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Archive for the ‘Vacation Photos’ Category

During the month we spent in Arizona, we had the pleasure of celebrating American Thanksgiving with our dear friends down there. Our dear friends who live there offered to make the turkey (thank goodness, as I did not have any of my special kitchen tools!) so I offered to make a few different sides. We had dear friends visiting from Toronto and they are vegetarian and I wanted to make something special for them for Thanksgiving, so I made this Mushroom, Chestnut and Bean Wellington. I purchased the puff pastry to make it easier but I made everything else. I was surprised to find roasted Italian chestnuts (in the Kosher section, no less!) but sadly the mushrooms were just plain cremini and white mushrooms, not much variety. It’s always a bit of a challenge to cook in a strange kitchen and shop in a different part of the world, but I think this one turned out wonderful and with a variety of mushrooms, it would be amazing! Please excuse the photos, this is the one and only blog post I managed to eak out during our stay in Arizona, I was THAT busy!

Scroll down to the end of this post to see the house we rented. It took us some time to find one that was decorated in light airy colours, most of the rentals are dark and dowdy, filled with ‘granny’s furniture’ and I just couldn’t bear to live in that for a month! Although I might have chosen a slightly lighter tone for the walls, this house made me happy.

Fresh out of the oven.

Mushroom, Chestnut and Bean Wellington

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes 1 Wellington about 30 cm x 15 cm (12 inches x 6 inches)

To print recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp EVOO
  • 2 cups variety of mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup carrots, finely cubed
  • 1/2 cup celery, finely cubed
  • 1/2 cup zucchini, finely cubed
  • 1/2 cup roasted chestnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/2-1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup navy beans, soaked
  • 4 cups vegetable stock, divided
  • 1/2 cup port
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 puff pastry sheet
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly whisked with a little water.

Directions:

  1. Cook the navy beans in 3 cups veggie stock or water, cool.
  2. In a heavy bottom pan, caramelize the onions in the melted butter and olive oil on medium heat (about 20 minutes). Add mushrooms and cook until the mushroom liquid has evaporated. Turn the heat up and caramelize the mushrooms add the port to deglaze the pan.
  3. Add the garlic, carrots, celery, zucchini and roasted chestnuts and sauté until carrots are slightly softened.
  4. Add the rosemary, panko, cooked navy beans, and veggie stock. Season to taste. Remove from heat and cool completely.
  5. On a cold surface, roll out the puff pastry sheet to about 30 cm x 40 cm (12 inches x 16 inches). Brush the Dijon mustard on the pastry and mound the cooled mushroom filling in the centre of the pastry. Turn up each side until they meet in the middle and pinch closed. Pinch the ends closed and trim off excess pastry.
  6. Turn the log onto a parchment lined baking sheet seamed sized down, and brush with the egg yolk. Decorate with leaves from the leftover end pastry and brush with egg wash. Bake in a hot 400° F oven for 35-40 minutes or until golden.
  7. Serve sliced hot out of the oven, or reheat to serve.

A tasty treat wrapped in delicious buttery pastry.

Click on any photo for the slideshow.

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I will reveal our latest adventure now! Drumroll please: We spent the month of November in Arizona. We have dear friends who live there during the winter and when we were visiting during February, we tossed around the idea to buy a second house there. But before we make the plunge, we wanted to be certain we liked it so we rented an awesome house in the same community that our friends live.

Now who were we kidding? It was -5° C (23° F) (but it felt like -10° C (14° F)) in Toronto while we were enjoying 28° C (82° F) with sunshine. Every. Single. Day. What’s not to like? The community is tagged as resort-style living with a gorgeous golf course and 4 swimming pools, a spa, workout facilities and a couple of restaurants. Yep, I could get used to it!

The community is located in Queen’s Creek. Queen’s Creek is situated in the San Tan Valley, south-east of Phoenix, Arizona. As another friend said, “it’s not quite the end of the world, but you can see the end of the world from there!”

It is also a mere 4.5-hour drive to the Grand Canyon and that is where we did our EPIC hike! We hiked 7.5 hours to Indian Grove and back. Going down was relatively easy, we bought good hiking boots and sticks, but going up was significantly more challenging because of the altitude and lack of oxygen. We stopped and rested a lot. Listening to your body is essential as is allowing your muscles to recover as you’re ascending. It took us 3 hours to hike down and 3.5 hours to hike back up (which isn’t bad for a couple of old folks!), the rest of the time we spent at Indian Grove eating a delicious lunch I packed. The worst part was the day and day two later, my calves ached like a demon. But it was worth it! I’ve put together s little slide show of our hike at the end of this post, if you are interested. And by the way, my stupid FitBit died sometime during our hike so I don’t even know how many steps we did, but if the last time we hiked only 1.5 hours down and back was any indication, we did 22,000 steps! This is my third FitBit Zip and when I called them that it was eating the batteries like crazy (one every 2-3 weeks) they said it was a known issue and they are working on fixing it but would do NOTHING ELSE. So I am done with FitBit, they let me down in one of the most epic hikes of my life and had nothing but “oh, sorry” to say about it. I am going to get a Garmin which I hear are much more reliable.

This cookie has nothing to do with the hike or our trip, it’s a cookie I made for Canadian Thanksgiving at my sweet cousin Lucy’s place. My dear blogging friend Liz (of That Skinny Chick Can Bake, blog) was the inspiration, I saw the recipe on her site a while back. These cookies were all the rave in the 90’s on restaurant menus but I haven’t seen one in ages. Liz’s recipe will change that for sure.

Skillet Chocolate Chunk Cookie

Makes 1 12″ Cookie

Please click here for the original recipe.

Click here to print this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 195 g butter
  • 100 g granulated sugar
  • 150 g brown sugar
  • 15 mL vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg white
  • 350 g AP Flour
  • 3 g baking powder
  • 5 g salt
  • 100 g chocolate chips (I used Belgian milk and semi-sweet chocolate)

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375° F (I used the convection setting). Prepare a 30 cm cast iron skillet with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Melt the butter and sugars in a heatproof bowl in the microwave, stir until sugars have melted. Cool slightly and then stir in the vanilla. Combine the egg and whites and whisk. Whisk into the butter-sugar mixture.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt, add it to the butter-sugar mixture and mix until well combined.
  4. Fold in 3/4 the chocolate, reserving about 1/4 to dot the top of the cookie for garnish.
  5. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
  6. Cool to room temperature. Serve slicing fractions of the circle.

Notes:

  • I like to buy Belgian chocolate disks (not molding chocolate) and melt them, spread them on a cookie sheet and chill until set. Then I break up the sheets by hand, making different sized pieces with a variety of thicknesses.

It’s a cross between cookie and blondie that is quite difficult to resist.

Click on the first photo to see the slideshow.

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In early September, our dear friends came for a visit and JT and I planned a full schedule of fun activities! We went hiking at a conservation area, saw King Lear in High Park (which turned out to be reimagined from a female perspective, Queen Lear), we traveled to Montreal for a few days with a stop in Kingston to visit the newly refurbished Kingston Penitentiary. The time went quickly and a much-needed fix with special friends. Our days were packed, so I made these Banana Bran Muffins for a breakfast on the morning we went hiking, as we were also having lunch at an adorable little cafe near the conservation area. Scroll down to see a few pics of Kingston Pen.

Banana Bran Muffins with Belgian Milk Chocolate Chunks

Original recipe from Company’s Coming, Muffins and More by Jean Paré.

Makes about 10-12 medium-sized muffins

Please click here to print this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 128 g (1 cup) flour
  • 60 g (1 cup) all bran cereal
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips or chunks (I used Belgian milk chocolate chunks)
  • 60 g (1/4 cup) coconut oil
  • 75 g (1/2 cup) coconut sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 65 mL (1/4 cup) sour milk (milk with 1/4 tsp lemon juice)
  • 250 mL (3 medium or 1 cup) bananas, mashed

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400° F (200° C). Prepare muffin pans by spraying with non-stick spray.
  2. Combine flour, bran, baking powder and soda and salt in a bowl and mix.
  3. Cream coconut oil and sugar with 1 egg until well blended and add the other egg and beat well. Combine the soured milk and mashed bananas and mix well.
  4. Pour into the dry mixture and mix well. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  5. Pour batter into prepared muffin cups to about 3/4 full.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
  7. Cool slightly and serve.

These muffins have excellent texture from the moistness of the bananas and the bran cereal.

Notes:

  • These muffins are not nearly as sweet using coconut sugar as using regular white sugar.

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tejas-dulces_first

Happy Halloween Everyone! Hope you all have a ghoulish night!!!

While in Europe this past September, we spent four extremely hot days in Sevilla. It’s no wonder they call Spain the “Frying pan of Europe”! It wasn’t as hot as it had been (near 50° C or 122° F) but it was hot enough for us! The sun was relentless and most locals only walk in the shade (you can tell who lives there because they hug the shadows directly beside the old buildings!). The city has covered some of its sunnier streets with canopy sails to shade the citizens and tourists, it’s that bad!

Many of the historic town streets have these sails in both Sevilla and Madrid.

Many of the historic town streets have installed these canopy sails to protect citizens and tourist from the unyielding sun, in both Sevilla and Madrid, though I did not see them in Granada.

During one of our last walks though the beautiful historic part of town, we stumbled into the area where the locals actually live. There were no tourist shops, a few restaurants, just butchers, bakers, children’s clothing stores, kitchen stores (yes, I did buy something), grocery stores and specialty shops. One such shop was a beautifully designed little cookie shop where they sold only one type of cookie in three flavours: La Tejas Dulces de Sevilla, in almond, pistachio and coconut. A young lady was handing out samples in front of the beautiful store and we couldn’t resist. In one taste, we were immediately hooked on the simple almond flavour and lovely crunchy texture and we had to buy some. Upon returning to Toronto, I hid the small package so that I could work on a recipe and perfect it for the blog. I told JT it was for the greater good, he wasn’t impressed.

The cookies are light, airy, crunchy and full of flavour; imagine a genoise batter spread paper-thin, topped with almonds and baked until golden. They are so GOOD! The recipe is relatively simple but follow the instructions to get the signature airy, crunchy texture. I think this could easily convert to a gluten free variety, stay tuned!

I must warn you, though, because these are not like the French Tuiles, these have a bit more body than a traditional French tuiles. They are really more cracker-like than a tuile or a cookie.

Scroll down to the end of this post to see pictures from this part of our trip.

tejas-dulces_2

Delicately sweet, these crispy, flavourful cookies hit the spot for an afternoon craving!


original

These are the originals we brought back from Sevilla, sadly only three left and a mess of crumbs but I’ve finessed the recipe so I can make more!

Almond Tuiles of Sevilla (Tejas Dulces de Sevilla)

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes 25 cm x 30 cm (10″ x 12″) sheet, cut to make cookies or various sizes

Ingredients:

  • 30 g (2 tbsp) unsalted butter
  • 75 g (3/4 cup) almonds, thinly sliced and toasted
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 80 g (~1/3 cup) sugar
  • 1/2 tsp almond flavour
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla
  • 50 g cake and pastry flour
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Toast the almonds until golden. Set aside to cool.
  2. Melt* the butter and set aside to cool.
  3. Beat the egg with the sugar until it reaches the ribbon stage, about 5 minutes. Beat in the flavourings and cooled butter.
  4. Sift the flour with the salt and fold into the egg mixture, cover and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 265° F (130° C).
  6. Pour the entire batter onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and spread out until it is quite thin (about 3-4 mm (about 1/8-3/16 inch) works out to about 30 cm x 30 cm (12″ x 12″). Evenly sprinkle the toasted almonds onto the batter and gently push into the batter**.
  7. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until evenly golden, turn the pan once about halfway.
  8. While still warm, move parchment onto a cutting board and cut into uneven shapes with a pizza cutter. Transfer parchment to a cooling rack and allow to cool. Cookies will firm up as they cool.
  9. Once cooled, store in an airtight container for about a week, but they won’t last that long!

Spread batter out thinly (about 30 x 30 cm or 12 x 12 inches)

Spread batter out thinly (about 30 x 30 cm or 12 x 12 inches)


tejas-dulces_3

I made another batch but spread the batter out much thinner. They probably could have baked a little longer to get a little richer colour, but the flavour and texture is spot on.

Notes:

  • *for additional flavour, brown the butter in a frying pan until hazelnut in colour.
    ** to insure that all of the almonds are ‘stuck’ to the batter, I did a little toss of the pan quickly and that way I was able to move ‘unstuck’ almonds to a better place.
  • Add a teaspoon of lemon zest because lemon and almond go so wonderfully together!
  • Drizzle melted chocolate over the cookies once they are cool, refrigerate until set then store in an airtight container for about a week, but be warned, these won’t even last as long as the originals!

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pomegranatesyrup_firstRecently, JT and I spent three wonderful weeks touring through London, Almeria, San José, Granada, Sevilla, Madrid and finally Paris. It was awesome. I will recount some wonderful meals and memories in future posts but I wanted to share a quick and easy recipe to make pomegranate syrup because my dear friend Sissi (With A Glass) recently posted a beautiful salad which included pomegranate seeds and the dressing was created with pomegranate molasses, a slightly sweet and sour syrup.

Sissi’s post went live around the time we had just spent the day in Granada, a large, historical city in the south of Spain. We did a wonderful walking tour of the city with Panchotours with Registered Tour Guide, Veronica and at one point she mentioned that the word Granada in Spanish means pomegranate! What a coincidence! The name is appropriate because the streets are lined with gorgeous pomegranate trees. Yes, you could just reach up and grab a fresh pomegranate, how cool is that? Sadly, they were not quite ripe enough, otherwise, you know I would have!

granada-pomegranate

ourtourguide

Our lovely tour guide, Veronica.

Several weeks prior to our departure, we purchased something and for some unknown reason were given a 473 mL bottle of Pom Pomegranate Cherry Juice for free. We don’t normally drink juice as it is far better to eat your fruit than drink it so it sat in the refrigerator until now! Making the syrup is so easy, I won’t even list it as a recipe. Simply pour the entire content of the bottle into a non-reactive pan and boil it on medium-high for about 30 -40 minutes or until it reduces to about 100 mL. I didn’t want an overly thick syrup (the viscosity is about the same as maple syrup) so you could boil it down even more — but be very careful, after a very short time, it can burn very easily! Allow to cool and pour into a sterilized bottle. Store in a cool, dark location.

pomegranate-syrup

It’s a thick, sweet and slightly sour syrup. that is delicious on chunks of Parmesan.

alhambra

The view of the Alhambra.

granadaview_new

Panoramic View of Granada.

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ChristmasTree_4226

Merry Christmas everyone.

Christmas Eve is the more celebrated day in European families, even those residing in North America. Back when I was a child, my family would make the trip out to Northern Toronto on December 23 or 24 to buy our Christmas tree. It was tradition not to set up the tree until the day of Christmas Eve (although JT and I have been known to get our tree in late November!). Even though it was late by North American standards and the trees were pretty well picked over, we always managed to find a good one (not an easy task in a family of tree connoisseurs). One year the best tree (read fattest) was so short, we had to put it on a table. Mom said it was so more presents could fit under the tree. The only thing Dad did with the tree is put the lights on it. The lights would only be turned on to make sure they were evenly distributed and then they wouldn’t be turned on until later that night. Mom, my younger brother and I would always dress the tree. My favourite part was adding the tinsel after all the gorgeous hand blown glass balls (and various kid craft ornaments) were hung; my brother would throw the tinsel on by handful and I would carefully add them one tinsel strand at a time. The tree wouldn’t be complete without adding szalonczukor, a traditional Hungarian fondant candy that my Aunt and Uncle would send every year from Budapest. We also had candy canes but that was later as we became more Canadianized.

Christmas Eve was our big celebration and we would always have a huge dinner (Mom would make fish and turkey with all the fixings) and then after dinner (which seemed to take F O R E V E R) we’d be sent off to our rooms to see if we could see Santa in the skies because we’d follow him through NORAD! During that time Santa would arrive quite quietly and fill the floor beneath the tree with gifts. So many gifts. Then, Mom and Dad would turn off all the lights and illuminate the tree, Dad would put on on some Christmas music (a special mix he made on the Sony reel to reel) and they would signal my brother and I (and usually some stray my Mom invited for dinner) to come out of our room into the living room. That was our Christmas. I can still feel that nervous energy and the excitement of the anticipation as we walked down the hall into the living room, our eyes bugged open to take in the view of our beautifully lit Christmas tree and piles and piles of presents! We would always start out opening presents systematically but by the end it was always chaos. At some point Mom would serve dessert, a traditional Yule log (piskota), both walnut and poppy seed Baigli! She also made a Lindzer Szelet which was my Dad’s favourite (a tender pastry square with a layer of apricot jam and sometimes chocolate ganache). Cognacs would be poured (for the adults) and my brother and I would lose ourselves in the bounty of all our new toys and have an impromptu fashion show off all our new clothes (well, maybe that was just me). Family friends always popped in after dinner after the mess was cleaned up, more desserts were served and more cognac was poured. It truly was magical.

On Christmas Day, my brother and I would open our stockings and we would continue to play with our new things while Mom made a beautiful breakfast with kuglof and home made jam. Christmas Day was usually quiet at our house, we hung around in our jammies, played, watched a Christmas movie or two and just chilled. We were always invited to my parents’ best friends for Christmas Day dinner.

JT’s and my Christmas took on a similar landscape with the exception that on Christmas Eve we always go to my brother’s for dinner because they have kids. Lately, they been having a ham for dinner so we’re not eating turkey two days in a row (honestly, I don’t mind two turkey dinners). I usually bake a Yule log and a plate of Christmas cookies to share. This year I’ve baked a white chocolate and strawberry tart that I’m recipe testing. My brother’s family celebrate a more traditional North American Christmas (with her family) with the major festivities on the morning of the 25th and dinner with her family in the afternoon, which works out perfectly since JTs family does the same so we’ve never had a conflict. Today we’ll have JTs family over for our turkey dinner, complete with stuffing, roast potatoes, gravy and green beans with garlic and almonds. Dessert will be pie that my SIL brings as well as a cheesecake thing that I’m recipe testing. So tell me, how does your family celebrate Christmas and is it the 24th or the 25th?

It’s been a whirlwind  year and I must admit that December snuck up on me and I feel like I’m behind. But the next few days will be all about family, relaxing and just enjoying the festivities. JT and I wish you all the best, a very merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year!

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When we travel we never like to book lunches because we never really know where we are going to be when hunger strikes; so we leave it to the last minute and find a Starbucks sit with an espresso and peruse Yelp for some recommendations in relation to our location! I love that Starbucks has free WIFI! Yelp is an excellent review site where I find most of the reviewers are more foodie than not and their restaurant reviews are excellent! Sometimes we use open table, but it’s only good for establishments who subscribe so it often doesn’t work out.

We landed on Café du Parc in Washington’s elite Intercontinental Willard Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. The restaurant describes itself as a traditional French bistro where the food ‘fuses witha modern atmosphere to provide a truly authentic bistro experience” (from Café du Parc’s website) — well, I’m not sure about food fusing with atmosphere, but the experience was pleasant enough. Have I ever mentioned this thing that I find SO INCREDIBLY annoying? It’s when the wait-staff remove plates before everyone is finished at the table. JT eats faster than I do and I am often left eating on my own with the table cleared. Not this time but I had to tell them to leave the plates alone until I am done! What school of etiquette did these people go to? They’ll loose points on service for that one.

The décor is blues, creams and yellows and the dining room was light and airy; it made me happy to be there! They also had a very lovely patio but the heat was overwhelming so we chose to eat inside; bad choice since all the windows and doors were wide open and the A/C didn’t seem to be on, but we soon acclimated and all was well.

With the exception of the faux pas of the attempt to remove JTs dishes before I was finished, the service was efficient, friendly and quick — we were in and out in less than an hour, but we had places to go and people to see, so we were fine with that.

Cafe du parc Nicoisse_0157

Cafe du Parc’s Salade Niçoise

I ordered the Salad Nisçoise which was rare tuna served on a bed of mesclun salad, with pitted black olives (I prefer the pits in, the pitted always makes me think they are canned), green beans, tomatoes, a hard boiled egg, cucumber speers, julienned celery, delightful pickled white anchovies (a very nice change) with a very light balsamic vinaigrette which was not over dressed. The salad was fresh, flavourful and quite filling, but for the $21 for lunch, I would have expected a bit more tuna on the plate.
JT ordered the Croque Monsieur which was a very generous sandwich of French ham & Gruyère cheese sandwich, served with a mixed green salad and hand cut fries ($18) considering how expensive the ingredients in this dish are, I felt the $18 price tag was a reasonable amount.
And that concludes our visit to DC, thanks again to Jed and Liz for their generous hospitality and advise.
Cafe du parc Croque M_0159

Croque Monsieur

Overall rating of Café du Parc, DC (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 2.5/5, food 4/5, Value 3/5, Noise: 2/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Disclaimer: We purchased our meals for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

Cafe du Parc

1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20004

(202) 942 7000

Monday – Friday

Breakfast : 6:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. (a la carte ends at 9:45; 9:45-10:30 buffet only)

Lunch : 11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Cocktails and Light Fare : 2:30pm – 5:00 p.m.

Dinner : 5:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

Saturday – Sunday

Breakfast : 7:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. (a la carte ends at 10:30; 10:30-11:00 buffet only)

Lunch : 12:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Cocktails and Light Fare : 3:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Dinner : 6:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

Terrace (weather permitting)

Breakfast is served at our courtyard only.

Service starts at 11:30 Mon – Fri and 12:00 noon Sat-Sun until 10:00 p.m.; weather permitting.

 

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