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Cooking with Asparagus

This post has been sponsored by Loblaws. Although they have provided me financial compensation and products, my opinion and words are all my own. I am in partnership with Loblaws and will be bringing blog posts and recipes throughout the rest of the year, and all partnered posts will be marked as sponsored.

Food is one of my favourite things. It is something you can talk about, watch on TV, read in books, learn about in school, and most importantly, bond over. Growing up food was not something I was passionate about, nor something I really cared about (other than to eat). It wasn’t until my late teens and early twenties when I was on my own that I started to not only appreciate food – the flavours, the smells, the work that goes into it – but see first-hand how it can be a fantastic way to learn more about those around you, connect with people you thought you had little in common, and share experiences you may never have had otherwise.

Over the last few years, I have immersed myself in food. I have countless (no seriously, countless- see picture below) cookbooks which I have read front to back like they are novels as well as a growing collection of food-based history and literature (everything from the history of the apple in North America to books on food fights and culture wars all which revolve around an ingredient or a dish). I have also had the chance to experience numerous food-based experiences from fine dining tasting menus, to trips and vacations all which start around a conversation of “What food should we eat when we’re away.”

So when Loblaws came to me with the opportunity to share stories and recipes revolving around #FoodLoversUnite I couldn’t have been more excited. Loblaws was already my grocery store I’ve shopped at for years, so it was a nice way to combine my love of a place I spend a lot of time in, and their vision that food can bring everyone together. As part of my partnership with Loblaws, I’ll be sharing a number of recipes that involve different ingredients or themes. The first is that no matter what your food preference, we’re all food lovers. The ingredient I was chosen to feature was asparagus. What I love about getting asparagus is the fact that it is in season. It tastes so much better and I love knowing that it is coming from Canadian farmers. At my Loblaws (Maple Leaf Gardens if you ever want to visit it) during peak growing season (June-August) more than 50% of produce is coming from Canadian farmers (and this isn’t just my Loblaws, that is Loblaws across Canada). Loblaws works with over 450 Canadian farmers and continues to grow that which makes shopping Canadian and supporting our own farmers that much easier. If you have the chance, I encourage you to try in-season produce at Loblaws, especially when you see it is from Canadian growers, you’ll be impressed by the quality and taste!

Grilled asparagus on a plate

Asparagus was one of the first vegetables I remember liking as a child and one that I keep in my fridge almost all year round! Whether it’s quickly blanched and served super crisp, or oven-roasted to a beautiful toasty finish, for me, you can’t go wrong with asparagus. According to a poll done by Correlated, in general, 72% of people like asparagus. While that may seem like a lot, that also means that nearly 30% of people don’t! One of that 30% of people also happens to be one of my best friends Maleah. So with her in mind (and on her way over for dinner this week) I wanted to make something that asparagus could be the star of (for me) but could also be replaced and still be delicious for Maleah. I settled on Corncakes!

For myself, I made Asparagus, Bacon and Feta Corncakes. These are such a delicious spring and summer treat. They’re not super complex, and don’t take a long time to make so even the most kitchen shy person can make these with success! You can easily swap out the asparagus in this recipe for fresh peas, corn, scallions or leeks and still have a scrumptious dish. For Maleah, I swapped out the asparagus for leeks because they’re one of her favourite vegetables. I simply divided the batter into 2 once it was combined and mixed in the asparagus and leeks separately meaning we’d both got exactly what we wanted!

Ingredients:

1 Cup+ 2 Tbsp Grilled Asparagus, grilled or charred, diced (or substitute with 1 cup fresh peas or 1 cup fresh corn or 1 cup shredded leeks)

2.5 tbsp olive oil

6 slices bacon, baked, chopped

1 cup finely ground cornmeal (the higher quality the better)

1/2 cup+1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1-1/2 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled (pat dry before crumbling)

1 cup whole milk

1 extra large egg

2 Green Onion, finely chopped

Neutral Oil for frying (canola, sunflower, etc…)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400F.

Clean your asparagus, cut the hard woody ends off and drizzle with your olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Preheat your grill or pan to medium heat. Add asparagus, and cook until slightly blackened and cooked- 3-4 minutes on each side. Once cooked, remove from heat and let cool. Cut into 1″ pieces after, reserving the tips.

With your oven heated, cook your bacon on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper for 15-20 minutes (you want the bacon crispy, but not so much so that it breaks into too many small pieces when cutting). Remove and let cool before dicing the bacon. Reserve the bacon drippings from the pan.

In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper.

In a medium bowl, whisk the milk and egg together. Once thoroughly combined add the feta, half the bacon crumbles, 2 tbsp of the reserved bacon drippings, both green onions and To it, add the crumbled feta, half of the diced bacon, 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings, the green onion, and the diced asparagus (keeping aside the tips mentioned before).

Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing well- you want to avoid clumps as they’ll leave floury pockets that aren’t enjoyable.

Heat a large frying pan to medium-high heat. Add leftover bacon drippings into the pan and enough oil so that the bottom of the pan is thinly covered.

Using an ice-cream scoop, scoop mixture directly into the hot pan.

Cook each side until golden and firm. This should take 2-3 minutes depending on your pan. Keep a close eye on them as they can burn easily. As they’re finished, place them on a paper towel to absorb the oil (if you don’t they’ll get soggy- also, don’t stack them on top of each other as they dry).

Serve with sour cream, the leftover bacon crumble and the asparagus tips!

Asparagus and feta cheese corncake on a plate with sour-cream and bacon.

If fried foods aren’t your favourite, or if you’re simply looking for something a little more satiating (you have to eat a lot of corn cakes to make it count as a meal in my opinion) then I’ve included a couple of other recipes that could help round out a great breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner!

Now, if your childhood was anything like mine then one of your first baked goods memories was likely of either cookies or bread- probably banana bread or some sort of similar loaf (my mom would always make this great zucchini bread before I even knew that I enjoyed zucchini). Loaves and bread quickly became some of the first things I ever attempted to bake and something I continue to go back to again and again. (I’ve got a beautiful cinnamon swirl loaf I’ll share at some point). So when thinking of ways to make foods where an ingredient could be replaced my mind immediately went to a bread.

It took me a few tries to get this right (my first version was way too dry, and the second was too oily and there was an after taste I didn’t love) and that got me to here. I took elements from a couple of other types of breads (an olive oil bread for the texture and consistency) as well as from cakey bread (like the cinnamon swirl loaf I mentioned above) and was pleased with the outcome. No need for yeast, butter, or even to really prep your ingredients (other than the asparagus) before baking. You can also easily substitute the asparagus in this recipe with leeks, green onions, or even shaved white onions lightly sautéed. So without making you read more, I’ll get to the point- this is a recipe for a Cheesy Asparagus, Sundried Tomato and Black Olive Bread.

Ingredients:

1/2 Cup Olive Oil (plus 2 tbsp reserved)

1/2 lb of fresh asparagus, woody ends removed, cut into four parts

1 1/3 Cup self rising cake flour

1.5 Tbsp Herbs de Provence

3 XL eggs, beaten

1/2 Cup 3.5% Milk

15 Pitted Olives (black or green)

2/3 Cup Sun-dried Tomatoes (roughly chopped)

1 Cup Finely Grated Beaufort Cheese

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375F.

Line the inside of a loaf pan with parchment paper, set aside.

Pan fry the asparagus on high heat in the reserved olive oil until lightly browned. Remove from heat, pat dry, salt, set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour and herbs de provence by whisking. Once combined, make a well in the middle and add eggs, milk and oil while stirring constantly, bringing the flour into the middle. Mix for about a minute until you have a smooth batter.

Save a few asparagus tips and olives, place aside. Using the rest of the asparagus, olives and 2/3 of the cheese, add to the batter until combined.

Pour batter into loaf pan, and top with remaining asparagus, olives and top with cheese.

Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown and crispy on top, and seemingly firm. Once cooked, remove from oven and let cool in loaf pan for 10 minutes before removing onto a wire rack.

Slice and enjoy!

So far we’ve had some great snacks and sides, but haven’t had a chance to feed a crowd with a meal item. We’ve had two fairly cakey and heavy items, but what about when you’re looking for something a bit lighter?

Well, I wanted to combine two of my favourite things in order to help the asparagus shine, but also allow for any other ingredients used in place of the asparagus to shine. What are those favourite things? Puff pastry and goat cheese!

I bake to calm down and relax after a long day. There is nothing more cathartic than being able to get set up in the kitchen, put my music on, and shortly thereafter come out of the kitchen with cookies or cakes or flaky treats. I’ll often make my own puff pastry ahead of time to use for different treats, but in fairness, I don’t think it’s necessary for this recipe. I used store-bought puff pastry and it turned out GREAT.

But what turned out great? Well, the final recipe is my Asparagus and Goat Cheese Tart!

Ingredients:

1lb Asparagus (or substitute with 1lb shaved leeks) cut into 1/5ths

1/2lb defrosted puff pastry

1/2lb herbed goat cheese

1 XL egg yolk mixed with 1tsp water

1 large shallot, finely chopped

6 slices of bacon (or substitute finely chopped salami)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 450F.

With your oven heated, cook your bacon on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper for 12-15 minutes (you want the bacon crispy, but not so much so that it breaks into too many small pieces when cutting). Remove and let cool before dicing the bacon. Reserve 1tbsp of the bacon grease.

In a pan, heat bacon grease over medium high heat, and cook shallots for 1 minute, add the asparagus, and cook for another minute. Remove from heat and add the diced bacon to the asparagus and shallot mix.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to a rectangle roughly 11x 14″. Move the puff pastry onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

Lightly press the goat cheese into the puff pastry, leaving a 1″ border around the edge. Then add the asparagus, shallot and bacon mix. Season generously with pepper and lightly salt (the bacon will have the salt).

Brush the edges with the water and egg yolk mix to allow the edges to brown while baking.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Let cool and serve!

Let me know if you make any of these recipes and be sure to tag me at @JackDHarding on Instagram! You can also DM me anytime with questions or tips on these recipes or any other on my site and I’ll happily help you out.

How to Make Healthy Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

It is funny how we make friends as adults.

As someone who didn’t make my friends as a kid, almost all of my relationships and friendships have happened as an adult. While I sometimes feel like I missed out on having those people around me that I’ve known since I was 3 years old, or those people that I went to every level of school with, I feel really happy and blessed that I’ve been able to build a group of people around me who I not only feel like I chose to have there, but have also chosen to have me be a part of their lives.

One of those people is my friend Liz. I met Liz about six years ago at my first apartment in Toronto. I moved to midtown Toronto after living in a more suburban part of the city with my parents. I had a fantastic apartment which I likely would have still been in today had I not wanted to live alone (ah, roommates, right)? Liz and I didn’t meet through friends or even at a party, we met at her work! I needed a new hair salon and a place down the street from my office and my apartment were taking clients. I walked in and was paired with Liz. A few haircuts later and we were talking all the time. We went from just seeing each other once every few weeks, to her coming over, hanging out, and on numerous occasions, bleaching and dying my hair on my bed using a grocery bag as a cap (glamorous, I know).

Anyways, fast forward a fair bit into the future and Liz and I are still great friends. Although we don’t see each other every week, when we do catch up, we laugh until we can’t breathe and it feels like we haven’t missed a beat.

This week she came over in the evening and we planned to bake. Knowing that she tries to eat Keto, I wanted something she could enjoy- so we settled on these peanut butter cups! They are dark chocolate, all-natural peanut butter, and we used coconut flour and coconut sugar so they’re gluten-free and nearly sugar-free. These don’t really require any prep time, just require a bit of time to free in between steps. You can whip these up with barely any notice and they’re a crowd-pleaser.

Ingredients:

1 2/3 Cups All Natural Peanut Butter, melted (plus more for drizzling)

1 1/4 Cup Coconut Flour

1/3 Cup Coconut Sugar (or Erythritol)

1 1/4 Tsp Madagascar Vanilla Extract

1/4 Tsp Kosher Salt

2 1/4 Cup Dark Chocolate, melted

1 Tbsp + 1/2 Tsp Coconut Oil

Instructions:

In a large bowl, combine the peanut butter, coconut flour, sugar, vanilla and salt. Mix well until everything is smooth.

Roll the peanut butter mixture into balls roughly 1 Tbsp in size. Flatten slightly and place onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Freeze for 30 minutes or until firm.

Once the mix is nearly frozen, melt the coconut oil and chocolate together in a microwave in 20 second bursts on high. Stir in between bursts in the microwave.

Remove the frozen peanut butter mix and using a fork, dip each disk into the melted chocolate until coated and place back onto the parchment paper. Put disks back into the freezer and let firm for another 30 minutes.

Melt some additional peanut butter. Remove the disks from the freezer and drizzle with the melted peanut butter. Salt with flaky sea salt and freeze again for 10 minutes.

Serve these cold to best enjoy them.

I hope you enjoy these as much as we did, and if you make them, please tag me on Instagram at @JackDHarding

How to Make Homemade Biscuits

There is something really fulfilling about making your own bread. Watching your creation go from a bunch of flour and sugar and salt to rising in the oven, and finally something delightfully warm and delicious you can have for breakfast, lunch or dinner is amazing.  However, the thought of spending a day of your time to *hopefully* have a loaf of bread turn out is something most people aren’t ready for (I mean, honestly, I’m not ready for that most of the time and I LOVE baking).

So what’s the next best thing? Homemade biscuits! No yeast needed, simple and easy to make, and devour-able for a few days with jams, jellies and spreads.

Ingredients:
3 cups All Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1  cups cold milk (plus up to 3 Tbsp) (whole milk while make your biscuits more tender, I made mine with skim milk which made them  a bit more dense)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 425°F with a rack in the upper portion. Get out a baking sheet and line with parchment paper.
  2. Measure your flour by adding it spoonful by spoonful into a measuring cup and adding to a large bowl.
  3. Mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar.
  4. Add the butter to the flour mixture using a food processor (you can use a fork or pastry blender as well, but I find the even consistency from the food processor is best) until has a bread crumb like consistency.
  5. Start to add the milk, table spoon by table spoon, over the flour mixture. You’ll want to do this quickly for about 10-15 seconds until a dough has formed. If the texture is dry and won’t come together, keep working it (and add up to the other 2 Tbsp of milk if it needs it to be cohesive).
  6. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Pat it into a rough rectangle about 3/4″ thick. Fold it into thirds like a letter and roll gently with a floured rolling pin until the dough is 3/4″ thick again.
  7. Using a biscuit cutter, or the rim of a glass, cut the dough into circles (I like round biscuits) or if you’re scared of waste, cut the dough into squares with a sharp knife.
  8. Place the biscuits with the bottom side up onto the baking sheet and brush them with a bit of milk to help them brown nicely in the oven.
  9. Bake for 15-20 minutes (keep an eye out, they’ll go from lightly browned to burnt fairly quickly).
  10. These will keep for 2-3 days if wrapped and stored at room temperature. You can also freeze for longer periods of time.
  11. Bake the biscuits for 15 to 20 minutes, until they’re lightly browned. Remove them from the oven, and serve warm.

I hope you enjoy these! If you decide to make them, feel free to tag me at @JackDHarding and let me know how they turned out!