Hello everyone! I do hope you are enjoying the holidays. As you may have heard on the news Toronto was savagely hit with an ice storm last weekend and over half a million homes were left without power, some still don’t have power. I am very pleased to report that our power was only out for about 28 hours so it wasn’t that bad. We did have to rejig our Christmas plans as we were to host festivities on Christmas Day and not knowing how quickly the power would be restored we made arrangements to have it at JT’s sister’s place in Peterborough (the power company had indicated it may be 5 days!). My nephew Brian kindly offered us his apartment for warmth which was great because I had to prepare a few things to take for Christmas Eve’s dinner and Christmas Day dinner. It made me realize how fragile we are and how dependant we are on power, particularly in the winter. Fortunately, we didn’t lose food, we put refrigerator things to keep cool outside and the freezer was cold enough and full enough to maintain the frosty temperature (thanks to Norma Garden to Wok, who kindly suggested to put buckets of ice into it if it wasn’t chuck full).
The house temperature fell to around 10°C (50°F) so we turned the water off and put antifreeze in the traps and toilets. We didn’t have to do anything with our hot water rads, apparently they are good until the temperature falls below freezing for a couple of days. Of course, that’s just a wild guess and I am so glad we didn’t have to find out the hard way. Many of our dear friends reached out to us and offered a warm place to stay, which was incredibly generous, THANK YOU! We are indeed very lucky to be surrounded by such a wonderful group. Merry Christmas indeed.
As the holiday season continues and we are partying with gusto, I wanted to pass along a recipe I developed after Barb and I were introduced to a very novel hors d’œuvres at the KPMG Clara Hughes event in November. This hors d’œuvres was so unique and delicious I had wanted to try to recreate it for cocktails with Barb and her family on Christmas Eve, a tradition we’ve been enjoying for many years, but unfortunately we were one household of a 250,000 left without power for a few day after the ice storm last weekend so I put it off. It’s not complicated but it does require technique so you may wish to practice a bit before you serve it up at your party. You will need a slab of ice, easily made using a cookie sheet or roasting pan, or more authentically a good amount of freshly fallen, CLEAN snow. In the city, our snow is not very clean, so I opted for the slab of ice.
The sweet candied Maple Syrup provides a wonderful contrast to sharp cheese such as blue, extra old cheddar or even Parmesan (any double or triple cream cheeses will be too soft to do this with)..
Maple Cheese Popsicles
- 1 slab of ice (or shaved ice*), made using a cookie sheet or rectangular roasting pan (you will need to make this 2 days or more in advance). Add sprigs of Christmas tree trimmings and bright red cranberries for a festive feel. I lined a 10″ x 13″ x 2″ roasting pan with plastic wrap to help me lift the ice out of the pan.
- An accurate candy thermometer.
- 1/2 cup pure maple syrup (any colour will do, but we used Amber).
- A variety of cheeses (such as blue, extra old cheddar or even Parmesan) cut into 1 cm x 2 (1/2 inch x 1 inch) rectangles.
- tooth picks.
Prepare everything in advance:
- Bring the cheese to room temperature, place one tooth pick into each and set the little soldiers aside.
- Prepare a lovely serving dish by lightly spraying it with non-stick spray. You will set the maple cheese popsicles onto this dish and if it’s not sprayed, the maple candy will stick to it (at least that was my experience).
- To keep the maple syrup from setting up as you prepare these delightful bites, fill a cake pan deep enough to hold boiling water about half way to three-quarter the way up the small sauce pan sides. Place it directly at your work station.
- Place a dish cloth at your work station and put the slab of ice on it (decorate the edges with Christmas tree clippings or add cranberries and greenery to the ice when you make it so that it’s very festive. You may remove the pan or leave the ice it in, it’s up to you).
Now you are ready to begin cooking the maple syrup:
- When all of your guests have arrived, put the maple syrup into a heavy bottomed very small sauce pan (mine was ~1 cup (250mL) volume) and insert the candy thermometer, cook on medium to medium-high heat until it reaches 240° F (116° C) which is about 8-10 minutes depending on how cold your maple syrup was to begin with. Watch the syrup carefully as once it hits 250° F (121° C) it will begin to crystallize and it will be ruined for this application, but you can use it in coffee or tea, so don’t discard.
- When the maple syrup has reached 240° F (116° C), remove it immediately from the heat and place the sauce pan into the bath with the boiling water.
- Using a dry spoon which holds about 1 tsp, drizzle the maple syrup in a lace-like rectangular pattern on the ice slab long enough to roll the cheese in once. Almost immediately after you finish drizzling, using one of the prepared cheese bites on a tooth pick, begin at one end and roll up the maple candy around the cheese. Either hand it to a guest or place it on the prepared serving platter.
- Repeat until you have used up all of the cheese. If your kitchen is chilly, you may wish to replace the boiling water bath about half way through so that the syrup doesn’t set up.
These photos were from the second trial, the first trial didn’t work out!
- If you forgot to make your slab of ice, you can take about 10 ice cubes and in a good strong blender or food processor, pulse until you achieve a reasonable amount of shaved ice without big bits. The shaved ice will melt faster therefore it is a good idea to have more ice on hand to refill the shaved ice container. You will need to continue to work so have your kitchen helper shave more ice, or prepare it in advance and store it in the freezer on another cookie sheet or flat platter.
- I prefer blue cheese as the pairing with the sweet maple syrup, but some people don’t like blue, so have some cheddar on hand.
- Fry up some thick cut bacon that is cut into 1 cm x 2 (1/2 inch x 1 inch) rectangles and wrap the maple around it as an alternative option.