Wednesday, December 12, 2012

ladies' night

last night was the first ladies' shopping night at the market. hours were extended until 8pm and lots of vendors were on hand so there was great selection for christmas shopping. there were passed hors d'oeuvres, carol singers, wine seminars & some food demonstrations put on by yours truly (click here for an action shot).

the event was coordinated by the halifax port authority and they asked me to come up with simple holiday appetizers that were approachable & relatively quick to put together. i chose to demonstrate a few bar snacks, a couple of dips, some skewers, cheese balls and filo bundles.

i brought in my kitchenaid stand mixer & food processor, a little hot plate, bowls, utensils and transformed my usual nook at the market into a little cooking studio.

this was the setup for the 'skewers' segment. i just showed the ladies how to take some classic flavour combinations and plate them up a wee bit different so they're festive & easy to eat at cocktail parties.

the first was classic prosciutto & melon. i chose to use cantaloupe & honeydew. first i diced the melons up uniformly and then wrapped each cube in a slice of speck (alternatively you could use prosciutto or roselane's westphalean ham) and secured them with bamboo skewers. i prefer the snazzy skewers with a knot or twist in the end. they're available at big eric's on lady hammond but are cheaper at the smaller asian groceries - i usually go to the one on chebucto across from what used to be the bay, or tian phat on the bedford highway.

the second was a take on a caprese salad. with the red, white & green colour combo, these are perfect for the holidays. i find that cherry tomatoes & baby bocconcini can be a little bland so a marinade really gives them a boost. i toss the cheese with a little olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and chopped oregano. the cherry tomatoes get a dose of balsamic reduction, salt & pepper.

the trick, to really infuse the tomatoes with flavour, is to prick them all over with a skewer. they look unblemished and it doesn't mar presentation but it allows the vinegar & salt to really penetrate the fruit.

next up were prosciutto wrapped asparagus skewers. the kicker is a little nugget of boursin cheese hiding under the prosciutto - any flavour you like. then with just a quick coating of vegetable oil, s&p and a couple minutes under the broiler, you're good to go.

next it was on to bar snacks. for these i chose to do marinated olives, stuffed dates & candied nuts. 

at this time of year, i really dig the flavours of citrus & rosemary. for the olives, i pitted 2 cups of kalamata olives, then tossed them with 2 tbsp of olive oil, 1 tbsp of red wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, the zest of one orange and 1 sprig of rosemary, finely chopped. then i added my secret ingredient - 1 tsp zaatar spice, from the spice man at the old market.

these olives are something that can be done a couple of weeks in advance, they get better with age, and are a great pantry staple.

the stuffed dates are one of my personal favourites; the salty-sweet combo is right up my alley. the only important thing to remember is: don't cheap out on the dates. medjool dates are imperative. the honey dates at the grocery store are a fraction of the price but shouldn't be used in this application. so take a date, remove the pit, fill the cavity with blue cheese & a toasted almond and close the date back up. if blue cheese isn't your thang, sub in goat cheese or whatever else floats your boat. again these can be done in advance & help to alleviate some of the stress of holiday entertaining.

the final thing i'm going to tackle tonight is the recipe for spiced nuts. i think these were the ultimate favourite of the evening. these are something i've been making for years, they're always a hit & i've even made giant batches as christmas gifts before.

spiced nuts
5 cups mixed nuts (i used walnuts, pecans & almonds in this batch)
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries

-melt the honey & brown sugar together over a double boiler. i guess this could be done in the microwave too, i just never use those, but be careful - honey boils over in a heartbeat!
-add all of the spices to the honey mixture and mix well
-add the nuts and toss to coat, it should be a nice light coating, not pooling in the bottom of the bowl

-spread them in an even layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet 
-spray a cooling rack with nonstick cooking spray. spread the nuts on this & place it over a parchment-lined baking sheet. as they roast, any excess honey will drip off and leave perfectly coated individual nuts
-bake at 300F 15-20 minutes until the honey has caramelized and isn't quite so sticky
-cool slightly, toss in the pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries and separate the nuts with a fork
-cool completely & store in an air-tight container. these will keep for weeks.

the pumpkin seeds & dried cranberries have to go in at the end for presentation's sake. if the pumpkin seeds roast alongside the nuts, they turn the same shade of brown and aren't nearly as pretty. the cranberries turn almost black & become quite acrid. by adding them at the end they look nice & festive.

well this is turning in to a bit of a novel, so i'll reserve the rest for another day. hope it's been helpful thus far.

to be continued...

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