VOTE: How should I spend my #BigDayDowntown #Halifax ? (@DowntownHalifax)

Big Day Downtown package!

Guys, I’m kinda excited over here! The folks at the Downtown Halifax Business Commission (DHBC) have invited me to participate in their Big Day Downtown blogger event.

Wait, let’s start at the beginning:

A few years back, the DHBC launched the Big Day Downtown campaign, designed to help promote the pretty awesome array of businesses (restaurants, shops, services, etc…) in the downtown Halifax core. For four weeks, starting September 15th, they will be giving out $100 Visa gift cards via Facebook and Twitter to the public (follow them on Twitter @DowntownHalifax and like them on Facebook to keep tabs on the event).

But before that, some very fortunate local bloggers (myself included) are invited to participate, and are given $150 Visa gift cards to spend anywhere downtown!

Fer real.

The only “twist” is that I need to get your input on how I should spend the $150!

See, there’s a lot on offer downtown: 174 restaurants & cafes; 23 salons/spas; 33 tourist attractions/museums/galleries; 45 clothing stores; 16 hotels/inns; 27 furniture/gifts/houseware stores; and 17 sports/hobby stores. So I’m going to need your help!

Ideally, I’d like to do more than one thing (aka I don’t want to blow the entire budget on a new dress at Biscuit), and since this is technically my food blog, I’d like at least one of the activities to involve, well, eating.

I’ve narrowed it down to a few choices, and am hoping you’ll give me your two cents to help inform my itinerary:



If you’d like to make some more detailed suggestions, PLEASE feel free to leave a comment below, or just get at me on Twitter! (@hfraught)

Lime Margarita Cupcakes for Bachelorette Celebrations (complete with tequila buttercream icing; no joke)

In case you missed the memo, it’s WEDDING SEASON!!! Of course, before the wedding itself, there is the inevitable bachelorette/bachelor party.

A very good friend of mine is tying the knot next weekend, so we hosted a bachelorette party for her last night… Since I love to bake, I was charged with the cake. Now, I’m not a big fan of phallic baked goods, so we skipped the penis-shaped cake. Instead, I found this recipe for lime margarita cupcakes.

Still fun, but more importantly, yummy (especially the tequila lime buttercream icing).

You need kinda a lot of limes (like, a lot: six or seven). And butter. Lots of butter.

Marg Cupcake Ingredients

It also involves candying lime peels (that’s an optional step: just a garnish, really):

Blanching Limes

But the end result is worth it: a beautiful, zesty little cake topped with a not-too-sweet tequila lime buttercream icing:

Lime Margarita Cupcakes!

What a gorgeous group of ladies, right?! (Note: this was taken before we started drinking or consumed any of the tequila lime buttercream icing)… :)

Bridal Party!end

 

A sneak peek of @RightSomeGood, #Halifax edition

Something very special is happening in Halifax this weekend: the folks behind Cape Breton’s annual foodie festival, Right Some Good, are setting up shop smack-dab in the heart of downtown.

They’re shutting down Spring Garden Road this Sunday (June 29th), transforming the main drag into a pedestrian-only pop-up paradise of local products coupled with impressive culinary talent. An interesting side note: the last time Spring Garden Road was closed for an all-day event was 15 years ago, for the Word On The Street festival.

This gourmet street fair will feature 12 visiting “master chefs” competing alongside local chefs on the culinary stage. These teams will collaborate on street food creations, which will then be offered up to the visiting public (while supplies last, of course) between 9:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. (admission to Sunday’s street fair is free, but you can buy tickets to sample food and drink).

Today, I was treated to a sneak peek of the types of seasonal, local ingredients that may be included in this weekend’s events, and I have to say, it looked Right Some Good to me… :)

From HardyWares, which makes pickles, relishes, jams, jellies and preserves, I sampled an impressive Blueberry Grand Marnier Jam and a Whiskey Marmalade, which I was suspect of at first, but is actually really lovely. This small, home-based business based out of Necum Teuch, Nova Scotia (I had to GoogleMap it, I won’t lie), regularly sells their products at Alderney Landing Farmers Market, but you really should look for their booth this Sunday at Right Some Good.

And if you haven’t yet had the experience of trying the Haskap berry, you really should. Grown in Blockhouse, Nova Scotia, these berries are a member of the Honeysuckle family, and were first introduced to Canada around 1967. They are apparently pretty good for you, too: they’re high in anthocyanins, vitamin C, phenolic compounds and other antioxidants. They kind of look like elongated, bumpy blueberries, but most importantly, they’re absolutely delicious. The folks at Haskapa have created some very cool products from these berries: everything from juice and cereal bars to ice cream and jellies. I was really impressed with the jalapeno haskap jelly, and will do my best to visit the Haskapa table early on Sunday, before they run out of Haskap ice cream :)

Another berry will be making an appearance on Sunday: the tried and true blueberry. Bloo juice hit the shelves of grocery stores in November 2013, and was a finalist for the Retail Council of Canada’s Grand Prix Product Award. Each bottle contains juice from approximately 600 blueberries, grown right here in Nova Scotia. Not only is it good for drinking, but the company has collaborated with local chefs to develop some innovative recipes that use their juice as a key ingredient.

After sampling just a few of the ingredients and products that will be on offer at Sunday’s street fair, I definitely plan on making my way down to be a part of this pop-up experience…

And if fine dining/fancy is more your thing, two very impressive dinners are being held as part of the Right Some Good festival, as well! On Friday, Michelin-star chef Cristina Bowerman has created a five-course menu that will be served up to guests at the Stadacona Drill Shed (tickets are about $125 with taxes and fees), and on Saturday, guests will dig into New York chef Ed Cotton’s sumptuous-sounding four-course meal aboard the HMCS Preserver (tickets are about $164 with taxes and fees). While the price-point may seem a wee bit steep, it’s actually a very good value for what’s sure to be an incredible dining experience!

I’m really pleased to see an event that promotes local products and talent is coming to Halifax this year, and that it’s being showcased in the heart of downtown Halifax. I hope it’s successful, and becomes an annual affair. :)

Let’s talk about how much I love @TheCanteenNS

A lot.

This place opened in the space above Two If By Sea just a few months ago, and I’ve only managed to make it here three times. Which is actually pretty impressive, given that I work in Burnside, and don’t make a habit of traveling to downtown Dartmouth to eat lunch.

Still, the food here is well worth the trip.

Plus, while you’re here, you may as well treat yourself to an iced latte from TIBS :)

The owner/chef of The Canteen is Renée Lavallée (aka Feisty Chef), and she and her team are doing a damn fine job of creating innovative and fresh sandwiches, soups and salads. There’s always at least one veggie option, and seasonal/local ingredients are a staple. Today, I had the lamb gyro:

Lamb GyroEverything is super fresh and flavourful: a crunch of cucumber and pickled onion, creamy garlic dressing, and seasoned lamb are well balanced and satisfying. Simplicity seems key in this kitchen, and it’s a winning recipe for The Canteen.

If you haven’t made the trip to check it out yet, I recommend doing so soon. :)

 

Back with a bang: Flourless espresso chocolate cake

Yeah, I suck. No posts in months… What can I say? It’s been busy in my world for the past little while.

BUT, I’m on vacation now, and I have some making up to do in the blog department.

So, by way of an apology, please feast your eyes on this incredible creation:

Flourless chocolate espresso cake

Okay, it may kinda look like a collapsed cake, but it’s actually Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Cake with Espresso Glaze (and it’s supposed to look like that!)

It was Kevin’s birthday yesterday, and I try and bake his cake every year (I don’t think I’ve bought one yet!). As you can see from previous years’ creations (last year and the year before), he kinda has a thing for chocolate. I tried to persuade him to let me make something lighter/fruity this year, but he was having no part of it.

So, after a bit of time with my good friend Google, I found a recipe that was simple, but classic: a decadent chocolate dessert, which used coffee to temper some of the sweetness.

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The recipe was easy to follow and really didn’t feature any odd ingredients (you can find everything you need at your local grocery store). Since there’s no flour in this recipe (NO, I am not gluten-intolerant, or gluten-free, or whatever you frigging call it these days), the cake’s volume comes from a meringue that you fold into the chocolate/espresso batter. I had a moment during this part of the baking process where I lost faith and started to panic, thinking that it wasn’t going to turn out properly, but I soldiered on (planning to go to Dairy Queen and get an ice cream cake, if all else failed).

Thankfully, it turned out perfectly! Well, aside from my terrible writing on top (it’s really hard to write on a cake, okay?!) I actually had these cool chocolate scribbler things from Laura Secord (thanks, Mom!) but even with those handy little things, my writing was pretty messy.

Anyways, topped with a drizzle of warm espresso glaze, we quickly forgot about my poor icing-penmanship. :)

TIP: If you make this recipe, I’d serve it warm, with French Vanilla ice cream.

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.