Holidays, Pairings, Recipes

Dark chocolate bark with Grana Padano & pink peppercorn for your Valentine


Valentine’s Day is an intersection of cheesiness. Yes, there’s the metaphorically-cheesy love you forever-ness and pandas holding candy hearts (okay, no, even commercialized pandas are adorbs), but cheese itself is also gussied up for a romantic meal. Fondue? Baked Brie? C’MON.

Melty cheese is an obvious gimme, and make no mistake, I will be roastin’ up an oversized hunk of Brie this evening with all the trimmings. But, if I may, cheese shouldn’t be limited to the main event. It’s also an unexpected, welcome twist to dessert.


Enter my dark chocolate bark, studded with sweet, salty, crumbly Grana Padano.

Now, hold your pitchforks, ye suspicious souls. Have you ever had dark chocolate with sea salt? (If the answer is no, run out immediately. I’ll wait.) Well, dark chocolate crumbled with salty cheese is even better, like sea salt’s sexy, hipster cousin.


I was first introduced to the combo by Nadège, a heaven-on-earth bakery and treat shop in Toronto. They’re known for their macarons, but they also have a line of “chocolate tablets” marked with all the letters of the alphabet. Each letter represents a surprise, unexpected ingredient, and their “P” bar has parmesan! It’s amazing.

So when I thought about what to make for my Valentine – best guy ever, and an excellent excuse to tuck into something cheesay – I decided to put my own spin on the chocolate-cheese bar.


It isn’t the first time I’ve tried. And if you remember correctly, the last experiment did not go so well. But I got some sage advice from MasterChef Canada judge Claudio Aprile himself when I told him of my failed chocolate-bocconcini truffles at a work event: “Try a hard, old cheese next time.”


I started with the cheese (as one does, duh). Parmigiano-Reggiano would do nicely, but Grana Padano sat up to greet me so nicely in the cheese case that I changed my mind. As a borderline-fetishist of bold, tangy, hard cheeses, it’s one of my ol’ faithfuls.


It’s sweeter than Parmigiano-Reggiano, with a nutty fruitiness that pairs nicely with the shots of saltiness that hit you at the tip of your tongue, and a sour bitterness that fills your cheeks with floating crystals after a few crumbly chews.

Salt on chocolate is like a red rose on Valentine’s: a classic, no-fail pairing. But the sweet-saltiness of Grana Padano with the layered bitterness of dark chocolate? That’s like a bird-of-paradise dangling next to a steaming hot cup of espresso in bed.



But why stop there? To complete the trifecta – sweet/salty-bitter/spice-ay – I added some pulverized pink peppercorns. I’ve talked at length about my fascination with pink peppercorns here before, and the light, citrusy spiciness was a perfect addition to the bark.

Plus, it’s pink! Hi hello, Valentine’s Day!


This was dead-simple to make. If you’re feeling nurturing, here’s how to whip it up.

1.Start with about two bars of the best dark chocolate you can find. 75% or higher.

2. Put it in a double-boiler (that’s a bowl over a pot of boiling water – I didn’t have a heatproof bowl on hand, so I MacGyver’d a Pyrex in a strainer) and stir until melted.


3. Pour the melted chocolate over a baking sheet or a few layers of folded tinfoil in an even layer.

4. Immediately sprinkle crushed pink peppercorns (you can smash them in a zipper bag if you’re feeling dexterous, but I used a mortar and pestle) and crumble Grana Padano on melted chocolate.


5. Lay flat in fridge to cool. Once hardened, break into bite-sized bark deliciousness.
Optional: If you’re a chocoholic, repeat the chocolate-melting step and drizzle onto the cooled layer to build on the chocolate.

6. Receive grateful kisses; enjoy!



Faux-baking: Cheddar & pepper jelly thumbprints

Baking brings everyone together. Even if you can’t bake – or, more accurately in my case, won’t bake properly, due to a falsely-but-pridefully-held belief that mixing the dry ingredients separately makes no difference – you can enjoy the laborious fruits of those with more respect for stupid rigid instructions.


If my petulance didn’t already give the game away, I don’t bake much. But I signed up for an office bake-off thinking that it would force me into productivity after Halloween (although gorging on Mars bars and three of the finest chip flavours money can buy mixed together also counts as productivity in my books, because using up leftovers is important, guys) and cheer me up after my favourite holiday was over.

I may prefer my cookies in dough form (both for taste and lack of effort) but I’ve managed to master two solid go-to recipes that happen to be baked in the oven. This is one of them.


I love these cheddar red pepper jelly thumbprints for three reasons:

  1. The element of surprise. They masquerade easily as ordinary shortbread cookies, so the standard reaction is one of impressed confusion, but I choose to focus on the “impressed” part.
  2. Not everyone likes sweet stuff. I lean toward the savoury side of the street as well. When fellow savoury-lovers at the bake sale find out there’s a non-chocolate option, they get pretty excited before they even taste the thumbprints. An automatic vote of confidence is always a bonus.
  3. They look like Peek Freans, whose name is extra fancy, but instead of lemon cream, they’re stuffed with CHEESE!

Like a true petulant faux-baker, I didn’t follow the original recipe I found, from Canadian Living. My spin’s pretty close, though, I just swap the nuts for rosemary.

The dough is super easy to make. It would almost make more sense to call it “cheese-butter” than dough, actually, because that’s mostly what it is.


If you’re here, you’re a cheese nerd, so you know that picking the cheese is half the fun. The recipe calls for sharp cheddar cheese and parmesan.

I used my favourite old cheddar, Balderson, but any cheese strong and petulant enough that it might challenge you to a fight after one-too-many at the pub will do. St-Albert’s Extra Old Cheddar is another great Canadian choice if you’re looking for recommendations. You don’t have to take my word for it – it won its category at this year’s Canadian Cheese Grand Prix.

There’s obviously only one parm to rule the roost if you want to go big: the OG – uh, PDO (little cheese acronym humour for you there, God I’m cool) Parmigiano-Reggiano. If you really want to knock people’s socks off with your faux-baking prowess, that’s the way I’d go. But that sh-t’s expensive. So you can also use “parmesan” petals, like I did, which work just fine.


When I was shopping for my ingredients, the store was licked clean of red pepper jelly. And not because they were out of specialty jellies. They had all kinds I’d never seen or heard of before, but no red pepper. Weird. So I used jalapeño jelly, which is an easy sub in a pinch. You can sub for most jellies with a bit of a kick. I wouldn’t go for a straight-up sweet one, but as someone who enjoys the taste of chocolate and pickles in consecutive bites, I would never dare to judge you.

It would also be cute to alternate red and green jellies for the holidays, if you’re feelin’ jolly. (Yeah, we’re going to just slide on by that chocolate-and-pickles thing.)

I’ve found the thumbprint part to be a bit tricky when I make these, maybe because everything about me is miniature compared to a normal-sized adult. You’re supposed to make the indent before you bake them and fill with jelly after, but I find that the cookies expand while baking and kinda fill out the thumbprint. So I might try it with something a little heartier, like a mini flashlight or a hefty dad’s thumb. If you’re the type to have stamps lying around, that would be fun, too. But if you’re the type to have stamps lying around, you probably already made like, four batches of artisanal baked goods while I was writing this. You don’t need this! Make me these cookies.



Gimme a cacio e pepe, and make ‘er blush

Sometimes you just need a big bowl of cacio e pepe.

Cacio e pepe

Cacio e pepe is a year-round delight. Obviously, anything hot and liberally-coated with cheese is welcome in the wintertime, but its appeal goes beyond the usual hot-and-cheesy comfort food requirements. It’s a comfort food trifecta: filling, ridiculously simple to make and always delicious.

My boyfriend and I went to Folco’s in Markham, Ontario, for his birthday last year, where our friend is a chef. I can never decide what to get there, so I asked him what he’d recommend and almost immediately, he said cacio e pepe. “People don’t get it, because it’s basically just pasta and cheese,” he said, “but it’s incredible.” Spaghetti, pecorino romano cheese and pepper, to be exact.

BF got the cacio e pepe, so I had to get something else (yeah, we’re those people), but I regretted my choice as soon as I had a bite of his. It’s since become my go-to when I need a big bowl of comfort that won’t further sap my energy in its production.

I called up C’n’P for one such occasion a few weeks ago in the middle of an overwhelming week. I used this Mark Bittman recipe from The New York Times, because it looks like it knows what it’s talking about, and Bittman definitely does.

Cacio e pepe

If you’re looking at my bowl and thinking I went a little heavy on the pepe, you win a gold-star-shaped hunk of pecorino romano. Serves me right for being too lazy to put my black pepper in a proper spice container, instead haphazardly dunking my hand in like it’s a grab bag of beer on a long weekend instead of a potent spice.

The pepper overpowered the entire dish, and I devoured my entire bowl (and then another the night after). That’s the magic of cacio e pepe: it’s worth a burning throat. (And let’s be real, if you’re making this, you probably don’t have the energy to make another batch, you’re likely already well-settled into your “screw you” pants.)

I interviewed Christopher Siu, the top-five MasterChef Canada competitor, at my day job today. He brought up pink peppercorns and how they are well suited to desserts. I’ve been dreaming of them (along with unlikely cheese desserts – stay tuned) all day, and decided somewhere between sprinkled-in-mascarpone and stuffed-on-chocolate-truffles that they would be a perfect substitute in my next cacio e pepe.

I know it’s slight sacrilege, but I’m dying to know how it would taste with pink peppercorns instead of cracked black pepper. I have a hunch it would be a splendid dish-saver if you’re heavy-handed with the pepe, like me.

P.S. If you keep reading cacio e pepe and pronouncing it peepee, know that a) that’s hilarious and b) you’re not alone, I keep thinking that when I type it out and I am a grown(ish)-ass woman. It’s paypay, like the soccer player. But way more lovable.

Super Bowl dips
Entertaining, Recipes

Super Bowl recipes: One cheese, two dips

Super Bowl Sunday has a little something for everyone: Football (so I hear), puppy-centric commercials and the Big Kahuna, food. The Super Bowl falls in an indulgence sweet spot: I’ve finally recovered from all the junk I ate over the holidays, just in time to do it all over again. Plus, I’m a firm believer that a theme around which to centre your snacks makes for double the fun. These recipes are spinoffs of two of the most revered Super Bowl food groups: Pizza and buffalo wings.

I’ve been maniacally consuming Super Bowl recipes for the last two weeks, and I have to say, BuzzFeed Food really knocked it out of the park with Super Bowl snacks and Sriracha-cheese recipes – go have a look if you’re hosting and looking to make an impressive centrepiece dish, or want to enjoy a bit of cooking.

Pizza dip buffalo dip

But if, like me, you are going to a party and want to bring a simple, crowd-pleasing appetizer, look no further. These two dips were the crowning glory of the aforementioned holiday spread this year. Both are made with stuff you probably already have on-hand, and are perfect for the Super Bowl, too: Pizza dip and buffalo dip. I bought a single bag of shredded mozza-cheddar blend and it carried me through both, to rave reviews from my pals. Here’s what’s involved.

Buffalo dip for Super Bowl

Buffalo Dip 

This dip has been a winner in our family for years. It involves slightly more effort than the pizza dip, but it’s still dead simple. My aunt once gave me a big batch of this dip for Christmas – that’s the level of addictive we’re looking at. This can easily be adjusted with more or less chicken or buffalo sauce. I haven’t tried it with tofu before, but I’d bet if you bake the tofu first with a bit of spice, you’d never know the difference.


  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 package cream cheese (8 oz.)
  • 1/2 cup ranch salad dressing (feel free to make your own if you’re not feeling bottled)
  • ~1/2 bottle of Frank’s Red Hot regular or buffalo, to taste
  • 1 cup shredded mozza-cheddar (in my case), or straight-up cheddar for tangier flavour
  • 1 bag tortilla chips (small rounds work best), for dipping

Buffalo dip for Super Bowl


Boil the chicken breasts until finished, about 20 mins. While the chicken is cooking, mix the cream cheese and ranch together with an electric mixer until creamy. Add Frank’s, then stir in shredded cheese. Chop the chicken very finely, then stir it into the mixture. Put into a 9×9″ baking dish and bake at 375 degrees for about 45-50 minutes until bubbly. Serve and dip!

Pizza dip for Super Bowl

Pizza Dip

So, buffalo dip was the big guns at our holiday spread, until my aunt made pizza dip this year. It’s four ingredients and so easy that it’s almost unfair how much people like it – give the other snacks a chance, would ya? People slaving over from-scratch and artfully-crafted apps might turn their nose up at first, but keep a polite smirk in your back pocket for roughly 10 minutes later, when they’ve thrown pretence to the wind and are scraping cheese from their chin so as to not miss any. There’s no pretty way to eat it, just dig in.


  • 250g tub herb and garlic cream cheese
  • ~1 1/2 cup your fave tomato sauce, to taste
  • ~1 1/2 cup chopped pepperoni, to taste
  • 1 cup shredded mozza-cheddar cheese, or straight-up mozza for lighter flavour
  • Sliced baguette, for dipping

Pizza dip for Super Bowl


You ready? This gets real simple, real fast. Grab the dish you want to serve it in. A tinfoil pie plate makes for easy cleanup. Spread the cream cheese across the bottom in a smooth layer. Pour enough tomato sauce to cover on top, as much as you like. Layer the pepperoni on top. Sprinkle the cheese. Pop it in the oven at 375 degrees until the cheese has melted and you’re about to implode with wanton desire from the smell. Serve with sliced crusty bread.

What are you making for the Super Bowl? Have any favourite recipes to share? Let me know on Twitter or in the comments!


Cherry cheese (cheat) pierogi

It’s National Cheesecake Day, a.k.a. the thousandth time I’ve wished we had The Cheesecake Factory in Canada (yes, cheese-centric dessert is something every man, woman and child needs within waddling – er, driving distance), because you can get a slice for half-price there today.

Anyway. Cheesecake is delectable on its own, but in my opinion, it’s best served with a tart fruit topping (one of my favourites was a key lime cheesecake my dad made me for my birthday a few years ago. There was lime zest flecked in the mixture that made it look uncannily like sour cream and onion chips). For a match-made-in-heaven pairing, there’s only one fruit that fits the bill: Cherries. It’s a classic for a reason.

Cameo by my hideous mutilated cutting board

Cameo by my hideous mutilated cutting board

I’m pegging this entry to National Cheesecake Day, because although I can’t bake (except for a killer apple pie – does that absolve me?), I can riff on cherries and cheese like nobody’s business. Let’s talk cherry cheese pierogi, shall we?

I’ve had wonton wrappers in my fridge for a period of time that falls somewhere after embarrassing and before food poisoning. I’m pretty sure I bought them to make a decadent-looking squash ravioli in the dead of winter and probably went out for it or something equally lazy in the end. I forgot about them until two things happened on the same day: I bought both sour cherries and sweet Bing cherries from my grocery store (I feel a possessive impulse toward “my” grocery store because it’s so much more special than an average chain); and we talked about cherry cheese pierogi at work. Basically a sign from the universe, right? I know. Carry on.

I wanted to wait to make them until I had someone to share them with (okay, someone to show off for – I’m already mildly impressed with myself on average so I can just eat the same salad every day and a flimsy protein source), but it was worth it. I highly recommend the cheat version of pierogi (hell, pasta, turnovers, anything else that requires dough) with wonton wrappers if you’re short on time or baking-challenged, like me.

Here’s my attempt at a recipe:


Cherry cheese “pierogi”

(Makes about 20 with doubled-up wonton wrappers and more than a few casualties)

– Package of wonton wrappers
– 1/2-ish cup sour cherries, pitted and chopped
– 1-ish cup Bing cherries, pitted and chopped
– 1 tbsp honey
– 3/4 log of plain goat cheese
– Egg wash, for sealing

1. Start with the cherry mixture. Add your pitted, chopped cherries and honey to a small saucepan and cook on medium until they start to get soft. Add water (or more honey, if you’re feeling decadent) to the pan as needed if they’re sticking. When they’re soft, turn down the heat to low and simmer, smushing with a potato masher or wooden spoon until they reduce to a thick substance.

(Because I’m all about the cheats with this recipe, you can do exactly what I did, which was to put all that stuff in a bowl and microwave it until they were soft. I’m writing stovetop because I think it would’ve worked a bit better, but my easy way totally worked, too. Hooray, options!)

Also, preheat your oven to 350F now, because it probably takes an agonizingly long time to heat up, like mine.


2. Once cherries have reduced, take them off the heat and add the goat cheese. Mix until combined. It should look like a questionable face scrub.

3. Start filling your “pierogi” by plunking a dollop of your cherry-cheese mixture in the centre of the wonton wrappers.

Three tips here: 1. Flouring your wonton wrappers makes them easier to work with and less prone to tears – just add a bit of flour to work surface, no need to coat them or anything; 2. You may need to double up. If your wonton wrappers are particularly thin/old/moist like mine were, there’ll be teeny holes through which the mixture will keep escaping. It’s cool, just be sure to bake them longer; 3. Don’t add more than a quarter-sized amount of mixture to your wontons, they won’t seal properly. You’ll get it after a few failed attempts, like I did, regardless.

4. Brush two edges of the wrapper with egg wash, fold it over and use a fork to press down and seal.

5. Repeat 3 and 4 for what seems like forever, until you run out of mix or wonton wrappers. This recipe worked out pretty evenly for me, I think I had two or three wonton wrappers left in the end.

6. When you’ve finished filling and sealing your pierogi, put them on a tinfoil-lined (viva cheats, man, no dishes!) baking sheet with enough space that they aren’t touching ([insert weird joke about leaving room for The Holy Spirit here and then delete it because, what? You didn’t even go to a Catholic school]).

7. Bake the pierogi until the outside is light brown like a toasty marshmallow (I undercooked mine a bit, so just pretend they all look the ones at the edges of the pan in this picture). You can also boil them until they float and then fry them in a pan for outside crispiness, which would be even better. I was afraid mine would burst because of my flimsy wrap-work, so I baked them and they turned out fine just the same. Smacznego! (Google says this is the Polish-equivalent of bon appetit.)


Have you ever used wonton wrappers? I’d love to hear your cheats, cherry-cheese musings, and of course, any recipes you’d like to share in the comments below. If you have been to The Cheesecake Factory, I await a detailed description of your visit and your dessert choice. Happy National Cheesecake Day!

Heart-shaped gouda cheeses
Flavour of the month, Pairings, Profiles

Flavour of the month: Smoked gouda

I’ve been having an affair with smoked gouda lately. Smoked cheeses are to me what a good bloomy rind or soft cheese is to many cheese lovers: I know it’s unhealthyish territory, but like a good Downton Abbey binge or a *ahem* smokin’ bad boy, I just can’t get enough. (Okay, the bad boy part is more a cliché than true in my case. Unless Jason Statham is lurking nearby.)

But we’ll get to the smoky part. First, gouda. It’s like the quirky cousin of everyday mozzarella: Semi-soft, super melty and just enough flavour to allow it to shine in a dish, without needing to be the centre of attention. But gouda’s slightly tangy tinge gives it an edge and makes it a beautiful, while still accessible, option when you need the versatility of grocery store brick mozza, but want a bit more pizazz.

Over the past two months, I’ve used it in soups, sandwiches and salads, but my favourite option has to be the simplest: Grilled cheese. I layered my favourite thin multigrain bread with baked apples (I just threw them in the oven for a few minutes in a tinfoil pouch – this way you don’t need to wait for the apples to soften while you’re cooking the sandwich) and the smoked gouda. It’s also delicious with a bit of grainy mustard, but I opted for the more simple version this time.

Heart-shaped gouda cheeses

The first time I have ever felt compelled to carve cheese. Appropriately shaped.

My favourite part of building grilled cheeses is deciding which dipping sauce to serve it with. In this case, I was craving something sweet and tangy to bring out similar flavours in the gouda and apple, while complementing the smokiness. My usual cheese accompaniment, apricot and jalapeño chutney, would’ve been fine, but adding spice to smoky cheese when you’re already balancing it with sweetness can backfire and make it overwhelming. Plus, I didn’t have any. So I went with a simple balsamic reduction, which I actually overcooked a teeny titch so it was almost taffy-like, it was so thick, but boy was it delicious.

The best part of any smoked cheese, aside from the addictive flavour, is that you only need a little (not that that should stop you if you’re on a roll). I cut very thin slices for my grilled cheese and didn’t feel cheated at all.

One more thing: Remember when I said I’d used it in soups? Yeah, don’t. Gouda melts a little too well. I added it to French onion soup, and though the smokiness added a nice depth to the flavour, I regretted it (as much as I can ever regret cheese, anyway, which is minimally) when every bite literally coated my mouth with gum-like gouda. I can’t be sure, but it bore a striking resemblance to what I imagine eating melted Silly Putty would be like.

Minus the flavour. Because that s— was still heavenly, even while trying to scrape it off my teeth with a spoon.