MARBLED VALENTINE’S DAY COOKIES

There are two types of people when it comes to weekends. The first is the type that refuses to do anything and chooses to soak up that precious free time from a long work week. This type thinks of weekends as optimal nothingness. Then there are the weekend “go-getters.” The ones who take full use of those two days and packs in as much as possible with activities, trips and errands. Depending on the week, I usually fall into one of these two categories. Sometimes I want a weekend of nothing and other times I want to go out and do things. This past weekend I felt like I hadn’t had pure weekend time in awhile, so I took advantage of it to do some fun things.

One stop was the National Gallery of Canada. If you live in Ottawa, you have to at least claim you have been to most of the museums in the city. I normally save the museum trips for when people come to visit. This time it was nice to go on a leisurely stroll around the gallery and see the collection, as well as the special exhibit of Monet paintings on view until February 15. As well as the Monets, the gallery has their own collection of paintings by the Group of Seven, Emily Carr, Van Gough and Edgar Degas.

The building itself is a work of art with grand windows overlooking the Parliament buildings, as well as amazing courtyards and arches inside to sit and admire while you take a rest from looking at art. The galleries themselves contain Canadian, contemporary, American, Inuit and European art and I was thoroughly impressed with the scope of the collection. I have now visited the Museum of Nature, Museum of History, National Gallery and the Museum of Science and Technology (three of them since living in Ottawa).

Because we’re crazy enough to do these things during one of the busiest times of the winter in Ottawa–Winterlude–we also went skating on the Rideau Canal. This was our second time going this year. We went for a quick evening skate on the second day it opened and last Saturday was the first chance to enjoy (or battle) the crowds in the afternoon. Now that I’m used to skating on the canal–I’m getting to be a pro at it, seriously–I forgot how neat it is for people trying it for the first time. My endurance has gotten better too and I can skate for 4 or 5 kms no problem.
This year they added some art underneath one of the bridges from Library and Archives Canada. The collection represents 100 years of women’s suffrage and highlights famous women through Canada’s history. You might as well get some culture in between skating, sipping apple cider eating Beavertails. I will miss all of this stuff when we move from Ottawa. Yes, that’s a hint that we sadly may not be here for much longer.
After all of that, we treated ourselves to dinner out at Town restaurant on Elgin Street. Town is a cozy little place that serves locally sourced casual food with love. They serve a mix of small and large plates, cheese sharing plates and rustic, Italian food. We started with a refreshing beetroot tartare with creme fraiche followed by a pork ragu and their famous ricotta stuffed meatballs with polenta and cheese. I am still drooling over those meatballs. They were still quite light, but hearty, with the perfect amount of seasoning and cheese. For dessert, we shared the Meyer lemon tart with marshmallows and cream. It was such a nice, satisfying dinner with the right amount of food for two people and a cozy and not too pretentious atmosphere.
I have to follow a nice dinner and afternoon out with something else romantic. Just like Christmas, I start my holiday baking in advance. I sometimes test a few recipes out or embrace the season and make a few different things celebrating the time of year. My first Valentine’s Day dessert this year was these marbled heart sugar cookies definitely inspired by Baked by Rachel. This is one of the only times of the year I can go crazy with red food colouring for a purpose: all the red things!

Marbled Pink Valentine’s Day Cookies
Recipe by Baked by Rachel

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups all purpose flour
Red food colouring

Directions:

1. In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat together the sugar and butter.
2. Mix in the egg and vanilla followed by the salt and baking powder.
3. Gradually mix in the flour and mix until fully combined.
4. Divide the dough in half and add red food colouring to one half. Mix until the colour does not streak.
5. Chill the dough in plastic wrap in the fridge for 30-60 minutes.
6. Take the dough out of the fridge and take off small pinches of the red dough and add it into the white dough until both are combined. Do not over mix or the colour will blend together.

7. Roll out the dough and cut out the desired shapes. Space out the shapes onto a baking sheet.
8. Freeze the shapes on the baking sheet for about 15 minutes.
9. Preheat the oven to 350F. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes.
10. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack.
This is a fun recipe that lets you get creative with mixing coloured doughs. My Mom used to make similar cookies at Christmas by twisting pink and white cookie dough to make swirled candy cane cookies. Keep in mind the colour will lighten slightly after cooking.…

BAKED VEGETABLE “EGG ROLLS”

In the food world, there seems to be a distance from the word “authentic” these days. The chatter used to include phrases like “to get authentic so-and-so food, you have to go to this place” or “this restaurant makes truly authentic dishes.” I think people have realized that “authentic” is like one of those buzzwords that doesn’t mean all that much, such as “superfood” or “paleo.” If you watch cooking or restaurant shows these days, you will hear things like “this is my interpretation of a classic dish” or “I drew inspiration from traditional dishes to make this take on…” After all, is anything truly “authentic”?

For this post, I am describing my take on “egg rolls.” Maybe someone who makes them his or her own way won’t like my interpretation or maybe my interpretation is way off of from what they should be. Does this matter? I liked how the rolls turned out and maybe other people will too.
“Egg rolls” have different definitions depending on which kind you are referring to and this makes categorizing them a little difficult. You could also call them “spring rolls,” especially if you use rice paper to roll them. Depending on which region of Asia you eat them in, the rolls have different fillings and may be fried or not. To me, this makes them open to interpretation while taking inspiration from Asian flavours. I like to think I’m respecting the original origins and not completely tarnishing the dish (Butter Chicken poutine, I’m looking at you).
Speaking of something authentic, I think it’s safe to say it is indisputably spring. I snapped this photo of the canal in Ottawa a few weeks back where you can see one side of the canal stuck in winter with snow and the other side ready for summer with green grass and people having picnics, walking and biking. The padlocks on this bridge (the Somerset Bridge) are similar to the “love locks” in Paris, France where people hang locks from the bridge to symbolize their love. I have had a few walks by the canal in the last little while to enjoy the nice weather.
I bought half a dozen scones from The Scone Witch in Ottawa on the weekend. I can now say I have completed the unofficial bakery tour of Ottawa. I suppose tasting regional cuisine involves going to a specific place to try a particular food although I don’t know what Ottawa’s regional cuisine would be. Maybe “Beavertails”? Ottawa has some great bakeries, but would someone in England say that a scone made in Ottawa, Canada is “authentic.”? In terms of these scones, they were airy, flavourful and not too dense, and I enjoyed the imaginative flavours, such as lemon, currant, ginger, vanilla, cheddar and herbs.
Back to the egg rolls. I based my recipe on this recipe I found for baked chicken egg rolls. You will find egg roll wrappers in the produce or deli section of the grocery store. I have also tried this recipe with wonton wrappers and had similar results. I believe the difference between the two wrappers is that egg roll wrappers are made from flour and wonton wrappers are made from rice flour. Both of the wrappers have a slightly different size and I found the texture of each was similar after baking.

Baked Vegetable Egg Rolls

Ingredients:
20 egg roll wrappers
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 package of coleslaw mix
1/2 cucumber julienned

Directions:

1. Combine the coleslaw mix and cucumber. You can also add additional shredded carrots if you want. Add the hoisin and soy sauce.
2. Fill a small bowl with water. Lay out the egg roll wrapper and fill it with about 2 to 3 tbsp of filling.
3. Fold the left and right edges in and then roll the wrapper. Seal the edges with a dab of water.
4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray some cooking oil on a foiled baking sheet.
5. Halfway through baking flip the rolls. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden.

I served the rolls with a dipping sauce of soy sauce as well as sesame oil with a dollop of chilli garlic sauce. My reasoning behind using coleslaw mix is the convenience factor. Feel free to add any other chopped vegetables you want for texture. You want the vegetables to be long and thin to match the size of the wrappers. There are few tutorials online on the best way to wrap the rolls. As long as the edges stick together and there are no holes for the filling to come out, they should look and taste pretty good.
These got good reviews from my house and some weekend guests. I also convinced people that these are healthier than Chinese takeout. I mean, they are literally vegetables in a wrapper right? I’m not saying I never crave Chinese food takeout, but these are a nice alternative as an appetizer before my own version of stirfried rice or noodles.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND FETA PIE

Canada it seems, is one of the most seasonal places in the world. There are not many places that have such extremes between summer and winter, and such distinct seasons. I find myself now living in what many people have referred to as a “seasonal” town. The summers are packed with people, gorgeous weather for the beaches and many activities. So what happens the rest of the time? From what I have seen, everything still flows through with the passing of the seasons, especially things like fruits and vegetables.

We are so lucky to live in a place where we have access to an abundance of local food. Although there are sometimes fewer options in the fall and winter months, there are still creative things you can do with all of those root vegetables and winter greens. I bought a butternut squash a few weeks ago from a local farm that according to my kitchen scale actually weighed 10 pounds. I bought 2 pumpkins, some decorative gourds, a few vegetables and the squash for about $20. Sadly, the farm closed for the season last week, however, I am still using up the giant squash.

My first order of business with the squash was to attempt to cut it up. My pro tip for butternut squash is to slice the peels off of the cubes before you roast it. If you roast the cubes with the peels then you end up trying to peel mushy bits of squash and it turns into a huge mess. I made this Autumn Pearl Couscous salad for a Halloween party we attended. I liked how the squash added some color to the salad and I liked the recipe even though generally I’m not a huge fan of eating squash cold. On Halloween night, we lit up the porch on our new place (we have a real porch now!) with some pumpkins and handed out candy to the little ones. As usual, I ended up eating more candy than I gave away.

Then it was time to get even more creative with the butternut squash. I made butternut squash soup (kind of boring) and wanted to do something a little more exciting. With some extensive internet searching, I found recipes for squash pastas, curries, chilis and all sorts of things. Is everyone else googling “what can I do with this giant squash?” I stumbled across a pie recipe that was a take on a Greek Spanakopita with squash and made a few changes of my own. I am totally alright with some buttery pastry, squash and a lot of cheese. I guess there’s some spinach in there.

Butternut squash and spinach pie

Ingredients:
1 package frozen phyllo pastry
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic
1 butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 box of spinach
2 eggs
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
3 tbsp olive oil

Directions:
1. Drizzle the butternut squash with 1 tbsp of olive oil and roast on a baking sheet in the oven for 20-30 minutes at 400F.
2. In a pan, add 1 tbsp olive oil and cook the onions and garlic until slightly browned.
3. Put the spinach in a colander and pour boiling water over it to soften. Make sure to squeeze as much water out as you can.
4. Combine the onions, garlic, spinach and eggs in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. You can also add a bit of oregano, basil, parsley or thyme.

5. Lay the phyllo pastry out over a round pie dish. I like to centre it so half of the pastry hangs off so I can then fold it over the top. Brush the first layer with olive oil.

6. Add the butternut squash after you have let it slightly cool from roasting. Then add the spinach and cheese mixture and mix well.

7. Fold the pastry over the top of the pie filling and trim the edges. Brush the top with olive oil.

8. Bake the pie at 375F for about 40 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Spinach and feta pie is such a classic that is hard to stray away from. I liked the addition of the squash, as it added almost a bit of sweetness to it. It didn’t make the pie feel too dense like some squash or pumpkin dishes do sometimes. You could also use goat cheese with the butternut squash for an interesting pie combination. This pie would also make a great vegetarian dish for Thanksgiving or the holidays.

PROJECT FOOD BLOG 2010: ENTRY #1

First of all, a quick run down for all of my readers: FoodBuzz is holding a competition called “Project Food Blog 2010.” Over 1,000 bloggers have registered to compete for the grand prize of $10,000 and a featured spot on Foodbuzz.com for one year. In the first round, they will be whittling the number of contestants down to 400. Then there are 9 more challenges until 1 person is crowned the next food blog star. The first challenge is to create a post that represents who we are as food bloggers and why we think we’re food blogging star material. Voting for the first challenge opens on September 20th, so please check out my profile and enjoy my first entry!

I was going to make a flashy video for my first entry, but I thought I would take the judges advice and “be myself and be present.” I admit, my blog doesn’t have the most followers, the most ads or the coolest web design. This blog started as a little project for me, but now it has become so much more.

Last year, I graduated from journalism school in a terrible economic time. I was struggling with finding my place in the “real world” and finding my niche. With a lot of time on my hands and a lack of creative focus, I turned to food. I started cooking every night, baking, reading food blogs/recipes and challenging myself every day. Food became my saviour. Even with everything else going on in my life, I could be myself and relax in my little piece of heaven called “the kitchen.”

I never really cooked for myself until University. When I started out cooking meals for myself, I was horrendous. My “specialties” included “nacho rice” (white rice topped with ground beef, vegetables and cheese) and a disgusting chicken casserole made with rice, chicken and cream of broccoli soup topped with crushed Ruffles chips. I could “make” meals for myself, but I couldn’t really cook. I decided last year that since I was no longer a student, I didn’t need to eat like a student.

Over the last few years, I have come to really appreciate food. I have come to appreciate that if you follow exact measurements, then baking will come out perfect; that poking and prodding food isn’t always the best way to cook; that some meals take a lot of time and patience; and most importantly, that simple, classic and well-seasoned dishes always reign supreme.

I know that great chefs always taste their food while cooking, but for me, the satisfaction comes from watching the lucky recipient of my food try their first bite. I always wait in eager anticipation to watch them try my food before I have a single taste. I beam with pride from their “mmmm”-s and their “oh my god”-s and their “how did you make that?!”-s. I love bringing baked goods to work colleagues and friends and seeing their face light up when presented with a sweet treat.

Throughout University, I worked in various restaurants, but I would consider myself a purely self-taught cook. I have learned various techniques, classic dishes and recipes, but I have also learned that cooking comes with its ups and downs. No one cooks Julia Child’s “beef bourguignon” perfectly the first time or bakes a perfect cake on the first try — or even the first few tries. A friend of mine got married a few months ago, and I wrote in their guest book, “Marriage is like baking: it takes patience, hard work and strength, but the end result is sweet, satisfying and well worth the effort :).”

So why should I be the next Project Food Blog star?

–   I want people to learn from blog just as I have learned from other blogs. I look to other food blog’s for inspiration, ideas and challenges and I hope others do the same for mine.

–   Besides food, my other passion is writing. My blog has given me a chance to showcase my writing and experiences. I hope people learn a little bit about me, as well as the food I cook.

–   That being said, you will never find a spelling mistake on my blog. I cringe when I see them on other blogs. I am a writer, so I take these things rather seriously.

–   I have always dreamed of being on a reality TV show! Project Food Blog isn’t quite the same, but I love the concept so much. I am competitive, so I know I have what it takes to complete the challenges with style. I love to be challenged and pushed. In my mind, that’s the only way to learn.

– I challenge myself every month with food blogger competitions like “Hey Hey it’s Donna Day,” the “Food Network Cooking Club Challenge” and “The Daring Cooks.” This blog has also opened amazing doors for me, like my new gig writing for the FoodNetwork.ca community blog. Check out some of my articles here and here.

–   My blog is like a great meal; it’s simple, well executed, delicious and not pretentious. I can admit when I make mistakes. Some of my recipes don’t turn out and some of my techniques need work, but I strive to get better and work hard every single day.

–   I am a life-long learner. I started this blog to learn how to cook, to share my experiences and to hopefully bring others along the journey. Even when Project Food Blog is over, I will still strive to create the perfect posts, take stunning pictures and develop amazing recipes. Every blog post I write and every photo I take improves upon the last.

Most of all, I feel like I’ve found my calling. I spent so much time worrying about what I want to do with my life. Now I have finally found something I am extremely passionate about. Thank you to the featured publishers, the judges and FoodBuzz for this opportunity.
To all my friends and family out there, you are definitely obligated to vote for me. To everyone else, you can also vote for me if you’d like. I know I can be a foodie superstar!

Cheers!…

CHICKEN QUINOA “MAC” AND CHEESE

I don’t know where my cookbook collection came from. It was one of those things that I started collecting and then without thinking, I had amassed almost an entire IKEA Billy bookcase worth of cookbooks. The first cookbooks I owned were some of the books that originally got me into cooking like Delia Smith’s “How to Cook” and Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” With any cookbook collection, you need some examples of the masters of cooking. They are the ones who inspire you to jump right into the beautiful pages and try the recipes yourself.

When I think of Canadian cookbook authors, one of the first names that comes to mind is Rose Reisman. Rose has published 18 books over the last 20 years with recipes focusing on healthy living. She is now a columnist, speaker and owner of Rose Reisman Catering and Personal Gourmet. I have two Rose Reisman cookbooks in my collection: “Rose Reisman Brings Home Light Cooking” one of her classic books, a bestseller published in 1993; and one of her newer books “Weekday Wonders“. They are my go-to cookbooks when I need a healthy recipe for a busy weeknight or something light on the weekend. The recipes also follow the recommendations of Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating and trust me, they are still tasty dishes.

Finding comfort food recipes that are also good for you is a challenge. Mazola Corn Oil has partnered with Rose Reisman and the Make Good campaign to create five delicious recipes that are comforting and healthy. The recipes all use Mazola Corn oil, which has a high smoke point and neutral flavour profile. It is perfect for cooking, grilling and baking, and has lower cholesterol than olive oil.

Over the last year I have seen family members struggle with heart issues. With recovery and rehabilitation, a concerning factor is how to eat right. With so much nutrition information out there, it is difficult for anyone to know the “right” foods to keep your heart healthy, as well as the right balance of foods. That is another reason why Rose Reisman’s books and message of these recipes is so important to me. Healthy food doesn’t have to be boring. You can still have fun with healthy food and get the whole family involved in living a healthy lifestyle.

This recipe (full recipe) is creamy, comfort food with protein rich ingredients like quinoa and chicken. I used leftover cooked chicken and substituted the feta cheese for Boursin cheese because that was what I had in the fridge at the time. All you need to balance the dish is a crumbly cheese and a soft cheese. The recipe seems like a lot of steps at first. It is worth it for this take on a classic comfort food that masks that sometimes bitter taste of plain quinoa.

Chicken and Quinoa Mac and Cheese

Quinoa Ingredients:

1 cup quinoa
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water
6 ounces/200 g diced chicken breast
1 tbsp Mazola Corn Oil
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped re-hydrated sundried tomatoes
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

Sauce Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
3/4 cup shredded cheese
2 tbsp parmesan cheese
Dash salt and pepper

Topping:

1/3 cup panko or unseasoned breadcrumbs
2 tbsp cheddar cheese
2 tbsp parmesan cheese
2 tsp Mazola Corn Oil

Directions:

1. Heat quinoa and water/broth in a saucepan. Simmer for 15 minutes.
2. Toss chicken with flour in a medium bowl. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook 5 minutes until well browned.
3. Place quinoa, chicken, tomatoes and feta cheese in a large bowl.
4. For the sauce, heat milk, chicken broth, flour and mustard in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Bring to a simmer and cook for 3 minutes until slightly thickened. Stir in cheese and salt and pepper.
5. For the topping, combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl.
6. Pour the sauce over the quinoa mixture and stir until combined. Spoon the mixture into a greased 9-inch square baking dish. Sprinkle topping over the top.
7. Bake in a 375F pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes until the topping is slightly browned.

I have teamed up with Mazola Corn Oil to GIVEAWAY some fun stuff so you can get your family in on the healthy cooking action. Enter below to win a Mazola Oil Gift basket that includes 1 bottle of pure Mazola Corn Oil, a recipe card box including all five of Rose Reisman’s custom recipes and kitchen goodies, including 2 green tea towels, a wooden spoon and wire whisk (approximate value $50). 
This giveaway is open to Canadian residents only. The winner will be contacted by email to confirm a mailing address for shipping the prize. No purchase necessary. Ends April 18, 2016.…