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Watch.Learn.Cook with Canada Beef

29 Mar

Canada Beef


Did you know that Canada Beef, the organization that promotes beef grown across this country, offers a variety of online learning tools designed to help Canadians expand their knowledge of cooking with Canadian beef?

This month, the organization is inviting Canadians to Watch.Learn.Cook with Canadian beef using the helpful videos they’ve made available via YouTube, and as a Canada Beef Ambassador I get to help spread the word about these important tools.

Have you ever found yourself in the meat section of your local grocery store, staring at enticing cuts of Canadian beef on sale – but unsure of exactly what cuts you should buy and how to cook them? Canada Beef’s 30-second videos can be viewed from your smartphone or tablet in the store, making it easy to get a crash course in preparing different beef cuts. Check out these videos on the perfect pot roast, oven roasting (perfect for last-minute Easter meal prep!), or even barbecue roasting. If you’re lucky enough to be getting progressively more spring-like weather as we are in Toronto, the last one is definitely enticing for anyone itching to fire up the BBQ, finally.

Need more help than the 30-second videos offer? There are two-minute versions of these and many other beef cooking topics available, too. When you’re home from the grocery store and ready to play in the kitchen, these more in-depth videos are perfect.

Next time you’re facing an unfamiliar cut of beef that you want to try but need help cooking, check out Canada Beef’s informative video series.

S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition: A Showcase of Culinary Promise

20 Feb

S. Pellegrino almost famous chef competition

For the past couple of years, we’ve been lucky enough to attend the Canadian regional portion of the annual S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition. The competition brings young culinary students from around North America together to compete and showcase their skills as the next generation of great restaurant chefs.

This year’s Canada regional competition is taking place next Monday in Toronto. I had the chance to chat with Timothy Van Ryzewyk, a culinary student representing Toronto’s Humber College in the competition, about what drives him to create great food. You can read his thoughts below.

But first, an exciting contest: We have a $150 gift certificate, good for dinner for two at Mark McEwan’s Fabbrica restaurant in Toronto, courtesy of S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition. I recently had the chance to eat at Fabbrica and chat with Mark McEwan, and I can vouch for the food.

To win, leave a comment below telling us what your most memorable restaurant meal was in the past year. We’ll draw a lucky winner from all comments left here by 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, February 23.

UPDATE: Congratulations to Victoria, who was randomly chosen as our winner with the help of Random.org!

 

S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef

What drew you into cooking?
I have always been passionate about cooking; my mother still brings up photos of me as a child helping in the kitchen. Everyone has to eat, so my goal is to give them a dish that they want to keep eating over and over again. I love the kitchen atmosphere – whether it be the long hours, hard work and dedication everyday or the occasional stressful day, it all comes with the job and I just couldn’t see myself behind a desk.

Who is your biggest culinary influence?
From the industry standpoint I would say Chef Susur Lee is my influence. His extremely hard work throughout his career got him to the point he is at today. From a food standpoint my biggest influence is my Mom. If it were not for her allowing me to be a part of cooking family dinners and holiday meals, I never would have discovered my calling.

How would you describe your preferred cooking style?
I enjoy the fusion style of cooking because you can take bits and parts of different styles you have learned and bring them all together to make a very ”out of the box dish” using very different cooking techniques. Introducing and discovering new food combinations and preparation techniques is definitely something that really appeals to me.

How are you preparing for the S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition?
I have been practising my signature dish at Humber College and at home at least twice a week. When I sleep, I dream of my dish so that on the day of the competition, I can close my eyes and produce my dish.

You write comedy in addition to training as a chef. How do you think your creative and humourous side helps in the kitchen?
The comedy I write is based upon sketches. I am currently working with a few friends on writing and acting in a sketch comedy show that we plan to have ready to send out by the end of the year.

Comedy writing is a great utensil in the culinary world because there will always be moments when you’re in the heat of things and someone loses their cool. Being able to defuse that tension can really save the day during a busy service – especially in my case, where I am currently the head expeditor at Lee Restaurant.

Having a constant creative outlook makes it very fun creating menus for school projects or for a competition. You don’t limit yourself; at the same time you’re being logical with the food choices you make.

A Taste of Valentine’s Day at Fabbrica

8 Feb
Mark McEwan Fabbrica Toronto

Dining with Mark McEwan at Fabbrica

Jenny and I aren’t huge fans of Valentine’s Day. We rarely mark the occasion with cards or flowers, and definitely steer clear of restaurants offering (usually overpriced) Valentine’s Day-themed prix fixe menus.

So, when I was invited to have dinner with chef Mark McEwan at his newest Toronto restaurant, Fabbrica, to preview the kitchen’s Valentine’s Day menu, I was initially skeptical. But, then again, it’s not every day the chance comes along to sit and break bread with a man who is one of Toronto’s best-known chefs and a host of Top Chef Canada on the Food Network.

As we sat and read over the special Valentine’s Day menu that will be available to Fabbrica diners between February 14 and 17, McEwan put me at ease by saying that he’s not a fan of Valentine’s Day menus built around “cheese” like heart-shaped food and chocolate incorporated into each dish for no good reason. The dishes on the $55 prix fixe ($85 with wine pairings) were developed around the same ethos McEwan says Fabbrica’s regular menu is built: good, honest Italian food done right.

Veal Mark McEwan Fabbrica

Seared veal tenderloin on braised brisket raviolo and carrot-parsnip puree. A great dish!

Since graduating from culinary school at George Brown College in 1979, McEwan has been at the forefront of Toronto’s dining scene, owning and/or running the kitchen at some of the city’s most popular restaurants and hotels—many of which count wealthy residents and visiting movie stars as frequent diners.

But despite the flashy clientele, McEwan says he’s always made sure his menus focused on the classics rather than what’s trendy. And he thinks that’s what diners want. Even in the food trends that have taken Toronto by storm over the past year or two—think tacos, Southern barbecue and rustic Italian—McEwan says the key elements are authenticity and time-honoured technique.

McEwan Fabbrica Budino

And for dessert, caramel budino topped with espresso gelato

McEwan says that even the projects that have brought him into the national spotlight—his Food Network shows The Heat and Top Chef Canada—have been real and honest. Of the former, which followed him as he worked to open his eponymous, upscale Toronto grocery store, McEwan, he says the show was an honest portrayal of the experience, giving viewers a glimpse at the opening of a business and the mistakes made along the way. And he says he’s enjoyed working on Top Chef Canada because, unlike some other food-based reality shows, this one is focused on good cooking and passionate chefs; “It’s not about a basket of weird ingredients,” he says, referring to Chopped—a show I admitted to him that I’m a pretty devoted fan of.

Like his restaurants, there’s a definite polish to Mark McEwan, a sense that he’s always ready to perform. But after spending a couple hours with him, talking about food, sports (he’s a Buffalo native and, like me, a long-suffering Bills fan) and ideas for Toronto’s future (he’s a big believer in the current plan for a downtown casino), I was definitely left with a feeling of authenticity in both the man and his food.

A Holiday Cocktail: The Smoked Sammon

19 Dec

Belvedere vodka cocktail

Whether or not you’re as food crazed as I am, everyone has food memories they associate with the holidays. Growing up, the appetizer table at Christmas dinner always included a smoked salmon platter, sometimes paired with a dill cream cheese, and often garnished with cucumber and lemon slices.

So, when I was asked by the team at Off The Grid to participate in a promotion where Toronto cocktail fanatics were asked to create a holiday tipple using Belvedere vodka*, my thoughts turned to one of my favorite holiday food memories. Those who’ve followed this blog know I’ve never shied away from unusual cocktail ingredients or smoky flavours (truthfully, I have a strong preference for brown spirits), so putting together a cocktail reminiscent of a smoked salmon platter was a welcome challenge.

The result: The Smoked Sammon (The name is a play on the name of the street I live on… and a reflection of the fact there is definitely no actual fish in this drink!).

cucumber Belvedere smoked paprika

To make this drink, step 1 is infusing the vodka with cucumber and dill. Peel, halve and de-seed half an English cucumber, then chop the halves into small chunks. Throw the cucumber into a mason jar, or any container with a tight seal, along with a handful of fresh dill. Pour in half a bottle of Belvedere vodka and close the lid. Store in the fridge for three to four days to infuse, and give the jar a gentle shake once a day.

Step 2: create the “smoke” for your cocktail. For this, I made a smoked paprika simple syrup, an idea I borrowed from Toronto chef Matt Kantor. Heat 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of smoked paprika in a saucepan over medium heat for 10 minutes or so, until the sugar is dissolved. Let the syrup cool completely, then store in the fridge in a Tupperware (it’ll keep for several days).

Finally, make your drink. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and shake together 2 ounces of the infused vodka, half an ounce of your smoked paprika syrup and a few dashes of citrusy bitters to round things out (I used Bittered Sling’s Lem-Marrakech Bitters). Pour into a cocktail glass over ice, and garnish with a slice of cucumber from your infused vodka.

*Thanks to Belvedere and offthegridto.com for supplying me with a bottle of vodka to play with. To check out more cocktail creations, visit Off The Grid.

Food, Film & Stories of Unrequited Love – An evening at Reel Eats “Like Water for Chocolate”

9 Dec

Reel Eats Like Water for Chocolate

Everyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for a great story. When unrequited love is on the menu, you’ve got my undivided attention twofold. Throw in beautiful food, a cozy setting and good company and you’ve got the makings of a perfect evening.

That’s how I felt about our very first experience attending Reel Eats, a monthly movie-themed dinner and storytelling event that “seeks to celebrate the art of a good story through every frame, plate and experience”

The events take place monthly in Toronto and are the brainchild of a dynamic group of chefs and foodie folks: Mary Luz Mejia and Mario Stojanac of Sizzling CommunicationsVanessa Yeung and Domenic Ubaldino of Aphrodite Cooks and Sang Kim – restaurateur, writer and cook behind Sushi Making for the Soul.

We were treated to a delectable authentic Mexican meal by Mexican-born Chef Francisco Alejandri, inspired by the extraordinary film “Like Water for Chocolate”.

Reel Eats Mexican

Chef Francisco Alejandri cooking for guests at Reel Eats

Seated at communal tables in the inviting and cozy Aphrodite Cooks culinary loft space in the west end of Toronto, about 40 people, a mix of strangers and friends, enjoyed a special meal with the film playing silently in the background to set the mood. Through the evening, three storytellers entertained us with unique tales inspired by the movie’s theme of unrequited love & loss. Dinner theatre with a twist!

Neil and I are so enamored with real Mexican food and flavors, and the meal we ate convinced me that I could step into any family home across Mexico and be treated to the very same mix of dishes. I realized afterwards that interestingly, it was the first multi-course Mexican meal I’ve ever eaten that didn’t include any corn product or ingredients whatsoever.

Chef Alejandri

Chef Alejandri’s menu may have sounded simple, but each dish was layered with complex flavors that made for a really surprising and enjoyable meal.

We started with “Mama Elena’s Sopa de Fideo Aguada con chorizo” – Vermicelli Pasta cooked al dente and finished in a spicy chorizo tomato broth, served with ripe banana. A few people seemed thrown by the fresh banana slices but I was giddy about the flavor and texture combinations. This was superb.

Chorizo Soup with Banana

Next came the main dishes, served family-style at the table. “Pedro’s Almond Chicken” included dark and white meat finished in a mild almond sauce. The almond sauce was so decadent and delicious I dreamed about it for days afterwards.

Reel Eats Mexican dishes

“Pork in Spicy “Revolutionary” Mole Sauce” consisted of fall-off –the-bone pork ribs cooked in a spicy red mole served with rice. One of the storytellers focused his tale around the importance & identity of mole in Mexico and how it differs from region to region, family to family. Chef Alejandri’s mole was like none I’ve ever had before. You could taste the hours of cooking and multiple ingredients that went into it. It was perfection!

The mains were served with a side of earthy sautéed mushrooms & potatoes with wilted spinach, a delicious accompaniment.

Reel Eats Mexican Meal

The dessert course really spoke to the themes in the film. “Tita’s Passionate Deep Chocolate Torte served with sensual rose petal ice cream” forced me to eat every bite very slowly to take in the decadence of the dense chocolate torte and the delicate flavor of the rose ice cream (one of my favorite flavors!). It was such a gorgeous end to a beautiful meal.

Chocolate Cake Rose Ice Cream

The event was BYOB and the organizers sent suggested wine pairings via email a few days prior. They served two different kinds of ‘agua fresca,’ which Neil and I really appreciated after learning about and enjoying different varieties at a Mexican cooking school we visited last year. The deep green, fire-quenching cucumber and parsley agua fresca was a great accompaniment to the meal, and helped to put out the scorch of the spicy mole.

We had what I can honestly describe as a memorable and enchanted evening, and I really encourage anyone living in the greater Toronto area to attend a Reel Eats event if you’re looking for a unique, entertaining and delicious night out. Join the Reel Eats Facebook page to be kept up to date about future events.

Storyteller Mary Luz Mejia at Reel Eats

Storyteller Mary Luz Mejia at Reel Eats

Sisterly Pride and a New Favorite Snack

14 Nov

I have three younger sisters and I’m insanely proud of all of their accomplishments and choices in life. It was a life-altering experience that led my youngest sister Jill to a career in holistic nutrition. And aside from my usual sense of pride, I’m also grateful that as a result, she’s introduced me to a whole new world of delicious and health-conscious food.

After overcoming a very serious case of shingles that put her whole life on hold for almost a year, my sister left a stress-inducing career in fashion to go back to school for holistic nutrition. It wasn’t until she took control of her own health and educated herself that she was able to fully heal.

Jill has come a long way and has worked hard to build her new career path. She’s now a practicing holistic nutritionist in Ottawa and will be teaching cooking classes at a clinic called Revivelife. She also works for a great company called Enerjive, which has created a line of healthy snacks: Quinoa Skinny Crackers.

I would never endorse a product I didn’t truly believe in or feel passionate about. But after my sister introduced me to Quinoa Skinnys I fell in love with my new favorite snack. I’ve tried every single flavour, two savory and three sweet, and I’m having a hard time deciding which one is my top pick. It’s a toss up between ‘Heat’ (garlic & cayenne) and ‘Fix’ (chocolate).

The savory flavours really hit the spot when I’m craving something salty and the sweet ones are just sweet enough to curb my afternoon sweet craving without a sugar crash or an overpowering sense of guilt.

Jill likes to use the rock-salt flavor ‘Crave’ as a crust for baked tilapia. Enerjive has shared some of their own recipes for yummy granola-style mixes below. They sent me samples of each and I liked them so much, I ate them with plain Greek yogurt for breakfast every morning until my stash was gone. And when it was I just crushed up one stick of the apple cinnamon ‘Cozy’ flavor and one stick of the lemon berry ‘Burst’ flavor and tossed the pieces on top of my plain Greek yogurt along with some dried coconut and a drizzle of buckwheat honey (pictured at the top).

Quinoa Skinny Crackers are available at select stores across Canada. Check out Enerjive’s website for store locations and more info.

Giveaway: If you’re dying to try them for yourself, we’ve got one lovely gift basket including all five flavors for one lucky reader (within Ontario only). All you have to do is leave us a comment below telling us about your most favorite healthy snack. We’ll choose one random winner and the gift pack is yours.

Thanks to Enerjive for sharing the following recipes for their three granola-style mixes! (I loved them all, but the salty/sweet Crave Cruncher won my heart)

Each recipe makes 2 cups (6 servings)

Cozy Trail

6 Enerjive apple cinnamon Cozy Skinnys, roughly chopped

½ cup dried mulberries

¼ cup each: walnut pieces and slivered almonds

¼ cup each: sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

In a large bowl, combine ingredients well. Transfer and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

SKINNY TIP: Keep mix in the fridge to retain flavours and freshness and prevent nuts and seeds from going rancid.

Crave Cruncher

6 Enerjive rock salt Crave Skinnys, roughly chopped

1/2 cup raw cashews, roughly chopped

1/3 cup brown rice puffs or quinoa puffs

1/3 cup each: dried cranberries and dark chocolate chips or pieces

2 tbsp sesame seeds

In a large bowl, combine ingredients well. Transfer and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

SKINNY TIP: Add crave cruncher to your oatmeal or a top a fruit salad for added crunch!

Fix Mix

6 Enerjive chocolate Fix Skinnys, roughly chopped

¼ cup pecans, roughly chopped

¼ cup each: sunflower seed and pumpkin seeds

¼ cup each: unsweetened coconut flakes and dried goji berries

2 tbsp each: cacao nibs and hemp seeds

In a large bowl, combine ingredients well. Transfer and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

SKINNY TIP: For added flavour, toast sunflower and pumpkin seeds before adding into the mix.

Finding My Burger Personality with Canadian Beef

9 Aug

Canada Beef Burger Personality

What’s your burger personality? It sounds like a bit of a strange question, until you take a look at the chart above, from Canada Beef. It’s part of their new campaign to get Canadians thinking about one of everyone’s favorite summer BBQ meals, and what makes an ultimate burger. And since I’m a Canada Beef Brand Ambassador (as I mentioned a while ago), I’m helping to spread the word. You can check out a full description of all the personality definitions here, and get a badge to post on your site to let everyone know what your ideal burger type is.

After many years of trial and error, I’ve discovered that I’m a Naturalist when it comes to burgers. I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy fancy, kicked-up burgers. My mom makes amazing chipotle burgers, and there’s a burger joint in Toronto that tops one of their burgers with foie gras and bacon. I haven’t tried it yet, but I definitely have to soon!

But of all the burgers I’ve made in my own kitchen or on my BBQ, the ones I made a couple weeks ago stand out to me as a revelation. I started with ground beef from Rowe Farms, an Ontario farming co-operative known for their quality product. To that meat I added… nothing. Well, almost nothing. A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce for a hit of that flavour that only Worcestershire can give you, a few grinds of black pepper and a pinch of smoked paprika for some heat and smoke flavour that would only enhance how the burgers would taste on the BBQ.

I also abided closely to two rules that I’d heard many times before about burger-making, but tend to ignore when I’m in a rush to cook. I only mixed the meat enough to blend in the ingredients, and when forming the burgers, I made sure to form them loosely. The more you handle the meat, the tougher it can be when it’s cooked. And densely formed patties don’t cook as well or release juices as nicely as loose ones.

Finally – and maybe most importantly, salt the outside of the patties generously just before putting them on the grill or in the pan. The reason for adding the salt at this stage is, again, to keep the moisture in the meat, making the resulting cooked burgers tender and juicy. Salt is important to creating a great, flavorful  burger. But if you add the salt to the meat before you form the patties, and it’s allowed to season the meat for an extended period of time before cooking, you’ll end up with dense, tightly packed patties – closer to the texture of sausage than a hamburger.

If you’re looking for great burgers made the Naturalist way, it’s as simple as that. So now… what’s your burger personality?

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