Tag Archives: Christmas

A Holiday Cocktail: The Smoked Sammon

19 Dec

Belvedere vodka cocktail

Whether or not you’re as food crazed as I am, everyone has food memories they associate with the holidays. Growing up, the appetizer table at Christmas dinner always included a smoked salmon platter, sometimes paired with a dill cream cheese, and often garnished with cucumber and lemon slices.

So, when I was asked by the team at Off The Grid to participate in a promotion where Toronto cocktail fanatics were asked to create a holiday tipple using Belvedere vodka*, my thoughts turned to one of my favorite holiday food memories. Those who’ve followed this blog know I’ve never shied away from unusual cocktail ingredients or smoky flavours (truthfully, I have a strong preference for brown spirits), so putting together a cocktail reminiscent of a smoked salmon platter was a welcome challenge.

The result: The Smoked Sammon (The name is a play on the name of the street I live on… and a reflection of the fact there is definitely no actual fish in this drink!).

cucumber Belvedere smoked paprika

To make this drink, step 1 is infusing the vodka with cucumber and dill. Peel, halve and de-seed half an English cucumber, then chop the halves into small chunks. Throw the cucumber into a mason jar, or any container with a tight seal, along with a handful of fresh dill. Pour in half a bottle of Belvedere vodka and close the lid. Store in the fridge for three to four days to infuse, and give the jar a gentle shake once a day.

Step 2: create the “smoke” for your cocktail. For this, I made a smoked paprika simple syrup, an idea I borrowed from Toronto chef Matt Kantor. Heat 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of smoked paprika in a saucepan over medium heat for 10 minutes or so, until the sugar is dissolved. Let the syrup cool completely, then store in the fridge in a Tupperware (it’ll keep for several days).

Finally, make your drink. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and shake together 2 ounces of the infused vodka, half an ounce of your smoked paprika syrup and a few dashes of citrusy bitters to round things out (I used Bittered Sling’s Lem-Marrakech Bitters). Pour into a cocktail glass over ice, and garnish with a slice of cucumber from your infused vodka.

*Thanks to Belvedere and offthegridto.com for supplying me with a bottle of vodka to play with. To check out more cocktail creations, visit Off The Grid.

Daily Bread Donation Update + A Winner!

20 Dec

Daily Bread Food Bank

Things have been a little quiet on Communal Table over the past week or so, with Christmas prep slowly but surely taking over our lives. But we’re going to start this week off with some good news posts. Tomorrow, we announce the winner of our final 2010 Holiday Giveaway prize, a one-year subscription to Style at Home magazine. If you haven’t entered, today’s your last chance – click here for more info!

And today, even more exciting news. We began our donation drive for the Daily Bread Food Bank a month ago – armed with a desire to help and a pretty cool prize to give away to one of our readers who made a donation. Since then, we’ve been overwhelmed by the response. Thanks to your generosity, we’ve raised $1,250 to help feed people in need across the GTA. To put that into perspective, $25 allows the Daily Bread Food Bank to deliver an emergency food hamper box for a family of four. For $50, the organization’s Food Services Training Program can prepare enough casseroles to feed 40 people. And $100 allows Daily Bread Food Bank trucks to deliver 55,000 pounds of food. So that $1,250 will go a long way toward feeding GTA area families this Christmas (and beyond).

Anyone still interested in making a donation through Team Communal Table’s online donation page can do so. The page will remain active until the Daily Bread Food Bank’s Holiday Drive ends later this month. But our ‘donate and win’ initiative – where every donor was entered for the chance to win a $200 gift certificate to North 44 Restaurant plus a signed copy of chef Mark McEwan’s cookbook, Great Food at Home – has come to an end. The names of all who donated by midnight on Saturday were entered into our random draw held Sunday. And we have a winner… Congrats to Kelly Wray, whose generous donation ended up winning her a great prize!

Thanks to everyone for your help, and thanks to chef Mark McEwan and his team for such a great giveaway prize. We’re looking forward to our second-annual holiday donation drive next year!

Holiday Giveaway #3: Win a Subscription to Style at Home Magazine

14 Dec

Style at Home

Though Communal Table is primarily a food-focused blog, Neil and I also want to share some of our other passions; the kinds of things we like to discuss over a good meal.

One of those ‘other’ passions for me is design.

I kind of fell into working in design television several years ago and it pulled me in. Though I like to dabble in different genres where work is concerned, in life I’ve become a bit of a design junkie.

I’ve got my favorite design blogs that I check daily (Design Sponge and Making it Lovely are two of them, but the list is long), but what gets me really excited is coming home to find my mailbox spilling open with the gift of a great magazine inside.

Neil and I both have a thing for magazines. Neil is a magazine editor, so he truly understands the value of the printed page. And for me, there’s just something about leafing through those glossy pages, feeling the smooth paper between my fingers and admiring the beautiful things inside. Cozying up with a new issue of a great magazine and reading it cover to cover is one of my guilty pleasures and it really does make me happy.

So, in the spirit of opening up the blog to more of the things in life that we adore, we’re giving away what I consider to be the perfect holiday gift (one that keeps on giving!); a year-long subscription to Canada’s own Style at Home Magazine.

Neil got me a subscription last year and every month I’m still excited when a new issue reaches my door. I’ve given magazine subscriptions as gifts to friends as well, and it makes me happy to know that they’ll have something wonderful to enjoy all year long, and will think of me when each new issue arrives.

Style at Home is a beautiful magazine that’s not only filled with amazing design ideas, but great recipes too. Neil has been known to read over my shoulder from time to time.

I’ve had the great pleasure of working with the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Erin McLaughlin and Contributing Design Editor (and HGTV celeb) Samantha Pynn, and I can tell you for certain that these women live and breathe design and truly have a passion for sharing the latest and greatest in style.

To enter for the chance to win a subscription:

  1. Leave a comment below telling us what magazines you love to read and why.
  2. You’ll also get a bonus entry if you tweet this phrase: I entered to win a subscription to @StyleAtHome mag from #CommunalTable. Enter here: http://wp.me/pJ0ov-eC

That’s it! The winner can keep the subscription for themselves or give it as a gift to someone else.

You have until next Monday evening, December 20, to enter. We’ll draw a name from all entries and we’ll announce the winner here next Tuesday morning.

This time around, our friends at Style at Home have allowed us to open the contest up to both our Canadian and American readers, though American entries will be eligible for a digital subscription, whereas Canadian entries will be eligible for delivery of a print subscription.

Also, don’t forget about Communal Table’s donation drive on behalf of the Daily Bread Food Bank. With the help of our readers, we’ve collected more than $1,100 to help feed people in need. But we’re not done yet! All donations made by midnight on Saturday, December 18 are eligible to win a $200 gift certificate to North 44 Restaurant in Toronto and a signed copy of chef Mark McEwan’s new cookbook, Good Food at Home. Click here for details on how you can donate and win with Communal Table.

Happy holidays everyone! We’ve got lots of exciting content planned for 2011, including some great stories about design of all kinds…

How to Make Store-Bought Fruitcake Taste Delicious in 5 Easy Steps

9 Dec

Fruitcake alcohol cheesecloth

I love Christmas. I love the traditions, and the fact it involves hanging out with family. And, of course, I love the food – with one exception: fruitcake. I know I’m not the only person who shares a hatred of fruitcake. There are many of us fruitcake haters. And yet, there it is every year at Christmas, sitting there, taunting us. Dry, mealy doorstops, or moist, overly sweet doorstops, filled with little gross bits of candied who-knows-what.

I’m sure that, somewhere, there is a 12-step program for fruitcake haters. But I’ve looked, and I can’t find it. And until I do I know I’m going to be faced with Christmas after Christmas of bad fruitcake being offered to me by good people. I could continually refuse every offered piece of fruitcake and risk offending some of the people I love most. Or, I could take matters into my own hands. I’ve decided to try doing the latter this year.

My problem with fruitcake isn’t so much fruitcake itself. I have actually enjoyed a few homemade fruitcakes. But mostly, the omnipresent fruitcake at Christmas is the store-bought type. Most of these are terrible, but this year I thought ‘what if I could take a terrible product and actually make it taste reasonably delicious?’ This got me thinking of the fruitcakes I’ve enjoyed, and what made them taste so good. The answer, I’m convinced, is alcohol. And so, last weekend I decided to take two store-bought fruitcakes and, using alcohol and some tips and tricks picked up through various online sites, turn them into tasty, alcohol-soaked treats.

Here are my 5 easy steps for making store-bought fruitcake taste delicious:

Fruitcake brushed alcohol

    1. Brush: Unwrap your store-bought fruitcake. Place it on a work surface and, using a toothpick or another thin, sharp tool, poke small holes all over the surface of the cake – top, bottom and sides. The holes, apparently, will help the fruitcake absorb all the delicious alcohol you’re about to douse it with. After you’ve covered your cake in holes, pour a small amount of alcohol into a bowl; I used about 1/3 of a cup for a small cake. As for what alcohol, rum or brandy is pretty traditional for soaking fruitcake, but almost anything will work. I had two cakes, and used madeira on one and marsala on the other. Dip a pastry brush into the bowl of booze, and brush alcohol across all surfaces of the cake. You’re glazing it more than soaking it at this phase.

Cheesecloth soaked in alcohol

    1. Soak: Measure a length of cheesecloth long enough so it can be wrapped around your fruitcake two or three times, then immerse the cheesecloth into the bowl of alcohol. Soak the cheesecloth thoroughly in the alcohol.
Cheesecloth

Trying to tame the cheesecloth…

    1. Wrap: Pick up the soaked cheesecloth and gently squeeze out some of the alcohol so that the cloth is wet, but not dripping. Lay soaked cheesecloth out on a work surface, then wrap the fruitcake in the cheesecloth, folding the cloth around the cake as many times as you can (two or three times). Wrap the cheesecloth-covered cake tightly in aluminum foil. If you’re doing several fruitcakes in different kinds of alcohol, make sure to label them by alcohol type. Store the fruitcake in a cool, dry place.

Fruitcake wrapped in cheesecloth

    1. Reapply: Every week or so, unwrap the foil and sprinkle the cheesecloth-covered cake on all sides with more alcohol. Any of the websites and recipes I’ve looked at have said you can repeat this step weekly for up to several months – the longer you age the fruitcake, the deeper the flavour. I started my fruitcake experiment on December 4 and I want to eat them by Christmas, so I’ve decided to apply more alcohol every 5 days or so until then.

Fruitcake labelled Madeira

  1. Wait: From everything I’ve read, this seems to be the key step. As mentioned in step 4, the fruitcake apparently tastes better the longer you wait. Makes sense: more alcohol applied, more alcohol soaking-in time, more delicious alcohol infused cake.

I’ve just hit step 4 for the first time today. When I went to apply more alcohol to my fruitcakes they already felt fairly moist, which makes me think that the alcohol is soaking in nicely. It also makes me worry that after two or three more alcohol applications, I could end up with logs of alcoholic mush. Time will tell, I suppose.
I’ll follow up this post in a couple of weeks with the end results of my fruitcake experiment. Until then, if you have a good method for making store-bought fruitcake taste better, let me know in the comments section below. Or, if you have a good homemade fruitcake recipe, feel free to leave it here. I’m not much of a baker, but given the right recipe I might be persuaded to make my own fruitcake next winter.

Holiday Giveaway #2: High-Quality Spanish Olive Oils

7 Dec

Jenny and I planned this holiday giveaway ‘extravaganza’ with two goals in mind. The first was to give a little something back to some of the people who’ve read our blog, followed us on our Facebook page, and just generally made us feel like they’re interested in what we’ve been writing (since blogging can be a pretty lonely activity when you don’t feel like anyone is reading). And the second goal was to give our readers a chance to share in some of our favorite things. As I mentioned last week, we chose to give away some PC Insider’s Report products because I have fond memories of growing up with them in my house during the holidays. And for giveaway #2, we’re offering readers the chance to win something our kitchen is never without: great-tasting, high-quality olive oils.

Jenny and I both love good olive oils. A good bottle of olive oil is like a good wine, with a flavour profile that can be spicy, or citrusy, or fruity. And like a good wine, different olive oils are suited to different foods; some taste great on salads, some are great drizzled on top of grilled meat or fish as a finishing flavour. Some, as we’ve talked about in previous posts, are even ideal to use as a main ingredient in sweet things, such as cakes or ice cream.

Our first-ever post on Communal Table was focused on olive oils, after we were invited to a fun and informative olive oil tasting event hosted by Dolores Smith at Olivar Corp. We loved meeting Dolores and taking in some of her vast olive oil knowledge, and really loved tasting the different Spanish olive oils that Olivar Corp. imports into Canada. So we were thrilled when Dolores agreed to donate a couple of amazing olive oil prize packs for our holiday giveaway.

Thanks to Dolores’ generosity, we have two prizes to give away this week, each consisting of two bottles of high-quality Spanish olive oils from Olivar Corp.

The first prize consists of a bottle each of:

  • Rincon de la Subbetica – an organic Spanish olive oil that is the world’s most-awarded olive oil, with over 70 honours since 2006. This was one of the olive oils I sampled during the olive oil tasting Dolores led earlier this year, and it ended up being my favorite, with an interesting flavour mix of green apple and peppery spice.
  • Dauro – a blend of olives including arbequina and hojiblanca from Spain, and koroneiki from Greece. This one has a delicate taste that is praised in Japanese kitchens for its ability to pair well with wasabi, and has been featured in Nobel Prize Award banquet dinners.

The second prize pack consists of a bottle each of:

  • Full Moon – produced in limited quantities, using only the best Spanish arbequina olives harvested very early, during the full moon. This creates an olive oil that is balanced and smooth, with both fruit and a hint of pepper in the taste.
  • Parqueoliva – another highly-awarded oil, with more than 40 recognitions. This is considered a sister olive oil to the Rincon, with a slightly more intense flavour profile that includes herbs and floral notes, with a slight peppery kick.

To win one of these great olive oil prize packs:

  1. First, click this link and “Like” us to join Communal Table’s Facebook Fan Page.
  2. Second, leave a comment on our Facebook Fan Page wall stating that you want to be entered into our Holiday Giveaway #2 and also telling us what your favorite use is for a great olive oil. Please note that you must complete BOTH of these steps to be entered. If you already Like us on Facebook, leave a comment on our Facebook Fan Page wall stating that you want to enter and tell us about your favorite use for great olive oil.

**While we welcome anyone who wants to join our Facebook Fan Page, this contest is restricted to Canadian entries only.

    You have until next Monday evening, December 13, to enter. We will draw two names from all entries and those lucky winners will each be sent one of our two prize packs.

    These are great bottles of olive oil, and we’re happy to be able to share them with you, whether you’re as passionate about olive oils as we are or are looking for an introduction into the world of high-quality olive oil.

    Also, don’t forget about Communal Table’s donation drive on behalf of the Daily Bread Food Bank… all donations made are eligible to win a $200 gift certificate to North 44 Restaurant in Toronto and a signed copy of chef Mark McEwan’s new cookbook, Good Food at Home. Click here for details on how you can donate and win with Communal Table.

    %d bloggers like this: