June 25, 2011

This month's Food Network Cooking Club Challenge was inspired by the latest episode of Top Chef Canada where the contestants were challenged to make a quick fire dish using President's Choice products.

The cooking club challenge was to make a dish using one of five P.C products. The first product was Smokin' Stampede Beer and Chipotle Barbecue sauce. Mike swears by this stuff and it tastes amazing on hamburgers, sausages, and anything barbecued:


The second product I use regularly is PC Blue Menu Memories of Szechwan Spicy Peanut Satay Sauce. Every time I make stir fried vegetables or any kind of stir fry inspired dish I use this sauce. We have about three bottles of this in our pantry.


The product I decided to use for the challenge was PC Butter Puff Pastry. I had some beautiful sausage from our local market, so I decided to make the British classic, sausage rolls. These are not to be mistaken with the American "piggies in a blanket," which are hotdogs in croissant rolls. Sausage rolls are basically ground sausage and breadcrumbs rolled in puff pastry. They make a great appetizer and are easy to make for a party or gathering.

I had also never used puff pastry before, so I was curious as to what it was like to work with.


Sausage Rolls 

Ingredients: 

1 sausage, thawed
1 box of PC Butter Puff Pastry
1 onion
1 tbsp butter
Handful of sage leaves
Handful of breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten with a dash of milk
Dijon mustard if desired

Directions:

The first step is to make the filling for the rolls. Sautee an onion in about a tbsp of butter for about 10 minutes. Add a handful of fresh or dried sage leaves. Cook for another 5 minutes until the mixture has browned. Let cool for a few minutes.
Cut the casing off of the sausage and put the filling into a bowl. Add a handful of breadcrumbs and the onion mixture.
Lay the puff pastry out and roll it out a bit. Cut out strips that are big enough to roll over the filling once. Brush the pastry with the egg wash. At this point, you can squeeze a bit of dijon mustard onto the pastry if you would like.
Roll out the sausage filling in your hands to form a sausage-like shape. Lay the filling down, then wrap the pastry over the filling and press down the edges to seal. Brush the top of the pastry with the egg wash.

Put the rolls in the fridge for a few minutes to cool. Take the rolls out and cut into your desired shapes.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25-28 minutes. I prefer mine crispy and a bit brown so I left them in a few minutes longer, but 25 minutes will get them cooked perfectly.

These were simple to make and tasted a hundred times better than frozen appetizer sausage rolls. The fresh, good quality sausage really made a difference, and the puff pastry was easy to roll out and handle.
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June 21, 2011

Cookies have always been one of my favourite desserts. I love everything from chocolate biscuits, to oatmeal raisin to even those high school cafeteria cookies that left a huge grease stain on a napkin. My Mom was working at Christies Cookies in Toronto when she was pregnant with me, so all of that cookie sampling must have given me some cookie loving gene.


A nice cookie and a cup of tea is my ultimate evening dessert, so when I saw this recipe for "healthy"cookie bites from OhSheGlows, I was intrigued. You mean, there is such thing as a tasty cookie that is not baked with butter and eggs and is also 56 calories a cookie?!

I had some bananas that were browning, so I decided to try a batch of the recipe just to test it. When they were done I tried one, then two, then decided to make another batch and freeze it for a rainy day. We sat outside on our balcony and tried the cookies with some "midsummer night's dream" iced tea from David's Tea (part of their summer collection).

There is nothing better than enjoying the nice weather with a muskoka chair and some iced tea, even if we are right in the middle of the city.

"Healthy" Oatmeal Cookie Bites

1.5 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup ground almonds (I smashed the almonds in a ziploc bag with a rolling pin)
3 tbsp shredded coconut
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp maple syrup
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

1. In a small bowl, mash the bananas, then add the vanilla, maple syrup, olive oil and mix.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the oats, almonds, coconut, cinnamon, salt, chocolate and baking powder.
3. Add the banana mixture to the dry ingredients. Stir until combined.
4. Form the dough into balls.
5. Bake for 14 minutes at 350 degrees.

The cookies get their sweetness from the banana and coconut. I added a touch of maple syrup to the recipe, which probably adds a few more calories to the cookies, but these are a sweet treat you can feel good about.
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June 18, 2011

Dallas over at Southwestern Ontario Foodie, a fellow London food blogger, recently reviewed "The Ontario Table," a new cookbook that focuses on Ontario ingredients. She challenged readers to buy $10 of local food this week as a giveaway for the book.


London, Ontario has a surprising number of local food venues and there are many farms located within minutes of the city; however, I don't think the local food scene is as well-established as other cities. I do love that there are outdoor farmer's markets around pretty much most of the days of the week.


I nipped down quickly the other day to pick up some more fresh herbs for our herb garden and ended up buying two pots of basil, one pot of mint and one of rosemary. We already have some basil, parsley, sorrel and thyme growing, so we almost have the abundance of herbs we had last summer. I have also been snatching up Ontario asparagus every time I go to the market, as the farmer said the season is almost over for asparagus. There is also a great butcher in the market who sells amazing sausages for a good price. I got a chorizo, mild and two honey garlic sausages for about $8. So, I absolutely spent $10 on local food this week and will continue to spend more to support local food.

I had a baguette that was going stale and a lot of fresh basil, so I decided to make Tomato Bread Soup last night. I had made tomato soup before, but had never thought to put bread in it to make it thicker. The soup, also called "Pappa al Pomodoro," is a Tuscan dish that to me almost seems like the Italian equivalent to French Onion Soup.


I have a weird love for soggy bread and love it smothered in gravy with a hot chicken sandwich or melted in with cheese and onions in french onion soup, so I knew I would like this soup.

Tomato Bread Soup (adapted from this recipe)
Ingredients:

1 baguette or piece bread that is a few days old and a bit stale
1 can of whole tomatoes, no salt added
1 onion, diced
1/2 of a zucchini, chopped
1 clove of garlic
Handful of chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup of chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup of water
1 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 slice of mozzarella to garnish

Directions:

1. Sautee the onions and garlic for a few minutes. Add the zucchini.
2. Add the canned tomatoes and mash down with a potato masher.
3. Add the stock, fresh basil and parmesan cheese. Add the water.
4. Let the soup simmer for about 40 minutes. Add more water to get your desired soup consistency.
5. Add the bread and let cook for another 10 minutes.
6. Serve with some fresh basil and mozzarella on top.
This soup was a lot heavier than I thought. The bread melts in your mouth and the tomato, basil and mozzarella, as always, all work beautifully together. Next time I might add some crunchy bits of bread on top to contrast with the melted bread, as it can be quite a lot of "mushiness." If you're a soggy bread fan like me, then you will love this Italian classic.
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June 16, 2011

I made a rainbow cake for Mike's Birthday recently and I have never been prouder of one of my cake creations. I kept seeing rainbow cakes on a few blogs and just googling "rainbow cake" gives you a million posts of instructions on how to make this striking cake, so I thought I was up to the challenge. I always feel adventurous when it comes to a cake for a special someone's birthday.

Rainbow layered cake

All you need is two boxes of white cake mix, two batches of buttercream icing and a lot of food colouring. I usually make my own icing using the Wilton recipe. Divide the 2 boxes of batter into six portions and pour into bowls or tupperwares.

Colour each bowl with your desired colours: purple, blue, green, yellow, orange and red. I just used a four-pack of basic primary food colouring and I was able to make all six colours; however, as you can see, the purple and orange didn't turn out as strong as the others. You will probably end up with food colouring everywhere like this:


Bake each portion separately according to the instructions on the box. This may take some time if you only have one 9-inch pan like I do. A good trick to making sure cake doesn't stick to the pan is to coat the pan in shortening first, then dust with flour and shake off the excess and pour in the batter. The cake will come out clean with hardly any crumbs. When you take the baked cakes out, don't be alarmed if the colours don't look as strong on the outside or if the top browned and the colour looks faded. The colours will be at their strongest on the inside when you cut into the cake.


Two boxes of cake mix doesn't seem like a lot, but six layers of cake makes a massive cake. Stack each layer and spread buttercream in the middle of each, then pipe a circle of buttercream around the edge of each layer, so they stick together.

Rainbow layered cake

Then ice the entire cake. It may take quite a bit of icing to cover up the rainbow outside layers, but just keep at it. I decorated the top of the cake with rainbow sprinkles to add some more colour to the outside. The best part is cutting into the first slice and seeing the rainbow layers. It's really neat and the guests loved it.

Rainbow layered cake

My birthday was a few weeks later and Mike made me a rainbow cheesecake, which was also neat. He made a basic strawberry cheesecake, and then swirled rainbow food colouring into the batter.

Rainbow cheesecake
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