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.

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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!)

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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)

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)… 🙂

Bridal Party!end

 

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. 🙂

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.

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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. 🙂

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

Oh, I think this will sate your sweet tooth! #hfxfb

It was my boyfriend’s birthday last weekend, so of course we needed a birthday cake to properly commemorate the occasion! While he suggested ice cream cake (I would normally be ALL OVER Coldstone Creamery’s Coffeehouse Crunch cake), I decided to bake him one, instead. Why? Well, for a few reasons:

  1. The theme for the Halifax Food Blogger’s monthly challenge for June is SWEET…
  2. I think baking is a great way to show someone you *really* love them 🙂
  3. Mainly because I recently dug the following out of my mom’s basement:

The Betty Crocker Bake'n Fill set!!!

Remember these?! The Betty Crocker Bake’n Fill bake set. AS SEEN ON TV. No joke.

This bad boy has been kickin’ around in my mom’s basement for years. It’s only been used a handful of times, but let me tell you, you can surprise the hell out of people with it… I mean, an inconspicuous little cake can be stuffed with just about anything… pudding, ice cream, fresh fruit… you name it! The possibilities are endless.

So, I decided to dig mine out and surprise the birthday boy with a dark chocolate cake filled with dulce de leche condensed milk, fresh strawberries and mint and whipped cream.

Best. Girlfriend. Ever.

Right?

Right.

First, I made a batch of chocolate cake batter (a recipe adapted from The Bubbly Baker that includes 1 cup fresh coffee, which I substituted with espresso), to add some depth and richness into the mix:

Fresh espresso! Whisking dry ingredients together... Cake batter

Then, I filled and baked the heck outta those Betty Crocker pans:

Ready to be filled! The base cake The cakes, baked & cooled

After the cakes had cooled completely, I filled them again, but this time, with delicious things like dulce de leche condensed milk (next time, I’m going to try slow cooking a can of condensed milk to get a thicker texture):

Dulce de leche

A layer of diced strawberries and fresh mint:

Diced strawberries & fresh mint

And whipped cream, to seal everything inside!

Last layer, whipped cream

Afterwards, I popped the base layer on top and flipped the baked-and-filled beauty over:

Baked, filled and flipped!

I whipped up a batch of ganache (heating 3/4 cup of whipping cream with unsalted butter, then pouring that mixture on top of 8 oz. of dark semisweet chocolate):

Chop dark semisweet chocolate into chunks Chocolate bits! Combine heated whipping cream mixture with chocolate... ... & it turns into this! (silky-smooth ganache)

After brushing the crumbs off the cake and applying a thin crumb coat of the silky-smooth ganache to the cake, I spread the mixture over the top and sides, sprinkled toffee bits over the top, and popped the whole thing in the fridge to set:

Fresh ganache topped with toffee bits

Well, the birthday boy peeked into the fridge about an hour later, and insisted we have cake for lunch… I must admit, it wasn’t a hard sell…

A slice...

...The inside!

It was scrumptious. And DEFINITELY sweet.

Albeit, a wee bit messy (I think using a thicker, homemade dulce de leche would help), but really, the flavours of chocolate, caramel, strawberries and cream worked well together! I initially doubted myself a bit when I decided to add in a few mint leaves to the berries, but it helped brighten up the mixture, I think…

All in all, one of my favourite (homemade) birthday cakes, to date!

A “sugar shack”-style Christmas Eve dinner: Tourtière & Pudding au Chomeur @feistychef

Traditional turkey dinner is widely accepted as the meal of choice during the holiday season. But, truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of the big bird. I mean, if someone else wants to go to all the trouble of preparing the monstrosity, cool, I’ll have a plate. But I just don’t love it enough to truss & tend turkey for the whole day. Though, I do love stuffing.

I usually make something a bit different for Christmas dinner. One year, when we lived in Whistler, I served stuff salmon as our main course, along with a variety of sides. This year, since we decided to spend the holidays in Nova Scotia, I decided to make Kevin feel a bit more “at home” by serving a Quebecois holiday specialty: tourtiere.

It’s basically a seasoned meat pie (different versions can include a variety of meats, but I went with veal & pork) with a bit of grated of potato thrown in…

Trouble is, I’ve never made the damn thing before. And, I’m not that great at making pastry dough.

I threw caution to the wind when I found this recipe posted by the talented Feisty Chef. After scouring the city to find ground veal (not an easy feat days before Christmas), I went to work on Christmas eve morning, whipping up a 50% unsalted butter 50% shortening pie crust. I used by food processor because, quite frankly, I didn’t have the patience to combine the fat and flour by hand. I was a bit worried that I might overwork the dough and make it tough, but I didn’t. This was actually the flakiest, most flavourful crust I’ve ever managed to make. I was pretty proud of it, truth be told.

The recipe yielded two whole pies (my mom and I had one piece, and Kevin ate the rest of the 1st pie, which I take as a sign that it was pretty passable). He said it didn’t taste quite like his grandmother’s (nothing ever does, does it?!), but that it was pretty damn good:

2 Tourtières!

Inside the Tourtière:

Inside the Tourtière

I made maple baked beans, which actually didn’t turn out very well. They tasted alright, but I wouldn’t make them again. In hindsight, I probably should have stuck with tried-and-true mashed potatoes.

For dessert, however, I made a Pudding au Chomeur (basically a maple bread pudding). It was phenomenal… creamy and rich, served piping hot with a dollop of vanilla frozen yogurt. This one’s definitely a keeper:

Pudding au Chomeur

We headed to bed stuffed, and ready for Santa to arrive!