Taco time featuring breakfast tacos with fried eggs and avocado radish salsa

Tacos are delicious and tacos are impressive and tacos are the food of summer. And last weekend, it was summer (though sadly not anymore). Therefore, if my calculations are correct, that meant it was Taco Time. Oh baby, I had Taco Time in a big way.

Read on to find out about Saturday Taco Time (which created the beauties you see above)

Taco Time started on Thursday afternoon after my friend Averie mentioned there was a new, mysterious taco stand that had opened in the Ottawa neighbourhood of Hintonburg. It wasn’t there one day, and then it appeared the next. Magic. Later that day, I saw a post from the good folks over at OpenFile Ottawa talking about the same opening. And that was that. Two people talking about tacos is pretty much the tipping point for me.

I had to make those tacos mine.

And so, after corrupting the picnic-planning minds of a couple of friends during a Friday afternoon in the sun, we reconvened at the TacoLot (that’s the name of this new stand, I should have said that earlier) for an evening of new-food exploration.

First impression? I think TacoLot was shocked with the amount of business it was getting and, like any new food place, needs some time to establish itself before it can really find its groove. The tacos were $5 each, which is quite pricy, considering the tacos are about the size of an outstretched palm. I tried the chicken one, which was topped with loads of corn and other goodies. I feel bad saying this, but it wasn’t that great. Like I said, though, grooves must be found. I will be checking back with you, TacoLot!

Two chicken tacos with all the fixings

Of course, the half a dozen SuzyQ doughnuts we got to share amongst the group of us were fantastic. I never have any regrets when doughnuts are involved. +10 points to Hintonburg. TacoLot and SuzyQ are neighbours, in case you’re wondering. That’s right, Hintonburg is now a hipster food mecca.

Heather and Carolyn with our doughnuts

Anyways, Taco Time didn’t stop on Friday night. Nope, it continued right into Saturday morning.

I saw this beautiful photo on Pinterest a few weeks ago, and knew I had to recreate this recipe myself (look at the photos in the original post – they’re all so gorgeous).

My tacos + the original "pinspiration" on my laptop in the background

So that’s exactly what I did, and then I ate this on the front porch and read the newspaper. It was pretty glorious. Oh yeah, and the tacos weren’t too shabby either (though please abstain from putting generous amounts of hot sauce on the taco just because it makes them more photogenic. Trust me. You. Will. Pay.)

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Giving cookies (of the brown butter toasted coconut chocolate chip variety)

There’s something about cookies that makes me want to do good deeds.

Perhaps it’s the childish innocence of them. Or maybe it’s the fact that before I learned to cook, the only thing I would ever contribute to bake sales, parties, work functions and surprises of any sort were cookies like these.

Whatever it is, I decided to make these Giving Cookies.

The cookies themselves were also chalked full of good things. Things that had been given to me, in fact.

I got lots of awesome fair trade and organic baking supplies from a Camino party that I went to earlier in the week. For those of you who have never heard of Camino (formerly known as Cocoa Camino), it’s a Canadian brand of fair trade and organic certified food. The party was being held in honour of the co-op’s appearance on CBC’s The Big Decision. Camino got a HUGE amount of funding from Arlene Dickinson (you know, from Dragon’s Den) to help them continue to sell their sustainable products. I love when good people get recognition for all they’re doing, and this party was a great example of that. You can follow Camino on Twitter @caminolala.

Anyways, Gord and I were spoiled and got a whole bounty of stuff.

A sneak peak into my evening: Camino fruit juices, Gord and I with our amazing basket of loot, Linda (my friend Coralie's aunt who works for Camino!) and I, a sampling of Camino chocolate bars

I set off to find the perfect cookie recipe to use these ingredients in, and googled upon Joy the Baker’s recipe for brown butter toasted coconut chocolate chip cookies (I like Joy because, like me, she sees the need to put every important ingredient into the recipe name). Oooh la la.

The idea intrigued me. After much butter browning and coconut toasting, these cookies came together nicely (though I needed to add some milk to make the batter have a more dough-like consistency).

And of course, as is essential when you’re making cookies, I ate a tonne of dough. Now I’m not hungry for supper. #storyofmylife

These turned out nicely, and I loved the slight coconut twist on the traditional chocolate chip cookie. The dark chocolate chunks were a nice touch too. Finally, underbaking these cookies made them soft and chewy, even by Monday.

Operation Clear Cupboard: The slow utilization of all my baking products – coconut, chocolate chips, chocolate and vanilla

Recipients of the cookies: 
1. The Mannshahi family that manages the Old Ottawa South corner store near my house. They are always so nice to me and even listen to my requests to stock things like pesto, cherry pie filling and graham cracker crumbs. Be it dish soap, milk, a(nother) bag of icing sugar or a popsicle, they always welcome my (normally) sweatpants-laden self.

2. My old roommates. I smuggled an old sour cream container full of cookies into the play that Ariel and I went to on Saturday. These four haven’t gotten to eat a lot of my treats lately, so they deserved these. Update: these apparently never got to my roommates…they were eaten during the play’s intermission instead – at least they were appreciated!

3. Random friends, roommates and classmates, over the course of the weekend and Monday morning.

There’s two left. Guess what I’m eating as a late night snack?

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Celebrity Chefs of Canada wrap-up (also known as the day I ate tuna, elk, pig, lobster, lamb, clam, rabbit and three parts of a duck)

What an amazing day of food, friends and fun.

Oh gosh, where to begin.

Well, as you know from previous blog posts, I was asked to be one of the official bloggers for the second-annual Celebrity Chefs of Canada event happening on March 25 at the National Arts Centre here in Ottawa.

I had a blast.

Since there are too many things that happened throughout the day for me to write any sort of cohesive blog post, I’m mostly going to post a few pictures with a short description underneath each of them. Hopefully that will help you get a snapshot of the day’s festivities.

Girl bloggers! Claire from foodiePrints, Jen from foodiePrints, Jodi from Simply Fresh, Paula from Ottawa at Home magazine, Kelly from The Gouda Life and me (looking waaaay too excited)! (photo credit: Don from foodiePrints)

But wait! First, I’d like to give a HUGE shout-out to Chef Michael Blackie who did a tremendous job of organizing the entire day. Everything ran so smoothly and I thought the tasting reception after the demos was laid out well and satisfying.

PS: Unlike the photos that I normally have on Hilary Makes, you can click through each image to access the larger file. That way you can have your favourite chef/dish combination as your desktop background!*

*do it!!!!!

The first chef team up was Chef Marc Lepine of Atelier and Chef Quang Dang of West Restaurant in Vancouver. Since they were my team (rah rah!) I knew what to expect from their citrus marinated B.C. geoduck with Ocean emulsion dish. For those of you who have never seen a geoduck clam (which I’m guessing is pretty much everyone), it is a hilarious-looking piece of seafood that resembles a cross between a snuffaluffagus nose and a rather large male appendage. Here is a photo that someone posted on Twitter, just to illustrate.

The impressive thing about this dish was that regardless of how many ingredients went into it (lots), you could still remarkably taste the flavours independently. I also really liked the pomelo ash and piece of beet paper jello that it was served with.

Ah yes, the famous Chef Susur Lee! I think we were all in awe as this statuesque chef took the stage for his demo with Restaurant Ei8hteen’s Chef Matthew Carmichael. This was a really interesting chef pairing, I thought, since the two chefs used to work together. It was the reunion of the apprentice and the master.

Their dish was a “chorizo style” St. Canut suckling pig, Parmesan crusted fennel and lobster salad with saffron mayonnaise. Get this – my first time ever trying lobster, it was prepared by one of the Ten Chefs of the Millennium. Will future lobster experiences ever be able to top that?

Last but CERTAINLY not least was the braised elk ribs-cream polenta-tasty crispy bits dish that was created by Chef Jason Duffy of ARC Lounge and Chef Jason Bangerter of Luma in Toronto. This was definitely my favourite dish of the day.

When it was presented after the demo session, the elk rib was sitting atop a long wooden plank – it was a beautiful serving method and looked rustic and warm. When I actually got around to tasting their creation, I could have died and gone to heaven. The elk meat melted off the bone and the crispy bits (as Chef Duffy said while serving the plate) were an essential part of the overall dish. It was so, so good.

There were also some cool displays of magical kitchen mastery, and the scenes above made me feel like I was back in chemistry class. In the picture on the left, Chef Jason Parsons of Peller Estates Winery Restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake used what looked like a hookah to smoke the duck breast using peach essence. It smelled amazing.

In the picture on the right, Chef Marc Lepine (king of kitchen gizmos and gadgets, not to mention molecular gastronomy), used liquid nitrogen to insta-freeze the pomelo. The cameramen loved filming that – anything with smoke makes for good footage.

As bloggers, we also got kick ass, second-row seats for the afternoon demo session. That meant that I could take cool, close-up pictures like these without rushing up to the front every two seconds. That’s Chef Jason Bangerter on the left and Chef Jonathan Korecki from Side Door on the right. Recognize Chef Korecki? That’s because he (and his homemade silk-screen-printed bandanas) is a contestant on season two of Top Chef Canada!!! It’s kind of one of my favourite tv shows…

To end off, it was such a great opportunity to see all the chefs doing what they do best! They all came out at the end for the grand finale – here’s a few of them up at the front.

I am SO happy I got to chance to go to this event, meet some great people and (of course) eat some beyond-delicious food. Happy stomach. I already wait in anticipation of next year’s event.

Sweet potato burgers (Hilary Makes: creating burger patties out of everything since 2010)

I think I actually like vegetarian burgers more than real meat burgers themselves (except for that time I bought that bison burger from Aubrey’s Meats..that was really freakin’ good).

Since I began Hilary Makes almost two years ago (!!), I’ve made several alternatives to the traditional beef-lovers burger. It’s not that I don’t like the succulent meatiness of the original, it’s more that I’m not not fond of the lengthy “buy the ground beef, freeze it because you’re too busy with school to use it at the moment, defrost it for a whole day (who can wait that long?!), and cook it in a pan for 20 minutes until it’s not pink anymore” process.

And so, because I really just want to take a stroll down memory lane, here are all the non-meat burgers that I’ve made over time…

1. Black bean burger (my personal favourite so far)
2. Portobello mushroom burgers with provolone cheese and red pepper mayonnaise
3. Gluten-free quinoa burger
4. Chick pea burger 

Last week I decided to go one step forward and turn what is traditionally a burger side into a burger itself. The birth of the sweet potato burger hath cometh!

And, because I am of the firm belief that you can never eat too many potatoes (must be the Irish gene in me), I made a simple side of red potatoes fried in…wait for it…duck fat! Don’t worry, I’m not turning into  Paula Deen or anything, I just heard that this was a killer combination, and needed to try it out for myself. Sure enough, my house spelled like roasted duck (and more importantly, my potatoes tasted like it). Deliciousness that was off the hizzle.

PS: I realize that you are all going to think I’m addicted to avocado. This is an accurate diagnoses  and, though I see no reason to try and justify my love in any way, I do apologize for the non-creative dish toppings. I just think they’re fantastic (and were on sale this week!).

Run out of proper forks. Use a knork instead (there’s also a spoon at the base of the handle…now that’s practical!)

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Chicken and white bean chili verde-inspired soup

If you’re a student, your best food friend should be the half roast chickens you can buy over the deli counter at the grocery store. They cost $5.99 and can be tossed into just about anything. They’re also a steaming plastic container of temptation. After my chicken almost exploded in my bicycle’s saddlebag, I took it out, cradled it in my arms, dropped it on the kitchen counter…and attacked.

I don’t eat meat very often (too cheap, too lazy), so this chicken is like a tiny, pre-prepared miracle.

I start cutting the chicken…then, my behaviour transforms into that of a five-year-old while picking strawberries: “cut one piece of chicken, eat the other, cut, eat, repeat.” My half chicken dinner rapidly turns into a third-of-a-chicken dinner. The dark meat that melts off the bones is just so fatty and warm and delicious…

But enough of my half chicken love affair. Lets not embarrass ourselves, shall we?

My soup, complete with a beautiful yard sale-purchased platter that I forgot I owned and strawberry iced tea

This soup was earlier this week in very non-soup-friendly weather. We’ve had a warm streak in Ottawa, meaning that I’ve been biking around in my little short shorts and lying on the roof until I almost fall asleep. When the temperature is 20 degrees +, soup isn’t normally first on people’s lists of things to make. BUT THIS WAS ACTUALLY A GOOD SUMMER/SPRING soup and it turned out really, really well. The fresh ingredients meant that the flavours were still crisp and lively enough to be refreshing, even in the balmiest of freak weather days.

And, as Ottawa temperatures go back to being more seasonal this week, I implore you to make this. No excuse.

Ah yes, and I’m still continuing with Operation Clear Cupboard in preparation for my end-of-April move. This meal used up: one can of white beans and one box of chicken stock.

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