Brrrrr, it’s been a cold day on Prince Edward Island. Our first cold snap of the season. Temperatures were around -13C but, with the wind chill, it certainly felt a lot colder than that. A good day to curl up by the fireside with some tasty food and a good cup of tea.
Was overseas to New Brunswick yesterday and, of course, that meant a stop at Tony’s Bistro and Pâtisserie in Moncton. I introduced you to this great French Pâtisserie back in November (click here for the link to the story).
We had lunch at Tony’s yesterday and, naturally, I had to bring home some goodies that we could have for afternoon tea today. Ready to have a peek?
Let’s start with these tasty little quiches. Nice flaky pastry, these were delicious!
Then, there was the White Chocolate Rocher cake. This was seriously rich and decadent! Layers of decadence!
Did you check out the little white meringue trees? Light as air.
My choice of tea today was the Lady Slipper Blend from Lady Baker’s Tea Trolley. You can read the story I previously published on this tea company by clicking here.
The China cups and saucers are Royal Vale but I could find no pattern name on them.
This will be my last afternoon tea of 2014 so thank you to those who have visited my tea table over the past year. I will also be joining Sandi’s last Tea Time party of the year over at Rose Chintz Cottage.
Throughout the holiday season, I am known to change tablesettings several times depending on number of guests and type of dining (e.g., brunch, lunch, dinner, etc.). That, however, doesn’t mean that I don’t rejig and re-use some of the same elements in more than one tablesetting.
I recently shared my tablesetting for an intimate dinner for four where I clustered three poinsettias in the center of the small round table and set a miniature poinsettia at each place setting. To view this tablesetting, click here.
Today, I have turned my table back into its oval shape, bought more miniature poinsettias for guest favours but have used the same three small poinsettias for the table centerpiece. This is a very economical way to achieve a centerpiece for more than one dinner party (and less work!). Instead of clustering the 3 poinsettias into a centerpiece, I have placed them at equal distance apart down the center line of the table.
I have decided that, this year, I want my tablesettings to show the maple wood in my table as opposed to covering it up with a full tablecloth. I bought the placemats and matching napkins on a trip to San Juan and it’s a wonderful memory of a great vacation each time I dress my table with them.
Letting the wood of the table show lends a slightly more casual look to the table than does a tablecloth.
I purchased several of the miniature poinsettias at the beginning of the season and have used them on bed trays, tea tables and, of course, at placesettings on the dinner table.
The miniature poinsettias came in little plastic terracotta pots so I simply wrapped them in gold sparkly netting and tied them with gold cord for a festive look. They make great take-away guest favours.
For those who regularly follow my tablescape segment on my food blog, you will recall that I have previously said that, if you aren’t knacky with, or don’t have time to do, fancy napkin folds, then a simple and effective way is to simply use a napkin ring and roll or fluff the napkin through the ring.
However, if you don’t have napkin rings, all you really need is a spool of pretty ribbon to tie around the napkin as I have done here with a sheer organza wire-edged ribbon that bears the words “Merry Christmas” in gold glittery print, again tying in the gold color and the red of the poinsettias.
The photo below shows the individual placesetting. You don’t need expensive formal China to set a pretty table. This one is set with basic everyday ironstone dinnerware. Again, I am using my basic gold chargers to tie in with the poinsettia gold pots.
The photo below shows an overhead view of my colorful Christmas table.
To view other Christmas and New Year’s Tablesettings, click on the links below:
Poinsettias are one of the most commonly seen plants over the Christmas season. They come in a variety of colors and shades and in various sizes. Each season I have several placed around my home — in front of fireplaces, in the entryway, and anywhere else that I think needs a pop of color and a festive touch.
Today, I am using both small and miniature poinsettias in a seasonal tablescape.
I have clustered three small poinsettias in the center of the small round dining table.
These plants are just supermarket stock so I removed the commercial plastic wrappers from them and transplanted them into small glittery gold pots that I found at my local dollar store. I added some fresh pine and green fir along with a few twigs, scattered some Christmas balls around the trio and, voilà, I have the look of a custom-made centerpiece at a fraction of the price. By keeping each plant in its own pot, it allows me to use them as a grouping or elsewhere individually. I chose two variegated plants in red shades and one in the soft green for contrast.
I also found these little tiny miniature poinsettias at the supermarket and thought they would be ideal decorations for each place setting and would be nice take-away favours for guests to take home with them as a remembrance of the dinner.
I simply covered the little terracotta pots with some gold netting and tied it with gold elastic cord.
I used a floor-length round gold tablecloth for the table and opted to use my gold charger plates as the backdrop for white dinnerware which, of course, makes the red poinsettias pop in color. By keeping the gold theme going in the charger plates, it keeps the tablesetting in the same color scheme without introducing another color. This is particularly important when the table is small as is the case with this tablesetting. Keeping the same color of charger plates as the tablecloth gives the illusion that this table is bigger than it actually is. Had I used other colored charger plates (e.g., red or green), the difference would have been very noticeable.
The small table creates a setting for very intimate dining. However, it does not leave a lot of room for extras on the table, such as napkins. For this reason, I opted to place the matching gold napkins in the wineglasses in a simple cascade napkin fold for economy of space.
The photo below shows the top down view of the tablesetting.
I always put a tree in my dining room. It is decorated in shades of green, gold, and ivory and I have carried these shades into my mantle decorations this season. The gold tablecloth blends in with the color scheme and, of course, the red poinsettias give a pop of color.
I hope you have enjoyed a glimpse into my seasonal poinsettia tablesetting.
To see another tablesetting where I have used the same elements as in this one for a totally different look, click here.
To view other Christmas and New Year’s Tablesettings, click on the links below:
Title: Best of Bridge Holiday Classics Author: Various Publication Date: 2014 Publisher: Robert Rose Inc. Cover: Hardcover Price: $29.95 Pages: 303
Robert Rose Inc. has offered me the opportunity to conduct a review of Best of Bridge Holiday Classics. This is the latest in the “Best of Bridge” series of cookbooks.
While this cookbook is aimed at holiday entertaining, I would suggest there are recipes that would be suitable year-round for both everyday and special event use. The book has an attractive, sturdy hardcover and the pages are spiral bound making it easy for the book and pages to stay open for the recipe being made.
The book features a collection of 225 recipes spread throughout eight chapters: Holiday Brunches, Cocktail Parties Plus, Buffets and Potlucks, Sit-down Dinners, Leftovers, Holiday Cookies and Squares, Desserts and Other Sweet Treats, and Food Gifts. At the beginning of each chapter, there is a separate table of contents outlining the recipes (and their page numbers) found in that section of the book. There is also a handy alphabetical index at the back of the book.
In addition, there are a couple of pages at the front of the book giving sample menus for holiday brunch, a buffet party, a traditional holiday meal, a snowy Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve Banquet, and a Vegetarian Celebration. Recipes suitable for each event are listed along with their page numbers for ease of retrieval. This is useful, particularly for those who have no idea which recipe pairs well with another or what to serve with what.
When I am conducting a cookbook review, I try to approach it from the stance of how user-friendly it would be for someone with little culinary experience unless, of course, the book is highly specialized and advanced and is targeted for experienced cooks. So, I review recipes from the point of whether someone with little cooking and/or baking experience could take the recipes and easily follow and understand the instructions sufficiently to achieve success.
To begin, I found the font in the book a bit large and folksy. Everything (ingredients and method of preparation) is printed in capital letters which I find makes the pages cluttery and difficult to read. Generally, the instructions for making the recipes are all lumped together in one long paragraph. This makes it difficult to follow the method. I find cookbooks that lay out the instructions in separate, step-by-step, paragraphs are easier to follow, particularly for less experienced cooks. Breaking down the steps of a recipe into separate short paragraphs makes them less formidable and daunting and it is easier and quicker to find your place and progress in the instructions as you go about making the recipe.
I found the ingredients are used in the instructions in the order in which they are listed. The recipes in the book call for, what I would consider to be, ordinary ingredients which makes it easy to prepare the dishes. Most, if not all, ingredients would be found in standard grocery stores. The exact quantity of ingredients called for, though, is sometimes vague or lacking in the recipe. For example, on page 71, the recipe for Guacamole Cherry Tomato Halves calls for “1 small basket cherry tomatoes”. Cherry tomatoes come in various sizes of baskets and home gardeners would obviously harvest their own so it would have been clearer to have specified a certain quantity of tomatoes, in pound or kilogram measure, for example.
I also found that the instructions for several recipes were somewhat vague as well. For example, on p. 169, the recipe for Rhubarb Relish was very vague with the method starting out by “Simmer, uncovered, approximately 4 hours” but it didn’t say what to simmer or what kind or size of pot to use– i.e., in my view, it should have started out by saying “Combine all ingredients in the order listed in a certain size of pot (i.e., small, medium, or large pot). Simmer, uncovered, approximately 4 hours.” I also found several recipes would neglect to state early on in the instructions to preheat the oven and the oven temperature would only be given as the last instruction, at the stage when the dish was going into the oven. Now, experienced cooks would automatically know to preheat the oven whether it was stated as the first step in the recipe or not. However, a novice cook would be unlikely to know of this requirement, hence the importance of stating this step at the beginning of the method/instructions. It’s very important to pre-read each recipe carefully all the way through before starting to make it to ensure that the amount of ingredients required and the method of preparation are clearly understood.
In addition, I also found that, while most recipes did give a yield indication, some do not indicate a clear yield to be expected. For example, on page 231, the recipe for Nanny’s Real Scottish Shortbread gives the yield as “makes a tinful” which is not helpful as there is no indication what size of tin or how many shortbread the recipe makes and, as we all know, tins come in all sizes and some would hold four cookies and others 44, depending on the size of tin and cookies. This recipe does not indicate what size each shortbread cookie should be cut into. Regardless if that is how someone shared their recipe, the recipe should have, in my opinion, been tested to determine its exact yield before publishing it in the book. If someone is making a recipe and has a need for a specific number of shortbread, or servings, they need to know how many the recipe is expected to generate.
There are a few color photos in the book and they are of good quality but there is certainly not a photo for every recipe. Including photos is so important in a cookbook as, not only do photos of mouth-watering food inspire people to try the recipes but the color photos also give a frame of reference of what the finished dish should look like.
I tested two recipes out of the cookbook, choosing two in categories that I have significant personal experience. Robert Rose Inc has given me permission to share the recipes and their photos for Cranberry Scones and Crazy Crunch to accompany my review of this cookbook. The recipes follow at the end of this review. Cranberry Scones
These combine a tasty combination of cranberries and orange; however, I found they did not have the light and airy texture I associate with scones and find I get from other recipes. I also did not find that they rose as scones usually do for me and they had a prevalent flour taste.
I have a lot of experience making similar recipes and know that the caramel syrup has to reach the hard crack stage (300°F) before it is done. This recipe, however, gave a wide time span of “10-15 minutes” and a vague description of the mixture having a “light caramel color” for instructions to determine when the syrup is done. As any experienced candy maker knows, a five-minute span differential is a lifetime in candy-making and is the difference between success and failure. Also, there is no definition of “light caramel color” – what is a light color to some may be dark to another and, with no photo as a frame of reference, I did not find this particularly helpful.
The recipe also does not indicate at what temperature the mixture should be boiled – i.e., over high, medium, or low heat, a rolling or gentle boil, and whether or not the syrup should be stirred as it cooks. In my view, it would have been more useful had the recipe given directions for the use of a candy thermometer and a certain temperature which is a more accurate determination of doneness.
I used a thermometer and cooked the mixture over medium heat and found it took more than 15 minutes to reach the hard crack state of doneness. The recipe turned out for me and is tasty but I am not sure I would have had success had I removed it from the heat at any point between 10 and 15 minutes as the recipe suggested. Someone, inexperienced in candy-making, would not likely know how to adjust the recipe for success.
Overall, I found the book contains a good selection and number of appealing recipes that call for tasty ingredients and I will certainly make more recipes from it. However, in my opinion and given the foregoing, some quality control and assurance over ingredient listing, instruction writing (and ensuring the instructions for each recipe are consistently written across the book) and, in some cases, precise recipe yields are missing. For a cookbook priced at $29.95, I want to know the recipes have been tested for success and have exact amounts of ingredients listed and clear, fulsome, accurate instructions along with the expected yield from each recipe. For this reason, I would suggest the book would be best suited for individuals who have experience cooking and baking as some recipes in the book could prove challenging for novice cooks.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Best of Bridge Holiday Classics from Robert Rose Inc., for the purposes of conducting a review of the cookbook. I received no compensation for this review and was under no obligation to provide a positive review. All opinions expressed are purely my own.
3⁄4 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt (175 mL)
1 large egg (1)
2 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour (675 mL)
4 tsp baking powder (20 mL)
1⁄2 tsp baking soda (2 mL)
1⁄2 tsp salt (2 mL)
1⁄2 cup margarine (125 mL)
1 cup coarsely chopped cranberries (250 mL)
(fresh or frozen)
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar (125 mL)
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tbsp butter, melted (15 mL)
1⁄4 cup confectioners’ (icing) sugar (60 mL)
Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Beat buttermilk and egg in small bowl and set aside. In large bowl, Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in margarine until mixture resembles small peas. Mix in cranberries, sugar and orange zest. Add buttermilk mixture and stir until soft dough forms. Using your hands, form dough into a large ball and place on floured surface. Pat out to 1-inch (2.5 cm) thickness. Cut in 4-inch (20 cm) rounds. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake scones for 15 to 20 minutes. While still warm, brush with butter and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.
Makes 8 large scones.
Crazy Crunch, page 280
Put this in fancy jars and give it as a little extra at Christmas time.
2 quarts popped popcorn (2 L)
1 1⁄3 cups pecans (325 mL)
2⁄3 cup almonds 150 mL
1 1⁄3 cups granulated sugar (325 mL)
1 tsp vanilla (5 mL)
1 cup margarine (250 mL)
1⁄2 cup corn syrup (125 mL)
Mix popcorn, pecans and almonds on a cookie sheet. Combine sugar, vanilla, margarine and syrup in a pan. Boil 10 to 15 minutes or to a light caramel color. Pour over corn, pecans and almonds. Mix well. Spread to dry.
Makes about 10 cups (2.5 L).
As I write this on Christmas Eve afternoon, I suspect some of you last-minute shoppers may be giving bottles of wine, balsamic vinegars, or olive oils as gifts, or host/hostess gifts, over the holidays. So, I thought I would share some of my favorite ways to decorate long-necked bottles for gift giving.
To start, here’s how NOT to present a gift:
The easiest and most traditional way is to use a decorated gift bag. These are quite economical and can be found just about anywhere, including dollar stores. Be sure to fluff some tissue paper on top for a polished look.
I like the boxes below which are made especially for wine. Most come with lovely ribbon attached that can simply be tied around the box. Some even have a sheet of tissue paper in them so they are a quick and elegant option. These are readily available in different stores; these came from Winners.
The wonderful hard-sided box below is almost a gift in itself and no further decoration is required. Simply slip the bottle inside and off you go. The box in the photo was a purchase from my local Winners store.
If you are into wrapping gifts, any box that the bottle will fit into will do. Choose elegant wrapping paper and pretty ribbon and/or cord to decorate the box.
Wine bottles don’t always have to be fully wrapped and concealed. In the photo below, I used a Santa hat hairclip from the local dollar store to adorn the top of the bottle and added a tiny wreath of red berries and a pretty stripped ribbon to make this bottle a conversation piece.
For the bottle below, I used the Santa hat hair clip and cut a piece of boxwood from the tree beside my walkway and used it to make a tiny fresh wreath for the neck of the bottle.
I found the Santa hat and matching scarf below at my local Dollarama store. It’s a fun and funky way to present a gift of wine.
If you are feeling particularly generous and are giving two bottles of wine, the option below is a hard-sided box that accommodates two bottles. It’s another Winners find.
For the bottle below, I used distressed brown paper.
Simply take a 30″ square of brown wrapping paper and crumple it up and massage it until it is soft and supple. This is a good thing to do to relieve stress (or to keep the kids busy)! Place the bottle in the centre of the distressed paper and draw all sides up and secure around the bottle top with an elastic band, then decorate with pretty rustic ribbon and a sprig of holly.
I hope these suggestions will inspire you to decorate your bottles of wine, olive oils, and vinegars for gift-giving presentation.
Have a wonderful holiday!
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One of my absolute favorite ways to celebrate the holidays is with a festive afternoon tea. It’s a relaxed way to entertain whether it’s one guest or several. The best part of entertaining with afternoon tea is that much of the preparation can be done in advance before guests arrive.
Today, my afternoon tea setting is for two in front of the warm and cozy fireplace and beside the Christmas tree. It’s a reason to stop, pause, and relax during the busy Christmas preparations.
I have been fortunate in finding some pieces of Christmas China over the years that just beg for an afternoon tea experience. The teapot and teacups are made by Sadler.
The tea is being served on a tea trolley. I like the versatility of trolleys as they can be used solely as a serving unit beside a larger table or even, depending on their size, as a miniature self-serve buffet. Or, either one or both of the trolley extensions can be lifted, turning the unit into a tea table as I have done today. This tea trolley is the larger of the two I own.
A few years ago, I found the delightful Christmas table square in the photo above. With its poinsettias and candles, it became the canvas and theme for today’s tea.
I like the miniature poinsettias like the one in the photo above. I use them on tea tables, in placesettings, and on bed trays because they are just the perfect size and add a touch of Christmas wherever they are used.
I have been searching for some time now for a small set of sugar tongs. I found the antique tongs in a local second-hand shop recently. The tea plates in the photo below are Royal Adderly “Poinsettia” pattern.
I love tiered servers and, while there are many pretty floral ones available, my preference is for the plain white because the food really stands out against the white background. I can mix and match my teapots and cups and saucers much easier with a white server than with a floral.
I have followed the traditional order of placement on a three-tier server: sandwiches on the bottom plate, scones on the middle, and sweets on the top tier.
The green spinach tortillas with the dots of dried cranberries add color to the sandwich plate and the fresh raspberries add a splash of red against the white bread.
The cranberry scones in the photo above are from a recipe in the “Best of Bridge Holiday Classics” cookbook that was just released in 2014.
An easy way to get a taste of cherry cheesecake when you only want a couple of servings is to make them individually in tiny glasses.
Of course, a traditional tea tray would include fruitcake. This is my own recipe which I developed and shared earlier and you can find it by clicking here.
Here is the menu for the tea.
~ Eggnog with a sprinkle of Nutmeg ~
~ Selection of Tea Sandwiches ~
Sliced Turkey with Cranberry Mayonnaise
Cucumber with Herbed Cream Cheese
Pinwheel Spinach Wraps with Cream Cheese, Fig Goat Cheese, Sliced Turkey, Green Onions and Dried Cranberries
~ Scones ~
– Cranberry Scones served with Butter and Homemade Strawberry Jam ~
~ Sweets ~
My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Dark Fruitcake
Miniature Cherry Cheesecake
Brown Sugar Fudge
~ Tea Selection ~
Kenyan Tinderet (David’s Tea)
I hope you have enjoyed a glimpse into my 2014 Christmas afternoon tea.
My best wishes to you and yours for a wonderful Christmas season.
I love Christmas China but I don’t own it. When a friend discovered my fondness for Christmas China, she graciously offered her wonderful setting for 12 of Lenox’s “Holiday” pattern for a photoshoot for my Tablescapes section here on my food blog. Needless to say, I was thrilled to set her dining room table with six placesettings of this lovely China pattern.
I started with a solid red tablecloth to make the dinnerware pop. It adds a cheerful, vibrant, yet warm look to the table, perfect for a traditional Christmas dinner.
The China pattern is mostly soft white with a pattern of green holly leaves and red berries. Here’s a close-up of the pattern which is trimmed in 24-karat gold:
And, for those who would like a closer view of the pattern, here it is:
The owner has the completer set to complement the dishes and has many other pieces as well, too many to use in one photoshoot!
When I discovered she had the lovely vase and matching candlesticks in the “Holiday” pattern, I knew they had to be the centerpiece for the table.
Take a look at the beautiful cutwork in the design of the vase.
I chose red and white carnations with some fresh pine and red tapers to match the colors in the China pattern. To draw the eye to either end of the table, I simply trailed some fresh pine down the center of the table and added some pine cones and red, green, and gold balls to tie the look together.
I used the owner’s green and red plaid napkins. Plaid always gives such a nice warm feeling. Matching green napkin rings complete the look.
Plaid Christmas crackers add a fun and festive flair to the setting.
The little salt and pepper shakers also bear the “Holiday” pattern and add a touch of whimsy to the tablescape.
I hope you have enjoyed viewing the tablesetting featuring the beautiful Lenox “Holiday” pattern. My thanks to the owner for giving me the privilege of setting a holiday table with this beautiful China.
If you live on Prince Edward Island, where I live, and have beautiful China – Christmas or otherwise, vintage or formal – and would like to share and have it featured in a tablesetting here on my food blog, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me to see what we could arrange. Unfortunately, I can’t commit to off-Island photoshoots of tablesettings due to travel logistics.
To view other Christmas and New Year’s Tablesettings, click on the links below:
I love miniature potatoes. They’re fun to work with. They make wonderful hors d’oeuvres, are the perfect size for roasting, and are the ideal size to drop into soups just the way they are without cutting them up.
Through the Food Bloggers of Canada association of which I am a member, an opportunity arose this fall to take little creamer potatoes produced by the Little Potato™ Company of Alberta and create an original recipe using the potatoes. Coming into the Christmas party season, I immediately saw them as potential hors d’oeuvres.
The Little Potato™ Company grew their first acre of tiny potatoes in 1996. A father and daughter team, Jacob Van der Schaaf and Angela Santiago, planted, weeded, and harvested the first crop by hand. It was a success and soon Angela began marketing the potatoes at Farmers Markets and to restaurants.
The tiny potatoes grew in such popularity that production expanded and, today, the Little Potato™ Company grows six varieties of the little gems which are available at grocery stores across North America, including at the local Co-op store in my hometown of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. The produce manager at the Co-op Food Market on Walker Drive tells me that these potatoes have quite a loyal following of consumers on the Island. To learn more about The Little Potato™ Company and their various varieties of miniature potatoes, visit their website. You can also find them on Facebook.
Two bags each of Little Potato™ Company yellow fingerlings and Something Blue® mini potatoes arrived via UPS at my door one evening. I was thrilled that the oblong fingerlings were sent since they are the perfect shape and size to use when making miniature stuffed baked potato hors d’oeuvres. The recipe I have created especially for these little creamer potatoes can also be used to stuff mini round potatoes as well but the shape of the fingerlings really lends them to being stuffed attractively.
I have used some fine PEI products in the tasty filling I created for the potatoes. The sausage came from KJL Meats in Charlottetown, the herb and garlic mild gouda cheese from Cheeselady’s Gouda now being produced in New Glasgow, and a brand new product on the market – Aldanel™ “Tomato Celebration” tomato sauce made in Charlottetown.
Any flavour of sausage can be used in this recipe. My choice is sweet Italian but, if you like hot flavours, then chipotle would be a good option. The sausage needs to be removed from its casing and it is important to break up the sausage meat really well as it is being scramble-fried because it is going to be piped through a pastry bag. Also, its purpose is to add flavour to the filling and a large chunk of sausage is not desirable in a tiny hors d’oeuvre.
It’s also necessary to extract as much fat as possible from the cooked sausage as the fat can drip through the potato skin and make a messy hors d’oeuvre. To remove the fat, let the cooked sausage drain in a colander for about 15 minutes then wrap the meat in paper towel, repeating the process a couple of times, if necessary, to remove the excess fat.
The little fingerlings take about 15 minutes to cook. Once they are removed from the boiling water, just barely let them cool enough that they can be handled. Slice each fingerling in half, horizontally. Then, using a melon baller, remove the potato pulp, leaving about a 1/16th inch thick wall of potato in each half to give the potato shape. Transfer the potato pulp to a potato ricer.
Press the potato through the ricer into a small bowl. The potatoes can be mashed instead of ricing but the potato ricer gives a smoother, finer texture that is completely lump-free.
Add the remainder of the ingredients to the riced potato and mix well.
The filling can be transferred to the potatoes with a spoon but a piping bag and Wilton tip 8B makes the job quicker, easier, and will give a neater presentation.
Add a sprinkle of paprika, and pop these little hors d’oeuvres into a 375ºF oven for about 12 minutes. Use either a parchment-lined baking sheet to bake the stuffed potatoes or, if you have a baguette pan, it works really well, too.
Garnish, if desired, with a sliver of green onion or chopped chives, then serve to the delight of guests at your next party.
12 Little PotatoCompany fingerling creamer potatoes
½ tsp liquid chicken bouillon
½ tsp minced garlic
1 green onion, finely chopped
1½ tsp truffle aioli
2 tbsp sour cream
3 tbsp Cheeselady’s Herb & Garlic Mild Gouda cheese, finely grated
1½ tsp Aldanel™ “Tomato Celebration” tomato sauce
⅛ tsp basil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Slivers of green onion tops or chopped chives for garnish
Heat olive oil in small frypan. Remove sausage from casing and crumble. Add to hot oil. With the end of a flat, heat-resistant lifter or spatula, continue to break up the sausage as it cooks. Scramble fry until sausage is brown, approximately 7-10 minutes. Transfer sausage to a colander and let fat drip out for about 10-15 minutes. Then, roll the cooked sausage in paper towel to remove any remaining fat. Set aside.
Cook fingerling potatoes in boiling water for about 15 minutes or until fork tender. Remove from heat.
Preheat oven to 375ºF.
As soon as the potatoes are just cool enough to handle, cut each in half, horizontally. Using a melon baller, remove the potato pulp from the skin, leaving about a 1/16th inch thick wall of potato in each half to give the potato shape. Transfer potato pulp to a potato ricer. Press pulp through ricer into small bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix until incorporated.
Transfer mixture to a pastry bag fitted with Wilton tip 8B. Pipe filling into each fingerling half. Sprinkle with paprika. Place mini stuffed potatoes on a parchment-lined baking sheet or in the cradle of a baguette pan. Bake in preheated oven for about 12 minutes. Remove and garnish with a sliver of green onion or chopped chives. Serve hot.
Yield:24 hors d’oeuvres
Disclosure: The potatoes used in this recipe were provided to me, free of charge, from The Little Potato™ Company for the purposes of sampling them and creating a recipe with them. The recipe for Baked Stuffed Fingerlings in this posting is an original recipe developed by me in my home kitchen.
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It’s the time of the year when people are busy with holiday preparations which often brings a host of events and a shortage of time to prepare for them. I recently met with a couple of Island chefs to chat about canapés and to find out what’s trendy these days in finger foods.
Jennifer & Mike Levy, from Rusticoville, PEI, operate Green Island Catering Company. Yes, there is help for your holiday events! The couple, both originally from Ontario, took a rather roundabout way to find their way to the Island. Both have university degrees and worked in the corporate world in Calgary before heading off to the sunny Caribbean to spend three years living and working in Grand Cayman. While soaking up the southern sun, they found themselves working in the food industry and becoming more interested in cooking. They came across some Prince Edward Islanders living in Grand Cayman who kept telling them about the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI, suggesting they check it out. But, first, they returned to their native Ontario where they spent a few months during which time Mike took a hobby cooking course at George Brown College which really sealed his interest in pursuing a career in culinary arts. Soon, they were on their way to PEI to study at the Culinary Institute from which both graduated from the two-year program in 2012.
While they have worked in various restaurants since graduating from culinary school, they have started a successful catering business and will cater any event of any size. In fact, they have catered the PEI Legislature’s “Speaker’s Tartan Tea” for the past three years.
I began by asking the chefs how many canapés should be prepared per person for an event. As a general rule, they suggest 3-5 per person if the time of the event is not a regular meal time or if it is at a time that guests most likely would have already eaten. However, if the event is between the hours of 11am – 1 pm or 5pm – 7pm, then 5-7 canapés should be prepared per guest.
We then discussed what’s trendy in canapés these days. Canapés generally consist of three parts: a base, some kind of sauce, and a garnish. The base can consist of a variety of items – for example, small biscuits, phyllo pastry, spring roll wrappers, or wonton cups.
Braised beef and pulled pork tend to be popular in canapés, just as they are in main meal menu items.
Foods that are easy to prepare and canapés that include comfort foods are also popular. For example, tiny tea biscuits topped with braised beef or turkey/chicken are quite popular. Cookie dough shot glasses are also quite a trendy novelty item – they consist of cookie dough formed into a container shape, baked, and filled with a favourite liqueur or, for the younger crowd, milk.
Or, make the cookie shot containers even larger and line them with melted chocolate (yum!)
During my visit, the chefs demonstrated how to make a base from thinly sliced potatoes, seasoned with a mixture of herbs (such as rosemary, thyme, and oregano), grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese, and a bit of cream (yes, the real stuff!). Layered into greased muffin tins and baked for 20 minutes at 400°F, these make a tasty canapé base with a dob of sour cream or herbed cream cheese added and topped with braised beef or pulled pork.
These canapés are tasty with, or without, the addition of sour cream.
Jennifer also demonstrated how to make a sweet treat that consists of grapes, caramel popcorn, chopped nut clusters, and Cambozolo cheese, all held together with a caramel sauce made with corn syrup, sugar, and water.
So, if you are short on time this holiday season and want to take the stress out of preparing for a cocktail party or other holiday event, you may want to consider having the event catered. Jennifer and Mike run a full service catering company and can be reached by phone at 902-963-2176, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Green-Island-Catering-Company/
Fruitcakes. People either love them or loathe them and there seems to be no middle ground. I personally favour them and they are part of my annual Christmas traditions.
There are basically two kinds of fruitcakes, a light cake and a dark cake. The dark fruitcake is characterized by the addition of molasses, spices, and often strawberry jam, all of which contribute to its dark color. The light fruit cake has a light-colored batter which makes the jewel tones of the glazed fruit pop. It is, by far, the most colorful of the two cakes. While I could not find any conclusive statistics, it seems to me that dark fruitcakes may perhaps be the more common.
Fruitcakes are sometimes called Christmas cakes since that’s often the only time of the year they make an appearance anymore. Years ago, however, fruitcake was a staple at weddings where the dark fruitcake was referred to as the groom’s cake while white pound cake was the bride’s cake. This tradition, at least where I live, has long since been dispensed with and replaced, instead, with many other cake flavor options.
I have been making fruitcakes for 38 years (I started making them when I was two! At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! Or, maybe it’s the vapors from the joy juice I’ve been brushing on my fruitcake over the past several weeks talking!). Some years I make both dark and light fruitcakes and, other years, one or the other. I simply love the smell of a fruitcake baking in the oven on a cold November afternoon. I always make my fruitcake around Remembrance Day as that gives it lots of time to “ripen” and mellow before the holidays. The making of the fruitcake heralds the beginning of my holiday preparations.
Fruitcakes are still considered a luxurious treat by many because the ingredients can be costly and the cake is time-consuming to make. Sometimes it is even hard to find the big sticky raisins, often referred to as Lexia raisins, which are a signature ingredient in a traditional dark fruitcake.
Essentially, a fruit cake is a mixture of candied/glazed fruit, different kinds of raisins, and often nuts, all held together by a small amount of batter. Before I share my recipe for dark fruitcake at the end of this posting, I am going to share some hints and tips from my almost-40 years of making fruitcakes. I hope you will find them helpful.
Traditionally, fruitcakes are either square or round-shaped and quite deep – at least 2½” – 3” deep. The pans should be ones that have removable bottoms as this makes it easy to remove the cake from the pan. The pans below have been in my family for years and have held many fruitcakes. They may be old and discolored but they do the trick!
Square cakes are infinitely easier to cut and plate more attractively than round cakes. With square pans, each piece can be cut to the same size and shape whereas, with round cakes, it is more difficult to get nice, even pieces from pie-shaped wedges. However, the shape of the cake is a personal preference and the cake will taste the same regardless of shape.
It is important to use the size of pan the recipe calls for as baking times have been tested for its size. Some bakers use loaf pans, 9”x13” shallow pans, or even muffin cups or soup cans in which to bake their fruit cakes. If changing a pan size from the one recommended by the recipe, remember that baking times will need to be adjusted accordingly as a more shallow or smaller cake will take less time than a deeper one to bake.
Commonly, the glazed and dry fruit, including the raisins and currants, are soaked in liquor, with rum or brandy the most commonly used types of libation. Alternatively the fruit can be soaked in a fruit juice.
The purpose of soaking the fruit is three-fold:
1) To soften/plump the dried fruit – the raisins, in particular;
2) To add flavour to the cake; and
3) As a preservative (if using liquor) to extend the shelf life of the cake.
Some bakers soak the fruit for several months. I don’t find this necessary or that the cake has any significantly better flavour if made with fruit that has been soaked for months. I soak the fruit in a covered container for 24-48 hours, stirring it 3-4 times during the macerating process.
It is important to resist adding more liquor to the fruit soak than is called for in the recipe. Adding too much liquor will add too much liquid to the batter, making it too runny to hold the fruit from falling to the cake bottom.
Fruit and Nut Content
True traditional fruit cakes will have candied/glazed fruit, a mixture of raisins, and sometimes nuts. It is important that candied/glazed fruit be used and not, for example, fruit with a lot of liquid such as maraschino cherries which will add too much excess liquid to the batter.
Fruitcakes typically do contain nuts; however, my recipe below is nut-free. I find several issues with including nuts in a fruitcake:
1) Nuts, over the long term, can go rancid or, alternatively, be hard junks in an otherwise soft texture cake;
2) Chunks of nuts can make it difficult to cut the cake; and
3) Many people have nut allergies and cannot enjoy a piece of fruitcake made with nuts.
Fruitcake ingredients can be flexible which means substitute ingredients are perfectly acceptable so long as the overall weight content of the fruit that the recipe calls for is maintained. For example, my fruitcake recipe calls for 3 pounds of fruit and I have listed the weight content of each ingredient. If you don’t happen to like citron, for example, simply omit the 3 oz called for and replace it with another glazed fruit of the same weight. If you want to add some nuts to the cake, then reduce the amount of some other ingredient, such as raisins or glazed fruit, by the weight of the nuts you are adding.
A fruit cake batter is very thick and dense and contains very little flour content. Essentially, there is just enough batter to hold the ingredients together. The reason the batter needs to be thick (as opposed to runny) is that it needs to support the heavy fruit content and keep it suspended and distributed evenly throughout the cake. Otherwise, the fruit will fall to the bottom of the cake.
It is important to “flour” the fruit with a small amount of flour just before adding the fruit to the batter. This will also help to keep the fruit suspended throughout the cake. You will want to do this quickly and not leave the floured fruit any length of time before adding it to the batter as the flour when combined with the glaze on the fruit can turn into a gummy mess, thus defeating the purpose of flouring the fruit.
Preparing the Pan
The pan needs to be greased or sprayed with cooking oil then lined with either brown paper or parchment paper, then greased/sprayed again. Because there is very little leavening in the cake and because it is a heavy, thick cake, the pan can be fairly well filled without risk of batter running over the top.
Decorating the Cake Top
There are many ways to decorate the top of a fruitcake and some are very elaborate and show-worthy. Some bakers completely cover the top of the cake with a lovely pattern of whole glazed cherries and/or nuts, topped with a glaze. Others decorate with just a few cherries/nuts. I sometimes do the latter but often leave it plain as it is easier to cut and plate.
Some bakers cover the cake with royal icing and marzipan. However, I find that the moisture from a dark fruit cake stains the icing making it less attractive.
Baking the Fruitcake
Baking is always the tricky part to fruitcake making. Fruitcakes need to be baked in slow ovens – i.e., 275ºF or less for several hours. Baking at too high a temperature will result in a dry cake. Bake the fruitcakes in the lower third of the oven and include a small pan of water on the shelf below the cake. The steam from the water will help to keep the cake moist as it bakes.
If the cake starts to darken too much before it is baked, loosely tent a piece of tin foil over the top of the cake. However, only do this if the cake top has completely set all over as, otherwise, the tin foil will stick to the cake and pull some of the batter away from it thus ruining the look of the cake top.
The cake is done when it is firm to the touch and a cake tester or wooden skewer inserted into the cake center comes out relatively clean but with some moisture on it. The cake should not, however, be doughy. I generally start testing my cake about ½ hour before its designated baking time is up, then check it at 15-minute intervals until it is done. The blue cake tester in the photo below is actually a cake thermometer. If the tip of the thermometer turns bright red after having been inserted into the center of the cake for 5 seconds, the cake is done.
Cool the cake for about 40 minutes before carefully removing it from the pan and transferring it to a wire rack to cool completely. Because a fruit cake is a dense cake, this will take several hours or overnight.
Storing and Mellowing/Ripening the Cake
Once the cake has cooled, I brush a light coating of rum or brandy – whatever I have used in the cake – all over the cake. This adds more flavour and helps to maintain the cake’s moisture.
I then wrap the cake in cheesecloth (which can also be soaked in liquor) followed by a double layer of plastic wrap and double of tin foil.
The cake is then placed in a sealed bag and stored it in a cool, dry place to mellow or ripen, a process of time that allows the cake’s flavours to mix and mingle. I leave the cake stored at a very cool room temperature for 3-4 weeks, giving it a weekly nightcap by brushing another coating of the liquor all over the cake and re-wrapping it. After letting the cake mellow, I remove the cheesecloth and keep the cake wrapped in plastic wrap and tin foil inside a sealed bag and store it in the refrigerator or freeze it. It’s important to let the cake ripen first at cool room temperature as it won’t mellow further once refrigerated or frozen.
Slicing the Cake
I find the fruitcake slices easier from the refrigerator than at room temperature as it is a bit firmer when chilled. I recommend using a sharp, flat-edged knife to cut the cake as a serrated knife, for example, may pull the fruit during cutting, creating a ragged, uneven edge.
I cut each slab, across the full width of the cake, a good ½” wide. It needs to be a good width in order for it to hold together as it is being sliced.
For suggested serving size, I recommend slicing each slab into pieces that are about 1¼” wide.
7 oz seeded raisins (i.e., Lexia)
7 oz golden raisins
7 oz cup sultana raisins
3 oz dates, chopped
2 oz currants
9 oz mixed glazed fruit
4 oz red glazed cherries
4 oz green glazed cherries
3 oz citron
2 oz mixed peel
⅔ cup rum
½ cup flour
2 cups flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp mace
½ tsp nutmeg
½ lb butter
¼ cup white sugar
1½ cups brown sugar
4 extra large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond flavouring
2½ tbsp molasses
½ cup strawberry jam
Measure fruit and transfer to a large bowl. Mix well. Pour ⅔ cup of rum over fruit. Stir to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand for 24-48 hours to macerate the fruit, stirring occasionally.
Prepare 8-inch square fruitcake pan that is 3 inches deep and has a removable bottom: Lightly spray the bottom and sides of the pan with cooking spray. Line the pan, bottom and sides, with brown paper or parchment paper. Lightly spray the paper.
Preheat oven to 275°F.
Sift together the dry ingredients. Set aside.
Using the paddle attachment on the stand mixer, cream the butter until light and fluffy.
Add the white sugar. Beat. Add the brown sugar and beat well, scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula to ensure sugar is all incorporated.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add the vanilla and almond flavouring followed by the molasses. Mix thoroughly. Mix in the strawberry jam.
Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined into batter. Transfer batter to very large bowl.Sprinkle remaining ½ cup of flour (listed above in first set of ingredients) over the macerated fruit and toss ingredients lightly and quickly.
Add the floured fruit to the batter and mix thoroughly.
Transfer batter by large spoonfuls into the prepared baking pan. Use a knife to evenly spread the batter in the pan.
Add a few cherries as decorations to the top of the cake, if desired.
Place a small pan of water on the lower shelf in the oven. Bake fruitcake in lower third of the oven for about 5¾ hours or until cake is firm to the touch and cake tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Remove cake from oven and place on rack. Let cake cool in pan for about 40 minutes before carefully removing from pan and letting rest on cooling rack.
Let cake cool completely before brushing with rum and wrapping in cheesecloth, followed by plastic wrap and tin foil, then storing in a sealed plastic bag in a cool, dry area. Remove wrapping and brush cake top and sides with rum once a week. For best flavour, let cake “age” for at least 3-4 weeks before cutting and serving.
Yield: 1 – 6 lb cake
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