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!