Mini carrot cake + cream cheese frosting = Happy Valentine’s Day!

Screw the Valentine’s Day cards… skip straight to the sweets, please!Roses, just for you!

I know that Valentine’s Day is just a commercial holiday designed to make money… and I don’t normally buy into it, much. But this year, I came across some adorable Valentine’s Day-themed cupcake accessories at the grocery store, and remembered a recipe I came across in a new cookbook I received from a good friend for Christmas.

Before I knew it, the kitschy cupcake paraphernalia was in my shopping cart.

Cupcake Accessories

The recipe I was using was actually for mini cupcakes, but I decided to make full size ones (because, let’s face it, who wants JUST ONE BITE of carrot cake?!) I rather liked how the recipe turned out — fluffy and flavourful, with just a hint of orange and spice), but I prefer my carrot cake to be a bit juicier (with raisins or pineapple). I also added some cinnamon to my cream cheese frosting, which worked nicely with the flavour of the cake).

Spiced Mini Carrot Cupcakes

They turned out quite well, I think! (Kevin ate NINE. NINE!) I wish I could eat nine cupcakes without gaining 40 pounds. Life isn’t fair. Just sayin’.

...With Cream cheese frosting

We Dine Around #Halifax (@restassocNS)

Did you know that for the entire month of February, a bunch of restaurants are offering prix fixe menus? It’s a great promotion for restaurants to entice new customers in to try out restaurants they might not otherwise, and generally is a great value for the consumer, with menus ranging between $25 to $45 per person.

Kevin and I decided to head out the first night of the promotion to visit daMaurizio. Unfortunately, there was an hour-long wait for a table because we failed to make a reservation, and we weren’t overly interested in waiting at the bar. We headed out back into the cold, dejected… but perked up when we realized that, right next door, was CUT, which is also participating in the promotion.

I’d yet to check out CUT yet, so we saw this as a great opportunity to visit a new spot.

The Grill by CUT (which is supposedly the more casual part of the restaurant, located on the lower floor) is offering the prix fixe menu, which was $35 per person. You can choose between two appetizers (a parsnip & pear puree or NS short rib ravioli), two entrees (duck ragout or Arctic char) and two desserts (upside down Annapolis Valley apple cake or gingerbread pudding).

I started with a LaHave cocktail (a concoction of Absolut Pear, St. Germain elderflower, LaHave Forest’s haskap juice, & Bolla Prosecco), which was a fizzy treat flavoured with the distinct haskap berry juice.

I opted for the Parsnip & Pear Puree, a rich, sweet dish with a slight spicy kick from the parnsip, coupled with the earthy and creamy goats cheese.

The Arctic Char was light and flaky, served on a bed of seasoned green beans and swiss chard, a buttery crouton and a splash of that delightful haskap reduction.

Finally, to finish, we both ordered the gingerbread pudding, which was every bit as delicious as it looks. A warm square of well-seasoned gingerbread, served with maple syrup and a small scoop of  slowly melting vanilla bean ice cream. Perfection.

Kevin and I also really enjoyed the dining room atmosphere: music was playing at just the right level, the decor was hip enough to be interesting, but not so bizarre that it came across as pretentious, and the service was warm, attentive and frankly, impeccable.

A fabulous meal, all-around.

Storm snacks, anyone? Sorry, but #stormchips ain’t gonna cut it on a #snowday

Well, here we go again: another blizzard is headed our way. *sigh*

As we ready to hunker down and weather the storm, one of the most important things to consider are our provisions. I’m not talking bottled water here (that would be far too practical). Nope. I’m talking delicious, hearty, warm-you-to-the-bones grub that will make you perfectly content to go into full hermit mode.

My suggested pantry items/meals/snacks to help you survive any storm:

BOOZE

My elixir of choice is wine: I picked up a bottle of red (Trapiche Broquel Malbec) and white (Wyndham Estate Bin 222 Chardonnay) on my way home the night before the blizzard. Don’t worry, I don’t plan on drinking both. If the storm isn’t too bad, the white will suffice. If I need to shovel 40 centimetres out of my driveway, well, the Malbec may be in order.

CAFFEINE

I stock up on espresso and made sure my tea selection hadn’t dwindled too badly… warm drinks are a must. Bailey’s isn’t a bad idea, either.

SOUPS & STEWS

Bust out the slowcooker, chuck in some root veg (I had onion, turnip, mini potatoes, carrots and parsnips on-hand), chunks of browned stewing beef, seasoning and some liquid, and you’ll have a warm, hearty dish to dig into for lunch and dinner (no need to make multiple meals). Best served with baguette and butter, of course:

Beef stew

If you’re a vegetarian, I suggest curry sweet potato soup, instead: roast 3-4 sweet potatoes in the oven and scoop out the insides. Set aside. In a large pot, saute a diced onion and two cloves of garlic in two tablespoons of melted butter, then add in 2 tbsp.of curry powder and 1 tsp. cumin. Stir until the spices are mixed in, then add your sweet potato and mix well. Add 4 cups of veggie stock and 1 cup of milk (I like the creaminess), plus salt and pepper to taste. Again, best served with baguette and butter (most things in life are).

SNACKS

Forget chips, give me cheese. After you’ve shoveled out the driveway, you’ll want something warm, gooey and delicious. My suggestion is cheese fondue. It isn’t hard to make (really) and you can even invite the neighbours over to share (especially if they’ve helped you shovel). I always use this recipe (http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/cheese_fondue/) minus the kirsch (because what the fuck is that anyways, and who actually has it in their kitchen?)

Cheese Fondue

Anyways, those are just my personal tips for surviving a blizzard. I’m sure you have your own suggestions! What are your favourite #stormsnacks?

Birthday celebrations with @Unwinedwmoira & friends!

My birthday is on Christmas Day *cue the sympathetic “ooh that must be awful” reaction*

Actually, I don’t really mind sharing my day of birth with the Big Guy’s son… To me, it just means there are usually more people around to celebrate! Growing up, I was also very spoiled by my parents, partially because I think they felt guilty about their timing… so they were always very careful to celebrate my birthday independently from Christmas (separate gifts, cards, a cake: you get the picture).

It can be kind of tough to manage to get people together this time of year, though, so this year, I tried to make it as appealing as possible: I decided to host a wine tasting party!

And since I know very little about wine, I brought in an expert to show us the ropes. Moira Peters, of Unwined Tasting Parties, is a certified Sommelier. She works with clients to select an assortment of wines, then comes to your home (or office, or other venue), to teach you a bit more about the art of enjoying and appreciating wine.

Even after spending a few years hobnobbing on Whistler’s fine dining scene, where I was fortunate enough to attend a few luxurious winemakers dinners, I must admit I still don’t know much about wine, apart from what I generally enjoy. So when I heard about Unwined, I was pretty excited.

Contrary to what you might expect from a wine tasting, this is NOT a pretentious affair. I gathered a group of about 10 friends & family members into my almost-completely-renovated basement, Moira brought along all the stemware, tasting notes, clipboards, pencils and spitcups (don’t worry, we didn’t waste too much), and we started sniffing, swirling and sipping the night away!Unwined Tasting

Moira does a great job of making the world of wine accessible to everyone, explaining how to evaluate any wine with the eye, nose and mouth. Personally, I learned quite a bit from the evening: like what “legs” are, and that you should never judge a wine at first sip! I think it’s also safe to say we had loads of fun in the process, too… with some Christmas carols playing in the background and a few goodies to nibble on throughout!

Tasting notes!

Ladies wine tasting

I think the pricing for the event was reasonable, as well: Moira’s fee varies depending on the size of the group, and the price also depends on wine package you select (she actually kind of blended 2 packages for me). Our evening of wine tasting at home with 10 friends (and no glassware to wash at the end of the night), was under $400. Well worth the experience, I’d say!

Happy Birthday to me! :)

 

My most recent kitchen purchase: A juicer! #gadgetorinvestment #youdecide @BrevilleCanada @joethejuicer

Know what I love? A good sale.

A few weeks ago, a dangerous little email from The Bay popped up in my inbox: it kindly informed me that they were having a sale on all “small kitchen appliances.” I’m such a sucker… less than 12 hours later, I was unpacking my new Breville Juice Fountain Plus:

Juicer!

It’s really easy to use, and makes quick work of just about any fruit or veggie — I was amazed to see the amount of juice it extracted from a beet and a sweet potato! Now, I don’t have a dishwasher, so cleanup is slightly annoying, but it’s really only a few parts to clean (I try and make sure I clean it RIGHT after using it).

Then, I made the mistake of watching “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” (a documentary that basically explores the crap we put into our bodies, and how it makes us feel). Next thing I knew, I was starting my own “reboot” (aka juice fast). Yep, for 10 days straight, all I would drink is fresh juice. The idea is that you can drastically increase your fruit and vegetable intake by consuming fresh fruit and vegetable juices, rather than trying to consume the same volume of fruits and vegetables in their whole state.

How does it work? Well, according to the filmmaker’s website: “Juicing removes the insoluble fiber from vegetables and fruits. While fiber is an established, important part of an overall healthy diet, removing the insoluble fiber allows for increased absorption of specific health promoting phytonutrients including enzymes, while the soluble fiber persists into the juice.  By removing the fibers and consuming fruits and vegetables in liquid form, we are providing a nutrient delivery system to our bodies that allows individuals who would otherwise have difficulty consuming whole vegetables, the opportunity to reap the numerous benefits vegetables have to offer.”

K, listen: I’m not sure about all the science-y mumbo jumbo, and it seems that there are plenty of people out there who don’t think juicing is really all that great for you… All I know is that I hadn’t been feeling the greatest pre-reboot: I was usually pretty tired and I felt full, even if I hadn’t eaten recently. Anyone who knows me, or who has read my blog before, knows that I love food. So taking a break from food wasn’t a decision I took lightly. But I decided to give it a whirl.

On the site I posted above, there are some great free plans for doing a juice fast (they call them “reboots” — whatever). I decided to try the 15-day juice plus plan (which meant the first five days, you start weaning yourself off of certain foods, and by the 6th day, you’re just consuming fresh juices, water, herbal tea, etc…). The plan actually provides you with a daily “meal plan” (though I guess it would be more accurate to call it a daily juice plan?) and even a shopping list for the next 10 days (broken into 5 day chunks, which is smart, considering you want your produce to be as fresh as possible).

Here’s what my fridge looked like after I hit Dave’s Fruit & Vegetable Market:

Inside of fridge

I kind of figure that any “diet” that makes your fridge looks like that can’t be all that bad for you!

I’m currently on day 8 of  my 10-day fast, and it’s actually going pretty well! Every morning, I make and pack my breakfast, lunch and snack juices to take to work. I find I feel hungry only at night (around suppertime), and am craving odd foods (mainly sources of protein and fats, like tuna, steak and avocado). I must admit that I’ve caved more than once and eaten a half an avocado at those times… I also have cheated and had a coffee on the odd day (Starbucks habits are the hardest to break). Other than that, though, it’s been juices only for me!

How do I feel? Well, I do miss food. I also have a newfound realization that we are constantly surrounded by food: through every form of advertisement, restaurants, magazines, everything! If you’re trying not to be reminded of food, it’s very tough to get away from.

On the plus side, I have a surprising amount of energy! I thought I would be tired, but I’m not! I’m lost 7 pounds and I’m also sleeping really well… It’s kind of odd, but my nails seem stronger and my skin feels nice, too! Maybe I’m just reading a lot into this whole juice fast thing, though…

Don’t worry, I don’t plan to do this juice fast indefinitely. I think a more reasonable, long-term approach is to substitute juices for some meals or snacks on a regular basis, especially when I’m starting to feel run down, or like I’m about to get sick.

 

But for now, bottoms up!
Juice!

My first trip to @2DoorsDownhfx (synopsis: it didn’t disappoint)

Chives is one of my favourite restaurants in Halifax. Their menu is thoughtful and simple (read: not pretentious), features locally-sourced ingredients, and they have a great atmosphere/ambiance going on. This isn’t exactly a relevatory observation, on my behalf…

Chives is something of a beloved institution on this city’s culinary scene. So when Chef Craig Flinn set out to expand and cater to the downtown lunch crowd by opening Two Doors Down earlier this year, people were understandably excited.

I finally got around to checking it out a few weeks ago, when a friend from Ottawa was visiting… and we were definitely not disappointed.

It’s a small, cozy dining room, with some contemporary & rustic elements combined to make it feel very eclectic but welcoming.

I ordered the “Tipple du Jour” to start the meal off, followed by a bowl of their roasted parsnip soup: an earthy, creamy dish drizzled with a sweet reduction and topped with crisp parsnip bits.

Cocktails

Roasted Parsnip Soup

Despite the (seeming) disapproval of our server, I decided to order the soup and a starter from the seafood column of the menu (there are three columns to order from: meat, seafood and vegetable). He didn’t seem to think it would be filling enough, but I was being strategic, and saving room for dessert! The taco (a tortilla filled with line caught crispy halibut, shaved cabbage and apple salad, guacamole, and a bright creamy sauce; $8) was phenomenal (and really quite filling):

Taco!

I can’t believe it, but I forgot to take a picture of my dessert (which was a warm gingerbread topped with sumptuous, silky butterscotch sauce).

All said, the food, atmosphere and service at 2 Doors Down were very similar to it’s big sister, Chives, but a bit more low-key & relaxed. I’ll be back.

Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink loaf!

I almost called this recipe my “Leftover Loaf,” but then I realized it kind of sounded like it might be leftover meatloaf, and that’s not really delicious, is it?

Here’s the deal: I had a bunch of bananas that were past the perfect point of ripeness, and some leftover crushed pineapple and unsweetened applesauce in the fridge. And I wanted something super yummy to eat… so I turned to Google and found this recipe.

A few tweaks later, I had invented this delicious dessert!

Kitchen sink loaf

Inside Kitchen Sink loaf

Loaf slices

The recipe yielded 2 big loaves, which is kind of awesome, because you can freeze one (unless your boyfriend, like mine, can inhale an entire loaf in one day… Then you won’t need to freeze either).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1-1/4 cups unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup crushed pineapple, drained
  • 2 cups mashed ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup pecan pieces
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon

DIRECTIONS:

  • Grease and flour 2 loaf pans, set aside, and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Sift together the first 5 ingredients (all dry ingredients) in a medium bowl and set aside.
  • With an electric mixer on a low setting, combine eggs, applesauce, vanilla, pineapple and bananas.
  • Add the dry mixture into the wet gradually, combining until you have a fairly smooth batter (you’ll still have some lumps and bumps from the fruit).
  • In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, pecans and cinnamon (this is your topping).
  • Pour the batter into your pans, and sprinkle the brown sugar/pecan mixture on top.
  • Bake for 1 hour (or longer… basically until an inserted toothpick comes out without batter on it).
  • Enjoy!

I was really pleased with how the recipe turned out, considering all of the substitutions and changes I made. Next time, I might even add some shredded coconut into the mix to give it a more tropical flavour! :)