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Christmas Wishes

Clipart from Microsoft Clip Art Gallery

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

Chocolate Peanut Fudge

Original recipe by Katherine at Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide

Melt in your mouth, fudge-o-licious

Melt in your mouth, fudge-o-licious

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

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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

Delicious Chocolate Peanut Fudge

I promised a new take on the ma’amoul cookie, this one dates back to my Fannie Farmer Cookbook, first published in 1896, my version in it’s 12th edition. I first made this cookie in 2009 and have been keeping my eyes open for a new and updated version. I love the shape the ma’amoul brings to this old favourite and I love how the oatmeal adds a bit of texture to this delicious filled cookie. I would be leading you astray if I said this was an easily formed cookie, and I had to keep wetting my hands to make the dough pliable and not brittle around the sweet date paste, but once I got the hang of it, it went like clockwork.

Oatmeal Date Filled Ma’amouls

Still the same cookie, just in ma'amoul's clothing!

Still the same cookie, just in ma’amoul’s clothing!

Makes about 24 cookies

Ingredients for the Date Paste:

  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water

Ingredients for the Dough:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cups oatmeal, pulsed for 2-4 minutes in a food processor

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. In a small saucepan, put the dates, sugar and water and gently cook until thick and smooth. Set aside and allow to cool completely.
  3. Cream the butter and add the brown sugar, mix well.
  4. Sift flour, baking soda and salt and add to the butter sugar mixture.
  5. Add the pulsed oatmeal, mixing thoroughly and adding 2-4 tbsp water to make a dough that can be rolled.
  6. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  7. Make 23 g balls of the dough. Gently press each ball into the palm of your hand so that it covers the entire palm (you’ll need the extra to fold up and cover the paste). Add about 1 teaspoon of the date paste into the centre and bring all the sides up to close in the paste. Place the ball of fill dough into the ma’amoul mold and gently press in. Tap firmly to release. Repeat until all the dough is used.
  8. Bake at 350°F for 15-20 minutes or until lightly golden. Allow to cool and enjoy!
The difference is that this is not a shortbread crust, it's an oatmeal cookie.

The difference is that this is not a shortbread crust, it’s an oatmeal cookie.

And that concludes the Christmas Baking 2012 Series. I hope you enjoyed it.

This time of year the blogosphere is chuck full of tempting recipes and creative ideas, the trick is to try to manage what you want to bake with what you can bake, given your time constraints. Last week, Kelly over at Inspired Edibles (a fellow Canadian) made up a very interesting vegan ‘brownie’ and although her’s looked delightful, I was inspired to make something a wee bit different, dare I say festive, plus it wasn’t necessary for me to keep it 100% vegan.

These are surprisingly good. I have a high tolerance for healthy (or healthier foods) but JT does not; if it doesn’t taste as good as it’s full fat/sugar cousin, he will want no part of it. But I kid you not, these passed even the strictest taste test: the JT taste test. So Kelly, I hope you don’t mind, here is a slight variation on your wonderful recipe, my dried fruit hazelnut truffles, thank you kindly for the inspiration. I used hazelnut butter and hazelnut essence because hazelnuts and chocolate are a winning combo in this household.

IMG_3694_BLOG

The smooth, sweet centre is nicely contrasted by the rich chocolate and crunchy peanuts.

Dried Fruit Truffles

Adapted from Inspired Edibles’ Vegan Brownies

Makes 50-60 pieces

Fruit Paste Ingredients:

  • ½ c dried prunes
  • ½ c dates
  • 1 cup dried blueberries (I couldn’t find cherries)
  • 1 c almond flour
  • 3 tbsp hazelnut butter
  • ¼ c unsweetened coco powder
  • 1 tsp hazelnut essence (or more depending on how strong it is)

Chocolate Coating Ingredients:

  • 1 cup semi-sweet and milk chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp hazelnut essence (or more depending on how strong it is)
  • 1 ½ cup coarsely chopped peanuts

Fruit Paste Directions:

  1. Combine all the ingredients for the fruit paste in a food processor and process until smooth. Make 1-1.5cm balls of the paste, set aside.
  2. Melt the two chocolates and butter in a saucepan over low heat, dip the balls one by one into the hot chocolate and roll in the chopped peanuts to coat. Refrigerate to set. Serve at room temperature.
Don't let these little delights fool you, they are darned tasty!

Don’t let these little delights fool you, they are darned tasty!

I’m sure I’m not the only one. In fact, I’ve seen it many times on-line, mainly when I’ve been sulking around the net after hours. I even know of a few professional photographers guilty of it, but not during work hours. It really snuck up on me quite innocently. I uploaded it on my iPhone after I saw someone using it on Facebook. I thought, WHAT? How could that be? I was sure you could only achieve that look professionally. That is, what I mean to say, is that only a professional could achieve that look. But there it is on Facebook, and it’s more than just professionals doing it.

Of course, I am referring to Instagram, that incredible quirky photo app that can take photo, apply an effect and store it on various platforms. But if you’re sneaky like me, you might even use that shot for your blog. There I said it, yes, I have been guilty of using this app on my iPhone for some of my blog photos. And have received some very lovely compliments on some of those shots. Not that I’m saying I don’t like to use my lovely Canon Rebel, but it is a pain to get it all set up with the tripod and setting the aperture, blah, blah, blah…when all I have to do is reach over and shoot. Yep, that’s all I do. Sometimes I don’t even bother with lighting (the Naan shots, the Chicken Soup Shots to name a couple). Until now. Instagram was acquired by Facebook last April, and you know that can only mean trouble, with a capital T. So December 18 they posted an updated to their privacy policy which basically said that any photo posted on Instagram (and there is no other way to use it) belongs to them and they can sell it. REALLY? Sell. my. own. photos? I think not. But then later that same day, after a lot, and I mean A LOT of backlash they backtracked and took it all back. But it’s only a matter of time and frankly, I’m not sticking around for it. So I found a great app called Camera Awesome, it’s free and they won’t steal your photos — yet anyway, and it has A LOT more features than Instagram. Given, some of these features are for purchase, but they are only 99¢ so they are not bank breaking. The best features are the selected focus and exposure that operate independently to each other (unlike the iPhone camera). Also, it has some really cool features to change the sharpness, vibrance, temperature and contrast, so you don’t need to export and open in Photoshop. I also found an app that can super impose text over the existing photo, so I can copyright it direct from my iPhone. I’ll never have to fire up the iMac again. So now you know my dirty little secret, I hope I can trust you not to tell. 😉

Do you sometimes cheat and use your iPhone for the shot, and if so, what apps do you use to help you make them stand out?

My friend, boss, neighbour Kim and I exchange a small token gift every year and this year she got me something I had my eye on from over at Angie’s lovely blog, this beautiful cookie stamp! I couldn’t believe it, I was very excited to give it a go.

This stamp makes a lovely cookie

This stamp makes a lovely cookie. iPhone Photo.

I made the recipe that came with the stamp. Big mistake. It was way too buttery and the indentations all but melted into a flat, round cookie. I was disheartened. But then I remembered I had a batch of chocolate marshmallow fondant left over from cake pops I made a previous week, so I had an idea! The cookies had good texture and great flavour, you just couldn’t make out the stamp, so I rolled out the fondant to about 1 mm thick and pressed the stamp into it, cut it with a similarly sized cookie cutter and applied it to each cookie after it had cooled completely. SUCCESS! I’m tempted to make another batch because this one might have been sampled over.

So if you want to make cookies like this, just bake up a batch of your favourite shortbread or sugar cookies. You can buy the stamp at Chapters or Indigo or on line. The fondant is a very easy recipe from my dear friend Sawsan’s blog, Chef in Disguise. I simply added about 1/2 cup of sifted unsweetened cocoa powder to the finished fondant and kneaded it well to distribute evenly. It was very easy and very tasty!

They chocolate fondant covered cookies turned out better than expected.

They chocolate fondant covered cookies turned out better than expected. Instagram photo on my iPhone

Or you can head over to Ilan’s blog and bake up this recipe; Ilan is an amazing baker and blogger. Just make sure you leave out the leavening as he suggests so that your formed cookie doesn’t lose it’s shape.

A nice, old fashioned gingerbread cookie. And there is no question that they are 'Home Made'

A nice, old fashioned gingerbread cookie. And there is no question that they are ‘Home Made’. Camera Awesome Photo on my iPhone but I hadn’t figured out how to select focus with it yet!

I’d like to apologize, this post was so unprofessional; when I left it last night, everything was done and it was timed to release this morning, as all my posts do. But for some reason, while eating my grapefruit and blueberries this morning, I decided to check it again on my phone and discovered a small typo at the beginning of the post, so I fixed it; unbenounced to me, I hadn’t refreshed the post on the phone to sync with the server, so what I actually did was update an older post, thereby overriding the actual post. ARGHHHHHHH! When I finally saw Norma‘s tongue in cheek comment later that morning, I realized my extreme faux pas. That’s what I get for using multiple devices to update my blog. I shall be ever more careful in the future, thanks Norma for calling me out. My punishment (well, other than mortal embarrassment), is to have to retype the entire post with the exception of the intro below. Now I’ll go stand in the corner.

I know there are many of you who, how shall I say this delicately, can’t stand to be in the same room as coconut, but here chez kitcheninspirations we love the stuff; the taste, texture, colour, aroma (makes me think of a beach vacation), we LOVE it! So this will not be the last coconutty thing we make, and unfortunately, you won’t be able to leave it out as it’s such an integral part of the recipe. So fasten your seat belts and prepare yourself for a chewy, lemony treat!

Chewy Lemon Squares

Chewy and lemony, I've never made this one with frosting and we have never missed it

Chewy and lemony, I’ve never made this one with frosting and we have never missed it

From Company’s Coming Squares by Jean Pare.

Makes 1 pan 9″ x 9″

First Layer Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c all purpose flour
  • 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c butter

First Layer Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Crumble flour, sugar and butter until mealy (you can save time and pulse this in a food processor, metal; blades)
  3. Press into ungreased 9×9 inch pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

Second Layer Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 c granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups flaked, unsweetened coconut
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp lemon essence

Second Layer Directions:

  1. Beat eggs slightly. Stir in the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Spread over shortbread base. Bake at 350°F for additional 30 minutes, until set in the centre and golden in colour.
  3. Cool and cut into squares, or bars.

I got off to a slow start this year due mainly to the fact that my cold just didn’t want to give up, even though I was doing everything right, like my Chicken Soup, Kelly’s delicious alcohol free Hot Toddy and lots of ginger tea with honey. And I still have a slightly lower octave voice but I’m feeling a lot better!

My Hungarian blogging buddy Zsuzsa suggested I post a list of my baking again this year, so here you go, my friend! I will also snap a few photos and post recipes in the days to come. Previously posted recipes are linked back, unless the photos were gross, in which case, I redid them and posted them again with a little twist!

Here is this 2012’s round up:

Now I bet you’re wondering where on earth did I get this gorgeous cookie mold; my dear friend Barb of Profiteroles and Ponytails was lovely to give it to me as a gift last June (shame on me for taking six months to make these gorgeous cookies with them). I know some of the bloggers (Betsy’s recipe, Sawsan’s recipe to name a couple) I follow have posted some very tantalizing recipes for ma’amouls, but I lacked their ingredients so I needed to find a recipe for which I had everything in my pantry. Plus these shortbread cookies have a lot, and I mean a lot of fat in them, so I searched and searched for a slightly lighter version. I made Bethany’s recipe with minor alterations and I also halved the quantity not knowing if we would love them. The dough is melt in your mouth shortbread dough, but it’s also a bit crumbly. The filling is lovely with the right amount of spice; before you jump to conclusions about the powdered sugar, I read somewhere that the date filled cookie is never sprinkled with powdered sugar . I will make these again, and I you’ll see how I’ve changed them up.

Ma’amouls

Please click here for original recipe, Bethany gives some great instructions.

IMG_3635_BLOG

Apparently the traditional ma’amoules are not dusted with powdered sugar.

Dough Ingredients:

  • 425 g semolina
  • 100 g potato starch
  • 225 g of butter, melted
  • 125 mL orange blossom water (I substituted water with a few drops of orange essence)
  • 100 g of caster sugar
  • 1 tsp ground green cardamom
  • 1 ma’amoul mold

Date Filling Ingredients:

  • 125 g dates, pitted
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 25 g of almond flour
IMG_3634_BLOG

I was lucky that mine did not crack. Picture perfect.

Directions:

  1. Combine the semolina, farina, cardamom, sugar and butter together.
  2. Slowly add the orange water a tablespoon at a time, kneading it into a soft sticky dough (it shouldn’t stick to your fingers). Cover the dough and let it sit 2 hours.
  3. Prepare the filling while the dough rests. Add all the ingredients to a food processor container and process until smooth
  4. After it has rested, knead dough one more time and then divide into two or three even balls. Roll out each ball into a rope with a thickness of 2.5 to 3 cm. Cut to about 2.5-3 cm and roll into a ball.
  5. Flatten the dough using the palm of your hand on the counter and spoon a small size ball of filling into the centre. Lift up all sides and form into a nice round ball. It was suggested to roll this in some additional semolina before you press it into the mold, but it was greasy enough and the mold released it quite quickly.
  6. Bake in a preheated oven 200° C / 400° F until the sides are slightly brown in color. It will vary depending on oven — I baked mine for 20 minutes. Cool and serve.

No one will kick you out of bed for leaving crumbs!

So tragic

In light of the tragedy in Connecticut, Kitcheninspirations is not posting today. My heartfelt condolences go to the families.

Indian Dinner Party: Naan

Revised April 23, 2018, added weight measurements.

I have searched high and low for a good Naan recipe and much to my chagrin, I have never found one that was quite what I was looking for. I thought I had found them on occasion, but not quite. That is, until now. I found the Evil Shananigans and it seems that the author Kelly was in the same spot I had been in for so many years. Thank goodness that Kelly did all the work and came up with this fabulous recipe. The only thing I did was reduce the quantity as I didn’t need quite as many and I added 1 level tablespoon of milk powder. Why milk powder you ask? I read somewhere that it adds to the elasticity of the dough and I wanted a chewy dough and it worked wonders! Quite possibly the best Naan ever, I kid you not.

I used an inverted cast iron dutch oven in my gas BBQ to try to replicate the tandoor oven, and by George, I think I got it! The baking method really allowed the dough to bake slowly over indirect heat, maintaining the elasticity and also allowing some parts to crisp up. Dare I say, genius? I hope you’ll bring me down to earth, so I don’t get too comfortable tooting my own horn, even if it is once in a while.

Chewy and crispy at the same time

Chewy and crispy at the same time

Naan

Makes 4 109 g servings

Ingredients:

  • 245 g (1 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 5 g (1/2 tsp) salt
  • 2 g (1/4 tsp) dry active yeast
  • 3/4 cup milk, heated to 110F
  • 2 g (1/2 tsp) sugar
  • 5 g (1 tbsp) milk powder

Directions:

  1. Warm the milk to about 44° C or 110° F and dissolve the yeast and sugar. Allow to bubble up (about 5 minutes).
  2. Combine the flour, milk powder and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer and add the activated yeast. Kneed for 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic (dough is rather tacky).
  3. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for two hours in a warm place.
  4. Once rested, turn out the dough and divide into four equal portions (I measured mine to be about 109 g each). Make each portion into a ball and allow to rest 30 minutes.
  5. Roll out each ball into thin flat sheets (you’ll need a little flour so it doesn’t stick (15 cm x 30 cm) and then cover with a towel and allow to rest another 30 minutes. You can rub a little olive oil on top so it doesn’t dry out.
  6. Pre-heat your BBQ with an inverted cast iron dutch oven to the highest temperature. (I used an inverted cast pan to replicate the tandoor oven).
  7. One by one, drape each naan sheet over the ‘oven’ and bake until golden and slightly puffy (don’t worry, they will deflate).
  8. Keep warm in parchment wrapped in foil in an oven or serve immediately.
The most delicious naan yet

The most delicious naan yet

There is another Indian Restaurant in Toronto that we really like, and you’ve probably heard of it because it’s in all the major cities around the world, it’s called Bombay Palace on Jarvis Street. We usually go there for lunch and there are two particular things I love, the carrot pickle and the Aloo Papri Chaat (described as a sweet Medley of crispy wafers chickpeas, potatoes with yogurt-mint chutney dressing). I tried to find as close a recipe as possible to this tangy, sweet and crunchy side, and this one was pretty darn close. I had to make a few changes due to unavailable ingredients, but to be honest, the flavour didn’t suffer for it. I must warn you, it does take a lot of steps.

Aloo Papri Chaat

A delicious mix of sweet and tangy flavours with the crunchy texture of the wafers

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup Semolina flour
  • 1 teaspoon tamarind paste
  • 7-8 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 1 dried apricot
  • 1 small cooked potato, cubed
  • 100 g chick peas
  • 1/2 cup low fat yogurt (if using Greek yogurt, you will need to add milk to achieve the right consistency)
  • 1 chopped green chili
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chaat Masala (see spice mix below)
  • Salt
  • 1 cup peanut oil for frying

Directions:

  1. Make a soft dough with the flour and semolina by adding a little bit of water at a time.
  2. Roll the dough out into a rectangle and cut into bite-sized squares.
  3. Heat the oil to fry the squares and fry them until they puff a little and are golden. Drain oil off and set aside.

Directions for the Tamarind Chutney:

  1. In a small heavy bottom sauce pan, add the tamarind paste and the apricot. 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 the sugar, chili powder and mix well. Boil until all of the water evaporates and you are left with a thick rich paste.

Ingredients for the Chaat Masala:

Note: the original recipe for Chaat Masala called for Mango Powder which I did not have, and therefore I substituted the apricot into the tamarind mix to replicate the sweet and tangy flavour of the mango powder.

  • 1 tbsp coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp black salt

Directions for the Chaat Masala:

  1. Put all ingredients into a bowl and mix well. If some of the spices are seeds, you will need to grind them well.

Directions for the Yogurt Sauce and assembly:

  1. Whip the yogurt with a whisk until thin and runny (or if it’s Greek Yogurt, add a little milk),
  2. Add  the cubed potatoes, chopped green chili, the chickpeas and a teaspoon or two of the tamarind and mix well (being careful not to break up the potatoes).
  3. Add the bite sized Papri (wafers) and mix gently to coat.
  4. Garnish with Coriander leaves and finely chopped green onions.

A quick shot of the actual serving dish at the dinner party, the lighting sucks as it was already night

I posted a quick picture of this recipe on Facebook and Pinterest and received overwhelming response so instead of putting it in-line with my Christmas 2012 baking, I thought I would interrupt regular programming and post the recipe today. I did a search and found that I might indeed be the first person to make these all-time Canadian favourites into a truffle instead of their normal bar form. Every year JT asks me to make this bar, which personally I find just too sweet. I got to thinking a smaller, bite sized version might be the answer I was looking for so I came up with this idea and only had to marginally modify an existing recipe. I hope you enjoy it. And if you make them, please do let me know how it worked out.

Almost as teeth tingly as the regular Nanaimo Bars

Not nearly as teeth tingly as regular Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo Truffles

For the original recipe, please click here.

Makes about 36 truffles

Inside Layer Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tbsp vanilla custard powder
  • 1 cup icing sugar

Inside Layer Directions:

  1. Cream butter, custard powder and icing sugar together well. Scoop out about 1 tsp and roll into a ball. Freeze for 30 minutes.

Second Layer Ingredients:

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 5 tbsp cocoa
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 ¼ c graham wafer crumbs
  • ½ c finely ground almond flour
  • 1 cup coconut
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup (spray your measuring cup with non-stick spray and it will slide right out)

Second Layer Directions:

  • Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat.
  • Stir in graham crumbs, coconut, almond flour and the corn syrup. Set aside.

Assembly Directions:

  1. Take about 1 packed tbsp of the second layer (crumb layer) in the palm of your hand and press to flatten to a large circle about 2mm thick.
  2. Put one custard ball into the centre and wrap the circle around the custard so that it totally covers it. Squeeze the crumb layer to form a tidy ball. Repeat until you have made all of the balls. Freeze for 30-60 minutes.

Chocolate Layer Ingredients:

  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter

Chocolate Layer Directions:

  1. Melt chocolate and butter over low heat and mix well. Without allowing the chocolate mixture to cool down, take a frozen ball and carefully stick a toothpick or skewer into it and dip into the melted chocolate to cover. Remove the stick and allow the chocolate to set on parchment paper (you could dip a finger into the chocolate to hide the hole, or not). The frozen balls will help set the chocolate faster. Store in refrigerator. Allow the balls to come back up to room temperature to serve.
IMG_3649_BLOG

The centre is creamy and smooth which is a nice texture to the outside

IMG_3651_BLOG

Yum.

;

We have an Indian restaurant just north of where we live in BWV called North of Bombay. It’s a lovely place, nicely decorated in a contemporary style, close enough to walk (about 20 minutes) and the food is very good and it’s never crowded and the service has been very good. But for some reason, we ALWAYS order takeout or delivery. Indian is like that for us. And they have a crappy wine list. But they have the most delicious Beef Bhuna that we’ve ever had so that is the recipe I was trying to replicate for our Indian themed dinner party. Their menu describes it as Eye of round cubes cooked with fresh onions,green pepper, ginger, coriander, tomatoes, herbs & spices. So when I was searching the net, those were the key ingredients I was looking for. The recipe below is loosely based on this recipe but I changed it to replicate the flavours of North of Bombay’s Beef Bhuna. I also changed up the technique because I wanted to cook it slow and low as per Bœuff Bourguignon.

Beef Bhuna

Tender beef cubes drenched in a mildly spicy, fragrant, flavourful gravy

Serves 4-6 as part of a bigger menu

Ingredients:

  • 400 g eye of round beef, cut into 2.5 cm or 1 inch cubes
  • 1 Green Pepper, cut into similar size squares as the beef
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp of mild curry powder
  • 1 tsp of Chilli Powder
  • 1 tsp Garam Masala
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper (omit if you find this too hot)
  • a pinch of ground cardamon
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely minced
  • 1+ cup water
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 300° F.
  2. In an oven-proof pan (like Le Creuset’s dutch oven) sear the beef in about 1-2 tbsp high flash point oil (like peanut or canola). Remove from pan. De-glaze with a 1/2 cup of beef stock, pour over the meat.
  3. Add finely chopped onions and cook well (I saw Madhur Jaffrey on Martha Stewart once and she said that Indian cooking doesn’t sweat the onions, but they cook the onions dark, but not burned).
  4. Add the curry, chilli, cayenne, cardamon and coriander and cook JUST until you can smell it. Add the garlic, fresh ginger and garam masala give a quick stir. Now add the water and combine well. Return the beef to the pan and give it a good stir. Cover and bake in the 300° F oven for 2-3 hours or until beef is fork tender. Check frequently and add water as required; you don’t want it soupy, just a nice light gravy. About 30 minutes to serving, add the green pepper — you don’t want the green pepper soft and mushy.
  5. Serve hot garnished with cilantro leaves and green onions with Basmati rice and Naan.


This is an absolute favourite of our household, but to be honest the gravy is usually laden with butter and ghee which is really bad for you, so I prefer to make my own so that it’s healthier. The Makhani gravy is from this recipe, but as I mentioned in the menu post, I had to add a little sweetness (I used Agave Nectar) to counter the very acidic tomatoes — I suspect that the full butter and cream of the original recipe would do the same, so if you choose to go full fat on this baby, omit the agave. There I said it.

The paneer is a soft unripened cheese made similarly to Ricotta, but instead of leaving it loose, you press it into a rectangular shape to be cut into cubes. Easy.

A delicious, rich tasting tomato gravy with gently firm paneer

Paneer Makhani

This is the original recipe I just doubled the quantity

Serves 4-6 as a part of several dishes

Ingredients:

  • 4 liter Fresh whole milk
  • 4-6 tbsp lemon juice

Directions:

  1. Heat the milk in the deep and heavy bottom pan at medium heat (this is really important, otherwise you will need to spend at least a half hour trying to clean the burnt milk off the bottom). Allow it come to a gentle boil and stay there for a minute. Make sure the milk is not vigorously boiling (also important, see note above). If it does, immediately reduce the heat and bring the milk back to gentle boil. But if you do burn your enamel pan, I have a great tip at the end.
  2. Add two tablespoons of lemon juice and quickly stir it in (because I had doubled the recipe, it took a bit longer to develop). At this point, you will start to see small curdles in the milk but no whey. Add another tablespoon or two of juice and again stir it in. The curdles will increase and you will slowly begin to see the yellowish whey. Add the last tablespoon of juice and with this, you should be able to see a clear yellowish whey separating from the curdles, switch of the gas immediately at this point. Depending on the acidity of the juice, the amount of juice you require may differ. Start with one tablespoon at a time till you achieve the results.
  3. You could save the whey, and if you do: Line another pan with double layered cheesecloth. Make sure the cheesecloth is long enough to be bundled up and hanged later. Run the whey through the cloth which will collect all the curdles. Set the whey aside.
  4. Wash the curdles 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 let it drain for about 30 minutes. Then place weight on the cheese to get it to be flatter and drain out extra moisture. I wanted a nice block of cheese so I pressed the contents of the cheese cloth into a square cake pan about 20 cm (8 inch). Then I took the still wrapped cheese and placed it between two cutting boards 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.
  6. Wrap it and store it in the fridge for up to a week.
  7. Reheat very slowly in the microwave for 30 second spurts until too warm to touch. Add to the makhani gravy at the last minute (I didn’t want my paneer to fall apart).

TIP: if you happen to burn the milk to the bottom of your pan, try this handy tip, cover burnt area with a good thick layer of table salt, add a bit of water and heat but don’t hard boil. Using a silicon scraper, see if it comes off. If it doesn’t, do the same but instead of water, use lemon juice and this time bring to a soft boil. Using a silicon scraper, peel away the burnt layer. Voilà!

I am very excited to tell you that THIS post will tip this blog over the 100,000 views! I can hardly believe it. My humble little blog from Bloor West Village. Go figure. I was going to do some sort of prize, but I have no idea how to measure who my 100,000 visit was. So I’ll have to think of something else. WOOO HOOO!

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Oh Christmas Tree

We decorated the tree a few days after we got it home. Now I know it’s probably a lot larger than many cultures, but for Canadians this tree is small; even by our standards it’s a wee bit puny, we had to put it up on a table to get the height we needed! But I’m OK with that, because that just gives us more room for presents!

These delicious little bites were baked, believe it or not, and you will be surprised at how soft and chewy the centre is and how crispy the exterior becomes when you reheat. I don’t think I will deep fry my bhajis ever again.

Baked Onion Bhajis

Don’t be fooled by their size, they pack a big punch of flavour

original recipe from BBC. Makes about 24 mini bhajis.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 Vidalia onion very thinly sliced
  • 120 g/4 oz all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • non stick cooking spray

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400°F. Pre-heat a 12 or 24 mini muffin tin.
  2. Beat the eggs and add the finely chopped onion rings, mix well.
  3. Combine the flour, ground coriander and cumin and stir well. Add to the egg, onion mixture and stir well to combine.
  4. Generously spray the mini muffin tin, add about 1 tbsp of the batter per cavity. Bake for 7-10 minutes, then flip each bhaji so that it browns evenly on both sides and bake for another 7-10 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. To serve, pre-heat oven to 350°F and place bhajis onto a cookie sheet and heat for about 10-12 minutes, crisping up the exterior.
  6. Serve immediately with some onion chutney or tamarind chutney.

The other day my new friend Trang nominated me for the Liebster award. Thank you Trang.

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You must be getting a sense that we love themed dinner parties. I love everything about it, researching the food, experimenting, cooking and decorating. We had the “King and Queen” 😉 of themed dinner parties over for dinner recently (remember Titanic Anniversary Dinner and Truman Capotes Black and White?) and as one of only two couples from our group who love Indian food as much as we do, we decided to have Indian night. All the food is home-made, of course, but don’t worry, I didn’t spend all day in the kitchen; what’s great about Indian food is that it’s down-to-earth home-cooking at its best and stews are often better tasting the second day, so I was able to prepare much of the feast in advance. This post will show the menu and the photos but the recipes will come one by one, so that I can find them in the future.

This was staged, we actually had A LOT more food than that!

Hors D’œuvres:

  • Baked Onion Bhajis — I’m excited about this recipe because I did a little experiment and figured out a way to bake them instead of deep frying them and they worked out GREAT!
  • Appetizer: Mulligatawny Soup — I prepared this soup similarly to the link to my original recipe, except that I omitted the proteins as the rest of the meal is rather heavy and I didn’t want to be full after the first course! I also puréed about 1/4 of the soup so that the broth is thicker and creamier, but left the majority as chunks.

Mains:

  • Paneer Makhani — this is a rich and delicious tomato gravy with home made unripened, pressed cheese. I used this Makhani recipe but I had to add about 2 tbsp Agave Nectar as the tomatoes were extremely acidic. I suspect that this acidity would be reduced if I had used full cream and butter of the original recipe, but then that wouldn’t be me, would it now?
  • Beef Bhuna — a tasty beef stew with a deliciously flavourful gravy
  • Basmiti Rice
  • Aloo Papri Chaat — a very flavourful and texture filled cold side dish with a yogurt sauce and chick peas

Condiments:

  • Carrot Pickle — a lightly spicy, crunchy pickle to cleans the palate
  • Mango Chutney — I wanted a mango chutney that wasn’t full of sugar

Bread

  • Naan — a delicious chewy Indian bread, baked on the outside of their tandoori ovens, stay tune for my experiment!

Dessert:

  • Light Lemon Mousse — this is where I skipped Indian and went straight to light and satisfying. I checked with our guests and similar to our tastes they find Indian desserts a little too sweet so I improvised. Plus I wanted to use the gorgeous little cups we bought our yogurt in while in Paris.

It’s that time of year again, cold and flu season. For the most part, I can pretty well ward off any cold or flu I come across with my evil powers (just kidding) but this one bugger finally got me late last week. I’d been plagued with a sore throat since a week ago Monday, but no coughing or sneezing or any other symptoms, until Saturday. My voice is now three octaves lower and a little raspier…dare I say sexy? Well, if it wasn’t for the sneezing and coughing, perhaps. But not so much ;-)!

We went Christmas tree chopping on Sunday (you may recall we did this last year too), I probably shouldn’t have gone, but I really, really, really wanted to. And it was cold, and slightly snowing. We snapped a few pics but the weather wasn’t great and I paid for it the following day. I stayed home and nursed my achy body. And with great timing, my friend Kelly up in Ottawa at Inspired Edibles created a alcohol free (I know, what was I thinking?) hot toddy that sincerely HIT THE SPOT. I will make this my go to winter drink when I feel a cold coming on. You can actually taste the healing properties (and heating properties ;-)!) I’m not going to post the recipe because I made it just as Kelly suggested (except I didn’t have star anise, so I used cloves instead) and her pictures are better anyway. Please do yourself a favour and try this drink. It is seriously yummy and it works!

Lightly snowing made it picture perfect for tree cutting
No, we don’t just walk into a forest to chop down our tree, we actually to go a tree farm!

We chose another smallish tree, but this one has a lot more girth (but Mum’s the word when the tree asks if it looks fat all dressed up!)

We’ll decorate it tomorrow night! (Weird glow is from the iPhone 4 flash)

When we arrived home that evening, I just felt like soup, so I made just what the doctor ordered, chicken noodle soup. This is a variation of Nigella’s Cold Cure Soup as I wanted something a little simpler than her version. And I only put 1/4 of a fresh lemon into it as I have found that more than that can make the soup bitter tasting, particularly when your taste buds are a bit off with a cold.

Cold Cure Chicken Noodle Soup

Serves 4 generous portions

A gorgeous mix of carrots, parsnips and onions garnished with parsley and green onion. There are glass noodles hiding in there too!

Ingredients:

  • 2 bone in, skinless chicken breasts (about 400-450 g)
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into large chunks
  • 1 medium parsnip, cut into large chunks (reserve the tops)
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, smashed but left whole (so you can remove them)
  • 1/4 lemon
  • 1 tsp canola oil
  • Water
  • Salt to taste
  • Glass noodles
  • Parsley to garnish
  • Green onion to garnish
This is the instagram photo

Directions:

  1. If the chicken still has some fat on it, remove all fat (you’ll thank me later so your soup isn’t a large puddle of grease!). Sear the chicken breasts, meat side down until lightly browned.
  2. Add onion, carrots, parsnips, garlic and the lemon. Stir for a moment. Fill the pot with water to cover all of the chicken and vegetables.
  3. Wash and tie the parsnips tops, add to the soup pot. Cover and simmer until chicken is tender and cooked through (I found that 1 hour 30 minutes was good for our chicken, but you should definitely check the internal temperature) You don’t want to cook it too long so that the vegetables are not mushy!
  4. Remove chicken and allow to rest for about 5-7 minutes (covered). Taste and salt stock to your preference.
  5. In the meantime, soak the glass noodles according to directions.
  6. Strain the soup through a fine sieve, reserving the carrot, parsnip and onions. Discard the parsnip tops, garlic and lemon.
  7. Cut the carrot and parsnips into small bite size sticks.
  8. De-bone the chicken and tear into small bite-size pieces.
  9. Into four bowls, add even amounts of the noodles, vegetables and chicken and cover with the hot stock.
  10. Serve immediately garnished with parsley and green onions.

On an unrelated note, my blog is fast approaching our 100,000 visitor! I’m hoping we can reach that goal before the new year. I might even do a give away! Stay tuned.

Bloor West Village has been going through a bit of a make-over in the last few years. This past summer, we had Payless Shoes close (I always wondered what it was doing in our hood) and a Laura Secord shop close (now that was sad, great ice cream) and in their place a new restaurant opened its doors called The Works. The Works is a burger restaurant, but not like any restaurant you’ve seen, they specialize in burgers, high-end burgers. JT stopped by on his day off to have lunch in November and had a good experience so last Sunday we thought we’d another go.

The restaurant is not huge, but it was hopping at the strange hour of 3pm on a Sunday. I guess we were not the only one’s lunching at that hour! It’s decorated in warehouse grunge and it’s quite cool.; corrugated metal on walls, some graffiti, copper plumbing pipe made into cool linear art. The menu is burgers, burgers and more burgers. They offer • Ground Beef • Whole Chicken Breast • Lean Ground Turkey • Gourmet Veggie • Portobello Mushroom Cap • and Lean Domestic Elk (3.39 upgrade). The menu is laid out in steps, so that Step One is selecting your burger, then you choose the venue you would like the burger presented in, with a variety of toppings or if you wish, a salad topped with a burger. I didn’t see a custom burger option but with the variety of choices offered there are plenty so likely there would be no problem in finding something that will satisfy you. The menu is very Toronto centric which is also quite cool and they change the names depending on the city they service (for example, there is the Bloor West Village – grilled eggplant, ripe tomato, red onion & curry mayo 12.93 or the Distillery District – danish blue cheese, walnut chunks & a smattering of dijon-haze sauce 12.91). The burgers are not cheap, but then they are pretty gourmet, and the toppings are not skimpy so you are getting some good value for your dollar.

As I mentioned we arrived at around 3pm on a Sunday afternoon and it was packed. Fortunately, we only had to wait a couple of minutes for them to clean off the table. We were seated with menus and left to peruse for over 10 minutes before a server came by. Even the host came by and asked if we had been seen by someone. Now in all fairness, this was only their second week open, so they may have some hickups to smooth over even though there seemed to be plenty of servers on the floor for the number of people (it’s not a huge place). We placed our orders for drinks and our meals and the drinks came out in a reasonable time, albeit the water took a while. The server warned us that the food will take at least 20 minutes because they make everything fresh. It would have been nice if they had provided some kind of snack (like in Mexican restaurants they give you home made tortilla chips with salsa, or Thai places give you shrimp chips with peanut sauce) since the wait for the food was so long. But they didn’t. We’ll have to keep that in mind if there is a next time as we were pretty hungry.

JT had enjoyed the Elk burger on his previous visit so we both decided to give it another try. It’s not easy to share dishes here because they serve them on galvanized metal trays without cutlery for the most part (my salad came with a fork, I had to ask for a knife). The non-alcholic drinks are served in glass measuring cups (I found it a bit awkward to drink out of the larger glass, so you had to drink with the straw provided). JT ordered the Elk Burger with the Distillery District topping (danish blue cheese, walnut chunks & a smattering of dijon-haze sauce 12.91), I also ordered the Elk but I decided to go with the Waldork Salad (leafy spring mix, red onion, julienned beets, ripe avocado, walnuts, grilled pear then topping it all with some crumbly blue cheese 14.97). Both were quite generous portions with generous toppings, and all in all I was rather satisfied with my selection. I was however, disappointed in my burger which was a tad overdone and quite dry. Apparently they had asked JT how he’d like his burger on his previous visit, but they failed to ask us this time. When I enjoy a house-made burger, I rather like a more rounded burger than a flat patty, because it’s house made, ground on site, you need not be as concerned over having it cooked to death. My patty was flat, dry and over cooked. JT said his was a little less overdone. But two tables from us, the gentleman couldn’t eat his burger because it was too pink. It would have been nice to be asked. Normally I would have sent it back, but frankly I wasn’t prepared to wait another 20 minutes.

Would I go again? Good question. I’m not a big burger eater, so my answer would have to be no, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend it for the burger lovers out there. But I suggest you wait for a couple of weeks so they can work out their kinks!

A tad overcooked for my taste

Overall rating of The Works (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 2/5, food 2.5/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 2.5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

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

While in Barcelona, Spain we enjoyed many tapas that we’d never tried before and one particular tapa was the Potato Omelet. Now you know that I am not a huge potato eater, but for some reason I really wanted to try it. The starch in the potato makes for a very dense and slightly chewy omelet, which was usually served as a small cube, sometime with bread but most often not.

The potato omelet is the cube centre back.
We enjoyed this plate while dining along side of the Mediterranean Sea!

Now that we’re home, I’ve experimented with other ‘fillings’ for this simple treat and yesterday I think I hit the jackpot. I made this little hors d’œuvres with a shallot, finely diced chorizo and a sliced mushroom. What made it hit the jackpot for me was the texture and because I wasn’t using a potato in this version, I needed to add something to help thicken the egg. I remembered Sissi’s recipe for a Korean Pancake (which I thoroughly enjoyed) and she added corn starch to the egg batter to firm it up. So that’s exactly what I did. Thanks Sissi. It made eight 2.5cm squares (1″) that were tasty and incredibly easy to make. You can even make it in advance and reheat.

A lovely dense texture and a little spice from the Chorizo

Chorizo, Shallot and Mushroom Omelet Tapa

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole egg and 1 egg white
  • 1 tbsp corn starch
  • 1 mushroom, sliced about 2mm thick
  • 30 g finely diced chorizo (I didn’t add extra salt as I find Chorizo salty enough)
  • 20 g finely chopped shallot

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Beat the egg and white together, add the corn starch and beat until all the lumps have disolved.
  3. Generously grease a small loaf pan 7cm x 13cm (2.75″ x 5″) or 200 mL (3/4 cup size).
  4. Add the chorizo, shallots and mushrooms and make sure they are distributed evenly in the pan. Pour the egg batter over it and tap a few times so that it reaches under and over all the inclusions. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until egg is entirely set. You may serve immediately or cool completely and reheat this mixture prior to serving.

And definitely don’t let my ingredient mix stop you from trying something you have on hand…for example, ham and gruyère cheese!

Ham, Gruyère cheese and a little Dijon

The possibilities are definitely endless. I do hope you enjoy this snack.

The potato and bacon omelet took a nose dive out the pan. It must have been possessed! And NO, for all the guys, the three second rule did NOT apply.

On a recent visit to one of our favourite restaurants Bestellen, we chatted with our charming waiter Kirin who is originally from Bath, UK and has been living in the Junction (a short walk from our house) since he arrived about a year ago. He told us about two relatively new restaurants that opened just north or our house, one of which is the Indie Alehouse.

We were excited to try it so we met a friend and her boyfriend on a Friday for drinks and decided to have a small bite while we were there — a Restaurant Review was born.

Let me start by telling you about The Junction; called The Junction because of its proximity to where four rail lines converge and has become an up and coming neighbourhood over the last few years. House prices are still pretty reasonable (for Toronto) and although the overall atmosphere is still a little rough, it’s growing like mad.  This rough exterior adds to its unique character like the Lower East Side in NYC. Lots of young families have moved in and the shops and restaurants are starting to reflect that (when we moved to BWV about 11 years ago, The Junction was actually pretty shady and dumpy).

Indie Alehouse is one of a few new faces on the block and by the local reception, its been a void long needing to be filled. We arrived shortly after seven Friday evening and it was already bustling. We were told a table for four would be about a ten minute wait; but there were four seats at the bar, so we opt for bar seating. Before you knew it, there was a queue outside and the bar area was packed 3 deep in some places.

Indie is a 4,000 square foot brew pub, but most of that square footage must be dedicated to the brewing because the restaurant is not enormous. Decorated with a tin-tile roof, exposed brick, school house lights and warm crafted wooden tables, Indie has a comfortable vibe to it. If it wasn’t for the kitchen pass-through’s blaring fluorescent lights assaulting the warmly lit bar space the lighting wouldn’t have been half bad. And with all the hard surfaces it was rather noisy, and you know how much I like that! Perhaps sitting at a cozy table might have eliminated the overall drone of everyone talking at once, and the odd baby or child crying (yes, these folks bring children to a bar!!!!).

Our bartender (there were two or three) was attentive although my friend must have ticked her off somehow because she conveniently ignored every request my friend made so I started ordering for her. Being a huge fan of coffee beer, I ordered their Breakfast Porter and JT ordered the The Belgian Barnyard (which really didn’t taste like barnyard at all). My Breakfast Porter was a delicious dark creamy beer with coffee, caramel and malt flavours and a very subtle vanilla tone. JTs Belgium Barnyard was a light golden colour with a decent head; it had a light spicy aroma but I think he prefers something a little more robust. My friend ordered a Spadina Monkey which the bartender referred to as a sour beer with a crisp refreshing taste, not unlike a lime and lager; her boyfriend ordered the same as JT. You can also order a flight of five beer tasters for $10 — I wish we had seen that before ordering our pints. We were there for about an hour and getting hungry so each couple ordered a Chacuterie Platter ($19) to share between two of us (if you want to see a photo, click here). To be honest I was disappointed; for $19 we got maybe 100-150 g of meat, although the meat was of excellent quality.

Now we were there relatively early so it was still family time, and we may give it another chance just a little later in the evening. The noise was a downer to me because as you know I am unable to be heard.

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends! And anyone else who happens to celebrate Thanksgiving now. Hope you enjoyed an overload of turkey, stuffing and pies! And then there’s Black Friday, which for some reason Canadian retailers have jumped on and are promoting the heck out of it! Get out there and get some GREAT DEALS, but not before you leave me some of your lovely words.
Honestly, I don’t eat sweets. I just like to bake ’em! And fortunately, JT started a new job (and career) in June and his office are the perfect guiney pigs recipients of my baking! I wanted to bake another batch of the molasses spice cookies, but JT put in a request for something chocolate. OK, I can live with that. The cookies lasted less than one hour and JT only had two. He came home with a request for the next bake: macarons! Can you believe it?

A very tasty treat, if I do say so myself

The recipe is an adaptation from the wonderful Chocolate Crinkle Kisses I make every year at Christmas, but since it’s not Christmas yet (unbenounced to many department stores who are playing Christmas music incessantly) I altered the recipe to be a Chocolate Espresso flavour and I omitted the Candy Cane Kisses!

These cookies have a strong coffee and chocolate flavour and it’s texture is a little browny like.

An explosion of chocolate and espresso in every bite

Chocolate Espresso Crinkle Cookies

Makes about 30-36 cookies

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup icing sugar
  • 3/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup espresso powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsps vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Sift icing sugar into a small bowl.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the melted butter with the cocoa powder, espresso powder and sugar.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and vanilla Into the chocolate mixture.
  4. Slowly mix in all the dry ingredients until combined. Stir in the chocolate Chips.
  5. Cover and refrigerate about 2 hours.
  6. Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll dough into a small ball about the size of a walnut; roll balls in the icing sugar and press flat with the palm of your hand.
  7. Place on parchment covered baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between the cookies. Bake 8-10 minutes.
  8. Let the cookies cool on the sheet; transfer to racks to cool completely before storing.

This here post is the reason I love blogging and I’m sure most of you will agree. Blogging provides friendship and advice, cooking and sometimes otherwise. Blogging provides support; I haven’t come across a nasty person yet (well, I would delete them anyway ;-)). And last but not least, blogging provides inspiration particularly when you are deathly sick of every recipe you’ve past blogged about and can’t for the life of you come up with an idea for tonight’s dinner.

I have my friend John, From the Bartolini Kitchens to thank for tonight’s dinner: Roasted Loin of Pork stuffed with Fig Preserves and Goats Cheese. Of course, John made his own fig preserves (which I will do next year) but I had to use a store bought version. I find these store bought preserves rather sweet and I certainly didn’t want dessert for dinner so I decided to add some goats cheese to my stuffing to help temper the sweetness. It worked. PLUS it made an incredible jus for the Celeriac Potato Mash I made with it. I only made a few minor changes to John’s incredible recipe. This was definitely a dinner for the recipe books. Thanks John, again, I might add.

Come on pork, it’s your turn to shine. Work it, work it.
(It’s that time of year when the light SUCKS big time. Sigh.)

 

Pork Loin Stuffed with Fig Preserves and Goats Cheese

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 400 g Pork Tenderloin, butterflied
  • 100 g goats cheese
  • Fig preserves (home made or store bought)
  • 4-6 slices prosciutto
  • butcher’s twine
  • 2 tbsp high flash point oil, such as canola
  • Sherry for deglazing (I used cooking Sherry, but feel free to use the real thing)

Directions:

  1. Pre heat oven to 350° F.
  2. Spread a thin layer throughout the butterflied pork tenderloin. Crumble the goats cheese evenly throughout.
  3. Roll up the pork and wrap tightly with the prosciutto, wrap tightly with the butcher’s twine.
  4. In an oven proof roasting pan, heat the canola oil until almost smoking. Add the pork and cook the prosciutto until crispy on all sides. Remove pork for a minute and deglaze pan with the Sherry. Return pork and bake in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes or until pork has reached a minimum of 145° F. Allow to rest before cutting into slices.
  5. If the pan has juices from the fig preserves and bits of goats cheese you will want to heat on the stove and press through a fine sieve for serving. Serve with Celeriac Potato Mash.

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad
(today would have been their 52nd anniversary)

We don’t often buy potatoes; it’s not because I don’t like them, I do, but they are carbs and I would prefer to eat other vegetables with less carbs and a lower glycemic index. But I bought two medium sized potatoes two weeks ago and only used one for a recipe. I had that potato sitting on my counter for another week before I figured out what to do with it.

I also had a 1/2 celeriac (celery root) in the vegetable crisper just waiting to get brown and tossed so I decided to take my celeriac cauliflower “mash” and change it up a bit with the potato. Since I didn’t have a head of cauliflower either I just made Celeriac Potato Mash. Now I love roasting vegetables because it really brings out the sweetness, so I simply roasted the celeriac (and a few cloves of garlic), boiled the potatoes and presto; what a “mash” this turned out to be! LOVE it!

Celeriac has fewer calories and carbohydrates than a potato as well, it is lower on the glycemic index than a potato so keeping the celeriac ratio higher than the potato was the right decision for me. The potato adds creaminess that you expect from mashed potatoes. This is a bit more labourious than normal mashed potatoes, but I promise you it is worth it. I hope you enjoy it. To see a whole mess of mashed potatoes head on over to Greg’s blog, he has gone all out with this savoury dish.

The star of this photo is the mash, not the pork. The pork is a Primadonna!

Celeriac and Potato “Mash”

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium yukon gold potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium celeriac, peeled and diced
  • 4 medium cloves of garlic, peeled to the outer skin
  • 2-4 tbsp EVOO
  • salt to taste
  • chicken stock or milk or cream, depending on how healthy you wish to make it.

Directions:

  1. Pre heat oven to 400° F. Spread the celeriac evenly on the pan and very lightly coat with olive oil and salt.
  2. Put garlic cloves into a small ramekin and add about a finger’s depth of EVOO and salt.
  3. Bake the celeriac and garlic until both are fork tender. About 30-40 minutes into the roasting, add about 1/2 cup of water to the celeriac roasting pan and give the celeriac a good stir. When the water evaporates, they should be fork tender (if not, then add another 1/2 cup of water and repeat until fork tender)
  4. While the celeriac is baking, in a large stock pot add enough water to cover the potatoes entirely, salt generously. Cook until they are fork tender.
  5. Drain potatoes and allow to sit for a minute so that all of the water evaporates. Either rice with a potato ricer or mash gently with a fork (you don’t want to develop the starches so for heavens sake, don’t blend this with an immersion blender). Don’t add any liquid as the celeriac mash will be a touch wetter than necessary and we’ll need the potato on the dryer side. Set aside
  6. When the celeriac is fork tender, remove from the pan into the immersion blender container, squeeze out the roasted garlic, pour in the oil from roasting the garlic and blend. Blend until it is smooth, smooth, smooth, adding chicken stock, milk or cream to achieve a mashed potato consistency. Celeriac doesn’t have the same level of starch as the potato so this is the only way you will get it smooth. Push through a fine sieve and fold the mashed potatoes into the mix. Keep warm over a bain marie. Serve with the most amazing Fig Stuffed Pork Tenderloin ever (link won’t be active until Nov 21).

This past Wednesday, through JTs work we were generously invited to the European Union Film Festival Gala Opening Cocktail reception at The Revival Bar, 783 College Street in Toronto. We weren’t planning on seeing the films, just hob hobnobbing with the EU Film Festival crowd. There were lovely hors d’œuvres and cocktails to be had, but we had other plans for eating that evening, we made reservations at Frank’s Kitchen about one kilometre from the gala!

We chatted with people from JTs work and a few new faces; it was lovely to reconnect and to make new connections! We chatted at length with Rebecka  Högdahl from the Swedish Trade Council and Dustin Woods from PR firm Marshall Fenn. We enjoyed our conversation at the EU Film Festival Gala so much, we invited them to join us for dinner. Dustin is as big a car dude as JT is, so they had lots to talk about. And girls can always find something to chat about :-).

Before I go on, I must apologize for the photos as it was rather dark in the restaurant so I had to enhance the photos in Photoshop, some worked out better than others.

Rebecka and Dustin were our guests

Frank’s Kitchen is a pleasantly decorated restaurant with flattering lighting. Even though the kitchen is open, they considered the impact of fluorescent bulbs on the tables but it is brightly lit, non-the-less which made our table directly across from the kitchen not as pleasant as some of the other tables out of the bright light range. Owned and operated by Chef Frank Parhizgar and his wife, Shawn Cooper who manages the front of the house. Shawn was very gracious to change our reservation for two to four when we showed up. It was packed on a Wednesday evening at 8pm which is a testament to the quality. The service was excellent, the waiter clearly knew the food and was quick to describe our tantalizing journey of the menu.

We were brought house made breads served with hummus and a little olive oil combo

We started our delicious journey with Chef’s wonderful Porchini Mushroom Velouté served with a spoon with a tiny ball of Goats Cheese Fritter and Cucumber Tomato Salsa. Both were exceptional. I loved the way the truffle oil just elevated the already rich earthy flavour of the velouté. Which reminds me, I should have had JTs as he is not a truffle oil fan!

The earthy flavour of the mushroom velouté was further enhanced by the truffle oil

We ordered a plate of raw oysters and Oysters Rockefeller (highly recommended by James Chatto) and neither disappointed.

Rebecka kindly snapped this photo of JT and I enjoying our appetizers

The lovely texture and not too creamy made this a very tasty experience

We were then surprised by a palatte cleanser of Sangria Sorbet.
I really had to lighten this photo.

At this point I’ve had a few glasses of wine, so I forgot to take photos of the other dishes! Sigh. I had the appetizer portion of Kobe Bone Marrow & Venison Tartare with a Foie Gras Torchon Salad, it was lovely and such a variety on the plate (click here to see a photo). The marrow was rich so I was glad there wasn’t a huge portion of it. JT ordered the Crisp gnocchi in a Gorgonzola Cream with Pancetta and it was delicious (click here for a photo). I do love a crispy fried gnocchi. Both of our guests ordered the Ontario Lamb three ways: Rack, Loin, braised Shoulder and Grilled Merquez Sausage which was a very generous portion (click here for a photo).

I loved this experience, but I must warn you, it is not inexpensive but the service, food and ambiance is well worth it. With a bottle of red and a bottle of white wine we exceeded $300 for the four of us. One small negative was that the bathrooms were not renovated (in fact, the one I went into had to toilets in the same room without a partition…just weird. NOTE: I have slightly modified my text here as Shawn kindly emailed me to bring to my attention that the bathrooms are in the process of being renovated and indeed had a sign on the door apologizing for their appearance and to use as a ‘single’ stall; regretfully I failed to mention said sign and as I was one of two people heading to use the bathroom I chose the unfortunate two toilet stall.

Overall rating of Frank’s Kitchen (in my opinion): Decor 3.5/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 3/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet). We paid for our meals in full.

This is the fallen tree. We have several in our neighbourhood,
all about the same age. I’m hoping they have stronger roots!

I’m on a bit of a lentil kick these days, and that’s rather funny as I have never really like them. My favourite is the Lentilles du Puy that I recently blogged about, but the recipe that inspired my recipe kept creeping into my head so I had to make it. It’s a warm or cold salad; for lunch the following day I had it cold over a bed of arugula and spinach (my favourite) and it was very tasty and filling (or the three F’s Full bodied, Flavourful and Filling). This shall definitely go into my repertoire for weeknight dinners and lunches. It was also very easy to make which is a bonus for everyone.

I found the lentils at Pusatari’s in Yorkville, but they were a bit more expensive than the package I bought in Lyon. I got many great tips on where to find them in Toronto from my readers and I thank you kindly. This recipe is from Epicurious and although I did not change much of it, I did change up the method considerably. Also, this would make a great vegetarian dish if you omit the pancetta, I just couldn’t help myself ;-)!

Lentilles du Puy Salad with a Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette

LentilsDuPuys-1

I took this photo over again in the summer of 2014 because I really hated the lighting in the original photos. While the lentils were still warm, I folded in a good handful of baby arugula leaves and served it on a massaged Kale salad.

A feast for the eyes as well.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup lentilles du Puy (French green lentils) picked over and rinsed
  • 3 cups water (the original recipe has 6 cups but you have to drain the remaining water)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 pancetta slices, chopped (about 3-4 table spoons)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 fresh flat-leafed parsley sprigs plus 1/2 cup leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely diced  (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, finely diced (about 3/4 cup)

For vinaigrette

  • 2 tbsp white-wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard, or to taste
  • 1-2 tbsp cup EVOO
  • 1 bunch arugula, coarse stems discarded, washed well and spun dry

Directions:

  1. In a heavy saucepan render the pancetta to a crispy consistency. Remove pancetta and add the onions and sweat until transparent. Add the garlic, type and parsley sprigs (reserve the leaves). Cook for about 1 minute.
  2. Add the lentils and sauté for another minute, add the water all at once and simmer, covered, 20 minutes. Stir in bells peppers and simmer mixture, covered, until lentils are tender, about 10 minutes. Lentils may be made 2 days ahead and kept covered and chilled. Reheat lentils before proceeding with recipe.

Directions for vinaigrette:

  1. Transfer 2 tablespoons lentil-cooking liquid to a medium bowl and whisk in vinegars, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Add oil in a stream, whisking, and whisk dressing until emulsified.
  2. Drain lentils (if required, I didn’t have to) well in a sieve and discard parsley sprigs. Toss lentils with chopped parsley and vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Just before serving, arrange arugula decoratively around salad, or serve without as is pictured below.

I’m just about to have some, won’t you join me?

In October we were invited to another theme dinner party: Truman Capote’s Black and White Masquerade Ball, the party of the century! We were asked to dress in black and white and wear with a mask, which worked out perfectly since Halloween was just around the corner!

Our lovely hostess made this beautiful little booklet for the evening. The menu was pulled from Capote’s favourites, Basil Chicken Hash and served similar to the style of the time. We all had a blast! Mind you, I think we lasted about 10 minutes wearing the masks! Sadly, I didn’t get any pics of JT and I. Nor did I shoot the hash…but rest assured, it was AMAZING. The basil infused the chicken and although there is nothing Thai about it, it had a slight Thai flavouring to me. This will definitely go into our steady repertoire, such a flavourful and easy dish.

My friend chose Ina Garten’s recipe which turns out to be healthier than the real deal, believe it or not; Ina uses an extra pot to sauté the peppers, but I wanted to make it much simpler and modified the recipe accordingly.

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Our lovely hosts also gave us a bit of a teaser for the next themed dinner party in the Springtime…it will be Bond 007! What fun! Now, tell me which Bond girl should I be?

Basil Chicken Hash

Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa on Food Network

Serves 4, 100 g chicken per serving

Ingredients:

  • 1 or 2 chicken breasts, bone-in, skin removed (400 g)
  • 5 stalks of fresh basil leaves
  • dash of EVOO
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 small boiling potato, peeled and large diced
  • 1 red onion, chopped in large quarters
  • 1 red bell pepper, large diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, large diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 4 minced scallions, white and green parts
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh leaf parsley
  • dash of vegetable or chicken stock
  • Sea salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Spray the baking sheet with non-stick spray and lay two stalks of the basil leaves down (I was lucky, I used what was left from the garden).
  3. Place the chicken breasts on top of the basil, bone side down. Lightly rub each chicken piece with EVOO and sprinkle with salt. Put two more basil stalks on top of the chicken and bake for 35 to 40 minutes until cooked through. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then remove the meat from the bones and cut the chicken in large dice pieces and set aside.
  4. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large sauté pan and add the potatoes and onions, salt and saute over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until evenly browned and cooked through. I added a dash of stock at this point. Add the peppers, garlic, thyme, paprika and tomato paste and mix well. Add the chicken and another dash of stock and place into the oven to finish for about 10-15 minutes.
  5. Garnish with the remaining torn basil leaves, minced scallions and chopped fresh parsley, toss together and place on a serving platter. Serve over greens (I only had one smallish potato but if you use the recipe as is, you will not need a side with it).

Let’s take a moment to remember today.
*From Microsoft Clip art.

Have you ever had a dinner party cancellation at the last minute? We’ve not had them often but every few years it happens. This time it was friends who let us know Friday that the guy came down with a cold but should be OK if we don’t mind. I talked to him and he sounded fine so we said we’re on. But then at 9:25 on Saturday morning he called sounding very bad and very apologetic that he must cancel. You’re probably thinking that at 9:25am we should be OK, but the truth is I start kinda early. It’s my own fault but at that precise moment, I had just finished the gorgeous Cappuccino Panna Cotta I saw yesterday at Smidges, the bread was rising and the Moroccan Braised Beefwas already made and in the fridge (because we all know these stews are better the next day). Oh, and I just finished snapping the pic of this delicious soup. My diligence has screwed me today. I put out some feelers for the last minute stand in’s and came up short (we checked with neighbours and friends with no kids as baby sitters are hard to come by last minute). So now, I have a five course dinner for four ready, but no guests. Fortunately, I hadn’t yet made the hors d’œuvres (in fact, I was just about to get a cup of java and sit down with my new tapas cook book from Barcelona) nor had I set the table. I am sorry most of my blogging friends live so far away, otherwise, you would have received a call from me for sure. So tonight JT and I shall eat like kings and queens with a full five-course dinner and dessert to boot!

Have you ever had a last minute cancellation and how did you solve it?

The earthy golden beet was a nice compliment to the creamy celeriac.
Very tasty indeed.

Roasted Golden Beet Root with Caramelized Onion and Roasted Celeriac with Roasted Garlic Soup

Serves 4 (about 1 1/4 cup or 300 mL portion)

Ingredients:

  • 200 g golden beets
  • 300 g celeriac
  • 30 g garlic
  • 80 g sweet onion
  • Vegetable stock
  • Carnation Evaporated milk or cream
  • crispy fried onion for garnish (I hadn’t prepared it yet)

Directions:

  1. Peel and dice the beets and celeriac, spray with a bit of EVOO and roast separately for about 1 hour or until soft (I didn’t want to bleed the colours into each other). After about 30 minutes add enough water to cover the pan about 0.5cm or 1/4″ and continue roasting.
  2. Roast the garlic in a bit of EVOO and sea salt until soft.
  3. Slice the onion very thinly and caramelize on the stove top on a low setting using a bit of EVOO. This will take about 30 minutes.
  4. Using an immersion blender, combine the golden beats, caramelized onion and vegetable stock and purée until smooth and a consistency of creamed soup. Set aside.
  5. Using an immersion blender, combine the celery root, roasted garlic and evaporated milk and purée until smooth and a consistency of creamed soup. Set aside. Make sure ONE soup is slightly thicker than the other, this will help keep them separate in the bowl.
  6. Prior to serving, reheat both soups. Carefully pour the thicker of the two soups into half of the bowl. You can do this by tipping the bowl up a bit and use a large spoon to help keep that side clear of the other. Then, pour the thinner soup into the other side. Garnish with crispy fried onions.
  7. Cheers!

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We put a little crispy pancetta on top when we knew no one was looking ;)!

I thought I had my workout in the gym today. That’s what I thought when I got home and prepared to go for a walk around the hood and admire the changing leaves before they are all on the ground. I was wrong. As I went into the kitchen for a glass of water (the wine would come after the walk) I noticed the hardwood in front of our wine fridge was buckling a bit. No problem, I’ll just pull out the fridge and see what’s going on. I should have waited for JT to get home because clearly I was in the ‘blue job’ territory. But I just couldn’t help myself, I’m like that. I discovered that the fridge didn’t budge; oh no, it must be buckling under it and catching the little feet. Oh no. Now THIS is a challenge. Some brains and some brawn (and some good old fashioned Eastern European sweat) I managed to get the fridge out and the boards cut out (with my handy Dremel tool, which I use about once every four years). BRING ON THE DYI, I’m freakin’ READY! Tomorrow I’m ripping out tiles from the stairs and I’m cladding them in wood!

Fortunately, there was no water or even wetness below, so there is relief because if you’ve ever had a water leak, it’s almost impossible to figure out where it’s coming from. But now the question is, why did the boards buckle? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Doing manual labour like that inspires me to bake. Fortunately, my friend’s (boss, neighbour) daughter’s after school program is having a bake sale and since my friend (Kim) doesn’t bake much, I told her I would bake some cookies for the sale. I ended up making some old fashioned ginger snaps from my recipe from last Christmas, but then I saw a version Zsusza’s delightful cookie and was immediately drawn to it. I loved the way the cookie crackled on top. Well the kid got two batches for the bake sale (maybe a few were set aside!). I made a few alterations to the recipe, so please pop over to Zsuzsa’s blog to see the original recipe, I didn’t have nutmeg handy so I substituted allspice and I also added an extra teaspoon of dry ginger as well as a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger. It makes for a lovely warmly spiced cookie. And baking cookies is a hell of a lot easier than pulling a stuck wine fridge out of its spot.

They are soft and chewy on the inside

Old Fashioned Molasses Spice Cookies

Makes about 30-36 cookies (if you don’t sample the cookie dough)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp dry ginger
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 large egg

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to (175°C) 350° F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt; set it aside.
  4. In the bowl of your mixer, beat the shortening and sugar until fluffy.
  5. Beat in the molasses, egg and the freshly grated ginger and beat on low speed until just combined.
  6. Stir in the flour mixture.
  7. Chill the dough for 30 minutes.
  8. Using a melon baller, form the dough into 19 g balls.
  9. Place the balls leaving at least 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.
  10. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes (baking more will cause the cookies to be hard)
  11. The cookies will be very soft when you take them out of the oven but they will harden up as they cool, then transfer to a wire rack.

Tortilla Soup

We adore Mexican food, not the fast food kind, but a genuine ma and pa Mexican restaurant. Sadly we have few and far between in Toronto but there are a couple of good ones. The one I love for lunch is Cucina Lucerno down by Maple Leaf Gardens and why I love it for lunch is that they make a TO DIE FOR Sopa Azteca. Full bodied, flavourful and filling, the three F’s! When I saw the link to slow cooker chicken tortilla soup on Barb’s blog (Profiteroles and Ponytails) in her weeknight survival techniques post, I was immediately drawn to it. The sound of the ingredient combo, just made me think of Sopa Azteca (cue mouth watering), which according to Rick Bayless is one and the same! Go figure!

As Yorkesgirl recommends, I BBQ’d a couple of chicken breasts with a flavourful dry rub*, and then I shredded them and ‘finished’ them off in the slow cooker for about 20 minutes. The soup is divine and is so darn easy. You can even drop the chicken breasts directly into the slow cooker and just let it cook for hours and hours, the chicken is best shredded so over cooking is not a problem!

A very tasty soup, if I do say so myself

Sopa de Tortilla

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 2 small chicken breast, BBQ’d* with dry rub (see notes below)
  • 1 can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed, low sodium
  • 300g enchilada sauce (I wouldn’t bother putting this in next time).
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced finely
  • 1 fresh green jalopeño, minced finely
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 1 tsp lime juice

Directions:

  1. Place everything but the chicken into the slow cooker on high, stir. Cook for 2-3 hours and then add the frozen corn and cook five minutes and then add the shredded BBQ’d chicken* and cook for 20 minutes until thoroughly heated through.
    Or, sauté onions and garlic in a soup pot, add the jalopeño, spices, cocoa and cilantro and stir until you smell the spices. Add the canned tomatoes, enchilada, water and simmer for 20-40 minutes (longer you simmer the better the flavours).
  2. Serve with a dollop of low fat Greek yogurt, a sprinkling of cheese of your choice (I had cheddar), some green onions and of course some oven dried tortilla strips. Enjoy.

*BBQ Chicken Rub

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic (not garlic salt)
  • 1 tsp ground dehydrated onion flakes

Directions:

  1. Mix the spices together in a small bowl.
  2. Remove skin from the chicken breasts and cover with the dry rub. Grill or pan fry finishing in the oven on medium heat until chicken juices run clear (around 165° F).
  3. Tent and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Using a couple of forks, shred the chicken into bite-sized bits.

I’ve had this soup a couple of times now and still have a serving in the freezer which I’m saving for a particularly ugly day when I need some soup to cheer me up.

It must be officially fall because the temperatures have plummeted and the rains have set in, the skies are grey and the wind is noisy. Kind’a depressing weather, and it certainly doesn’t inspire so I wasn’t up to menu planning; but paging through a local grocery chain’s fall 2010 issue, JT found a recipe he thought he would like to have to spice up our weekly meal plan. We’re making chickpea and potato curry. Now I don’t usually gravitate toward potato recipes, but I was totally uninspired in making the menu this week and decided to just go for it, potatoes and all. Next time, I would add a handful of sultana raisins to add the sweetness this curry was missing. Or alternatively I think I’ll try this with sweet potatoes or even butternut squash as I think the sweetness of the sweet potato or butternut squash would be heavenly with the curry.
Do you meal plan? I generally plan out the entire week on Sunday and do the groceries Sunday afternoon. I always make enough for lunches for the following day. The planning makes my head want to explode for an hour or so but then I don’t have to think about it! I store the plan on the iCloud in my Reminders app on my iPhone and that way I have it no matter where I am (because if I’m having fish on Thursday I’ll need to pick it up from my fishmonger that day and my Reminders will remind me!)
The dish comes together reasonably quickly and cooks in about 30 minutes. I think it took me 10 minutes to prep everything (mise en place) so 40 minutes tops. And I am sure you can do this in the slow cooker, I would choose low and cook for 4-5 hours (just remember to heat the curry powder in a lightly oiled frying pan before you add it to revive the flavours). The starch in the potato makes a very nice and creamy sauce. In the recipe below I cut the potatoes down to half, as I just didn’t want as many carbs. The method for preparing the onions is a little unconventional, but it worked out very flavourful.

Warm with a touch of heat is nice when it’s blistery cold outside

Chickpea and Potato Curry

Original recipe can be found in Longos Fall 2010 magazine or here.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 vidalia onion, halved
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, grated finely with a microplane
  • 1 small hot chili pepper, halved and seeded
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tbsp mild curry powder or paste
  • 3 cups water
  • 3/4 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed small (about 2 potatoes)
  • 1 can (19 oz) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 tbsp garam masala
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1-2 cups greens (arugula or spinach) per person

Directions:

  1. In your immersion blender, purée onion, garlic, ginger and chili pepper into a fine paste (you can do this in a mini processor too, but I find the immersion blender does a finer job).
  2. In a large deep skillet, heat oil and cook onion paste for about 5 minutes or until softened.
  3. Stir in curry powder and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Add 2 cups of the water and stir to make a gravy consistency (it was actually quite liquid/soupy for me).
  5. Add the potatoes; cover and cook, stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender but firm.
  6. Add chickpeas, garam masala and remaining water and cook for 10 minutes or until thickened and potatoes are very tender.
  7. Serve on a bed of greens, sprinkled with chopped cilantro.

Hi everyone, a quick update. Our hydro was restored sometime in the middle of the second night but we had already booked into a hotel not far from home. There is something so depressing about darkness, pitch darkness — not being able to find things and tripping over things, plus we wanted a warm bed and a hot shower! (Even though the house is gas heated and we have an on demand hot water domestic and heating system, the pumps are electrically operated, so there was no heat nor hot water!) I guess we could have put the fireplace on and bundled up, but not being able to shower or even eat (didn’t want to open the fridge). My biggest fear was the chest freezer in the basement but fortunately we are in great shape, there were no signs of defrosting at all. The refrigerator freezer didn’t fare so well, nor did the fridge. I suspect that when the power went off, the compressor had a lot of residual heat in it that just dissipated up (as heat rises) into the freezer and the fridge. So we had to toss a lot of stuff. But I remind myself that we were lucky, much luckier than our poor brothers and sisters to the south and east. They’ve lost more than a few shrimp and scallops! Thanks for your kind word of encouragement, we’re all good now. Now back to regular programming.

Today was a rainy, windy and chilly day. In fact, it rained all day. So uninspiring but we needed dinner tonight and lunches for the next day, so back into the kitchen I went and prepared what turned out to be a real winner: Fall Split Pea Soup with Ham.

A hearty and flavourful soup for a chilly, rainy day

Fall Split Pea Soup with Ham

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 175 g finely chopped onion
  • 175 g cubed cooked ham
  • 50 g pancetta, cut into small slices
  • 20 g garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 2 cups green and yellow split peas
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 5-8 cm (2-3″) cinnamon stick
  • 3 cups water
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken stock

Directions:

  1. In a pressure cooker cook the pancetta until crispy then add the onions and until translucent.
  2. Add the split peas and sautée for a minute.
  3. Add the garlic and cumin and sautée for about 30 more seconds (or until you can smell the aroma), add the ham, water and stock. Now add the paprika and cinnamon stick.
  4. Seal the cover and cook under pressure for 45 minutes or until the split peas have softened (I use a fairly low setting). You should check the water level twice during the process to make sure it hasn’t boiled down to nothing, stir. If the liquid is too reduced, add more.
  5. Serve with a dollop of low fat Greek yogurt and home made bread.

Spelt Egg Bread

I’ve made this bread so many times, you would wonder if I really meant that I don’t eat many carbs. Truth be told, JT adores it, so whenever we have carb-eating company, this is my go-to bread. I ran out of flour so I added a bit of spelt and it worked out amazing! Thanks Angie for inspiring me to try Spelt flour.

I also discovered well into the bread-making that I didn’t have sesame seeds. Sigh. So I improvised and omitted them from this version of the recipe. I also only wanted one loaf so I cut the recipe in half.

Fresh out of the oven, all steamy and hot!

Spelt Egg Bread

Makes 1 30cm loaf,

Original Sesame Bread (from Sawsan, Chef in Disguise)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup spelt flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp powdered milk
  • 1/3 cup warm water (it should feel slightly warm to the touch not hot)
  • 1/2 tsp vinegar
  • 2 tsp yeast
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • pinch tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Combine the yeast, sugar and 1/3 cup water, stir gently and allow to bubble up and foam.
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer add the flour, spelt flour, salt, powdered milk, eggs and vinegar. Rub the eggs into the flour with cookie dough hook and then switch to a dough hook to incorporate completely (apparently the powdered milk makes the dough more elastic because of the sugar content in it).
  3. Add the yeast water mixture and knead the dough for 10 minutes until you get a smooth slightly sticky dough (you may or may not need to add more water depending on the type of flour you use — spelt absorbs more water).
  4. Place the dough in a slightly oiled bowl, cover it and allow it to rise in a warm place till it doubles in size (this only takes about 45 minutes).
  5. Pre-heat your oven to 500°F.
  6. Begin by rolling out the dough to about 30cm x 25cm (12″ x 10″), then roll the dough tightly on the long end and pinch to seal. Pinch the seam along the edge as well so it doesn’t unravel. If the dough is not sticky enough, it WILL unravel, so I sometimes wet my hand and brush the entire rectangle with the water and leave it for a couple of minutes to get sticky before you roll up.
  7. Allow to rest about 20 minutes in a warm, draft-free place.
  8. Bake for 5-7 minutes on the high heat, then reduce to 400°F and bake for another 7-10 minutes or until the bottom is golden.
  9. Allow to cool slightly and serve warm. Enjoy!

Happy Halloween?

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

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

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20121031-043421.jpgKim was a gypsy whore

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

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

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

There goes the neighbourhood

I had no idea we had a graveyard for neighbours

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

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

Would you like some coffee with your decomposing fingers?

Would you care for a finger cookie?


Word

Happy Halloween, tomorrow! What will you be for this momentous occasion? JT and I will share a costume, one that he thought up! I need mine for work on Tuesday and he needs it for Wednesday! Good timing! We’re Phantom of the Opera! Well, I hope you all have a great time Trick or Treating tomorrow night!
As you know during our cooking class in Lyon, we made this absolutely delightful Claffoutis with a wonderful Caramel Sauce. Chef Villard was kind enough to provide the recipes for the dishes we made together in his kitchen and we recreated the entire dinner for my friend Barb and her hubby (Profiteroles and Ponytails).

It’s a delicious dessert. I snapped this pic earlier in the day because of the light.

Pear and Milk Chocolate Clafoutis with Caramel Sauce

Makes 6 Claffoutis about 10cm or 4 inches in diametre

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 80 g granulated sugar
  • 40 g all purposes unbleached white flour
  • 100 mL Carnation Evaporated Milk (or cream)
  • 150 mL milk (I used skim)
  • 2 ripe bosc pears
  • 50 g Lindt milk chocolate, chopped
  • 5 g butter
  • 5 g sugar

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 175° C (350° F).
  2. Butter the pans and dust with sugar until sides and bottom are totally coated.
  3. In a bowl, mix the sugar and flour well. Make a well in the centre and slowly pour the cream in and then the milk. Add the lightly beaten whole eggs and yolk and mix delicately until all of the flour and sugar are combined.
  4. Peel and cut up the pears into smallish cubes (1 cm or 0.5 inch), divide evenly in the 6 pans. Add the chocolate so that it is evenly distributed in each pan.
  5. Pour the egg mix into the pans dividing equally among the 6.
  6. Bake for about 30-40 minutes or until firmly set. Cool in pans and remove carefully.
    Set aside.

This is only the photo I took of the Clafoutis, it was pear, chocolate with a glorious caramel sauce. I can hardly wait to make this again!

You can make the traditional caramel sauce, or try this unique microwave version.

Caramel Sauce Ingredients:

  • 200 g sugar
  • 50 g water
  • 150 mL heavy cream (I did not substitute this one as the sauce needs the fat)
  • 15 g unsalted butter
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Add the sugar and water to a heavy bottomed pan and heat on a low setting until the sugar is dissolved and has cooked to a beautiful golden caramel colour (be careful, I burned my first two attempts!)
  2. DO NOT STIR. Apparently stirring causes the sugar to crystallize and you will not have a smooth sauce.
  3. When you have achieved the desired colour, add the cream carefully and whisk well. Add the butter and a pinch of salt. Allow to cool.

Assembly:

  1. Warm the clafoutis in the oven for about 10 minutes.
  2. On a large rimmed plate, pour the caramel sauce into the centre and spread out evenly.
  3. Drop one clafoutis into the centre of the sauce and serve warm.

And that concludes our dinner party from Lyon. I hope some of these recipes will inspire you to make something similar. Cheers.

This is the dish that we prepared with Chef Villard in Lyon during our short visit in September. We made the dish again for friends and fellow blogger Barb and Kevin (Profiteroles and Ponytails) I had to make modifications (shown in brackets) as I wasn’t able to source ingredients or these are our personal preferences. And I didn’t get a chance to snap a pic of our finished dish because the light was poor and I didn’t want to be ‘the blogger‘ (I get enough of the rolling eyes from JT). But I know I shall make this again and update this post with the new photo. Thanks for understanding.

Our main course: Monkfish wrapped in bacon with a green olive veal stock sauce, fingerling potatoes sautéed in EVOO and snap peas with arugula (rocket) pesto. It was DELICIOUS!

Halibut wrapped in Proscuitto with Kalamata Olives in a Brown Jus Reduction

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 600 g Monkfish (we used Halibut because that is all my fish monger had the day I needed it. Go figure, they had a run on monkfish!)
  • 6 slices of prosciutto (Chef used smoked bacon, but we prefer the less fatty prosciutto)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 250 mL beef or veal stock (we used beef as I couldn’t get veal stock)
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 60 g Kalamata olives, rough dice (Chef used green olives, but we preferred the flavour of the black Kalamato)
  • 15 g butter (Chef used 60 g which is about 4 tbsp)
  • sea salt
  • white pepper (we omitted the pepper)

Directions:

  1. Have your fish monger filet and skin your fish, wrap with prosciutto and secure with butcher string. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  2. Sweat the shallot in 2 tbsp olive oil, then deglaze with the balsamic vinegar. Add the stock and allow to reduce about one third. Add the butter, and olives and stir well. Set aside.
  3. Pre heat the oven to 175° C or 350°F
  4. Brown the fish in an oven safe pan in olive oil and minced garlic for about 5 minutes (or until the prosciutto is crispy).
  5. Add the warm beef and olive jus to the fish and bake for 5-7 minutes in the pre heated oven.
  6. Serve the fish sliced into about 100-120 g per person with the brown jus and cooked olives with snap peas and arugula pesto and roast potatoes.

Notes:
Chef Villard suggested that if your fish has a thin tail, you should fold it back on itself so that the thickness is even and it cooks at the same rate.

Good day everyone, I’m still in Lyon (figuratively speaking, of course) and cooking with Chef Villard and his lovely recipes. This is a condiment that he paired with lightly cooked snow peas and a little goats cheese and boy was it good. I particularly loved the colour, unfortunately when you add the goats cheese it lightens up quite a bit, but by then you’re starving for having enjoyed the aromas of the meal all afternoon long!

That sure is green

To be honest, JT wasn’t in love with the pesto which was originally Rocket (arugula), pine nuts and Parmesan cheese so I decided to be inspired by Chef Villard and not follow the recipe 100% (of course you did, says JT). The rocket tends to get a touch bitter when processed, although I do enjoy the peppery taste I wanted to temper the bitterness so I used the same amount of spinach as the rocket. Then I was thinking of the entire meal and wanted to repeat some flavours for consistency, so instead of pine nuts, I used roasted hazelnuts (the pumpkin soup has a drizzle of hazelnut oil to finish it). So in the essence of our meal in Lyon, here is the pesto recipe.

Rocket and Spinach Pesto with Hazelnuts (on Snow Peas with Goats Cheese — not shown)

Serves 6 (I had enough pesto left over for some hors d’œuvres the next day),

Ingredients:

  • 35 g roasted hazelnuts
  • 35 g combined baby rocket (arugula) and baby spinach
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tbsp parmesan cheese
  • 2-4 tbsp EVOO
  • Salt to taste
  • 60 g snow peas
  • 20 g goats cheese

Directions:

  1. In a small food processor add the hazelnuts, rocket, spinach, finely minced garlic and Parmesan cheese and drizzle a small amount of EVOO to get the chopping going adding a little bit to allow the purée to happen with ease (you don’t want this too runny). Taste and salt as desired.
  2. When you have achieved the consistency desired set aside (this is actually quite good if you make it in advance and the flavours have time to really develop).
  3. Cook the snap peas and as soon as they are done, immerse them into ice cold water to stop the cooking quickly. Simmer water on the stove to reheat just prior to serving.
  4. To serve, add a few tablespoons of the pesto to the hot, drained snow peas and crumble the goats cheese into it, stir lightly to distribute evenly.
  5. Enjoy warm.

As you know during our cooking class in Lyon with Chef Villard, we made a wonderful meal and Chef was kind enough to provide the recipes for the dishes we made together in his kitchen. The next few postings will reflect the dishes that we made as we recreated the meal for our good friends Barb and Kevin (Profiteroles and Ponytails).

Of course, I was not able to obtain some of the ingredients, so I had to improvise, but all in all, it turned out very well and I really enjoyed it (I hope our guests did too!)

The Improvised Menu:

Escargot en chou
• Pumpkin velouté scented with vanilla with EVOO sautéed wild mushrooms and seared scallops with hazelnut oil drizzle •
• Halibut wrapped in Prosciutto with a black olive beef stock sauce, new potatoes sautéed in EVOO and snap peas with arugula (rocket) pesto •
• Pear and milk chocolate clafoutis with home made caramel sauce •

I’m starting off with the pumpkin velouté because I’ve already posted about our starter, so please feel free to click on the link. Of course, hosting a dinner party with a complex menu and taking photos for the blog don’t actually go well together so instead of delaying dinner for our lovely guests, I served this soup again the next night when my nephew Brian was over for a much more casual dinner and was able to easily snap a pic without inconvenience.

Chef and I in the garden

Pumpkin Velouté wth Sautéed Wild Mushrooms, Seared Scallop and hazelnut oil

Chef Villard’s Pumpkin velouté scented with vanilla with EVOO sautéed trumpet mushrooms and seared scallops with hazelnut oil drizzle. OMG, this was amazing!

Now, as usual I have made the recipe a little healthier and did not use the called for cream, but if you wish to make it yourself, please go ahead and indulge. I will also caveat that I made some preparation changes to the way Chef Villard made his soup; I oven roasted the pumpkin because all I was able to get was pie pumpkins and they tend not to be as sweet as the pumpkin that Chef Villard used, so I felt roasting would coax the sugars out of it more than just boiling. As well, our mushrooms were just ordinary wild mushrooms and not the intended trumpet mushrooms which are delicately earthy so I sautéed my wild mushrooms in butter to try to temper the strong earthiness of the wild ones! And last but not least, I roasted an entire head of garlic and added that to the soup because I like roasted garlic better than just cooked garlic. Otherwise, it’s exactly the same 😉

Pumpkin Velouté with Sautéed Wild Mushrooms and Scallops with Hazelnut Oil

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 600 g pumpkin (butternut squash would also work very well in this recipe
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp EVOO
  • 600 mL chicken stock (home made or low sodium if store bought)
  • 1/2 of a vanilla bean pod
  • 150 mL Carnation Light Evaporated Milk (or heavy cream)
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 3 tbsp EVOO
  • 12 Scallops
  • 200 g wild mushrooms (or trumpet mushrooms)
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed flat (not small pieces, you want it whole enough to extract before serving).
  • 1 tbsp hazelnut oil

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 175° C or 350° F
  2. Peel and chop the pumpkin to 2-3 cm (1 inch) cubes, drizzle with olive oil and bake until fork tender.
  3. Peel off all of the skin from the garlic so only the individual cloves have their skin on. Put in a small ramekin and add about 3 tbsp EVOO and sea salt and bake until fork tender.
  4. In a large soup pot, add 2 tbsp EVOO and sweat out the onions until tender. Add the chicken stock and vanilla pod and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds and add it back to the pot.
  5. Add the roasted garlic and pumpkin and cook for about 6 minutes. Blend until very smooth with an immersion blender and press through a fine sieve. Set aside.
  6. Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the mushrooms and garlic clove and sautée until the mushrooms are tender. Set aside.
  7. Heat a frying pan up so and add a splash of olive oil. Dry off the scallops and fry each side until golden.
  8. Process the soup one more time with the immersion blender to aerate it.
  9. Plating: using either a large rimmed soup bowl or a small soup cup, add equal portions to the centre of each bowl. Spoon the soup around the mushrooms, garnish with scallop(s) and hazelnut oil.
  10. Enjoy.

Chef’s Notes:

Chef Villard was kind enough to pass along his experience and give us a few restaurant hints, that I would love to share with you:

  • Process creamed soups again just before serving to aerate it, Chef Villard mentioned that this makes the soup extra light.
  • When cooking any type of protein, it’s important to make sure that the thickness is even thoughout otherwise the thin bits will over cook while you finish cooking the thicker bits. So if you have a piece of fish with a thin tail end, fold it back over the next thickest part to even out the entire fishes thickness. Wrapping with prosciutto helps hold it together.

Grainy French Mustard

Whilst in Lyon I also bought some dark mustard seeds (now I know I’m not the only one who buys food as souvenirs). Apparently the darker the seeds the hotter the mustard, I didn’t know this then, but as it turns out, dark is good because I LOVE a hot mustard. Another thing I didn’t know in making mustard is that you can tame the heat by cooking the mustard, the longer you cook it, the less hot it will be. Go figure.

I mixed in my yellow mustard seeds for good measure

I didn’t cook mine at all.

If you’re wondering, I made the label! The jar came from a trip out to Whistler, BC about 20 years ago. We ‘needed‘ Dijon mustard for a dinner in our condo and the one I bought came with this adorable little jar (you knew I was gonna buy that jar whether we needed mustard for our dinner or not!). Anyway, I loved the jar and the little wooden spoon, and it’s perfect for my home made mustard.

I remember seeing a post from my friend Lorraine at Not Quite Nigella and she made home made mustard from scratch. I know my Mom used to make it from time to time, but sadly I never got the recipe and when Lorraine made it a few months ago, I knew I had to give it a try. I won’t be buying grainy mustard again. It’s easy to make and the taste totally rocks. You have to leave it for a couple of days otherwise the seeds are quite bitter, but once it ages, it is lovely.

I made this batch to take to my brother’s cottage for Thanksgiving weekend. I served it with Turkey Sausages with the Fluffy Buttermilk Cakes of Pan breakfast JT and I made.

Grainy French Mustard

Makes about 125 mL or 1/2 cup

Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons mustard seeds (I used 1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds and 5 tbsps brown French mustard seeds)
  • 1/2 cup mustard powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons honey (this simply smooths out the heat, it doesn’t actually make the mustard sweet)
  • 1/3 cup water (use cold water if you like your mustard hot and spicy or use warm or hot water if you like your mustard mild)

Directions:

  1. In your dedicated spice grinder or mortar and pestle, grind about 1/3 of the total seeds. s
  2. In a small bowl, combine the ground and whole seeds, mustard powder and water; stir to combine.
  3. Rest this mixture for 15 minutes, then add salt, white wine vinegar and honey (for a milder mustard, you can gently heat this mixture in a saucepan for a few minutes).
  4. Pour this mixture into a sterilized glass jar (the longer it stands the thicker it gets) and allow to age for at least 12 hours or overnight to settle the flavour (it is very bitter to use immediately, the flavour really smooth out over time).
  5. You need not store mustard in the refrigerator, but I do.

Lentilles du Puy

Before our recent trip to Europe, I had read many-a-blog about lentilles du Puy so you know what was on the top of my souvenir list. But of course, the Lentilles du Puy. Grown in the du Puy region of France, these lentils are known as the best of all the lentils for a few reasons: they cook quickly, they don’t break down and go mushy and they have a wonderful peppery taste. Many of their benefits can be attributed to the volcanic soil they are grown in. These delicious lentilles du Puy are wonderful in salads as they don’t lose their shape. We’ve just been home 10 days and I’m almost through my 500g box (yes, it was worth the weight) of dried lentils and I’m already panicking to find a source in the city. HELP!

The box could use a redesign, don’t you think?

I got my inspiration from this recipe on Epicurious and tuned it the second time as I forgot to photograph it the first time (and almost forgot to photograph it the second time too!).

This dish was almost a memory by the time I remembered to take the photo; hence the closeup, it was my lunch at work!

Lentilles du Puy

Serves 4,

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup lentilles du Puy picked over and rinsed
  • 3 cups water or chicken stock or wine
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pancetta
  • handful of sliced white or brown mushrooms
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tbsp EVOO
  • grape tomatoes finely chopped
  • Freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 bunch arugula, coarse stems discarded, washed well and spun dry

Directions:

  1. In a heavy saucepan sauté the pancetta until crispy in 2 tbsp olive oil. Remove but reserve the remaining olive oil.
  2. In the pancetta oil sauté the onions and when translucent, add the lentilles du Puy, garlic, thyme and mushrooms and give it a quick stir. Add the liquid and cook covered for 30 minutes on a low simmer (the original recipe called to strain the liquid off the lentils, but I reduced the liquid so that the lentils absorb it all and you have a beautifully cooked batch).
  3. Add the crisp pancetta, grape tomatoes and garnish with Parmesan cheese. Serve on a bed of Arugula or as is.

We were at my brother’s family cottage for Canadian Thanksgiving and I usually look after one main meal, but this year we were not able to come up on Saturday for dinner, so I looked after breakfast on Sunday morning. But that’s not all I contribute, my brother’s family does the full-blown turkey dinner, so I like to bring ‘treats’ for the kids (and adults alike). This year’s treats included the Cheez-itz from my friend Ann (who no longer blogs), Hungarian Donkey Ear Cookies and a more recent addition Hungarian Cherry Squares. After having her first bite of the Cherry Squares, my 8-year old niece announced the following “Auntie Éva, from now on, these cherry squares need to be put on ‘the list’ of things you bake for Thanksgiving Weekend.” Now that made everything all worth-while!

I found this recipe on-line back in the city but I had forgotten to bookmark it and I couldn’t find it up north, so I had to improvise the final assembly. Fortunately, I brought the dry ingredients in a container and the wet in another. Experience counts for something and to be honest, these are THE BEST fluffy pancakes I have made in a very long time. And the recipe was plentiful, making 12 generously-sized pancakes. They are a bit more work than the average pancake, but well worth the effort. Hope you try them, this is my new go-to pancake recipe.

They are really fluffy and not stuffy

Super Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes

Makes 12 pancakes about 13 cm wide and 2cm thick! (5″ wide, 3/4″ thick)

Original recipe can be found here.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 nonstick cooking spray

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl or Tupperware container for travel, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt. Set aside.
  2. On the day you wish to make the cakes of pan: separate egg yolks from egg whites and beat egg whites and cream of tartar on high speed until stiff peaks form but not dry.
  3. Beat the egg yolks until light yellow in colour and thick, add buttermilk, vanilla and melted butter and beat until smooth on a slow speed.
  4. Fold in flour mixture, but don’t over mix as we don’t want the glutens activated.
  5. Add 1/3 of the egg whites to the batter and mix together gently then fold in the remaining egg whites carefully, do not over mix!
  6. Spray your skillet with non-stick spray set to medium temperature (or 350°F).
  7. Drop about 1/3 cup of batter on pan for each pancake and spread out to about 4-5″ and cook until you see a few bubbles on the surface of the batter. Flip your pancakes and cook for about another 1-2 minutes.
  8. Keep warm until you have made all the pancakes and serve warm with butter, maple syrup, fruit and whipped cream!

Pass the cakes of pan, as they are known in our house

It’s always a food frenzy…way too much food

We went for a good long walk after the Buttermilk Pancake Breakfast

Gorgeous fall colours

Thanksgiving Dinner with the family

Now who invited her?

A few of my lovely readers have commented that they would love to have a tapas dinner party but it seems like a lot of work, so I’ve put together a few words of advice as I have hosted tapas dinner parties for over a year now and have experienced successes and failures. I hope these tricks alleviate the mystery and inspire you to have a tapas dinner party.

  1. Planning is everything. Think of a theme you wish to follow and create a menu around it; break it out into steps for timing and serving (I’ll give an example of this). Decide how many groups of courses you will serve (i.e., 4 courses of sets of 1-2 dishes are 4 x 1 (0r 2)). If this is your first tapas dinner party and you don’t have a stock up of quick hors d’œuvres in the freezer then start the cooking about 1 week in advance and make 1 to 2 things for the freezer. Don’t worry, you will use them up eventually!
  2. Mise en place is key. Chop, cut, slice, grate anything you can do ahead of time, DO IT. Prepare similar items all at once (as in chop ALL the onions you will need and separate it out into each course). Store meats and fishes in the fridge. I always put ingredients that need to be together in one place in the fridge.
  3. It’s on ‘the list’. There are many components to a tapas dinner party, so even the best of us will struggle to remember everything you need to add, pinch, and sauce so MAKE A LIST and REFER to it throughout the evening.
  4. Distribute the labour. I have found including your partner in helping with preparation and serving the courses allows each of you to alternate kitchen duty and spend time with your guests.
  5. Make it Simple. Choose a combination of freshly made courses and previously made and frozen courses.
  6. Keep it small. Remember that you are having a lot of food over a long period of time so portions should be small (for example, 1-2 medium shrimp per person is one course. Do you have frozen soup in the fridge? Serve it in shooters instead of bowls—it’s an instant serving!
  7. Timing is everything. Make sure you serve the courses spread out over time, this dinner party is about conversation and food…all night. Our tapas usually last 3-4 hours with some breathers in between.
  8. Relax. Fortunately Tapas make a very casual dinner party so you needn’t worry when one coarse is 15 minutes later than expected. Keep the wine flowing and the conversation going and you will have a wonderful evening.

To illustrate how easy this type of dinner party is, below I am posting a sample menu. I may use this for a future dinner party.

Our 21012 European Adventure through Tapas (4 x 1):

Course 1: Budapest

  • Áginéni’s Cheese Sticks (I usually have these in the freezer, but if I don’t I just make a fresh batch and freeze the leftovers for another party!)

Course 2: Spain

Course 3: France

  • Escargot en Profiteroles (I always have the cheese puffs, canned escargot, and frozen butter, garlic and parsley balls ready for action)

Course 4: Austria

  • Austrian Sachertorte three ways. Make one beautiful dessert and serve it three different ways in very small portions. (off the top of my head, I’m thinking 1) a traditional slice, 2) roughly cut into a small trifle, 3) and twice baked into a small biscotti and served with a mini cappuccino!)

Think ahead when you’re cooking weekday meals, if you’re making a large batch of chili, put aside a full serving for a future tapas dinner and serve it in mini pitas. If you’ve made soup, set aside enough for shooters and serve in espresso cups. A dip and bread may be considered as a course. A simple course might be Saganaki. I try to alternate previously prepared or easy courses with something a bit more complex. Involving your partner to help with alternate courses also breaks up the time spent in the kitchen…don’t you think your partner might love to light the Saganaki and serve this fiery treat?

Desserts, I find are relatively easy too. If you’ve made brownies, cut the edges and freeze. Then for a small tapas dessert, whip some cream or make a quick custard and assemble a trifle with the left-over edges, serve with a shot for extra effect!

Example for timing the menu above (note: the times are just guidelines)

7:30 guests arrive, start with libations and Aunte Ági’s cheese sticks. Pit the oven on and move into the living room and have lovely conversation. Perhaps put on a fire, and definitely play some music (we like jazz).

7:45: put the scallops into the oven, they will take longer than the bacon wrapped dates. Depending on the size of scallops, turn about 5-7 minutes, now add the bacon wrapped dates. Bake for another 5-7 minutes.

8:10 serve the bacon wrapped scallops and dates. Keep the oven on.

Around 8:30-8:45 your partner should pop into the kitchen to start the chorizo course, meanwhile fill the glasses.

Warm the serving dish and prepare the dish.

9:00 Serve chorizo dish with bread.

9:45 You’ll likely want a bit of a break, but you can ready the escargot for the oven, bake for 10 minutes until butter has melted and the Chou is crispy. Serve hot at 10ish.

The dessert should already be made and plated with some last minute garnished to attend to. Serve with coffee/tea when your guest say they are ready.

Tapas need not be stressful, after all, it’s about getting together with friends in a casual setting. Cheers! I hope to read about your tapas dinner party soon.

We invited my friend Kim and her hubby for coffee and cake after seeing Cloud Atlas at the TIFF film festival. I was hoping to have a great discussion about the film (and there was a lot to discuss) but unfortunately, they hated the film so instead of prolonging their misery, I served coffee and cake.

I started the recipe and was committed to it when I realized I didn’t have quite enough GF Flour, so I improvised and added the remainder as finely ground corn meal. It added a very nice texture to the cake and no body threw it back at me!

Original recipe can be found here.

A lovely honey and ginger taste, it’s garnished with fresh figs, candied ginger slices, candied walnuts and edible rose petals.

Gluten Free Honey & Ginger Cake

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz liquid honey
  • 6 oz gluten-free flour
  • 2 oz of fine cornmeal (just run regular cornmeal through a coffee grinder to get a fine powder)
  • 1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 3 oz of sugar
  • 1/2 tsp orange essence
  • 1/2 tsp lemon essence
  • 4 oz butter
  • 1 egg (the cake was very crumbly, I might add another egg next time)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 oz finely grated fresh ginger

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (170°C).
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into a large bowl and add the sugar and zest. Rub the butter in (you can do this in a food processor with plastic blades)
  3. Warm the honey slightly, and beat it with the egg. Mix into the flour mixture.
  4. Mix the baking soda with 3 tbsps of water until dissolved, then process it into the flour mixture.
  5. Stir in the finely minced ginger pour into a greased or lined 8″ square pan.
  6. Bake for about 50 minutes (mine was ready in about 40 minutes). Cool it in the pan for about 10 minutes then turn it onto a cooling rack until cold.

A very tasty but crumbly cake

I garnished the cake with additional warmed honey, fresh figs cut into quarters, honey walnuts, slices of candied ginger and edible rose petals.

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