The Macaron Day Toronto Adventures! A Journey Through Rahier, La Bamboche, Yorkville Espresso Bar & More!

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Happy Easter, everyone!  Ah, the celebration of all things pastel, and the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of spring.  Even if you don’t celebrate Easter religiously, I hope everyone was able to enjoy the long weekend with some yummy eats and adorable Easter themed things like chocolate, marshmallow, bunny, or Easter egg desserts!  Or in my case, Easter themed macarons.  OH. MY.GOD.  Macarons decorated like baby chicks and Easter eggs with lemon and custard filling!  Check out Ate by Ate’s Facebook page and you’ll know exactly what I mean.  They’re one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen (and so yummy), courtesy of Daniel et Daniel in Cabbagetown just for Easter.  And speaking of macarons, I FINALLY  get to share more from my day of adventure on Macaron Day.  I know I’m really late but I figure since we’re still waiting on baited breath to find out how much we raised for Red Door Family Shelter, my Macaron Day escapades are still very much relevant.

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March 2oth was truly one of the funnest days ever.  I feel so incredibly lucky and grateful to have been a part of this day and event – to buy macarons till they were coming out of my ears, to meet shop owners, to take photos, and to know that I was contributing to a really great cause.  My boss was very gracious in allowing me to take Macaron Day TO off as a personal day and I sure as hell made it count.  This day has meant more to me than I ever thought it would.  When Bonnie recruited me as a Macaron Day Ambassador back in February, I knew it was going to be a fun and exciting experience, but I never thought it would be this much fun.  Myself and the other girls were able to get involved in ways we never would have had we not been Ambassadors and it was crazy just how much we were plugging it on our blogs, on Twitter, and on our Macaron Day Facebook page (yup, that was me laying the smackdown on the Macaron Day TO Facebook page on a lot of those posts with Bonnie and Sonya while Mardi, Amy, Vickie, Vicky, and Sandi plugged away on Twitter!)

It felt so good being that focused and the adrenaline just kicked in – editing photos, finding content, seeking out updates and posting on the Facebook page 7 times a day.  And on that Wednesday, my heart felt so free hopping around town visiting patisseries, getting on and off the subway left, right, and centre, collecting macarons and tucking them away in my Hello Kitty tin lunchbox (yes, that’s right, I carried a number of macarons in a Hello Kitty tin lunchbox – they needed protection from getting squished and crushed!), and eating them ALL DAY LONG!

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I made 5 stops this year; 1 more than 2012!  I started out east and went straight down Yonge Street, hitting up a bunch of  spots I didn’t hit last year.  It was my first time going to Patisserie La Cigogne and Rahier Patisserie, both on Bayview Ave. just south of Eglinton.  Patisserie La Cigogne took my breath away with their gorgeous display case of colourful macarons, petit gateaux, pastries, and baked goods.  It was cold out that day but the beautiful sunshine that streamed in through the front windows just made everything that much brighter and happier.  I picked my free one, Caramel (I got to choose whichever flavour I wanted from their entire display case!) and then I bought a set of 6 in a nice box.

A bunch of photos later, I walked several shops down to Rahier where I had one of the nicest conversations with the cafe owner, Anita, and picked up my free one (a delicious, fruit concoction of raspberry with lychee, rose, and cream!) and another half a dozen.  Interestingly enough, Rahier is one of the few patisseries in the city that charge their macarons by weight.  There’s no $1.50, $2, or $2.50 type of pricing.  Anita explained to me that because everything was made my hand, it was fairer to price them by weight than to price them each.  And they turned out to be incredibly reasonable in price!  Half a dozen only came up to around $9 (because I’m basing this from memory only, I’d say $8-$10) and there were so many beautiful colours and flavours to choose from including lime, green tea, strawberries and cream, and my personal favourite, CINNAMON HONEY!!

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I then jetted to La Bamboche on Manor where I gave Michel (organizer of Macaron Day TO and owner of La Bamboche) a big hug and saw chef Stephen on my way out.  I’ll be doing a separate post just on my macarons from La Bamboche after this one so sit tight!  I hit up Yorkville Espresso Bar afterward (not before taking a macaron break inside the underground PATH of Hudson’s Bay Centre though), nabbed their adorable espresso macaron and took some photos of chef YJ preparing macaron batter in the Yorkville Kitchen Studio!

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And then finally, I ended my macaron collecting at Petit Thuet at Yonge and King where I was flabbergasted by their gorgeous, rainbow display of macarons that spanned over half the cafe!  Now, I know Petit Thuet went about Macaron Day a little differently this year.  Instead of offering a free macaron to every person who made the request, a single macaron was $2 which went straight to donation, or 5 for the price of $4, meaning that the 5th was free.  And 20% of all purchases (not just macarons, but all) made at Petit Thuet would be donated to Red Door Family Shelter.

I know some people took issue with this arrangement (a free macaron is a free macaron and they should have honoured this) while others couldn’t care less about it – the event is to benefit Red Door Family Shelter, period, and people shouldn’t be petty about the arrangement for the sake of a free macaron.  I have my own opinions about this which I actually don’t wish to divulge here, but I felt like mentioning it because it wouldn’t be fair to pretend like it didn’t exist or to gloss over it.  I picked up some fantastic ones during this last collection though, my favourite being the Blueberry Cheesecake!

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*****

Stay tuned for my photos and post on La Bamboche a la Macaron Day!  And of course, the final numbers on how much we raised for Red Door Shelter this year – I can’t wait to find out!  We should be getting results some time in April so let’s hope we exceeded last year’s total of $6500 and met our goal of $8000!

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Macaron Day TO’s Sophomore Year, 2013! The Remarkable Macaron Journey, Part I

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A mesmerizing rainbow display and array of macarons at Petit Thuet!

Today, Macaron Day TO 2013, was  one of the funnest, happiest days.  EVER.  And I am still reeling from it and soaking it all in.  I’m madly trying to edit my photos as quickly as I can so while I’m doing that, here’s a photo sneak peek of my day today – some of the delicious macarons I got the privilege of tasting for the first time, photos from patisseries I paid my first visit to, and the love, support, and passion that has surrounded this event from day one.

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Love all the Macaron Day signage! This one was outside Patisserie La Cigogne on Bayview Ave!

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It’s like a macaron bank! Macarons and stickers at Yorkville Espresso Bar.

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Say hello to Hazelnut Praline from La Bamboche.

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Eating my weight in macarons!

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There’s no better way to welcome the first day of spring – pastels and springtime macarons!

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Keep up with all the Macaron Day TO festivities and chatter!  “Like” and follow us on the Macaron Day TO Facebook page, follow us on Twitter @MacaronTO (hastag #macarondayTO), and visit the official website for a list of all the participating patisseries, bakeries and cafes that took part in this year’s event (it’s a fantastic bucket list for those of you who want to try out new spots!), your Macaron Day ambassadors (like me!), and more!

Potato Pancakes & Sweet Apples – Weekend Brunch at ViVetha Bistro in Yonge Lawrence Village!

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Happy St. Patty’s Day, everyone!  Okay, so today’s weekend brunch post isn’t an Irish one but it does involve potatoes so that’s something!  I’ve missed blogging about weekend brunch so much.  Aside from cupcakes and sushi, it’s my favourite  thing to write about on Ate by Ate and it’s the one series on the blog I’m most passionate to see grow.  I started a fun “Get Cracking – Egg Breakfasts!” photo gallery on Ate by Ate’s Facebook page that I can’t wait to add more to (can you tell I love eggs in all its forms?!) and I’m so happy that I’ve been able to rack up over 20 posts on weekend brunch meals in the city thus far!  And that’s not even counting the non-weekend breakfast posts I’ve done.

I’m especially excited about this particular post though because I’ve been trying to integrate more pancake related material into the series and this totally fits the bill in a non-traditional way – we’re talking pancakes potato-style!

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My family and I love potato pancakes.  I’m obsessed with crispy potato rosti with sour cream, my brother and I love wafer thin, crispy hash browns, my brother has had the potato pancakes from Futures Bakery, and one of my all-time, favourite home-cooked dishes made by my mom is her potato patties with green onions and diced barbecued pork.  She mashes freshly boiled potatoes, mixes the green onions and pork in, shapes them into cute little patties, and throws them into the skillet to get them gorgeously golden brown.  It is such a treat and it’s been a favourite of mine since I was little.  She doesn’t make them often just because they’re a little more time-consuming and labour intensive, but when she does, everyone in the house is over the moon!  One of these days I’ll give it a go and we’ll see if they measure up!

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This post features a potato pancake weekend brunch meal from uptown bistro, ViVetha Bistro in the Yonge & Lawrence neighbourhood!    This spot is AMAZING!  I cannot wait to come back for another round.  Their food is delicious, their menu is varied and big, and their space is sweet, sunny, and cozy.  And how did I discover such a fabulous spot?  By walking around.  Again.  I make my best food discoveries just strolling around on a relaxing day of exploration.  I was in the Yonge & Lawrence neighbourhood months ago and while I was walking, I see their menu taped to the inside of their front window and knew off the bat I had to come back for some delicious eats.

ViVetha weekend brunch menu offers a little bit of everything – plenty of different egg breakfasts (lots of omelettes and eggs benedict), pancakes and French toast, and salads, sandwiches, and pasta.  Yes, pasta!  It wasn’t until I started going to Italian and European-style brunch spots that I became used to seeing pasta on the brunch menu.  You’re talking to a girl who grew up eating congee for breakfast when she was a tiny tot, then Fruit Loops cereal, and eggs and ham as a kid and then dim sum woven in every so often.  I was always used to having noodles for breakfast as well, but pasta is a little different.  It’s like how I had my spinach pappardelle bolognese pasta dish at Terroni Centrale last November .  It was the first time I ordered pasta for brunch and I have to say, I LOVED it.  You think you’re not hungry enough to eat it but trust me, you are.

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Anyway, prices are incredibly average and reasonable.  I’m accustomed to seeing weekend brunch prices hovering around the $11-$15 range but at ViVetha, you can easily order a meal for under $10.  Many meals come in at $8 or $9 with some of the more entree type plates (like pasta and such) averaging $11-$14.

They also offer weekly brunch specials that are separate from their permanent menu.  I love that!  It keeps things exciting, new and fresh that way, especially if you’re a regular.  I had the hardest time choosing between my meal and one of the weekly specials (an eggs benny with beef tenderloin tips, smoked salmon and bocconcini – OH MY GOD).  But I went for my potato pancake meal because I really wanted to have something pancake-related, plus there was PLENTY to make my mouth water in this dish!

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ViVetha actually has two potato pancake menu options, one that is served with bacon and sausage, and the other that’s served with smoked salmon and eggs.  You can probably guess which one I chose.  That’s right, the one with my beloved smoked salmon and eggs!  My potato pancake platter ($11) was comprised of two big potato pancakes (shredded potatoes and green onions fried golden brown), slices of smoked salmon, 2 eggs any style (I had mine fluffy scrambled!) and a generous helping of sweet sauteed apples, sour cream and capers, and some fruit on the side.  EVERYTHING I LOVE!  Potatoes, sour cream, apples I could eat (recall my raw apple allergy!), smoked salmon, eggs, and some nice salty capers.

I was so happy.

The meal really plays on eastern European flavours (apples/applesauce with potato patties!) and the whole dish was just really balanced as there were equal portions of everything.  There were lots of different textures and flavours going on that complemented each other: the crispiness of the potato pancakes which was crucial to preventing the meal from being too “soft”, the sweetness of the apples that cut through the saltiness of the capers and smoked salmon, and the sour cream which gave a nice punch of cool tanginess and creaminess to the whole dish.  Truly though, the apples make this dish.  Anybody can say that they had potatoes with their breakfast (hash browns, home fries, whatever), but not many can say that their potato brunch came with a sweet order of apples!

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ViVetha is truly a gem in the neighbourhood and in the city in general.  I have French toast, pancakes, pasta,  and more eggs benny calling my time for future visits!

*****

ViVetha (or ViPei as it is also known as) serves 4 locations in the city.  This particular location is located in uptown Toronto at 3334 Yonge Street, right by the corner of St. Germain Ave., in the Yonge & Lawrence neighbourhood on the west side of Yonge Street.  Even though it’s somewhat in between York Mills and Lawrence, trust me when I say that it is much easier and faster to get here from Lawrence!

Yellow Cream Filling, Flowers & Bunnies – Springtime Oreos & the Oreo Anniversary Series, One Year Later!

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I have to say, I have impeccable timing.  Almost a year to the day of Oreo’s 100th Anniversary (March 6, 2012), I stumble on their gorgeous, bright, happy and cheerful, brand spankin’ new springtime Oreos!  Yes, springtime Oreos!  Adorned with butterflies, flowers, bumblebees, smiling suns, and frogs and lily pads on the cookies on the outside and special yellow cream filling on the inside.  Yellow, one of my favourite colours.  Yellow, the sunny colour that makes me happy.  And now the colour of a special edition Oreo filling.  Sigh.  This makes me happy.

I don’t know if these special seasonal, springtime treats are released every year or not but they’re certainly brand new and shiny to me and I LOVE THEM.  Even though I know there are folks who moan and groan about special edition items and dislike the concept of releasing things that aren’t permanent or readily available (trust me, I’ve grumbled over my fair share of special edition items that were out of my reach in my time), stuff like this is just pure fun and happiness.

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And where did I find this bundle of yummy sunshine?  At Uncle John’s Candy Shack on Mount Pleasant Road, one of my favourite candy shops and speciality stories in the city!  It’s been a very long time since I last posted photos from the shop (almost two years!) and I really missed just popping into the store every once in awhile to see what new goodies were ripe for the picking.  I missed scoping out the flavoured Kit-Kats and M&Ms and ogling the collectible tins so I finally told myself to stop beating around the bush and just GO.  So I did, 2 weekends ago.  And I was rewarded.  With Oreos!  And you know, St. Patrick’s Day themed candies and merchandise, cute-as-a-button Easter sweets, and pastels.  Lots and lots of pastels!

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To be clear though, these Oreos are for novelty.  They don’t taste any different from regular Oreos; they’re just etched with cute designs and filled with a sunny yellow cream filling (can you imagine if the filling tasted like banana or lemon?!  Hmmm, something to chew on…).  I don’t care though.  I love the way regular Oreos taste and these are such a treat to me because I always feel like we get the short end of the stick north of the border.  I was crestfallen when I couldn’t find the special Christmas Oreos with the red cream filling and Santa etched on the cookies; they were so cute.  So this is kind of like an Oreo redemption.  I’d say there are about 36 cookies in the package (I haven’t taken the whole cookie tray out to count) and they’re $4.99 a pop.  Oreo lovers unite!

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*****

Uncle John’s Candy Shack is located at 635 Mount Pleasant Rd. in between Eglinton and Davisville Ave.

The Keys to My Heart: Salmon Sashimi Salad Rolls, Spicy Tuna Salad Rolls & Scallop Nuggets at Sushi Garden!

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A realization just dawned on me: I’ve eaten sushi 3 times this week.  THREE TIMES!  Once for lunch and twice for dinner.  I haven’t done that in ages.  Eating sushi 3 times within a week that is.  And funny enough I didn’t even plan on having sushi this week – it just happened.  My mum bought some giant sumomaki rolls with crispy tempura, shrimp, lettuce, avocado and red fish roe for dinner on Tuesday, then I spontaneously decided to have some for dinner when I was out on Friday because the salmon lovers sushi box was beckoning me, and then yesterday my best friend and I ditched our soup-and-sandwich lunch plans in favour of bento boxes and yummy rolls with spicy mayo sauce.

It’s been a wonderfully delicious sushi week.

I haven’t posted about my sushi noshing adventures in what feels like forever but trust me when I say that I sushi and I are as tight as ever.  I’ve started an “I Love Sushi” photo gallery on Ate by Ate’s Facebook page, I have some new posts in the works with brand spankin’ new photos, and today, Ate by Ate is back to its sushi-loving ways with a post about one of my all-time FAVOURITE sushi menu items in the city – salmon sashimi salad rolls from Sushi Garden at Yonge & Wellesley!

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You know something’s captured your heart when you feel compelled to order it every single time you make a return visit to a place.  This is a HUGE deal for me because everyone knows how anal I am about trying something new and not ordering “repeats” if I can help it; after all, if I always ordered the same thing, how on earth would I ever have new content to post about and photograph?  Even if I do order something I’ve eaten before, I always feel like I should order a little something extra on the side, just to make the visit worthwhile in the context of the blog.

Yes, I’m anal and nuts.  But I know y’all love me anyway despite my quirks!

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The salmon sashimi salad rolls from Sushi Garden at Yonge & Wellesley get to me every single time though.  I love them THAT much and they are THAT amazing and yummy.  And they’re pretty darn exclusive!  They’re only available at 2 out of the 3 Sushi Garden locations in the city (the Yonge & Wellesley location and the one by Yonge & St. Clair, not at the Yonge & Eglinton one) and I have yet to see the same thing at any other sushi place.  And if you can believe it, the very first time I had this was back in 2009.  Yes, nearly 4 years ago!  I just never posted about them because I didn’t have a good photo of them.  That and there was another time where I didn’t get a photo of them, period.  I know, foreshame.  Good things come with time though so they’re here now ready to make a big sushi splash!

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These salad rolls, or salmon sashimi with vegetables as they’re referred to in the menu (4 for $6.99, 6 for $8.99) are comprised of thick, delicious, velvety soft slices of salmon sashimi wrapped around julienned cucumber, fish roe, and giant chunks of creamy avocado.  I could eat these endlessly, they are SO good!  They’re super thick and they truly don’t skimp on the salmon sashimi.  I love them not only because they’re delicious but also because they’re a nice change from the maki rolls with rice.  They have such a fresh, bright taste to them and they’re a little less heavy in comparison to other menu items (like rice and noodles and such), so they’re a great dish to pair with an appetizer or another set of rolls.  Because truthfully, salmon, tuna, and butter fish are my favourites so if there’s any menu item that will give me a generous helping of either of those 3 (or all 3), I’m all over it like peanut butter on jelly.  It’s the reason why I love sushi pizzas so much!

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During this particular visit to Sushi Garden, I paired my salmon sashimi salad rolls with spicy tuna salad rolls (4 for $5.99) and shared the scallop nuggets appetizer with spicy sauce with my sweetheart.  The spicy tuna salad rolls are rice and nori rolls filled with tuna, avocado, and spicy mayo but the difference is, all the rolls are wrapped with another layer of thinly sliced cucumber, making these rolls another great fresh and bright tasting alternative.

And the scallop nuggets!  If you love seafood, and especially scallops, you will LOVE this appetizer!  The scallop nuggets (5 for $3.99) are breaded and crispy on the outside and meaty and juicy on the inside.  They’re like scallop coins or medallions sitting daintily on a bed of lettuce with a generous portion of spicy mayo sauce.  And I do mean SPICY!  I find that many the spicy mayo at different sushi places have varying degrees of heat but let me tell you, this one is HOT!  It’s delicious but boy does this sauce ever clear up your sinuses and make your eyes water!  It is definitely not for the faint of heart but perfect for those who love heat.

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Even though I had this meal in the dead of winter, the colours and flavours scream spring and freshness so let’s hope our spring season starts sooner rather than later!  I’m working on some new sushi things for the spring and summer so enjoy this sushi comeback and indulge your cravings by checking out the gallery on Ate by Ate’s Facebook page!

*****

Sushi Garden serves 3 locations in Toronto:

  1. 1560 Yonge Street, at the corner of Yonge & Heath Street (in Delisle Court), closest major intersection being Yonge & St. Clair.
  2. 30 Eglinton Ave. West between Yonge Street and Duplex Ave.
  3. 3 Wellesley Street West. at the corner of Yonge & Wellesley

Supergrains by Chrissy Freer – Recipe for Warm Farro, Pancetta & Parsley Salad

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Recipe for Warm Farro, Pancetta & Parsley Salad from Supergrains by Chrissy Freer

Preparation: 15 Minutes |  Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Serves 4

*Farro can be purchased as either whole-grain or cracked.  The most readily available is cracked farro and it cooks in about half the time whole-grain requires.  If using whole-grain farro, soak in cold water for several hours before cooking, then simmer in boiling water for up to 1 hour, until al dente.

Ingredients

  • 1-1/4 cups cracked farro
  • 5 oz. (140 g) pancetta, rind removed, cut into lardons (*Deb’s Note: I cubed my pancetta instead of cutting into strips)
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped (*Deb’s Note: I didn’t have any shallots so I just used half an onion)
  • 2 celery ribs, trimmed and cut into 1/4 x 2 inch batons (*Deb’s Note: I didn’t feel like cutting them into batons so I just chopped my celery.  I also used a lot more than 2 ribs because I love celery!)
  • 3  Tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (*Deb’s Note: curly or Italian parsley works just as well!)

Red Wine Vinaigrette

  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. red wine vinegar (*Deb’s Note: I didn’t have any red wine vinegar so I used white wine vinegar instead.  Works perfectly and tastes delicious)
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. honey

Directions

  1. Cook the farro in a large saucepan of lightly salted boiling water for 15-20 minutes or until al dente.  Rinse briefly under cold running water, then drain well and transfer to a large bowl.
  2. To make the red wine vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl.
  3. Heat a large, deep skillet over high heat and cook the pancetta, stirring, for 3-4 minutes or until golden.  Reduce the heat to medium and add the farro, red wine vinaigrette, shallot, celery and parsley.  Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir to combine.  Cook until heated through, then serve.

Tip: This warm salad is delicious served with broiled meat, such as chicken or pork.

*****

Recipe from Supergrains: Cook Your Way to Great Health by Chrissy Freer, page 218.  Published by Appetite by Random House, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, 2013.

Warm Farro, Pancetta & Parsley Salad – My “10 Grains, 10 Days” Cooking Challenge with Crave at Random House of Canada!

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Warm Farro, Pancetta & Parsley Salad! From Supergrains cookbook by Chrissy Freer.

Even though I was away for nearly two and a half months, I was still actively engaged in our wonderful world of food during my break.  I was still visiting cupcake and macaron shops, taking photos of my baking, eating sushi, noshing on weekend brunch (was I EVER enjoying weekend brunch!  It’s what kept me sane most weeks!) and taking part in some really fun food events and activities.  I was feeling tired and overwhelmed and all over the place, yes, but that didn’t stop me from going out just to enjoy food.  I just did it during my time away on a much looser schedule and without the frantic worrying and I think it was something I needed to do before I felt like I could come back and blog full time again.  I needed to love and enjoy food for food’s sake, without having schedules and social media and promoting and everything else on my shoulders and in the back of my mind during this transition period in my life.  It definitely helped because I feel so much better now.

I feel so lucky to know such wonderful people in the industry who share the same love, passion, and devotion to the exploration of food and in January I got the opportunity to take part in a fun and exciting cooking challenge hosted and organized by the Crave division of Random House Canada, the same folks who brought us the Smitten Kitchen cookbook and blogger brunch with Deb Perelman!

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Lindsey Reeder, who’s part of the online marketing team at Random House, hit me up back in January to take part in a “10 Days, 10 Grains” cooking challenge using Chrissy Freer‘s brand spankin’ new cookbook, Supergrains: Cook Your Way to Great Health!  5 bloggers and 5 Random House staff were to participate, each choosing one grain from a list e-mailed to us, and then using that grain to make a recipe from the Supergrains cookbook.  We would all write about our food experience, take photos, and have our posts featured on Crave’s site as part of the “10 Days, 10 Grains” cooking challenge series!  I WAS ALL OVER THIS LIKE MUD ON A PIGGY!  (You can click HERE for the “10 Grains, 10 Days” Supergrains Challenge series on Crave’s website and blog.)

I, along with my mum and brother, love all sorts of grains including quinoa, wheat berries, barley, oats and many others.  So when I skimmed the list of grains to choose from in my e-mail from Lindsey, I chose farro!  Something I loved to eat but had never bought or tried to cook before.

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The wonderful thing about Chrissy Freer’s cookbook, Supergrains, and probably my favourite thing about the book, is how versatile, customizable, and undaunting it is.  There are recipes for every level of experience so if you’re feeling adventurous, go for something a little more advanced (oxtail bolognese!) or if you want something fast and simple, flip through the shorter recipes that are just as healthy and delicious.  I LOVE this cookbook SO much and can’t wait till I cook my way through the entire book.  I’ve made one other recipe from it (the quinoa corn muffins with feta, roasted pepper and chives) but I want to make it again, with my own twist to it, before I post about it here.  So stay tuned!

Now, back to my supergrains challenge.  I perused the selection of farro and freekeh (farro and freekeh were combined into one section in the cookbook) and chose something I KNEW my family and I would love: Warm Farro, Pancetta & Parsley Salad.  Read on for my cooking challenge experience and what I wrote for Random House’s Crave!

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My 4 main ingredients!

“Bless the gentleman who helped me find my farro at the Maple Leaf Gardens’ Loblaws.  He really went above and beyond, searching high and low and even asking the grocery manager for help on my behalf.  Up, down and around we went searching for the grain that would be the star of my Supergrains challenge dish, “Warm Farro, Pancetta & Parsley Salad” on page 218.  We searched in the healthy and organic foods section where the quinoa, spelt and buckwheat were.  No farro.  We ran over to the grains aisle.  Rice, rice, and more rice.  Then we wandered over to the ethnic section, all the while scanning for anything that started with “f” and ended in “arro”.

I thought I was going to have a mini panic attack.

You have no idea how big my sigh of relief was when I finally found it on the top shelf in the middle of the Italian section in the ethnic food aisle.  In hindsight, it really shouldn’t have taken me that long to find it.  After all, I had read the introduction to my supergrain days before I made my trip to the supermarket but the little nugget about it being a popular Italian grain didn’t click in my mind until I had the bag of it in my hands.

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Lesson learned.  And the extra bit of effort was well worth it because what I ended up with was an eagerness to learn and cook more, a newfound passion for this amazingly versatile supergrain, and a delicious, comforting dish that my family and I absolutely adored.

Even though this recipe just screamed “no-brainer” to me as I was browsing the farro recipes because of my love for Italian food and my mom and brother’s love of grain salads, preparing it took me out of my comfort zone in more ways than one.  It wasn’t just about my unfamiliarity with cooking farro; it was also about cooking with pancetta for the first time and really using my cooking instincts while making this dish.  This recipe was simply a guide to something wonderful and delicious, it wasn’t the be-all and end-all type where if I didn’t follow it to a tee, it would fail miserably.

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There was so much room to experiment and have fun with it.  I adjusted the cooking time and heat strength based on my stove-top (read: my stove-top runs hot.  Like, really hot.  We’re talking fiery sunset red on a 6 setting).  I diced my pancetta and chopped my celery instead of slicing them into batons.  And because I didn’t have any red wine vinegar in my kitchen, I used white wine vinegar in its place and the result was spectacular.  My heart swelled with pride as the aroma of smoky pancetta and mouthwatering vinaigrette wafted by my nose.  I did it!  It was so much fun, the farro was incredibly easy to cook (no presoaking required!), and I cannot wait to try more recipes from Chrissy Freer’s cookbook!”

*****

Publication info: TBA