Thursday, August 28, 2014

Strawberry Pop Tarts with Fresita Icing

I grew up mostly in Shanghai, where imported food from the States back then was considered in my mind, a treasured thing. My family rarely shopped at the Supercity Market where a majority of their products were imported, they preferred to go to the local supermarket to buy food instead. If I brought lunch to school, I cringed at my leftovers from the night before (rice, rice, meat, rice, veg, rice, rice—what a bore and yet I still eat the same lunches these days). I envied my classmates that ate pastrami sandwiches and sipped on juice boxes covered with colourful animal cartoons. The best part of lunch time though was near the end, when they shared their treats. Sometimes it was pop tarts, or Rice Krispie treats, or Fruit-by-the-Foot, or my personal favourite, Fruit Gushers.

It was important to sit within arms length to these friends so I could get the first piece. They were always so generous, passing out their treat as if their house was made of candy. As we stuck out our tongues to compare whose mouth had undergone the most serious colour transformation caused by the Fruit-by-the-Foot,  I always wondered in awe who in their right mind would give away these sweets? I’d keep it all to myself. 

Sometime in middle school, I happened to get my hands on my first box of pop tarts. I had studied the bright blue box from side to side and top to bottom, reading the ingredients, admiring the logo, I was so amused at the packaging as if it were a shiny new toy. I tore open the top flap and grabbed a pop tart, wrapped in its thin silver package, ripped the silvery wrapper to reveal the most beautiful pop tart. I licked the chocolate glaze, savored that strange powdery chocolate flavour and inside the pastry was a pudding-like chocolate filling. It was freaking awesome. 

I haven't had pop tarts again since after moving back to Canada for school, the baker in me scoffs at buying precooked pastries when I can make them at home. See? I can make little tarts too! They're not quite picture-perfect, since I prefer the ‘rustic’ look and didn’t spend the time to meticulously measure out the pastry dough to ensure each rectangle was the exact size, but don't judge a book pop tart by its cover, they are heavenly. 

The combination of sticky jam with shortbread-like pastry is addictive, they are especially good warm from the oven. Also, the pastry really does shine here. It’s buttery, flaky, and surprising easy to make (which is a big deal compared to my many horrid experiences making pastry dough from scratch). 

I used Fresita wine in the icing on these pop tarts too. The wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Moscatel and is mixed with fresh strawberries. The sparkling wine is a little dry but has a strong fruit flavour to give just enough sweetness. 

Fresita is refreshing on its own and tastes amazing chilled, I sipped on few glasses while sunbathing on the patio. The wine also goes well with desserts and is delicious with these strawberry pop tarts. I love that I can hold my Fresita in one hand and a pop tart in the other, no plate required. I would imagine the Fresita would be a good base for making sangria, You can find Fresita at the LCBO. 

Recipe here!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Toronto Festival of Beer

If you, like me, was once a painfully shy girl who cringed at the thought of making new friends in a crowd of thousands of people, you will have no trouble finding plenty of new buddies at the Toronto Festival of Beer. I had a blast on Saturday with my friend Lisa (creator behind Confessions of a Dietitian) meandering through dozens of tents in search of the best tasting beers, talking to beer reps, not to mention finding some food to soak up all the booze. 

It was early afternoon when we made it to the festival grounds and had to make sure it wasn’t Frosh week. There was dance music blaring, adults wearing custom-made hats designed from Steam Whistle beer cartons in various shapes like a pirate’s ship, a palm tree, and antlers. There were men with sparkly mardis gras beads around their necks and beer stickers all over their shirts and the ones who didn’t have stickers all over their shirts, donned clothing that had paid some sort of tribute to beer. It was wild and we loved it. Tickets to the festival were sold out on Saturday, so you can imagine how busy it was.

After walking around, we found our way to Rock Lobster’s booth also known as the “Lobster Shack” and right next to them was a team representing one my of my favourite beers, Sam Adams. I’m no stranger to either; I've been to Rock Lobster a few times and could sit all day stuffing my face with fresh seafood. Sam Adams Boston Lager was one of the first beers I fell in love with since I began to appreciate the golden liquor, we go way back.

We ordered the Sam Adams Summer Ale and Latitude 48 IPA to try. I’ve had the summer ale before and love how easy it goes down, its crisp citrus flavor complements the lobster roll we ordered. The lobster meat was tender yet juicy, we couldn’t help making a mess on the table. The Latitude 48 IPA had a beautiful amber color and a hint of sweetness with a strong bitter finish, it contrasted the sweet lobster tacos nicely. I could have had 10 more tacos but I wanted to leave room to sample more beer. It’s a tough life. 

We spent a good 4 hours at the festival, eating Porchetta and Co sandwiches stuffed with cracklings and homemade mustard plus roasted potatoes doused in lemon crème fraiche (amazing!!). We watched a food demo by Ted Reader who grilled a mean, thick steak that was age dried for 42 days. We also tried so many beers I lost count. Some memorable ones included the Raspberry Ale from Granville Island (another of my favourite breweries), the Fruli (on tap!!), and Melville’s ginger beer.

The best part of the festival aside from drinking was meeting fellow beer enthusiasts. I’m sure the constant consumption of liquid courage had something to do with it, but everyone was very friendly. We even met Matt Pettit of Rock Lobster! There was a group of guys dressed in their own cultural attire, including one dude who's been going to the festival for 10 years. One guy came all the way from Burlington too. There were a ton of beers to try, sadly, I didn’t get a chance to sample the watermelon cider I spotted. Guess I’ll have to go back again next year.

Big thanks to Toronto's Festival of Beer for the kind invite to attend and cover the event!

Recipe here!

Monday, June 9, 2014


California. How to describe one of the best trips in my life? When my friends ask me how my vacation was, I frequently respond, "Amazing! Awesome!", when really, I want to scream, "OMFG it was beauuuutiful! I want to move there." There were so many unforgetable moments shared with my travel companion (who is also my bestie), we were sad to leave. We were there for 11 days, hung out in San Francisco for a few days, Napa for a night, down to LA for for three days before driving back to San Francisco for our last night. Here are some of my favourite things of the trip:

Driving down Highway 1 in a Mustang convertible. I had seen pictures of Big Sur and the Pacific coast, but I had never expected it to be even more beautiful in 'real life'. The mountains, the azure sky, the clouds hovering over the mountains, the blue ocean and the waves crashing onto the rugged shore, it was like a painting come to life. These photos don't do it justice. Hayley and I were giddy with excitement once we passed Carmel and finally saw the glistening water. While we were doing research for our trip, we knew we wanted a convertible, because what better way to drive through California than showing off in a car with the wind blowing through (making a mess) in our hair? (By the way, we stopped by Big Sur Redhouse for lunch, I had amazzzing kale salad)

Exploring San Francisco. I've been to California before when I was younger with my parents and though there's nothing bad about travelling with my family, it's nice to have more flexibility when traveling with a friend. We woke up whenever we wanted, ate whatever we wanted. With my parents, my dad usually decides on our schedule. 

Hayley and I rolled out of bed when our circadian rhythm said so, and walked everywhere: Fisherman's Wharf, Union Square, Lombard Street, the Mission, Ghirardelli Square, Golden Gate Park, the Marina, Ferry Building, Crissy Field. On our first Friday night, we had dinner at The House, picked up cheap wine at a convenience store, went dancing in SoMa, and drank some more at Terrior. The following night we went to a drag show at Aunt Charlie's, both nights were equally memorable for years to come.

The beaches. We went to three beaches in LA: Venice beach is a nice to chill and people-watch, Santa Monica is in a beautiful area, we walked along the pier and did some shopping. Huntington was our favourite though. We stayed with a friend and after a long night of partying, we were tired and quite frankly, hungover. Sunbathing at the beach makes for a good cure. I felt refreshed after a brief nap and jumped into the cold ocean for a swim. We were blessed with good weather, it was chilly in the morning and at night, but it was otherwise, gorgeous everyday. 

Save for a few meals, we ate very well too. We treated ourselves to a fancy schmancy meal at Angele in Napa. We also had a lovely brunch at Sweet Maple in SF and shared the the popular Millionare's Bacon. We had decent fish tacos at Calle Taco in Hollywood and some of the most delicious sushi at Long Beach. I brought back dark chocolate from Trader Joe's, white pineapple balasmic vinegar and traditional balasmic vinegar from Lucero in Napa (both were thick and syrupy, I can't wait to try them drizzled on vanilla ice cream).

Now all I can think about is my next big trip. What do you think of Spain, Portugal, and France next year? I'd love to watch the French Open at Roland Garros, that's always been a dream of mine. Besides, Paris is always a good idea. More pictures here.
Recipe here!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Mussels Steamed in Beer with Fennel

I have an agreement with my boyfriend that for every beer we open together, I get the first sip. On our first date, we shared a beer at the Beaches Jazz Fest and he said, “the first sip of beer is always the best.” Since then I’ve taken the first sips of all the beers we’ve had, and that’s a lot of beer. One of my favourites is Sam Adams, in fact, I wouldn’t even share it, I’d make sure that we each have our own beer to drink. Good thing it's at the LCBO we can easily split a six-pack.

Mussels in beer have always been a special dish to me. Maybe it reminds me of a summer when I visited Montreal, a city that awoke my taste buds and bolstered my deep-seated interest to cook and bake. There was a restaurant that served mussels in beer with fresh cut fries, a classic Belgian dish. It was delicious, I wanted to slurp up the briny juices from my bowl. 

This dish can be made in less than 20 minutes. All you need to do is chop up fennel and onions, toss them into a pot with butter until softened, add the cleaned mussels, pour over the Sam Adams, and let it steam for about 5-8 minutes and viola! Dinner! 

My home smelled like hot butter, seafood and malt. Mom and I had these for dinner the other day, there was plenty of bread to mop up the salty juices. The mussels were plump and juicy, the fennel and onions had absorbed the hoppy flavours of the beer, the acidity from the lemon brings it all together. It was a beautiful meal, especially with a cold bottle of Sam Adams.

“This post is sponsored by Branding & Buzzing"

Recipe here!