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ChillyTemps_1842

-22°C is -7.6°F (wind chill: -38°C is -38.4°F)

We had some very cold weather in December and I know some of my dear readers are experiencing some very hot weather — I can’t say which I prefer more, but at least one can put a few more layers on in the cold, not much you can take off after you’ve taken it all off in the heat (or maybe that was a vision we didn’t need!). To help combat the chill over the holidays, I made a big batch of beef barley soup which we had for a lunch and then froze the remainder for quickie servings in the future; it’s always easier to eat healthful if you are armed with healthy food.

BeefBarleySoup_1846

A thick soup flavoured with lots of mushrooms and chunks of beef

Slow Cooker Beef Barley Soup

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup sweet onions, finely chopped
  • 1 cup or 3 stalks celery, cubed
  • 3 cloves garlic finely minced
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1 L Low Sodium beef stock
  • 5-7 dried  “fa goo” Chinese mushrooms, sliced (hydrated but save the liquid and strain it through a fine sieve)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 1″ sprig of rosemary, finely chopped
  • 400 g cubed beef (relatively small)
  • 1 1/4 cup sherry
  • 1-2 tsp canola oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste.
  • water, if necessary

Directions:

  1. Allow the beef cubes to come to room temperature. Preheat the slow cooker on high.
  2. Add 1-2 tsp canola oil to a hot cast iron dutch oven and brown the beef on all sides. Add to the slow cooker pot.
  3. In the same dutch oven, cook the onions until translucent, then add the garlic until fragrant. Stir in the pearl barley and toast for a few moments. Pour into the slow cooker with the beef. Add the beef stock to the slow cooker and give it a good stir.
  4. Deglaze the dutch oven with the sherry and add it to the slow cooker and add the bay leaf, thyme and finely chopped rosemary. Cook for 4-6 hours on low temperature or 3-4 hours on high.
  5. For the final hour, add the sliced hydrated mushrooms and the strained mushroom stock and give it a good stir.
  6. After the final hour, test the barley for doneness and soup for thickness, should you want a slightly less thick soup, add more water.
  7. Remove the bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper and serve with a dollop of fat free Greek Yogurt and a sprig of rosemary.
  8. Cool leftovers completely and pour into plastic containers for freezing.
BeefBarleySoup_1843

A nice dollop of fat free Greek Yogurt is always a nice addition. Of course the crostini with brie never hurts either!

Although December and January were very cold, in late January and early February we were bombarded with snow. A lot of snow, all at once. I know other parts of the world get snow, but this is a lot for us, particularly those of us living in the city with smaller lots which means we have a really hard time finding the space to shovel the snow off the sidewalks and driveways! Enjoy the photos below and just be grateful you didn’t have to shovel it.

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This snow mound is just about 1 metre high (39″)

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You can see how high the snow is piled from our gorgeous little tree!

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These are our Rose of Sharon ‘trees’. They are about 3 metres (10 feet) tall, but they just look like shrubs with the snow piled up to their canopy!

 

Chai Crème Brûlée

Flash back to November 2013, please recall our Indian extravaganza thank you dinner I made for our very generous neighbours. As you know, I’m not a huge fan of Indian desserts (remember this one?) so when I planned the dinner party I knew right away that I wanted to make a version of Chai Crème Brûlée. Sadly it’s winter in these parts which means it gets dark anywhere from 4:30, so I wasn’t able to take a decent photo until I was able to remake this tasty dessert and shoot it in daylight!

Chai flavours really come out in this creamy crème brûlée

I served with two spoons so you can have a taste too!

Chai Crème Brûlé

Serves 1 (slightly more than 1/2 cup serving); just multiply by the number of people you need to feed to get your amounts

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of whole milk or cream per person
  • 1.5-2 tsp sugar per person
  • 1 black tea bag
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise
  • 3 green cardamon pods, smashed gently.
  • 1 egg yolk per person
  • 1-2 tbsp per person of sugar to brûlée

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 135°C or 275°F.
  2. Infuse the milk with the Chai spices: combine milk or cream, sugar, black tea bag, cinnamon stick, star anise and cardamon in a small pot and heat until just under boiling, simmer for 15 minutes. Set aside to cool with a lid on the pot (or refrigerate overnight, which is what I did). Strain to remove all the bits, discard strained pieces.
  3. Once cooled, whisk the infused milk, egg yolks in a vessel with a pouring spout.
  4. Pour this mixture into ramekins. My ramekins were about 2/3 of a cup each. Place ramekins into a roasting pan with 5cm sides, put the pan into the pre-heated oven. Pour enough water around the ramekins to reach up just over half way on the side of the ramekins (it’s much easier to do this once the pan is in the oven so you’re not balancing the custard and the water on your way to the oven).
  5. Bake for 30-45 minutes to an hour or so. You’ll know they’re done when you can stick a knife in one and it comes out clean. Remove the ramekins from the baking pan, set them on the counter allow them cool. (The deeper your custard is the longer it will need to bake).
  6. Sprinkle a thin layer of  sugar on the top of each. Make sure it’s a THIN layer, but also make sure it completely covers the custard. Now torch it! Garnish with Whipped cream if you’d like (for the dinner party, I infused the whipping cream with a hot cinnamon stick which I heated for 1 minute on high in the microwave. I refrigerated the whipping cream and hot cinnamon stick until serving and then I removed the stick and whipped the cream).

Tips:

  • To save some time, just use a prepared Chai teabag.
  • Don’t squeeze the tea bag, it will be bitter.
ChaiCremeBrulee_1923

I know you want to dig in!

ChaiCremeBrulee_1925

The chai flavours really go well with the creamy crème brûlée

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My nephew Brian came for dinner in late January and it was a bitterly cold day so I thought starting out with a soup would be welcome. I’ve always enjoyed Italian Wedding Soup but recently had a very bad version while shopping in Buffalo which has jaundiced me from ordering it again at a restaurant, surprisingly it was in an Italian restaurant, but it was a chain, so I should have known better.

I have updated the traditional recipe using some unusual ingredients, I hope you’ll give it a try and let me know what you think. I ground my own beef and pork but you can easily buy already ground meat (extra lean of course). You’ll be surprised that I used puffed quinoa in the meatballs because I didn’t want to use bread crumbs or panko! Pretty clever don’t you think? I also used kale instead of the traditional spinach because I like the way kale holds up in a soup. Israeli couscous was my clever substitution for the pasta, it’s still pasta but I really liked the look of the balls in the soup.

ItalianWeddingSoup_1882

A flavourful broth with a variety of textures make this soup a welcome addition to my soup repertoire.

Italian Wedding Soup, my way

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup sweet onions, finely chopped
  • 1.5 g each of lean beef and pork
  • 1/3 cup puffed quinoa
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp freshly chopped oregano
  • 1/4 tsp each nutmeg, salt and freshly ground pepper (I use a mix of mainly white, s little black and a little red)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup Israeli Couscous
  • 1 1/2 L (about 1 1/2 qt) Home-made or Low Sodium Chicken stock
  • 1/2  (about 1 1/2 cups) large sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 bunch kale (about 4 cups) finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots (about 2-2 1/2 cups), cubed
  • 2 celery ribs (about 1 cup), cubed
  • 3 tsp canola oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • water, if necessary
  • 1 good size Parmesan rind

Directions:

  1. In a large, chilled metal bowl, combine the onion, beef and pork, puffed quinoa, parmesan cheese, oregano, nutmeg, salt and pepper and the lightly beaten egg. Shape into smallish meatballs and set on a cookie sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.
  2. Pre heat the oven to 177° C 350°F. Heat a skillet with 1 tsp canola oil and fry each meatball to brown all sides in two batches. Use the second tsp of canola oil for the second batch. Replace on cookie sheet lined with clean parchment and bake the meatballs until done (about 30 minutes).
  3. Cook the Israeli Couscous as per package directions to al dente. Set aside.
  4. Pre heat a large soup pot with 1 tsp canola oil, sauté the sweet onion until translucent, add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the chopped kale, carrots and celery and stir for about 4 minutes.
  5. Cover with chicken stock and top off with additional water if desired. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the Parmesan rind.
  6. Bring to a boil and cook until vegetables have reached their desired consistency, I like a very slight crunch so that they are not mushy in the soup. Add the couscous and baked meatballs just before serving to heat through.
  7. Remove theParmesan rind and eat.
  8. Serve garnished with shaved Parmesan cheese.
ItalianWeddingSoup_1887

The shaved Parmesan adds a delicate saltiness to this delicious soup.

Tips:

  • If you are making this soup to freeze, I would recommend freezing the meatballs and the Israeli couscous in separate bags to the soup and adding to heat just at serving. I kept a batch in the fridge with the couscous and meatballs and they got mushy in two days.

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Several years ago we dined in a lovely bistro in the heart of the financial district downtown Toronto called Forte Bistro and Lounge. JT had read about Chef Greg Argent in one of our foodie magazines and he knew right away we had to experience his cooking! Sadly, the restaurant is no longer around but the delicious memories of Chef Argent’s cuisine still lingers on.

A delightful combination of rich broth and caramelized onions in a perfectly bite-sized pillow.

A delightful combination of rich broth and caramelized onions in a perfectly bite-sized pillow.

One such dish was the unique French Onion Soup Dumplings ($11): a tender pasta dumpling filled with braised veal broth and gruyère cheese; what made this tasty dumpling so unusual was the surprise of the explosion of veal glacé that would fill you mouth with flavour after biting into the tender pasta, immediately reminding you of French Onion Soup! I have tried many times to recreate this wonderful dish without success and then Chef Argent revealed his ‘secret’ when I asked how he does it. Today I will share with you the secret of the tasty, unassuming little dumpling, but you must swear never to speak of it again! Although the recipe is laborious, I urge you to make a batch to serve as an amuse bouche or little hors d’œuvres at your next Super Bowl party (you may freeze uncooked dumplings on a parchment lined sheet lightly dusted with flour and then put them into a zip-lock bag), you will not only thank me for the wonderful compliments your lucky guests bestow upon you, you may even wish to send me gifts! 😉

Did you figure out the 'secret'?

Did you figure out the ‘secret’?

French Onion Soup Pillows

makes 60 single bite pillows

Ingredients for the broth:

  • 0.5 kg (about 1 pound) Beef bones or oxtail bones
  • 130 g (about 4.5 oz) sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp merlot salt (from my friend Kristy at Eat, play, love; our family food adventures)
  • 600 mL water, divided
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp cooking sherry
  • 3 g (a scant teaspoon) powdered gelatine (agar agar will not work here)
  • 1 cup caramelized onions (please click here for a great recipe)
  • Home made pasta dough or 60 square won ton wrappers (for a great pasta dough recipe, please check out Chicago John’s kitchen)
  • Gruyère cheese to garnish

Directions for the broth:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F 177°C. Put a 11.5 cm x 21.5 cm (4 1/2″ x 8 1/2″) metal loaf pan into the freezer.
  2. Sear the beef bones well on high heat. Remove from pan and set aside. Deglaze the pan with 1 tbsp cooking sherry or port. Add the onions to the pan and sauté for a minute or so on the residual heat from searing. Spread the onions out evenly on the bottom of the pan. Return the beef bones to the pan and nestle into the onions, add the merlot salt, bay leaf and 300 mL water. Cover with tin foil and roast in the oven for about 1 hour, checking occasionally to make sure the water hasn’t evaporated, top up as needed.
  3. Remove pan from oven and remove tin foil. Add an additional 200 mL water and boil on the stove top until liquid is reduced to about 150 mL (about 5 oz). Strain through a fine sieve and press as much liquid out of the cooked onions as possible.
  4. Set aside about 60 mL (1/4 cup) of the stock and cool. Keep the remainder stock on a soft boil.
  5. Stir the gelatine into the cooled stock until melted. Add the boiling stock and stir well. Allow to cool to room temperature and pour into the super cooled loaf pan. Refrigerate until set.
FrenchOnionSoupPillows_1960

You can develop a little assembly line to speed up the process!

An unexpected, rich, delicious soup explodes in your mouth when you bite into each pillow.

An unexpected, rich, delicious broth explodes in your mouth when you bite into each pillow.

Directions for assembling the pillows:

  1. Roll out the pasta dough to #4 thickness on the Kitchenaid Pasta roller (less than 1 mm or 0.125 inch). Using a 6-7cm (2.5″ -2.75″) oval cookie cutter, cut out the ovals to make both sides of the pillows.
  2. Remove the jelled broth from the fridge and cut into 0.5-1cm (0.25″-0.5″) rectangles.
  3. Onto each oval, more or less centred, add one jelled broth rectangle and about 1/4 tsp caramelized onion. Wet your finger and run a wet bead along the outer edge of the pasta oval. Turn up both sides of the oval and squeeze the edges together to bind — you don’t want these pillows to burst open when boiling.
  4. Lightly flour a parchment lined baking sheet and add each finished pillow to it so as not to touch each other. Freeze and bag frozen pillows into a zip lock bag or container. Use as many as needed.
  5. Bring an appropriate  amount of salted water to a boil. Add frozen pillows and boil until they float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a clean dish cloth to drain off water. Present on a Chinese soup spoon and garnish with a small amount of finely grated gruyère cheese. Brûlée the cheese until it is golden and crispy. Serve immediately.
FrenchOnionSoupPillows_1950

The Brûléed Gruyère cheese taste just like the burnt bits on a French Onion soup bowl.

Last fall we had my lovely niece and her beaux for the weekend; Laura recently graduated from Western University with her degree in Law and she is articling in Toronto. I wanted to make a traditional Hungarian dinner because they had never had Hungarian food. I had intended to follow the recipe verbatim, but I just couldn’t help myself and did end up changing it a slight bit. The result was wonderful and JT thought I finally got it right, the way he remembered my dear Mom to make this tasty dish. The original recipe is from Ilona Horváth’s “The Traditional Hungarian Kitchen” cookbook, published originally in 1996.

Although this recipe takes 2-3 days to prepare, there is little kitchen time as most of it is in the marinade. The finishing is relatively easy. The original recipe was made entirely in a dutch oven but I’ve modified it to a slow cooker because I was not able to be at home the day we wanted to have it. The gravy is a tangy, creamy gravy balanced with the addition of caramelized sugar, but it is NOT SWEET. The julienned carrots and parsnips add texture and natural sweetness. The meat comes out fork tender and you really don’t even need a knife to eat it.

HungarianVadasHus_1176

The tangy gravy goes perfectly with the sweet carrots and parsnips. Sorry the photo is so hot, it was night when I shot this.

Vadas Hus; Hungarian Wild Meat revisited

Serves 4-6. This recipe takes 2-3 days to prepare.

Ingredients:

  • 800 g (1 3/4lb) eye of round or good stewing beef, whole
  • 50 g  bacon (pancetta works)
  • 2 tbsp canola oil (the Hungarians would use lard here)
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 10 g (scant tablespoon) sugar
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 3/4 Non-fat Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
  • 100 g (about 1 cup) julienned carrots
  • 100 g (about 1 cup) julienned parsnips
  • 1-2 tbsp cold water

Ingredients for the marinade:

  • 50 g (about 1/2 cup) grated carrots
  • 50 g (about 1/2 cup) grated parsnips
  • 1 small onion chopped roughly
  • 1 L  (about 4 cups) water
  • 5-6 black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tsp white vinegar

Directions:

  1. Tidy up the meat by removing any excess fat and membranes. Allow to come to room temperature.
  2. To prepare the marinade, cook the carrots, parsnips and onion in 1 L water with black pepper, bay leaves and salt until half cooked. Add the vinegar and cool to room temperature. Pour over the meat and refrigerate 2-3 days turning every so often. Remove the black peppercorns.
  3. Remove the meat from the marinade and dry completely, bring to room temperature. In a large dutch oven, heat the canola oil and cook the bacon and reserve, add the meat  to the bacon oil and sear each side well.
  4. In the meantime, pre heat the slow cooker on high and add the original marinade, reserved bacon and bay leaves. Once it is warm add the seared beef and cook until beef is tender (3-4 hours) turning often.
  5. Remove the meat from the slow cooker and allow to rest. Discard the bay leaves. Strain the vegetables from the slow cooker (reserve the liquid) and add to the dutch oven, sprinkle with flour and fry to brown lightly. Slowly add the reserved marinade liquid and stir to thicken.
  6. In a small sauce pan, melt the sugar until it is golden in colour (not dark) and then mix with a couple of tablespoons of cold water, pour into the thickened vegetables in the dutch oven. Simmer for 5 minutes and add the remaining 2 tsp vinegar and Dijon mustard. Purée the entire gravy adding the yogurt or sour cream with an immersion blender until very smooth. You can run this through a fine sieve for a very smooth gravy. Keep warm.
  7. Boil the remaining julienned carrots and parsnips until cooked but there is still a slight bite to them. Strain and keep warm.
  8. Slice the meat into 1 cm or 1/2″ slices and plate over the puréed gravy, top with the julienne parsnips and carrots. Garnish with flat leaf parsley.
  9. Serve with Hungarian Bread Dumplings.
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JT loves it when I pan sear the gombocz in butter and it becomes crispy and delicious!

Lemon Lentil Soup

I have three Indian cookbooks from which I can usually find something I want to make, perhaps with some additional guidance from a cooking site or blog. The one cookbook I bought because every single recipe had a lovely photograph! It’s relatively small 12 cm x 15 cm (5″ x 6″) which makes it even more adorable! It came with a ribbon book mark attached to the spine so you can mark the recipe you are making or the next one since it has lay-flat binding. With all these things going for it, you would think I would love this cookbook, but sadly I don’t. In fact, I have not enjoyed one of the recipes I’ve made from this book without significant changes! I should just chuck the thing but I can’t because I really like the way it looks. I know it’s silly but it is what it is.

This is a recipe I altered after having acquired a Meyer Lemon from a shoot in November and I wanted to make something with it. I puréed the soup to a smooth velvety consistency and I dressed it with a cumin yogurt drizzle with green onion slices, you could also drizzle with a flavour olive oil. The Papadams are from our trip to Chicago when Chgo John took us to his favourite ethnic stores.

Lemon Lentil Soup_1334

The earthy lentils burst with fresh, lively flavour with the lemon

Lemon Lentil Soup

Serves 2 generously (1 cup portions or 250 mL each)

Ingredients:

  • 100 g dahl or yellow lentils
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, peel and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2-4 cups water (depending on how thick you prefer your soup)
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • grated rind of one lemon
  • 1/4 cup yogurt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • Shopped green onions as garnish
  • papadums

Directions:

  1. Rinse the lentils and cook with the ginger, garlic, chill and turmeric and 2 cups water until soft.
  2. Add the salt, lemon juice and rind and blend with an immersion blender until smooth, adding water to achieve the consistency you prefer.
  3. Press through a fine sieve and set aside.
  4. In a small frying pan add the cumin and toast until fragrant. Cool. Once cool add to the yogurt and mix well. Salt to taste. Transfer to a small plastic squeeze bottle.
  5. Reheat soup and pour into rimmed soup bowls. Begin piping the yogurt from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock, then 2 to 7 and finally from 9 to 3. Then using a sharp knife beginning in the centre of the bowl, draw a spiral circle culminating at the outer ring (this will make the pattern). Garnish with the chopped green onions and papadums.

Print

Lemon Lentil Soup_1337

It’s super creamy and super filling

In our neighbourhood, Bloor West Village we have an abundance (some might even say too many) of specific retailers and services in about 1 km (0.62 mile) length:

  • 36 dentists
  • 11 optometrists/eye glass dispensaries
  • 42 hair/nail salons
  • 6 green grocers
  • 8 Pubs/Gastro Pubs/Sports Bars
  • 5 Japanese/Thai restaurants!

So when Sushi 2Go opened a restaurant in the Village we were surprised! Sushi 2Go is a relatively small chain of Japanese Restaurants all over the GTA, in fact there is another one about a kilometre (0.62 miles) away. There are a few high-end Japanese restaurants in the GTA but most are quick, luncheon-type places and Sushi 2Go is no different. I’m not saying you can’t have a nice dinner there, it’s just pretty simple with typical ambiance. We had lunch there a few weeks before Christmas and even though we’ve been back again, I found it a little expensive for what it was.

The restaurant is contemporarily decorated with a few Japanese touches. The sushi kitchen is toward the back and there are about 10-15 tables, not huge by any stretch. Both times we’ve been there, there were only 2 other people dining in, although there were takeout orders being fulfilled and picked up.

I ordered the Tempura Udon Noodle in hot soup with tempura ($14.95). It was quite flavourful and the tempura was plentiful, I even took most of the tempura home for another meal.

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Sushi2Go NoodleSoup_1278

JT ordered the Sushi & Tempura Bento Box ($17.95) which was comprised of 7 pieces of nigiri, 3 california roll & tempura. It was also very tasty but $18 for lunch doesn’t sit well with me. Next time we’re going to share the Tempura Udon Soup (JT will have the tempura and I’ll have the Udon!)

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Overall rating of Sushi 2Go (in my opinion): Decor 3/5, service 3.5/5, food 4/5, Value 2/5, Noise: 5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

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

Sushi 2 Go Bloor West Village

Sushi2Go
2370 Bloor St. West
Tel 416-762-0505

Monday to Thursday 11:30 am – 10:00 pm
Friday and Saturday 11:30 am – 11:00 pm
Sunday 12:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Monday Closed

Chocolate Brioche

My parent’s home was always filled with the wonderful and delicious aromas of baked goods. My Mom always made bread and these were the days before bread machines! She would start the process shortly after dinner, making the bread for the following days. Mostly she would bake it when we kids had already gone to bed teasing our senses as we drifted off to sleep, but on occasion it would be in the oven while we were still up, the gorgeous aroma of home made-bread wafting throughout the house. Sometimes we could have a warm slice slathered with butter, but most often not. During the holidays my Mom made the most special bread, chocolate brioche! I can’t even begin to describe the incredible aroma that it made throughout the house. Now that bread was always cut into the night it was baked! I’ve not had this type of bread outside our home before but years ago at a Club Med in Mexico — I think the chef must have been French. It was such a delicious surprise when they served the chocolate brioche for breakfast most days.

I baked these brioche braids for New Year’s Day breakfast, it was to be a feast of delicacies, but plans changed and we had it toasted with butter. And now I have a loaf in the freezer taunting me. Against better judgement, it will likely be defrosted and eaten toasted or lightly warmed with sweet butter dripping from its crispy edges…slice after slice until there is no more. But the memory will remain.

Please excuse the winter evening photos, no matter what I do in Photoshop, they just cannot be helped.

ChocolateBread_1766

Baked and now cooling.

it's irresistible, like me ;-)!

it’s irresistible, like me ;-)!

Chocolate Brioche

Makes 3 relatively good sized braids. Original recipe was modified from Baking with Julia.

Ingredients for the dough:

  • 1 1/2 tbsp dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup tepid water (80°F to 90°F)
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar + a pinch, divided
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into smallish cubes
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 6 – 6 1/2 cups all purpose, unbleached flour
  • 2 tbsp skim milk powder
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • non-stick cooking spray or 2 tbsp melted butter

Ingredients for the glaze:

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tbsp cold water or heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Spray two large mixing bowls with non-stick cooking spray, or rub with butter and set aside.
  2. Whisk the yeast into the water with a pinch of sugar in a measuring cup and allow to bubble up, about 5 minutes.
  3. Heat the milk with 1/3 cup granulated sugar and the cubed butter until warm to touch and the butter has entirely melted. Stir in the salt until melted. Allow this mixture to cool to 110°F.
  4. Pour the milk mixture into the large stand mixer bowl attached with a whisk and add the eggs one at a time, add the milk powder, mixing well to combine. You should have about 4 cups of liquid. Divide into two portions of about 2 cups each and set one portion aside.
  5. Add 2 1/2 cups of flour to the portion at hand and beat on low with your cookie dough paddle for about 3 minutes or until it comes together. Now switch to the bread dough paddle and add as much flour as needed (I was able to add another cup), kneading on medium low speed to make a soft dough that is clean off the sides of the bowl. Now knead for 8-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Transfer to one of the bowls that has been spray with non-stick cooking spray or rubbed with melted butter. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm dark place to double in size (1 or 1 1/2 hours).
  6. Sift 2 cups of flour with the unsweetened cocoa and icing sugar. Retrieve the second portion of the liquid and add the sifted flour, cocoa and icing sugar and beat on low for about 3 minutes or until it comes together. Add as much flour as needed (I was able to add another cup), kneading on medium low speed to make a soft dough that is clean off the sides of the bowl. Now knead for 8-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Transfer to the other bowl that has been spray with non-stick cooking spray or rubbed with melted butter. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm dark place to double in size (1 or 1 1/2 hours).
  7. When dough has doubled in size (both the chocolate and the plain versions) punch down and deflate them. Cover again and allow to rise until doubled in size (about 45 minutes to 1 hour).
  8. Line a large baking sheet with parchment. Divide the plain, white dough in 4 equal portions (I find a scale very helpful) and roll into approximately 16″ lengths. Divide the chocolate dough into 5 equal portions. For 2 of the 3 loaves, take two chocolate portions and one plain portion, for one of the braids take 2 plain portions and one chocolate portion. Braid from the centre to each end, fixing each end well beneath the braid to make a nice neat end. Place on lined baking sheet and allow to rest for 40 minutes.
  9. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Combine the egg and cold water or heavy cream and mix well. Brush each braid with the glaze and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and brush the expansion joints of the braid and return to bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes. If they brown too quickly, cover browning parts with a little piece of foil.
  10. Cool before slicing. This can be frozen in an air tight plastic bag for about 1 month. Stale slices of this bread makes excellent French toast or Bread Pudding!

ChocolateBread_1763

I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a recipe developer by a colleague from my previous position and as it turned out they needed a Recipe Tester right away! How serendipitous is that? And cool. The experience is amazing! I know I’ve talked about what it is to be a recipe tester briefly so here is a more detailed synopsis. And no, I won’t be posting any of those recipes here.

You read the recipe thoroughly with a highlighter in hand and highlight any discrepancies or things you need clarified. You ask the Recipe Developer questions re your highlights. The recipe is hashed out. Now switch to a different coloured pen. Start your stop watch, you need to time how long it takes you to prep (mise en place) and cook the ingredients. Follow the recipe to a “T” making notes along the way, there is no “a little this and a little that” when you’re testing! Once you have finished cooking the recipe, stop the stop watch and make a note of the time it took. Baking time is noted separately than the prep and cooking time; there is always a bake time on the recipe but you need to confirm that it’s accurate, one of the recipes I recently tested had to have its bake time doubled!

When the recipe has finished cooking or baking, you review it for appearance, texture and taste (yes, you have to taste the recipe!). Sometimes you are required to take a volume measurement of a product after its cooked for reference. Usually there is more than one recipe tester and the results are accumulated and assessed by the recipe developer. The finished recipes are usually for your consumption but sometimes they are just not your taste so your neighbours get lucky! My recent testing was baking sweets and I divided the bounty up between two friends who were very happy to receive the food!

Just before Christmas my Recipe Developer asked me to participate in a client tasting; I had to shop for the product, prep about 1/2 day on a few recipes and then finish cooking the recipes on the day of the tasting. We had 10 recipes in total. We cooked each recipe to its full volume and then spooned out small portions for tasting, I kept the tasting portions warm while the previous portion was discussed and evaluated. Each recipe was discussed for about 10-20 minutes and the discussion resulted in approved recipes with minor changes or complete revisions. The full portions are prepared to show the size the recipe yields for a family dinner. It’s actually quite an interesting process. Photos of the tested recipes are only used as reference. When the recipes are finally approved, the client will hire a photographer, a prop stylist, a food stylist and hopefully a food stylist assistant ;-)! The food stylist will prepare the final approved recipe and make it pretty for the photo.

I suspect that when you develop a recipe for your blog you work in much the same way that a recipe tester would work. It really needs to be buttoned down otherwise there may be disappointment if someone tries to make the recipe and it doesn’t work out. I really appreciate the detailed photos some bloggers do to show each and every step but I decided at the beginning of my blog that my photos would be only of the final product.

When I started blogging I came to realize how undisciplined I have been cooking, a little of this, a little of that; blogging makes you button down really well, measure, measure, measure and write it down — it has been a great starting point for my recipe testing. I am going to be doing more recipe testing in the new year!

But now, back to what we really eat! I’ve been making a lot of soups lately and this soup came together beautifully; the nutty roasted garlic and the earthy and sweet mushrooms were a great combination. I don’t think I would change a thing but I won’t mind if you do!

RoastedGarlicMushroomSoup_1354

The cognac butter really made the soup

Roasted Garlic Mushroom Soup with Cognac

Ingredients:

Makes 4 servings, about 250 mL each

  • 35 g or 1 1/2 cups of dried mushrooms (I used Chinese Mushrooms with the crackle-like tops and Chinese Black Fungus)
  • 2 cups water
  • About 1/4 cup of puréed roasted garlic (1 head)
  • 3-4 tbsp EVOO
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 85 g or 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 200 g (2 cups) Fresh Cremini and Shitaki Mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 fresh thyme branches
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp cognac
  • 2-4 fresh finely sliced Cremini and Shitaki mushrooms for garnish.

Directions:

  1. Rehydrate the dried mushrooms in 2 cups of boiling water (about 2-4 hours). Drain through a fine sieve and reserve the drained liquid. Chop mushrooms finely.
  2. Roast 1 head of garlic in a small ramekin with about 4 tbsp EVOO and sea salt, about 45 minutes at 350°F. Cool and remove the softened cloves and the olive oil and set aside.
  3. Sauté the shallots in the butter until soft. Add the all of fresh mushrooms and rehydrated mushrooms to the shallots and cook until soft.
  4. Add the reserved rehydrating liquid and 2 additional cups of water. Add the thyme and lemon zest and bring to a boil.
  5. Using your immersion blender, blend until very smooth, add the roasted garlic cloves and roasting EVOO. You may wish to press it through a fine sieve so that it is silky smooth. Set aside until you are ready to serve.
  6. When ready to serve, reheat the velvety smooth soup.
  7. Melt 1 tbsp butter in a frying pan, add the remaining sliced Cremini and Shitaki and sauté until soft. Remove from heat and add the 2 tsp cognac and stir well.
  8. Serve the hot soup in a warmed rimmed soup bowl, garnished with the softened mushrooms and drizzled with the cognac butter.
RoastedGarlicMushroomSoup_1353

There is no cream in this lovely soup

Pretzel Bread

I’ve noticed lately that most of our grocery stores are now carrying a variety of extraordinary breads, from focaccia made from an authentic Italian recipe that uses an enormous volume of olive oil to various egg, grain and nut breads; recently I’ve also noticed something I hadn’t seen before, a very beautiful Pretzel Bread! Now pretzel bread has a chewy texture and a salty finish on its chewy crust. It’s a lovely dense bread (if you love egg bread than you will love pretzel bread) that works well as hamburger buns and sandwiches! We’re going to use it for a cheese fondu! I’ve also seen this type of boule used as a soup bowl…perhaps another time!

I scanned the internet for a recipe and came across one from Fleischmann’s yeast that I rather liked, so I made it the first time verbatim and then the second time I made a few adjustments because I wasn’t entirely happy with the first result. There just wasn’t enough liquid to soak up the flour they claimed to need no matter how much I kneaded! My first dough was a little stiff. With some minor adjustments I present to you the slightly modified recipe but please pop on over to the original recipe here.

PretzelBread_1825 This is the first batch I made, the bread was not soft enough to open too much. The finished texture was OK though.

Originally, pretzel bread is boiled in a water and Food Grade Lye solution, but that just seemed a little too dangerous for my taste so I opted to use baking soda instead. Many recipes range for a few tablespoons to 3/4 cup of baking soda which is the most I’ve seen on-line. I’ve even seen some recipes bake the baking soda, but that seemed like too much work! The baking soda or lye creates Maillard reaction which causes the proteins and the sugars react in a certain way that allows the bread to brown at high temperatures much more easily than by just baking; boiling it first gives this bread its signature chewy crust. This bread turned a most beautiful reddish brown colour that normal baking would not have resulted! I was very pleased indeed! The dough comes together very easily and doesn’t take an exorbitant amount of time. Proofing is just 1 hour! Baking is even less! The results are worth the effort. I must warn you though, it’s a good workout if you don’t have a stand mixer, the recipe says to knead for 8-10 minutes and they are not kidding!

PretzelBread_1830 Second attempt: The boules are not huge, so plan on having two on hand for a dinner party.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Proofing Time: 60 minutes
Boiling Time: per loaf, 2 minutes
Baking Time: 25 to 27 minutes

Pretzel Bread 

Original recipe from Fleischmann’s yeast

PretzelBread_1831 This one opened up nicely.

Makes: 2 (18 cm or 7-inch) loaves or 8 rolls (I will make the rolls for soup bowls another time). For slider buns, form 50 g balls of dough to make 19 buns.

Ingredients for Dough:

  • 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups milk (I increased the milk because the original dough was too tough and not soft as indicated in the instructions, but it will change depending on how humid the day is)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp bread machine yeast (I prefer to use this because it dissolves faster)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I found 3 cups in the winter months was enough to produce a soft, sticky dough)

Ingredients for the Boiling Solution:

  • 2.8 L or 3 quarts water
  • 3/4 cup baking soda

Ingredients for the Egg Wash:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon water

Directions:

  1. Warm the milk and butter to 37.7°C – 43°C (100°F-110°F); the butter will not completely melt.
  2. In the large mixing bowl of your stand mixer, combine the warm milk with room temperature yeast and brown sugar. Stir in the salt and 2 cups flour and beat for 3 minutes (I used my cookie dough blade on my stand mixer, the first time I tried the whisk attachment and it was too sticky).
  3. Gradually add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough (I added 1 additional cup, 3 cups in total).
  4. Knead for 8-10 minutes in your stand mixer using the dough hook until smooth and elastic.
  5. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  6. Preheat oven to 204°C (400°F)
  7. Combine boiling solution and bring to a boil.
  8. Punch the dough down and divide into 2 equal portions.
  9. Form each portion into a tight, smooth ball (this will be the shape of your final bread, so if you want more of an oval roll, shape accordingly).
  10. Boil each portion in the solution for a total of 2 minutes; start with the top side down and then flipping it over after 1 minute, top side up.
  11. Remove the dough portions from the pot using a slotted spoon and place on a greased baking sheet (I lined my sheet with parchment). Allow to dry off for a bit (a minute or so).
  12. Brush with the egg wash and cut a cross in the top, make sure you insert blade about 2 mm (1/8″) into the dough.
  13. Bake for 15 minutes at 204°C (400°F), then reduce the temperature to 177°C (350°F) and bake an additional 8-10 minutes until the loaves are evenly browned, you want a nice dark reddish-brown colour and the bread sounds hollow when tapped.
  14. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.
PretzelBread_1832 May I cut you a slice or two?
PretzelBread_1828 A delightful chewy texture.

I posted this in January’s Growing Edge group post. Please check it out here.

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2013 a year in review

Happy Monday everyone! I don’t know about you, but despite all of the weather related issues we had at the beginning of the holidays, they turned out to be lovely. And with temperatures plummeting to the high minus teens, it’s rather wonderful to have power back! I believe that now power has been restored to everyone in Toronto, thank goodness!

2013 was a year of change in a good way. I celebrated a benchmark birthday (I still can’t believe I’m THAT old!). My almost ten years of working with my dear friend came to an end and I decided to embark on a new career path in food! Little did I know that way back in 2007 when I began blogging it would eventually redirect my career path! I’m really pumped about 2014 and all of the opportunities it will bring! Happy New Year indeed!

As you WordPress users are already aware, WP sends us a synopsis of the stats at the end of every year. Even though i see my stats day to day, this synopsis still surprises me! My humble little blog was viewed 51,000 times in 2013, can you believe it! And for whatever reason December 24th garnered a healthy 728 views (I still can’t figure out why!). Here’s a quick review.

The five most popular posts were:

  1. Titanic Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly
  2. Quinoa Energy Bars
  3. Best Beef Tenderloin Ever
  4. Super Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes
  5. Titanic Dinner Party Invitations

The lovely ladies and gentlemen who were my top five commenters:

  1. Maria at A_Boleyn
  2. Sissi at With a Glass
  3. Norma at Garden to Wok
  4. Lorraine at Not Quite Nigella
  5. Charles at Five Euro Food

 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support and kind words, without you this blog would be a meaningless collection of recipes floating about in cyberspace. Thank you for you support and encouragement, I can’t express how much it means to me.

May 2014 bring you all joy, health and all the best wishes!

On Monday you may have noticed two posts went live at the same time; it wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did! Doesn’t matter how many times I checked it! Sigh.
Happy New Year dear readers. I hope you enjoyed bringing in 2014 with gusto and good eats! We entertained long time friends over a quiet trivia-filled evening. We served Tapas style food in the living room in front of our ever-so-quickly drying out Christmas tree and wood fire in the fireplace. This was the menu:
Roasted Red Pepper & Feta Roll-ups
• Lobster Tails with Drawn Garlic Butter
Smoked Salmon Mousse in Cucumber Cups
• California “Sushi” Slice (recipe below)
• Cheese Plate, Cranberry Sauce, Chestnut, Mushrooms & Cognac Pâté
• Fruit plate of grapes, strawberries and chocolate.

In early December we hosted a pot luck dinner party with our Trivial Pursuit Cottage friends. The three couples brought various components for a delicious meal and we thoroughly enjoyed everything; there was a delightful butternut squash soup, our contribution of the Guinness Stew with butter biscuits and last but not least, an enormous and decadent baked raspberry cheesecake! It was totally delicious and gluttonous. The hors d’œuvres was a beautifully presented smoke salmon sushi square with wasabi mayo and capers which really made me want to recreate it for New Years Eve. Because I’m already using smoked salmon for another tapa, I decided to reinvent it. It’s easy to assemble and the presentation has a lot of bang for the buck, and it tastes lovely too!

CaliforniaSushiSlice_1776

The small amount of wasabi really packs a punch in the mayo.

California Sushi Slice

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup uncooked sushi rice
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 sheet roasted sushi seaweed
  • 1 avocado (very ripe) (~160 g give or take)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 110 g Flake Style Surimi (crab flavoured pollack) roughly 1/2 package
  • thinly sliced English cucumbers (use a mandolin to get thin even slices, mine worked out to 5 slices and I had cucumber left over)
  • 1 tsp wasabi (or to taste)
  • 1/4 cup Mayo
  • 2 tbsp toasted white and black sesame seeds

Directions:

  1. Line an 8″ x 8″ (20cm x 20cm) square baking pan with plastic wrap so that two opposing sides come up over the sides of the pan a bit (to be used as handles to lift out of the pan).
  2. Cook the sushi rice according to directions. Add 1 tbsp seasoned rice wine vinegar and mix well. Allow to cool and then press an even layer of cooked sushi rice into the bottom.
  3. Sprinkle evenly with the sesame seeds.
  4. In a small bowl, add the ripe avocado and I tsp lemon juice (to prevent browning) and mash with a fork. To the mashed avocado add roughly torn surimi and mix well (you don’t want huge chunks, but smallish bite-sized bits) and spread this onto the seaweed layer evenly.
  5. Cut the seaweed into strips about 2.5 cm (1 inch) wide then pile the strips into a neat pile and cut into smallish strips (I did this because it can be difficult to bite cleanly into it) and spread an even layer over the rice.
  6. Top with the thinly sliced cucumber and refrigerate covered with plastic wrap until firm.
  7. Meanwhile mix the wasabi and mayo well, set aside (add to a small plastic squeeze bottle). Arrange the sliced cucs on a couple of folded sheets of paper towel to dry them a bit (~5 minutes).
  8. Once the squares are firm, remove from fridge, lift out of the pan using the plastic wrap and slice into even slices or squares. Remove plastic wrap and plate. Dot with wasabi mayo and serve immediately. Refrigerate leftovers, may be kept one day before rice hardens too much or made one day in advance.
CaliforniaSushiSlice_1772

The little bits of seaweed make it easier to eat than if it was a sheet.

CaliforniaSushiSlice_1775

Would you care for one?

Kale and Navy Bean Soup

Happy New Year! Are you doing anything special? JT and I usually go out to our favourite French restaurant but this year we’re having good friends come over — we’ll be snacking tapas-style all evening. I’m really looking forward to our intimate New Year this year.

Although I didn’t make this soup for New Years Eve, I did make it several weeks ago when I needed to use up some kale and wanted a hearty and satisfying lunch. I adore soup, in fact I often say that I love it so much, Soup could be my middle name. JT is not as fond of soup as I am but he still eats without griping too much. My dear friend Kelly (Inspired Edibles) made a gorgeous and colourful version here and although I am posting it a few weeks after her recipe went live, I actually made it last month. The  Original recipe is from Gourmet, 2003, and contained chestnuts but I wanted to keep my version is little lighter in calories so I omitted the chestnuts, but I would encourage you to add them, they would definitely take this warming soup to the next level.

KaleNavyBeanSoup_1315

The kale retains its texture and the beans are creamy in contrast

Kale and Navy Bean Soup

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound dried white beans such as cannellini, Great Northern, or navy (about 1 1/4 cups), picked over and rinsed
  • 1/4 pound thinly sliced pancetta, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (28 fluid ounces)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (roughly 3 by 2 by 1/2 inch)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 pound cavolo nero or regular green kale, stems and centre ribs discarded and leaves cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • Optional Garnish: Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings

Directions:

  1. Soak beans overnight by covering them in about two inches of water. Or you can cook the beans relatively quickly in a pressure cooker or make this soup in a slow cooker. Drain well.
  2. Sauté onion and garlic in a pinch of oil large heavy pot over moderate heat. Add the kale and sauté for 5 additional minutes. Add the beans, broth, water, cheese rind, salt and pepper and simmer uncovered, until beans are tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour (or in a slow cooker on high for 4 hours). Discard or eat the cheese rind.
KaleNavyBeanSoup_1314

A deliciously warming soup

Tip:

I usually keep all my parmesan rinds in a zip lock bag in the freezer and use them in various stews and soups because they add so much flavour. I always eat them and never discard them as the instructions indicate, they are really very tasty and I know my friend Sissi (With a Glass) would adore the texture.

We’re knee-deep in that frenzied holiday season when there are parties, unscheduled drop-ins and quick festive glasses of vino. I never like to drink on an empty stomach so I like to stock the freezer with hors d’œuvres that can be made up in bulk and pulled out in a pinch. One of my favourites is the Devil on Horseback or bacon wrapped dates that I first came across from a Tapa’s cookbook from a friend about 8 years ago and finally blogged about it here. I needed to stock up so when I recently saw naturally smoked bacon (low sodium) on sale at my grocer, I asked JT to pick me up a couple of packs so I had them in the fridge ready to be made into the little devils. Fast forward to my second food styling assisting job, I assisted for a breakfast sandwich and there was a lot of bacon. Probably close to a hundred pounds? OK, I may be exaggerating but there was a lot of bacon left over and I was kindly given some of it! So now I needed to figure out what to do with so much bacon and then it hit me, I knew exactly what that was!

I first came across Bacon Jam at Lorraine’s lovely blog Not Quite Nigella in 2009 and it’s been sitting in my data bank since. I usually don’t have an excess of bacon lying around so the bacon I was given from the job was very welcomed indeed. JT was ecstatic, like most men, he adores bacon. So I made bacon jam. I didn’t have everything Lorraine’s recipe required plus I needed something that I could leave all day to cook on its own, so I found good old Martha Stewart’s Slow Cooker Bacon Jam.

BaconJam_1182

Cooking down the bacon; the aromas enticed dogs and neighbourhood men to walk in zombie-like fashion towards the house!

There was an overwhelming aroma of bacon for days.

BaconJam_1184

Thick, sweet and salty all at once. Who knew bacon could taste THAT good?

There are a few precautions one must take with bacon jam. Contrary to what you would think, it is highly susceptible to salmonella which is a very dangerous bacteria. You may have heard that this past summer our Canadian National Exhibition’s Cronut Burger (poor refrigeration) lead to the contamination by Staphylococcus aureus toxin poisoning of their bacon jam! Go figure. You would think that with ALL the preservatives in bacon it wouldn’t be an issue, but it was. In further reading it seems that garlic increases this issue even more. So, my words of caution is that you MUST refrigerate your bacon jam and not even keep it in a processed jar outside of refrigeration. I even went a step further and froze any extra I wasn’t able to eat in a short time frame.

Bacon Jam

Makes 4 small jars

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 pounds sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced small
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup brewed coffee

Directions:

  1. Cook bacon over medium-high, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered and bacon is lightly browned, about 20 minutes.
  2. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain. Reserve 1 tablespoon of fat from the bacon skillet, discard the remainder.
  3. Add onions and garlic, and cook until onions are translucent, about 6 minutes. Add vinegar, brown sugar, maple syrup, and coffee and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping up browned bits from skillet with a wooden spoon, about 2 minutes. Add bacon and stir to combine.
  4. Transfer mixture to a 6-quart slow cooker and cook on high, uncovered, until liquid is syrupy, 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Transfer to a food processor; pulse until coarsely chopped. Allow to cool slightly then refrigerate in airtight containers, up to 4 weeks (see caveat above).
BaconJam_1186

I may have gotten carried away with the photos. But is it Bacon dog gamn it!

BaconJam_1189

Last one, promise.

The jam is slightly sweet, tangy and a perfect accompaniment to cheese or pâté. Add it to your charcuterie platter for New Year’s Eve celebrations. I might have even added it to scrambled eggs once or even a sandwich. Be creative. Where would you add such a decadent jam?

Hello everyone! I do hope you are enjoying the holidays. As you may have heard on the news Toronto was savagely hit with an ice storm last weekend and over half a million homes were left without power, some still don’t have power. I am very pleased to report that our power was only out for about  28 hours so it wasn’t that bad. We did have to rejig our Christmas plans as we were to host festivities on Christmas Day and not knowing how quickly the power would be restored we made arrangements to have it at JT’s sister’s place in Peterborough (the power company had indicated it may be 5 days!). My nephew Brian kindly offered us his apartment for warmth which was great because I had to prepare a few things to take for Christmas Eve’s dinner and Christmas Day dinner. It made me realize how fragile we are and how dependant we are on power, particularly in the winter. Fortunately, we didn’t lose food,  we put refrigerator things to keep cool outside and the freezer was cold enough and full enough to maintain the frosty temperature (thanks to Norma Garden to Wok, who kindly suggested to put buckets of ice into it if it wasn’t chuck full).
The house temperature fell to around 10°C  (50°F) so we turned the water off and put antifreeze in the traps and toilets. We didn’t have to do anything with our hot water rads, apparently they are good until the temperature falls below freezing for a couple of days. Of course, that’s just a wild guess and I am so glad we didn’t have to find out the hard way. Many of our dear friends reached out to us and offered a warm place to stay, which was incredibly generous, THANK YOU! We are indeed very lucky to be surrounded by such a wonderful group. Merry Christmas indeed.

As the holiday season continues and we are partying with gusto, I wanted to pass along a recipe I developed after Barb and I were introduced to a very novel hors d’œuvres at the KPMG Clara Hughes event in November. This hors d’œuvres was so unique and delicious I had wanted to try to recreate it for cocktails with Barb and her family on Christmas Eve, a tradition we’ve been enjoying for many years, but unfortunately we were one household of a 250,000 left without power for a few day after the ice storm last weekend so I put it off. It’s not complicated but it does require technique so you may wish to practice a bit before you serve it up at your party. You will need a slab of ice, easily made using a cookie sheet or roasting pan, or more authentically a good amount of freshly fallen, CLEAN snow. In the city, our snow is not very clean, so I opted for the slab of ice.

The sweet candied Maple Syrup provides a wonderful contrast to sharp cheese such as blue, extra old cheddar or even Parmesan (any double or triple cream cheeses will be too soft to do this with)..

Maple Cheese Popsicles

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 1 slab of ice (or shaved ice*), made using a cookie sheet or rectangular roasting pan (you will need to make this 2 days or more in advance). Add sprigs of Christmas tree trimmings and bright red cranberries for a festive feel. I lined a 10″ x 13″ x 2″ roasting pan with plastic wrap to help me lift the ice out of the pan.
  • An accurate candy thermometer.
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup (any colour will do, but we used Amber).
  • A variety of cheeses (such as blue, extra old cheddar or even Parmesan) cut into 1 cm x 2 (1/2 inch x 1 inch) rectangles.
  • tooth picks.

Directions:

Prepare everything in advance:

  1. Bring the cheese to room temperature, place one tooth pick into each and set the little soldiers aside.
  2. Prepare a lovely serving dish by lightly spraying it with non-stick spray. You will set the maple cheese popsicles onto this dish and if it’s not sprayed, the maple candy will stick to it (at least that was my experience).
  3. To keep the maple syrup from setting up as you prepare these delightful bites, fill a cake pan deep enough to hold boiling water about half way to three-quarter the way up the small sauce pan sides. Place it directly at your work station.
  4. Place a dish cloth at your work station and put the slab of ice on it (decorate the edges with Christmas tree clippings or add cranberries and greenery to the ice when you make it so that it’s very festive. You may remove the pan or leave the ice it in, it’s up to you).

Now you are ready to begin cooking the maple syrup:

  1. When all of your guests have arrived, put the maple syrup into a heavy bottomed very small sauce pan (mine was ~1 cup (250mL) volume) and insert the candy thermometer, cook on medium to medium-high heat until it reaches 240° F (116° C) which is about 8-10 minutes depending on how cold your maple syrup was to begin with. Watch the syrup carefully as once it hits 250° F (121° C) it will begin to crystallize and it will be ruined for this application, but you can use it in coffee or tea, so don’t discard.
  2. When the maple syrup has reached  240° F (116° C), remove it immediately from the heat and place the sauce pan into the bath with the boiling water.
  3. Using a dry spoon which holds about 1 tsp, drizzle the maple syrup in a lace-like rectangular pattern on the ice slab long enough to roll the cheese in once. Almost immediately after you finish drizzling, using one of the prepared cheese bites on a tooth pick, begin at one end and roll up the maple candy around the cheese. Either hand it to a guest or place it on the prepared serving platter.
  4. Repeat until you have used up all of the cheese. If your kitchen is chilly, you may wish to replace the boiling water bath about half way through so that the syrup doesn’t set up.

These photos were from the second trial, the first trial didn’t work out!

MapleCheesePopsicles_1666

Although these aren’t as lacy as I would have liked, they did turn out better than I expected.

MapleCheesePopsicles_1668

It takes a bit of practice to get the technique right.

MapleCheesePopsicles_1667

The maple candy starts to melt, that’s why it’s good to spray your serving dish with non-stick spray. I made these about 30 minutes ahead and stored them in the fridge and they still melted a bit.

Notes:

  • If you forgot to make your slab of ice, you can take  about 10 ice cubes and in a good strong blender or food processor, pulse until you achieve a reasonable amount of shaved ice without big bits. The shaved ice will melt faster therefore it is a good idea to have more ice on hand to refill the shaved ice container. You will need to continue to work so have your kitchen helper shave more ice, or prepare it in advance and store it in the freezer on another cookie sheet or flat platter.
  • I prefer blue cheese as the pairing with the sweet maple syrup, but some people don’t like blue, so have some cheddar on hand.
  • Fry up some thick cut bacon that is cut into 1 cm x 2 (1/2 inch x 1 inch) rectangles and wrap the maple around it as an alternative option.

Merry Christmas everyone, I do hope you are all enjoying the season of giving! Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without my traditional baking and I like to change it up every so often and so I’ve added a couple of new items to my existing Christmas Repertoire and one is Sponge Toffee. I began my Christmas baking at the end of November anticipating that I will be busy with the food styling assisting and I am SO GLAD I did because I have BEEN BUSY! I’m ready to take bookings for the new year, so if you need a passionate, determined assistant or recipe tester, please give me a shout.

2013 Christmas Baking Round Up

I made 9 different goodies this year.

I made 9 different goodies this year.

I know the Anzac Biscuit is made only during certain times in Australia, but this delicious oat cookie has become a fast favourite in our home so I like to make the treat for the holidays. And it wouldn’t feel like Christmas without Date Filled Oatmeal Cookies. I also like to include a few Gluten Free options, Mexican Macaroons (which I made using almond flour instead of white flour). Milk and Dark Chocolate Chunk with Cranberries are a favourite recipe from my friend Barb (Profiteroles and Ponytails) and this year I added dried cranberries to the batch to make them a little more festive. And last but not least, the delightful Chocolate Crinkle Kisses that really embrace the festive season with the lovely candy cane kiss! I even snuck in some wonderfully easy truffles because I was given 4 kgs of chocolate chunks from a photoshoot, so I really needed recipes that used a lot of chocolate. The truffles are with Chocolate, Chocolate Orange and Chocolate Coconut truffle flavours. I just realized I have not posted this recipe before so I will remedy it over the holidays, they are really easy to whip up. I hope you enjoyed the round up, stay tuned for a few more festive recipes over the holidays.

SpongeToffee_1521

Make sure your baking soda is fresh otherwise it won’t puff up properly!

Sponge toffee is a favourite of mine since my childhood. I remember my Mom buying us a brick and eating it slowly over the course of a day or two. It’s quite decadent and I am so happy to have made it because it brings back so many wonderful childhood memories. This is a simple recipe and you could easily fancy it up by dipping one end into cooled melted chocolate just like that famous chocolate bar! I’ve kept this recipe simple without any extra flavourings, but you can go ahead and add a little vanilla or other extracts to jazz it up.

It’s very easy but you need two essential things: 1. an accurate candy thermometer and 2. FRESH baking soda (bicarbonate of soda). Prepping all the ingredients and equipment is also necessary because once the candy starts to cook, you will need to focus your attention to it.

Sponge Toffee

Makes about 10″ x 12″ x 1.5-2″ thick block. I googled a number of recipes and videos to help make this toffee.

Ingredients:

  • 1 c granulated sugar
  • 1 c  golden corn syrup
  • 1 tbsp baking soda

Directions:

  1. Prepare a baking sheet by spraying it with non-stick cooking spray and lining it with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. Mix together the sugar and corn syrup in a large heavy bottomed pan with an accurate candy thermometer attached. Put the pan onto medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves (about 4 minutes).
  3. Cook this syrup until it reaches 300° F (about 10-15 minutes). Your syrup will turn golden.
  4. When it reaches 300° F, remove it from the heat and sprinkle on the baking soda (I found it to distribute more evenly by using a fine sieve), mix gently with a wooden spoon being careful not to over mix because it WILL deflate. This mixture will bubble up a great deal and that’s why you need a large pot.
  5. Gently turn out the bubbling candy onto the prepared cookie sheet and allow it to spread itself; DO NOT push it around, just leave it. The beauty will be the variety of thicknesses. Allow it to cool and harden.
  6. When it’s cool, remove the hard sheet to a cutting board and using the tip of a knife, allow the toffee to break apart in inconsistent shards. Alternate finishes: Dip one end into melted chocolate (slightly cooled).
  7. Store in an airtight container and enjoy responsibly.
SpongeToffee_1522

Sweet, sticky caramel, you old smoothy!

I picked up some tamarind paste when we visited Chgo John (from the Bartolini Kitchens) last summer and he took us to his favourite Asian shops. I’m sure this paste can be purchased in any number of Asian stores in Toronto, but the romance of bringing back an exotic ingredient was just too strong to ignore. Everytime I use this paste (and any number of other amazing ingredients I procured during that visit) I think fondly of our visit with John that day.
If you haven’t tried tamarind, I strongly urge you to do so, it is quite a flavour experience unlike anything else you’ve ever tried.
The tamarind paste was used as a sauce for the onion bhajis I made for the recent Indian feast for our neighbours.

Tangy, sour and sweet all at once.

Tangy, sour and sweet all at once.

Tamarind Chutney for Onion Bhajis

Makes about 1/3 cup

  • 1 teaspoon concentrated tamarind paste
  • 2-4 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder
  • 3 dried apricots (original recipe called for papaya powder which I did not have)
  • 1 cup water

Directions:

  1. In a small heavy bottom sauce pan, add the tamarind paste, apricot and sugar. Add about 1 cup of hot water to it and heat to a boil until the tamarind paste dissolves and the apricot is mushy. Blend well with an immersion blender. Strain out any hard bits from the tamarind paste.
  2. Add chili powder and mix well. Boil until all of the water evaporates and you are left with a thick rich sauce.
A perfect pairing to the onion bhajis

A perfect pairing to the onion bhajis

Allow me to digress dear readers; it was the late 1980’s and we were all newlyweds, excited to begin our lives in our new homes. Part of this excitement was the possibility of entertaining, and yes I do mean all grown up, playing house! I moved directly from my parents home into our marriage home so the thought of entertaining in our new house was exhilerating! We routinely rotated dinner parties so each of the new home-makers could enjoy the entertaining aspect of our new lives.

This dip has the perfect combination of flavours

This dip has the perfect combination of flavours

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, I assisted for a Christmas magazine shoot (for 2014) and there was a seafood dip recipe that I had to make. It contained copious amounts of expensive seafood (to be honest, I don’t know anyone who would be willing to spend that kind of money on a dip! $20 lobster, $45 canned lump crab and $10 shrimp, granted you only needed 3oz of each to make that dip) but it reminded me of a delicious warm crab that one of our friends made in the late 80’s! I remember asking her for a copy of the recipe which she clipped out of the Toronto Star (our local newspaper).

We were absolutely smitten the first time we tried the original warm crab dip. The dip has crab meat, cream cheese, onion, dill and horseradish, the combination is fantastic! So when I brought home some leftover crab meat I knew I wanted to make it for the 2013 entertaining season. Imagine my HORROR when I looked for the photocopied recipe and all I could find is this corner:

This is the only part of the recipe I could find!

This is the only part of the recipe I could find!

In total panic, I posted a plea on Facebook to all my friends to see if someone else had this wonderful recipe, but sadly I was out of luck. Thank you, by the way for your wonderful suggestions — you definitely had my mouth watering but I was on a mission for my particular recipe. So I put on my recipe developer hat and got to work trying to replicate this recipe from two decades ago and by George, I think I got it! I’ve used the decadent Jumbo Lump Crab meat because it’s what I had, but plain ordinary canned crabmeat works equally well, you just don’t get the giant lumps but the flavour is the same. I’m posting the recipe in the measurements I developed but you can half it easily. I like to freeze these types of baked dips in plastic lined smallish ramekins so that if I have unexpected company I can easily unwrap the plastic and pop it frozen into the specific ramekin and bake. If you bake the dip frozen, make sure to allow extra time to defrost while baking.

Warm Crab Dip

The almonds give it extra texture

The almonds give it extra texture

Makes about 1 1/2 cups dip

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 c Extra Smooth Ricotta Cheese
  • 1/2 cup Cream Cheese, room temperature
  • 1 tsp dill (dried is fine)
  • 2 tsp horseradish (the original recipe called for horseradish cream, but I never had horseradish cream on hand)
  • 2 tbsp red onion or shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 150 g crab meat (canned is perfectly fine here). It’s about 1/2 cup, or one can give or take. 
  • 1/4 c sliced almonds

Directions:

  1. Combine the ricotta, cream cheese, dill, horseradish, red onion and milk and mix well.
  2. Fold in the crab meat; if using lump make sure you leave some chunks but it’s not entirely necessary, I just prefer the way it looks.
  3. Season with salt.
  4. If you are making this for the future, line three half-cup ramekins with plastic wrap (like this).
  5. Divide the mixed dip into the three ramekins pressing into the ramekin so it will retain the shape. Try not to have too many folds so that the plastic comes off easily. Carefully twist the plastic wrap to seal. Place the ramekins in the freezer. Once the dip has frozen to the ramekin shape, remove the frozen dip and  label it and return the shaped dip to the freezer until needed. Put your ramekins away.
  6. About 30-40 minutes before serving, pre-heat the oven to 375° F. Remove plastic wrap from the frozen dip and pop the shaped dip into the original ramekin you used to freeze it. Place on a cookie sheet (it may boil over depending on how full your ramekin was) and bake for 30-40 minutes or until dip is bubbling in the centre.
  7. Remove the baked dip and sprinkle with almonds. Return to the oven and broil for a couple of minutes until the almonds are toasted. Serve with crostini, crackers or even sliced cucumbers.

This is an exciting week for me! I’m doing some recipe testing. Yes, that sounds exactly like it is — we test recipes developed by trained chefs (or home economists) to make sure the instructions work, the tastes work and it’s basically fool proof. It’s another skill I want on my resumé and through some lovely and generous connections in the biz, I was hired for this job! How cool is that? I cook, I love to cook, and now I get paid to cook!!! I’m really over the top on this one. Thank you lucky stars!

The holiday season is upon us and like you, I am on the lookout for some very tasty and elegant hors d’œuvres to serve at get-togethers. I posted photos of this deliciously easy hors d’œuvres in 2009 but I thought it was lovely enough to post again. The first time I saw this was on Food Network Canada but I can’t recall the chef or the name of the show (a search turned up neither). The recipe, which really isn’t a recipe, is so easy and so incredibly tasty you and your guests will wonder how you lived without this incredible treat. I know figs can be expensive this time of year in North America, but it’s well worth it; it’s an incredible combo of salty, sweet, tangy, savoury, chewy and creamy all in one.

Fresh Fig Appetizer

A delightful combination of salty, sweet, earthy and tangy.

Fresh Figs with Goats Cheese, Proscuitto and Arugula

Ingredients:

1 large fig will make 4-6 pieces, so count on 1 fig per person. Serves 4

  • 1 large fig, per person
  • 1 tbsp goats cheese, at room temperature
  • 4-6 stems of beautiful specimens of baby arugula
  • 1 slice of prosciutto, sliced into 4 (1 1/2 slices of prosciutto, sliced into 6)

Directions:

  1. Gently clean the figs and slice into 4 or 6 portions (this will depend entirely on the girth of your figs, remember you want them one-bite sized).
  2. Gently spread a thinnish layer of goats cheese over each slice of the prosciutto (that has been sliced into portions already(
  3. Add one beautiful, fresh stem of baby arugula to one end of the goat cheese covered slice of prosciutto, then add a fig wedge and begin to roll up.
  4. Present on a platter or store in an air tight container until ready to serve. I would let them get to room temperature for serving as the goats cheese and figs will be MUCH tastier.
  5. Watch them vanish like magic.
Fresh Fig Appetizer2

It’s worth the ridiculous prices of figs off season

Hello everyone! I am so sorry I was not able to post last week but I was booked the entire week for food styling assisting! I can’t believe it has taken off so well; of course, I take nothing for granted and keep pounding the pavement for my next job. Many of you have been interested in what this new position for me entails, well let me tell you. I met with the food stylist on Monday morning and we went over the recipes and shopping list. Of course, being the type of person I am, I had asked him to send me the list the week before because I wanted to prepare myself and practice if need be. Well, there was a need, BIG TIME! Of all the things to be prepping that week was CANDY! Now I’ve had some experience with candy making, but few and far between. I know some of the basic rules but I haven’t made a lot of candy. But the prepping wasn’t all of it, there was shopping to be done.

I had touched on shopping in a previous post so I’ll keep it brief this time; it’s gruelling. It’s about buying the most beautiful fruit/vegetable when it isn’t even in season! Next time you’re at the market, take a look at off season fruits/vegetables, the pickings are slim and what’s there isn’t even pretty. So it’s dragging your butt all over the city to buy the perfect beet is exhausting. But I do love grocery stores, so it’s not as bad as it sounds.

The shoot last week was on location, which for this particular situation meant it was at a home. Sounds like fun? Think again. The downtown home is chosen for the shot, and nothing else, particularly not the kitchen. Small, unknown (appliances); it’s a challenge. And then there was the parking issue — there was NO parking, hence the $30 ticket kindly left on my windshield by some thoughtful parking police person (thank you by the way)! But it went well and we’ll all see the results next year.

I also wanted to thank you for your kind wishes and your encouragement, it’s not easy starting out something new, but to do it at my age is even scarier; your encouragement and kind words have been paramount in my confidence and I can’t thank you enough. I would also like to thank you for not ostracizing me for failing to comment recently, I’ve been swamped and I’m just trying to get my balance back. I’m reading your blogs, I just haven’t been able to comment on my phone (usually reading in the middle of the night!), so I thank you.

Now back to the usual programming…

We were finally able to get into Gusto, a very popular restaurant on Portland in Toronto, but just. We decided that waiting in line for dinner was not our bag so we thought lunch might be more forgiving. We scored the last table on a recent visit with my niece (a newly graduated lawyer) and her botanist beau! You may recall that I got a bit ahead of myself and made their famous Kale Salad site unseen or palate tested! It turned out that I had it pretty close but their version was a tad sweeter — I have modified my recipe.

The restaurant itself is a very cool, contemporary warehouse design. Lots of super hard surfaces makes it very noisy and I suspect I wouldn’t like it as well at night because it was reasonably noisy at brunch when there isn’t as much boozing. Our server was friendly and attentive without being over bearing and was knowledgeable about the food. The courses were brought out with reasonable timing which made it an event instead of a rushed meal that some places offer. There was absolutely no attempt to rush us from our table and the place was packed.

I was happy to sees that the salad was served in a similar Christmas tree shape that I served our's in as so many of you commented. :-)

I was happy to see that the salad was served in a similar Christmas tree shape that I served our’s in as so many of you commented. 🙂

I thought I had taken photos of the other dishes we all ordered, but sadly they are no where to be found so I shall review only the Kale Salad which we ordered for the table and the Popilo which was my lunch dish.

The Kavolo Nero ($13.95)  was macerated with lemon juice and honey decorated with toasted pine nuts (the short Italian kind), Pecorino cheese and currents. Since I’ve tasted the real thing I have increased the honey a touch in my recipe and have switched up the currents for either dried cranberries or dried sour cherries. Parmesan can also be substituted for the Pecornino.

GustoPolipo_1175

Tender Grilled Octapus

The Polipo ($14.50) was a char-grilled octopus with an olive tapinade and a celery root cream with baby zucchini, chorizo all harmonized with a delightful sherry smoked paprika vinaigrette. It was wonderful and my mouth is still watering as I type this review. It was a decent portion as were all the other dishes at our table.

Overall rating of Gusto 101 (in my opinion): Decor 3.5/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 1.75/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

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

Gusto 101

101 Portland Street, Toronto
eat@gusto101.com
General inquiries: 416-504-9669

Mon: 11:30 am – 10:00 pm
Tue: 11:30 am – 11:00 pm
Wed: 11:30 am – 11:00 pm
Thu: 11:30 am – 1:00 am
Fri: 11:30 am – 1:00 am
Sat: 11:00 am – 1:00 am
Sun: 11:00 am – 10:00 pm

Recently we entertained our lovely neighbours across the street; it was a thank you dinner of sorts because they happened to rescue us on my benchmark birthday party this past summer when we ran out of beer! We asked them what kinds of food they enjoy and Indian was one of the selections. I love cooking Indian food but because there are just the two of us I usually don’t bother but doubling the audience makes it all the more worth-while. It was an extravagant meal so I started cooking a couple of days in advance and it really didn’t seem to be that much trouble; the saucy, stewy dishes of India lend themselves to being made ahead and allowing the flavours to combine over time making them taste so much better than the day they were made. I was very pleased with the results and will definitely make these dishes again in the future.

I also would like to thank Helene DeSouza (Masala Herb) for posting her favourite Palek Paneer recipe this month, if it wasn’t for her I likely would never have made this dish having tasted a restaurant version that was unremarkable. Helene’s recipe has the complex depth of flavours that one expects from Indian food. I urge you to try it.

The menu:

  • Onion Bhajis  (I made this one again and it was extremely tasty) with Tamarind Chutney (recipe to come)
  • Aloo Papri Chat (please click here for the recipe)
  • Carrot Pickle (please click here for the recipe)
  • Beef Bhuna (please click here for the recipe)
  • Butter Chicken (please click here for the recipe) NOTE: I used 1 lb fresh roma tomatoes and 2 cups of home made tomato sauce made from raw tomatoes cooked down and blended until smooth WITH oven roasted tomatoes blended and the whole thing run through a very fine sieve to get rid of the skin and seeds).
  • Palek Paneer (The Palek (spinach) gravy is new from Helene DeSouza who runs Masala Herb in Goya, India; recipe below)
  • Naan (please click here for the recipe) and Papadums (I bought some very special Papadums in Chicago when we visited with Chgo John of From the Bartolini Kitchens)
  • Chai Crême Brûlée (please click here for the recipe)

Paneer

The texture turned out perfectly this time.

The texture turned out perfectly this time.

This firm, unripened Indian cheese makes a rectangle 23 cm x 13 cm x 2 cm (9″ x 5″ x 3/4″).

This is the original recipe

Ingredients:

  • 4 liter Fresh whole milk
  • 5 tbsp lemon juice

Directions:

  1. Heat the milk in a deep and heavy bottom pan at medium heat (this is really important, so the milk doesn’t burn). Allow it come to a gentle boil (around 200 F) and stay there for a minute. Make sure the milk is not vigorously boiling, if it does, immediately reduce the heat and bring the milk back to gentle boil.
  2. Begin by adding the lemon juice a table spoon at a time, stirring gently to incorporate. With each addition you will notice that the milk separating. The final addition of lemon juice will separate the curds from the whey very obviously. Switch off the gas immediately or if you are cooking on electric, remove pan from the element to stop the heat.
  3. Line a sieve with double layered cheesecloth, making sure the cheesecloth is long enough to be bundled up and tied later. Pour the curd and whey through the cheese cloth. Set the whey aside or discard (I tried making ricotta from this whey but there was no more curd to be had. I understand that Whey is healthy so you can search the net to find uses, I did not and trashed it).
  4. Wash the curd in the cheese cloth, by running it through cold water to remove the lemon taste.
  5. Tie up the cheesecloth in a tight bundle and hang it over something to allow it to drain for about 30 minutes.
  6. Line a nice rectangular pan with a double folded cheese cloth making sure you have enough length and width to fold over the top. Add the curd to the pan, pressing it firmly into the pan. I didn’t press my corners and edges well enough and they were a bit crumbly. I used a small glass to help push the curd down and compress it. Place the  wrapped cheese between two cutting boards over a sink or a large pan and put a heavy pot on top for 1-2 hours.You don’t want to add too much weight for too long as it can drain out way too much moisture from the cheese making it hard and crumbly. Your cheese should have a slightly elastic texture so when you lightly press your finger into it, it will bounce back.
  7. Wrap it and store it in the fridge for up to a week or cover well with plastic wrap and freeze. Defrost entirely before use. If you find your cheese still is a bit too wet, you can store it LIGHTLY wrapped in the fridge and the chill will dehydrate it further (I did not have to).
  8. Cut the block into small one bite chunks and add to the Palek sauce to warm up. Be very gentle when stirring as to not crumble the cheese too much.
Paneer_1480

Cubes of firm unripened cheese remind me of firm tofu.

Palek Paneer (Spinach Gravy with Unripened Cheese Cubes)

Saag Paneer_1474

The lemon juice also helps to preserve the lovely green colour of the spinach.

Please click here to see Helene’s lovely recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 250 g baby spinach (or a standard large size bag)
  • 1 green Chili
  • 100 mL water
  • 1 small Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Oil
  • 1 tbsp Garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tsp Cumin Powder
  • 1 tsp Coriander Powder
  • pinch Cinnamon powder
  • ½ tbsp Garam Masala
  • ½ tbsp red Chili Powder
  • 1 tbsp Tomato Paste
  • splash of lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp cream
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 200 grams fresh Paneer bite size cubes (Indian Cottage Cheese)
  • cilantro and green onions to garnish.

Directions:

  1. Wash spinach well and if you’re not using baby spinach, remove all the hard stems.
  2. Blanch the spinach in 100 mL water, set aside.
  3. In 2 tbsp oil, fry the onions until caramelized. Add the garlic paste and stir for a moment. Add the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, Garam Masala and chili powder and allow to develop their aroma. As soon as you smell the herbs, remove from heat. Add the tomato past and combine with the blanched spinach.
  4. Purée with an emersion blender until very smooth, add a splash of lemon juice to brighten the flavours. Press through a fine seive.
  5. At this point you may put the finely puréed spinach mixture into a container and store in the fridge for a day or two.
  6. When you are ready to serve, reheat slowly in a pot, and add the two tablespoons of cream, salt and pepper. Add the Paneer and stir very gently so that the paneer does not break apart. Serve garnished with chopped cilantro and green onions.
Saag Paneer_1475

The gravy was rather thick, you can loosen it with water, vegetable stock or more cream.

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?

Bobbles_1460

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!

Step1 Urns_1458

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

Step2 Urns_1456

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

Step3 Urns_1454

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

Step4 Urns_1453

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.

Final Urns_1452

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.

SquashSoup_1273

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.

Creamed Broccoli Soup

I’ve been busy! And the next couple of weeks will be even busier! I’m so excited to tell you about an amazing opportunity that’s come up, I have been actually assisting with real food styling jobs. One of the recent jobs was for Food & Drink magazine assisting a prominent stylist; the next one will be on location somewhere up north for three days! The Food & Drink magazine is a gorgeous magazine produced by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (the single largest purchaser of alcohol in the world). They have a lofty budget to produce this gorgeous, glossy magazine; I’m also booked for about 4 additional days in December with a couple of other equally talented stylists so my life has become rather exciting. But because I’m away from my computer and not able to access my phone while on set I’m sorry if I miss a comment on your blog in the next while but I hope you’ll understand.

Let me tell you about my experience so far in assisting. Sometimes it means grocery shopping; I was fortunate enough to shadow a food stylist assistant as she shopped Toronto grocery stores for some rather unique ingredients. It starts with an email list and a call with the food stylist to chat about what is needed that day. Often the groceries are perishable so we buy only for what will be used that very day. After we clearly understand what each ingredient is for, we make lists and action plans. Remember my cottage lists? Let me say that my list-making abilities will come in very handy. We began our grocery journey at around 10am at the Maple Leaf Gardens Loblaw and were on the go until 3pm non-stop, visiting no less than 8 stores to pick up about $300 of various ingredients for recipe development. You may wonder what the most unique ingredient we sourced was? It was a mediterranean salt-cured fish which is also dried called Botargo (John – From the Bartolini Kitchens, please comment on what this might be used in). It was very expensive, clocking in at $79.99 for a piece that looked no more than 150 g or 5.5 oz! We also visited a very cool Asian grocer on Cherry Street called T&T where we bought fresh Galangal (Thai Ginger) and Chinese Chives (which are long, flat leaved, grass-like greens), but they had so much more. You just know I’ll be visiting that store again in the very near future. At the St. Lawrence Market we bought soft-shelled crabs, rabbit (did you know they leave the head on so you can be sure it’s not a cat?), Chorizo (raw and cured), farro and La Bomba rice (this is the same Paela rice I recently used here)! My imagination is going wild with the possibilities for these lovely ingredients. Our job is to buy the food ONLY. There is someone else called a Prop Stylist who is responsible to source all the cool props you may see included in a recipe photo.

But shopping is only half of it, the other half of assisting is advance preparation (which I haven’t done as yet) and on-site cooking where we are actually cooking the food for the camera. On my first shoot for F&D I had figured that I would be relegated to clean-up and general prep but I actually had the opportunity to cook for the actual shots — I made pesto, browned chicken, made savoury waffles to name a few! It was more than I dreamed it would be. The job is not for everyone, but I love being in the kitchen and I found it interesting and very satisfying. Working with the photographers, their assistants, the food stylist and prop stylist on-site is an amazing experience and I am excited and very grateful to be part of it. I think I’ve unexpectedly stumbled upon my dream job :-), which is pretty incredible because I thought I LOVED what I did before!

It’s definitely fall in Toronto, and while there are barely leaves clinging to the trees, while the colour of the sky has morphed into shades of grey (not fifty, let’s not go there), while the colour of the lake is more black than blue, our slow cookers are chugging away in our cozy kitchens up in Canada, brewing secret and not so secret recipes to fend away cold and flu season with the nutrition and comfort of soup. Take a look at any website, blog or even magazine and it’s about soup. I definitely have my favourites but I also like to switch it up a bit and so I’ve developed this tasty, all be it green, Broccoli Soup, without a spot of cream in it! Of course, you can add cream if you wish to your taste, but I’ll pass thank you very much.

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The polenta fries were a nice touch and a perfect colour contrast

Creamed Broccoli Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 good-sized head of local organic broccoli, cut into even florets, woody stems removed.
  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 1-2 medium-sized parsnips, cut into cubes
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • Water or stock to cover
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Sauté the onion until translucent, add the garlic and parsnip and sauté 5 minutes longer.
  2. Add the broccoli and cover with water. Cook until all vegetables are fork tender.
  3. Using an emersion blender, blend until smooth adding water or stock to desired consistency, salt and pepper to taste. Press through a fine sieve. Serve hot with Cheddar Polenta ‘Fries’
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There isn’t a spot of cream in this delightful soup

Butter Biscuits

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The biscuit was the perfect flaky texture to sop up the lovely gravy from the slow roasted Guinness Stew.

As you know we had our fourth progressive dinner on our street and you already know that I made this amazing Guinness Stew but what I didn’t tell you is that I had a major meltdown about four hours before the dinner was to begin. The stew was going perfectly smoothly, the aromas as it finished cooking on the day of filled the house, it was heavenly; the meat was fork tender, the vegetables still had a touch of bite to them and the cauliflower celeriac mash was creamy and wonderful. But I still needed to make the puff pastry topping.

I had fully intended on learning to make this wonderful laminated dough a few days before but as luck would have it, things got busy (I’m assisting more and more these days, but I’ll tell you about that later) so the day before I pulled out the emergency puff pastry dough from the freezer. I had a few errands to do that day and I finally got back to the house around 2pm which would have given me plenty of time to roll out the dough, cut and bake it ready for assembly for the dinner. But things would not go that smoothly.

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A very flaky biscuit indeed

As I pulled the dough out of the fridge, I found it looked a little odd, and then when I opened the package, it had gone off. I was stunned. When I checked the expiry date I realized my error, it was expired!!!! Well, that was that. Or was it? I tossed the package and quickly went to work; several weeks before I had read about a ‘quick’ laminated pastry dough that Liz (from That Skinny Chick Can Bake) made. So out came the iPad and I went to work! The ‘quick’ laminated pastry dough still required more hours than I had to allow the dough to rest in between foldings, but I was determined! I reduced the resting times significantly and I turned Liz’s sweet pastry dough into a savoury one, the results were exceptional. I didn’t use the entire batch so I stored the leftovers in the freezer, resting and I’ll get back to it in the near future, but this quirky version of ‘quick’ laminated dough exceeded my expectations and best of all, it was a hit at the dinner table. Thank you Liz, you saved the day!

Butter Biscuits — a ‘quick’ laminated pastry dough

I made 10 biscuits and put the remainder of the dough in the freezer for another time. Please check here for the original recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 tbsp bread maker quick dissolve yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 cm or 1/4″ thick slices
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tbsp merlot sea salt (I received the merlot sea salt as a gift from my friend Kristy at Our Family Food Adventures when we met up )

Directions:

  1. Add the warm water to a bowl and gently mix in the yeast and sugar. Allow to stand until frothy and then add the milk, egg and salt; set aside.
  2. Add the flour to a food processor with metal blades. Drop cut butter and the finely chopped rosemary into the flour, pulsing 8 to 10 times, so that the butter is cut into 1 cm or 1/2 inch pieces.
  3. Combine the flour mixture with the yeast mixture and gently fold the two with a rubber spatula,  just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Don’t be too energetic, the butter must remain in pieces so that you will produce a flaky pastry, not a bread dough or cookie.
  4. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.
  5. Lightly flour your work surface and turn the dough out onto it; dust very lightly with flour.
  6. Gently roll out the dough to 41 cm or 16 inches along one side and fold it into thirds similar to how one would fold a letter.
  7. Turn dough clockwise 1/4 turn. Roll out again into a narrow rectangle and fold into thirds again.
  8. Roll dough one more time into a 51 cm or 20 inch square and fold into thirds again to make a narrow rectangle, then fold up the ends to make a square. Cover with plastic wrap and put into the freezer for another 30 minutes. Note, it is very important to keep the dough cold so the butter doesn’t begin melting, if you find it’s warming up, put back into the freezer for a few minutes to cool down.
  9. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  10. Roll the dough out to a 1 cm or 1/2 inch thickness and using a desired cookie cutter (mine was a triangle that was about 20 cm or 4 inches wide).
  11. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle merlot sea salt on top.
  12. Place triangles onto a cookie sheet and bake 15-20 minutes until the tops are golden.
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I decorated the biscuit with Merlot Sea Salt

We celebrated our fourth Progressive dinner a few weeks ago with our lovely neighbours. During the last dinner the boys dreamed up our next theme: Beer! I was lucky enough to be next up for the main course so I was excited because I don’t often cook with beer and I don’t often make stew; I was thinking Guinness Stew!

We started at house one with a variety of beer cheeses and beer candied bacon (definitely on my list to make!), they also served a delicious Steam Whistle Butternut Squash Soup garnished with bits of the candied bacon and a splash of cream, very tasty indeed. Then of course it was our place and then at the third house we enjoyed dessert which was a fantastic Beer Brownie, it was definitely moist and flavourful. All of the dishes were wonderful and the company was great. We’ve even determined our next theme: Mad Men! We’re going to have fun with that as far as I could tell, all they did was eat cake and drink. Should be an interesting party!

Guinness is by far my favourite beer; thick, creamy, caramel tones and even a little liquorish flavours are a perfect pairing with the hearty, earthy beef. My friend Angela (of Titanic Anniversary, Truman Capote’s Black and White, James Bond 60th Anniversary dinner parties) served up this Beef and Guinness Stew for the Bond party and I knew it would be the recipe I wanted to make. Plus it has Guinness in it. Did I mention it has Guinness in it?

I made this stew the day before because stews always taste better the next day and I would urge you to do the same. JT confessed he likes this stew better than his Bœuff Bourguignon! Make sure you refrigerate overnight and then bring it to room temperature before you reheat. I also added carrots because one of our neighbours is not a mushroom eater so I wanted another vegetable in it and it tastes and looks amazing. I used eye of round which is a rather tough cut of beef, but I wanted to bake it longer at a lower temperature and I wanted a meat that would stand up; it was amazing, totally fork tender keeping its shape for serving. I also added a bit of beef stock when I reheated because the sauce thickened up a bit too much, use your own discretion on how thick or watery you want your sauce to be. Guinness’ website offers up a recipe that looks very watery but it’s entirely up to you.

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The biscuits were perfect for this type of stew

Guinness Beef Stew

Serves 6-8 (it’s a filling meal, so you may even get 9 out of it!)

(original recipe is by Executive chef John Cordeaux of The Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto as published in Canadian Living) I have altered the original recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb (907 g) eye of round beef roast, trimmed and cut into 5-8 cm (2-3″) cubes (I like bigger chunks of meat, serving size is 2-3 per person
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) vegetabIe oil
  • 6 slices chopped bacon
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) butter
  • 1 medium Vidalia onion, finely sliced
  • 4 cups (1 L) small mushrooms, either halved (if large) or whole (if small)
  • 2 cups carrots, sliced in 2-3 cm (1.5″) chunks
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) all purpose flour
  • 1 can (440ml) Guinness draught beer
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) grainy mustard (I made my own here)
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) white pepper
  • 1 cup of beef stock (to be added when reheating the stew)
  • Fresh Rosemary to garnish

Directions:

  1. In ovenproof Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat and brown the beef in batches, transferring to bowl using slotted spoon (don’t drain, you’ll want the liquid from the beef too).
  2. Once the meat has been browned and removed, cook the bacon until crisp, 5 to 8 minutes; remove bacon with slotted spoon to a piece of paper towel to drain and then reserve.
  3. Drain off the pan fat and melt the butter over medium head. Add the onions and sweat until translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook until all the liquid has evaporated. Reserve the mushrooms (I was concerned that they would over cook over the 3 hours in the oven).
  4. Stir in the tomato paste and cook continually stirring for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and cook stirring for another minute. Whisk in Guinness, grainy mustard, salt and pepper until smooth.
  5. Return beef and bacon and juices to the pan, cover and bake at 250°F (121° C) until beef is tender, about 2.5-3 hours.
  6. In the meantime, peel and cut carrots into chunks. Roast on a cookie sheet for about 1 hour (not 100% done).
  7. When beef is cooked, add the carrots and mushrooms and allow to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until day of serving.
  8. Remove beef from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature (2-3 hours).
  9. Pre heat the oven to 200°F (93° C). On the stove top, warm beef slowly to boiling, adding beef stock as required. Fold instead of stirring to avoid breaking apart the meat.
  10. Cover and put into the oven until ready to serve.
  11. Serve with Cauliflower Celeriac “Mashed Potatoes” and a Butter Biscuit (recipe).
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Thick, rich Guinness Stew, I know you want some!

Note: Don’t be concerned that the stew might be bitter, the long cooking process, sweet tomato paste and onions certainly round out what ever bitterness there may have been. Allowing to rest overnight also helps round out the flavours.

It’s Remembrance day in Canada today, so let’s all take a moment to remember those who have sacrificed so much for the freedoms we have come to expect today.
A few Thursday’s ago I had the fortunate opportunity to attend a KPMG Woman’s Interchange Network Event at Toronto’s MaRS Centre on College and University. This particular event was focused on celebrating our inner champions with our very own she-ro, Winter AND Summer Olympian, Clara Hughes!

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Even the title was inspirational: The Heart of a Champion.

I met up with a KPMG colleague and Barb (Profiteroles and Ponytails, Barb and I also met at KPMG many moons ago). The evening began around 6pm in the main lobby of the MaRS centre with tasty cocktails and delicious hors d’œuvres (you knew I would have to wind food into this post somehow!). We reconnected with old colleagues and friends and we met new interesting ladies. Of course, the star of the show was our very own she-ro Clara Hughes.

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To say Clara Hughes was inspirational would be an understatement.

Clara spoke so comfortably and so eloquently that I forgot I was amidst 200+ women in an auditorium; her stories were poignant and deliberate, telling of the path her life took leading her to be a six-time Olympic Medalist in both Summer AND Winter Olympics. Being an olympian is no easy feat and Clara had to overcome depression throughout her athletic career; her stories told how she overcame depression and feels it necessary to acknowledge that life isn’t always filled with sunshine, that there are gloomy days too, and that the gloomy days shape us in ways we need to understand. Clara is a firm believer in giving back and is actively involved in Canada’s Right to Play , she is also spokesperson for Bell’s Let’s Talk program, an organization that provides an “extensive array of initiatives to support anti-stigma [of mental illness], increased access to care, additional research and the creation of an overall culture of mental health” (from their website). Clara is riding across Canada, raising money and awareness for Let’s Talk, with several stops to a variety of schools and auditoriums along the way. She was so excited talking about this project because it wasn’t just about riding her bike and raising funds, it was about the interactive programs along the way that would give this event legs!

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She made me want to run a marathon.

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Clara was so generous that she brought her Olympic medals (she had a few) and allowed us to wear them for the photo!

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This was a traditional Canadian treat with a twist, can you guess what it is?

At the Delicious Food Show, JT and I happened upon a lovely vendor who makes the most beautiful savoury Shortbread Cookies. You know that I’m definitely more of a savoury person (no pun intended!) so I was excited to make these delicate little cookies as soon as I got home. I didn’t want the rosemary to be too overwhelming so there isn’t that much of it, feel free to add more. You could also brush the tops with a beaten egg and sprinkle a little flavoured sea salt on each one, but I didn’t want to fuss that much. I served these for cocktails with one of our neighbours as part of an antipasto platter. They were very much appreciated!

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We bought three types of cheese, three types of meat and served it with grapes, grilled tomatoes on the vine, roasted almonds, bacon jam and the Ice Wine Syrup

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The light is beginning to fade to winter.

Cheddar Rosemary Shortbread Cookies

Makes about 72 little single bite cookies. Original recipe can be found here.

Ingredients:

  • 227 g Old Cheddar Cheese (or any other sharp cheese that would pair well with rosemary)
  • 1 tsp salt (or less if using a saltier cheese)
  • 2 1/2 cup Flour (cake and pastry)
  • 227 g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary

Directions:

  1. Sift together salt and flour; set aside. Using electric mixer with cookie dough hook, cream together cheese and butter until well blended.
  2. Gradually add dry ingredients: if dough becomes too thick, use a wooden spoon to stir but don’t work it too much, this is shortbread so you don’t want to activate the glutens too much. Divide dough in half and shape into rounds; wrap well in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour or freeze for another time.
  3. Preheat oven to 350° F (177° C). Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll the dough quickly into 2mm or 1/4″ thick sheet and cut with a small cookie cutter (I used 4 cm or 1 3/4″ round for these, they do shrink a bit). Put dough into refrigerator while waiting to bake batches.
  4. Bake just until slightly golden, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from baking sheets and cool on a wire. Store in an air tight container or freeze, as I do. To serve, thaw desired amount at room temperature and serve.
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The rosemary is very subtle in this tender savoury shortbread cookie.

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.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! You may think that I’m referring to Christmas, but then you’d be wrong. It’s Halloween, of course! JT and I traditionally have a pumpkin carving contest, and this year is no different. We scour the net for unusual pumpkin patterns and when we find one we get down to the dirty job of carving. Carving is made easier with the right tools, but then again isn’t everything? I bought a set of pumpkin carving tools at an end of season sale last year and wish I had bought two sets! So in light of the grand tradition, I’m going to ask you to vote on your favourite pumpkin! May the best pumpkin win!

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Vote for me. Vote for me!

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Vote for me. Vote for me!

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Hope the decorations and the scary music doesn’t frighten the wee ones too much!


We were craving a unique hors d’œuvres so I remade a traditional polenta recipe into a delightful orange snack: polenta “fries”! The orange is strictly from the sharp cheddar. And the best part is that you can easily freeze these babies for those lovely drop-ins during the holiday season.

Cheddar Polenta “Fries”

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They are crispy on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fine cornmeal
  • 2 cups stock (vegetable, beef or chicken)
  • 150 g grated old cheddar cheese
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • Pinch of chili flakes
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped chives

Directions:

  1. Bring stock to a boil and add the smoked paprika and chili flakes.
  2. Slowly add the cornmeal, whisking quickly as you add it.
  3. Add the grated cheese and mix well.
  4. Turn heat right down to low and cook for 10-15 minutes until it no longer feels as hard grain.
  5. Turn into a parchment lined square Pan about 22 cm x 22 cm or 9″ x 9″ and press down evenly and firmly. Allow to cool.
  6. Cut into 1cm or 1/2″ wide “fries” about 5 cm or 3″ long. Fry each side until golden in a light oil.
  7. Serve warm with marinara sauce or salsa.

Other serving suggestions:

  • Serve with soup instead of crackers.
  • Cut into small rounds and serve instead of rice or potatoes with a gravies meat.
  • Cut into small rounds and serve as ‘crackers’ topping with a cold cut or a pickle round!
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Marinara Sauce or Salsa are the perfect accompaniment.

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You sure I can’t interest you in even one?

Shortly after I became manager of the Creative Team at KPMG, the group moved into the brand new Scotia Plaza tower, then renowned for being the tallest building tower in Toronto (First Canadian Place had more floors but Scotia Plaza was taller!) You may have heard of Scotia Plaza in Toronto because it was the tower that was used in several scenes in the famous movie Three Men and a Baby, with Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg, Ted Danson. They filmed during the construction phase at Scotia Plaza because Peter Mitchell, played by Tom Selleck was an architect on that project.

Tragedy hit both the filming and construction when two of the construction workers were horrifically killed in the elevator shaft; there was talk of the elevator safety system failing and the elevator ‘fell’ upwards, crushing the men to death. I can’t find documentation of this (before the internet) but I seem to recall that filming and construction were suspended for investigations. We moved into the tower well after completion, in fact, it had been up and running for quite some time, and not without incidence.

Working late in the tower meant enjoying the quiet solitude because the HVAC systems were on a timer and unless you called down and requested to have the AC/Heat left on, it went dead silent around 6:30pm; that meant that you could hear a pin drop, it also meant that you were able to hear the creaking, groaning and moaning attributed to the steel supports within the structure. Or was it? I have to admit that I had several occasions to work late, well past the hustle and bustle and the HVAC timer, but other than my imagination, I felt nothing out of sorts — until that strange morning.

Scotia Plaza has several banks of elevators and I believe they were set up piggy back so that you always had two elevators moving, one servicing the even floors and one for the odd floors in of banks of 10. Fortunately for me, I worked on the 53rd floor so my floor was at the beginning of the bank of 10, so I never had to experience the ‘milk run’. That fine morning, I had popped downstairs to pick up some dip for a gathering and was returning to my office around 10am. It was passed the rush hour but people were starting to emerge for their morning coffee. I was waiting for the elevator with one gentleman. The elevator arrived and we both stepped in. I pushed the 53rd floor and he pushed 55. The doors closed and the elevator began to move. Now these elevators are super fast, it’s just seconds to reach the 50th bank, it’s not at all uncommon to have your ears pop as you ascend. The count-down to your floor doesn’t start until you reach your particular bank, and then it beeps every time a floor is passed. Beep 51, Beep 53, Beep 55 and then nothing WITHOUT stopping! As we approached the top level of our bank, the elevator slowed thank goodness. We tried pressing buttons to stop the elevator to get out, but it had a mind of its own and continued. At 61, it slowed down and almost stopped but then decided to return to ground level, fortunately for us, at normal speed. At ground level the doors opened and we emerged pale-faced and totally freaked out. I stepped out determined not to get into that particular elevator again and took the next one up without incident. The remainder of my tenure at Scotia Plaza was uneventful.

I couldn’t help but think if this little prank was the creation of the two men who died in the very elevator banks in that building; I guess we’ll never know. But I do know that if I had made a home-made dip, I wouldn’t have had to go down to the concourse that morning.

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A slightly tangy but very creamy dip with the perfect balance of salt and lemon juice.

This dip comes from my friend Charlie (Hotly Spiced) way down in Australia; she made it as part of three vegan dips for her daughter’s 19th birthday (which is ridiculous, as she barely looks 19 herself!). I was at my brother’s cottage in Muskoka when I read this delicious recipe and knew I had to try it. Of course, all the ingredients were available because of the Hollywood connection, unlike our cottage stores which are run by deer and chipmunks!

I only made a few alterations but I suggest you take a look at Charlie’s lovely blog, she always has a story that will make you laugh! Please excuse the photo, it was a quick decision but such a delicious recipe I had to post. Perhaps in the near future I will update the hideous shot!

Artichoke and Parmesan Dip

Serves: 8-10

Ingredients:

  • 500 g jar of marinated artichokes, drained
  • 1 generous tbsp salted capers, rinsed
  • rind of 1 lemon, plus juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus 1 tbsp for garnish
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

  1. Add everything BUT 1 tbsp Parmesan Cheese and a pinch on lemon rind into a small blender and blend until smooth.
  2. Garnish with 1 tbsp Parmesan and lemon rind.
  3. Serve with rice crackers (to make it gluten free).
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The aroma that wafted through the cottage was intoxicating. Or maybe it was the wine.

My family has always been cake people; JTs family are pie people. I always thought it was the difference between Europeans and the English. We usually had some fruit with or in our cakes whereas JTs family always had some pastry with their fruit. This was never a big deal for us because I’m not much of a dessert eater, but it did pose a challenge because I had to learn how to make a pie! Now that we’re more accustomed to each other, I make a variety of cakes and pies and JT happily samples them.

Recently, my friend Barbara Bamber from Calgary author of Just a Smidgen posted a gorgeous Martha Stewart recipe for a fall apple cake and I was smitten! When I suggested that I bake this cake to take over to my niece’s cottage-fest on our last weekend at the cottage JT was all over it. It’s moist and quite flavourful, the perfect mix of fruit and cake. We served it warm and at room temperature and both were very tasty. Although cake is always considered a treat, this could be perfect as a breakfast muffin, made in smaller portions.

Martha Stewart’s Apple-Cranberry Cake

makes one 9″ spring-form pan cake

Ingredients:

  • sugar for dusting pan
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 6 tbsp butter, unsalted and melted, plus a bit more for the pan
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used skim)
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3 Golden Delicious or Janagold apples, peeled, cored and sliced into 2 mm sliced wedges
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp butter cut into pieces

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Butter a 9″ springform pan and line the bottom with parchment. Sprinkle with sugar and shake the pan to coat.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
  3. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together melted butter, 3/4 cup brown sugar, milk and eggs.
  4. Slowly fold the butter mixture into the flour mixture, just stirring until blended.
  5. Spoon the batter mixture into the prepared springform pan, smooth the top evenly.
  6. Arrange the apple slices and dried cranberries as you wish onto the cake batter. Then press each piece of fruit gently down into the batter.
  7. Sprinkle over with the 2 tbsp brown sugar and cinnamon. Top the brown sugar by dotting the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter over.
  8. Bake until top is golden and the fruit has softened, about 35-50 minutes in a convection oven (fan oven for my European friends), or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Notes:

I added cinnamon to the batter, the original recipe did not have it.

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Next time I will shroud with foil so that the top doesn’t darken as quickly.

As you know I’m a free agent at this particular juncture in my life and although I am keeping my ear to the ground and looking actively for work in my field, I am pretty realistic about the prospects out there and I’m keeping an open mind. The support from my blogging peeps is phenomenal and I thank you for your interest and offer to help! I am constantly touched and surprised by the generosity and kindness of, for all intensive purposes, strangers! It is because of you I am keeping my mind open for alternative opportunities, one such opportunity became a reality just two weeks ago.

About a year and a half or so ago, I had the good fortune to be invited to a taping of Top Chef Canada, Season 3 and there I met with Lucie Richard, Toronto-based Food Stylist with whom I chatted extensively about her craft. At that time, she very generously offered to have me ‘assist’ on one of her photo shoots. Two weeks ago it came to fruition and I assisted on a National Brand ice cream shoot. You cannot imagine how excited I was!

Ice cream is one of the most difficult things to shoot because of the very short window of opportunity before it begins to melt. I was thrilled to experience such a challenging product with one of the best in the field; Lucie was kind and generous with her advice and patience and she taught me an incredible volume of information on shooting ice cream. The tricks of the trade tend to be quite personal and what one stylist does may not necessarily be exactly what another does, so experiencing variety is key to coming up with your own tricks of the trade. The client has very specific expectations in what the characteristics of the ice cream should look like so you really need to know what you’re doing.

We used dry ice to super cool the tools, we worked in small batches for short periods of time, constantly re-freezing the ice cream so it doesn’t glaze over in the melting process. And the studio was kept very cool with air conditioning so I brought a sweater and I even brought gloves in case I needed to warm my hands. Of course, the work is fast and furious and there is no time to be cold.

The trends 15-20 years ago was to use ‘fake’ product. Ice cream was a highly guarded secret recipe of shortening, food colourings and inclusions. Today, most companies want the real deal and that in itself presents some interesting opportunities. And then there is Photoshop®, which has at times saved this incredible craft. We even took Photoshop into consideration, shooting slightly brighter and darker versions of the same shot in order to make sure we have what it takes to make the best composite. Of course, the Photoshopers are so skilled and talented, you can’t tell that they have added a little of this and a little of that to make that shot.

The client was very happy with the ice cream photo and we even finished a few minutes early. It was a huge success for me, and gave me the confidence to send out notes to my Food Stylist peeps that I’d love to assist. Who knows, this may become something!

Sadly, blogging is the driver and result of cooking passion; I make recipes for meals that I want to blog about. But we also want to eat the food I blog about. It’s wasteful to make an extra portion just for the blog so either JT or I will suffer with the pretty but stone cold blog version of a dish or eat separately which is what happened with this amazing ‘ravioli’.

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The pasta is relatively thin, so you can see all the good stuff inside!

Some time ago I saw this unique ‘ravioli’ treatment on my friend Celi’s blog (the kitchen’s garden), she was inspired to make this delightful dish after her daughter who works in a very upscale restaurant in Melbourne told her about it. We were at the cottage at the time I read the post and you know how we are unable to divert from plan because of ingredient limitations, so I was itching to make this beautiful dish as soon as we returned to the city.

One thing led to another and it wasn’t until the Friday before Thanksgiving that I finally got it together to make this tasty dish. Thank you Celi, it is exceptional! It’s reasonably fussy so I will have to figure out a way to simplify it so I can make it as a starter for a dinner party. I used John’s recipe (from the Bartolini Kitchen) for the pasta dough (with minor modifications) and Celi’s rough description for the filling. Even JT commented that he would definitely have it again. So it’s a win/win, all the way around. Thank you Celi and John for inspiring me to make this gorgeous dish.

The ravioli is comprised of sautéed spinach, ricotta and parmesan cheese  and the crowning glory is the simple egg yolk enveloped within the light pasta dough. When it is cooked, the yolk is simply warmed so that it becomes thick but remains runny and once it’s broken into, it mixes with the sage brown butter and becomes a delightful sauce over the ricotta, spinach and pasta. This is definitely a winner and will be shared with friends soon.

Ravioli with Egg Yolk and Sage Brown Butter Sauce (uova-da-raviolo)

I forgot to sprinkle additional parmesan on this one, shhhh.

I forgot to sprinkle additional parmesan on this one, shhhh.

Serves 2 with lots of pasta left over (I made additional plain ravioli and filled it with seasoned ricotta and froze them for future use).

Ingredients, for the pasta:

  • 1 scant cup flour
  • 2 egg whites

Directions, for the pasta:

  1. In a food processor, combine the flour and egg whites and process until you achieve a ball of dough.
  2. Allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes.

Ingredients, for the brown butter sauce:

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp finely sliced sage
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced

Directions, for the Brown Butter Sauce:

  1. Melt the butter and cook until it is brown, remove from heat and add the sage and garlic and allow to infuse while making the filling.

Ingredients, for the ravioli filling:

  • 2 whole egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 2 handfuls of spinach
  • 1/4 cup ricotta
  • 1 roasted garlic, puréed (I used a fork)
  • 2 tbsp Parmesan Cheese, and 1 tbsp for garnish

Directions, for the ravioli filling:

  1. In a small frying pan, sauté the spinach with a splash of EVOO until wilted, set aside to cool.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the ricotta, roasted garlic and 2 tbsp parmesan cheese. Taste and season with salt as desired.

Directions, for assembly of the ravioli:

  1. Heat a large deep pan of salted water to a steady boil.
  2. Roll out four thin sheets of pasta about 10-15cm in diameter (4-6″) (I used #5 on my Kitchenaid Pasta Attachment, but I think #6 would have worked very well too).
  3. In the centre of two of the pasta sheets, add a mound of spinach and on top of that add 1/2 the ricotta mix. Make a divot in the centre and add the room temperature, raw egg yolk. Place the second sheet on top and push out any air and seal the edges well. Cut this into a shape or leave it rustic.
  4. In the meantime, reheat the brown butter sauce on low.
  5. Boil the large ravioli for 2-3 minutes or until the pasta is completely cooked but leaving the egg yolk runny. Serve with the hot brown butter sauce and parmesan cheese for garnish. If you have a few extra sage leaves, add them as garnish too.
  6. Enjoy while the yolk is still runny.
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The egg yolk oozes out and mixes with the brown butter very nicely.

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We had these for lunch, for appetizers I will make them smaller and use small egg yolks!

October is slipping through our fingers very quickly. Socially, we are already booking into November which never ceases to amaze me. Blogs are filling the virtual world with comforting fall recipes, halloween decorations and stories. My dear friend Kelly (a fellow Canadian who recently moved to California , the delightful writer and creative genius of Inspired Edibles) made a comment on my last spooky story about a haunted house tour in London she participated in several years ago and that reminded me of my own haunting experience in the UK. So I would like to continue with the Spooky Story series on my humble blog (to be honest, I had no idea I had so many of them!) Please pardon the photos in this post of our trip to the UK, they were before digital cameras and I simply took an iPhone photo of them for this post!

It was about 4 years into our marriage and JT and I were vacationing in the UK; we rented a car and drove from  town to town from the south-west to the south-east culminating our adventure in London for a few days (as a side note: we saw the Queen Mother speed along in her Rolls Royce while we were walking to Buckingham Palace). We specifically chose to stay in old mansions and guest houses on this trip, it was not only budget friendly but it also was much more fun than the large international hotels.

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Bibury Court Hotel

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This was high fashion in 1990! Well, at least my hair was high.

One such town was Bibury which is a quaint little picturesque town in the heart of the Cotswolds. We stayed at a very large, very old manor house Bibury Court Hotel, incidentally the same manor house that JT and his dear Mom stayed in several years earlier. “The hotel is found on the edge of the famous village of Bibury, once described by William Morris as ‘the most beautiful village in England” taken verbatim from their website!

On these holidays, one of the things JT really loves to do is visit old castles and there were plenty of them in England; of course his favourite part of the castle was always the dungeon! As you can well imagine, my young self was not thrilled at such prospects, but as a good young wife, I accompanied him through many a dungeon throughout England and each one gave me the willies — some worse than others.

After our visit to Warwick Castle, I was particularly spooked. Not sure why, but as soon as I entered the very ghoulish dungeon I had an uneasy feeling and some very cold air wafted over me (of course, dungeons are cold and damp so that wasn’t entirely unusual).  The uneasy feeling was so overwhelming that I was unable to spend more than a second in the dungeon and we had to cut our time short. We retreated to our lovely manor house on the edge of town.

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This was the creepiest room by far in the dungeon.

We rented a lovely room which was pleasantly decorated and reasonably spacious for the time. But the view was something to be desired, particularly by someone who was recently spooked by dungeon spirits; our room over looked the grave yard (cue scary music). JT was nice enough to see if there was another room facing a different direction but sadly they were fully booked so we were stuck. I said it didn’t bother me, but you know it did.

We had a lovely dinner in the converted restaurant coach house and an after dinner drink in the quaint little bar tucked in beneath the grand old staircase in the manor house. And then it was time to retire. I tried not to think of the old cemetery, but it weighed heavily on my mind.

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That was the window that the wind and ghosts were pouring in from. The grave yard was directly outside.

Eventually, I drifted off to sleep but it wasn’t a restful sleep. As I lay curled up on the comfy bed, snuggled under the generous duvet, the large windows facing the grave yard at the foot of the bed flung themselves open and the curtains wafted menacingly in the cold fall winds sending a chill throughout the room. But it wasn’t just wind blowing in; there were ghosts…lots of them. Apparently that is the moment I jumped out of bed and screamed to shut the windows. Of course, the windows were not open and nor were there cold winds nor ghosts blowing in. Occasionally, when I am stressed I talk in my sleep and the only way to console me is to agree and remedy, however ridiculous it may be. JT learned this lesson with the bed spiders (sorry Chgo John, that’s a whole other story). So JT simply got up and pretended to whisk out the ghosts,  close the windows and lock them down tight, explaining what he was doing along the way.  That seemed to be good enough for  me and I was able to continue my sleep with the consolation that the grave yard and ghosts were on the other side of the locked windows. The next morning, JT took quite the delight in telling me the story but I had no recollection!

I’m sure it was the heavy, meat laden meal I had that night which no doubt contributed to my restless night; had I chosen something lighter, such as vegetarian Paella, I may not have had such vivid dreams of ghosts and grave yards!

I have documented several paella recipes on my blog (please see here, and here)

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A traditional Paella Pan is essential to make this authentic dish

Seafood Paella with Salmon Chorizo

Original recipe from Matiz La Bomba Paella Rice on back of bag. This particular bag of rice was a beautiful gift from our biscotti neighbour, wasn’t that thoughtful? This was only the second time I made this dish the authentic way on top of the stove. Nothing was even remotely over cooked!

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c dry white wine
  • 1 tsp saffron
  • approximately 650 g of seafood, I used Shrimp, Bay Scallops, Salmon and Cod
  • 1 Salmon Chorizo (for recipe, please click here)
  • 4 cups vegetable or fish broth, warmed
  • 1/2 vidalia onion, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes (I used unsalted)
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced finely
  • 1/4 c green peas
  • 1/4 c sweet corn
  • 3/4 cup of La Bomba Pealla Rice
  • 2 tbsp EVOO

Directions:

  1. About 1 hour to 1 day prior tocooking the Paella, add the saffron to the white wine and refrigerate.
  2. In a Paella Pan, on medium heat, add 2 tbsp EVOO and sweat the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the chopped red pepper and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic, diced tomatoes  and white wine saffron mix and simmer for another 5 minutes. This is the Sofrito.
  4. Add La Bomba rice and stir until the rice is thoroughly covered with the Sofrito.
  5. Slowly add the broth to the paella, moving the rice around gently until it is evenly distributed throughout the pan. The instructions indicate not to stir the rice after this point.
  6. After about 10 minutes of simmering, add your selection of seafood into the mixture, evenly distributing and gently burying it within the rice. After 15 minutes, add the peas and corn and cook for another 10 minutes.
  7. Once the broth has been completely absorbed, remove from heat and cover with a lid or aluminum foil and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
  8. Serve in the Paella pan garnished with lemon and lime wedges (which I forgot!).
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The rice is short grain and soaks up the vegetable stock like a risotto rice would, making a deliciously creamy dish;jl

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Our neighbours were kind enough to bring us back authentic Paella rice called La Bomba.

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I even used Saffron from Morocco! The dish was perfect in every way.

I thought you might enjoy some photos from the Thanksgiving weekend in Muskoka:

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Unfortunately, the colours were just past their prime.

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Some of the golden colours were still quite beautiful.

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The scenery made for a beautiful drive.

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A few leaves still hanging on for dear life!

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Sunrise from the boat house at my brother’s place

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The setting sun still produces an incredible effect in the sky.

Hope all the Canadians reading this post are having a Happy Thanksgiving this weekend! The second Monday of October has been designated as Canadian Thanksgiving, not sure why, but we’ll take a holiday in October any day of the week!

We used to spend Thanksgiving at the cottage, often inviting my dear Mom and her hubby Geo, but since her passing in 2005, we’ve been invited to my brother’s cottage in the Muskoka. It’s quite a different life-style than ours to have a cottage in Muskoka. For example, you needn’t do much grocery shopping in the city because you can get everything and anything you need for the weekend in one of the well stocked grocery stores; in comparison, last time I forgot Parmesan Cheese and I was even going to settle for the powdered prepackaged cheese but our little shop didn’t even have that, so we had to drive an hour to find it! You might wonder why it’s so different in the Land of the Thousand Lakes (our cottage area) and Muskoka. Well, let me tell you. It’s because Hollywood has descended on Muskoka and while we have 1,000-2,000 square foot cottages (93-186 square metres) (ours is about 600 square feet), Muskoka boasts 10,000 and 20,000 square foot cottages (930-1860 square metres) with helipads and landing strips!  There is name dropping in Muskoka whereas we just talk about the dear we may have seen on the back road driving in. Goldie Hawn has a sprawling cottage on the same lake as my brother. We’ve never really been close to it, but apparently people think it’s ok to moor their boat and hop out to look around. She has security. My SIL spotted her in their local grocery store, where you could order Sushi grade tuna for the weekend (I’m lucky to get mac and cheese at ours). Steve Martin visits Martin Short who also has a nice place down the road on my brother’s lake. I heard that Steve Martin is very kind and hands out business cards that prove you’ve met him: “this  certifies that you have had a personal encounter with me and that you found me warm, polite, intelligent and funny” and of course he signs it. Martin Short’s wife once ran after my brother while he jogged down the road in front of their place to warn him that there have been bears seen that very morning! So you see, while we hob nob with the dear, chipmunks, bunnies and beavers, the folks in the Muskoka’s hob nob with the rich and famous.

My brother’s family is down to earth and their cottage is much more modest than those around them. They are generous to a fault and we always eat well and drink copious amounts of wine when we visit. We’ve had balmy 24°C days and on the very same weekend, we’ve had snow flurries! But it’s always a relaxing weekend to connect with family and take long quiet walks around the lake.

Snow flurries a few years ago. View from the dining room and kitchen.

Snow flurries a few years ago. View from the dining room and kitchen.

Although I didn’t make this galette for the Thanksgiving weekend, it dawned on me that it would be the perfect sweet for afternoon tea or dessert after a big turkey dinner. I used the lavender sugar that my dear friend Barb (Profiteroles and Ponytails) brought up when they visited us at the cottage this summer. It just made this dessert that much fancier! Thanks Barb.

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The Lavender Sugar was a gift from my friend Barb from Profiteroles and Ponytails

Apple Rhubarb Galette with Lavender Sugar

Serves 6-8

The Galette Pastry Recipe comes from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 Galette pastry
  • 1/2 c Rhubarb
  • 3 Apples, chopped into equal-sized pieces
  • 2 tbsp all purpose unbleached flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tbsp egg white for brushing pastry
  • 1 tbsp Lavender Sugar for garnish

Directions:

  1. Combine the apples and rhubarb and dust with the spices, sugar and flour, coating evenly
  2. Roll out the galette pastry to about 10cm or 3 inches larger than required. Fill centre with the fruit and turn up the sides to form the galette.
  3. Brush pastry with egg white and bake for 25 minutes or until edges are golden brown and fruit is soft.
  4. Remove from the oven and dust with 1 tbsp Lavender Sugar.
  5. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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The Rhubarb was the perfect foil for this sweet dessert

The rhubarb came from our dear friend’s Monica and Rae’s garden in Toronto. I still have some in the freezer, it will be a welcome taste of summer in mid-winter!

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Can you see the little Lavender Flowers?

As we are approaching the end of autumn and the beginning of a long cold winter, I am once again excited about… Halloween! Last year I started telling you about some spooky stories all true, and now I’m going to continue this tradition. Buckle your seat belts ladies and gents.
JT and I bought our first house north and east of Toronto in a small bedroom community called Stouffville. It was an old farming community from the 1800’s that the city planners linked to Toronto via the GO Train (Government of Ontario Train). The small city was limited only by the fact that it wasn’t on either main water or sewage; our little city’s water was from an arteasesn well. Being limited by the water made Stouffville even more desirable because it constrained mass building which was happening in droves in similar bedroom communities (we used to call it ‘the sea of houses’ because they went on and on). Our subdivision was the last of its kind until Stouffville joined up to city water and sewage in the mid-2000’s, which made it the fastest growing community north of Toronto. But we were gone long before that.
Although the house was brand new, it always gave me the willies! I only ever spent one night by myself in that house, I would go spend the night with my Mom or in laws when JT travelled. There were creepy noises, creeks and cracks. But the weirdest thing that happened even made skeptic JT agree that the house was strange.
One evening after dinner I was baking in our little kitchen, JT was watching television in the adjacent family room. I was turned away from the doorway and as I turned to put something in the sink out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone poke their head into the kitchen, they were wearing red. I just figured it was JT seeing if there were any samples to be had. But then a few moments later JT actually came into the kitchen and asked me what I wanted. I said I was just about to ask him the same thing. He said he thought I just poked my head into the family room, he thought I was wearing red too! Except neither of us had red on. Super freaked out, we checked all the doors and windows and they were locked tight. Then we checked all the rooms and closets. We found nothing.
Even though I wasn’t baking biscotti that night, I think JT and our mystery guest would have enjoyed a few tasters from this recipe.

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There is something so civilized about eating a little biscotti with an afternoon espresso, don’t you think?

 

Chocolate Almond Biscotti

Makes 2 logs, about 48 biscotti

Original recipe from Food Network

I was drawn to this recipe because it doesn’t have melted butter in it. Not having butter actually makes this cookie very hard and I would recommend not biting down on it unless you have dipped it into something warm.

Ingredients:

  • 2 c flour
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1/3 c cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp espresso powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 c whole almonds, toasted skin on
  • 1/3 c chocolate chips
  • 1 egg white for brushing

Directions:

  1. Combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a stand mixer with paddle attachment.
  2. Mix together eggs, egg whites and vanilla extract.
  3. Gradually add egg mixture to flour mixture blending on low speed.
  4. Toss almonds with chocolate chips and fold into the flour mixture until combined.
  5. On a well floured surface roll dough into 2 logs, 2 inches in diameter. They will expand quite a bit.
  6. Place on a greased pan and brush with beaten egg white.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees until light golden brown, about 30-35 minutes.
  8. Allow logs to cool 15 minutes then cut into slices on the bias. Place slices on a greased sheet pan and bake in a 350 degree oven until toasted, about 15-20 minutes. Cool. Store in an airtight container.
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Delicate flavours of the almond are accentuated by the rich, creamy chocolate. Isn’t that crema gorgeous?

Has this ever happened to you: you hear about something for the first time and then you keep hearing about it again and again? It’s happened to me recently and it’s the absolute, lip smacking, deliciously tantalizing Kale Salad by renowned chef and restauranteur of Gusto 101, Daniel Mezzolo. My friend Kim (old boss, neighbour) mentioned this salad a while back and I’ve seen it come up more and more often which has made me want to taste said salad, however, that is much more difficult than one would think. You see, Gusto 101 takes reservations only until 6pm and then it’s a free for all. We’ve driven by many times around 7 or 8 and there is always quite the line-up outside, waiting for a table. Now, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I just don’t like to line up. I figure if I am about to spend upwards of $80 for a meal, I shouldn’t have to wait in line to do so. But this is the reality if one needs to try this salad, and I really, really needed to try it.

I searched the net and found this helpful video on making this healthy salad, but alas there was no recipe for the dressing…so I looked further and found several versions all based on similar ingredients. My friend Celi from The kitchen’s garden just competed her September Home Grown challenge during which time she only allowed herself to eat what she grew on her little farmie! By the end of the challenge she mentioned that she was quite tired of eating the same old things. So when I finally hunkered down and made a decent effort to make the Kale Salad, I immediately thought of Celi. I know I’m a little late for the challenge, but it’s definitely a good recipe and I hope you have a chance to try it before the snow falls.

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It’s a melt in your mouth salad

What makes this salad unique is the finely cut curly kale and how the lemon juice in the dressing acts to ‘cook’ the kale as it sits (like a ceviche would cook the seafood!). It’s a wonderful balance of sour, sweet and salty. I added a couple of slices of crispy cooked Serrano ham, but that is easily omitted if you wish to make it vegetarian.

Cavolo Nero (Kale Salad)

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups finely chopped kale
  • 2 tbsp raisins or dried cranberries or dried sour cherries
  • 2 tbsp toasted pine nuts or toasted sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp EVOO
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 slices of Serrano ham, baked or fried until crisp and crumbled (omit for vegetarian)
  • 1/4 c + 2 tbsp of freshly grated Parmesan Cheese or Pecorino
  • 1 tbsp fresh basil
  • 1 tbsp EVOO
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. About 20-30 minutes before serving, combine the lemon juice, honey, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and salt and mix well in a large unreactive bowl (not metal).  Add the finely cut kale and toss to coat evenly. Set aside for a minimum of 20 minutes (I did 30 minutes) tossing a few times over the 30 minutes. (an update October 16: I made this salad at my brother’s cottage last weekend and I suspect the kale was older and tougher so 30 minutes wasn’t enough time to macerate, please keep this in mind when making the salad. Just as baby kale will take less time than the 30 minutes because it is not has tough).
  2. Muddle the fresh basil in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, with a pinch of salt. Set aside. I’ve made this lovely salad without the basil oil without missing it.
  3. Just before serving, add the raisins, pine nuts, crispy serano ham and 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese to the dressed kale and toss well. Divide the kale between two plates.
  4. Drizzle the basil olive oil on the plate and garnish with 1 tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese over each plate. Serve immediately.
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Perfectly balanced sweet, sour and salty

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A perfect salad for a hot summer’s day. Where did it go, anyway?

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The fall colours were just starting when I took these photos in late September.

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The cottage colours happen a bit earlier than the city colours.

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The sun also moves to the far left during the fall. We see more of the sunset during the summer months.

We always really luck out with our neighbours. Our first house was in a new, bedroom community north of Toronto and JT and I bought the smallest house snuggled in between two of the larger models in the subdivision. The neighbours to the west of us built our shared fence and didn’t even ask us for a penny for it; we built our fence to the east of us with the neighbour over a weekend culminating with a great big shared BBQ. When we moved back to the city, our northern neighbours held a BBQ for us and invited the entire street so that we could meet everyone; it was wonderful. We shared a driveway with these people and more often than not, when I couldn’t find JT (who should have been doing chores), he was sitting on the neighbour’s back porch having a beer with the neighbour.
When both our careers moved to the west side of Toronto, we made our third move; there were no parties or BBQs this time around, but there was always Biscotti! Our lovely neighbours on our north side made us delicious biscotti every Christmas. When I started living in our new reality, coffee breaks from the gruelling job search became imperative and I couldn’t help but crave ‘a little something’ with my java and that’s when I remembered our sweet neighbour’s almond biscotti. I’d never made biscotti before so it not only satisfied a craving but it also became a blog post! What more can I ask for?

Original recipe from Eyetalian Magazine.

Almond Biscotti (Biscotti Albani)

Makes about 2 dozen

Ingredients:

  • 2 c unbleached All Purpose Flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4  c  almonds
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 but melted butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 lightly beaten egg white

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F or 180°C.
  2. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, lemon zest and nuts in a medium-sized bowl.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the eggs together with the sugar, melted butter, vanilla extract and almond extract ; stir the wet ingredients into the flour/nut mixture and combine until a sticky dough forms.
  4. Transfer to a floured surface and form the dough into two logs about 30 cm or 12 inches long (as the dough bakes, it will increase in size, so unlike what I did, I would make the logs much thinner next time).
  5. Place the logs onto an ungreased baking sheet and brush with the beaten egg whites.
  6. Bake for about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 6 minutes and then slice into 1 cm or 0.5 inch thick diagonal slices. Return slices to the cookie sheet and bake again for about 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool.
  7. Serve with a beautiful espresso.
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We’ve had a hankering for biscotti these coolish days

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A perfect snack when dipped into the aromatic, creamy espresso

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Oh go ahead and take one please, I insist!

Gluten Free Cherry Cake

The days are getting shorter and the nights chillier, fall is definitely upon us in Ontario; you can feel it, see it and even smell it. We had a fire last night in our wood burning fire place! I even put closed toe shoes on today. I say it every year: I’M NOT READY!!! Is it just me or do you also feel that time is even a bit faster these days — where did the summer go?
Several friends and family have now gone gluten free, some by choice and some by necessity. Even at our house we try to limit our Gluten intake, so I’m always on the lookout for new gluten free, beautiful and tasty dessert recipes.
My friend Charlie at Hotly Spiced made this wonderful Gluten Free Sour Cherry Cake a while back and I knew I had to make it as soon as I saw her post! Thanks Charlie! The cake is moist, and the texture is perfect. It reminded me a little of a semolina cake, but with a finer texture. I usually have a dislike to the flavour of gluten free flours, so I made a few alterations which worked out famously; I added lemon rind, lemon essence and because I was short on butter, substituted cream cheese for the missing weight — I hope you don’t mind Charlie! It was absolutely wonderful and it’s going on my list of ‘Go-To’ Gluten Free desserts!

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I only put 1/2 cup of cherries into my cake, next time it will be a full cup (recipe is adjusted already).

Gluten Free Cherry Cake

Serves 6-8 from an 20 cm or 8″ spring form pan

Ingredients:

  • 75 g softened butter
  • 25 g softened cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup castor sugar (super fine sugar, but not icing sugar)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 lemon rind
  • 1/2 tsp lemon essence
  • 2 free-range eggs at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup GF flour
  • 3/4 tsp GF baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 37 g almond meal
  • 1 tbsp buttermilk (or cow’s milk)
  • 1 cup cherries

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180° C (375° F).
  2. Prepare a 20 cm (8 inch) spring form pan by spraying with non-stick cooking spray and lining the bottom with parchment paper.
  3. Beat the butter and cream cheese together until they are as white and fluffy as can be (this takes several minutes). Once you’ve reach the light fluffy consistency, gradually add sugar. then add the vanilla and continue to beat until incorporated.  Add the egg and beat in until well combined.
  4. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and using a wooden spoon, mix into the butter fluff. Then fold in the almond meal and buttermilk.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and smooth the surface.
  6. Drain the cherries then scatter across the top of the cake.  (No need to be decorative as they will sink during the cooking process).
  7. Place in the oven for 30-40 minutes or when your cake tester comes out clean.
  8. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the tin.
  9. Serve with dusted icing sugar and cherry sauce (or ice cream, whipped cream etc.
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It’s a delicately flavoured moist cake, the sauce isn’t really necessary,
but it’s darn nice!

Honey-Spiced Almonds

We survived another Doran weekend; these weekend are full of gluttony, laughter and somewhat excesses but most of all, they are full of friendship, love and stories. And laughter, A lot of laughter. We decided to spend this weekend at the cottage because our dear friends hadn’t been up for quite some time, plus we wanted to share our new found excitment in the renovations with them! September weekend weather can be hit and miss and we had both this time around. Sunny or not, it was damn chilly and we had the heat on more than the windows open. Fall is definitely the the air. And as luck would have it, I forgot my shoes at home, so the majority of the weekend was spent in flip flops and borrowed socks, thank you T!

I always like to serve a little nibbly with cocktails; drinking on an empty stomach can be dangerous so when I came across these flavourful little nibbles, I was all over them. A touch of heat, a touch of sweetness and a lot of texture, these will surprise you with how easy they are to eat!

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They are not sticky at all.

Honey-Spiced Almonds

Makes 3 cups (recipe adapted from Epicurious)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cups whole almonds, skin on
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • pinch of cayenne
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp black and white sesame seeds

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 300° F (XXX° C). Line a baking sheet with a silpat® sheet or parchment.
  2. Sift the spices and salt together and set aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a large pan, add the almonds and roast for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.
  4. Add the honey and stir well. Sprinkle the spices over the sticky almonds. Add the sesame seeds and stir well to combine.
  5. Turn out the almonds onto the prepared cookie sheet and flatten to one layer of almonds. Bake for approximately 15 minutes (watch so it doesn’t burn), turning at least once in the process.
  6. Cool completely and serve.
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The sesame are a nice little touch.

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The almonds crisp up very nicely.

We usually have a lot of fishermen at the lake because apparently it is a good fishing lake. The past couple of years someone has caught something big in our bay and word got out, so we usually have a couple of fishing boats trolling our bay for fish every weekend. As you can well imagine I am not fond of this activity particularly when it infringes my privacy. The lake at the cottage is spring fed, which means that it’s reasonably cold for most of the summer, in fact it’s usually August by the time I feel it’s warm enough for a refreshing dip! Over these same last few years, it  seems that every time I dip into the water, smallish fish surround my legs; it wouldn’t be bad but these little devils actually try to bite my legs! They’ve obviously heard about the good fishing in the lake and have launched a protest in the form of attacking my defenseless legs! Since I don’t like to fish (obviously, they haven’t heard!) but I do like to eat fish (well, maybe they have a point!) I usually get my fish from our fish monger or the grocery store.

Recently we had some friends for dinner who are vegetarian (the fish-eating kind) and I wanted to make a fish based Paella; I’ve made this dish before but found it a bit lacking without the use of chorizo so I was thinking…what if I made chorizo from fish using similar spices? The texture isn’t the same, but it did add the punch from the spices that I was looking for. It worked out so well, that I will use this method for other  ‘sausages’ in the future.

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A delightful combination of cod, bay scallops, shrimp and salmon chorizo

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I am participating again in Our Growing Edge Monthly blogging event; I’ve participated before because I had made the Indonesian Thousand Layer Cake which was pretty out there for me, but since then, I can’t say that I’ve made anything quite so awesome, until now.

Salmon Chorizo

makes three ‘sausages’ about 10 cm long each

Ingredients:

  • 120 g drained canned salmon, skinless and boneless
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Saran wrap or thick plastic wrap made for cooking (not microwave as they may contain small holes)
  • 3 tbsp canola oil

Directions:

  1. In a small food processor, add all the ingredients except the plastic wrap and canola oil and process until it is well mixed.
  2. Lay out one piece of plastic wrap about 30 cm x 30 cm (12″ x 12″). Pipe a length of the mixture into the centre of the plastic wrap and fold over one side and smooth out so that it’s taught to the salmon mixture. Now roll the ‘sausage’ up on the plastic wrap.
  3. Take each end of the wrap and roll the ends until it is very tightly wound, tie a knot in each end. Repeat until you have rolled all of the ‘sausages’.
  4. In a medium-sized saucepan, heat about 10 cm (3″) of water until it is almost boiling. Add each ‘sausage’ to the simmering water and cook for about 10 minutes (you don’t want to boil the water, just simmer).
  5. Remove the sausages from the water and drain. Allow to cool completely in the wrap and when cool remove the wrap. The ‘sausage’ should maintain its shape well. Slice into 1 cm (1/2″) thick slices.
  6. In a large frying pan, heat the canola oil and fry each side of the ‘sausage’ until desired colour is achieved. Now you are ready to use you salmon chorizo in your recipe.
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The egg is the binder in this sausage

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The sausage stands up very well in the paella

 

 

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