Saturday, January 31, 2015

Phyllo-encrusted baked brie with hazelnut and cranberry

I made this recipe over Christmas, but it would also be great for Valentine's Day, now just a couple of weeks away. Shared it with a loved one, a friend, or make it for a date with yourself - it's that good. You can prepare the Brie package ahead of time and bake it just before serving. 


To prepare phyllo:
Defrost a commercial package of phyllo sheets. Carefully lay one sheet of phyllo on a clean surface, keeping remaining sheets covered with a damp clean cloth. Use a pastry brush to apply a thin layer of melted butter. Layer another sheet directly over top and brush with melted butter. Continue until you have 5 sheets, with no butter on top sheet. 

To prepare hazelnut crumbs:
If you're going to the trouble, you may want to prepare a larger quantity and save the extra for other uses. You'll only need about 1/4 cup nuts for the recipe but I suggest preparing 1/2 cup. Start with a bowl of ice water and raw hazelnuts. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add 3 tablespoons of baking soda (the water will foam up). Add the hazelnuts and boil for about 3 minutes. 

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the nuts to the ice water. Use your fingers to rub off the skin. You can also roll the nuts between two dishcloths to help remove it. Toss the nuts with 2T honey, then place in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast at 350F for 15 minutes. Pulse the nuts into a crumb-like texture using a blender or food processor. 

To prepare the Brie and toppings:
Cut a round of Brie into quarters and place them on the phyllo spaced slightly apart. I do this so some of the topping falls in between the gaps. Sprinkle the top of the cheese with brown sugar, then spoon on whole-cranberry sauce. Finish with hazelnuts crumbs. Bring the corners of the phyllo together and twist them to create a seal, trimming the phyllo as needed. Alternatively, you can just fold the corners over each other. You can brush the top with melted butter if you wish; this will facilitate browning.

To bake the Brie:
Bake at 400°F for 15-20 minutes. 
Serve hot, slathered onto slices of baguette.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Winter whites

This is one of those easy, everyday work outfits. Look closely though, and you'll see a hint of the 1990s (and no it's not ME, I'm older than that). This velvet burnout scarf is from Jacob, circa 1998. Also known as devoré (French for 'devour' - appropriate enough), the burnout technique consists of using a chemical process to dissolve the fibers in portions of solidly woven fabrics for a sheer effect. It was trendy in the pre-millenial years, but I think it's due for a one-woman revival. In any case, it gets my vote over cutoff mom jeans.




Blazer - H&M
Top - Tristan, thrifted
Pants - Elie Tahari outlet
Scarf - Jacob
Shoes - Coach outlet
Earrings - Gift 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Smoked salmon and preserved lemon hors d'oeuvres

I like finding ways to bring an unexpected touch to classic hors d'oeuvres, like smoked salmon and cream cheese on crackers. Instead of sprinkling the salmon with lemon juice, I   added thin slices of preserved lemon from a jar brought back from Paris. My mad-dash trip to gourmet mecca La grande épicerie de Paris late one evening during their extended Christmas hours was worth it. 

Preserved lemons were new to me. Also known as pickled lemons, they're preserved in a brine of lemon juice, water and salt, and occasionally other spices. Preserving creates an intensely flavoured fruit with a salty tang. They are often used in Indian or North African cuisine. I'm planning to use the leftover lemons in a Moroccan tajine sometime. I've seen preserved lemons sold in larger mainstream grocery stores so I'm sure they're also available through ethnic grocers. 


Rinse preserved lemons under water to remove excess surface salt, then thinly slice. Remove any seeds. 

The photo is pretty self-explanatory. To make, spread softened cream cheese on a Triscuit cracker. Add a slice of lemon and a piece of smoked salmon. Top with dill. 

Add capers.
 Add thinly sliced red onion.
Replace the crackers with thinly-sliced, toasted pumpernickel.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Sorry for the grainy quality of these and other recent outfit photos. I was fighting a rapidly setting winter sun and what are clearly the wrong settings on my digital camera. While I'm at it - sorry as well for the cans of tomato I forgot to put away...

I have a tendency to be a little matchy-matchy in what I wear, and I'm trying to get away from obvious colour pairings. A recent example: old me wanted to wear black boots with this outfit, new me tried brown, and liked the result even better.

Now that I'm done expressing my Canadianess and apologizing and being self-deprecating, let's move along. Brown and blue were another unexpected combo I tried recently, but I still played it safe with solid colours. I liked how a cowl-neck knit tee ends up looking like a scarf when worn under a cinched blazer.



Blazer - Femme de carrière, thrifted
Top - Dynamite
Pants - BCBG, consigned
Belt - Thrifted
Shoes - Coach Outlet
Necklace - Gorjana
Earrings - Gift

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sweet sautéed peppers in phyllo cups

Sweet sautéed peppers are a mainstay in our household. I make these regularly to go with anything from grilled meat to garlic bread. They can be messy to serve so I corralled them in little phyllo cups, which themselves are prone to crumbs.  The upshot is - keep napkins or plates on hand.  

To make phyllo cups:
Note: You can buy phyllo cups if - unlike me - your grocery store carries these in the frozen section.

Defrost a commercial package of phyllo sheets. Carefully lay one sheet of phyllo on a clean surface, keeping remaining sheets covered with a damp clean cloth. Use a pastry brush to apply a thin layer of melted butter. Layer another sheet directly over top and brush with melted butter. Continue until you have 5 sheets, with no butter on top sheet. Cut the phyllo into 3 lengthwise and 4 crosswise. Press each piece into a non-stick or greased muffin tin to approximate a cup shape. You can also cut smaller squares and press these into mini muffin tins. I made two regular-sized batches for a total of 24 cups. 

Bake the cups at 400°F for 6-7 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and let them cool directly in the pan. Note: My silicone muffin pans made it easy to 'pop' the cooled phyllo cups out.

To make sweet peppers:
This is the recipe for a medium-sized batch, which made enough for the 24 phyllo cups. Core 5 yellow, red or orange peppers and dice or cut into thin strips. Pour enough olive oil to just coat the bottom of a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add 3 or 4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and one tablespoon of chopped garlic. Add peppers and toss to coat. Cook over medium-low heat for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. I usually cook with a lid for the first 15 minutes then remove it. The peppers should be very sweet and not at all crunchy.

To assemble:
Use a slotted spoon or tongs to fill each cup with the cooked peppers. Top with thinly sliced green onion. Serve warm.

Sprinkle goat cheese on top.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A black and white moment

Black and white is having a moment, and I'm having a moment with black and white. These pants (worn in summery temps here) are a tricky style to pull off, but I like that they break up the monotony of plain black, grey or brown work pants. I might be pushing the limits of our office dress code but I liked the pairing of this classic black turtleneck with edgy, modern accessories. In the spring, I'm looking forward to swapping out a V-neck white tee and colourful high-heeled sandals. 


Pants - Forever 21, swapped
Turtleneck - FCUK, Saks Off Fifth
Jacket - Paola Prata, thrifted
Shoes - Aldo
Necklace - Banana Republic

Friday, January 16, 2015

Bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with almonds and maple

My sister has been raving to me about bacon-wrapped dates, so I decided to try making them for our World Junior Hockey viewing get-together. We needed something a little sweeter to offset the mini pizzas and other savoury bites. Often the dates are stuffed with nuts and/or cheese. I decided to use slivered almonds tossed in maple syrup in my own - patriotic - twist on the recipe.


To make, pit 30 dates and cut 10 pieces of bacon into thirds crosswise. (Note: Test a piece at the beginning to make sure it'll be long enough to wrap around the date). Toss 1 cup of slivered almonds with 1/3 cup maple syrup. Stuff each date with the gooey almonds, wrap with a piece of bacon, and secure with a toothpick. Place on a baking sheet and cook at 400°F for 10-12 minutes, turning  once. Serve hot.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A day at the museum

I just realized I'm pretty much a walking ad for Banana Republic in this post. I guess you could say I'm doing my part to help keep my BFF (who works at headquarters) employed ;) Thanks for all the friends and family coupons M!

I wore this for a casual weekend afternoon visiting the Museum of Nature, which is housed in a beautiful Gothic building that's also a National Historic Site of Canada. We're lucky to live in a city that's home to a number of great museums, but we don't always take advantage of what's at our fingertips. A visit from out-of-towners offered the excuse we needed to fix that! My favourite parts of the visit were the blue whale skeleton, which stretches about 30 meters across the gallery, the dazzling colours and textures in the minerals section, and discovering that I weigh seven wild turkeys.


Top - Banana Republic
Cardigan - Banana Republic
Jeans - Banana Republic
Loafers - Cole Haan
Necklace - Banana Republic

Monday, January 12, 2015

Black bean dip in cheddar cups

A few nights ago, we had friends over to watch one of the World Junior hockey games. Given the reverence with which the games are treated in this part of the world, we decided to serve finger food that could be eaten while watching the action, rather than a sit-down meal. This and a few upcoming posts are dedicated to some of these bite-sized morsels. 

I came up with a finger-food variation on my friend's L black bean dip and grilled pineapple salsa recipe, shown here previously. The guys were pretty excited about the idea that cheese could be turned into a mini serving bowl. Actually, I was too. You can always have a little more cheese in your life.


To make cheddar cups:
Grate about 175g of aged cheddar using the large hole part of the grater. Sprinkle grated cheese onto non-stick baking sheets into circles about 3" in diameter; I used an egg ring to make mine. The cheese should form a thin layer only. Continue until you have about 30 circles, or run out of cheese. Bake each sheet at 400°F for about 8 minutes. The cheese should start to look like lace. 

If you find the cheese is cooking faster on one side of the baking sheet, you can rotate the sheet halfway through. Since the cheese will start to cool and harden as soon as you take it out of the oven, I recommend staggering putting the baking sheets in the oven. 

After cooking, use a spatula to remove each cheese circle, and once just cool enough to handle, gently press it into a muffin tin to create a cup shape. Allow to cool further and harden. 

To make black bean dip:
In a blender, combine 1 can drained and rinsed black beans, 1/4 red onion, roughly chopped, 1T garlic, 1T lemon juice, 1T balsamic vinegar, 1T olive oil, 1T water and a small handful of cilantro. Blend then add salt to taste. If necessary, modify quantities of above ingredients to suit your taste.

To assemble:
Spoon the dip into a ziploc bag. Snip one corner, then pipe the dip into the cheddar cup. Top with a piece of pineapple and cilantro. Tip: You could also grill the pineapple for additional flavour. Serve at room temperature.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Llama-adorned poncho

I found this poncho in a thrift store in Paris, but I assume it was made in South America based on the style and design. It's one of those pieces that seems like it could have an interesting back story. How did it come to be sold in the 16e arrondissement? 

When it comes to back stories, I got luckier with my consigned Blumarine dress from a couple of posts back (see it here). The saleslady was able to tell me it was brought in - unworn - by a regular client with a very wealthy Russian husband who buys her all kinds of designer clothing, much of which she ends up rejecting. Even at consignment prices, the dress wasn't cheap (by my budget standards), but I'm estimating I still saved about 75% off the original price. Russian man's loss, my gain! Seriously though, consignment stores in nice neighbourhoods can be little treasure troves, especially for those who don't mind paying a little more for a curated selection of second-hand items.

Back to the poncho. I was drawn to the hefty wool fabric and artisanal attention to detail, like embroidered llamas on the front panels and a plaid pattern on the underside. It's a little outside my comfort zone but I liked the idea of keeping my always-cold upper arms warm. If your style veers classic like mine, clean lines and neutral colours are a good pairing for any statement piece. I went with a grey cashmere turtleneck, black skinny jeans and brown boots. Nini suggested I could also try it with a miniskirt and thick tights, which I'll probably do next time!



Jeans - Guess, Winners
Turtleneck - Black Label, Saks off Fifth
Cape - Brand unknown, thrifted 
Boots - Etienne Aigner, thrifted

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Intense cocoa cookies

This is the last of my Christmas baking. I neglected to get this recipe up on the blog before the end of the holidays because, well, I was too busy eating the cookies to write about them.

I've made variations on this recipe for four years now (with espresso, toffee and peppermint-dusted versions in the past) and I'm starting to run out of names! This time, I added a touch of Bailey's to the base recipe, and used gourmet Vahlrona cocoa powder brought home from Paris. Vahlrona BLOWS Fry's out of the water. The texture is like powdered silk, the colour a luscious, deep brown and the taste intense and rich. It was pricey, but I immediately regretted not having bought a second tin. I'm hoping the Whole Foods that just opened in the city might carry it.


To make, beat 3/4 cup softened unsalted butter until fluffy. Sift 1 cup icing sugar and 1/2 cup cocoa, then beat with butter. Add 2 egg yolks, 1/4 cup Baileys and 1 tsp vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together 1-3/4 cups of all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt. Working in batches, add flour to mixture (you may need slightly more or slightly less flour). Shape dough into a disc, wrap in Seran and refrigerate for 20 minutes. 

Roll the dough out to 1/4" thick on a surface dusted with cocoa powder (Note: This is a trick I learned recently - for light-coloured cookies dust with flour, for dark ones use cocoa powder). Cut into shapes, then bake at 325°F for 12-15 minutes. 

Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool. Wait a few minutes, then dust with icing sugar (Note: If you do this too early the icing sugar will melt and disappear into the cookies). I spooned icing sugar into a loose-leaf tea ball and 'tapped' it onto the cookies but any fine-mesh sieve should work.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015


When our New Year's Eve hosts mentioned the possibility of an outdoor bonfire on a night slated to be -20°C with the windchill, I figured I should dress warmly. We had a green Christmas this year, but that didn't stop me from drawing inspiration from après-ski looks. A cashmere turtleneck and fur vest (also seen here) kept me cozy, while the leggings and belt added sleekness. A pretty pair of Avon chandelier earrings from my aunt-in-law - and a glass of nice red wine - finished the look.


Leggings - Wilfred, Aritzia
Turtleneck - Black Label, Saks Off Fifth
Vest - Brand unknown, purchased in Bratislava 
Belt - Ralph Lauren, consignment 
Earrings - Avon

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Blonde to brunette

Happy New Year! I hope you had a beautiful holiday season filled with all that is meaningful to you. 

I spent most of mine curled up on the couch in pyjamas, eating homemade cookies, drinking tea, and hanging out with family. I couldn't have asked for better. That being said, Brad and I had a couple of occasions to get glammed up in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I'd found this beautiful ivory Blumarine stretch wool dress at an upscale consignment store during a work trip to Paris a few weeks ago and bought it on impulse/love at first sight. It was my Christmas gift from me to me, and perfect for holiday parties (I didn't freeze!). 

December turned out to be a month for impulsive moves. Between holiday parties on back-to-back weekends, I also decided to go brunette. Can you wear the same outfit twice in a row if you change your hair colour? ;) Poor B, I never seem to forewarn to him of these things! Happily, both of us are digging the new look.