Thursday, 26 July 2012

Local Biz Spotlight: Chocolates By Design

If you come here often enough, you've probably noticed that it's been an interesting month around Food, Je t'Aimée, with a number of exciting opportunities coming my way, and as a result, lots of different content! 

This post is no exception! 

Last week, myself and Kathy Jollimore of Eat Halifax! (and soon of The Record Shop) were invited down to  Chocolates by Design (1360 Lower Water Street) to check out their wares. If you haven't yet visited this chocolate-lovers haven, my goodness you're in for a treat when you do! Together, Kathy and I sampled a number of beautiful, individually wrapped chocolates, baking chocolates, and a steaming, decadent mug of milk hot chocolate.

Baking Chocos in white, milk, and dark.



My milk hot chocolate. Incredible.

Husband-and-wife team, Omar and Lama, drew inspiration from the streets of Dubai for their shop, where intricately wrapped and beautifully decorated chocolates are all the rage. It all began when Lama was pregnant with her first child and wanted to have these kinds of chocolates as favours for her baby shower guests. Out of luck finding any in Halifax, she decided to start making her own, and Chocolates by Design was born. Now, you can visit their shop to have party, shower, or wedding favours designed especially for your celebration, to complement your theme, and to work with your budget. You can see some of Lama's incredible handiwork below.





Chocolates by Design use and import a number of premium and pure source chocolates, including Belgian Belcolade. Omar has wholesale rates, too, for those who need top notch chocolate in bulk.

After you've pressed your nose against their display case and swooned over the choices (yes, that is a wall of chocolates you see behind Omar below!), you can grab an ice cream, a chocolatey drink, or coffee at their espresso and choco bar. They also serve baked goods and sweets, like macarons and cheesecake, and snacks, like sandwiches and samosas. Even better? For under $10, you have yourself a pot of chocolate fondue. Tell me that isn't the best way to pass an afternoon downtown? 

What's more is that they are one of the few coffee shops in town that stay open late. Really late! Their hours are Monday through Thusday, 7am-11pm, Friday and Saturday, 7am-12am, and Sunday 8:30am-10:30pm.

You can choose 100g of premium chocolate (approx. 5) from the wall behind Omar for $5


A glorious wall of chocolate.
Some of the cupcake wrappers you can buy in-store or online.

I absolutely loved the cupcake wrappers they have for sale (perfect for Muffin Monday!), and can't wait to get my hands on some. You can see what they actually look like when wrapped around a cupcake, along with their other gift arrangements and products, by visiting their online shop.

Chocolates by Design is an excellent and most welcome addition to our downtown core!



From their website:

"Recognizing the love for gourmet chocolates, we strive to present our customers with high quality gourmet chocolates elegantly wrapped and designed for their special occasions.

Our imported Belgian gourmet chocolates are manufactured using ingredients of the highest quality to give you a variety of luxurious and delicious flavours that will surely suit the different tastes of our customers.

Our unique gourmet chocolate products have not been available before in the local market, so if you are looking for a stylish and tasty gift or some gourmet chocolate for yourself, our rich variety of smooth and silky gourmet chocolates will surely satisfy your taste buds."

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Lorne Caborn: On Mixology, Captain Morgan, Tall Ships, and You


"You should never shake a Martini; it bruises the ice."

If this sentence doesn't make any sense to you, then you're in the right place! Despite this highly popularized idea, Bond's understanding of the classic Martini was really quite elementary. Apparently, shaking a Martini bruises - i.e, breaks apart - the ice and leaves remnants of it throughout your drink. How uncivilized! A Martini should only be stirred, my friends.

As you've probably guessed, I have something a little different for you today. I recently went down to the Halifax waterfront, where I had the vast pleasure of meeting local mixologist, Lorne Caborn, and learning a thing or two about the signature cocktails he created with Captain Morgan to celebrate Tall Ships 2012. The Tall Ships festival is happening in Nova Scotia for 10 days, from July 19-29. You can read more about the festival here. While you're at it, be sure to check out Taste of Nova Scotia's Food Fare by the Sea, too.


Meeting Lorne for coffee at TIBS Halifax

Given that my idea of mixology is uncorking a bottle of wine, cracking open a beer, or downing whatever nasty concoction we used to drink by the pitcher for university pub crawls, I also got to ask Lorne for advice on how a gal like me becomes a maven of the backyard BBQ bar.

Aimée: What drew you to mixology? And what's the difference between mixology and bartending, anyway?
Lorne: My personal transition between the two isn’t clear, and I still consider myself a bartender. 18 years ago, I was slinging drinks in pubs, and all I knew was that I had to get drinks out fast. I think I made the trasition when I started working in hiring establishments and had more time to play around with garnishes, aesthetics, and flavours. While cooking and making drinks at Café Chianti, for example, I learned how food flavours translated into making cocktails and pairings, and learned to appreciate the undertones of the drinks I was making there. I worked my way through the line, starting as a dishwasher. I did end up taking a bartending course, eventually, but I find those courses are a mixed bag. Most places want to train you in their own way and style. I learned a lot from the course - it was incredibly useful - but I recommend taking a course after you’ve already worked as a bartender, not as a means to getting a job.

Photo by Megan Chandler. Used with permission.


A: So how did you get involved with Captain Morgan and Tall Ships?
L: I was approached by their ad agency to see if I was interested in creating a cocktail for the Tall Ships Festival this year, and I was completely honoured, considering what a big deal the festival is in Halifax. I'm one of these people who does this for a career, but genuinely loves (and geeks out about) what they do. It's all a labour of love. And truthfully, Captain Morgan Private Stock is incredible. It's a great product, so I was happy to work with it. It's a very smooth and mellow rum, with vanilla undertones. I drink it on the rocks. Can’t say that for many products!

Photo by Megan Chandler. Used with permission.


A: Walk me through the cocktails you made for Captain Morgan.
L: The first one is called "Morgan Takes Manhattan" [Recipes Below]. With the history behind the Tall Ships and this being the bicentennial of the War of 1812, I wanted one drink to reflect that history, and the Manhattan is a really old cocktail. This is my version of the classic. This is more of a formal drink you could have with dinner.
The second cocktail is called "Morgan’s Martimer." It has less to do with the festival and more to do with representing Nova Scotia in a summer drink. I used seasonal, local strawberries to make this drink nice, light, and breezy; perfect for an afternoon on a patio or a backyard BBQ.
I wanted to strike a balance with a formal drink and a light drink, so that these recipes could appeal and be accessible to everyone.

A: What do you do with people like me? Enlighten me! Turn me into a backyard bar maven!
L: You know, it all starts in the same place as when you need a new recipe for dinner: on Google!  Also, the My NSLC website has loads of bartenders and mixologists on there offering tips and recipes. There are drink ideas, centerpiece ideas, food recipes, glassware, pairing ideas... it's really a one stop shop. It's user friendly and direct.
I find the biggest mistake some people make when they begin their home bartending mission is picking up a bartending book. They can be daunting if you don’t know some of the lingo or ingredients already. Some cocktails use complicated ingredients, but if you know their flavours, you know what to substitute it with from your own cupboards. Personally, I prefer to use online resources and videos, which are more visual. The books aren’t meant to be intimidating, but really can be if you're just starting out.
For example, a book might tell you that Martinis shouldn’t be shaken, they should be stirred, because it bruises the ice. (Sorry, Bond!) Or a book will tell you to use soda water to chill your glasses first, but not tap water. Why? There are really good reason for why we do these things, and I find an instructional video tends to go into those explanations, whereas a book might assume you know and then move on. Book, video, website... just find something that explains the reasons why they are doing what they're doing.

A: At dinner parties, are you the default bartender? Do you have to mix drinks even when it's not your party?
L: I'm definitely a default bartender, but usually parties are a collective effort with chef friends. I do get phone calls for advice - from the deck, from the bar, from the liquor store - and I am a go-to guy for some friends. I don't mind, though, it's an honour and I absolutely love it. Behind 3 feet of bar, I'm happiest. The coolest thing about what we bartenders and mixologists do is that everyone wants to be around you, because it looks like such a fun job. Not all jobs are like that! I don't walk into a lawyer's office and feel that way. Just saying.


Photo by Megan Chandler. Used with permission.


A: Is mixology more an art or science, then?
L: The passionate person in me, the romantic in me, and my mom (an artist) in me thinks of it as an art. The science is knowing what flavours compliment each other, the proper mixing proportions, and how to balance acidity with sweet, etc. The science is more from a designer, executive, or management standpoint. The person at the top knows and teaches the science, while the bartenders on the floor are the art. And sometimes people bridge both.

A: What’s distinctive about your drinks, then?
L: It's a little more intangible. I put my heart and soul in everything I make. The coolest thing about what I do is that I can change a person’s night, with my mood, my service, my drink. It's a powerful thing.

A: If you had to choose just one, what's your favourite backyard/patio/BBQ drink?
L: A classic Mojito – no variations – it’s my baby.

A: Ok, so you're on your deathbed: what drink do you request?
L:. A nice, full bodied red wine. It would take longer to drink than a cocktail ;)


A: Any final words?
L: Visit the My NSLC website. It's an awesome resource. I don't think it's being used to its potential because people just aren’t aware it's there.
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Given it was 10:30 in the morning, that I had to be at work by 1, and that, to my knowledge, public intoxication is still illegal, conditions weren’t ideal for – erm – taste testing. Thankfully, Lorne had recently had a fancy-pants photo shoot, so he allowed me to share these lovely shots by photographer Megan Chandler with you.

Photo by Megan Chandler. Used with permission.


Morgan Takes Manhattan
by Lorne Caborn

Ingredients
1 oz. of Captain Morgan Private Stock
.5 oz. sweet vermouth
Garnish with a cherry

Mix all ingredients in a shaker, strain into a martini glass. Another twist on a classic cocktail.

Photo by Megan Chandler. Used with permission.

Morgan's Maritimer
by Lorne Caborn
Ingredients
1.5 oz. Captain Morgan Private Stock
3-4 strawberries
orange juice
lemon/lime soda
Muddle strawberries in a rocks glass, add Captain Morgan Private Stock and top with ice. Fill 3/4 with orange juice and finish with lemon lime soda (try 7UP or Sprite).

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Give these summery cocktails a try and let me know what you think! I know I'll be unearthing my inner mixologist this weekend and giving these inspired cocktails a try. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Food & Wine Magazine: July Cover Recipe

Spaghettini with Shrimp, Tomatoes, and Chile Crumbs
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 - Delicious components, but missing something, flavour-wise.

Funnily enough, I couldn't even find the cover recipe for this month's challenge with Jasmine of Cook That Book, which we both laughed off as my having a glass too many of wine one night. However, the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, I was still having trouble. Jasmine sent me the page number and name of the recipe, which I located in the back of the magazine, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how she knew it was the cover recipe. My magazine cover said nothing about it! Finally, I just came out with it and asked her, at the risk of sounding ridiculous.

Turns out, the lovely people over at Food & Wine Magazine made more than one cover for the month of July! How many did they make? Who knows. But we do know they made at least two, which explains my confusion. It wasn't until Jasmine and I photographed our respective covers and emailed them to each other that my little mystery was solved!

THE TEST

The recipe for this month (as it turns out) was this Spaghettini with Shrimp, Tomatoes, and Chile Crumbs, by Chef Dan Kluger. It looked pretty, sounded delicious, and seemed simple enough. It was another one of those recipes where I only had to pick up a few of the ingredients. Excellent! That, and I love fresh, simple pasta dishes with light but flavourful sauces, so this was right up my alley.

First you roast some plum tomatoes (local grocer wasn't carrying them, so opted for cocktail size) in red wine vinegar and olive oil, season them, cool them, and grate them into a rustic sauce. Crisp some bread crumbs (I used Panko flakes) in a pan with lemon zest, crushed red pepper, and olive oil. Boil some pasta until al dente. Stir fry the shrimp and combine it with the pasta and some shredded basil. Garnish it with cherry tomatoes and the Panko mixture. Lovely!





THE RESULTS

So how was it? A little underwhelming, I'm sorry to say. The shrimp were definitely a highlight: plump, juicy and and with a touch of heat from the red pepper. The Panko mixture was also a great addition, and one I'll likely use again and again. But there really was something missing. The pasta itself was a little on the dull side. The tomato sauce wasn't as zingy as I imagined it would be, though that probably has more to do with the quality of the tomatoes than the recipe. And the cherry tomatoes on top would have benefitted from being warmed in the pan, too, to get their flavours and juices going.


That said, it certainly wasn't the worst way to spend a warm, sunny Sunday evening to myself, with Ethel the cat for company and Muddy Waters creating some atmosphere. And those shrimp really made up for a lot!

For wine, the recipe recommended an unoaked Chardonnay to pair with the acidity of the tomatoes, so this Townsend Jack from the Okanagan Valley, BC was recommended to me by the people over at Harvest Wines & Spirits. I wonder if Jasmine has ever tried this wine, or Kendall from Wine2Three? Admittedly, I think I prefer the oak - taste wise - but it did pair nice and lightly with the pasta.


I'll head over to Cook That Book later today to see how Jasmine fared with this recipe. Maybe she had better luck with her tomato sauce? Or her pasta?





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NOTE
: If any of you would like to follow along with Jasmine and I and join in on the fun, we'd love to compare notes! So pick-up a copy of the latest issue of Food & Wine and get cooking. Be sure to send your comments and photos to info@cookthatbook.com.

The mission of Food & Wine Magazine is to find the most exciting places, new experiences, emerging trends and sensations in the culinary and wine industries. From travel and entertaining to luxury and design, this magazine brings an energetic and stylish take on food and wine. For more information on Food & Wine Magazine, please visit www.foodandwine.com

Monday, 16 July 2012

Vibrant Beef & Black Bean Burritos - with Cookin' Greens

As much as I love spending time in the kitchen, carefully preparing meals, life just doesn't afford me these kinds of days every day (or every week, for that matter!). I'm sure you know the feeling! We all need to rely on 'fast' food from time to time, but not the variety that conjures up images from Super Size Me.

Unless you're a guru in the ways of healthy eating, have your own veggie patch, or are blessed with a one of these fabulously creative minds who can think of endless possibilities, sometimes it's hard to find ways of eating both fast and well, especially when you're thinking and shopping on the fly. Usually the most convenient foods are, inconveniently, quite unhealthy. Prepackaged, deep-fried, jammed with preservatives, or far too many sugars or carbs, these are just some of the ways that 'fast' food is delivered to us.

Another problem? With just the two of us at home, I buy fresh produce that (more often than I'd care to admit) doesn't get used up before going bad. I could put spinach in pretty much everything, for example, because I find it's the most colourful and healthy addition to so many of our regular dishes. But no matter how many different ways I think of to use it (and use it up), without fail, some of the package ultimately gets sacrificed to the green bin gods.

Enter Cookin' Greens: A company who takes rich, vibrant greens at the peak of their freshness and freezes them for quick meal prep. Here is an excerpt from the material they sent me:

Cookin' Greens "are cut at the peak of their freshness. Our greens go from farm-to-freezer within 6 hours of harvest, locking in all of the goodness intended by Mother Nature. An innovative "quick-frozen" process captures the ultimate flavour and nutritional value found in our dark-leafy greens. Cookin’ Greens™ offers you a sensory journey that is luscious and earthy. So eat your greens and savour the wholesome flavours!"




I was lucky enough to score some vouchers to try their products - disclaimer alert - but can honestly say I will be buying their products again, and often. They solve the problem of fast; they solve the problem of healthy; they solve the problem of wastage. Three massive wins in my book.

I found my bag of Cookin' Greens at Pete's Frootique in Bedford. They were only carrying one kind - Designer's Mix - so I grabbed my loot and went on my merry way, happy with its delicious mix of collards, rapini, spinach, yellow beans, and onion.

Greens are so versatile, they can go in just about anything: in salads, in pastas, on pizzas, in rice, in grains, in casseroles... there are truly few dishes where you couldn't find some way of sneaking in some greens. I probably wouldn't want any in my Apple Pie, though. Just saying.

(Brings to mind "Pie. Seaweed Pie." Anyone on the East Coast remember that old Maple Leaf commercial?)

In any case, I saw a great recipe for Black Bean Burritos on the Cookin' Greens website, and given I'd had hankering for some over the past few weeks, I decided to halve and adapt their recipe to include some of my own favourite ingredients. Being meat-lovers, yes, we opted for the addition of lean, ground beef. Without the meat, however, they would have been perfectly stuffed and hearty on their own.

Like with many things frozen, you need to watch out for the water content coming from the greens as they thaw and cook in your pan, so just account for that extra bit of liquid in whatever dish you're using them in. For example, I omitted the stock from the original version of the recipe below, because I found there was already sufficient liquid and flavour in the pan.






Vibrant Beef & Black Bean Burritos
Adapted from Cookin' Greens

Ingredients
1 lb extra lean ground beef
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup Cookin’ Greens - I used Designer's Mix
1/2 red pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin and dried oregano
1/2 a 14oz can black beans
1/2 cup corn kernels
4, 8-inch flour tortillas
1 cup old Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup salsa


Method

In a large skillet heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add ground beef and and fry until almost cooked through, with some pink left inside. Add red onion and cook for 5 minutes until softened. Add any Cookin’ Greens product of your choice and incorporate. Sauté until soft, for 5 more minutes. Add red pepper and mushrooms; continue cooking for another 5 minutes.

Stir lime juice, cilantro, chili powder, cumin and oregano into sautéed vegetables and meat. Cook another 3 minutes. Stir in beans and corn and cook, stirring until heated through about 3 minutes.

In another skillet over medium heat, warm tortilla for 2 minutes, turning once.

Place ½ cup of filling down centre of tortilla. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp cheese and 1 tbsp salsa. Fold up bottom and top edges in. Fold sides over filling. Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling. Place on parchment lined baking sheet. Add extra cheese and salsa over tortillas.

Bake in preheated 300F oven for 10 minutes.

Yields: 4 servings.


How's that for vibrant?


Not the greatest shot, as I was too busy stuffing my face. These were delicious!

I used  the leftover black beans, corn, and Designer's Mix the next night in one of my very favourite throw-together dinners: Tuna Farfalle with Cherry Tomatoes, Cracked Pepper and Parmesan. 



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Visit the Cookin' Greens website for more great recipes and product information! 

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Guest Post: Marnely's Summer Chayote Salad

I have a Food, Je t'Aimée first for you today! Despite having written a few guest posts on other people's blogs in the past, never have I ever had a guest poster of my own. You've read about her here countless times, but my amazingly talented, busy as heck, wonderfully supportive food-blogger-friend Marnely (referred to on my blog as Nelly!) of Cooking with Books has a fresh, unique, and healthy summer recipe to share with you today.

Nelly is a CIA-trained baker and is making her way in the food world with her fabulous blog, beautiful food photography, exciting giveaways, and knowledgeable product tests. She even writes for Marcus Samuelsson; no big deal! I have affectionately dubbed her "Blogger Santa," given how she seems to be everywhere and anywhere in the blink of an eye, along with her sack of awesome advice. I've lost count of how many times I've sent her panicky emails about something I was baking, or just needed an opinion on a blog or product decision, and within minutes, no matter what the time of day, there she is in my inbox with a comforting and helpful response.

For these reasons, it is just so fitting and such a pleasure that Nelly is my first guest poster. She has been an absolute treasure and invaluable resource to me over the past year! I can't wait to meet someday over coffee (with whole milk, of course, and none of this #fatfreemilkwater) and a bacon-infused sweet. Oh, yes.

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Hello, Food, Je t’Aimée readers! I’m Marnely, author of the food blog Cooking with Books, and oh am I excited to be sharing this summer recipe with Aimée’s readers. This recipe is unlike any other summer salad in your repertoire, as it is made with Chayote, a squash variety that originated in Mexico and is now exported all over the world.



Chayote can be eaten both raw in salads or quickly sautéed in butter and spices for a hot side dish. There is no need to peel it, but I prefer to do so and when in raw preparations, peeling ribbons of the chayote is the most delicate way to go. Try it raw in salsa as well for added crunch! As for hot preparations, chayote can be boiled, mashed, pureed, sautéed, fried, pickled, and stuffed; the possibilities are endless! What does it taste like? It’s a neutral flavor, a bit bland but a great canvas to make other ingredients shine.

Rich in Vitamin C and Amino acids, Chayote is a fantastic source of vitamins and minerals and since it’s easily prepared, it’s a great addition to your summer outdoor menus for barbeques and dinner parties, as well as quick lunches. This salad focuses on great quality rice vinegar and sesame oil, but you can also substitute for your favorite oil and vinegar combinations. Make this an Italian salad by combining balsamic vinegar and basil oil; make it Latin American by using Chipotle Oil and Apple Vinegar…Be Creative!



Summer Chayote Salad

1 medium sized chayote
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Salt and pepper to taste
Black sesame seeds (optional)

            1. Using a peeler, peel the outer skin off of the chayote. It’s a bit tacky to the touch, but run it under cold water to remove this.
         2. With the same peeler, keep peeling ribbons of the chayote into a bowl. Go around the chayote and on the sides, getting as much flesh as possible until you reach the core. Reserve in a bowl.
         3. To make dressing, slightly toast the sesame seeds in a sauté pan and toss in a jar with rice vinegar, sesame oil, and salt and pepper. Shake until emulsified.
            4.  Toss chayote ribbons with dressing and top with extra sesame seeds. For more contrast in color, top with black sesame seeds.



Hope you get to make this salad during the summer season, and be sure to follow me onTwitter and Facebook for more recipe updates as well as giveaways! 

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Thanks, lovely Nelly! Such a pleasure to have you post over here today. Mi blog es su blog, yeah? 

So: Tired of the same old salads at your BBQ? I think this recipe will definitely shake things up, impress your friends, and balance out all those BBQ calories. You know the ones. But where can you find Chayote Squash around Halifax? I made a few calls they're more readily available than I realized: Both Pete's Frootique locations (Dresden Row and Bedford Highway) regularly stock them, as well as the Barrington Street Superstore. I'm sure there are other locations, as well.

Enjoy! And be sure to visit Nelly over at Cooking with Books!

Monday, 2 July 2012

#MonthlyMiettes - June Round-Up - Parisian Macarons

Welcome to the 4th instalment of Monthly Miettes! This month we tackled Miette's version of the Parisian Macaron. The seemingly simple, yet notoriously tricky French delicacy.

I knew my day in the kitchen with macarons was coming, but in truth, I was hugely encouraged and inspired by a macaron class I hosted at work with pastry chef Susan Morrison at the end of May. Watching her at work and picking up some great tips, I figured I should make them while the information was fresh!

The Parisian Macarons found in the pages of Miette are a little different, however, so I had to try and mix and match the lessons from Chef Sue with the advice given in the book. Meg writes how, when they first started making macarons, they had no template to work with. Instead, they had just a memory of the beauties they had tasted and eyed while in Paris, so they began testing recipes and developing their own best practices. She says that her version was probably an eyesore to purists, at least at first, given how they ground their own almonds rather than using commercially ground, fine almond meal. This made for a more textured macaron, without that ultra smooth dome over the top. Eventually, people began seeking out Miette's unconventional macarons, with their delicious reputation preceding them. 

Personally, I have a bit of an affinity for the rustic, especially when it comes to food, so I quite liked the idea of these being rougher around the edges. Considering, too, that this was my first time making macarons, I suspected they'd err on the side of rustic, intentional or not. Such a diplomatic word! 

This month, 4 talented bloggers joined me in throwing down what Jasmine called the 'pastry gauntlet,' and I'm happy to report that this recipe was a resounding success, with excellent results across the board! This was the first time making macarons for 4 out of 5 of us, and for Lin, it was her first time even tasting a macaron! That they all turned out so well is not only a testament to the general savvy and know-how of the bakers I have alongside me, but also to a well-written recipe.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Food & Wine Magazine: June Cover Recipe

Balsamic Marinated Flank Steak
Rating: 5 out of 5. Summertime BBQ perfection in a dish. Enough said.

This is my 8th month testing Food & Wine Cover recipes with Jasmine of Cook That Book! Time flies when you're eating well. 


THE TEST

It was refreshing to see a cover recipe that didn't have a list of ingredients that was 8 feet long. Not that I mind that sort of experimentation - in fact, I love it - but given how the general hubub of summer is beginning and that we'd had a less than a perfect week, it was nice to be able to relax a little with this recipe. Given how pricey the cut of meat was, too, it was a welcome reprieve to realize I already had most of the other ingredients on hand.

Looking over the recipe, I realized right away that it was a beauty, and was sure it would be a hit with F. Given that the recipe called for 3 whole pounds of flank steak, however, I also knew this would be a great excuse for a dinner party. By now, you can probably guess who we ended up inviting over, if you've read the past few posts here.

When I went to get my steak the night before, I was praised by the butcher for choosing such a great cut, and he outright swooned when I told him what I'd be doing with it, especially when I said I'd be marinating it for nearly 24 hours. Ha! I couldn't exactly take any credit for the choice of recipe, but it did affirm my suspicion that we were in for a great night of dining in.

To give you an idea, the flank steak I ended up purchasing was just under 2.2 lbs, and it was too big to fit in a 9x13 casserole dish to marinate. I had to get out my largest serving platter, and even then it was a tight squeeze!


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Jumbleberry Crisp

Happy first day of summer!

I have an Aimée original here for you today. I've been trying to get more in the mind-set of recipe developing and less of recipe following these days. I can follow a recipe like nobody's business, but I never think to write down the recipes I 'create' most nights for dinner. And by 'create' I mean looking through the pantry and fridge and dreaming up a dish from what's there, like so many of us do! (Must work on documenting those dinner recipes.)

When it comes to baking and desserts, however, and while I often adapt recipes, it's not often I start with an idea or ingredient and develop the recipe around it, the way I do when I cook. For that reason, I'm starting with something simple in this post: Jumbleberry Crisp.

I adore crisps and associate them just as much with autumn as I do with summer, depending on what lies beneath that crumbly, upper layer. I do usually find them a touch too sweet, however, so I attempted to make one that focuses more on flavour and texture than on outright sweetness.

I'm also still in Boot Camp and working my tail off - quite literally! - so I thought it would be best to stick with lighter desserts (like last week's No-Bake Blueberry Cheesecake Squares) for another one of our BBQs with "the neighbours." I absolutely loved the end product.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

No-Bake Blueberry Cheesecake Squares

Have I mentioned how stellar our new neighbours are yet? It's worth mentioning again. After a whopping 3 weeks in the neighbourhood, we feel like we've been here for ages (in the very best of ways). There have already been many an evening spent fire-side, with many a drink a laugh to be had. Nicknames for F. abound and have evolved into (my mother's favourite) "F. Dot," and "F. Pants." Needless to say, we kind of like living here!

Last night was no exception when 3 households came together for a BBQ. "F. Pants" has been in his element, making great use of that smoker, and last night he contributed two batches of spicy (intentionally, this time!) smoked chicken wings that were to die for. It really didn't take him long to get the hang of things, and I'm certainly loving the fringe benefits of having that smoker around! 

I wanted to whip up something fast but tasty for dessert; something that could be dished out alongside a burger if need be. I dug around and found a recipe by Mark Bittman for these No-Bake Blueberry Cheesecake Squares that were featured in the NY Times in July 2008. My mom has made something similar to these for years, so immediately the recipe appealed to me. I'm not sure what the ingredients are in my mother's version, but the beauty of Bittman's recipe is that it's really quite light! Using cream cheese, ricotta (both can be 'light', if you choose), lemon zest and honey for the filling, then graham crackers, chopped walnuts, and a little butter for the base, you really could fare worse (calorically speaking!) in a dessert.

Had I let them set longer, I'm sure they would have come out more cleanly, but I was much too impatient.  The squares were light, fluffy, and decadent enough in the aftermath of a BBQ. I absolutely loved the extra crunch in the crust made by the walnuts, too. A fast and delicious recipe to kick off your weekend this summer!



Monday, 4 June 2012

Muffin Monday: Cherry, Oatmeal & Walnut Muffins

This week's Muffin Monday recipe comes at a great time for easing back on sugar and dessert! With only a little brown sugar in this recipe, it makes for an excellent and wholesome breakfast muffin. 




Just over a week ago I started attending a Boot Camp class here in town and thus far I've made it out 4 times. The word 'class' isn't really the most apt way to describe those one hour sessions, and a one hour session easily feels like the longest hour ever. It has been absolutely brutal - by far the most intense and difficult physical training I've ever been subjected to - but also incredibly gratifying. Come on, results! My goal is to be able to do 10 push ups by the middle of June, and considering I can still only do one, saggy-in-the-middle push up after a week of Boot Camp, this girl still has a long way to go. But when you work that hard, to a state of exhaustion never felt before, there's no way you're going to spoil the effort with junk food. (I know Jasmine feels me because, oddly enough, we both started Boot Camps on the very same day, on our respective Canadian coasts, without realizing it!) 

The recipe was originally called Apricot Oatmeal Muffins, but I substituted the milk for buttermilk, the dried apricots for dried cherries, and threw about a 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts into the mix. I sprinkled some extra oats and cinnamon over the top of the muffins right before they went into the oven, too. In retrospect, I should have used whole wheat flour to really hit it out of the healthy park, but alas. Next time.

This recipe made 11, jumbo-sized Cherry, Oatmeal & Walnut Muffins, which is a great yield! They turned out wonderfully: nice domes, a great crumb, and full of texture and flavour.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

#MonthlyMiettes - May Round-Up - Buttermilk Panna Cotta

Firstly, apologies to my fellow bakers for waiting until the 2nd of June to get this post up! I've been a little under the weather over the past couple of days, so today was the first chance I've had to get down to business. As a special side note, I'd also like to wish my parents a very, very Happy 39th (yes, 39th!) Anniversary! Incredible, right?

But without further ado, welcome to another wonderful month of Miettes! This month we tackled Buttermilk Panna Cotta and another wonderful round of wonderful, talented bloggers have joined me. Wonderful! I'm always so grateful to be in such excellent company, and to be testing these recipes alongside such gifted bakers.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Muffin Monday: Coffee, Nutella & Brazil Nut Muffins

Since this seems to be the order of the day, three cheers for celebrating our first Muffin Monday in the new place! 

This week's recipe is actually called Coffee Hazelnut Muffins, and I had every intention of leaving the recipe perfectly intact: Nutella and coffee in a muffin? The stuff dreams are made of! Breakfast of champions! Et cetera! 


Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Food & Wine Magazine: May Cover Recipe

Thai Chicken with Hot-Sour-Salty-Sweet Sauce
Rating: 4.5/5 - Tastes much better than it smells!


THE TEST

This month's recipe test is a bit of a mixed bag, but with good results. 

My first impression was awe-filled, as usual, taking in the beautiful food photography gracing the cover of the magazine. My second thought was that it felt as though this had been done before, and while not exactly the same, last September we had tested the Thai Chicken & Watermelon Salad, which had many similar ingredients. But those charred, roasted chicken legs on this month's cover looked too gorgeous to pass up, so Jasmine - owner of Cook That Book and founder of these Food & Wine cover recipe tests - graciously agreed to wait until the end of the month for us to post, to allow more time for me to emerge from under this pile of Frog Boxes and to relocate my kitchen appliances!

Our first official meal in the new place was actually made by F. on Monday night, who - after months of me hint-dropping and (let's be honest) outright begging - broke in the smoker I bought him for his birthday last December. The wonderful Cindy from Boneheads BBQ was kind enough to spend a wet, chilly afternoon with us back then giving the birthday boy a smoking lesson, so she would have been proud to see her pupil in action all these months later! His first try was a major - if spicy - success: "What do you mean you can't substitute cayenne for paprika?" Ha! He shared his yield with a few of our new (fantastic!) neighbours who, in the few short days of living here, have already made us feel part of their community.

In any case, this Food & Wine recipe test was the first, official meal that I cooked in the new place, and as a result, I already felt some sort of attachment to it. There was a lot of scurrying around, trying to remember where I put things, hunting through boxes in the basement, opening the same three cupboards at least 5 times, but in the end, I managed to produce this Thai Chicken with Hot-Sour-Salty-Sweet Sauce

There were a few moments along the way where I had my doubts. Truly. The marinade smelled awful, and based on all the wacky and unpleasant things I've consumed over the years, it takes a lot to make me feel that way. 

Second, F. hates cilantro, and with over 3/4 a cup of the stuff in this recipe, I had visions of the boy going to bed hungry or needing a snack to compensate for his unfinished dinner. While I quite enjoy the flavour of cilantro, I've started using cilantro paste in recipes, rather than fresh, as somehow it softens the flavour and disguises it a little more for the haters. Still, with so much of it being used, any attempt to disguise the flavour started to seem a bit ridiculous. 

Third, with 1/4 cup of fish sauce in the dipping sauce, I really wondered if that classic, Southeast Asian  balance of spicy-sour-salty-sweet would be achieved. It seemed overpowering. But in chefs I trust, so I went for it.



Friday, 18 May 2012

My 1st Blogoversary

I knew this day was coming. 

For weeks, I've had little fantasies about what decadent treat I'd bake or dinner I'd stew to celebrate the milestone. Would I time my Monthly Miette for today? Or something entirely new - a recipe I'd been meaning to make for months? Maybe - oooh - maybe I would finally incorporate those beautiful new spices I'm the proud new owner of? 

For all the fantasizing in the world, I actually have no food photos or recipes to share with you today. And I'm sorry for that. Instead, this 'full plate' I've been referring to in so many posts lately has come to a head, and can be explained succinctly by the photo below.




Yes! The house is sold. Over are the days of panic cleaning sessions and jetting out of the house for showings, as is folding all the clothes in our closet and never, ever leaving socks on the floor. No more eating at the coffee table for fear of ruining our pretty display on the dining table, and we're over using the spare shower in order to keep the fancy one with the glass doors sparkling. 

So now what? The past couple of weeks have meant long nights of packing, sorting, wrapping, and purging before we move. It has also meant finding many a mom-cooked meal in the fridge, quite magically, which offered us a most welcome head-start every evening. (Moms, huh?) 

And when, precisely, do we move, you ask? Oh, just tomorrow. In what I think was a pretty gracious concession on our behalf - from day of sale to day of closure - we had just about 3 weeks to pack up and move out. And while this business with the house is actually not the only thing piling up on that full plate of mine (believe it or not), it does, I hope, account for the fact that this is the first post I've written in the month of May.

I just couldn't let this day pass without announcing something I find pretty exciting: I have officially been blogging for one, whole, entire year. That is quite an achievement for me, friends! Previous blogging attempts over the years have usually met their pinnacle around the 1 month mark, only to head downhill - quite abruptly - afterward. 

So do bear with me during these weeks and months of transition. Food blogging and story-telling has quickly become one of the most gratifying endeavours I've ever laid eyes (and fingers and tastebuds) on, and I can't wait to see what the upcoming year of writing and eating holds.

Thank you so much to everyone who has ever followed, retweeted, commented, and encouraged over the past year. It has made every single word and every single photo (alas, while my food went cold) completely and utterly worthwhile.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Featured Blogger


Just a wee post today to let you know (in case you hadn't seen my beaming-with-pride tweets or Facebook posts) that last week I was the Featured Blogger over at Food Bloggers of Canada. I think what pleased me more than just being the chosen blog of the week, were the wonderful and kind words of Mardi Michels, FBC Co-Founder, and the way she dug through my blog to find content reflective of Aimee the-real-life-person. She couldn't have chosen a better post to start with - Wine Country - as it's one of my very favourites. 

It makes a girl feel pretty proud, ya know? It's great motivation to keep moving forward in the kitchen, with blog-writing, and with... no, I don't need any further encouragement to eat.

You can find the full article here.

I am also the Atlantic Food & Drink Event-Collector for FBC's Events Page. Do pass any news and events on to me and I'll be sure to have it posted!

Friday, 27 April 2012

#MonthlyMiettes - April Round-Up - Tarts

Tarts

Welcome to month two of Monthly Miettes! Rather than choosing a specific recipe for April, I decided to open it up with a theme, where everyone was free to choose the Miette tart of their heart.

Our choices were between the Chocolate Truffle Tart, Lime Meringue Tart, Lemon Tart, Pastry Cream & Fresh Fruit Tart, Banana Cream Tart, and Pecan Tart. All of the recipes use a Pâte Sucrée tart shell, with the exception of the Lime Meringue Tart, which features a homemade graham cracker crust. So many beautiful tarts, so little time. Maybe we'll have a 'Tarts - Take 2' later this year, so we can showcase some of the others?

Once again, I couldn't ask to be in finer company, and am thrilled to showcase 5 wonderful submissions for April.


1. Athena (Athena Plichta Photography) chose the recipe for Tartlets with Pastry Cream and Fresh Fruit, and once again, dazzled us with her beautiful photography.


2. Deb (East of Eden Cooking) chose to make what she calls Luscious Lemon Tarts and had high praise for the recipe. Luscious, indeed! I love how sunny that lemon curd is.



3. Jasmine (Cook That Book), like me, couldn't resist the allure of the Lime Meringue Tart. Jasmine ran into some issues with the recipe for the graham cracker crust, so if you're considering making it, be sure to read about her experience! Her tarts turned out beautifully, nonetheless.



I'm excited to report that we have two NEW participants, as well!

4. Jing, who has actually been working her way through Miette by herself for about 5 months now, and documenting her experiences in her adorable blog Me-ette. I know who I'll be going to for advice! Jing decided to join us and re-make the Banana Cream Tart.


5. Lyle, one of the chefs I work with most at the day job, participated belatedly last month, as well. As he says, he 'planted the seed' to get his wife on board for this project and to start a blog with him, looking for a creative outlet outside of the every day rush of life and work. He was successful in his seed planting (high-five!), so they created Creative Gourmet Inc., which carries the namesake of their catering company. Lyle and and Laura made both the Lemon Tart and the Chocolate Truffle Tart for this challenge. Ambitious! Be sure to scroll down to see their submission for the Tomboy Cake, too!



Lime Meringue Tarts

Despite my undying love for all things lemon, I just could't resist the thought of all that lime juice and lime zest in this recipe (one of the world's most wonderful smells!). I've had plenty a lemon meringue pie in my day, but I've never tried a lime-flavoured one, so I opted to try something new. I decided to switch things up a little, however, and rather than making the graham cracker crust that Miette uses for this tart, I thought I'd make the Pâte Sucrée for the base, instead. 

The recipe for the tart shell yielded enough dough for two tarts; as did the recipe for the boiled icing, which was destined to top them. The curd only yielded enough for one tart, however, so I decided to double the batch. That's a lot of lime squeezing, let me tell you! While the notes say the recipes work for 7-inch tart pans (or tartlet pans), I used two, 8-inch pans and there was more than enough to fill them. 

I was able to offload the second tart onto a cousin who lives nearby us. After her recent and so very happy 'announcement', I figured she could use a few extra calories! And at the terrifying rate that F. and I went through the first tart, it was probably for the best.

It's always amazing to me that a shaggy mess of flour and butter (among a few other things) can actually come together into a dough. Every time I make a tart/pie/quiche dough of any kind, I'm convinced it's flopped. Every single time. And then, it melts together, becoming this cohesive and wonderful ball of pastry magic.





And then there were two.



Tart + Curd

Tart + Curd + Boiled Icing


I could have rolled the crust a little thinner, and baked it another minute longer, but I was still pleased as punch with it.



Now, I should mention something rather odd: Aside from the fact that I squeezed and grated the limes myself, and aside from the fact that you could see the pleasant, green flecks in the curd, it was actually a little hard to tell that this was supposed to be lime-flavoured. My suspicions were confirmed when my first taste-tester, F. (naturally!), expressed his utter surprise to learn that it was lime. It actually tasted more like lemon. Why? It's honestly a complete mystery to me. The lime was really quite subtle.

And why did he get to taste the tart before I could tell him what it was? The bugger had a piece while it was still chilling in the fridge, and before I could get home from an event I was attending that evening. Suppose I can't blame the guy; it was just sitting there, looking all pretty and delicious!

This tart - while still challenging and requiring much of the day devoted to its assembly - was so much more approachable than that Tomboy Cake. I know Athena felt the same way, saying that the tarts were a cakewalk in comparison. Punny!

I will definitely, absolutely, without a doubt be making these tarts again.





Want to bake along with us? 

May's challenge is Buttermilk Panna Cotta on page 181. I thought this could be slightly on the lighter side and perfect for spring! Feel free to test this recipe as it is, or switch things up with new flavours or twists to make it your own. 

Because it makes 12-14 servings, it's a fine excuse to invite some friends over, like Jasmine did for her Tomboy Cake.

The rules are simple!

1) Buy Miette. It will be the prettiest, daintiest addition to your kitchen/bookshelf.
2) Bake the challenge of the month and post about it on your blog/website by the 25th. Our challenge for May is Buttermilk Panna Cotta - as it is, or switch it up! Due May 25th, 2012.
3) Dip in to your panna cotta for breakfast (as often or as seldom as you wish, but at least once!), photograph it, and enjoy this little morning ritual to the fullest.
4) Link back to the original post please and thanks! (And if you're tweeting about it, use #monthlymiettes.)

Leave me a comment below if you would like to participate and/or if your post is up!

Happy baking!