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In Good Taste

Suddenly Cleveland is on everybody's lips. Best new restaurant awards, museum expansions, and here's a tip: many of House & Home's design editors routinely take weekend trips there (it's just a four hour drive from Toronto) to go "junking" or "antiquing".

I recently visited Cleveland, and while I found myself thoroughly impressed by just about everything I saw and ate (and drank), the tip I'd like to pass along today is this: Cleveland has the world's largest variety of candy under one roof. Picture shelf upon shelf, aisle upon aisle overflowing with hard-to-find nostalgia candy and favourite national and regional brands. Upwards of 5,000 different items in stock every day! So much candy!

The store, or rather, what began as a store in a strip mall but has since expanded into a warehouse, is called b.a. Sweetie Candy Company Inc. It's open seven days a week, major credit cards are accepted, and they ship. In other words, here comes trouble!

I filled up two big bags with everything from Milk Duds to Warheads, Fizzies to Pop Rocks, Buckeyes to Sweet and Sour pops, and then some.

I was like a middle aged woman in a candy shop! 

For more great American finds, see Meg Crossley's blog post on High Point.

Photo credits:
1-5. Amy Rosen


Amy Rosen

At the top of October I was in Victoria for a fabulous three-day Art of the Cocktail event, full of workshops, tastings, bartending competitions, and the extra fun Grand Tasting.

After hopping off a float plane from Vancouver and rolling my carry-on to the Fairmont Empress, handily located at the mouth of the harbour, I checked into that grand dame of a hotel. There I was welcomed with an in-room amenity — a chocolate teacup full of truffles!

The next day I meant to attend the Art of the Cocktail workshop called "The Long and Mysterious History of Cocktail Bitters and Liqueurs", but took a wrong turn on the way to the hotel Chateau Victoria, wound up in Chinatown (this happens more often than I'd like to admit), was late, and the organizers wouldn't let me in. So, I guess cocktail bitters and liqueurs will remain a mystery to me.

Reeling from this latest humiliation, I met up with friends and we popped in for afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress, nibbling scones with clotted cream while drinking signature tea blends, and a flute of Sumac Ridge bubbly. This made me feel much, much better.

After that, we arrived on time for the Art of the Cocktail session on gin. This introduction to the world of dry gin and gin-based cocktails was led by talented bartender Solomon Siegel, and the master distiller of Victoria Gin Peter Hunt, who together filled us in on the history of gin and gin production. We also learned how to make a perfect basic gin cocktail, how to mix a real martini and other contemporary favourites.

The main event that night was a cocktail sampling by way of nearly 50 different spirits and liqueurs with tasty one-bite appetizers to match. It all got me thinking about the upcoming holiday season. After all, it's never too early to start planning.

Get your thinking caps on and search our archives for great appetizer and cocktail ideas.

Photo credits:
1-7. Amy Rosen

While the Food Network is okay (honestly, how much Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives can one person take?), and PBS only runs its excellent cooking shows but once a week (and even then they're often disrupted by fundraising telethons), I've been a bit bored watching TV. But now I can finally get my cooking show fix with the fun and cringe-worthy antics on season 2 of W Network's Come Dine With Me Canada.

This British-born and Canadian-raised reality show pits five strangers, each an amateur chef, against each other for a week of back-to-back dinner parties whereby each host cooks up their idea of the perfect evening. Snappily narrated by radio personality Jamie Carr, each dinner comes complete with appetizer, main course, dessert, wine and entertainment. Meanwhile, the guests get drunk, smack-talk, and check out the host's underwear drawers. Tenderloin burns and cakes flop, friendships bloom and enemies are made. In other words, terrifically delicious entertainment!

And the best part? After dinner, each competitor rates the host's performance (just like real life!) and at the end of the week, the host with the most votes is crowned the winner and awarded the 'ultimate dinner party host' title and the very Canadian cash prize of $1,000.

Below are some photos from the first dinner party from this season's premiere episode, hosted by Mary Newton.

Here are episode 1 competitors (from left) Kaiely, Aris, Mary, Louie and John.

Mary's main course of Porcini Crusted Filet Mignon and her dessert of Apple Torte earned her top marks.

For more information, local listings, and even recipes, visit W Network.

For more delish TV inspiration, check out H&H's food videos.

Photo credits:
1-4. Proper Television, Corus Entertainment

Move over San Sebastian! The hottest food city in the world right now is Copenhagen, and lucky me had the chance to go there on a whirlwind design trip a few weeks ago. An hour after I landed we had lunch at the very pretty Royal Café in downtown Copenhagen; the wee restaurant and bakery is situated in the back of the Royal Copenhagen china flagship shop and next to Illum Department Store. Handy!

The house specialty is smushies, which are delicate open-faced Danish-style sandwiches — only half the size and twice as delicious.

Dinner at Nimb in the famous Tivoli complex and gardens that night was also great, especially dessert. The Danish love their edible "dirt". The savoury type, often served with crudité and dip, is actually buttery toasted rye bread crumbs, and on this sweet, creamy and crisp dessert, it was crumbled chocolate cookie crumbs. More dirt, please!

What a beautiful city, from the riverfront cafes with the historic buildings painted in a rainbow of colours, to the thousands of bicycles, to the gorgeous blonde Nordic people. (I had to drink a few local Carlsberg beers just to feel better about myself.)

An architectural sightseeing trip through the city ended at the world famous Scandinavian Restaurant Jacobsen, named after iconic designer Arne Jacobsen. It features modern Danish designs and place settings topped with fresh Scandinavian cuisine like amazing herring salad and seared beef. To go along with the main course, they served sweet little baby potatoes in glass jars — an idea I plan to steal.

While we were drinking and dining, a sudden rain-shower swept across the sky, leaving in its path a bold, full arch double rainbow, like a giant bow wrapping up this gift of a city.

Feel inspired to do some Scandinavian cooking of your own? Check out these recipes from Noma Restaurant, and from our January 2011 feast.

Photo credits:
1-9. Amy Rosen

I recently attended an intimate afternoon with Chapters and Indigo Books + Music CEO Heather Reisman and cookbook author Trish Magwood (above), as they unveiled their expanded offerings of gourmet foods, confections and "tablescape" wares launching in Indigo and Chapters stores nationally by autumn. (Browse photos of Trish's home on our website, and try your hand at some of her recipes in our October 2011 issue.)

Heather (above), a passionate dinner host and food lover, started off by explaining how new products are selected for her stores: "Unless we are knock-out crazy about it, we're not buying it. If we don't love it, let someone else sell it." She says that for her and Trish and the rest of the team, the search is on for amazing new products.

As we sit down to a pretty harvest-themed table laid with linen tea towels (used as rustic napkins), cheese boards and mason jars filled with tiny bouquets, Trish explains, "This is fall. Welcome to our evolving food story."

It's a story that's as delicious as they come — from the burnt sugar fudge to the gobsmacking peanut brittle and amazing cognac jelly — and each tasty food item comes with a backstory.

For instance, the Napa Valley Extra-Virgin Olive Oil hails from a family-run 100-year old grove. Trish discovered the bright and grassy olive oil while visiting Napa years ago, and now Indigo will be its exclusive Canadian retailer. La Belle Excuse is a terrific Greek sea salt (above) from the Mediterranean that's produced by a Canadian company.

Sometimes older products are reborn as classics. I remember eating Mashuga Nuts in the early 1990s — organic pecans lightly coated in sweet cinnamon. And now I can munch on them anew!

And what of that aforementioned cognac jelly? Says Trish with a laugh: "This is the one that Heather put in her purse at the tasting and took home."

Check out the Chapters and Indigo website for their new foodie offerings!

Photo credits:
1-6. Amy Rosen 

Real food comes from real farms, a point that is brought home at Toronto's urban oasis, the Evergreen Brick Works. With a farmer's market, bike repair shop, café, wetland marshes, walking paths, and regular workshops and courses in everything from cooking to environmental stewardship, the Brick Works really is giving back to the community.

Tasty events like the recent Fresh From the Field dinner help out even more by combining both fun and fundraising. It was an evening of local fare in support of Farmers Feed Cities, and hosted by local food advocate chef Brad Long (whose Café Belong just launched at the Brick Works).

A crudite plate of fresh summer veg was served with homespun butter and pumpernickel "dirt". (Very Copenhagen.) You take a radish, dip it in butter, and then roll it in the tasty crumbs before popping it in your mouth. Dingo Farms' braised local beef brisket on a buttermilk biscuit (say that five time fast) was a juicy treat, as was the braised Mennonite chicken on a wee tostado. From the first corn of the season, served on a stick, to wild beef corndogs dipped in Kozlik's mustard, when local tastes this good, why eat anything else?

Further to this point, why not take the $10 challenge? Author Lynn Ogryzlo states in her fantastic new book, The Ontario Table (2011 Epulum Books), that "if every household in Ontario spends $10 of their weekly grocery budget on local food, there would be a $2.4 billion influx into the province's economy each year."

I plan to consciously do this. After all, what do I have to lose by eating the most delicious sweet corn, tomatoes and peaches in the entire world?

For more of my produce picks, see this gallery of my favourite summer flavours.

Photo credits:
1-6. Amy Rosen

Cookies!!! Yes, the sugar is still coursing through our veins since Marian from Sweetopia delivered some of her delicious sugar and gingerbread cookies to the H&H office. Marian would never call herself a pro, but her baking and decorating skills say otherwise. As an avid food blog reader, I had already been following her Sweetopia blog, so you can imagine my excitement when I got my hands on some of her treats. Here are a few shots of what the H&H girls and I devoured:

Let's begin with her sugar cookies. Buttery, thick and lightly crumbly, these were bliss. The thick layer of royal icing makes these cookies extra sweet — perfect for those with a serious sweet tooth. Marian's royal icing skills can be seen on the round cookie's delicate grid pattern — I can't even draw a line this straight with a pen! Her blog has a whole section on cookie decorating tips, so maybe I'll try making these myself!

This shot shows you how intricate some of these designs can get. And you may not notice in this photo, but the teapot cookie is the size of a small plate — perfect for sharing. If you're a die-hard cookie decorator, you can get fancy with edible ink images, which is how Marian achieved the floral details on the teapot and cup.

This box was filled with fresh Christmas gingerbreads. This is a recipe you'll want to try if you like a thick chewy gingerbread loaded with fragrant spices.

This photo from her blog shows that any theme goes. Don't let cookie cutter shapes limit your creativity — a round cookie is the perfect base for any icing decoration. These nautical-themed snacks are perfectly on-trend with our Cape Cod gallery. Cape Cod-themed backyard party, anyone?

For those of you looking for baking and decorating tools, most specialty baking stores sell them, but I recently found out that DeSerres offers a range of cake decorating tools, and with several locations across Canada, you know where I'll be during my lunch break.

If you're all about baking sweets, you'll find more recipes and information about cupcakes, cakes and gingerbread houses on Sweetopia. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to finish up these cookies before the rest of the office sees them.

Love frosted cookies? So does Suzanne Dimma! See her favourite recipe here.

And for more delicious cookie recipes, search our food section.

Photo credits:
1-3. Leslie Williams
4. Sweetopia

Boy oh boy did the good folks of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia ever roll out the red carpet for me. My recent weekend visit to the small town (population of about 7,000) that was far too short and far too fun, began with a Saturday morning visit to the bustling Yarmouth Farmers Market on Hawthorn Street, which moved into rustic-chic new digs in June. All of the vendors put together a massive welcome basket for me — everything from homemade ketchup to a giant challah to organic lettuce, and even a coupon for a free crêpe. Talk about small town hospitality!

I didn't want to fill up too much though, as I was scheduled to be one of the judges at the Annual Cook's Chowder Cook-Off that afternoon, a blind taste test of creamy seafood chowders from a bunch of restaurants in the area. (Cook's, the sponsor, is a local dairy producer). My fellow judge was Emily, from Taste of Nova Scotia, an association that promotes all the great local producers and products of the area. After much slurping, we had a tie for first and second and even third place, so after triple tasting all the chowders, Emily finally saw things my way (heh heh) and we had our winners. The crowd on that sunny July day was almost as thick as some of those delicious chowders, and they enjoyed bowlfuls of it too, along with the fresh lobsters, scallops and other great shellfish being shucked and slurped on the wharf, all part of the annual Seafest celebrations.

Admittedly, after all of that chowder I was beyond stuffed, especially since I unwisely indulged in a heaping plate of deeeelicious fried clams at Rudder's (they placed 2nd at the chowder cook-off) minutes before the competition.

So, off I went, walking the tidal flats, driving through picturesque landscapes, and visiting the Yarmouth Lightstation — home to Denise Nickerson's amazing bread pudding with caramel sauce.

I eventually ended the day aboard a slow-moving lobster boat that had been transformed into a shining beacon of lights and fireworks for the "Parade of Lights" on the town's waterfront, which began at dusk and lasted until late, part of the year-long celebrations for Yarmouth's 250th birthday.

Like I said, boy oh boy, did I ever have a great weekend. And did I ever eat well. From Saturday night's traditional slow-cooked beans and bread, to the local specialty, creamed lobster, to the indigenous potato and chicken rappie pie at Helen LeBlank's Red Cap restaurant (in her family she's known as the queen of rappie pie). Though I ate just about as well as a person can, it's honestly the kind people of Yarmouth who will bring me back again: They were the true local delicacy.

For a taste of Yarmouth you can make at home, here's an easy oatmeal bread recipe by Yarmouth caterers chef Gary Kent and Madeleine Daues.

Yarmouth's Homemade Bread

(makes 2 loaves)

1 tsp dry active yeast (1 package)
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup rolled oats
2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup molasses
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
6 cups all-purpose flour

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350°F.

Step 2: In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the 1/4 cup warm water and let sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.

Step 3: Into a large bowl add the oats, molasses, oil, salt and boiling water, mix together, then add half the flour, followed by the yeast mixture, and then the remaining flour. Blend together.

Step 4: On a floured surface, kneed the dough for 5 minutes and then form into a ball. Let sit to rise, covered on the counter with a tea towel, for 1 hour, then punch the dough to let the air out.

Step 5: Grease two loaf pans and shape dough into two loaves in prepared pans. Let sit in pans to rise for another hour, then bake for 50 minutes.

Can't get enough of the east coast? Check out our Best of the East photo gallery!

Photo credits:
1-9. Amy Rosen

I'm happy to report that I can finally check the Calgary Stampede off of my life "to do" list. Having just returned from the 10-day rootin' tootin' Western extravaganza (this year's annual Stampede runs from July 8-17), I now understand why it's known as the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth".

The whole of Calgary is transformed for the Stampede: Hay bales and wooden fencing line downtown streets along the parade route, and free pancake breakfasts are a daily event. I had one at Rope Square, where people lined up down the block for flapjacks and bacon hot off the griddles. Meanwhile, clowns, mascots, impromptu hat-stomping competitions and old-fashioned gunslingers made the wait times go faster. These pancake breakfasts are held around the city during Stampede and are sponsored by corporations, community associations and even the CBC.

The Calgary Stampede Rodeo is the raison d'etre for the Stampede, and I cannot begin to describe how brave these cowboys are and how white-knuckled I was as I watched them compete in Bareback, Bull Riding, Barrel Racing, Saddle Bronc, Steer Wrestling and Tie-Down Roping. I must have shouted "Oy vey!" at least 202 times, especially during my behind-the-scenes Chute Tour, a rare up-close-and-personal look at the bucking chutes while the cowboys prepared to ride some of the toughest bulls and broncs in the business, just before those gates flung open. Heart-stopping!

When not watching bucking broncos and eating midway vittles, I had some really great food in Calgary at the growing number of rustic, field-to-table spots, including Home Tasting Room, where the fresh oysters and seared steak salad were as lovely as the Oregon Pinot Noir. I also enjoyed snacks at Charcut in the Le Germain hotel, especially Top Chef Canada finalist Connie's warm breadsticks with homemade mustard and pickled vegetables, and tuna conserva. Finally, brunch at Big Fish (you can only eat so many pancake breakfasts) meant a heaping dish of fresh shrimp-stuffed omelet with baby potato hash.

My final night in Calgary I took in the Chuckwagon Races and Grandstand Show as the sun dipped oe'er yonder and the rain suddenly came down in buckets (don't worry about me — I was tucking into AAA Alberta beef while dining in the Clubhouse Dining Room and watching the show from the reserved seats that come with the table.) As Chuckwagons roared across the finish line and the stars came out, a high-energy outdoor stage show featuring hundreds of singers, dancers, and musicians wowed the audiences, before the night closed out with fireworks.

In other words, it's a totally exciting time to be in Calgary, pardner.

P.S. They made me wear the hat.

Photo credits:
1-6. Amy Rosen

I arrived home later than planned, was expecting people over for drinks, and had to whip up some tasty snacks in under an hour. With few ingredients on hand and even less effort, I decided to go for a theme that was hardcore retro, dishing up spicy deviled eggs, onion dip, veggies and chips, and this super fast spinach dip. Everyone gobbled up the treats like it was 1950 all over again, which just goes to show that a little mayo and a lot of nostalgia is a winning combination.

Quick Spinach Dip

(makes about 2 cups of dip)

One 10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1/4 cup of canned water chestnuts, chopped
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
2 green onions, chopped
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp dried dill
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
2-3 oz. Asiago cheese or another mild, melty cheese, cut into small cubes

Step 1: Preheat oven to 425°F.

Step 2: Squeeze handfuls of thawed spinach between hands (into the sink) to get rid as of much moisture as possible. Add spinach to bowl, and mix well with all remaining ingredients except the cheese.

Step 3: Just before baking, dot top of dip with cheese and bake for 8-10 minutes or until hot and lightly browned. Serve warm with veggies and slices of baguette or crackers.

For more delish party dips, try a Creamy Artichoke Dip or White Bean Dip.

Photo credit:
Amy Rosen

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