Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How-To: Make Basic French Toast

I love french toast. It is easy to make and composed of ingredients I nearly always have on hand. It is extremely versatile and can please anyone. My french toast has been a bit of a crowd pleaser for the past few years, and it is all because of 1 little secret. Well guess what...my secret is about to be a secret no longer!

(Oh man... I can't believe I am about to give this one away...!)

So there are 2 parts to french toast: the batter and the bread.

Part 1: The Bread
Some professionals will tell you that the bread you use is what makes the french toast awesome. While that could be true, I don't usually use fancy bread. I don't really have fancy bread on hand, nor do many people I know. But I will tell you what fancy bread I am referring to - brioche or challah bread -  or otherwise known as "egg bread". It is light and fluffy, yet sturdy enough to handle the egg batter and a #1 choice for french toast.

You can really use any type of bread you like and different breads will change up the flava, so go ahead and be creative.

Part 2: The Batter
The batter is composed of egg and a liquid (milk, cream, water whatever). That is really all you need. But add flavour to the batter and you add a wow factor to your french toast. I am going to show you some basic ideas to get you started, and then I will set you free! Typical flavours would be cinnamon and/or vanilla.

Okay... here it is.... man oh man.

Basic French Toast

2 Pieces of bread
2 Eggs
Splash of liquid (milk, cream, water)
1 tsp of vanilla
1-2 tsp of sugar

Whisk together egg, liquid, vanilla and sugar (there you have it people! That is it! My little secret! I add sugar and vanilla to my batter! And I DON'T use cinnamon aaaallll the time! Whew.)

Heat a skillet at med-high and melt butter or use coat with cooking spray.

Dip bread in liquid. Be sure not to let it soak too long because if you are using ordinary sandwich bread (like I always do) the bread will fall apart and become soggy.

Place in hot pan and let cook for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown and flip.

Simple. As. That.

Top with your favourite toppings. I like to be inventive with french toast, so please stay tuned for some ridiculous recipes!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Green Pizza

Pizza dough truly is a blank canvas. You can put whatever you want on it, and chances are it will taste good. Now I know the traditional sauce for pizza is a tomato sauce, but I like to switch things up now and then.

Today I am using pesto. Pesto is just a sauce made from crushed herbs and garlic. The most traditional pesto is made from parsley, garlic, pine nuts and parm cheese. I have made my own pesto before, and have tried different version using different ingredients (I'll have to show you that another day =P). But sometimes I like to take the easy route and use the jarred stuff. You may be taken aback at first by the price of pesto, but trust me, once you see how far the jar will spread, you won't feel so bad.

Like I have mentioned before, I like sneaking as many veggies as I can onto pizza because no matter what you put on it...its still pizza. So today's pizza is green..obviously it must be somewhat healthy right? Right?

Green Pizza

Your Favourite Pizza Dough (plain, flavoured, pre-cooked, whatever)
3 Tbsp of Pesto
3 Cups of Spinach
Goat Cheese (or mozzarella) and as much or as little as you want
Parm Cheese (optional)
Fresh Herbs (optional)
Cornmeal (optional)
Olive Oil
Chicken (optional - I didn't use it today because I didn't have any..but it would be an awesome addition)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out your dough (if it needs to be rolled). Sprinkle some cornmeal on a baking sheet (this is optional, but it adds a nice little crunch to the crust). Spread out the pesto all over the dough. Cover with spinach.

Place in oven for approximately 15-18 minutes or until the crust just begins to show a little color. Pull it out and add the goat cheese. The reason I add the goat cheese near the end is because I personally do not like when goat cheese is completely melted. Have a different opinion? Be my guest and add it earlier. Just a matter of preference. Throw it back in the oven for another 5-8 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.

Like a crunchier crust? Leave it in longer.

Once out of the oven, sprinkle on parm cheese and fresh herbs (don't fret if you don't have any herbs, it doesn't MAKE the pizza, it just takes it up a notch). Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on top.

Eat your greens!

Cooking Tip for 1: I highly recommend just making this whole pizza for yourself. That is because I am a fan of cold pizza and I love having it for lunch (or breakfast) the next day. But of all the pizzas I have had, this is one of my favourite cold.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Trails End Farmers Market

The Trails End Farmers Market is one glorious market. Some may say that it is a "true" farmers market because the outdoor market is filled with vendors composed of local farmers and is only open Saturdays through the summer. However there are multiple flea markets and a furniture store that are open year round.

Now this place is located on the East side of London, just on the very outskirts of town, so it is quite a bit of hike to get there, but it is worth it. Let me paint you a bit of a picture ...

You pull into the giant parking lot, but wait for the hay ride trailer to cross in in front of you as it slowly coasts by carting people and their groceries back to their car. You find a parking spot and enter one of the numerous entrances with your reusable bags in hand and a grin on your face as you are about to begin an adventure.

Once inside you may be overwhelmed by what you see. People and produce EVERYWHERE! Keep your elbows in so you do knock out the people running around you. You look around and see a restaurant owner buying peppers and potatoes by the case load. Families with strollers dodging in and out of the crowd. You hear someone yell out "7 peppers for a $1 folks, $1, come and get them while they last!". The only thing you can do is take a deep breathe and dive right in and get dirty.

Now depending on what time of the summer you go, different produce is available so take a look around and see what you can find. Everything looks so incredibly fresh and delicious. The colors are extremely vibrant that the food almost looks fake. I have seen so many wonderful things there I can hardly describe. Many fruits and vegetables I have never seen or heard of before, but don't hesitate to ask, the vendors are more than happy to share their story of where their food has come from.
White and purple baby eggplant. So cute!

Here are a few items I found that I have never seen before.
Now, you may have seen these before, in fact, they may be quite common, but I am a city girl and until a little while ago, I was accustomed to whatever was shown in grocery stores. So this, was big news to me! I was soooo fascinated!
White and purple peppers? Whaa?

Grey zucchinni - although they are light green
This is the enormous eggplant I found. I tried to express how truly big it is by placing it next to an ordinary-sized eggplant. Oh.. and the massive one was only $1

Okay, so you have stuffed your bags full of fruits and veggies, and you look in your wallet, and to your amazement, you still have money left over. So go dump your bags in your car and go for a gander. Make sure you stop to buy some fresh wild flowers, or have some tasty Fry-Truck french fries. What's that you hear? Oh that, it is just the rambling of the auctioneer as they auction off live animals to local farmers. Wow, I don't think I have ever been that close to a live goat before. Pop inside to check out some hand-crafted furniture as well as meat and poultry sections.

As your little adventure comes to an end, and you head back to the car, you excited about all the wonderful things you can do with your mountains of fresh local foods. And dream about next week when you can come back and see what new produce the farmers will be offering.

But be warned, as fresh and local as these foods are, they do not last as long as grocery pre-packaged foods last. So don't get all excited and buy the entire market in one trip or you will be sorry when you are throwing out the rotten extras. Trust me, been there done that!

Now that summer has finally come to an end, I miss my weekend trips to the Trails End Market, (but secretly happy that my allergies are not going wild from the pollen and fresh cut grass everywhere). Until next summer, I bid you farewell Trails End Market!

Attention everyone! It appears I have made a mistake. When I first discussed a Hidden Gem of London, Ontario, the  Trail's End Farmer's Market, I distinctly said that the market was closed for the winter. 

Well guess what, I was WRONG!!! I was informed that the market is open all winter long! 

I just assumed that the outdoor market where all the fresh produce stood would be closed because of...well the snow. But apparently the market stands tall all year round. I am not sure if the produce moves inside, or the brave soles stand out in the cold. I have no idea, I didn't go check it out because I thought it was closed!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Warm Beet Salad

Lately I have been seeing a lot of trendy salads popping up in restaurants all over the place and sometimes at a hefty price. So when I find a salad I love, I try to replicate it at home, that way I can have much more at a lower cost.

Beets have a bad wrap for being a pain in the butt to work with. Which yes I agree, they can be. They stain your fingers, take forever to cook and you have to peel them! Bah! Well I came up with a few tricks that make the process a little easier.
1) Instead of buying a bunch of little beets, I buy 1 BIG beet
2) I wear gloves, or just plastic bags on my hands while peeling. Or just suck it up and work quickly and wash your hands directly afterwards. Lemon juice also helps getting the purple stain out of your skin
3) I slice them and grill them on the barby

Now I know that winter is on the way and this is clearly a salad I did more often in the summer, so for some people the bbq is not an option. Which is fine, you will just have to spend a little longer cooking them. But there are so many ways of cooking them, that you can choose your preference.

Warm Beet Salad

1 large beet
1-2 cups of spinach or spring mix
1/4 cup of walnuts (I like to toast them but this is optional)
Goat cheese (as much or as little as you like)

2 Tbsp of Red wine vinegar
1/2-1 tsp of Dijon Mustard
1 small shallot
2 Tbsp of Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
*Note, you do not have to use this dressing, I happen to love it ESPECIALLY with this salad, but I don't always have shallots on hand, and I really think it is the shallots that make it awesome. But whatever there are a ton dressing that work, I recommend a vinaigrette. 

Get your gloves on an peel that beet.
BBQ: Cut into big slices, drizzle with olive oil and place on grill. It will take about 5-8 minutes on either side until there are some nice grill marks on it.
OVEN: Cut up the beet into slices or chunks. Just remember the smaller the pieces, the quicker they cook. Put in oven at 450 degrees for about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the beets.
You will know they are done when the beets are tender and you can easily slide a fork/knife into it.

In the meantime, make your dressing. Chop up shallot, whisk together with dijon and red wine vinegar. While whisking slowly add in olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. (I sometimes like to add my goat cheese right into the dressing so it kind of soaks up the flavor). Set aside.

Set up your greens on the plate, and sprinkle the walnuts over it. Once the beets are done, add to salad and crumble goat cheese over top (if you didn't add it to the dressing) and drizzle dressing over entire thing. I like to do this as soon as the beets are done cooking because when the goat cheese hits the warm beets, it slowly melts and gets all yummy.

Enjoy your salad and your purple poop the next morning!

Cooking Tip for 1: Like I mentioned earlier, buy 1 large beet and it makes life easier. Also you can find jarred pickled beets. They are tasty as well and can be heated in the microwave. I would just recommend reducing the amount of vinegar in the dressing if you choose these bad boys.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Eggplant Pizza Version 1.0

Version 1.0? Yep, that means I have multiple eggplant pizza recipes. I can't seem to get enough of the whole eggplant-pizza combination. It is quite delicious and ridiculously easy. Part of the Ultimate Student Collection.

This recipe comes from my bf who grew up on it. His mother had to be creative in getting her boys to eat their veggies! Apparently they would eat anything if the word "pizza" was attached. She is also gluten-intolerant which makes eating pizza difficult. And the dough-less eggplant pizza was born.

Eggplant Pizza

1 Eggplant
1 Can of Pizza Sauce
Mozzarella Cheese
Any other pizza toppings you like

 Preheat oven to  425 degrees. Slice up an eggplant (1/4 - 1/2 inch thick) and lay them flat on a baking sheet. The reason you don't want to cut the eggplant too thick is that the skin can be kinda tough and nobody likes tough stuff.

Spread pizza sauce on each slice. Top with well, toppings. I personally think the pepperoni slices are what makes this a tasty bite. It adds texture and makes it feel a little more substantial since there are no carbs present.

Place in oven for approximately 10-12 minutes until the cheese begins to melt and turn a little golden.

Let em cool before you jump in!

Cooking Tip for 1: Eggplants come in such various sizes so just try to pick a smaller one. Or try a Japanese eggplant because they are smaller and thinner. They may offer a bit of a different flavor but worth a try. Then you can make eggplant pizza bites! Yum.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How-To Roast a Red Pepper

I am not a huge pepper fan. Actually, the only reason I eat them is because a few years ago I started forcing myself to eat them because I knew they were good for me. But then, I discovered roasted red peppers and I fell in love. Red peppers are slightly sweeter than other peppers, but when roasted, they are transformed. The flavour is sweeter, deeper and simply awesome.

Here's the kicker...ever try to buy some at the grocery store? Ouch! EXPENSIVE! Well, at the rate I consume them, yes expensive. So I decided to try to master the art of roasting them myself. When I really got hooked on them was late this summer when they were in season. At the Trails End Market in London, Ontario, I found 7 peppers for $1.00...MADNESS!!! Right now at grocery stores, peppers are like 4/$5.00 (or something like that). See the power of buying in season?

Anyways, just because peppers are no longer in season, doesn't mean you can't enjoy a really good roasted pepper now and then. Just can't eat them on everything haha.

Step 1
Let me show you the process. Its really quite simple, and once you do try it, you will never have to buy the jarred stuff again.

Step 1: Clean peppers, cut out the inside and lay them flat on a baking sheet.

Step 2

Step 2: Put your oven rack up to the very top and put the oven on broil. Put your baking sheet on the top rack so the peppers are extremely close to the flame. If you were using a BBQ in the summer you can just put it right on grill (this is my preferred method, the peppers get a smoky flava)

Step 3
Step 3: Once the skin of the peppers get blackened, take them out. I know, this seems like they are completely burnt (and maybe I left them in about 30 seconds to long in this picture) but you want to char the skin. It also makes it easier to peel off later.

Step 4
Step 4: Put the peppers in a bowl and put saran wrap on top. This will capture the steam and help the skin lift off the pepper (also making it easier to peel)

Step 5: Once the peppers have cooled down a bit and you can handle them, peel the skin right off.

And there you have it folks, a roasted red pepper.

Tip: If you want to make a ton at a time, you can put them in a jar with some olive oil. They will last in the fridge for about a week (possibly 2 weeks). Actually, they can last a whoooole lot longer if you use propper jarring techniques. But I don't have patience for that. Plus in my house, roasted red peppers wouldn't last that long enough to have to worry about it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Apple, Raisin, Toasted Walnut and Spinach Salad

Lately I have had so many apples kicking around my house and my goal is to find interesting ways to utilize them. One unique way I thought of is to use them in a salad. Apples add a sweetness and a crunch (a double whammy!) that pair nicely with the tart dressing.

Salads are a staple in most people's diet, so different variations keep things interesting. I know that when I find a combo I love, I can add way more spinach (or whatever) without realizing that I am just eating a plate of greens. Salads are also great to take for lunch, if you leave the dressing separate to minimize soggy-ness.

Salads are meant to be healthy. But it doesn't mean they have to be boring.

Apple, Raisin, Toasted Walnut and Spinach Salad

2 cups of Spinach
Handful of Walnuts
Handful of Raisins
1 Apple

1 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
1 tsp of Dijon Mustard
2 tbsp of Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

For the dressing, start by whisking all the ingredients together. Or, you can do it Michael Smith-style and put it all in a small jar and give it a shake! Set aside.

Put the walnuts in a dry pan over medium heat. Toast them until you can start to smell them (about 3 minutes) rolling them around in the pan every once in a while. Once you can start to smell them, glue yourself to that stove-top because the time from perfect toast to burnt can be about 30 seconds. When they are golden brown, remove from pan (or they will continue to toast).

Cut up your apples. I chose to do them like little matchsticks. That way they were easier to put in my mouth. But really? Who cares, just slice em 'n' dice em how you like em.

Put your salad together with ingredients. It's a salad, you can figure out how to do this step =)

Cooking for 1 Tip: There is no tip, this is perfect for one person as is!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Roasted Acorn Squash

I love the fall. I love the smell of the season, the leaves changing, the really great colors of fall fashion. But I have to say, what I love the most, is squash. It's hearty, nutritious, tasty and when in season, it is extremely cheap! Grocery stores tend to sell squash at $0.79 a pound. But guess what? I made the hike out to Trail's End Farmer's Market in London Ontario and I found squash of all kinds for 4/$5! And we are talking the big suckers too! Oh man what a deal...or shall I say.. STEAL! It really makes you think about how much grocery stores mark up their produce eh? I am a big supporter of shopping at farmer's markets, not only do we win buy getting great produce at low prices, but we are supporting local communities and farmers.

Anyways. Back to the squash. Now most of you are familiar with butternut squash. And why wouldn't you? It's awesome! But sometimes I like to switch it up a bit like with some acorn squash. The flavor is more peppery and not as rich. They are also the perfect size and make their own little serving dish! I personally love acorn squash when you are eating it plain and I leave the butternut for when I am making soups or other types of dishes.

The most simple way to make squash is to roast it, and in my opinion, the best way to eat it.

Roasted Acorn Squash

1 Acorn Squash
1 tbsp of butter (more if you like mmhmm)
Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds (like a pumpkin!). If you like, save the seeds for later and wash them. You can roast them just like pumpkin seeds.

Brush or smush the butter all over the inside of the squash and sprinkle salt and pepper over top. Place the squash in some kind of casserole dish and put in oven.

Roast for approximately 20-30 minutes (depending on how big the squash is). How to tell if it is done? Poke it with a fork! If it is tender, your ready to eat.

Smells sooooo good.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

French Onion Soup

Do you like soup? I do. I like homemade soup even better. I also love french onion soup. I like to order it while dining out. Before, the thought of making it at home was waaay to intimidating! I mean.. it seems like there are so many steps and crazy ingredients like some kind of alcohol? And what about those special dishes, you know the ones they put the soup in and melt the cheese on top of so the cheese sticks to the bowl and gets all brown and crispy and delicious. No way I can accomplish this.

Ya I was wrong. French Onion Soup ended up being pretty easy and holy COW was it cheap!!! You can feed an entire army for under $5!! But of course, I didn't let any of my friends know that. I just kept it my little secret as I impressed them with a nice big tasty bowl of fancy soup. Now.. the secret is out.

And this is the story of how I tweaked French Onion Soup so I can make it at home whenever I want.

French Onion Soup
(serves 4 bowls)

1 tbsp of butter
4-5 smallish onions
1 box of beef broth (you can use vegetable broth for a vegetarian option)
1 tsp of thyme (optional)
1-2 splashes of worcestershire sauce (optional)
French baguette ... or any kind of baguette, doesn't need to be French! Don't hate.
Dijon Mustard (possibly optional, see below)
Cheese (gruyere, provolone, or mozzarella)
Brandy or White Wine (extremely optional..I never EVER have that causally on hand)

Slice all the onions first. Not chop, but slice. Get out your biggest pot and put it on medium heat. Throw in the butter and the onions. Give them a good stir. Reduce heat to low and start caramelizing your onions. Which means, you are going to cook down the onions, really slowly, on a low heat. They will soften and darken in color, but shouldn't be fried! Oh here is a pic.

This will take about 45 mins. I know... a long time. So pop a squat and read a  book while continuing to stir so the onions don't stick to the bottom.

Ok, nice and golden brown and smelling fab. If you were going to add any alcohol, add it now and turn up the heat to cook off the actual alcohol. I never do this. Add the beef broth. If you would like, you make add some water. I personally don't think I need to buy a whole other box of broth when I could just add a cup or two of water. Add the worcestershire sauce and thyme. Don't have it? Don't use it. No biggie. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Put on a lid and bring up to medium-low heat and let simmer. In the mean time...lets head to the bread and cheese. Now I don't have any fancy french onion soup bowls. Nor do I even have any oven-safe bowls. So I improvised.

Slice the baguette into thick slices. Add cheese (if you are using mozzarella, try spreading some dijon on the bread, it makes it taste a little more fancy and makes up for the fact that you are not using fancy cheese. Which by the way I also NEVER have fancy cheese on hand because lets face it, cheese is friggan expensive). Place the bread under the broiler in the oven until the cheese melts and gets all crispy and brown.

Soup should be ready by now, so serve it up in some bowls and plop the cheesy bread on top.

I told you, impressive.

Cooking for 1 Tip: Obviously you are going to reduce the recipe by half, but the thought of standing around for 45 mins just to make myself a bowl of soup is a little.. well.. I just wouldn't do it. So, you can reduce the time dramatically if you skip the whole caramelizing of the onion step. Just cook them until they are translucent and then add the other stuff. You may not get quite the depth of flavour as the other way, but it sure is just as tasty.

Kitchen Sink Pizza

Mmmm... pizza. The ultimate student food. Its delicious, filling and incredibly cheap; in fact, the joint around the corner from my house sells large pizzas for $5.99! It is almost impossible to beat that! But all that grease and fake cheese definitely starts to take a tole on the waist line. So I decided to start making my own pizza at home and I was determined to make it just as cheap, but a lot tastier. As you will see in the future, this pizza is only the first of my crazy concoctions!

First up, the Kitchen Sink Pizza. What on earth? Well.. it is pretty much pizza, with whatever you have in the house on it - possibly including the kitchen sink, but thats optional (HA!).

So what makes a good homemade pizza? Well the dough of course. I have made my own dough from scratch, but that will be a different day and a different post. For now, let's look at where you can buy some delicious dough!
- Local bakeries sometimes have fresh dough to buy
- Farmer's market (London, Ontario at the Covent Garden market has some great pizza dough at the bakery inside)
- Metro - not as fresh, but certainly delicious because they usually have different flavors such as Garlic and Rosemary (which I used today).

Best part about all this? I think the most I ever paid for this dough was $2.50 and I can usually get 2 pizzas out of the dough (well depending on how thick or thin you like your crust).

Another great thing is about this pizza, you can literally use whatever you have on hand. Anyone can make one really. The reason I post this recipe is to show you how you can actually use anything and chances are it will taste way better than anything out of a box. Plus you can load on the veggies and without even realizing it, you made yourself something healthy.

So let's take a gander...

Kitchen Sink Pizza

1 bag of pizza dough (well possibly half a bag)
1/4 cup of flour (just so the dough doesn't stick to the counter)
1/4 cup of cornmeal (OPTIONAL!)
1 small jar of pizza sauce (OR Ragu! Haha.. I had no pizza sauce so I used Ragu. Told ya.. whatever you have!)
2-3 cups of sliced mushrooms
1-2 peppers (I happened to have roasted red peppers - check that recipe out another day)
3 cups of spinach
2 tbsp of oregano
Cheese.. any kind. I had goat cheese and parm - but that wasn't going to stop me from making some good stuff!

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
Roll out the pizza dough on a floured surface until you receive the thickness (or thinness) you desire. Sprinkle some cornmeal on a baking sheet. You really don't have to do this, but I happened to have some and it adds a nice crunch to the dough. Place the dough on the baking sheet and spread out with your hands until it meets the corners. Well... try your best, dough is stubborn.

Spread the pizza sauce (or whatever sauce) over the dough and sprinkle oregano over the sauce. If you are using Ragu or some pasta sauce, adding oregano kicks it up a notch. Place all vegetable toppings on top. If you are using spinach, put it underneath the other vegetables because it tends to burn. Sprinkle cheese on top.

Put in oven on middle rack for approximately 15-20 mins. Depending on how you like your crust. I like mine on the crunchier side so I will leave it in a little longer. Once the crust is a golden brown and hard to the touch, the pizza is done!

Let cool for a bit before cutting. Trust me on that one.

No more pizza boxes yay!

Cooking for 1 Tip: Pizza dough freezes nicely. Can you believe it? Wrap it really good in saran wrap and put it in a freezer bag. When you go to thaw it out and use it again, you may need to add a little more flour because it may be a bit wet. Also, knead it before you roll it out.
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