Saturday, December 31, 2011

CBC Daytime Holiday Set Tour

Time never flies like it does in December. I can't believe today is already December 31st and in just a few short hours I will be ringing in 2012 with my friends! With so many fun activities taking place in December, it's no wonder time can slip through your fingers so easily and leave you scrambling at months end to catch up on your responsibilities. This is where I'm at now, with a list of 10 blog posts yet to be written in front of me, I seem to be in catch-up mode, scrambling to recount all of the great experiences and recipes I have come across this month! One of those great experiences that I have wanted to share with you, was being invited to CBC Daytime's Holiday Set Tour and Lunch.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be able to head downtown to the CBC to partake in their Holiday-themed tour, which not only allowed guests to view the sets of three CBC Daytime shows, Best Recipes Ever, In The Kitchen With Stefano Faita, and Steven and Chris, but actually meet the hosts and producers of the shows, and have an opportunity to learn about how each episode gets put together. I knew it would be an enjoyable day, but I had no idea how eye-opening and inspiring the experience would be, this was largely due to the amazing people I got to meet that day, from the other writers taking part in the tour with me who were so friendly and eager to learn about each others work, to the hosts and producers who so kindly and thoughtfully answered our questions and welcomed us into their sets, to every single other person who made the day possible (with an extra special thank you to Erin Richards for making the day such a smooth success). I had a wonderful time that day and on top of all the fun and laughter I got to walk away with some great recipes, tips, and DIY's that I can now share with you!

The first set we visited was the Best Recipes Ever Set, where we got to meet our first host of the day, Kary Osmond, as well as the shows producers. After watching a few episodes of the show at home, my first thought was how incredibly expansive the set was, in fact I might even say massive. The perfect kitchen in my opinion, allowing the chef a kitchen space and a dance floor all in one! The lunch we were promised was set out in a number of courses, presented in parts to us at each set. I almost felt like I was walking into Kary's very own kitchen as she served us the vibrant Sparkling Tangerine Punch that left me wanting more and more, and the cute and petit appetizers Walnut, Brie and Grape Salsa Tartlets. I have to admit, I was a bit in awe of Kary as she told us all about what led to her be in the position she is today hosting Best Recipes Ever. I saw so much of myself in her as she told us about her passion for cooking and how she had dreamt of hosting a cooking show, putting aside her other job to try and concentrate on making her dream a reality. I was riveted by her every word, and felt my own drive and passion coming to the surface again (where I want it to stay!) bringing that crystal clear image of my own goals firmly back into my head and heart.

By The Canadian Living Test Kitchen

As questions were answered, we learned that Best Recipes Ever is in partnership with the incredibly well respected Canadian Living, meaning that all of the Best Recipes Ever recipes come straight from Canadian Living's massive database of recipes, that have been tested to perfection by The Canadian Living Test Kitchen. This allows Kary the luxury of pulling from Canadian Living's repertoire as she pleases to come up with each episode. Hearing this, I couldn't help but think that Kary's got it pretty easy, simply pulling from Canadian Living's recipes...that is until I heard that they film three episodes each day, with three recipes in each episode, equaling nine recipes that Kary must memorize and be 100% comfortable with each day! Woah, now that's pressure! And the woman pulls it all off looking adorable with that fantastic welcoming and warm smile! Click the link above to get the recipe for the delicious Sparkling Tangerine Punch By The Canadian Living Test Kitchen that I will definitely be making soon!


Next up was In The Kitchen With Stefano Faita, a live audience show hosted by Montreal-based cookbook author and cooking show host Stefano Faita. I loved the rustic look this set had with exposed brick, chalkboard walls, old family photos and unfinished wood, totally up my alley! The set reflects Stefano and the show itself, allowing his own personal life to shine through, with the family photos coming straight from Stefano himself, and his family members names scribbled across the chalkboard. Once again, I felt as though I was stepping into Stefano's actual home kitchen as he eagerly served us sparkling beverages, appetizers, and a knockout dessert, his Layered Blueberry Pie (see recipe below). He told us all about how personal the show really is to him, featuring his own family recipes, some of which have been brought down through many generations, and all of which he serves up to his wife and daughter. With wild energy and a dangerously charming smile, Stefano reflected back on his life in Montreal, his family's kitchenware shop, and his grandmothers cooking. Being a live audience show, Stefano also emphasized the important role the audience plays in his show, encouraging audience members to come right up on stage with him to actually take part in the cooking themselves as well as helping to build on his fantastic energy. To get tickets to In The Kitchen With Stefano Faita and become an audience member yourself, click here!



Layered Blueberry Pie
By Stefano Faita

Ingredients:
Pastry
2 cups flour
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2/4 cup butter, room temperature cut into small cubes
1/4 cup milk, room temperature
1 egg yolk
Layered Filling
8 cups fresh blueberries
2 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup cream cheese
2 cups whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
lemon zest, for garnish (optional)

Directions:
Pastry
1. In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with your finger tips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal.

2. Combine the milk and egg yolk. Stir it into the flour and butter mixture until pastry dough comes together. Form dough into a ball and flatten into a round disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour

3. Preheat oven to 375º. Lightly flour your work surface. Roll the dough 1/4-inch thick. Transfer the pastry to a 9-inch tart pan and trim off the excess around the edges. Dock the bottom of the pastry all over with a fork. Line with parchment paper or foil. Fill pie with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove weights and parchment and continue to bake until pastry is cooked through, lightly golden and crisp, about 5-10 minutes.

Layered Filling
1. Add 7 cups blueberries and 2 cups sugar to a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until mixture reaches a jam-like consistency, stirring occasionally, about 20-25 minutes. Set aside to cool. Once the blueberry mixture has cooled, combine the remaining 1 cup of fresh blueberries. Set aside.

2. Soften the cream cheese at room temperature or heat in microwave until soft peaks form.

3. To later the filling into the pie: Spread cream cheese over the pastry. Then spread blueberry filling mixture on top of the cream cheese later. Finish pie with whipped cream. Let set in refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving. Garnish with lemon zest, if desired.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Last but certainly not least was the Steven and Chris Set, all decked out in different shades of purple and silver for their big holiday special. The entire set sparkled and looked absolutely magical covered in garlands, presents, ornaments, trees, and, of course, lots of spectacular food! Right as you walked in there was a large table set up with Steven and Chris' own brand of wine, as well as lots of liquor and mixers to make your own cocktails. As you continued into the space, your eye is immediately drawn to the stunning centerpiece of the whole room, the dining room and buffet tables, which featured many of the DIY holiday projects that Steven and Chris had put together for the show. They had so many wonderful ideas that they were so excited to share with us about how they made this extraordinary holiday set come together, such as putting the centerpiece, which was numerous gifts wrapped up beautifully, on a tray so you can easily remove it to place the turkey, and putting guests name tags on their chairs as opposed to the table to allow for more space. I almost hurt my neck from looking around everywhere to see all of the many DIY projects that they had created, which was literally everywhere you looked! My favourite of all of the DIY's was the
DIY Charcuterie and Cheese Platter that looked so amazingly striking on the long buffet table. Playing with different levels, colours, and textures all along the table, the spread looked positively seductive, leaving me super excited to recreate for myself at home! See below to learn how to make your own successful Charcuterie and Cheese platter using Steven and Chris' easy guide.

An extra special treat for myself and some of the other ladies I was chatting with at the set, was talking with Joanne Lusted, Steven and Chris' Food Producer, who I can happily say I have had the pleasure of meeting before. Joanne is one of those people that leaves you with your cheeks hurting from smiling so much. As I stated before, her energy is infectious, making you feel immediately welcome like you've been best friends for years, and making you say to yourself "now there's a woman who is doing what she loves!". Joanne heartily told us all about the food that was prepared that day such as a super easy, tender and delicious Beef Wellington and Coconut Shortbread and
Sugar Plums (email me if you'd like all of the recipes from the tour!), and when we began asking about the process in which the recipes are created, she lit up and led us straight into their exclusive test kitchen, an absolute privilege! It was so cool to be right in the midst of the action, as they worked on creating their next recipe a savory lobster mashed potato dish!

DIY Charcuterie and Cheese Platter
This is the perfect appetizer when you're pressed for time! No cooking allows you to relax while your guests arrive at their leisure. Let them graze and nibble happily while you sip a festive beverage and mingle.

The more kinds of meat and cheese you have, the more people will eat. So, for a cocktail party, if you set out only one choice of meat, an ounce per person will suffice. With two or three different meats, two ounces total per person. More than three, three ounces. For a party that goes on longer than a couple of hours, or for a dinner party, double these amounts.

Pick 3 Cheeses:
A Soft Cheese
A Blue Cheese
A Hard/Sharp Cheese

Pick 3 Meats:
A Dry-Cured Meat
A Cooked Sausage
A Dry-Cured Sausage

Add Complimentary Items
When laying out your meat and cheese selection, you can intermingle the meat and cheese, or arrange them on two separate platters...It's up to you!

When adding garnishes, try and place sweet items such as dried pineapple, apricots, and honey next to the salty cheeses. Acidic items such as pickles, cornichons, or olives should be placed next to the meats. Nuts are especially good with the cheeses as well, and can be drizzled with honey to make them a perfect pairing to salty cheeses especially.

Garnish Ideas
Fresh or dried figs, dried apricots, almonds or pecans candied or original, dried cranberries, honey, fig jam, aged balsamic, grapes, cornichons, olives, walnuts, honeycomb, dried pineapple.


For all the recipes from the tour, email me at thisisgingerrose@hotmail.com!

Listening To:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cavena

One of the things that I love about having a food blog is getting to hear about and try new products that I've never had the opportunity to experience before. I get a lot of offers these days to sample and review new products, so I've had to become a little selective in which one's I choose to try. But the ones that always seem to grab my attention are innovative health and wellness products. If you've been reading my blog for the past year, you'll know that for years now I have been battling with skin and stomach problems, both of which I can now say are because of my diet. I have eaten very healthy my whole life, always following the philosophy of "everything in moderation", but every body is different and mine requires a little extra care...care that I often neglect merely because I'm not familiar with other options or, let's be honest, the other options just aren't that tasty. So each time I hear about a new product that may help me to improve my diet, I jump right on it!

The most recent health and wellness product that I was given the opportunity to try was Cavena, the rice of the Prairies. Cavena sparked my interest for numerous reasons, it is:
  • Naturally high in protein
  • Wheat free
  • Low in saturated fatty acids and sodium
  • Free of cholesterol and trans fatty acids
  • High source of fibre
  • Good source of iron
  • Grown in the Prairies, Cavena is proudly Canadian!
With so many positive benefits to this new grain, I couldn't imagine not giving Cavena a try! I decided to try out Cavena rather than using my usual brown rice in a stir fry. Cavena was very simple to cook and the 40-minute cooking time allowed me plenty of time to chop up all of my vegetables and chicken. Before tossing the Cavena in with the stir fry I had to do a taste test. Right off the bat I loved Cavena's standout nutty flavour and thought that flavour would be a great addition to my stir fry. What also caught my attention was Cavena's wonderful chewy texture. I absolutely loved the texture, although I didn't think that Cavena on its own would be right for the stir fry. I quickly made up some brown minute rice to mix in with the Cavena in the stir fry with the ratio of Cavena to rice 3:1. This turned out to be the perfect solution! The stir fry was delicious with that awesome nutty flavour from Cavena shining through in each bite, as well as the wonderful chewy texture (not too chewy thanks to the addition of brown rice!). It was so simple for me to substitute Cavena into my meal and it really took the dish to a whole other level in terms of flavour. I loved how Cavena worked out in my stir fry but I can see Cavena also tasting fantastic in salads especially grain salads with wild rice or quinoa! If you're looking for a healthy new grain to add to your diet, I would definitely recommend giving Cavena a try! Let me know what you think!

Listening To:
Joy Divison - Love Will Tear Us Apart

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Pusateri's 25th Anniversary

Last Tuesday on a windy night in Toronto, I headed out to Pusateri's Avenue and Lawrence location to celebrate their big 25th Anniversary! After their recent infestation scandal only two months ago, all eyes were on the gourmet food store to see how they would rise above the unfortunate turn of events. With their reputation at stake, Pusateri's truly had no other choice but to go all out for the occasion of their quarter-of-a-century anniversary, so my expectations walking into the event were already quite high.

As my mom and I drove up to the store to park, a wave of disappointment came over me as I saw the sea of cars and people attempting to find their own way into the free-of-charge event. I couldn't help but imagine the swarms of greedy people that must be inside, vying for whatever food was available. Luckily we quickly found a parking space close by and found ourselves in a short line outside the store, blocked off with curtains, with guests kept toasty warm thanks to space heaters and servers handing out piping hot cider. In next to no time at all, we were inside the event, thrust into the busy crowd weaving their way around the aisles. Despite the bumper-to-bumper crowd of people with slow-moving, shuffling footsteps, there was no obstacles in getting to the food. Everywhere I looked I would find a server or two carrying trays of warm and delicious food samplings, in addition to food stations often preparing fresh samples right in front of you!

With a glass of Prosecco in one hand and a food sample in the other at all times, the ear-to-ear smile I was donning literally never left my face! I was in foodie glory tasting everything from angus sliders, avocado and lobster grilled cheese, prosciutto, lobster tempura, smoked salmon, mini pizzas, fine cheeses, pasta, sushi...oh my goodness, this list could go on FOREVER! I couldn't believe how much food there was! There was almost as much food as there was plastic surgery, and if you know Pusateri's, that's a hell of a lot! But out of all the food I tasted, my hands-down favourites were the creamy wild mushroom risotto scooped fresh out of a giant wheel of parmigiano reggiano, and the oh-so-decadent mini chocolate-filled icing sugar-dusted doughnuts and mini cannoli's. I savored each and every bite of the extremely generous serving of the risotto and couldn't help but go back for seconds of both the doughnuts and cannoli's.

Before the crowd even began to thin, both my mom and I were stuffed to the brim, (with myself a little tipsy) and ready to get into our pj's and hit the hay. I have to say that I was truly blown away by the wonderful hospitality and generosity from Pusateri's by throwing such an incredible event. They 110% exceeded my already-high expectations and certainly succeeded in maintaining their reputation for quality and excellence!
Nice move Pusateri's!

Listening To:
Notorious BIG - Party And Bullshit

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Buttermilk Cornbread

If you work with me you'll know that not a day has gone by in months that I haven't talked about cornbread. The obsession started a few months ago when a friend suggested I check out Memphis Smokehouse, raving about their delicious barbeque. I definitely enjoyed their flavourful, fall-off-the-bone ribs, and their other barbeque was alright, but what I really couldn't get enough of was their cornbread! Before trying out Memphis' cornbread my only other cornbread experience that I could recall was tasting a jalapeno cornbread that a friend, who is also a fantastic cook had made a few years ago that I can unfortunately remember like it was yesterday. I swear I can still taste that dry and crumbly cornbread that I had to immediately and as gracefully as possible deposit into the nearest napkin. It was at that moment that I decided that I was no fan of cornbread. I turned my nose up at cornbread ever since, assuming that that must be what cornbread always tastes like because my friend is such an incredible cook and baker. It was only when I went to Memphis Smokehouse, where cornbread is served with their mains that I thankfully gave cornbread another chance. Hot out of the oven, soft, and moist, their cornbread was absolutely delicious! Of course my first thought after tasting something so yummy is always "Ok, so how can I make this at home?" The recipe research began!

I found a very basic recipe that I thought would be a good start, and adjusted a few ingredients along the way to suit my own taste. I was serving up pulled pork that same night and wanted my cornbread to act as a dipper to sop up all that delicious slow-cooked sauce that the pork was enveloped in, so I knew that I absolutely did not want to make a sweet cornbread. Because I had never made cornbread before, I ended up following the recipe pretty closely, choosing to only adjust the sugar this time around. I cut the sugar down to 1/3 cup, (as opposed to the suggested 3/4 cups EEK!) which resulted in a just-sweet-enough cornbread rather than what would have been more of a sweet breakfast cornbread. With my sugar adjustment, I ended up with a great basic cornbread. More dense in texture than the one at Memphis, this cornbread could definitely handle the dipping duties that I had hoped it would, keeping it's form and not crumbling everywhere when topped with the very saucy pork. As I stated in my entry on Pumpkin Spice Cookies, I don't feel comfortable writing out recipes that I have found online, and playing them off as though they are my own. Despite my adjustment on this Buttermilk Cornbread recipe, I would certainly not consider this recipe my own, but that doesn't mean that I don't want to share a simple and successful recipe with you! So follow the link below and adjust the sugar amount to achieve what I believe to be a great basic cornbread recipe to serve up as a side with your next dinner! I can't wait to start playing around with more cornbread recipes to come up with one that I can truly call my own!


Listening To:
I saw Lana Del Rey perform at the MOD Club a few weeks ago and man, that voice is awesome live!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sloppy Joes

Damn, when I was little I sure had it good! Of course I was sadly unaware of it at the time, but I was so incredibly fortunate growing up to have two parents that were awesome cooks! I suppose I just figured that all parents cooked like that and I never quite put two and two together and realized why all my friends wanted to come over to my house for dinner. My parents are often at their best in the kitchen, moving around the space as though they are performing a choreographed dance, tasting, mixing, and searching out ingredients instinctively knowing each others tastes and wants. They didn't just cook out of necessity, they cooked because of their passion for good food, good flavours, and the feeling you get when you enjoy a great dish. This lead them to discover new dishes to serve to my sister and I all the time. You would have thought we would have been in our absolute glory having meals like that all the time, but naturally the grass is always greener on the other side. I remember watching commercials for Hamburger Helper and longing to try that cheesy meaty dinner from a box, totally baffled that my mom had never wanted to buy it. The same went for frozen dinners, I thought it was just so cute and cool that each dish had its own little compartment in the plastic like your plate was made for meal. I swooned over the scene in It Takes Two with the Olsen twins when the character Alyssa ate her first Sloppy Joe, wishing that I could take my first bite of that messy concoction along with her! Alas, we never had meals like that in the Rose house.

Now into my twenties, often having to come up with something on my own before running out the door, or picking up the slack with the cooking when the parentals are busy, I certainly appreciate those regular home cooked meals from my past. You will never find one of those classic frozen dinners in my fridge, and I will never serve them to my own family. Although I'm still mildly curious about Hamburger Helper, the appeal is gone and I have still never tasted it. Now Sloppy Joes, on the other hand, are a totally different story. My interest in Sloppy Joes has remained just as strong over the years, despite the fact that up until a few months ago when I made this dish (jeeze another overdue blog post!) I had never even tasted a Sloppy Joe before. I think it had something to do with all that messiness and sauciness that just had me hooked! The time had come for me to fulfill my lifelong dream of having a Sloppy Joe for dinner! Just as I had imagined and heard, I whipped up the Sloppy Joes so incredibly quickly, using a recipe as a guideline and tasting and adding ingredients as I went. Just as I had always imagined, the Sloppy Joes were delicious! Served on a soft bun, the fresh bread soaked up the delicious sweet and spicy sauce that enveloped the savory ground beef, with texture in every bite from crunchy sweet yellow bell peppers. My parents both loved their Sloppy Joes and wondered aloud why they had never made them for my sister and I growing up. My future children (NOT ANY TIME SOON!) are definitely in for a treat!

Ingredients:
1/2 yellow onion
1 lb ground beef (lean)
1/2 yellow pepper, diced
1/2 cup chili sauce
1/2 cup barbeque sauce
1 tsp prepared yellow mustard
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp brown sugar
chili powder, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
soft buns for serving

Directions:
1. In a medium skillet set to medium heat, sauté the onion until translucent. Add the ground beef and yellow pepper and continue cooking, while breaking up the meat with a spatula, until meat has browned. Drain off any liquids.

2. Stir in the chili sauce, barbecue sauce, prepared yellow mustard, garlic powder, and brown sugar. Taste and season with chili powder and salt and pepper according to taste. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve hot on fresh soft buns.

Listening To:

Gourmet Food & Wine Expo

In a city filled to the brim with food events taking place just about every other day, it's difficult to decide which ones you would be willing to spend your hard-earned money on. Having attended food and beverage events in Toronto for quite a number of years now, I have a much better understanding of what to look for ahead of time to gage whether or not the event is worth my time and money. Years ago I vowed that I was no longer willing to shell out what little money I had for tickets to the many food and beverage expos that take place in Toronto. I was irritated by having to pay generally a minimum of $20 just to enter a building jam-packed with a hungry crowd, only to pay more money for anything I was interested in sampling. Don't get me wrong, I am ALL for sampling a variety of products, allowing me to experience new flavours and brands, but at the same time, I am a woman with a lot of pride and I won't be very pleased unless I have been given my money's worth, which I had found to be a rarity. Despite my dislike for expos, I am still one hell of a food lover and couldn't imagine turning down tickets to the VIP night of the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo kindly offered to me by Mott's Clamato, one of the exhibitors and show features at the expo. So off I went on Thursday night, with my mom in tow, to experience what the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo had to offer.

Immediately I was taken aback by the crowds, which were still pouring in as I arrived 2 hours into the event. I quickly remembered why I always like to bring a small purse and take advantage of coat check as I tried to maneuver my big bowling ball of a purse and Fall coat through the chaos, all the while being aware not to knock any glasses over! With stomach's growling, we quickly made our way over to the food section of the event to sample some gourmet food offerings. Sample tickets are purchased upon entry, which act as the show's currency. You may only buy sheets of at least 20 sample tickets at a time, with each ticket representing $1. The booths offer samples that can cost anywhere from 1 to 7 tickets (on average from what I observed). We promptly scanned the selection and decided which dishes we felt were the biggest bang for the buck. I'm sorry to say that I was quite disappointed by the selection. I was hoping to be impressed by the assortment of gourmet food the expo would offer, but was saddened to see just how little "gourmet" food there truly was, as well as realizing how fast we were going to blow through our sample tickets, as most samples cost around 4 tickets. My general rule of thumb at these types of events is to observe where the line ups are which will tell you what samples people are enjoying the most. Despite the crowds, lines were short and fast moving, so we decided to line up for the longest one at Milagro, serving up tacos, margaritas, and tequila shots. We each got a pulled pork taco at only 3 sample tickets each and devoured it in next to no time. I'm taco spoiled thanks to my amazing experience at La Carnita at Food Truck Eats, but Milagro's tacos were nothing to turn my nose up at. Tender, juicy, with great acidity and toppings I thoroughly enjoyed Milagro's taco and could have gone back for more! We then went to Highway 61's booth, a barbeque restaurant both my mom and I were familiar with. We have enjoyed their barbeque platters in the the past along with their onion rings, baked beans, and fries, but have never ordered their crab cakes, one of my food weaknesses. For another 3 sample tickets each we both got a bite sized crab cake that didn't exactly leave me weak at the knees due to its fishy flavour. Of course I had to check out the Mott's Clamato booth and get my hands on a spicy caesar, which I knew could do no wrong.

Never one to disappoint, Mott's not only impressed me with their caesar, which was right on point, but also with their Caesar School, which unfortunately was all full by the time we went over. The Mott's Clamato booth is a wonderful example of the benefits of attending an expo like this. It's learning experiences like this that allow attendees to truly take advantage of what the expo has to offer, and leave with new knowledge on the product, brand, and how they can replicate what they have tasted at home. For no additional charge or sample tickets, you could sign up to sit in on Mott's Clamato's Caesar School where their charming drink master teaches you how to make and perfect different types of unique caesars. Although I was unable to sit in on this, it appeared to be very similar to the types of mixing that took place at the Coast to Coast Caesar Toast in the summer, which I learned so much from.

I couldn't believe how fast the time flew by the time we had finished our caesars. At 8:45 anxiety kicked in as I realized I had only 15 minutes to head over to the Food Network stage and find a prime spot to plant myself, to get the best view of their celebrity chef Chuck Hugh's from one of my favourite Food Network show's Chuck's Day Off. Off to the side, but with a perfect view of the stage, my mom and I waited for the man of the hour to walk out. A laid back Chuck came out with that same charm, charisma, and black T-shirt we all know and love from his show, happily answering questions from the audience and telling us all about what Chuck's Day Off has in store for the future, a new special he worked on Chuck's Week Off in Mexico, and his incredible experience with The Next Iron Chef. I was lucky enough to get to ask Chuck a question myself, while keeping my nerves in check as he stood less than a foot away from me and stared into my bewildered eyes. With much of the audience frustrating me asking non-food related questions such as "do you have a girlfriend?" and "what do you think of the occupy movement?", I asked Chuck if he were stranded on a deserted island, what five ingredients would he want with him? He gladly answered 1) Water 2) Butter 3) Hot Sauce 4) Bacon 5)....honestly, I couldn't catch what he said here but I believe it was Wu Tang? Can anyone confirm this? I know it was a music artist, but I can't remember who. Help a sister out if you were in attendance and remember! The highlight of my night, I walked away with a big stupid grin on my face and a new hunger for another food sample!

We finished off the expo by grabbing the pulled pork sliders from Lou Dawgs at 5 sample tickets for 2 sliders. The sliders were tasty with the tender pork and sweet and smokey Lou Dawgs barbeque sauce that our server recommended. No better way to end the evening than barbeque sauce dripping down your chin right? We left with extremely lame GFWE gift bags on our arms and that same stupid "omg I just talked to Chuck Hugh's" grin on my face. It's clear to see that my feelings on food and beverage expos has not changed much but I do have some positive things to note. No I would not recommend anyone to attend the expo if you are just looking to try some interesting food. But if you are looking to get the opportunity to sample all different types of wine from all around the world, learn some new tips and tricks on mixing cocktails, and meet your favourite celebrity chef, then yes, by all means brave the cold and head down to the convention centre, but not before scouring the web for a promotional code to get you cheaper entry fee. I suppose one of the biggest reasons why I was so disappointed in the expo was that I have been very lucky to have attended so many other incredible food and beverage events in Toronto in the past that I not only enjoyed more, but felt I got more value for the time and money I had spent. Consider sip & Savour Ontario with an entry fee of $65. Sure this sounds like a lot of money to spend on one evening, but that entry fee is your only cost for the night as you are able to sample as much wine as you like once inside, as well as sample gourmet food from some of the province's top restaurants and chefs. At the expo you are paying $18 entry fee plus service charges, around $40 on average on sampling tickets to get a full experience of the event, plus $20 parking, and this doesn't get you even near the quality of food that sip & Savour offered. You can make the same comparison with the expo and Food Truck Eats, an event that I was extremely impressed with. I found the food from Food Truck Eats to be of a higher quality and far more unique than the food served at the expo, and with each dish costing no more than $5, you can't compare the value. I don't like writing negative reviews on my blog, but in this instance I felt the need to express my constructive criticism. Before you purchase tickets to any food and beverage event in Toronto make sure to do your research. Look up promotional codes to cut the cost of entry, read up on what features the show has to offer and which brands and products the show will be exhibiting, find people who have attended the event in previous years and ask them questions about the value and quality, and remember that just because an event is highly advertised doesn't mean it will be a great event. I by no means wrote this to offend anyone taking part in the GFWE, I just want my blog to reflect my honest opinion and perhaps allow my readers to walk away having learnt something new. Please continue to show your support for Toronto's incredible food and beverage scene!

Listening To:
Frank Ocean - Thinking About You

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Last week, when reading over my entry on my Pumpkin Ravioli with Sage Butter Sauce, I couldn't help but wonder why I chose to go the savory route when I was hit with pumpkin inspiration due to the constant flow of comments on the now extremely popular Pumpkin Spice Latte. I know I didn't want to make a drink (I retract my statement in that last entry about me being horrible at making coffee, I used to work at a café and pastry shop and I can make one mean cappuccino, latte, and macchiato using an espresso machine) but how come I didn't choose to make a pumpkin spice dessert to go along with a warm drink? The truth is, my taste buds like to go back and forth between craving sweet and savory all the time. Just a few weeks ago all I could think about was herbs, spices, meats, etc. choosing chips and dip as my after-dinner snack as opposed to a baked good. And yet here I am now, finding myself scouring the cupboards, fridge, and freezer for any hint of a dessert after each and every meal, choosing pancakes and waffles for breakfast rather than my old standby toast and a fried egg. So sure enough, being in my sugar and spice and everything nice mode while reading the pumpkin ravioli entry, I was struck again with seasonal pumpkin inspiration. I imagined the perfect little dessert that I could take with me to work to snack on that would epitomize all of my favourite things about Fall, just as I had with my Pumpkin Ravioli entree.

After spending more time than necessary looking at an abundance of pumpkin spice food porn, searching all the many pumpkin spice recipes that are available on the internet, I decided to make Pumpkin Spice Cookies. I found a simple recipe for Pumpkin Spice cookies on allrecipes.com that sounded promising, so out came the leftover pumpkin in the fridge, the sugar, flour, KitchenAid, and even a mortar and pestle for hand grinding my spices! I was all set and ready for pumpkin spice heaven! Other than grinding my own spices, this recipe was incredibly fast and quick to follow, and truly the only reason why I hand-ground some of my spices was because I only had whole cloves and nutmeg in my cupboard, so I had to make due. The cookies turned out really yummy, but of course I always have my revisions. This brings up a whole new topic that I feel the need to discuss.

It's tricky when you still consider yourself to still be a fairly new cook (I know I've been cooking for as long as I can remember, but I still have SO much to learn!) and want to try out all the fantastic sounding recipes that you come across online, in magazines and books, etc. You want to share a delicious recipe with everyone, but do you really have the right to when the recipe is not your own? I consider my blog a resource that people can use to obtain tasty and simple recipes that they can feel confident has been tested in a home kitchen. And true, I always cite where I have gotten the recipes that are not my own, but I still feel strange about publishing a recipe that people, if they do not read the entry in full, may assume to be my own. After much thought, I decided that the only way that i can feel confident delivering these recipes to you is if I offer something valuable that the recipe and website is not already offering such as special tips, tricks, and revisions that I feel allow you to take the recipe a little bit closer to perfection. So although allrecipes.com's recipe for Pumpkin Spice Cookies was great, I feel that my recipe, complete with my own revisions, will be your new Fall favourite! With a texture soft like cake with a crunch and nuttiness from chopped walnuts, the sweetness of the pumpkin, and the kick from the spice, these cookies truly succeed in epitomizing Fall!

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup lightly toasted walnuts, chopped
1/3 cup golden raisins (optional)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350º. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and salt, and set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter with the white and brown sugar. Add the pumpkin, egg, and 1 tsp vanilla and beat until creamy. Mix in the dry ingredients, walnuts, and raisins, making sure to not over-mix.

3. Drop onto a lined cookie sheet by tablespoonfuls, flattening slightly. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Best eaten warm out of the oven, but cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 1 week.

Listening To:
M83 - Midnight City .mp3
Found at bee mp3 search engine

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pumpkin Ravioli in a Sage Butter Sauce

Click on just about any girls Twitter or Facebook timeline within the past month, and you're sure to find a post about the beloved Pumpkin Spice Latte. I've never been one to get too excited about handing over a five-dollar bill for one calorie-filled drink that I will slowly sip until the last few gulps inevitably turns cold, I personally would rather save my toonies for the bar and cab rides home. No, the expensive seasonal drink craze isn't for me, but I absolutely understand the appeal of indulging in a comforting cup of well...Fall. What I think people love about that special latte is the memories it conjures up, the feelings you can't help but come over you with each warming sip, reminding you about all the beautiful things that come with this chilly yet spectacular season. Visits to the pumpkin patch, hay rides, carving out Halloween pumpkins, pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, the Pumpkin Spice Latte symbolizes all of these wonderful special occasions and memories, allowing you to experience the joys of Fall any ordinary day of the week! I am notorious for making pretty terrible coffee and breaking just about any coffee maker I've come into contact with, so there wasn't a chance in hell that I was going to try and replicate the seasonal drink. With pumpkin ravioli on the brain thanks to both new issues of Food & Drink and Food & Wine magazines featuring the recipe, I knew I had found my Fall-inspired dish!

After a bit of research and recipe comparison, I came up with my own recipe for the ravioli that was as simple as possible, but still had great flavour. I thought back on a dinner I had last year at Parts and Labour in Toronto where I was served an absolutely delicious pumpkin ravioli, that shouted FALL with each bite. What made that ravioli stand out so much was the simplicity of the dish and the extra little bit of texture they added with the addition of toasted pumpkin seeds. Because I know how incredibly labour-intensive it is to make your own pasta from scratch, I nixed that and opted to use purchased wonton wrappers instead, cutting down a huge chunk of prep time. The delicately flavoured final product was fantastic, taking my taste buds back to that delicious memory from Parts and Labour and of course all the other exciting Fall milestones. This is a great dish to transport you to your favourite Fall memory any day of the week!

Tip: Take this dish to new heights by drizzling a bit of truffle oil on top before serving.

Ingredients:
1 cup pure pumpkin puree (from a can)
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 tbsp parmesan cheese, grated + more for garnish
2-3 tbsp unseasoned breadcrumbs
1 package wonton wrappers
1/4 cup unsalted butter
about 6-8 sage leaves
a handful of pumpkin seeds (lightly toasted)

Directions:
1. In a medium bowl mix together the pumpkin puree, ricotta cheese, salt, nutmeg, and parmesan cheese. Add the breadcrumbs one tablespoon at a time until mixture begins to come together and isn't as moist.

2. Set up an assembly station, laying out the wonton wrappers, the pumpkin mixture, a small bowl of water, and a baking sheet to lay the ravioli on. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of the pumpkin mixture into the centre of the wrappers. Dip a clean finger into the bowl of water and moisten the edges of the wrappers. Fold over the wrappers to create a triangle bundle filled with the pumpkin mixture, pinch the edges to seal and squeeze out any air pockets. Lay out on the baking sheet.

3. Once raviolis have all been filled (you will have about 40-50 raviolis) boil a large pot of well-salted water. Reduce heat to a gentle boil and carefully drop in the raviolis (they will be delicate). Gently stir and boil for 3-4 minutes. Carefully drain water.

4. In a large pan melt the butter at medium heat. Immediately add the sage leaves. Once butter begins to foam, use a spoon to scoop out the white milk solids, working quickly so the butter doesn't burn. When the butter begins to brown, turn off heat immediately. Transfer raviolis to a serving dish and top with the sage butter. Sprinkle with toasted pumpkin seeds and parmesan cheese. Serve immediately!

Listening To:
Beyoncé - Countdown

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

sip & Savour Ontario Wrap Up

That's it folks! After months of preparation, sip & Savour Ontario 2011 has come to an end. It's amazing how something that you can put so much time and energy into can fly by in a wink! After a week of recuperation and me time, I now owe you a little sip & Savour Ontario wrap up to fill you in on all of the excitement that took place from our Exclusive Blogger Preview Event, to the big event sip & Savour Ontario, and lastly the Ontario Wine Awards Niagara winery tour that was organized as a thank you for the Ontario Wine Awards (sip & Savour Ontario's partner) sponsors.

Prior to sip & Savour Ontario, an Exclusive Blogger Preview Event was held at Longo's stunning new Maple Leaf Square location in their beautiful Corks Beer and Wine Bar test kitchen and lounge. This preview event was set up exclusively for some of Ontario's influential food and wine bloggers to give them an opportunity to learn more about sip & Savour Ontario and learn firsthand from our talented hosts, renowned wine writer and Order of Canada recipient Tony Aspler and Longo's Chef David Ashlee, how to pair Ontario's VQA wines with local Ontario produce. The event began with a sparkling wine reception in the lounge where our bloggers got to greet and mingle with one another while sipping on Peller Estates NV Ice Cuvée Rosé, the Sparkling Wine Award gold medal-winner at the 2011 Ontario Wine Awards. Guests were then ushered into the fully equipped test kitchen where Tony took over to talk a little about the history of sip & Savour Ontario and it's new partnership with Houselink Community Homes, an organization that provides a home, community, and opportunity for people living with mental illness. Houselink representative Brain Davis then took the stage to elaborate on Houselink, while Luke Bowden from Houselinke delivered a candid and moving speech about his own personal experience with mental illness and the significant role that Houselink played in helping to guide him to be in the place he is today. With mouths watering, David Ashlee eagerly began preparing the three dishes that he was pairing with our Ontario VQA wines that day, while providing the guests with helpful tips and tricks and Tony interjecting with notes on the wine. The menu and wine pairings were as follows:

First Course
Salmon Ceviche Green Tea Crepes Stuffed with Avocado Jicama and Wasabi
OWA Gold Medal Winner White Wine of the Year Château de Charmes 2008 'Old Vines' Riesling Estate Bottled

Second Course
Frenched Lambchops with Stuffed Grape Leaves in a Red Wine, Shallot Reduction
OWA Gold Medal Winner Cabernet Franc Award Kacaba 2007 Cabernet Franc Reserve

Third Course
Chilled Cucumber Soup with Icewine Mascarpone Whip and Blue Cheese Shortbread Cookie
Konzelmann 2008 Vidal Special Select Late Harvest

Sure, I was expecting to taste some yummy food that day, but Chef Ashlee went above and beyond "yummy" with his absolutely delicious and expertly paired menu of unique, skillful, and local dishes. As each dish was served you could hear a chorus of satisfied "mmm's" around the room as the guests took their first bites. Coming from someone who was involved in making the Preview Event happen, I have to say that I was totally blown away by the execution and attention to detail that both Chef Ashlee and the Longo's team brought to the table that day. What a pleasant experience that was. I expect this won't be the last time we'll collaborate with them. We ended the event by sending off our guests with a bottle of Ontario VQA icewine and Ontario goat cheese provided by Longo's, and hopes that our bloggers would spread the word about sip & Savour Ontario and the importance of Houselink. For more photos of the Exclusive Blogger Preview Event click here!

Only a few weeks after our Exclusive Blogger Preview Event, the big event, sip & Savour Ontario was held at the unique space at Steam Whistle Brewery. The event featured 29 Ontario VQA award-winning wineries, with representatives each pouring numerous wines to give guests a true feel of the winery, terroir, and people behind the wine. Scattered about the space were stations set up by six of Ontario's top chefs who had created delectable local food pairings to go along with the wines being served. Click here to see the entire menu from the evening. An exciting addition to the event were two gourmet food trucks El Gastronomo Vagabundo and Cupcake Diner (the much anticipated Gorilla Cheese was sadly a mysterious no-show) to draw attention to and support Ontario's growing food truck movement. Throughout the evening guests were invited upstairs to take part in four live cooking demos presented by Maria Carino from Houselink, Chef Keith Bundock from As You Wish Catering, Chef Adam Hynam-Smith from El Gastronomo Vagabundo, and Chef David Ashlee from Longo's, with each demo paired with a specific wine being poured. With Houselink as our charitable partner, there was also a silent auction that was held throughout the event, giving guests the opportunity to bid on an array of exciting items, packages, and tours that were kindly donated to raise funds for Houselink. All in all the event was a wonderful success, drawing in a great crowd and raising awareness of Ontario's food and wine excellence and Houselink Community Homes. Click here to see more photos of the event!



To wrap up all of the excitement, a private Niagara winery tour, tasting, and luncheon was held for the Ontario Wine Award sponsors as a thank you for helping to make the awards possible, and, in turn, allowing sip & Savour Ontario to be possible. The informative tour began at Niagara Teaching Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake where we were taken into one of the beautiful tutorial rooms and got to taste the OWA Sparkling Wine Award gold medal-winner Peller Estates NV Ice Cuvée Rosé, a sparkling wine that is topped up with a dosage of Ontario icewine, giving the sweet drink a distinct and unique strawberry flavour. As we were taken into the vineyard, we learned all about the teaching program and just how hands-on the students are able to get in producing the wine. It was great to hear that the winery takes advantage of the unique opportunity that Ontario has to produce icewine, by allowing their students to take part in picking and producing icewine as well. Right in the midst of the harvest, it was so cool to be right in the action watching this years Cabernet Franc grapes get picked. To warm ourselves up from the vineyard, we headed back inside to taste a selection of Niagara Teaching College wines and then proceeded to the wineries Benchmark Restaurant to enjoy a delicious and comforting meal prepared and served by the students at the college. The menu and pairings were as follows:

Hand Cut Bitter Greens Salad with Scallion-Ginger Vinaigrette, Toasted Hazelnuts, Crumbled Smoked Bacon, and Caramelized Niagara Pears
NC Semi Dry Reisling 2009
or
Good Earth Rose 2009

Spinach and Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Supreme with Sweet Potato Galette, Seasonal Vegetables, Caramelized Onions, and Red Wine Jus
NC Sauvignon Blanc 2009
or
Fielding Pinot Gris 2010
or
NC Cabernet Franc 2008
or
Les Clos Jordanne Pinot Noir 2008

From there, we hopped back onto the Niagara Air Bus and headed over to the stunning Tawse Estate Winery, where winemaker Paul Pender received the OWA 2011 Winemaker of the Year award for his hard work and creativity. We were taken inside to see the process in which the wine is aged in the steel vats and learned about the natural approach they take to their winemaking, utilizing the topography of the vineyard and estate to allow gravity to guide the wine within the facility. We then went down into the cellar where more wine was tasted and we were lucky enough to get to meet the man himself, Moray Tawse.

Tired, tipsy, and in need of a cozy blanket, the tour had come to an end, and proved to be a great treat and learning experience to top off this whole sip & Savour Ontario adventure! Thank you to everyone who helped to support sip & Savour Ontario! Your participation is helping to support the continued education and funding for Ontario's talented and passionate winemakers, farmers, and chefs as well as Houselink, an organization that I have come to have a great deal of respect for. This was such a wonderful learning experience for me and I can't wait to do it all again next year!

Listening To:
The Rolling Stones - Gimme Shelter.MP3

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Leftover Lovin': Pulled Pork Shepherds Pie

I honestly don't know how I could get through a workweek without a fridge full of leftovers. I rely on leftovers almost every day to give me the fuel I need on my quickie 15-min lunch break at work to get me through the rest of the day. Yeah, a sandwich will do in a pinch, but you can't compare a cold (and often soggy) sandwich that you have to rush around to prepare in the morning before flying out of the house to catch the bus, to warm and comforting leftovers that you simply transferred to a travel container. But what happens when leftovers extend beyond two days? This year for my 24th birthday fiesta at my house I accidentally made enough pulled pork to feed an army! My army of drunk friends just wasn't enough to tackle that immense batch of sweet, smokey, and tender pork. In fact a family dinner with my pulled-pork loving aunt, uncle, and cousins STILL wasn't enough to tackle all that pork the next night. By the third night my parents and I were all pulled porked out. We didn't want that delicious pork to go to waste, but there was no way we could bring ourselves to have pulled pork tacos for yet another night. I needed to transform the pork so that we could still enjoy it, but it could be disguised in such a way that we wouldn't even think about the fact that we were eating the same thing for the third night in a row.

I've been wanting to make a really good shepherds pie for a while now, and with the meat already prepared and a bag full of potatoes on the counter I knew I had found our solution to the pulled pork leftover blues. Following my instincts, I quickly boiled some potatoes, sauteed some onion for extra flavour, pulled out the leftover fiesta salad (two birds one stone!) to add even more flavour and texture, thawed some green peas from the fridge, and pulled out some already shredded cheese. In hardly any time at all I had prepared my family's new favourite comfort food! Warm and fluffy mashed potatoes are topped with salty melted cheddar cheese, resting on a bed of sweet, smokey, and tender pulled pork, with a layer of sweet vegetables in between. What a winner! It's worth it to make a giant batch of pulled pork all over again just to be able to make this fantastic quick dish!


Ingredients:
4 large potatoes, chopped
1/2 onion, sliced
olive oil for sauteing
2 tbsp butter + more for sauteing
1/4-1/2 cup hot milk
2-3 cups leftover pulled pork
1/2 cup leftover fiesta salad (or a mixture corn and black beans)
1/2 cup frozen green peas, thawed (add more if not adding corn and beans)
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Directions:
1. Add potatoes to a medium pot filled with cold water. Bring to a boil. When water has boiled reduce to a gentle boil. Continue to boil until potatoes are tender, about 15-20 min.

2. While potatoes are boiling, add a dab off butter and a bit of olive oil to a medium pan set at medium heat. When butter and oil are hot and bubbling add the onions and saute until golden brown.

3. When potatoes are tender, drain water and let potatoes sit in the covered pot for another 5 minutes to dry them out slightly. Add the butter and hot milk and mash using a potato masher until potatoes are fluffy and smooth.

4. Grease a medium-sized glass baking dish. Spread the leftover pulled pork evenly into the bottom of the dish. Top with the sauteed onions, leftover fiesta salad, and green peas.

5. Layer the mashed potatoes evenly overtop and top with shredded cheddar cheese. Broil for about 20-25 minutes to allow pork to reheat and cheddar to melt. If topping begins to burn, cover with tin foil. Serve hot.

Listening To:
Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris - We Found Love

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