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:

IMG_20140910_082153

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!)

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VOTE: How should I spend my #BigDayDowntown #Halifax ? (@DowntownHalifax)

Big Day Downtown package!

Guys, I’m kinda excited over here! The folks at the Downtown Halifax Business Commission (DHBC) have invited me to participate in their Big Day Downtown blogger event.

Wait, let’s start at the beginning:

A few years back, the DHBC launched the Big Day Downtown campaign, designed to help promote the pretty awesome array of businesses (restaurants, shops, services, etc…) in the downtown Halifax core. For four weeks, starting September 15th, they will be giving out $100 Visa gift cards via Facebook and Twitter to the public (follow them on Twitter @DowntownHalifax and like them on Facebook to keep tabs on the event).

But before that, some very fortunate local bloggers (myself included) are invited to participate, and are given $150 Visa gift cards to spend anywhere downtown!

Fer real.

The only “twist” is that I need to get your input on how I should spend the $150!

See, there’s a lot on offer downtown: 174 restaurants & cafes; 23 salons/spas; 33 tourist attractions/museums/galleries; 45 clothing stores; 16 hotels/inns; 27 furniture/gifts/houseware stores; and 17 sports/hobby stores. So I’m going to need your help!

Ideally, I’d like to do more than one thing (aka I don’t want to blow the entire budget on a new dress at Biscuit), and since this is technically my food blog, I’d like at least one of the activities to involve, well, eating.

I’ve narrowed it down to a few choices, and am hoping you’ll give me your two cents to help inform my itinerary:



If you’d like to make some more detailed suggestions, PLEASE feel free to leave a comment below, or just get at me on Twitter! (@hfraught)

A sneak peek of @RightSomeGood, #Halifax edition

Something very special is happening in Halifax this weekend: the folks behind Cape Breton’s annual foodie festival, Right Some Good, are setting up shop smack-dab in the heart of downtown.

They’re shutting down Spring Garden Road this Sunday (June 29th), transforming the main drag into a pedestrian-only pop-up paradise of local products coupled with impressive culinary talent. An interesting side note: the last time Spring Garden Road was closed for an all-day event was 15 years ago, for the Word On The Street festival.

This gourmet street fair will feature 12 visiting “master chefs” competing alongside local chefs on the culinary stage. These teams will collaborate on street food creations, which will then be offered up to the visiting public (while supplies last, of course) between 9:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. (admission to Sunday’s street fair is free, but you can buy tickets to sample food and drink).

Today, I was treated to a sneak peek of the types of seasonal, local ingredients that may be included in this weekend’s events, and I have to say, it looked Right Some Good to me… 🙂

From HardyWares, which makes pickles, relishes, jams, jellies and preserves, I sampled an impressive Blueberry Grand Marnier Jam and a Whiskey Marmalade, which I was suspect of at first, but is actually really lovely. This small, home-based business based out of Necum Teuch, Nova Scotia (I had to GoogleMap it, I won’t lie), regularly sells their products at Alderney Landing Farmers Market, but you really should look for their booth this Sunday at Right Some Good.

And if you haven’t yet had the experience of trying the Haskap berry, you really should. Grown in Blockhouse, Nova Scotia, these berries are a member of the Honeysuckle family, and were first introduced to Canada around 1967. They are apparently pretty good for you, too: they’re high in anthocyanins, vitamin C, phenolic compounds and other antioxidants. They kind of look like elongated, bumpy blueberries, but most importantly, they’re absolutely delicious. The folks at Haskapa have created some very cool products from these berries: everything from juice and cereal bars to ice cream and jellies. I was really impressed with the jalapeno haskap jelly, and will do my best to visit the Haskapa table early on Sunday, before they run out of Haskap ice cream 🙂

Another berry will be making an appearance on Sunday: the tried and true blueberry. Bloo juice hit the shelves of grocery stores in November 2013, and was a finalist for the Retail Council of Canada’s Grand Prix Product Award. Each bottle contains juice from approximately 600 blueberries, grown right here in Nova Scotia. Not only is it good for drinking, but the company has collaborated with local chefs to develop some innovative recipes that use their juice as a key ingredient.

After sampling just a few of the ingredients and products that will be on offer at Sunday’s street fair, I definitely plan on making my way down to be a part of this pop-up experience…

And if fine dining/fancy is more your thing, two very impressive dinners are being held as part of the Right Some Good festival, as well! On Friday, Michelin-star chef Cristina Bowerman has created a five-course menu that will be served up to guests at the Stadacona Drill Shed (tickets are about $125 with taxes and fees), and on Saturday, guests will dig into New York chef Ed Cotton’s sumptuous-sounding four-course meal aboard the HMCS Preserver (tickets are about $164 with taxes and fees). While the price-point may seem a wee bit steep, it’s actually a very good value for what’s sure to be an incredible dining experience!

I’m really pleased to see an event that promotes local products and talent is coming to Halifax this year, and that it’s being showcased in the heart of downtown Halifax. I hope it’s successful, and becomes an annual affair. 🙂

Coffee Crème Brûlée 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 crème brûlée. Thus, the Coffee Crème Brûlée 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 crème brûlée 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 Crème Brûlée 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 Crème Brûlée:

  • 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 Crème Brûlée:

  • 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 crème brûlée 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… 🙂

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

You don’t make friends with salad? #notsosure @lizfeltham @nimbuspub

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited along on a food bloggers tour of Halifax, to check out some of the restaurants that contributed to a new cookbook by Liz Feltham:

"Halifax Tastes"

Entitled “Halifax Tastes,” this book features a solid assortment of familiar favoured dishes from kitchens throughout the city. The recipes are clear and easy to follow, and the accompanying photography is gorgeous.

I hadn’t had a chance to test out any of the recipes until last week, when I picked up some beets from the market and decided to try my hand at preparing the roasted beet and goat cheese salad from Stories at The Haliburton.

While this definitely isn’t my straightforward lazy-man’s version of a Mediterranean salad (my go-to, easy summer side dish), it’s worth the extra effort (and the stained fingertips)…

I won’t post the recipe here, because it’s not mine to share… so you’ll have to buy the book (or go to Stories) if you want to try it!

I followed the recipe pretty closely, only I didn’t use different types of beets. Served with a glass of this amazing strawberry rhubarb ginger beverage I bought at the market, it made for a refreshing summertime meal, perfect for the patio!

How does #Halifax Taste? Pretty damn good… @MorrisEast @DaMaurizio @TwoIfBySeaCafe @SeasonsAtlantic @Armview @NimbusPub

I love a good cookbook: one chock-full of great, tried-tested-and-true recipes, and mouth-watering photos that make you want to get into the kitchen, immediately, to try and recreate what you see before you.

Well, a new one with a local focus just hit bookshelves near you, thanks to the efforts of author and all-around food guru, Liz Feltham, photographer Scott Munn, and Nimbus Publishing.

"Halifax Tastes"

“Halifax Tastes” was released in late May, and will make a great addition to any home cook’s kitchen. Feltham asked chefs at restaurants from around Halifax to share one recipe with her and, in turn, her readers. I’m guessing it wasn’t an easy feat to get some of the chefs to reveal their secrets (some flat-out refused) — especially for recipes like crab dumplings from the Press Gang. But the collection of recipes Feltham was able to amass is impressive: the book features everything from elegant starters, like the smokey corn and haddock chowder from Fid Resto, to the peppered proscuitto-wrapped halibut with mango salsa, courtesy of Nectar Social House. Just as important (for me, at least), is that each recipe is accompanied by a gorgeous photo of the dish (so home cooks like me can kind of tell if they were successful in replicating the dish, and get tips for presentation and plating!) To be honest, I totally judge a (cook)book by it’s cover, and this one is a winner.

Nimbus generously invited a few local food bloggers — myself included — to go on a tour of a handful of the participating restaurants to sample some of the dishes they featured, and to chat with the author about her latest project. I believe this is at least the fifth book Feltham has authored (I also have her “Chowders and Soups” tome, which served me very well over the bitter cold winter months).

The all-lady crew of food bloggers kick-started the evening at Two If By Sea Cafe (a stop I missed because I was tied up at the office). But I caught up quickly, and met them at the second stop, daMaurizio. There, we were treated to a delicate appetizer of “Gamberi Santa Maria”: spice roasted jumbo shrimp stopped with with a fresg cucumber, mango and red onion salsa and drizzled with smoked chili aioli:

Shrimp, mango and red pepper aioli from daMaurizioI blissfully sipped away on their ginger margarita, a combination of Patron tequila, ginger-infused syrup, Cointreau and lime), and savoured each bite of the shrimp dish.

Ginger margarita from daMaurizio

After we polished off our cocktails, we hopped in our limo (yep, they hooked us up with a limo; how ballin’ is that?!) and headed to Morris East.

Now, Morris East is one of my FAVOURITE places to go for a bite with friends: it’s cozy and hip without being pretentious, and a has fresh, seasonally-inspired menu. They prepared their peach and prosciutto pizza with maple rosemary aioli for us: topped with sauteed onions, grilled peaches, arugula and goat cheese, it really is the perfect summertime pizza, especially when accompanied by a refreshing wine spritzer with a pineapple ginger syrup.

A slice of peach & proscuitto goodness   Peach & proscuitto pizza from Morris East

Dining at Morris East

Wine spritzer with pineapple ginger syrup

Liz Feltham actually popped by on this stop to meet with the bloggers, chat, and sign our cookbooks… which was pretty cool, since I grew up on a steady literary diet of her food columns in The Coast, back in the day! It was also a great opportunity to discuss the inspiration and effort that went into her latest project…

Author Liz Feltham signs copies of her latest book, "Taste Halifax"

After we had eaten our fill of the delicate, thin-crust pizza (with purse snacks to go!) and sipped the last of our cocktails, we happily trundled back to our waiting ride, and headed to Seasons at the Atlantica Hotel on the corner of Quinpool & Robie.

I must admit, I was most excited about this stop on our tour, as I had heard many good things about this restaurant, but had not yet  had a chance to visit. We were treated to a table-side visit from head chef, Luis Clavel. I was impressed by the clear passion he has for his craft, and for food, in general. He prepared a kind of deconstructed lobster curry chowder: presenting us with a mason jar filled with cold-poached lobster and sweet potato, all infused with a Carribbean curry. It was presented with a crispy pakora, filled with creamy chickpea puree, and a rich broth was poured into the mason jar, tableside, creating an incredible sensory experience, with the spicy curry scent wafting down the table.

Place setting at Seasons

Pakora to dip in lobster curry chowder

Lobster curry chowder, step 1

Lobster curry chowder, step 2

Our last stop on this culinary tour was The Armview, a long-time staple on the Halifax dining scene, which was reinvented/refreshed by new owners a few years back. I love the decor/ambiance of the space: it has a definite diner feel, but with a trendy twist. Think slick, retro colour scheme, bar stools and booths, and funky artwork. There, we were treated to a dish of their incredibly creamy mac n’ cheese, which is riddled with chorizo sausage and manchego cheese, and served with a side of creamy, garlicky Caesar salad: definitely a recipe I would attempt, at home!

The "Armview Storm"

Mac n' cheese, a la Armview

Mac n' cheese loaded with creamy manchego cheese & chorizo

It was a whirlwind of great food, drinks and company, and we headed home with our appetites sated and a new cookbook filled with new recipes to add to our repertoire! Thanks to Nimbus for the lovely evening, and to TIBS, daMaurizio, Morris East, Seasons and the Armview for welcoming our group in for the evening!