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It’s been a wild and crazy couple of weeks. Some of you who are friends on Facebook have seen a little of what’s been going on at Kitchen Inspirations but for those who are not, here is a quick recap and a timely post for the In My Kitchen series.

JT and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. My, how time flies. (BTW,I was a child bride). We had about 50 people to our home and as luck would have it, it was rainy and cold all day, just like our wedding day so our garden party moved indoors. My cousin Lucy was a godsend as she helped fill glasses, replenish trays and clear out dirty dishes. I felt like a guest at my own party. Here are a few pics.

Macarons

I baked 146 macarons, some for the party and some for gift bags. The best ones were on the bottom t, they were coffee shells with coffee buttercream with chocolate dipped tops and bottoms with score bits (truth be told, the tops cracked so instead of tossing them, I dipped them in chocolate and score bits! BEST ONES EVER!)

Gifts

We packaged 2 macarons to go for each couple.

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I hacked an H&M dress by cutting off the sleeves and I added very expensive French lace to make a GOGO dress with bells sleeves! I also changed the neckline.

Desserts

There were more tasty desserts.

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The food was cold and self-serve. I made pretzel buns

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There was a lot of cheese too.

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We had some fruit and veggies too.

We hardly had a crumb left, I felt like I didn’t have enough but JT thinks that it was just right. Do you generally feel better if you have too much food or just enough?

Last week, I was fortunate to have been recommended by a fellow food stylist for a television segment on our local City Line on City TV, a daily lifestyle talk show. I was cooking for Food Network, celebrity chef David Rocco. Because the segment was only 5 minutes long, I had to prepare the dish at various stages to allow the magic of TV to finish the dish in record time. Lifestyle talk shows are an interesting beast, so much prep for such short segments and what is even more surprising is the lack of space available for preparations on site. Fortunately, I had already done a segment on the Global Morning show so I was familiar with the limitations and extras that have to be done to make it a success, case in point, I had to bring props! That meant, shopping for props AND groceries. The recipe called for a cup of shelled sweets peas so I called on a group of friends and we sat and shelled peas the afternoon before. My call time was 9:15, I decided to get up early and make the dishes in the morning before I left so that they would be as fresh as possible. I made two batches of pasta, half cooked pancetta, fully cooked pancetta, chopped some shrimp and cooked some shrimp. I assembled the dish on set after the platter was chosen and garnished it close to shoot time. Even so, I still had to oil a few places as the lights dried it out. See the segment here.

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Chef David Rocco and me. He was absolutely delightful.

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Just prior to wheeling the kitchen on set, I still needed to ‘sauce’ the dish up a bit.

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The props, some I bought specifically for the show and some are mine from home or the cottage!

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The go live to tape in front of a live studio audience. The host is Tracy Moore

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Tracy reviewing her lines before taping.

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I found this clever idea in the latest LCBO magazine. My vases were a little smaller than the idea in the magazine so some of my tulips had to stick out at the top.

I found this clever idea in the latest LCBO magazine. My vases were a little smaller than the idea in the magazine so some of my tulips had to stick out at the top.

Recently, we hosted a dinner party for guests who were doing Weight Watchers and because I don’t like to sabotage anyone’s journey to a healthy weight I decided to make the entire meal WW friendly and that meant putting my thinking cap on.  Now I don’t know about you, but I adore guacamole, it’s so creamy, fresh and tangy and it really enhances a few dishes as a condiment but may also be used as a wonderful dip with fresh vegetables!

Now I know what many of you will say, “but wait, avocados are a good fat” and while that is very true, it’s all about balance and budget so if you can save a little here you can spend it there (perhaps on an extra glass of vino?), is all I’m saying!

Before I even searched on line, I had the idea of creating a mockamole from spinach. Why spinach? I chose spinach because #1 it’s a gorgeous green and you can purée it smooth uncooked and #2 it fits well into the WW point system.  Once I determined what my basic ingredients would be, I started to search “mockamole” on the net and found that the majority of them are made with green peas. Now green peas are quite healthy but when I did the nutritional calculation using peas, my 1 tablespoon mockamole resulted in 1 WW point whereas my spinach mockamole resulted in 0 points for 1 tablespoon. So that was it.

Guacamole is a simple yet flavourful combination of ingredients and other than subbing out the avocado, I kept it pretty true to form. I used 4 tablespoons of cooked puréed navy beans as my ‘creamy’ ingredient and it worked out great. I loved the bright green colour as well as the bright flavours in this recipe. JT said it was an excellent substitute for real guacamole! It’s quite garlic-y so if it’s date night, you may wish to tone it down a notch or make sure your partner has some too ;-)!

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May I interest you in a little dip?

Mockamole (Spinach ‘guacamole’)

Makes about 3/4 cup.

Ingredients:

  • 100 g fresh spinach (may be frozen)
  • 4 tbsp navy bean paste (see notes)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) lime juice
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbsp green onion, finely chopped
  • Cilantro or parsley for garnish
  • Chopped tomatoes (optional)

Directions:

  1. If using frozen spinach, wring out well. If using fresh spinach, wash and dry well.
  2. Combine the spinach, navy bean paste, garlic, lime juice and cilantro in a small food processor and process until very smooth (I found my immersion blender did this beautifully). Fold in chopped tomatoes if you are adding them.
  3. Add chopped green onion and garnish with a sprig of cilantro. Serve with cucumber slices, celery sticks or cauliflower florets or use in a meal that requires guacamole as a condiment.
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Choose vegetables that hold onto the dip like a spoon!

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The cooked puréed beans give this dip its creamy texture.

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Who are you calling “dip”?

Per 1 tbsp serving

1 tbsp serving

Per 1 tbsp per serving.

1 tbsp serving.

Notes:

  • Navy bean purée: I usually make up a batch of plain navy beans for thickening soups, sauces and gravies and then freeze for later use. Cook navy beans in water without salt. Purée and press through a fine sieve. Allow to cool completely and put 1 tbsp portions into an ice cube tray (specifically for savoury things) and freeze. Once frozen, take each cube and put it into a larger ziplock bag and that way you have a creamy gluten-free thickening agent for future recipes.
  • If you add too much liquid to the puréed spinach mix, strain for a couple of hours in a coffee filter reserved for savoury things before serving.
  • To blanch spinach quickly, add spinach to a heat proof bowl with about 1/2 cup water and nuke for about 2-4 minutes until soft. Rince with cold water and wring out well.

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It’s time to do the Christmas decorating and traditionally I’ve finished my exterior before I even think of the interior! Since I can remember I’ve been making my own urns for the front, not because I’m cheap (OK, maybe a little) but because I like to have creative license and design my own! Over the last few years it has become increasingly popular to use birchbark branches to achieve height, but in my hood these branches cost $6.00 EACH! I have 2-3 in each of my four urns! That’s $60 before I’ve even added my evergreen boughs! So JT and I bring them back from the cottage! A little walk in the forest, about one hour of time is all it costs! And it’s fun (I’d like to add that we only take branches from property we own, never from other property). I have bobbles and pine cones from years past and some gorgeous red sparkly ribbon from last year (note to self, make the sparkly ribbon outside otherwise the sparkles will litter the house for years!). This year I bought eight bunches of various evergreen boughs at $5 each; so for about $40 and a little creative time outside, I have my four gorgeous urns ready for the holidays. Tell me, how do you decorate your home for the holidays?

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I think I’ll get one more year out of the red ribbon; I’ll buy another roll when they go on sale after Christmas! The pine cones will last a lot longer. The Bells were a dollar store find!

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We brought back new branches to add to the collection we had from last year!

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I like to start with the floppiest evergreens with the longest needles.

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I love to add cedar branches because they smell so good.

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I keep filling in the empty spots but for my final row I like to add something with berries; this year I was able to get little white berries. Boxwood is also lovely and it adds a totally different texture but this year my “guy” didn’t have it.

The finished product, with all the bells and whistles.

The finished product, with all the bells and whistles.

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The urns in the foreground are well lit with spot lights and the urns in the background have some lovely snowflake solar lights (from the dollar store!).

And with the house all dolled up for the season, I’m ready for a bite and these days that means soup so I’m constantly on the look out for new and innovative soups. I created this one for a dinner we were hosting for my nephew. Roasting really concentrates the sugars and makes this soup deliciously sweet and creamy. I’ve made it healthy so I haven’t added any cream, but you’re welcome to. Roasting the squash seeds adds a lovely texture to this soup. To take off the shells, simply squeeze the pointy end between your fingers (or mini pliers in my case) and off will one side pop! Simple like that.

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Creamy and slightly sweet. The crunchy roasted squash seeds really made the soup.

Acorn Squash Soup

Serves 4 smallish bowls

Ingredients:

  • 1 acorn squash, cut in half and seeded
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 head garlic, outer skin removed but leave individual skins intact
  • 4 tbsp EVOO
  • 1/2 Vidalia onion
  • Chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of nutmeg

Directions:

  1. Pre heat the oven to 350°F. On a cookie sheet, place each half of the squash cut side up with 1/2 tbsp butter in each side.
  2. Toss the onion with a spot of EVOO and add to the cookie sheet.
  3. Put the garlic head into a small ramekin and add 3 tbsp EVOO, season with sea salt and cover tightly with foil. Put this on the side of the cookie sheet with the squash and onion. Bake for 45-60 minutes until very tender.
  4. Once everything is very tender, scoop out the squash into a glass container, add the roasted garlic WITH the salted EVOO and the baked onion and the vanilla extract. Blend until smooth adding stock until you achieve the desired consistency (I prefer it slightly thicker). Set aside and reheat to serve.
  5. To make the squash seed garnish, clean off the seeds and let them dry on a clean cloth. Add to a lightly non0-stick sprayed cookie sheet and bake for 30-45 minutes until toasted.
  6. Allow to cool and using your fingers or mini pliers, take the pointy end of the seed and press the edges into each other allowing the sides or side to pop off. Remove the toasted seed from the shell and reserve.
  7. Reheat the soup, pour into bowls and serve with the seeds drizzled over top.

Additional ideas for garnish:

  • Sear a scallop in butter and serve on top with the butter drizzled over it.
  • Sear a shrimp with the hard tail removed (I hate having to dig out the tail with my fingers) with a little lemon juice drizzled over the top.
  • If you don’t have the seeds from the squash, use toasted sunflower seeds.
  • Make a crostini with squash seed pesto smear on top.
  • A nice dollop of crême fraiche or sour cream.
  • Balsamic or pomegranate syrup reduction drizzled on top.
  • Maple syrup drizzled on top.

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Thank you to everyone who voted, the pumpkin carving contest was a close call, Witchy Pumpkin took the lead by a mere 8 points. YAY! Witchy pumpkin was my creation and JT carved Scary Pumpkin! I ended up carving two more on the day of, these one’s tested my skill in Surface Carving, and my only casualty was jabbing the exacto-knife into my forefinger! I only noticed when I was dotting blood all over my iPhone! Silly me. I really enjoyed carving these pumpkins so next year I’m upping the ante!

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Hooter. The pattern wouldn’t stick to the pumpkin
so I had to eyeball it!

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Mumford

On Friday October 25, JT and I went to the Delicious Food Show at the Better Living Centre at the CNE in Toronto. This show is only two years old but it’s really taken hold of the foodies in the city! Tickets for this show are $20 which would be expensive for a show, but if you take into consideration that there are no additional costs for the presentations, I think it’s a pretty good deal.
We didn’t really plan our visit and were very pleasantly surprised that we arrived in time to see Martha Stewart doing a live demo of her Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake, a recipe from her new cookbook called Cakes! You could purchase the cookbook and have her sign it but frankly there were too many rules to review and I got bored and moved on. While walking away, we practically bumped into Food Network Canada’s hottie, of Chuck’s Day Off, Chuck Hughes! I also found out that my friend Claudia was assisting him all day, sorry I missed you.

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Martha Stewart and her assistant making a raspberry ripple cheese cake from her new Cakes cookbook. It’s her 81st cookbook.

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Although the auditorium wasn’t large, they had two enormous monitors so you could see close up what she was doing.

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Chuck Hughes is a Montréal Chef with two restaurants and a very cool show on Food Network Canada called Chuck’s Day off.

There were many wonderful exhibitors and although you could definitely buy food to eat, there were lots of free samples to be had. There were also cocktails and although in Ontario the LCBO makes it illegal to give away booze for free, Wine Country Ontario was giving free wine samples in the form of a tasting which was very nice.

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A show about deliciousness.

There are far too many exhibitors to talk about in a reasonable length blog post so I’ll highlight a few.

Ice Syrup was one of our first stops. Ice syrup is a delicious syrup made from ice wine grapes. Use it drizzled on sharp cheeses like very old cheddar or blue cheese, last night we drizzled it over a pesto, prosciutto and goats cheese pizza, it was delicious!
Kosliks Canadian Mustard Klosiks makes the most morish mustard you can imagine, it makes you want to eat it by the spoonfuls! They were also showcasing organic chocolate with mustard seeds which were rather interesting.

Stirling Creamery makes the most delicious French style butter. Although there is only 2% difference in the fat to regular butter, it makes the butter very creamy. We bought 225g for the show price of $4, I believe it’s normally $6!

Remember my very first giveaway? Kristy (Eat, Play, Love; our family food adventures) won some Just a Pinch salts. President Mario Di Giovanni was working the show and JT and I had a lovely chat with him. His passion for his product and company really showed through, it was inspiring. His rubs are family recipes that he diligently copied down while watching his mother cook. Just a Pinch and my very first giveaway.

By late afternoon we started feeling a bit peckish and coming across Green and Blacks Organic Chocolate was perfect. Their free samples were generous and very delicious! I was disappointed that they didn’t have bars to sell at the show as they are often $8-9 dollars for a 100g bar. We hung around that booth for a while.

My dear friend Chgo John (From the Bartolini Kitchens) wrote about sustainable fish in his last post so I was very pleased to come across this booth who website clearly defines what fish are properly farmed in a humane and sustainable way.
Ocean Wisei sustainable seafood

Last June I purchased a unique cutting board from a Québec artisan Planet Creations what’s unique about their cutting boards is that the are all end grain, which makes for beautiful designs but practically speaking they do not dull your knives! They are works of art and I was very happy to see them at this classy show.

And last but not least, Sprucewood Brands was the booth that the inspiration for my next post came from. Their savoury shortbread cookies are perfect for the upcoming holiday season.

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ChristmasDay

My Christmas baking list was altered somewhat because I just couldn’t get it all done with the small diversions I subjected myself to. This is what I had intended on baking:

Here is this 2012′s round up:

Plates ready to be delivered

Plates ready to be delivered. May I send you one too?

Here’s what actually went down:

Very festive little parcels

Very festive little parcels

Card with legend

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Christmas Wishes

Clipart from Microsoft Clip Art Gallery

I’ve never made fudge. There. I said it. I love fudge, but have never made it and when I saw Katherine’s (Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide) recipe for his mother’s back of the bag fudge, I had to try it and with pure luck, I had everything in my pantry! The recipe came together very easily and the taste was wonderful, and great creamy texture (very much like ganache). Our tin of Sweetened Condensed milk was a slightly different weight than what the recipe called for so I had to adjust all the ingredients accordingly, plus I didn’t have butterscotch morsels so I used chocolate chips as the flavour. Kudos Katherine another great recipe to add to my Christmas baking collection!

Chocolate Peanut Fudge

Original recipe by Katherine at Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide

Melt in your mouth, fudge-o-licious

Melt in your mouth, fudge-o-licious

Makes one 23 cm (9 inch) square pan, about  2 cm (0.8″) thick

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 20 g unsalted butter
  • 300 mL Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • dash salt
  • 300 g chocolate chips
  • 155 g marshmallows
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 100 g peanuts (unsalted, skin off)

Directions:

  1. Line your square pan with parchment paper (it’ll make it easier to lift it out of the pan to cut it).
  2. In a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, bring sugar, butter, sweetened condensed milk and salt to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower heat if it starts to brown too quickly.
  3. Remove from heat and add chocolate, marshmallows and vanilla; stir until smooth and marshmallows have entirely melted. Add peanuts and stir to combine.
  4. Pour into prepared pan and let set. Refrigerate once cool. The fudge should take a few hours to set.
  5. Cut into smallish square.
Delicious Chocolate Peanut Fudge

Delicious Chocolate Peanut Fudge

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Happy Halloween?

Happy Halloween everyone! Hurricane Sandy is sure putting a damper on things in the eastern seaboard, and even though we’re quite far from the ocean, we are getting deluged with rain and high winds. Not pretty at all. I particularly feel bad for the kiddies tonight who will likely have to brave the elements with winter coats over their carefully considered and crafted costumes. But I heard through my FB friends that Halloween has been postponed to Saturday in some US cities! What do you think about that?

Our building had their annual Halloween hall crawl, but I had to change my plans for the phantom of the opera costume for fear of melting my face off with the mask, so I went as Dracula instead. It turned out the Kim and I were one of the few who dressed up, talk about feeling rare, oh well. Free booze and food helped us get over that pretty quickly!

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20121031-043421.jpgKim was a gypsy whore

I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Sandy wreaked havoc in our neighbourhood and toppled a very large evergreen tree knocking out power including our house (although not every house has a blackout!). I just finished filling the freezer with left overs and sale meats, so this turn of events is not appreciated. I am hoping I won’t have to toss the lot. Fortunately when the tree fell over, it fell into the street and nothing was damaged other than the power lines. I already know of two people who’ve had car damage from fallen limbs (tree, not human).

No, it wasn’t the alien arrow that toppled the tree, it was a giant belch from Sandy.

Since JT has to work on Halloween night (he traded with a guy who has two young children) I decided not to doll the house up; instead I was going to go over to Kim’s (boss, neighbour, friend) with a bottle of vino and we’ll hand out candy together and get silly. But instead I’ll be cleaning out the fridge and freezer. And since I love this time of year so much, I thought I’d run around the hood and takes some pics of some of the decorated homes. Hope you enjoy them.

There goes the neighbourhood

I had no idea we had a graveyard for neighbours

John, you’d better avert your eyes, those are big mother spiders!

My friend’s daughter had a Halloween party last Sunday so I baked up a batch of the monster fingers which I found on Angie’s blog last year. This year I was able to fashion them a bit better and I had the great idea of dipping the cut ends into the jam to make them look even grosser! Thanks Angie, these will never get old on this side of the planet!

Would you like some coffee with your decomposing fingers?

Would you care for a finger cookie?


Word

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