Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Eat to the Beat 2008

Last week I volunteered at Eat to the Beat, a fantastic charity event at Roy Thomson Hall benefiting Willow, a breast cancer support organization. Over 60 female chefs from local restaurants, shops, and catering companies provided amazing food and wine and for the reasonable ticket price of $150 you could eat and drink to your heart's content. The volunteers were being organized by a friend of my manager's, so I jumped at the chance to help out and I'm so glad I did.

Before the event began, I took a spin around the tables and took some pictures. Everyone was so sweet and accomodating and the food looked fantastic. I even sampled a few things, my favourite of which was the Fresh Air iced tea from Tealish. I know this may sound like I'm exaggerating, but I liked it better than any iced tea I've ever had. I'm going there as soon as I can to buy some.

There were many, many famous lady chefs from the city, including Anna Olson and Doona Dooher. I was too shy to introduce myself to Anna, but I did pluck up the courage to meet Donna for the first time. My friends and I love Mildred Pierce restaurant and we attended Mildred's last brunch in July 2007 as well as held our own brunch party where we all made recipes from Donna's cookbook, Out to Brunch, and watched the eponymous 1940's movie. It was such a thrill for me to tell her in person how much I enjoyed her restaurant and cookbook. She told me that they tested the recipes ruthlessly when developing the book and it really shows. Everything we tried was amazing and the Sunday Best Mac and Cheese is a no-fail-best-thing-you've-ever-eaten recipe. I got the word that her new restaurant, Temple Kitchen, is opening in Liberty Village in 2 1/2 weeks (eeeeee!).

I also ran into my girl, Olivia Bolano, formerly of The Kitchen who is now the Executive Chef at the iconic All the Best Fine Foods, a specialty food company that has several retail locations in addition to providing catering and special event planning services. She was attending the event with her new co-workers whom I was so fortunate to meet. Jane Rodmell, All the Best's founder, is an accomplished food writer and recipe developer and has published many cookbooks. Miranda does All the Best's PR and also used to work at The Kitchen with Olivia. Chris Klugman is a famous chef and photographer who among many other things opened Bistro 990. I knew his name sounded familiar when I met him, but I couldn't place him at the time (insert embarassment here).

During the actual event, my job was to restock the Fiji Water display, which agreed very well with my meticulous nature. I was very diligent for the majority of the evening until toward the end when the silent auction results were being read and I abandoned my post to sample food.

I sampled many, many yummy treats. The one that really sticks out in my mind is the tiny lobster and cheddar grilled cheese sandwiches made by the chefs at the Park Hyatt Toronto. I could have eaten the entire tray. By that time of night, none were being held under the warming lamps; they were all fresh from the griddle. The cheddar was oozy and delicious around a generous amount of fresh lobster. Sigh. I also partook in chorizo-stuffed dates wrapped in double smoked bacon from Temple Kitchen, "pork and beans" on tortillo crostini from Black Dog Pub, seared scallops with bean and pea puree on savoury shortbread from Mysteriously Yours Mystery Theatre (who knew they had such great food!), macarons and tiny cupcakes from Bake: Dessert Co., and countless others. My very favourite bread, Fred's Bread, was there, but sadly I didn't realize it until I was helping to dismantle their booth.

This was my first time volunteering at an event like this and I loved it. It's a fabulous gathering with excellent food for a great cause. I'll see you there next year!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Guest post by Jane: Friday Night Is Pizza Night 2 - Roasted Corn and Avocado Salsa with Tender Chard

Roasted Corn and Avocado Salsa with Tender Chard (adapted from James McNair’s Vegetarian Pizza)

This Mexican-inspired pizza was made mainly with ingredients from the Riverdale farmers’ market along with the obvious exception of the avocado. Tender young chard needs no cooking and makes a welcome alternative to lettuce in any salad. Dry-roasting the corn caramelizes the sugar and deepens the corn flavour. Well worth the extra effort and the dirty skillet. Serve pizza with lime slices on the side for a fresh hit of juice to balance the sweetness.

For the crust – substitute ½ cup (125 mL) hard whole wheat and ½ cup (125 mL) cornmeal for 1 cup (250 mL) of all purpose flour. Add 2 tbsp (30 mL) mild ground chile pepper and 2 tsp (10 mL) ground cumin to the flour and mix in well. See last Friday's basic crust recipe for ingredients and method.

Pizza Topping
1 cup (250 g) fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 sweet pepper (green, yellow or red)
¼ cup (60 mL) pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
¼ cup (60 mL) cilantro, finely chopped, more for garnish
1 tbsp (15 mL) minced jalapeno pepper or chipotle in adobo sauce
¼ cup (60 mL) black or green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
4 tbsp (60 mL) freshly squeezed lime juice (half a juicy lime)
salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
1 bunch tender young chard
1 avocado, diced just before serving
1/3 cup (75 mL) feta or menchango cheese, crumbled
1 lime, sliced in quarters or eighths

While dough rises, make salsa. Heat skillet without oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add corn kernels and stir frequently until brown spots appear on corn, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Roast sweet pepper directly over gas flame or under pre-heated broiler, turning frequently until skin is charred all over. Transfer to medium bowl, cover with plate and let stand 10 minutes. Rub away charred skin, cut pepper in half, remove seeds and membranes, dice, return to bowl and add corn. Toast pepitas in toaster oven for 5-7 minutes at 350 F (180 C) or dry-roast in skillet until lightly browned. Add to corn and sweet pepper. Add cilantro, jalapeno or chipotle, olives, lime juice, salt and pepper, mix together, cover and set aside at room temperature.

Heat oven to 500 F (260 C).

Pizza Base
1 unbaked crust, rolled out
olive oil for brushing on dough
6 oz (175 g) cheddar, Monterey Jack or other cheese of your choice, grated

Transfer dough to pizza pan and brush lightly with olive oil. Distribute cheese evenly on dough. Place in oven.

While pizza base bakes, remove stems from chard, wash and spin-dry. Place several leaves together, roll up and slice cross-wise into thin strips (chiffonade). Repeat until all chard is cut. Dice avocado.

Remove pizza from oven when edges and underside are nicely browned, about 10–12 minutes. Place crust on cutting board, top with chard. Add avocado to salsa, stir gently to mix and scatter salsa evenly over chard. Strew feta or menchango and extra cilantro over top, slice and serve immediately with lime slices on the side. Makes 8 slices.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Guest Post by Jane: Friday Night Is Pizza Night 1 - Fresh Spinach & Cheddar Salad Pizza

Barbara Kingsolver’s best-selling, and for some, life-changing book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, is about her family’s experiment in raising their own food, buying from local farmers, or trying to do without – with the exception of essentials like coffee, spices and olive oil. Amongst all the vivid descriptions of planning, planting, cooking, canning, and turkey mating, one thing that struck me was that Friday night is pizza night at the Kingsolver-Hopp household, just like mine. Her pizzas, made with fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes, onions, spinach, herbs and home-made mozzarella must be bursting with flavour but Friday after Friday, those ingredients, no matter how tasty, must start to pall. Tomato, mozzarella, vegetables – pizzas can be so much more than this. That’s why my essentials include shrimp, capers, chipotle and avocado to make three Friday-night pizzas that are anything but traditional.

The theme of these pizzas is that each has a topping that is added after the crust with cheese comes out of the oven.

Basic Pizza Crust (adapted from Didi Emmons’s Vegetarian Planet)
¾ cup (175 mL) lukewarm water
1 tsp (5 mL) sugar
1 ½ tsp (7 mL) dry yeast

2 cups (500 mL) all purpose flour plus more for dusting surface
1 tsp (5 mL) salt

olive oil as needed to oil bowl and dough

To make dough by hand:

Stir 1/3 cup (75 mL) water and sugar together in large bowl then stir in yeast when sugar is dissolved. Let stand until foamy, about 5–10 minutes. Mix in rest of ingredients, blending until dough comes together. Dump mixture onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5–10 minutes. Rinse and dry bowl, oil lightly and add dough. Turn dough to coat with oil, cover with plastic wrap and place in warm spot to rise for about 1 hour, until doubled in size. When risen, punch down and roll-out on floured surface. Makes one 14” (35 cm) thin-crust pizza base.

If making dough using a food processor, follow manufacturer’s directions.

Fresh Spinach & Cheddar Salad Pizza

(adapted from Alan Tangren in Fine Cooking No. 43)

The hot pizza warms the spinach slightly, removing some of the raw taste but leaving the freshness intact. I was leery of adding the hard-boiled eggs, but don’t be tempted to omit them – they’re essential.

For the crust – substitute 1 cup (250 mL) hard whole wheat for 1 cup all purpose flour.

Pizza Topping

2 eggs
2 tbsp (30 mL) lemon juice
1 tsp (5 mL) honey
1 tsp (5 mL) Dijon mustard
salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
1 tbsp (15 mL) extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp (30 mL) vegetable oil
¼ cup (60 mL) capers, rinsed and patted dry

1 bunch tender spinach (not the curly kind), stemmed, washed and spun dry
¼ cup (60 mL) pine nuts
2 oz (60 g) Parmesan

While dough rises, cook eggs until hard-boiled then immediately place in cold water and when cool enough to handle, peel and set aside. In salad bowl, make dressing. Whisk together lemon juice, honey, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. When blended, add olive oil while continuing to whisk. Set aside.

To make fried capers, heat vegetable oil in small skillet until oil starts to shimmer, just below smoking point. Carefully add capers and fry until they bloom like tiny flowers. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Set aside.

Heat oven to 500 F (260 C).

Pizza Base

1 unbaked crust, rolled out
olive oil for brushing on the dough
6 oz (175 g) cheddar, Gruyère, or other cheese of your choice, grated

Transfer dough to pizza pan and brush lightly with olive oil. Distribute cheese evenly on dough and place in oven. Check after 2-3 minutes and deflate any big bubbles if needed.

While pizza base bakes, give dressing a quick whisk, add spinach and toss to coat. Toast pine nuts in toaster oven for 5-7 minutes at 350 F (180 C), or dry-roast in skillet, until lightly browned.

Remove crust from oven when edges and underside are golden brown and cheese is bubbly, about 10-12 minutes. Place crust on cutting board, top with spinach salad then capers and pine nuts. Coarsely grate hard-boiled eggs, shave parmesan and spread each evenly over top. Slice and serve immediately. Makes 8 slices.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Guest Blogger: Jane!

I'm very excited to let you all know that my friend Jane, who I met back in 2006 at a food writing seminar, is going to be writing a series of guests posts for me about her Friday night pizza-making ritual. Every Friday, Jane and her husband make delicious homemade pizzas from scratch using novel ingredients and combinations that I've never encountered before and can't wait to try. Check back on Friday for the first installment where Jane lets us in on her secrets for making a Fresh Spinach and Cheddar Salad pizza. Thanks, Jane!