Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book Giveaway: Apron Anxiety

When I picked up Alyssa Shelasky's book Apron Anxiety, I really wasn't expecting much at all. To be honest, I was mostly looking for an easy read for my subway ride to and from work, and ended up really connecting with a lot of the storyline. I read it in a matter of days - with a mix of smiles, anger and understanding.

The book is part memoir, part food tale, part recipes but ultimately a story about falling in love with food. Some passages might make some food-lovers cringe - Alyssa is a self proclaimed simple eater with generally no desire for fussy, 'adventurous' foods, but her love affair with cooking is endearing and relatable for anyone who uses time in the kitchen as a moment of peace from the outside world.  And the cherry on the cake? Shelasky shares candid details about her relationship with Top Chef hottie Spike Mendelsohn - the one contestant I was rooting for week after week on tv. The book is honest, witty and well-written. On a personal note, the ins and out of living with a chef as described by Alyssa really hit home for me, and the details were surprisingly similar to my own personal life living with a busy doctor. 

I got to ask Alyssa a few questions about her book, so read on for her answers and details about how to win a copy of Apron Anxiety!

Was writing the book therapeutic for you? Was it difficult to be so brutally honest about your relationship, family and the events that took place in your life?

The telling of my story was not as therapeutic as the feeling of importance and relevance that writing the book gave me. I started the process at a time when I felt very small, and quite unsure of myself. I remember how ecstatic I felt even just getting an agent. I mean, even if the journey had stopped there, it was the jolt I needed to feel alive again. Then that was multiplied a million by writing a proposal; and once I actually go the book deal, it was just all-together mind-blowing. So, I think, this sense of challenge and accomplishment, professionally, was the most uplifting of all. Examining my life, spilling my heart out, all that's something I've always done!

I tried your mom's tomato and garlic spaghetti recipe from the book - it was amazing. Dead simple, but I could have eaten the whole bowl! What's your favorite recipe you share in the book? Was it difficult to narrow them down?

My self-imposed rule was that if a recipe took too long to type, or the explaining of it was too laborious, than I'd skip it! To me, the most delicious is the Gentleman Caller's Onion and Cumin Quiche. It's really delicious,and involving cumin plus preparing your own crust adds just a touch of sophistication. The most special is the Shepherd's Pie because in the intro to it, I mention someone, one of the best human beings I ever knew, who recently passed away--  and I'm just so happy there's a little part of him inside my first book.

Is there a particular dish that you find really challenging to master in the kitchen?

None from my book, but I have a hard time making fish dishes, as simple as they are. I'm just a wimp about it. I can't stand the smell or texture of most raw fish. My boyfriend is a health-nut and wants me to integrate more salmon into my homecooking, but I'm sorry, no, yuck.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Seared Scallops with Edamame

Working in a professional Test Kitchen definitely comes with numerous perks: for starters, you get to work with food most of the day (than in itself makes it a dream job in my book!), you have a playground to create recipes and new concepts, and you get to talk about food trends and food ideas on a daily basis! The only down side so far? Ironically, my love of food! We are surrounded by so many delicious concoctions that it's close to impossible not to overindulge. The art of restraint has never been my strongest suit, so this has been quite the challenge.

We are currently working on holiday recipes, re-visiting classics as well as inventing new sweet treats to serve to friends and family this coming holiday season. Between coming up with concepts, testing and re-testing recipes, we've gone through dozens and dozens of packs of butter, flour, sugar, cream, chocolate and various nuts.

Whether its a myriad of iced cakes, snowflake-shaped cookies or frosted yule logs, there's definitely something quite surreal about Christmas food displays in the midst of a warm Toronto spring.Although the kitchen smells like sweet gingerbread and candied fruit, the biggest challenge for me has been not to taste every dish that makes it to the testing table.Or maybe, to resist and have just one bite! I've always really loved the whole rituals that surrounds food, and, more often than not, I find it difficult not to order dessert. Needless to say, these past few weeks have been flirting with my sweet though. If you have any advice to share for a healthy balance in a Test Kitchen, I'm all ears!

In the meantime, let me share a deliciously healthy meal I prepared to counteract the sweetness overload at work! I love using edamame in salads and side dishes - they take a few minutes to make, are cooked straight from the freezer, and the non-shelled kind make a satisfying snack when sprinkled with fleur de sel.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Easy Weekend Brunch

When I have friends over for brunch - or most meals for that matter - I like to keep it simple. No fuss, no looking up new recipes, no over-thinking it. I choose a couple dishes I'm very comfortable making, think up a quick menu with a mix of sweet and savory options and try to pick at least one dish I can make ahead of time. These few steps are my tips for eternal stress-free entertaining! As for table decor, I like to add a few fresh blooms in mismatched vases and display them around the table. All easy and inexpensive, these little touches add a welcome dose of whimsy to a weekend morning.

The brunch I made this weekend fit the bill. I first made yogurt parfaits (by mixing Greek yogurt with honey, and layering slices of fresh strawberries). I topped these with a few spoonfuls of good granola and served them family-style, in a couple of pretty bowls. I made these a couple hours before my guests arrived, popped them in the fridge and topped them with the granola at the last minute. Next of my list were creamy scrambled eggs with feta and chives, with a side of crispy bacon (no time for a photo unfortunately!). This was the only tricky dish - you have to make this right when you want to serve it, but it's worth it, and what brunch would be complete without some sort of egg concoction?

Then, there was an easy homemade bread pudding using sweet challah (I used my base recipe and added raisins and vanilla paste to the mix). I toasted the leftover challah bread and served it with a couple jams - a orange and lemon one, and a classic strawberry. We washed it all down with dark coffee and freshly pressed orange juice.

I'm looking forward to many more of these kinds of brunches this summer!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Quick Halloumi Salad

This weekend was in large spent getting our balcony ready for the summer months. Being lucky enough to have a pretty sizable outdoor space (by no means a terrace, but a pretty big balcony for Toronto standards!) we are growing tomatoes, and an array of herbs (chives, oregano and thyme are happily blossoming as we speak). Living in a crowded urban centre and working indoors most of the time, it's nice to set up a space that will help you spend as much time as possible outdoors. With a glass of fresh watermelon juice and a book (I'm currently reading Alyssa Shelasky's Apron Anxiety) we enjoyed our first real spring day of the year.

With less time to dedicate to the kitchen this weekend - shocking I know! - this halloumi salad was the quickest and most delicious substitute to a full-fledged meal. The salty, golden-brown halloumi mixed with an oozy egg and some peppery greens was exactly the dish that this newly discovered gardener was in the mood for!

Quick Halloumi Salad
Serves 2

6 1/4 inch thick slices of halloumi cheese
3 cups arugula
2 eggs
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Add slices of halloumi cheese to a warm non-stick pan on medium heat (with no added fat). Cook the halloumi for about 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Set aside. Add vegetable oil to pan and crack the two eggs into the pan. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.

In the meantime divide the arugula between two plates. In a small bowl whisk olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Drizzle over arugula and top with halloumi cheese and sunny-side-up egg.
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