Welcome to the Canadian Living Test Kitchen bulletin board. This is our space to write about the foodie world -- stories we are working on, tasty new food products and must-have utensils that spark our imagination. We'll report new cooking tricks (and occasionally lessons learned) that come from the day-to-day testing and developing of recipes you find in the magazine. And, as we discover the hottest new restaurants, chefs and gourmet and farmer's markets, you'll be among the first to know.
Oct. 31 Foodie diary: Tapas treats
Recently, the Canadian Living Test Kitchen treated staff from Free the Children to a night of Spanish tapas, with such dishes as Clams in Garlic and White Wine and Manchego Chorizo Puffs (see "On Tapas of the World" in our October 2005 issue).
We are all also cheese lovers, so some our favourite Spanish cheeses were served with the tapas along with walnut bread and Port-braised figs. If you are thinking of throwing a tapas party (or just want to try something different), here are a few Spanish cheeses (or quesos) worth seeking out:
Majorero: This goat's milk cheese from Spain's Canary Islands is tangy, sweet and mild with a nutty aftertaste. Try it with quince paste.
Manchego: Spain's most famous hard ewe's-milk cheese from the cattle-raising region of La Mancha is tangy, full flavoured and slightly grainy. For nibbling, buy the cruda, but a cheaper grade works just fine for chorizo puffs.
ValdeÃ©n: This is a mild, blue, rich and creamy cow's milk (or goat and cow) cheese that is aged in caves along Spain's Cantabrian Sea and wrapped in chestnut (or sycamore) leaves. It looks great on the cheese board and is especially good with organic honey and ripe pears.
And check out our Roasted Garlic Tapas recipe.
Oct. 24 Foodie diary: Howling Halloween drinks
Sure, Halloween is supposed to be for kids, but many of the 30-somethings we know also love to dress up and throw some sort of monster mash (or bash). If you have a preternatural party in the works, here are a few drinks to get things howling.
Hobgoblin Extra Strong Ale (Wychwood Brewery Company, UK, 500 mL)
This amber brown ale has spicy, coffee notes and hoppy flavours. About $3.
Maudite (Unibroue, Canada, 6x341 mL)
Maudite (the damned one) is named for the legend of the Chasse-Galerie (the Flying Canoe). Legend has it that a group of lumberjacks struck a deal with the devil to fly home in their canoes in time for Christmas. Sweet, roasted malt flavour with fruity, yeasty and hoppy complexity.
Torres Sangre de Toro (Miguel Torres, Spain)
Translated as the blood of the bull, this dry, ruby red wine has the aromas of blackberries, leather and oak and is made from Spanish Garnacha and CariÃ±ena grapes. Superb with grilled or roast meats and mushrooms. About $10.
Gato Negro Cabernet Sauvignon (Vina San Pedro, Chile, 1,500 mL)
This is perfect cheap and cheerful Halloween wine with its dry, light body, soft fruit and tannins. Look for the plastic black cat attached to the label. About $16.
Inferno Pepper Pot Vodka (Kittling Ridge, Canada)
This is premium vodka infused with the natural heat of red hot peppers. Great for Bloody Marys. About $23.
Blavod (The Black Vodka Company, UK)
This pure, smooth vodka is naturally coloured with the herb catechu. The neutral flavour is perfect for martinis. (If you can't find it, stir a drop of black food-colouring paste into your favourite vodka.) About $20.
1/4 cup (50 mL) black vodka
2 tbsp (25 mL) dry vermouth
1 black olive
Shake vodka and vermouth with crushed ice; strain into martini glass. Garnish with olive.
1 oz (25 mL) vodka
1/4 oz (10 mL) white creme de menthe
Shake vodka and creme de menthe with crushed ice; strain into martini glass.
For a Chocolate Spider, use creme de cacao
1-1/2 (40 mL) oz dark rum
4 oz (125 mL) cranberry juice
Fill highball glass with ice. Stir in rum and cranberry juice. Drop lime wedge into drink.
Oct 17 Foodie diary: Life is like a box of chocolates
Though Halloween is just around the corner, the romantic souls in the Canadian Living Test Kitchen are already dreaming of Valentine's Day. Recently, we had a tasting of Michel Cluizel chocolates at a chocolate seminar. Maybe you've noticed a variety of numbers on European chocolate bars lately (such as Cluizel, Cote D'Or, Lindt and Valrhona). These numbers designate the percentage of cocoa solids in the bar -- the higher the number, the darker, richer (and more bitter) it is.
Sweet notes from a chocolate tasting
We tasted a flight of chocolate pallets (Michel Cluizel French Chocolates-Les Nuancier) ranging from 33% (milk chocolate) all the way up to 99% (very bittersweet), displayed in a beautiful long box with the cocoa percentage printed in gold on each pallet. (This set is available from many gourmet stores and chocolate purveyors for about $70 for 70 pieces.)
This tastebud-opening experience (read more about it in our February issue) would be a great party idea, perhaps with servings of port or other postprandials. If you can't find the Cluizel set, just purchase a selection of bars (such as Lindt, Valrhona or one of many organic brands that also print the cocoa percentage on the label). Break them into squares and serve in individual dishes accompanied by place cards with the cocoa percentages, arranged from lowest to highest. To titillate your taste buds, here's a sneak peak at our tasting notes:
33% Lait - smooth and sweet
45% Grand Lait - smooth with a hint of bitterness (group favourite)
50% Mangaro Lait - milk chocolate with a bite
60% Amer - fine, elegant flavour
72% Noir - rich, lingering flavour
85% Noir - rich and intense
99% Amer - deep and dense, slow melting, unforgettable
To find out about the health benefits of chocolate, click here.
If our staff were a box of chocolates here's what we'd be:
Heather - caramel-pecan cluster
Bev - cherry cordial
Gaby - coconut cup
Alison - coffee buttercream
Andrew - hazelnut praline
Rheanna - dark chocolate truffle
James - icewine truffle
Adell - maple-walnut buttercream
Oct 3 Foodie diary: The magic of pesto
If you have a backyard full of basil ready for picking (or you're tempted by lush, fragrant bunches at the market), why not make a few batches of Basil Pesto? For optimum flavour, it's best to use fresh ingredients so pick the basil just before using and buy fresh cheese and nuts.
In the Test Kitchen, we look forward to whirling up pesto every fall. It's super easy to make and contains some favourite ingredients: garlic, nuts and Parmesan cheese. It's wonderful dolloped on chicken or fish, drizzled over sliced tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, added inside a vegetable panini, tossed with hot pasta or stirred into tomato soup.
Pesto freezes well and is fabulous to have on hand during those dark winter months when fresh herbs are expensive and bland). Freeze it in 1/2 to 1 cup/125 to 250 mL) containers (perfect for one meal) or even in ice-cube trays (perfect for single servings).
Test Kitchen tip of the week:
Wine for pesto-based dishes: Basil pesto needs an acidic wine to offset its oiliness. To bring out fruit in the wine, try Verdicchio (Italy), a light and fruity white wine with a lemon acidity that cleanses the palate. Or play up the herbaceous notes with Sauvignon Blanc from a cool climate such as Sancerre (Loire Valley, France), New Zealand or Canada.
Click here to meet the Canadian Living Test Kitchen Staff.