Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bordeaux After Work

As the weather slowly begins to warm up, I find myself eagerly filling in my social calendar, plotting out all of the most interesting and exciting events taking place in Toronto this summer. The Bordeaux Wine Council in partnership with the iYellow Wine Club are hosting 4 Bordeaux After Work Parties (June, July, September, and August). With a much more intimate atmosphere than a typical iYellow event, the Bordeaux After Work Parties aim to educate attendees on the mythical Bordeaux region through a fun social event with great food, music, venue, people, and of course fantastic Bordeaux wines! Each event will feature about five different Bordeaux wines (with entry and the first glass free of charge!) being poured by educated wine stewards ready to offer tasting tips and knowledge on the wine and region. The first event, being held on June 7th at Origin, filled up in no time at all, so keep your eyes peeled for an invite for their second event being held on July 19th at Marben.

Being someone who knows very little about Bordeaux wines, and wines of France in general, these events offer the perfect opportunity for me to brush up on my knowledge. Through blogs and the introduction of video blogs, I will take you through my journey of understanding Bordeaux wines step by step. So before I delve into my own understanding of Bordeaux, there are a few steps that you need to take to get caught up to where I am!

Needless to say, step one is signing up for the iYellow Wine Club. The first 100 members of iYellow who RSVP to the Bordeaux After Work Parties will gain free entry as well as a free first glass of wine, and remember, membership to iYellow is FREE! Being a member of iYellow for several years now, I know how well they treat each and every person that comes on board with them. This event is really more of a Wine Clubber Appreciation event, allowing their members to discover this exciting region in an inexpensive, fun, and social way. Sign up for your free membership to the iYellow Wine Club here!

Before you learn the basics of Bordeaux, it's important to have an understanding of the wines of France in general. Brush up on your knowledge of the wines of France with Angela Aiello herself! Follow Ange's Wines of France blogs and video blogs to get a clear and in depth understanding of French wines. Click here to get started!

This is a step I'm sure many of you are familiar with...Wikipedia! Wikipedia, although not always the most reliable source, is a great starting place to get a feel of what you are going to be learning more about. I also suggest jotting down some questions you may have about Bordeaux and their wines so you can walk into your first Bordeaux After Work Party not only confident in the basics, but prepared to learn more!

I would love for this to be a journey that we can go on together, so I 100% encourage discussion in the comment section here! Tell me what you already know about Bordeaux wines and what you would like to learn, and please feel free to ask questions!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Premier Life: Get Caught Up!

Hey all you beginner cooks out there! Did ya know that I also write specialized articles catering to the beginner chef for the lifestyle blog Premier Life? Get caught up on all of my articles here:

Listening To:
Frank Ocean - Swim Good

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Baked Jalapeno Poppers

A few months ago I received a very exciting email. I was contacted by Motts Clamato to help work with them to create my own signature Caesar recipe. With the caesar (also known as Canada's Cocktail. Yes my friends, the savory caesar is in fact a Canadian beverage! Can I get an "Oh Canada"?!) being one of my all-time favourite drinks, I literally jumped for joy at the opportunity to be involved. The first idea that came to my mind for my signature caesar was infused vodka! After working on a vodka infusion side project for another company, I was excited to try out some new flavours specifically catering to my favourite drink, the caesar. With that great heat being the star of any caesar, I knew I wanted to make a special vodka infused with the spicy flavour of jalapeno peppers!

Because I had never cooked with fresh jalapenos before, I took this opportunity to pick up a whole pack of them to see what else I could come up with. When I asked my friend Robin what she thought I should do with the extra jalapenos, her face lit up like a little kid on Christmas morning, "JALAPENO POPPERS!" she cried out with glee! We have a winner! With a Costco-sized package of Philadelphia Cream Cheese left over from my Rustic Mushroom Tart with Cream Cheese submission for the Real Women of Philadelphia Cream Cheese (to see me in action in my kitchen and giggle at my first attempt at a homemade cooking video, click here!) I had everything I needed to make some kick-ass poppers!

With a little help from Robin, we got our poppers filled with silky cream cheese and subtle and stringy mozzarella and coated with crunchy and crisp panko breadcrumbs in no time! Because I had never cooked with fresh jalapenos before, I removed all of the seeds and membranes so there wouldn't be too much heat. Little did I know that removing all of the seeds and membranes would mean an almost totally heat-free jalapeno popper. Despite the fact there was very little heat in our poppers, we still devoured every last one and loved each and every bite! They were so delicious with that great flavour from the jalapenos and complimenting textures from the creaminess of the cream cheese and mozzarella and crunch from the panko bread crumbs. We also decided to bake our jalapeno poppers rather than fry them to make us feel better when we would inevitably wolf them all down. I can't wait to make these babies again, but this time I'll be leaving in some seeds and membranes. After all, what's a redhead without a little fire?

12 fresh jalapeno peppers, halved lengthwise, with desired amount of seeds and membranes removed, then cut in thirds, you should have 6 pieces cut from each pepper
6 ounces (3/4 cup) cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese
2 eggs
1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 tsp cayenne pepper, separated
1/2 cup flour
salt and pepper, to season
salsa or marinara sauce, for dipping (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Lightly grease a medium baking sheet and set aside. In bowl cream together the cream cheese with the mozzarella and 1 tsp cayenne pepper. Set aside.

2. In a small bowl lightly beat the eggs. Set aside.

3. In another bowl stir together the panko breadcrumbs with remaining 1 tsp cayenne pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

4. Place the flour in a small bowl. Set aside.

5. Lay out dishes like a production line in the following order: 1) cream cheese mixture, 2) flour, 3) egg, 4) panko mixture. Fill each jalapeno piece with about 1 1/2 tsp - 2 tsp cream cheese mixture. One at a time, dredge in flour, then dip into the egg, then dredge in the panko mixture to coat. Lay out filled and coated jalapenos on the prepared baking sheet, cut side up.

6. Bake for 30 minutes, or until crust is golden. Serve immediately with salsa or marinara sauce for dipping.

Listening To: Calgary - Bon Iver
Click here for a free download of Bon Iver's new single Calgary!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Foolproof Eggs Benedict

Every holiday has its own traditions, and along with that, every family has their own holiday traditions. A big tradition for my family for Mother's Day is to celebrate with a Mother's Day brunch. Every year my mom invites both sets of grandparents over as well as my aunt Darlene and her family to sit down to a delicious feast full of warm bagels with all the fixings, an abundance of summer salads, and fresh fruit and veggies. No matter how much I adore the meal we have for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas (yup same meal for every holiday), I love that our Mother's Day meal is different yet just as delicious! This year due to busy schedules and other matters, we were unable to do our big family brunch. This is where I stepped in. I know how much my mom loves that Mother's Day brunch, so I decided to prepare her a special intimate brunch featuring her all-time favourite brunch dish eggs benedict.

I have wanted to make eggs benedict for quite a while now but had never given it a try, always too intimidated at mastering the art of hollandaise sauce and poached eggs. After hearing so many stories about failed attempts at thickening the hollandaise and rubbery eggs, I feared that I would soon be the one spouting out eggs benedict horror stories. After a bit of research (thank you and on the best and most reliable ways to prepare the indulgent brunch dish, I felt fairly confident that I was ready to take on the task!

Running on a mere two hours of sleep, and my mind swimming with thoughts of the previous evening, I was pretty nervous that my less than sharp brain may cause me to have another kitchen blunder (if you have me on Twitter you'll know that I've had my fair share of those). Luckily all of my eggs bennie research paid off! The final product turned out incredible! The eggs were perfectly cooked with that vibrant yellow yolk pouring out of the egg upon first bite, resting atop crispy bacon slices and a soft and buttery english muffin, and generously topped with tangy, velvety hollandaise sauce and a sprinkle of chopped chives. This could have very well been Daughter's Day considering how much I enjoyed my eggs benedict and how simple it all was to prepare. The trick to eggs benedict success is well...learning the tricks! Below I have provided a clear instructional video from CHOW on how to poach eggs as well as an easy no-fail blender hollandaise sauce recipe that will have you finding excuses to celebrate every weekend! Happy Sunday anyone?

Tip: Turn this into a vegetarian eggs benedict by skipping the bacon and adding some sauteed spinach and even a little cream cheese for flavour and creaminess.

8 slices of bacon
2 English muffins, split, or 4 crumpets
4 tsp white vinegar
3 egg yolks
1/4 tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 pinches of cayenne pepper
1/2 cup butter + more for spreading on English muffins
4 large fresh eggs
fresh chives, chopped for garnish (optional)
salt and pepper to season

1. Fill a medium saucepan with water leaving about 2 inches at the top. Place on stove and set to medium-low heat to bring water up to a slow simmer.

2. While the water is heating up, start frying the bacon. Fry bacon in a pan set to high heat. When the edges of the bacon begin to curl up, flip the pieces of bacon over with a fork. Continue cooking until bacon has reached desired crispiness. Drain bacon slices on paper towels to remove excess oil. Set aside until assembly.

3. Now make the hollandaise sauce. In a blender, combine the egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper. Cover and blend until well combined.

4. Melt the butter in the microwave or on the stove until completely melted and hot. Remove the feed piece from the top of the blender and set blender to high speed. With the blender on high speed, slowly pour in the melted butter in a thin stream. Blend for an additional 3 seconds.

5. Make the poached eggs following the instructions in the video above. While eggs are poaching (this should take about 3 minutes) toast the English muffins.

6. To assemble to eggs benedict lightly butter each English muffin with butter. Top each muffin with 2 slices of bacon. Set the poached egg on top of the bacon and pour over desired amount of hollandaise sauce. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with chives. Serve immediately.

Listening To: Peter, Bjorn and John - The Chills

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Mother's Day Brunch

Mothers Day, the holiday that always seems to sneak up on me leaving me giftless and cardless come Sunday. Despite my lack of gift and card (gotta start working on that homemade card!) I'm not feeling stressed in the slightest. The truth is I rarely get my mom an actual physical gift for Mother's Day. Although my mom appreciates a nice gift, a thoughtful gesture means all the more to her. So this year for Mother's Day I am going to prepare a beautiful brunch that, pending the weather, will be served as our first meal of 2011 on our back patio.

Cooking or baking something special for your mom not only shows her that you put that extra bit of thought and effort into her gift, but also allows you to skip out on seemingly neverending brunch lines, reservations that you inevitably forgot to make, and most significantly for myself, means my wallet can stay juuust a bit heavier.

The trick to pulling off this gift successfully is to cater it specifically to your mom's taste. Would she prefer to celebrate with brunch or dinner? Does she lean more towards sweet or savory dishes? Does she like to munch on one knockout dish or have a selection presented to her. These are the types of questions you may want to consider when planning your meal, because yes, a successful Mother's Day does take a bit of planning.

Although the Eggs Benedict are not a recipe of my own, this is what I will be making my own mama on Mother's Day.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Birds Nest Coconut Cupcakes

I can't tell you how long I've been wanting to make this recipe! Perfect for Easter, these adorable coconut cupcakes have caught my eye over and over again on numerous websites and blogs, although it wasn't until this past Easter that I finally got to make them! It seemed that every year that I had my mind set on making them, something would come up sidetracking Project Birds Nest Cupcakes. So this year when I was asked to contribute to our pot luck Easter lunner (lunch/dinner) I jumped at the chance to try these little puppies out!

If you follow me on Twitter, you'll know that in the past I haven't had the greatest luck with Martha Stewart's recipes. Sure I've tasted some fantastic ones made by others, and even a couple that I've made myself, but it seems that the majority of the time her recipes are...yup I'm gonna say it...they are recipes from hell! Time after time I have followed her instructions to a tee, only to be faced with crumbling cookie dough that won't stick (my biggest gripe with her recipes!!), incorrect cooking times, and bland flavour. I'm sorry Martha, I love you, but it's true. Despite my recipe trouble in the past, I decided to give her recipes another go. I used Martha's (ummm yeah we're on a first name basis) recipe for Coconut Cupcakes, and despite incorrect cooking time (yet again), the cupcakes turned out fantastic! In addition to adjusting the cooking time, I also substituted unsweetened coconut for the called for sweetened coconut. My experience in baking has taught me that almost any time a recipe calls for "sweetened" coconut, just go right on ahead and switch it up for unsweetened. Sure it's personal preference, but I really can't imagine these cupcakes being any sweeter as they had juuust the right amount of sweetness (especially once you add the frosting) and really, who needs the extra sugar anyway?

These cupcakes are as delicious as they are cute. Light and fluffy with a big hit coconut flavour from the cakes themselves and the topping. Although I was too full to go for seconds on Easter, I'm kicking myself now for not eating more! Is it too early to start counting down the days till next Easter?

1 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 large eggs, plus 2 large egg whites
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
your favourite vanilla or cream cheese frosting
about 1 1/3 cups unsweetened shredded coconut for topping (try and get as large flakes as possible)
1 package Mini Eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Line a standard muffin tin with paper cupcake liners.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and 1/2 cup coconut. Set aside. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the coconut milk with the vanilla extract. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until pale in colour and fluffy. Add the eggs and whites, one at a time, beating after each addition.

4. Reduce speed to low. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the coconut milk mixture, and ending with dry ingredients. Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full.

5. Bake cupcakes 25-30 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean. Let cool on wire racks. Top with icing and coconut. Place Mini Eggs in the centre of each cupcake.

Listening To: OK - Beastie Boys