On Bread Making

Before we get into the best bread ever, I’m going to first admit something – posts will not be as frequent this summer. There. Rather than feel bad about it, I’m just going to embrace it. Fall, on the other hand, will be a different story.

With that out of the way, I wanted to share an amazing bread recipe from Smitten Kitchen which yes, takes a bit of time to make (not a lot of “hands on” time, but a lot of waiting for the dough to do things like rise), but it is absolutely worth it. I made this yesterday for our sandwiches this week and it’s received great reviews so far.

New York Deli Rye Bread (c/o Smitten Kitchen):

I am going to take verbatim Deb’s instructions because a) I didn’t change much and b) they are detailed enough that even a novice bread maker (like myself) can get a successful loaf out of it, if you follow these to a T. The whole process took me about 6 hours (not including the shopping beforehand…a tip: rye flour isn’t sold everywhere. I suggest a bulk food store, like Bulk Barn), but I only had to actively do something for about 30 minutes. The rest was just making sure the dough was rising properly and letting it rest while I ran other errands. All the words are hers, but the photos are mine – just to prove that it can be done!

rye bread!

Sponge
3/4 cup (4 ounces, 117 grams) bread flour
3/4 cup (3.3 ounces, 95 grams) rye flour
1/2 teaspoon (1.6 grams) instant yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons (0.6 ounces, 18.7 grams) sugar
1/2 tablespoon (4.6 grams) malt powder (or barley malt syrup or honey (10.5 grams), or sugar (6.2 grams)) *I used the sugar version*
1 1/2 cups (12.5 ounces, 354 grams) water, at room temperature

Flour Mixture
2 1/4 cups (12.5 ounces, 351 grams) bread flour
1/2 plus 1/8 teaspoon (2 grams) instant yeast
2 tablespoons (0.5 ounces, 14 grams) caraway seeds (you can grind these if you want to avoid the crunch)
1/2 tablespoon (0.3 ounces, 10.5 grams) coarse salt

Dough and Baking
1/2 tablespoon (0.25 ounces, 6.7 grams) vegetable oil
about 2 teaspoons (about 0.5 ounces, 16 grams) cornmeal for sprinkling

and so it begins...

Make the sponge: Combine sponge ingredients in a large or mixer bowl and whisk until very smooth, to intentionally incorporate air — this will yield a thick batter. Set it aside.

Make the flour mixture and cover the sponge: In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour mixture and gently scoop it over the sponge to cover it completely. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and allow it to ferment for 1 to 4 hours at room temperature. (The sponge will bubble through the flour mixture in places.)

Mix the dough [Either with a mixer – I used the mixer version] Add the oil and mix with the dough hook on low-speed for about 1 minute, until the flour is moistened enough to form a rough dough. then raise the speed to medium and mix it for 10 minutes. The dough should be very smooth and elastic, and it should jump back when pressed with a fingertip; if it is sticky, turn it out on a counter and knead in a little extra flour.

dough mixing

[Or by hand] Add the oil and, with a wooden spoon or your hand, stir until the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together, then scrape it onto a very lightly floured counter. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, after which it might be a little sticky. Cover it with the inverted bowl and allow it to rest for 20 minutes. (Resting the dough makes it less sticky and magically easier to work with. Trust me.) Knead the dough for another 5 to 10 minutes or until it is very smooth and elastic and your upper arms are strapless gown-ready.

dough rising

Let the dough rise: Place the dough in a large container or bowl, lightly oiled. Oil the top of the dough as well. Allow the dough to rise until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Flip the bowl over and let the dough fall out on to a lightly floured counter, press it down gently, fold or form it back into a square-ish ball and allow it to rise a second time, back in the (re-oiled) bowl covered with plastic wrap for about 45 minutes.

Shape it and wait out the final rise: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and gently press it down again. Round it into a ball and set it on a cornmeal sprinkled baking sheet. (*I wanted to get a loaf out of this, so I lightly oiled a bread pan, sprinkled the base with cornmeal and shaped the dough for the last time in here). Cover it with oiled plastic wrap and let it rise until almost doubled, about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. [Skim ahead to preheating your oven, which you should do soon.] When it is gently press with a fingertip, the depression will very slowly fill in.

Preheat the oven: Preheat the oven to 450°F as early as you can tolerate. (*I did it about 30 minutes before – the hotter the oven, the more crunchy the crust!) On a shelf at the lowest level, place a baking sheet or bread stone. [If you want to get fancy and bread-oven like: Place a cast-iron skillet or sheet pan on the floor of the oven to preheat.]

pre and post baking

Slash and bake the bread: With a sharp knife or singled-edged razor blade, make 1/4- to 1/2-inch-deep slashes in the top of the dough. Mist the dough with water and quickly but gently set the baking sheet on the hot stone or hot baking sheet (*Or, just put the bread pan in the oven). [If you’ve decided to get fancy and bread oven-like: Toss 1/2 cup of ice cubes into the pan beneath and immediately shut the door.] Bake for 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 400°F and continue baking for 30 to 40 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean (or a thermometer inserted into the center reads 190°F; I prefer this method because you’ve done much too much work to possibly end up with an under- or over-baked loaf of bread).

Cool the bread on a wire rack. And enjoy the deliciousness!

mmm fresh bread

 

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Pimm Pimm Hooray!

I’ve been on a mini (unintended) hiatus. Between day-to-day work, cottages, planning trips and birthdays, and nice, warm evenings where we’re just aching to get on a patio, Toronto summers are pretty amazing (flooding aside), but can get shockingly busy. To make up for my absence, I’m going to share one of the best drink recipes for summer. It’s the best because it tastes great and, more importantly, it’s super quick to make (so…minimal time to wait before you get to enjoy).

pimms cup

 

Pimm’s Cup Recipe:

What You’ll Need…

Pimm’s No. 1

– Lemonade

– Ginger ale or ginger beer (optional)

– Cucumber

– Mint

– Strawberries

– Orange slices

– ice

What You Need To Do…

In a jug, mix one part Pimm’s with one part lemonade and one part ginger ale/beer. Add sliced cucumber, strawberries and orange slices. Add mint. And add as much ice as you’d like. Stir and serve.

See? Simple.

It’s a great British drink with refreshing summer flavours. Bonus? The fruit soaks up the Pimm’s and tastes delicious!

(p.s. Happy Belated Canada Day to my fellow Canadians!)

 

Leslieville: The First Food Tour

We are now on month 3 of living in Leslieville, and both my boyfriend and I agree that it’s such an amazing neighbourhood. Certainly lively and full of surprises. Now that we have had a chance to try out some great food spots in the area (with, admittedly, still so many left to try), I wanted to share my Top 5 Food Spots in Leslieville (for now).

1. Lady Marmalade: I don’t need to rehash how amazing this place truly is. So worth the wait. But just in case you forgot…

Baked french toast is the cat's pyjamas...

2. Ed’s Real Scoop & Bobbette and Belle:

Both of these spots make me all sorts of happy when it comes to dessert/snacks. Grabbing ice cream at Ed’s Real Scoop has now become my favourite passtime on warm summer nights (maybe a little too much…dangerous stuff!), and Bobbette & Belle makes nothing short of incredible desserts. My recommendation? Get a macaroon from them, pair it with the cookies ‘n creme ice cream from Ed’s, and call it a day.

3. Rashers & Leslieville Pumps:

I talked about the amazingness of Rashers way before I even lived down the street from it. Their sandwiches are still delicious. A new favourite we recently learned about is the Leslieville Pumps – on its face, this spot is merely a run of the mill gas station. But inside you will find more than just candy bars and chips. They have sandwiches with smoked meat, BLTs, pulled pork, poutine, coleslaw and deep fried pickels. Yum! Perfect hangover or late night food (while Rashers closes at 8pm, The Pumps is open 24h!)

Simple grilled cheese? Not these sandwiches!

Rashers’ goodness…

4. Paulette’s Chicken and Doughnuts:

Freshly made doughnuts (like, my favourite, the s’mores doughnut) + fried chicken + your choice of sauce makes this place a fun spot to have an unhealthy but utterly delicious snack. We recently tried their deep-fried macaroni ‘n cheese balls, too…can’t say you would be wrong in doing the same. I love this spot because it’s one-of-a-kind in the area and offers a fun alternative to fast food. If you’re feeling like something bad for you, but oh-so-good, this place delivers.

5. Prohibition Gastropub & Riverside Public House:

Riverside was the first place we tried upon moving in. And Prohibition has now become the “go-to” when meeting friends for a drink. They have great beers on tap, a fantastic happy hour, prime location at Queen and Broadview plus their food is  pretty damn good. My favourite dish that I’ve  had so far is their “Pulled Pork Grilled Fromage” – exactly what it sounds like: pulled pork +grilled cheese. But the kicker is that it comes with fries and a slightly tangy raspberry flavoured dipping sauce. It shouldn’t work, but it certainly does. Definitely work a try.

We fully intend on trying more places this summer (like Ruby Watchco/Ruby Eats, “The Nose”, Swirl Wine Bar, among others), and I will be sure to get more on he list.

The new 'hood!

The new ‘hood!

Night Out: Wine and…Tacos?

Tonight I had the privilege of attending the summer opening of Mavrik Wine Bar. It’s a well-known fact that I love wine and anything wine bar related. Sadly, I had never been to Mavrik before but, after this introduction, you can bet I will be going back.

Grapefruit + wine + berries is delicious!

Grapefruit + wine + berries is delicious!

This little Queen West haunt is owned by two ladies who did the unthinkable – left their law and investment banking jobs to pursue a passion and open their own restaurant. They differentiate themselves from all other wine bars in a really great way, offering up local wines that are produced in small quantities (read: too small to be found at the LCBO) and a really good selection of fresh, healthy cooking.

A small sampling of Mavrik's menu - awesome tacos and great wine pairings

A small sampling of Mavrik’s menu – awesome tacos and great wine pairings

I got to sample two of their tacos with wine pairings. The first was a Portobello Taco with guacamole, tomatoes, red peppers, black beans, jalapeños, and basil aioli. While I’m not the biggest mushroom fan, this taco had great texture and flavour to it – not too spicy, just tangy enough, with the basil aioli adding a unique taste to otherwise “typical” taco fillings. The second – and my favourite – was the Sweet Potato Taco, filled with sweet potato, black beans, quinoa, parmesan and lemon aioli. This taco was so refreshing, tasty and was fabulously complemented by a Niagara Region Muscat. This was a perfect summer meal.

Portobello Taco (left) and Sweet Potato Taco (right)

Portobello Taco (left) and Sweet Potato Taco (right)

The vibe of the place is great – small and cozy – and, aside from the wonderful and unique food, there is also a healthy selection of cheese (after all, wine + cheese are the best of friends). My only gripe? With the wines being so local and limited in supply, you may fall in love with something that you can’t get your hands on too easily at the LCBO or Wine Rack. I guess that just means you have to return to Mavrik again.

mavrik vibe

This Bread is Bananas

Banana bread – one of the easiest things to bake and so delicious. Last night, having an abundance of ripe bananas in our house, I decided to make a loaf for dessert and work snacks. Nothing beats a fresh-out-of-the-oven, still warm, buttered piece of banana bread.

banana bread

 

Blue Ribbon* Banana Bread:

Ingredients:

4 ripe bananas

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or whole wheat, if you’re looking to get healthy)

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup melted butter

1 tsp baking soda

mixing it up

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Mash bananas with a wooden spoon in a large bowl. Mix in melted butter.

3. Add vanilla. sugar, egg and baking powder and stir well.

4. Add flour and mix until fully coated and thick.

5. Pour mixture into a buttered loaf pan and place in oven. Let bake for one hour.

There you have it! Super simple and delicious. Plus a good way to use up those bananas that are maybe just a little too brown for anything else.

 

 

*ok so it hasn’t actually won any awards…but the alliteration was too good to pass up.

Pub Love

I sometimes have such a craving for pub food. I’m not talking about just burgers and fries, though. I mean the kind of menu items you will only find at a place with a lot of beer on tap, wooden tables and sports on TV screens. The thing I love about pub food most is its simplicity. And with that in mind, I decided to try to find some easy-to-mimic recipes for my 5 favourite pub grub meals:

pub love food

1 – Chicken Caesar Salad: The only salad I will ever have at a pub or bar. The creaminess of the dressing, crunch of the croutons and almost necessary bacon bits makes this a fantastic meal or appetizer. This recipe from Smitten Kitchen adds a certain element of cooking sophistication with a chicken brine, promising the juiciest of meat. Also, if you’re like me and can’t stand the fishy style of anchovies in the dressing, you can easily omit it without losing the flavour and creaminess.

2 – Baked Mac n’ Cheese: I’ve already professed my love for mac n’ cheese, and this Martha Stewart recipe is the right crunchy/creamy mixture. Something so great about having a bowl of this with a glass of white wine or a light beer.

3 – Loaded Potato Skins: The most difficult part about this recipe from Chow is the scooping out of the potato. The rest is super simple. I love loaded potato skins – I always ate the skin on baked potatoes (I know, kind of weird), and I love that these can be made bite sized for a party. They’re  perfect hors d’oeuvres to pass around, or snack on while hanging out in your backyard.

4 – Chicken Fingers (and fries): Without fail, what I order 9 times out of 10 when I’m feeling pub-y. The Black Peppercorn adds a really intriguing twist to a classic by dredging the chicken fingers into crushed Doritos…crushed Doritos, you guys! Amazing.

5 – Deep Fried Pickles: This combo should not work, but it does. So well. A Beautiful Mess has a shockingly easy-to-make recipe for this delicious treat, which uses minimal ingredients (one of which is cornmeal, aka that added crunch). They’re awesome dipped in something with dill (like their own dip recipe). These are so good!

Note: all of the above go amazing with a pint of your favourite beer, on a sunny day, hanging out in your backyard, with some good friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Summer Salad (With a Kick!)

I will readily admit that I’m not the cook in my relationship. I can cook and do on occasion, but by and large my boyfriend handles that part. When I do cook, maybe because of the fact that it’s not an everyday occurrence, I like to get as creative as possible. Last night, I made a salad (that I personally think is a keeper). It has some fantastic flavours within it – sweet, caramelized pears juxtaposed with blue cheese, and Dijon chicken breast. It’s the perfect meal for a warm summer night, best enjoyed on a balcony or in a backyard.

sweet summer salad

What You’ll Need (Ingredients):

Serves 2

2 chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)

2 large, ripe Bartlett pears (halved, cored and thinly sliced)

Blue cheese (crumbled)

3 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 medium shallot, minced

1 cup olive oil

Honey (to taste)

Baby arugula (or mixed greens or lettuce)

Walnuts, roasted (optional)

What to Do:

For Chicken Breast

1. In a bowl, mix together 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 tbsp Dijon mustard, 1/2 cup olive oil and half the minced shallot.

minced shallots

2. In a Ziploc bag, place your chicken breasts and the mixture above, close, and shake well to coat.

3. Leave overnight in your fridge, or at least for a few hours to allow for the chicken to marinade.

4. Set oven temperature to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. While oven heats up, pan sear the chicken breast for about a minute on each side, in an oven-friendly pan. Place the pan with the chicken into the oven and allow to cook for 20 minutes (or until juices run clear).

5. Remove from oven, slice, and allow to cool.

For the Salad:

1. In a bowl, mix together 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 tbsp Dijon mustard, 1/2 cup olive oil and half the minced shallot. Set aside.

2. Heat a tsp of olive oil in a pan over medium-low heat. While pan heats, carefully coat each pear slice with enough honey to thinly cover both sides.

4. Place the coated pear slices into the heated pan and allow to fry until they are slightly caramelized on both sides.

pears

5. Coat arugula in the olive oil/Dijon/shallot mixture until it is well covered.

6. Plate a handful of arugula with the chicken overtop and the pears on the side. Sprinkle with blue cheese and walnuts to taste.

Poppa-corn

Summer time is movie time. This seems a bit counterintuitive, because it’s the nice time of year where there isn’t snow or blistering cold winds or layers upon layers of clothing that still isn’t warm enough. We should all be outside, enjoying every last morsel of sun, but summertime also happens to be the time for blockbuster movies. While I’m a huge movie fan, I think for me, going to the cinema is mostly about the experience rather than the picture itself. And a large part of that experience is the popcorn.

popcorn

But here’s the deal with cinema popcorn – as amazing as it tastes (especially if you do like I do and double – sometimes triple – layer butter on it), it’s pretty much as far away from a healthy snack as you can get. So knowing that I’m trying to be (a little) healthier and that my metabolism is just nearing that age where it’s about to give up on me completely, I scoured around for some make-it-at-home popcorn recipes that hit the spot without all the badness. These recipes you can take with you, or enjoy when you’re catching up on something from the comfort of your own couch on a rainy Sunday. Also, in the move we gave up having a microwave so I have to find a replacement for the 1 minute, 15 seconds land of popcorn readiness.

– First, the popcorn: if you really want to be a purist and are absolutely dying to make popcorn that isn’t Jiffy Pop, this recipe from Simply Recipes seems to do the trick. Old school, stove-top, deliciously crunchy popcorn.

– Then, the flavour: if you’re going to do it, do it right and don’t just add butter. I love this recipe for spicy caramel popcorn from Smitten Kitchen because you get the flavour as you cook the popcorn. For something a little more savoury, this garlic, thyme and parmesan recipe sounds like it hits the spot – cheesy popcorn is the best. And, of course, there’s the salty popcorn, which takes a twist with this recipe that adds honey to it for a perfect mix of sweet and salty. 

– Finally, have some fun: popcorn’s great and all but it’s even better in ball form. Kind of like rice crispy squares, popcorn balls just make something great that much greater. Here’s a traditional popcorn ball recipe c/o Martha Stewart – but you can add your own twist to it by seasoning the popcorn, adding caramel, chocolate, or anything else your heart desires.

popcorn balls

 

Perfect Summer Snack? Chips and Guac.

Maybe it’s because of the fact that Cinco de Mayo was yesterday, or maybe it’s just because of the fact that the warm weather means spring is officially here, but I’ve had a serious craving for chips and guacamole all weekend! I didn’t get to indulge, but I am planning on making some this week. Guacamole is so easy to make and almost requires no recipe – just some basic ingredients and your own flair.

My Take on Guacamole:

Ingredients

Avocados (3-4, ripe)

Lime juice (fresh squeezed, or you can use this Lime Juice that they sell in grocery stores)

Corn (canned)

1 ripe tomato, diced

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

1. Cut the avocados in half and scoop out the insides into a bowl.

2. Mash the avocados using a fork until you reach your desired level of chunkiness (I prefer it a bit chunky, but it’s a complete “to taste” thing)

3. Add about 2 teaspoons of the lime juice, and a handful of the corn and diced tomato

4. Mix together, adding salt and pepper to taste

5. Enjoy!

Normally I would just crack out some store-bought chips to go with that delicious guac, but I recently found a recipe that I can’t wait to try out for homemade, bistro-style chips! The thing I like about this recipe is that it uses simple ingredients, and you can fry it or bake it (if you’re going for an extra-healthy option). These chips remind me of the kind you’d get in Mexico proper – crispy, tortilla-y and so perfect for scooping!

These go great with a refreshing cerveza, like maybe a Corona.

Brunch Is Never A Bad Idea

Brunch is one of those lovely meals that typically only gets enjoyed on a lazy Sunday. There’s been a brunch revival in the last few years (particularly in Toronto) and now there is a smorgasbord of places to pick from if you want to get your “not-quite-breakfast, not-quite-lunch” fix. In fact, the Drake General Store even has a portable brunch map it sells, with all the city’s hot spots.

Stick this map in your wallet and go!

Stick this map in your wallet and go!

Ever since we moved to the new ‘hood, everyone I talk to has the same 3 or 4 places they say we HAVE to try. One of those places is Lady Marmalade, a breakfast/brunch/lunch spot that seems to have a perennial line out the door. After a few weekends of balking at the wait, we finally gave in yesterday and decided to try it. I can say the wait (in warm sunshine, finally!) was well worth it.

LM menuTheir menu is slightly Mexican-themed (lots of “huevos” involved), but their flavours are delightfully all over the map. They have a great selection of eggs benedict, as well as some fun daily specials. Plus, if you don’t eat gluten, they have the option of making a lot of their menu gluten-free. On this particular morning, my boyfriend had their eggs benny special (“Hawaiian Eggs Benedict” which included locally-sourced ham and a poached egg, as well as the unique flavour of roasted pineapple chunks and aged white cheddar) and I had the french toast special (moist baked french toast with raspberries and oranges, and maple syrup, obviously). Both were delicious and oh so filling!

Baked french toast is the cat's pyjamas...

Baked french toast is the cat’s pyjamas…

Aside from the delicious food and good service, I think one of the biggest draws to Lady Marmalade is the fact that they work with local food shops (like the nearby Rowe Farms) to source locally-grown, organic ingredients for their food.

Given the success of this MUST TRY spot, I’m certainly looking forward to hitting up the other local neighbourhood favourites during the summer. Oh, and if the picture of my delicious baked french toast is making you hungry and you want to give it a try at home, I recommend this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. There’s booze in it!