Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Pizza Party!





Halloween is upon us, and whether you're busy getting kids ready for trick or treating, answering the door for cute costumes or getting dolled up for your own Halloween bash, one thing rings true: you don't have time for dinner!

A simple and fun solution to this dilemma is...PIZZA! Pizza is often the answer to many of our problems, but on a busy night like Halloween it can really hit the spot. I decided to make a little Halloween pizza party with some cocktails to match. Enjoy! I used frozen dough but for an even faster meal preparation you might want to try pitas!

Happy Halloween everyone!

Pizza #1: Spinach/Goat Cheese/Sweet Potato Cubes
Before:



After:



Pizza #2: Peppers and Pine Nuts

Before:



After:



For my third pizza I just decided to throw everything on there, I call it "The Kitchen Sink".



Cocktails

Witches' Brew



1 oz. Amber Rum
1/2 oz. Amaretto
Splash of Grenadine
Orangina
Garnish: Black Licorice

Vampires' Blood



1 oz. Vodka
Splash of Orangina
Blueberry/Pomegranate Juice
Garnish: Black Licorice, Orange slice

Harvest Moon Cosmo



1 oz. Vodka
1/2 oz. Triple Sec/Cointreau
Splash of fresh lime juice
Orangina
Garnish: lime

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Literary Snack

The exercise was to write 500 words or less that related in some way to a found postcard. I, of course, ended up choosing another postcard that had something to do with food...



Blue Rare

“Is the beef grass-fed?” Paul asked, while meticulously moving his glass of water to its rightful place – top right, diagonal to the knife. “I can’t believe the service in this place,” he muttered over his shoulder to the young couple at the table behind him. Paul had come here to attempt to enjoy some lunch and pour over the latest copy of his novel. “Tweak chapter four,” his publisher had flippantly remarked, “it’s too depressing.” Paul hated his publisher. Things hadn’t been the same since the divorce, and his writing had been his only refuge, a place of his own where only he called the shots. The waiter brought his lunch, a cut of beef so rare it would make a vegan faint. The accompanying asparagus was grilled, not steamed, as he had expressly mentioned to the dimwitted waiter. He couldn’t believe the kid got it right. Paul dutifully folded his napkin in his lap and picked up the sharp knife. As he raised the beef to his lips, he paused briefly as he noticed a spot on the table cloth, a flaw in the pure white fabric. Paul neatly put the knife down and snapped his fingers. “Waiter!”

Monday, October 26, 2009

Literary Snack

The exercise was to write 500 words or less that related in some way to a found postcard. I, of course, ended up choosing a postcard that had something to do with food...



Montmorency Cherries

Her first taste of the season was both sweet and sour. As she bit into the tart, juicy fruit, she thought about the previous winter and the day she met him. How he helped her up after a fall at the local ice rink. How he’d tied her skates a bit too tight, but held her red mitten hand the rest of the snowy afternoon. The cherries were ripe for the picking and summer seemed just around the corner. Memories flashed in her mind of their first date and how he asked the man to play her favourite record over and over, well into the clear Niagara night. Her basket was full, almost enough for a pie. The last time she saw him, he pressed a note into her hand before boarding the train for Toronto. “Tomorrow, then” is all it said, and she headed home, stomach empty, heart full. She bit into a bad one and winced a little. She heard later that he’d taken up with a city girl, but she always wondered if he’d return in time for the harvest.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tea and Positivity

"This smells like candy!" I couldn't believe it was tea as I took in the sweet and satisfying aroma of one of Tealish's dessert teas, Toasty Almond. It smelled like candy granola, apples and cinnamon mixed together with a nutty goodness. Tealish is located on Walnut Avenue in Toronto, in the trendy Queen West area of Trinity Bellwoods. I stopped by there for a visit during my recent trip to Toronto.

The person allowing me to smell this tea was none other than part owner of Tealish, Mike Rachmel. Not even a lingering headcold could stop Mike from sharing his story with enthusiasm and passion, and his case of the sniffles wasn't anything a hot cup of matcha couldn't soothe. Mike tells me that because matcha is the result of grinding green tea leaves to a fine powder, it has 15 times the "green goodness" as green tea itself, and it boosts the immune system and energy levels with loads of antioxidants.


Mike mixing matcha

As we chatted about how a young, hip guy such as himself ended up selling tea, I began to realize there had to be more to this plant-based beverage than meets the eye. Growing up in London, Ontario, tea for Mike meant Tetley and Red Rose, as I am sure it also did for most of us. After university both his horizons and his palate started to expand, and eventually tea started to mean much more.

Mike and his partner Laura opened the doors to Tealish in 2006, but their idea to open a modern tea boutique had been in the making for a while. With oodles of travel behind him, Mike was searching for a way to connect with people and blaze his own entrepreneurial trail. Being food and wine lovers, both Mike and Laura enjoyed seeking out new taste experiences, so it was only a matter of time until different types of tea appeared on their radar.



Although they were new to looseleaf tea at first, they were eager to learn more about this magic beverage. In their search for more tea knowledge and experience they found that "there was something missing", said Mike. He and Laura began to realize that the approachable, experiential tea cafe they sought didn't seem to exist at the time in Toronto. It's true what they say about necessity and invention. Mike and Laura's frequent question "why isn't there?" slowly turned into "why don't we?", and they started on their quest. The idea was to create a fun, fresh approach to tea that could be 100% unpretentious, engaging and educational. Enter Tealish.



One of their hopes is to remove the stereotype around who qualifies as a "tea drinker". Many of us picture sweet old British grannies, English Professors or common cold sufferers to be the only ones toting teacups. On the contrary, Mike believes that "there is a tea for every person!" Their tea is certainly catching on, and among those who have already discovered Tealish are Canadian Celebrity Chef Laura Calder and talented singer/songwriter Brett Dennen.



With Tealish, they wanted to open peoples' eyes to the amazing selection of looseleaf tea. For me personally, my eyes were first opened to the rainbow of tea flavours when I worked at Whole Foods Market. I'll never forget my first whiff of a peachy-flavoured white tea or a blueberry rooibos. Wherever you first get turned onto a food or drink, it can inspire you to taste more new and interesting flavours. Trust me, once you start, it's difficult to stop!



In the beginning, Mike and Laura contacted over 100 suppliers and tasted over 1000 teas in order to choose what they would sell at Tealish. They source tea from China, Japan, India and Sri Lanka and herbs from South America, Argentina, Egypt (camomile) and even here in Canada (mint). Their teas have no artificial ingredients.



I felt the need to go there, so I asked him "the organic question". In response, Mike told me that their tea is technically not certified organic or fair trade. However, if you look past the official certifications, it sounds ethically produced in my opinion. Their tea comes from the top traditional tea estates in the world. No factory farming is involved, and no pesticides are needed due to minimal pest problems at the high elevations where the tea is grown.

Money is also a factor. For many of their suppliers, organic certification is too expensive. On these tea estates, tea is a way of life. Female workers hand harvest the tea, and during the busy season, the estate owners boost productivity and employee satisfaction by having schools and hospitals on site to care for their children and families.

As Mike told me about these "small, passionate, quality-conscious estates", I couldn't help but draw a parallel between the source of their teas and Tealish itself. Small, passionate companies who focus on a good product and live and breathe tea as part of their lifestyle. The passionate, positive vibe of Tealish is contagious, and I challenge anyone who says they don't like tea to spend just 5 minutes with Mike. I believe he will inspire you to try something new.

Back to the organic question, the short answer is: Tealish's teas are tested against the European food safety standards. Essentially, they are organic, but they are just not certified by North American standards.



I learned a lot from Mike that sunny October morning. For example, I learned about "fannings". Up until now, all I knew of fannings were of the Dakota variety. Fannings are the dust and small particles of tea leaves. Apparently when we dunk a teabag into our cup, we are really only sipping the essence of the dust and particles of tea, not the leaves themselves. This fact alone has completely converted me to looseleaf tea!

Tealish is hoping to provide an enjoyable tea experience for everyone. For Mike and Laura, tea serves so many purposes in life, it can help energize you, calm you down, provide you with whatever you need. In their view, the health factor is a bonus.


A pretty flowering tea, in full bloom

I asked Mike what was new at Tealish and found out that a major focus lately is tea for your lifestyle. Whether you are an athlete, looking to improve your health or you have a sweet tooth, Tealish has a line of teas for you. Called "Good Energy", "Chill Out" and "Dessert Teas", their specialty lines are bound to suit you or someone in your life. Speaking of specialty teas, they will even create a personalized blend for your wedding, birthday party or any other occasion!


Scot-tea, a personalized blend created for a 30th birthday.

Leaving the store with my Toasty Almond vanilla soy latte in hand, I noticed that this tea brewed pink -- don't be put off by the colour guys, I tested it on a man's man a few days later and he loved it! It went perfectly with an oatmeal raisin cookie on a chilly Monday evening.



Mike wants to invite people to the shop that don't think of themselves as tea drinkers, because he is convinced he can show them a tea that they will love. "Tea is the superfood of planet earth", Mike said, and I'm definitely starting to believe him.

Friday, October 23, 2009

ReFRESHing Lunch

During my recent trip to Toronto, I dropped into a favourite lunch spot, Fresh. Although a bit of a chain in Toronto with 3 locations, Fresh has not officially franchised itself across Canada or North America. In a way I respect this, but on the other hand I wish it would expand! Living in Ottawa could be a reason for this wish, but I also think countless others would enjoy Fresh, particularly you Californians out there.

Fresh is a vegan restaurant and it offers a variety of extremely tasty, creative and healthy options, including organic and gluten-free menu items! However, it is not just for vegans. People who like a hearty, tasty meal will still be satisfied at Fresh, where they offer everything from wheatgrass shakes to vegan burgers and sweet potato fries. My personal favourite are the delicious crispy tofu cubes -- add them to any salad and you have a winner.



I wish the service there was as good as the food, but I am choosing to focus on the positive! For example, the California Classic salad I enjoyed, complete with greens, pesto white beans, toasted pecans, hearts of palm, avocado, grape tomato and crispy tofu cubes. I chose green dressing, which consisted of ginger, garlic, cilantro, rice vinegar, agave and sunflower oil. My salad was extremely tasty, satisfying and healthy and I loved every bite.

I washed it all down with a 20/20 -- you guessed it, a freshly squeezed vegetable juice designed to enhance your vision. This juice was made up of broccoli, spinach, red pepper, parsley and carrots. It wasn't the best juice I've had there, but I felt a need for something healthy that day, and I surely received just that. On the menu I didn't see any crazy health claims, but I am sure there is tested science behind many of the food combinations Fresh provides.



I will spare you a regurgitated history of the creator of Fresh, Ruth Tal, or the many details and menu options available -- instead I suggest you check out their website at www.freshrestaurants.ca

Better yet, if you are in Toronto, please visit a Fresh location. I promise I have no shares in the company, I just love it! Be prepared to wait a bit, but I assure you, the wait is worth it.

Have a fresh and healthy Saturday, everybody!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An Evening at Crush Wine Bar

My second night in Toronto the family and I headed to Crush Wine Bar. I had never been while I lived in Toronto, so now seemed as good a time as any. Inside the design was modern and sleek, and the bar looked like a great place to sip a glass of wine after work for the King Street crowd. Our table was in the middle of the room, and as you looked to the back, the wall separating the kitchen from the dining room was translucent, so you could still see the chefs hard at work, but it was behind the scenes as well. Very interesting design indeed.

I started by ordering a flight of white wines which they called "White Oddities". This included a German blend, an Italian varietal and a Californian Viognier. Usually I am partial to Viognier, but I really enjoyed the toasty, light and refreshing taste of the German wine, which was a blend of Weiss Burgunder, Muller-Thurgau and Silvaner.



My first course was a butternut squash soup with creme fraiche foam. It was quite nice but nothing monumental.



Following the soup, I chose the seared tuna with Thai green curry sauce. I hoped that it was a tuna that is sustainable, as I had left my SeaChoice card at home. Lesson for next time to always bring it along! The tuna was rich and light at the same time, and paired perfectly with the curry sauce. Visually stunning, this was also a very delicious choice and went nicely with the Sauvignon Blanc my server recommended (unfortunately I did not get the name of this wine).



To end the meal, I chose the vanilla panna cotta with wild Ontario blueberry compote. It did not disappoint, with the beautiful blueberries complimenting the creamy panna cotta.



In the end it was a fun night had by all, and pleasing to the palate. I would go back to Crush, this time I might sidle up to the bar and try the Red Oddities, but I wonder how often they change their wine menu, as I would have liked to have a bit more choice by the glass.

Flight of Wines tasted:
1) Trocken, Weingut Wittmann ’08 Rheinhessen, Germany
2) Roero Arneis, Az. Agr. Bruno Giacosa ’07 Piedmont, Italy
3) Viognier Central Coast, Calera Wine Company ’06 California, U.S.A.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Danforth Dinner

I'm back! I spent the weekend in Toronto visiting family and friends, and I have a few culinary stories to tell as a result. My first night in town I headed to a favourite pub of mine on the Danforth, Allen's. There I sipped a pint of Allen's Special Lager before heading down the street for dinner. If you haven't been to Allen's, it's a great Irish-American pub with good food and an excellent patio in the summer. Plus, if you're into whisky, you can find it there, not only from Canada, but also the U.S., Ireland and an insane amount from Scotland. A casual, unpretentious pub just east of Broadview.

After catching up with a friend at Allen's, I strolled over to Seven Numbers for an Italian feast. It was girls' night out, so we shared stories of adventure, love, travel and general miscellany while enjoying our delicious dinner.

Some of what we ordered included prosciutto and fresh figs, grilled zucchini and asparagus, grilled fish and a sexy duck leg (yes, this is on the menu). Was it sexy? Was it ever. To finish off such a night, there was only one option: an espresso martini. Personally recommended by our lovely server, these martinis didn't last long and tasted like decadent espresso ice cream.

Seven Numbers is a bit of a hidden jewel in Toronto. I've never been to the Eglinton location, but the Danforth restaurant is cozy, candlelit and atmospheric, with friendly staff who treat you like personal guests. Complete with drippy candles and mismatched chairs, wooden harvest tables and fabulous food, Seven Numbers is not to be missed.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Off to the Big Smoke...



I'm off to have some culinary adventures in Toronto this weekend, but stay tuned next week for some dazzling reports of my trip back to my former stomping grounds!

Have a fantastic weekend everyone!

Blog Action Day: Climate Change and Food

Today is Blog Action Day -- a movement uniting bloggers worldwide to post about the same topic on a single day. This year's topic is Climate Change. I thought I'd join the masses and share with you how climate change and food are linked, but I figured it would be best to hear it from an expert. So without further ado, I bring you Michael Pollan:



So, next time you visit a farmers' market or start a vegetable garden at home, you can feel good about the fact that you are doing your part by reducing your carbon footprint!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My 10 Foodie Must-Haves

I decided to share with you some of the things I can't live without in my kitchen. All of the photos are from the talented folks at Flickr, as I do have all of these things but my photography still-life skills are not really up to scratch, in my opinion.

#1: Retro or Handmade Coffee Mug



It's always good to have a retro coffee mug from which to sip your morning brew. Either you found it at a flea market, it was passed down from a family member or a friend gave it to you -- either way it just warms the soul a bit to use it each day.The mug in the photo is not mine, but I did have one just like it that my parents used to have; sadly it broke during my last move, but I can remember it via this picture.

#2: Bartender's Corkscrew



Everyone has their favourite type of corkscrew, but mine is a classic bartender's corkscrew. None of this butterfly nonsense for me; in my days of bartending I got used to this classic style and I find it works every time.

#3: Wine Stoppers



Nothing is better than a good wine stopper when you want to preserve the vino for tomorrow night. I love the stoppers from LCBO because they are spill-proof if you are storing your wine on its side, but I wish they weren't made of plastic.

#4: Knife



If I learned anything from the Chefs I've worked with, it's that you have to have a really good, sharp knife. In recent years I haven't splurged on a whole set, but my one good knife has really done the job, no matter what I'm dicing or chopping. Plus, you can always quote Crocodile Dundee while pulling out your knife for a bit of entertainment.

#5: Champagne Flutes



It's always handy to have champagne flutes at the ready -- you never know when you'll be toasting a new job, a friend's engagement or celebrating with that cute guy or girl you met the other night. Of course, it's also good to have a bottle of champagne in the fridge for such occasions.

#6: Pasta Bowl



Who hasn't come home from work starving and whipped up a quick pasta dish to devour after a super long day? Having a really good pasta bowl is always a bonus in this situation. Make sure it's wide and a bit deep, and it does double duty as a great salad bowl or snack bowl for parties.

#7: Microplane



Ask anyone who cooks with lemon zest, garlic, ginger root, nutmeg, chocolate...the list goes on -- a microplane is the best tool to have when grating. Pick one up and try it yourself, you won't be disappointed.

#8: Olive Oil



If you cook a lot of Mediterranean dishes such as myself, you will want some really good olive oil. Don't be shy -- throw it in there! A fruity, lush, olive oil can really add flavour to veggies, pasta, and many other savoury dishes. Plus it's essential for homemade salad dressings.

#9: Blender



My blender has saved me so many times when I've been pressed for time in the morning, or when I've really needed a food processor but had limited resources. My favourite things to make in my blender? Smoothies, gremolata, cocktails and sauces.

#10: Food Network TV



Although I am not really into every show, some programs on Food Network are really fantastic for providing ideas, inspiration and education. I've learned culinary terms, flavour combinations and the stories behind food through Food Network.

What are your foodie must-haves? Click on "Comments" below this post and let me know!

Photo Credits (Flickr, in order of appearance): jollypollypickins, Kenn Wilson, Mr. T. in DC, Rock Salt Design, nuzz, Ash-Mac, Clever Subtleties, bats..., Christaface, roadsidepictures)

Scrumptious Thanksgiving Feast

Just a quick report on the thanksgiving dinner -- no photos as we were too wrapped up in gratitude to create any snapshots!

Standard T-Day fare was had: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, carrots, cranberry sauce...

We followed it up with a scrumptious apple crisp and some tea sipped from antique teacups. Stylish and delicious!

Hope you had a great holiday!

~Heather

Monday, October 12, 2009

Wild Birds and Bacon



As a bit of a warm-up for Thanksgiving, I experienced a feast of wild pheasant and partridge wrapped in bacon.



Lemon wedges were placed around the pheasant and partridge while they were cooking to add a bit of moisture and extra flavour. Alongside these tasty birds I made a dish of brown rice mixed with sauteed garlic, onion, zucchini and mushrooms.



It all went down nicely with an Italian white.



Happy Thanksgiving! Reports of the feast of gratitude will be forthcoming :)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Quick Taste: Montgo Monastrell/Shiraz Blend



Wine: Montgo Monastrell/Shiraz Blend, 70% Monastrell, 30% Shiraz -- (2004)--14.5% alcohol -- $14.95 -- Yecla, Spain. (LCBO Vintages)

Look: ruby red, clear, bright, mildly translucent, medium viscosity, quick legs

Nose: VERY closed at first...took me a while to get any kind of subtle aroma. Perhaps should have been decanted...eventually I got red berries, plum, currant, a bit of an herbal quality

Palate: medium-bodied, high alcohol, a bit weak, short finish

Overall: I was pretty disappointed with this wine. I thought it would be a full-bodied, spicy, plummy red that would highlight the Fellowship Cheese I ate it with. It underperformed for sure, it was quite weak and a bit watery. Alcohol was too high and that was all I really got from this wine.

Pairing: The Fellowship, however was an entirely different story! A goat/sheep milk cheese from Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in Prince Edward County, this brushed rind cheese was rich, luscious, nutty and had a nice graininess in the mouth. It didn't last long on the cute little cheese plate my parents picked up in Costa Rica.

Sidenote: I visited Fifth Town over a year ago and had a fantastic wine and cheese tasting session with their Sommelier, Andrew Laliberte. I picked up this cheese at Il Negozio Nicastro on Wellington.

Thanksgiving Cocktails



With Thanksgiving upon us, I decided to conduct a little mixology experiment and create some fall-themed cocktails. The results were, shall I say ... mixed. I had a great time playing around with ideas though, and I encourage you to conduct your own mixology experiments!

Experiment #1: Create a flirty, festive martini that warms the soul with a punch of fruit.
Result: "The Cranaretto"




Recipe: 2 ounces of Amaretto liqueur mixed with cranberry juice
Instructions: pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Shake and pour into a martini glass. Garnish with frozen cranberries
Notes: This was quite lovely actually -- very sweet and a bit strong, more of an after dinner drink, or a slow-sipping cocktail for a festive party. I tasted a bit of a "cherries jubilee" flavour from this combination.
Pairing: I would pair this with brie en croute. Might be excellent for Christmas or Valentine's Day as well.

Experiment #2: Play with the classic combination of pear and chocolate in a cocktail.
Result: Pear and Chocolate Dessert Drink (not photo worthy)

Recipe: 1.5 ounces of Kalhua mixed with pure pear juice, served on ice.
Notes: This was way too sweet! Tasted like drinking chocolate syrup, laced with a hint of pear juice. If you could layer this correctly, it might work as a shot, but I thought this experiment failed a bit...
Pairing: The only use for this drink in my eyes would be to serve it in a large glass and add a dollop of vanilla ice cream. It would serve nicely as a float or a dessert drink, but definitely not on its own.



So far in this liquid laboratory the score is: Science 1, Heather 0.

Experiment #3: Make the ultimate Thanksgiving signature cocktail
Result: Old Fashioned Harvest Brew



Recipe: 1 oz. vodka, cold apple cider, cinnamon stick, brown sugar and lemon
Instructions: Rim the glass with a lemon wedge, then in brown sugar. Over ice in a cocktail shaker mix the vodka and cold apple cider. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.
Notes: This was not bad, but could have been a lot more delicious with a higher quality apple cider. It might work better as a hot beverage. I considered adding apple liqueur to it as well, or some vanilla bean...any suggestions for how to make this a better beverage?
Pairing: I would drink this alone as a signature drink to get the Thanksgiving festivities off to a good start.



In the end I think these little experiments turned out favourably for the most part. I learned that some flavour combinations just don't work, and some can be surprisingly good! Try the Cranaretto and let me know what you think, or better yet, make up your own festive cocktails!