chefx

chefx This last week has been a revelation to me.

Seriously.

I discovered that I love to cook.  I know you must be wondering … what is she talking about?  Of course she loves to cook … doesn’t she write this blog and bake just about every night?

But that’s the thing.  I bake.  I’ve pretty much completely stopped cooking anything more difficult than a poached egg on vegetables.  I don’t know when I stopped loving pottering away in the kitchen … but at some point in the last 3 years, I have.

And no matter how much I love the look of a recipe … I just haven’t been able to get myself excited enough to want to get all the ingredients and start the process of cooking.

Ever feel that way?

And then … about 10 days ago, I got an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Jeff Heaton, the owner of ChefX sent me an email asking if I’d be interested in testing out the first official week of their program.  They would provide me with a free sample box: 2 chef inspired meals, recipe cards, all the ingredients (save the staples: oil, salt, pepper, eggs), enough food for 2 people … with leftovers.  In exchange, I’d blog about it.

I figured … it was kind of a win-win.  I mean, I’d have to cook again, but I was willing to do that in order to give it a shot.

Last week’s box featured both Marysol Foucault’s (Edgar) lemony leek lamb with sautéed zucchini and yoghurt, and The Urban Element‘s pan-seared chicken breast with tomato caper vinaigrette and celeriac mash.

Both sounded pretty darn delicious.  The question remained … would I be able to re-create these dishes?

The answer.  A simple yes.

The beauty of ChefX is that you not only have a large cooler delivered with all the necessary ingredients, you’re also provided with a recipe card – bright colours, clear instructions, pictures of mis-en-place and ingredients to demonstrate what you will need and what steps to follow when cooking.

PanSearedChickenTomatoCapers_V3_650px

As you can see, the recipe cards are broken down into level of difficulty, estimated time, and kitchen tools required.

the ChefX box

I made the Urban Element’s pan-seared chicken breast dish after work on Monday.  A very relaxed 45 minutes after I started cooking, the man-friend and I sat down to probably the tastiest chicken I have ever cooked.  We both liked the celeriac mash, but it was the tomato caper vinaigrette that really brought the dish to another level.  It was the perfect level of acidity and sweetness and thickened perfectly.  It was a dish that the man-friend and I would happily make again.  Heck – I have some chicken breasts in the freezer I can’t wait to pan-sear.

pan-seared chicken breast

I waited until Wednesday to make Marysol’s lemony leek lamb with sautéed zucchini and yoghurt.  I will admit that it took me longer than the estimated 55 minutes to make this one – but within 65 minutes the man-friend and I tucked into rich meatballs (which according to the recipe should have yielded 8 – I got 13), perfectly sautéed zucchini, a spicy gremolata, and a lemony greek yoghurt.  I can honestly say this is probably a recipe I wouldn’t have made otherwise (lamb isn’t my to-go ingredient), but I’m glad I did.  It reminded me that I love the mixing of ingredients and flavours.  It also showed me a few new simple tricks to create something delicious without any stress.

lemony leek lamb

Now you might wonder … why should you consider ChefX.

1.  If you love to eat out, but don’t love what it does to your wallet (or your waistline).

2.  If you love to cook, but are stuck in a rut.

3.  If you like to watch what you eat, but still want to eat well.  .

4.  If you hate wasted food.  You get what you need.  Seriously – they packed me a small pack of sugar.

5.  It allows you to see what inspires some of the best chefs in our city.

6.  You love to cook, but are famished when you get home.  It’s quick and painless.

Oh … and in case you’re wondering … I enjoyed my experience so much I signed up for this week.  The Wellington Gastropub has created a salmon dish that sounds just about right … and The Urban Element‘s roasted squash soup is sure to warm me right up!

A little Q & A with Jeff … aka. additional information:

The cost per week for 2 meals in portions for 2 people is $59 (taxes and delivery costs included).  Bigger family?  No problem!  ChefX is still an option.  Cost for 4 people is $99, and the cost for 6 people is $139 per week.

Portion sizes are large enough that there should be leftovers.

Wondering how quickly you need to cook these meals right?  Generally you can count on a shelf life of 5 days for the vacuum packaged meats.  Cook the more perishable ingredients (eg. seafood) sooner to be safe.  Or you can freeze the meat if you’re worried. All that to say – you basically have until Thursday to cook your meals.  Not bad for delivery!

The boxes are delivered every Sunday between 1 pm and 9 pm.  Not home?  No problem.  I wasn’t home last Sunday and so they left my box in the entrance of my apartment building (note: make sure you can trust your neighbours before making those arrangements!) … I got there and everything was still chilled.  All I had to do was put it away and wait until Monday night to start cooking!

The service is subscription based. Once you sign up, you’ll automatically be charged week by week.  HOWEVER … if a menu doesn’t sound quite right, you’re going away, or you just don’t feel like it – you can pause or cancel your subscription.

You get a cooler every week.  Which means … you store it for the week (ice packs can be left inside it) and come the following Sunday, return it to your delivery spot.  They will swap in the new, filled cooler for the old empty one.

What chefs are participating?  Every week one of the following chefs will create a dish.  Steve Wall, Supply & Demand.  Chris Deraiche, Wellington Gastropub.  Marysol Foucault, Edgar.  Chloe Berlanga, Whalesbone Oyster House & Elmdale Tavern.  Marc Lepine, Atelier.  Steve Mitton, Murray Street.  Marc Dorion, Town.  Patricia Larkin, Black Cat Bistro. Chris Lord, Union Local 613.  Matthew Shepheard, Marisposa Farm.

The Urban Element will be creating the second dish.

ps.  Sign up before 11:59pm Monday night and you can get a ChefX cooler Sunday November 3rd.  It’s never too late to give it a try ….

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kelp records winter warmer

Street. Food. Is. GREAT.

Especially when it’s paired with beer.

That’s how we do a food festival in Ottawa.  Street food and beer.  In a Polish Community Centre.

A-MAZ-ING.

8 chefs all presented their version of street food.

I didn’t get to try all of it … I was on-site on behalf of Edgar (working with the HILARIOUS Michael) … but I was lucky enough to get to sample some of the fares.

Mother. Of. Pearl.

It started with the Whalesbone Oyster House Catering’s deep fried mac & cheese.

It was … SPECTACULAR.  I mean … it’s deep fried mac & cheese.  You kinda have to love it.  But you also love it because it was so cheesy and delicious … crunchy exterior and hot creamy interior.

Loves.

Then I wandered over and sampled Ryan Janssens’ (of DISH) chorizo pogo with bacon jam.

It was hot and spicy.  And although it was deep fried – it wasn’t greasy.  It was that perfect pogo batter (you know the one I’m talking about … you can remember it from your youth)… and with the chorizo filling … it was THE BEST POGO OF MY LIFE. I honestly wanted to go back and get another.  And then another.

Brilliant.

Edgar was paired with Beau’s – and so Marysol came up with a porchetta dish … creamy mashed potatoes, topped with aged cheddar.  Then we generously piled on the pork belly and ham, a veal gravy and a sprinkle of crispy celery root chips.

It was delicious.  Hot and creamy.  Salty and fatty.  It was everything comfort food should be … all in one mouthful.  I LOVED it.  And not just because it was from Edgar’s table … but because it tasted so darn good.

My pictures honestly don’t do the plate justice.

Oh … and it went really well with Beau’s bitter ;0)

I had a chance to wander a little (between plating our dish) … and so although I didn’t sample the Hintonburgh Public House dish, or anything offered by the Manx … I was able to snap some quick pictures.

Pressed and  Seed to Sausage were two another food stands I wanted to sample … but it just didn’t happen.  I actually didn’t even get a picture of either their brisket sandwich (Pressed) or their gourmet hot dogs (Seed to Sausage).  Boo to me … but everyone I asked about loved both.

My afternoon finished off with a sample of the Mill Street brew (delightful) and Murray Street’s Meat Cone.

I LOVE the meat cone.

What isn’t to love?  Pulled pork. Check. Cheese curds. Check. Sausage. Check. Mustard. Check.  All piled in a cone … I was able to grab my fork and dig right it.  A-MAZ-ING.  My only regret is that it has taken me this long to finally sample Steve Mitton’s version of the meat cone.

My favourite part of this event though wasn’t the food (although I totally loved everything I ate) … it was the fact that so many people turned out to eat, drink and be merry.

It certainly was a true winter warmer.

apple + bacon = baby cakes!

I might not have spent my Friday night at The Whalesbone – but I think I got to do something just as cool (ok… well since I’m a baker first… it might just be a tad cooler – but just a tad)… Kate, the head of catering for The Whalesbone Catering asked me to bake some baby cakes for her.  Yep.  That’s right.  I was asked to make the little cakes that would be on display and on offer for her annual Whalesbone Catering Open-House.  HOW COOL?????  Super, duper, amazingly cool.  I think you can all tell that I’m still excited about being asked to do this.

When Kate asked me, she specifically requested:

1.  40 mini cakes please – no cupcakes!

2. a few different flavour options – not just chocolate.

3.  make them look like what you could find in a bakery / gourmet shop

Done & Done… & Done!

I pretty much went straight home that night and started to work on a template. 

1.  I grabbed my biscuit rounds and figured out the best size… I baked a cake and started cutting out some nice rounds – 2 inch, 1.5 inch and 1 inch rounds.  I stacked those up for added height, took some pictures to send to Kate, and then brought them into the office for some feedback.  Everyone felt that the 1-inch rounds were the perfect size.  Baby cake template – check!

2.  Flavours.  I really, truly love my lemon cake.  No matter how many times I make it – I still heart it.  I Love to bake it and I love to eat it.  Making a batch of lemon cakes was pretty much a given.  I also heart my marble cake recipe.  Sigh.  That batter has been my dinner on many an occassion… and really… I’m ok with that.  Marble cake was therefore a must (plus Kate’s boyfriend loves marble so they were both stoked that I picked that).  Finally, the third flavour… how about… apple bacon spice cake with maple buttercream?  Doesn’t that sound delish?  Doesn’t that sound like a donut I recently sampled?  Well… my San Francisco delight was turned into a the moistest cake ever.  Plus my kitchen smelled amazing.  I think Kate was as excited as I was when I told her my plan.  Flavours – check!

3.  How to make them gourmet shop pretty?  Obviously it meant… fondant.  That’s right folks – I willingly offered to make something that required me to use fondant.  Can I just say… thank you Emily!!!!  Once my template had been made I went over to Emily’s house and she gave me a 5 minute demo on how to work with it.  That demo was a life saver.  So working with fondant – check!

I’m really thrilled with how my baby cakes turned out.  Seriously… they look so… professional.  I’m used to being the baker and then handing it off to Emily to make it pretty – it was nice to see that I could make it pretty too!   

lemon baby cake – nicely decorated with yellow ribbon

marble baby cake with marbled chocolate fudge & vanilla fondant… pretty eh?

apple bacon spice baby cake – green ribbon and a sprinkle of bacon bits… amazing!

This cake is great if you love a really moist cake – the apples honestly keep it so light – and I was able to punch up the flavour by sautéing the diced apples in bacon fat and also by grating in some fresh nutmeg.  Then to top it all off… well I obviously had to add some bacon to the top of my baby cake… doesn’t it look pretty?  I was up until 2:30 am finishing off my little baby cakes… I am so super proud of how they turned out.

I’m going to post about the Open-House too… but not today.  Today is all about my little baby cakes… my pride and joy at the moment.  Plus… it’s about time I share a recipe with all of you.  It seems all I’ve been doing is eating and blogging about the food… when really – I do spend a lot of time baking (I swear!).

apple bacon spice cake

ingredients:

1 ½ c. packed dark brown sugar

3 eggs

1 ¼ c. sunflower oil

¼ tsp vanilla extract

2 1/3 c. flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground nutmeg

pinch of salt

10 oz (about 3 large) apples, peeled, cored, diced

4 large slices of bacon, finely chopped

Pre-heat your oven to 325 F.  Spray two 9-inch rounds (or a rectangular slab) with non-stick spray.  I obviously was using a rectangular slab for this recipe since I needed to cut out perfect rounds for the mini-cakes.  Set aside.

In a large non-stick pan over high heat, cook your chopped bacon.  Get it nice and crispy, them remove the bacon bits from the pan and place on a paper towel.  Set aside.  Turn down the heat and toss the diced apples into the bacon fat.  Sautée the apples in the fat until they soften.  About 3 minutes.  Remove the pan from heat and set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat together the sugar, eggs, oil, and vanilla.  You want everything to be really well incorporated, increase the speed to medium.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.

While the mixer is running, slowly incorporate the dry ingredients.  Allow everything to be well mixed.  At this point, turn off your mixer, toss in the diced apples, and fold them into the batter.

Pour the batter into the pans, and bake for 35 – 40 minutes – – until golden brown and the cake bounces back when touched.  Allow to cool slightly (about 20 minutes) in the pans on a wire rack before turning them out and cooling completely.

the beginnings of the baby cakes – apple bacon spice cake

Once cooled, make your frosting.

Seriously people… maple & coarse sea salt buttercream is probably the greatest thing ever.  Salty sweet – which plays off the salty / sweetness of the cake as well… sigh.  DELISH.  I first started making maple buttercream as a teenager.  I can remember discovering the combination and my eyes widening in delight.  True story :0)

I have to tell you something… I have a problem with it comes to making buttercream frosting… you see… I “cook” my recipes.  What the heck does that mean right?  Well…when I bake, I pay attention to all my measurements… when I cook, I just toss things into the bowl.  In this instance I started with the following:

1/2 c. salted butter, room temperature

3 c. powdered sugar, sifted

And I just mixed those two ingredients together using my paddle attachment in my stand-mixer.  

This is when I start to “cook”.

I just add maple syrup until I think it looks right.  And then I add some coarse sea salt a pinch at a time.  And then to loosen up the batter a little (at this point my mixer is at a faster speed), I add some milk.  Maybe 1 tbsp at the most… maybe a little less.  I don’t know.  I really just keep an eye on my buttercream, I ensure that the sides of the bowl are scraped down and I dip my finger in and taste.  If I think it needs to be sweeter or saltier I add accordingly.  But that’s my buttercream secret… oh yeah… and I let it mix for about 10 minutes.  That’s it.

But it looks good eh?

maple and coarse sea salt buttercream

It was time to cover each baby cake in buttercream.  A little more difficult a task than I originally thought… small cakes – big hands… oh well.  They still turned out exactly as I had hoped.

lemon baby cake covered in buttercream

Then things got really fun.  FONDANT!  I learned through Emily’s demo that fondant is basically like pastry dough… only you can knead it way more than you would pie crust.  I didn’t make the fondant from scratch.  Nope.  I went to Artistic Cake Design and bought their fondant – which is delicious (seriously… it’s pretty darn incredible).  I pulled out a handful of fondant at a time, kneaded it well (since it’s pretty firm when packaged), and then got to work.

1.  Using non-stick spray, spray directly on your clean surface.

2.  Toss some powdered sugar on top of the sprayed area (exactly like using a well floured surface for pie crust)

3.  Place your disk of kneaded fondant on top of the powdered surface and grab your rolling-pin.

4.  Roll it out and then cover your cake.

That’s it.  Simple eh?  One thing to note – don’t roll the fondant too thin – otherwise it will pucker or tear when you place it on your cake.  Overall, my first experience was pretty painless… a little more time-consuming than I thought – but my goal is to get faster at it :0)

Once the baby cake was covered, I then trimmed the excess fondant with a sharp knife.  It really is exactly like pastry dough!

I even decided to mix together some chocolate fudge fondant with the vanilla fondant to create a marbled effect for my marble cakes.  I was super pleased with how those turned out.  Such a cool effect!

As a final touch (and to make it look more professional), I wrapped different coloured ribbons around the base of each cake (it totally tidied up the bases), held them in place with a pretty little pin, and then topped the apple bacon spice baby cake with a sprinkling of bacon bits.

I’d say job well done.  Actually… if you saw me on Monday – I was saying that and patting myself on the back.  ;0)