January 28, 2014

Recently, CBC Marketplace put the Dr. Ox Detox diet to the test and challenged students from my Alma Mater to the 3-day cleanse. Through the testing they concluded that detox diets make absolutely no difference to overall health. As much as I was happy to hear that juice cleanses aren't effective in maintaining health, I think there are some merits to the ideas, such as eating more fruits and vegetables, avoiding processed foods and striving to be healthier. One thing you can do is to pick whole food choices full of vitamins and health benefits. 

jax coco coconut water

I had the opportunity to try a new brand of coconut water; an interesting and stylish take on the "superfoods movement." Jax Coco made its debut at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival and is enjoyed by celebrities like Elton John and Stella McCartney. It is 100 per cent coconut water sourced from the Philippines and is the world's first pure coconut water packaged in premium glass bottles. Vogue Magazine describes it as the "chicest coconut water on the market."  

The Ultimate Holiday Hangover Cure jax coco

I first tried coconut water in Southeast Asia, as it has been a refreshing tropical drink in many places before its popularity in North America. Apparently "sky juice" is a popular Bahaman drink made from coconut water and gin. In terms of taste, it is quite refreshing and has a hint of coconut, however, don't expect a soda or a strong tasting drink. I do love the idea of using it in smoothies, cooking and baking as another splash of taste. 

The Ultimate Hangover Cure (recipe from jax coco)

1 250 ml bottle of jax coco
1 large banana
1 large kiwi
1/3 pineapple


Chop and blend; add ice to chill

jax coco coconut water smoothie

This smoothie was refreshing and hydrating. I need a "hangover cure" and something to boost my system at this time of year. I don't know if the health benefits to coconut water have been entirely proven, but if it makes people drink more liquids and eat more fruit then it has to be alright. I could also see it being used as a mixer for alcoholic, fruity cocktails and it would be a fashionable addition to any bar cart. 

Along with smoothies, eating green vegetables also helps to detoxify the system. Your mother was right when she told you to eat your brussels sprouts. They are high in fibre, antioxidants and vitamin K similar to asparagus, kale and broccoli. This recipe takes full advantage of the sweetness of pomegranates and coconut. I used a splash of coconut water as well as olive oil when I roasted the sprouts. Alternatively, you could steam the brussels sprouts first and then dress them before serving. 

Brussel Sprouts roasted in coconut oil with pomegranates

Brussels Sprouts roasted in Coconut Oil with Pomegranate (recipe from jax coco)

1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts, rinse, trimmed and halved
3 tablespoons jax extra virgin centrifuged coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup pomegranate arils


1. Heat the oven at 400 degrees
2. Cover a baking dish with foil, toss Brussels sprouts with coconut oil, salt and pepper
3. Roast for 20 minutes at 400 degrees
4. Sprinkle pomegranate arils on top of the Brussels sprouts 

Brussel Sprouts with pomegranates

I like how the coconut water adds a little something to the dish. It would also be neat cooked in rice or soups. I'm not sure I would buy jax coco as something to sip on a hot day, but I can appreciate the extra touch of flavour, vitamins and flare without the extra calories. 

Disclosure: I received samples of jax coco for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my own experience. 
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January 19, 2014

The rules of a good cookie exchange are as follows: write down the recipe, list each ingredient, provide packaging or boxes, present them nicely and make them with love. This past holiday I participated in two in-person cookie exchanges instead of an online swap like previous years. This time I wanted to share cookies and recipes with the people I interact with in real life instead of sending them to online friends by participating in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap. The picture below is the cookie exchange we did at my office. The next day we had one at our house for a Christmas party:

Cookie Exchange

Cookie Exchange

Another rule for a good cookie exchange is to start with a well thought out recipe. Robert Rose once again saved me during a busy cooking and baking season with their 100 Best Decorated Cookies cookbook by Julie Hession. For a brief time I worked in a gourmet cookie bakery and learned a lot of decorating techniques and tricks. I am by no means a pro. I do know that cookies are one of the most difficult things to decorate. Even though they can be finicky, everyone loves decorating cookies and making masterpieces out of dough, icing and candy. 

100 Best Decorate Cookies

Hession's book shows step-by-step photo tutorials of how to make each cookie, including cookies for holidays, kids and themed parties. As well as information on how to decorate, the book also has a substantial section on basic cookie and icing recipes. After all, a good base and icing can make or break a cookie. I used the Spicy Gingerbread Cut-out Cookie recipe (pg. 44) that made quite a thin, crispy gingerbread ideal for decorating. The Classic Royal Icing recipe (pg. 47) was also simple to make in a stand mixer and a lot easier than the Wilton method I have used before.

100 Best Decorated Cookies

The cookies turned out alright--although I didn't have an exact snowflake cookie cutter--and I managed to flood the cookies with the first layer of icing without a hitch. The part that gets me is the intricate decorating stage, especially when you have to decorate three dozen cookies. It takes concentration, determination and a steady hand. 

There are many cookies in this book I would like to try although I have to say that this book is not for beginners. Although it gives great information on equipment, tools and getting started, there is no way a novice decorator could attempt some of the intricacies and complexities of these cookies. Some of the cookies require fondant accessories, marbling techniques and patterns I never even encountered while working in a bakery. 

Gingerbread snowflake cookies with royal icing

I will say that is a great book for inspiration. The step-by-step photos make the process a little less daunting too. Each recipe also lists exactly what you will need in terms of cookies, ingredients, cutters, piping bags, tips and gels. Read this book for information and inspiration about cookie decorating and start with simpler designs before tackling some of the more complex cookies. 

Snowflake cookie tutorial

For a cookie exchange, decorated cookies definitely take a lot more effort. They will get a lot of comments and praise from the participants though as they know you put a little extra touch into making them. Mine didn't turn out exactly like the book, as I decided on a simpler pattern for the snowflakes. I liked the addition of the edible silver balls that also covered up a few mistakes here and there. 

Gingerbread Snowflake Cookies

Some of the cookies would be neat for parties, such as the Pink Martini cookies, Piece of Cake cookies and Champagne Glass cookies. There are even wedding-themed cookies, cute animals and sports-themed ones that kids would love. Gourmet cookies are sold at such a premium now, so it's another thing you can learn to make yourself for a nice gift or celebration.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Robert Rose for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.
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January 12, 2014

Someone said to me recently that once you are married, you start to establish your own traditions. That is definitely true during the holidays. Unlike rituals, which are a somewhat specified sequence of events, traditions happen somewhat naturally. They are also usually passed on from generation to generation. My family Christmas tradition used to be going to a pub on Christmas Eve and then coming home for a barbecue. Now as an adult, I still year for a real tree, watching the same Christmas movies and opening presents before watching the Queen's message. And I still have to eat fruitcake. 

Cranberry Coconut Bread

I made this fruit bread last weekend to slowly wean myself off of super sweet treats. It's a mix between a bread and a cake and satisfies your need for baking after the holiday overload. You know when you want to bake a little something, but don't want an entire rich chocolate cake? This bread has cranberries, coconut and a touch of indulgence with chocolate chips. I brought a loaf of the bread into work and had three different people ask for the recipe. Also, that cake stand with a glass dome lid was on sale for $9.99 at IKEA. Not only is it pretty, it also keeps the cake slightly fresher when it's sitting out.

Cranberry Coconut Bread

Cranberry and Coconut Bread (recipe from Baker's Royale)

3 large eggs
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups cranberries
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease and flour a bread pan.
2. Place eggs and sugar in a stand mixer and beat on high until mixture doubles in volume about 6-8 minutes.
3. Add in butter, vanilla, almond extract and then fold in the flour, salt, cranberries, chocolate chips and coconut with a spatula. Pour batter into prepared pan.
4. Bake for 60-90 minutes.  

Momofuku Milk Bar Crack Pie

If you want to indulge, then go all the way with a Momofuku Milk Bar Crack Pie. I blame this pie solely for the few pounds I gained in December. This was the first time I tried the famous crack pie from Momofuku's Toronto location and with prices like that, it might be the last. The cookies on the other hand are a lot more affordable and just as good in flavours such as Blueberry and Cream, Compost and Maple Pecan Coconut. The pie is insanely sweet. I also got the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook for Christmas to figure out how to make it myself someday. 

Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook

I also stocked up on some Holiday Blend Coffee and Habitual chocolate from Fire Roasted Coffee, a fair trade certified coffee and chocolate company in downtown London, Ontario. One of my favourite things is a cup of coffee after a big holiday dinner or sweet dessert. Waking up on Christmas morning and enjoying a giant cappuccino before opening presents is also a new favourite tradition. 

Of course it was also party season and that meant a generous spread of appetizers, cheese, vegetables, crackers and an assortment of holiday cookies. After two cookies exchanges, I don't think I can look at another cookie for a long time. I will post about cookie decorating soon. For now, I will say I made about two to three dozen of four different types of cookies, including sugar, gingerbread, peanut butter with chocolate and jam cookies. 

Christmas Cookies

For a small cookie exchange party the weekend before Christmas we lit some candles, put out some appetizers, invited some people over and did what we do best on Saturday nights, which is playing boardgames. This time there were a lot more cookies involved than usual and too many to eat in one sitting. These appetizers, on the other hand, I could still eat many more. Instead of pastry or potato, they are made with spaghetti squash, shrimp and cheese, so they are a little on the lighter side.

Spagetti Squash Shrimp Bites

Light Shrimp Puffs (recipe from iFoodreal)

1 spaghetti squash
8 oz cooked shrimp, peeled and diced
1 cup low-fat mozzarella cheese
2 tbsp mayonaise
1 1/2 cups Panko or whole wheat breadcrumbs
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 tsp black pepper, salt
Cooking spray for baking


1. Cut the squash in half and bake it in the oven at 375F for 30 minutes. Take it out of the oven and cool and then separate the strands with a fork.
2. Add the squash and remaining ingredients in a bowl.
3. Fill a mini muffin pan with the mixture and bake for 15 minutes. Serve with seafood or marinara sauce.

For Christmas Eve dinner we had ham, creamed corn and roasted vegetables. It was a nice quiet evening before heading out on the road to visit family. Food is definitely a part of making traditions. There are other traditions you can create and pass on to others though besides food. When I'm married, I don't think I will care as much about the silver, silk or gold anniversaries. My idea of a perfect anniversary is building upon the years before it by adding new adventures, challenges, routines and enjoying each moment. 

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January 05, 2014

I am toasting to the past year and I think I will need a glass of wine before I start thinking about the year to come. I know everyone says the new year will always be the best yet. This year I already know there will be a lot of life changes and I am nervous and excited to start some new beginnings. When you have a blog, it is neat to see the whole previous year through what you ate and drank. It just goes to show that life goes by in a flash and you have to savour those special moments. 

When life isn't defined by semesters or school terms anymore, the summer can seem long and not that exciting. Instead of lying on the beach all day and partying all night, it now means working all day with not that much time to laze around in the sun. As you get older, there are still many celebrations of a different kind. 

Fresh Gewurztrainer Riesling

This year was apparently the year of weddings with a total of five I attended. In August, it was a wedding by the lake in Oakville, Ontario. As something for the wedding party to sip on while they were getting pictures taken, I brought along a bottle of Diamond Estates Wine. Diamond Estates has been extremely generous to me over the last year and has let me sample some new releases of their Canadian wines. The company represents some of Ontario's best wines, including Dan Akyroyd, 20 Bees, Hat Trick and East Dell.

For this occasion, I brought along a bottle of Birchwood Fresh Gewurztraminer Riesling 2012 priced at $11.95. This wine was perfect for a beautiful August day and a great summery aperitif to drink before the meal. When you think of Gewurztraiminer, it is best to think of lychees, as they share similar compounds. As well as having a beautiful golden, yellow colour to match the sun, it also has a nose of lemon, ginger and tropical fruit, such as lychee. This wine pairs well with butternut squash, thai food and sweet potatoes and is my favourite among the "Fresh" collection.

Usually when I come home on Friday night, I end the week with a glass of wine to unwind. Sometimes wine doesn't have to be for a special occasion. I am allowed to enjoy the wine I like at home on an ordinary day with a piece of pizza in front of the television. Rosé have always been my favourite even though is isn't usually known as being the most distinguished. Lakeview Cellar wines, however, are sourced from the best vineyards in the Niagara region. The wave design on the bottle signifies the lake's influence on the area's climate and grape characteristics. I always love that time late in August when the summer is winding down but there is still a little bit left to savour.

I opened the Lakeview Cellars Syrah Rosé 2012 ($16.95) around September after the busy days of summer were over and the nights were a little quieter. Lakeview is known for their big, bold reds and that is apparent in this Rosé with its deep colours instead of the normal pink tones. Syrah grapes are usually used for full-bodied reds, so this one was quite stronger than a normal Rosé. This wine would go well with many of the chutneys I preserved this fall with its bouquet of summer strawberries and currants and also goes well with foods like sushi and spring rolls. I found this one slightly acidic after it was opened. If you want a different take on sweet Rosé, this is a great hybrid to try.

Lakeview Cellars Syrah Rose

Flash forward to October and it was Thanksgiving. I brought a bottle of East Dell Gamay Noir 2011 ($12.95) to my parent's house for Thanksgiving weekend in the country. This is a great wine for a really great price and has a nice, dry medium finish. It also fit perfectly with Thanksgiving dinner, as it pairs well with turkey, cranberry sauce and beets. The wine is somewhat sweet and tart with a cherry, licorice aroma and a hint of vanilla, red fruits and spices. Gamay's are usually meant to be enjoyed right after they are bottled between late October and January.

East Dell Gamay Noir

Recently, there was news that VQA wines will soon be available at Ontario farmer's markets. I originally thought VQA meant that the wine was made in Ontario, but I found out through this news that wine is only certified as VQA if it is made from 100 per cent Ontario-grown grapes. That means that wines like these will be available and more accessible to wine lovers like me. Now that is something to be thankful for in Ontario.

Then winter came and cast its icy shadow over everything. I tend to go into somewhat of a hibernation mode during the bitter cold. It is so hard to drag myself from a cozy bed or fireplace to face the cold. The holidays came and it was again busy seeing wonderful people and not relaxing at all. There were too many cookies to eat, places to go and presents to give and receive.

One of those presents was a wine rack handmade by my Father-in-law-to-be. Before, I was storing my wine in an old crate, which is probably not the best way to store it. Then we were presented with this beautiful cherry wood wine rack that is already full of our growing collection. Now we can display our wines proudly and store them properly. 

At the last wedding we went to, the groom made a beautiful speech about how the day he proposed was a day like any other--they did laundry, saw a movie, made dinner--but it was special and fun because he was with the person he loved. He said the little things could still be exciting with the person he loved and I loved that sentiment. Life is about making the everyday things fun and beautiful and remembering those moments, as well as the special and life-changing experiences.

I think that's one of the reasons why I like wine. There is something different in each bottle and it is always a new experience, even if you're just sipping a glass at home. Wine can make the mundane exciting and the special things a little sweeter. It's about enjoying the wine, but also about who you you were with with and where you were when you enjoyed it.

Disclosure: I received samples from Diamond Estates Wines for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.
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January 01, 2014

Top Posts of 2013 on FoodLoveHappiness.com

Many people I know have started posting those "best of the year" on Instagram and Facebook videos and they kind of scare me. As much as I like to see my whole year flash before my eyes, it is still weird to condense everything that happened into a brief montage. There were many things that happened on my blog--and in my life--and I thought I would share some of the most popular posts of the year in one of my favourite formats: the "Top 10" list.

1. Creamy Tomato Rice Soup

2. Zucchini Relish

3. Oatmeal in a Jar

4. Cookbook review: 150 Best Desserts in a Jar

5. Green beans with Medjool dates

6. Pumpkin custard parfaits

7. Tasty Travels: Portland

8. Delicious Food Show

9. Herbed crepes with rice, mushrooms and kale

10. August as seen through Diamond Estates Wines

For Christmas, I received many food-related gifts that will help with my blog, including the Wilton Ultimate Decorating Set, a new and bigger slow cooker and cool cookbooks to try. Here's to a new year of food, love and happiness!
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