Friday, December 23, 2016

Mulled Cranberry Baked Brie with Spicy Candied Pecans

Holiday entertaining is all about ease of preparation, allowing you to spend less time in the kitchen, and more time with your friends and family. My Mulled Cranberry Brie with Spicy Pecans is as easy as can be and is a total showstopper, featuring the festive flavours of the holiday season. Sweet, spicy, warm, and comforting, you may want to prepare two of these, because your guests are sure to gobble it all up! Prepare the nuts and sauce in advance to have everything ready to go when your guests arrive.

For The Pecans
3 Tbsp. golden corn syrup
1 1/2 Tbsp white sugar
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp (heaping) ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 cups whole pecans
cooking spray
For The Mulled Cranberry Sauce
2 cups fresh or frozen whole cranberries
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. orange juice
2 Tbsp. red wine
1/4 tsp orange zest
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice 
1 whole star anise
2 thin slices fresh ginger
1 wheel of brie (200g)

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together corn syrup, white sugar, salt, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and ginger. Stir in pecans.
  3. Spray medium baking sheet with cooking spray. Spread out coated pecans in one even layer and bake for 5-minutes. Stir to combine, and place back in the oven for an additional 10-minutes.
  4. While pecans are baking, prepare a medium baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Right as the pecans come out of the oven, use two forks to begin transferring, separating, and spreading the pecans on the prepared baking sheet to cool. Store in an airtight container for about 1-month. 
Listening To:

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Holiday Entertaining with Metro Ontario & How To Be The Host with The Most

WOW your guests with a striking dessert board filled frozen desserts that you can always keep on hand
I come from a family of hosts. I grew up thinking of my Oma and Opa (my mom's parents) as being the most sociable people I knew. Their home was always filled with friends, family, food, drinks, love, and lots of German drinking songs. The lives of the party, their home was constantly abuzz with a rotation of visitors, and somehow always a steady flow of fresh and delicious dishes that my Oma seemingly magically prepared. 

My mom and dad carried on this same tradition when they renovated our family home when I was seven. Suddenly our home became the hub for activity, as they regularly hosted dinner parties, family gatherings, friend hangouts, pool parties, and so much more. As our family adapted to life changes, we began to take on hosting our families holiday events as well. Christmas became our domain, and my goodness, did my parents ever knock it out of the park every year! With a beautiful home meant for entertaining, and parents with an uncanny knack for being the "hosts with the most," we started to host Thanksgiving, Chanukah and Passover (for my dad's side of the family), Mother's Day, Father's Day, birthdays, and I think once even Easter as well. 

"being a great host is truly about being a great juggler."

Now that I've grown up and have started hosting gatherings and parties in my own home with my boyfriend, I've started to realize just how lucky I am to have been given such great training for the role of "host" throughout my life. It's easy to take for granted, but I've come to appreciate and understand the delicate art of putting your guests at ease from the moment they arrive, setting the mood with music and decor, creating a well-balanced menu, and keeping everyone happy and comfortable throughout their time with you. It sounds simple enough, but being a great host is truly about being a great juggler. You have to be able to have your eye on all three balls in the air, and keep them from falling. 

"These women truly did it all, but that doesn't mean they weren't without their shortcuts."

Without a doubt the most difficult ball to keep control of is the food. While creating a menu and keeping guests well fed is a challenge in itself, during the holidays that challenge goes turbo, with unexpected guests and gatherings happening every few days. It seems impossible to be able to stay ahead of the game, and be ready with food and drink, should a surprise gathering arise, but somehow my Oma and my mom were always prepared. Though on the outside it appeared that they were embodying the trope of the "women who can do it all," making everything from scratch, while juggling jobs, family's, and other commitments, and don't get me wrong, they were. These women truly did it all, but that doesn't mean they weren't without their shortcuts. What my Oma and my mom taught me is that the true trick to being the host with the most, is knowing when to let someone else do the work. 

Though it's tempting to want to be able to say "I made everything!" let's face it, it's also exhausting! For the times when I just don't have the time or the energy to do everything myself, I turn to my tried and true shortcuts. This holiday season my favourite shortcut is keeping frozen desserts on hand. 
"My favourite type of frozen desserts are the ones that I can add my own personal touch to."

Since ti's the season for indulging in your sweet tooth, desserts are always an easy win for guests both unexpected and planned. My favourite type of frozen desserts are the ones that I can add my own personal touch to. The Irresistibles line from Metro Ontario carries a fantastic collection of frozen profiteroles (in both chocolate and plain) and eclairs, that have come to be my go-to holiday entertaining desserts. I love this line of desserts because 1) it allows me to have a dessert on the table in 30-minutes with very minimal effort, 2) it allows me to cater the dessert easily to the amount of guests I have, and 3) I can dress up the desserts in whichever way I please! 

My personal favourite way of serving the Irresistibles profiteroles and eclairs is by presenting them as apart of a striking dessert board. The profiteroles and eclairs look delicious on their own, but are made all the more striking and dramatic when paired with a selection of fresh fruit, dried fruit (dried cranberries, figs, and apricots are great!), other baked goods (think brownies, squares, and cookies), candied nuts, and so much more! Use your imagination and have fun with it! Your guests are going to love the beautiful presentation you've put together, as well as the delicious spread before them, and most of all, you'll have more time to spend with the people you care about, and less time stressing in the kitchen. I think I would make my Oma and my mom proud!

Tip: Because they travel so well, these are also great desserts for bringing to potluck parties! 

Listening To:

* This post was brought to you in collaboration with Metro Ontario. All words, opinions, and photographs are, as always, entirely my own and reflect my own personal views. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

April Bloomfield's Ricotta Gnudi

Here I am, almost a month into the new job, and I'm still breathing, still employed! I say it as a joke, but after my recent disastrous shift (which you can read about here) I was a little concerned that I was about to get the boot. Thankfully I followed my nightmare shift with two weeks of work that I can be proud of. I feel relatively good about walking into my shift tomorrow evening, though I know it's going to have a whole new string of challenges. 

So what is this mysterious new job that I keep alluding to? While I like to keep some things private on here, I will say that my new gig has me acting as an assistant teacher in the cooking classes at a fantastic food studio in downtown Toronto. What makes these classes so exciting is that they are very hands-on, which means getting my very own group of students to myself (which can be anywhere from 2-12 people!) for an hour, while we work through our assigned dish. It sounds simple enough, but there is so much work that goes into the preparation for each class (washing, chopping, making stocks, blanching, preparing appetizers and charcuterie boards, pre-baking, and so much more!) all within a strict time limit. Not to mention the stress of guiding a group of strangers of varying degrees of expertise and experience through a recipe that they are unfamiliar with, while working within our hour of cook-time, and all the while worrying about people burning and cutting themselves...oh and the dish has to actually taste good too, because guess what? Our students get to sit down at the end of the class, and enjoy the beautiful meal that we have all prepared together. Us assistants and teachers, plate and style each individual dish so the students can also get a little lesson in restaurant plating. Pretty cool, right?
The scariest, but also probably the most exciting part of the job, is that almost every class I will be given a new recipe to work on, oftentimes that I have just received the previous day, and may have never made in my life! That's what happened last week when I was responsible for teaching my group how to make the appetizer in our Rustic Italian-themed meal. I was in charge of guiding the group through making Spinach & Ricotta Gnudi with Sage & Walnut Pesto, something I had never made nor even eaten before! If you're unfamiliar with gnudi, think of them like naked ravioli. They are like the ricotta filling of ravioli, but without the pasta shell. Or another way of thinking of them is like gnocchi, but instead of potato, you're using ricotta. Having never made nor eaten gnudi before, I made sure to give myself enough time prior to class to do as much gnudi research as possible. This led me to learning about what is often considered to be one of the top 50 dishes to eat in New York, April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig's Ricotta Gnudi.

The moment I first saw an image of Chef Bloomfield's gnudi, I could think of nothing else. It looked like pure heaven. Fluffy little balls of ricotta, resting in a bath of buttery, cheesy, thickened pasta water, with a few crispy fried sage leaves, and a light drizzle of browned butter...sigh...perfection. You would think that getting to make the delicious Spinach & Ricotta Gnudi with my class would have satisfied my craving to make and eat them, but no. I was so wildly intrigued by Chef Bloomfield's bizarre method for forming gnudi, that I would literally lie awake each night until I finally got my butt outside to the market to buy some good quality fresh ricotta, to replicate her infamous dish at home. 

What I found so alluring about Chef Bloomfield's gnudi was that it only contained ricotta, parmesan, and salt. That's it. To prevent the gnudi from breaking apart when boiling, Chef Bloomfield has created an unusual method that requires lightly tossing the gnudi in semolina, and then allowing it to rest in what I like to call a "semolina sandbox" for three days. This semolina sandbox step encourages the ricotta dumplings to form a natural shell around them, keeping the soft and fresh ricotta contained within. 
I have to say, though the final dish looks incredibly labour-intensive, Chef Bloomfield's gnudi are actually very simple to prepare. The trick was following Serious Eats slightly adapted method, which kept my hands relatively clean, and got all of my gnudi rolled out in just a few minutes. While Chef Bloomfield used a piping bag to pipe her gnudi mixture into the semolina, and then cut them to size using scissors, Serious Eats recommended spreading out the gnudi mixture in a shallow dish, and setting it aside to chill in the freezer for 15 minutes. This quick chill in the freezer allowed the mixture to firm up just enough so it was easy to handle and form into balls. The other tip they gave was to use a small quick-release cookie scoop to scoop the mixture into the semolina. Genius! This method made making April Bloomfield's gnudi so wonderfully easy to prepare!

After hanging out in their "semolina sandbox" for three days, my gnudi were finally ready to be served! Following Bloomfield's recipe (as shown in this video from Mind of A Chef), I boiled the gnudi for about a minute, and then quickly tossed them in a mixture of pasta water, butter, and parmesan cheese. By gently shaking the pan, the remaining semolina clinging to the gnudi will break off and naturally thicken the pasta water and butter sauce. After only about a minute the gnudi are ready to be plated! Served with a light drizzle of browned butter, crispy fried sage leaves, and a dusting of parmesan, April Bloomfield's Ricotta Gnudi were just as heavenly as expected. Melt in your mouth, fluffy, little balls of heaven! De-lish! The only thing I would change for next time would be to add more fried sage, and perhaps add some sage to the brown butter to infuse its flavour into the sauce, as well as garnishing the dish with toasted pine nuts for crunch.

I encourage you to check out Serious Eats method for making April Bloomfield's Gnudi and give them a try in your own kitchen! Remember to let me know how it went and tweet me on Twitter: @thisgingerrose.