Friday, July 18, 2014

How to cook Amaize Sweet Corn on the BBQ

barbecued corn

Summer in Ontario is a beautiful thing. There is a house down the street from my parent's house that sells sweet corn every summer from their family farm. All they do is set up a table at the end of their driveway with the corn, a simple sign and a tin for the money. And during corn season, it sits there every day unattended. We are a friendly Canadian bunch or perhaps it's that trusting small town mentality. For years, we got our fresh corn this way and for years without incident, they left it outside along with the money simply wanting to share their bounty with the neighbourhood. 

Then I would bring the corn inside and my Mom would send me to sit on the back porch and peel the husks. She would then drop the cobs into a huge, stock pot of boiling water and I would wait patiently for it to cook and be placed on the table. With the steam rising and my hands tipping it back and forth to escape the heat, I would drench it in butter and bite down on each row of the bright yellow beads. 


Now that I'm living in the city there is a different type of street food transaction: food trucks. Food trucks aren't quite so trusting as a corn stall in rural Ontario, so you have to actually order and pay them directly. I appreciate both for being an alternative to grocery stores or restaurants. I can simply walk down the street and find something interesting, fresh and local to eat. The other day I walked down to Ottawa Streat Gourmet in downtown Ottawa for a mix and match lunch of fresh gourmet proteins and salads with bread. I chose the hard-boiled egg, crispy prosciutto, pickled beans, orzo kale chorizo salad and mixed grain salad. At $11, this is a substantial and healthy lunch choice. And crispy prosciutto! Any salad is made better with bacon. I have never seen such an innovative and refreshing gourmet lunch option from a food truck before. 

Amaize Sweet Corn

Is there anything more true to summer than seasonal vegetables, browsing food markets and exploring the city through sweat and sunglasses? I like to support local when I can, but I am always open to new products and suggestions. It is neat when I get products from all over shipped to my door to review, such as this package of special sweet corn. When the FedEx guy shows up at my house and I have to sign off on a box of corn, I sigh and think, "You know you're a food blogger when..."

Amaize Sweet Corn

Amaize sweet corn is a rare variety of sweet non-GMO white corn. It is grown in limited supply in the United States and has a sweet flavour and crunchy texture. Creators George Crookham and Bruce Hobdey of Crookham have been testing and pinpointing the perfect balance of corn texture and taste for more than 22 years. Their company is the largest and oldest multi-generational family corn breeding company in the United States. In Canada, Amaize sweet corn is available at Loblaws and Park Produce stores or you can order seeds online to grow your own.

When it comes to barbecuing corn, I prefer the foil method. If you don't wrap them in foil then I suggest pre-boiling or microwaving the corn before putting them on the grill. I find cooking the corn straight on the grill doesn't quite cook it enough--unless you like really crunchy corn. My suggestion is a nice pre-cook in foil, then unwrap it and cook directly on the grill for the last few minutes. Those crispy, charred grill marks are still a necessity for anything grilled. You can also keep the corn inside the husks instead of using foil. 


Corn on the BBQ

The toppings are straight up your choice. How's this for being a serious taste tester? I made two of the corn with olive oil, salt and pepper and the other two with butter and herbs. I preferred the olive oil combination, as the butter with the sweetness of the corn was a little too sweet for me. For American corn at this time of year, I would say this corn had a nice flavour to it that wasn't too overpowering. It didn't have quite the bite of moisture of Ontario corn that drips down your mouth as you eat it and gleams a gorgeous mosaic of white and yellow. I would say it was a pretty "amaize-ing" and substantial cob of corn. You know what they say about everything being bigger in America...

BBQ sweet corn

Here's a fun fact according to Wikipedia: Apparently corn is always made up of an even number of rows of kernels because they always grow in pairs. Just like you always need two hands to eat corn or two corn picks. As well as it being my first time grilling corn on the BBQ, I also tried making tofu on the BBQ. Using these tips, I pressed the tofu for about 30 minutes, cut it into slices and then marinated it in BBQ sauce for a few hours. I placed it on the grill and it survived! I had nightmare visions of saucy tofu crumbles getting everywhere. This was a magical, simple way of cooking tofu. Grill marks really make everything taste better; another reason why I love summer cooking. 

BBQ tofu

Sometimes it's nice to let someone else cook in the heat. We had dinner at the newly opened Salt Dining and Lounge in Ottawa's Little Italy neighbourhood. I love this city already. We've only been here a few weeks and I am already overwhelmed with food options, including food trucks. Salt has a sophisticated and relaxed atmosphere that almost makes you feel like you're sitting in a designer furniture warehouse. It's still getting it's bearings, so the vibe wasn't quite the promised lounge bar feel. The menu consists of small plates and large plates presumably for sharing. We started with an exquisite cheese board of local cheeses, crostini, candied nuts, fruit and even a yoghurt dipping sauce. It was enough cheese that the two of us were almost full after the first course. 


We then shared the "Kraken vs. Halibut" large plate. You have to appreciate the dish for the name alone. The plate was an artistic arrangement of pan seared halibut, braised octopus, chickpea puree, avocado mousse, marinated tomatoes, new potatoes, minted mushy peas and chimichurri sauce. When we were finished, the server came over and asked, "So who won? The Kraken or Halibut?" I'm still trying to decide. This was not your bad pub plate of calimari by any means. They were both succulent and meaty pieces of fish with the perfect balance of accompaniments. My public service announcement of the day is to take a few moments out of your busy summer to enjoy fresh local produce, have a nice meal out and be a tourist in your own city.

Disclosure: I received a sample of Amaize Sweet Corn for review purposes. The opinions expressed are completely my own based on my own experiences.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Green Tea Cake with Organic Matcha Green Tea powder

Green tea latte and Green tea cake

All-you-can-eat sushi was something I only experienced when I got to University. Before that, if you can believe it, I had never tried sushi. At my first sushi dinner, my friends explained what all the different names were and I thought it was unbelievable that you ticked things off a list and all these delicious things came to your table. By the end of all the sushi, tempura, rolls and sashimi I was stuffed. Then someone suggested dessert. "Dessert? What kind of dessert do you get with sushi?" I asked. "Green tea ice cream!" That smooth, refreshing ice cream was unlike any tea creation I had tasted before. It was also a few years later, after many, many sushi meals, that I learned that the ice cream is actually made from matcha.

Organic Matcha Green Tea Powder

Matcha green tea powder is made from tea leaves that have been grown in the shade, which slows down the process. Matcha green tea is a little different than regular green tea, as it doesn't have that bitter tea taste. Matcha powder can be used in cooking, baking and drink making; however, it's not cheap. Luckily I received a bag for review from Kiss Me Organics and I did not pay the hefty $29 a bag price for 4oz (113g). I mean, I understand that gourmet, culinary grade ingredients, such as saffron, pine nuts and truffles, come at a high cost. You pay for the high quality and you don't use a lot, so in theory, it's that price for almost a lifetime supply.

The health benefits are like anything: you have to take them with a grain of salt. You won't get healthier or skinnier by eating green tea chocolate or milkshakes. The powder claims to give you more energy, focus, smoother skin and burn calories. Health hoopla aside (true or not) it is neat if, like me, you want to experiment with green tea desserts. And adding it to your morning smoothie will save you from buying all those matcha Starbucks drinks. Buy this Matcha Green Tea Powder on Amazon. Learn more about Kiss Me Organics products. 

Homemade Green Tea Latte

Along with the package I also received a free recipe booklet that included recipes for drinks, smoothies, sweets, dips and main courses. Did you know you can cook matcha with meats and even put it on pizza? My eyes have been opened to the possibilities of this ingredient as something that is not just trendy. The book suggests enjoying a few cups of hot matcha tea (matcha powder and hot water) to get to know the flavours and get a sense for how much to use. I am still working on perfecting my green tea lattes. 

For a birthday cake back in May, I decided to be adventurous--although it's more adventurous for the recipient of the cake--and make a green tea custard cake. The last time I made a green coloured dessert, it was made with avocados and I never heard the end of it. "Hey look, I made you a green cake for your birthday" could go either way. Luckily, it was a hit and I was eating it out of the fridge in my hands for the next few days. 

Matcha Custard Cake

Matcha Cake (recipe from raspberri cupcakes)

Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1-2 tbsp matcha powder (you can adjust for taste)
1/2 cup butter
2 cups milk
4 eggs, separated at room temperature
4 drops of white vinegar
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 tbsp water

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 325F. Grease or line a square 8 inch baking pan.
2. Sift flour and matcha powder together in a bowl. 
3. Melt the butter in the microwave and set aside. Warm the milk to lukewarm and set aside.
4. In a large bowl, whip the egg whites and vinegar to stiff peaks. Set aside.
5. In another large bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until light. Mix in the butter and tablespoon of water for about 2 minutes. 
6. Mix in the flour until evenly incorporated. Whisk in the milk until everything is mixed.
7. Fold in the egg whites, 1/3 at a time. Repeat until all the egg whites are folded. Keep mixing until the egg whites are incorporated. 
8. Pour the batter into the baking pan and bake for 40-50 minutes or until the top is golden. Allow the cake to completely cool before cutting and dusting with icing sugar. 

Green Tea Matcha Cake

The cake had a creamy, firm custard inside with a strong, refreshing green tea taste. I would suggest adding a few drops of green food colouring to get the colour right. A little dusting of icing sugar and a sprinkling more of the matcha powder covers up any inconsistencies. If I were to buy this myself, I would have started with a much smaller and cheaper bag of powder; however, I like that it's a new "gourmet" addition to my pantry that I can use to add interesting flavours and colours to my food. 

Disclosure: I received a sample of Organic Matcha Green Tea powder for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my own experiences.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Home is wherever I'm with you

I am going to do my best John Cusack in "High Fidelity" impression--speaking directly to the camera--and tell you about my top 5 days of all time. So far my top 5 days of all time have involved travelling, something momentous happening, school or days with friends when my stomach hurt from laughing so much. My wedding day has to be in there. Doesn't it for everyone? I used to think when people said their wedding day was the "best day of their life" they were exaggerating just a little. Surely everything doesn't lead up to that one day and everything thereafter is not as good. That's not the way I like to look at it. My wedding day is in my top 5 days of all time because it was perfect. You would be a monster if you said it wasn't. It was perfect in the ways that time passed without ever thinking about it, memories were made without being forced and there were feelings of content, relaxation and pure happiness. These are my rings in chronological order:

wedding rings

After going to so many weddings, I wondered what it would be like to finally be up there in front of the camera instead of always watching other weddings. Would I be nervous, anxious or stressed? Would everything go to plan? Would it live up to everything I imagined and everything everyone else imagined? I thought through every minute in my head beforehand and every detail. Wedding planning is enjoyable, but then it's over all of sudden--being married is so much better. It's not a sense of stressful relief as in "thank god that is over." It's knowing that you are at peace with the past and the next step.


There are parts of weddings that are too overhyped, extravagant and overdone. I didn't want to be a glamourized version of myself; I wanted to be myself. When I woke up on my wedding day I didn't feel stressed out at all. Everything was finally happening and I took each minute with ease and grace. The day really is honestly in my top 5 days of all time. Not for the reason that it was "my special day," a huge party or a Pinterest competition. I couldn't have asked for anything else, and it was a lot of fun. 

rustic placecard

rustic vintage blue wedding

Our photographers were the wicked, awesome team at Renaissance Studios based out of Milton, Ontario. They sent us a few preview photos to tide us over until we get all of the wedding photos. We got married at the Elmhurst Inn and Country Spa in Ingersoll, Ontario. Everyone who attended the wedding said it was nice, simple and very "us." That was all we wanted.

bride and groom

About a week after the wedding, we went on our honeymoon to Australia for a month. The one thing I don't like about traveling is that you experience so much and when you come back it's like you never left. Life still went on while you were exploring. After a few weeks somewhere you get so used to the customs, culture and lifestyle and it is mostly all erased when you get back. Leaving somewhere to go back home is a bittersweet moment. There is something new, exciting and beautiful; then there is something comforting and safe, such as your own bed. 

Australia

I love adventures and seeing new places, but I also like familiar routines. In most cases, adventure can't be an everyday routine. Life goes on eventually. I cherish the short bursts of adventure I get. Then I come home and feel even luckier. In this case, we came home to a new home in a new city. We just moved to Ottawa, Ontario. I am excited to explore this new place. For the next little while, I will be playing tourist in my own city. There are many more exciting things in the future to come. 

Ottawa canal

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Wedding Ring Workshop at The Den, Toronto

Wedding ring workshop

There are so many wedding details to coordinate that often the wedding bands get overlooked. After the wedding day, the bands are one of the only things--besides the marriage, of course--that stays with you. In making this element of the wedding special, I heard about The Den in Toronto and knew it would be very "us" if we made them ourselves. After all, weddings should reflect your personalities.

Handmade wedding bands

The Den is an art studio in Toronto that offers jewellery workshops, studio space for artists and private events. You can spend an afternoon in a workshop or rent studio space to make wedding bands, engagement rings and necklaces and they walk you through every step. It really is a "playground for grown-ups." Playing with fire, hammering things and finessing them to make your own special creation is definitely fun. All you need is basic hand-eye coordination, relatively good eye sight, creativity and the desire to make something with your hands.

The price of the workshop is approximately $380 per couple for a private lesson or $298 for a group lesson plus the cost of the materials depending on the price of gold. We chose 14 karat white gold. Overall, with the workshop included, the rings cost about $450 each, which is pretty good compared to some the prices I saw in stores. When we got there, the other participants hadn't shown up, so our original group lesson ended up being a private lesson. The studio vibe is relaxed and the instructors are wonderful and make you feel at ease even when you slip up or cut your finger open with a saw like I did. I knew that I would somehow end up injuring myself. 

The Den Toronto

I saw some beautiful rings in the stores I looked in, but we knew we wanted simple, matching gold bands. One jewellery store salesperson told me that matching wedding bands are not in style anymore, so I was a little disappointed. Nowadays, bride's rings are more ornate and sometimes even bigger than the engagement ring. For my personality, I wanted something simple, special and a little bit different. We also had some gold and jewellery passed down from Mike's Grandmother that we wanted to incorporate. For this workshop, we decided to stick with making the plain bands and then add to them with stones or other golds on various anniversaries or later on--when we have more practice. 

First we picked the style, width and texture. I wanted a smooth edged, somewhat thin band with a plain, smooth finish. There are also the options for textured, flat bands and different types of metal, including sterling silver, yellow and rose gold. The ring started as a strip of gold known as a "blank." The instructor--who has a lot more experience than we do--then saws the piece to the right size to fit our ring sizes. 

Wedding ring workshop at The Den Toronto

Then we stamped letters on the inside of the blank using a letter stamping kit and a hammer. The letters aren't completely straight because you do them by hand and it was the first thing we did; however, I like the quirkiness and style of the stamped letters. We stamped our initials on the inside ("L.D - M.P"). There is also the option to send it to an engraver beforehand or get something custom made by the studio. Our wedding is a week away, so that wasn't an option. Speaking of deadlines, before we booked the class, we made sure we would walk out of the studio that day with the rings.



You use hand tools to first bend the blank into a "U" shape and then the sides over into almost a "G" shape. There is a lot of muscle work involved in bending the gold. Sometimes they use heat to soften the metal a little bit as seen in the photo above. This is called "annealing." Then you have to get the sides to line up and meet. Once they meet together, you "solder" it together. When the gold is heated up, it turns a neat red colour that makes it look like it's glowing. They assured us that the gold wouldn't melt--even with the glowing heat--because gold needs to get to at least about 1000C to melt. 



During the process, they also dunk the rings into a "pickle," which is a mild acid solution that removes oxidation from the metal. To solder the ends together, you take a tiny piece of gold (called a "solder chip") and place it on the area where the ends meet. Then you melt the gold together so the ends are seamless. After a bit of forming, sanding and polishing the ends are not even visible and you can't even tell where the ring starts and ends. 

Using a ring mandrel, you then form it into a little more of a ring shape by using some good old fashioned muscle power. You strike the metal against the mandrel to form it into more of a straight circle and smooth out any irregularities. The process is also great for relieving any wedding-related stress. The owner of The Den, Kristen (pictured below) walked us through each step and told us both not to be afraid of smashing it! 


After some more filing with a hand file on the inside, outside and sides, it starts to look more like an actual ring. The filing is a smooth, downward motion instead of how you would normally file your nails back and forth. It is also important to rotate the piece while you work on it, so everything stays even and smooth. 


Then it's a matter of pre-polishing it before the final cleanup. We used emery paper attached to a spinning split mandrel that is reminiscent of a dentist's drill. It has a foot petal that you control for speed. You use the fast-spinning surface to polish the inside, outside and sides of the ring and remove any grit. I found holding the ring, pushing the foot petal and controlling the mandrel a little tricky at first. After a little practice, I was a regular one-man band. Then you take the ring to a polishing machine to spin it around in polishing "rouge" for a final buffing.



About three hours later after all of that work, you get a beautiful and shiny, new ring. Pro tip: To clean rings or jewellery add soap and baking powder together to form a paste and then scrub the jewellery with a toothbrush and a bit of the paste and rinse it off for an instant shine. The instructors are all trained in goldsmithing, metalwork and silversmithing and can explain the process in more depth themselves, so I highly recommend taking an afternoon to check it out. It was a great way to do something together, have fun and take our minds off of wedding planning. Since I've had a bandage on my finger all week after cutting it in the workshop, Mike has enjoyed telling people I cut my finger "goldsmithing." I will admit, it sounds pretty cool. 


I have much more of an appreciation for jewellery and the process involved in making rings. I don't know what my next project will be. For now, I know I have a wedding ring I love and can tell everyone that I made. 

After the workshop we went for dinner in Chinatown at "People's Eatery." It used to be a Chinese restaurant, but has since re-opened as a hip snack bar with a Chinese influence by former Top Chef Canada contestant Dustin Gallagher and the team behind "416 Snack Bar." It was great for having a few bites and a glass of wine after an afternoon working away on our rings. 

People's Eatery Toronto

The menu consists of 13 different snack items ranging from $4-$8 and 2 sharing platters of peking duck or smoked fish. Our first plate was their famous General Tso's Tofu. I don't know how they made tofu taste that wonderful. I'm sure it involves deep frying and many hours of marinating in sauce. I asked the server for some cutlery to eat the saucy tofu with and he said the establishment "doesn't believe in cutlery." Considering it's a snack bar and most of the items are bite-sized, I still thought this was a little strange. We also ordered the sabich sandwich with eggplant, quail eggs and herbs, the pork bao and a mango pudding pie with coconut cream for dessert. I liked the concept of this place and the food was delightful, even if it looks a little out of place amongst the Chinatown hustle and bustle.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Jamie Oliver's Perfect Roast Potatoes

Ottawa

House hunter, house hunter, find me a match, the perfect one for me, like on T.V...Finding the right place is hard, especially when you are moving about 700 km away to a new city. After living in London, Ontario for so long, it is finally time to move on to something--and somewhere--bigger and better. That place is Ottawa, Ontario. 

Last weekend I was able to answer one of those hypothetical questions you always ask yourself when watching house hunting shows: would you rather have a nice, big house with a yard that is far out of town or compact, downtown digs right in the middle of the action? I have to say, I surprised myself. After a jam-packed weekend of house hunting, we picked a nice townhouse in Centretown smack dab in the middle of downtown and I am ecstatic. When you're visiting a city to scope it out, you also have to scope out the neighbourhood food options. Seeing apartments, houses and everything in between works up an appetite. 

Union 613 Ottawa

On Friday night, we ate at the somewhat obscure, but cozy Oz Kafe that had some of the best service I have experienced in a long time. After a 6 hour drive, we enjoyed a nice late night bite of D.I.Y tofu mushroom lettuce wraps and edamame tossed in sea salt and butter. I could see myself sitting here for hours with the dim lights, trendy beats and sweet sangria--which is exactly what we did.  

The next night, the destination of choice was Union 613 where we feasted on a Southern-style meal in the hippest, and hipster-ist, place I have ever been to, and I have been to Portland. Picture a place where the menus are made of burlap, the drinks are served in mason jars and all of the tables are large and communal. It is the optimal place to sip on a craft beer, take an Instagram of your meal and chow down on delicacies such as hog jowl and pig ear salad. After a complimentary bowl of boiled peanuts (surprisingly tasty), I ordered the Louisana Catfish with roasted broccoli and garlic crumbs. Mike had the beef flank steak with a heavenly cornbread soaked in bourbon brown butter. The food was served on a tray with a piece of wax paper. It's like I should think this place is pretentious and overdone, yet I still loved everything about it. So far, I like what this city has to offer. 

Rustic wedding sign

I am making it sound like it was a relaxing weekend when nothing could be further from the truth. After looking at 5 possible future homes, we drove back to London and had enough time to finish some wedding projects and make Easter dinner. So what does all this have to do with Jamie Oliver? That man makes a mean roast potato. His Christmas special has been taped on my parent's PVR for years and I needed something to elevate the huge bag of mini potatoes I bought for Easter dinner. 



These potatoes are a mix between smashed, mashed and roasted. They are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside and will satisfy even the most devoted mashed potato lover such as myself. First, wash the potatoes in the cold water and then place them in a pot of salted water to boil. Boil for about 6-7 minutes, drain and let air dry for a few minutes. Tip them into a pan and place them in the oven at 375F with a touch of olive oil for about 20 minutes. I also like to keep the potato peels on for a bit of extra crunch.  

Jamie Oliver's perfect roast potato

In the video, Jamie says you can use olive oil, butter or goose fat for the main fat. I chose the "healthier" option with olive oil. Next time I might try butter for a richer flavour. I am glad I had some wonderful infused olive oil straight from Florida that I received as a gift. Having good ingredients also helps to make a solid side dish. The ingredients are self explanatory. The fun comes in mixing up which combinations of fat, herbs and seasonings.

Infused olive oil

With the olive oil, Jamie used rosemary and garlic; for the goose fat, he used thyme and garlic; and with the butter, he used sage and clementine zest. I added the olive oil, herbs, garlic and a dash of vinegar to a small bowl and mixed it together with my hands. 

Olive oil and garlic

The vital step is to take the potatoes out after about 20 minutes and slightly mash them with a potato masher. Just press down on the potatoes ever so gently and don't completely mash them. Then drizzle the seasonings and oil over the top and mix everything together. Put the potatoes back in the oven for about 40 minutes.


I loved the texture of these potatoes and the delicate mixture between crispy, light and fluffy. The garlic roasted perfectly well with no mushy pieces. Like Jamie says, you can never make too many potatoes; they will always get eaten. I think it would be neat to make three dishes with the three different flavours and have people choose their favourite. 

Roast Potato 

A hearty meal that reminds me of home always works to settle my stress. It's also nice to have a sense of normalcy before packing all of your things in boxes, moving to a strange place and settling into a new chapter.

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