised at how much fat and grissel JT leaves in some places). All in all we both really enjoyed our choice. We did not have dessert.

Overall rating of Sushi and Thai (in my opinion): Decor 3.5/5, service 3.5/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Disclaimer: We purchased our meals for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

Sushi Thai on Bloor

2279 Bloor St W
Toronto, ON
M6S 1P1

Tel: 647-347-6826

Monday to Thursday 11:30 am-10:00 pm

 

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AvocadoHollandaise_First

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Lorraine Elliott of Not Quite Nigella, in Toronto. We’ve been following each other for four years now and when we met in person it was like we’d known one another for ever. I wanted to do something special with her so I contacted an acquaintance who produces several Food Network Canada shows and she made it happen – we spent the morning on the set of Chopped Canada, Season 3. But you’ll just have to wait to hear all about it in the new year (don’t worry, it’ll be here before you know it!).

Eva & Lorraine behind the scenes!

Eva & Lorraine behind the scenes!

Lorraine was in Toronto with the Canadian Tourism Commission and made a special request to come to Toronto to meet me! I was flattered beyond belief. For Lunch, we met up with my dear friend Barb (Profiteroles & Ponytales) and a new friend, Trudy Bloem, a Personal Chef from Ottawa (the DIL of a lovely neighbour) at one of my favourite Italian restaurants, Bar Mercurio. We shared a number of tasty dishes that I’m sure Lorraine will blog about. The CTC sure kept her busy and she saw many of the Food significant parts of TO, but not everything so I’ve invited her back! And one of these days, we’ll travel to Australia to visit her (and Charlie, Maureen & Liz)!

Lorraine wasn’t the first positive experience with an Aussie I’ve ever had, after all there was the “gravy boat incident”.

About 12 or 13 years ago, I was trying to finish off some stray pieces to our wedding China. I checked our local supplier and as I suspected it was unaffordable, so I checked eBay. I’ve purchased many things over the years from eBay and my experiences have always been exceptional. I found the exact gravy boat, you guessed it, in Australia. It was a young couple recently married and for some strange reason were given a gravy boat to a set that they didn’t want, so she was selling it for a very reasonable price on eBay. I contacted her to make sure she would ship it to Canada and she said she would. She was not registered on PayPal so she asked for a money order. No problem, but I needed an address. She gave me an address and off we went to get a money order. We don’t often need money orders so we were inexperienced (this will make sense later in the story). The money order was mailed and we waited. And waited. Weeks went by and the girl didn’t receive it. I called the post office and asked how long a letter from Toronto should take to travel to Australia and they said six to eight weeks. So we waited in the meantime corresponding with said girl almost weekly. At 10 weeks she still hadn’t received the money order but she was tired of the game so she said she would mail the gravy boat to me anyway and hope to receive the money order. I felt bad about it, so we got another money order but when we went to cancel the first one, we discovered that we had included the receipt in the original envelope so we couldn’t cancel it (read inexperienced)! I bit the bullet and got another money order anyway (still marginally cheaper than buying the gravy boat in Toronto). I wanted to make sure I had her correct address so I asked her to confirm. You guessed it, she had given me the wrong address the first time (sweet girl but…) so the new money order was mailed and within a week the gravy boat arrived! Then two days later the girl wrote to say the second money order arrived and that she would destroy the first one if it ever arrived. I’m not kidding you, a day later we received back the first money order (with receipt) marked “unknown address, return to sender”! This drama took over three months! We were able to get a refund with the original money order, I got a deal on the gravy boat and a great story out of it! Do you have any cool stories like this? Share in the comments.

If I were serving this avocado hollandaise at home, I would have definitely used the Australian gravy boat, but I served it at the cottage for a tasty vegetarian breakfast!

Ready4Hike_6259

It’s still quite buggy in Canada’s north so we were well prepared with our bug shirts!

Vegan Avocado ‘Hollandaise’ Sauce

Makes about 3/4 cup of ‘hollandaise’ sauce

Ingredients:

  • 2 small very ripe avocados
  • 1/2-3/4 cup water
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Purée everything together until very smooth adding water until desired consistency is achieved, season with salt and pepper.
  2. Serve warm or room temperature.

Notes:

  • This is a much ‘lighter’ feeling sauce than the traditional eggyolk-butter-based version.
  • I didn’t want to add more lemon juice as I feared it might make the sauce bitter so instead I added a teaspoon of white vinegar and a tablespoon of Dijon, it was a flavourful sauce.
  • Add only as much water to the sauce to achieve the consistency that you want. I wanted mine pourable and I almost used the entire 3/4 cup, just a hair less.
AvocadoHollanadaise

I served this on Asparagus and Spinach bennies one weekend.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 1.42.27 PM

This is 1/4 of the total yield of sauce

This is traditional Hollandaise Sauce made with 4 eggs and 1/2 cup of unsalted butter. Although the calories are fewer than the avocado version, take a look at the fat and cholesterol!

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WheatBerryTabbouleh_First

Isn’t it funny how the universe works? Some things seem like they are way to coincidental and happen for a reason. I’m fatalistic that way. Case in point: recently I assisted (yes, I’m still assisting because I’d rather be working than not, so if I have free time on my calendar, I’ll assist) a lovely stylist for a print shoot at an amazing house up in Caledon Hills. This house is 15,000 square feet (1,400 square metres!), indoor pool, outdoor pool, fitness gym, billiards room and the list goes on. The custom kitchen with a massive stove, a walk-in pantry (with huge side-by-side fridge freezer like this) was just fantastic to work in! A bit grand for lil ol’ me but gorgeous none-the-less. Around 7:30-8 the owner came home and sat in the kitchen to have a bit of dinner from the craft table. We started chatting while I was grilling chicken breasts and it turns out that she is a recipe developer and cookbook author! In fact, she is a fitness guru (and gorgeous and amazingly fit), you may have heard of her…Tosca Reno!!!! How cool is that??? She gave me a copy of her Eat-Clean Diet® recipe book, autographed and all! I gave her my contact info and am hoping to have the honour and privilege of working with her sometime soon. But that’s just half the story.

Fast forward to the following Wednesday and I’m down-town for my weekly meeting (and very generous birthday lunch, thanks KiK gang!) and I’m telling Andrea, one of the partners my amazing story and lo and behold, that very Saturday (the day after I was assisting in Caledon Hills) Andrea bumped into a woman in Caledon carrying boxes and some boxes fell and Andrea went over to help, so who was the woman? Tosca Reno!!! Andrea recognized her immediately because she has followed her on Facebook and just loves her Eat-Clean Diet® program. Coincidence? I think not!

So what does this story have to do with this post? I’m getting to it…As we are in the heat of the summer, enjoying every bit of the 35° C (with 90%+ humidity) we’re trying to eat lighter (plus losing a few pounds wouldn’t hurt either) and in light of my new, delicious Eat-Clean Diet® cookbook, I decided to make a wonderful wheat berry tabbouleh. For me, a tabbouleh is always a combination of my favourite things, so this recipe is quite unique to my tastes, but feel free to amend to your own specific tastes. True tabbouleh aficionados will baulk at my recipe saying it’s not authentic tabbouleh and that’s just fine with me…call it whatever you wish, but I hope you make it and I hope you enjoy it.

Would you like a bowl?

Would you like a bowl?

Wheat Berry Tabbouleh with Shrimp

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup wheat berries, rinsed and sorted through
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken stock, or water
  • 20-30 shrimp (21-30 per pound, 5 per person)
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1/2 cup each fresh or frozen corn and peas
  • 1/2 cup quartered grape tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onion
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp roughly chopped mint
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Direction:

  1. Bring wheat berries to a boil and then simmer for about an hour.
  2. Meanwhile,  put the diced red onion into a small bowl of very cold water (this mellows the pungency of the onion).
  3. Cut the avocado into smallish cubes and set into a bowl. Squeeze one lemon and add the finely chopped garlic and olive oil and stir well. Pour over the avocado.
  4. Combine the corn, peas, green onion and tomatoes and set aside.
  5. Grill the shrimp until opaque, set aside.
  6. Once the wheat berries are cooked, add the avocado and corn mixture and stir well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Gently stir in the shrimp and the finely chopped herbs.
  7. Serve warm or at room temperature.

WheatBerryTab_2

This is truly a delicious and filling meal.

We were lucky enough to have a couple of events for the PanAm games right in our neighbourhood so JT and I took a short walk down to see one of them, The Women’s Road Cycling in High Park. We took Gold and Bronze in this gruelling race (I say gruelling because I was dripping sweat just standing in the heat, I can’t imagine how hot it was for the athletes!).

I made this short film of our experience, it was amazing being there in such a positive crowd!

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AppleStreurselMuffins_first

Things are heating up in Toronto! And I’m not talking about temperature, although temperatures are pretty hot too! On Friday we began hosting the Pan Am Games (and ParaPan Am) which is a really big deal. At last count, Canadians are holding the most medals (yay, Go Canada Go!) with 24 in total with 10 GOLD! The U.S. is in close second with 19 total and 7 Gold! The last five years have been leading up to the next 2 months, with revitalization and new construction. We built new stadiums, tracks, pools and revitalized a number of venues across the city, including repaving all of the roads in High Park!

The opening ceremonies were held in the Pan Am Ceremonies Venue on Friday (formerly the Rogers Centre) with internationally renowned Cirque de Soleil delivering a once in a life-time show with their usual fanfare, culminating with Donovan Bailey base jumping from the summit of the CN tower! And, if that wasn’t enough, the CN Tower had the most amazing fireworks!

The Pan Am games have only been on since Friday and we’ve already had some shenanigans in our fair city. We had a guy use mannequins to access the HOV lanes (high occupancy vehicle lanes where you have to have 3+ in the car) during the games. The Brazilian Men’s Cycling team thought they’d use the Don Valley Parkway (a major north/south highway in Toronto) as their practice venue on Sunday morning! No one was hurt and they were escorted to safer ground as cyclists are not permitted on our highways. Then, totally unrelated, a dead racoon was memorialized on a quiet downtown Toronto residential  street as Animal Services failed to pick up the little guy for over 12 hours! Yes, we’ve had some entertainment indeed!

And if all of that isn’t excitement enough, we have some very special friends coming on Friday and I’m cooking up a storm in anticipation! Then the following week I will have an extra special surprise, but you’ll have to wait and see who that is.

This little recipe was born out of the need to use up a couple of apples, I wanted a healthier muffin without the normal oil component so I created this moist, tasty and generously-sized muffin.

AppleStreurselMuffins2

A moist and tasty muffin

Evenly portioned into 12 muffin cups

Evenly portioned into 12 muffin cups

Apple Streusel Muffins

A Kitcheninspirations Original Recipe. Makes 12 good-sized muffins.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cup peeled and shredded apple
  • 1/2 cup chopped dates
  • 1 cup bran buds
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch of nutmeg

Ingredients for Streusel Topping:

  • 1/4 cup oatmeal
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F (190° C). Butter and flour 12 muffin cups. Set aside.
  2. Layer the milk, bran buds, apple and dates making sure bran buds are covered in the wet ingredients, set aside for 5 minutes. In another bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg and set aside.
  3. Prepare the streusel topping by combining all ingredients and rubbing in butter until crumbly. Set aside.
  4. Add beaten eggs to the bran bud mixture and stir well. Fold the flour mixture into the bran bud mixture until just combined.
  5. Divide batter into 12 muffin cups evenly. Top with streusel topping and bake for 20-25 minutes or until cake tester comes clean.
Hot out of the oven on a day that was 27° C (81° F)

Hot out of the oven on a day that was 27° C (81° F)

AppleStreuselMuffins

It’s delicious with a little butter.

AppleStreuselCalorie

Calorie count is per one muffin


Several months ago, I was asked to style a commercial for the Steven and Chris show. Chef Daniel Mezzolo is the famous executive chef from Gusto 101  (please recall the lovely Kale Salad I reinvented). We worked after the show taped so I had a 3pm call time and it didn’t end until well after 11pm that night. It was a long day but it was a blast, I hope you enjoy this short clip.

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Last Thursday, my very first client blog post went live! Don’t worry, it’s under my own name — and the reason it is, is because of my blog! I have always known that this humble project of love would somehow weave a path to earn its keep, I just wasn’t sure how…until now. 

The post has four adaptations of my favourite tapas recipes, so please pop over to my very first blog post at the client’s site, and leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!

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TurkeyChiliFirst

JapaneseCherryBlossoms

The Japanese Sakura Cherry Blossoms in High Park

CherryBlossomTree

Our Cherry Blossom tree in the front yard

Cinco de Mayo Inspired Turkey Chili

A Kitcheninspirations Original Recipe

Serves 8-10

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried red kidney beans, soaked overnight in water
  • 250 g sweet onions, chopped
  • 25 g garlic, finely chopped
  • 300 mL tomato sauce
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 500 mL water and or chicken stock
  • 900 g ground turkey breast
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp chili
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 5 g dried ancho chili (seeds and veins removed)
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
  • 30 mL tequila (a nice smokey one)

Garnish:

  • 1 ripe avocado, sliced thinly
  • 10 tbsp Greek Yogurt (approx 150 mL)
  • 10 tbsp mozzarella cheese
  • handful of Cilantro, or to taste
  • 3-4 Green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 red chili pepper, finely sliced

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat slow cooker on high. Rinse beans and add to the slow cooker along with the onions, garlic, tomato sauce, tomato paste and the water and/or stock and give it a good stir.
  2. Brown the turkey meat in a very hot cast iron pan in batches. Add the browned turkey and juices into the slow cooker in batches. Once you have browned all of the turkey, remove the pan from the heat and deglaze the pan with the tequila, scraping off all the delicious turkey bits from the pan. Add this liquid into the slow cooker.
  3. Give the chili a good stir. Cook on high for 4-5 hours or until the beans are fork tender. If the chili is too liquidy, then remove the lid for the final hour of cooking.
  4. Serve hot garnished with sliced avocado, a tablespoon of yogurt or sour cream, cilantro, chopped green onion, shredded mozzarella cheese and finely sliced peppers.
Based ib 10 Servings

Based on 10 Servings

It's heavy on the points but high on flavour.

It’s heavy on the points but high on flavour.

TurkeyChili

A delicious Mexican Flavoured Chili

Ladies Night May 2015

Ladies Night May 2015

LadiesNight2

I should have set up the tri-pod for an all in shot.

 

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KaleChips_first

A few years ago we purchased a reasonably priced (read cheap) awning for our cocktail patio; I never loved the fabric, it was a pinkish/beige stripe that weathered into a more horrible pinkish colour over the years, but it was about 1/10th the price of one of those swanky awnings that you can order with custom fabric, so I compromised. It wasn’t bad enough that the colour sucked when it was new, it sucked even more over the years and the birds loved to bathe in the water that collected in the divot when it was closed and they also loved to peck little bugs that drowned. Sadly, their pecking caused many tears and eventually the awning looked so tattered and torn that we hadn’t unrolled it in two years!

Old Awning

This was the last time we unrolled the awning at my benchmark birthday party a couple of years ago. That’s my lovely SIL, Wendy. The colour just gets better and better.

Fast forward to 2015 and my cousin and his lovely wife are coming for a visit from Europe in June. What is better than an actual deadline to get those nagging projects completed? So we are in fix it mode! The list is long.

Last year, I priced replacing the fabric with an awning company and discovered that it’s still out of reach (I’d rather spend the cash on a vacation than an awning!) so I checked Youtube and found a really good video on how to remove and replace the awning fabric (click here for the video) and even though our awning is a different manufacturer, the basics are the same. So off I went to purchase 11 m or 12 yards of fabric! And specialty thread (nylon in case you are interested), a specialty sewing machine foot and of course heavy duty leather sewing machine needles! If you’re interested, I can post instructions on how to sew the awning, but it’s a cooking blog so I won’t bore you with it now.

The worst part of sewing this type of project is finding the space to accommodate the enormous volume of fabric (3.2 m x 3.4 m or 125″ x 135″ finished size) so I ended up sewing it on the dining room table and pinning and cutting on the wood floors in our bedroom. Sewing on the dining room table and that I can see the awning from my kitchen window is my reason for using this post in Celia’s In My Kitchen series.

PinningAwning

I had to fold the fabric in half because that’s all the room I had!

It didn’t take me long to make the awning but I had to wait 3 days to install it because it was raining and hailing (in April)! The installation went smoothly but you really do need two people to help feed the ends into the hardware. JT was great and we got it working in less than an hour! Now we wait for summer. Hopefully!

Awning3

This is the view from my kitchen window. I guess I could have opened the window and removed the screen for the pic.

Awning1

We chose a light grey fabric.

Awning2

The awning actually extends all the way to the far end of the deck but it was too windy and I didn’t want to risk issues.

A couple of weekends ago, we had amazing weather and JT and I enjoyed lunch on the patio. I had a lovely bunch of fresh kale and I wanted to try something different so I baked Kale Chips! I know it’s been done to death, but these things were actually really tasty and if you’re looking for a healthy snack, I would suggest you try and bake some of these. I used Charles’ recipe which you can find here, the only thing I did differently is that I dressed the chips in some grated parmesan and sea salt. They didn’t last long.

KaleChips3

The olive oil gives them a gorgeous sheen and helps maintain the bright green colour.

Kale Chips

Ingredients:

  • 400 g Curly Kale
  • 2 tbsps Olive Oil
  • 1 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1/2 cup fine grated Parmesan Cheese

Directions:

  1. Pre heat the oven to 93° C (200°F )(I used my convection (fan) setting).
  2. Wash kale and remove thick ribs. Cut into bite-sized pieces keeping in mind that they will shrink to about half their raw size.
  3. Drizzle olive oil over kale and toss to coat evenly. I gave them a quick, light massage.
  4. Spread on a cookie sheet so they are on one layer and not over lapping. Bake for 15-20 minutes tossing occasionally until crisp. Sprinkle cheese over hot kale and toss to coat.
  5. Serve immediately.
KaleChips2

They were crispy and very tasty.

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BourbonStreetMudPie_1

We had another Progressive Dinner a short time ago and because it was in such close proximity to Mardi Gras, we decided it would be a perfect theme! JT and I had dessert so I experimented with King’s Cake, a brioche style pastry roll with pecans and sugar, decorated with yellow, green and purple sanding sugars, but honestly it tasted like breakfast to me and not dessert (sorry Southerners), so back to the drawing board I went. JT suggested Mississippi Mud Pie and after a little research I agreed. Definitely decadent enough for a Mardi Gras dessert and it can be classed up, restaurant style. I found a delightful warm chocolate tart recipe on Anna Olson’s website and altered it a bit to include some of the warm spices reminiscent of King’s Cake. OK, I am fully aware that mud pie is usually made from ice cream and whipped cream, but hey, I’m taking artistic licence!

This was our 9th progressive dinner, we’ve been having them since 2012! It’s the BEST group of neighbours and everyone gives it their all to make the evening fantastic, which often lasts until the wee hours of the morning…

Here is the menu from this time around, everything was incredibly DELICIOUS!

House #1 Appetizers:

  • Spicy Cajun Shrimp
  • Fried Andouille Sausage
  • Crab Cakes

House #2 Main Course:

  • Blackened Chicken Thighs
  • Corn Maque Choux
  • Rice and Beans

House #3 Dessert:

  • Bourbon Street Mud Pie with Bourbon Whipped Cream
  • Limoncello
  • Late night snack: homemade potato chips with sour cream (Greek yogurt) and onion dip
BoubonStMudPie_2687

It’s a tasty, chocolate tart.

Bourbon Street Mud Pie

Makes 8 servings of 10 cm or 4 inch mini tarts. Original recipe can be found here.

Ingredients for the pastry:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 80 g icing sugar, sifted
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 160 g cake & pastry flour
  • 24 g Dutch Process cocoa powder
  • 20 g cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp bourbon

Directions for the pastry:

  1. Cream the icing sugar and butter until smooth, then add the yolks and bourbon all at once and beat until fully encorporated.
  2. Sift the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, cornstarch and salt) into the butter mixture and stir by hand until evenly combined. The dough is much looser than most pastries. Shape the dough into a disc, wrap and freeze for 30 minutes.
  3. Roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment until just less than 2mm (¼” thick). Cut circles of the pastry to line eight 10 cm (4-inch) fluted tart shells with a  removable bottom, pressing the dough into the shells and trimming away any excess. If the dough softens, just pop it back into the freezer to harden up for a few minutes. Prick the pastry with a fork. Chill the tart shells for at least 20 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the chilled tart shells onto a baking sheet and bake them for about 15-18minutes, until you see that the pastry has an even, dull finish. Allow to cool while preparing the filling.

Ingredients for the filling:

  1. 3 large egg separated
  2. 112 g sugar, divided
  3. 1 tsp finely grated orange zest
  4. 1 tsp cinnamon
  5. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  6. 12 g Dutch Process cocoa powder, sifted
  7. 86 g bittersweet chocolate, melted (but still warm)
  8. 30 bourbon

Directions for the filling:

  1. Whip the remaining 3 egg whites until foamy then slowly add ¼ cup of the sugar and continue whipping on high speed until the whites hold a soft peak. Set aside.
  2. Whip the 3 egg yolks with the remaining ¼ cup (112 g) of sugar, the vanilla and orange zest until pale and thick. Fold in the egg whites and gently whisk in the cocoa powder, melted chocolate and bourbon. You may refrigerate this overnight (I did for 1 night and 1 full day and it was fine).
  3. Pour the filling into the cooled tart shells and bake for about 8-12 minutes at 350°F until the tarts just begin to lose their shine around the edges, but the centre is still dark and glossy. Allow the tarts to cool 2 minutes, before carefully removing them from their shells to serve warm or allow to come to room temperature. Serve with whipped cream.
BourbonStreetMudPie

You may have noticed that this one has ganache on top…we determined was a bit excessive as it’s a very chocolatey tarte.

BoubonStMudPie_3 copy

This was my first try for a friend’s dinner but it turned out way too rich.

 

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GuinessOnionSoup

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! 

Do you have any St. Patrick’s Day traditions? Years and years ago, my friend Barb (Profiteroles and Ponytails, on hiatus right now) used to drag us and a bunch of her buddies to some Irish pub uptown. It became quite the tradition, each year a different venu, drinking beer and getting silly (and by getting silly, I am specifically referring to the particularly exuberant cheers when we smashed our beer glasses and broke a few!). When she moved out west, we just stopped celebrating. Then about 6 years ago (actually, 6 years and 2 weeks), my dear friend and colleague Andy and his partner Mark opened an Irish Pub in Leslieville called The Roy Public House (named after Mark’s dad who passed a few years earlier) and ever since we’ve been celebrating this holiday with a beer or two there (I might add, with mature calmness!). I just love heading over to the east end of Toronto, the pub is always filled with locals and friends and it’s a great spot to catch up over a pint. The food is pretty tasty too, the Cobb Salad and the Half Pound Beef Dip are a couple of our favourites. If you’re ever in the big smoke, you MUST drop by and have a pint and grab a bite. This particular St. Patrick’s Day will be no different…sometime tomorrow afternoon we’ll pop over to The Roy and raise a glass or two in honour of St. Patrick.

Have you ever had a recipe in your head for months and months? This Irish inspired soup was something I had at a rather unassuming Irish pub in Barrie last fall…we were heading up to my brother’s cottage for Thanksgiving and our normal Sushi lunch place, just off the highway had unexpectedly closed down so we needed a new place, fast. We had been running late and were very hungry so we literally stopped at the first place we found in old downtown and what luck that we did. They have a chef who insists on house-made menu items and the Guinness Onion Soup is one of her specialties so I had to try it. It actually floored me on how delicious it was! The Guinness caramelizes the onions beautifully and brings a rich (not bitter) flavour to the soup — dare I say, even better than the traditional French Onion Soup. I had this soup in my head all winter long and knew eventually a recipe needed to be developed so what better time to develop it than for St. Patrick’s Day. Other than a little slicing, it’s a pretty easy recipe, I even made my own no knead bread (because JT was up at Limerick Township doing his Councillor duties!).

The recipe makes 1.75 L and it’s totally freezable (or you can have it for three lunches and three dinners like we did — I liked the soup THAT much).

GuinessOnionSoup2

The broth is a bit richer than traditional French Onion Soup

 

Guinness Onion Soup with Cheddar and Croutons

Makes 1.75 L (depending on how much you boil it down)

Ingredients:

  • 650 g sweet onions, finely sliced
  • 200 g leeks, finely sliced
  • 440 mL Guinness draft
  • Quick spray of canola oil
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup unpasteurized Apple Cider Vinegar 1 L beef stock
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup grated old cheddar per serving
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Sweat the onions and leeks in a large oven proof Dutch oven until translucent and have begun to caramelize (about 30 minutes).
  2. Pre-heat oven to 300° F (149° C)
  3. Add the Guinness and apple cider vinegar and bring to a boil. Add bay leaves and give it a stir.
  4. Cover with a loosely cut piece of parchment with a hole in the centre like the illustration and place in oven until onions are richly caramelized and Guinness has cooked down about 30-45 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven and add 1 L of beef stock and bring back to a boil on the stove, taste and season now (keeping in mind that the cheddar will also add some saltiness).
  6. Create large homemade croutons from a couple of slices of no knead bread (cut into 2-3 cm (1″) cubes and toss with a little canola oil, toast until crispy all over.
  7. Ladle about 1 cup of soup into each pre-warmed bowl with a generous serving of cooked onions. Add broth to cover and sprinkle some grated cheddar over the onions. Add a few croutons and add more cheddar. Broil on high until cheese melts and is bubbly. Serve immediately, don’t stop to take photos.
parchment2

Notes:

  • There are a lot of onions in this version because I was looking for a hearty soup.
  • Notice I didn’t do the calorie calculation, there are some things we just don’t need to know.
  • The vinegar adds a little bite and bit of sweetness, if you don’t like my Onion Confit then omit it or add less (or even substitute a good, rich balsamic vinegar).

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TunaCasseroleMakeover_1This past week was International Women’s Day and I was generously invited (by my dear colleague and friend, Andrea) to the City of Brampton’s 2015 Women’s Day Event and the keynote speaker was none other than celebrity chef Anna Olson! I’ve been a long admirer of Chef Anna’s work from the very first time we dined at Inn on the Twenty in Jordan, Ontario where she and her husband Michael were the executive chefs, more than 15 years ago! These days Chef Anna works with Food Network Canada and is currently starring in Bake with Anna Olson as well as authoring cook books, managing her website, blog and social media outlets not to mention the presentation gigs. On Thursday, Chef Anna recounted her path on how she arrived at where she is today and it was inspirational! She was engaging, funny and interesting, the time just flew by. The audience of 140 were primarily comprised of entrepreneurial women and some young ladies from a local high school. Thank you Andrea for the invitation and the reminder that these networking events are worth every minute because you never know who you’ll meet and where that will lead (of course, I gave Chef Anna my contact info ;-)).

IWD_AnnaOlson

Chef Anna speaking at Lionhead Golf and Conference Centre in Brampton.

Eva_AnnaOlson

That’s me after I had my lovely new cookbook signed by Chef Anna!

Chef Anna’s primary food influence was her grandmother and as I reflected on who my primary influence was (my dear Mother, of course) I also thought about other influences I’ve had over the years, like JT’s mother. JT’s mother was a typical North American cook of that era, not overly adventurous but she made a tuna casserole in the 80’s that was a family favourite. Canned cream of mushroom soup (or cream of celery), a can of tuna, some cooked noodles, perhaps some chopped onion and the pièce de résistance: crumbled salted potato chips on top! Bake in a casserole dish until thoroughly warmed through and serve immediately. Being raised in a Hungarian home, I had never had tuna in this way (or canned tuna any other way for that matter) and having potato chips on top was such a treat. Of course, these days we don’t buy canned soups (too much sodium) nor do we indulge in potato chips, but I wanted the flavour of this retro meal so I reinvented it in a slightly healthier way. I got the thumbs up from JT. Definitely a keeper!

TunaCasserole

Tuna Casserole Makeover

A Kitcheninspirations Original Recipe!

Ingredients for Creamed Mushroom Soup (yields 300 mL):

  • 60 g little button mushrooms
  • 125 g chopped onion
  • 20 g dried wild mushroom mix (rehydrated in 375 mL (1 1/2 cups) water, reserve liquid)
  • 20 g red lentils (thickener)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Sea salt

Directions for the Creamed Mushroom Soup:

  1. Rehydrate the mushrooms in 375 mL of hot water (you can microwave this for a couple of minutes to get it going faster). Strain into a fine sieve (I use a dedicated coffee filter) and reserve liquid. Wash the mushrooms thoroughly. Chop mushrooms into smaller bits (allows for the really chewy parts to hydrate faster) and set aside.
  2. Cook the onions with a spray of canola oil until translucent, add garlic and stir until fragrant. Add lentils and 375 mL of mushroom broth and rehydrated mushrooms. Cook until lentils are completely cooked and mushrooms have no chewy bits, season with salt. 
  3. Pulse with an immersion blender until smooth and silky. You may push this through a fine sieve if you’d like, but I didn’t think it was necessary. Set aside 250 mL (1 cup) and freeze the rest, it’s great for soups, gravy or even a base for pizza.

Ingredients for the Tuna Casserole:

  • 120 g drained albacore tuna in water
  • 1/2 cup pearl barley
  • 150 g green beans, washed and cut into thirds (bite-sized pieces)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions for the Tuna Casserole:

  1. Pre heat the oven to 350° F (176° C).
  2. In the same pot as you made the creamed mushrooms, toast the pearl barley in a little oil, add about 250 mL (1 cup) water and cook the barley until about 3/4 done (it will continue to cook in the casserole) until almost all of the water has been absorbed and what’s left is thick. The barley should still have quite a chewy texture.
  3. Combine the cleaned and cut green beans and roughly separated, drained tuna with the barley, add the creamed mushroom soup, 1 cup of water and give it a good stir. You may keep everything in your pan if it’s oven proof, I transferred it to two small oven proof casseroles that I lightly oiled.
  4. Combine the Greek yogurt, bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese and dollop on top. Bake for 30 minutes or until the internal temperature is 160°F (71° C). Serve with a small green salad.
TunaCasserole_2

This is the Greek yogurt topping before I baked it.

Notes:

  • You may, of course use canned soup and not make your own creamed mushrooms.
  • We prefer to use Albacore tuna in water, but the choice is yours.
  • Don’t like green beans? Use celery instead (I had green beans on hand).
  • We are trying to cut back so I used this recipe for four servings. JT said he could have easily eaten one small casserole on his own (even though I did serve him 3/4 of it!).
  • I have a double oven and I baked this in the top, smaller oven so I was able to get a little browning on the topping without turning on the broiler. If you bake these in a large oven, you may wish to broil the tops for colour and texture!
  • Substitute quinoa or bulgur to lower the calories and carbs a bit (makes it 5 points in WW). Leave out the Parmesan and bread crumbs to bring the WW points down even further to 4!
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Weight Watchers Points

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For fun I did the original recipe as comparison. WW points for the original recipe would have been 12!

 

 

 

 

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Macarons

Strike one off the bucket list: French Macarons

 

 

 

Updated May 2016.

Do you have a cooking bucket list? I’ve had an informal (read: in my head) bucket list for quite some time; on it you’ll find duck, szalonczukor (a Hungarian fondant candy), spun sugar, puff pastry, phyllo pastry and last but not least, French Macarons! This post is about Macarons.

I was first introduced to these French Macarons a few years ago, a friend had brought a few back for me from Ladurée in Paris. My first bite experience was INCREDIBLE: crunchy, airy, lightly sweet, slightly chewy, fragrant, creamy, buttery. It was an awakening! It’s what you Aussie’s would call moreish and I would even go further to say needish, wantish, must-haveish!

The flavour combinations are limitless and I’ve even seen some savoury versions floating about the web-o-sphere (I must admit, a savoury version makes me cringe a bit). Today, I will share with you my second attempt recipe even though my first version turned out wonderfully, they were rather irregular in size and therefore not blog worthy. I used a Martha Stewart recipe for the meringue bit and a standard custard-based butter cream for the filling. The flavours I chose were: attempt 1 was lemon, attempt 2 were ice wine and pomegranate, chocolate and hazelnut. All were really delicious but my favourite was the lemon.

I will begin by saying that making Macarons are not as difficult as you might think; you need patience, a little know how and perseverance. The ingredients are simple and few. It makes me wonder why they charge so much for them, it must be the pomp and circumstance because it isn’t the cost of ingredients!

This blog post is an excellent reference; the professional baker did all the time-consuming comparisons and experimentation and documented it. My advice: Go with confidence and you WILL rock the recipe.

Bucket List

Macarons

Original Martha Stewart recipe can be found here.

Ingredients for basic Macaron:

  • 35 g blanched almond meal or flour
  • 58 g icing sugar
  • 1 large egg white, room temperature
  • 25 g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp gel food colouring (I used Christmas red)

Ingredients for Favoured Macarons:

  • 35 g blanched almond meal or flour
  • 53 g icing sugar
  • 5 g flavour such as unsweetened cocoa powder (sifted) or espresso powder
  • 1 large egg white, room temperature
  • 25 g granulated sugar

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F (177° C). Place the rack in lower part of the oven.
  2. Prepare your macaron template using your computer to draw 2.5 cm or 1″ circles about 2.5cm or 1″ apart. Print two sheets. Put the two sheets under your UNSTICK™ baking sheet liner to use as your circle templates.

    MacaronTemplate

    This is the circle template under the UNSTICK liner.

  3. In a coffee grinder, grind the almond flour in batches to a fine consistency (being careful not to make paste (marzipan) out of it). Omit if you can purchase extra finely ground almond flour.
  4. Transfer ground almonds to a food processor and add the icing sugar; process until combined, about 1 minute.
  5. Press the almond/sugar mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the larger bits. You should have no more than 1 tbsp left, if you do, grind in coffee grinder again and press through fine sieve until you have no more than 1 tbsp left (save larger almond bits for something else).
  6. Whisk egg whites and granulated sugar by hand to combine. Then beat on medium speed (#4 on a KitchenAid) for about 2 minutes, then increase speed to medium-high (#6) and beat 2 additional minutes. Then beat on high (#8) for 2 minutes more. The beaten egg whites will hold very stiff, glossy peaks when you lift the whisk out of the bowl. DO NOT OVER WHIP.
  7. Add your choice of flavourings and food colourings and beat on the highest speed for about 1 minute. Just a drop if using flavouring or colour.
  8. Then add dry ingredients ALL at ONCE (yes, I know many recipes say to fold in gingerly, but you really don’t have to), then fold with a spatula from bottom of bowl upward and end by pressing the flat side of the spatula firmly through centre of mixture. Repeat this process until all of the almond/sugar mixture has been incorporated and the ‘batter’ flows like lava (I counted about 35 complete strokes).
  9. Prepare you pastry bag fitted with a 1 cm or 3/8″ round tip. Transfer the batter to the pastry bag.
  10. Begin piping the batter onto the prepared UNSTICK™ baking sheet liner directly over the circles you’ve previously prepared. I found starting at the outer edge and piping into the centre to the easiest way to keep the Macarons uniform, repeat until you’ve used up your batter. Martha suggests you pipe about 1 cm or 1/2″ above the pan, whatever you do, you must be consistent to keep the batter even (so your circles are all the same size). Gently slide out the template paper from beneath the UNSTICK™ baking sheet liner.
  11. Allow the pan to rest for 15 minutes, by doing this you give the peaks time to even out so your Macarons are beautiful and flat on top. Some suggest that you gently bang the pan a few time to remove air bubbles, I found I didn’t have many bubbles.
  12. Bake each sheet separately for 13 minutes, rotating halfway through if your oven doesn’t bake evenly. Gently slide the liner off the baking sheet and allow to cool for a couple of minutes. The UNSTICK™ baking sheet liner allows you to  pry off each macaron half easily onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely. You may freeze the Macaron halves at this point in a well sealed, air-tight container.
  13. Prepare your butter cream.
MacaronFlavours

Great flavours to make macarons with.

Basic Butter Cream Recipe:

Ingredients:

    • 3 egg yolks
    • 35 g granulated sugar
    • 3 1/2 tablespoons milk
    • 105 g unsalted butter, softened
    • 62 g icing sugar

Ingredients for Ice Wine and Pomegranate Butter Cream:

    • 5 g ice wine syrup
    • 1 g pomegranate molasses
    • 2 drops generic red icing colour

Ingredients for Chocolate Hazelnut Butter Cream:

    • 2 tbsp Nutella or hazelnut chocolate spread

Directions:

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the egg yolks, milk and granulated sugar and whisk. Cook over medium heat until the egg thickens to coat the back of a spoon (like pudding). Remove from heat and allow to cool COMPLETELY.
  2. When cool, beat the butter with the icing sugar until light and fluffy and add the cooked egg mixture and beat on high until very fluffy.
  3. To make two flavours, divide the buttercream in half (roughly) and to each half add the flavourings.
  4. Pair each Macaron half to a half that is more or less is the same size and shape, set aside.
  5. Onto one-half of each Macaron pair, pipe the buttercream but not to the edge. Take the other half and gently squeeze the to side together so the buttercream squishes almost to the edge. Set aside. When you have filled all the halves, set on a clean baking sheet and refrigerate until buttercream is set. Store in an air-tight container on their sides until ready to serve. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.

A few notes:

    • I prefer weight measures over volume because it’s more accurate.
    • I ground my almonds in a coffee grinder because it results in a finer grind and apparently the grind is very important. Update May 2016: a fine grind almond meal is now available at my Bulk Barn so I no longer require to grind it in the coffee grinder.
    • I used Wilton’s paste food colouring for the ice wine Macaron cookies.
    • I ruined a batch using the convection setting in my oven; they didn’t spread nor did they rise or develop feet.
    • Over the years, I have made quite a few batches of these treats (the latest May 2016 was 146 macarons for our anniversary party). Two observations: Do not over beat the egg whites or they will not form feat and they will crack. Also, I found that they will crack if you do not fold the almond meal into the egg whites enough, the batter really needs to behave like lava, a slow moving thick batter.
    • Update May 5, 2016: I have also used this recipe from the very lovely Lorraine over at Not Quite Nigella and it is excellent. Her recipe makes 461 g of buttercream and by my estimation, each macaron takes about 14 g of buttercream (or if you make small macarons, only about 7 g of buttercream).
Macarons_2

Tender, delicious, delicate cookies

Macarons_4

Betcha can’t eat just one!

Macarons_1

Yes, I did get carried away with the photos!

FirstMacarons_2

For my first attempt, I didn’t grind the almonds quite fine enough and that’s why the macaron is not smooth.

FirstMacarons_1

This is my first attempt, it’s lemon flavoured.

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DeliciousShow

Quite some time ago I was approached by the creator of a new lineup of products called UNSTICK™. We spoke at length about the product and various applications and when I saw the product was launched last October at the Delicious food show I was ecstatic and impressed. I called the inventor immediately to congratulate them on the success of the launch and we talked about a product review. Kitcheninspirations was provided with products 1-5 for testing/reviewing with no other compensation. The following is my unbiased review.

UnstickProducts

The packaging is beautiful and clearly colour coded — believe it or not, a lot of brands get this wrong — you know the ones that you have to stand in front of for 10 minutes before you can figure out which one you usually buy?

“UNSTICK™ is made of a premium quality PTFE, which is a Teflon coated fiberglass material.”(1) It is FDA approved and is safe to use to 500° F (260° C). These products are made for everyday kitchen use and should be cared for like a reusable silicon sheet, never use sharp utensils, store rolled or flat, you know the drill. The beautiful thing about UNSTICK™ is that they are affordable (retails for $15.99-$19.99 Canadian) and are designed to fit many sizes of pots and pans. The bonus is if you can’t find one that fits, just cut it to size; presto, a custom-made reusable non-stick liner!

Why use a reusable non-stick liner? It’s not always about the ease of cleanup, that’s a no-brainer, for me it’s more about creating less waste (that means that you needn’t throw away a scratched teflon pan, just pop in an UNSTICK™ liner and you’re good to go) . It also creates a smooth surface over and above the normal texture of the pan — cakes have a beautiful, smooth crust to slather on icing, cookies spread uniformly and bake evenly. OK, clean up is a cinch and when you’re stuck in the kitchen baking or cooking for hours, a quick cleanup means 10 extra minutes you can sit before you start the next round! UNSTICK™ also cleans well, there is no greasy residue that some of the other name brand reusable silicon liners seem to get (no matter how hard you clean them). When you clean UNSTICK™, it actually feels clean and dries quickly. There is absolutely no smell or taste residue on baked goods (sometimes I find silicon pans have an odour). Another bonus is that you NEVER need to use any oil or nonstick spray and that’s better for you!

My first experiment with UNSTICK™ was the small loaf pan liner, it’s a pre-cut rectangle to fit snuggly in a 9-inch (23 cm) loaf pan. I baked a pumpkin loaf in it and it was so easy to remove (just pull up on the sides and lift the loaf out), the liner slides off perfectly.

LoafPan_4143

The flat loaf pan reusable sheet.

Loaf_4144

The reusable sheet in the loaf pan.

The second go was Charles’ Swedish Chocolate Sticky Cake (Kladdkaka) in a 9-inch (23 cm) springform pan. Although the insert performed perfectly, I wasn’t so thrilled with the inevitable jagged edges the insert cuts left on the cake. Perhaps a few more cuts would smooth out the circle?

Round_4148

The flat spring-form reusable sheet

SpringForm_4146

The round sheet in the spring-form pan

RoundCake_4155

The jaggy cake. It’s 

The frying pan liner was next, most of my frying pans are cast iron perfectly seasoned, but I did give this a go and made an omelet roll (rolled like the Japanese omelet, tamagoyaki) filled with a crab and goat cheese mix. The egg cooked perfectly and because I wanted to roll it, the liner made it incredibly easy; just lift up one side, tuck under the edge and roll.

The baking sheet liner was a god-send over the holidays, many melty messes were easily cleaned up and the reusable sheets cooled down so quickly that I was able to reuse them immediately on subsequent bakings of the same batch (a definite plus over the standard silicon sheets which seem to take a while to cool).

UnstickBakingSheet_4194

Roasting and baking sheet liner.

The oven liner is A M A Z I N G! It performs perfectly, it does NOT change the oven temperature one bit (like tin foil would) and because it has similar properties to the baking sheet (although the oven liner and the BBQ liners are much thicker) they are easy to handle and also cool down quickly so I was able to pull it out of my upper oven and test it in larger oven without having to wait for it to cool to handle it.

I have not tested the BBQ liner yet, there was a snowstorm the day I planned to give it a test and then later there was freezing rain, so we bunkered down, lit a fire, popped open the wine and chilled (I know you won’t mind). I can tell you what the BBQ liner would be amazing for is camping! OK, I’m not much of a camper but I do recall when my family when on a picnic to a public park and we used the communal hibachi BBQs, my Mom would spend at least an hour scrubbing the heck out of the communal hibachi so it wouldn’t be gross. The UNSTICK™ BBQ liner would allow you to spend a minimal amount of time to lightly clean the grill and put the liner on top, presto: covers up all the grossness and makes it safe to cook your own food. You could also fry an egg on it WITHOUT a pan! So if you’re camping and you have to portage, you need only take the UNSTICK™ lightweight BBQ liner and you’re good to go! No need for bulky heavy frying pans! It will also prevent flair ups and sauces will not drip all over your grill, gumming up the element or gas. And clean-up is a cinch, the gooey mess slides off and a dip in hot soapy water renders this clever product like new.

All in all, I am very happy with the performance of these products and I would definitely recommend them; I’m going to put an oven liner and a frying pan liner in my food styling kit which I know will save me precious minutes for clean up when I’m on set. Check out the UNSTICK™ shop here.

(1) from http://www.unstick.ca/faqs/

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ArgentinianChorizo_1_4091

The long one’s are mild and the short one’s are hot!

Remember the group of neighbours with whom we share a progressive dinner from time to time? Well, we’ve had two such dinners since my last post about them, one was at the cottage of one of the neighbours and the other was just a couple of weeks ago back in the city. The one at the cottage had a European theme and because we had it at the cottage, we left it pretty loose for interpretation and it was fantastic! We were in charge of the hors d’œuvres and appetizers and because it was held dock-side we did an antipasto platter with lots of meat, cheese and roasted vegetables. We snacked on them for a few hours while the Bœuff Bourguignon simmered in the kitchen. For dessert, the other neighbour had the most incredible S’mores with belgian chocolate bars and decadent chocolate chip cookies (instead of graham crackers) by the fire pit. We slipped in dessert just before the skies opened and the rain poured and poured!

The most recent progressive dinner had Latin America as the theme and boy did it ROCK! We started with Cassava and cheese fritters, delicious empanadas and of course, nachos with guacamole and salsa. JT and I had the main and we went all out. I wanted Argentinian because I just love how they adore their meat! I made home-made Argentine Chorizo, we grilled steaks AND ribs! (OK, I confess, I just really wanted to make sausage and that’s why I picked this platter!) We also roasted small yellow potatoes (we were going to have Fried Papas Criollas but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it) and stir-fried a variety of coloured peppers; I even caramelized some onions in case someone wanted to eat Choripan (chorizo in french bread with caramelized onions and peppers) and of course we had Chimichurri sauce (both hot and not!). We had WAY too much food and now we’re enjoying variations of this feast for lunches, dinners and snacks! Dessert was a very tasty and refreshing lime ice cream.

The Argentine Chorizo sausage recipe is slightly different than other Latin American recipes in that it contains nutmeg; it’s not a lot but it does give it a slightly different flavour. I used this recipe with some minor alterations. What I didn’t skimp on was the garlic, it seems like a lot, but it’s not and it’s totally worth it! I made a sweet version and a hot version (sweet was longer and hot were the short ones) and I think both went over excellent. Even though I did use some pork belly, it was still a little dry but more than a couple of people said they preferred it to a greasy sausage. I know I will experiment with other flavours in the near future (like spinach, chicken and feta for example!)

ArgentinianMeat_1_4103

We grilled steaks, ribs and home-made sausages!

ArgentinianMeat_1_4105

It was a meat-lovers heaven.

Argentine Chorizo

Makes about 6 mild Chorizo (15 cm or 6″ long) and about 10 hot Chorizo (8 cm or 3″ long)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup red wine (we used this wine)
  • 1 entire head of garlic
  • 5 whole cloves, crushed
  • hog casings
  • 1 kg of pork
  • 400 g of beef
  • 150 g pork belly
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp (heaping) nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tbsp hot chilli pepper flakes (reserve for hot portion)

Directions:

  1. On low heat, gently boil the wine with the whole head of garlic and crushed garlic for 15 to 20 minutes and allow to cool. Strain and reserve the liquid (discard the garlic) should be about 1/2-3/4 cup.
  2. Cut the pork, beef and pork belly into small cubes and pass through the meat grinder set on coarse grind. Mix meat with hands until well blended.
  3. Pour the cooled wine over meat mixture and mix thoroughly. Combine all of the spices together with the exception of the hot chilli pepper flakes and sprinkle over meat mixture. Add the finely chopped garlic and mix into meat well. Divide the meat into two equal portions and set one portion aside. Over the second portion, sprinkle the hot chilli pepper flakes and mix well with hands. Refrigerate both hot and mild sausage meats overnight to allow flavours to develope and mature.
  4. Prepare your sausage casing by rinsing in cold water for at least 30 minutes. Any unused portions may be resalted with seasalt and frozen for future use.
  5. Untangle a reasonable portion of the casing and feed it onto the sausage stuffer attachment, tie a knot at the end. Then in small portions, slowly feed the meat mixture through the sausage stuffer into the casing making sure that it’s relatively evenly filled (it should really fill on its own). Tie off the other end and twist into portion sizes. Poke a lot of small holes throughout the sausage to allow any air bubbles to dissipate (this step will also prevent the sausage from bursting open when grilling). Allow the sausage rest in the refrigerator uncovered for 2- 3 days before cooking or freezing. Once the casing has time to dry out, you should be able to cut the sausages into individual pieces without unravelling the casing.
  6. Grill on a charcoal grill over indirect heat for 30 minutes or until internal temperature is 71° C or 160° F. Serve hot off the grill with french stick and mustard.
Casing_1_4080

This is the natural casing. Someone on-line said it smelled really bad, but I couldn’t bring myself to smell it.

ArgChorizo_1_4081

The meat fills into the casing relatively easily. In fact, you hardly need to help it.

ArgentinianChorizo_1_4083

This is a really long sausage.

ArgentinianChorizo_1_4084

This is the sausage twisted into portions. I made two sizes so I could easily tell which one was hot. As the sausage dries in the fridge, the twisted ends will also dry out and be strong enough to cut through without it unravelling..

Notes:

  • Whenever I grind meat, I always prepare a medium-sized bowl which I submerged in an ice bath to ensure the meat remains cool as I work it through the grinder. My hands are always cold, so I don’t worry about mixing the meat but if your hands are hot, you may wish to use a wooden spoon.
  • To gage how much casing you’ll need, just tell the butcher how much meat you have, I had about 2 kg (4.4 lb) and he portioned out the casings which ended up to be about 2X too much. He suggested I could salt it and freeze it for next time. Casing are not expensive.

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September ALREADY? WTF? Where on earth did this summer go? Good luck to all the mini humans going back to school!

I thought I’d share a little info about a food photo shoot that some of you may not know. It’s actually quite amazing at how many people this industry employs — so next time you see a food commercial, ad or packaging with a food photo, consider this (I’ve really simplified this complex process):

A designer designs the packaging or advertising prior to the photo shoot. There are many layers in the design phase and several people involved but it boils down to the art director and client who dictates the look and feel of the photo. The Food Stylist is involved in the design phase if there needs to be special ‘recipes’ or plating requirements (like I was involved in coming up with 8-10 ideas for the products we were shooting last week).

Once a design is established, the Art Director creates a “Pre-Pro” which details the props and “recipes” that will be photographed. The “Pre-Pro” is approved by the client and distributed to:

  • The Prop Stylist (this person is an expert in props, where to find them, rent them or buy them). A prop is anything that may be used in the photo, such as fabric, plates, noise (background items that are out of focus) and cutlery. Props are generally reserved for the photograph and not used in the preparation of the food. Depending on the photo shoot complexity, the Prop Stylist may be required to stay on set to select the exact props to be used in each shot. If they don’t stay, the Art Director makes that decision.
  • The Food Stylist (this person is an expert in food, how to get the best out of food so that the consumer recognizes instantly the message the Art Director and client wishes to convey). The food stylist buys the components to make the ‘recipe’ happen. Contrasting colours and textures are paramount. The Food Stylist may have an assistant depending on the complexity and budget of the shoot.
  • The Photographer (this person is the expert in photography, understands light whether natural or man-made and even how to make man-made light look natural because they have more control over it). The photographer will prepare the lighting set up required to execute the art director’s wishes. The Photographer may have an assistant depending on the complexity and budget of the shoot. And sometimes the Photographer brings a tasty breakfast.
  • The Client: The Boss. The client knows the intricacies of the product and what they feel is important to convey in the photo. The client approves the shot before we move on to the next one. Sometimes the client is off site, but that adds a layer of time to the shoot and we all know that food generally doesn’t last long on set. Things dry out, melt and don’t look appealing. We always prefer the client to be on set.

Shoot day starts early and is busy from the get-go. Photographer, Prop Stylist and Food Stylist are usually the first to arrive. There is a lot of shlepping, but it’s generally a very generous group and everyone helps get everything organized. Of course, the behind the scenes studio team sets everything in motion the day before, food, snacks, coffee/tea, water are all provided generally — the one thing for sure, there is ALWAYS A LOT of food!

Once everything and everyone is set up, we begin to work getting things ready for the first shot (as a Food Stylist, I also keep in mind all of the shots for that day to see if I can consolidate any tasks that will save a bit of time in the long run). The Art Director I recently worked with enjoys shooting with natural light, but that can be challenging since natural light changes all the time so the photographer is constantly tweaking the settings and extra lighting to make the shot perfect.

In terms of food styling, there are many tricks of the trade and the stylists I’ve worked with have been incredibly generous with their advice, but as with anything else, I still have a lot to learn. Apparently, wearing comfortable shoes is something I haven’t learned…but I am trying ;-). I have a couple of pairs of stylish yet comfortable shoes but I still gravitate to stylish over comfort. One of these days, I’ll learn, it’s generally a very long day where the only time I sit is for about 30 minutes at lunch!

So I hope you’ve gained a little appreciation for the energy, people and time involved for food photography; after all, that strawberry on the front of the cereal package was carefully chosen over hundreds of strawberries, deliberated over (with such phrases as “it’s not doing it for me”, or “is it just me..,?”, and “do you see a face in that?”) intentionally placed and oiled for shine and to catch a little sparkle! Who knew?

CapreseSalad_3580

A delicious combination of flavours.

Recently we had my GF BFF and her hubby for brunch and I wanted to serve something that just screamed SUMMER! And for me, there is nothing that screams summer than a Caprese Salad. We searched for a local farmers market but sadly missed the boat because we were too late getting there so I was stuck with grocery store tomatoes. I bought the best, vine ripened variety but was still disappointed. They lacked that great, summer tomato flavour. So I decided to oven roast them to concentrate the flavours and we were not disappointed!

Caprese Salad with a Twist

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Alternately layer the sliced Bufala Mozzarella with the tomatoes on a plate.
  2. Combine the home made pesto with the white balsamic until a drizzle-able consistency is achieved. Drizzle over the tomatoes and mozzarella. Serve at room temperature.
  3. Enjoy.
CapreseSalad_3578

A nice, summer salad.

Notes:

  • I would not substitute sun-dried tomatoes for oven dried tomatoes because they are much stronger in flavour and will over power the subtle flavour of the bufala mozzarella.
  • Bocconcini may be substituted for the Bufala Mozzarella but it is a harder cheese with a slightly stronger flavour.
  • Burrata cheese is a beautiful substitute but you wouldn’t want to cut it because all that delicious cream will pour out. Serve a small Burrata and surround it with the tomato slices and drizzle the pesto over everything.

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Thank you all for your generous and kind comments, I may just take you up on your lovely offers to be my assistant!

Last week we went out for dinner in our hood to Bloom, a really great restaurant serving what they call “Nuevo Latino Cuisine”.  Every second Thursday they feature live jazz musicians and as luck would have it, we usually choose the off Thursday, as was the case last week. There is nothing I enjoy more than live music during dinner, particularly in a venue whose patrons appreciate the talent and don’t make noise over the performance, so to say I was disappointed would have been an understatement. But our evening ended up being even more exciting than I expected because as soon as we walked in I noticed a gentleman with an uncanny resemblance to Tiggy from the remarkably successful HBO series called Sons of Anarchy (I bin-watched all six seasons in a very short month)! As soon as we were seated we googled the show and it turns out that it WAS Kim Coates from the famous show! Imagine my excitement. I’m fairly conservative about approaching famous people so I was not about to intrude on his dinner. We had a lovely meal (which I will review next time we go when I don’t forget to take photos) as did Kim Coates and I persevered not to disturb him. Unfortunately the table next to our’s heard me ask the waiter if he was indeed Kim Coates and they approached him for photos. He was extremely generous and kind and took several photos and chatted with them. JT decided it was our turn (he doesn’t watch the show but knows how much I enjoy it) and Kim very kindly came over to our table for photos and a chat. He is Canadian (born in Saskatoon) and is an actual rider (coincidentally one of the few of the cast who didn’t need to be taught how to ride a hog!) It was very exciting and I was instantly taken back at his generosity with his precious personal time. I do, however regret not apologizing to his dinner partner for usurping his guest. So that’s my brush with fame in Bloor West Village.

For those of you in "The Know" that's a photo of Tiggy and I!

For those of you in “The Know” that’s a photo of Tiggy and I!

Mmmm. Peaches.

Mmmm. Peaches.

 

Onto the recipe. Today I’m sharing not so much a recipe but more of a serving suggestion for Ontario Peaches (of course, you may use any old peaches, but we’re pretty pumped here in Ontario because Peaches are in season right now)! We’ve grilled them for a little contrast in hot and cold and of course, texture. Plus it looks and sounds cool! The Ricotta is delicately flavoured with some lemon zest, a little icing sugar and a pinch of pure vanilla extract (though, not enough to discolour it). I made it for my GF BFF and she said it reminded her of German Cheese Cake! I left the peach skin on and it softened up beautifully with the grilling. The dish was sweet enough, but I wanted a little pizzaz for plating so I made a simple caramel sauce and I toasted a few walnuts and coated them with some Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar that my dear friend Kristy (from Eat, Play, Love, Our Family Food Adventures) gave me last year when we met in Toronto. All in all, the dish is a winner and will be served again this summer before the peaches are out of season.

This is not a well styled photo. I took it rushed just before I served it.

This is not a well styled photo. I took it rushed just before I served it.

Grilled Ontario Peaches with Lightly Sweetened, Lemon-zest Scented Ricotta

An original Kitcheninspirations recipe

Serves 4-8

Ingredients:

  • 4 ripe peaches
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 250 mL ricotta cheese
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • zest of 1/2 a lemon
  • Caramel Sauce
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 tbsp chocolate balsamic vinegar
  • finely sliced mint

Directions:

  1. Heat grill to 450°F. Cut peaches in half and remove the stones. Lay face up on a baking sheet and sprinkle gently with cinnamon (you may also bake the peaches at 450°F for about 10-15 minutes or try broiling them, but I have not experimented with this). Grill cut side first for about 2-4 minutes and flip for another minute or so. Set aside.
  2. Combine ricotta cheese with the icing sugar, vanilla extract and lemon zest and mix well. Taste and adjust as required.
  3. Serve 1-2 peach halves per plate. Cut peaches into thin-ish slices and lay in a semi-circle on the plate. Add a quenelle or scoop of the ricotta in the centre of the plate. Drizzle with caramel sauce, finely sliced mint and walnuts. Serve immediately.
Grilled Peach_3585

Can you just taste them?

GrilledPeaches_3591

A wonderful combination of flavours.

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Hello everyone, I trust you are all well. Personally, I am absolutely in shock that it’s the second week of August! Where did this summer go?

A little house keeping: I hope you don’t mind, due to time constraints, I haven’t been replying to all of the comments you so generously leave on my blog but rest assured, I read every single one of them — sometimes more than once!

I’m finally taking part in a series put on by a blogger I’ve known about for quite some time…Celi from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial . I’ve followed this series “In my kitchen” with intrigue on many of my fellow blogs but I’ve never had much to talk about until now…you see, as I mentioned last week, I recently had my first real styling gig for an entire week! So there were many things “In my kitchen“. For this project, I had to venture into the centre aisles to make meal combos even easier for the busy "Mom". I also had to do a little shopping so that I have all the right tools (you really had to twist my arm for that one!). Indeed, the car was packed! Generally, photo studios provide only the basics, some spatulas, wooden spoons, some cookware, but if you need anything specific, you’d best bring it yourself! Needless to say, there is A LOT of shlepping.

I had to buy a lot of new tools...honestly, it was like Christmas morning for me!

I had to buy a lot of new tools, bowls are always very handy to store items, to mix in, etc, I bought about 10 in various sizes, two of each size.. It was like Christmas morning for me!

These are the tools for grilling.

These are the tools for grilling. I had to buy the electric BBQ lighter (the other items are from my personal kitchen), it makes really good grill marks if the cast iron pan doesn’t do the trick.

Even though "Mom" might use frozen vegetables to make the meal prep quicker, we use fresh but make it look similar to the frozen cut.

Even though “Mom” might use frozen vegetables to make the meal prep quicker, we always use fresh and we make it look similar to the frozen cut. Fresh always has better colour than frozen.

We had to clear out two shelves for the photo shoot groceries and I even had stuff in the freezer!

We had to clear out two shelves for the photo shoot groceries and I even had stuff in the freezer! Fresh herbs are best stored in a plastic bag with air in them.

This is my work space at the studio.

This is my work space at the studio. The cup of coffee is the most important thing on this work bench!

This is the other workspace at the studio.

This is the other workspace at the studio. I wash up between product shots to keep the kitchen clutter-free. Boy do I wish I had an assistant.

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I’ve been busy :-). You already know that I’m writing social media content for a marketing company’s food related client(s) and now they’ve up’d the ante and put me on contract to write for them, every month until September! Plus last week they’ve scored yet another food related client! YAY! I’m totally loving it, but it means even less time for blogging, boo. These days my mind is filled with possible posts and brand related photography for their posts and not mine…and then last week my recipe testing gig also started up again and I’ve been working hard at testing recipes for my recipe developer client. But I’m not complaining, just letting you know that I may not be by to comment on every post you make but I do read them (in the middle of the night) so know that I’m out there thinking of you ;-).

And my food styling is still going on, last week I actually styled (not assisted) for a shoot for my old (boss, friend, neighbour, Kim) and it was fantastic! Here’s a photo of the photographer and Kim as we wait for an approval for the shot from the client (not at the shoot).

Waiting for approval.

Waiting for approval.

Temperatures in Toronto and the cottage have been on the cooler side but it’s been incredibly humid; for example one day last week we had 98% humidity! That’s what we call close, one would comment that “it feels very close today.” I’m still not complaining because it’s not -25C and it’s not snowing…yet. But it does feel close!

We had a friend over for dinner and I wanted a refreshing starter for our dinner so I came up with this tasty soup. I know I’ve already posted about a chilled melon, kiwi and prosciutto soupbefore but this one is different. For vegetarians, I suggest you use feta instead of prosciutto for the saltiness.

HoneydewSoup_3058

Chilled Honeydew Melon Soup with Crême Fraiche and Prosciutto and frozen melon balls

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 800 g honeydew melon
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 75 g cucumber
  • Mint to taste
  • 1 large basil leaf
  • 3 tsp Crême fraiche
  • Frozen melon balls
  • 1 slice prosciutto, crispy fried

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients except the crême fraiche, frozen melon balls and prosciutto into your blender or immersion blender container and process until smooth.
  2. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  3. Make tiny little melon balls with a very small melon baller like this. Place on a piece of parchment and freeze for several hours.
  4. Garnish with frozen melon balls and crumbled crispy fried prosciutto or crumbled feta.

Notes:

  • Our melon was very sweet so we didn’t need to sweeten it further, but you may use honey to taste.
  • Vegetarians should replace the prosciutto with a very salty feta to get a similar profile.
  • Vegans could get a similar profile replacing the prosciutto with chopped sun-dried olives.
  • The frozen Mellon balls were made with this tiny melon baller

HoneydewSoup_3054

 

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Hello lovely readers! I hope you enjoyed last month, I’m finding it a little difficult to believe the month of May sped by so quickly. I don’t even want to think about June yet but here we are. My dear friend Genie, over at Bunny, Eats, Design created a monthly event called Our Growing Edge  to help showcase some out of the box recipes or recipes we’ve always wanted to try but never did. Suffice it to say that participation last month was excellent and we had 19 entries and some people even posted twice! Now that puts me to even more shame because I missed the deadline so this post is strictly a hosting of this event! Congratulations to you for trying something new and different and sharing it with us in Our Growing Edge.

Allow me to introduce our lovely contributors to May’s Growing Edge. (May I remind you to add the Our Growing Edge logo to your post and link back to my blog, your host this month, please  see Rules here).

 

our-growing-edge-banner

First off, my name is Eva and I’m a Canadian woman who started blogging shortly after we began a 100 square feet (9.3 metres squared) addition/renovation to our craftsman-style kitchen in Toronto, Ontario because I wanted to document the proceedings. As it turned out, the blog was more of a venting place because, like any major renovation, we had some issues. At the end of the project I enjoyed blogging so much that I continued to blog with the perfect segway into Kitchen Inspirations. That was over seven years ago, 700+ posts in 58 categories and a gazillion photos. These days I’m working in the food industry as a Food Stylist (assistant) and creating social media content for food related clients! It’s all good as they say.

Starting off our May roundup is our Growing Edge’s esteemed creator, Genie who  is “a graphic designer obsessed with food and bunnies”! Bunny, Eats, Design contains some extraordinarily adorable photos of her bunny, Tofu,  some really cool bunny designs and of course, delicious food. For this edition of Our Growing Edge Genie tackles Tzatziki Sauce which made me change my dinner plans and make souvlaki when I saw the post. Thanks Genie.

Next up we have Pang from Circa Happy; Pang grew up in Thailand but is now living in San Francisco with her husband. Pang began blogging because she was fascinated with some lovely blogs and thought it might be a wonderful place to document her experience of learning new things in the kitchen. Pang brings to us a beautifully photographed Raspberry Jam recipe that made me lick my lips when I scrolled through her gorgeous post. Thank you Pang.

Dana at I’ve got Cake brings her blog to us because she “truly believe<s> that like Cake & Ice-cream, good Food & great Style should go hand in hand”, the blog is where we join Dana in her journey to learn as much as she can and enjoy at the same time. Shellfish Ragout on a Bed of Spinach is Dana’s entry to this month’s edition and boy does it look delicious. Thanks Dana for the detailed step by step, it sure makes this recipe very approachable.

Vegan Coconut Ice Cream and Avocado Rice are two of Sudha’s posts for us this month. Sudha is a scientist by day and culinary explorer by night on her delicious blog called Spicy, Quirky and Serendipitous. Sudha’s exploring cooking with “ingredients break barriers and come together in a synchronized serendipitous scrumptious manner” Thanks so much Sudha for your two submissions!

Who doesn’t take notice when you see a heading like Chocolate Dinner Party? Audrey knew what she was doing with that headline that’s for sure — afterall, she is an English teacher by day! Born in Malaysia and now living in New Zealand, Audrey writes about recipes, food ideas and places to eat, all while managing her ‘bubs’ on her lovely blog called Rice and Kai. You can certainly tell this lady likes her chocolate, thank you Audrey.

After all that chocolate, I had to inject a little healthy into it with some Sprouted Buckwheat Muesli from the lovely Ashley (Ash) on Organic Ash. Ash’s blog is her ‘soap box’ on which she shares and hopes to start discussions that are important to her. Thank you for the lovely, health conscious recipe.

Jing, over at Daily EZ Cooking also generously submitted not one, but TWO posts for this edition, thank you Jing. The Pot stewed beef liver is something I’ve always wanted to cook at home, only ever having similar dishes in restaurants. And the Steamed Eggs look like they could well be a staple for a quick yet satisfying meal. Your step by step recipes will certainly make that easy.

Eggs Florentine from My Utensil Crock is a full-time attorney’s blog documenting healthy foods that don’t taste like health food; her blog is a beautiful collection of nicely lit photos that look very delicious. The Eggs Florentine would make a fabulous brunch for the coming weekend, don’t you think? Thank you MUC for your submission.

Nom Nom Panda made Homemade Eggettes which look suspiciously similar to Ebelskivers! Nom Nom takes us through the history and the process while she experiments and kindly shows us what it’s not supposed to look like too. Thanks Nom Nom Panda for the photos of the pans too, it’s very helpful for those who want to find it in their country.

Maddy over at Nourish Full is an inspiring young person on a journey back to health through healthy living and eating. For this month’s installment of Our Growing Edge Maddy made an irresistible Forbidden Rice Butternut Squash Risotto that just looks so good you have to pinch yourself that it’s still so healthy!

Bashful Bao‘s Anna whipped up a luxuriously creamy vanilla bean pudding with her Netherland Dwarf rabbit Isadora (Izzy) (not sure if Izzy was involved but anytime you can insert a bunny into a blog is a good thing!) Though bashful, Anna posts delicious recipes regularly so it’s not surprising this pudding sounds and looks so good!

I knew I would instantly like Chandler at the International Poor Chef School because her blog url is The Chef with Red Shoes! How cute is that? Chandler, you’ll notice that some of my followers are really into shoes (like me) so you’ll feel right at home here. I love her Kitchen Hacks section where she shares her tried and true tips and tricks in the kitchen. Chandler’s submission is a delicious Malfati recipe which she garnishes with a gorgeous (and simple) crimini (or cremini) mushroom sauce, a perfect accompaniment.

Then off we go to Auckland to visit Carine at Sweet as Honey, a French wife and mother of two who recently had to reinvent herself with less sugar! We’ll just say she was already sweet enough! Carine made beautiful Sugar-Free Apricot Pistachio Bars that look so yummy, you’d never guess that there is no sugar in them!

I’m sure you’ll be as surprised as I was when you read Lindsey’s recipe in Sneaks and Sweets, yes indeed, that’s avocado in a mint-chocolate cookie! I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that Lindsey will always choose a dessert over a vegetable and apparently is a ‘bottomless pit’ when it comes to her favourite eats! We can all relate to that. Check out Lindsey’s gorgeous and healthy recipe here.

Meet D from D’s Bistro; Di considers herself a traveling food lover, who has no intentions to teach us how to cook, she just wants to share her delicious recipes! Speaking of which, check out this incredible Arugula Salad with Drunken Poached  Pears and Goats Cheese, Arugula, goats cheese and what? Drunken Poached Pears? Wow.

Oven & Apron‘s Amanda dishes up a beautiful Almond Pavlova for this month’s Our Growing Edge. Amanda documents recipes that are both sweet and savoury with a “comfortable home-y feel” but this Pavlova definitely screams celebration! Amanda is embarking on a new beginning so please join me in wishing Amanda all the best in finding her dream job that “embraces her creative side”! Good luck Amanda.

And last but not least please check out Carissa’s Pretty/Hungry Blog where she made a gorgeous and delicious Vegan Alfredo! Carissa makes healthy, delicious and beautiful food on her pretty blog. Her alfredo sauce is silky and creamy and uses almonds which is genius!

Thanks again to you all for these gorgeous and delicious entries to May’s Our Growing Edge. I hope you discover someone or something new and give it a try.

Our host next month is Phuong from My Kitchen of Love please click on over here to post your entry and don’t forget to include the Our Growing Edge logo and a link to the host’s blog. Thanks again.

 

 

 

 

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My good friend Barb (Profiteroles and Ponytails) and I recently took a Sushi making workshop at Wabora Sushi in the Thompson Hotel on Wellington Street in Toronto, we got the deal on Groupon for $40 ($100 regular price) so I thought I would share my experience with you.

Wabora offers a blend of Japanese and Korean foods with some of the well-known North American Asian dishes (From the About page on their website). The restaurant is dimly lit and decorated in a contemporary Asian style. It’s reasonably comfortable and offers enough soft surfaces which help absorb the lively conversations. Because this was a sushi making workshop we all sat at the back of the restaurant nearest to the sushi kitchen. When the workshop began, the lights at the back of the restaurant were made brighter so we could see what we were doing (a little too bright, perhaps!)

The $40 Canadian did not include $5.20 tax so we had to pay that when we arrived. Beverages need to be purchased and if you are hungry enough you may even wish to purchase additional things off the menu (I had a glass of wine for $15). We were taught to make two decent-sized rolls which worked out to about 8 pieces each. It was reasonably filling which gave me the opportunity to take four of the pieces home with me so JT could try it too.

My first impression was that there were a lot of people, in fact so many people that there were not enough work stations for the entire group to prepare the sushi at once, so we had to do it in two groups, Group A and Group B. The tables were nicely laid out with all of the required materials and food and the surfaces were clean. We were provided with disposable plastic gloves to wear during the preparation which were cumbersome and far too large which made some of the steps a little more difficult than they had to be. There were two sushi chefs who demonstrated at each end of the long tables before groups were called up to execute. The restaurant manager provided commentary for the demonstrations and it was easy to understand. My only complaint for the demonstration component was that there were too many people gathered around and it was difficult to see exactly what the chefs were doing (there were taller people standing in front of me). The commentary was helpful even if it was difficult to see.

The chefs remained available to help where they saw necessary and answer some questions. One thing that surprised me was that the standard size sushi sheets are cut in half so that they are rectangles and not squares. We were instructed to put the rice on the rough side so that it sticks better.

TeriyakiChickenRoll_2177

This is a chicken teriyaki roll with Grilled chicken breast, cucumber, Japanese pickled carrot (gobo), avocado, omelette pieces and seaweed garnished with blonde miso sauce and teriyaki sauce.

The Chicken Teriyaki roll was certainly a new twist on the California Rolls that use surimi (imitation crab). We started with the seaweed, rough side up with the longest side facing us. We added the sushi rice (which was cooked and cooled Japanese rice with the addition of rice vinegar and sugar) and were told to spread it out evenly on the sheet to three sides, leaving one long side without rice for about 1 cm (0.5 inch). Then we added the chicken, avocado, cucumber, pickled carrot and omelette horizontally onto the long end, being careful not to over stuff. The chicken I had was a little dry and if I were to make this at home, I would definitely leave the chicken slightly thicker to avoid drying out. We rolled the seaweed up from the long end and finished it off by shaping it with a plastic covered sushi bamboo mat, tapping the ends in. We then cut the roll into eight even slices and plated them. We drizzled white miso and teriyaki sauces over the plate. The garnish of the white miso and the teriyaki sauces complimented each other well, but I would definitely not call this sushi. Roll #1 was disappointing.

Roll #2 was called a Spicy Salmon roll and it was made ‘inside out’ meaning that the rice was on the outside of the roll. For this roll, we began with the seaweed rough side up with the shortest side facing us. We added the rice and spread it out evenly to every side, then we flipped the sea weed over so that the rice was facing down on the table. We added shredded surimi (imitation crab), avocado and cucumber to the short end and rolled it up tight. Then we covered the roll with a piece of plastic wrap and we shaped the roll using an uncovered bamboo sushi mat, tapping the ends in. Then we removed the plastic wrap and added the mixture of the ‘secret recipe’ of spicy raw salmon to the top. Then another sheet of plastic wrap was draped over the roll and we shaped it again using the bamboo matt. Leaving the plastic on the roll, we cut cut the roll into 8 even slices using a dipped sushi knife. Then we removed the plastic, plated the rolls and drizzled a spicy mayo on the top and then crispy-fried potato strings. The spicy salmon had a wonderful taste and texture but I was disappointed that the recipe for it was secret, I thought it was a workshop on how to make sushi?

SpicySalmonRoll_2179

Spicy Salmon Roll with crispy fried potato strings

SpicySalmonRoll_2180

This one was definitely more flavourful and full of texture.

I had a really good time with Barb and it was lovely to catch up. The sushi making workshop was OK value for $40 and had I paid $100 I would have been enormously disappointed — it’s definitely not worth $100 to make two rolls, particularly since neither used that expensive ingredients. I would definitely like to come back to Wabora and sample more of their dishes in the future and leave the sushi making to the experts.

Overall rating of Sushi Making Workshop in Wabora (in my opinion): Decor 3/5, service 3/5, food 3/5, Value 2/5, Noise: 2.5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Disclaimer: We purchased the workshop and wine ourselves and my opinions just that, my opinions.

Wabora Toronto

550 Wellington St. W
Toronto, ON M5V 1H5
(416) 777-9901

Hours

Sunday – Wednesday 11am-11pm
Thursday – Saturday 11am-12pm

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I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a recipe developer by a colleague from my previous position and as it turned out they needed a Recipe Tester right away! How serendipitous is that? And cool. The experience is amazing! I know I’ve talked about what it is to be a recipe tester briefly so here is a more detailed synopsis. And no, I won’t be posting any of those recipes here.

You read the recipe thoroughly with a highlighter in hand and highlight any discrepancies or things you need clarified. You ask the Recipe Developer questions re your highlights. The recipe is hashed out. Now switch to a different coloured pen. Start your stop watch, you need to time how long it takes you to prep (mise en place) and cook the ingredients. Follow the recipe to a “T” making notes along the way, there is no “a little this and a little that” when you’re testing! Once you have finished cooking the recipe, stop the stop watch and make a note of the time it took. Baking time is noted separately than the prep and cooking time; there is always a bake time on the recipe but you need to confirm that it’s accurate, one of the recipes I recently tested had to have its bake time doubled!

When the recipe has finished cooking or baking, you review it for appearance, texture and taste (yes, you have to taste the recipe!). Sometimes you are required to take a volume measurement of a product after its cooked for reference. Usually there is more than one recipe tester and the results are accumulated and assessed by the recipe developer. The finished recipes are usually for your consumption but sometimes they are just not your taste so your neighbours get lucky! My recent testing was baking sweets and I divided the bounty up between two friends who were very happy to receive the food!

Just before Christmas my Recipe Developer asked me to participate in a client tasting; I had to shop for the product, prep about 1/2 day on a few recipes and then finish cooking the recipes on the day of the tasting. We had 10 recipes in total. We cooked each recipe to its full volume and then spooned out small portions for tasting, I kept the tasting portions warm while the previous portion was discussed and evaluated. Each recipe was discussed for about 10-20 minutes and the discussion resulted in approved recipes with minor changes or complete revisions. The full portions are prepared to show the size the recipe yields for a family dinner. It’s actually quite an interesting process. Photos of the tested recipes are only used as reference. When the recipes are finally approved, the client will hire a photographer, a prop stylist, a food stylist and hopefully a food stylist assistant ;-)! The food stylist will prepare the final approved recipe and make it pretty for the photo.

I suspect that when you develop a recipe for your blog you work in much the same way that a recipe tester would work. It really needs to be buttoned down otherwise there may be disappointment if someone tries to make the recipe and it doesn’t work out. I really appreciate the detailed photos some bloggers do to show each and every step but I decided at the beginning of my blog that my photos would be only of the final product.

When I started blogging I came to realize how undisciplined I have been cooking, a little of this, a little of that; blogging makes you button down really well, measure, measure, measure and write it down — it has been a great starting point for my recipe testing. I am going to be doing more recipe testing in the new year!

But now, back to what we really eat! I’ve been making a lot of soups lately and this soup came together beautifully; the nutty roasted garlic and the earthy and sweet mushrooms were a great combination. I don’t think I would change a thing but I won’t mind if you do!

RoastedGarlicMushroomSoup_1354

The cognac butter really made the soup

Roasted Garlic Mushroom Soup with Cognac

Ingredients:

Makes 4 servings, about 250 mL each

  • 35 g or 1 1/2 cups of dried mushrooms (I used Chinese Mushrooms with the crackle-like tops and Chinese Black Fungus)
  • 2 cups water
  • About 1/4 cup of puréed roasted garlic (1 head)
  • 3-4 tbsp EVOO
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 85 g or 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 200 g (2 cups) Fresh Cremini and Shitaki Mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 fresh thyme branches
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp cognac
  • 2-4 fresh finely sliced Cremini and Shitaki mushrooms for garnish.

Directions:

  1. Rehydrate the dried mushrooms in 2 cups of boiling water (about 2-4 hours). Drain through a fine sieve and reserve the drained liquid. Chop mushrooms finely.
  2. Roast 1 head of garlic in a small ramekin with about 4 tbsp EVOO and sea salt, about 45 minutes at 350°F. Cool and remove the softened cloves and the olive oil and set aside.
  3. Sauté the shallots in the butter until soft. Add the all of fresh mushrooms and rehydrated mushrooms to the shallots and cook until soft.
  4. Add the reserved rehydrating liquid and 2 additional cups of water. Add the thyme and lemon zest and bring to a boil.
  5. Using your immersion blender, blend until very smooth, add the roasted garlic cloves and roasting EVOO. You may wish to press it through a fine sieve so that it is silky smooth. Set aside until you are ready to serve.
  6. When ready to serve, reheat the velvety smooth soup.
  7. Melt 1 tbsp butter in a frying pan, add the remaining sliced Cremini and Shitaki and sauté until soft. Remove from heat and add the 2 tsp cognac and stir well.
  8. Serve the hot soup in a warmed rimmed soup bowl, garnished with the softened mushrooms and drizzled with the cognac butter.
RoastedGarlicMushroomSoup_1353

There is no cream in this lovely soup

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Happy Monday everyone! I don’t know about you, but despite all of the weather related issues we had at the beginning of the holidays, they turned out to be lovely. And with temperatures plummeting to the high minus teens, it’s rather wonderful to have power back! I believe that now power has been restored to everyone in Toronto, thank goodness!

2013 was a year of change in a good way. I celebrated a benchmark birthday (I still can’t believe I’m THAT old!). My almost ten years of working with my dear friend came to an end and I decided to embark on a new career path in food! Little did I know that way back in 2007 when I began blogging it would eventually redirect my career path! I’m really pumped about 2014 and all of the opportunities it will bring! Happy New Year indeed!

As you WordPress users are already aware, WP sends us a synopsis of the stats at the end of every year. Even though i see my stats day to day, this synopsis still surprises me! My humble little blog was viewed 51,000 times in 2013, can you believe it! And for whatever reason December 24th garnered a healthy 728 views (I still can’t figure out why!). Here’s a quick review.

The five most popular posts were:

  1. Titanic Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly
  2. Quinoa Energy Bars
  3. Best Beef Tenderloin Ever
  4. Super Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes
  5. Titanic Dinner Party Invitations

The lovely ladies and gentlemen who were my top five commenters:

  1. Maria at A_Boleyn
  2. Sissi at With a Glass
  3. Norma at Garden to Wok
  4. Lorraine at Not Quite Nigella
  5. Charles at Five Euro Food

 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support and kind words, without you this blog would be a meaningless collection of recipes floating about in cyberspace. Thank you for you support and encouragement, I can’t express how much it means to me.

May 2014 bring you all joy, health and all the best wishes!

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