The @HFXFoodBloggers create something sweet for #DoughBall 2014

If you were one of the lucky folks who snagged a ticket to The Coast’s inaugural Dough Ball (basically a giant bake sale, where you pay admission and get to try all the sweet samples!), you likely had quite the sugar high on Saturday afternoon.

While I wasn’t able to attend (I’m simultaneously sad and grateful that I missed out, because I’m fairly certain my pants would be feeling a bit snugger this morning), I was able to send along a treat for attendees to try out.

My peeps at Halifax Food Bloggers were invited to host a table at Dough Ball, and a few of us sent our sweet concoctions along to be sampled by the crowds (I saw photos of the event and our table on Twitter, and it looked AMAZING).

I decided to try my hand at making homemade caramels. A coworker of mine makes them every Christmas, and while I was slightly intimidated to try and make them (hers are delicious, and frankly, making caramel just seemed like a messy proposition), it was surprisingly simple.

I used a recipe/great step-by-step instructions I found on The Kitchn. You don’t really need any special equipment, aside from a candy thermometer, which I got at Bulk Barn for $4.

IMG_20140909_201459

The real trick to making lovely caramels is making sure you get the right texture. And that’s pretty subjective (I don’t like hard, uber-chewy caramels. Soft, smooth and creamy is how I prefer mine!) To control the softness of your caramels, you need to control the amount of dairy you add in (more dairy = softer, creamier caramels) AND bring your caramels to a lower temperature. If you’re going to try your hand at making caramels, I really do recommend you read The Kitchn post I mentioned earlier to get all the details!

I followed their recipe/directions, and was very pleased with how my two versions of caramels turned out. I made sea salt and peppermint caramels:

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Wrap in wax paper, twist on both ends, and package in mason jars, and behold:

IMG_20140913_100517Wouldn’t they make a nice hostess gift?

Anyhow, here’s what you’ll need if you’re going to try this at home:

 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (or, if you’re making mint caramels, substitute with mint extract)

Equipment

  • Square baking dish
  • Parchment paper
  • 2-quart saucepan
  • 4-quart saucepan (make sure you use a big pot!)
  • Candy thermometer
  • Spatula
  • Whisk
  • Wax paper

Have fun, and try not to eat too many! (you’ll end up with a bellyache, and maybe even a cavity or two!)

Lime Margarita Cupcakes for Bachelorette Celebrations (complete with tequila buttercream icing; no joke)

In case you missed the memo, it’s WEDDING SEASON!!! Of course, before the wedding itself, there is the inevitable bachelorette/bachelor party.

A very good friend of mine is tying the knot next weekend, so we hosted a bachelorette party for her last night… Since I love to bake, I was charged with the cake. Now, I’m not a big fan of phallic baked goods, so we skipped the penis-shaped cake. Instead, I found this recipe for lime margarita cupcakes.

Still fun, but more importantly, yummy (especially the tequila lime buttercream icing).

You need kinda a lot of limes (like, a lot: six or seven). And butter. Lots of butter.

Marg Cupcake Ingredients

It also involves candying lime peels (that’s an optional step: just a garnish, really):

Blanching Limes

But the end result is worth it: a beautiful, zesty little cake topped with a not-too-sweet tequila lime buttercream icing:

Lime Margarita Cupcakes!

What a gorgeous group of ladies, right?! (Note: this was taken before we started drinking or consumed any of the tequila lime buttercream icing)… 馃檪

Bridal Party!end

 

Back with a bang: Flourless espresso chocolate cake

Yeah, I suck. No posts in months… What can I say? It’s been busy in my world for the past little while.

BUT, I’m on vacation now, and I have some making up to do in the blog department.

So, by way of an apology, please feast your eyes on this incredible creation:

Flourless chocolate espresso cake

Okay, it may kinda look like a collapsed cake, but it’s actually Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Cake with Espresso Glaze (and it’s supposed to look like that!)

It was Kevin’s birthday yesterday, and I try and bake his cake every year (I don’t think I’ve bought one yet!). As you can see from previous years’ creations (last year and the year before), he kinda has a thing for chocolate. I tried to persuade him to let me make something lighter/fruity this year, but he was having no part of it.

So, after a bit of time with my good friend Google, I found a recipe that was simple, but classic: a decadent chocolate dessert, which used coffee to temper some of the sweetness.

IMG_20140609_112347_hdr_editIMG_20140609_112759_hdr_edit IMG_20140609_124714_hdr_edit

The recipe was easy to follow and really didn’t feature any odd ingredients (you can find everything you need at your local grocery store). Since there’s no flour in this recipe (NO, I am not gluten-intolerant, or gluten-free, or whatever you frigging call it these days), the cake’s volume comes from a meringue that you fold into the chocolate/espresso batter. I had a moment during this part of the baking process where I lost faith and started to panic, thinking that it wasn’t going to turn out properly, but I soldiered on (planning to go to Dairy Queen and get an ice cream cake, if all else failed).

Thankfully, it turned out perfectly! Well, aside from my terrible writing on top (it’s really hard to write on a cake, okay?!) I actually had these cool chocolate scribbler things from Laura Secord (thanks, Mom!) but even with those handy little things, my writing was pretty messy.

Anyways, topped with a drizzle of warm espresso glaze, we quickly forgot about my poor icing-penmanship. 馃檪

TIP: If you make this recipe, I’d serve it warm, with French Vanilla ice cream.

We Dine Around #Halifax (@restassocNS)

Did you know that for the entire month of February, a bunch of restaurants are offering prix fixe menus? It’s a great promotion for restaurants to entice new customers in to try out restaurants they might not otherwise, and generally is a great value for the consumer, with menus ranging between $25 to $45 per person.

Kevin and I decided to head out the first night of the promotion to visit daMaurizio. Unfortunately, there was an hour-long wait for a table because we failed to make a reservation, and we weren’t overly interested in waiting at the bar. We headed out back into the cold, dejected… but perked up when we realized that, right next door, was CUT, which is also participating in the promotion.

I’d yet to check out CUT yet, so we saw this as a great opportunity to visit a new spot.

The Grill by CUT (which is supposedly the more casual part of the restaurant, located on the lower floor) is offering the prix fixe menu, which was $35 per person. You can choose between two appetizers (a parsnip & pear puree or NS short rib ravioli), two entrees (duck ragout or Arctic char) and two desserts (upside down Annapolis Valley apple cake or gingerbread pudding).

I started with a LaHave cocktail (a concoction of Absolut Pear, St. Germain elderflower, LaHave Forest’s haskap juice, & Bolla Prosecco), which was a fizzy treat flavoured with the distinct haskap berry juice.

I opted for the Parsnip & Pear Puree, a rich, sweet dish with a slight spicy kick from the parnsip, coupled with the earthy and creamy goats cheese.

The Arctic Char was light and flaky, served on a bed of seasoned green beans and swiss chard, a buttery crouton and a splash of that delightful haskap reduction.

Finally, to finish, we both ordered the gingerbread pudding, which was every bit as delicious as it looks. A warm square of well-seasoned gingerbread, served with maple syrup and a small scoop of聽 slowly melting vanilla bean ice cream. Perfection.

Kevin and I also really enjoyed the dining room atmosphere: music was playing at just the right level, the decor was hip enough to be interesting, but not so bizarre that it came across as pretentious, and the service was warm, attentive and frankly, impeccable.

A fabulous meal, all-around.

My first trip to @2DoorsDownhfx (synopsis: it didn’t disappoint)

Chives is one of my favourite restaurants in Halifax. Their menu is thoughtful and simple (read: not pretentious), features locally-sourced ingredients, and they have a great atmosphere/ambiance going on. This isn’t exactly a relevatory observation, on my behalf…

Chives is something of a beloved institution on this city’s culinary scene. So when Chef Craig Flinn set out to expand and cater to the downtown lunch crowd by opening Two Doors Down earlier this year, people were understandably excited.

I finally got around to checking it out a few weeks ago, when a friend from Ottawa was visiting… and we were definitely not disappointed.

It’s a small, cozy dining room, with some contemporary & rustic elements combined to make it feel very eclectic but welcoming.

I ordered the “Tipple du Jour” to start the meal off, followed by a bowl of their roasted parsnip soup: an earthy, creamy dish drizzled with a sweet reduction and topped with crisp parsnip bits.

Cocktails

Roasted Parsnip Soup

Despite the (seeming) disapproval of our server, I decided to order the soup and a starter from the seafood column of the menu (there are three columns to order from: meat, seafood and vegetable). He didn’t seem to think it would be filling enough, but I was being strategic, and saving room for dessert! The taco (a tortilla filled with聽line caught crispy halibut, shaved cabbage and apple salad,聽guacamole, and a bright creamy sauce; $8) was phenomenal (and really quite filling):

Taco!

I can’t believe it, but I forgot to take a picture of my dessert (which was a warm gingerbread topped with sumptuous, silky butterscotch sauce).

All said, the food, atmosphere and service at 2 Doors Down were very similar to it’s big sister, Chives, but a bit more low-key & relaxed. I’ll be back.

Coffee Cr猫me Br没l茅e Brownie Bombs! #ECOMilkComp @JustUsCoffee @ECOMilkNS #hfxfb

A few weeks ago, an email popped up in my inbox from the lovely ladies who run/organize the incredible Halifax Food Bloggers group I am so proud to be a part of. Anyhow, the aforementioned email mentioned a brown bag challenge, which my fellow Food Network junkies may know as a black box challenge. Essentially, we were being invited to invent a recipe using a bag of mystery ingredients. Very cool.

Also, very scary. Let’s be real: I’m a home cook, not a chef… so I was a little worried.

BUT, as soon as I saw the competition was being sponsored by Just Us! Coffee and East Coast Organic Milk, my heart gave a little flutter. See, I absolutely adore coffee (note: good, strong coffee, not weak-ass, coffee-flavoured milk & syrup), and frankly, a good latte just wouldn’t be possible without quality milk, right? So, with Just Us! & East Coast Organic Milk on-board, I was pretty sure competitors would be given top-notch ingredients.

I wasn’t wrong.

I signed up, picked up my bag from the Spring Garden Road location of Just Us! coffee, and gleefully tore open the bag right at the counter (what can I say? I’m impatient). I was very pleased with what I found inside: a bag of Tarrazu Honey Costa Rican coffee beans, bars of 70% cocoa dark chocolate and a bag of organic cane sugar from Just Us!, as well as a full carton of homogenized milk from East Coast Organic Milk.

SCORE!

Contents of my brown bag!

Right?

After mulling over recipe ideas for a few days — do I try and get fancy, and pull out some of the toffee, field berry and wine flavours in the coffee? Or maybe go for something savoury, like a chili? — I gave my head a shake.

Seriously: why mess with a good thing? Coffee and chocolate are two of my favourite things in life.

So, I decided to keep things simple, and combined two of my favourite classic desserts: a decadent chocolate brownie and espresso cr猫me br没l茅e. Thus, the Coffee Cr猫me Br没l茅e Brownie Bomb (or CCBBB) was born:

Ready to enjoy!

Inside the CCBBB!

These are a dangerously decadent dessert. But they also aren’t very difficult to make. You don’t even need to own a cr猫me br没l茅e torch to make them (little-known baking fact: you can simply use the broiler in your oven, rather than buy a silly torch you probably will only use once or twice a year. Actually, if you try these, you may find yourself in need of one more often. So nevermind. Invest in a torch.)

Here’s how I made them:

Coffee Cr猫me Br没l茅e Brownie Bomb (CCBBB)

(6 servings)

INGREDIENTS

Brownie Bombs:

  • 1/4 cup espresso (I used Just Us! Tarrazu Honey beans, ground and brewed in my home espresso machine)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup dark chocolate (Just Us! 70% cocoa dark chocolate, chopped)
  • 3/4 cup sugar (Just Us! organic cane sugar)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate (Just Us! 70% cocoa dark chocolate, chopped into chunks)

Coffee Cr猫me Br没l茅e:

  • 2 cups homogenized milk (East Coast Organic Milk, 3.25%; you could use cream if you want it to be richer)
  • 6 tbsp. ground coffee (I used Just Us! Tarrazu Honey beans, ground and brewed in my home espresso machine)
  • 8 large egg yolks (I used Maritime Pride eggs)
  • 1/2 cup sugar (Just Us! organic cane sugar)
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

General prep:

  • Pour your milk into a French Press, stir in 6 tbsp. ground coffee, and let sit.
  • Lightly butter and flour your ramekins & set them aside.
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Brownie Bombs:

  • Pull a fresh espresso shot and measure out 1/4 cup. If you don’t have an espresso maker, that’s okay: Just brew a small very strong batch of coffee and set aside 1/4 cup.
  • In a small saucepan, combine your coffee, butter and chocolate and stir at a low heat until everything is melted and your mixture is smooth.
  • Remove the pan from the stovetop and add your sugar, eggs and vanilla. Stir until you have a smooth consistency.
  • Add in your flour and salt, and mix gently until combined, then fold in chocolate chunks.
  • Spoon approximately 3 tablespoons of batter into each of your ramekins, and place onto a parchment lined tray (the parchment just makes for easier clean-up if you spill any batter).
  • Bake for 15 minutes, or until you insert a toothpick and it comes out clean.
  • Set the brownies aside to cool, and reduce the heat in your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Coffee Cr猫me Br没l茅e:

  • Slowly press the coffee and milk you set aside earlier, and pour the milk into a small saucepan. Heat this coffee-infused milk over a low heat until it almost reaches a simmer.
  • Mix your egg yolks and sugar together, and gradually add the hot coffee/milk, stirring until the mixture is smooth.
  • Pour the custard mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a large measuring cup (with a lip for pouring: it makes it much easier).
  • Add vanilla and stir gently.
  • Once your brownies have cooled down a bit, place them in a water bath (line an oven-proof casserole dish with a cloth, place the ramekins inside, making sure they don’t touch one another, and pour hot water into the casserole dish until the reaches about 2/3 the way up the sides of the ramekin).
  • Pour an even amount of the custard mixture into each ramekin, on top of the brownies (don’t be alarmed if the brownies pop up to the surface: this is what makes them brownie bombs!)
  • Carefully place the pan in the oven and bake for approximately 35 minutes (bake until the custard has set, and the edges are just starting to bubble and brown). Remove the ramekins from the water bath and let them come to room temperature.
  • Cover each with plastic wrap and store in the fridge for at least 8 hours.
  • When you’re ready to serve them, place your ramekins on a pan, dust them with a fine coat of sugar and sit them under the broiler for a few minutes (until the sugar melts — watch them carefully, or they might burn!) or use a cr猫me br没l茅e torch.
  • Enjoy! I recommend preparing these and serving them the same day (storing them in the fridge for long periods of time can cause the cake to become very dense). Serve with a glass of milk or even a latte… 馃檪

Many thanks to the contest sponsors and my fellow Halifax Food Bloggers for allowing me to participate in this very fun challenge!

2 words guaranteed to get just about anyone’s attention: LOBSTER DINNER (@HarbourCityGril) #hfxfb

Lobster is just one of those special things, you know? This crustacean is iconically East Coast, but even if you’re from Nova Scotia you probably don’t eat it all the time. You can bet, though, that if you’re entertaining out-of-town guests, you’ll be asked for it…

In my mind, there’s nothing that says “summer in Nova Scotia” more than an old school lobster boil: freshly cooked whole lobsters spread out on newspapers on the picnic table, served with bibs, an array of informal shell-cracking implements and dishes of drawn butter for dipping. Oh, and don’t forget the ice-cold beer.

But if you want to take a bit more of an upscale approach — and save yourself the effort — I suggest you visit Harbour City Bar & Grill (located in the Delta Halifax on Barrington Street).

Lobster's on at Harbour City Bar & Grill

I was recently invited there to the launch of their new lobster supper promotion, where we were treated to an array of seafood-inspired聽hors聽d’oeuvres (seared scallops, steamed salmon, mussels and more) along with samples of some beautiful Nova Scotian wines (my favourite was the 2012 Domaine de Grand Pre Tidal Bay, a fresh, crisp blend of five varietals that was sweet, but not tooooo sweet). There was also a demonstration of how to properly massacre a lobster (think minimal mess, and the most meat) by their recently-returned Executive Chef,聽Andy Camm.

See, that’s the thing about lobster: you’ve gotta work for it (I usually cut myself at least once on a shell in the process). But the way I see it, lobster is so amazing, you kind of have to earn it. Right? Right.

Harbour City Bar & Grill is offering a pretty sweet deal for a lobster dinner: for just $25, you can dig into 1 1/4 lb. lobster served with corn on the cob, coleslaw and a fresh roll. And, if you’re really hungry (or just want to feel like a bit of a high roller for the night), you can make it a four-course meal for $14 more, adding Acadian seafood chowder, Garrison steamed mussels and berry shortcake.

On top of that, they’re also offering to waive the corkage fee for those who bring in a bottle of Nova Scotia wine to enjoy with their lobster supper (um yeah, that’s amazing!), and offering diners a chance to win 20 pounds of fresh lobster (just imagine the kick-ass old school lobster boil you could hold with that much free, fresh lobster!)