Chasing Tomatoes

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Friday, August 15, 2014

The Canadian Cheese Rolling Festival

I love cheese. If there is something competes with my love of chocolate or coffee, it would be cheese. Creamy brie, sharp cheddar, spicy pepper jack; I love them all! Well, good cheese. I've been known to call processed cheese 'plastic' and refuse to eat it.

Yesterday I ventured into Vancouver for lunch at Forage in the Listel Hotel on Robson Street, where I got to visit with the people from BC Dairy, sample some delicious cheeses and meet with other bloggers. We learned about how cheese is made and heard about the Canadian cheese rolling festival  that is going to be happening up at Whistler Blackcomb this Saturday August 16 from noon until 4 pm.

What's a cheese rolling festival, you ask? Well. Let me show you.


The Cheese Rolling Festival is an annual event in Whistler, hosted by the Dairy Farmers of Canada and great fun for the whole family. An 11 lb wheel of Courtenay Cheddar cheese from BC Cheesemaker Natural Pastures rolls down a hill and people chase it. The first to the bottom of the hill gets to keep the cheese, along with a Whistler season ski pass for two. It may not sound like a dangerous undertaking, but running full speed down a hill after a wheel of cheese requires some safety equipment like a helmet, and maybe some pads to protect your knees.

cheese
Courtenay Cheddar from Natural Pastures

Chasing cheese may sound a bit.. strange to some, but I had the chance to eat some Courtenay Cheddar, and trust me, it's delicious. Natural Pastures hails from Courtenay, BC and the interesting thing is I remember seeing their products years ago at the Comox Valley Farmers market when Kevin was just a little guy and we would check out the market for fun. It's so great to see how much they have grown over the years! The cheese is creamy and mild, perfect for snacking on with a good bread and sipping wine. We got to hold the 11 lb wheel of cheese that gets rolled down the hill and part of me wanted to slip it into my bag, whispering, "It's okay precious. I'll save you. No bumps and rolling through the grass and rocks for you, dear cheesy goodness."

I think that an 11 lb wheel of cheese may have been a bit much to haul on Skytrain back home.

dip

We tried a few different dishes; a cheddar, sundried tomato and artichoke dip that I could've eaten with a spoon  (and did) right there, a very tasty fennel, arugula, cheddar and pecan salad,  then some tasty little hazelnut and cheddar shortbreads. There were also kale chips with smoked paprika and cheddar, which surprised me-I've never been a fan of kale, but these were actually quite tasty. I may have to make some for snacks!  I'm thrilled that we were given the recipes because I can't wait to try them, especially the dip!

Enjoying the cheese market
 Wait, where was I? Oh yes. The festival. The Cheese Rolling Festival is loads of great fun for the family, with some races for small kids, lots of cheese tasting, a costume contest, activities for the kids, cheesemakers to talk to, and lots of cheese to buy. Best of all, it's free! We love taking a ride up to the village along the Sea to Sky highway and looking at the spectacular scenery. There's a lot to do in Whistler during the summer, and hotel rooms are pretty reasonable this time of year so you can even go and spend an evening with the family, take a wander around the village, and check things out.

You don't have to chase cheese to have fun, you can wander by and watch the action-from the looks of it, the races are very entertaining to watch-and if you're wearing a costume, there's some really fantastic prizes to be had! There's a little something for everyone at the Canadian cheese rolling festival-especially lots of really tasty Canadian cheese.

Can't go? Follow the action live on twitter with the hashtag #cdncheeserolling

You'll find more details about the event at the Canadian Cheese Rolling Festival website.

Love cheese? Follow @BCMilk and  @100CanadianMilk 







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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Eating my Words

I owe you all an apology. Seriously. If ever you have read my blog and thought I was out of touch with reality a bit (or even a lot), by making loads of from scratch meals every single night of the week and saying if you really wanted you could too (oh dear, I cringe at this), I'm so sorry.

Really sorry.

This summer I got a new job. It's something I haven't done for a very long time and required me to work all hours and so much harder physically than I ever have in a very long time. The only comparable thing would be when I was working in grade 8-10 PE classes and had to actually DO PE with the kids 4 hrs a day. I'm up at 4am, juggling changing shifts and trying to figure out how I'm going to do dinner when I'm either so tired I'd rather nap than eat, or I'm working through dinner.

I've eaten more cafe/restaurant/take out food than ever and my cooking has dwindled to salads, wraps, or just not at all. You could say that my family is ready for this; it's a great time for John and Kevin (now 18), to learn to fed for themselves more. Fortunately Kevin is away for the summer so I don't have to worry about feeding him so much, and John likes peanut butter sandwiches. I like to eat, though. I just need to make myself have the time to DO it. I'm starting to think I'm going to have to take a page from my friend Lexi's playbook, where she cooks all the things she needs on one day off and stashes them away.

When school eventually starts again in BC I'll be juggling two jobs, plus free lancing. I'm not going to lie-it's going to be a challenge, but I think I'm up to it. I've longed for something else to do, and I think moving forward with something different than I'm used to and working hard is really going to pay off in the long run. Now, if I can just juggle dinner? I'd be set.

I really don't know how you all do it. All you working Mamas with little ones, throwing in all those extra curricular activities and then crazy hours, trying to get dinner on the table. I am in awe of you.

Please accept my white flag flying and cries of, "UNCLE!" while I try to find some semblance of a routine and figure out how to do all of this, AND bring you some things I've discovered. Chasing Tomatoes is going to be a lot of quick, healthy food that I'm serving here at home with the occasional weekend meal you can take more time on. Or batch cooking.

Any tips? I really could use some.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Lime Chili Corn

Out in Chilliwack, the fields are full of corn all in various stages of growth. Some are short, some look ready to harvest, but regardless-as a local, you get used to watching the fields being sown and later on, the little corn shacks popping up all over town as the farms sell off bags and bags of the sweet stuff.

Even before we lived here, we knew the corn grown in the Fraser Valley was the best.

Maan Farms had a special on corn that was unheard of in these parts-$5/dozen, so John and took a drive to Abbotsford for some and brought home 24 cobs to share with friends and our neighbor. Corn for everyone! What can I say? We know a good deal when we see it.

With some baked beans in the fridge ready to be warmed up for supper, chili lime corn seemed to be just the thing to serve alongside. The best part is, you can just toss the corn (husks and all) into the oven to roast alongside whatever else you have going. It's perfect. This recipe isn't really a recipe-more like a guideline to making some really tasty topped corn for yourself! Basically just slather it all with melted butter, then shower it with toppings and serve.

Or you can just tackle one like I did, cave-woman style, right over my kitchen sink.

Ingredients:

1 lime, zested
2 tbsp (more or less) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
fresh cracked pepper
1 tbsp salted butter
1/2 tsp chili powder
6 cobs of corn

Directions:

Pre-heat your oven to 350 F. Toss the corn, still in the husks, into the oven and let it roast for about 30-35 minutes, until tender.

roasted corn

Remove the corn from the oven and allow it cool enough so you can handle it. Strip the husks off, and then brush them all over with melted butter. Place the buttered corn on a platter and shower with pepper, chili powder, lime zest, Parmesan cheese, and then cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice over top. Make sure to get some of each of the toppings on each cob of corn.

lime chili corn

Serve immediately!
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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Raspberry Picking at Maan Farms

The very first piece I ever wrote and sent to in to a national magazine was after Kevin and I spent a day on the beach near Campbell River, BC. Walking along the sea wall, we found a huge blackberry bush and picked the juicy, sweet fruit until our fingers were purple-his more because he ate the berries instead of placing them in the bucket. It was a bittersweet moment that day, mostly because we had become serious about moving to California and were putting gears in motion. I went home and wrote about the sea, my blonde haired little boy, and how picking blackberries was something we loved. That piece was just the beginning of my journey into blogging when it was published.

Life sure had other plans in store for us; not only did we never make it to California, but we were to move three more times until finally settling here in Chilliwack, where we never plan to leave. Kevin will legally be an adult in less than 6 months and is working in a city about three hours away. He comes home on the weekends, ready to do laundry, sleep in and be fed by his Mama-who now that she has no growing boy to cook for, rarely cooks in the giant batches that I did only 2 short years ago. Remember when I'd make huge batches of soup, biscuits, cookies, and other things all at once on a Saturday? That kind of cooking is a distant memory, now.  These days it's all salads and downsized portions for only one or two, with little baking since nobody else eats it and my waistline doesn't need a bunch of cookies on a daily basis. Some days, I feel at loose ends with nobody to feed and at first it took some major adjustments. I was constantly having to re-calibrate how much to cook until now, I think I have the amounts down to where I don't need to invite half the neighborhood over for dinner.

Last weekend when Kevin came home, we went berry picking out at Maan Farms. Located in Abbotsford on Vye road, we had driven by Maan farms many times with the intention to eventually stop. I had followed Maan Farms for some time on Facebook, and had read about the fantastic cafe, winery, berries, and more. We were ready to go for lunch, pick up some wine, and browse the market.

Until the place burned down only days before we had planned to go.

firefire damage

Undeterred, Maan Farms continues to sell berries and other produce from a stand in their parking lot, also offering u-pick berries-and in the spirit of supporting a local family, Kevin and I waited for the rain clouds to clear one morning and arrived at the farm, ready to pick just like the old days. We wandered up and down long rows of berries, searching for the ripe ones, and re-living the days of when we fended off wasps, spiders, and long thorns when he was a small child.

When he was around 6, he'd sit in the middle of the blackberry patch while I picked, petting and talking to Marmalade, an orange tabby cat who would come and visit us. His face and clothes would be purple from eating as many berries as his tummy would hold, the cat purring and rubbing against his knees.

This time we talked and picked, catching up on his time away, his new job, what life is like for my almost adult son. We talked about hopes and dreams-his and mine, and before you know it, the box was full.
raspberry picking

This time, he didn't eat any. Okay he may have eaten a few, but they were the ones that we so ripe that they fell apart in his hand the second he touched them.

raspberries

"Mom, you know what's cool? It doesn't look like there's any berries here, but if you sit on the ground and just look up, there's tons. Seriously. Just look up." There they were, fat and juicy, just hiding behind the leaves out of sight-some as big as strawberries.

picking

Maan farms is open every day, selling U-Pick berries, already picked berries, and other farm produce such as corn, zucchini, and beans in their parking lot. Drop by and pick up a bit to support the family as they rebuild. Our raspberries were SO delicious-we've been eating them by the handful, on ice cream, in smoothies, and I've tucked most of them in the freezer for another day to make into pies or jam later. Blueberries are also available!

If you go, wear old shoes and clothes, you'll get a bit dirty and likely get berry juice on yourself. A water bottle and hat is helpful, as it gets very warm in the fields. Kids under 5 are subject to a $2 admission fee, likely because they will eat more than they will pick. Containers are available for $1 each, but you can also bring your own.  They accept debit and there's plenty of parking. Also, there's a Starbucks not far from the farm if after picking you need a cold drink to refresh yourself again. I'm not really sure about bathrooms; there was an outhouse when we went, but it's probably best to go before you hit the fields.

Above all, enjoy. Berry picking is a great way to hang out with your kids and teach them about where food comes from, and support a local family at the same time. If you can't find anything that looks good in your day, just remember what Kevin said about the berries-occasionally, the good stuff is hiding. All you have got to do is look up.


Follow Maan Farms on Facebook for updates

Follow Maan Farms on Twitter

Disclosure: This post is not sponsored. In fact, the folks at Maan Farms don't even know I have written it, as I put this together. I firmly believe that it's even more important to support local businesses when they suffer a loss such as this one has, and wish them well. We'll continue to visit the farm throughout the summer, and look forward to hopefully sharing better news as they rebuild!

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bacon Wrapped Spiced Beer Can Chicken


Sometimes I think I'm the only person in the world who doesn't have a BBQ. This always posed a challenge when I wanted to make something like beer can chicken-and besides, trying to balance a chicken on a can just seemed like a bad idea.

A few months ago, I was invited to the premiere of the Chicken Squad trailer and was gifted a Master Chef beer chicken roaster, which makes the process so much easier (and safer!) to do. Well then. I can't NOT make beer can chicken, right? Fortunately it's pretty easy to make in your oven as well-and with a stand, also very safe. What makes the roaster thing so cool is that you can then make this kind of chicken year round and knowing our family, well... we eat a lot of BC Chicken.

I consulted my friend Cocktail Deeva about what kind of beer to use, and she suggested "something with a kick", so I picked up a can of Krombacher. Once I got cooking, I noticed that the can was far too large so we found an empty Lonetree cider can, filled it with the appropriate amount of beer, and proceeded with the recipe. The chicken did get some of the beer flavour in it, but it wasn't an overwhelming amount. Mostly the meat was just very, very tender.

Some time later I made the chicken again, but this time used Lonetree Cider because honestly, I'd so much rather drink the remaining cider than beer. Lonetree is my favourite! You could not taste any alcohol, but there was a slight flavour of the cider and the chicken was moist and delicious. This is a fun recipe to make, fairly easy, and elicits a happy dance from my family! I found this recipe on Food Network Canada and reduced the amount of bacon, mostly because I didn't want to waste it. The bacon cooked on top of the chicken is delectable in potatoes if you can resist just standing there in the kitchen and eating it by the handful.

Ingredients:

one 3 lb chicken
one 12 ounce can of beer or Lonetree apple cider ( I prefer Lonetree cider, since it's a great summer drink. The original is the one I used)
6 slices bacon
2 cloves garlic

Spice Rub:

1 tsp oregano
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp sage
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 450F. Cover a rimmed baking tray with foil and set a beer can chicken stand in the middle. Set aside. 

spicesgarlic

In a small bowl, stir together the spice rub ingredients until well mixed. Set aside. Pat the chicken down with paper towels all over so that the spices will coat the skin but not turn all wet from moister and stick to your hands..  Sprinkle the spice mixture all over the chicken, rubbing it into the skin. You can even loosen a bit of the skin on the breasts and spoon a bit of the spice mix inside so that it gets on the meat.

spiced chicken

Pour out about 1/2 cup of the beer. Crush and peel the garlic cloves, then stick them in the beer can. Some people have expressed discomfort with making beer can chicken, citing that the cans are likely not food safe on the outside, and the ink in contact with meat may not be a good idea. To counter this, I cover my can with foil and punch out the hole in the top.

beer canbeer can contraption

Place your can of beer or cider in your stand and then gently fit the spice rubbed chicken over top. I highly recommend purchasing a beer can chicken roaster, because it makes the chicken far more stable and easier to handle without the worry that the whole thing will tip. This is especially important when the chicken is finished cooking and you are trying to remove it from the oven when it's hot and has grease drippings in it.

cide can chicken

Lay the bacon over the top of the chicken-my friend Jackie called this a "bacon comb over", Donald Trump style! Somehow I think this is the only acceptable kind of comb over (plus it's pretty darn tasty) Secure the bacon with toothpicks so that it doesn't curl up on the chicken while it bakes.

bacon comb over

Place the whole thing in the bottom rack of your oven and bake for 15 minutes before turning the heat down to 350 F. and cooking for about another hour or so longer. You'll know the chicken is done when you insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast reads 185 F.

Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for about 10 minutes. You can lift the bacon off and set it aside. I have found the best way to get the chicken off the rack and the beer can is to first. carve off the wings and set them aside on a platter. Next, carve off the legs. Once you have removed them it's easier to just grip the rest of the carcass with tongs and lift it right off the rack onto a cutting board. Carve the breast and place the pieces on a platter with the legs and wings. I like to also cut the bacon into bite sized pieces and add them on the platter to the chicken. If you want, if you are making potatoes as a side dish (mashed or boiled), you can chop up the bacon and toss it in there instead.

cooked chicken

My family loved this chicken. It was great the first day, but leftovers were fantastic tossed into salad or made into sandwiches as well. I don't usually like chicken skin but the spice rub was so good that even I was ripping off pieces of skin and nibbling on them! This goes really well with roasted or mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and a green salad.

Or, you could be like me and just stand in your kitchen, fork in hand, shoving warm chicken in your mouth-it's that tasty!

finished chicken

Serves 2-4, depending on how hungry you are!

 Adapted from Food Network

Disclosure: This post wasn't sponsored by anyone-I did receive a chicken roaster from BC Chicken Farmers some time ago for a different promotion, but wasn't asked to write about it.
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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Low Sugar Rhubarb Cherry Jam

It's been awhile since I wrote last. No reason, really; I'm still cooking a lot, but somehow none of it made it here. Honestly, I'm not really sure why. Let's fix that shall we?

Some time ago, my friend Alexis began posting about Pomona's pectin. I had trekked out to Alexis's house last year to teach her how to make jam and while it was gloriously fun, Alexis pointed out how much sugar my typical recipe had and that she strived to make one less sugary. Time passed, and then she found Pomona's Universal Pectin.

pectin

Pomona's is a citrus pectin which allows you to make jam and jellies with only a fraction of the amount of sugar that you would have to use with other leading pectins. With a husband who is very conscious about his sugar intake, I thought I would give this product a test drive and see how things turn out.

With memories of that really tasty rhubarb cherry crumble, I wanted to use up the rest of the rhubarb in my freezer by turning it into a jam. Superstore has some really great frozen cherries which I picked up, and I found a really amazing recipe that I just had to try. After being a jam maker for years, I found that the end result is really delicious-like pureed fruit on your toast rather than a sugary syrupy version, but for what you gain in flavour you do lose a little in texture. The jam made with Pomona's is more jello-like than a soft set, but I don't mind. The flavour is really all I cared about.

First of all, before you start this recipe you need to make calcium water with powder in a small packet and water. Shake it up in a Mason jar and store in the fridge.

calcium water



Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups sugar
3 tsp Pomona's Universal Pectin
6 cups diced rhubarb
1/2 vanilla bean
2 cups fresh or frozen pitted cherries, thawed
zest and juice from one lemon
4 tsp calcium water
2 tbsp Grand Marnier

Directions:

Prepare your kitchen for canning; this means getting the water bath canner going so it's good and hot. Sterilize your mason jars and have all your equipment ready to start canning. (see how to do that here)

Combine the rhubarb and vanilla bean together with 1/2 cup water in a medium saucepan. Bring it to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it bubble away until the rhubarb has started to break down. This should take about 10 minutes or so. Let it cool a bit and set aside. You should have 3 cups.

In a food processor or blender, puree the cherries. If they are fresh you need to pit them first-you can use a cherry pitter (use it over the sink or outside), or here's some other interesting methods! In the end you should have 1 cup of cherries.

Whisk the sugar and pectin together in a bowl. Set aside.

Fish the vanilla bean out of the rhubarb. Measure out three cups of the rhubarb and one cup of the cherries, and mix them together in a bowl. Pour them both back into a saucepan and stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, and calcium water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring. Once it's boiling, add the sugar and pectin. Bring it back to a boil while constantly stirring and let it boil hard for 1 minute.

Take the jam off the heat and add the Grand Marnier. Ladle the hot jam into hot, sterilized jars and top with lids (remember to have the snap tops warmed up and everything). Process in your boiling water canner for about 10 minutes.

Makes about five 250 ml jars of jam, possibly with a bit left over to enjoy right away.

jammy bun

Adapted from Serious Eats







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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Blendtec Blender Cookies

cookie

I never, every thought that you could make cookies in a blender. The very idea goes against everything that I've ever known about baking, along with idea of making brownies in it. So weird, but at the same time, it works, right?

These cookies are a little healthier than what I usually make, with the addition of whole oats, flax, and whole wheat flour. It does make for a cookie that is a little drier, maybe a bit more crumbly. The original recipe calls for white whole wheat flour, which I've never found at the store here, so I substituted half whole wheat and half unbleached white. You can experiment with it a little more if you like, or if you can find the white whole wheat, use that. Normally, I almost never would recommend that you reduce to the chocolate chips but in this recipe, I will. The batter just couldn't hold that amount of chocolate and I had about 1/4 cup of chips left over.

These are really fantastic cookies though, and just the right size for a lunchbox. We really enjoyed them and the best part is that it freed up my mixer for other pursuits!

Ingredients:

2/3 cup rolled oats
2 Tbsp flaxseeds
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Blending oats for cookies

Directions:

Pre-heat your oven to 350 F.

First, blend together the oats and flax at speed 3 for about 25 seconds. The oats will become pulverized into a flour-like mixture. The flax will mostly stay whole, which adds a little texture to the finished cookie. Give the mixture a stir and then add flours, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Pulse it a couple times to whiz it up a little.

Dump the works out into a large mixing bowl.

blender cookies

Put the jar back on the base and add the oil, softened butter, egg, sugars, and vanilla. Put on the lid and select "batters". Now, what I find confusing is that my machine doesn't have a batters function, but if you look in the manual it will tell you approximately what speed and for how many seconds each blend cycle is, so you can try to replicate it. I have done that with success. I basically just use the pulse function to do that. If you don't have a Blendtec and want to try this, I'd say that you need to blend it until everything is well incorporated, especially the butter.

dough

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix with a wooden spoon. Add the chocolate chips and stir well.

Spoon out by tablespoons onto an ungreased baking sheet and bake for about 8-10 minutes until set, and then transfer to a rack to cool. The cookies can last for about 3 days in an airtight container on your counter, or you can freeze them.

Makes about 1 1/2 dozen cookies

 Disclosure: I was very generously sent a Blendtec Blender to review. I was not compensated in any other way to post. This recipe is adapted from the book that came with my blender.


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