City Girl Whisky Diary: Unique Whisky Cocktails and Recipes from The Distillery Bar in Vancouver

Mercury is in retrograde: my laptop died on Easter weekend, work’s been a bit crazy, and my left rotator cuff is telling me it needs a little more love. Aside from that, it’s been a pretty good week. But I’m definitely ready to put my my feet up and have a glass of something lovely.

I’m mostly a red wine and dark beer girl, but every now and then I like a fancy cocktail. A Gin and Tonic is usually my favourite, but I’ve come to love whisky cocktails in the last couple years. (This is what happens when you visit Scotland many, many times, and visit a fair amount of distilleries.) Continue reading “City Girl Whisky Diary: Unique Whisky Cocktails and Recipes from The Distillery Bar in Vancouver”

#12DaysofHygge – Day 6: Stove Top Almond Milk Hot Chocolate + My Favourite Vancouver Hot Chocolate Spots!

Hot chocolate or hot cocoa. However you call it, it’s the perfect winter treat when you’re out and about, or when you’re having an evening in. It is a very hygge beverage in my humble opinion.

I used to be indifferent to this marvelous hot beverage. Likely because I’d only ever had it as the powdered version that gets mixed boiled water. But then I had a an espresso cup sized serving in Naples back in 2011. It was essentially just melted dark chocolate, and it was heaven. I asked the barrista if there was milk in it, and he said “No latte. signorina. No latte.”

Since then, hot chocolate has been my jam, and every now and then, I like to make it from scratch on the stove. I add almond ‘latte’ to mine otherwise I would be incredibly hyper, but every time I make it, I smile thinking of that little cup of melted chocolate.

The first time I made my own cocoa, I was staying in a beautiful house by the beach on Salt Spring Island. I’ll get around to writing about SSI at some point, but I digress. Hot chocolate is actually quite simple to make on the stove. After a couple of years, I think I’ve  finally found an ingredients combination that is exactly to my liking and  similar to my favourite Blenz almond milk dark hot chocolate!) Click here to jump to the recipe.

Making myself a hot chocolate obviously isn’t always possible, so when I am out and about, these are my Vancouver go-to’s for a tasty cocoa to-go (or enjoy in the cafe):

Blenz Coffee (Various Locations)

When I came back from my aforementioned trip to Naples I was obsessed with finding a good hot chocolate in Vancouver. It didn’t need to be solely melted dark chocolate, but it needed to have actual chocolate in it. I honestly wouldn’t have expected a chain to have my favourite hot chocolate, but Blenz does, indeed. And they are consistent. My extra almond milk dark hot chocolate is a mood balancer, treat, something to keep me warm, or all of the above. I also love that the baristas do a little bit of latte art to finish it of and that Blenz is a local chain.

Mink Hot Chocolate & Coffee

Mink’s hot chocolates are very gourmet, and very tasty. I love going there because they have a variety of options, as well as their own brand of chocolates (also available online for purchase). They aren’t in my immediate vicinity of  home or work, so it’s always a nice treat to go here.

Hot Chocolate Fest (Jan 20 Feb 14, 2018)

And if you really want to get your hot chocolate on in Vancouver, Hot Chocolate Fest is coming back in January! More details on participating merchants can be found here. I like to go to at least one new merchant shop every year to try their delicious creations!

~

Stove-Top Almond Milk Hot Chocolate

If you’re feeling homey, or want to inject a little hygge into your day, here is my Almond Milk Hot Chocolate recipe!

Stove-Top Almond Milk Hot Chocolate

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

This is a slightly decadent treat for those winter nights where you want to just snuggle up with your partner to watch a movie or to settle in with a good book.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups almond milk
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 4 tbsp semisweet chocolate chips
  • Sweetener of choice (I use 2 tbsp of maple syrup or honey)
  • 1 tsp vanilla, peppermint or almond extract (optional)

Method:

  1. Heat the almond milk in a small sauce pan on Medium-High heat for approximately 5 minutes
  2. When milk is hot and starting to steam, remove pan from heat
  3. Whisk in your cocoa powder, chocolate chips, sweetener, and optional extract
  4. Continue to whisk until the chocolate chips are fully melted, and everything looks frothy and smooth
  5. Pour into mugs and enjoy!

Serves 2 in large mugs or 4 in regular mugs. Cut recipe in half for 2 regular size mug servings.

Like my tea, I take my hot chocolate ‘black’, but cocoa does look a bit prettier and taste fabulous with a whipped cream (like these great almond milk options, or this coconut milk option by one of my favourite recipe mavens, Angela Liddon from Oh She Glows!)

I haven’t tried this recipe with dairy milk or coconut milk yet, but that will be a Christmas holidays adventure so I can find an option that the Brit enjoys. The almond milk was met with some indifference. 😉

“Love is like swallowing hot chocolate before it has cooled off. It takes you by surprise at first, but keeps you warm for a long time.”

~ Henri Frederic Amiel

#12DaysofHygge – Day 5: Tuesday Night Supper + Recipe for White Bean & Kale Soup with Sausage

One of things that makes me feel most hygge is a small dinner party, eating family style with favourite people.

I have been eating at Karen Dar Woon’s 1920’s oak table since I was 16 or 17 years old. She was one of my dance moms (referred to as Ballet Mom in this post) and is a really lovely friend to me and my own mum. Karen used to be a paper sales rep, and decided to start making biscotti. (Which was very tasty!) Her Biscotti Queen business took off and going through the BCIT Venture Development program, she eventually turned it into Your Secret Chef, a successful private chef and catering company. She is certified up the wazoo, teaches food safety and cooking courses, is super passionate about volunteering in her community, and is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier BC. She is also just what my friend Steve would call ‘good people’. Needless to say, I love going to Karen and her husband Hans’ downtown apartment for dinner – it is a very hygge home.

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The food is always fantastic and the company is always good. Karen and Hans travel a lot, so there are always ingredients brought back from wherever they’ve just been. The pantry and fridge are also stocked with food stuffs that Karen has made herself – jams, stocks, kombucha, pickled whatever. One day, I will remember to get her ketchup recipe. It’s to die for.

Monday Night Supper is an event in this house, but this happened to be Tuesday Night Supper due to scheduling. But I have been to a Monday Night Supper where I was one of ten people. (It was the best dinner party I’d been to. Very lively.) This time it was just the girls with me, Karen, and Karen’s daughter, Erin, who I used to dance with. (She’s a #westcoastcitygirl who I will have to get a guest post from very soon as she has been pretty much everywhere in Asia…)

Because having people over is common occurrence in this home, cooking is always a communal process, with everyone pitching in and chatting around the gigantic kitchen island or at the table with a glass of wine or a cocktail hand. When I asked Karen if she’d contribute a recipe to the #12DaysofHygge, she said “Sure, and why don’t you come make it with me!”

And so we made a White Bean and Kale Soup with Sausage and some biscuits. It was hearty and delicious and went very well with the Salt Spring Vineyards Pinot Noir that I’d brought (my wine club shipment came in last month – hooray!) I’m looking forward to making it for the Brit. It’s definitely a meal suited to these cold winter nights that have come to stay for a while.

Click HERE to download the recipe! Happy Tuesday!

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What is a food photo without a photobomber?

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“A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.” ~ Elsa Schiaparelli

#12DaysofHygge – Day 4: Roasted Fennel & Butternut Squash Soup

There’s a frosty bite in the air, which means it’s officially hearty soup and stew season. With that, the next few #12DaysofHygge posts will be all about hearty food and beverage!

We had a roasted fennel and butternut squash for dinner last night. Much needed after a day of being out and about in the cold. (I was running errands and getting new photos shot for the blog. Really excited about the results!) I’m a little obsessed with fennel. I don’t like licorice, so I’m baffled about this fixation – perhaps it’s just more subtle than say… ouzo (*shudder*) – but I digress.

I love soup. It’s quick and easy to make, nutritious, and makes for excellent leftovers for lunch or when you don’t feel like cooking. This is a soup that I started making by cobbling bits of other recipes to my liking, and then the Brit took over and made a few more tweaks. Between the two of us making it a fair amount of times this year, I think we’ve finally gotten it to a spot on place. (The Brit also made bread last night, but he is still tweaking the recipe. Another day, another post.)

ADD VARIETY – If I’m having leftover soup, I like to stir a big handful of chopped kale or spinach into the bowl after I warm the soup up. It adds some variety and gives me an extra shot of greens for the day!

Normally I would haven take some fancy photos of the ingredients (like the fennel that I would smell all day, every day) or the soup, but honestly? I was exhausted and thoroughly enjoyed having my feet up while my guy cooked this fabulous soup. I got one in though, so I will take that as a win.

Roasted Fennel & Butternut Squash Soup

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, cubed into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 fennel bulb, (with green part removed), cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2-3 celery sticks, washed and roughly chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced or mashed through a garlic press
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (Whatever your preference!)
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • Pinch or two of nutmeg – depends on how much kick you would likeCrushed black pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup half & half (easily substituted with almond or coconut milk)

#GetThrifty Timesaver – You can find pre-cubed butternut squash in the frozen section at your local supermarket. It’s cheaper than a squash by weight.

Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Chop anything that needs chopping and prep your other ingredients
  2. Toss squash and fennel with 1 tbsp of olive oil, a bit of salt, and whatever dried herbs strike your fancy,
  3. Evenly spread on a large baking sheet grind 3-4 clicks of fresh pepper across the tray. Roast for 15-20 min
  4. Heat the rest of the olive oil in a heavy soup pot, add onion, celery, garlic and thyme. Saute until the onion is softened.
  5. To the soup pot add roasted vegetables and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low-medium. Simmer for 10-15 more minutes.
  6. Season with nutmeg and 3-4 clicks of finely ground black pepper
  7. Use an immersion/stick blender to blend until smooth (or transfer vegetables with some stock to the blender and then pour back into the pot)
  8. Stir in your cream of choice
  9. Enjoy solo, with bread, or with some savoury biscuits!

Whatever I’m doing, I’m in that moment and I’m doing it. The rest of the world’s lost. If I’m cooking some food or making soup, I want it to be lovely. If not, what’s the point of doing it?
~ Sade Adu

Finding Hygge in the Chaos of Moving House (+ Creamy Tomato Basil Soup Recipe)

I can hear the rain outside and I have a cup of tea. As I type this, I’m bundled up in my sweats and a blanket. It’s officially soup and stew season. My favourite. But 99% of my kitchenware – so,  everything – is packed up. Naturally.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about beginning a year of immersing myself in the Danish concept of hygge. You may wonder why I decided to start this at the same time a moving house. I do, too. Ha. But really, it’s been a good way to balance out the chaos. Particularly since I made a point of keeping one corner completely box free, which has also helped. Behold my temporary and slightly disheveled hyggekrog (cozy space):

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Between my cozy corner, yoga, and The Brit making me laugh, it’s been good. (I’m looking forward to having a proper hyggekrog in the new place. The Brit has been made aware that décor shopping is happening in the very near future.)

Except for the lack of home-made soup. When I have access to my pretty pots and pans again, I will be making two of my favourite recipes: Creamy Tomato Basil Bisque and Spelt Flour Soda Biscuits for sopping it all up – recipes below! The pictures are from when I was in Aviemore a couple years ago with Stephen and Lesley. Not the greatest snaps, but a good memory of a nice meal with friends when things were feeling a bit wobbly. My laptop hard drive had died and, separately, my life was beginning a huge shift; but I was in one of my happy places in the world – Scotland! – and in good company. I decided that making it my turn to cook dinner would cheer me up, and it absolutely did.

CREAMY TOMATO BASIL BISQUE

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (1 Tbs.)
  • 2 28-oz. cans diced tomatoes (try to get these unsalted)
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. balsamic or sherry vinegar
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1/3 cup almond milk (if you’re feeling decadent or can do dairy, whipping cream or half-and-half are amazing to add)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, for garnish

METHOD:

  • Heat oil in a dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook 5 minutes. The onion pieces will be translucent.
  • Add tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, basil, bay leaf, and broth. Cover, and simmer 10 minutes
  • Remove bay leaf  (Remember to do this or you will end up with bay leaf bits in your soup when its blended. They hurt your tongue…)
  • Purée soup in blender, food processor, or with a stick blender (this is what I use) until smooth. (OPTIONAL: Strain through a mesh strainer into a large bowl (or if you were using a blender, back into the pot); return to simmer.)
  • Remove from heat, and stir in chosen “dairy” – I use almond milk
  • Season with salt and pepper, if desired
  • Garnish with basil (optional)
  • Serve with with grilled cheese sandwiches or with some soda biscuits. Bon appetit!

HEALTHY SPELT FLOUR SODA BISCUITS

  • Servings: 12 biscuits
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups spelt flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp (or less) salt
  • 2-3 tbsp fresh chopped or dried herbs to taste (I use fresh rosemary and thyme)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 cup almond milk or whatever milk you have on hand

METHOD:

  • Preheat oven to 450 F
  • Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper
  • Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium sized mixing bowl
  • Whisk in herbs
  • Stir in olive oil and milk with a spatula or a wooden spoon (they are the best) until dough comes together.
  • Use your hands to lightly gather dough into a ball
  • Separate dough into 12 discs (they don’t have to be perfect!) on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes or until biscuits have risen and are a light golden brown (The longer you leave them in, the crispier they will be.)

If soda biscuits aren’t your jam, this soup is also excellent with a grilled cheese sandwich. 

What is your favourite soup? 

Soup is a lot like a family. Each ingredient enhances the others; each batch has its own characteristics; and it needs time to simmer to reach full flavor.

~ Marge Kennedy

The West Coast Hygge Project and Honey Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Autumn is my favourite season because it’s when I get to pull out my cozy sweaters and wrap myself up in my blanket scarf. It also means the temperature has cooled down enough for me to properly bake again. (My favourite baking recipe is at the end of this post!) 

Autumn is also a season of change. 

About a month ago, I picked up a book a book called The Little Book of Hygge, and it, like yoga did many years ago (and still does), has inspired me to make further positive and healthy shifts in my life. Life is a constant project. I like projects, so the West Coast Hygge Project was born.

Why? Why not? But to pinpoint a specific reason, like the city of Edinburgh, and like yoga, the book and the Danish concept of hygge spoke to my soul. I realize how ‘whatever’ that may sound, but it’s the truth.

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The Little Book of Hygge!
I’ve spent the last three years healing and strengthening from separation and divorce. The latter two of those years has been in a relationship with the Brit, who would be so British-ly embarrassed by me saying that he is wonderful and the person who makes me feel the happiest and most hygge. But it’s true. I brought my inner light back to full shine with a lot of hard work, but he has significantly contributed wattage. We are merging our homes together in November and my heart is very full. Which is part of what hygge is about.

Simplified, hygge is the Danish concept of getting cozy and living well. I’m not Danish. I am very proudly Canadian, born and bred, but was possibly born in the wrong country. Ha. Meik Wiking, the author of TLBOH, tells me in his book that Canada’s version of hygge is hominess. (We are clearly both from countries that can get mega cold in the winter…) He is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark and they study happiness around the world. Denmark is apparently the happiest country in the world so they must be on to something…

But hygge or hominess isn’t just about wearing a cozy sweater. It’s a way of life in Denmark. TLBOH outlines the aspects of Hygge (some of which are very similar to components of yoga):

  • Atmosphere – Soft lighting. Candles. Lots of candles.
  • Presence – Be in the moment. Put your phone away. (I think this is going to be my main focus because I am very phone guilty…)
  • Pleasure – Indulging in the things that bring us joy. Food, activities, etc.
  • Equality – Kind of like the expression that there is no ‘I’ in team, hygge is about sharing and doing things together.
  • Gratitude – Appreciation of what is around you. So important!
  • Harmony – No competition.
  • Comfort – Cozy, cozy, cozy! Relaxation and recognizing when you need a break.
  • Truce – No drama or controversy.
  • Togetherness – Nurturing and building relationships.
  • Shelter – Feeling safe and secure.

My birthday is on Thursday and I’ve decided to immerse myself in hygge for a year. I look forward to learning what hygge means to me and have the feeling it will be a really wonderful adventure. The Brit is on board; intrigued, and I think a bit wary of some of the crazy ideas I will toss his way, but he’s a good sport.

Circling back to baking, here is my recipe for Honey Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. They are my go-to dessert to make for any event, and the way my apartment smells when I make them is on point (or on hygge?) for hominess. It’s the perfect recipe to step into the autumn season with.

OATMEAL HONEY CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

  • Servings: Approx. 5 dozen small cookies
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Tasty oatmeal chocolate cookies using honey as a sugar alternative. Best enjoyed with a nice cup of tea or coffee.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour – glutenous all purpose is best, but I’ve tried spelt, kamut, and cup-for-cup flours as alternatives with very tasty results!
  • 1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

METHOD:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream honey, shortening and butter in with a mixer until smooth.
  3. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and add vanilla. Mix well. (For extra fluffy cookies, mix for at least two minutes.)
  4. In a separate, smaller bowl, combine th flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt; whisk to mix well.
  5. Add flour mixture to honey mixture; mix thoroughly.
  6. Stir in chocolate chips and (optional) nuts.
  7. Use an ice cream scoop, cookie dough scoop, or large spoon to drop by the heaping teaspoonful onto greased baking sheet.
  8. Bake for 12 to 16 minutes or until lightly browned. Repeat for however many trays of cookies.

Enjoy!

Who/what/where makes you feel hygge? Share in the comments below.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure it makes you happy.

~ An unknown, but very smart person ~ 

Holiday Season Survival and No-Bake Chocolate Cheesecake

We are now full on into the holiday season, which means shopping, parties, shortbread, and, let’s face it, feeling a bit like you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off. This is not a feeling exclusive to Christmas time, but it’s certainly amplified by this point in December. Unexpected guests, forgetting presents, hopping from event to event (I had three last Thursday!).

How to survive the most wonderful time of the year – and, really, anything that comes your way? Three key things to remember:

BREATHE

Deep breath before you have people over; deep breath when you drop something or the soufflé doesn’t come out right or that annoying person just won’t shut up; deep breath after. Oxygen is your friend. So is wine.

Also, make sure you take some time for you, whether that’s when you’re getting ready for a party, going to yoga, or if you escape to go have a mani so you can have said wine and read a magazine!

PREP

Lists: Make them. All smartphones have a notes app. Use it. It is your friend.

Gifting:

  • If you see something earlier in the year that would make a good present for whoever is on your list, buy it.
  • Tagging on to the above, have a clear storage bin that you can place the things you buy throughout the year. Label the item with a post-it or wrap and tag it right away. (This saved me loads of time this year.)
  • Online shopping is amazing. Get it all done in one go. There’s still time on most sites to get everything before Christmas! Check out Amazon’s great deals and sign up for a FREE (#GetThrifty!) Amazon Prime trial membership so you can get those gifts (pre-wrapped!) within two days. Boom. (This saved me a lot of hassle this year! Click here to save yourself some shopping grief.)
  • Have twelvety parties to go to? Buy a case (or two) of decent host/hostess gift wine and load up on the pretty wine bags from the Dollar Store. This also makes a good emergency gift for the accidentally forgotten or a Secret Santa gift exchange. If you buy by the case, there is usually a discount involved. Artisan candles are also a nice hostess gift.
  • When all else fails, buy a goat! (Or two or three!) Or make a generous donation to a near and dear charity. And then write all your Christmas cards with a note telling your gift list that you made this donation on their behalf.

Hosting Parties/Dinners:

  • Make as much of your dishes in advance as you can. Prep your appies/canapes, make cookies or your dough the night before.
  • Jamie Oliver has a great Christmas dinner step-by-step with night before and day of tips.
  • Keep it simple. Tying in with making ahead, below is a great no-bake chocolate cheesecake recipe.
  • If you can, know the allergies and dietary restrictions of your guests. This is helpful for the grocery shopping trip(s).
  • Bulk buy. Hello, Costco. (Which, really, could be your one-stop shop for party food and gifts.)

IMPROVISE

The art of improvisation and the ability to get creative in a crisis (or “crisis”) is, in my opinion, a bit underrated. Being resourceful is the key survival skill in any situation. Experience, breathing and prep help with this, but the most important thing is to not freak out when things go awry.

I was recently house and dog sitting (check out the handsome #YaletownCharlie on my Instagram) and was getting ready to make dessert for a little dinner party with another couple. The Brit was making Sheperd’s Pie (yum!) and my job was cheesecake. Easy, right?

The thing about housesitting is that no matter how nice the kitchen, you don’t have your things. While I checked if there was was a springform pan – nein (baked cheesecake no longer an option), I hadn’t checked for a pie plate that the no-bake recipe called for. Also, a big nein. At this point, we had already been to the grocery store; and I was not leaving the house again as it was monsooning with rain outside. And so, the no-bake cheesecake went into a greased stainless steel frying pan. I was ridiculously proud of myself and it looked kinda neat.

So, adding to the Chocolate Decadence posts, here is an easy-peasy no-bake chocolate cheesecake (as adapted from some of my favourite chocolate related recipes):

City Girl No-Bake Chocolate Cheesecake

  • Servings: 10-12 small slices
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS: 

  • 1-1/4 cups Oreo Baking Crumbs*
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted*
  • 8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (I use Kraft BAKER’s Chocolate)
  • 2 tablespoons whipping cream
  • 2 pkgs. (8 oz. each) 1/3 fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Sweetened whipped cream (optional)

*NOTE: Save time with a prepared 9-inch (6 oz.) chocolate crumb crust 

METHOD:

  • Mix crumbs and melted butter; press onto bottom and up the side of a 9-inch pie plate. (OR a stainless steel frying pan  😉 )
  • Melt the chocolate in the microwave with the whipping cream for two minutes, taking out to stir halfway through. Use a fork to smooth out when done.
  • Beat the cream cheese, brown sugar,  milk and vanilla extract in small mixer bowl on high speed for 2 minutes.
  • Add melted chocolate; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.
  • Add the mix in into crust. Refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours or until firm. Can be refrigerated overnight.
  • Optional: Top with whipped cream, if desired.

Enjoy!

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“Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway.”

~ Mary Kay Ash

City “Cottage” Pie

We have officially hit comfort food season. Read: cold (and usually rainy where I am). But that means savoury, hearty foods that smell amazing. Like Shepherd’s Pie.

Side note: Have you ever chosen to make a dish that happens to be someone’s favourite and is also a “national” dish from where they come from? Like said Shepherd’s Pie? It is a mildly daunting and ambitious task.

But I was up for it. With some help from Google and the Brit it was being made for, I cobbled together a recipe that was easy and delicious – thank goodness! I varied a bit with some ingredients – not the peas or Worcestershire Sauce, you don’t mess with those – so I can’t say it was traditional Shepherd’s Pie. And, really, it was Cottage Pie as I wasn’t using lamb. But, since I was informed the pie mix looked “authentic”, and it was then eaten with gusto, I can say it was a successful endeavour. It also passed the leftovers for lunch test – phew!

It can be as healthy or as decadent as you want it to be and it will make your kitchen smell fantastic. Stay warm, folks!

CITY 'COTTAGE' PIE

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
  • Print

INGREDIENTS

For the Mashed Potatoes:

  • 1 1/2 to 2 pounds potatoes (about 3 large potatoes), peeled and quartered
  • 4 tablespoons (half stick) butter – make sure is is soft
  • 4 large garlic cloves – minced or finely diced
  • 1/4-1/2 cup milk or cream – OPTIONAL but makes for creamy mashed potatoes!
  • 1/4-1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (OPTIONAL)

For the Pie Mix:

  • 4-6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil OR 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 medium onion – chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2-3 carrots – diced
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 8 white mushrooms – finely sliced (OPTIONAL)
  • 1 1/2 lbs ground round beef
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine (OPTIONAL – for the mushrooms)
  • Lea & Perrin’s Worcestershire sauce – to taste
  • 1 small can (5.5 oz) tomato paste
  • Salt, pepper, other seasonings of choice – to taste

METHOD

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Do all your chopping and dicing.
  2. Place the peeled and quartered potatoes in medium sized pot. Cover with at least an inch of cold water. Add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until tender – about 20 minutes.
  3. While the potatoes are cooking, warm the olive oil (or melt the butter) in a large sauté pan on medium heat.
    • Add the chopped onions and cook until tender, about 6 to 10 minutes.
    • Toss in the carrots partway through the onion cooking time.
    • OPTIONAL – Add the mushrooms with the carrots and pour in all or half of the white wine. Stir it up. Let everything simmer and cook for 5 minutes.
    • Check on your potatoes.
  4. Add ground beef to the pan with the onions and vegetables. Cook until no longer pink.Toss in the peas.
    • Add the Worcestershire sauce (be generous!), tomato paste*(optional, but amazing), and beef broth. Bring the broth to a simmer and reduce heat to low.
    • Check on your potatoes.
    • Cook uncovered for 10 minutes, adding more beef broth, if necessary, to keep the meat from getting dry. Season to taste with salt, pepper, dried herbs. Add more Worcestershire sauce if you are inclined – we were! Let everything simmer on low heat. Stir every few minutes. The longer you let it simmer, the more the flavour gets locked in!
    • Check on your potatoes. (Yes, again.)
  5. When the potatoes are done cooking (a fork can easily pierce), drain the potatoes in a colander and put in a large bowl with the softened butter and the minced garlic. Mash to your heart’s content with a fork or potato masher. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
    • OPTIONAL – Mash in the milk/cream for super creamy mashed potatoes!
    • OPTIONAL – Add grated cheddar cheese to the mix.
  6. Spread the pie mix in a large baking or casserole dish. Spread the mashed potatoes over the top.
    • If you want to get crafty, use a fork to make some pretty peaks and patterns in the potatoes so that they get well browned.
    • OPTIONAL – Sprinkle some grated cheddar cheese overtop before putting the casserole dish in the oven.
  7. Place in a 400°F oven and cook until browned and bubbling, about 30 minutes. If necessary, broil for the last few minutes to help the surface of the mashed potatoes brown a bit more.
  8. Let settle for 5 minutes before dishing out servings.

*TIP – For the tomato paste, open the top of the can so that it is a flap. Carefully open the bottom of the can all the way so that you can use it to push the tomato paste through the top in to the pan. Not going to lie, this blew my mind.

Enjoy!

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 All food is comfort food. Maybe I just like to chew.

~ Lewis Black ~

Terra’s Christmas Crack a.k.a. Almond Roca

Last week, Terra came in to the office with her famous ‘Christmas Crack’. The office literally stops for Christmas Crack. Calls are put on hold; people change direction. Those who normally work from home come in specifically just so they can get their savoury/sweet crunchy goodness fix.

It is a much anticipated annual holiday treat that we look forward to for weeks as Christmas approaches. Months, even. The container opens and people just KNOW to hightail it over. If you don’t get your butt off your chair in time, you might miss out. But don’t budge the line, or it will become the Hunger Games, people! It’s that good.

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Christmas Crack photo op before the vultures set in.

What, pray tell, is Terra’s Christmas Crack, you may ask? Well, TCC is homemade almond roca; a delicious, crunchy, simultaneously sweet and savoury treat. It is best served cold for optimum taste coma results. And for a week since she brought it in, all I’ve been thinking about is making it. And eating an entire batch. lol. (BOTH versions as she makes a non-almond version for our colleague, Shamni, who is allergic to tree nuts.)

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Non-almond roca

Almond roca is new and intriguing baking territory that I may only explore once or twice. It looks daunting. I annually ask how she makes it, but Terra coyly says it’s her secret recipe. It’s the one time she bakes and it’s her thing. Respect. So, I got on Google and found a couple recipes that I plan on trying as soon as moving chaos is over in January. This recipe from Recipe Girl looks good, as do some on Yummly. Regardless, a challenge for 2015 and it looks like I need to buy a candy thermometer! Or maybe Santa will bring me one. 😉

Have you made almond roca before or have a version of Christmas Crack? Share the love!

Merry Christmas, everyone! Be safe. Have fun. Share joy.

Holiday Party Food and Easy Fig Dip

In light of moving chaos, our annual open house is a no-go this year. The kitchen is a disaster. I don’t know that I’ve ever blogged about the holiday open house as Christmas time tends to get beyond busy… But we throw a good party involving BBQ’d turkey, lots of food and drink, and the apartment is stuffed to capacity with our friends. I love it. I am sad to not have that this year; but that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about party food!

The thing about party food is that it needs to be easy and fun, at least for me. So I’ve flipped and scrolled through recipes from past parties and have listed some favourites in no particular order and ending with a crudités dip recipe that was a rare bit of this and that recipe that I am kind of proud of. 🙂

  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts – from this awesome recipe from Live with Kelly & Michael
  • Spicy Baked Chickpeas – Tasty and crispy. Make at least double the amount you think you’ll need. These go quickly!
  • Quinoa Salad – Serve family style or in individual (and pretty) dixie cups.
    • Simple – 3 cups cooked quinoa; 1 cucumber, sliced and quartered; two sweet bell peppers, roughly chopped; 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped; 3 tbsp EVOO or whatever dressing; toss and serve.
    • Black Bean and Quinoa Salad from Oh She Glows. Do the sweet potato/yam version. YUM.
  • Dates with Goat Cheese Wrapped in Prosciutto and Basil – The title says it all. SO TASTY, super quick; total crowd pleaser. Vegetarian version can be made without the prosciutto.
  • Chips, or as my Scottish friends call them, crisps – A bit of a cheat, but easy. My absolute favourites are Wavy Lays. A true weakness.
  • Crudités – carrot, celery, and bell pepper sticks; snow peas; broccoli cauliflower florets; sliced cucumber. Can also be bought pre-made in the grocery store. Serve with dip. Recipe below or here.
  • Flourless Brownies – This is my favourite, favourite brownie recipe from a site called Heather’s French Press. Before baking, add finely crushed candy canes for a Christmasy flavour or ancho chilli powder for some kick.
  • Raspberry Chocolate Ganache Pie – Decadent and lovely. Make the night before in order for it to set properly.

These are all things that can be made the night before, except the spicy baked chickpeas. Those should be served hot! 🙂

So, veggie dip… I had forgotten to make a dip for the crudités during a summer BBQ; oh, the shame. Ha. But let’s get real for a second: some veggies (I’m talking to you celery and broccoli) need some help in the taste department. So dip was needed. I looked in the fridge and my eyes landed on the Costco bought bag of dried figs that Claire and Brent had left (among other things from their pantry and fridge given when they stayed with us prior to leaving for their Southeast Asian adventure), garlic, a the remnants of a forgotten zinfandel. Hmmm.

A quick Google search and further perusal of fridge and pantry contents, I cobbled together this recipe, and it turned out pretty good if I do say so myself!

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EASY FIG DIP

  • Servings: 1/2 cup
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup dried figs, diced
1 cup wine – we happened to have a leftover zinfandel in the fridge
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/3 cup EVOO

METHOD:

  • Boil and reduce figs, wine, and sugar
  • Remove from heat
  • Add to food processor (I have a small one) with the Dijon, balsamic, and garlic
  • Pulse to mix; slowly add the EVOO and blend until smooth

Enjoy!

And now I am hungry again…