Tag Archives: food

Summer Food Fest Frenzy and Culinaire Re-Cap

8 Jun

Summer is just around the corner, and for Victoria that means an abundance of outdoor food festivals.

This weekend Fort Rod Hill will host ICC Food Fest, which brings together a cooperative community of chefs and food and beverage professionals with the goal of raising awareness and funds for regional food security, the preservation of farmland, and the development of local food systems. (click here for more)

ICC Food Fest 2011

On June 24, Fernwood NRG will be holding the 3rd annual Fernwood Bites event, showcasing the gastronomic talents of Fernwood businesses as well as other local eateries and chefs from around southern Vancouver Island, all in support of raising funds for this growing neighbourhood. (click here for more)

Buckwheat pancake with morel mushrooms & cured and smoked trout with homemade sodas (black tea, steeped with lavender and lemon balm) from Devour Food and La Piola’s table at Fernwood Bites 2011

On September 16, as summer is beginning to wane but the harvest season is just taking off, Farm Folk City Folk will be hosting their longstanding event, Feast of Fields, to raise money and awareness about local and sustainable farming and food.

Of course, throughout summer Victoria locals can continue to support the local food scene by attending some of the outdoor markets such as the VDPM’s Wednesday market in Market square, or the Sunday market on Langley street above Bastion Square.

A chorizo sausage sandwiche from El Guapo Grill, at The VDPM Wednesday market

But as I write various stories for EAT Magazine about these foodie playgrounds, I can’t help but reminisce about the first local culinary event I attended this year (and evidently the first I have attended in this city), long before the sun started peeking through, luring locals outside. It’s been over 2 months since Culinaire, but I’m still dreaming of the delicious delights that I saw, smelled and tasted. Never have I experienced so much culinary talent under one roof – I feel so proud that my hometown is host to such an outstanding gastronomic scene, not just in the summer, but throughout the year as well.

For those of you who were able to attend Culinaire 2012, there’s no doubt that you share my lingering reminiscence of that fantastic night. And for those of you who sadly had to miss this years’ event, let me share with you my experiences in hopes that you won’t necessarily feel as though you missed out, but more so excited to grab some of your own tickets to next years’ installment.

Inside the Crystal Garden Convention Center for Culinaire 2012

Even before doors opened for the first seating, a long line-up quickly formed outside of Victoria’s Crystal Garden Convention Center. You could almost see the drool dripping from the mouths as event goers eagerly clutched their tickets. The gates opened, the people poured in, and so did the wine, beer and other spirits offered by some of the 52 vendors. Participants sampled beverages in small tasting glasses that were brilliantly held in rather stylish wooden boards, generously provided by Phillips Brewery.

I spent my first lap sizing up each vendor, carefully forming my plan of attack. While I was there to work (I hosted a video for the event), I was able to sample many of the offerings (for research right?), but with so much to choose from, I had to be strategic about my course of action.

Grilled Scallop, Red Pepper Gelee, Chive Caviar by Truffles Catering

The team at Aura and their Porkbelly Lettuce Wrap

Clam Ceviche from The Marina Restaurant paired with a Dos Equis & Grapefruit cocktail

I’m sure most people would want to start small to warm-up their palettes, but this girl went straight for the gold with a juicy bison burger from Bin 4, which was almost immediately followed by some chocolate porter from Canoe Brewpub. A strange combination I must say, but the stomach wants what the stomach wants.

Bin 4 burger and a tasty craft brew

The rest of the night was a bit of blur as I sampled a delicious Caesar from The Tudor House Pub, served with a skewer of grilled octopus (definitely a first for me), as well as some gorgeous desserts from Bubby Rose’s Bakery, cupcakes from Ooh La La and an adorable, and incredibly tasty mini meat pie from The Roost. Other highlights included freshly shucked oysters from Oyster Bar, cheese creations from Hilary’s Cheese, a sweet and spicy chili cocktail from Veneto, a tuna tartar canapé from Lure, and a brilliant dish from The Fairmont Empress Hotel, which served succulent lamb with a mint cotton candy garnish on top of a creamy risotto. The list is truly endless, and if you’re curious to see what else is offered by dozens of Victoria’s finest, then I suppose you’ll have to experience it for yourself!

Tuna Tartar, Curry Crisp, Scallion Gel
Lure Restaurant – Delta Ocean Pointe

Hilary Abbott of Hilary’s Artisan Cheese serves up his delicious creation

Moroccan Veal Cheek Tortellini from Feys + Hobbs Catered Arts

Although this was my first Culinaire adventure, many say that each installment is better than the last as vendors strive to outdo their previous successes. So don’t be surprised if you see me next year at the very front of the long line, standing in a puddle of my own drool, clamping down on my tickets as I count down the minutes until those doors open and I’m set-loose on Culinaire 2013.

Until then, I look forward to seeing many of you out and about at all the fun summertime events, smiles full of food and hearts full of pride for Victoria’s ever growing culinary community.

*For more on this years’ event, you can check out the video I hosted, my previous article on Culinaire, or their website at culinairevictoria.com

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

Mexico Munching: Day 3 and 4

28 May

Day 3

By the third day of my Mexican retreat I was well in the swing of things. Same morning routine as mentioned in Mexican Munching: Day 1 and 2:

Wake up. Light breakfast. Gym. Pool. Lunch.

I great way to start any day I would think.

Day 3’s poolside snacks included a fresh and citrusy ceviche as well as, you guessed it, more guacamole. Clearly I was starting to get experimental with my drinks and ordered a Pay-ay, which provides a melange of various alcohols and fruit juices served in a personified pineapple. So that my Pay-ay friend wasn’t lonely, my cousin ordered a Coco-loco, a similarly decorated drink that infuses its booze with coconut milk and coconut water. Fun and festive, the Pay-ay and Coco-loco are both tasty and entertaining, and even provide a delicious post-drink snack with all the fruity facial features.

Grouper citrus ceviche

Guacamole, salsa, and chips

Coco-loco and Pay-ay

These delights were digested by the Grand Luxxe pool, which is steps away from the beautiful Cancun area Caribbean ocean. The beachfront of this resort is as gorgeous as the rest of the compound, with countless cabanas, huts and chairs to relax on as you take in the surrounding serenity.

Dinner offered a classier alternative to my lounge-chair lunch, as some of the more mature members of our party decided to dine at Tramonto, an upscale Italian restaurant. Appetizers included a spectacular beef carpaccio, accompanied by a wild mushroom salad served in a radicchio cup, as well as a delicate caprese salad, beautifully presented greens salad, and a creamy tomato soup garnished with three adorable crispy mini raviolis.

Greens salad

Caprese salad

Beef carpaccio, with a wild mushroom salad

Tomato soup with crispy ravioli

For my main dish, I enjoyed an impeccably prepared seared tuna with a side of spaghetti that was as equally perfectly presented. Dessert was an interesting, yet exquisite provolone cheesecake with a black cherry coulis that proved to be an ideal ending to this rich and flavourful meal.

Seared tuna with a side of spaghetti

Provolone cheesecake with a black cherry coulis

Day 4

You’d think at this point I would have sprouted gills with all the fish I was eating, but it’s hard to resist when it’s this fresh and prepared in such amazingly varied ways. One of the best fish dishes I sampled during this vacation was a grilled fish taco, with fish so flavourful itself, it really didn’t need much accompaniment. But of course it came with ample amounts of guacamole and beans, that of which I didn’t turn away. Along with my tacos, I enjoyed a tropical melange somewhat reminiscent of the sea itself, with its light blue colour, the result of a mix of rum, blue curacao, pineapple juice, coconut milk and a splash of lime.

Grilled fish tacos

My sea-creature consumption only continued during dinner, at the Asian-style restaurant Gong.  For a starter I had very thinly sliced seared tuna in a mix of manzano chilli pepper sauce, soy sauce, yuzu, truffle oil, green apple, mint and seasame seed with wasabi, and sampled bites from my mom’s black cod, served with asparagus and a hijiki salad.

Sliced seared tuna with manzano chilli pepper sauce, soy sauce, yuzu, truffle oil, green apple, mint and seasame seed

Black cod, served with asparagus and a hijiki salad

I also ordered Kobe beef skewers served with pickled vegetables, and a delicious drink called Island Vibes that mixed together clove and cinnamon infused rum with lime juice, simple syrup and tamarindo, to create a cocktail reminiscent of southern sweet iced-tea.

Kobe beef skewers served with pickled vegetables

Island Vibes cocktail

The sushi at Gong was some of the best I’ve ever tried, especially the beautifully presented ahi tuna cone with thinly sliced avocado.

It’s a good thing my dinner of appetizers was so light, because dessert offered quite I different experience. Never one to turn down something dipped in batter, I decided to go for the deep-fried ice-cream and also had bites of my cousins’ deep fried banana dish, accompanied by the no doubt healthier option of grilled bananas,  as well as a scoop of light, yet rich chocolate mousse.

Deep-fried ice-cream with fresh berries and mint

Deep-fried and grilled bananas with chocolate mousse and vanilla ice-cream

Another couple days of great food and drink – a wonderful warm-up for the feasting that was about to occur on day 5 of my trip.

For more, check out Mexico Munching: Day 1 and 2, and Mexico Munching: Final Highlights

Mexico Munching: Day 1 and 2

23 May

Simply put, Mexico makes me happy: the heat, the water, the bright colours everywhere, the friendly people, and of course the food. Mexican food is quite possibly one of my favourite types, and when I come to this country, I definitely don’t hold back. Over the past week it’s safe to say that I consumed my weight in guacamole, tortillas, and various tropical drinks infused with coconut milk and pineapple juice, never once getting sick of my delicious daily routine. Of course, my trip wasn’t all about food (although that is always a big part of it), so here’s a look at the resort I stayed at, as well as the amazing edible delights I enjoyed at The Grand Mayan situated between Cancun and Riviera Maya.

Day 1:

Arriving in Mexico is always a little chaotic. Hoards of pale North Americans buzzing about, many stepping foot in this hot country for the first time, almost unable to contain their excitement of pending poolside fun. While I have already been to Mexico, I’ve never been to the Cancun side. The airport itself didn’t offer much cause for confusion, and of course, like the Puerto Vallarta airport I have visited many times before, there was that blasted button, which always seems to give me the honour of the red light. But it’s simply a small delay on one’s way to a week of rest and relaxation – it’s a good thing they don’t do a similar exercise on your way back home as you leave somewhat sunburnt and extremely sad.

The ride to the resort wasn’t long, and offered an interesting look into the surrounding landscape. Flat and lush, the Cancun-Riviera Maya stretch is much more tropical than I remember the Nuevo Vallarta ride to be.  The arrival at such monstrous resorts like The Grand Mayan, always stops my heart a bit. So large and exquisite, the stone gates are not only physically impressive, but also summon you into a week long fantasy where your biggest decisions are what bathing suit to wear and what pool to swim at for the day.

A view of one of many pools at The Mayan Palace, Riviera Maya

One of the indoor common areas at The Grand Mayan

A peaceful isolated cabana area at one of the Grand Mayan pools

I took a shuttle to the Grand Luxxe section of the resort which offers rooms equipped with full living amenities such as a large kitchen, two bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, two living rooms, a dining room and a large balcony with its own mini swimming pool.

One of the rooms in the Grand Luxxe suite

One of the bathrooms of the Grand Luxxe suite

One of the balcony’s off of the main living room of the Grand Luxxe suite, with a patio-pool

I met up with the rest of my family, who had already arrived, and then headed down with them to a nearby burger bar called The Burger Custom Made (for a link to this restaurant, and all the others mentioned in the next posts, please click HERE). There are 13 of us in total, including a 4 year old and a 9 month old baby, so the nights where we want to eat all together require particular planning and sensitively when considering the dining environment. The Burger Custom Made was a great place to eat for patrons of all ages, and more importantly, a great place to enjoy the company of the extended family I rarely get to see.

The menu was large and kid-friendly, but also had a wide selection of gourmet burgers that please a more mature palate. I had a lamb burger served on peasant bread with roasted Mediterranean vegetables, feta cheese, and an olive tapenade. My burger was accompanied by a delicious cup of truffle-oil fries, and to drink, I went for one of my favourite cocktails, a Mojito. Other dishes enjoyed by my family members at The Burger Custom Made included a salmon burger served with an Asian-style slaw, as well as a 5-cheese macaroni.

A Mojito at The Burger Custom Made restaurant

Mediterranean lamb burger with roasted vegetables, feta, and an olive tapenade, served on peasant bread

Salmon burger with an Asian-style slaw

5-cheese macaroni

 Day 2:

The next day I began my “rigid routine”:

Wake up. Eat a light breakfast of yogurt and fruit. Head to the gym (a necessary feat when considering the volume of consumption). Head to the pool. Order varying combinations of fish tacos, guacamole, tortillas, and colourful alcoholic beverages to lull me into a warm state of afternoon bliss.

As mentioned in Smart Snacking and then again in Heating Things up at Home, I could happily eat my way through a pool filled with guacamole (although thankfully ours was actually filled with normal swimming water), so naturally my first order was guac and chips.

To quench my thirst, I tried a classic strawberry margarita, and mix of tropical fruit juices with a slash of soda water.

Left: strawberry margarita, Right: orange, pineapple, papaya juice with soda water

Afternoon dining was decidedly casual with its poolside setting, lounge-chair seating, no-shirt-no-shoes dress code, all set to the soundtrack of laughing children cheerfully splashing around in the water.

After a relaxing evening of jacuzzi-ing and deck-drinking, I met the whole crew at an outdoor Mexican restaurant called Balche.

There, I enjoyed a dish called “Veracruz” which offered a light white fish in a spicy sauce of tomatoes, olives, capers, onions and green peppers, served with cilantro rice and sauteed vegetables. Other dishes of note included traditionally prepared beef tacos, another fish dish of grilled grouper served on a banana leaf, and an interesting sliced salad with carrots and jicama and citrus fruits.

Chips with four salsas of varying heat

Chips and guacamole

Veracruz Fish

Traditional beef taco

Grilled grouper with sauteed vegetables and grilled fruit

To drink I had a tangy margarita on the rocks containing orange, pineapple, lemon and lime juice.

After dinner a few of us wandered down to the water, where we danced the night away to the rhythms of a fantastic live band with an ocean breeze keeping us cool from all the beach-side boogieing.

A relaxing day, a delicious dinner, and a fun night. I decided that if I were to maintain this “routine” I would have a rather successful week.

For more, check out Mexico Munching: Day 3 and 4, and Mexico Munching: Final Highlights

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

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!

Festival of Light…and Not-So-Light Food

27 Dec

Hanukkah (or Chanukah) is the eight-day Jewish festival of light, which celebrates the victory of a small group of Jewish rebels over an oppressive Selucid monarchy, and commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Once the temple was rededicated, the Jewish people were eager to relight their ritual candelabrum called a Menorah, but only had one day’s worth of oil. This small amount of oil miraculously burned for eight days, which is why Jews light the special Hanukkah Menorah (Hanukiah) for eight days as well.

They Tried to Kill Us. We Won. Let’s Eat!

Of course no Jewish celebration would be complete without some connection to food, so Jewish people also honour the miracle of the oil by eating oily foods, including latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts), as well as other rich, sweet and altogether indulgent treats (hmm…sounds like the joys described in It’s the Most Delicious Time of the Year).

Like many Christmas time festivities, Hanukkah celebrations often involve cocktail and dinner parties. For the first night of Hanukkah, my mom and I hosted a party for our family and friends with a casual spread, including a festive cocktail and wine bar. Blue, white and silver are often Hanukkah’s answer to red and green, so in keeping with this colour palette, we created a centrepiece, decorations, and some edible goodies that go along with the overall theme.

The Booze:

In addition to a variety of wines, scotches, and other spirits, I included an ice bucket of blue and white sodas. For a more “adult” blue drink, I made our guests cocktails consisting of Bols Blue Curacao, Victoria Gin, Sprite (or soda water), and a fresh squeeze of lemon. We also included Skyy Vodka because of its fittingly blue bottle for those that prefer a vodka-based version of this beverage.

The Food:

To satisfy the sweet tooth of our guests, I made simple cupcakes with a cream-cheese frosting, topped with an assortment of blue decorations. Similar decorations covered dreidel, Hanukiah, and Star of David shaped sugar cookies that were placed in sparkly silver take-out boxes, which made an easy doggy-bag for guests who were wanting to bring some of the sweetness home with them (a good thing too, because if all those cupcakes and cookies stayed behind, they would have all been reluctantly consumed by yours truly).

Mini Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icicng, Hanukkah Sugar Cookies in Sparkly Take-Out Boxes

White chocolate mousse placed within white and milk chocolate cups provided a light and fluffy base for some festive blue dots, which concluded the blue, white and silver coloured dessert spread.

White Chocolate Mousse in White and Milk Chocolate Cups

Healthier options included an Israeli couscous salad with roasted vegetables, a fresh baby green salad with roasted beets, almonds and cranberries, homemade smoked salmon, garlic and Szechuan asparagus, and mini mandarin oranges to refresh the palate as guests went back and forth between sweet and savoury.

Szechuan Asparagus

Homemade Smoked Salmon

In keeping with the theme of heavy Hanukkah feasts, we also served a cheese platter, which included goats cheese stuffed dates, Mediterranean-style humus, and an assortment of olives and cocktail onions, bite sized pieces of artichoke casserole, and a selection of filo pasties including spanakopita and a Mediterranean eggplant stuffed variety.

Cheese Platter with Goats Cheese Stuffed Dates Garnished with Pine Nuts

Artichoke Casserole Bites

The Table Spread, Including a Selection of Filo Pastries

Of course no Hanukkah spread would be complete without latkes, which we served with the traditional toppings of sour cream and applesauce.

Traditional Latke Potato Pancakes

A word of warning though…making latkes will stink up your house for days, even weeks! The stench of fried oil is a hard one to shake, so my recommendation is that you make them outside if at all possible. A standing tradition in my household is that my father bundles up, plugs in his portable frying pan, and latkes-away in the open air – a task much appreciate by the whole family.

The Decorations:

In keeping with the lighter mood of buffet-style spreads such as this one, I constructed a more whimsical centrepiece containing tiered sparkly candles, decorated with an array of blue bows, and surrounded by a sprinkling of Stars of David. The flowers were kept simple with single white chrysanthemums covered in silver sparkles, resting in small low square vases with red twigs, and blue and white glass beads as their base. Apothecary jars were filled with dreidels, Hanukkah “gelt” (chocolate coins used in the game of dreidel) and blue and white candies that were later placed in individual mesh bags as another party favour to go along with the sparkling cookie boxes.

The glowing Hanukiahs are not only the main focus of the holiday, but also provided another beautiful backdrop for the festive spread. Like Christmas trees, Hanukiahs should be out in the open for all to enjoy including guests within your house, as well as those passing by on the streets.

A holiday about spreading light and happiness throughout the world, Hanukkah is also a great opportunity to spread light and happiness within your own home, by sharing good food and delicious drinks with those you love.

*For recipes please email me at ellieshortt@gmail.com or message me on Twitter.

*For more on Hanukkah foods, check out this story I wrote for EAT Magazine: The Taste of Hanukkah