Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Year's Eve - Party or Not?

Do you look forward to or dread New Year's Eve?

The answer usually depends on where you are in your life.  If you are married and spend it with your significant other and other couples then it's probably a great thing.  If you are single you might not feel the same way about it.

For me it's the time of year where I reflect on the past year and always feel like I should have kept up resolutions.  

I am not a big party person so going out to a bar with a bunch of drunk strangers yelling all night is not something I want to do.

I prefer to stay home and watch all the countdown shows from all over the world and especially the ones in New York.  New Yorkers don't go to Times Square because they know they will be locked in all night in the freezing cold.   I prefer to watch it from the comfort of my warm home.

Here are a few tips to get you through the night:

If you stay home alone:

1.  Prepare what you would like to have if you had gone to a great party.
2.  Make fondue or something special to make it feel like you are splurging on yourself.
3.  You can even get a mini bottle of champagne if you want to toast the night.
4.  Invite friends that you want to spend time with over or just enjoy doing whatever you want alone.
5.  Get all your snacks ready and get cozy and ready to countdown the night.

If you go out to a bar:

1.  Try and drink 1 glass of water for each glass of alcohol you drink.
2.  Make sure you have a ride home  if you plan on drinking.  The TTC is free or have cab fare or a designated driver.
3.  Be prepared to have a back up plan in case the bar is too packed or the place is a bust.
4.  Make sure you have something to eat before you go to a bar just in case there isn't much available or there are long waits to get any food.
5.  Dress to impress but make sure you are prepared for standing, dancing or standing out in the cold if you have to.

Going to a party:

1.  Make sure you follow some of the same tips as above about drinking and getting a ride home.
2.  Make sure you bring something for your host or any food or drink requested.
3.  Don't overstay your welcome.   If everyone starts leaving at 12:15am and the host looks tired then it's your cue to leave too.   Once a friend showed up after everyone had left and was ready to party.
4.  Just because you are at someone else's party it doesn't give you the right to be loud, obnoxious, rude or drunk to the point of getting sick.   That's not cool and no host wants guests like that.
5. Don't assume you can stay over.  Unless the host offers beforehand it's up to you to figure out how you will get home.  Don't put the burdon on your host or they will never invite you back again.


Have an assortment of drinks.  Not everyone drinks Champagne.  Have wine, beer and non alcoholic
drinks for those that need to drive.

Suggestions for great New Year's Eve food includes:

Fondue, either chocolate or cheese
Charcuterie platter
Shrimp ring is always easy to serve
Sushi is also great for parties.
Like more substantial food - lasagna is always a crowd pleaser
Pizza - have a variety of different kinds of pizza
Veggie platter is always safe if you don't know if people have food allergies
If you are fancy you can have things like Caviar, and Gougeres and Macarons, basically fancy little things.
Maybe your crowd are the chips and dip kind of people.   Find out what they like and then everyone will enjoy the party.  
If everyone is on a diet and all you have are chips then you will leave your guests feeling like they are forced to break the diet or feel deprived.

Either way... be a good host and be a good guest and if you can't do that then stay home alone and make your party of one the best if could be.

Monday, December 22, 2014

20 Holiday Entertaining Tips

For the past few years since I moved to my current apartment I have had a Holiday Party and various other parties throughout the year.  The Holiday Party was an idea I came up with a few years ago to try and clean house of all the stuff I had accumulated but didn't use or need at the end of the year.   I came up with this idea because when I moved from a house to an apartment I had to get rid of so much stuff that I had accumulated through the years but because I had a house they would just end up stored in the basement or get moved around the house.   Now that I don't have extra storage space I have to find creative ways of organizing my things.  

I have accumulated a lot of things in the past year from going to many food related events where I have gotten free food samples or sometimes gifts.  If the gift is relevant to me or useful then I keep it but if it has hasn't been used in a year or I know that I have no use for it then I will try and give it to either a charity or a friend that might need it.

The Holiday party that I have had for the past few years was called my Swag Swap party where I would get my friends to bring things for a gift exchange that they might have gotten at an event, film festival or who knows where or they just pick up a small gift if they don't have anything.   I always gather up all my extra things and put them into gift bags and then when my guests arrive I sometimes put their stuff into gift bags so that you can't tell what it is... like a wine bottle or box of chocolates etc.   Then closer to the end of the party I put all the gifts in one giant pile and we draw numbers and do the choose and steal but what usually happens is they end up trading with each other and going through the extra bags to get what they want.   I don't care because I hope that I get rid of the things that I don't need and they go to people that can use them.  They are happy because it's the fun of trying to get what you want.   It's the ultimate re-gift and recycle party.  I usually do this between Christmas and New Year's when things are a bit quieter around town and a lot of people are off work.  

This year I was going to scrap the party all together because it generally costs me a lot of money for the food and the gift bags and even the party supplies like disposable plates and such.

But I looked around my apartment and realized that I had accumulated a lot of food stuffs and there was no way I was going to be able to eat it all without making myself sick.   I was also send a case of Persimons which have a short shelf life so I thought it was a good time to throw a party and share the food wealth.   I scrapped the gift exchange even though it's really fun and an ice breaker it does take up a lot of space in a small apartment and you need people to arrive on time to make it work.

I decided to host the party before Christmas this time so that I could use the Persimons and have time to clean up everything before going into the New Year.  I would like to start 2015 with a clean and organized space and less clutter.

Because I hosted it before Christmas and didn't want to have a massive back breaking party a lot of people couldn't come and there were a few no shows which happens sometimes.

No matter how hard I try my parties and parties in general can be challenging.   This time I approached it in a different way and I will tell you some of the tips that I used to make it less stressful for me.

Here are the challenges that I have to deal with when I host one of my parties.

1 friend is Gluten intolerant.
1 friend is Diabetic
1 friend doesn't eat Pork for religious reasons.
1 friend has a dairy intolerance.
1 friend only eats chicken and no fish or other meat
1 friend is vegetarian and very particular on what she eats.

That's the food challenges.   But then the other challenge is that no one ever arrives anytime close to the time I set to arrive at the party.  
I called the party Sips & Nibbles and set the time to 7pm this time.  I figured since my friends are always late that a later start then usual would help.

The Sips and Nibbles theme referred to the fact that I was basically having a whole range of munchable types of foods and I had beer, wine and a non alcoholic drink that was a big hit.  It was fresh mint, pomegranate seeds, lime soda and water.   I told everyone not to bring any chips or munchies and said to bring whatever their favourite drink was because I didn't want to take up space with special drinks for everyone.

Here's how the party went down.

The time was set for 7pm.  I didn't post an end time because they never seem to happen anyway.

The first person to arrive was my best friend who normally can't attend my parties because of her busy family but she came early to help me get organized for the party.   She arrived at 6:30pm.   Great.. I needed the help.

Since I know that my friends can't seem to tell time i decided to wait until the last minute to make and put some of the food out.  When my friend arrived we chopped some vegetables and made a spinach dip and got a few other things ready.  I didn't put the cheese on the cheese platter until 7pm because it needs a bit of time to get to room temperature but too long and it dries up.

The next person to arrive was my chronically late friend who normally arrives after everyone else but always says she wants to come early to help.   She arrived at about 7:35pm which is early for her.
Another friend said he would arrive late and he arrived at the same time but came up in a different elevator than my other friend.  Another friend sent a text that she would be late and would arrive around 8:30pm.   Another friend sent a text that he wouldn't be able to make it,  he sent the text at about 6:00pm.   Another friend wanted to come but had to work downtown until 10:30 so she called when she was done work and then came for about an hour.   Two other friends arrived together after 8pm.
One friend sent a text to one of my friends saying "it's a long story" and she wouldn't be able to make it.   At 1:00am I got a text from another friend with an explanation of why she didn't make it.

So as you can tell a Potluck Party or sit down dinner was a bit of an impossible feat.  I have tried those in the past but my friends seem to like the drop in whenever they are free approach but some still want the sit down dinner food.

This year I really didn't care how many people showed up and was prepared for them to stagger in whenever and I knew I had to deal with dietary restrictions so I tried to plan for it with a new strategy.

Here are the tips I used:

1.  Prep all the tableware and platters a day in advance of the party and have a pile of extra bowls, platters etc. in case anyone shows up with anything that has to be put in a bowl or on a plate.

2.  Try and set out food that people can munch on when they arrive so that they aren't asking you when the food will be ready.

3.  I have to always make a huge variety of foods available to accommodate all the dietary restrictions so I know that I have to try and be organized as much as I can to present it all.

4.  I set up a bar station where people could pour their own drinks and grab their own plates.  I only have a table that can squeeze 4 people and that's without food so it has to be a more casual serve yourself style of food.

5.  If you have the space set up extra tables for drinks and munchies.   I had a small round table that I had a big silver punch bowl with ice for the beers.  I also set up munchies on my coffee table and had a console table as the bar table.

6.  Keep your dishes as simple as possible.   Make what you can in advance.

7.  Prepare some things when your guests arrive so there is no waste and things are fresh.   I made fresh pizzas using the Persimons that I was given but had to make a few different versions to accommodate the no dairy and no pork restrictions.  If I had made them in advance and if they hadn't shown up then the customized pizzas would have been wasted.  I also didn't have to reheat them that way.  My best friend helped me with the pizzas.  I would suggest if you have a large kitchen island to have everyone put their own toppings on their individual pizzas.

8.  Set up as many things that they can serve themselves.  For dessert I had pre-made cut up Persimons that I had cooked and cooled and then I set up a station with disposable clear plastic cups, spoons,  the Persimon fruit,  coconut whipped cream, gingersnap cookies and my homemade granola for my gluten free friend to swap out for the gingersnap cookies.  They served themselves how they liked it and the portion they had room for and that allowed them to have seconds if they wanted more.

9.  Lighting -  I picked up some Dollarama christmas lights for $3 and strung them on my fake Ikea palm like tree.  I also had a coupon from Bernardin for some Mason Jars and I used it to get a six pack of festive green Mason jars.  I used an idea I had seen at a Sobeys party and other parties to make an inexpensive lighting trick and decor by adding cranberries to water and I put in some dill,  that's what I had.. and then added a floating candle on top.   Festive and nice cheap lighting.   I also had a string of LED lighted christmas ball lights that I got at the Gourmet Food and Wine Show that I had put on my TV cabinet to make it look like a Mantle.

10.  Festive decor on a budget.  I picked up a tiny Cypress tree from Whole Foods for $5 and then found some $2 mini ornaments from Dollarama to decorate it and used it as the centrepiece on my dining table with is a small 4 seater round glass table.   I had a couple of candles on the table as well.
I have a small fake Pointsetta plant and have wrapped gifts and bags scattered around the room but no overt Christmas decor really.   More festive.  A lot of things were things I already had around.

11.  Platters - I had a slate board that I used as a cheese tray and added fresh and dried fruits and crackers.   I had a glass filled with spreaders and knives for the cheeses and picks next to the cheese board.  I had another platter of crackers including gluten free ones which I indicated to my Gluten intolerant friend for her to choose.   I also used a small cake stand to elevate a spinach dip that I made.
My friend brought a casserole dish with Mexican layer dip and I had a platter and space left open for that.  I tried to leave a bit of free space on the table for anything that had to be added.

12.  Cleaning up a little bit during the party.  You need to be strategic when cleaning up during the party because you don't want to make your guests feel like it's time for them to go or that they need to have to stop their conversations to help.   I tried to take away unused cups and plates after they were empty and just saying you are just getting it out of the way will make them more comfortable.

13.  Be prepared for the unexpected.  People will show up late.  People will cancel at the last minute and people will just not show up.  I have learned to not stress out about it anymore and I just expect it to happen now.   They say you can train your friends but I have never figured out how to do that so if you can do it let me know how.

14.  Try and be your own guest at your party.  Because my best friend helped me in the kitchen and I left things for them to serve themselves it gave me more time to actually sit and eat and have conversations with my friends.

15.  Have lot's of ziploc bags, plastic wrap, tin foil and containers on hand if people want to take some food home after the party.  I think one of my friends thinks it's a take out restaurant when she comes to one of my parties.

16.  Try and keep it simple.  While I always try and keep it simple my parties aren't a simple thing.  I can't just order a pepperoni pizza and pick up a case of beer but I try and plan as much ahead of time and try and always find new ways of presenting different things. I tend to get carried away.

17.  Tea and coffee.  I have been finding that my friends don't usually want tea or coffee and I don't have a coffee maker but I always try and have a full kettle of water ready to boil in case they want tea or french press coffee.  If I had the space I would set up a tea/coffee station.

18.   Try and find out your guests food restrictions or allergies before the party so that you know how to accommodate them.

19.  Make sure you introduce people as they enter the party.  People will want to know who they are and how they are connected to you.  Also if they have only met once before it's a good name reminder. My best friend hadn't met my friends because she lives in Maple but she remembered everyone's names.  I am not as skilled as she is but it was great that she knew who they were from previous conversations that I had with her so she already felt like she knew some of them.

20.  Pace yourself.   When I do the larger parties it sometimes takes me 2 weeks of running around, organizing, cleaning, planning, cooking, setting up and then cleaning up afterward.  This time I only spent a couple of days before and less than an hour the next day.  My energy and fitness aren't so great so I would do some prep and then take a break then do a bit more and take a break.  The last time I had a party I was wiped for 3 days afterward so I know that I can't do that anymore so I try and work within my limitations now and that's why I didn't do the Swag Swap and full out entree dishes.

Some other things that you can do is to think outside of the box.   I picked up 3 small square glass vases that I loaded with cut up vegetables.  They can also be used for tea lights of for flower arrangements or even the cutlery.

And if you have a Best friend that is as helpful and fun as mine is then make sure they can come to your party because everyone will be glad they did.

I like to buy things that are red because they can signify Valentine's Day or Christmas or just add a color pop to any time of the year and it goes with my black and white and grey decor anytime.  It doesn't have to say Christmas to have a Christmas feel.  Candles, ornaments in a vase, a string of christmas lights in a vase or on a mantle can give off a festive mood.

But the most important TIP is to HAVE FUN.... It's not a GREAT PARTY unless EVERYONE is having FUN!!

Happy Holidays and I hope these tips are helpful for your future Holiday Parties.

One last thing.   Because I live right at a subway station it's easy for people to not to have to worry about drinking and driving.  Make sure you know how people are going to arrive and leave and keep an eye out for their drinking consumption.   I am lucky that my friend from Maple was dropped off by her husband and the rest of them all took the subway so I didn't have to worry about their safety driving home.

Stay Safe and Enjoy your Holidays!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

What's a Persimon?

What's a Persimon?  
Some ideas of what it is and what to do with it.  
Also a chance to win a trip to the place it comes from.

I received a lovely Basket of Spanish Persimon® from Ribera del Xuquer, Spain near Valencia, Spain.   I have never heard of this place in Spain and I didn't know that these were a special variety of Persimmons that don't have to be ripened to be able to eat.

Persimmons or Persimon is a new fruit to me.  I don't know if I have ever tried them before.  I may have mixed into a dessert in a restaurant somewhere without knowing or remembering but I was up for the challenge of trying this fruit in a couple of new ways.

Last night I hosted a Holiday party and thought it was the perfect time to try out these recipes to see what my friends thought about the fruit.

The big question was what does it taste like?
It's kind of like a peach and mango combined.

It was a bit of a food lesson for all of us trying to figure out what this fruit was, where it was from and what it tasted like.  I don't think any of my friends have ever tried it before.

Some facts that I learned about Persimon®:

  • very high in fibre
  • a source of: magnesium, potassium, folate, vitamin C, vitamin K
  • an excellent source of: vitamin A, manganese
  • contain 7 essential nutrients
  • 1 Persimon has only 118 calories
  • it is high in fibre
  • it has lutein, lycopene, magnesium and potassium in it
  • they are available from October to January
  • you can cook them or eat them raw
  • You don't refrigerate them.  Just leave them on the counter

I was given a few recipes to try and I decided to make the Persimon® and Chorizo Pizza and the Persimon® parfait.  I thought these would be the perfect dishes for a party.

I called my party Sips & Nibbles because I basically just had different bites of food like munchie foods and cheeses and dips and such and for the sips I made a really simple non-alcoholic drink with cranberries frozen into ice cubes, fresh mint, Lime soda and a bit of water.  So simple but it was a big hit and I wish I had more of the lime soda to make more.  I also had beer and wine on hand but the simple drink was the most popular.

I had my best friend who is Italian help me make the pizza.   We decided to make a few different versions to accommodate all the different dietary restrictions my friends have.   I had to make one without Chorizo and cheese and I made one per the recipe.   I made my own pizza dough but I won't give you the recipe because the dough turned out really tough..  Just go buy some to make your life easier.

The Persimon® and Chorizo Pizza recipe is:

500g Pizza dough (probably about 1 bag from the grocery store)
2 persimons thinly sliced crosswise
2 tblsp lemon juice
1 cup thinly sliced spicy chorizo
1/2 cup shaved Manchego cheese
2 tsp balsamic glaze
2 cups baby arugula
1tsp olive oil
pinch of salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425F

On a lightly oiled work surface divide dough in half. Roll and stretch halves to form 2 - 9x15" rectangles.  Transfer to a baking sheet.  It recommends putting it on parchment.  I recommend oiling a pan and skipping the parchment.  It will give you a better crust.

Toss Persimon® slices with lemon juice and arrange on dough, top with chorizo slices.

Bake in preheated oven for 10-15 minutes until crust is golden brown.

Remove from oven, sprinkle with shaved cheese and drizzle with balsamic glaze.  Toss arugula with oil, salt and pepper and top on pizzas just before serving.

Serves 4.   I served it as party slices instead of a main meal.

Total calories for 1/2 pizza is 573 calories.

I made it again today with the leftovers but used a tiny bit of Kale instead of the Arugula.  You could use spinach too and I am sure it would be great.

The party version was kind of messy looking so this is the version I made today.

It's a great pizza for a party or special occasion.  It's similar to a fig and prochiutto pizza.  As you can see it's very colorful and the colors are reminiscent of Spain brightness.

My pizza dough turned out much better today but my friends still liked the pizza very much and they are a hard bunch to please and they all enjoyed their versions of it.

Then after we nibbled on pizza and other things I made a really simple dessert that can be prepped ahead of time and just assembled at the party.   Because of the dietary restrictions, no dairy and no gluten and a diabetic I set everything out and let them make their own parfaits based on their preferences.  It was a good idea for a couple of reasons.  I just set it up with cups and spoons and let them do it themselves so no desserts were wasted and my hands were free to do other things.  I added my own homemade granola to swap out for the gingersnap cookies in the recipe so that the crunch was still there without the gluten.  I used Coconut whipped cream as well.  It's a non dairy whip cream so some lactose intolerant people can have it without consequence.

Here's the recipe that was provided to me:

Persimon® parfait

4 tbsp. water
2 tbsp zest from a navel orange
2 tbsp sugar
2 cups of Persimon® cut into 1/2 inch cubes ( I cut them a bit smaller)  stem removed.
1 cup of heavy cream (I had heavy cream but just used the stuff in a can to make things easier and less messy.)
1 cup gingersnap cookies crumbled


Place water, half the orange zest and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves.  Add the cubed Persimon® and simmer on low heat for about 3 minutes. Set aside and let cool.
In a large bowl whip cream until stiff peaks form, set aside.
To prepare, fill 8 parfait glasses with 1/4 cup of the gingersnap cookie crumbs.  Spoon 2 tbsp of Persimon over the cookie mixture and then top with the whipped cream.  
Sprinkle the rest of the zest on top of the whipped cream.

Chill before serving.
Makes 8 servings
1 parfait equals 215 calories.

This was a delicious and light dessert and with the gingersnaps it really tasted like a Christmas dessert.  I was really impressed at how good this one tasted and how easy it was to put together.   It really is a great party dessert because you can make the persimon ahead and just assemble at the last minute.

Here's a great BONUS for you..  since you read this to the end you have a chance to WIN a One Week TRIP to VALENCIA, SPAIN at www.persimonsays.com

(unfortunately Quebec residents do not qualify)  sorry about that.

Persimons are very inexpensive but in season for a short time.  I saw a flyer ad for a case of Persimons for $5.99 so you can certainly try these recipes at your next dinner party.

Enter contest here:

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Fancy Baby Boomer Potatoes

              I was given a few bags of the Little Potato Company Baby Boomer Potatoes and Fingerling Potatoes recently with the challenge of coming up with a recipe to make them delicious for people to make at home.

I have only used the Baby Boomer potatoes so far but I prepared them in 2 ways.   One way was a family style dish that I just created with stuff I had in my fridge and pantry.  The other one was a bit fancier for a cocktail party for those people that don't like the same old cheese and crackers or shrimp and cocktail sauce.
These potatoes are great if you want to make a quick meal because the come pre washed and you don't have to peel them.
It's high in potassium because of the thin skin.  They are a Canadian company from Edmonton, Alberta

The Cocktail Party - Shepherd's Pie Potato Bites


2 lb lean ground beef
1 cup frozen peas and carrots
1 large yellow onion
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp Worsteshire sauce
1/4 tsp chili flakes
1 tbsp paprika
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 cups of either water or beef stock
1 tbsp. dried parsley
1 tbsp. dried thyme
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp. flour
1 - 1.5 lb bag of the Little Potato Company
Baby Boomer potatoes
1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup of milk
2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp fresh chives

 Step 1 - Brown the ground beef in a large skillet or as I used a cast iron Dutch oven.  When you have the meat browned you can add the onion diced and the garlic crushed.  Add the tomato paste, worsteshire sauce, chili flakes and the thyme, parsley, paprika, salt and pepper.  Add a tablespoon of flour and mix the meat mixture.  Add the water or stock and let it simmer for about 10 minutes.  Add the frozen peas and simmer for another 10 minutes.  The mixture should be thick but have a bit of a gravy left.  Add water or reduce until you get the best consistency.

 Step 2 - Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for about 15 minutes or until they are fork tender but not too soft.
 Step 3.  After the potatoes have been drained and cooled until cool enough to handle then scoop out the middle using a melon baller.  This is the fastest easiest way to get a round centre to fill.
Step 4 - With the potatoes that you scooped out add the butter and milk and salt and pepper and mix until smooth mashed potato consistency.  Set aside.

Step 5 -   Fill the scooped out Baby Boomer potatoes with a teaspoonful of the ground beef mixture.  You can cut a piece off the bottom to make the potatoes sit flat if needed.

Step 6 - Using the mashed potato mixture top the potatoes using either a spoon as I did or if you want to make them fancy you can pipe the potatoes with a piping bag or using a ziploc bag and just cut a little hole in the bottom corner of the bag.   I didn't bother as this was a test but for a fancy cocktail party it will look better if you pipe them.

Step 7 - Sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese on top.   You can prepare this in advance for a party and keep it in the fridge until your guests arrive and then you can bake them off.

Step 8 - Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly and they are warmed throughout.  Garnish with chopped chives  and transfer to a serving platter.
A bag should make at least 24 potato bites.

 Recipe Number 2 -  Creamy Smokey Baby Boomer Potatoes


Half of a 1.5 lb bag of Baby Boomer Potatoes
1 cup of Sugar Snap Peas
4 slices of Smoked Prosciutto or Smokey Bacon
1 large yellow onion
1/2 of a red pepper
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 green onion chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp smoked paprika
2 cloves of garlic crushed


Boil the bag of baby potatoes in salted water for about 15 minutes.
In a separate large saute pan fry the bacon or prosciutto until crispy and then remove the crisp prosciutto or bacon and chop into small pieces and set aside.  Leave about 1 to 2 tbsp of the bacon fat in the pan, drain if there is more than that or add butter if there isn't enough fat left.   Add the chopped onion and then the chopped garlic to the bacon fat in the pan.  Cook until translucent and then add the diced red peppers and the sugar snap peas.  Add the seasonings, paprika, salt and pepper.  Add the Baby Boomer potatoes to the pan and then add the heavy cream.  You can add some stock, or hot water about 1/2 a cup.  Let it simmer on medium low heat until the heavy cream reduces and the vegetables are cooked.  Add half parsley and half of the bacon or prosciutto to the pan and toss everything together and serve on a large platter and garnish with the parsley and some of the bacon.  I made a prosciutto rose out of a piece of uncooked prosciutto to dress the plate.

It should serve 4 people.   This dish is pretty flexible.  I just kept adding things.  It wasn't a pre planned dish.   I could have added spinach or kale or  other vegetables but the most important part is the cream sauce and the smoky flavour from the bacon and smoked paprika.   I am sure you can find ways to make the plate look fancy for special guests but the flavour will be a hit with whoever you serve this to no matter how you plate it.

I made a lot and had about half left over and just reheated it the next day and it was even better.  It just lost the fresh green look of the vegetables.

This is a great dish to make if you forget to defrost some meat but you have bacon or prosciutto in your fridge.  I guess you could even use ham or chicken and it would work just as well.
I don't have step by step photos for this one because I was just creating it as I went along. I didn't crisp up the prosciutto but I have added this step to this recipe for a better result.

Recipe and Photos by Linda Matarasso and potatoes supplied by the Little Potato Company, all other ingredients are my own.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Sobeys Holiday Blogger Challenge

photo provided by Highroad
I got a very last minute invitation to participate in a Holiday Blogger Challenge at an event hosted by Sobeys.  I already had another event that I was planning on going to but couldn't pass up this invite to join an Ultimate Holiday Blogger challenge with fellow food bloggers and see what Sobeys had in store.

The event was held at the fabulous Cirillo's Academy on Dundas St. West on a snowy night this week.

I was the first guest to arrive, I left early because it was snowing and rush hour and I wanted to make sure I didn't get stuck in traffic.  I would rather have time then be stressed about being late.

I walked in to a beautifully decorated space with festive drinks like a cranberry and rosemary vodka I think.   I tried the pomegranate and mint gin drink and it was really pretty and great.  Really set the mood for the evening.

As other guests and bloggers arrived we were also treated to an amazing spread of cheeses and charcuterie that was explained by their "Cheese Strategist" as he was called.  There was also a "humane meat" expert there to chat with us about the Certified Humane meats that Sobeys carries.

We sipped on delicious drinks and nibbled on yummy bites while getting to know the Sobeys team, I have never met any of them before except for our new Food Revolution Ambassador Monika who wasn't there that night but other Food Rev Team members Carol (@greatmealideas), Mardi (@eatlivewrite) and Christine (@typeAconsult)  were there.   Thanks to Mardi for suggesting that they invite some of the Food Rev Ambassadors.

After we were warmed up we were then assigned the evenings mission of creating a Holiday dish from a "Chopped" style box of items.  No scary items in this box though.  We also had the use of a small pantry of extra Jamie Oliver and Sobeys brand items.

The Box contained the following items:
photo provided by Highroad
Certified humane Pork Loin
Wild rice
Orange Rosemary glaze
Dijon Mustard

I was paired up with Isabelle, a food blogger that I don't think I have met before although I may have seen her at other events possibly.  Mardi and Carol were paired up and Christine was paired up with a blogger from Halifax, and the other 2 bloggers I didn't know were paired up.  Sobeys people chose the match ups.
We had about an hour to make our Holiday Dishes so we got right on it trying to come up with ideas.  I immediately thought of a kale salad since it was fairly simple and would fit with the box of ingredients.
Isabelle thought that we should swap the wild rice for Arborio rice and I like it better so I agreed.  We skipped the cheese altogether.
I made a vinaigrette with the pomegranate juice, clementine juice, mustard and oil and white wine vinegar and we added some shallots.  It turned into a beautiful orange pink color that I dressed the chopped Kale with.
Then I coated the pork loin in mustard and salt and pepper and sliced it into medallions and tried to pan fry it.  I wanted to get a sear but the pan wasn't hot enough.  Before I fried the pork I toasted quinoa, then walnuts and then fresh rosemary in oil.  I took out all 3 things and placed to the side and then added the shallots and then the pork loin.  We added Sriracha to the orange glaze and I added that to the pan after I cooked the pork a bit.

photo provided by Highroad

After madly chopping things Isabelle made the risotto with white wine, and she added some of the walnuts, green onions and some of the kale.  Remember that Risotto takes 20 min of stirring so that took a big chunk of the time.    
We had a food stylist on hand who went around helping everyone with their plating.  We had to make 4 plates for the judges.  Since we had a salad, rice and the glazed pork she suggested we put the salad in a bowl on the plate.  We madly tried to get all the plating done at the last minute.  I wanted to cook the pork as last minute as I could to keep it warm.
We put the kale salad in the bowl and then topped it with the popped quinoa, clementine segments, shaved fennel, the walnuts and the pomegranate seeds.  Thinking about it now I think I would have plated it different to show all the elements better.
I spooned the risotto on the plate in a row and then placed 3 slices of tenderloin to the side of the rice.
We garnished with fresh rosemary and some of the fried rosemary and fresh ground pepper.   It needed more color on the rice and meat so I took some of the clementine slices and dragged it through the glaze sauce and put it on the plate.  It's hard to make it look and taste good with both hot and cold items on the same plate but this is what it looked like when we were done.

me and Isabelle with our finished dish. photo provided by Highroad

The judges really loved Isabelle's risotto but they found the plating not as great, saying they had to spin the plate around to eat it.   We were trying to keep the salad fresh and add height but I am sure there may have been better ways to accomplish it.  It seems like a few of the blogger teams made variations of the same kale salad so they didn't really say anything about the salad other than the fact that the fennel wasn't dressed because we placed it on top of the dressed kale.  We didn't want the dressing to turn it pink but I guess it would have tasted better if we had mixed it in.
Food is very subjecting.  Anyway.. an hour later we were done with the cooking challenge and since the judges ate the food we prepared they had lots of Sobeys food they wanted us to try.

We tried some Maple bacon which was a big hit with all of us.  They made little blt crostini's with it.
We also had little dishes of the 3 different ready to heat side dishes like a Spiced kale and Chick Pea Pilaf, Sweet Leeks and Mushroom Pilaf and Butternut Squash and Quinoa Pilaf.  I liked the Kale and Chickpea one the best, it had Moroccan seasonings.

I forgot to mention that we had some of their Maple Wood Smoked Trout on cucumber slices with cream cheese when we first arrived.  That was from Manitoulin Island  and made from sustainable trout.  It was delicious.

Then the meat guys had us taste some of their Pull-Apart Roast Pork and their Beef Pot Roast with a bit of potato on the side.

They finally rolled out dessert which I loved which was Jamie Oliver's Apple and Blackberry Crisp with Ice Cream on the side.  I love crisps in the winter months.

I have to thank Sobeys for being so generous and hosting a fun hands on event.  They even sent us home with a huge gift bag with some of the Sobeys Sensations products like Chocolate Truffles, Lemoncello Butter Fudge, Belgian Biscuit Collection and Compliments Dark Chocolate covered Marshmallows which I dived into and couldn't stop eating, I polished off that whole box in a couple of days.

You can participate in their Better Food For All Contest to win $1000 in Sobeys groceries by taking a photo of your best Holiday Dish and tagging it #betterfoodforall on Instagram and Twitter.
Follow Sobeys on Twitter here:  @Sobeys

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Second Cup Reimagined for the future

Second Cup Cappuccino
What:  Second Cup Reimagined Launch
Where: 289 King Street West at John Street
Why:  Newly renovated and rebranded Second Cup Coffee Co. cafe.

Second Cup "Reimagined" one of it's downtown Toronto stores with a fresh new Re-Brand and Look and a new way of serving up coffee in a beautiful and bright just renovated spot.

I have been to that Second Cup location in the past since it's across the street from the Bell Lightbox and steps away from Roy Thompson Hall in the Entertainment District on King Street.  The space used to be dark and cramped with not a lot of seating.
photo provided by Second Cup Coffee Co.
When I walked into the cafe,  and I have to say Cafe instead of Coffee Shop because it really feels like an upscale and hip Cafe now.   I was blown away when I walked in.  The space is all white with wood touches and modern coffee bar equipment.

Some of the new changes that are a lot different than the other coffee chains around the city are the new addition of a Slow Bar which takes it's time brewing your coffee in a couple of ways.   There is a Punk Steam and a Pour Over station.   The Punk Steam is a freaky looking 4 beaker water bubbling thing that looks like something in a science lab.  It's meant to brew a full flavour coffee.  While the Pour Over station is a manual process where the Barrista pours water through a (Melitta) style coffee cone and filter into a container underneath.   They control the speed at which it flows through.  Both coffees aren't your sitting on a warming element all day types of coffees.

They are made as you order and will take about 5 minutes to make.  There is a regular faster style of coffee for those on the go but this coffee shop is meant for people that like to sit and relax and recharge themselves and they also have the option to recharge their phones with a genius little built into the coffee bar surrounding the stations where you can attach your phones to a plug in USB style charger while waiting for your coffee instead of cords and searching for power outlets.   This is the best thing I have seen at a cafe in a long time.

Then there is also the art on the walls which is designed to show the independent location with local artists reflecting the community wall.  The take out coffee cups also have a re design from local artists.

The coffee,  it's sourced from the highest quality beans and roasted in small batches and ground as they make your coffee so it's always going to be fresh.

The food,  they have added some interesting and healthy choices like an egg white and spinach breakfast sandwich and an egg and sundried tomato sandwich that I really loved.   There is also granola, oatmeal, muffins, scones and other menu items.

The coolest thing that I noticed when I first got there was the Milk on Tap near the entrance and beside the sugars and lids etc.  No more milk cartons.  This was a brass tap with a white labelled handle.  So beautiful and I hope keeps things a lot cleaner.   There is only a couple of things a couple of people mentioned to me,  they forgot to add lactose free and nut milks like almond or soy milk etc.  Hopefully that will change as people request it.

The seating, you have a choice to sit at the bar or in very comfortable semi booth like seating.

The cafe opens to the Public with a ribbon cutting ceremony at noon on December 5th, 2014 and they will be giving out free coffees all afternoon.

Don't be surprised if you see me hanging out there during some big film festival that happens around there.
photo provided by Second Cup

For more information check out their website at www.secondcup.com