Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Baked Caramelized Onion Brie in Puff Pastry

For my Christmas dinner this year I decided to contribute by making an appetizer. Every year I get the same idea into my head that if I eat hardly anything throughout the day, I will be able to eat more of my Christmas dinner. Well the problem with this is that by the time our guests arrive, I am so starving that I am looking for anything around the house to munch on before dinner is ready, which often leads to me eating handfuls of dry cereal, very old Halloween candy (why is that still even in my house?), or just about anything else I can find. This is precisely the reason I decided to make an appetizer for Christmas dinner '09. I wanted to make something special, that everyone could enjoy to tide them over before the meal was ready. My Caramelized Onion Brie is Puff Pastry did just the trick! It was super fast and easy to prepare and tasted oh so good! I was really happy to hear that everyone loved it...including me...who kept going back for more throughout the night...and had more for breakfast.
Tip: Make the onions a day ahead to save on time. Keep them in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to use.
Tip: To add extra flavour to your onions, add a splash of vinegar or wine towards the end of the cooking process to deglaze the pan. Those bits stuck to the pan are the best! Just be sure to cook off that extra moisture.
Tip: To make your brie really beautiful, cut shapes out of scraps of thawed puff pastry to add on top before baking.
Note: Yes I did slightly burn my brie, as you can see in the picture. The oven was being used to cook the turkey so I used my insanely hot toaster oven.

1 sheet of thawed puff pastry
1 wheel of brie, about 8 inches in diameter
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 onions, chopped or sliced
1 egg, beaten (optional)

1. Heat olive oil and butter in a medium skillet over medium low heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until darkened. Reduce heat if burning. You want the onions to cook slowly. This should take about 30-40 minutes.

2. Lay out the thawed puff pastry on your work surface and flour lightly. Using a rolling pin, stretch out the pastry so that it is large enough to fully wrap the wheel of brie.

3. Using a large knife, cut the wheel of brie in half, lengthwise. Spoon the cooked onions onto one of the exposed (not the white rind) halves of brie. Place the other half on top. The onions should be in the middle of the two exposed halves.

4. Wrap the brie wheel in the puff pastry, lightly pressing the edges together. Place the wrapped brie on a baking sheet, seam side down. You may brush your pastry with the beaten egg at this point for a shiny finish.

5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned in a 350º oven. Serve hot out of the oven with fresh bread and crackers.

Christmas Dinner '09

Oh Christmas dinner how I love you! Christmas dinner is hand down, the best meal I eat every year...well maybe not this year having eaten that un-freaking-believable meal at the Grapes for Humanity A Chocolate and Wine Fantasy...but still, Christmas dinner comes in a very close second this year. Every year we hold Christmas dinner at my house and invite all of our aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, boyfriends, and sometimes even more friends! My family's Christmas dinner is really special because everyone is involved in contributing to the meal. Pretty much every person who shows up to eat the meal must bring something to add to the Christmas spread. This year there was so much food that my fridge is still filled with enough leftovers to feed my family for the next week...and let me tell you, I don't mind at all!

For our Christmas dinner this year we served:

I made this!
Turkey with Cranberry Sauce (See recipes below!)
Thanks Mum and Dad
Thanks Oma
Thanks Aunt Darlene
Spinach and Poppy Seed Salad with Almonds, fresh Strawberries and Mandarine Oranges
Thanks Mummy
Green Beans with Onions and Almonds
Thanks Aunt Darlene
Liver Kreplach and Challah Buns
Thanks Daddy
Scalloped Potatoes
Thanks Mummy
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Onions and Red Peppers
Thanks Aunt Nancy
Thanks Baba and Zhada
Beet Salad
Thanks Oma
Spring Rolls
Thanks Mummy
Blueberry Cheesecake
Thanks Oma
Apple Crumble Pie
Thanks Mummy
Fruit Tray
Thanks Mummy
Raspberry Trifle
Thanks Uncle Ronnie

Full yet?

Roasted Turkey
1 (around 18 pound) whole turkey
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
salt and freshly hand-ground pepper to season (I roughly hand grind mine using a mortar and pestle)
1 onion, quartered
2 stalks celery, cut into chunks
2 tsp dried sage
3 cloves of garlic, minced or pureed

1. Preheat oven to 325º F. Place rack in the lowest section of the oven.
2. Remove the turkey neck and giblets, rinse the turkey with cold water. Using paper towels, pat the inside and outside of the turkey dry.
3. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in the roasting pan. Fill cavity with the onion, celery and 1 tsp dried sage. Fold skin over neck cavity and close using metal skewers.
4. Rub the turkey with the butter and remaining 1 tsp dried sage, garlic, and season generously with salt and hand-ground pepper.
5. Roast in the oven for about 4 hours, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the breast reads 175º. Baste turkey with the juices from the bottom of the roasting pan every 30 minutes.
6. Transfer to a cutting board, tent with foil, let rest for 20 minutes, carve and serve immediately with warm cranberry sauce.

Cranberry Sauce
3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

1. In a small saucepan mix sugar and water and boil for 5 minutes.
2. Add cranberries and boil gently until their skins begin to pop (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and serve warm over turkey.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Annual Christmas Cookie Bake

Every year, just a few days before Christmas, my family goes over to my Oma's house to make her signature Christmas cookies. Having made (and eaten!) these cookies for as long as I can remember, they have become one of my all-time favourite cookies. They are similar to the Dutch butter cookies that you ca purchase in tins, but about 10 times better! This may be due to a few ingredients that sets the two apart, but I'm convinced it's because we all make them together, resulting in a much more tasty cookie. 'Love' really can be a secret ingredient, and it seems that every Christmas that ingredient shows up to be mixed into Oma's Christmas cookie dough.

This year everyone seemed to be very busy around Christmas time, so it was just my two cousins and I helping Oma make the cookies. Although my cousins lost interest in cookie making and decorating after about an hour (they found their video games far more interesting), I couldn't get enough! All year long I look forward to our Christmas cookie baking day, so I don't mind spending the whole afternoon rolling, decorating, and baking cookie dough. Thanks Oma for another great year of Christmas cookie baking!

Perfecting Potato Latkes

This past wednesday my friends and I got together for a super casual Chrismukkah get together to eat latkes and look over all of our pictures from Cuba (you may see the below holiday post for one photo). I was the one in charge of the latke making and was on a mission to perfect them! The last and only time I have ever made latkes was this past Passover. My Passover latkes tasted amazing, but I found the process of making them a bit painful. I got very frustrated frying the latkes for Passover because I was having trouble keeping the shreds of potato together, the latkes just kept falling apart in the beginning. It took me a really long time to get the hang of it, and by that point I already had a number of broken latkes. So for our Chrismukkah latkes, I turned to Williams Sonoma to help me out.

Williams Sonoma has a recipe for Perfect Potato Latkes that sounded well...perfect! I gave the recipe a try and what do you know, perfection! I changed the recipe slightly, using their ingredients as a guideline. My recipe serves more people which I thought was important for holiday season. It's always better to have more food than too little during the holidays, and come on, who doesn't love leftovers?
Note: If you do not have a food processor or the shredding disk attachment, you may shred your potatoes using a cheese grater.
Note: You can easily make this recipe Passover friendly by substituting matzo meal for the flour.
Tip: Rinsing the potatoes in water removes excess starch, which allows for more successful frying.
Tip: You may serve immediately, but you can just as easily make your latkes a day ahead and reheat in the oven upon serving time.
Tip: Serve your latkes with my Homemade Applesauce.

4 large russet potatoes, peeled
2 - 2 1/2 small onions, peeled and quartered
3 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp olive oil
3 1/2 tbsp flour (or matzo meal if making for Passover)
1 tsp baking powder
salt and pepper, to taste
vegetable oil for frying

1. Insert the shredding disk attachment into food processor. Cut potatoes into chunks to fit the feed tube. Insert potato chunks into feed tube and pulse to grate.

2. Pour shredded potatoes into a colander on top of a large bowl or a salad spinner and cover with water to rinse for about 5-10 minutes. Drain very well.

3. Insert onion chunks into feed tube and pulse to grate.

4. Pour well drained potato shreds into a large bowl and mix in the shredded onion.

5. Add the eggs, olive oil, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper, and stir until well combined.

6. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. In a large nonstick fry pan or griddle over medium high heat, pour vegetable oil to a depth of 1/8 inch.

7. When oil sizzles when lightly splashed with a bit of cold water (be careful doing this), working in batches, scoop the potato mixture with a large spoon and place onto oil. Flatten out and shape with the back of the spoon. Fry, turning once, until golden brown, 3-5 minutes per side.

8. Place the fried latkes on the lined baking sheet to drain off excess oil. Makes about 25 medium sized latkes.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays

Monday, December 21, 2009

Chocolate Crackle Cookies

I'm finding it hard to believe that Christmas is only days away. After spending last week basking in the Cuban sun, coming home to Christmas songs and decorations just feels kind of odd to me. Christmas is my absolute favourite holiday and my favourite thing about Christmas is the food...sorry're awesome too, but lets face it, our Christmas meal tops the list! So I decided to get myself into the Christmas spirit. Yesterday I spent the day laying out all my christmas gifts for everyone so that they're ready to be wrapped, and then made Christmas cookies. I have a Martha Stewart: Holiday Cookies magazine from years ago that I turn to every holiday. All of the cookies look so beautiful and delicious that I can never pick which ones to make, so I always end up making the same ones, Almond Shortbread Stars. The Almond Shortbread stars taste amazing, but this year I wanted to try something different. My eye immediately landed on Martha's Chocolate Crackle Cookies. These cookies looked so beautiful and festive, I just had to give them a try! Boy am I glad that I did! The cookies turned out incredible! Super chocolaty and moist, and gorgeous to boot! I was pleased to learn that these cookies remain soft and gooey even after cooling, making them taste like little brownies. Serve them at your holiday celebration!
Note: To make a double boiler, put about 2 inch worth of water into a small pot. Place a heatproof bowl on top of the pot making sure they are sealed tight (you want the steam to stay inside the pot). Also make sure the bowl is not touching the water in the pot. Place your chocolate in the bowl. A double boiler allows the chocolate to gently melt so that it will not burn.
Tip: when forming your dough into balls, try not to make them larger than 1 inch. The larger the dough balls, the less crackling effect.

8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (1 cup if using chocolate chips)
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 pound (1 stick or 1/2 cup) room temperature butter
1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk
about 1 cup confectioners sugar

1. In a double boiler, melt chocolate on low heat. Set aside to cool.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, cocoa powder, and salt.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes.

4. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well combined.

5. Add the melted chocolate, and mix to combine.

6. Add the flour mixture alternately with milk. Mix on low speed until just combined.

7. Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap. Carefully pour the cookie dough onto the plastic wrap and wrap all around. Form your dough into a disk shape, while still in the plastic wrap.

8. Chill in the fridge for about 2 hours.

9. Preheat oven to 350º. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat mat. Pour the icing sugar into a small bowl.

10. Form the cookie dough into about 1 inch balls and roll in the icing sugar to generously coat.

11. Place the coated balls on a baking sheet leaving space in between to allow for the cookies to spread.

12. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the sugar coating splits.

13. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

Note: I came across an issue with this recipe while I was melting my chocolate. I used chocolate that was not stored properly. After I had melted my chocolate I tried a taste and could immediately taste that something was off. I had to dump that chocolate and start over again with properly stored chocolate. It is important to store your chocolate properly so that you do not come across this issue.

A Lesson in Storing Chocolate:
  • Store in a slightly cool environment (about 60-70º F).
  • Store in an area with low humidity. The area should be dry.
  • Make sure it is not in direct sunlight. A dark environment is best.
  • Keep away from any foods or substances with strong odors.
  • Some people swear by storing chocolate in their wine fridge due to the controlled temperature. Give it a try!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Welcome to the Neighbourhood: La Bamboche

Last week marked the opening of the long anticipated La Bamboche on Avenue Road. The patisserie's first location at 4 Manor Rd. has been open for just over four years, enough time to garner them both critical acclaim as well as build a strong relationship with the community.

La Bamboche has been named by Toronto Life as Toronto's best macaron. Have I made a spelling error? No, these are not the coconut based macaroons that most of you may be familiar with. These delicate little confections have a light crisp exterior made of meringue and almond powder, and their soft interior is due to silky buttercream or chocolate ganache. To top it all off, the macarons come in an array of beautiful pastels. Sound incredible? It gets better, macarons come in multiple flavours, everything from Strawberry-Balsamic to Lavender, as well as more traditional flavours like Raspberry and Pistachio. The shop always has twelve different flavours, adding new flavours at least every month. Well-traveled customers have reveled in the striking resemblance in both taste and appearance between the macarons at La Bamboche and those found in the best patisseries in France.

Beyond their beautiful macarons, La Bamboche also has an impressive array of cakes, all created and made on site by pastry chef Stephen Nason and his creative team. Nason was trained in Japan by a French pastry chef, allowing him to merge the two styles to create truly unique and innovative products. Unlike many high-end pastry shops that boast beautiful cakes, yet are lacking when it comes to taste, La Bamboche's cakes are both gorgeous as well as delicious! Many of their cakes feature a light mousse in flavours such as Strawberry Lavender, Green Tea and Black Sesame, and Earl Grey and Cassis. One of La Bamboche's signature cakes, and perhaps their most striking, is the Paquet Cake. Sold in numerous flavours, the Paquet features layers of light mouse and moist genoise wrapped in a soft cookie, kind of like an amazing, delicious gift, wrapped in cookie wrapping paper! Pair your pastry with a mug of organic Van Houtte coffee or espresso, or a pot of organic tea.

For those customers looking to La Bamboche for breakfast or lunch items, their perfectly flaky and buttery croissant should do the trick! La Bamboche has six different types of croissant, all baked fresh daily. There are sweet croissants like Chocolate, Almond, and Almond and Chocolate, as well as savory croissants like Ham and Cheese and Spinach and Cheese. The shop also has seasonal danishes, made with the same croissant pastry and filled with sweet custard and seasonal fruits (go in now for peach and blackberry!). There is also an array of fresh sandwiches served on either fresh croissant or choux pastry with fillings such as Turkey and Brie, Roast Beef and Brie, Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese, and Vegetarian and Brie. The sandwiches rest right next to the mouth watering savory quiches. The quiche crust is made with the same flaky croissant pastry, and filled with different flavours such as Shitake Mushrooms and Goat Cheese, Caramelized Onion Pancetta and Swiss, Leeks and Swiss Cheese, and Sundried Tomato Spinach and Swiss Cheese.

As some of you may know, I booked a trip to Cuba a few months ago (I leave Saturday super super early in the morning!!), so in order to pay off my trip, I needed to get a job....Dear readers, the next time you want to pay off a trip to Cuba, do not work in a pastry shop, work at a gym! I think you know what I'm getting at here. I am very proud to say that I am apart of the La Bamboche team, working behind the counter at their Avenue Road shop. In just a few short weeks, I have tried almost every item in the know...for business purposes. Although working at La Bamboche has abolished any plans I had of eating healthy before Cuba, I don't regret trying anything as each and every item left me wanting more! So after trying almost everything in sight in the shop (I've been on one hell of a sugar high for about 3 weeks now!), I think I'm able to judge the best, or at least my favourite, items in the shop. My absolute favourite items at La Bamboche are:

Tarte Au Citron
The delicious lemon tart I have ever tasted, and I love lemon tarts! The perfect combination of both sweet and tart with an amazing shortbread crust.

Earl Grey and Cassis Cake
Such an interesting flavour combination that left me wondering why I had never combined the two flavours before. Layers of earl grey and black current mousse on a thin layer of chocolate genoise. This cake is also one of the most beautiful cakes in the showcase.

Ham and Cheese Croissant
Oh so very decadent, yet impossible to resist! This ham and swiss cheese croissant is just incredible! La Bamboche's ham and cheese croissant is different from any others that I have tasted due to a layer of silky bearnaise sauce snuggled between the savory ham and creamy swiss cheese.

There are a few macarons that stand out as my favourites. The Pistachio, Strawberry-Balsamic, and Raspberry macarons are just out of this world! These three macarons taste incredible and are some of the prettiest ones in the showcase! You must try them!

The second location of La Bamboche on Avenue Road is sure to be a great success! The new store has a beautiful design and allows for more seating, not to mention it is filling a major void in the neighborhood (boy did we ever need a great pastry shop!). With their dedication to quality and perfection, you're sure to fall in love with La Bamboche just as I did!

Note: The above pictures are from La Bamboche's Manor Road location. Pictures from the new Avenue Road location coming soon!

La Bamboche is located at 1712 Avenue Road and 4 Manor Road East.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Homemade Applesauce

My friends and I booked a trip to Cuba for this coming December, and although I am beyond excited for the sun, sand, and what is sure to be an incredible time, I can't help but become aware of my less than healthy eating habits lately. If I'm going to feel comfortable in a bikini come December, I'm going to have to put away those Halloween treats (that means you 'basket full of treats' in my bedroom!) and start looking for healthier choices to get my sweet fix for the day.

Apples are one of the most versatile fruits. They can be prepared as sweet or savory, and can go with any meal of the day including snacks. Apples are thriving during the Fall, and have reached their full potential for sweetness, making them the perfect healthy choice! My Homemade Applesauce is perfect for a midday snack or even dessert. Just like almost all of my recipes, my Homemade Applesauce is quick, simple and tastes delicious! A lot of applesauce recipes call for 1/2 cup sugar, which I don't think is necessary when apples are already so sweet this time of year. When applesauce gets too sweet, it tastes just like eating apple pie filling, which would not be considered a healthy choice. But depending on the size and sweetness of your apples, you may adjust the amount to your taste.
Tip: Cheat a little and serve a scoop of vanilla ice cream over warm applesauce.

8 apples
1 - 2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar (plus possibly more to taste)
cinnamon to taste (around 1 tsp)
1/4 cup orange juice

1. Peel, core, and chop apples into about a 1/4 - 1/2 inch big chunks. During the process, place chopped pieces in a medium bowl with lemon juice. Continue tossing pieces with the juice to coat.

2. Place lemon coated apple pieces in a large pot. Toss with 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon, and orange juice.

3. Set stove to medium-high heat, and bring bring to a boil. Once brought to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low heat to simmer for 20-25 minutes. Stir occasionally.

4. Taste sauce to check for sweetness. If needed, add more sugar. Crush apple chunks with a potato masher, or, for a chunkier texture, use the back of a large spoon. Serve warm or cold.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

For years it has been a Halloween tradition for my family and I to carve out our pumpkins together, and to reserve all the slimy pumpkin seeds for me to roast off to make the perfect Fall snack, Spiced Pumpkin Seeds. Adapted from Martha Stewart's Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Seeds, these seeds have the perfect balance between sweet and savory with just a hint of spiciness. I changed Martha's recipe slightly by reducing the amount of sugar, removing the cumin, and substituting sesame oil instead of peanut. The seeds are crisp with a light coating of nutty sesame oil and caramelized sugar, generously dusted with sweet sugar, salt, savory ginger, and spicy cayenne pepper. This snack is fast, simple, and perfect to take to class or work. These Pumpkin Seeds also make great gifts. Make up a large batch and present them in festive Fall tins or gift bags to give to friends, family, or co-workers.
Note: Roasting time may vary depending on oven. Be sure to keep an eye on the seeds during roasting. If they are undercooked, the seeds will be chewy. You are aiming for a golden brown colour.

the seeds from one medium pumpkin (about 1 cup of seeds)
4 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
pinch of cayenne pepper (to taste)
1 1/2 tbsp sesame oil

1. Preheat oven to 325º. Cut open top of pumpkin and scoop out seeds. Place them in a colander and and wash well with warm water, making sure to separate any pumpkin guts that may be sticking to the seeds. Once cleaned, dry them with a towel.

2. Evenly lay seeds out on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 1 hour or until seeds become golden brown. Stir several times during baking. See above note on roasting.

3. In a medium bowl, combine 2 tbsp sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cayenne pepper.

4. In a medium skillet, heat sesame oil on high heat. Add the baked pumpkin seeds and remaining 2 tbsp sugar. Cook while stirring until seeds are coated in caramelized sugar.

5. Transfer caramelized seeds into bowl of spices and toss to coat. Let cool. Store in an airtight container for about 1 week.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Cheaters Handbook: Rosemary Focaccia Bread

There's nothing like warm bread fresh out of the oven. It's just another one of those food items that screams 'comfort'. My dad bought a bread maker a few years ago and it was amazing waking up to freshly baked bread every morning...for about a week. The problem with homemade bread is it is a very time consuming process, even with expensive bread makers. After a week of making bread, the machine ended up down in the basement, never to see the light of day again. Don't get me wrong, I love the process of making bread with your own two hands, the kneading, resting, braiding, and so on. But we don't all have the time for that. So Ihave found a way around that. Here is my Cheaters Handbook recipe for Rosemary Focaccia Bread.

I love this cheat because you can plan ahead or do it all last minute, you can improvise with the recipe a ton and add a lot of your own character, and it tastes amazing! The trick is purchased pizza dough. Pizza dough has a very similar texture to focaccia bread, and, just like focaccia bread, you can add a large variety of different ingredients and flavours. You can purchase pizza dough at most grocery stores, or even ask your favourite pizza restaurant if you can purchase a bag of their dough, you would be surprised how many will say 'yes'.

Pizza dough can stay in the fridge for about three or four days, so you can easily plan out your bread in advance. The bread that I have made here is just one of many different ways you can make your pizza dough focaccia, so try experimenting with all sorts of different ingredients. try out different herbs, spices, and vegetables, and have fun! This bread is great to serve to guests because it looks like you put a lot of effort into it (it's really a gorgeous looking bread) and you can cater it to the other courses you are eating. The night I served the Rosemary Focaccia Bread to my family, my mum was making spaghetti. I wanted to make a bread that would compliment the spaghetti sauce, so I mimicked a lot of the flavours found in the meat sauce. The meat sauce had garlic, rosemary, and parmesan, flavours that taste great in bread, so I topped my pizza dough with that.

1 bag of pizza dough
olive oil
flour for pan
pureed garlic
rosemary leaves
parmesan cheese, grated
sea salt

1. Take dough out of fridge and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour. Brush olive oil onto pan and lightly dust with flour. Shake off excess flour.

2. With your hands held together like fists, hold up the dough and form into desired shape and size. The fists will help to resist tearing.

3. Place onto floured pan and brush dough with olive oil.

4. Spread pureed garlic over dough and sprinkle with desired amount of rosemary, parmesan, and sea salt to taste.

5. Place in a 400º oven for about 15 minutes (depending on thickness) making sure to keep your eye on the dough (a thinner focaccia may bake very fast depending on your oven). Remove from oven and slice.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween 2009

My Dad's Amazing Pumpkin
My Pumpkin

My friends (Chloe, Rommi, and Robin) and Me (Danielle Rose)
Happy Halloween Everyone!
Hope you had a fun and safe evening! What did you dress as?  

Ontario Wine Awards Winery Tour 2009

On Saturday October 17th I was lucky enough to be able to attend the 2009 Ontario Wine Awards Winery Tour.  The tour was held as a 'thank you' for all of the sponsors that helped to make this years Ontario Wine Awards so successful.  I can't imagine a better way to thank all of the people involved with the awards than to allow them to see first-hand where some of the award winning wines are produced, and what better time than harvest season!  I have been to a few Niagara winery tours in the past, but being able to see it during the exciting harvest season was a whole other experience!  You could feel the excitement being emitted from each winery as they prepared their grapes for what may be the coming years awards winning wines.

The itinerary for the day was as follows:

11:30 am Arrival at Jackson-Triggs Winery

11:30 am Sparkling Wine Welcome Reception
(in the Great Hall)

12:00 pm to 12:45 pm Private Tour of Jackson-Triggs

12:45 pm to 2:15 Lunch at Jackson-Triggs
(A fabulous 3-course meal was served in Jackson-Triggs traditional underground barrel cellar)

2:15 pm to 4:00 pm Private Tour of Chateau des Charmes

4:30 pm to 5:30 pm Closing Reception at Inniskillin
(During the reception we enjoyed a specially prepared dessert and was treated to an icewine tasting of both Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs icewines)

5:30 pm Return to Jackson-Triggs

The Sparkling Wine Reception in Jackson-Triggs Great Hall allowed guests to get settled in while drinking a glass of 2008 award winning sparkling wine 2006 Maleta Estate Winery VIEW Old Vines Brut Sparkling Riesling.  We were then led out and into the vineyard to get a look and taste of the grapes at harvest time.  After that, we were taken through the facilities to get to see the various steps that the grapes go through in order to produce the wine.  Because it was harvest season, we were able to see the the machines pouring the freshly picked grapes to be prepped for crushing.  The tour was much more than just a way to provide everyone with extensive knowledge on Jackson-Triggs' harvesting process, it was really something special as the entire Jackson-Triggs facilities was designed with the consumer and winery tours in mind.  It was truly a gorgeous site.  

After the tour we were lead into the Jackson-Triggs traditional barrel cellar where we were treated to a delicious lunch prepared by Great Estate of Niagara Chef David Penny and Sous Chef Tim Mackiddie.

Vidal French Onion Soup
Niagara Gold Crouton
2006 Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir

Pan Seared Capon
Truffled Arugula
Quinoa, Confit Cherry Tomato
2005 Le Clos Jordanne Le Clos Jordanne Estate Vineyard Chardonnay

The atmosphere in which our lunch was served was beautiful.  The barrel cellar provided for an exquisite setting (it would make for one hell of a romantic dinner!) and it felt pretty awesome drinking such fabulous wine while surrounded by barrel upon barrel of finely aged wine.  Because he was unable to attend the award ceremony in May, winemaker for Le Clos Jordanne, Thomas Bachelder joined us for lunch to tell us about the wine being served, about the passion of winemaking, and to receive his award for the OWA 2009 Winemaker of the Year.  At the time of the awards, Bachelder had just stepped into of one of the most exciting moments in his career.  At the 2009 Judgement of Montreal, an 'outsider' wine (a wine submitted unbeknownst to the panel) was submitted into the mix, this wine was Le Clos Jordanne's 2005 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay.  Le Clos Jordanne shocked the judges when their Chardonnay beat out all of the wines from France and the United States.  To read more about this great achievement, see the press release: Canada's Le Clos Jordanne Mimics the Movie 'Bottle Shock'.  Wine writer, Order of Canada recipient, and founder of the Ontario Wine Awards, Tony Aspler presented Bachelder with the award and the traditional Winemaker of the Year gift, a beautiful watch.  

After lunch was finished, we proceeded to our bright red double decker bus, which took us to the next winery, Chateau des Charmes.  Once again, we were given a private tour of the winery, and learned all about the history of the Bosc family and their passion for wine, as well as a tasting session in one of the Chateau's tasting rooms.  Chateau des Charmes looks like a fabulous chateau, as it was one of the first wineries in Niagara (and possibly even Canada...I can't recall) to design their winery with visitors in mind.

After that, we hopped back on the bus and were taken to the newly renovated Inniskillin Winery where we enjoyed a magnificent candlelit tasting in the barrel cellar.  We tasted four different types of icewine, all served in Riedel Glassware.  Each icewine was delicious, which says a lot coming from someone who isn't a fan of icewine.  We tasted:

2007 Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal Icewine

2007 Inniskillin Riesling Icewine

2006 Jackson-Triggs Gewurztraminer Icewine

2007 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine

It was difficult for me to pick a favourite, because I enjoyed all of them so much.  But if I had to pick, I would say that the 2007 Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal Icewine was truly something special.  Our tour guide mentioned that many families have replaced champagne with this sparkling icewine to toast to at special occasions like Christmas or New Years.  I think it may have to become apart of the Rose family Christmas this year! The icewines were paired with the final course of our lunch, a light and delicious Lemon Mousse with Almond Praline and Vidal Caramel, a dessert I must try to replicate on my own.  

After a long and delightful day of wine tasting, touring, and eating, it was time to say goodbye to all the fellow guests, who might I add were all lovely, and head back on the road back to Toronto...well most people I guess.  I met up with some friends and continued my fabulous day in Niagara Falls where we hit the casino for an evening of celebration!  

To read my article on the 2009 Ontario Wine Awards, click here.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cooking with my Oma: Ginger Ale Glazed Ham

I remember the first time I tried my Oma's Ginger Ale Glazed Ham. I must have been in about grade 5 or 6, and we were having one of our last Thanksgivings celebrated at our cottage (we sold the cottage soon after). I never liked Thanksgiving. I thought the food always looked really gross, so my sister and I would beg our parents to stop at a McDonalds or Wendy's on the way up North. Well this particular Thanksgiving I felt daring and wanted give the food a try. I made myself a little sampling of everything, just enough for a very small taste of each item, sat down with my plate, took a deep breath and tucked in. It was like I was experiencing an epiphany! So THIS is what all that Thanksgiving fuss is about! This food is incredible!! I couldn't believe that I had wasted so many years without this amazing meal!

The food item that was on the top of my list was my Oma's Ginger Ale Glazed Ham. The ham was good and fine, but that sweet ginger ale and onion sauce, wow! Now that made it! I think I had at least 4 large pieces of ham that year, each with huge heaping spoonfuls of the ginger ale and onion sauce. This is one of my all-time favourite recipes. It tastes out of this world, and is very simple to prepare. I promise you, you will love it! Thanks to my Oma for sharing her special recipe with me...and for having the guts to add 5 teaspoons of sugar!

half of a "fully cooked, ready to serve" honey & maple smoked boneless ham
1/4 cup ginger ale
5 heaping tsp sugar
3 tsp mustard
1 small onion, sliced

1. Place roasting dish (large enough to fit the ham) on the stove set to medium heat. Preheat oven to 325º.

2. Coat bottom of dish with olive oil. When oil is hot, add the onions and cook, while stirring, until onions become soft and translucent. If onions are browning too quickly, turn down heat. Add the ginger ale, sugar, and mustard and continue to cook a few minutes longer until mixture thickens slightly.

3. Add ham to roasting dish and, using a knife, poke several holes throughout the top and sides of the ham.

4. Using a baster or spoon, pour the mixture from the bottom of the dish over the ham.

5. Place in oven and bake for about 20 minutes (just to reheat the ham through).

6. Remove the ham from roasting dish and cut into slices. The onions sauce should have darkened, and be very sticky and thick like a syrup. If the mixture is not at this stage yet, scoop out the onions, leaving the sauce in the dish, and transfer them to a small saucepan. Continue cooking the onions at medium heat until they become even softer, stickier, and darker. Once they have reached this stage, continue to add the sauce remaining in the dish, a little at a time, until mixture reaches desired consistency. It's really all in the colour and texture. You're looking for extremely soft and sticky onions and a deep golden colour.

7. Spoon the onion sauce into a serving dish. Eat the ham topped with onion sauce.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cooking with My Oma: Apricot and Mandarin Orange Kuchen

As you may know from my entry on Plum Kuchen, there is a very special history between my Oma and I with eating various types of Kuchen (or cake in English).  Because of this long and special history with Kuchen, I have come to love the cake!  The German cake is not one of those cakes that is necessarily served for celebratory purposes.  Kuchen is the type of cake that can be eaten throughout the day with a mug of coffee.  Kuchen is very easy and fast to prepare and does not require additional shopping.  This is the type of cake that can easily be whipped up at the last minute, using nothing more than the items in your pantry.  

When my Oma and I made it on Tuesday, she wanted to make an Apricot Kuchen.  We did not have any fresh apricots, so she had planned on using canned apricots.  I normally don't like using canned fruits, but for this recipe it actually works to your advantage.  Firstly, as I stated before, this is the type of cake that is meant to use items from your pantry, ie. canned goods as well.  Also, because canned fruits are kept in a syrup, they soak up a lot of that moisture, which in turn, results in a much more moist cake.  Unfortunately, we only had one can of apricots, so Oma took out a can of mandarin oranges.  I immediately cringed!  Ew mandarin oranges in an apricot cake!  I didn't see how this could taste very good.  

Oma put me in charge of mixing the dough, pressing the dough into the pan, and topping the cake with the fruit and streusel.  Although I had trouble taking my mind of the fact that I was making a mandarin orange cake, I was able to pick up on some great tips to help make the perfect Kuchen.  Firstly, Oma says you must mix everything with your clean bare hands.  No machines here!  This allows you to feel exactly when the dough is ready, and she's convinced it adds more love as well.  Secondly, the last time I made my Plum Kuchen, I thought that the dough was too thin in the large pan that I was pressing it into.  So I scraped all the dough out of the pan and transferred it to a smaller one, which resulted in a denser cake that my family wasn't too fond of.  The dough is meant to be very thin when pressed into the pan.  This allows for each bite to be filled with the sweet flavour of fruit rather than the denseness of the cake.  

Next came the part I was dreading, adding the fruit.  I happily placed each apricot halve onto the dough and then stalled, hoping that we could put it in the oven without the mandarins.  Nope, Oma caught me.  She kept telling me to put more and more mandarins until I had used up the entire can!  When it came time to serving the cake to the rest f the family after dinner, I warned them all that it may not taste good because "Oma made me put mandarin oranges."  I cut the cake and reluctantly tasted my first bite.  Mmmm, it was delicious! Perhaps I had just tasted an apricot.  I ate the whole piece and it was all delicious! Who would have thought that mandarin oranges on a cake would taste so good! I absolutely loved the cake! It was so moist and flavourful, I took home a piece to save for later!  So I guess the moral of this story is, Oma is always right...unless we are talking about my mom's childhood crushes, Elvis not Ricky Nelson! Oma you owe me 5 bucks!
Note:  You can use whatever fruit you like in this cake, fresh or canned.  Apricots, mandarin oranges, strawberries, plums, blueberries, peaches, ANYTHING!  Use what you have!

3 egg yolks
1 cup butter, softened
about 2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
2 cans fruit or about 1 1/2 cups fresh fruit, sliced (I used one 398 ml can pitted and sliced apricots, and one 284 ml can mandarine oranges.  Both cans with syrup drained)

Streusel Topping
about 1/4 cup flour
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla 

1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine all cake ingredients and mix with clean hands until well combined.  The Dough should come together into a ball and feel smooth when pinched, so that you no longer feel the grains of sugar.  

2.  Grease and flour a round cake pan (about 14 inches in diameter), and press dough evenly into pan.  Top evenly with fruit.

3.  In the same bowl as used before, combine all streusel ingredients with clean hands until crumbs are formed.  If needed, add more flour.  Sprinkle evenly on top of cake.

4.  Bake in 350º oven for about 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.  

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cooking with My Oma: Potato Kugel

Potato Kugel (or Kugelis as my family calls it) is a type of firm potato pudding that is one of my Oma's signature dishes.  It is warm and comforting and can be served alongside almost any type of meat.  Kugelis is sort of like a giant potato latke, but with a smoother texture and bits of bacon, and just like potato latkes, Kugelis tastes incredible served with sour cream or my Oma's homemade apple sauce.  I have been eating Kugelis all my life, but it was only this week, when I learned how to make Kugelis with my Oma, that I truly understood why.

Kugelis is one of those dishes that makes me very thankful for my fast metabolism.  What you are about to hear may be quite shocking, but trust me, once you have tried Kugelis for yourself, you will forget all about the amount of carbs and fat you are consuming when eating the delicious side dish.  What you should also remember is that this recipe can serve a table of 10 people, plus leftovers.  So when you do the math, it really isn't as bad as it may seem at first.  And if you peeled all 6 pounds of the potatoes with an old fashioned potato peeler (as I did) you must have worked off at least half of what you gained...right?
Tip: The cream of wheat gives this dish a lighter texture without eliminating any flavour.
Note: You can easily cut all the ingredients in half to make a smaller portion.

about 6 pounds potatoes, peeled
about 1 pound bacon, cut in 1 inch pieces, plus rendered fat
1 large onion, chopped
10 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp cream of wheat
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp pepper
1 dash cinnamon 

1.  Fry bacon and onions until cooked (onions should be transparent).  Set aside along with rendered fat.

2.  Using a food processor with the fine grater or shredder disk attached, push potatoes through the feed tube, one at a time.  Once potatoes are all grated or shredded, attach steel knife into food processor and blend until the potatoes reach a pureed state.  

3.  Transfer pureed potatoes to a large bowl.  Add the reserved bacon, onions, and bacon fat to pureed potatoes, reserving some pieces (about 2 pieces of bacon, chopped) and a few tablespoons fat for later.  

4.  Add the eggs and stir until well combined.  Add the flour, cream of wheat, sugar, salt, pepper, and cinnamon and combine once again.

5.  Preheat the oven to 350º.  Grease a very large casserole or roasting dish with reserved bacon fat.  Pour the potato mixture into the dish and top with reserved pieces of bacon.  Bake for 1 hour.

6.  After 1 hour, reduce heat to 250º and bake for another 3 hours.  Serve on a serving platter with sour cream and apple sauce.  

Cooking with My Oma

People often ask me where I learned how to cook or what brought on my love of cooking and baking.  I have never been to culinary school or taken more than one cooking class in my life.  My love of food, cooking, and baking has come out of years of helping my mom and grandmother (my Oma) in the kitchen.  Both my mom and Oma are incredible cooks, and growing up, I was always encouraged to help them out in the kitchen.  Whether it was stirring a dough, cutting cookies, or filling flinzen (a rolled pancake or thick crepe filled with blueberries or sweet cheese), I was always on board to help!   I'm convinced that it was through cooking with my mom and Oma as a child that I have become so enthusiastic about cooking today.  

Although I can cook some delicious dishes, you really can't compare my food to that of my mom or Oma's, the Queen and Princess of comfort food.  There is just something about their cooking that I haven't been able to achieve as of yet.  So I decided to take action! I asked my Oma if she would spend the afternoon with me, cooking and sharing some of her recipes, so I could learn them for myself and be able to carry them on for future generations.  Our afternoon of cooking and baking turned out incredible! I had so much fun spending the day with my Oma, and am now confident that I can recreate her signature dishes on my own.   In the next upcoming entries I will share with you my Oma's recipes for Potato Kugel (or Kugelis as we call it), Apricot and Mandarin Orange Kuchen (or cake in Englsih), and Ginger Ale Glazed Ham.  

Monday, October 19, 2009

Maple Glazed Salmon

Maple Glazed Salmon is one of those super simple, fast, and delicious dishes that is the perfect mid-week dish. It contains simple ingredients that are on hand in most kitchens, and does not require any rigorous preparation. It is light and tasty and makes for a well rounded meal when served with vegetables and a type of grain. This time I made the salmon with sticky rice, asian slaw, and steamed asparagus with parmesan shavings. This dish can also easily be adjusted for more or less servings.

1/4 cup maple syrup
4 tsp grainy mustard
4 tsp soy sauce
2 Il salmon fillet
pepper to season

1. In a bowl, whisk the maple syrup, grainy mustard, and soy sauce until combined.

2. Season salmon fillets with pepper and lay in one layer in a baking dish.

3. Spoon the glaze over the fish reserving a few tablespoons.

4. Bake fish in a 400º oven for about 10 minutes, or until fish flakes easily.

5. Serve with reserved glaze drizzled on top.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Maple Pecan Squares

Last weekend I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family, which, for people who don't know me, is quite the occasion. Our Thanksgiving consists of my whole family coming together (we're talking aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, boyfriends, etc.) for an evening filled with appreciation for having each other and, of course, appreciation for wonderful food! The one thing that every member of my family can agree on, is that every holiday should be centered around delicious food! So for every holiday that we celebrate, we all come together, with each of us contributing to the meal in some way, to feast!

This year I offered to make a dessert. I wanted to make something with familiar Thanksgiving flavours, with a bit of a twist, that was easy to transport. This lead me to discovering William Sonoma's recipe for Maple Pecan Squares. Maple Pecan Squares are the perfect Thanksgiving treat filled with sweet and sticky maple syrup and brown sugar, a flaky crust, and crunchy pecans. The individual squares are like little handheld bites of pecan pie, making them less messy and easy to transport to your Thanksgiving festivities.

1 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
8 tbsp (1 stick) cold butter
2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped

6 tbsp butter
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Carefully line a 9-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, letting the foil extend up the sides and over the edges of the pan. Grease the foil liner.

2. In a food processor (or by hand), combine the fry crust ingredients: flour, brown sugar, and salt and pulse 2-3 times to blend. Add the butter and pulse until large, coarse crumbs form.

3. Evening press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the prepares pan.

4. Bake the crust for 12 - 17 minutes or until edges are lightly browned and firm to the touch. Set aside.

5. To make filling, in a saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, maple syrup, and brown sugar and stir together until the butter melts and the brown sugar has dissolved.

6. Bring mixture to a boil for 1 minute and remove from heat. Immediately stir in the cream and pecans.

7. Pour the hot filling over the partially baked crust, spreading evenly.

8. Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until filling has set. Allow to cool for about 1 1/2 hours.

9. Using the ends of the foil liner, carefully lift the large square out of the pan. Remove foil from edges and cut the large square into desired sized individual squares. Store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Grapes for Humanity: A Chocolate & Wine Fantasy

With an opening line like "they say chocolate is an aphrodisiac," you know it's bound to be an exciting evening.  Thursday October 8th marked Grapes for Humanity's epic evening, A Chocolate and Wine Fantasy, dedicated to superb wine and cuisine all in the name of a good cause.  The event took place at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto where guests were invited to enjoy a five-course banquet prepared with Lindt chocolate, by Four Seasons Hotels executive chefs Ashley James (Los Angeles) and Claudio Rossi (Toronto), with matching wines.  The event is held to combine passion for wine with an important cause to raise funds and awareness to benefit humanitarian causes around the world, in particular providing a better quality of life for victims and survivors of disasters.   

The evening began with a Champagne and Chocolate Martini Reception, to allow guests to mingle and get their taste buds warmed up for the meal to come.  Although juggling a champagne flute and an hors d'oeuvre while attempting to gracefully shake hands with fellow guests can be quite the challenge, it was well worth it to have the opportunity to try as many of the succulent hors d'oeuvres as possible.  Champagne Veuve Clicquot Brut & Belevedere Vodka as well as Chocolate Martinis (Bottega Gianduia & Belvedere Vodka) were paired with the following selection of hors d'oeuvres:

Northern Thai chicken salad with lemongrass and mint in cucumber cups
Mini skewers of Concord grape and house smoked salmon rolls
Thunder Oak Gouda frico
Baked Petit phyllo tartlets with chanterelle fricassee
Crispy Arancini filled with goat cheese
Balinese chicken satays on sugar cane

Although I did not try every hors d'oeuvre (four out of six is impressive, I'd say) my favourite was the Crispy Arancini filled with goat cheese.  The little balls of risotto were perfectly crisp on the outside, with a warm and creamy interior, and a delightful surprise of mouthwatering melted goat cheese in the middle.  The Crispy Arancini were bursting with flavour, resulting in me still daydreaming about them today! 

As guests were ushered inside the elegant function room, they were encouraged to walk around to view the various items up for silent auction.  The large selection of silent auction items were all finely aged coveted wines from California and France donated by some of the world's most respected and renowned winemakers.  

Once everyone had taken their seats, Tony Aspler, President and CEO for Grapes of Humanity Canada, took the stage to welcome the attendees and introduce special guests Jean-Charles Boisset (Boisset family Estates), winner of this years Humanitarian Award and Ken Shaw (National Editor and Anchor, CTV News Toronto), the Master of Ceremonies for the evening.  All speakers emphasized the extreme challenge of preparing a five-course meal, with each dish incorporating Lindt chocolate, while still pairing the courses with appropriate wines.  I felt like I just stepped into the Iron Chef America studio, with the secret ingredient 'Chocolate," AKA every foodie and chocolate lovers dream come true!  A challenge like that could easily mean disaster, but extremely talented chefs Ashley James and Claudio Rossi rose to the occasion, creating, hands down, the best meal of my life!  The exquisite banquet went as follows:

Banana, Lemongrass and Coconut Soup, White Chocolate and Coconut Shrimp Skewer
(prepared with Lindt Excellence White Coconut Chocolate)
DeLoach Vineyards O.F.S Chardonnay 2007

Foie Gras and Vanilla-Scented Apricots 'au torchon,' a Peppered Milk Chocolate Paint and Brioche a tete
(prepared with Lindt Excellence Extra Creamy Milk Chocolate)
Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Blanc 2006
Domaine de la Vougeraie Vougeot 1er Cru 'Le Clos Blanc de Vougeot' Monople 2006

Licorice-Roasted Halibut Fillet, Sauteed Wild Mushrooms, Celery Root Puree, Pinot Noir Roasted Shallots, Fleur de Sel Chocolate Crisp
(prepared with Lindt Excellence Fleur de Sel Dark Chocolate)
DeLoach Vineyards Green Valley Pinot Noir 2006
Jean-Claude Boisset Gevrey-Chambertin 2006

Zinfandel Braised Prime Short Rib, Chili Chocolate Mole, Sweet Potato Puree, Crispy Plantain Chip
(prepared with Lindt Excellence Chili Dark Chocolate)
Domaine de la Vougeraie Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru 2006
De Loach Vineyards Forgotten Vines Zinfandel 2007

The whole meal was outstanding, incorporating the chocolate with just enough subtly to merely heighten the flavours of each course, while allowing each dish to exude layer upon layer of complex flavours.  The two stand-out dishes for myself were the Banana, Lemongrass & Coconut Soup, as well as the Licorice-roasted Halibut Fillet.  

The soup was impeccable and unlike anything I have ever had.  I have to admit, I was a little worried reading that the first course was a banana soup, but once again, each ingredient was incorporated into the soup to add various dimensions of character, ultimately creating a flavour sensation in a bowl.  The smooth soup was sweet and savory, with a hint of spice, all tied together with a single shrimp.  The Halibut was clearly a stand-out dish for not only myself, but the entire room, as you could very audibly hear a chorus of "mmm' throughout the room as everyone took their first bite.  The perfectly cooked and seasoned halibut was complimented by the sweet Pinot Noir roasted shallots (something I must try making at home), and savory sauteed wild mushrooms.  The creamy celery root puree added a smooth and comforting base for the halibut to rest on, with the fleur de sel chocolate crisp adding texture and a hint of sweetness. 

In between the dinner and dessert came time for the live auction.  Although Ken Shaw may not have the speed of a professional auctioneer, he sure knew how to get the room going as he enthusiastically announced each item up for grabs.  The thrill of the auction had everyone in the room "oohing," "ahhing," and cheering away as the the final bidders claimed their items.  This year, items included:
  • Domaine de la Vougeraie: Tour of the winery and lunch for two
  • The Ultimate Swiss Retreat Package
  • Dine with Rock Superstars Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush
It was clear to see that the excitement of the auction meant much more than the thrill of the bid.  What people were truly excited about was contributing to something so profound.  Unlike many other organizations, 95% of the proceeds from Grapes for Humanity go directly to those in immediate need.  Additionally, for the second year in a row, the Julia Burke Foundation has generously offered to match funds raised from A Chocolate and Wine Fantasy, dollar for dollar.  The list of projects that Grapes for Humanity has accomplished is far too long to list here, but to learn more, please visit the Grapes for Humanity site.

After the live auction, it was time for dessert.  You can imagine my excitement for the arrival of dessert with an event centered around chocolate.  I was so excited in fact, that I forgot to even take a photo of the final and striking dessert.  I dove right in!  The highly anticipated dessert was:

Warm Butterscotch Fondant, Caramel-Roasted Mini Apple, Gelato Fresco Chocolate Ice Cream
(prepared with Lindt Excellence Crunchy Caramel Milk Chocolate)
Neige Apple Ice Cider

The Warm Butterscotch Fondant was a mini decadent chocolate cake, oozing with warm butterscotch and chocolate.  The Caramel-Roasted Mini Apple was like the most superior baked apple in existence.  Both desserts were brought together with Gelato Fresco Chocolate ice cream, with its smooth milk chocolate taste and a touch of texture from the caramel crunch.

Needless to say, after a meal like that, you would surely regret wearing a form-fitting dress (boy, did I ever regret that!).  I walked out of the Four Seasons with my arm wrapped around my very full stomach, with my head feeling light as a feather from glass upon glass of wine, and my body ready to fall into a very deep chocolate coma.  Grapes for Humanity: A Chocolate Wine Fantasy was a fabulous success, bringing people together through their passion for wine and cuisine to support a very important cause.  

To learn more about Grapes for Humanity, visit their site