Savoury Avocado Cream Bites – An Avo Showdown Recipe

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One of the nicest parts of blogging for me is when the two lenses of my blog, food and community, converge. It’s not a rare occurrence, either – food and community go hand-in-hand.

There are a lot of organizations that connect food bloggers these days – Food Bloggers of Canada, food blogger savvy marketing companies, Meetups, and more. It means I’ve had the opportunity to meet other local bloggers and it’s often in the context of a fun event.

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This summer, I got to do just that, courtesy of Town Hall Brands and Avocados from Mexico.

They organized an Avo Showdown and local bloggers brought their best original avocado recipes to the competition.

I spent some time recipe-testing, consulting my copy of The Vegetarian Flavor Bible for avocado-friendly pairings, and came up with an avocado and coconut cream spread, paired with jalapeño jam and a cucumber and fennel salad. I presented it on Vancouver-favourite, Raincoast Crisps, for two reasons: they’re delicious and I thought they’d hold up well to the very long wait between assembly and presentation to the judges.

  

Savoury Avocado Cream Bites

Serves a crowd

Fennel Crunch:
  • 5 grams red onions, finely diced and soaked in ice water for 10 minutes
  • 50 grams fennel ( ½ small bulb), excluding fronds, finely diced
  • 50 grams cucumber, peeled, quartered & cored, finely diced
Lime Vinaigrette:
  • 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
Avocado Cream:
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • ¼ cup coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • a generous pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
To Finish:
  • jalapeño jam, store-bought or homemade (I use Camilla Wynne’s recipe)
  • crackers, crostini or rice crackers
  • cilantro (optional)

Prepare the Fennel Crunch and Lime Vinaigrette. Toss the Fennel Crunch in 2 -3 tbsp of the vinaigrette, check for seasoning, and refrigerate.

Halve the avocados, remove the seed, and scoop the meat into the jar of a blender or the bowl of a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until the mixture is smooth, thick, and free of lumps. Check for seasoning, then refrigerate for 30 minutes.

To assemble, scoop a small quantity of the dressed Fennel Crunch onto the crackers or crostini. Spoon or pipe ½ – 1 tsp. of the Avocado Cream on top. Add a small quantity of jalapeño jam to either side of the Avocado Cream. Garnish with another small sprinkle of Fennel Crunch or a shower of chopped cilantro.

Serve immediately.

Tips: For a gluten-free version, use rice crackers, gluten-free crostini, or even slices of cucumber. This recipe is suitable for vegan or vegetarian eaters.

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My dish was a hit with my family and with a few of the judges, so I’m happy. (Of course the happiest bunch of all were the night’s winners, as you can see in the photo above.)

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The evening was the best reward, anyway. We were treated to mountains of delicious appetizers prepared by the students at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, along with a demonstration of an avocado-shrimp spring roll by PICA’s Executive Culinary Chef Instructor, Darren Clay. (It was fun working in a commercial kitchen alongside fellow bloggers.)

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This was followed up by a demonstration of an Alligator Fizz by Justin Darnes, of Drinks Undressed and prestigious bars around the world and here in Vancouver.

By the time we got to taste each other’s dishes (nineteen in all), we were already a little full. But, they were all so delicious, we managed. And on our way out the door, we got a bag of avocado goodies to take home.

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A wonderful evening all around.

I was given an invitation to the Avo Showdown by Town Hall Brands, along with a small gift bag, but received no other consideration. All opinions are my own.

Some Bright Ideas

  

Here’s what I’ve got coming up for you next week on the blog:

Meinhardt Fine Foods has opened a downtown location. I’ll tell you all about it, and their opening party, on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, barring any technical glitches, I’ll have another interview up in the G-W Portraits series.

On Friday, I’ll be sharing a recipe and describing the event that had me hauling out my copy of the Vegetarian Flavor Bible.

Here’s what I’ve got coming up, offline, this weekend:

A visit to Knit City, to ogle the wares of dozens of yarn and equipment purveyors. (Have I mentioned that my yarn diet is almost as fragile as my tea diet?)

I’ll also be attending the Canadian Coffee & Tea Show. I’ll be checking out their Tea Lounge and Tradeshow, while keeping tabs on the progress of the Canadian Barista and Latte Arts championships.

It’s also Doors Open Vancouver this weekend. If I have time, I might take the opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes look at one of the City’s civic facilities. It’s a great way to get a new perspective on the architecture, infrastructure, and function of our City’s landmarks.

As always, I’d love to hear what you’re up to, online and off, this week.

A Lot of Catching Up to Do

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I’ve got a fistful of draft posts awaiting completion, but instead, I’ve been making Periscope videos and commenting on other people’s blogs.

Since French Fridays with Dorie wrapped up, I haven’t been keeping up with my favourite bloggers as well as I’d like. So, I’m going to spend time giving them some comment love this weekend. Would you like to join me?

You can find most of them in this list: French Fridays Folks & Cottage Cooks

If I’m missing someone, let me know in the comments.

I’m going to leave it at that tonight. It’s a long weekend, after all. Have a great Labo(u)r Day!

Cherry Crumb Tart – A Baking Chez Moi Catch Up

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What don’t you have time for? It might seem like it’s quite a long list.

But, a better question might be, what do you have time for?

For me, that includes making things by hand, whether that’s a pair of booties for a friend’s baby or a meal made with the freshest ingredients of the season. I’d much rather spend my down time on those things than in front of the television.

I certainly had time for this tart, even though it takes a little planning and patience. Dorie has streamlined her sweet tart dough so that it does all its resting in the pan, getting it baked and cooled a lot sooner than her earlier versions. Still, you have to factor that time into the equation before you commit to this tart.

The filling needs an hour in the fridge, so start with that and you will be ready to go as soon as the tart crust has cooled. In the meantime, mix the streusel and pit the cherries. (While you pit the cherries, you can even watch television. I’m not a puritan, you know.)

The tart bakes for about forty-five minutes, and then another half-hour or so after you top it with the streusel, which gives you plenty of time to get a summer supper together.

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By the time you’ve finished dinner, it will be cool enough to serve. With a flourish of icing sugar, if you’re so inclined.

Now, who wouldn’t have time for that?

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this recipe here: Cherry Crumb Tart.

Hot Weather Eating – A Cottage Cooking Club Catchup

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I’ve been eating simple meals all summer – we’ve had dry, hot weather and it’s been hard to contemplate using the oven or the stove much. Next year, I think I’m going to add a small grill to our outdoor equipment, because cooking outside is all I’ve been wanting to do.

Luckily, summer is full of fruit and vegetables freshly harvested and perfect for simple preparations. The salad at the top of this post is typical of what I’ve been eating lately, along with some very lightly prepared accompaniments.

New Potato Salad “Tartare”

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One of my favourites this summer has been this salad, which gets away from the mayonnaise-soaked version you so often get in Canada and the U.S. Instead, it relies on herbs, cornichons, and a mustardy vinaigrette for flavour. It’s refreshing to have a bracing sourness underlying the dressing on a hot day.

Tomatoes with Herbs

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I had so many cherry tomatoes that I made this two ways, one of which I’ll tell you about at the end of the month. This is the simplest way to enjoy tomatoes, with fresh herbs from the garden, a little balsamic, and a good olive oil. I had enough to satisfy us, share with our neighbours, and still had some to spare. I slow-roasted those and froze them. They’ll be brightening up my winter meals.

Tomorrow is going to be cloudy and mild (fingers crossed for some much-needed rain). I’m going to take the opportunity to put my oven and stovetop to work. So, you’ll be seeing a few more catch up recipes on the 28th of this month, along with August’s Cottage Cooking Club selections.

I’ve missed cooking along with all my CCC colleagues and I’m looking forward to catching up on your blogs.

Baking Chez Moi – Vanilla-Mango Panna Cotta

Panna cotta sounds elegant and difficult, but it’s only one of those things. Unlike its more temperamental cousin, custard, it doesn’t need monitoring. As long as you soften the gelatin in cold water, then stir it into hot cream until it dissolves, its really just a matter of waiting until it sets in the fridge.

And once you know that the gelatin does all the heavy lifting, it’s hard not make panna cotta a habit. Especially since the variations are seemingly endless. There’s a multitude of recipes out there, with variations on flavour, presentation, and accompaniments.

This version was particularly refreshing at the end of a hot day. Dorie layers vanilla panna cotta atop a mango and lime purée. Eating it made me feel like I’d been transported to a tropical hotel. Looking at it made me feel like running over to Gourmet Warehouse and picking up some glass ramekins or tiny Weck jars.

I love my ramekins – they’re pretty and they’ve served me well. But, they’re totally wrong for presenting this dessert. It’s meant to be admired even before you spoon into it. I probably don’t need more ramekins, so next time I make this, I’ll unmold the panna cotta onto a plate and garnish it with a generous amount of the purée. Or, I could go shopping, ignoring the fact that I live in a small apartment and I have a very long wish list of kitchen items.

We’ll see.

And since it’s a Catch Up Friday, I thought I’d mention that I have indeed made the Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars. I posted about them in a French Fridays post in April.

Crispy Topped Brown Sugar Bars

They were fantastic, but I’m afraid to make them again, as they might disappear before I share them with anyone else.

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this recipe here: Vanilla-Mango Panna Cotta.

Cold Teas to Soothe the Soul at Tea Sparrow’s 1st Annual Iced Tea Festival

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I attended the Tea Sparrow Iced Tea Festival as a media guest, but had no obligation to review or write about any aspect of the event. All opinions are my own.

Growing up, I thought I didn’t like iced tea. But really, it was American-style sweet tea that wasn’t my thing. When I became a tea drinker, in my adolescence, my mother insisted that I take it clear – no sugar, no milk. I found I loved it that way. I’d lost the taste for pop around ten or eleven and tea was the perfect replacement. I loved its astringency and malty undertones. And I soon became convinced that I only liked it hot.

I kept on feeling that way until my mid-twenties, when a friend made me some barely sweetened sun tea. I’ve had some good versions since, most memorably a batch made with a rich, organic Earl Grey, honey, and mint from a friend’s garden. Still, I never sought it out or felt inclined to make it myself.

It wasn’t until I started exploring premium loose teas that I truly started to enjoy iced tea. It’s no surprise that it’s the teas that don’t need any sweetening at all that won me over. Not all teas benefit from being served cold, but the ones that do make a perfect relief from the heat.

Coconut Oolong

In Vancouver’s seemingly never-ending heatwave this summer, an invitation to an Iced Tea Festival was a welcome distraction. The festival was hosted by Tea Sparrow, which curates monthly selections of teas from around the world, for tea drinkers worldwide. They focus on quality and taste in their tea selections, avoiding artificial ingredients.

I’d only just heard of Tea Sparrow recently, so I took the opportunity to talk to one of the co-founders of the company, Michael Menashy, at the festival. Tea Sparrow started as an industry curation company in 2010, then expanded to shipping tea boxes directly to customers in January of 2012. Though the company has a world focus, their base is Vancouver, which makes their local customers a surprisingly big part of their tea selection process. They hold tea tastings every second month, rating the teas that are contenders for the next few months’ tea boxes. It’s a very hot ticket, since only twelve people can attend – Michael told me the Eventbrite listing is filled up within hours of posting.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of disappointed tea tasters each round. So, to give more of them a chance to get in on the action, Tea Sparrow holds occasional events that cater to a larger crowd. This year’s Iced Tea Festival was the first of what they hope will be an annual event and they had crowds of tea lovers lined up, until well into the afternoon, eager to try the fifteen teas they had on offer.

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I showed up around three, when the line up had eased, and was happy to get out of the muggy heat into Heritage Hall’s airy auditorium. I was armed with a tasting cup and invited to try the teas as many times as I liked. The teas were cold, but not so cold that the taste was dampened, and I appreciated being able to taste them without the distraction of any added sweetener.

Several stood out for me, including Samovar Tea Lounge‘s Pineapple Coconut Oolong, Sonnentor‘s Organic Peppermint, and Tea Desire‘s Maracuja Orange. There was a clear winner for me that day, though – Herbal Republic‘s Strawberry Mint. It had a deep strawberry flavour complemented with mint, which Herbal Republic’s Tracy McDowell told me took a lot of trial and error to get right. Strawberry is one of the hardest flavours to capture in tea and many companies rely on artificial extracts. Not so for Herbal Republic – they dry strawberries carefully and infuse their tea with natural flavours.

Strawberry Mint

I’m supposed to be on a new-tea-moratorium (until the tea cupboard is less stuffed), but I may have to break that fast and order some Strawberry Mint. We’re having a short respite from the heat this weekend, but the rest of the summer is scheduled to be hot and dry – that means iced tea weather until well into the fall. That’s enough of an excuse…right?

Even if I don’t start adding to my tea collection again immediately, I’m feeling inspired to cold brew some of the teas I have at home, finding out which ones work iced as nicely as the ones I tasted last weekend. I’m also going to be keeping an eye on Tea Sparrow’s website. I’d love to go to another tea tasting event in the fall or winter – fifteen hot teas to try on a cold, damp Vancouver afternoon sounds right up my alley.