Sunday, February 28, 2010

Introducing Erin McDowell of The Apartment Kitchen

Visit The Apartment Kitchen.

I have recently joined Adopt-a-Blogger, a wonderful mentorship program created by Kristen over at Dine & Dish. Through the program, mentors with blogs over a year old — that's me! — help fledgling food bloggers just starting out. I'd like to introduce you to my match, Erin McDowell of The Apartment Kitchen.

Erin is a recent grad of the Culinary Institute of America and works in its cookbook publishing department, a very cool job from what she has told me so far. In fact, when we first met she was in the middle of a cookie photo shoot! “There are so many cookies in my office right now, and the smell is both heavenly and deadly,” she wrote. Seriously, how fun would that be?

Erin currently writes two blogs, The Apartment Kitchen, where she uses her training to make delicious food on a budget, and Absence Makes the Heart Grow Hungry, a joint blog with her mom and brother. Each week, they post recipes after cooking the same ingredient in their different homes across the country to “keep the family table alive, long-distance style,” Erin says.
— Asha

Erin, what's your blog all about?
After I graduated from culinary school, I was excited to dive into cooking at home — until I realized my kitchen was about as bare as could be. I decided to start a blog about my journey towards cooking easy, delicious and inexpensive meals without a lot of equipment. It's been fun using the training I received in school but in a different environment — it's forced me to think creatively and come up with new, exciting solutions!

Of all the subjects out there, why did you choose to blog about food?
Food is everything to me, but I only realized it a few years ago. When I was a senior in high school, the idea of culinary school hit me. It was only after I started that I realized that it was the perfect choice for me. I grew up around food. My mother is an unbelievable cook, and everyone in the family found their way into cooking one way or another!

Your blog is relatively young. In a few lines, can you please sum up its history/important milestones during its growth so far?
The most exciting moment was having a recipe recognized by Saveur Magazine. I also really enjoyed being a part of the food contests at Food52, it's so much fun with lots of other cooks and bloggers, and I won one competition!

Who is your audience?
I get a lot of new cooks, people who are looking for easy meals or don't have a lot of equipment either, but I've also found that a lot of foodies and fellow food bloggers tune in, too!

What new relationships/friendships have you made as a result of food blogging?
It's been amazing to see where my readers come from: India, Russia, Spain, France, even Argentina! My favorite interactions have been with people who ask me to help them with a kitchen dilemma or to develop a recipe. It's fun to work together to find a solution!

Do you have a team that helps you with your blog, or is it a one-person operation?
My friend Chris is my right hand man in all things blog-related. He really inspired me to do some new and interesting things with my blog and he became my webmaster. He's helped me design the blog and figure out all that fancy HTML and formatting stuff that I had no clue about.

How do you use social media to promote your blog?
It took me awhile to jump on the bandwagon, but I have a Twitter account (@apartmentcooker) and a Facebook page (The Apartment Kitchen), which have been really fantastic tools when it comes to connecting with readers.

Tell me a bit about one of your heroes or mentors when it comes to food and cooking, and what you have learned from them.
My mother is always at the top of that list...she taught me so much about how food influences people's lives and the importance of home cooked meals and eating around the dinner table. Other (perhaps more well-known) influences are Lidia Bastianich, who cooks delicious food and stays true to her heritage and shares it with others, and Irena Chalmers, who taught me so much about food writing.

Do you have a favourite food memory from your childhood or recent past?
So many! But just the other day I was reminded of my first kitchen job: I went into the bakeshop at 3:00 a.m. to make and bake all of the breakfast pastries. Our specialty was scones, and two days a week I had to deliver them to a local coffee shop after my shift. Sometimes I would run home and surprise my parents with an array of warm scones just as they woke up, and we'd sit on the porch and eat them as the sun came up.

One of the key themes of your blog is staying within a budget — given your gourmet training, what advice do you have for uncompromising foodies on a shoestring budget?
The best advice I can give to anyone is to build a good pantry: spices, oils, vinegars, seasonings, condiments, aromatic vegetables and so on. It can seem expensive at first, but once you have a good basis in your kitchen, you can make almost anything, including deliciously gourmet items after buying just one or two things. The other day my boyfriend requested his favorite turkey meatloaf, and all we had to buy was one pound of ground turkey!

So that's Erin of The Apartment Kitchen! We'll keep you posted about the interesting things will be trying together.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Spanish reds ... vino de crianza!

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My latest wine discovery is a lovely Spanish red called Campo Viejo Crianza. I recently brought it to a girls night where it was received with much enthusiasm.

The first time I drank it, I imagined that I was sitting at the bar of an Andalusian tavern, a wineglass in one hand and a slice of manchego cheese in the other. It was a hot and dusty day, and a wedge of golden afternoon sun was spilling through the open door, ending just short of my bar stool. A very sexy Spaniard was pushing a complimentary dish of marinated olives my way and ... did I mention I was wearing the most perfect LRD (little red dress)?


The morning after, I pulled out my wine book and learned the basics about Spanish wines. Did you know that the most famous wine region in Spain is called the Rioja and that tempranillo is its main grape variety? Reading that brought back sweet memories from years ago of my friend Rachel extolling the virtues of tempranillos over beer in an Irish pub, oddly enough.

Anyway, according to my book, the crianza I drank was aged in both an oak barrel and a bottle before touching my lips in its third year. And Spanish wines get even better once you graduate to reservas, which have spent even more time in the bottle, at least three years, before being released for sale.

Campo Viejo make a reserva, too. Imagine what my daydreams would be like if I ever got my hands on that!

Stay tuned for more uncorked, wine-induced thoughts as future discoveries are made :)

Campo Viejo Crianza
$14.95 at the LCBO

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Roman holiday: La parte due

A pizzeria sighting and great Roman graffiti!

Please welcome guest bloggers Peanut Butter and Jelly, foodie friends recently back from a vacation in Rome. In the second half of their guest post, Peanut Butter shares some of their experiences eating out and reviews their three favourite restaurants. —Asha

Both lunch and dinner are served on the later side, which suits us well. Some restaurants don't open for lunch until 12:30 or 1 p.m.

A full meal at a restaurant consists of a small appetizer, a primi (usually a medium-sized portion of pasta) and a secondi (usually a meat dish with a few veggies).

We did not consider the service slow as much as leisurely. Generally speaking, the food was very good or excellent, sometimes regardless of price point. We did encounter a few misses but not too many.

Mind you, we followed a few important rules when eating out:

* We followed our noses and smelled the restaurant once inside.

* We avoided restaurants where there was someone outside who was aggressively waving for us to come in or yelling after us in English. This was actually a tip from Eyewitness' Top 10 Rome guidebook that stated “no self respecting Roman would go to such a restaurant and neither should you.”

* We avoided restaurants on main streets near major tourist attractions (which is somewhat difficult as Rome is teeming with these). Some of the best places to eat are on side streets and not much to look at.

* We tried to order what the restaurant is best at. For example, if we were at a pizzeria, we ordered pizza.

* We steered clear of “tourist menus.”

Of the many restaurants that we tried over our 12 days in Rome, here are our favourite three:

Il Bocconcino
Via Ostilia, 23, phone 06 77079175

The luscious menu at Il Bocconcino.

This is the restaurant that we were the most impressed with and we were lucky enough to visit twice. It has a rustic, welcoming feel and the staff were patient when explaining in detail all the items on the Italian menu. We started with the antipasto plate, which was plentiful and had a decadent array of cheeses, meats as well some interesting baked goods. The rigatoni carbonara was the best carbonara we had on vacation (this is a common Roman pasta dish consisting of pasta, bacon, parmesan cheese and egg). The rabbit medallions in red wine sauce were tender and juicy and so good that we came back and ordered this item for a second time. We also enjoyed the artichoke torte; while not the strongest item on the menu, it was good nevertheless. We skipped our usually daily gelato and went for dessert. We split a chocolate cake that was similar to a soft, chewy brownie. Molto buono!

Piazza Delle Coppelle 44, phone 39.06.683.078.95

This was a restaurant that Jelly had researched ahead of time and wanted to try. After we made our reservation we discovered that it was in a few tourist handbooks, which explained the number of tourists we saw there. But in fact, we benefited from their presence — during dinner we met some interesting American tourists who were nice enough to give us their tickets for that night's midnight mass at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

But I digress, the food...

We shared artichoke cooked in white wine and garlic, unexpectedly good. We cut into it easily, and it was a nice starter. For our primi, we tried a gorgonzola and pear gnocchi and a red-lettuce risotto that was subtle in taste and quite a refreshing change from the heavier flavours usually found in risotto. Although a good pairing of ingredients, the gnocchi itself was not as good as we tasted at Casa Coppelle (the next review below). Our two secondis this night were osso bucco and carpaccio. The osso bucco was good, but the carpaccio was excellent. It consisted of paper-thin slices of uncooked tender beef, covered in arugula and parmesan cheese, and served with olive and balsamic. The meat almost dissolved in your mouth and we enjoyed every last bite.

Casa Coppelle
Piazza Delle Coppelle 49, phone 39.06.6889.1707

The atmosphere and friendly staff also set this restaurant apart. The highlight was the gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce. This was by far the best gnocchi I had ever tasted. It was clearly made from scratch on the premises. The gnocchi did not have a sticky or heavy consistency but was rather light and tender. We also both tried the veal escalopes with lemon sauce that we a bit salty but still enjoyed it.

Nuns caught out in the rain during midnight mass in Vatican City.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Roman holiday!

Peanut Butter eating gelato at the Trevi fountain in Rome, Italy.

Please welcome guest bloggers Peanut Butter and Jelly, foodie friends of mine recently back from a Christmas adventure in Rome. In part one of their guest blog, Peanut Butter shares their general Roman food observations. —Asha

For those considering a trip to Rome, it is well worth it if you have any interest in art, architecture, history and of course food! Allow yourself lots of time as there is far too much to see and so many restaurants to try in only a few days.

We noticed that most restaurants served similar dishes. Antipasto was available everywhere, from the least expensive of bars to the most high-end of restaurants. In many respects, the variety of food in Rome is very limited relative to similar-sized cities in North America, but that does not mean it's not worth visiting as many restaurants as possible. The Romans focus on serving their classic dishes in their best possible form and way with the freshest ingredients around.

A chocolate nativity scene in a Roman shop window.


For breakfast, most Romans favour taking an espresso or cappuccino along with a sweet pastry at the bar in the local cafe. This morning tradition became a ritual that Jelly really got into. We found it interesting that even the pastries and bread were sold by weight.

Cooking at the apartment

Most days, we ate a large lunch out, and stuck to making simple meals for dinner at the apartment with fresh ingredients that we picked up at the local grocery store. The clementines, tomatoes and artichokes tasted particularly fresh to us, having just come from Ottawa's cold winter. We bought different varieties of salami and prosciutto to compliment the different cheeses that we found. We observed the locals getting into heated discussions over cheeses at the cheese counter. One of our favourites was a sheep's cheese called piccolino. It spreads on bread similar to butter and is delicious.


Gelato was a great ice cream treat that we enjoyed almost every day (see photo of me at the top!). It did not look to us like the Romans ate as much gelato in the winter as the tourists, who still regularly enjoyed it. A favourite of Jelly's was pine nut, a flavour we found in Florence.

Two Swiss guards in Vatican City.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Roman feast

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My friends Peanut Butter and Jelly went to Rome for two weeks over Christmas. They had many delicious food adventures and came back with mouthwatering stories.

They kindly invited me for dinner on New Year's Eve and this is what they cooked for me, above. An insalata caprese to start, followed by spaghetti carbonara and tartuffo for dessert. The other two photos are from their trip to Rome and show the Septimus Arch forum and a never-ending row of scooters! (Crossing the street as a pedestrian in Rome is a leap of faith, they say, you just got to take a deep breath and go for it!)

PB and J have also generously offered to write a guest post on beFOODled about their adventures. Stay tuned because the next two posts on beFOODled will be all about their Roman holiday!

Read part one: General Roman food observations
Read part two: Roman restaurant reviews

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tartines with ratatouille and sardines

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Oh, ratatouille, how I have missed thee.

I love ratatouille because it reminds me of summer, which I am yearning for right now, but it's also a recipe that demands a lot of work. I've been buying the ingredients every week for a month now, and then feeling too overwhelmed to make it. I finally made it on the weekend, the first time in at least a year.

I basically followed my old recipe (Ode to ratatouille), but with some differences. I used my indoor grill to grill the vegetables. I tossed each vegetable in olive oil and a different dried herb — the zucchini with oregano, the peppers with basil, and the onions and eggplant with herbes de Provençe — and grilled them in batches.

The grill marks were lovely and brown and stripey, just like from a real barbecue. S was pretty impressed because he has had no luck yet getting the appliance to make the same fine grill marks on fish.

While veggies grilled, I sauteed some ingredients in a big deep frying pan for the ratatouille base: diced onion, diced sundried tomato, minced garlic, two big tablespoons of tomato paste and lots of olive oil. As the vegetables came off the grill I added them to this pan and mixed everything up as it cooked. An hour and a half later, I had a lovely ratatouille. It gets better the day after you cook it, and better still the day after that!

My favourite way with ratatouille these days is to have it on tartines, a French dish that is basically little baguette toasts topped with a spread. I first heard of tartines after watching Laura Calder make them on the "Cooking for One" episode of French Food at Home on Food Network Canada. She made three different tartines, one with olive tapenade and tomatoes, another with a fava bean spread and a third with a mushroom saute. I've been making two lately, one with ratatouille and the other with bristling sardines.

Does anyone else have a favourite way of making tartines? I would love to collect some more ideas!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

York Street Spa cappuccino art

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I had my hair cut today and was offered this very nice flower cappuccino by Mathew McRae, an apprentice hairdresser at the York Street Spa hair salon. Mathew can make all sorts of interesting designs. He learned the art of manipulating cappuccino foam from a client who works at the Second Cup. Beautiful and delicious!

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