It was my Dad’s 70th birthday this past week and to mark this amazing milestone my siblings and I planned a late afternoon wine and cheese party for him.Â
The offerings were meant to reflect my father in the foods that we chose. We did this by visiting The Cheese Boutique. It was my first time there and I can’t believe that in all the years I’ve lived in this city I have never been there! Better late than never. This place was like a wet dream for foodies. The first thing I saw when I walked in was a wall of mustards, followed by a wall of balsamic vinegars and a wall of oils. It was like walking through a maze Â of rooms, each dedicated to foodstuff. Jams. Teas and Coffees. Pastas and grains. A cold meat “locker.” Fruit and Veg. A cheese fridge–the ceilings were hanging with cheese and legs of prosciutto. And then the maze opens up to a room with a large cheese counter, the perimeter of which is surrounded by yet more culinary delights. The wall of chocolate. Pastry and breads. Oh! My! Heaven!
We got to sample some amazing cheeses and some charcuterie. These would be the centerpieces of our party. I started out by putting slabs of wood on the table that my brother-in-law had made. I decorated around these slabs with succulents and branches with berries and a few tea light candles to add some light. It was very Autumn-ish. Then came the food: cheese, meat, crackers, nuts, dried fruit, clementines, smoked fish, foie gras, fig jam, olives, gherkins, goat cheese, fresh figs, grapes. It was a veritable cornucopia of deliciousness. And it all got gobbled up! If you are looking for some inspiration, here are a few shots of the table.
Okay, I’m finally getting back in the saddle and writing a post after a ridiculously long hiatus–and after I got my oven fixed.Â
I love my range. It’s a Viking Professional. We had it installed when we renovated the house and I couldn’t bear to part with it, even if it has had to be repaired twice now. It’s kind of like a favourite blanket or pair of shoes. It’s comfortable and familiar and I can’t imagine any other range living up to it. It’s simple. No fancy knobs or bells or electronics. Straight up gas. But it was not baking evenly. I’d get a mixture of under done to slightly burnt depending on where the pan was located in the oven. It was a true range inside the range. Ha!
Now that Joe the Appliance Guy came and fixed the oven, my motivation to cook and bake has been reinvigorated.
Since it is the season for pumpkin and spice and all things hearty and warm, I copied my mom and baked a double batch of Evelyn Raab’s soft ginger cookies. My three-year-old could eat these for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which I sometimes let him do. They came out perfectly and have a nice sparkly sheen of sugar coating their little brown selves.
Maybe it’s because these cookies are relatively unassuming and they have a healthy *look* to them, but you kind of feel like you’re eating something healthy, which is probably why it’s so easy to convince yourself to eat more (than one). Key ingredients to these tasty morsels is molasses and of course, powdered ginger. I can’t imagine adding anything to them, but let me know if you have experimented with ginger cookies and what combos work for you.
Here’s the recipe:
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp water
1/4 cup molasses
2 1/4 cups flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
Mix butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the egg, water and molasses and continue mixing until smooth. In another bowl stir flour, ginger, baking soda and cinnamon together (I’m so lazy I actually skip this and mix it all together–but I digress). Add dry mixture to wet mixture and beat until everything is combined into a soft dough. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and put in the fridge while you tidy upÂ andÂ preheat oven to 350 F. Pour some sugar onto a plate–I used fine granulated sugar– Pull the dough out of the fridge and start rolling the dough into 1-1.5 inch little balls. Roll the dough balls in the sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes. They will look soft and like theyâ€™re not finished but reallyÂ they are. Let them cool for a couple of minutes and then move them to a plate.Â This recipe makes 4 dozen.
I wish I had more energy to put into this post but the truth is I’m pooped. So I’m going to keep it short and sweet.
I made yet another birthday party for my middle child–having all three kids with birthdays in the first quarter of the year is both a blessing and a curse. By the time this birthday rolls around every year I always say to myself and whoever will listen, “this is the time I do one of these.” Bu then of course next year arrives and I start planning out the cake, the decorations, the loot bags, the entertainment, the meal….
This year I combined the family and friends parties to kill two birds with one stone however this makes for a rather large and unwieldy party. We had a company that brings exotic animals to the house to teach the kids about the animals; where they are from, what they eat, etc. This kept the kids occupied for one hour. That only left one more hour of the party to surviveÂ feed the kids, do the birthday cake and usher them out the door.
My middle guy wanted a Smartie number cake just like his big brother so I baked a few vanilla cakes, got out the big serrated knife and got to carving. Then I slathered on some yummy creamy cheese icing and embarked on the painstakingly long task of doing a chevron patterned decoration on the cake with Smarties (or chocolate gems as they are referred to at the bulk food store).
Picking up on the Smarties I decided to go with a polka dot theme for the table settings found at none other than Dollarama.
And this was all completed by polka dot and chevron printed loot bags that I scored at Creative Bag (that place is dangerous–I could spend a lot of money there). I kept it simple for the loot: Kinder Eggs bought in large quantity from Costco and a $5 gift card to Indigo. I figured this was both easy and pleasing loot for both parent and child.
How many times have you found yourself transferring all the little bits and bites left canada cialis online over after a meal (in my case, and probably most cases it’s dinner) into various sizes of plastic containers?
And while you’re doing this you’ve got a little angel sitting on one shoulder saying, “you are for sure going to find a way to use these leftovers and not let them go to waste. You will incorporate them into a future meal some time in the next 48 to 72 hours.”
Meanwhile on the other shoulder is perched a little devil saying, “Why bother? It’s just going to end up in the back of the fridge, also known as the wasteland of lost and forgotten food that is sure to become a science experiment utterly unrecognizable to any food group.”
Well if you’re anything like me your intentions are always noble but getting to those poor leftovers when there are fifty million other items on my daily to-do list doesn’t always happen. Not to mention coming up with a creative way to incorporate the leftovers into a meal that won’t have my kids groaning or turning their noses up. Â Sometimes the mental exertion required to do this is just too much.
But there are some leftovers that are just too good to go to waste and I have resolved to make an effort to reinvent them into scrumptious dishes that will have my kids–and hubby–asking for seconds only to find it is all gone.
My mother was particularly good at upcycling our leftovers, although I wasn’t always that enthusiastic about eating them. I recall one time cutting into a piece of lasagna and looking at the filling, when I turned to my mom and said, “Wait a minute, isn’t this chicken from last night’s dinner?” She started out with a slightly sheepish look on her face mixed with a little giggle followed by an indignant glare (does that course of emotions make any sense to you?). I can’t remember what she said but it was a bit of a running joke with us because we could always count on my mom not to let good food go to waste. So I’m taking a page out of her book.
We had a couple of cups of basmati rice left over from dinner tonight, which got put into a container and shoved in the fridge. Feeling slightly more energetic than I have been in the last week because of a terrible cold, I decided to make rice pudding, which is one of my favourite comfort foods and the perfect antidote to winter.
My grandmother used to make a baked rice pudding that ended up with a thin layer of custard on top, but I have yet to find the recipe. Until then I’ve been playing around with recipes that I’ve found online.
I had roughly 2 cups of cooked rice so here’s my adaptation on a number of stove top rice pudding recipes I have found:
In a large sauce pan combine 2 cups of cooked rice with 1 1/2 cups of milk (I mixed skim and whole milk), reserving another 1/2 cup of milk for later. Add 3/4 cups of sugar and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until the mixture begins to thicken.
Beat 2 eggs and set aside. Turn down the heat and to the rice and milk mixture add the remaining 1/2 cup of milk, beaten eggs (make sure they don’t cook when you add them otherwise you end up with scrambled eggs a la rice pudding). Stir for another couple of minutes. Remove from heat.
Add 2 Tbsp. of unsalted butter, 3/4 tsp. cinnamon, 3/4 tsp. vanilla extract and 1/2 cup of raisins to the mixture. Stir until thoroughly combined. You can serve this warm or cold and even divide it into individual cups. I prefer putting it in one big serving bowl and letting it cool a bit.
I could seriously eat this morning, noon and night it’s that yummy. Let me know if you have a much loved rice pudding recipe. Better yet: if you have a much loved leftover recipe let me know and I’d be happy to feature it!
You know me: I’m an easy target when it comes to finding an excuse to bake for an occasion and what better occasion than Valentine’s Day? So I got out the trusty ol’ sugar cookie recipe care of Martha Stewart and dug out my heart shaped cookie cutter and got to work.
I whipped up some royal icing, also care of Martha Stewart,Â tinted it with a dash of pink gel to get a nice baby pink and got to work icing them.
I sampled a cookie–which I don’t normally do because I want to make sure there are enough for the kids to give out to all their classmates, but we had plenty. I was pleasantly surprised…it had a nice crispy outside and soft and moist inside. And the icing was sweet but it didn’t overwhelm the cookie. Now I remember why this is always my go to cookie recipe.
Until today the only canning I had done was making jam. As of today I can add pickling to my repertoire. On a whim I bought a batch of mini pickling cucumbers. I knew time was working against me so while the baby was napping this morning I got to work. Sterilizing, boiling, brining, cutting, pouring, processing and voila, pickles!!!!
I found the recipe on a fabulous site called Food In Jars, which was fairly simple to follow. The only deviation was the pickling spices. Rather than make my own I bought a pickling spice mix at the grocers–much easier and less time consuming. Oh yes, and I didn’t have cider vinegar so I went with straight white vinegar.
Now comes the hard part: waiting. The recipe says they can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to a year but it doesn’t say when I can dig into them….maybe 3 months? 3 weeks? 3 days? 3 minutes? I’m not sure I can wait!!!
I was perusing PinterestÂ just before hitting the sack when I came across this fancy dancy kitchen cheat sheet. Although it applies moreso to people living in the UK, as it from Everest, I thought those of you who are diehard cooks and bakers would appreciate it. It’s a fabulous retro-looking download that you can print off and put up on your fridge or at the very least keep in a drawer close by for when you need to convert weights to cups, etc. Enjoy!
When I opened the front door this morning I was hit by a wave of hot air not unlike that which escapes from the oven when I’m baking cookies, except this was the air outside. Everywhere. The air we breathe. The forecast called for temperatures in the mid-30’s with a Humidex in the mid-40’s. Ugh!
Even thought it was morning I was already thinking about what to make for dinner. The last thing I wanted to do was turn on the oven IN the house. And I certainly didn’t want to fire up the barbeque and stand in front of a flaming hot grill.Â
So I decided to make my version of a Nicoise salad. Nice and simple but hearty enough to fill the belly–and super easy.
First the fresh stuff: blanched green beans, sliced cucumbers, sliced tomatoes. and sliced red peppers.
Then the proteins and canned goods: a tin of tuna, a tin of chick peas, a tin of corn niblets, a tin of artichoke hearts and some sliced hard boiled eggs.
And finally I roasted some mini red potatoes, but I only used the toaster oven so my kitchen remained at a comfortable temperature.
I think a true Nicoise salad also includes anchovies but I can’t count a single person in my household who would eat those salty suckers so I didn’t even consider it.
The boys gushed over the meal (they love hard boiled eggs and canned corn) and not a single bead of sweat was required in the preparation of this meal so I think I’ll be making this again soon.
Next time I might throw in some golden beets and avocado–other favourites in our household. If you’ve made your own signature version of a Nicoise salad let me know what you put in it.
It’s that time of year again–the sacred few weeks when Ontario strawberries are in season. And that means it’s time to roll up my sleeves and make batches of sweet, yummy jam for everyone to enjoy–including the teachers. I always try and make the jam before the end of the school year so the boys can give jars of jam as gifts to their teachers.
If you have ever contemplated making jam but have been intimidated by the thought of it, don’t be. It’s the easiest thing ever. The only thing that might make you shy away is the steps involved–not many, but time consuming.
Before any jam making begins you must wash and sterilize your jars. It’s important to do this first otherwise your jam will start setting and you’ll be busy scrambling to get your jars ready.
First you have to wash and hull all the berries–probably the most time and labour intensive step in the process. You’ll also have a hard time resisting eating the berries as you wash them!
Crushing the berries is the next step. Up until this year I simply used a potato masher to do this. But I got a hand blender recently and used this to crush the berries–actually I turned them into a pulp which made for a very runny, smooth jam. If you prefer having chunks of berry in your jam, make sure not to crush them too much.
Next stir in the sugar. I like to use a product called Quick Set, which has some pectin in it already to help thicken the jam. If you want to know the berries-to-sugar ratio, it’s 1 kilo of sugar to 4 cups of *crushed* fruit but I just follow the directions on the bag.Â
Now it’s time to cook up the jam. Over medium heat in heavy pot let the mixture cook for 5 to 10 minutes. A foamy pink “scum” will form on the top of the jam and you need to skim this off with a spoon. The jam will come to a rolling boil and once that’s happened your jam is finished cooking.
Next get your jars out. Fill the jars almost to the top–leave a few centimeters for air to escape. I use snap lids on my jars. Once filled, I pop the jars in boiling water making sure the water covers the top of the jars completely and let the water boil away for about 10 minutes. This is called processing and it’s necessary so you can store the jars without refrigerating them. You’ll know this step worked when you hear the lids literally “snap” when they are suctioned down. You’re done!Â
Now you can enjoy your jam slathered on a piece of fresh bread or crackers. Believe me, once you taste the jam you’ll realize it was worth all the effort.
I have a weakness for rugelach (the ch is that hard, throaty sound that one perfects through one’s Jewish upbringing). Unfortunately indulging in these tasty treats only happens at special occasions, which includes dinner at my in-law’s and sadly at shivas. Why? Because these devilish but divine desserts are expensive! Yes, you have to pay by weight. And much like chips, you can’t eat just one.Â
Now I know why the bakery charges for rugelach by weight–because there are so many steps involved in the making of them! And one recipe only produces a dozen and a half of them. So that’s a huge investment of time for little return. I found a recipe in Evelyn Raab’s book, The Clueless Baker. My copy is well loved and well worn. I’m not sure it’s still in print but if you can find one I strongly recommend adding it to your repertoire of cook books. The dough is actually more of a pastry made with butter, cream cheese, flour and a bit of sugar. The whole recipe itself is easy, it’s just the time and steps required are labour intensive. Once the pastry is made I had to divide it into three portions, shape them into round discs and refrigerate them for at least an hour.
While that was happening I made a mixture of chocolate chips, cinnamon and sugar. The recipe also called for walnuts but I didn’t have any. I whizzed the mixture through the food processor. Then I rolled out the pastry dough and sprinkled the mixture on it.
The next step is to take a pizza cutter and cut the dough into about eight or ten wedges. This was followed by the final step, which was to roll each wedge from the wide end to the point into a crescent shape.Â
Baking the rugelach for about 20 minutes was the final step–actually eating them was the final step. They turned out so flakey and light and the perfect balance of chocolate and cinnamon. But was it worth the time and effort? According to reaction from my family it was. So I think I’ll be making these again.