Tag Archives: party

5 Delicious Ways to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo at Home (Including a Taco Bar!)

While you could say the star of a Cinco de Mayo party is the margarita, the celebration wouldn’t be anywhere near complete without a rainbow-bright spread starring all of our favourite Mexican dishes, spices and fixings. And just because we’re stuck at home this year doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate in style just the same (bring on the virtual dinner parties!). We’ve even created a taco-themed Zoom background to get the party started.

It’s time to bring on the guac and tacos (okay, and churros for dessert) with this tasty, sweet and savoury Mexican-inspired menu for a successful Cinco de Mayo fiesta at home this Tuesday, May 5th.

Fresh Salsa Verde

When it comes to classic party dishes, you can’t go wrong with a hefty platter of chips and salsa. And this vibrant version, featuring fresh green tomatoes, mint leaves, garlic and lime juice, is guaranteed to satisfy taste buds everywhere. Don’t have mint? Swap for fresh or dried basil, or any other herbs you have on hand!

Get the recipe for Fresh and Minty Salsa Verde

Classic Guacamole

Where there’s chips and salsa, there should also be an (extra-large) offering of guacamole. Try this super simple five-ingredient recipe and serve with these non-traditional — but incredibly delicious — homemade wonton chips. Cue the drools.

guacamole-with-crispy-chips
Get the recipe for Classic Guacamole and Chips

Related: Creative Ways to Eat Avocados (That Don’t Involve Toast)

The Most Epic Stay-at-Home Taco Bar

Now that you and your household have dipped into the homemade salsa and guac, it’s time for the main attraction. And by that we mean the most eye-catching, drool-worthy taco bar that’ll brighten your menu… and entire week, let’s be honest.

Even better? It’s a cinch to assemble: begin by stocking up on Old El Paso hard shells and soft tortillas. Then opt for protein like grilled flank steak, shredded chicken and refried beans. Next come all your favourite fixings: pickled jalapeños, corn, avocado (or the guac you made!), shredded lettuce, sliced peppers, fresh cilantro and lime wedges. Last but certainly not least: shredded cheddar, sour cream and a whole lot more salsa for good measure. Voila!

Related: Tasty Taco Recipes You’ll Crave Every Day of the Week

Bean Salad

This colourful side dish features a medley of refreshing flavours — corn kernels, bell peppers, red onion, cherry tomatoes, avocado, pinto beans and fresh cilantro — then it’s tossed in a light, garlicky lime dressing before serving.

pinto-bean-salsa-saladGet the recipe for Pinto Bean Salsa Salad

Related: These Delicious Recipes Will Make You Rethink Canned Beans

Classic Churros with Caramel Sauce

Anyone with a sweet tooth will absolutely devour these doughy deep-fried, cinnamon-sugar treats. The best part? They only take 15 minutes to make thanks to using store-bought puff pastry.

cinco-de-mayo-churro-recipe
Get the recipe for 15-Minute Churros with Caramel Sauce

Wash down these eats with a refreshing drink to sip and celebrate. Here are our very best Cinco de Mayo cocktails.

halloween-pretzels-3-ways

Make These Spooktacular Halloween Pretzels and Watch Them Disappear

Halloween is the time of year for sweet and salty treats and we’ve come up with some super fun recipes that transform pretzels into spooky and delicious Halloween party eats. On top of being easy to make, all the ingredients can be picked up at your grocery or bulk food store. Plus each of these adorable bites come together in minutes and are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face!

halloween-pretzel-party

Pretzel Ghosts Recipe

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Makes: 24 treats

Ingredients:
1 cup white chocolate molding wafers
24 small pretzel twists
½ cup dark chocolate molding wafers

Directions:
1. Line 1 large baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Melt white chocolate wafers in a small heat-proof bowl over a small pot of gently simmering water. Dip each pretzel in chocolate and place on parchment sheet. Place in fridge to set for 10 minutes.
3. Melt dark chocolate wafers in a small heat-proof bowl set over a small pot of gently simmering water. Spoon chocolate into a pastry bag fitted with a writing tip.
4. Fill each opening in pretzels to create eyes and mouth.
5. Place in fridge to set, about 20 minutes.

spider-web-halloween-pretzels

Pretzel Cobwebs Recipe

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Makes: 12 treats

Ingredients:
1 cup white chocolate molding wafers
72 pretzel sticks
Halloween candy quins or sprinkles

Directions:
1. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Melt chocolate wafers in a small heat-proof bowl set over a small pot of gently simmering water. Spoon chocolate into a pastry bag fitted with a writing tip.
3. Dollop six dime-sized rounds of chocolate onto each prepared tray. Lay 6 pretzels in the centre so they touch the chocolate and radiate out. Dollop another circle of chocolate on centre. Working in a circular motion from the centre out draw web lines about a ¼-inch apart. Finish web design at edge of pretzels, repeating the circle three times to add strength to the web.
4. While chocolate is still wet, sprinkle edges and centre with candy quinns or sprinkles. Place in fridge to set, about 30 minutes.

cookie-and-pretzels-spiders

Pretzel Spiders Recipe

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Makes: 12 treats

Ingredients:
36 pretzel sticks
12 chocolate wafer sandwich cookies with double filling (such as Double Stuffed Oreos)
3/4 cup dark chocolate molding wafers
24 candy eyeballs

Directions:
1. Line 1 large baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Break pretzels in half and stick three into each side of the cookie about ¼-inch apart to resemble legs.
3. Melt chocolate in a heat-proof bowl set over a small pot of gently simmering water. Spoon a quarter-sized dollop onto cookies, spreading to edge. While still wet, press candy eyeballs into chocolate.
4. Place in fridge to set, about 30 minutes.

Looking for more spooky recipes? Try our Zombie-Approved Recipes for your next Halloween party.

How to Make Vegan Apple Spice Cake with Maple Buttercream

Fill your home with the warm, delicious smell of cinnamon by making this heavenly double-layered vegan apple spice cake!

It’s easy to make and combines fresh apple, cinnamon, all-spice, ginger, molasses, and brown sugar with a fluffy and sweet maple buttercream frosting. You’ll feel quite proud of yourself after making this and your sweet reward is eating it!

Easy Vegan Apple Spice Cake Recipe

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Bake Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 8-10 servings

Ingredients:
Apple Spice Cake:
1 ¼ cup soy milk, room temperature
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp all-spice
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp sea salt
1 cup shredded apple
1/3 cup coconut oil (soft at room temperature)
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ Tbsp unsulphured blackstrap molasses
2 tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup pecans, roughly chopped

Maple Buttercream Frosting:
3 cups powdered sugar
8 Tbsp vegan butter or margarine, room temperature
6 tablespoons maple syrup

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°
  2. In a small mixing bowl whisk together the soy milk and apple cider vinegar and set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, all-spice, ginger, and sea salt.
  4. In a third bowl beat together coconut oil and brown sugar with a hand mixer until fluffy. Then beat in molasses, vanilla extract, and soymilk and vinegar mixture until smooth.
  5. Add the liquid ingredients and shredded apple to the dry ingredients. Fold the batter until it’s just combined, ensuring not to over mix it.
  6. Lightly oil 2 x 7 ¼” cake pans with a little bit of coconut oil. You can also bake one at a time if you only have 1 pan.
  7. Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans. Spread out the batter so it’s even and to the edge of the pan.
  8. Bake for 18-20 minutes on the centre rack. The cake is done when a toothpick comes out of the centre of the cake clean.
  9. Transfer cakes out of the pans onto wire racks and allow to cool completely before frosting.
  10. To make the frosting beat together vegan butter, powdered sugar, and maple syrup until fluffy and smooth.
  11. Place one cake bottom side down on your serving plate and spread frosting evenly with a spatula across the entire top of the cake. Place the other cake, bottom side down, on top of the frosting. Use remaining frosting to cover the entire cake.
  12. Using the palm of your hands gently press small handfuls of roughly chopped pecans along the entire side of the cake until well coated.

Looking for more sweet seasonal desserts? Try our Best Apple Recipes.

Chicken tortilla casserole

How to Host a Successful Freezer Meal Swap

From must-make recipes to time-saving tips, we’ve got everything you need to know about hosting the ultimate meal swap party . What’s a meal swap party? It’s a chance to meal prep with your friends and family, so you can all stock your freezers with a dinner stash that will last for months. So call up your friends and get ready for one great afternoon of cooking together.

Start with Freezer-Friendly Recipes

Deciding on recipes that freeze like a dream is the key to any successful meal swap party. While we love casseroles, soups and stews for freezing, this is the time to pull out all the stops. If you’ve been dying to try that recipe for cheesy lasagna made with slow-braised beef short ribs and pork belly, instead of regular ground beef, go for it. Everyone will appreciate the extra effort when they finally dig in to their freezer supply.

If you’re looking for recipe inspiration, start with these 12 Make-Ahead Meals You Can Freeze.

Beef stew and chicken tortilla casserole

Try Ree Drummond’s Chicken Tortilla Casserole or this Stew-Pendous Beef Stew with Biscuits.

Clear Out Space in the Fridge

Before your guests arrive, do an intense fridge and freezer clear out to ensure you’ve got enough space to accommodate all those meals you’re about to whip up. Take the opportunity to use up items you already have on hand, like frozen peas and corn for casseroles, fresh herbs and vegetables and even eggs, cheese and cream.

Have One Person Buy All The Food

Orchestrating a freezer meal swap party takes some next-level organization skills. Keep it as streamlined as possible by having one person do all the grocery shopping. This will minimize
waste and any chance of forgotten ingredients.

Make Work Stations

To run your cooking party with military precision, every recruit will need their own set of tools at their station — think chopping boards, a sharp knife (emphasis on ‘sharp’) and bowls to keep all those pre-chopped ingredients together. It’s also a good idea to ask guests to bring extra cooking vessels like pots and pans, to limit intermittent dishwashing and make the most out of your time.

Strategically Chop Your Veggies

Before you start, comb through each recipe to see how much chopped garlic, onions and fresh herbs you’ll need, and then designate a member of the group to tackle it all at once, making use of appliances like food processors and mandolins. Prepping all the ingredients ahead of time makes cooking and assembly that much faster.

Greta's-Shepherds-Pie

Another scrumptious recipe option is Shepherd’s Pie with “Squashed” Potatoes.

Make Sure You Have Enough Storage Containers

All those meals need to be portable, so ensuring there are sufficient food storage containers is key, especially if you want to maximize the number of meals each person gets to take home. One bonus to meal prep parties is that you often come out with more food than you bargained for, so plan accordingly. If your aim is to cook enough food to stretch into 15 take-home meals per person, it’s a good idea to budget enough containers so that everyone has 20. Also, don’t forget to label your meals clearly and include a simple ingredient list, the date it was made and cooking instructions.

Have Easy Snacks at the Ready

To have a marathon cooking day, you’re going to need sustenance. Ideally, things that don’t need to be cooked and don’t take too much time to prepare. We like the idea of a simple charcuterie board that guests can munch on throughout the afternoon or this idea for a DIY bruschetta bar.

Looking for more kitchen tips? Try our 20 Life-Changing Freezer Hacks.

Ina Garten’s New Year’s Eve Dinner Party Menu

Take a page from the queen of entertaining and ring in 2017 with a celebratory dinner chock-full of simple, yet indulgent dishes. Here’s how to throw the perfect New Year’s Eve party Ina Garten-style.

Keep it intimate and informal

Don’t feel pressured to create a fancy feast just because you’re hosting the last ‘hurrah’ of the holidays.  Keep your menu easy and let the ambiance do the work. Dress up your kitchen table with your finest china, cutlery and of course, candles. Ina tends to keep her dinner parties small and intimate. Try to pare down to a maximum of 8 guests — it will make the occasion feel extra special.

Make ahead as much as possible

No host likes to be hunched over the stove as guests arrive. Good thing Ina has some time-saving tricks, including easy make-ahead dishes. The key to stress-free holiday hosting is all about the planning. Once you know your menu, you’ll be surprised to find how many dishes can be made a day or two in advance and reheated just before guests arrive.

The Menu

Keep it seasonal and stress-free with warming, comfort food dishes that are also easy to make.

Ham and Cheese Board

1. Cheese Board

A cheese board is an easy appetizer that you can assemble in a flash. A good plate should have a few different flavours and textures, include a hard cheese, a semi-firm cheese, a soft cheese and a nice blue for some added bite. Balance out your board with some sweet grapes, fig jam, sliced baguette, nuts and crispy crackers. If you are looking to beef up your board, add some thick-sliced ham and good quality grainy mustard.

Shrimp Bisque

2. Shrimp Bisque

This elegant bisque soup makes an appetizing first course, just enough to tease the palate. Make a pot ahead of time and reheat as guests arrive.

cider-pork-tenderloin-fresh-herbs

3. Cider-Roasted Pork Tenderloin

Marinating this succulent pork overnight makes a luxurious and speedy New Year’s Eve dinner. Cider, maple syrup and fresh herbs like rosemary and ginger make for a fresh and subtly sweet main that is warm, comforting and elegant.

Bread Pudding

4. Ina Garten’s Panettone Bread Pudding

No meal is complete without a little something sweet — and that’s especially true for New Year’s Eve! This scrumptious bread pudding, full of nuts and candied fruit, can be made earlier in the day and served at room temperature.

Champagne Cocktails

5. Champagne Cocktails

Just before the big countdown, surprise guests with Ina’s Champagne Cocktail. Happy New Year!

halloween-porch-party-pumpkins

How to Host a Spooktacular Halloween Porch Party

Growing up in Australia, we didn’t celebrate Halloween. No jack o’lanterns, costumes or going door-to-door collecting candy from neighbours.

Now that I’m teaching at an elementary school in Canada, the growing excitement of Halloween is impossible to avoid, with kids planning their costumes weeks in advance of the big night. Living in a neighbourhood filled with families, it’s fun to see their creative costumes and hand out treats to all the little ghouls and goblins. These days, we make an evening of it – setting ourselves up on the front porch with snacks, drinks and dinner and play host to condo-dwelling friends who don’t have trick or treaters. It’s become an annual event that’s a fun, no-fuss way celebrate Halloween, enjoy time with friends and catch up with neighbours without leaving your front porch! Over the past decade, we’ve got the hosting of this porch party down to a fine art. If you’d like to throw your own front-porch soiree, here are our best tips for a spooktacular evening outside.

Spooky eye bark recipe

The Treats

Arguably the most important part. If you have the willpower buy treats earlier rather than later, you’ll get a better selection. Don’t leave it until 5 p.m. on Halloween night because often by then, stores are sold out or won’t have the treats you want.  Buy treats with the “nut free” symbol on it so they are safe for everyone.

Plan your treats accordingly –  if you’re ok with a few leftovers (i.e. you haven’t already been eating treat-sized candy for weeks!) buy candy you enjoy.  The best way to avoid leftovers is to buy the right amount of treats – if you’re unsure, ask neighbours how many they typically hand out on Hallowe’en.

If you have guests joining your porch party, have them bring some treats too (make sure they buy something different so you have a good selection).

And hey – if you’ve got leftover candy, you can always make this cute candy bark.

Check the Weather and be Prepared

Sometimes, Halloween evening can be pretty chilly, especially after the sun goes down. Make sure you are dressed properly (layers work well here) and have gloves handy. Make sure you have comfortable cushions and lots of blankets for your porch party guests too.

chli-lime-pumpkin-seeds

Don’t Forget the Snacks

If you’re trying to avoid eating the candy before you hand it out (and while you wait for dinner to heat up), make some snackable items in advance. Since you’ll probably be carving your pumpkin anyway, save the seeds and make this spicy lime version.

And popcorn is always a good idea.

alberta-beef-stew

Don’t Forget to Eat Dinner!

If you’re not careful, Halloween dinner might end up being just treats and snacks but if you plan in advance, it can be the highlight of the night. As I rarely make it home before 5 p.m. and by this stage, many of the younger kids have already started trick or treating, there’s no time to prep dinner.  With a little planning, you can prepare a hearty dish that’s easy to reheat in the oven when you get home (or in the slow cooker in the morning) and serve family style on the porch.

A bowl of chili on a chilly night is always a good idea. This one tastes even better the next day so prep it the night before for an easy meal on the night.

Soup is a tasty way to stay warm. How about this hearty winter minestrone? Beef stew (made in the slow cooker) takes the fuss out of dinner in between trick-or-treaters. And lasagna is an easy dish to make the day before so all you have to do is pop it in the oven to warm up while you hand out the treats!

These are all great choices to feed a crowd and are easy to prepare in advance. That way you can pop them in the oven to reheat while you get started handing out treats!

slow-cooker-mulled-wine

Thirsty?

It’s always a good idea to have a selection of beverages (hot and cold, alcoholic and non-alcoholic) to serve your guests (and hey, the parents who accompany their kids trick or treating!). On cold evenings, a big slow cooker filled with mulled wine hits the spot! Remember paper cups for those parents who are taking their warm drinks along with them.

What about you – what are your Halloween evening traditions?

Summer Berry Sangria

1 Bottle of Wine, 3 Sangrias to Sip All Summer

Nothing says summer quite like sipping some sangria on a patio. It’s cool and refreshing, and eating the fruit that’s been soaking up the wine means it’s a drink with a snack included.

Summer Berry Sangria

While we tend to think of sangria in its most traditional form – red wine and brandy with orange juice, apples and wheels of lemon and lime – any bottle of wine can be transformed with a little fruit and liqueur.

One bottle of Sauvignon Blanc can be transformed into a hundred variations of sangria, from the sweet and sparkly to a deeply cooling version that refreshes with cucumber instead of fruit. Here are three new and tasty ways to kick off your summer with sangria.

Summer Berry Sangria

Summer Berry Sparkling Sangria
Brightly coloured berries really pop against the background of a white wine, so this sangria is perfect when the summer heat sends raspberries, strawberries and blackberries to the farmers’ markets. Tumble any combination you like of the berries into a pitcher, add a bit of simple syrup – depending on how sweet you like your sangria – and then let it all sit in the fridge to infuse those flavours. When ready to serve, pour in a bottle of sparkling wine for some bubbles and top with fresh mint leaves.

Tropical Sangria

Tropical Fiesta Sangria
Give your sangria a tropical twist by using fruits that are a little more exotic. Tangy pineapple and sweet mango are excellent; papaya is also great. You can also thinly slice some kiwis for a little pop of green colour and some lemon for a hit of citrus. Adding in Cointreau – or another brand of orange-flavoured liqueur – will give a nice undertone and plays well with the tropical fruit.

Cucumber Gin Sangria

Gin-Cucumber Sangria
For something completely different and incredibly refreshing, taking a page from another summer classic, the gin and tonic, and make a Gin-Cucumber Sangria. This one starts with Sauvignon Blanc and then gets a botanical and floral infusion by swishing in elderflower liqueur and gin – go for one with a particularly botanical or floral bend for full flavour, like Hendrick’s. Slices of lime add some tang, while mint makes it suitably refreshing. Finally, thin slices of cucumber bring some coolness to the mix.

Looking for more delicious summer cocktails? Learn how to make Ina Garten’s Rose Sangria.

Pineapple-Salsa

How to Make Easy Blender Salsa, 3 Ways

If you’ve only ever made tomato salsa, you’re in for a treat. This quick and easy blender salsa is made using tomatillos; a crisp, slightly sweet fruit long considered a staple of Mexican cuisine. Closely related to ground cherries, the tomatillo requires a few extra steps compared to your basic tomato. Simply peel back their husks and give them a good rinse before proceeding with the recipe. We’ve also included two bonus recipes (one sweet and one spicy) to help you step up your salsa game, no dicing required.

Blender Salsa Verde

Classic Salsa Verde

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Makes: 2 cups

Ingredients:
1 lb tomatillos, husked, rinsed and roughly chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded and roughly chopped
1/2 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup cilantro
3 Tbsp lime juice
2 tsp kosher salt

Directions:
1. Combine all ingredients in a blender. Puree until smooth. Transfer to a bowl. Salsa will thicken as it sits.
2. Serve with tortillas chips or use as a garnish for your favourite taco.

Variations:

Blender Chipotle Salsa

Spicy Tomatillo-Chipolte Salsa
Omit jalapeño and add 2 canned chipotles to blender. Proceed with recipe. Heat a medium saucepan over medium, add 1 Tbsp canola oil, then salsa. Bring to a simmer, and cook until raw taste is gone, about 5 minutes. Let cool before serving. Makes 2 cups.

Blender Pineapple Salsa

Tomatillo-Pineapple
Blend tomatillos, garlic, onion 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (preferably Mexican canela) and 1/2 cup roughly chopped pineapple until smooth. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro, 1 finely chopped jalapeño and 1 1/2 cups finely diced pineapple. Makes 2 1/2 cups.

Looking for more delicious recipes? Try our 12 Fresh Salsas for a Party.

How to Host a Successful Chili Cook-Off

Gather your most competitive, food savvy crew, and host a chili cook-off this Family Day. A kind of choose-your-own-adventure style of dining, this cook-off runs on the dishes your family and friends provide, so the more the merrier.

As the host, here are some simple ways to streamline your chili cook-off, including a handful of chili and side dish recipes, along with flexible cook-off guidelines. So roll up your sleeves and put your best chili forward this Family Day. May the best pot win!

chipotle-chicken-chili

1. Choose a theme and a recipe

We’ve chosen to focus on chili — a one-pot wonder that’s easily transported from slow-cooker or pot, to table. And chili is highly adaptable, with variations like chicken, beef, turkey, veggies, triple-bean and more. Every guest will likely have his or her favourite, something they’re keen to share with the group.

Chili recipes to whet your guests’ appetites:
The Pioneer Woman’s Chipotle Chicken Chili
Slow Cooker Turkey Chili
Spicy Black Bean and Raisin Chili with Fresh Pineapple and Tortillas
Rachael Ray’s Zucchini Chili
Chili Con Carne
Hearty Vegetarian Chili with Butternut Squash

2. Invite your family, friends and neighbours
Create an event via Facebook. Even guests who don’t have a Facebook account can be invited by email this way, so no one is left out. Make sure to clearly state what you’re providing (see below) and what they’re providing; a pot of their best chili and a mug.

Since this is Family Day, invite your nearest and dearest to participate, including the kids.

zucchini chili

3. Serving vessels and cutlery
For judging, consider the humble coffee mug when sampling each chili. A mug is easily held (no spills and you can stand comfortably with it), retains heat, and guests can dip and dive into small bites of each chili. Depending on the size of the party, you may want to consider plastic cutlery — here, it’s all about the spoons — and small plastic or Styrofoam sampling mugs.

Encourage guests to bring their own mug to the party (BYOM), or provide a cheap and cheerful option from IKEA or second hand store or simply what you have in your kitchen. Like the menu, the dinner ware doesn’t need to match.

Once the chili judging has ended, provide bowls (ceramic or plastic) for larger servings of favourites. Toppings and sides can more easily be added this way (see below).

4. Keep score
In true sportsperson competitive nature, provide a handmade score sheet to guests.

1. Place sticky note numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.) on each pot of chili for easy scoring.
2. One score sheet per pot judging taste (score: 1 to 5, 1 to 10, etc.) plus a written note on what made this chili better/different.
3. Keep each pot’s score sheets in front of the said pot-on-trial for easy tallying post-game.

5. Super sides
Bring these out after judging. Sides are the host’s job — cornbread, salad and, if you have the time, a layered dip, are our chili cook-off top picks. Get the recipe for Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread.

cast-iron-skillet-cornbread

6. Toppings bar essentials
The host should provide the sides, in this case, a topping bar for chili. Guacamole or diced avocado, grated cheese, chopped cilantro, green onion, sour cream or Greek yogurt, pickled jalapeños and corn tortilla chips can be easily assembled and put into small bowls for guests to adorn to their taste. Get the recipe for Guacamole with a Kick.

guacamole-with-a-kick

7. Beverages
This is up to you: BYOB or host-provided. If you’re providing, chili bar must-haves include margaritas, beer, wine (red and white), sparkling water and still water. For those who love cocktails, consider the spicy, truly Canadian classic, the Caesar, or chili and taco partner extraordinaire, the Moscow Mule. For kids and teens, create a specialty mocktail.

the-perfect-caesar

8. Declare the winner, provide a prize
With judgement sampling and post-judgement feasting now over, it’s time to declare a winner. And, while the winner will receive bragging rights among friends, a small prize completes the competition.

Prize ideas: a new wooden spoon, new mug, a second-hand trophy or, for non-material goods, the winner gets to take home the leftovers.

9. Extras to consider
If it’s a one-pot, slow cooker cook-off like this chili feast, you’ll require an extension cord to keep food hot and safe, as well as heat pads as to not scorch your table.

And, though you’ll all likely be too full, dessert is always nice to have on hand for guests with a serious sweet tooth. For the chili cook-off, a Tres Leche Cake keeps the tablescape on-theme and feeds a crowd. Get the recipe for Alton Brown’s Tres Leche Cake.

tres-leche-cake

10. More cook-off theme ideas
Chili isn’t the only dish that works cook-off-style. Adaptable, family-style and build-you-own dishes work best for cook-offs. Here’s a handful of both savoury and sweet ideas to get you started.

Savoury:
Pizza cook-off: You provide the dough, guests bring their best pizza toppings.
Meatball cook-off: You provide the cooked spaghetti, guests bring a pot of their perfect sauce and meatballs.
Soup cook-off: You provide the toppings (baby saltine crackers, toasted seeds, croutons, herbs, pesto, etc.), guests bring a pot of soup.
Taco cook-off: You provide the toppings and taco shells, guests bring a taco filling of their choosing (roasted vegetables, pulled pork, spiced ground beef, grilled onions, etc.)
Grain bowl cook-off: You provide the rice and sauce, guests bring their go-to grain bowl edition.

Sweet:
Cupcake cook-off: You provide the coffee, tea and a cupcake of your own creation (and maybe some sprinkles), guests bring a cupcake of their choosing.
Ice cream sandwich cook-off: You provide a few pints of vanilla ice cream, guests bring their best chocolate chip cookie.

super bowl menu roger mooking

Roger Mooking’s Ultimate Super Bowl Menu

Maybe you like football, maybe you don’t. But if a snack-centred event featuring classic comfort foods sounds like your idea of fun, then it’s time to add Super Bowl Sunday to your annual calendar of delicious events. Here, chef and Chopped Canada judge Roger Mooking shares his tips for hosting a superb Super Bowl Party.

888_Sweet-Potato-Wedges-with-Chipotle-Sauce

Pass the snacks
One of Chef Roger’s favourite Super Bowl memories was watching the 2016 game at his cousin’s place, while his cousin screamed and jumped around the TV. “The whole family knows he is a Broncos fanatic so we all went there to watch him,” he says. “It was one of the most hilarious things I did last year and will never forget it.” That energy is what makes the day, so don’t quash it by asking fanatics to sit down for dinner. “Finger foods and hand-held foods are always good because people tend to get excited, and want to nibble through the stress and excitement throughout the game,” says Roger.

Honey-Glazed Ham

Roger recommends:
Sweet Potato Wedges with Chipotle Sauce
Honey-Glazed Ham
Red Cabbage and Green Apple Slaw
Mini Apple Pie Pockets

Prepare for a thirsty crowd
A mix of alcoholic and non-alcoholic brews and caffeinated and non-caffeinated drinks, will allow guests of all ages to cater to their own energy and entertainment requirements. If you’re serving booze, Roger recommends taking everyone’s keys as they come in the door. “Call a cab if people get too tipsy or are too worked up to drive,” he says.

Ginger Beer

Roger recommends serving:
Chocolate Malted Milkshakes
Ice cold light beer with lime wedges
Ginger beer
Iced coffee with condensed milk

“Make a coffee, add ice and drizzle some sweetened condensed milk in it,” says Rogers. “Stir it all up just before you drink and there will be enough sugar and caffeine in there to turn the most docile sports fan into Mike Tyson backed into a corner.”

iced coffee

Game day plan
Stock up on side plates and serviettes, since guests will invariably go back for seconds (and thirds), and some of the tastiest game day treats the messiest. Avoid a post-season house slump by keeping a garbage nearby so it’s easy to tidy up during commercial breaks.

Looking for more Super Bowl ideas? Try Patricia Heaton’s Best Game Day Recipes.

How to Make Your Own Dumplings for Chinese New Year

Born and raised in Richmond, BC, Chef Nicole Gomes has been celebrating Chinese New Year ever since she can remember. The west coast city, just a stone’s throw from Vancouver, is known across North America for its dynamic Chinese food scene and famous night market brimming with all sorts of delicious eats.

nicole-and-dumplings-2

The Top Chef Canada alum has been calling Calgary home for over 16 years, where she runs a high-end catering company (Nicole Gourmet) and the uber-popular fried chicken eatery, Cluck ‘N’ Cleaver. But with strong family ties in Richmond, she always heads back west to celebrate the holiday with her family.

“Most of my memories about Chinese New Year just revolve around spending time with my family,” says Gomes, smiling. “Well, spending time with family and then eating and eating and eating. There’s always so much food!”

So when it comes to Chinese New Year cooking, Nicole Gomes is something of an expert. Here are some top tips she has picked up over the years, plus how to make perfect Chinese dumplings.

 

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The Perfect Dumplings for Chinese New Year

While Gomes says food has always been central to her upbringing, one of her most fond food memories is spending weekend afternoons learning to make dumplings (jiaozi) with her grandmother and younger sister.

“We would make dumplings all of the time with my grandma. Hundreds and hundreds of them,” says Gomes. “That is one of the best things about dumplings. You can make a huge batch, freeze them and eat them when you want.”

After years of making dough, rolling, filling and pinching, Gomes has become quite the dumpling expert, practically making them with her eyes closed. Though the filling can be flexible, Gomes’ favourite filling is a classic one made with ground pork and Shanghai bok choy.

If you’re celebrating the Lunar New Year at home this year, you should definitely have some dumplings on the table — so why not make some that are chef-approved?

Nicole Gomes’ Homemade Pork Dumplings

Prep and Cook Time: 1 hour
Makes: 30 dumplings

dumpling-making

Ingredients:

Pork and Bok Choy Filling:
2 heads Shanghai bok choy (halved, thinly sliced and blanched)
1 pound ground pork
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 Tbsp light soy sauce
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 tsp cane sugar
2 Tbsp Chinese rice cooking wine
1 Tbsp sesame oil
Canola oil (for testing filling)

Dumpling Dough:
2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup boiling water

Dipping Sauce:
1/3 cup black vinegar (available at Asian grocers)
2 Tbsp garlic chili paste
Crushed chili flakes (for garnish)

Tip: Always cook off a bit of your filling in a pan and taste it first before filling your dumplings. Add more seasoning if needed. You don’t want to fill a whole bunch of dumplings only to find out they don’t taste as good as they could!

dumpling-filling

Directions:

Pork and Bok Choy Filling :
Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir until combined.

Dumpling Dough:
1. Mix flour and water together in a medium bowl and knead until smooth.
2. Split dough into six equal logs, roll to 3/4-inch thickness (approximately) and cut into 5 pieces per log for a total of 30 dumplings.

filling-dumplings
3. Roll out into rounds and fill with approximately prepared pork and bok choy filling.

pinching-dumplings
4. To seal, lightly dab water around the edge of one half of the dumplings. Bring sides together and gently pinch along seam to seal.

Dipping Sauce:
Place black vinegar, garlic chili paste and chili flakes in a small bowl and stir to combine.

Cooking:
1. Pour 1 1/2 Tbsp canola oil in a large pan to evenly coat and turn to medium-high heat. Place dumplings into pan and cook until bottoms start to brown, about 2-3 minutes.

dumplings-browning
2. Next, pour in 1 1/2 cups water, cover with lid and let steam for 6-8 minutes or until water is absorbed.

dumplings-cooking
3. Remove lid to allow any remaining water to evaporate. Dumpling should be tender on top and golden brown on the bottom.
4. Transfer from pan to serving dish and let cool slightly before serving.

Tips for a Great Chinese New Year:

It’s a numbers game
The number eight is regarded as the luckiest number. That’s a good baseline to work with when you’re preparing dinner. Eight dishes can easily feed a big group of family or friends. On the other end, stay away from four in any shape or form (i.e. guests or dishes). Its pronunciation is the same as the word for death, so it’s considered very bad luck.

The longer the noodle you’re cooking with, the better
Noodles represent longevity in life. You will always see them on the table at Chinese New Year, but in a lot of different forms, like stir-fried or steamed with vegetables and soy-based sauces. Never cut the noodles — it is bad luck!

You don’t need to cook everything yourself
Popular dishes like suckling pig, barbecue pork and peking-style chicken or duck aren’t ideal for a home cook to make, especially if it’s their first time. Most Canadian cities have great Chinatown neighbourhoods with Chinese barbecue restaurants. Order these from a good quality spot and spend your time in the kitchen making delicious side dishes.

dumpling-discs-and-ingredients

Not every dish has to be hot
Many dishes in Chinese culture are served cold; a lot of people forget about that. Marinating soft tofu in a soy garlic sauce overnight in the fridge, for example, is really delicious and doesn’t take much prep at all.

Plan for some surf and turf
It isn’t a Chinese New Year dinner without lobster. Whole lobster is usually served because of its resemblance to a dragon (a creature that is synonymous with Chinese culture). It is usually paired with chicken. The presentation of a whole chicken represents family and prosperity.

What you should be drinking
Simple drinks are served along with Lunar New Year celebrations. Red and white wine to sip on throughout dinner, and finishing off with cognac when dessert comes around is perfect.

Always accept an invitation to someone’s New Year dinner, if possible
It is a real honour to be invited to someone’s Chinese New Year celebration, and one big plus is then you don’t have to worry about any of the cooking or the dishes afterwards.

Check out these 15 mouth-watering dumpling recipes for Chinese New Year.

 

seafood tower

How to Make a Stunning Seafood Tower

The holidays are a time of year when we indulge, and there’s just something ultra festive about a vibrant, chilled seafood tower.

Typically looked at in awe while dining at a contemporary seafood restaurant, you might be surprised to realize that making a tower chock-full of delicious ocean bounty is quite easy to do at home. All it takes is a little preparation and final assembly right before your holiday party guests arrive.

Just follow these simple tips and everyone will be impressed!

seafood tower

Buy good quality, sustainable seafood
When you’re serving friends and family a big smattering of seafood, you want it be as fresh and delicious as possible. While some grocers offer fresh shellfish at their seafood counters, you’re better off going to a local fishmonger like The Fish Counter (Vancouver), Billingsgate MKT (Calgary), Hooked (Toronto) or Fisherman’s Market (Halifax).

Prepare seafood same-day, if possible
Shellfish like mussels, clams and oysters, can be purchased a day or two ahead, and live safely in your refrigerator until you’re ready to prep them. The latter two can be cooked and chilled hours before eating, but set aside a few minutes to shuck the oysters right before assembling the tower.

Chill tower tiers before serving
Got a fridge full to the brim with holiday dishes and bottles of wine? Well, one of the handy things about our Canadian winters is the fact that our back deck or balcony can double as a large freezer (or fridge if you’re closer to the west coast). Giving the tower layers an hour or so to get cool will help keep the ice from melting too quickly while you’re assembling.

seafood tower

Have the right tools handy
While you can remove all of the lobster meat beforehand, guests like a little hands-on activity at a party, so make sure to have the necessary seafood picks and seafood crackers (nut crackers work well in lieu) for people to use. Napkins too!

Don’t have a tower? 
Although the tiered presentation definitely adds a “wow” factor to the table, using a couple large serving trays and laying out the myriad of shellfish over ice, studded with lemon wedges and ramekins of sauce is pretty appetizing, too.

seafood tower

How to Make a Seafood Tower

Total Time: 1 hour
Serves: 6

Ingredients:

Tower:
Crushed ice (enough for each tower level, approximately 10 cups)
1 lb fresh mussels (steamed and chilled)
1 lb fresh manila clams (steamed and chilled)
12 freshly shucked Malpeque oysters
24 large cooked prawns
1 2lb cooked lobster (claws, arms and tail separated)
2/3 cup seafood sauce
1 lemon (halved and cut into thin wedges)

Spicy Lemon Aioli:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp sambal oelek
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

seafood tower
Directions:
1. Evenly distribute crushed ice onto each of the 3 tower tiers.
2. On the bottom tier, lay out all of the clams, 1/2 of the mussels and 1/2 of the oysters.
3. On the perimetre of the second tier, alternate 1 oyster with 4 prawns. Work your way around the tier. Take lobster claws, arms and tail and place around the centre of the tier.

Seafood Tower

4. Fill any empty space on the second tier with remaining mussels.
5. On the top tier, place ramekins of sauce and fill remaining space with lemon wedges.

spicy lemon aioli

Spicy Lemon Aioli:
1. Place all ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine. Keep in refrigerator until ready to serve with seafood.

Ready? Learn How to Shuck an Oyster Like  a Pro.

Fun and Festive Cranberry Brie Empanadas

Instead of the usual cranberry and Brie in puff pastry,  these holiday stars are enclosed in a flaky, spiced empanada dough. Sweetened with a touch of honey, these tart, creamy and impossibly flaky empanada-style hand pies will become a new, classic holiday staple.

Cranberry-Brie-Empanadas2

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours, 12 minutes
Serves: 12 to 15

Ingredients:

Spiced Crust
1 large egg
8 Tbsp ice water
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small cubes
1 Tbsp milk, for brushing

Filling
1 wheel Brie, chilled, cut into thin strips
1 cup fresh or frozen (do not defrost) cranberries
2 Tbsp honey, plus more for serving

Cranberry-Brie-Empanadas1

Directions:

Spiced Crust
1. In a small bowl, beat egg with 4 Tbsp water and vinegar.
2. In a food processor or in a large bowl, combine flour, salt, cloves and nutmeg. Pulse or cut in butter until a fine meal forms.
3. Using the food processor, add egg mixture to flour mixture until a shaggy but manageable dough has formed. Add additional water if mixture looks too dry.
4. Transfer dough onto counter and knead until it all comes together. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes to 1 hour or until firm.
5. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 3- to 4-inch cookie cutter or rim of a glass, cut rounds. Roll scraps and cut additional rounds. Arrange rounds evenly onto two large baking sheets.

Filling and Assembly
1. In the centre of each dough circle, add a slice of brie, a few cranberries, and drizzle of honey. Do not overstuff. Repeat with remaining circles.
2. Brush the top half of the dough circle with milk. Fold circles in half and crimp to seal with a fork. Chill for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
4. Brush chilled empanadas with milk. Bake for 10 minutes, until dough has puffed and is beginning to brown around the edges.
5. Transfer empanadas to a serving plates, slice in half (optional) and drizzle with additional honey. Serve warm or room temperature.

Looking for more tasty holiday bites? We’ve got 75 Party Appetizers Your Guests Will Love.

3 Fun and Festive Cranberry Cocktails

It wouldn’t be the holidays without bright, tart cranberries, and the same goes for cocktails. Celebrate the season in style with these three fruity drinks fit for any holiday party.

From a fizzy champagne cocktail featuring a homemade spiced cranberry orange simple syrup, to vanilla vodka-spiked cranberry mule, to the cinnamon infused cran-apple white wine sangria, we’ve got a drink to suit everyone’s taste this season.

festive-cranberry-cocktails

Holiday Fizz

Prep Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Serves: 6

Ingredients:

For the Spiced Cranberry Orange Simple Syrup
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tsp orange zest
1 whole star anise
1 whole cinnamon stick

For the Drinks
12 fresh cranberries
6 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 orange, thinly sliced
1 bottle Canadian sparkling wine or champagne, chilled
1 recipe Spiced Cranberry Orange Simple Syrup, from above, chilled

Directions:

Spiced Cranberry Orange Simple Syrup
1. In a medium saucepan, bring all simple syrup ingredients to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until sugar has dissolved and cranberries have started to pop, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat, strain into a glass jar; discard solids. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until chilled. Store simple syrup in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Assembly
1. Skewer 2 cranberries on each rosemary sprig. Set aside.
2. In each of 6 cocktail or wine glasses, add a few slices of orange, 1 Tbsp prepared simple syrup and 1/2 cup sparkling wine or champagne. Serve chilled.

Vanilla-Cran Mule

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients:
2 cups ice
1/2 cup vanilla vodka
1/2 cup ginger ale
1 Tbsp cranberry juice
12 fresh or frozen cranberries (no need to defrost if using frozen)
1 lime cut into thin rounds, to garnish
Evergreen twigs, to garnish

Directions:
1. In a cocktail shaker or pitcher, per mule, gently stir 1/4 cup vodka, 1/2 cup ginger ale and 1 Tbsp cranberry juice.
2. Add 1/2 cup ice, 3 cranberries and a couple lime slices to each glass (use traditional copper mule mugs or regular cocktail glasses).
3. Pour prepared cocktail into each ice-filled glass. Garnish with evergreen twigs. Serve.

Cran-Apple Sangria

Total Time: 4 hours, 10 minutes
Serves: 6

Ingredients:
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (no need to defrost if using frozen)
1 gala apple, cored and thinly sliced
1 cup apple cider or apple juice
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup brandy
1 bottle white wine

Directions:
1. In a large pitcher or punch bowl, stir together cranberries, apple slices, apple cider, cinnamon, brandy and white wine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
2. Pour or ladle sangria into glasses, being sure to include the wine-soaked apples and cranberries. Serve chilled.

Snowflake Cookie Cutter Devilled Eggs

Devilled eggs can be fussy, but with this bake-and-decorate method, they’re made party-friendly. Use whatever cookie cutter shape that you love, changing with the season.

In this festive version, we used snowflake cookie cutters to create the perfect party appetizer for any holiday celebration. Feel free to use other add-ins or toppings such as pickled beets, Sriracha, smoked salmon, olives… the options are endless!

snowflake-devilled-eggs

Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes
Serves: 12

Ingredients:
12 eggs
Oil, for greasing
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp fresh dill

Directions:
1. Preheat oven 350°F. Line a 9×13-inch glass baking dish with parchment paper, leaving some overhang on the sides. Lightly grease parchment.
2. Separate egg whites into a large bowl and beat until foamy. Pour into prepared dish, cover with foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until egg whites are set to the touch. Cool completely in pan. Remove from pan using parchment overhang or flip out; place on a cutting board.
3. Meanwhile, cook egg yolks in a large non-stick skillet over low heat until firm. Transfer to a food processor, pulse and cool for 5 minutes. To yolks, add mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, curry powder and salt. Puree until smooth and transfer yolk mixture to a piping bag fitted with a star tip.
4. Using a cookie cutter, cut shapes of egg whites and place on serving plate. Pipe egg yolk mixture on top of whites and garnish with a sprig of dill and/or egg white shape scraps. Serve immediately.

Note: Egg whites and yolks can be made-ahead, kept separately, well-covered in refrigerator for up to two days.

How to Make a Snowman Cheese Ball

Building a snowman cheese ball is a fun project for kids (and adults) of all ages, especially when you’re snowed in. This recipe is simple, relatively quick to prepare and can be made-ahead and frozen, which means you can get a jump-start on your holiday food prep.

Combining sharp cheddar, tangy feta and decadent cream cheese, it’s an adaptable recipe that you’ll have a hard time resisting with a few crunchy crackers. Flurries or clear skies, you can turn your stash of cheese into a charming, cultured (no pun intended) masterpiece that would make Frozen’s Olaf proud.

Snowman-Cheeseball1

Snowman Cheese Ball

Ingredients:
185 g feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup cream cheese, room temperature
100 g aged white cheddar, crumbled
1/4 tsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese, more for serving
Whole black peppercorns (“eyes” and “buttons”)
Sliver of carrot (“eyes”)
Zucchini top (“hat”)
Shaved zucchini (“scarf”)

Snowman-Cheeseball5

Directions:
1. In a food processor, pulse feta, cream cheese, cheddar and garlic powder until combined; scrape down sides and pulse again. Blend for 10 seconds, scrape down sides and blend until creamy.

Snowman-Cheeseball4

2. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and dollop 3 rounds into small, medium and large sizes (about 1/4 cup, 1/2 cup and 1 cup portions of cheese). Roughly form into balls and dust with Parmesan. Freeze for 45 minutes until firm but still pliable.

Snowman-Cheeseball3

3. Remove from freezer. Add largest ball to serving plate; insert a toothpick in centre. Secure second (middle, medium) ball on top with toothpick. To the middle, add another toothpick in the centre and secure head (top, small) ball.

Snowman-Cheeseball2

4. Insert a toothpick in the centre of the head (top, small). Decorate snowman with peppercorn eyes and buttons, and carrot nose. Wrap zucchini around snowman’s “neck” and insert 1 to 2 toothpicks to secure. Dust with additional Parmesan for a snowed-in effect. Serve with crackers.

Snowman-Cheeseball6

Notes:
– Make the 3 cheese balls in advance (without decoration), and store wrapped in plastic wrap in an airtight container, up to 1 month. Defrost in refrigerator overnight before decorating and serving.
– To add texture but keep the snowy-white appearance, mix in 1/2 cup slivered blanched almonds after blending cheese. If you’re not concerned about the appearance, dried cranberries and walnuts, and/or fresh herbs work well here.

Easy, Cheesy Cherry-Pistachio Brie En Croute

Want to be a holiday party hero? Make this recipe that’s quick, easy and delivers huge in the yummy department. Impress your guests with beautifully decorated puff pastry, then shock them when you cut through and soft, gooey cheese oozes out. Finally, send them to heaven with this sweet and salty combination of tart cherry preserves, crunchy pistachios and rich double cream Brie.

cherry-pistachio-brie-en-croute2

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Serves: 8

Ingredients:
1 10-inch x 10-inch sheet puff pastry
1 200 g wheel double cream Brie
1/2 sour cherry preserves (or jam/jelly of your choice)
1/2 cup chopped pistachios (nut of your choice)
1 egg yolk

cherry-pistachio-brie-en-croute

Directions:
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Roll out puff pastry on a floured surface. Place Brie in centre of pastry. Place preserves on brie and then place nuts over preserves. Bring the corners of the pastry into the centre of the Brie, then bring the side up to meet the corners. Trim excess pastry from the centre. Form decorative detailing with excess pastry to help seal the pastry. Chill in freezer for 30 minutes.
2. While chilling, preheat oven to 400°F.
3. Mix egg yolk with 1 Tbsp water and brush over pastry. Bake in centre of oven until pastry is golden, about 30 minutes.
4. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Do not bake in advance.

Looking for more tasty hor d’ouvre inspiration? Try our 75 Holiday Party Appetizers Your Guests Will Love.

The Ultimate Vegan Cooking Cheat Sheet

When it comes to the holiday season, you want everyone to feel like they’re in on the fun; asking grandma to boogie down to a festive tune, putting reindeer antlers on your dog and, most importantly, making sure all of your friends and family enjoy delicious food and drink.

“We vegans appreciate any dish that you have taken the time to make for us, it is better than not getting invited to the holiday party at all,” jokes Halifax chef Lauren Marshall. “I love going to a friend’s house over the holidays and being able to eat all the vegetable side dishes and smothering them all with mushroom gravy. Hold the turkey!”

lauren-marshall-kitchen

As the only vegan chef to compete on the hit series, Top Chef Canada, it goes without saying Marshall has got some serious chops when it comes to cooking for special diets. Here, the Halifax chef shares some fantastic tips and pantry staples to help you confidently cook some indulgent vegan dishes everyone can enjoy this holiday season.

Don’t be intimidated when cooking for vegan guests:
Remember that we’re just happy if you include us in on your dinner party — nobody likes to feel left out. If there are a few options you’ve taken the time to cook for us, we will feel satisfied!

Know which vegan milk to use:
Every dairy milk substitute has its place depending on the recipe. I believe that a homemade nut or seed milk always tastes better, and only takes seconds to make.

Coconut milk: Great for Indian curries instead of regular cream and also a great substitute in buttercream icing recipes.
Soy milk: Fantastic as a replacement for cream-based sauces as the flavour is quite mild.
Nut milk (almond, cashew, etc.): Ideal for morning cereals or smoothies, as the flavours pair well with the strong taste of granola or greens.

Shopping for quality tofu at the grocery store:
Find a product that is 100 per cent GMO free and organic. Also, see if you can find a local product. On the East Coast, you can find a locally made tofu by Acadiana Soy Products that’s organic and GMO free.

Serving a group with several dietary restrictions:
Only a few of my close friends are vegan, so it’s natural that I end up cooking for a mix of diets. In these cases, I love to serve tacos. I set up a table and create a buffet with fresh salsa, slow cooked chipotle beans, roasted portobello mushrooms, guacamole, smoked tempeh, cilantro cashew cream and shaved lettuce. Ask your meat-eating friends to bring sides like pulled pork or roast chicken and shredded cheese, and then everybody is happy!

vegan-gravy
Lauren Marshall’s Vegan Gravy

The ultimate vegan comfort food:
It’s so easy to make vegan mac and cheese. For a delicious “cheese” sauce, just roast some butternut squash, garlic and onions, and blend with nut milk, cashews and nutritional yeast until creamy. Season with salt and pepper, then mix the sauce with cooked pasta. Even meat eaters will be impressed!

How to veganize holiday classics:
During the holidays, just replace regular butter for coconut oil and a bit of nutritional yeast in your roasted vegetables, or try making a vegetable-based gravy with cashews instead of using the standard turkey drippings.

How to veganize holiday baking:
These days, with the influx of vegan egg and butter substitutes available at grocery stores, it’s easy to convert everyday recipes to vegan ones. Instead of regular pie crust, pulse dates and ground almonds in a food processor, and slowly add coconut oil until it all comes together. It only takes minutes and bakes off well.

Great ingredients for easy vegan cooking:

Ground flax and good quality vinegar: This makes a great substitution for eggs when baking.
Agar agar: This is a vegan thickener, comparable to gelatin. It can work to firm up jams and other preserves. It also works for custards and curds.
Nutritional yeast: This has a really cheesy flavour, so try it anywhere you’d normally have shaved Parmesan and it’s especially great when tossed with freshly made popcorn instead of butter.
Tempeh (fermented soybean cakes): I always have some in my freezer, It’s my mainstay “meat” substitute because of its hearty texture.
Nuts/seeds, grains and legumes: Pumpkin seeds are great to throw into a smoothie in the morning. I love buckwheat for a protein boost, especially in baking bread or biscuits and I love lentils. Making a traditional Indian dahl with lentils is really easy and very filling.

laurenmarshall-blueberry-grunt
Lauren Marshall’s Lavender Blueberry Grunt

Lavender Blueberry Grunt Recipe

Total Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 6-8

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 1 Tbsp for pan
3/4 cup maple syrup
5 cups frozen wild blueberries
3 cups large flaked dried unsweetened coconut
1 1/4 cup whole spelt flour, divided
1 Tbsp lavender
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup almond meal
2 Tbsp ground flax seeds, preferable golden flax
1/4 cup water
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp unfiltered apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp sea salt

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Spread 1 Tbsp olive oil over the bottom of the cast iron pan.
3. Arrange blueberries on the bottom of the pan. Set aside.
4. Add coconut to food processor and add a handful of the spelt flour. Blend until coarsely ground and set aside. Sift remaining spelt flour, baking powder, baking soda and lavender into a medium bowl. Add almond meal and ground coconut, stir to combine and set aside.
5. In another bowl, whisk together flax seeds and water. Add maple syrup, oil, vanilla, vinegar and salt, and whisk again. Pour into dry mixture and stir until just combined.
6. Scoop out round biscuit-like shapes onto the frozen blueberries. Place on baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Looking for more delicious ideas? 25 Vegan Desserts Even Non-Vegans Will Love.

Bacon-Wrapped Cheesy Jalapeño Ghouls

The thrill of stuffed jalapeños is that you never know how spicy a pepper will be — a true trick or treat! A fun twist on Halloween mummies, these crowd-pleasing ghoulish appetizers are stuffed with a creamy filling of sharp Parmesan cheese, yogurt, mustard and thyme. The ghouls are then wrapped in smoky bacon, and gain vision with diced black olives.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Serves: 4 to 8

bacon-wrapped-jalapeno-ghouls1

Ingredients:

For Filling:
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 tsp grainy mustard
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp dried thyme

For Assembly:
4 large jalapeños, cut lengthwise, seeds and veins removed
4 strips bacon, cut lengthwise into thin strips
2 pitted black olives, cut into small dice (for “eyes”)
Food colouring gel or melted dark chocolate (for “eyes”)

bacon-wrapped-jalapeno-ghouls2

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Line a large baking sheet with foil and add jalapeños, cut side-up.
2. In a small bowl, combine filling ingredients. Divide evenly between jalapeños and smooth out top.
3. Wrap thin strips of bacon around jalapeños, leaving a small gap near the stem for the eyes. Up to this point (precooked), you can cover and refrigerate the mummies for up to 1 day.
4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until bacon is crispy and cheese is bubbling. Cool for 5 minutes.
5. Place two pieces of diced olive on each jalapeno (the “eyes”) in the small gap near the stem. Serve warm.

9 Essential Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving for the First Time

Hosting your very first Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t have to be stressful. Thanks to a few tricks, a little planning and a game-day strategy, you’ll be able to keep your cool on the big day. Here are nine essential tips for hosting a holiday party without ever breaking a sweat.

888_hosting-thanksgiving-first-time

1. Have a Pre-Party Shopping Spree
Don’t save your Thanksgiving shopping list for the day of the party. Whether it’s groceries, wine, flowers, a new tablecloth or a few ornamental gourds, these are the party items that can be ticked off your to-do list well ahead of Turkey Day so that you’re not rushing around snipping stems and washing vases when you should be basting your bird.

2. Make Ahead
From gravy to potatoes to homemade croutons, there are many dishes that will hold up and, in some cases, will actually taste better if you make them in advance! Try: Jamie Oliver’s make-ahead gravy and creamy scalloped potatoes.

3. Get Chopping
Never underestimate the power of a pre-party prep to ensure smooth sailing come game day. Professional chefs call this mise en place, the technique of ‘putting in place’ certain foods to ensure maximum efficiency. By chopping, measuring and washing ingredients for your side dishes the day before, you’ll save valuable time.

4. Hit the Bakery
It would be nice to wow guests with a stunning dessert for this special family occasion, however, sometimes big events aren’t the time to stretch limitations — particularly if you’re a novice baker. When you’re shouldering the entire dinner, cut yourself some slack and buy a few pies or desserts instead and shift your attention to displaying it on your best serving platters.

5. Enlist Help
Attention Thanksgiving newbies: there is no shame in calling on family members to help out with easy tasks, such as making the salad dressing, setting the table and serving drinks. Or take away the pressure of preparing a full menu entirely and get family members to participate in a good old fashioned potluck.

6. Clean Strategically
You wouldn’t dream of hosting Thanksgiving without a sufficient house cleaning, but don’t stress too much about giving the entire place a deep clean. Instead, focus on areas your guests are most likely to take notice like the front entrance and bathroom. Polish the glasses, iron the tablecloth and track down all your best-matching cutlery the night before. And if you have extra time, add those special details such as handwritten place cards, clusters of candles and flower arrangements which will really make your dinner party pop.

7. Stock the Bar Lightly
Don’t bother dusting off that bottle of gin from last Christmas or stocking up on pricey mixers. Keep it simple by serving red and white wine, sparkling grape juice, some local craft beer and have slices of lemon or lime to jazz up chilled water.

8. Make a Cooking Schedule
Most of us only have one stove, so you have to be strategic about what goes in the oven and when. A good rule of thumb is to cook the turkey first and tent it with aluminum foil to rest while you prep the gravy, pop the vegetables in for a roast or reheat mashed potatoes.

9. Don’t Go Rogue
Your fist Thanksgiving hosting gig isn’t the time to test out that new recipe you screen-grabbed on Instagram. The key to pulling off a successful holiday dinner is to stick with what you know. So whether it’s an out-of-this-world salad dressing, a dreamy mac and cheese, or your secret to mashed potato bliss, Thanksgiving is where you want to let your best dishes shine.