Category: entertaining

Stuffed Dates with Pistachios

Quick! You just found out that you have guests coming over and you haven’t had time to cook up any appetizers. You know they’re going to be hungry as soon as they walk in the door. What do you do? Simple. You make these stuffed dates, of course! These babies have been a lifesaver for me, time and again. So quick to throw together, and always a hit. It’s a little sweet and savoury gourmet at your fingertips. Make a couple right now, just to see what all the hype is about. But, be warned. These beauties are highly addictive. I got the idea for these at a NYE gathering one year. The host had put out something very similar, using pine nuts instead. I happened to have pistachios at home when I decided to try it out. If you want to add a really interesting middle eastern twist, you can try adding a tiny drop of rosewater and a pinch of cardamom to the cheese. Note that rosewater isn’t for everyone, though I think it works perfectly in this setting.

Stuffed Dates with Pistachios and Honey
makes 24

24 medjool dates, pits removed
1 tub old fashioned cream cheese (Liberté brand, if you’re in Canada) or plain goat cheese
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
Honey, for garnish
Rosewater (optional)
Cardamom (optional)

Open up your dates on the long side, removing the pit and creating an opening to hold the cheese. (If using rosewater and cardamom, mix into cheese now!) Spread cheese inside and top with pistachios. Arrange on a platter and drizzle with honey.
(Seriously, seriously simple.)

Vegan Cheesy Stuffed Mushrooms

With summer in full swing, I find myself craving all things light and refreshing. All the most delicious local produce is in season right now, and I’ve been stocking up on berries, leafy greens and whatever else the market has to offer each week. Though I haven’t used my stove at home in what seems like ages (for fear that it might add to the smouldering heat wave that is just now starting to dissipate), I decided to turn on my oven today to make something that I’ve been craving for a while – stuffed mushrooms. I wanted to serve something a little bit fancy pants to munch on while we sat and enjoyed my beau’s homemade Bloody Caesars. (For all of you Non-Canadians, a Caesar is like a Bloody Mary, but with Clamato instead of Tomato, and with about 10x the flavour.)

Holy cow, did I ever impress myself tonight. Not that stuffed mushrooms are compliqué or anything. Completely the opposite actually, they’re ultra simple. But I made a vegan version that is just ah-mah-zing. And, let me tell you, the boy wasn’t even able to tell the difference!

I made two versions, so for those of you who are all like “but I need me some cheese!”, I’ve got you covered. But I urge, urge, urge you to try the vegan ones. The creaminess, the flavour, the explosion of deliciousness in the mouth. Ok, ok, enough with my foodgasm, I’ll get straight to the recipes. 

Stuffed Mushrooms, Two Ways
two original recipes by allison sklar
1: Creamy Vegan Stuffed Mushrooms
2: Creamy Brie Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms
what you’ll need
START with this:
1 pint mushrooms, stems removed
1 tbsp chopped fresh chives or garlic scapes
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp breadcrumbs
THEN, choose a version:
1. VEGAN VERSION
1 1/2 tbsp vegan mayonaise (I prefer Vegenaise Brand) 
4 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
(OR)

2. DAIRY VERSION
1/4 cup cubed brie (or crumbled blue cheese)

how to do it
Remove the stems and keep only the caps of your mushrooms. (You can use the stems in a stir fry or something else later!) Flip them over and put a sprinkle of thyme, chives and black pepper in each one. 
  • Vegan version: mix the Vegenaise with the nutritional yeast and scoop into mushroom caps. 
  • Dairy version: cut the brie into pieces small enough to fit into the caps and place over the herbs. 
Mix together the breadcrumbs and the oil. Spoon over tops of stuffed mushrooms. 
Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 350F for 20 minutes, until tops are crispy and golden brown and mushrooms begin to soften. 
Let cool slightly before serving. 

Stellar Brunch (Oven-baked french toast with caramel sauce)

Springtime peeked it’s shy little head out to say hello to us Montrealers this week, and I instantly felt excited & inspired. There’s just something about warm weather and sunshine that get me into a crafty mood. Quite a good time to be feeling creative, as I’ve had a lot of decorating to do recently: we’ve officially moved into our new apartment! The perfect way to settle in? A good old-fashioned Sunday Brunch!

Though bagels and lox are generally my choice brunch food, I decided to make something a little more decadent this time. Introducing Oven Baked French Toast, and her bff, Caramel Sauce. Make this for your next brunch if you’re looking for a dish that is surprisingly quick & easy, and as eye-catching as it is tasty. Bonus: the air will fill with a warm, sweet aroma as your guests arrive.

This is a decadent, salty-meets-sweet, stick-to-your-ribs kind of breakfast – definitely weekend food! Tip: to make it extra yummy, you can prepare it the night before so the bread really gets some time to soak up the eggy goodness. This is also a perfect way to use up some stale bread you have lying around – once it soaks up the egg mixture, it’ll come right back to life!

Oven Baked French Toast
an original recipe by allison sklar

NOTE: I’ve included two versions of caramel sauce here. One is a shortcut (no-fail) caramel, and the other is the traditional method that we were taught in pastry school. They yield slightly different flavours, and the shortcut method is a little more rich. If you’ve never made caramel before, I suggest you try the shortcut method first!

what you’ll need

french toast
1 small loaf of your favourite bread, sliced or cubed
(challah bread, or other fluffy, soft bread works best)
6 eggs (8 if using a large amount of bread)*
1/4 cup icing sugar*
4 tbsp milk or cream
1 tbsp vanilla
2 tbsp cinnamon sugar **
1 to 2 tbsp butter, melted

caramel sauce (traditional method)
460g granulated sugar
160ml water
240g light/white corn syrup
125ml heavy (35%) cream
2 tbsp butter
pinch sea salt

OR 

caramel sauce (shortcut method)
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
pinch sea salt

how to do it

french toast
Place all of your bread in a large mixing bowl.
Beat eggs with icing sugar until colour turns light yellow and mixture becomes fluffy.
Whisk in milk (or cream) and vanilla. Pour over bread and toss to coat. Allow to sit until mixture is absorbed, about 10 minutes. This mixture can also be prepared overnight.*

Grease a shallow, oven-safe dish with butter. Preheat oven to 325F. Lay bread mixture evenly into dish. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until bread is golden brown. Meanwhile, prepare caramel sauce.

caramel sauce (traditional method)
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, bring granulated sugar and water to a boil, while stirring with a heatproof spatula. Once mixture boils, stop stirring and reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking, brushing down the insides of the pot with a pastry brush dipped in water to avoid the formation of sugar crystals. Use a candy thermometer to bring the mixture up to 140C(285F). Carefully add in butter, cream and salt, stirring constantly. If mixture feels too thick, add more cream, a little at a time, until desired consistency is reached.

caramel sauce (shortcut method – no thermometer needed!)
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, warm butter over medium heat. Add brown sugar and cream. Stir with a heatproof spatula in figure 8 motion, until sugar is dissolved. Continue cooking, stirring slowly but constantly, until mixture begins to thicken, about 6 minutes. Voila! Caramel!

Pour sauce over hot french toast. Sprinkle with icing sugar or more cinnamon sugar just before serving.

Eat & enjoy!

notes
*If doing this overnight, increase the egg quantity to 8 to 10 eggs and the sugar to 1/3 cup.
** If you cannot find cinnamon sugar, make your own using equal parts of cinnamon to sugar.

Dill-icious (Quick & Healthy Crispbreads)

Ahhh… the holidays. Between shopping, wrapping, cooking, planning, organising, cleaning, shovelling, discovering that you’ve got a big hole in the toe of your boot only after you step into a puddle of slush… sometimes it begins to feels like there aren’t enough hours in a day. Many people also tend to pack on the pounds at this time of year, going from one gathering to the next, stuffing their faces with greasy fried appetizers and pounding back the cocktails. If you’re nodding your head at these statements, beware: the combination of stress and bad eating is sure to leave you feeling bloated, nauseated, and all-around sluggish.
Stop! Breathe. Relax. Enter simplicity. Allow me to make your entertaining a little easier and a little healthier this year, with a few ideas for homemade, nutritious hors d’oeuvres that’ll wow your guests, and please everyone – from the foodies to the health-conscious.
Instructions: Start with a box of Kavli Crispy Thin, FinnCrisp Rye Crisps (or any other crispbread that you like), top with spread of choice, and finish with a sprinkle of spice & a chopped herb. Pictured above: Dill, greek yogourt & cumin crisps. Super easy, super healthy, super fast.
Why crispbread? 
Ordinary store-bought crackers are often loaded with fats, oils and contain sodium levels that are off the charts. Don’t even be fooled by the ‘multi-grain’ variety! Multi-grain often only means that they’ve taken your ordinary white-flour cracker and thrown in a few flax and sesame seeds – these additions do nothing to lower the high fat, salt or carb content, and the majority of the calories are coming from refined white flour. Now, I won’t deny how delicious a Ritz cracker is, but that’s the danger: at nearly 1g of fat EACH, a handful of these crackers contains the same amount of fat as an entire chocolate bar, and will fill you with over 200 calories – yet they will not leave you feeling full in the least.
And then there’s crispbread: these thin topable delights generally have just a few simple ingredients and contain nothing artificial. They’re often made from rye flour, which is much easier to digest than wheat and significantly more nutritious. 6 Kavli crispy thins offer up 4g of dietry fibre (to keep you feeling fuller longer), contain zero grams of fat, and have only 100 calories all together. Top them with a spoonful of non-fat greek yogourt (loaded with protein), a sprinkle of cumin and some chopped fresh dill, and you’ve got yourself a pretty, easy, and nutritious hors d’oeuvre. These also make an excellent light lunch or dinner, or a healthy midnight snack.
Other topping ideas
  • Start by spreading one tbsp of greek yogourt on your crackers, and top with any of the following combinations of veggies, fruit & herbs…
    • shredded beets & sea salt
    • black beans & cilantro
    • corn kernels, chopped tomato & cilantro
    • sliced olives & oregano
    • cucumber slices & dill
    • apple slices, cinnamon & nutmeg
    • lemon zest & honey
    • shredded carrot, ginger & cinnamon
    • slivered almonds & agave nectar