Tag Archives: ice cream

One Year of Communal Table

26 Mar
Italy Food
Jenny, Neil and food in Italy.

One year ago today, Jenny and I were doing something we’d never done before – setting up a food blog. While that ‘first’ may not have the same excitement factor as, say, jumping out of an airplane or buying a house, for us it was a pretty big deal. It got us into the world of social media and has allowed us to learn a lot about that world in a short amount of time. It gave us an outlet to combine something we’re both formally trained to do – communicate with words – with things we both love to do – enjoy food and share interesting stories. And perhaps most importantly, starting this blog gave us yet another thing we can enjoy doing together as a team.

We started Communal Table last March not quite knowing where we were going with it. As our About Us page says, we chose the name Communal Table because we liked the idea of it being a place to gather and share food as well as conversation about passions, interests, opinions and life in general. If you look through posts from our first three months or so, you’ll see one focused on music (another shared love of ours), and a restaurant review interspersed between our more common recipe posts. I originally intended to provide the occasional music post here, and I think we both thought we’d do more restaurant reviews. But it didn’t take too long before we both realized that those types of posts just didn’t feel like a natural fit.

Meatballs Communal Table
Our meatballs with pine nuts and raisins, inspired by a trip to New York.

Jenny and I love cooking together, so our original recipes have been the focus of most of our posts over the past year. In fact, we’ve shared so many of our recipes that we recently added a recipe page to the blog so that our readers could access meal ideas without having to scroll through a year’s worth of our posts to find something that appeals to them. We’ve posted about some of our long-time favourite recipes, like our meatballs with pine nuts and raisins and my olive oil ice cream, and we’ve also written about creations that came to us in a moment of inspiration, like our poached egg on grilled Portobello and asparagus pesto, and aglio e olio pasta with seared fennel-dusted tuna and broccolini. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about these dishes – and hopefully trying them out yourself – as much as we’ve enjoyed creating them.

Angeline's Inn and Restaurant Prince Edward County
Angeline’s Inn and Restaurant in Prince Edward County, a great place we had the pleasure of staying and eating at.

The blog has also given us the chance to take part in some great events and explore some amazing places. Our trip last fall to Prince Edward County stands out in particular, because it got us out to an area we’d heard so much about but hadn’t yet seen, and it turned out to be a beautiful place with so many inspiring people. The recent Almost Famous Chefs’ Competition gave us the chance to see the next generation of great chefs in action. And of course, we participated in the February Kitchen Play event, which forced us out of our culinary comfort zone by asking us to cook with a common ingredient (Canadian beef) in an unconventional way (by using it in a cocktail recipe).

Along the way, we’ve met many people – fellow food bloggers, chefs, PR people, store owners and others – who’ve let us into their worlds and given us some great advice and support. Mary Luz Mejia at Sizzling Communications, the team at Rock-It Promotions, The Drake Hotel, Fiesta Farms, and Toronto food promoters and social media stars like Joel Solish and Suresh Doss are just some of the people we have to thank.

We’re moving into year two with a much better idea of how this blog will look than we had at the start of year one. But we also have some new ideas, both for Communal Table and for other projects we’ve been brainstorming, so we’re not entirely sure what the next year will have in store. Of course, the adventure is what continues to make it interesting. Thanks for reading over the past year, and we hope you’ll continue to do so and share your thoughts with us along the way.


Neil and Jenny

Communal Table Kitchen
A slightly blurry, in-the-moment shot of us getting our hands dirty in the kitchen.

Holiday Giveaway #2: High-Quality Spanish Olive Oils

7 Dec

Jenny and I planned this holiday giveaway ‘extravaganza’ with two goals in mind. The first was to give a little something back to some of the people who’ve read our blog, followed us on our Facebook page, and just generally made us feel like they’re interested in what we’ve been writing (since blogging can be a pretty lonely activity when you don’t feel like anyone is reading). And the second goal was to give our readers a chance to share in some of our favorite things. As I mentioned last week, we chose to give away some PC Insider’s Report products because I have fond memories of growing up with them in my house during the holidays. And for giveaway #2, we’re offering readers the chance to win something our kitchen is never without: great-tasting, high-quality olive oils.

Jenny and I both love good olive oils. A good bottle of olive oil is like a good wine, with a flavour profile that can be spicy, or citrusy, or fruity. And like a good wine, different olive oils are suited to different foods; some taste great on salads, some are great drizzled on top of grilled meat or fish as a finishing flavour. Some, as we’ve talked about in previous posts, are even ideal to use as a main ingredient in sweet things, such as cakes or ice cream.

Our first-ever post on Communal Table was focused on olive oils, after we were invited to a fun and informative olive oil tasting event hosted by Dolores Smith at Olivar Corp. We loved meeting Dolores and taking in some of her vast olive oil knowledge, and really loved tasting the different Spanish olive oils that Olivar Corp. imports into Canada. So we were thrilled when Dolores agreed to donate a couple of amazing olive oil prize packs for our holiday giveaway.

Thanks to Dolores’ generosity, we have two prizes to give away this week, each consisting of two bottles of high-quality Spanish olive oils from Olivar Corp.

The first prize consists of a bottle each of:

  • Rincon de la Subbetica – an organic Spanish olive oil that is the world’s most-awarded olive oil, with over 70 honours since 2006. This was one of the olive oils I sampled during the olive oil tasting Dolores led earlier this year, and it ended up being my favorite, with an interesting flavour mix of green apple and peppery spice.
  • Dauro – a blend of olives including arbequina and hojiblanca from Spain, and koroneiki from Greece. This one has a delicate taste that is praised in Japanese kitchens for its ability to pair well with wasabi, and has been featured in Nobel Prize Award banquet dinners.

The second prize pack consists of a bottle each of:

  • Full Moon – produced in limited quantities, using only the best Spanish arbequina olives harvested very early, during the full moon. This creates an olive oil that is balanced and smooth, with both fruit and a hint of pepper in the taste.
  • Parqueoliva – another highly-awarded oil, with more than 40 recognitions. This is considered a sister olive oil to the Rincon, with a slightly more intense flavour profile that includes herbs and floral notes, with a slight peppery kick.

To win one of these great olive oil prize packs:

  1. First, click this link and “Like” us to join Communal Table’s Facebook Fan Page.
  2. Second, leave a comment on our Facebook Fan Page wall stating that you want to be entered into our Holiday Giveaway #2 and also telling us what your favorite use is for a great olive oil. Please note that you must complete BOTH of these steps to be entered. If you already Like us on Facebook, leave a comment on our Facebook Fan Page wall stating that you want to enter and tell us about your favorite use for great olive oil.

**While we welcome anyone who wants to join our Facebook Fan Page, this contest is restricted to Canadian entries only.

    You have until next Monday evening, December 13, to enter. We will draw two names from all entries and those lucky winners will each be sent one of our two prize packs.

    These are great bottles of olive oil, and we’re happy to be able to share them with you, whether you’re as passionate about olive oils as we are or are looking for an introduction into the world of high-quality olive oil.

    Also, don’t forget about Communal Table’s donation drive on behalf of the Daily Bread Food Bank… all donations made are eligible to win a $200 gift certificate to North 44 Restaurant in Toronto and a signed copy of chef Mark McEwan’s new cookbook, Good Food at Home. Click here for details on how you can donate and win with Communal Table.

    Pineapple Lemon Basil Sorbet

    9 Nov

    Pineapple Lemon Basil Sorbet

    Most home cooks have a favorite kitchen appliance or tool. For me, it’s my ice cream maker. Friends of ours gave us their ice cream maker to ‘babysit’ while they lived overseas a couple years ago, and it was love at first sight. They’ve since moved back to Canada and reclaimed their machine, and we got one of our own as a wedding gift. As I’ve indicated in previous posts, our ice cream machine has gotten a pretty good workout over the past year or so.

    One thing I hadn’t tried making before this summer was sorbet. But when we spotted a bunch of intense, sweet lemon basil a couple months ago during a trip to the St. Lawrence Market, I knew a sorbet would be the best way for the flavour to shine through. I checked out a couple of sorbet recipes online to get an idea of ingredients and proportions, and went to work on creating my own recipe. I decided to add pineapple, primarily because we had half a leftover pineapple in the fridge, but also because I thought it would complement the flavour of the basil nicely. And, I decided to try using agave in place of sugar.

    Here’s my recipe for Pineapple Lemon Basil Sorbet:

    1 C lemon basil leaves, chopped
    1/2 pineapple, cored and cubed
    1/4 C agave
    1 C water
    2 tbsp tequila

    Blend basil, pineapple, agave and water in blender until well mixed. Stir in tequila (this is optional, but a little alcohol slows the freezing process a bit, improving the texture). Freeze in ice cream maker.

    That’s it. This was such an easy process – even easier than making ice cream, really (which is already a fairly simple process). And the results were more than worth the minimal effort. The lemon flavour of the basil and sweetness of the pineapple really went well together. And as much as I love making (and eating!) ice cream, sorbet is a lighter, refreshing alternative that I’ll definitely experiment with again.

    Food Find: Coffee Oil

    30 Aug

    Neil and I have a bit of an obsession with olive oil. Specifically, Spanish olive oil. It all started a few years ago when I produced a television segment about an olive oil shop in Montreal called Olive & Olives. I had no idea that a little TV story would be the start of such a big culinary obsession. The owners of Olive & Olives take a lot of pride in the oils they bring into their lovely store, and most of them are Spanish. The depth of flavor in Spanish olive oils is amazing, ranging from very green and fruity to strong and peppery. After our first visit, Neil and I left with armfuls of different bottles.

    When our stash of oils from Montreal ran out, we knew we had to seek out a place in Toronto that could give us our fix. And that’s when we found The Spice Trader and Olive Pit on Queen Street. They’ve now moved into a new space but the original setup had The Spice Trader on street level and The Olive Pit as its own little store downstairs. I have too many great things to say about The Spice Trader and their range of spices (not to mention the wonderful owners who always share recipes and tips with their customers) so I’ll save that for another post. But discovering The Olive Pit was one of the best things that has happened to our humble kitchen.

    The owners of the store are a lovely couple who know their olive oils. They let customers taste-test their oils and will give you a little ‘olive oil 101’ if you’re interested in learning about the differences between countries, olives and blends. They bring in a special Spanish olive oil that they bottle themselves and it’s one of our favorites. They also carry a citrus olive oil that I sometimes dream about when I’m making a salad and trying to figure out what to use as a dressing. And they have a selection of specialty syrups (like Rose and Lavender – right up my alley!), vinegars and condiments.

    But our most coveted discovery at The Olive Pit is Coffee Oil. When the owners first told us about it we were skeptical, thinking it had potential to be gimmicky. We were wrong. Just smelling the incredible oil, you understand that this is serious stuff. And the taste is nothing short of heavenly. If you love coffee and you love olive oil, as we do, it’s worth investing in a bottle. It’s a blend of two very precious and delicate flavors. There’s nothing more to it than cold pressed extra virgin coffee oil made from Guatemalan Arabica coffee beans and olive oil made from Arbequina olives from Catalonia, Spain. You can really taste the essence of coffee and the good quality of the olive oil that it’s blended with.

    What does one do with coffee olive oil, you ask? To be honest, we have yet to experience it in different savory dishes, though I can absolutely see how well it could work with so many different flavors. One suggestion is to drizzle it over avocado slices with coarse salt (yum!) or over grilled fish & seafood. There are a few recipes and serving suggestions that come inside the special gold box and we will definitely try them out.

    But what we’ve been using the thick, golden liquid for is Coffee Olive Oil Ice Cream. To me, it’s perfection. There is a recipe for ice cream that comes with the oil, but Neil came up with his own based on his olive oil ice cream, which we’ve posted about previously. It’s smooth and creamy but not heavy and the flavor suggests the essence of coffee but not an overpowering hit of it, like you might get in some coffee ice creams. Because there’s nothing artificial in the oil, the flavor you get in the ice cream is soft and clean-tasting. It’s the kind of thing you want to eat slowly and appreciate with every bite.

    We usually serve it straight up in coffee mugs but last week we decided to pour the ice cream mixture into a colorful loaf pan to freeze into a mold and we sprinkled the top with crushed Amaretti cookies. The idea was to serve it in slices, but it didn’t exactly turn out as planned. It may have needed a few more hours in the freezer. Either way, it tasted amazing and the Amaretti added another layer of flavor and a nice crunch.

    Neil’s Coffee Olive Oil Ice Cream

    2 cups 1% milk
    1 cup 5% cream
    1/3 cup sugar
    1/3 cup coffee oil
    Large pinch of salt
    1 tablespoon alcohol (to slow the freezing process; I use vodka, since it has no flavour)
    About 10 amaretti cookies, crushed

    In a blender, combine milk, cream, sugar, salt and oil. Turn on ice cream maker and add mixture to to the freezer bowl; add vodka early in churning process. Once ice cream is mostly frozen, pour into a serving container and top with crushed amaretti cookies. Cover container with plastic wrap and place ice cream in freezer for several hours.

    To serve, cut ice cream into slices and plate, or scoop into bowls.

    Olive Oil Ice Cream

    27 Apr

    Olive oil ice cream

    In today’s post, a few words about what ended up being dessert to our six-month anniversary meal the other night. I got my hands on an ice cream maker more than a year ago, and quickly went a bit mad with attempting new flavour concoctions: sour cream-brown sugar, rose-strawberry-cinnamon, lavender-blueberry, zabaglione. Those were ones that worked. Alas, I’ve been less successful a few times, too (parmesan or avocado ice cream, anyone?)

    One flavour I tackled early on, and continue to go back to time and time again, is olive oil. I first heard about the idea of olive oil ice cream from a recipe I read online that originated in David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop book. I then heard that Mario Batali was serving a version of olive oil gelato in his NYC pizza resto, Otto. So, I tracked down his recipe, too, and after playing around a bit with the ingredients, came up with my own version. Mine’s a bit lighter (3 egg yolks vs. 6 in Lebovitz and Batali’s recipes… or sometimes I don’t use any at all) and less sweet (1/3 cup sugar in mine, vs. 1/2 cup in Lebovitz’s and a whole cup in Batali’s, who, granted, uses double the milk and cream). And it’s stood the test of time, in my kitchen at least. In fact, after trying Batali’s version at Otto, my wife declared my version better. And who am I to argue with my wife?

    The eggless version of my recipe follows. I honestly make this and most of my ice creams without eggs most of the time, for several reasons. Eliminating the custard-making process makes the whole thing much, much quicker. And of course, removing the eggs makes the finished product healthier (realize I wrote healthiER, not healthy!). Finally, with several flavours – particularly with this one where the taste and the mouth feel of the olive oil is so intense – I just don’t think the extra creaminess added by the custard is neccessary. Still, if you’d rather make a version with eggs, the custard-making steps are outlined in the recipes I linked to above.

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