Wednesday, December 31, 2008

ringing in the new year with cheese fondue - recipe: cheese fondue

I revel in traditions. Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, spring, summer, winter and fall.

Just ask my husband, who silently shakes his head and smiles (or is he grimacing?) at all of the customs that I've instituted since our son John was born this past May.

David still can't quite understand why I insisted on taking John with me for my/our first trip (of many many more to come) to Herrles for fresh produce, to pick out a perfect pumpkin at Shantzholm pumpkins for Halloween, or to Martin's Family Fruit farm for a taste of fall's first apples.

Last year I convinced my hubby and parents to start an annual New Year's Eve Fondue Night.

What can I say, they felt sorry for me.

I was pregnant, and craving bread and cheese 24/7!

We made a delicious cheese fondue (we didn't bother with a meat fondue — albeit delicious, they can get messy with all of that hot oil).

We served it with cubes of crusty baguette and steamed vegetables.

To appease my husband, I included a generous portion of grilled steak on the side.

(If you read this column regularly, you'll remember that my mother is all about moderation, hence the vegetables, and my husband David really likes his protein, hence the steak.)

As I'm typing this I'm realizing that all of my traditions involve food.

Is that bad?

I guess I'll have to get busy in the new year creating some traditions that involve crafts or exercise or music or anything non-epicurean!

Anyway, below is a recipe for a traditional cheese fondue.

This is a super easy and delicious version.

And the credit goes to good old Martha.

Cheese Fondue

Serves Eight to 10 (Or one pregnant woman and three additional adults)


  • 1 clove garlic, halved crosswise
  • 1 1/3 cups dry white wine
  • 8 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (about 3 cups)
  • 8 ounces Emmenthal cheese, grated (about 3 cups)
  • 8 ounces raclette cheese, grated (about 3 cups)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Freshly grated nutmeg, optional
  • 1 loaf baguette, cut into one-inch cubes
  • Assorted (lightly steamed or raw) vegetables, such as mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and/or pickled onions and cooked, cubed potatoes)


  • Rub inside of a fondue pot with garlic clove.
  • Discard garlic.
  • Pour wine into a saucepan and place over medium-low heat.
  • When liquid starts to bubble, start adding cheeses by the handful.
  • Stir the cheese until it’s melted and combined.
  • Whisk together lemon juice and cornstarch in a small bowl until cornstarch dissolves.
  • Then stir those ingredients into the cheese mixture.
  • Continue stirring until mixture is smooth and bubbling slightly, about five minutes.
  • Season with nutmeg, if desired.
  • Transfer the cheese mixture to a fondue pot and keep warm over the fondue pot warmer.
  • Serve with bread and/or vegetables.
Enjoy this cheese fondue recipe, and have a happy new year.

quick tip

Have you heard of or eaten at the U. S. restaurant chain, the Melting Pot?

Each table has a built-in fondue type "pot" and their menu consists solely of cheese, meat and chocolate fondues (they offer unique varieties of each).

An idea from their dessert fondue menu: for a little extra kick, try adding your favourite liqueur (such as Baileys, Cointreau/Grand Marnier, Chambord/Framboise or Tia Maria) to your chocolate fondue.


I really hope that they expand their franchise into Canada sometime soon.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

delicious appetizers not as difficult to make as many amateur chefs think - recipes: various easy appetizers

I truly enjoy chatting with my customers and often find myself offering advice to help them sort out their culinary and entertaining troubles.

By far, the most popular dilemma this time of year is what to serve as an appetizer. I hear (almost daily) "I love making the main course but I hate making the appetizers."

Relax, there is no need to worry — below are several easy, delicious appetizer ideas to draw on when time is of the essence (which is definitely the case for me these days as a busy new mom, caterer and food-shop owner in the middle of what we call our "crazy season").

Accordingly, this column is a tad "shortter" than usual.

I wish you all a very happy holiday season filled with good friends, good family and great food. Season's eatings!

Easy appetizer ideas:

• Take some regular or Grissini breadsticks (which are longer and thinner than regular breadsticks) and coat 1/3 of the breadstick with a herb-flavoured room temperature cream cheese.

Wrap thinly sliced smoked salmon around the cream cheese portion of the breadstick.

Alternatively, spread the breadstick with mascarpone cheese (a triple-cream spreadable cheese from Italy, often used in tiramisu) and wrap with thin slices of prosciutto.

• Marinate olives (green or black, large or small, pitted or not — whatever you have on hand or enjoy most) in a bit of olive oil with chili flakes, a splash of vinegar, the zest of a small orange and pinch of sugar.

Bake them on a baking sheet in a 350-degree F oven until warm — about 11-14 minutes. Delicious served on their own or served with good-quality feta and fresh bread.

• Take a tip from Dana Shortt Gourmet's executive chef, Mark Saraiva, and wrap a log of goat cheese (you can use a plain, herb or dried fruit variety) in strips of bacon that have been already partially cooked (do not use raw bacon).

Bake in a 375-degree F oven until bacon is slightl crisp and cheese is hot— about 15-20 minutes. Serve with crackers and/or fresh bread.

• Cut an English cucumber into one-inch pieces. Scoop out the seeds with a melon baller or grapefruit spoon to form a little "cup."

Make your own mini Greek salads by stuffing the cucumber cup with crumbled feta, a half-sliced grape tomato and a half-sliced or very small (pitted) olive. Garnish with a sprig of fresh oregano.

For an even easier version, stuff the cup with good-quality store-bought olive tapenade and top with a crumbling of feta cheese or goat cheese.

• Seriously, who has the time to make fondue on the busy days leading up to Christmas Day? Make a "cheaters fondue" — take a round loaf of bread (sourdough is great) and slice off the top of the loaf, a quarter of the way down.

Cut the top into small cubes. Remove enough of the interior bread to fit a 4-inch wheel of brie or camembert inside.

Wrap foil around the bread (leave the cheese exposed) and bake in a 450-degree F oven for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

If you like crusty bread, remove the foil after eight minutes or so. Serve a little chutney or pepper jelly on the side if desired.

• Wrap plump, pitted medjool dates in a half strip of bacon and bake in a 375-degree F oven until bacon is crispy, about 20 minutes. If you have a few extra minutes to spare, stuff each medjool date with goat cheese, cream cheese or mascarpone cheese and a nut (pecan, almond or date) before wrapping in bacon.

The sweet date and salty bacon (and creamy cheese, if added) really works well.

For additional easy appetizer ideas (Swedish nuts, cheese plates and more) search for my earlier columns. Or, you can try the "news" page (for my newsletters) and/or the "recipe" page of my website at .

presentation tips

Presentation is key — always remember that people eat with their eyes first. Look no further than your own china cabinet for interesting vessels and stemware to present your hors d’oeuvres.

For instance, the wrapped breadstick appetizers look superb displayed in a brandy sniffer or pilsner glass (or any other funky stemware that you have on hand).

The bacon-wrapped goat cheese looks fantastic displayed on a bed of fresh herbs (thyme or rosemary work well as they don’t wilt from the heat) on a wooden cutting board, surrounded with a scattering of plain or candied nuts, some dried fruit and crackers.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

shorttbread recipe that's sure to delight foodies - recipe: whipped shorttbread

Over the last few years (at least in North America), the usage of the term "foodie" has certainly become more and more prevalent. A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to explain just what the term meant to me.

After a quick Internet search for a good definition of "foodie" as well as related terms — such as gourmand, gourmet and epicure — I decided it would be a more enjoyable exercise to take the time to reflect on my food memories and experiences in order to come up with a list of foodie lookfors.

It was a lot of fun. For a bit of fun for yourself, go ahead and rate how much of a foodie you are — see how many of the following points you can identify with. To me, a "foodie" is one who:

• is more concerned about who wins the current season of Top Chef than best actress/actor at the Academy Awards.

• always has "food on the brain” (one is intrinsically a foodie — it can neither be feigned nor forced — most "foodies" have always been devoted to and delighted by food, even as children).

• wants to know where their food comes from, how it is made and, therefore, why it tastes better.

• enthusiastically discusses the details of the upcoming dinner while still enjoying lunch.

• cooks for love and takes great pleasure in preparing meals for others.

• plans vacation destinations not for the best beaches, shopping or golf courses, but for the best restaurants, food shops and wine bars.

• owns a personal copy of the following movies: Babette's Feast, Big Night and Like Water for Chocolate.

• waits in eager anticipation for the Wednesday paper in order to read the food section.

• would never be satisfied with a bowl of cereal or a bag of microwave popcorn for dinner, no matter how harried or stressed the day.

• can name a restaurant in any given major city that they are just dying to try out.

• has at least one file folder filled with newspaper and magazine clippings of recipes that they have great intentions of making one day.

• includes as one of the first five bookmarks/favourites on their web browser.

• always has the latest copy of the LCBO's Food & Drink magazine handy.

• seriously intends to write a cookbook, if only a collection of family recipes to be passed down as an heirloom.

• appreciates the value in spending the time to plan, shop for and create a special meal, snack, drink or dessert even though the experience of eating it might be over in minutes.

• owns a multitude of kitchen appliances and gadgets, recalling where each came from and knowing what each particularly is best suited for.

• appreciates all food — whether a simple omelet or a five-course feast — just as long as it is prepared properly.

• has an uncanny memory for the minutiae of past meals — and can accordingly vividly remember his/her first taste of kiwi fruit, first Thai food experience and first taste of goat cheese.

• will pick up a non-food magazine (Instyle, Coastal Living or O) in a doctor's waiting room and immediately flip to the table of contents to scan for any article related to food or entertaining.

• has purchased the movie Ratatouille for the child they haven't yet conceived.

• has a host of "signature" recipes that they love preparing and sharing (a foodie often starts planning what they are going to make for their holiday "gourmet gifts from the kitchen" in July).

At the shop, we sell loads of shortbread, especially at this time of the year.

Here is a recipe for my signature whipped shorttbread. They are very light and tender so be forewarned — they are quite fragile.

We no longer sell this particular variety of shortbread at the store because we found that packaging them into bags caused too much breakage and crumbling.

Called Shorttbread, this recipe makes a beautiful (not to mention delicious) hostess gift. Be sure to package your cookies into sturdy vessels like biscuit tins or ceramic dishes to prevent any breakage.

Signature Whipped Shorttbread


  • 1 lb. salted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract


  • Cream butter in a stand mixer on medium speed (or use hand mixer) until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract.
  • Sift dry ingredients twice. Add dry ingredients slowly to the butter-vanilla mixture (in about three additions). Chill dough in fridge.
  • Roll into one-inch diameter balls on parchment-lined baking sheet and press to slightly flatten with the tines of fork.
  • Bake for about 22-30 minutes in a 300-degree F oven.
  • Makes about 25 Shorttbread cookies.

quick tip

I almost always bake (and cook) with unsalted butter, however, this recipe calls for salted butter. For best results, please do not substitute the unsalted variety.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

some dishes are worth extra effort - recipe: savoury cornbread recipe: cheater's pulled pork tenderloin

My brother, Adam, is a fabulous cook. He could easily earn his living in the kitchen. I've tried on several occasions to persuade him to come and work with me, but his answer is always the same, "Dane, I cook as a hobby and for love, not as a business."

When Adam is interested in doing something, he does it right. In order to enjoy a better cup of coffee, many of us go through the effort of grinding the beans just before brewing. Adam, however, takes it a step further: he roasts the raw green beans himself (where do you even buy raw coffee beans?).

He makes wine — not from a kit, but by crushing grapes in his garage! The guys in his winemaking club rightfully insist that you can't make a Ferrari out of Volkswagen parts.

So, as serious as he is about his coffee roasting and wine making (among other things), he is just (if not more) serious about making good quality food from scratch.

You'll soon appreciate why I'm sincerely disappointed when I have to miss one of Adam's renowned family dinners. I had a difficult time narrowing down the list, but here are some examples:

  • While he was still a high-school student, Adam prepared a barbecue brisket that required love and attention for about 36 hours. On top of that, he also made homemade barbecue sauce, baked beans, coleslaw and double stuffed baked potatoes (yes, I have a good memory for meals I've eaten).
  • Handmade pastas (no pasta machine either — just an old rolling pin).
  • Artisan pizzas (we bought him a pizza stone one year because he knew this would result in a better crust) — and you guessed it, he makes his own dough and amazing sauce from scratch.
  • He even makes his own cheese in a small shed in the backyard (just kidding, but who knows what the future holds).
  • Incredible Roast Chicken with all the fixings.
    He and his lovely wife, Michelle, prepared this for David and me this past Thanksgiving — they served it with "browned butter" mashed potatoes, squash, parsnips and carrots.
  • His famous chili — and he never forgets the essential accompaniments — grated extra old cheddar cheese, full-fat sour cream, fresh salsa, chopped cilantro and corn chips.
  • Pulled pork with cornbread — this is definitely one of my favourites. Although, as you can see, it is definitely difficult to choose.

Adam prepares his pulled pork in a traditional manner which can demand hours of attention.

I love the taste and texture of the meat but don't always have the time to devote to making it, as this typically involves making a dry spice rub, "mopping" the meat with a basting sauce every hour or two, soaking and replenishing wood chips, you get the idea).

I've created a super-easy way to have a similar taste and texture with a lot less work.

The secret to tender meat (even if you use inexpensive, tougher cuts) is cooking it "slow and low" (slow meaning that you cook it for a long time, low meaning that you cook it in a low temperature oven).

I've nicknamed it "cheater's pulled pork tenderloin."

It's hardly a recipe, but here goes.

cheater's pulled pork tenderloin

  • Take two trimmed pork tenderloins and put them in an oven-safe baking dish.
  • Top with about a cup of your favourite barbecue sauce.
  • Secure dish with a tight-fitting lid. Bake in a 200-225 degree F oven for five or more hours. (I just put it in the oven in the morning and leave it there until mid to late afternoon).
  • After it is finished cooking, pull the pork with a few forks (it will "pull" apart very easily) and let it sit in the barbecue sauce (it won't be as thick) to soak up the juices and flavour.
  • That's it. Serve it with cornbread (or store-bought rolls if you're in a hurry) and a salad.

Below is my brother's famous cornbread recipe, adapted from Christine Cushing's recipe.

Savoury Cornbread - serves six to eight wedges


  • 1 1/2 sticks, or 12 tablespoons, of unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
  • 1/2 cup minced red onion
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs — such as chives, parsley or cilantro (or you can use a mix)
  • 1 cup corn kernels (fresh from the cob, canned or frozen)
  • 1 1/4 cups shredded extra old cheddar cheese, divided


  • In a medium saucepan heat two tablespoons of the butter over low heat. Add leek and minced red onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until leeks and onions are very soft and just starting to turn golden, about 15 minutes. Set aside and let cool.
  • Place one tablespoon of the butter in an eight or nine-inch cast iron skillet (or use an aluminum cake pan) and heat in oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the cornmeal.
  • Melt the remaining butter in another bowl and whisk in the eggs and buttermilk. Pour the wet buttermilk mixture into flour-cornmeal mixture. Add the leek-onion mixture, fresh herbs, corn and three-quarter cup of the cheese. Stir with a wooden spoon until just combined and some flour remains visible.
  • Do not over mix.
  • Swirl hot pan to coat with butter. Spread batter into pan. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes or until tester inserted in centre comes out clean and edges are crispy and golden. Let cool in pan on rack for five minutes. Serve hot or warm.

quick tip

This pulled pork "recipe" also works well with pork chops or inexpensive, tough cuts of meat. Feel free to experiment with the sauces that you use as well. You know all of those half-empty jars of chutneys or cheese accompaniments in your fridge that you're not sure what to do with? Throw them in.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

make it cheese please - recipe: swedish nuts

It's hard to believe, but the holidays are just around the corner.

I know from my own experience in the specialty food business that people are always looking for easy appetizer ideas to serve a crowd.

Cheese platters are a fantastic option as they do not require cooking and can be assembled in minutes.

Thinking back, cheese was definitely the appetizer of choice when my parents were entertaining. I can still hear my mother saying "save room for dinner."

Of course, she had good reason — I have to admit that there were more than a few occasions when I sat down for dinner already full from cheese.

Here are some tips on how to create a beautiful, balanced cheese platter:

• Use a selection of different cheeses (a minimum of three) — the best platters will include at least one hard, sharp cheese (such as cheddar), a soft, creamy cheese (such as brie) and a pungent cheese (such as blue).

• Try to choose cheeses from different animals.

For instance, try a sheep's milk cheese like Spanish manchego (a hard and sharp cheese) or French Roquefort (a semi-hard blue cheese); a cow's milk cheese like St. Andre (a soft and creamy triple-cream brie) or Swiss Gruyere (slightly sweet and salty hard yellow cheese) and a goat's milk cheese like Greek Halloumi (an amazing grilling cheese that tastes similar to mozzarella, though saltier) or Canadian chevre like Woolwich Dairy (try one of their spreadable herb or fruit crusted chevrai logs).

• If possible, opt for different coloured cheeses to ensure the most attractive presentation.

• Serve your cheeses with fresh or dried fruits, roasted or candied nuts, fresh bread and crackers (oops — I almost forgot the wine).

• Adorn the platters with fresh lime leafs or banana leaves (tuck underneath cheeses) for a stunning presentation. Both can be found at the New City Chinese Supermarket on King Street in Kitchener (beside the old OW Sports store).

• Use a wooden cutting board if you want a rustic look and feel. For a modern, elegant approach, plain white ceramic platters are best.

• Garnish the platter with beautiful fresh fruit like champagne grapes, figs, strawberries, kumquats, prickly pears and/or Chinese gooseberries. Specialty fruits can be found more readily during the holidays (although large "super-centre" grocery stores tend to carry exotic and tropical fruits all year).

• Hard cheeses like cheddar and manchego can share a knife but soft cheeses like brie and chevre should have their own knives so that their flavours do not intermingle.

• For the best flavour, always serve cheese at room temperature (assemble cheese platters about one hour ahead of time). Keep in mind that hard cheeses take longer to come to room temperature than soft cheeses.

• Plan on serving about one ounce per person of each cheese for an appetizer-sized portion. You may need to serve a little bit more per person if you are serving a cheese course.

Along with fruit and interesting crackers and flatbreads, I like to serve cheese with toasted or candied nuts.

"Swedish nuts" are perfect on a cheese platter, and make a delicious hostess gift.

This recipe is courtesy of Ruth Bricker, a good family friend (like a second mother, really) who serves these delicious nuts throughout the holidays. Mom obtained the recipe many years ago and now they're a Christmas staple at our house too.

Ruth Bricker's Swedish Nuts


  • 1/2 lb. blanched almonds
  • 1/2 lb. walnuts or pecan halves dash of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 egg whites, stiffly beaten
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter


  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Toast the nuts in the oven until light brown, about eight-12 minutes. Stiffly beat two egg whites.
  • Fold sugar and salt into the stiffly beaten egg whites and beat again until stiff peaks form.
  • Fold nuts into the sugar-egg white (meringue) mixture.
  • Melt butter on a cookie sheet with sides (or use broiler pan) and spread the nut mixture on top.
  • Bake for 30 minutes at 325 degrees F. Stir every 10 minutes until nuts are covered with coating and are light brown and no butter remains.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

a recipe that cake people love - recipe: brandied apple cake with walnuts and citrus cream sauce

My friend Sean insists that there are two types of people -- pie people and cake people. Whenever he meets someone new, invariably he will ask them, "Are you a cake person, or a pie person?"

When Sean posed this question to me a number of years ago, I knew immediately that I couldn't give him an answer that would satisfy him, for I am most certainly both.

Sean couldn't accept my "bipartisan" response -- he insisted that one can't be both -- he believed that deep down, we all secretly favour one over the other.

It's a simple (and silly) question -- but whenever I eat cake or pie, I think of Sean and his cake/pie question.

It is a full 10 years since Sean first asked me my preference, and I am still no closer to an answer that he'd be content with. Sean never did spell out what he thought it meant about one's personality to be a pie or cake person. I'll have to ask him. Perhaps it will help me decide.

Here's the thing. I love pie, but to be honest, I'm partial to my mother's recipes. (So is my husband, David. He claims he never knew what pie should taste like until he tried my mother's sour cream and rhubarb pie.)

I don't bake pie very often because no pie I bake will ever compare to one of hers. However, I love all types of cake, too -- from simple pound cakes to rich, syrupy sweet ones with lots of icing.

While I definitely enjoy the classic -- a homemade apple pie -- I adore the below apple cake recipe, given to my mother from a friend many years back.

This is definitely a cake for "grown ups" as kids don't seem to appreciate the flavour of brandy or other spirits in baking. (Both my husband David and I have vivid memories of begging our mothers not to put rum or liqueur in cakes or brandy in the Christmas trifle as it "ruined" it!)

A few weeks ago, David and I drove out to Martin's Family Fruit Farm on Lobslinger Line (on the way to Heidelburg). We sampled all sorts of their delicious apples but settled on some of their galas and honey crisps to take home with us. Both would work well in the below recipe.

Brandied Apple Cake with Walnuts and Citrus Cream Sauce

ingredients for apple cake

  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 2 cups chopped, peeled apples
  • 1/3 cup brandy
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

ingredients for citrus sauce

  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/4 tsp Pure
  • vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1-2 tbsp Grand Marnier or Triple Sec


  • To make the cake preheat oven to 325 degrees Farhenheit.
  • In a small bowl, pour boiling water over the raisins to cover them and soak for 5 minutes to soften; drain.
  • Place the chopped apples in a medium bowl, pour the brandy over the apples, and stir to coat them with brandy.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil and egg.
  • In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, baking soda and salt, stir in the walnuts and raisins.
  • Combine the apples with the sugar mixture, then add the flour mixture, mixing until well blended.
  • Fold the batter into a buttered eight-inch square baking pan. Bake in preheated oven for 50-60 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Serve warm or cold with sauce.
  • To make the Citrus Sauce, open the top of a double boiler, mix together the egg, sugar and cornstarch over boiling water. Add half and half and heat without allowing to boil until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and add the vanilla. Cover the sauce with buttered waxed paper and let cool completely.
  • Just before serving, beat the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the cooled sauce, add the Grand Marnier or triple sec to taste and gently blend.

extra hints from dana's kitchen

Cut the cake into 1 1/2 inch cubes (or use a small cookie cutter to make tiny rounds). Serve the apple cake pieces in a martini or brandy glass, layered with the citrus cream sauce and/or caramel sauce. You could also serve the dessert with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and garnish with apple chips.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

a new pumpkin treat for thanksgiving - recipe: pumpkin croissant bread pudding with tipsy caramel sauce

Are you interested in serving something other than (or perhaps in addition to) a classic pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving? Try my pumpkin croissant bread pudding with "tipsy" caramel sauce -- guaranteed to make you and your guests swoon.

Traditionally, bread pudding was an economical way to serve dessert -- an easy means to use leftover bread that would otherwise be thrown away.

Torn or cubed bread is soaked in a sweetened egg mixture, accompaniments are added (see below for ideas) and then it is all baked in an oven.

Typically, bread pudding recipes call for stale bread but I've found that using fresh bread is just as good.

Although the original recipe calls for white bread, I've adapted the recipe for croissants.

Egg bread is equally delicious if croissants aren't handy or to your liking.

In addition to pumpkin bread pudding, I've had the pleasure of making (and eating) many other types, including:

• chocolate and dried cherry bread pudding

• apple and rosemary bread pudding

• white chocolate bread pudding

• banana, rum and coconut bread pudding

• vanilla bean and raisin bread pudding

I've also made savoury bread puddings, which are perfect for a casual brunch or lunch with friends. To convert the below recipe into a savoury bread pudding, simply omit the sugar, vanilla, spices and raisins.

In their place, add one cup of crumbled cooked bacon or chopped ham, a cup of caramelized onions and a cup of your favourite grated cheese (I prefer gruyere).

Bake and top with a sprinkling of fresh herbs (and, of course, omit the caramel sauce).

Pumpkin Croissant Bread Pudding with Tipsy Caramel Sauce
recipe adapted from Bon Appetit magazine


  • 1 cup milk
    (skim, 1 per cent, 2 per cent or whole milk -- whatever is on hand)
  • 1 cup 35 per cent heavy cream
  • 1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
  • 1 cup (packed) plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon
  • pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon
  • ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2teaspoon
  • vanilla extract
  • 10 cups of 1/2-inch cubes of croissants (about 10 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (can omit or replace with chopped crystallized ginger)

Tipsy Caramel Sauce


  • 1 1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup brandy


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.
  • Whisk the milk, heavy cream, pumpkin, dark brown sugar, eggs, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon and vanilla extract in large bowl to blend. Fold in croissant cubes. Stir in golden raisins.
  • Transfer mixture to 11-inch by 7-inch glass baking dish. Let stand 15 minutes.
  • Bake pumpkin bread pudding until tester inserted into centre comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the caramel sauce.
  • Melt butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until it is melted.
  • Add brown sugar and whisk in cream and brandy and stir until sugar dissolves and sauce is smooth, about three minutes.
  • Serve pudding warm with caramel sauce drizzled overtop (and whipped cream, if desired).

entertaining idea

Slice the tops off of miniature pumpkins and scoop out the flesh and/or seeds.

Serve the pumpkin bread pudding inside the miniature pumpkins (you can fill the pumpkins with the bread pudding earlier in the day and then reheat them in a 350-degree Farenheit oven for 10-15 minutes before serving).

dana's tip

Make sure that you purchase a can of pure pumpkin, not pumpkin-pie filling (which already has sugar and spices added).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

experimenting with risotto recipes - recipe: risotto with butternut squash, maple bacon & fresh thyme

Risotto is a dish that some home chefs are reluctant to prepare because of the work and time involved.

I'm not afraid to make it, but sometimes I'm afraid to "say it" because my husband, David, (who is of Italian descent) sometimes teases me for calling it "rah-ZAW-toe."

When I was at chef school, my class was fortunate enough to learn about risotto from visiting chefs from Italy. They inspired me to experiment with recipes (and also stressed that a plate of correctly prepared risotto should move like a wave when jostled).

Risotto really isn't very complicated -- however it does take a bit of time to prepare. I would describe it as an Italian rice dish that is made by stirring hot chicken or beef stock into a mixture of Arborio or Carnaroli rice and chopped onions (and/or shallots) that have been sauted in butter and/or oil.

The stock is added a little bit at a time -- usually in one-cup increments. Because it has to be stirred almost constantly, it's a perfect meal to prepare on a weekend when you have more time (and can treat yourself to a glass of wine while you are making it).

After all that stirring, the rice tastes incredibly "creamy."

Risottos can be flavoured with an almost infinite number of ingredients -- let your taste and imagination inspire you.

Among other things, I've used sausage, chicken, shrimp, mushrooms, pumpkin, roasted vegetables and beets (but not all at once, no matter how hungry David tells me he is).

Risotto is one of my hubby's favourite meals -- and of all the risotto combinations I've made, the following recipe is most definitely his favourite.

He actually got down on one knee and proposed after I made this for him the first time (just kidding, but he really does love the combination of the salty bacon with the sweet, tender squash).

Risotto with Butternut Squash, Maple Bacon and Fresh Thyme


  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup shallots, finely diced
  • 1 cup cooking onions, finely diced
  • 2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 6 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth or stock
  • 2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut in cubes
  • 1 package (or more -- I use a whole package) of maple bacon
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, divided
  • 4 tbsp butter (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste


  • Pan fry bacon in a large saute pan set over medium heat -- cook until crispy (you can also line a baking sheet with foil and parchment paper and cook the bacon in an oven).
  • Remove the bacon from its drippings, chop the bacon into one-inch pieces and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, bring the chicken broth to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Cover and keep warm.
  • Heat two tbsp of butter and two tbsp of olive oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions and shallots.
  • Saute until onion-shallot mixture begins to soften, about two minutes.
  • Add rice, stir until rice is translucent at edges but still opaque in centre, about three minutes.
  • Add the white wine and simmer until the wine is absorbed, stirring occasionally, about two-three minutes.
  • Add one cup of warm broth. Simmer until the broth is almost absorbed, stirring often, about two-three minutes. Add two cups more broth, one cup at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next and stirring frequently, about six-eight minutes.
  • Mix in the cubed butternut squash and the thyme and one cup of broth. Simmer until broth is just absorbed, stirring often, about five-seven minutes.
  • Add two cups more broth, one cup at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next and stirring frequently.
  • Add cup of grated parmesan cheese, the chopped maple bacon and four tbsp of butter (you can omit the butter if desired). Simmer until the butter melts and the risotto is creamy, stirring often and adding more broth by 1/3-cup fulls if the risotto is dry or the rice isn't quite cooked.
  • Test to make sure that the squash is fork-tender and that the rice is cooked to your liking - season with salt and pepper.
  • Portion risotto into bowls or onto plates and top with the additional cup of parmesan cheese.

Note: Knowing exactly when to add the cubed butternut squash can take a bit of practice (you don't want to add it too late or else your rice will be cooked but your squash will be raw).

If you're a bit nervous, boil or bake your squash ahead of time, and then puree it in a food processor or using a potato masher with a bit of milk or cream. Fold in the butternut squash "puree" when you add the maple bacon and the butter in step number 6 above.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

lifelong passion for cooking began with a childhood brownie-baking fiasco - recipe: decadent double chocolate brownies

Ever since I was a young girl, I loved cooking, baking, parties, entertaining and, of course, eating.

I come from a family where food plays a very important role in our lives -- I have many fond memories of sitting around the family table, enjoying good food and conversation.

Although my mother did not share my passion for entertaining, she certainly encouraged me to pursue a career in the food and hospitality industry.

I completed my undergraduate degree in hotel and food administration from the University of Guelph before attending chef's school a few years later at George Brown College in Toronto.

When still in primary school, I distinctly remember telling my mom, "When I'm a grown-up, I'm going to have a dinner party every night of the week!"

Well, I'm an adult now, and although I don't have the time to entertain as often as I'd like to, owning a specialty food store and catering business allows me to at least feel like I'm hosting fabulous parties every night.

Food is a way to connect -- to not only show love and to comfort but to bring people together -- whether it be a special dinner for two, a family supper for six or a blow-out bash for 50.

My goal in writing this column is not only to share fabulous recipes with you, but to inspire you to slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures that cooking for yourself and others (not to mention eating) can bring.

Because of my passion for entertaining, there will be an emphasis on party planning, presentation ideas and unique recipes to help you entertain with style, ease and confidence.

However, as a "foodie," I also plan on sharing the newest trends and ideas that I pick up at catering conferences, tips and techniques to make your life easier, as well as other interesting tidbits that relate to food.

To understand me a bit better, let me introduce my family.

My mother is a fabulous cook and baker and I'm so grateful to her for teaching me not only how to cook, but the importance of healthy, balanced meals and how to enjoy everything in moderation.

While I was growing up, my dad was the resident breakfast cook -- on Saturdays he would make a traditional "English" breakfast.

Sundays were even more delicious -- blueberry and banana pancakes served with bacon or sausage.

Dad doesn't prepare many breakfasts for the entire family anymore, but he can always be counted on to pair a fabulous wine with whatever we are eating (at dinner, not breakfast).

My brother loves food too. As a student away at university, when not attending class, much of his time was spent cooking. He made lasagna from scratch -- no pasta machine either -- he rolled the pasta by hand.

His roommate, a smoker, dubbed his marinated steaks "two smoke steaks" because they were so good that he had to have two cigarettes afterwards.

He still loves to be in the kitchen, is quite knowledgeable about wine and could easily cook for a living -- my sister-in-law is one lucky gal.

Although my husband, David, does not enjoy cooking, he does love to eat (and eat and eat -- he's Italian) and is by far my most critical recipe tester.

Lastly, the newest addition to our family -- our son John, who was born this past May. I am already counting down the days until his six-month "birthday" when he can eat solid food.

The first recipe that I'd like to share with you is my Aunt Julie's double chocolate brownie recipe, which evokes strong memories of my childhood.

When I was 10 years old, this recipe was my first "real" attempt at baking something from scratch. To make a long story "shortt," after the brownies came out of the oven, I placed the hot pan onto our kitchen table, which was made of glass.

I didn't realize that the hot pan would crack the glass, and would thus ruin the table.

I was very worried that I would be in a lot of trouble, but my mom didn't get too upset because she knew that it was an accident.

Now that I'm older, I really appreciate that I wasn't scolded for this mistake because if I had been, I may have stopped experimenting in the kitchen out of fear (and then perhaps never started a business built around my love of food).

Thanks mom, and thank you for teaching me that you can enjoy everything in moderation -- even brownies.

Decadent Double Chocolate Brownies


  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup butter, unsalted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups chocolate chips, divided
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs


  • In a small bowl, using a whisk, combine the flour, baking soda and salt.
  • Set aside.
  • In a small saucepan, combine the butter, sugar and water.
  • Bring just to a boil. Remove from heat.
  • Add one cup of chocolate chips and the vanilla.
  • Let sit for a minute or two to help melt the chips.
  • Stir until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth.
  • Transfer chocolate mixture to a bowl and add the eggs, one at a time. Gently fold in the flour mixture.
  • Add in the remaining one cup of chocolate chips.
  • Bake in an eight-inch square tin pin at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-35 minutes.

quick tip:

When combining dry ingredients in recipes, use a whisk to stir instead of using a wooden spoon.

Whisking allows for a more even distribution of the dry ingredients.

entertaining idea

Cut brownies into small squares or circles and insert lollipop sticks into one end of each piece.

Allow your guests to dip their brownie "lollipops" into melted caramel sauce, chocolate sauce or whipped cream.

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