Friday, December 14, 2012

Oh, Fudge...

"Only I didn't say "Fudge." I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the "F-dash-dash-dash" word!" Adult Ralphie, A Christmas Story

Thankfully, no curse words were uttered during the making of my Mint Chocolate Fudge! 2012 marks the first year I participated in the trendy and some-people-dread-it bake swap. The plan was to make 4 dozen gluten free and nut free goodies, 1/2 dozen per attending mama. At first, I had no idea what to make. I asked around and got some good ideas from some friends. And just like that, the recipe came to me in the first Christmas card I received in the mail, from the Realtor that sold our townhouse in June. The recipe was for foolproof chocolate fudge. I knew as soon as I read the recipe that I had to try it, because this recipe doesn't require the use of a candy thermometer and careful watching. And what better audience than a bunch of my mom friends (with my husband as "Quality Inspector")? I am happy to say that the fudge turned out divine! My mom friends were wowed by them, and my husband loved the fudge so much he took the last 1/2 dozen to work to share it with his coworkers. And not only did the fudge disappear, but there were rave reviews about how great it was too! So here is the recipe I made, with a few tweaks I made from the original recipe. Enjoy!

Foolproof Mint Chocolate Fudge
Makes: 2 dozen squares in a 9 x 13" glass pan

Vegetable oil cooking spray
2 cups white sugar
1 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup 35% cream
3 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1/2 cup crushed candy canes

1. Line a 9 x 13" baking pan with 2 sheets of waxed or parchment paper-one lengthwise, and one horizontally so that the ends hang over all sides of the pan. Coat evenly with cooking spray.
2. In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat cook sugar, salt, butter, cream and marshmallows, stirring often, until marshmallows are almost melted, about 5-6 minutes.
3. Bring mixture to a boil; cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add chocolate chips, vanilla and peppermint extracts and stir until chips are melted. Pour mix into lined pan. Let sit for 2-3 hours.
4. Sprinkle crushed candy canes on top of the fudge to firm up overnight. This is what mine looked like before it's sleep in the fridge:

5. Remove from fridge and let sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes, to soften up the fudge for cutting into squares.
6. Trim off the edges and cut into 24 squares. Feed the trimmed edges to your "Quality Inspector" (ha ha). My squares looked like this:
7. Package up for swapping or serve and enjoy!
A few helpful hints that I found made all the difference with these batches of fudge:

-Use good quality chocolate, or the best chocolate you have on hand. I used Hershey's semi-sweet chips, but in the future I might try Ghirardelli or Bernard Callebaut to add richness.
-I found that making the fudge the night before and letting it rest overnight in the fridge was an important step. The original recipe stated that the fudge would be set at room temperature after 3 hours; it was not even close to being set at that time. Lots of things are better when they have time to "chill out", this fudge is no exception!
-In case your fudge isn't set when you go to cut it, make sure that you have a cup or mug of warm water on hand to rinse off your knife for smoother, easy cuts. 

If you love the pairing of chocolate and mint and want to indulge in a treat this holiday season, I highly recommend this easy, hassle-free recipe. You will be amazed at the results! If I don't get the chance to blog before Christmas, I hope you and yours have a fabulous holiday season surrounded by family and friends, good food and good times. To you and yours, from me and mine!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Eating My Way Through the YYC Food Trucks

Food Trucks are the new food trend. The Food Network has been overtaken by shows about entrepreneurs wanting to win their own mobile restaurant. One of their shows, Eat St., has become a hit (especially in our home!), featuring food trucks and their fantastic fare from across North America. They've even made it to Hollywood, with fictitious trucks created in movies such as What to Expect When You're Expecting and The Five Year Engagement (mmm...Jason Segel!). Calgary has it's share of trucks; they can be seen out and about at various locations throughout the day, and hungry foodies can track their locations via Facebook, Twitter, and an iPhone app. There have been a few recent events here in YYC that have featured multiple food trucks, and my husband and I have found ourselves at these events, salivating over the scrumptious scents, waiting to try as many different foods as we can. Here is a rundown of what we've tried, what we liked, and what we didn't like as much:

Labour Day Weekend: Student Move-In Day at the University
A good buddy of ours works at the U of C and he emailed us a few days before the long weekend to let us know a few of the food trucks would be at the University for Student Move-In Day. The featured trucks on-site were the Mighty Skillet, The Noodle Bus, and Fiasco Gelato. Our first stop was the Mighty Skillet. Advertised as Calgary's original brunch truck, I was excited to see what breakfast fare they were offering up. And they certainly didn't disappoint with the Bangover Burger, which features a fried egg and bacon on a burger with their own spicy secret sauce. This burger was well worth the wait! It was hot, greasy, spicy, savoury, and satisfying-and if I had been hung over I bet the Bangover would have cured it! The burger came with wedge fries and a very spicy ketchup-style dipping sauce. The sauce was too spicy for me but my husband loved it! Unfortunately, I did not really care for the wedge fries. They were a little under-seasoned for my liking. A little more salt would have made them so much better, I thought!
I headed over to the Noodle Bus for dessert, and my husband chose Fiasco Gelato to satisfy his sweet tooth. I chose the Banana Fritters, which is basically 2 deep-fried spring rolls filled with banana and served with vanilla ice cream. It seemed to take a long time compared to other food orders that were placed after mine; I was hoping my extra-long wait would be worth it. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. Although the "fritters" satisfied my sweet tooth, I was left wanting more. I think maybe a Vietnamese version of a spicy ginger peanut sauce to top the fritters would have really knocked the dessert out of the park. Lucky for me, my husband was willing to share his Fiasco Gelato with me!
He ordered a large serving of gelato, and you get your choice of up to three flavours in the bowl. He chose Mumbai Mango, Raspberry Lime, and Chocolate Flake. Three hefty scoops of gelato in one bowl for $6. I think this is great value! The Mumbai Mango was good and the Chocolate Flake was delectably better, but my personal favourite was the Raspberry Lime. So light, refreshing, with a wonderful hint of lime, and it left me wanting more and more! It was the perfect ending to a great day of food truck sampling!

September 7: Sundown Chowdown

This event was put on by the Calgary Farmer's Market, and featured 12 food trucks on-site! This was advertised so well via radio and Facebook that hundreds of Calgarians came down to sample the trucks! When we got there at 7pm, we were surprised to find that some of the trucks had already closed up shop because they ran out of food. After getting in the lineup for Fries & Dolls and not moving for about 30 minutes, I decided to try the Red Wagon Diner-and boy am I glad I did! I ended up with the Smoked Meat Hash, which is basically breakfast for dinner: a couple of eggs over hash browns, onions, mushrooms and smoked meat, served with rye toast. The smokiness of the meat rounds out a savoury, peppery, flavourful dish that filled me up. My husband ordered The Traditional, which is 6oz of Montreal Smoked Meat on a rye bread sandwich with a mustard blend, lettuce, tomato and a pickle on the side. Although the mustard is pretty strong, it holds it's own against the meat and is a robust, tasty sandwich. Hubs loved it!
I also happened to notice the lineup was short at Fiasco Gelato. I wondered if they had anymore of that spectacular Raspberry Lime on the truck that night so I had to find out! Although they didn't, I made sure to order a large cup with the Chocolate Flake again, and tried out two new flavours: Blueberry Basil and Bourbon Vanilla Bean. Although I enjoyed all three, the Blueberry Basil gelato blew my mind! The basil and blueberry flavours married well together but both stood out on their own too. This is one I will get over and over!

All in all, there isn't much on the food trucks that won't satisfy your appetite. But there are some trucks that just do it right on all counts. If you ever see a truck while on your lunch break or at an event, try it out! Great food can come from a truck! This is one trend I'm happy to partake in!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Pinot Noir Project: PiNOt Time Like the Present!

It's September 4th already? Wow, where has the time gone?! My kid will be turning 7 months this weekend, other people's kids went back to school today, and a whole summer has come and gone! In less than 3 weeks the first day of autumn will arrive, along with the fall colours on the trees, and the Pinot Noir project is set to come to a close on September 23, the day I have chosen to cook for my husband as part of his wedding anniversary gift. During the spring/summer I've been trying as many bottles of Pinot Noirs as I can get my hands on, without breaking the bank, since we moved houses late June. Like a good little WSET student, I have been keeping my tasting notes. Here is the abbreviated version of my tastings, sorted by wine region. I hope these notes will tempt you to try some PNs that may have caught your eye in the liquor store. Enjoy!

Canadian Pinots

1. Inniskillin Pinot Noir 2010
Nose: Hints of raspberry, ripe cherries, fresh-cut grass, white pepper, stone, a lot of medicinal notes after swirling.
Palate: Dry wine, high acidity, medium tannins, medium-bodied. I tasted ripe cherry and raspberry, white pepper, grass, vegetal flavors. Not a long finish.
I rated it: Acceptable. It contained a bitterness my palate didn't care for.
Paired With: Lamb shoulder roast, grilled asparagus & red bell pepper. Solid pairing with the vegetables, but I should have known better than to pair it with such a robust meat. One more lesson learned in the project!

2. Mission Hills Five Vineyards Pinot Noir 2009
Nose: Bouquet of blackberry, raspberry, dried cranberries, black pepper, hay, meaty, stony, and very pronounced medicinal notes again. A little bit nutty, too.
Palate: Dry, high acidity, medium/high tannins, very full-bodied. I tasted flavors of dried cranberries, black pepper, hay, nuts, eucalyptus, stone and cedar. Longer finish than Inniskillin.
I rated it: Good. It was a good representative of what a Canadian Pinot Noir can be, but it's not one I can see drinking a lot. A good wine to pair with red meat.
Paired With: Baked Salmon in Balsamic/Cherry Glaze. This wine overpowered the salmon and wasn't fruity enough to play nicely with the glaze. I think the wine would do better with lamb or pork with a spice rub.

3. Gray Monk Pinot Noir 2009
Nose: Strawberry, hint of blueberry, plum, mushrooms, coffee, damp earth. Fruit is faint compared to the others in the bouquet.
Palate: Dry wine, high acidity, soft tannins, full-bodied wine with notes of strawberry, plum, asparagus, hay, coffee, damp earth. Longer finish.
I rated it: Acceptable. Weaker Pinot Noir compared to other wines with fruit grown in the Okanagan Region.

Californian Pinots

1. MacMurray Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2009
Nose: Strawberry, raspberry, plum, cabbage, hay, coffee, cream
Palate: Dry wine, medium acidity, some tannins, medium bodied. Cherry, strawberry, black pepper, perfume, coffee, earth. Medium finish.
I rated it: Good. The PN grape thrives in the Sonoma region of California, and this wine is no exception. There are better pinots from that region though! Also a great value.

2. La Crema Monterrey Pinot Noir 2009
Nose: Wild strawberries, raspberries, plum, rose, eucalyptus, hay, mocha, resinous, earth.
Palate: Dry, medium acidity, medium tannins, full-bodied. Strawberry, red cherry, white pepper, eucalyptus, green pepper, mocha. Medium finish.
I rated it: Excellent! I could drink this over and over and over and over...

French Pinots

1. Olivier Larochette Pinot Noir AOC Bourgogne
Nose: Raspberry, white pepper, toast, resin. Very earthy!
Palate: Dry, high acidity, some tannins, full-bodied. I tasted strawberry, raspberry, cloves, eucalyptus, coffee and resin. Medium finish.
I rated it: Good. Good representation of an AOC Burgundian wine.
Paired With: Grilled Chicken Pitas, Tapenade Polenta. Surprisingly good pairing!

What's Next: My focus for the remainder of the Pinot Noir project is on both California and New Zealand. I haven't spent a lot of time tasting either region, and I've heard fabulous things about wines from both. I'm also hoping to have a snippet on Champagne. Here's to a great 3 weeks of tastings!

Monday, July 16, 2012

How Do You Like These Apples?

This week I purchased a 5lb bag of Spartan Apples. It's really hard to eat that many apples when there are only 2 adults in the house, so in order to make sure none of them go to waste I devised a meal plan for the week that guarantees that I'll use them up, as well as the rest of the fruits and veggies in the house! Here it is:

Monday: BBQ Pork Back Ribs w/Homemade Spice Rub, Balsamic Quinoa Salad. Dessert: Ricotta & Chocolate Quesadillas w/Raspberry Coulis
Tuesday: Cheddar Tarragon Pancakes w/Pineapple Apple Maple Salsa, Veggie Omelets
Wednesday: Chicken w/40 Cloves of Garlic, Spinach, Apple & Avocado Salad (The chicken recipe is one out of Anthony Sedlak's best selling cookbook. RIP, you truly showed the world what passion about food really is)
Thursday: Spinach & Bell Pepper Quesadillas, Tuna Pasta Salad. Dessert: Apple & Rhubarb Crisp
Friday: Out for dinner

Also, I am pleased to announce that my little girl is going to be initiated into the world of solid food for the first time this week! I have chosen to start with avocado, and sweet potato. Here's hoping that she'll end up loving food as much as her parents do!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Last 3 Course Meal in Chateau Holyantle

Well, this is it-the last night in our townhouse. Since my husband has been working overtime with his job and then coming home and packing, I wanted to surprise him with an easy 3 course meal to thank him for all his hard work that's also easy on our bank account. So I came up with a 3, possibly 4 course menu that is themed seafood:

Optional Course: New England Clam Chowder
Assorted Sushi Rolls
Pasta Tuna Alfredo
Maple Tartlettes

Wine Pairing: A Sauvignon Blanc called Cat's Pee on a Gooseberry Bush-the wine is straightforward, as the name of the wine is what you'll find on the bouquet. A good Sauvignon Blanc at a great price!

Due to time constraints with our move, I can only make the main course myself. However, this 3 course meal shows that anyone can make up a 3 course meal with ordinary products found in the pantry and fridge, and that you can do it on a fixed budget too! Here are some of my tricks:

-Our local Wal-Mart clears out their baked goods that are coming up on their "best before" date. I like to go first thing in the morning so I get a variety of things to choose from. There are some deep discounts on some good stuff with the added motivation of eating it quickly!

-One of our local liquor/wine stores (Superstore) has a section of wines that are priced at $10 & under. There are some decent wines on that shelf; don't assume that all the good wines cost a fortune!

-I read the weekly flyers and make use of the weekly sales! There have been many times I've come across some great deals on produce and made new meals based on those ingredients! Websites like have a function where you can type in ingredients you have on hand and they recommend some recipes you can make. This has become a go-to for me!

-I sometimes jazz up food I have in the pantry by using various veggies, herbs and spices or using them as part of a bigger recipe. It's amazing what you can do with a can of soup! Check out the brand names' websites and they can recommend recipes based on products you have.

Tonight's dinner cost me $2.49 for the dessert, $3.20 for the pasta (it wasn't on sale), and $10 for the wine and $7 for the sushi (but I count that as more of a thank-you present for hubs!) everything else I already have on hand.

I'm glad I was able to come up with something good for our last meal here. Our kitchen was fun to cook and bake in and I learned a lot here. Although I will miss living here, I can't wait to start cooking in our new house! First up: homemade burgers!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Bring on the BBQ Season!

The senses of summer are finally in the air! The sights and sounds of kids playing in the playground close to my home, the smell of a fresh spring rain, the feel of a warm breeze against my cheek, and the best one: the smell of my neighbors' barbecues cooking up steak, chicken, all kinds of tasty foods! All of this has inspired me to cook up a great meal for my husband this week in lieu of his recent promotion! The menu:

  Spinach & Garden Vegetable Salad
Grilled Pork Ribs in Apple-Lemon Barbecue Sauce
Corn on the Cob
Bell Pepper & Balsamic Quinoa
Rhubarb Cherry Crumble

Wine Pairing: I have half a bottle of Mission Hills 5 Estates Pinot Noir remaining from a recent tasting that might pair well with the smoky flavor of the barbecued pork. It didn't pair well with salmon in a cherry balsamic sauce last week, so I wanted to see if it would pair well with a more robust meat and smokier flavor.

My goal for the summer is to learn to grill meats as good as my hubby does. This will be a great start, and I plan to try 'cue-ing some steaks later this week if the weather permits.

And while I'm thinking about Pinot Noir, another project post will be coming out shortly!

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Budding Pinot-phile

Easter has now passed, and the start of the Pinot Noir project has officially begun! The first tasting and food pairing occurred on Good Friday. The first wine tasted was Louis Latour's 2009 Pinot Noir, an AOC from the Beaune region of Burgundy.

The Menu
Roasted Leg of Lamb
Mediterranean Vegetable Caponata
Ukranian Paska Bread

Two bottles of Louis Latour were purchased for $21 each and were rated an average of 84-86 points by various websites. We used one bottle to marinate the leg of lamb - it was marinated in a combination of the wine and various herbs for 24 hours.

I found this full-bodied wine to be very characteristic of what I've read a good Pinot Noir to be - hints of red fruit on first nose, but opens to more vegetal aromas like green pepper and wet leaves once swirled. I personally detected hints of red currants, black pepper, bell pepper and coffee on the palate.
Overall: A good quality pinot at a good price. A great one to start the project with.

When paired with the lamb, the wine was able to withstand the bitter flavor of the meat, and the acidity didn't overwhelm the tomato sauce in the caponata. Great pairing!

During the Easter weekend, I found a wine book I purchased awhile ago called The Wine Planner. The book lists some wines to try, what vintages, qualities and characteristics of each wine and what food to pair them with. I made a list of all the Pinot Noirs in the book and set out to my favorite liquor store, Willow Park Wines, to see if I could find any of them. While there, I met the new teacher of the WSET Program and told him what I was looking for (I forgot his name already-thanks Mommy brain!). He helped me locate one, Villa Maria's 2010 Pinot Noir, from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. The Wine Planner pairs this pinot with smoked cheese, so I chose a smoked gouda to accompany the wine.

I detected a bouquet of cranberries and ripe cherries on first nose. After swirling, the second nose opens to green peppers and damp earth. The palate is slightly spicy and has a medium-high acidity, and wasn't as full-bodied as the Louis Latour. The palate is very representative of the nose-cranberries, ripe red cherries, bell peppers with a spicy black pepper finish. I found this wine to be of acceptable quality-not nearly as good as the Louis Latour. This wine could be consumed on it's own, but I much preferred it when paired with the smoked gouda and gourmet crackers.

One other thing I learned while at Willow Park was that the wine glasses I was using for each tasting wasn't the best glass to use. The proper wine glass to use has a slightly flared lip that makes it easier to taste the fruit on the tip of your tongue than a regular red wine glass. A good example is shown here:

I was able to pick up 2 of these glasses for $10 total at Stokes as they were on sale. All of the other pinots that I taste will be done in these glasses.

Some New Project Notes
-I have decided to mark the end of the Pinot Project as of Sunday, September 23rd. We have a bottle of Veuve Clicquot N/V in our cellar that I've been dying to get into since we bought it last year. I figured a good date to drink it would be when we celebrate our anniversary, which is September 27th. The Wine Planner lists this champagne as an ideal pairing with bagels with cream cheese and scrambled eggs - I really want to see if this works! If it doesn't, then we drink it on it's own during and after our anniversary dinner.
-New Pinots on my "hit list" that are found in the area: La Crema, and Mission Hill 5 Estates. If I can find it, the Gallo Sonoma County Pinot Noir comes highly recommended. The Mission Hill Pinot will be paired with salmon.

Up Next: Inniskillin's 2010 Pinot Noir from the Niagara region, and it will be tasted on it's own.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Pinot Noir Project

After 10 months of pregnancy, about 18 hours of labor and 8 weeks of adjusting to life with a new baby, this blog is back! After the birth of my daughter Morleigh on Feb 9 2012, I wasted no time getting back into the swing of things, wine-wise thanks to the magic of breast pumps! I was given a six month subscription to Wine Access magazine from my husband, downloaded the blogger app, opened an account on pinterest that is almost entirely food and wine specific (you can find me as saramantle) and I picked up the October 2011 edition of Wine Spectator just before Christmas. The feature story that month is all about the 2009 vintage of Pinot Noirs in California and the great crop of wines that came out of the Sonoma Valley specifically. It got me thinking about how little I know about, and drink, this varietal. So why not spend 2012 learning as much as I can about it, and taste various Pinots from as many different wine regions as possible, without breaking the bank?

Pinot Noir grapes originate in the Burgundy region of France and can be traced back as far as 4 BC. The fruit is highly sensitive and requires a long growing season without excessive heat and moisture; it thrives best in moderate climates. This high maintenance varietal requires lots of care while growing in the vineyard as the grapes have thin skins, making them very susceptible to botrytis and various viruses. The best Pinot Noir wines will be complex, showcasing flavors of red fruit first, with vegetal and animal subtlety. Tannins tend to be low to medium and acidity is medium to high. The wines generally do not age well, although there are a few exceptions to this rule. Pinot Noir grapes are also combined with Chardonnay and sometimes Pinot Meunière grapes as well to make champagne. Mmmmm, champagne...

I plan to taste wines from the following regions, all as 2009 vintages:
-AOC Burgundy
-Sonoma, CA
-New Zealand
-Canada, both BC and Niagara regions
-Romania, if I can find it
-South Africa, if I can find a good one.
I am also aiming to try and pick wines that have a "rating" of more than 80 points in order to find very good wines that reflect the qualities of what a good Pinot Noir should be.

This project is set to start over Easter weekend with the benchmark region for Pinot Noir, AOC Burgundy. According to my wine pairing wheel, a full-bodied Pinot can pair well with a roast leg of lamb. With a little help from the good people at my favorite wine store, I selected 2 bottles of Louis Latour 2009 Appellation Bourgogne Controlee. The price of each bottle in CDN was $21 each. The wine was given 86 points by Wine Access magazine, and averaged 84 points among users on I used the first bottle of wine in the marinade for the lamb to help soften the harsh flavor of the lamb and to help with the pairing. The lamb will be served with a Mediterranean style vegetable caponata, and paska, a traditional Ukranian Easter bread.

I will also be pairing some of the Pinots I try with two other meals: one will be steaks with wild mushrooms, and salmon. Recipes and wine pairings to be determined later.

Some of the other Pinot winemakers on my radar include (if I can find them locally in a 2009 vintage):
-Robert Mondavi PN Napa Valley Carneros 2009
-Any of the 2009 PNs from Loring or Siduri vineyards (California)
-Inniskillin Niagara 2009 Winemaker's Series Three Vineyards
-Quail's Gate 2009 Pinot Noir
-Nk'Mip 2009 Pinot Noir
Although I will likely not make it to all the wines on the above list, I will certainly make a valiant effort!

If you have any 2009 Pinot Noirs that you personally recommend, especially wines from New Zealand, please let me know as this list is not set in stone. Stay tuned throughout the year as I post my tasting notes and share my experiences in my Pinot Noir project!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Better Late Than Never!

Six months ago I took the WSET Level II Intermediate course to further expand my knowledge of wines & spirits. As of last week, I hadn't received my certificate, but suspected I had passed the course. So I called up the course provider to see if they had the certificate, or knew whom I should contact to find out my course results. It turns out my certificate had been sitting there for months! Now the certificate is with me waiting to be hung on the wall, and I am so happy to see I did better than I thought I did: Pass with Distinction!

Two courses down, one more to go to reach my goal!