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A Very Springy Xmas in NYC

It was mid December and we realized that we had nothing happening for an entire week. Sadly, The Kid didn't want to miss any school (WHO IS THIS PERSON??) so Shack and I booked our trip late Friday night and flew to NYC early Sunday morning. No time to plan or overthink.

We landed to find ourselves sweltering in our winter coats. The first thing we did was check into our hotel and ditch the coats and set off to explore the city in nothing more than long sleeves two weeks before Christmas Day. We spent the entire day wandering midtown, making our way towards Central Park where we rented bikes and rode through it, again WITHOUT COATS, until the sun set. Dinner consisted of a couple stops in Little Italy for meatballs and pasta and then a third place for espresso and dessert. Even late at night, the weather was balmy and perfect for exploring the magical wonderland that is New York at Christmas without having to brave the cold and snow. 

We spent a day in Brooklyn, hipster hunting until we realized that Shack looked exactly like all the men we were stalking in Williamsburg. The last straw was the big graffitied wall depicting a hipster French Bulldog that was wearing the same outfit as Shack. If you find yourself there, eat breakfast at Egg. It was so delicious, despite the preciousness of serving it with Organic Heinz Ketchup and a lovely morning was spent cafe hopping and vintage shopping alongside all of Shack's bespectacled, plaid shirt wearing, cuffed jeans with a pork pie hat sporting, brogue styling brethren.

The one new treat was our ferry ride from Williamsburg back to Manhattan, something neither of us had ever done before. The city was enveloped in a heavy layer of fog, making the skyline even more magical than usual and we ended up staying on the ferry for an entire loop, finally getting off in midtown, near our hotel. I think, apart from our rental bikes in Central Park, this was the best $6 bucks we spent the entire time.

It may lose me my seat at the cool kid's table, but I love Times Square. So sue me. Basically, we spent three solid days on foot, walking from the financial district back up to Central Park and back again. Because our trip was so last minute, there was no chance of getting into any of the hot restaurants or bars so we just stopped when we were hungry, pressure free. Some of the food we ate was amazing (Uncle Boons, thanks Ivy Lam) and some of it was not (Les Halles - Mr Bourdin would not have approved of the service or the french onion soup) but, for once in our lives, our trip was not about the food.

Good shoes, a few bucks in your pocket, empty bellies and open hearts - it's all you really need here.

On our very last day we decided, since we only had carry on bags, that we would take the Metro to Laguardia. We got off in Queens at 74th/Roosevelt Avenue to transfer onto to a bus and, since we had lots of time, went for a walk.

Why, oh why have we not done this before? Taco trucks every half a block, more Mexican restaurants than you can shake a stick at and looked like the New York I fell in love with at the movies. Our next trip will be a borough crawl and we plan to skip Manhattan, for the most part, and start explore the rest of the city, starting with Queens.
amazing tacos at Taqueria Coatzingo in Jackson Heights
I'm nothing if not colourful

Sometimes, travelling
as a blogger is exhausting, both for the blogger and the bloggers travelling companions.

You feel like you are required to eat in the hottest restaurants, take a bazillion photos of your food, write everything you eat down in your notebook, waste hours on your phone researching where you should be eating next instead of just wandering around, having a bite here and there, taking lots of pictures and just being somewhere with someone. This trip was just about being in NYC with my guy. This is something I will strive for in 2016.

Happy New Year.

Oh, if you want to look at the rest of my photos, click here 

Squash Havarti Turnovers and A Great Arla Dofino Giveaway for New Year's Eve

Just in time for NYE, I am sharing not only a recipe for a great appetizer with you that will wow your friends and solidify your reputation as an amazing host, but a chance to win $25 worth of Arla Dofino Harvarti, a bamboo cheeseboard and cute, ceramic dry erase cheese markers.

I make no secret of my love for frozen puff pastry, especially during the holidays so if you don't have any in your freezer, you need to do something about that STAT.  Come on, quick like a bunny - you still have a couple of days to get ready for New Years.

For this particular turnover, I chose to use the creamy harvarti because this appetizer required maximum melty creaminess and a mild flavour that would complement the savoury filling. For my cheese board, I went with the inferno (havarti packed with chipotle and habanero chili), smoked harvarti and roasted garlic. I would say that it was a close call but the inferno was the favourite at both of my Christmas parties with the smoked havarti running a very close second.

Okay, the winner won't get this package of cheesey goodness in time for NYE but that doesn't mean you can't make these gorgeous little turnovers for your celebration regardless of whether you are having an elegant Prosecco party for 10 or spending the night in your flannel pjs with Anderson Cooper - I don't judge.

I received compensation from Tres Stelle for coming up with a recipe using this cheese but, as always, my opinions are my own.

So, first, the giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Squash Havarti Turnovers

makes approx 18 turnovers

*1 buttercup squash, seeded, roasted, cooled and mashed
*1 sweet potato, cooked, cooled and mashed
1-2 tbls finely chopped, fresh sage plus whole, small leaves for the top of each pastry
1 tbls butter
1/2 leek, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
pinch kosher salt (approx 1/2 tsp)
a few grinds of black pepper
1 tsp sherry vinegar
a couple tbls of cherry jam, cranberry preserves or even fig jam
about 200 grams of creamy Dofino Havarti, cut into slices that are then cut into 1 1/2" pieces
2 sheets of thawed, frozen puff pastry (try to find one that is already rolled out like PC Butter Puff Pastry

1 egg beaten with a tbls of milk or water
pinch maldon salt

*to cook the squash, you can roast it (quartered, seeded, drizzled with olive oil and roasted at 400F for 1 hr), you can steam it, you can microwave, same goes for the sweet potato.) You just want to end up with the flesh from a cooked squash and one sweet potato, mashed smoothly (no skins of course).

Preheat the oven to 400F

Melt the butter in a small pan and saute the leeks and garlic for a few minutes until the leeks are soft. Pour the buttery leeks on top of the mashed squash/sweet potato, add the sage, sherry vinegar and a pinch of salt, a few grinds of pepper and stir to mix. Taste and adjust the salt and sage to your taste and set aside.

Grab one of your thawed but still very cold puff pastry sheets (leave the other piece in the fridge until you need it) and cut it into squares. I cut it into 9 pieces but you can make the pastries bigger or smaller if you like as long as you adjust the filling accordingly. If you can't find pre rolled out puff pastry, follow package directions to end up with a thinly rolled out rectangle but trust me, try to find the pre rolled stuff.

On each square, dollop on about 1 tsp of jam, top that with a heaping tablespoon of squash filling and then top that with a slice of cheese. Fold over the edge to form a triangle, use a fork to seal the edges, brush the whole thing with the egg wash and top with a tiny pinch of maldon salt and one, small, whole sage leaf.

Put your pastries onto a parchment lined baking sheet and cook for 18 minutes - don't stress out if some of the filling seeps out of the odd pastry - those will will end up being the tastiest.

The pastries are as great fresh from the oven as they are at room temperature.

An Instant Pot, Some Jackfruit and a Big Batch of Vegetarian Posole

Anyone who has read my blog, even casually, is probably aware that I have a couple of irrational fears when it comes to cooking and I am proud of the fact that I have worked to overcome these fears in the last few years, for the most part. It's not like I am deep frying every day now, but I do it when I have to and I not only can jam and stuff but I give the results to people I care about and nobody has died. Yet.

Persimmon Black Pepper Tarte Tartin

What do you do with a free case of Persimon© Persimmons?

Well, aside from eating them straight out of the case, I made a persimmon chutney to serve with some sous vide pork and then I played around a bit with the rest. Out of everything else I made, this tarte tartin was my very favourite.

I have been making an eggplant tarte tartin in cooking classes this year and it's a huge hit every time. The eggplant cooks down in the gooey caramel until it is reminiscent of stewed figs and the hit of freshly cracked black pepper in the caramel is almost as unexpected as the fact that you are actually eating eggplant for dessert. If it's fabulous with eggplant, it's kind of a no brainer to assume it's going to be even better with persimmons.

I threw in a bit of cardamom and some pecans for good measure and I can now say, in my best FogHorn LegHorn voice, all puffed up chest and with a full air of confidence, that this is going to be my go to holiday dessert this year.

Persimmons are a seedless fruit from Spain that are almost like a cross between a peach and a mango and are in season until January so they are perfect to keep on hand all throughout the month of December. If you have a couple persimmons and your handy, dandy ready made puff pastry in the freezer, you will have a show stopping dessert in no time.

thanks again to the fine people of Persimon© for the fruit!

Persimmon Black Pepper Tarte Tartin 

2-3 persimmons, sliced into wedges ( I used Persimon© persimmons)
1/4 cup + 2 tbls room temperature butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 or 4 cardamom pods (sub in about 1/4 tsp ground if you don't have pods)
freshly ground black pepper
handful of whole pecans
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted and rolled out to 1/4" thick

preheat the oven to 425F

Spread your butter over the bottom of a 10" oven proof skillet. Remove the seeds from the cardamom pods and crush them in a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder and then stir the cardamom into the sugar. Distribute the sugar evenly over the butter. Finally, grind a generous amount of black pepper over the whole thing.

Arrange your persimmon slices on top of the butter/sugar in a tightly packed concentric circle, fitting in pecans where you can along the way.

Let this cook, undisturbed, over medium heat until the caramel is bubbling and starting to turn golden brown - it should take somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes. Keep an eye on it so that you don't let it burn.

now, take our your puff pastry and cut a circle to fit snugly into your skillet - if there is excess, just tuck it in.

Pop this into the oven for 25 minutes. Let it rest out of the oven for about 5 minutes before you invert it out onto a serving plate. If some of the fruit stays in the skillet, just scrape it out back onto the top of the tart (if the caramel has started to harden a bit, just warm it up again over low heat and that will soften up the caramel so that it can all be scraped back onto the tart.

Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream or creme fraiche - basically , any of the creams.

*you can make this up to 3 hrs ahead, leaving it in the skillet, uncovered, until you are ready to serve it. At that time, reheat the skillet over med low heat for a few minutes to soften the caramel back up before inverting the tarte.

Taking Persimmons Out For A Test Drive - Persimon® Chutney with Pork Chops

I'm not gonna lie, when the fine people from Foods from Spain offered me a free case or two of persimmons to experiment with, there was no way I was going to refuse. After being introduced to this fruit in Spain,  I realized that we only eat them raw and that I have never tried to cook with them before. Now was my chance to rectify that situation.

These sweet, seedless little beauties have finally arrived in Ontario all the way from Ribera del Xuquer, Spain (at Metro and Sobeys) and they will be available until mid January. Actually, they are available until January or until they are all gone so you should grab some soon to incorporate into your holiday menus. Because these Persimon®  persimmons don't need to be ripened, they are ready to use straight from the store. Knowing that they are already ripe takes some of the guesswork out of purchasing a fruit that might not be so familiar and you won't have to stand in the aisle, shaking it, squeezing it and knocking it off your forehead to try to figure out if it's ready to eat.  

Make sure to look for that blue sticker that says Persimon® on it to guarantee that you are getting the right kind though because some other varieties can be quite astringent. When you get them home, store them in a bowl, away from other fruit, on the counter and that's that.

I was asked to choose one of the recipes that was provided and, as always, I also experimented with them myself and those resulting dishes will be coming soon.

Since I had these big, fat pork chops burning a hole in my freezer, I settled on this Persimon® Chutney with Pork Chops. To be honest, I always think I don't like fruit with meat, but sometimes I have to remind myself that even I need to break out of my comfort zone from time to time and this was one of those times because it was delicious. The chutney was a bit spicy, a bit sweet and the fruit kept it's shape even after the 15 minutes of simmering.

One big change:
I cooked my chops using my sous vide at 140F for two hours  (a big pat of butter, kosher salt and a sprig or two of thyme on each chop) and after searing them in lots of butter, I deglazed the pan with some chicken stock, a splash of cream and a dollop of grainy mustard to make a pan sauce as well. The creamy, mustardy pan sauce was the perfect partner to this sweet and slightly spicy chutney so keep that in mind too.

Because the texture of these particular persimmons is similar to a peach or a mango so you can use this fruit in any recipe that you would normally use peaches for. Throw it in fruit crisps, pies, cakes, puree it, chop it and throw it in a smoothie, turn it into a salsa, jam or a chutney and, as I mentioned before, it's great on a cheese platter or served with charcuterie. 

Pork Chops with Persimon® Chutney

1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
1/4 cup (60 ml) shallots, finely diced
3 tbsp (45 ml) pine nuts
2 cups (500 ml) Persimon®, peeled and diced
2 tbsp (30 ml) lemon juice

1/2 cup (125 ml) water
1 tsp (5 ml) ginger, minced
1/4 cup (60 ml) sugar
1 tsp (5 ml) ground coriander
1/2 tsp (2 ml)paprika

1/4 tsp ( 1ml) red chili flakes
1/2 tsp (2 ml) salt
4 bone-in loin pork chops, cut 1-inch (2.5 cm) thick
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp (5 ml) olive oil
1 tbsp (15 ml) fresh cilantro, chopped

In a small saucepan, add the olive oil and sauté the shallot on medium low heat until soft and translucent. Add the pine nuts and stir till lightly toasted, 4 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer on low for 15 minutes.
Sprinkle the chops generously with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a large skillet to medium high and add 1 tsp (5 ml) olive oil. Put in the pork chops and sear for 5 minutes. Turn over and brown well on the second side for a total of 10 minutes. Add the Persimon® chutney to the skillet and sprinkle with cilantro. Place a lid on the skillet and simmer on low for 5 minutes. Transfer the pork chops to a serving plate and top with compote.
Makes 4 servings

Makes 4 servings
I was given free persimmons so I could try them out and share it with you but, as always, opinions are very much my own

For more info on Persimon® Persimmons, click here

Evening at the Market - Eat Good, Do Good, Feel Good

the calm before the storm, admiring the beautiful crystal chandeliers installed just for the evening

I can get really passionate about the subject of food education and because of that, I am a huge fan of Food Share. This Toronto based, non profit organization works with our communities and schools to provide them delicious, healthy food and give them with the education and tools needed to empower those communities to start taking over themselves. The catch phrase for all of this activism is "food security" so if you haven't heard that term yet, it's only a matter of time until you do.

Food Share has helped to revolutionize school cafeterias and has pioneered ideas like rooftop school gardens and urban agriculture across the city. They teach people how to grow, cook and eat with hands on training, community kitchens and a wealth of other amazing programs. The bottom line is that the people of Food Share believe that everyone deserves access to affordable, good quality, fresh food.

For the last two years I have attended the annual Food Share fundraiser, Recipe for Change, held in St Lawrence Market's North Hall but this time, a fundraising evening of food, drink and entertainment was held in the historic South Market.

Each vendor who sells their wares in the market was on hand with a delicious offering and there were bars pouring wine, courtesy of Niagara's Union Wines and beer from Amsterdam Breweries while Chefs Lynn Crawford and Lora Kirk were entertaining people with a cooking demo up in the Market Kitchen. There was a DJ playing music on the main floor and a band playing downstairs so it was a riot for the eyes, the belly and the ears. If anyone could say they were bored, they were lying. Everyone could just wander up and down the aisles, stopping in to see what their favourite food vendors was up to and sample the night away.

As always, people were lining up for freshly shucked Oysters while circus performers entertained them from the floor and on high. From Portuguese Churassco to Korean Braised Beef with Kimchi and a never ending array of baked goods, sweets and tarts, cheese, risotto and crab cakes, there was truly something for everyone.

I took a friend with me and after two hours, we both had to admit defeat, unable to even stuff one last little morsel of food into our mouths. We spent so much time upstairs that by the time we made it downstairs, we realized that we were too full for more and had to leave but promising each other we would return next year and start in the basement and work our way up.

acrobats from Zero Gravity Circus on silks wowed the crowd

I hope that this event becomes an annual occurrence because at $75 for all you can eat and drink, it's not only a very worthy cause, but a fantastic culinary event.
Eat Good, Do Good, Feel Good.

To donate to Food Share, click here
To get involved with Food Share, click here

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