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

Bean & Butternut Squash Vegan Chili – Ate by Ate Cooks Fall Comfort Food!

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Ate by Ate is baaaack!  Taking a week off was one of the weirdest feelings in the world.  I haven’t stopped blogging for more than a day in the last two years so with the exception of posting some photos to Ate by Ate’s Facebook galleries, not blogging at all for a week was a complete 180.  I don’t think there will ever be a time when I’ll feel completely caught up, but a week off was exactly what I needed.  It took the pressure off, I got to do a little bit of holiday planning with friends, and while I still feel like there are a million things to do for Ate by Ate, at least I’m a tiny bit caught up on sleep at the very least!

And now we’re ready to dive right into the holiday blitz!  I’m so, SO excited for Christmas and the holidays.  I’m excited to see friends, to give my family and friends their presents, and of course, to eat!  I’m currently working on the December Food Calendar (the 1st draft went to Food Bloggers of Canada last night!) and I’m planning my weekends of food the best I can.  I forsee Christmas cupcakes, vegetarian yummies, tea, hot drinks, peppermint and candy canes, cookies, baking, and hopefully lots of special winter menu items and comfort food!

Cooking up a storm!

My week off from blogging not only allowed me to do some heavy-duty planning for the month of December, it also allowed me to cook for the very first time!  I KNOW!  The girl who has only ever baked has finally cooked a great, hearty meal all on her own from scratch!  For those of you who don’t know, my mum has always done the cooking in my family and shoos me out of the kitchen.  Always has, probably always will so long as I’m living under the same roof.  I consider myself lucky when I can take out my baking sheets and mixing bowls without so much as a frown.  Maybe I’m exaggerating a little.  Point is, I’ve read food magazines since the age of 8, have watched more cooking and food shows than I have anything else, have been fascinated by cooking and baking and the culinary arts for years, but have never truly cooked!

Boiling water for pasta and noodles doesn’t count.  Making sandwiches and salads don’t count.  Or eggs.  I’m not discrediting the preparation of those foods at all because goodness knows making food isn’t a skill you’re just naturally born with, but it’s just different for me because of how I’ve grown up.  I’m not a food blogger with a wealth of cooking experience under her belt and I don’t have a plethora of recipes (although I do hope everyone enjoys the cookie and baking ones I do post!); but what I do have is a willingness to learn and a passion that sees no end.

So, what did I end up making as my very first, real foray into cooking?  VEGAN CHILI!  I cannot tell you how happy and elated I feel about this meal!  I couldn’t stop smiling for the entire day after I made it.  I feel so proud that I did it all on my own and that it didn’t taste awful – I got the thumbs up from both my brother and my mum and I thoroughly enjoyed it myself!  I took a cue from this vegetarian chili recipe from All Recipes.com, modified it, and made it my own.  And best of all, I used the most amazing, delicious and fresh butternut squash from the Evergreen Brick Works farmers’ market to make it!  And if you can believe, it feeds 4 hungry stomachs and is incredibly hearty!  I hope you all enjoy it as much I did!

Bean & Butternut Squash Vegan Chili recipe

Serves 4 to 6

(adapted from “The Best Vegetarian Chili in the World”, allrecipes.com)

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 can (28 fl oz/796 mL) no-salt added diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 Tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 can (19 fl oz/540 mL) no-salt added red kidney beans, rinsed
  • 1 can (19 fl oz/540 mL) no-salt added mixed bean medley (white kidney beans, chickpeas, romano beans), rinsed
  • 1-1/2 cups peeled, chopped butternut squash
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 Tbsp. crushed red pepper/chili flakes
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 can (12 fl oz/341 mL) corn kernels

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in large, deep nonstick skillet on medium heat.  Stir in onion and garlic; cook 3 min. or until onion is tender.  Add tomatoes and oregano; cook 5 min., stirring occasionally.
  2. Add beans, butternut squash and spices; stir until evenly combined.  Add water, bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 25 min.
  4. Stir in corn, cook 5 min.  Serve with hummus or avocado.

A Holiday Dumpling Workshop in the Kitchen – Shrimp, Crab Meat, Herbs, and Veggies For Homemade Wontons!

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It’s delicious homemade wonton dumpling time! 😀  Yes, that’s right, yours truly made homemade wonton dumplings from scratch yesterday and spent her the whole day in the kitchen preparing and mixing baking ingredients for cookies and cupcakes, and chopping up wonton filling ingredients in the morning.  I know these don’t exactly scream Christmas or even “holidays”, but my mum and I made these for ourselves and for my grandparents as a little homemade Christmas food love from our hearts to theirs. 
 
I’ll have you know that yesterday’s wonton making session was not my first.  I know I never really talk about my cooking adventures or kitchen escapades much aside from baking, but my childhood is full to bursting with kitchen and cooking experiences and memories and I have my grandma and my aunt to thank for that.  They instilled a love of home cooking in me and let me help them early on.  My first cookie baking experience was with my aunt in her Scarborough apartment at the age of 8 and my first wonton making adventure was with my mum and grandma in my grandparents’ kitchen when I was…some young age that I don’t recall at the moment.  But it was so much fun and it will always be one of my favourite memories.
 

Dinner in the making!

I’m so, so excited to share these wonderful dumplings with you guys because not only do they taste delicious, but they are SO much fun to make!  You can literally make a fun morning and afternoon out of it and boil your creations for dinner later on at night!  I think it would even make a fantastic party activity for a get-together.  With the tv on or some music playing it’s incredibly relaxing and soothing and just oodles of fun.  It’s honestly one of my favourite things to make, ever.  Well, that and making cake pops and cookies.  You get the idea.  Just like my Christmas cake pops from Le Dolci, this is somewhat of a photo tutorial, so feel free to follow along or you can just enjoy the photos and drool.  It’s up to you.

Okay, first things first: the wrappers!  Wonton and dumpling wrappers come in a number of sizes and shapes.  Most of the time you’ll find them in square shapes and circle shapes, but if you’re feeling ambitious and know or want to make your own wonton wrappers from scratch, you can also make circles with scalloped edges if you like.  The wrappers are basically a mixture of flour, water, and possibly some cornstarch, egg, and/or salt kneaded into an elastic dough and then rolled out into thin sheets and cut into squares or circles for wontons and dumplings.  There are plenty of recipes online, such as this one, if you want to make your own dough wrappers.

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Putting Market Vegetables to Use: Roasted Eggplant, Marinara, and Mozzarella for Eggplant Parmesan Melts!

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It was eggplant day at my house today!  Remember the baby eggplants that I was so super excited about finding and buying at the farmers’ market this past week?  We put them to use for dinner and made our version of roasted eggplant parmesan sandwiches!  Super simple, super DELICIOUS!  I wasn’t always a fan of eggplant, but over the years it has grown on me and I’ve found ways to cook it that make my tastebuds and tummy happy.  Roasting, for me, is definitely the way to go and breading it also makes for delicious eggplant meals. 

This past Tuesday I bought 6 beautiful baby eggplants at the East York farmers’ market at the East York Civic Centre on Coxwell Ave. and we were hemming and hawing on how we should cook them and what to serve with them.  Should we throw them on the grill?  Mix it with other vegetables?  Eat them alone?  My mum came up with a great idea today: make eggplant sandwiches!  We sliced them to roast in the oven for our melty, cheesy, saucy sandwich melts.  The eggplants were sliced and seasoned and tossed in olive oil with a little bit of black pepper, dry basil, and minced garlic. 

We placed the slices of eggplant on a tin foiled baking sheet and roasted them in the oven for 25 minutes at 400°F.  I can’t even put into words have AMAZING they smelled!  And of course, tasted 😀  They were soft, the skin was nicely blistered and roasted, and the garlic…ahhh.  And then the fun part came: assembling our eggplant parmesan melts!  We loooove English muffins in our house, so we toasted some English muffins, put some mushroom and tomato marinara sauce on the stovetop to heat up, and got our slices of mozzerella cheese ready to go.  I slathered on a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce on the bottoms of the English muffins, placed two big slices of roasted eggplant on top, layered it with a slice of mozzerella cheese (which melted beautifully omg yum), placed another slice of eggplant on top, and topped the whole shebang with another generous dollop of tomato sauce.  Eggplant sandwich success! 

I was inspired by a lot of different things in making these roasted eggplant melts: the amazing breaded eggplant sandwiches at St. Lawrence market, Giada’s eggplant and asparagus stacks on her Food Network show, Giada at Home, and the eggplant parmesan at Frankie Tomatto’s!  Even though we didn’t have any parmigiano-reggiano cheese to shave on the roasted eggplant or fresh basil to finish off the melts, we made do with what we had at home and made a great dinner with fresh vegetables straight from the market.  It made me so happy to see my market vegetable purchase go from farm to table and it was such a simple way to make a wholesome, healthy, and hearty dinner.  I’m super excited to see what other fresh and delicious eats I find at my next farmers’ market visit!