Tuesday, August 14, 2012

cakey bacon

First, watch this video. Trust me. Just do it. It'll be one of the best things you've ever done.

Amazing right?! Big thanks to Coastal at Night (Graeme I'm assuming?) for finding this sucker and sharing via the twitter. And what could I do in turn but share with the rest of my bacon loving com padres. One such friend, a chef at work, was thrilled. And, since he was about to embark on some travelling in Europe, what a better way to send him off than Cakey Bacon. Yeah, that's right. It happened.

Inspired by this hilarious video, I got out Big Red and devised a cake of bacon awesomeness. First, I made some candied bacon by tossing bacon with brown sugar and pepper and baking til crispy. This bacon, however, turned out on the chewy side so candied bacon, we shall meet again.

Next up, the cake. To compliment the bacon, I decided on a Brown Butter Cake. I knew its nutty buttery flavor would be perfect. If you have yet to experience the magic that is brown butter, I suggest you get on it. It's like butter's delicious cousin. I know right? As if butter could get any better! You can find the recipe here thanks to Food & Wine.

Once the cake was cool, I whipped up some Maple Bacon Frosting using butter, bacon fat, maple syrup, vanilla, and icing sugar. Best.Frosting.Evah. Hold on to that bacon grease people. Stuff is pure gold. So it is with great pleasure that I introduce to you:

Cakey Bacon!

No cakey bacon would be complete without bacon roses.
No surprise, this cake was incredible. Salty and sweet and buttery and so very bacony. While this cake is not something you could indulge in often, it was worth every single bite and most certainly something everyone should experience at least once. You may even see it make a special guest appearance at The Record Shop.

So listen to the Meat Wizard. Embrace the salty lil' pig strip. It's filthy tasty!

Monday, August 6, 2012

feelin' like family at TIBS

We finally did it. We made it to a Two If By Sea Family Dinner. And not just any dinner either. Their annual pig roast. When pig was mentioned, I knew I had to switch my shift or I would forever be regretting it. Pig is easily one of my favorite foods. I mean c'mon. Bacon, panchetta, prosciutto, pulled pork, roast pork, ribs....what's not to love!

And to add to my excitement, I was finally going to meet Rene Lavelle, The Feisty Chef. I have followed her blog and tweets for awhile now and have mad respect for her culinary skills and approach to food. And let me tell you, she's even cooler in person. OK she may get brownie points for being a shortie like I but it was awesome to see her with her hands all up in that pig, pulling away for our eating pleasure.

The amuse bouche to start was an ol' fashioned deviled egg with smoked paprika and Tabasco atop salsa verde which I could have licked off the plate. So minty and fresh. There was also watermelon and, although it sounds crazy, pickled watermelon rind. Sweet and tart and a wonderful way to use something we all normally throw out.

And way to go TIBS, filling us up on cheesy croissant sticks before the meal. Like we could resist.

The appetizer course was a cold cucumber soup with avocado, like huge awesome chunks of avocado.  It was smooth and tangy and refreshing. Exactly what us sweaty diners needed. It was literally over 30 outside and with the sun shining in, I bet even hotter inside. I didn't grab a pic, but big ups to Zane for making some killer BBQ lemonade to cool us off. And lemonade with coffee in it? Awesome.

Now the moment we'd all been waiting for..drumroll please...the main course. Served up buffet style, apparently unlike other TIBS dinners, the main consisted of cheesy corn casserole, iceberg wedge salad with blue cheese dressing, potato salad with roasted peppers and capers, baked beans, four sauces to choose from, tamarind, salsa verde, habanero, and Carolina gold, and, of course, the guest of honor, Terrance the pig from Getaway Farm.

If the pic is any indication, this dinner was incredible. The stuff dreams are made of. And, be still my beating heart (ha!), there was pork in almost everything! Pork belly in the beans and bacon in the corn casserole. That Renee knows how to bring it. The baked beans, pork, crackling (crispy fatty pork skin oh my!), and the tamarind sauce were among my favs but, honestly, everything was absolutely delicious.

We were well on our way to a food baby at this point and there was still a course to go. But how can you say no to Zane's cappuccino and anything Tara bakes up? You can't so you might as well just loosen that belt.

As you can see, another perfect cappuccino and one awesome traditional strawberry shortcake a la TIBS. Please forgive me stomach but it had to be done. We were so very full, we even walked home to Halifax. In fact, I could do nothing but lay on the couch for the rest of the night rubbing my food baby. So, was it worth it? Hells yes. And I'd do it again in a second.

Mad props to the whole team at TIBS, Zane, Tara, Alexis, Adam, Renee, and Doug. They really do a fab job at these dinners and you'd be crazy not to get in on at least one. And no matter who you go with, it really does feel like a big ol' family dinner. I even met two bloggers I follow. How bout that.

And, last but certainly not least, a big thank you to Terrance for being so freaking delicious. Oink.

Friday, August 3, 2012

celebrate local

It's a no brainer that Nova Scotia has abundant produce, especially at this time of year. Markets are alive with greens and tomatoes and berries and so much more. So what a better way to celebrate than Farmers Market Week! Starting tomorrow, Farmers Markets of NS begins a week long celebration in honor of our 40 or so markets around the province.  "Experience fresh, Celebrate local, Taste summer in NS". I guess you know what you're doing tomorrow.

Visiting the Halifax Seaport Market each Saturday has become one of our favorite weekly rituals. We not only stock up on local produce, meat, and eggs, but also visit with friends, some even vendors like the Made With Local ladies and the amazing artists Shelagh Duffet and Daina Scarola.Sometimes we'll even find our friends playing some good ol' country tunes. Of course, there's also the great coffee and all the amazing food.

So to get you excited about your local market, here's a wee recipe inspired by some market finds.

Basil, Sun dried tomato, Kale, and Smoked Chicken Pasta

But why don't we first explore our ingredients and meet our farmers.

First in the spotlight, local, organic basil. I wish I knew the name of the farm but I don't believe it's posted. It's a stall of bright green containers with gorgeous organic produce tended by a lovely women and her tiny baby. The bags of basil weren't perfect so were ideal for pesto.Well, it wasn't really a pesto, more a puree of basil, olive oil, garlic, and a touch of asiago. Pesto is something you can play with. Jam some basil in the food pro, add some garlic, salt and pepper, a hard cheese like asiago or parm, toasted pinenuts or other nuts if you got 'em, and puree away. Once you get the hang of it, you'll figure out the proportions that work for your tastes. And don't stop at traditional pesto. Go crazy and try using arugula, spinach, dill or sun dried tomatoes. The possibilities-and uses-are endless. If she has these bags of basil again this week, you bet I'll be grabbing another.

Next up, the chicken. I have had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with Jason Pelley of Fiddle Hop Farms. This guy is something else. I mean just take a look at his TED talk. Nuff said, right?! Well, he is also in the process of forming Pelley Foods, locally sourcing anything and everything local restos may need. I luckily enough got in on some local, free range chickens and no surprise we decided to smoke one. In the homemade smoker of course. (They"ll be a post on that sometime soon!) So delicious and more than enough for another meal. And what a better use of leftover chicken than pasta. In a time where we are well aware of the ethical and health implications of eating factory farmed meat, I'm all for free range. It's how our grandparents ate; it's how we were meant to eat. So big thank you for Jason for keeping me in the loop and we are so very excited to work with him as we source for The Record Shop.

Finally, kale. I see a lot of twitter chat about folks not knowing what to do with kale. At first bite, it's bitterness can easily put you off of kale for good but saute that til tender in some olive and a good helping of garlic and you'll be a lifer. Better yet, cut it into pieces, rub it with some oil and s&p, and bake til crispy. If there's one thing that'll turn you on to kale for good, it's kale chips. This beautiful kale was purchased from Elmridge Farm, a mainstay at the Halifax Seaport Market. Elmridge is always one of our Saturday morning stops and we regularly buy carrots, kale, onions, potatoes, beets, and loads more seasonal goodies. Located in Centreville in the gorgeous and fertile Annapolis Valley, Elmridge is a small family owned farm, and exactly what this celebration is all about.

Now for the recipe. Once again, this was something I whipped up last night without ever measuring a thing so bare with me. But if there's one thing I've learned in all my years of cooking, it's that recipes are mere guidelines. It's all about your own taste. So go ahead and change it. Spice it. Add different herbs. But most importantly, have fun. You are your own celebrity chef!

basil pesto (see notes above)
pasta, we use brown rice pasta
1 T. olive oil
1 lg shallot, diced
2 lg handfuls sun dried tomatoes, sliced
2-3 stalks kale, sliced, with the hard stem removed
2 cloves garlic
smoked chicken (as much as you want!)
asiago cheese, grated
Liquid Gold Milanese Gremolata olive oil
balsamic reduction

First, get that pasta cooking (in salted water of course). Saute the shallots til tender. Add garlic and kale. I like a lil crunch to my kale so I don't blanch it first like you'll see in other recipes. I'd say give it about 3-5 min. Add sun dried tomatoes and chicken and cook til heated through. Add pasta and pesto and toss til it's all coated in basily goodness. Season with salt and pepper. I added a little splash of Liquid Gold Milanese Gremolata olive oil because, frankly, the stuff is awesome. To finish, sprinkle with asiago or parm and some balsamic reduction. Et viola, dinner. Now doesn't the market taste great?

I also failed to mention that tomorrow is Food Day Canada. According to their website, "Food Day Canada, Saturday August 4th, is a chance for all Canadians to join hands in one massive celebration in praise of our farmers and fishers; our chefs and researchers…and, above all, our home cooks."  And what a more perfect way to honor the day than heading to your local farmer's market and preparing your own locally sourced meal. Hell, why not snap a pic or write a post or share a recipe and we'll put together one big Food Day Canada/Farmer's Market Week post. You in?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

the gentle island

PEI The Gentle Island - photo courtesy of PEI Tourism
Somehow lately I have mad luck. I've been winning everything from film fest tickets to air miles. Yes, I know. It's time to buy some lotto tickets. More recently, by simply answering four questions about PEI on the local travel writer Cailin O'Neil's blog, I was invited to a PEI Tourism media event here in Hali with celebrity chef Corbin Tomaszeski. Media you say? While I tried my damnest to invite my food blogging pals, none were available. Luckily, two food lovin' girlfriends, one appropriately from PEI, were free so we headed down to the Lower Deck to check it out.

What we didn't realize is that we'd be cooking along side Chef Corbin in an intimate event with perhaps 30-40 others. How cool is that? And, in case you don't know who Chef Corbin is, you can spot him on such TV shows as Dinner Party Wars (which every time we watch, Brent and I think we'd totally school everyone!), Restaurant Makeover, and Crash My Kitchen. He is as cool and chill and funny in person as he appears on TV. Really. While he doesn't hail from PEI but rather farm country in Alberta, he has mad love for the island and its cuisine. Like NS, PEI has loads of local food to be proud of. And I'm not just talkin' potatoes! In PEI, they're all about the seafood. So how appropriate that all the dishes we were about to prepare featured PEI lobster.

Chef Corbin. Those two gorgeous ladies on the left? They're with me.
To start, Chef Corbin whipped up a fresh yellow tomato gazpacho with peppers, onions, cucumber, jalapeno, and cilantro. Top that off with some fresh lobster and that's one refreshingly awesome summer soup. What was even more refreshing, however, was Chef Corbin's passion for food. For him, it's all about the connections we make. Food should bring us together. It should build memories. It's smell and taste should remind us of times spent with family and friends. I couldn't agree more.

gazpacho shots with PEI lobster
And the best part, here's the recipe!

Chef Corbin's Yellow Tomato and Lobster Gazpacho

1/2 lb fresh lobster, cooked, chopped
1 lb yellow tomatoes
1 cucumber, peeled
2 yellow peppers
1/2 jalapeno
1 white onion
1/4 c. cilantro
juice of 2 limes
1 1/2 c. veg stock
Tabasco sauce
cherry tomatoes to garnish

Coarsely shop all vegetables. Puree tomatoes, peppers, onions, cucumber and jalapeno in a blender with lime juice and stock until smooth. Season with salt, pepper, Tabasco, and cilantro. Add fresh lobster. Serve in clear shot glasses garnished with red and yellow cherry tomatoes. Apparently, gin loves lobster so feel free to add a splash!

But on to the part where we got to play! Teamed up with strangers, we went to work, first, creating an appetizer consisting of fresh lobster, crostini, a charred corn and zucchini relish, and a wonderfully smooth Bernaise made by one of the participants. I believe it was her first time so Bravo! I think it's pretty evident by the photo, these were not only incredible but gorgeous (our mad plating skills at work).

charred corn relish in the making
lobster and Bearnaise toast with charred corn relish
To finish up, we threw together a lobster salad with avocado and bacon. Three of my fav foods together at last. Nuff said. (If you want recipes for either the salad or appetizer, get at me!)

lobster BLT salads
After snacking on our creations-and perhaps a little extra lobster-we headed out to the courtyard for some complimentary snacks and drinks. PEI how I love you already! Not only were we treated to an open bar and wonderful food from the folks at the Lower Deck, but also tunes from PEI natives Meaghan Blanchard and the Paper Lions. And it doesn't stop there. We also met loads of great folks, media and bloggers alike, and each walked away with huge gift baskets of PEI goodies. Oh, did I forget to mention, my girlfriend won the grand prize of a 5 day trip to PEI!? Yes, lucky indeed.

Gift baskets - photo courtesy of PEI Tourism

Meaghan Blanchard - photo courtesy of PEI Tourism
The Paper Lions - photo courtesy of PEI Tourism
We are so very lucky in the Maritimes to have such amazing scenery and food and culture. Being from Pictou, I have always felt a little connected to PEI. Until the Confederation bridge was built, the ferry out of Pictou was the only way to get to the island by car. While I haven't been in years, I have fond memories of visiting as a child and always mean to revisit. With the upcoming PEI Fall Flavors event in September, it's high time I grab the ferry and explore my neighbor. Not only will Chef Corbin be there with his refreshing sense of humor, but also a whole slew of celebrity chefs like PEI's own Chef Michael Smith, Chef Anna Olsen, Chef Mark McEwan, the recently named Top Chef Canada Chef Carl Heindrich, even Chef Suser Lee. If the lobster's not enough to get you there, I'm pretty sure that is!

For information on traveling to the gentle island, including vacation packages, visit PEI Tourism.or give them the ol' twitter follow @gentleisland. Psst, it's a perfect weekend getaway for us city folk.

Chef Corbin and the PEI team - photo courtesy of PEI Tourism
Big thank you to Cailin O'Neil, the Lower Deck, Chef Corbin, PEI Tourism, and Samantha Farnum of the Mosaic Team.