The Sweetest Crumb

Fig Compote and Goat Cheese Crostinis

Hi, friends!

As many of you know, I work in public accounting. By default, that means April is busy. To make things even busier, I am part of our personal tax pool at work – essentially preparing personal taxes for the whole month. This translates to 11 or 12 hour work days all month. I actually really enjoy personal taxes, love the change for a month and interacting closely with clients. However the hours are tiring, especially with 3 months of our busiest season already behind me… So I apologize if my blog posts have not been as frequent lately.

If you’re as stretched for time as me, you are probably always on the hunt for quick (but delicious) recipes. This fig compote is amazing. Our fantastic instructor, Erin Howe, shared it with us at the NAIT Valentine’s Day cooking class and I have made it for so many people since.

The compote is so simple to make – you take dried figs, brown sugar, red wine and thyme and reduce the mixture until the majority of the wine has been simmered off and the mixture thickens.

Once the mixture cools, add a bit of good quality balsamic vinegar. During the class, we used Dark Chocolate balsamic vinegar from Evoolution in Edmonton and it definitely made a strong impression on me. The rich, sweet cocoa flavour pairs perfectly with the figs and goat cheese! When I was re-creating the appetizer on my own, I decided not to skimp out on the balsamic and stopped by Evoolution to pick up a bottle of the chocolate goodness. That was my first time in Evoolution and I was in heaven! This cute boutique store specializes in olive oil, vinegars and salts and carries everything from traditional flavours to exotic ones like coconut, truffle and blackberry ginger. Oh yea, and did I mention they’re a tasting bar? Yup, you can just go in, try a dozen flavours and get inspired for your next food adventure – truly a foodie’s heaven! ;)

Ok, back to the fig compote… after you add the balsamic, your compote is ready to serve on baguette bread with goat cheese and fresh thyme. It’s so easy and a great appetizer for entertaining or having friends over for a movie night.

Fig Compote and Goat Cheese Crostinis

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By Genia Rodnyansky Published: April 6, 2013

    Hi, friends! As many of you know, I work in public accounting. By default, that means April is busy. To make things even busier, I …

    Ingredients

    • 1/2 cup dried figs chopped
    • 1/2 cup brown sugar
    • 1 cup red wine
    • 1/2 tsp fresh thyme plus more for garnish
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 1 tbsp Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar
    • goat cheese
    • baguette
    • olive oil

    Instructions

    1. Combine figs, brown sugar, wine and thyme in a small saucepot. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until the mixture thickens. The mixture will continue to thicken once it cools.
    2. Allow the mixture to come to room temperature. Add in the balsamic vinegar.
    3. Drizzle your baguette with olive oil and bake until light golden. Spread goat cheese on each baguette slice, top with compote and garnish with lots of fresh thyme.

      Trashy Movies

      Happy almost Easter!

      Do you guys get a long weekend? Sadly I worked today and am working Monday (and haven’t gotten these days off since I started working for a public accounting firm) so I am a little (completely) jealous of everyone who gets a long weekend. Regardless, I intend to make the most of my days off. I find that my weekends are, more often than not, busy, hectic and packed with activities. I am not the kind of person who can easily sit around and do nothing all day which usually results in me being a little exhausted, but also lets me make the most of my time and cram in as many fun activities as possible :)

      So here is what I got up to last weekend…

      As some of you guys know, besides baking, I am passionate about the environment. I completed the Master Composter/Recycler program with the City of Edmonton and was able to learn so much about all the great things that our city does with waste management and its cutting-edge waste management facility. I got a tour of the facility last April.

      I also learned how to compost (without it going horribly wrong or becoming smelly) and am currently the proud owner of a vermicompost. Yup, that’s a compost managed by red wriggler worms. I know it sounds weird – I was sceptical at first too – but it is completely odour free and is the perfect soltuion when you want to compost but don’t live in a place where an outdoor compost is feasible.

      I think that taking time to consider how you manage household waste is part of living responsibly; it should be given sufficient thought just like thinking about where you buy your produce and how much time you devote to exercise. For me, these things are all part of living life in a responsible, healthy and conscientious way.

      If anyone has any questions about composting – either outdoor or vermicomposts, please let me know. I’d be happy to help. And for anyone in the Edmonton area and looking to gain more in depth knowledge on composting, recycling and the Edmonton waste management system, I definitely recommend completing the Master Composter/Recycler program.

      Ok, so to share this passion for the environment with others, me and my friend, Sarah, have hosted a few “Trashy Movie” nights. We select an environmentally themed documentary – one that discusses how we can minimize our impact on our surroundings, encourages us to be responsible for our waste, or simply teaches us something new about the space around us. We invite friends, acquantainces and anyone interested, for a few hours of movie watching followed by a discussion. To provide extra incentive for attending, we’ve provided tasty snacks such as:

      Fig compote served with goat cheese on baguette

      Prosciutto with fresh figs and honeydew melon

      We weren’t sure how our friends would react to these trashy movie nights (a few friends were disappointed we didn’t feature 50 Shades of Grey) but I am really happy to say that they have been a success! So far we have held two movie nights, each with a different group of people and a different movie. We’ve had positive feedback about the movies and discussions. For anyone interested in hosting their own movie night, or just watching a few trashy movies, so far we watched:

      The Clean Bin Project follows a Vancouver couple who decide to go completely waste-free for one whole year! I saw this movie for the first time a couple years ago and it was really what got me thinking about the environment and the impact that my own actions can have. Its so easy to get caught up thinking that you’re just one person and your actions have little impact on big scale issues. But I found that this film really pushed you to consider just how much of an impact you really can have and how relatively simple it is to take steps in the right direction – just do one more thing than you are currently doing.

      Wasteland tells the story of the artist, Vik Muniz, who travels to the largest landfill in Brazil. He works intimately with those whose only source of income is scavenging this landfill for recyclables. Muniz cooperates with these workers to create unique works of art and portrays their touching stories. The movie is beautifully done and truly heart warming. I’ve already seen it twice and would gladly watch it again. Definitely add this on to your “to watch” list.

      Thanks for letting me share my passion for waste reduction with you guys! And for anyone who did not enjoy this post, don’t worry, things will be back to regular scheduled programming next time with a recipe for the delicious fig compote above!

      Butternut Squash Gnocchi and Lots of Other Things

      Happy Sunday, friends!

      I’ve been wanting to give homemade gnocchi a try for quite a while now. However, the process of making any sort of dumpling is time consuming and not just something you quickly throw together for a fast weeknight dinner. So… a couple of weekends ago, me and Sean decided to have my best friend, Tasha, over for a nice homemade butternut squash gnocchi dinner. We decided to pair the gnocchi with pork meatballs and kale and serve a green salad to start. Tasha was bringing the wine :)

      gnoc·chi - thick, soft dumplings made traditionally with flour and potato but can also be made with squash, cheese, spinach, etc.

      We also decided to go all out and purchase the best ingredients we could find – buying local, organic pork and organic, tasty squash from Blush Lane Organic Market and our cheese from the Italian Centre Shop. We even bough this fancy butter to use in our sauce – apparently it was listed in Saveur Magazine’s “World’s 30 Great Butters” list (who knew there were best butter lists?!). I felt like I had spent my whole paycheque on organic, quality ingredients and Tasha joked that she would have to bring a $2,000 bottle of wine to pair with this dinner :)

      We may have been a little over-ambitious in our undertakings (between getting groceries and cooking everything, it took us from about 4pm until almost 9pm). However, everything turned out delicious in the end (although there were a few points in the night where we really questioned how things were going).

      So here is a recap of our dinner adventures that night.

      To start I quickly assembled a green salad with oranges (blood and tangelo), walnuts and basil. I drizzled the salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Considering the gnocchi is very filling, the salad was light and refreshing.

      We used this recipe from T’s Tasty Bits for the pork meatballs, kale and sauce. The sauce was a bit too runny for our liking so we added only 1/2 of the required chicken stock. The meatballs were fantastic – adding parmesan and nutmeg really made them flavourful and perfect to pair with gnocchi.

      For the kale, remember to sprinkle copious amounts of table salt on the leaves and let sit for at least 15 minutes before rinsing – this will get rid of the bitterness which is characteristic of kale. Make sure to rinse off all the salt carefully before cooking as it easily gets in between the curved leaves.

      Now for the gnocchi… First we roasted our delicious squash – sprinkled with sea salt, pepper and drizzled with olive oil before baking.

      Then we mashed the squash using a potato masher (we also used a hand held blender to speed up the process). The recipe I had suggested using only 1 cup of flour for a 2lb squash. Thinking that this didn’t sound like it would make enough gnocchi (and I love having leftovers!), we doubled the recipe. After actually adding the recommended amount of flour, I realized the dough was still much too runny – so runny that there was no hope of possibly rolling the dough into ropes and forming gnocchi with it. After some troubleshooting and frazzled online research, I realized that other recipes suggested using much more flour to make a workable dough. After adjusting the dough by adding more and more flour, I had a workable dough (and probably enough of it to feed the whole block… I was regretting doubling the recipe now…). I have posted the approximate ingredient amounts we ended up using below. However, these are just approximations and will vary depending on the size and moisture of your squash. The finished dough will still be quite sticky, will pull away from the bowl when mixing and can be shaped into ropes with generously floured hands and floured surface. The seasonings should also be adjusted to suit your taste.

      The dough was then divided into smaller sections are rolled into ropes about 2cm thick. Each was cut into small section and pressed down with the tines of a floured fork.

      We cooked the gnocchi in salted, boiling water. Once the dumplings float to the top in just a few minutes, they are done!

      We combined the gnocchi with the sauce, meatballs and kale as per this recipe. We garnished the gnocchi with spiced pumpkin seeds (from Blush Lane Organic Market of course) and freshly grated parmesan cheese. In the end, it was well worth the effort!

      Has anyone else tried making butternut squash gnocchi? What about tradiitonal potatoe gnocchi? Any tips you’d like to share?

      Butternut squash gnocchi dough

      By Genia Rodnyansky Published: March 24, 2013

        Happy Sunday, friends! I've been wanting to give homemade gnocchi a try for quite a while now. However, the process of making any …

        Ingredients

        • 1 butternut squash about 2 lb
        • 2 egg yolks
        • 1/8 cup parmesan cheese
        • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
        • 1/2 tsp salt
        • 1/4 tsp pepper
        • 2 1/4 + cups all-purpose flour

        Instructions

        1. Slice your squash lengthwise, seed, and cut into smaller sections. Roast at 400F until the squash is soft, about 20 - 30 minutes. Remove the squash from the skin, mash until smooth and let cool.
        2. Add egg yolks, cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper to the squash and mix until combined.
        3. Next gradually add the flour to the squash - you may need either more or less flour to form a dough of the right consistency. Begin by adding 1 1/2 cups of flour and add about 1/2 cup at a time thereafter. Mix after each addition until combined. The dough is ready when it begins pulling away from the bowl. Butternut squash dough will still be quite sticky when ready - you will need to roll it on a floured surface with floured hands.
        4. Divide dough into smaller sections. Use floured hands and a floured surface to roll into ropes, about 2cm thick. Cut each rope into small cushions and use a floured fork to press down each cushion slightly.
        5. Cook immediately in boiling water - when the cushions float to the top, they are done. The formed gnocchi can also be easily frozen.

          Mountains and Granola

          Happy Tuesday, everyone!

          I spent the weekend in the mountains (which is why there was no usual weekend post). Sean took me to Jasper National Park as a congratulations gift for passing the UFE (giant, horrible accounting exam) in December (we couldn’t get away until now).

          We stayed at the Overlander Mountain Lodge. It was our second time staying at this hotel and we absolutely love it. The view from our hotel room was gorgeous!

          We spent the weekend snow-shoeing, building snowmen and just relaxing.

          Ok now let’s talk food. First of all we had several great dinners (which I will probably blog about later). Second of all… what goes better with snow shoeing and hiking in the mountains than granola!

          This is another recipe from Oh She Glows. I feel like I’ve been obsessed with her blog lately. Everything is easy to make, healthy and delicious… just like this buckwheat granola.

          The granola is made without oats and with buckwheat instead. Ok, right off the bat I have to tell you guys that I used to hate buckwheat as a kid, so I was skeptical. However, I only recently found out that raw buckwheat groats are different from buckwheat kasha (which is toasted and has a strong, nutty taste). I realized that buckwheat kasha is what I really don’t like. The raw groats are actually quite pleasant and made a delicious granola.

          I love that this granola uses almond pulp, leftover from making almond milk. I used home-made applesauce in mine as well as honey to sweeten (instead of coconut nectar). I also used coconut sugar. This was my first time using it and I loved it. It had a great, caramel-like flavour to it and was less sweet than granulated sugar.

          Overall the granola was great and delicious with almond milk or yogurt. Give it a try :)

           

          Home Made Oreo Cookies

          Happy middle of the week!

          I feel like I burnt myself out a little this past weekend. Having been out of town for a while, I felt deprived of home cooked meals and may have overcompensated for it by cooking up a storm this weekend. All in all, I was still trying to finish up in the kitchen at 10:30pm on Sunday night. Some of the things I made: home made butternut squash gnocchi with pork meatballs and kale, 3 batches of almond milk, buckwheat granola (so good!) and these cute little home made Oreo cookies!

          The cookie recipe came from my recently acquired Bouchon Bakery book.

          The cookies are essentially chocolate shortbread with a white chocolate ganache filling. They are a bazillion times better than store bought Oreos (but I may be biased since I don’t like store bought ones to begin with). I think the success of these cookies comes from using really good quality cocoa. I used Valrhona cocoa which I purchased from Provisions by Duchess in Edmonton. The result was a very rich chocolate taste – definitely worth using a fancier cocoa. The recipe talks about using Guittard Cocoa Noir which makes a really dark, almost black cookie. Since I didn’t have this cocoa and wasn’t overly concerned with the colour of my Oreos, I opted out of searching for the Cocoa Noir. Either way, I think my batch turned out dark and pretty.

          Before you guys jump right into making these cookies… a word of warning. This isn’t a recipe where you just combine everything in a bowl and throw it in the oven. I found the dough was very sensitive to temperature changes and I was constantly chilling the dough, having it warm up too much and become too soft, chilling again, etc. etc. So be prepared to spend some time running back and forth from the fridge or freezer. Same thing goes for the ganache filling – I found that it was a bit difficult to work with, would warm up in the piping bag in my hands and become too runny very quickly. I tried to work in small batches and keep the filling from overheating.

          Also, I know that salt brings out the other flavours in baking, but I found the salt content a bit too high for my taste in these cookies so the recipe I’ve posted has been adjusted a bit.

          The ingredients in the recipe are listed in very specific gram amounts… like 161 grams. I really believe that using your kitchen scale to accurately measure ingredients makes a huge difference in your final product. And the Bouchon Bakery book has a whole section on the merits of measuring ingredients – if the professionals say its worthwhile… it must be true :) However, since some kitchen scales (such as my own) can’t accurately measure very small weights, I have provided the approximate volumes for a few of the really small weights below.

          Home Made Oreo Cookies

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          By Genia Rodnyansky Published: March 12, 2013

            Happy middle of the week! I feel like I burnt myself out a little this past weekend. Having been out of town for a while, I felt …

            Ingredients

            • 125 grams white chocolate 35% cocoa, chopped
            • 15 grams butter unsalted
            • 125 grams whipping cream
            • 259 grams flour
            • 87 grams cocoa good quality ie. Valrhona
            • 1.6 grams baking soda (3/8 tsp)
            • 227 grams butter unsalted
            • 1.5 grams salt (1/2 tsp)
            • 161 grams granulated sugar

            Instructions

            1. Begin by making the ganache filling. Melt the white chocolate and 15 grams of butter together over low heat. Meanwhile bring the whipping cream to a simmer. Once the chocolate is melted and smooth, remove from heat and add the whipping cream. Mix until smooth. If there are any lumps, return to very low heat and mix until smooth. Cover and chill the ganache for a minimum of 4 hours.
            2. Next, start the shortbread. Measure out the flour into a bowl. Sift in the cocoa and baking soda.
            3. Place the 227 grams butter into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-low speed with a paddle attachment until smooth. Add in the salt and mix for a few seconds. Add in granulated sugar and beat until fluffy.
            4. Add the cocoa mixture to the butter mixture in two additions. Mix on low speed after each addition until fully combined.
            5. Once the dough starts to come together, stop the mixer and shape the dough into two square discs. Chill until firm - about 1 hours.
            6. Once the dough is chilled, preheat oven to 325F. Doll out the disc of dough between two sheets of parchment until it is about 1/8" thick. At this point, the dough will likely have softened. Return the rolled dough to fridge.
            7. Once chilled, use a round or fluted cutter of your choice to cut out cookies. Place the cookies on a parchment-lined tray, leaving about 3/4" between cookies. Chill the tray once again before baking for 15 minutes or until cookies are firm. Bake for 15-17 minutes, rotating the trays midway. The cookies will be done when they are fragrant and small cracks appear on the surface.
            8. Once the cookies are fully cooled, transfer ganache to the bowl of an electric mixer and mix with a paddle attachment until the mixture is smooth and thickens. Transfer ganache to a pastry bag. Pipe filling onto the half the cookies. Use another cookie to place on top of the filling. Press down slightly to create a sandwich.
            9. Enjoy your cookies! They can be stored for up to 3 days in the fridge and are delicious dipped in (almond) milk.

              Almond Milk

              Have you guys tried making home-made almond milk? It is absolutely delicious!

              I use this recipe from Oh She Glows. Angela does such a good job explaining the method and taking great step-by-step photos that there’s really no need for me to re-create them here.

              I only made a few modifications to the method on Oh She Glows. I used a cheesecloth instead of using a nut milk bag (partly because a “nut bag” just sounds ridiculous and partly because I had no idea where to find one). The cheesecloth worked flawlessly – I doubled it to make sure the milk was extra smooth. I also did not add a whole vanilla bean but instead used just the seeds of the bean. I ended up soaking my almonds for closer to 18 hours – I’ve read that you should soak them for 12 – 24 hours for best results, so don’t worry about over-soaking.

              The end result was perfect, creamy milk. It was so frothy and filled with goodness.

              I’ve never been a huge fan of dairy products. I don’t drink milk and have yet to find a store-bought milk substitute I enjoy. But this stuff is amazing! I would gladly drink it on a regular basis and am actually going to make another batch tomorrow. It is so easy to make and surprisingly creamy and satisfying. Plus its a natural source of so many nutrients and a dairy-free source of calcium.

              Enjoy your almond milk!

              Looking for a Good Documentary?

              Hello, friends!

              I am officially back from Lloyminster and looking forward to hopefully getting some baking and cooking in this upcoming weekend. Today I wanted to share my thoughts on something unrelated to baking: a few documentaries I got to watch at the Global Visions Film Festival this past weekend.

              Ping Pong

              Ping Pong is a movie about 8 players (aged between 80 and 100 years old!) who compete in the 80+ world championships for ping pong. This film was entertaining from beginning to end. I was so drawn into each player’s story and wanted each one of them to take first place. The film did a great job of exploring the challenges of getting older, persevering through these challenges and making the most of the time we have. Each player was truly inspirational: from Les who can lift a gigantic bar bell with impossible ease to Lisa who is the sassiest senior I’ve ever seen. At the same time, the film was also very touching and left me holding back tears several times. Overall, Ping Pong is definitely a well-done film that is worth watching. And, needless to say, I hope I’m like these awesome seniors when I reach that age!

              Fruit Hunters

              Fruit Hunters is a film about… well… fruit! And about those who are fascinated and even obsessed with it. I was initially drawn to this film because of the unusual subject and figured it would be either hit or miss. While there were a few slower and cheesy parts in the movie, overall, I was pleasantly surprised. The film follows several groups of people: fruit growers, fruit connoisseurs and those looking to find and preserve rare species. It definitely makes you reflect on our relationship with food and nature. So many different fruits were looked at from the well-known Cavendish banana to exotic species like miracle berry fruit, citrus caviar and ice cream bean. By the end of the film, I wanted not only to try as many new types of fruit as I could, but also to go on a fruit-hunter adventure of my own. I came away from the film a little bit saddened by how many fruit species we have lost or are currently at risk of losing if they aren’t preserved in time.

              Carbon Rush

               

               

               

               

               

               

               

               

               

               

               

               

               

              I’m sure you’ve all heard of carbon credit programs which have been established in an attempt to reduce carbon emmissions. Essentially, companies are allowed to emit a certain amount of pollution. If they participate in a United Nations approved program to reduce pollution in another part of the world, they are given offsetting carbon credits which allow them to emit more pollution, creating a financial incentive for the companies. Carbon Rush explores how these programs are impacting communities in lower income countries.

              I was horrified to hear personal accounts of the atrocious impact that these programs are having on communities internationally. Entire towns find themselves struggling to survive. Communities are being taken advantage of, their livelihoods are taken away and water sources or farmland are being compromised and completely restricted. It was difficult to see the pain in these victims’ lives. It was also difficult to comprehend that these programs are marketed to appear as aiding the environment and planet in North America while they are creating such hardships for people across the globe. The programs help make more $$’s for big companies and it’s even questionable if the programs even succeed in reducing carbon emissions in the first place. The film left me feeling somewhat overwhelmed and hopeless. However, the first step towards change is raising greater awareness. I think Carbon Rush is definitely worth watching and encourage everyone to share its message. Maybe if consumers know the truth behind carbon credit programs, we won’t be fooled into thinking that we should support companies that participate in them.

              Gatekeepers

              Gatekeepers documents the first ever interviews with former leaders of the Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence agency. This film was intense and powerful. The leaders discuss their actions and reflect on past decisions made. Scenes of suicide bombers are difficult to watch, and having spent 3 years of my life in Israel, I found some scenes in the movie disturbingly reminiscent of that past. I had heard this film coined as “provocative” and “controversial” and, after watching it, can definitely see how it can appear so – especially to those of us who are far removed from the situation. All I can say is that these men have had to make more difficult decisions than most of us can ever imagine and that alone should be respected. If you want to gain insight into the conflict situation in the Middle East and how Israel has dealt with bringing safety to its people and attempting to diffuse this regional hostility, this is the movie for you!

              These four documentaries were completely different but I really enjoyed each one. I am a huge fan of documentaries in general and love being able to learn something new. Have you guys seen any of these films? Or do you have any documentaries you can recommend?

              Finding Food in Lloydminster

              I am back in Edmonton for the weekend and so happy! As you guys may already know, the Global Visions film festival is on this weekend in Edmonton! This is Canada’s longest running documentary film festival and I had a chance to volunteer with them in 2012. Sadly, since I am working out of town, volunteering wasn’t really an option this year. However, being back today and Sunday, I am going to make the most of my time and try to squeeze in watching as many documentaries as I can. The line up of films this year looks fantastic and I strongly recommend you guys check them out if you are in the Edmonton area.

              Ok, now back to my small town travels…

              I have to share that I came across a gem in Lloydminster! I was expecting the food options to be fairly limited in a town the size of Lloydminster, especially when it came down to healthy eating. I even made a batch of morning glory muffins to take with me and got all stocked up with organic snacks before I set off for my travels. However, I was so pleasantly surprised to find The Root: Community Emporium in Lloydminster.

              This restaurant has been open for about a year and, from what I could see, they are doing a fabulous job. They use local, fresh ingredients and the dishes clearly show that they are prepared with a lot of care. They have both a daily farm and vegetarian feature. The Root also has live music and art displayed on all the walls. I loved this place so much that I came back a second time during my week in Lloyd.

              The first time I ordered trout with mashed potatoes and a broccoli/zucchini soup. They let me know they were out of trout and had pickerel instead – that was fine with me. If anything, it was a good sign that they order their ingredients fresh and don’t have a huge stock pile of frozen stuff so when it’s out, it’s out!

              The fish was perfectly cooked and reminded me of the fresh fish we’ve made at home when my dad comes home from fishing trips.

              The soup was light and comforting. I love vegetables so the combination of broccoli and zucchini was perfect.

              (Sorry for the sub-par photos. I only had my phone camera with me and the lighting was not ideal)

              The second time, I ordered the vegetarian feature which was an eggplant parmesan. It came with lentil salad and a pear gorgonzola green salad. This meal was also delicious (although the eggplant was a bit too salty for my taste). The salads were perfect though. I was especially in love with the lentils.

              The Root also serves premium loose leaf tea (I believe from Banff Tea Co.) which I found a rarity in Lloydminster.

              Overall, I would gladly return for another meal (and probably will since I am returning to Lloyd on Monday morning). The food was the best I’ve had in the area, the service was friendly and the restaurant was cute and eclectic – definitely a find in Lloydminster!

               

              Kitchen Tips… from Small Town Alberta

              Hello friends!

              How is everyone’s week so far? I am currently in my hotel room, in a small Albertan town, taking a break from work… Sadly, the closest thing to an oven in my hotel is the low-quality coffee maker, so there will be no baking here. However, I have a few baking tips to share with you guys today:

              1. Become besties with your kitchen scale 

              I’ve had several people ask if using a scale really makes a difference. Well, that depends on what you do in your kitchen. If you mainly make recipes where you eyeball how much of each ingredient to add, then having a scale will probably not change your life. However, if you’re planning on pursuing baking further, maybe trying some more complicated recipes, then yes, a kitchen scale is totally worth it! Even for relatively simple recipes, scaling your ingredients will make a huge difference. The same ingredient ie. flour can weigh a significantly different amount depending on the type and how its packed or scooped. Having the wrong amount can really impact how your final product will turn out and the only way to ensure you have a precise amount in your recipe is to use a kitchen scale. This becomes infinitely more important when making delicate sweets like macarons, eclairs, etc. Plus, using a scale makes clean up in the kitchen way easier since you can measure everything into one bowl and just tare the scale in between.

              If you’re in the market for a good scale, there are plenty available. I love my Cuisinart one but I’m sure other similar brands are just as good. You can get them at Kitchen stores or department stores and won’t need to spend more than about $40-$50 for a reliable scale – money well spent if you ask me!

              2. Calibrate your oven

              I’m sure you have heard this a million times, but each oven is different (just like snowflakes)! And nothing is more frustrating than working really hard to make the perfect batter or dough, only to have your product end up burnt. So to avoid all that frustration, I recommend calibrating your oven. A great tip I read on oven calibration was from the Bouchon Bakery book, which recommended buying some ready to bake biscuits, cookies etc. and baking them in your oven exactly as per the package instructions. Those doughs are extensively tested so the baking times should be very precise.

              I’ve actually been having problems with my oven lately… sometimes it heats up too much and other times it seems like it’s not even on so I decided to do a calibration last weekend. I got some ready to bake croissants, which before I go on, I need to say that they were awful! Who would buy these? They were salty and bitter and whatever fat was used to make them just tasted terrible – avoid buying them other than for calibration purposes. The instructions indicated that they should be ready in 17 minutes. After baking for 17 minutes they were overdone – the picture might not show it that well but the bottoms and corners were borderline burnt. So I know that in general I should set my oven to a bit of a lower temperature or reduce the baking time.

              Another oven tip from Bouchon was to ensure your oven was fully and evenly heated before baking. This is complete when the oven has cycled on and off three times. If you don’t want to stand by your oven and watch the temperature increasing and decreasing, then turn on the oven and set a timer for about 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, the oven will be fully and evenly heated and will have cycled 3 times. Make sure to do this before calibrating your oven.

              3. Measure temperatures

               

              Just like scaling, measuring temperatures becomes increasingly more important when you start working with more complicated recipes. A professional food thermometer is super handy when making macarons, caramel, meringues, etc. I would say that at about $50 this is another great investment you won’t regret making. Plus, you can use food thermometers to ensure your meat is perfectly cooked so I’m sure you’ll get a lot of use out of it.

              4. Practice “Mise en Place”  

              I have heard this term used so much lately – in cooking classes, books, TV, etc. Its a French term which means “everything in place.” When you guys cook or bake does the kitchen ever end up looking like a disaster zone? I have to admit, this happens to me a lot! Well, “mise en place” is supposed to prevent that. It involves being organized before you begin. Read through the recipes carefully before starting off to make sure you are familiar with all the steps and have everything you need. Arrange all your ingredients so they are ready, washed, chopped, etc. When you are done with something, put it away to avoid unnecessary clutter. I definitely need to keep working at this, but its a good goal to strive for. Having an organized kitchen keeps you from making mistakes during baking or making a mess and having to deal with the aftermath.

              Weekend and Salad Rolls

              Happy Sunday!

              How is everyone’s weekend? I’m trying to make the most of mine since I will be off to small town Alberta starting tomorrow for 2 weeks of work. Last night, some friends had us over for a fantastic beer tasting! They prepared 10 beers for us to taste and each was of a different style: lager, india pale ale, porter, stout, etc. Each beer was selected because it provides a good representation of that style of beer. I am no beer connoisseur by any means, but had a great time tasting the beer and deciding which styles I liked and which I wanted to avoid. My favourites of the night included:

              • Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen (German wheat beer)
              • Wild Rose Hoptimal (Double India Pale Ale from Calgary, Alberta)
              • Het Anker Gouden Carolus Tripel (Belgian Tripel)

              If anyone needs some beer recommendations, check out our friends’ blog!

              After that we headed over to the Parka Party at Latitude 53 to meet up with some friends and hang out on the outdoor winter patio. It was a great time and I love seeing events in Edmonton which celebrate our winters.

              Now for something a bit more healthy, and that won’t leave you with a hangover headache like the one I am currently dealing with ;)

              I LOVE salad rolls! What can be better than all those fresh ingredients, wrapped in soft rice paper and served with peanut sauce? They are so easy to make – the most time consuming part is just cutting up all the fillings. And let me tell you, the homemade ones are just as good, if not better, than restaurant rolls.

              I made two varieties of rolls.
              The first was a traditional roll made with: shrimp (cooked by simmering at about 165ºF with lemon, peppercorn, parsley and a bit of salt and sugar), vermicelli noodles, carrots, cucumber, lettuce, basil, cilantro and mint.

              The second roll was filled with: chicken (pan-fried with Asian Five Spice sauce), mango, avacado, vermicelli noodles, lettuce, crushed cashews, basil, mint and cilantro.

              I took the rice paper sheets, one at a time, and submerged them into warm water for a few seconds until they turned malleable. I took them out of the water, carefully wiped them off of excess water and laid them on a flat surface to fill, roll and seal.

              The end result was a bunch of delicious, perfect salad rolls.

              I served them with peanut sauce we purchased from the Asian supermarket but next time I will try this recipe from Oh She Glows. I’m sure it will be fantastic since it comes highly recommended by my friend, Sarah, who has a great blog on leading a healthy lifestyle.

              Have a good week, guys!