Archive | February, 2012

Countdown to Culinaire 2012

24 Feb

There are many things that make me proud to call Victoria BC my home: the gorgeous weather, the friendly people, the stunning scenery – the list is truly endless! But right there on top of that hefty list is something many people might find surprising – the surplus of unbelievable avenues for great food, drink and dining. The rich culinary scene that has developed in this small capitol city over the past few years is a result of dedicated restaurateurs, talented chefs and passionate foodies who have created spaces for the exchange of flavours, ideas and information concerning all things edible. Whether it’s a friendly yet cutting edge kitchen store, a charming artisanal deli, an impressive gourmet restaurant, or a delightful café and bakery, there seems to be a wide and extensive variety of delicious destinations packed into this tiny town.

One amazing new addition of the past couple years is Culinaire, which showcases Victoria’s food and beverage scene through a collection of stands that offer tasty treats attendees can try whether it’s from a familiar place, or an unknown discovery. But for Scott Gurney, who has created and organized this event along with his wife Amy Pecorelli, the process of experiencing the unknown is the main goal of Culinaire.

Last year’s Culinaire, hosted by the Victoria Conference Centre at the Crystal Gardens

Gurney has been an established member of the Victoria culinary community for many years as the general manager of Darcy’s Pub, as well as prominent positions at other restaurants around town. His passion for food and drink is only succeeded by his immense desire to spread awareness about the amazing talents that our city offers. He explains that while it’s easy to get stuck going to your favourite spot over and over again, he encourages patrons to visit Culinaire so that they can expand their experiences and gain awareness of the many local restaurants that offer fantastic menus and service – something that could ultimately spice up a potentially tiresome date-night routine. But his bottom line is that you never know until you try, and that’s why Gurney encourages those who weren’t able to attend last year’s Culinaire, to grab some of the few remaining tickets and come with open minds, and open stomachs.

Beet and goat cheese terrine from Lure

Fiamo staff serve up red wine to people passing by

Chicken and rib sandwich from Broad Street Kitchen

I was personally unable to attend last year’s event and could not be more excited for the 2012 edition, which will take place on March 22nd. I’m always eager to try new things and discover new places, and it seems Gurney has read my mind by creating a utopic haven to do just that, all in one evening, within a conveniently confined space, filled with some of the most celebrated culinary spots on Vancouver Island!

It truly is a dream come true for those looking to experience a selection of the finest food and beverages our region has to offer, as well as those who are constantly saying they could have a meal simply from bite-sized hors d’eouvres.  Presenters from Victoria, The Cowichan Valley, and Saltspring Island will be serving inspired creations and signature dishes for you to try at one of two seatings, whereby tickets include 10 tastings from different presenters. But of course if 10 simply isn’t enough, you can purchase extra tasting tickets for $1 each (1 ticket = 1 tasting).

Although there are now limited tickets available, you might be one of the lucky ones who can find tickets for either the 5:00 pm – 7:15 pm seating or the 7:30pm – 9:45 pm seating at The Bard & Banker Pub (1022 Government Street) and Phillips Brewing Company (2010 Government Street). Tickets are $32.00 (including HST) and sales go towards the Camosun College Professional Cook Program scholarship awards, as well as the BC Hospitality Foundation. For Gurney, this event is all about encouraging local businesses and individuals, and that’s why he could not be more proud to offer support to both these amazing organizations that in turn promote and develop the food and beverage industries on the island.

Fresh raw oysters from The Oyster Bar

Bison short rib with a chipotle BBQ sauce and artisan baguette crostini

With over 50 presenters from a collection of restaurants, bakeries, cafes, breweries, wineries, and delis, it will be easy to find a number of things that will excite you about the culinary scene in this city. I’m already excited and the event is a month away! I hope to see many familiar faces at Culinaire 2012, and I look forwards to sharing my experiences with you post the blissful food-coma that will no doubt ensure.

Smoked trout/smoked sablefish and peas vol-au-vont from the BC Hospitality Foundation

*For more information head to culinairevictoria.com

*All photos are courtesy of Maryanne Carmack. To check out more from this talented photographer and foodie, please visit her website at www.maryannecarmack.com

Advertisements

Playing Cupid with Cupcakes and Other Delicious Things

19 Feb

They used to say “food is the way to a man’s heart,” but I personally think it’s the way to anyone’s heart. That’s why I believe Valentine’s Day is so unavoidably linked with anything edible, including a collection of my most beloved things such as wine, rich cuisine, adorable desserts, and of course flowers, which may not be edible, but are a necessary garnish to your Valentine’s day dinner table.

A simple arrangement of red, white and pink Gerbera daisies

Yes, this love-struck holiday has always been one of my favourites, and while many people think of it primarily as an opportunity to shower your partner with adoration, it was always a tradition in my house to take the time to show your appreciation for everyone you care about including family and friends. Because of the duel nature of my version of Valentine’s Day, this holiday is often stretched out for me (hmm that sounds familiar…like in A Belated Birthday Wish) with a combination of family dinners and romantic dates.

While at times it’s been nice to head to a restaurant for both the family and more intimate Valentines experiences, this year the common trend seemed to be a desire to stay in. Always excited for an opportunity to try new heart-shaped and colour-themed creations, I was completely on board, and on both nights was delegated the dessert making task.

For our family dinner, I decided to make two different types of gluten-free and dairy-free cupcakes so that my Paleo-Diet dad could indulge in some sweet treats. I was apparently feeling particularly daring as I have never made gluten-free cupcakes, but have also never made dairy-free cupcakes. And to add to that troublesome duo, I also didn’t really follow one specific recipe and kind of ad-libbed as I went along. Although I must say, from talking to some fellow GF and DF bakers, that’s often the case when experimenting with such a tedious combination.

Either way, they seemed to turn out all right, and were greatly appreciated by my dad who doesn’t often get the chance to indulge in baked desserts like cupcakes.

*Click HERE for a full recipe of the cupcakes and icing!

The cupcakes accompanied a healthy and hearty meal of grilled chicken breast and thigh with a sweet chilli sauce giving them a delightful and festive pinky-red glaze. Grilled red beats provided another Valentines themed contribution to the meal, with grilled blond beats, asparagus and Portobello mushrooms offering additional sides.

The cocktail of the evening was a fittingly red mix of POM Wonderful pomegranate juice, Ceres guava juice, lemon Perrier and XFour – an amazing BC-made vodka from Von Albrecht and Associates, which is crafted in small batches, distilled four times, is three times filtered and is completely free of any additives or sweeteners.

Lovestruck Valentine's Day cocktail garnished with fresh raspberries

In addition to the cupcakes, I also make a red fruit salad with fresh raspberries, strawberries, pomegranate seeds and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and the desserts where enjoyed with an appropriately pink coloured Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny Port.

For my Valentine’s Day dinner for two, I was treated to a delicious meal made by my man, consisting of the romantically Italian combination of pasta and a bruschetta starter. The pasta (made from brown rice) contained turkey chorizo sausage, feta cheese and kalamata olives from Red Barn Market, and fresh baby spinach and grape tomatoes from The Root Cellar. The bruschetta was a light mix of tomatoes, minced garlic, chopped onion, olive oil, and fresh basil served on top of some thinly sliced bocconcini cheese on toasted baguette.

The dessert provided the baker (ie. me!) with a bit of a heart attach accompanied by cold sweats, but strangely enough turned out better than I had thought it would. I was originally going to make tartes aux fraise as seen in the post (ironically titled in this case) Definitely Not Date Food, but was forced to think fast and improvise when the Pepperidge Farm puff pastry I decided to use did some funky things in the oven. Perhaps I left it out too long to thaw (I hate how you have to buy it frozen in Canada), or perhaps I’m just used to using the amazing store-bought puff pastry one is accustomed to in Paris (I hate how you can’t find Parisian-grade puff-pastry, butter, or even milk for that matter in Canada), but as it baked it went, well, a little TOO puffy, and was also way too heavy and thick. As a result I couldn’t delicately place my fresh fruit on top as we would “en France”, and of course I only left myself just enough time to make the dessert assuming that everything would go perfectly (and it never does). So I ended up carefully cutting the pastry in half, and then slathered a quick and easy home-made cream-cheese pomegranate icing (made with the leftover POM for a pink tint) on the insides of each puff pastry slice. I then placed chopped strawberries in between each icing layer to form a make-shift puff pasty strawberry shortcake (you saw it first here people), and viola! Dessert was ready!

Strangely enough, they were actually quite delicious and provided the heart-shaped finish to our romantic meal that I had wanted all along. Although maybe next year, I think I’ll just stick to cookies if I’m feeling pressed for time…

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Cupcakes with Coconut Flour

19 Feb

As discussed in the post Playing Cupid with Cupcakes and Other Delicious Things, Valentine’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to show the people in your life how much you care. One of the best ways of doing this is the act of giving edible gifts or enjoying shared meals with loved ones. But what if the ones you care about can’t stomach the usual wheat and dairy packed treats we’ve grown accustomed to on holidays such as this? Thankfully there have been so many fantastic discoveries in the world of gluten and dairy free cooking that allow those with restricted diets the opportunity to enjoy certain foods they normally could only dream about. This Valentine’s Day I thought it would be nice to try my hands at some new cupcake recipes that don’t involve either wheat or dairy, and after some experimentation and collaboration between a few online sources, I came up with two variations that were very much appreciated by the GF and DF people in my life…

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Red Velvet Cupcakes

*makes 6-8 regular sized cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sugar (or substitute)
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2-3 tsp red food colouring
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
  2. Beat the eggs well, stir in the coconut oil, coconut milk and vanilla. In a separate bowl mix the dry ingredients.
  3. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet and mix well.
  4. Add the red food colouring and mix well.
  5. Place the batter into cupcake cases 3/4 of the way up and bake for 20 mins or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
  6. Remove and cool before frosting.

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Vanilla Cupcakes

*makes 6-8 regular sized cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup of coconut flour
  • 1/4 tsp of baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp of sea salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 cup of coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup of honey (or other sweetener…I used Agave Syrup)
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla

 Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180C/350F.
  2. Combine dry ingredients and blend well.
  3. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and use mixer to blend.
  4. Fill cupcake liners 3/4 of the way with batter.
  5. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
  6. Remove and cool before frosting.

Dairy-Free Pomegranate Icing

*For roughly 16-20 cupcakes (depending on how much icing is used on each)

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 6 cups gluten-free powdered cane sugar
  • 6 tbsp canned coconut milk
  • 6 tbsp natural pomegranate juice (add more, 1 teaspoon at a time for a creamy consistency)
  • One freshly squeezed lemon

Method

  1. Place vegetable shortening and salt in a medium mixing bowl and use an electric mixer to cream.
  2. Add sugar and coconut milk, then slowly mix in pomegranate juice and lemon juice.
  3. Whip on high until the frosting is smooth and creamy.
  4. If frosting is too stiff, gradually add more pomegranate juice, 1 teaspoon at a time.

Notes:

1. Coconut Oil in Baking: Unlike oils you may be more accustomed to using in cooking, coconut oil is thick and solid. Your best bet is to leave it out in a measuring cup to soften at room temperature before combining with the other ingredients.

2. Filling the Cupcake Liners with Batter: While the suggested amount you should fill the liners is 3/4, cupcakes using both coconut flour and coconut oil don’t rise very much do to the density of these ingredients. I would recommend filling them slightly higher so that when they rise, they have that lovely top on them.

3. The Vanilla Cupcake Batter: You may find that the batter for these cupcakes is much thicker than the red velvet ones. Don’t worry, it’s supposed to be this way. Just spoon in the batter and you’ll see that they turn out just fine!

4. The Icing: While the recipes I went off of all suggested vegetable shortening, this would not be my recommendation. I found the flavour a tad distracting from the sweetness of the cupcakes with a somewhat heavy aftertaste. Next time I make this icing, I would probably try coconut oil or some other thickening agent, although I’m open to suggestions if you guys have any. But the pomegranate juice is great! Adds the right amount of flavour and of course that lovely Valentine’s Day pink tint!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

14 Feb

Just wanted to wish you all a very happy Valentine’s Day filled with lots of love and deliciousness!

Here’s a sneak peek for my upcoming post on this wonderful day, which will include two home-made dinners along with recipes…

Gluten/Dairy-free Red Velvet and Vanilla Cupcakes with Pomegranate Icing

Red Fruit Salad with Strawberries, Raspberries and Pomegranate Seeds

Also feel free to check out a couple Valentine’s Day stories I wrote for EAT Magazine:

Valentine’s Day Gifts with Edible “I Love You’s”

5 Romantic Restaurants for your Valentine’s Day Dinner

A Belated Birthday Wish

1 Feb

My birthday is my favourite week…er I mean DAY of the year.

OK yes, I’m one of those annoying people who stretch it out as long as possible (hence the reason why I’m posting about it two weeks after the fact), but why shouldn’t it be an important day? Week? Even month??! We spend so much of our year running around, neglecting our own happiness, I think we should take some time once a year to stop the madness and celebrate with friends, family and loved ones. And what better way than with a weeklong festivity of food and drink!

Photo taken from last year's birthday festivities

You all remember the stunning photo of formerly-fat Ellie lit up with excitement over my ice cream cake in Food and Me, but that’s actually the permanent state of my face for the entire week of my birthday, as I stuff myself without any guilt of calories or pending hangovers.

My week of delicious delights actually started before my official birthday, as I enjoyed a fantastic home cooked dinner with my family. My brother and his fiancé were in town, so we decided to take advantage of this rare opportunity when (almost) all of us were together (my other brother unfortunately couldn’t be there for this visit), and my remarkable chef of a mother whipped up sesame encrusted seared ahi tuni, broccoli, matchstick carrots, and beets. Not to mention individual cheesecakes that provided the perfect stand for my first birthday candle blowout.

Flash forward a few days to my actual birthday, which started with a lovely morning surprise. I awoke to a stunning bouquet of a dozen red roses from my wonderful boyfriend, as well as about a foot and a half of snow. Now in normal cities that’s just called “winter”, but in little Victoria BC even an inch of the white stuff puts a stop to everything in the city, and locals rejoice over a snow day, if of course they’re not quivering in fear, afraid to leave their front door.

Having lived in Montreal for 4 years, and also having the joy of a 4×4, the snow never stops me, and I continued on with my day, goofy smile and all, as if nothing had happened. Except for the fact that my boyfriend was able to stay home from school which bent my goofy smile into an overjoyed grin. We began the day with some amazing homemade whole wheat waffles, a large mug of green tea w/ straw (strangely enough my favourite way to drink hot beverages), and went for a lovely walk in the silent and snowy city landscape.

After our venture into the “wild”, we met up with my mom, and the three of us enjoyed a delicious lunch at The Fireside Grill, which was quite possibly the only place open for lunch in my neighbourhood. We indeed sat fireside, and enjoyed some warming cuisine as the wood crackled beside us. I had a grilled sockeye salmon burger with a dijon anchovy aioli, frisee, pickled red onions & Roma tomatoes, and an amazing “dessert sampler for two,”  which included New York cheesecake, flourless chocolate cake with coconut gelato, chocolate dipped strawberries & gin and tonic granite with passion fruit foam…although in actuality I ate most of it. No surprise there.

For dinner I met friends at Sauce where we enjoyed some amazing cocktails and bites. My favourite cocktail was the Knickerbocker which was a shaken mix of Flor de Cana Grand Reserve 7yr, rum, cointreau, raspberry, and lemon.

The next day I had a more intimate meal with my man at one of my favourite local restaurants, The Tapa Bar, where we enjoyed Gambas con Coco (prawns in coconut milk curry with cucumber & tomato), Bistek Madagascar (charbroiled New York steak covered in Madagascar peppercorn demi-glaze), grilled chorizo sausage, and my personal favourite, the grilled kale (marinated in coconut milk, cayenne and lemon). A lovely trio of crème brûlées finished off the night, and I was well into a week of true culinary bliss.

I’m happy to report that the week continued with dinners, lunches, brunches and drinks all aimed at celebrating the day I was born.  I’m not saying this to inform you as to how utterly self-indulgent I am, but more so to highlight the amazing power that enjoying food and drinks with the people you care about can have, no matter what the occasion.

In fact, if I could make one definitive birthday wish, then I would ask for everyone to take more time to not just smell the roses, but turn those roses into a table garnish for a delightful dinner party with friends, and then take time to stop and smell (and eat) the appetizers, main dishes and desserts that do such a great job of bringing people together.  Now if THAT were to happen more regularly for everyone, then I would be one very happy birthday girl!