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!)

My #BigDayDowntown: I visit @SpiritSpaHFX, Kee-Heong Cantonese Bakery, @RousseauChoco, & @InkwellBoutique,

So, I’m feeling very spoiled: I kicked off the Labour Day long weekend with my highly anticipated (well, to me, anyways) Big Day Downtown.

The Big Day Downtown event is organized by the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, and is designed to help promote businesses 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 (like moi) are invited to participate, and were given $150 Visa gift cards to spend anywhere downtown!

This year, the theme was “People’s Choice,” which meant we had to consult with our readers and social media peeps when we were deciding how to spend the cash. I created three polls on my site, and asked people what I should do on my day downtown. The results were pretty overwhelmingly in support of visiting the spa (thanks, guys!), buying something ‘just for me,’ and eating somewhere I’ve never eaten. Sounded pretty damn good to me…

So, with my credit card practically burning a hole in my wallet, I headed downtown on Friday afternoon.

1st stop: Spirit Spa

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I managed to snag a last-minute appointment with the lovely Tiffany at Spirit Spa for a Sea Scrub body treatment. While I try to go for (semi) regular massage treatments, I’ve never been for a salt scrub, and it sounded kinda refreshing. According to their website:

“This body polish uses diatomaceous earth to exfoliate your skin and stimulate circulation. The treatment ends with a silky marine based body milk that will leave your skin supple for days.”

While “diatomaceous earth” sounded a bit fancy, it really just looked like this:

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It felt great, and was really quite relaxing. Plus, my skin felt SUPER smooth afterwards. It was my first trip to Spirit Spa, as well, which is a beautiful, tranquil space: plenty of natural materials, calming music and lots of pops of colour.

I rolled out feeling radiant, relaxed, and ready to eat!

TOTAL: $85.96 (including tax & tip)

2nd stop: Kee-Heong Cantonese Bakery

Just up around the corner is a tiny little Cantonese bakery I’ve been swearing to visit ever since I noticed it there:

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It was around 1 p.m. when I entered the dining room, ready for some dim sum. The lovely lady working behind the counter brought me a menu and informed me, when asked, that they had actually been open for 1 year and 10 months. Seriously?! I need to get out of Dartmouth more often.

I was the only person in the dining room, which made me a bit nervous at first, but I figured that it was likely because I was having a bit of a late lunch, so I settled in to review the menu. As it turns out, I was correct: plenty of others came in to place orders to take away, and eat in, after I placed my order.

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Typically, my eyes were bigger than my belly: I settled on a 3-piece order of pan-fried crispy shrimp dumplings ($3.50), a 6-piece order of pork with cilantro dumplings ($3.50) and a 2-piece order of steamed barbecue pork buns ($3.50).

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The cilantro pork dumplings were savory and packed with fresh cilantro flavour. I’m a big cilantro fan, but for anyone who doesn’t enjoy this distinct flavour, I’d definitely recommend ordering seconds (or thirds) of the pan-fried shrimp dumplings, which are phenomenal. These are like crispy little presents, loaded with shrimp, green onion, and garlic:

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I saved my steamed barbecue pork bun for last…  a slightly sweet, sticky, soft, doughy cloud enveloping a savory pork centre:

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This definitely isn’t a fancy place to go for lunch — the dining room is almost completely unadorned, and there isn’t much in the way of music to create much ambiance, but Kee-Heong offers authentic fare that is fresh and fairly priced.

The display of pastries was very tempting, but I managed to resist the urge to order one (or two) to go, because I was heading to another sweet spot….

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TOTAL: $13.89 (including tax & tip)

3rd stop: Rousseau Chocolatier

Rousseau Chocolatier tweeted at me when I was asking people for recommendations on where to go for my Big Day Downtown. And when I saw photos of their chocolates on their Facebook page, I was sold. They opened up shop on Hollis Street earlier this year, and have been getting lots of attention.

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And for good reason: they know their chocolate! Owned by a husband and wife team — Julien and Nathalie (who was working when I popped in on Friday) — they produce an impressive selection of handmade chocolates, using locally-sourced ingredients as much as possible. Incidentally, they ALSO make a KILLER coconut macaron. Fer reals:

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Plus, you can actually watch the chocolate being made in the adjoining space (which reminded me of when I visited a Swiss chocolatier many years ago). After staring at the chocolate display in awe for a couple of minutes, I finally settled on an assorted box to take home, along with a bag of chocolate dipped meringues.

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To my credit, I shared these with my boyfriend, which I think officially qualifies me as a the nicest girlfriend ever. My favourite chocolate was the feuilletine, which basically has thin crispy flakes in a creamy smooth milk chocolate:

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TOTAL: $29.90 (including tax)

4th stop: Inkwell Boutique

I meandered up to Market Street as a nibbled on the aforementioned coconut macaron, mentally totalling up my purchases en route. With just $20 left to spend, I knew selecting just one thing at Inkwell was going to be tough. I mean, come on:

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This is stationary geek heaven. I lapped the store probably five times before I caved and busted out my own debit card to use in conjunction with my prepaid Visa. I had to have the infamous “seven year pen” (which has an ink supply that’s supposed to last seven years). I’ve been in a need of a good “purse pen” (aka a pen that lives in my purse), and this totally fit the bill. Plus, there’s a strip of cartoon bacon on the clip. Sweet, right? I also snagged a birthday card that predominantly featured a unicorn, and a great print for my basement office area:

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TOTAL: $40.82 (including tax)

So, the grand total for my Big Day Downtown was *drum roll please*:$170.57. For that price, I was scrubbed, buffed and moisturized, well-fed, treated to sweets and even managed to pick up some local art. Plus, I discovered a few hidden gems and supported some great local businesses in the process!

All-in-all, a successful Big Day Downtown, if I do say so myself! 🙂

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. 🙂

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 line caught crispy halibut, shaved cabbage and apple salad, 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.

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 hors 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, 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!)

Another burger bite @worksburger #Halifax… just the beginning of #BurgerBinge 2013?!?! #burgerweek

Okay, yet ANOTHER burger joint has opened in this city…

I don’t really GET IT. I mean, I’m down with burgers. But really? Let’s count all the new burger joints that have opened in the past year: Cheese Curds, Ace Burger, Flip Burger, Relish, and now, The Works Burger.

I mean, I like burgers as much as the next gal, but it really seems like the burger has taken Halifax by storm. And people can’t seem to get enough of them…

The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro is the latest burger joint that’s opened up as part of this carnivorous craze. Located on Doyle Street in downtown Halifax, the Works is actually the newest branch of a successful franchise, which has 17 other restaurants in Ontario.

While I kind of dislike the injection of the term “gourmet” and “bistro” into the title (it seems a bit pretentious), I AM a huge fan of the opening day promotion they held, offering free burgers to patrons in exchange for donations to Feed Nova Scotia. Definitely NOT pretentious. What a fabulous way to give back to the community you’re setting up shop in. 🙂

I wasn’t able to make it out for opening day (I was working), but I did manage to visit the new burger hotspot the following week.

Unlike Cheese Curds, where you queue up and order cafeteria style, Works offers table service, so you can sit back and chat while you wait to place your order and for your food to arrive… which I prefer to standing around and waiting for my order on the line.

The decor is eclectic and honestly, a bit weird, with toys and objects embedded in brickwork. But I love the booths and the mural of the Citadel clocktower on one wall..

I stuck with water (which arrived in a measuring cup, to ensure that I was receiving precisely 2 cups of hydration along with my meal, I guess), and Kevin ordered a Cracked Canoe light lager.

The menu is pretty overwhelming, offering enough options to make your head spin. First, you have to pick your patty (beef, veggie, chicken, turkey, portobello mushroom, or elk). Then, the hard part: the toppings. Offering everything from the Plain Jane (lettuce, burger, bun, period!) to the Dynamic Downtown (grilled eggplant, avocado, salsa and feta), I think it’s safe to say that, if you can’t find an option that appeals to your tastebuds, you’re just being ridiculously picky. After you’ve agonized over your topping choices, slap a bun on that motha (white, whole wheat or gluten-free), select a side dish, and get ready to dig in!

Trying to be moderately healthy, I ordered the chicken breast patty a la “Crappy Tire” (topped with grilled pineapple ring, sweet & spicy sauce & brie cheese, $12.32), served on a whole wheat bun. I also tried to order the “Leafing on a Jet Plane” green salad as my side, but they were out… Seeing as the only other moderately healthy side was cucumber (seriously, plain ol’ cucumber?!), I guiltily settled on sweet potato fries.

Kevin picked the beef patty with a Top 10 Burgerhead fave topping option combo: “Smokey Mountain” (smokey BBQ sauce, Jack cheese & bacon strips, $13.34), with a side of sweet potato fries.

I really enjoyed my burger: the sweet, grilled pineapple played nicely with the sweet and spicy sauce and creamy brie, and my chicken breast was juicy and not overcooked. My only complaint was the whole wheat bun: it was slightly dry. And I’m not just saying that because it was whole wheat — whole wheat buns don’t need to turn to dust in your mouth…

I managed to steal a bite of Kev’s burger and swooned when I tasted the beefy morsel coated in smokey BBQ sauce: I shouldn’t have tried to pick a healthy option at a burger joint. Shame on me! And seriously, how did I not order their tower of onion rings and a 2001 Shake Odyssey (rich caramel, creamy peanut butter & Oreo cookie crumbs) milkshake? *sigh*

The sweet potato fries were nice and crispy, but sadly, pretty cold by the time they arrived at our table. To be fair, we visited pretty soon after this spot opened, so I’m sure they’ve worked out some of the kinks by now. I’ll definitely return for a round II!

Speaking of burgers … a good friend/fellow food lover recently suggested that I embark on a burger odyssey, sampling the best of the “new” burger joints in town and offering my humble opinion up along the way. Now, he actually suggested this adventure mere days before The Coast unveiled their first-ever BURGER WEEK, which runs from March 21 to 27. Prescient, perhaps?! I don’t know… but the fates seem to be conspiring, so I say, “challenge accepted!” 

Since I don’t really relish the idea of clogging my arteries *entirely* by trying to slog through The Coast’s impressive list of 21 participating restaurants in seven days (I think that would entail eating burgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a solid week), I’ve set a more realistic goal: I plan to visit the five “new guys” in town, who are expressly burger joints (Ace Burger Co., Relish, Cheese Curds, Flip Burger, and The Works), dig in and dish on which I think reigns supreme!

Stay tuned for the results… And, if anyone has suggestions for criteria I should use to rate my meals (i.e. quality of buns, selection of sides), please don’t hesitate to send ’em my way!