Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Deliciously Sweet Day at Hogwarts

I remember reading the first Harry Potter book - I must have been about 11 - while I was, oddly enough, riding the Eurostar to London. I was quickly hooked and fascinated by the world of wonder and whimsy JK Rowling had created. I devoured every book (and movie!) and even wept a few tears when the series ended. There's always a feeling of utter sadness when you finish a book that has transported you elsewhere, isn't there?

But something about the Harry Potter story endlessly lives on. I recently started re-reading the books (now on an e-reader!) and am happily reconnecting with the story -- and the numerous details about the characters I had long forgotten about. The magic of these books, I think, are not so much in the overarching storyline of good versus evil but rather in the creation of a world from the ground up. A world so well described that you understand the way it operates and can imagine what it would be like to live in.

Last week, I made my way to Hogwarts (in Florida that is!) to visit the Harry Potter park I had heard so much about. So many little details made the experience magical - from feather quill pens used to sign receipts in the different stores to being able to taste the array of treats that makeup Harry Potter's world.
Even in the setting of sunny Florida, the shops of Hogsmede seemed wintery and quaint, with storefronts that recreated the magical window displays described in the books and seen in the movies. The best part was seeing dozens of amazed children (and adults) from all around the world tasting butterbeer for the first time with excited grins (it's a frothy mix of gingerbready cream soda and marshmallow-like fluff if you're wondering!). It was a little bit like being allowed into a new world for the very first time.

Entering Honeydukes was by far my favourite part. The candy store is filled to the brim with the candies and sweets from the series -- from chocolate frogs, to every flavour beans (some of the jelly beans were deliciously sweet, others purposely revolting -- like earwax, rotten egg and soap -- so much so that I had to spit a few out!). They were exactly like I pictured them to be when I read about them.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches

As I write this, endless cotton balls are falling from the sky, and have been for hours. This is winter at its finest but also the kind of weather that can make you a little lethargic. To beat the winter blues, I opt for slow-cooked, comforting fork-tender meat, like this pulled pork. To be honest, this dish was more of an afterthought this week. After a busy weekend, we only had a few hours to run house errands, including grocery shopping. So easy pulled pork it was going to be. The pork really doesn't need much in terms of flavour when it slowly cooks for so long. I put this together in less than 15 minutes before heading to work -- to develop summer grilling recipes for our Canadian Living summer issues -- and returned to the real taste of winter.

The only thing about cooking with a slow-cooker is that it really is meant for large-family cooking. For the time being, there are only three in our household (with our Persian cat Alaska that is - who we've discovered is a real pulled pork fanatic!). You can easily freeze your slow-cooker concoctions though so it's a great utensil to successfully meal-plan. I easily get bored with leftovers and don't like to eat the same thing two nights in row so I like to transform leftovers into a brand new meal.. which is incredibly easy to do with something as versatile as pulled pork.

On the first night, I shredded some of the pork and tossed it with orecchiette, some fresh parsley and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and black pepper. Then, these pulled pork sandwiches came to life. These are so simple they really don't need a recipe - I used some good pretzel-liked bread, a nice spread of grainy mustard, a heaping pile of pork goodness and some greens. And next on the list? Pulled pork ravioli!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Nutella and Toasted Coconut Brownies

There are not many store-bought products I have a never-ending craving for, but Nutella has consistently been my Achilles' heal. If I buy a jar, and there is a spoon somewhere nearby, the velvety, chocolaty hazelnuty spread never stands a chance. If every piece of cutlery in my kitchen disappeared, I would just use my fingers, and if those happened to have disappeared too, I'm pretty sure I would go as low as using my lips alone. Safe to say, I have a little bit of an obsession which is why I stay far, far away from the Nutella shelf when I head to the grocery store.

Exceptions do occur though, and World Nutella Day - on February 5th - is just as good of an excuse as any to indulge. These fudgy brownies use Nutella instead of chocolate, are topped with a thin layer of nutella and sprinkled with toasted coconut. The deliciously toasty smell of shredded coconut is heavenly and as each flake slowly turns golden brown, I always remember how much I enjoy cooking with coconut. And in case you were wondering, my Nutella jar has been licked clean.
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