Friday, June 27, 2008

Mmm...Canada: Strawberry-Rhubarb French Toast

This post is part of the Mmm...Canada event, hosted by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess and Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict.

When I thought of what food screams "Canada!" to me, I aimed for something recent vs. my all-time favourite. The reason? There are just too many Canadian foods that I love to mention.

In Canada, we are so lucky to be able to produce so many delicious things. On my recent trip to the Niagara Wine Country, I got to sample the many delicious wines being produced just a short drive away from me.

When I still lived in London, I loved to go to the St. Jacob's farmer's market to buy maple syrup produced by local mennonites.

And when I visit my hometown now, I'm even more appreciative of the roadside stands where I love to buy my fruits and rhubarb. So that's why, for this event, I decided to make something with Essex County rhubarb.

Essex County is the best place I know to buy fresh, local produce. And it's inextricably tied to "Canada," for me, since I spent the first 18 years of my life there. Growing up in a Canadian small town, to me, meant growing up in Essex County, with its roadside fruit stands and huge farming community. I took rhubarb from Essex County and some strawberries I picked in London and made Strawberry-Rhubarb French Toast.

The recipe itself is pretty basic. I used about 1 cup of chopped rhubarb and only 1/4 cup of chopped strawberries (I really wanted the rhubarb to be the dominant flavour, but you could increase the amount of strawberries, too). I stewed the fruit in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat with a couple tablespoons of water, a few tablespoons of granulated sugar, and a splash of vanilla. I let it cook until the rhubarb released its juices and the fruit was nice and tender. You could add more sugar, but since I was planning on dousing my french toast in maple syrup, too, I cut back on the sugar in the sauce. This made enough for about 2 servings (with about a 1/2 cup of sauce per person). You can adjust it accordingly, if you'd like.

I made standard french toast -- bread dipped in a milk, egg and cinnamon mixture, then fried like grilled cheese (I'm sure you know the drill) -- cut it into halves, and dusted it with icing sugar before spooning the strawberry rhubarb sauce over top. A heap of maple syrup completed the dish.

So, there you have it. A basic recipe with lots of room to make adjustments. With its abundance of local produce, I can't think of any other recent dish I've made that epitomizes Canadian food for me.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Pear and Goat Cheese Pizza with Lavender Rose Wine Jelly

This recipe was my attempt to re-create the amazing Pear and Goat Cheese Pizza With Lavender Rosé-Gamay Glaze I had at the Wineries of Niagara on the Lake's Wine and Herb Festival. This is my second attempt, and I have to say, it turned out perfectly. It was much more successful than my previous attempt -- that time, I spread the the lavender-rosé jelly on top of the toppings before cooking, and the sugary jelly turned part of the crust into a burnt mess. Yuck.

I don't know how useful this is for those who didn't attend the wine and herb festival or who don't have access to lavender jelly, but I thought I'd post it anyway for any attendees who may stumble upon it via a Google search, or for others to drool over. If you do happen to find some lavender jelly in your travels, give this a shot. It would also be good with plain old rosé wine jelly, which should be a little easier to find.

So, here's the recipe. I sort of cheated by using a pre-made pizza crust. I do normally make my own crust, but I had one to use up from the weekend. And it did make the recipe come together in about 20 minutes.

Pear and Goat Cheese Pizza with Lavender Gamay-Rosé Wine Jelly
Serves 4

1 pre-made pizza crust, or your favourite pizza dough recipe, rolled out to make one pizza
1 Bosc pear, thinly sliced (I used a mandoline)
About 3/4 cup of goat cheese (or to taste)
1/2 cup lavender rosé jelly, or just rosé jelly, microwaved for about 15 seconds in order to slightly melt it, with 2 tbsp reserved

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, or according to the directions given for your pizza dough recipe. Brush a pre-rolled or pre-bought pizza dough with all but the 2 reserved tbsp. of jelly. Arrange pear slices on top. Crumble goat cheese on top, about 3/4 of a cup, or to taste. I happen to like a lot of goat cheese.

Bake for about 10 minutes, or according to your pizza dough recipe's instructions. Both the goat cheese and the crust should be slightly browned. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Winning Wednesday: June 25, 2008

I don't know why, but I've won another contest. I can't explain my recent luck--it defies logic. But hey, I'll take it. I won a $200 gift certificate to the Bruno Jamais restaurant in Manhattan and a spa treatment from Sothys New York courtesy of the lovely, sassy lady behind Fabulously Broke in the City. The boyfriend and I are headed to New York in the fall for a post-21st birthday celebration. Yes, I just revealed my age. Anyway, she's giving away the same prize until July 6, so visit her blog for details if you're interested in entering.

Sarah at The Delicious Life continues her birthday month cookbook giveaway--this girl is seriously generous. And funny. Right now she's giving away He Said Beer, She Said Wine, and some other contests from earlier this week are winding down.

FireMom at Stop, Drop and Blog is giving away a copy of Heart of the Home: Notes from a Vineyard Kitchen. And she's also featuring a yummy-sounding zucchini bread recipe.

Francie of Frantic Home Cook is giving away a strawberry cookbook. Strawberry lovers (ahem, like me) rejoice.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My work's been stolen

I logged on with the intention of blogging about receiving my copy of Baking: From My Home to Yours in the mail today. I was so excited to be able to join Tuesdays With Dorie.

Until, that is, I logged into my Technorati account and discovered that a (spam?) blog has been repeatedly ripping off my work.

At first I thought it was just aggregating various food blog posts, Technorati-style. Uh, no. Instead, the site just seems to be randomly stealing posts from around the foodie blogosphere.

With no contact information, owner information, or even an explanation of the point of the site -- I don't really know what to do. I've left a comment on the blog (subject to moderator approval!) warning them that my work is protected under a Creative Commons licence and they need to remove it right away. I'm also going to contact Wordpress and ask them to shut the blog down. Beyond that, I really don't know what to do. There aren't even any ads on the blog so I have no idea what the point is.

Has this ever happened to you? What did you do, or do you have any advice? Other than the steps I just mentioned, I'm at a loss.

Prosciutto, Pesto and Sun-dried Tomato Grilled Cheese

Sometimes I want a supper so simple that it appeals to my inner child. But most of the time, when I'm craving something simple, I still want it to feel a bit more grown up. Enter Prosciutto, Pesto, and Sun-dried Tomato grilled cheese, which I adapted from a recipe in Make It Super Simple With G. Garvin.

My version of this recipe fuses together classic Italian ingredients (except for the distinctly un-Italian sandwich bread) into something that comes together fast. That's the nature of grilled cheese, I suppose, but this is much tastier than a processed cheese slice sandwiched between bread slices. You'd do well to use ciabatta or focaccia instead of the generic sandwich bread; it's what I have on hand and I'm trying to use it up.

Prosciutto, Pesto and Sun-dried Tomato Grilled Cheese
Makes 1 sandwich -- multiply accordingly!

-2 slices of bread -- focaccia, or a ciabatta bun, or if you're stuck, like me, plain old sandwich bread
-About 1 tbsp of pesto
-2 or 3 sun-dried tomatoes, oil-packed or not, julienned (now, this is grilled cheese, so don't worry about making perfect little matchsticks--just slice them small enough that you won't bite off a big chunk of sun-dried tomato by mistake)
-A slice of mozzarella cheese, or a handful of shredded mozzarella
-1 or 2 thin slices of prosciutto
-Softened butter

Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Spread one side of each slice of bread with butter. Spread opposite side of each slice of bread with pesto. Lay one slice of bread on a plate, buttered-side down. Arrange prosciutto, cheese, and tomatoes on bread. Top with the second slice of bread (buttered side up this time). Cook about 5 minutes or until golden brown, turning once.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sweet Potato Chipotle Corn Chowder

I have to thank Dave Lieberman for this recipe, which has become my favourite soup in existence. Now, I love me some tasty soup -- think beer and cheddar -- so it's been up against some stiff competition. But no, this concoction, with its creamy base and smoky chipotle flavour, is one I find myself always coming back to.

I do fuss with it. The original recipe contains pumpkin but I like it better with sweet potato; it seems more Southwestern, for example. I also sometimes add shredded chicken to make it a full meal. And I always, always serve it with a pile of nachos for dipping and garnish. This is one recipe which always turns out beautifully, and I find myself craving it again a few weeks after I finish a batch.

Dave Lieberman's Pumpkin and Chipotle Corn Chowder
From Dave's Dinners

3 tbsp. butter or vegetable oil
Flesh from a 3-4 lb pumpkin cut into 1 inch cubes (same goes if you're using sweet potato, like me--just peel it and cube it)
1 large onion, diced
3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 quart chicken stock
½ lb. frozen corn kernels
2 chipotle peppers, roughly chopped
½ cup heavy cream
5 thyme sprigs
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add pumpkin (or potatoes) and onion and cook 5 minutes. Add flour and stir into the onion and pumpkin. Gradually add chicken stock while stirring. Add corn, chipotle peppers, cream, and thyme and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer about 20 minutes, or until the pumpkin is fork-tender but not falling apart. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into serving bowls. Garnish with cilantro (or nachos, if you like).

Note: if using sweet potatoes in place of pumpkin, the soup will cook for less time. After about 10 minutes (instead of 20) I start periodically checking the potatoes for doneness.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Getting involved in the food blog community

Over the past week I've been trying to become a bigger part of the food blog community. I love nothing more than to read food blogs, and it's also a really beautiful thing to make new online buddies that share the same passion for cooking and baking as I do. Not to mention finding great new reading material.

In order to do this, I've decided to participate in some online cooking clubs (besides Leite's Culinaria and Food Network's Cooking Club Challenge, which I was already participating in) and even join a foodie blogroll.

Not just a foodie blogroll -- the foodie blogroll. Jenn of The Leftover Queen has been gracious enough to create a huge blogroll just for food blogs. I joined this week and have already found so many wonderful new food blogs because of my membership (not to mention some new readers of my own). It's a generous thing Jenn's done by creating the blogroll, and I'm glad I joined.

But I'm not stopping there. I've also joined the Daring Bakers, a monthly cooking club run by fellow Canuck Ivonne (of Cream Puffs in Venice) and Lis of La Mia Cucina. It looks like I'll be making my first recipe through the group in July, and I couldn't be more excited. Past recipes include Opera Cake, Cheesecake Pops (I bought some lollipop sticks to "retroactively" participate, and French Bread. Yum.

Because I like a good challenge, I'm also joining the famous Tuesdays With Dorie baking group, as soon as my copy of Baking: From My Home to Yours arrives. I'm hoping to feel like an at-home pastry chef by the time we've made our way through the entire book. Hopefully that's not too lofty a goal. If you're interested in joining, Baking... is only $13 at right now! That's even cheaper than I've been able to find on ebay. Now, hopefully those pesky US/Canada border workers won't make me pay duty.

There always seems to be one foodie event or another going on. A great place to check out, if you're feeling like joining in, is Is My Blog Burning? which is a great resource for finding upcoming events in the food blog community. You might want to try Presto Pasta Nights if you feel like cooking pasta. If you're Canadian or even just like Canada, you could participate in Mmm...Canada, a Canadian-ingredient inspired cooking event that's planned to coincide with Canada Day. I'm hoping to make some goodies for that particular event this weekend. Rhubarb mojitos, anyone?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

White Wine and Mushroom Risotto

I thought I'd share a very basic risotto recipe that I love to use as a base whenever I'm in the mood for risotto. My favourite combination is a very simple white wine and mushroom risotto, but you can do so much with this: add pancetta, peas, goat cheese, seafood, roasted garlic...pretty much anything you want.

The full recipe and more pictures are after the jump.


About 1/2 lb. of mushrooms, sliced
1.5 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Splash of white wine

1 medium onion, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
1.5 cups arborio rice
6 cups chicken stock, brought to a simmer
1 and 1.3 cups white wine
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup parmesan, plus a heck of a lot more for serving

Saute mushrooms in olive oil until almost tender. Add garlic and a splash of white wine, cook for about 1 minute more. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Bring the chicken stock to a constant simmer in a medium pot. Meanwhile, heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan (I used my cast iron dutch oven) over medium heat. Saute onions until tender. Add rice and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute, until the rice looks clear, but be sure not to toast the rice. Add white wine, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until almost completely absorbed.

I used to have a hard time judging what this meant until I learned this trick: the rice is ready for more liquid when you pull your wooden spoon from the edge of the pan to the centre and the rice 'hesitates' to come back together. Kind of like parting the Red Sea.

Anyway, back to the recipe. Once the wine is almost completely absorbed, set your timer to 30 minutes. Add about a 1/2 cup of hot chicken stock (about a ladleful, depending on the size of your ladle) to the rice, stirring constantly. When the chicken stock is almost completely absorbed, add more. Keep doing this. About 20 minutes into stirring, add another 1/3 cup of white wine and top it up with a little extra chicken stock. As before, keep stirring constantly. During the last 10 minutes, taste the risotto regularly to check for doneness. It's finished when it's al dente. On my stovetop, this took exactly half an hour, but you may need to cook it a little less or a little more depending on your stove.

When the risotto is perfectly cooked, add the butter, salt and pepper to taste, and at least 1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese. Give it a stir.

Serve immediately with another big pile of parmesan on top. Enjoy!

Parting the proverbial Red Sea

The garlicky mushrooms

There's never enough Parmesan

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Food Network June Cooking Club Entry: Grilled Potato Skins with Provolone, Bacon and Sour Cream

I've been participating in the Food Network Blog's (Food for Thought) semi-regularly for quite some time now. I have not, however, been documenting my submissions every time because, what can I say? I was a bad blogger before. I'm all better now, with regular updates to please you.

So, this mark's my first time participating in Food for Thought's monthly cooking club challenge since I started giving this blog an honest effort. For most if not all of you, then, this is my "first" attempt at Food Network's cooking club challenge. The recipes for this month were the completely delicious Grilled Potato Skins with Provolone, Bacon and Sour Cream with Avocado Corn Relish (click on those links to find them for yourself). My entry, as posted on Food for Thought, can be found after the jump, along with a couple of extra photos.

This recipe made me a bit of a bacon convert. I've never been a huge fan of it, but the freshly-crisped bacon in this recipe mixed with the potatoes and gooey mountain of cheese changed my mind, at least for this recipe. I've had potato skins before, so I can't explain what about this recipe did it. There was just something about it. I don't have a barbecue (since I just moved to a basement apartment last month), so I improvised. I'm thinking the barbecue would've lent this recipe a nice smoky flavour, but it was still yummy without it. I just sprinkled some kosher salt on the oiled potatoes to add extra flavour.

I also think the potatoes could've been a little crispier. I didn't make the Avocado Corn Relish this time, but I'm looking forward to making it in the future. I bet it'd be great with nachos.

Winning Wednesday: June 18, 2008

I've been a lucky lady this week. I won TWO whole giveaways -- one from Spoiled Pretty, one of my favourite non-food blogs, and one from Chief Family Officer, one of my new favourite family blogs. Here's my attempt to try to pass some of that luck on to you:

Fabulously Broke in the City is giving away a Sothys gift certificate and a gift certificate to the very fancy Bruno Jamais restaurant in Manhattan.

Over at Toronto Plus, you could win one of two copies of the Taste of Home Cookbook.

My Wooden Spoon is giving away two 10-year memberships to

Sarah at The Delicious Life will be giving away more cookbooks... soon. Well, she gave away 2 more today and hasn't yet posted what she'll be giving away next, but she's given away lots of cookbooks already as part of her birthday month celebration, so if you keep refreshing, you're bound to find out what the next book is sooner or later.

Serious Eats is giving away a copy of Screen Doors and Sweet Tea.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A look inside Olson Foods + Bakery, Port Dalhousie, Ontario

During the Wineries of Niagara on the Lake's Wine and Herb Festival, my family and I managed to sneak over to Anna and Michael Olson's Olson Foods + Bakery, located in a beautiful little waterfront town, Port Dalhousie. Anna Olson hosts two cooking shows, Sugar and Fresh, on Food Network Canada.

Given Anna's mouthwatering dessert recipes, I was more than a little excited to check out her shop.

Although the store is quite small (it's currently undergoing an expansion, thankfully), it still boasts a wide selection of cheeses, many of which I'd never heard of before. If I lived in the area (and thus wasn't afraid of spoilage), or if I hadn't already filled up on wine and food pairings, I could've gorged myself on all of the wonderful cheeses the shop stocks.

On the other hand, surprisingly, the baked goods selection seemed rather small. But what the bakery lacked in selection it made up for in quality. I bought a Chocolate Crinkle cookie (similar to Martha's, but fudgier), which was probably the best cookie I've ever tasted in my life -- really. My mom bought a lemon cookie that was very cakey with the most delicious icing on top (cream cheese icing?), as well as a maple nut scone. Still, considering how delicious everything was, I wish there had been more to buy. Hopefully the shop's expansion will make room for more baked goods.

In addition to its selection of cheeses and baked goods, the shop also stocks select produce and meat, as well as a small cafe menu with various coffee drinks, panini and more. In between the cafe and bakery portions of the shop was a focused selection of gourmet pantry items, which you can also buy online. They were on the pricy side, but that's kind of a given when it comes to products like fleur de sel and Barefoot Contessa sauces.

If you're in the area, Olson Foods + Bakery is worth a visit -- for the chocolate crinkle cookies alone. Who knows? Maybe you'll even get to meet Anna Olson.

You can check out the rest of the photos, including shots of the chocolate crinkle cookie and the gourmet foodstuff, after the jump.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Martha Stewart's Chocolate Crackle Cookies

Need another reason to buy Martha Stewart's Cookies? How about these soft, rich Chocolate Crackles I made for a bridal shower this weekend?

They got rave reviews, but all the credit was due to Martha Stewart's editors.

Now, try and tell me you don't want the recipe. I won't believe you. You can find it after the jump.

Chocolate Crackles
Via Martha Stewart's Cookies

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup confectioners' sugar

Yields 5 dozen.

1. Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring. Set aside and let cool. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

2. With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Mix in eggs and vanilla, and then the melted chocolate. Reduce speed to low; mix in flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the milk. Divide dough into four equal pieces. Wrap each in plastic; refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 350F. Divide each piece into 16 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar to coat, then in confectioners' sugar to coat. Space 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake until surfaces crack, about 14 minutes (Ed. Note: If you want a softer, fudgier cookie, bake it for a few minutes less, depending on your oven). Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

Fun fact: Semisweet chocolate makes a great substitute for bittersweet, so don't be afraid to use Chip-Its instead of squares of bittersweet baking chocolate. That's what I used and, as I said, it turned out great.

Thinking of Canada Day; thirsting for maple syrup

When I moved to the GTA for my internship, I knew my boyfriend would be getting "custody" of our maple syrup bottle. Since then I haven't bought any to replace it, with the knowledge that a gallon of maple syrup costs about $35 at St. Jacob's Market fresh in my mind from last summer. How can I pay $10 for 2 cups of maple syrup when, with a little trip to the market, I can pay less than $40 for 16 cups? That's like getting 8 cups free. Never mind the fact that I probably haven't consumed 16 cups of maple syrup in my life so far. And never mind the fact that the market is 140km away from my house. I want the best deal. The problem is, I've been craving maple syrup like mad lately.

So I knew I was in trouble last week when I wanted to make Maple-Flax Banana Bread -- and had to do so without any maple syrup. As I found out, melted pineapple jelly is not a great substitute for maple syrup--it certainly didn't quash my craving.

As a result, I'm left to consider buying maple syrup from St. Jacob's country online ($50 for 1 gallon), making the trek to St. Jacob's on Canada Day (July 1), or sucking it up and paying grocery store prices. Either way, it seems slightly unpatriotic to not have any maple syrup in my pantry -- especially this close to Canada Day.

While I mull over my options, why don't you take a look at these maple-infused recipes?

While we're on the topic: What foods have you been craving lately?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day

My Father's Day weekend looks like this, with a couple of diner meals thrown in for good measure:

(That's actually an old stainless steel kitchen sink my boyfriend's great-uncle converted into a charcoal grill.)

Whatever your Father's Day plans, I hope you enjoy them!

(P.S. I've been having some technical difficulties with "scheduled posting" in Blogger this weekend. If you noticed a post about maple syrup has gone missing, sorry -- it wasn't supposed to be up until Monday!)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Restaurant review: Aspetta Caffe, Kensington Market, Toronto

Aspetta Caffe
207 Augusta Ave.
Toronto, ON

Toronto's Kensington Market community is home to some of the best niche food markets and vintage clothing shops in the city. It also boasts a handful of cozy coffee shops and restaurants that, when the sun's out and the weather's nice, are the perfect places to sit outside and people watch over a good meal.

Aspetta Caffe is one of the Market's tastiest people watching havens.

Although Aspetta is pretty new to the Market (it opened in April), it seems to have hit its stride early. For the most part, it's got an irresistible price point ($6 for its daily pasta specials and about the same for its assortment of panini) and a wide selection of cafe-style desserts (cannoli, cookies, biscotti galore, just to name a few) at about $5 or less. The odd man out on an otherwise low-priced menu is Aspetta's imported Italian beer, Peroni, which, at $6 a bottle, was the same price as an entree. Not outrageously expensive, of course, but it was a bit painful when the cost of our meal doubled in just two beers.

Frugality aside, what about the food? My boyfriend's prosciutto and fontina panini had a great rich flavour that seemed to defy its simplicity; besides Aspetta, I can't recall the last time I thought that bread, cheese, and meat -- no fancy extras -- complemented eachother so well.

My order -- Quattro Formaggi pasta, one of the daily specials -- was yummy too, although less creamy than I was expecting. Quattro Formaggi pasta is one of my favourites, but it usually isn't tomato-based. This isn't a complaint, per se -- as I said, my order was delicious -- but more of a warning for my fellow white sauce lovers to double-check before ordering.

In the photo below, you can see my pasta, a bowl of popcorn and also a glimpse of the delicious chocolate/nutella cookies that we ordered. The popcorn was a nice touch; a free happy hour promotion for anyone that ordered alcohol.

The service was perfect. After we placed our orders at the counter we took our seats on the sunny patio and didn't wait long before our beers and the free popcorn were placed in front of us. A few minutes later, our pleasant-but-not-saccharine waitress brought out our entrees and took a picture of us at our request to mark the occasion (ah, tourists!).

The football on the widescreen TV inside the cafe (combined with the obligatory cheering/cursing fans) added to the European ambiance. I was half expecting to hear a stream of Italian expletives, but no such luck. The best part was, every time a goal was scored or a bad play was made, the cheers and jeers from within Aspetta were echoed by the rowdy sports fans at the bar across the street, like surround sound. Like I said: great people watching.

The Final Verdict
Aspetta is definitely worth sampling if you're in Toronto. If you're on a budget you may want to forgo the pricy beer in favour of the less expensive Italian sodas (<$2), but with meals at about $6 and desserts for even less, you really can't lose.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Winning Wednesday

  • Sarah at The Delicious Life continues her birthday month giveaways. So far she's given away A Love Affair With Southern Cooking, The Complete Whole Grains Cookbook, and more. Even if you don't win, it's worth taking a look at her blog anyway--one of my new favourites.
  • Amanda is giving away Orville Redenbacher popcorn.
  • Food Network Canada's Bazaar blog is giving away The Art of Simple Food. (Canada only)
  • My Wooden Spoon is giving away a bunch of awesome kitchen stuff! Jumbo muffin pans, a coupon for a free vacuum sealer, wooden spoons, etc.
  • More popcorn at An Ordinary Life. Yay!
  • Erin Cooks is giving away a cookbook devoted entirely to chocolate chips.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A look inside the Steam Whistle Brewing company

Saturday afternoon, we went for a tour of the Steam Whistle Brewing factory, located on the Toronto harbour front. It was blisteringly hot outside, so we appreciated the chance to escape the heat by enjoying some free cold beer and learning a bit about how it's made.

It didn't hurt that we had picked up some free tour passes at this year's London Food and Wine Show, either!

So, after being greeted by the antique/industrial aesthetic of the historic John St. Roundhouse--decades before it was Steam Whistle's home, steam engine trains used to be repaired and sent back on their merry way there--not to mention a jovial doorman who gave us each two free drink tickets, we made our way into the factory.

First, a little background: Steam Whistle's one and only beer is a Pilsner that's "golden and refreshing with a distinctive hop aroma and a clean, crisp finish." So say the folks at Steam Whistle, anyway. I'm no expert when it comes to beer tasting, but I can tell you what I like and what I don't, and I happen to like Steam Whistle for its very light and smooth flavour. Take a peek:

The tour was enlightening, overall. I learned a lot of great trivia about Steam Whistle, like how the company started and how it's managed to hold onto its roots. Here's how the (true) legend goes: three guys who were fired by Upper Canada Brewing Company wanted to start their own brewery and name it, creatively enough, "Three Fired Guys." They changed their mind about the name, but not the sentiment: at the bottom of every bottle of Steam Whistle, "3FG" is engraved.

Why "Steam Whistle?" The founders wanted to capture a retro vibe, and figured the Steam Whistle that used to signal the end of the workday in the '50s was a perfect symbol. That vintage feel is captured by the beer's green bottle:

We were also invited to taste the barley and hops that go into every batch of Steam Whistle. The barley was delicious, but the rather, um, piquant smell of the hops (they're part of the cannabis family, if it helps you imagine the odour) led us to look, not touch (or taste). The hops are the pellet-shaped bits on the right.

Although our brewery tour was free, I would still recommend buying a pass if you're in Toronto in the future. The cheapest tour pass is $8 (including a bottle opener, drinking glass and a Steamwhistle comic book), but a $14 tour will get you a 6-pack of Steamwhistle, which is just $1.25 more than the price of a Steamwhistle 6-pack at the Beer Store.

You'll get that $1.25 back in your two massive samples alone. Plus, they let everyone sound off a real Steam Whistle.

James Beard Award Winners Announced

If you haven't heard, the winners of this year's James Beard Award were announced yesterday.

Canadian Trish Magwood, owner of Toronto cafe, cooking school and catering company, Dish Cooking Studio, and host of Party Dish, won for the Entertaining Category with her seriously-inspiring cookbook, Dish Entertains. This book has some of the most delicious recipes and gorgeous photographs I've seen in a Canadian cookbook, or, for that matter, any cookbook. Her roasted chicken recipe is the only one I use now.

I love this cookbook, although, to be honest I don't own it yet--despite frequent check-outs from my local library--and it's a huge deal that she won.

It's always great when Canadian chefs receive international recognition.

Cookbook review: Martha Stewart's Cookies: The Very Best Treats to Bake and to Share

I did it. I caved into the pressure. I finally bought Martha Stewart's Cookies. The giant crackly chocolate gingerbread cookie on the cover made me do it, I swear.

I've been eyeing the book since it came out in March, but finally found a reason to snag myself a copy when I found it for $13 at BMV (a Toronto used/surplus book store), a steal compared to the $28 publisher's price.

The early verdict? It was worth every penny. I've already made a batch of Martha's Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies (recipe below) with the help of my favourite kitchen co-pilot (my boyfriend), and most of the recipes I've glanced at look delicious. Aside from the aforementioned chocolate gingerbread cookie, Fortune Cookies, Chocolate Meringues, Dulce de Leche Bat Cookies look like must-bake recipes, just to name a few.

There is a good mix of recipes, categorized by texture: light and delicate, rich and dense, chunky and nutty, soft and chewy, crisp and crunchy, crumbly and sandy, and cakey and tender. Frankly, I think I'm going to have to increase my grocery budget to accommodate all of these great new recipes-- not to mention buy some pants in a bigger size, just in case.

You can check out some reviews on Amazon and also purchase it, if you're interested, via my Amazon store.

The recipe can be found after the jump.

Martha Stewart's Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Via Martha Stewart's Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups (about 12 ounces) semisweet and/or milk chocolate chips
1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour and baking soda; set aside. Put butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add salt, vanilla, and eggs; mix until well blended, about 1 minute. Mix in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips.

2. Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges are golden but centres are still soft, 10-12 minutes. Let cook on sheets on wire racks 2 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks; let cool completely. Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in airtight containers at room temperature up to 1 week.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Culinary adventures in Toronto

One of the good things about moving to the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) is its proximity to (you guessed it) Toronto. I've always loved, loved, loved the city, but living anywhere from 2-5 hours away from it always meant I needed a special occasion to visit. Downtown hotel rooms in a metropolis don't come for free, after all.

So, to take advantage of my good fortune, the boyfriend is coming for a visit this weekend, and we're going into the city via subway. I'm really excited but ready to burst because I just can't seem to figure out where I'd like to go.

Actually, let me rephrase: I can't figure out how many places I can go before my boyfriend dumps me out of frustration. There, that sounds better.

In a city so big, I could spend the whole day visiting different culinary attractions and still have a million other places on my to-do list. Kensington Market, St. Lawrence Market, the million amazing bakeries that seem to populate the city... I'm salivating (but exhausted) just thinking about it. And the boyfriend? Well, he's so afraid that I'm going to go overboard this Saturday that he's actually decided to turn down Future Bakery cheesecake, on me. Free cheesecake!

For now, here is my list of where we are definitely going this weekend:

  • Steamwhistle Brewery Tour - We scored free tour passes at the London Food and Wine Festival this year.
  • Whole Foods Market - You're probably confused, but until this week I didn't know that Whole Foods had expanded into Canada, and I've always wanted to shop at one.
  • Williams-Sonoma - Because nothing makes me feel better than being scoffed at by sales clerks who can't believe I think $30 for a muddler is too much.
  • Spring Rolls - Well, maybe, depending on when we get hungry. If our hunger flares up around the Eaton Centre, Thai food it is.
  • BMV - Used (and some new) books, movies, music. I'm all about the cookbooks at this place.
  • Smokeless Joe's - The last time we went to this amazing specialty beer shop, we fell in love with the mussels.
And where I'd like to go in the future:
So, that's it, so far. Of course, one of the best things about such a big city is that you never know where you'll end up.

Have you been to any of these businesses before, or would you like to recommend other great places to shop and eat in Toronto? Let me know in the comments!

Photo credit: Canada25Toronto

Beans aren't the only magical fruit

Okay, so maybe that's not the best joke I've ever come up with. But "magic" fruit really do exist, and they have nothing to do with eating too much chili.

These little red berries are actually called "miracle fruit." Perhaps you've heard of them: ever since a recent New York Times article discussed how these little red berries are inspiring flavour-tripping parties in New York City, many miracle fruit farmers have been overwhelmed with orders.

So, what's so miraculous abut this fruit? It sounds pretty amazing, actually: swirl the fruit around in your mouth and for the next 30 minutes-2 hours, everything will taste sweet. Lemons will taste like lemonade. Goat cheese will taste like cheesecake. Sounds like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, doesn't it?

For those of you -- like myself -- who want to sample miracle fruit, you don't necessarily have to shell out the $90 price tag that a lot of suppliers are charging. If you don't mind forgoing the actual fresh fruit for a lower price tag, you have a different option. Wikipedia mentions that freeze-dried miracle fruit tablets are available and produce the same effect.
Tablets can be found online, and I've managed to find some at a comparatively low price.

Click here to go to Ebay and purchase your own miracle fruit tablets for approx. $16USD (in Canada).

Photo source: Plantogram

Please note: I am by no means a medical professional, so I can't vouch for the safety of this auction listing. Personally, I don't mind taking the plunge.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Winning Wednesdays

A new, soon-to-be semi-regular feature: Winning Wednesdays.
I love contests, so I thought I'd share the love with you. Here are a handful of websites and blogs that are currently giving away cooking-related stuff. Enjoy!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Fresh spring rhubarb

As I write this, I'm anxiously jerking my head towards the screen every few seconds. It's possibly the final game of this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the game's gone into a very intense round of overtime. Please excuse any typos--my heart's a-flutter!

I'm very lucky to have grown up in a part of Ontario where farmers abound. Not that I appreciated the abundance of fresh produce when I was a kid, of course. But I do appreciate it now when I go home to visit my family, as I did this weekend.

My hometown is located in Essex County, which means I live near Leamington, the self-proclaimed "Tomato Capital of Canada" and also, not-so-coincidentally, the location of an enormous Heinz factory. My dad grew up on a farm; my boyfriend grew up on a farm (his grandparents') and it seems that most everyone in Essex County has ties to farming.

It's no surprise, then, that I consider my home county the best place I know to find fresh, affordable produce. The farmer's markets of the cities I've lived in since -- London (Ontario)'s Covent Garden Market; Main Street Markham's Farmer's Market -- just seem like pale, overpriced imitations of what I'm used to. They'll do, but they just can't match the prices of back home.

My roadside fruit stand purchase from this weekend was fresh rhubarb, and lots of it. I got two mountainous piles of two-feet long rhubarb stalks for $4:

It was definitely a great buy. Now, I'm looking for a way to use it up. Last year I only bought enough to make strawberry-rhubarb applesauce and rhubarb sorbet. This year I'd like to be more ambitious. A bunch of the rhubarb will be going in the freezer so I can try different rhubarb recipes past the end of the season. Here are some recipes I've got my eye on:

The jam and cupcakes sound particularly wonderful, although I'm partial to meringues and jam. Do you have any other suggestions? Please leave them in the comments or send me an email at kaitsplateATgmailDOTcom.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The transformative powers of baking

One of the things I love most about baking is its ability to transform even the most basic of main ingredients -- eggs, bread, etc. -- into a dish that's way better than just the sum of its parts. Take, for example, Paula Deen's Chocolate Bread Pudding, which I made last Thursday. The recipe transformed this:

Into this:

Which quickly turned into this:

With the help of, it must be mentioned, a talented supporting cast:

(That's 2 cups of sugar and some cocoa powder.)

(And that's six--count 'em, six--eggs. Er, egg shells.)

For some more recipes that morph basic ingredients into sumptuous desserts, scroll down.

Paula Deen's Chocolate Bread Pudding(found on
1 (1-pound) loaf French or Italian bread, cubed
3 cups milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup coffee flavored liqueur
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
6 eggs, lightly beaten
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, grated
Whipped cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Lightly grease a 13 by 9-inch baking dish and place the bread in the dish. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, and liqueur. Using another bowl, combine the sugar, brown sugar, and cocoa powder and mix well. Add the sugar mixture to the milk mixture and mix well. Add the vanilla and almond extract, and cinnamon to the beaten eggs. Combine the egg mixture to the milk mixture and mix well.
Stir the grated chocolate into the mixture. Pour the mixture over the cubed bread in the pan. Let the mixture stand, stirring occasionally for approximately 20 minutes or until bread absorbs most of the milk mixture. Bake pudding for 1 hour or until set. Check pudding by inserting a knife through the middle and it should come out clean.

Serve the pudding warm, or refrigerate and serve chilled with whipped cream if desired. (Ed. Note: I served it with chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. Yum.)

More Recipes
Do you have any favourite dessert recipes based on really simple main ingredients? Please let me know in the comments!

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