Here’s where you can find some of my writing:
In November 2013 my mini-series on Easier Entertaining was published on the Good Food Revolution website. (Good Food Revolution). See below for copies.
Also, you can visit my blog, all food thoughts, here. It is a regular blog of food thoughts, photos, lists and ideas. I usually post once a week, and you can always choose to FOLLOW (at the bottom of the blog page) to receive e-mail updates when there are new posts.
Easier Entertaining. Published November 22, 2013:
The holidays are coming and even though I don’t exchange a lot of gifts or buy many decorations I’m getting excited. The entertaining spirit infects me early and I start thinking of all the foods and seasonal treats I want to make. Most years I do a lot of baking: Jam sandwich cookies and shortbread fingers dipped in dark chocolate, chocolate peppermint stars and snowmen cut-outs with sweet icing glaze. And brownies and blondies and tarts topped with nuts.
However, sometimes I run out of time before I run out of things I want to bake, so I count on a few neighbourhood shops to help me out. Basically I pick up delicious homemade treats that weren’t made in my home. Cookies and bars and treats that aren’t mass-produced and packaged in industrial plastic wrap.
There’s a small bakery in Toronto’s west end, the Hot Oven, that offers more than a dozen cookies that look delicious, are appealing but not so perfect they appear fake, most importantly to me, they taste like the butter and sugar they’re made from. Every time I’m in the area I stop in for a few cookies. As back-up baking for the holidays I consider the treats made of dry dates sandwiched between two spiced butter cookies. Ginger snaps. Soft chocolate chip or raisin oatmeal cookies. Also bars: sweet fillings and dried fruits and chopped nuts with caramel.
Holiday entertaining and homemade treats seem to go hand-in-hand. But if you and homemade treats don’t go hand-in hand, check out some local bakeries to fill the gap. The bakery’s fresh drop biscuits with homemade jam will taste incredible, whereas the grocery store’s shrink-wrapped jam drops will taste sandy in comparison. There will be much cookie eating this season; why not eat the true bakery’s cookies that we imagine, and the ones we remember eating straight off the cooling rack on the counter, and leave the tins of ‘butter’ cookies at the supermarket?
Published November 28, 2013:
I’m not up for making my own chocolate truffles. Or nut-filled chocolates. Or even chocolate dipped fruit. I’ve seen the molds and chocolate wafers at the store, but making these treats is not a chore I’ll enjoy. The trouble is, I do want to have little luxuries at the table when I entertain. So I’ve been paying attention to the small shops in Toronto’s neighbourhoods. Tasting different chocolates here and there so I can simply buy what I’d like to serve.
There’s nothing wrong with a pretty holiday-themed box of Belgian truffles from Hudson’s Bay, or a selection from the glass case at Godiva. And I usually buy a few boxes of miniatures from Canada’s own Laura Secord throughout the year, though that may just be nostalgia since I grew up with Laura Secord in the house on special occasions. But there are so many more options in our little neighbourhoods, why not give them a chance?
Last spring when I had family over for lunch there wasn’t enough space at the table for a centerpiece – I had to account for all the platters of food I would be putting out, and there wasn’t room for anything else. Instead of flowers or candles, I placed a few dark chocolate eggs on each guest’s napkin, just at the tips of the silverware. Not fresh spring buds, but delicious bite-sized treats. This holiday season I’ll stack a small pyramid of truffles on a saucer at either end of the table to accompany coffee and dessert. Simple, delicious, quality chocolate.
Take a look around your neighbourhood for small artisanal shops that make chocolates. Be on alert when you pass through other communities if you can’t find what you want at home, or try looking online for a shop in your area. Rather than the standard box of average chocolate, look for a small selection of luxurious specialty ones. There is plenty of chocolate to be had during the holidays; why not support a local store’s handmade version and indulge a little?
Published December 6, 2013:
A cheese board is one of the easiest dishes to prepare when entertaining. All you really need is a variety of cheeses arranged on a large board or platter, along with some crackers.
But there’s no reason to stop there, that’s just the basics. Try including a couple of small dishes filled with rich fruit jam and sweet honey. A dollop of raspberry jam atop old English cheddar changes the mouthful entirely. Drizzling a little fresh honey over the strong bite of Gruyere will bring a new taste to the table. And guests will customize, as they like. Also put out a dish or two of plain roasted nuts. Crunchy almonds compliment the softness of cheeses like Swiss or Havarti, and pistachios or cashews are always winners.
The accompanying crackers and flat breads need not simply be basic Ritz or a pre-packed selection of ‘cheese crackers’ from the supermarket. Sure, you should have some plain water crackers, but how about crispy rounds with pumpkin and flax seeds? Or poppy and sesame lavash? Mixing and matching the different types of crackers with the various cheeses will create new tastes with each selection.
And what about the cheeses themselves? You could use a brick of industrial cheddar and a ball of pizza mozzarella alongside a dish of cream cheese speckled with smoked salmon. But you could also try a mix of flavours and textures, of strong and mild, of crumbly or creamy. Wensleydale with dried fruit. Soft goat’s cheese that’s been rolled in herbs. A block of salty feta, a firm wedge of Niagara gold – the Canadian step up from Gouda – and a crumbly piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano would all be popular and offer a range of tastes.
Many supermarkets, and smaller grocery stores, carry different types of cheeses from around the world and from around the corner. Canadian cheeses are worth trying, and not hard to find if you are looking. You can get by with the cheeses from these stores. But if you’re going for special, try making a special trip to a cheese shop.
At a neighbourhood cheese shop you’ll find locally made varieties, the knowledgeable staff can recommend different types that work well together on a platter and, possibly best of all, they will often let you taste a slice or two. This way you can buy something new, but know how you feel about it before you present it to your guests. After all, ordinary cheese will do the trick but, really, who wants to offer ordinary when they entertain?