Come eat chocolate with me!

chocolatexsmallChocolate lovers are invited to join me for a chocolate cooking class at Household China & Gifts cooking school in Waterloo on Thursday, Feb. 5th.

I’ll be demonstrating sweet and savoury recipes with the help of cooking school co-ordinator Donna-Marie Pye. There will be lots of chocolatey samples as well as tips on working with chocolate. We’ll be doing some chocolate tasting and, if we can fit it in, an easy hands-on chocolate “craft”, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

The class runs from 6:30 until 9 p.m. and costs $70.00.

Sign up for Chocoholics Rejoice by calling 519-884-2792 or visiting Household China at 300 King Street North in Waterloo.

Be sure to check out the other cooking classes in Household China’s Winter Cooking class schedule.

Take my chocolate poll below to vote for your chocolate preference – milk, dark or white. (Yes, white chocolate is technically not chocolate because it doesn’t contain cocao solids but I’m including it anyway since many people consider it chocolate.)

COPIA, the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, shuts its doors and files for bankruptcy

COPIA - the center for xxxx in Napa, California

COPIA - the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa, California

Last February, I followed my nose – which is trained to sniff out all things chocolate – to Napa, California for Death by Chocolate, a day-long chocolate-themed extravaganza of tastings, classes, and cooking demonstrations, and a chocolate marketplace. The event was organized by and held at COPIA, the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts.

Curious to see what was planned for Death by Chocolate 2009, I logged onto COPIA’s web site today, only to find the following message –

COPIA is currently closed. COPIA has filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and is currently not open for business, visitation or future bookings.

COPIA is, or I guess I should say was, a venue created by American vintner Robert Mondavi to celebrate wine, food and the arts. It closed its doors on December 1, 2008. Up until then, it housed a food-themed gallery, Julia’s Kitchen restaurant (named after Julia Child), and edible gardens. It also played host to seminars about food and wine, photography and art exhibits, concerts and movie nights.

Although my connection with COPIA is limited to my experience at Death by Chocolate last year (which was great!), it appeared to me that the center served a vital role in the world of food and wine. However, it also seemed to be a controversial creation, not fully embraced by the local residents. It was also a victim of current economic conditions. And, no doubt there were many other reasons for COPIA’s demise.

You can read more about COPIA and its closure in the Napa Valley Register.

Ringing in the New Year with a convenience store supper!

flag-at-canada-us-game

The "Flag Wave" at the opening of the Canada vs U.S. game at the World Juniors on Dec. 31st! The huge flag started its trek around the arena in the section where we sat. It traveled "overhead" around the arena a couple times.

It was a New Year’s Eve to remember.

Instead of the usual evening of fondue or munchies and a movie, this year I travelled back to Ottawa on Dec. 31st – this time with Murray – to watch the much-anticipated Canada vs US hockey game in the World Junior series.

We were there along with 20,000-plus crazed Canadian fans who screamed and cheered noisily through most of the game. Although things started out shakily with the U.S. quickly racking up three goals in the first period, the Canadian boys worked hard and won the game 7-4.

We were back in our hotel room at the Marriott by 10:30 p.m., the hot dogs we’d eaten at the game a distant memory. (Thankfully, as they weren’t that good!) After Murray took some painkillers to help with a headache he’d been suffering all evening (probably from all those screaming fans), we decided to try the Toulouse Bistro in our hotel for a bite to eat. But we were out of luck. Although the restaurant was scheduled to be open until 1 a.m., when we arrived at 11:15 p.m., the kitchen had just stopped serving food. Something about being really backed up with orders…..

There weren’t too many other restaurants in the immediate vicinity of our hotel. But, there were a couple other options.

We could order pizza from one of the flyers that had been shoved under our hotel room door while we were at the game.

Or, we could head to the Byward Market area where there were lots of restaurants. We weren’t really interested in pizza, and it was so cold out (-20-ishC with a strong wind) that wandering through the Byward Market held no appeal either.

Instead we decided to dress up warmly and dash over to a 24-hour Hasty Market convenience store and deli about a block away on the main floor of the Minto Suites where I often stay when in Ottawa on business.

After a search of the short aisles of the Hasty Market, we chose a small container of tuna pasta salad, a couple of buns and slices of Swiss cheese and cooked turkey, single-serve packets of mayonnaise, a bag of Snack Mix, and a tub of Haagen Dazs Triple Chocolate ice cream! Back in our room by 11:45 p.m., we devoured our late-night New Year’s Eve supper, toasting in 2009 with a diet Coke and orange juice. It may not have been the finest New Year’s Eve food we’d ever eaten, but that night, everything seemed especially tasty.

Although the following Nicoise Pasta Salad does not have the same texture or all the same ingredients as the creamy tuna and pasta salad I enjoyed on New Year’s Eve, it shows another delicious way to enjoy the combination of tuna, pasta and veggies.

Nicoise Pasta Salad

(Makes 4 servings)

3 cups (750 mL) penne or fusilli
2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 sweet green or yellow pepper, cut into strips
Half of a red onion, sliced
1 can (7 oz/198 g) chunk tuna, drained and broken into pieces
1/2 cup (125 mL) sliced black olives
3 tablespoons (45 mL) red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon (15 mL) lemon juice
1 teaspoon (5 mL) Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup (75 mL) olive oil
2 tablespoons (30 mL) chopped fresh basil
2 hard-cooked eggs, sliced

Cook penne in a large pot of boiling water until tender but firm, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water; drain well and place in a bowl. Add tomatoes, sweet peppers, onion, tuna and olives.

Whisk together vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt and garlic. Gradually whisk in oil. Pour over pasta mixture. Add basil. Toss gently to combine. Garnish with egg slices.

Celebrity chefs inspire adoring foodie fans

I spent this past weekend at the Seasons Christmas Show at the International Centre in Toronto. No, not shopping for Christmas decorations, gifts and baking. I was working at the Egg Farmers of Ontario‘s booth where we were giving out recipes for holiday baking and entertaining, and selling microwave egg cookers. (The cookers make excellent poached eggs, not to mention great stocking stuffers!) I’ll admit I did slip away from the booth a couple times to check out the show, but most of the time, it was work, work, work….

Our booth was located across the aisle from the Toronto Star Theatre, one of the presentation stages at the Show. Occasionally there was a lull in the activity in front of our booth; when no one was picking up recipes or asking a question about the nutritional value of eggs, I and the staff at our booth were entertained by the demonstrations on the cooking stage.

The presenters, who included Food Network‘s Chefs Anna Olson and Anthony Sedlak from FoodTV, as well as Elizabeth Baird, Executive Food Editor for Canadian Living magazine and Chef James Smith from George Brown College, attracted large crowds. As the weekend progressed, I made a few mental observations about the crowds and the high-profile cooks.

* Lots of talk, but not so much cooking! Most of the cooking dems went on for nearly an hour, but some presenters spent much of that time talking, not cooking. The crowds seemed content to sit and listen to cooking tips and techniques, food facts, and stories about what happens behind-the-scenes of a televized cooking show, despite witnessing a minimal amount of chopping, stirring and actual cooking.

* It tastes great – or so we’ve been told! Once the demonstration was over, samples of the finished dish were not typically provided for the gathered crowd to taste. Having done quite a few cooking demonstrations in my life, I know from experience that it can be a challenge to find a recipe to demonstrate for a large group of people that can also be easily sampled by the crowd. The problem is neatly solved by simply demonstrating the recipe but not offering samples of the finished product. This seemed to be the solution for a number of the presentations at the Toronto Star Theatre. I did notice that over at Canadian Living magazine’s stage, there appeared to be samples at each of the cooking dems.

Continue reading

Update to scheduled airing of new Pressure Cooker cooking show

In case you missed it last night, the first episode of the new Pressure Cooker tv show I wrote about in my last post will air again on SUN TV on Thursday, Nov. 6 at 10 p.m.

The show has also been rescheduled to air on Men TV on Tuesdays instead of Mondays, starting tomorrow, at 7 a.m., noon and 7 p.m.

“Pressure cooking” takes on new meaning with start of new cooking show

There’s a new cooking show starting on TV tomorrow night. It promises to turn up the pressure on 16 Canadian chefs who test their cooking skills, stamina, and ability to handle stress and manage their egos as they attempt to outlast each other in an intense series of cooking competitions.

The Pressure Cooker pits the chefs against each other in a series of cooking competitions designed by chef Mark Walpole that require them to create specific dishes from mystery boxes of ingredients in very short time frames. To add to the excitement for viewers, the chefs wear wireless heart monitors that record their stress levels. The elimination-style format of the show gradually whittles the starting line-up down to two chefs who compete in a final grueling cook off.

The Tasting Judges – chefs Mark Picone, Cornelia Volino and Tawfik Shehata – are a demanding trio whose job is to taste, critique and score the dishes. Their standards are high and they aren’t afraid to voice their opinions, in no uncertain terms.

Kitchen Judges monitor the competing chefs’ performances as they prepare the dishes. They are tasked with eliminating chefs from the losing teams.

As a representative of one of the sponsoring organizations – Egg Farmers of Ontario – I was present for some of the week-long taping of the show which took place at Niagara Culinary Institute in Niagara-on-the-Lake in July. Judging by what I saw then, the show promises to be very entertaining. I don’t know the final outcome; that was kept very hush-hush! However, the show’s producer, Alan Aylward of Forevergreen Communications Inc., says he couldn’t have scripted the ending to be more exciting.

You can see a trailer of The Pressure Cooker at www.thepressurecooker.tv.

The hour-long show will air on Sunday (Nov. 2) at 10 p.m. on SUN TV and on Men TV Monday (Nov. 3) at 7 a.m., noon and 7 p.m. It runs for 9 episodes.

There will be an online component to the show where visitors to The Pressure Cooker’s website – www.pressurecooker.tv – are invited to answer trivia questions to win prizes.

Enjoy!

Hallowe’en Fun with Food

Happy Hallowe'en!

Happy Hallowe'en

Hallowe’en is the perfect holiday to go over the top with decorations and party food. It’s probably the only time of year when poor taste and “grossness” are preferred, or at least tolerated.

If you’re planning a Hallowe’en menu, you can go all out and spend lots of time, money and energy on creating a “terrorific” atmosphere at the dinner table. Or you can unleash your imagination and stir up little home-brewed ambiance by simply renaming favorite foods.

Need some inspiration?

Why not serve worms and eyeballs and dried bones (spaghetti and meatballs and biscuits) for supper? Or how about witch’s fingers and slime sauce (chicken strips and ranch dressing or plum sauce dyed green) or barbequed bat wings (chicken wings) or witches’ brew and dracula diggers (chili and tortilla chips)?

Wild and whacky side dishes might include grass and weeds with sliced toadstools and witch’s teeth (salad greens with mushrooms and sunflower seeds), maggots (rice), rotting teeth (corn) or lizard tongues (sautéed red pepper strips or carrot sticks).

Pond scum (jello with gummi worms) or bones (meringue cookies) make delicious desserts, and swamp water (frozen lemonade concentrate, lemon-lime pop and lime sherbet) will wash the meal down.

Sounds tasty, doesn’t it?

Here are a couple recipes for dried bones. Bon Appetit!

Breadstick Bones
(Makes 6 breadsticks)

1 can refrigerated breadsticks
Melted butter or margarine
Italian seasoning, Tex Mex seasoning or grated Parmesan cheese

Open can and unroll dough; separate into 6 strips. Carefully stretch each strip until about 12 inches (30 cm) long. Loosely tie a knot in both ends of each breadstick. Place breadsticks on an ungreased baking sheet.

Brush melted butter over breadsticks. Sprinkle seasoning or cheese over top.

Bake in a preheated 375F (190C) oven until golden brown, about 13 to 15 minutes. Serve warm.

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Meringue Bones
(Makes about 2 dozen cookies)

5 egg whites
1/4 tsp (1 mL) cream of tartar
1-1/4 cups (300 mL) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 mL) vanilla, orange or lemon extract

Line 1 or 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Prepare a piping bag with a round tip (about 3/8 inch/1 cm diameter).

With an electric mixer, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, a couple tablespoons (about 30 mL) at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat until stiff peaks form and meringue is shiny and smooth. Add extract and beat just until combined.

Fill piping bag with meringue. Pipe a log about 3 inches (8 cm) long. Pipe two balls on both sides of the ends of the log. Repeat with remaining meringue. You can smooth any peaks that occur with a wet finger.

Bake in a preheated 220F (105C) oven for 30 minutes. Turn off heat. Leave cookies in oven for 8 hours or overnight. Store in an airtight container.

Tips:
* Let egg whites stand at room temperature for 20 minutes after separating; they will beat to a greater volume if they aren’t cold.

* Stirring a drop or two of yellow food colouring into the meringue mixture before baking will give the bones an aged look.

* If you don’t have a piping bag, use a sturdy ziplock bag. Cut off the tip once you have filled the bag with meringue mixture.

September 18 – National Family Dinner Night: Register for a good cause

Sit down to dinner with your family tonight and you’ll not only be strengthening family bonds, but helping a worthy cause.

M&M Meat Shops is inviting Canadians to take part in its fourth annual National Family Dinner Night to celebrate the importance of spending quality time with friends and family. For everyone who registers their participation at www.mmmeatshops.com or www.nationalfamilydinnernight.com, M&M Meat Shops will make a $1 donation to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada , to a max of $100,000.

“National Family Dinner Night encourages busy families to reconnect by spending quality time together, talking and sharing around the dinner table, while supporting a worthy cause,” said M&M Meat Shops founder Mac Voisin in a media release from the company.

With the hectic, fast-paced lives of many families these days, dinners eaten together may be a rare occurrence. Sharing dinner can have a positive effect on open communication between adults and youth and can strengthen bonds and build relationships.

According to a recent Angus Reid study, when Canadians take the time to sit down together for a meal, 70% say it helps them bond closer together.

According to Dr. Karyn Gordon, an expert on relationship-building between parents and teens, “Research shows that kids who eat meals with their families are more likely to have a stronger vocabulary, eat their vegetables and even believe that their parents are proud of them.”

To make family dinners a success, Gordon recommends turning off cell phones, TVs and other electronic devices during the meal. “By removing distractions and focusing, you will begin to learn and understand your family better.”

She also suggests that parents listen more and talk less at the dinner table, adding “If your kids perceive you as relaxed and positive, not uptight and critical, they will be more likely to open up and share.”

If you’re wondering what to make for Family Dinner Night (or any dinner), M&M Meat Shops’ website has meal ideas and recipes.

100 Mile-Diet Authors to visit Kitchener

Who hasn’t heard of the 100-mile diet, the eating regime that encourages consuming a diet of foods grown within a 100-mile (or 160 km) radius of where one lives?

This “diet” has recently been made popular by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon who lived the 100-mile diet for a year in Vancouver, then documented their experience in a book appropriately titled The 100-Mile Diet (Random House, 2007). There is also a blog, www.100milediet.org, which provides inspiration and recipes for eating locally.

Smith and MacKinnon will be visiting Kitchener on September 17 to talk about their book and their experience buying and eating locally. (More details follow.)

Eating close to the land – choosing to eat local foods as they come into season – is hardly a new way of thinking about shopping, cooking and eating food. In fact, this is the philosophy by which much of the world has eaten for a long time. In the global village we live in, where cultures readily mix and assimilate, travel is relatively easy (although it used to be a little cheaper!), and transport systems have made it possible to bring in foods from far-away places, it has become possible, in fact the norm, for at least some of the world’s population to eat a stunning variety of foods from around the globe. Although this broadens the options at meal time, it also means many of us have become quite removed from those who produce our food and the source of food in its original state. Sadly, if questioned as to where a particular food comes from (e.g. milk, beef), some of us would respond with a quizzical stare and uncertainty. “Uh…the store?” (It’s true. I’ve seen it happen.)

While Smith and MacKinnon can and should take much credit for popularizing the notion of eating locally, we shouldn’t overlook the many food/land/agriculture/environment-conscious individuals who have purchased, cooked and eaten in this manner long before it became fashionable. This short list is a sampling of some of those people:

  • California-based Alice Waters and Toronto’s Jamie Kennedy are chefs who have promoted local dining in their restaurants for many years.
  • Food writers Anita Stewart and Elizabeth Baird are among the many cookbook authors and magazine writers who, for years, have promoted the joys of eating the rich bounty of foods produced close to home.
  • In 1995, my friend and fellow home economist Pat Hughes published Savour the Seasons, a cookbook written with her colleague Eleanor Cameron. It contained menus and recipes that reflected foods available seasonally. There are a host of similar cookbooks on bookstore shelves these days.
  • There are many consumers who consistently shop at their local farmers’ market or purchase locally grown foods at their neighbourhood grocery store, grow vegetables in their garden (freezing or canning the surplus), and consciously attempt to eat according to the seasons.

I’m all for eating locally grown and produced foods as much as possible. I will admit, however, that I couldn’t live only on foods grown within 100 miles of Kitchener. There would be too many favourite foods I’d miss eating – bananas, mangoes, chocolate, oranges and olives, to name a few. But there are important benefits to buying Ontario-grown or produced foods as often as possible and enjoying foods as they come into season.

Here are a few reasons to eat locally. (You’ll find 13 reasons to eat locally at www.100milediet.org.)

  1. It helps support the local economy and our Ontario farmers.
  2. The food you consume will not have travelled a long distance and therefore should be fresh and flavourful.
  3. The fewer miles food has to travel, the lower the fuel costs and the less strain there is on the environment.

I’m fortunate that Kitchener-Waterloo is a small enough community that within minutes I can be beyond city borders and into the country where farm land is plentiful. It is easy to enjoy what rural and urban lifestyles have to offer, including the smell of manure that has wafted into our neighbourhood several times in the past few weeks. I try to consider the aroma a reminder that my agricultural cousins are busy doing their job to ensure we all have food on our tables.

I truly hope the “eat local” movement is not a passing trend. In an article written by Julia Aitken in the Toronto Star on June 18, 2008, manager Alison Fryer of The Cookbook Store in Toronto included the 100-mile diet as one of the top 10 worst trends she has witnessed in her 25 years selling cookbooks. Just one person’s opinion, of course!

If you live in Waterloo Region and would like to meet Smith and MacKinnon, they will be in our area on September 17 for One Book One Community events. You will find them at Your Kitchener Market from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. where they will be signing copies of The 100-Mile Diet. There will be a 100-Mile Mini Market at the market that day as well. Copies of the The 100-Mile Diet will be for sale along with produce grown within 100 miles of the market. Exhibits will showcase the benefits of eating locally produced food.

Smith and MacKinnon will be reading from their book at 7 p.m. on September 17 at the Kitchener Public Library.