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Friday, October 30, 2009

20 Great Parties, from Simple to Sophisticated

We are on the verge of the Holiday season, families are making plans, children are heading out to trick or treat, about to experience there first seasonal sugar hang overs. You are thinking of the entertaining season and the question that inevitably comes to mind is

Do I want to have a casual gathering, or a more formal event?

When it comes to throwing a party, the first step is to decide what sort of party it’s going to be. Do you want to have a casual gathering, or a more formal event? Once you’ve decided, then the planning can begin. From simple to sophisticated, here are a few party ideas to get you started.

1. The potluck: This is a great way to get together with friends without worrying about making tons of food. The potluck can satisfy large or smaller groups. Just make sure your guests know exactly what to bring, and are the type to get into the potluck spirit.
2. TV/Sports parties: Again, this simple theme allows you to spend time with friends and enjoy a common event together. Whether it’s the Grey cup, superbowl or a sitcom marathon, all that is required are snacks such as popcorn, nachos, drinks, and a fun crowd.

3. Brunch: Sometimes, it seems impossible to pull everyone together for an evening. So why not have a brunch? Throw together a frittata the night before or explore more gourmet options such as Eggs Rancheros. The great thing about brunch is its flexibility.

4. Games night party: If you’re looking for a laugh, consider pulling together your mates for a games night party. From get-to-know-you games, to hilarious team options, let your hair down with your friends. As for food, pizza and drinks are a great way to go.

5. The ultimate BBQ: The best thing about the barbecue is its versatility. You can go gourmet, or stay simple when it comes to grilling. Anything goes. Just throw some food on the barbecue and put together a couple of salads, or be brave and throw a winter BBQ!

6. Direct selling party: Direct selling parties are coming back into the scene, from candle parties to elegant kitchenware products and more. All you need to do is provide some simple food, and the guests, then sit back and let the representative do the work.

7. Dinner party: Like the barbecue, the dinner party has some flexibility. With larger groups, focus on making one great meal. Conversely, if you’re feeling up to the gourmet challenge, invite a couple of friends over for a multi-course gourmet extravaganza.

8. Cocktail parties: Cocktail parties are a great way to have an elegant party without serving a major meal. Make sure you have a good “bartender” mixing up the cocktails, and some elegant appetizers to accompany the drinks.

9. Mixers: Whether it’s for a group of singles, or just a way to introduce new people into your social circle, mixers can be great fun. breakers get people circulating right away. For food, consider an unusual buffet. The key thing is keeping people moving.

10. Tea: While one would think the classic “tea” would be a simpler party to enjoy with friends, one must consider what goes into this elegant meal. Finger foods such as cucumber sandwiches and other dainty delights are required. Tea is a great idea for an afternoon with the girls.

11. Appetizer party: While this one seems as though it would be simple, in actuality, an appetizer party requires a lot of preparation. Mix it up with hot and cool appetizers. This is a great opportunity to explore a whole range of those delicious hors d’oeurves recipes. 

12. International dinners: Explore all the delights of a region or a specific country when you throw an international dinner. It can be a buffet, or a sit-down event. Just make sure your guests will appreciate the type of food you’ve chosen.

13. Book club party: This is a great way to enjoy good company, great literature and fun food in one. Book club parties are best with more casual meals, but still have an air of sophistication. Just make sure you have committed members.

14. Tapenade party: Tapenades are a tasty alternative to major meals or mere appetizers. A whole range of smaller, more gourmet meals can make for great discussion pieces for your guests. Tapenades also add an air of sophistication to your party.

15. Dessert party: A twist on the standard dinner party, a dessert party is a fun way to satisfy the sweet tooth. Whether you create a chocolate based buffet, explore smaller bites or offer a few cakes, if you like creating desserts, this is a fun one for you.

16. Baking/Cooking parties: Getting the gang together to catch up is fun. Getting them together in the kitchen creating preserves, or unusual meals is fabulous. It’s essential to make sure you’ve got enough space.

17. Wine/Beer tasting parties: It’s always fun to have a tasting party with so many micro-brewed beers and wine to try. You can have blind tasting and offer prizes, or just delight in the new flavors. If you’re worried about expense, ask each guest to bring a bottle (or bottles) within a certain price range to add to the tasting.

18. Progressive parties: Start at your place with appetizers. Cross the street to enjoy your neighbour’s main meal, and make your way elsewhere for dessert. The progressive party has you hopping from place to place. Just remember: timing is everything.

19. Fondue party: Bring back this 1970’s favorite! Fondue is such a diverse meal, it’s worth going retro and making it the focus of your party. The range of recipes are endless. Sophisticated and scrumptious, the only drawback is collecting all the pots for the party!

20. Theme parties: Oscar parties, murder mysteries, and more, theme parties are always fun. Go retro. Revolve around characters such as James Bond. The key thing with great theme parties is having the invites, decorations, cocktails and food match your theme.

Parties are a perfect opportunity to enjoy good food and company, so whatever you choose, make sure you remember to enjoy yourself as well.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Impress your Wife with minimal effort"

There are many ways to impress your girlfriend or wife but I will suggest one way that is sure to be a success and lead to one of the most wonderful evenings you have had. It is amazing how women are impressed by a well cooked dinner.

What I am about to suggest is that you cook a great dinner and make it a romantic event. In order to impress women an ordinary meal will not do. The meal should be well invested in the sense of menus and good cooking.

Now, not everyone is a born cook, but there is nothing that is impossible to learn. Even if you have never cooked, all you have to do is get some great recipes and good and easy to follow instructions of how to cook them.

Salmon en croute.

Serves: 2

Preparation time less than 30 mins

Cooking time 10 to 30 mins


For the salmon en croute
4 tbsp chopped fresh dill
4 tbsp chopped fresh chives
200g/7oz cream cheese
2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
2 5oz salmon fillet, skinned
flour, for dusting
1/2 of 425g/15oz packet ready-rolled puff pastry
2 free-range egg, beaten
For the sauce
300ml/1/2 pint double cream
2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
For the sautéed spinach
2 tbsp butter
400g/14oz spinach


1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
2. For the salmon en croute, mix the dill, chives, cream cheese and mustard together in a small bowl.
3. Slice the salmon in half across the middle and spread the cream cheese mixture on top of one of the halves. Place the other half fillet on top of the filling.
4. Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured surface to make a rectangle twice the size of the salmon fillet. Divide into two rectangles.
5. Place the salmon on top of one rectangle, making sure there's a 2½cm/1in border around the salmon. Brush the edges with beaten egg and place the second pastry rectangle on top of the fillet. Press down around the edges to seal and brush all over with beaten egg.
6. Place onto a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until the pastry is golden-brown and the salmon cooked through.
7. For the sauce, pour the cream and mustard into a pan and bring slowly to the boil. Season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir in the dill.
8. For the sautéed spinach, heat the butter in a frying pan, add the spinach and stir until wilted.
9. To serve, place the salmon en croute onto a serving plate with the spinach and drizzle over the sauce.

Serving Cheese as a Dessert

In different culinary traditions it’s customary to serve a cheese course before dessert or after dessert. But what happens when cheese becomes the dessert? We can’t imagine anyone will be missing the chocolate cake or apple pie.
In recent years, it has become increasingly fashionable to serve cheese in place of typical sugary sweets. As a dessert, cheese is simple, elegant, and in many cases, healthier than brownies, cookies, and the like. And with so many textures, flavors and aromas, cheese offers a world of decadent possibilities.

Flavored Cheeses

At gourmet markets and cheese shops, you’ll find cheese makers are indulging the dessert trend with specialty cheeses featuring sweet flavors, fruits, and liqueurs. For exquisite but easy desserts, look for Chèvre encrusted with blueberry and cinnamon, Wensleydale flavored with rum and tropical fruit, logs of goat cheese blended with semi-sweet chocolate, or cheese tortes filled with alternating layers of cheese, honey, and nuts. A favorite made in Britain is White Stilton studded with pieces of mango and ginger. It tastes just like a luscious cheesecake, without the crust!

Cheese Plates

To create your own cheese dessert, individual cheese plates are a very sophisticated option, especially when entertaining guests. For the proper assortment, choose three to four cheeses (see suggestions below) that range in flavor from savory to sweet, and plan on adorning each individual plate with about two ounces of each cheese.
For a pretty presentation, arrange fresh fruits between each selection. Apples, pears, figs, melons, and grapes pair well with almost any cheese. Then embellish each plate with a sprinkling of walnuts, a side of quince jelly, or a drizzling of honey or pecan praline sauce. Complement your offerings with some sweet dark breads and biscuits, and of course a lovely dessert wine. Dessert cheeses match well with vintage Port, fruity Moscato, or crisp, chilled ice wines.

Dessert Cheese Choices

Some cheeses are naturally sweet and fruity in flavor, making them traditional treats for dessert time. Think of smooth Dutch Gouda, acidic Swiss Emmantel, creamy Danish Havarti, or luxurious French Brie. It takes little more than a few slices of fruit and wine to turn these famous cheeses into simply scrumptious desserts.
Savory cheeses, though not as obvious, make alluring dessert choices as well. Mature Parmesan, albeit crumbly, nutty and salty, is perhaps best appreciated as a dessert with fresh figs and pears. A robust Italian Pecorino melts in your mouth when cut into chunks and served with ripe pears and honey. You could also try a Spanish San Simon or a sharp, gritty Danish Blue alongside strawberries and peaches. For a more casual treat, warm slices of crusty Finnish Juustoleipa (Bread Cheese) in the microwave for 10 to 20 seconds. Serve it with honey and lingonberry jam, or dip it right into your cup of coffee.

Easy, Cheesy Dessert Recipes

From cheesecakes and pies to tarts and tiramisu, cheese finds its way into a number of our favorite desserts. So cheese lovers who can’t bear to trade in their sweet treats for a cheese plate can still enjoy the best of both worlds.
However, when you don’t have time to bake, cheeses like Ricotta and Mascarpone can be turned into elegant desserts without much fuss. These mild, creamy cheeses almost beg to spread and swirled with sweet add-ins. Best of all, they’re ready to eat in just a few short minutes. Enjoy!

Ricotta Cheese with Honey and Berries
  • 250g ricotta
  • 250g mixed berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries)
  • 4 tbsp raspberry sauce
  • 2 tbsp honey

  • Prepare four dessert plates. Divide the ricotta into four slices and place one slice on each plate.
  • Top the ricotta with berries. Drizzle each plate first with raspberry sauce, then with honey.
  • Serve immediately. Makes four servings.

    Banana Mascarpone Mousse
    • 100g dark chocolate
    • Splash double cream
    • 85g mascarpone cheese
    • Splash lemon juice
    • 1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
    • Splash rum
    • ½ banana, chopped

  • Gently melt the chocolate and cream in a double boiler over simmering water or on low in the microwave.
  • In another bowl, beat the mascarpone, lemon juice, mint, rum and banana.
  • Add the melted chocolate to the mascarpone mixture and fold until combined.
  • Spoon the mousse into four ramekins and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or more. Makes four servings.
  • Monday, October 26, 2009


    I have had a few people ask me for a good recipe for potato, leek soup, and I hope to make them happy with a good Traditional recipe. Until then this is a nice twist on an old concept.

    Yields about 6 cups; serves 4

    The whole potato, skin and all, goes into this thick soup, so wash the potatoes well.
    Sharp cheese works well in this soup because it melts smoothly. Extra sharp will give you a more pronounced flavor but because of its lower moisture content, the soup will be less smooth.

    2 medium russet potatoes (about 1/2 pound each)
    4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
    2 medium leeks (white and light green parts), sliced and rinsed well
    2 medium cloves garlic, minced
    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
    2 cups homemade or low-salt canned chicken broth
    4 thick slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch dice
    1/2 cup milk
    1/2 cup sour cream
    1 cup grated sharp Cheddar (about 1/4 pound)
    2 Tablespoons thinly sliced scallion greens or chives

    Heat the oven to 375ºF.

    Scrub the potatoes, pat dry, and pierce several times with a fork. Set them directly on the oven rack and bake until very tender, about 1 hour.
    Let cool completely on a cooling rack.

    Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and garlic, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the broth and 2 cups water.
    Simmer until the leeks are very tender, about 20 minutes.

    Meanwhile, cook the bacon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp.
    Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain.

    Cut one of cooled potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop the flesh out in one piece from each half.
    Cut the flesh into 1/2-inch cubes and set aside.

    Coarsely chop the potato skin and the entire remaining potato and add to the pot with the leeks.
    Purée the contents of the pot in batches in a blender until very smooth.

    Return the soup to a clean pot and reheat over medium low.

    Whisk together the milk and sour cream and then whisk this into the soup, along with 1/2 cup of the Cheddar.

    Stir in the diced potato.

    Season with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with the remaining Cheddar, the bacon bits, and the scallions or chives.

    Saturday, October 24, 2009

    Scary Skillet Shepherd's Pie

    For those of us with little Ghouls & Ghosts heading out to Trick or treat in the next Week I was sent this recipe from a dear friend out in Comox Valley, positioned on the East Cost of Vancouver Island. It is a fantastic spooky, fun and nutritious way to send them haunting into the night.

    What you need:
    3 cups frozen mixed vegetables (peas, carrots, corn, green beans)
    1 lb. (450 g) ground beef
    1 cup beef gravy
    125 g (1/2 of 250-g pkg.) PHILADELPHIA Brick Cream Cheese, cubed
    1 cup milk, divided
    1 cup water
    2 cups instant potato flakes
    1/4 cup KRAFT 100% Parmesan Grated Cheese


    COOK vegetables as directed on package. Meanwhile, brown meat in large skillet; drain. Stir in gravy; simmer until heated through, stirring occasionally.

    MICROWAVE cream cheese and 1/4 cup milk in medium microwaveable bowl on HIGH 30 sec.; beat with whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk in remaining milk and water. Microwave 2-1/2 min. or until hot, stirring after each minute. Stir in potato flakes and Parmesan until well blended. Spoon into resealable plastic bag; cut 1 corner from bottom of bag.

    REMOVE 12 peas from mixed vegetables; stir remaining vegetables into meat mixture. Squeeze potato mixture into 6 mounds on meat mixture to resemble ghosts. Add 2 of the reserved peas to each for the eyes.

    Friday, October 23, 2009

    Mexican Hot Chocolate With Whipped Topping

    Ingredients You Will Need:... Read More

    ¾ cup water
    1 split vanilla bean or one teaspoon vanilla extract
    3/4 to 1 cup sugar
    1 heaping teaspoon instant coffee granuals
    ½ teaspoon cinnamon
    ½ teaspoon chili powder
    4 ounces dark chocolate (Finely Grated)
    2 cups milk or sweet cream

    Boil water in a small saucepan. Add vanilla, sugar, coffee, cinnamon and chilli powder. Stir to dissolve. Add grated chocolate over low heat. Simmer until chocolate melts, then whisk briskly until the mixture thickens. Stir in milk or cream and allow to simmer. Remove from heat, pour into mugs and add a generous dollop of whipped cream or topping with a sprinkling of the cinnamon/chili pepper powder on top.

    Pan de Muerto, "Bread of the Dead"

    In celebration of Mexico's Day of the Dead, this bread is often shaped into skulls or round loaves with strips of dough rolled out and attached to resemble bones.


    • 1/2 cup butter
    • 1/2 cup milk
    • 1/2 cup water
    • 5 to 5-1/2 cups flour
    • 2 packages dry yeast
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 tablespoon whole anise seed
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 4 eggs

    In a saucepan over medium flame, heat the butter, milk and water until very warm but not boiling.

    Meanwhile, measure out 1-1/2 cups flour and set the rest aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the 1-1/2 cups flour, yeast, salt, anise seed and sugar. Beat in the warm liquid until well combined. Add the eggs and beat in another 1 cup of flour. Continue adding more flour until dough is soft but not sticky. Knead on lightly floured board for ten minutes until smooth and elastic.

    Lightly grease a bowl and place dough in it, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours. Punch the dough down and shape into loaves resembling skulls, skeletons or round loaves with "bones" placed ornamentally around the top. Let these loaves rise for 1 hour.

    Bake in a preheated 350 F degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and paint on glaze.

    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
    • 2 tablespoons grated orange zest

    Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, then apply to bread with a pastry brush.

    If desired, sprinkle on colored sugar while glaze is still damp.

    High School Culinary Challenge

    Canadian Culinary Federation Edmonton presents its second annual High School Culinary Challenge

    —13 Greater Edmonton high schools will compete at NAIT on Saturday, Feb. 7

    Edmonton’s second annual High School Culinary Challenge will be held at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) on Saturday, Feb. 7 from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The competition encourages regional high school students to pursue rewarding careers in the culinary arts. This year, 13 high schools will compete – up from 10 last year. The competition is presented by the Canadian Culinary Federation Edmonton.
    Each participating high school has entered a three-student team to create a three-course meal (soup, entrée and dessert) for six people in three hours. The courses will be plated and presented for judging. The top three student teams will be honoured at an awards lunch on March 4 in the Shaw Conference Centre’s Hall D.

    The High School Culinary Challenge is a vision of Chef Simon Smotkowicz, Executive Chef of the Shaw Conference Centre and President of the Canadian Culinary Federation Edmonton.

    “We hope this unique, challenging, hands-on competition will really stir high school students to seriously consider the many creative opportunities in our demanding profession,” says Smotkowicz.

    The 39 competing students will have the opportunity to apply for specially-created scholarship - mentorship packages. Two students will receive scholarships for post-secondary tuition, uniforms, books and knives. They will also participate in a three-year mentorship program. Over the course of the three year apprenticeship, the students will work in some of the best kitchens in Greater Edmonton: the Red Ox Inn, Sage at River Cree Casino and Resort, and the Fantasy Grill - the Fantasyland Hotel's main dining room.

    Sponsors for this year’s High School Culinary Challenge include: Alberta Food Processors, Chaine des Rôtisseurs Edmonton, Chef’s Hat Inc., Dawn Food Products Ltd., EPCOR, Fantasyland Hotel, Growing Alberta, Lilydale Inc., NAIT’s School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts, River Cree Resort and Casino, and the Shaw Conference Centre.
    The Canadian Culinary Federation is a not-for-profit association uniting chefs and cooks across Canada in a common dedication to professional excellence. The Canadian Culinary Federation (CCFCC) was founded in 1963.
    Media Contacts:

    Chef Simon Smotkowicz
    Executive Chef, Shaw Conference Centre
    (780) 917-7617

    Stanley Townsend

    Program Chair, Culinary Arts, NAIT

    (780) 47471-8694

    A meal time grace

    As we partake of bread and wine, may we remember that there are many for whom sufficient bread is a luxury, or for whom wine, when attainable, is only an escape. Let our thanksgiving for Life’s bounty include a commitment to changing the world, that ...those who are now hungry may be filled and those without hope may be given courage. Let always our tables be a place of dialogue.