June 22, 2013

I am reading Michael Pollan's new book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation right now and in it he describes the simple and powerful skill of using fire, water, earth and air to transform food. Not only does cooking food connect us to other people, it also marks our impact on how food is processed, sold and marketed. By taking back the art of cooking, he says we can help make the American--and international--food system healthier, sustainable and more nourishing. He writes:

"Cooking implicates us in a whole web of social and ecological relationships: with plants and animals  with the soil, with farmers, with the microbes both inside and outside our bodies, and, of course, with the people our cooking nourishes and delights. Above all else, what I found in the kitchen is that cooking connects..." (pg. 18)

Apple Cobbler Donut

Michael Pollan always makes me think; however, his recent book really got me thinking about how food connects us all and the impact of learning to appreciate food. And who better than to connect us to food and cooking than the Food Network.

Since they just reached 100,000 Twitter followers, Food Network Canada is celebrating by looking for a new Food Network Canada Scout to blog, tweet and share the love. To enter, send them a Facebook message, Tweet or Instagram how you get your daily dose of Food Network whether it's watching on TV, cooking online recipes or checking out the blog.

I don't know guys, if you talk to any of the people in my life, they will tell you how much of a Food Network fanatic I really am. Just yesterday I picked up the Donut Showdown winning donut from Tim Hortons to enjoy while I read through my many food blogs, including the Food Network Canada Community blog.

When I turn on the television, I gravitate straight towards the trusted channel number 58 and towards my friends, idols and experts on the Food Network. They welcome me into their kitchens, restaurants and homes every day.

I first got involved with the Food Network Canada online community in 2010. It was there I first started learning how to cook and bake. I had just graduated University and was finally out in the big working world. One of those important skills you need as a functioning adult is cooking. So where is the first place you turn to when you want to learn how to be a "top chef"? Obviously, the Food Network; that place that teaches us creativity, instincts, admiration and all we need to be better cooks.

I have participated in many monthly cooking club challenges on the site. Some of my favourite recipes that I have been challenged to make are Anna Olson's Sour Cream Coffee Cake and Michael Smith's Jerk Chicken. If you hadn't guessed already, I also love sharing my food photos with anyone who will look at them, so the chance to share my cooking experiences with the Food Network community has been wonderful. They are such a welcoming and encouraging group, especially when I first started out blogging. 

I have also blogged for the site a few times and on many occasions, I have made a point of meeting--probably more like stalking--my favourite Food Network personalities. One of my hobbies, of course, is finding and covering neat local food events. I always have my eye out for the chance to sample local food and see artisans and chefs in action.

Last year in Toronto, I went to see Gail Simmons at a book signing at Indigo Book Store and got a signed copy of her book "Talking with my Mouth Full." She said it best during her talk to the audience: "What I do for a living is much bigger than eating or going to restaurants. It's about forming a community; it's not just about eating, but sitting at a table together and learning how to understand food." I was so inspired by her motivational talk of her experiences becoming a food editor.

Gail Simmons

I also had the pleasure of meeting the Happy Baker, Erin Bolger when she was touring across Canada to promote her book "The Happy Baker: A Dater's Guide to Emotional Baking." That book has become my go-to baking book whenever the need for "emotional baking" strikes and she is a funny and welcoming person in her book, as well as real life. 

The Happy Baker

At the London Wine and Food Show in 2011, I met Chef Corbin Tomaszeski, the host of Dinner Party Wars and asked him for some dinner party tips and tricks. He told me that the key to a fantastic dinner party is to "cook food that you're familiar with, that's local, seasonal and fresh and you'll be successful." 

Then last fall at the Savour Stratford Festival I saw Top Chef Canada season one contestant Connie DeSousa and season two winner Carl Heinrich. On the right is Toronto-born Food Network host and cookbook author David Rocco, best known for his television show "David Rocco's Dolce Vita." All of the chefs were demonstrating their skills for the crowds at the well-known Stratford food festival. 

One of my favourite Top Chef personalities of all time is Susur Lee. I saw him at Soup Stock Toronto dishing out some Hot and Sour soup all for the cause of stopping the Mega-Quarry. I have also dined at his restaurant Lee in Toronto and made sure to order his winning Top Chef award winning Green Curry Chicken over sweet pea polenta, spiced tomato jam and dried pineapple.

Susur Lee
Lee Restaurant Green Curry Chicken

What do you think? Do I have what it takes to be the Ultimate Food Network Canada Superfan? Do you have any fond memories or experiences with Food Network Canada? 

It's not just about the personalities, fancy kitchens and extravagant pantries (I'm looking at you, Chef Michael Smith) and intense competitions. Food Network connects us all to being creative, passionate and enthusiastic about sharing food; an important thing we can do to improve our lives. 
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June 13, 2013

Fun fact of the day: Did you know that nearly 65 per cent of rice consumed in Canada is grown in the U.S? Canada barely produces any rice of its own, so I guess we can thank our U.S neighbours for all of those whole grains. The USA Rice Federation sent me some recipes for summer using rice and this recipe for stuffed crepes caught my eye:

rice crepes

It also reminded me of the last time I ate crepes, which was in Laos. Yes, Laos. Believe it or not, with the strong French influence in that part of Southeast Asia, some of their street food includes freshly made crepes, pastries and baguettes. One night in Luang Prabang, after perusing the night markets, we stopped at a crepe stall for a late night sweet fix. The delicate, light crepes were flipped and served using only a stick and a hot pan. The ones we got were filled with gooey melted banana and Nutella; the art of the delivery though is in the crepe itself.

The next morning, someone on our tour group asked about the crepes and one of the girls said, "they were alright, but they could have used more Nutella." The phrase kind of stuck with us as a running joke throughout the trip. So when someone asked how something was or how we liked something we would say, "alright...but it could have used more Nutella."

It's funny how you associate food with a certain place or even time. That's why local food can say so much about a community. For example, something as simple as a stack of rhubarb from a co-worker's garden can become multiple jars of Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce. This was my first canning project of the summer. 

canning pot
canning pot

I also made a Strawberry Rhubarb pie and it was definitely not my first pie of the season. The sauce works on yoghurt, ice cream, granola and pretty much anything you want summer rhubarb on. I also plan to make some Dandelion Jelly, Zucchini Relish and more salsa this summer all on my preserving to-do list. 

I like to stock up on local vegetables when I can. We have one tomato plant on our porch ready to go this summer and I am always looking for fresh, leafy greens in season. These crepes are a great way to use up some vegetables and make a savoury, filling meal whether you like them French-style with traditional sauce or on the lighter side with just a bit of cheese grated inside and baked:

4 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives

crepe with rice

1/4 cup butter, melted
8 cups sliced cremini or white mushrooms
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
8 cups fresh trimmed spinach leaves (or kale)
1 3/4 cups brown or white rice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry sherry, dry white wine or vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups milk
1 3/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Note: I omitted these ingredients and made the crepes without the sauce on top. Instead, I grated about a 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese into the rice filling. 

Crepes: In a blender, blend eggs, milk, flour, 2 tbsp of the butter and salt until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. 

Heat 8-inch crepe pan or stick-resistant skillet over medium heat; brush lightly with some of the remaining butter. Stir half of the chives into batter. For each crepe, pour about 1/3 cup batter into centre of pan, swirling to coat; cook, turning once, until set and light golden, about 1 minute. Transfer to plate; repeat with remaining batter to make 12 crepes. 

Filling: In large, wide saucepan, melt 1 tbsp of the butter over medium-high heat; sauté mushrooms, onion, garlic, half of the salt and pepper until golden brown and liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes. In 2 or 3 batches, add spinach, letting each batch wilt before adding the next and stirring often. Once all is wilted, continue to cook until almost no liquid remains, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in rice. 

crepe with rice

Some exciting news for my Ontario readers who also like tasting, savouring and promoting local food. Food Story is a Toronto Farmer's Market Delivery Service that delivers a customizable weekly box of artisanal and farm fresh food to your door. Similar to a CSA box program, Food Story wants to connect local producers to local food enthusiasts:

They are offering new customers in the Toronto area a discount and free delivery with your first delivery order of organic, local food. Use promo code FOODLOVEHAPPINESS with a minimum $25 purchase to receive a 25 per cent discount and check them out on Facebook and Twitter. 
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June 02, 2013

I started quite a few business ventures when I was younger and although I wouldn't quite call them successful, I can see where I get my entrepreneurial spirit. From a cat-sitting/dog walking venture, to garage sales, lemonade stands and even creating a mini-summer camp in my backyard with my friend (which only had 2 campers, so it was pretty much babysitting), I have always been an "idea" person. I also made cassette tapes of myself playing piano and singing and would try to sell them to my parent's friends at dinner parties. 

I think that's one of the reasons I enjoy blogging. It's about branding yourself, creating interesting content and trying to find your niche. Who knows where it will go? One of the perks is definitely sampling neat food items from different companies. 

coconut sugar

GraceKennedy sent me a sample of their Organic Coconut Sugar; a natural sweetener made from nutrient-rich sap of coconut flower buds. I used it on top of yoghurt and granola, but it can be used as a 1:1 substitute to brown sugar in baking or to sweeten coffee or tea. The other day I sprinkled some into tomato sauce as a bit of a sweetener and I also added some to this frozen dessert. 

Because the new season of Arrested Development was released last week I thought it would be fitting to make some frozen bananas to eat while I watch the new episodes. Even though the Bluthe company never really works out as planned, they still try to do their best (I guess?) and keep the family together. 

frozen bananas

These frozen bananas were somewhat inspired by this Nutella Crunch Ice cream Cake. I used melted nutella as the coating and then rolled the bananas in a mixture of All-Bran buds, puffed quinoa cereal and coconut sugar. I found the puffed quinoa cereal at Bulk Barn and it's kind of like quinoa in Rice Krispies form. 

Frozen Chocolate Bananas with Coconut Sugar

3 bananas
1 cup Nutella
1 cup All-bran Buds
1 cup puffed quinoa cereal
3 tbsp coconut sugar


1. Melt nutella in a small bowl in the microwave for about 30 seconds.
2. Peel the bananas and cut them in half. Coat the bananas in the melted nutella.
3. Combine the All-bran Buds, quinoa and sugar. Roll the coated bananas in the cereal mixture. Place them on a plate or cookie sheet with parchment paper.
4. Place the bananas in the freezer for at least one hour. Make sure to put the sticks in before they are completely frozen. 

I am sometimes too much of a "thinker" for my own good. Sometimes I over plan things a little too much, like with planning parties. When I was younger, my birthday parties were always elaborate and meticulously planned. From the Indiana Jones-themed party where my parents actually buried treasure in the backyard to having a Clown entertain and paint our faces to even a session at Glamour Shots. 

Birthdays seem a little more low-key nowadays. I don't need treat bags, invitations or formal activities. Some good friends, food, a cozy setting and maybe some drinks are all I need. And especially for the summer, homemade Sangria is always nice. Sometimes I need to let go, stop planning and just enjoy the wonderful moments. 

When we went to Niagara-on-the-Lake the other weekend, we picked up a few bottles of red wine that was on sale. According to the salesperson, the wine was from 2008, which was not a great year for Ontario wine; however, she did say it was a great wine for house parties or making Sangria. 

So I turned to the Joy of Cooking for a classic Sangria recipe made with club soda, fruit and lemon juice to serve at my Birthday celebration. I also made a Thai-inspired coleslaw with cabbage, mango, green onions, peanuts and a dressing to go along with burgers and pulled pork. After a getaway exploring wineries and food trucks, my low-key Birthday party was a great way to unwind and finish up the long weekend.

We ate some burgers, drank quite a bit of Sangria and relaxed on the porch. My birthday cake was an experiment based on this summer fruits chocolate frosted cake recipe I found on Pinterest. Like many things on Pinterest, looks can be deceiving. The idea is that you ice a whole watermelon so when you cut into it the slices are all "cake-like" slices of watermelon. The tricky part was getting the icing to stay on the watermelon. I don't know if you know this, but watermelon is made up of mostly water, so this was a difficult task. 

watermelon cake

I ended up scraping the icing off of the side and iced the top of the cake instead with some icing and sprinkles. The process was quite neat and Mike did a great job carving the watermelon--the intentions were there--however, the staying power of icing on water was not.

Good ideas can easily flop and sometimes you have good intentions. Like the Bluthe family, you don't always plan for crazy things to happen; they just do. Just remember, "there is always money in the banana stand." 

Disclosure: I received a sample of Grace Organic Coconut Sugar for review purposes. The opinions expressed are completely my own based on my experience.   
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