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.
I used to hate my living room. It’s the first room you see when you walk in the front door and for some reason I didn’t consider it inviting nor did I think it had a cohesive look or a focal point. No matter what I tried nothing seemed to work. So I went back to the drawing board. Without a fireplace in the room or something for the eye to land on I had to create a focal point on the one long wall the room had. The couch acted as the anchor and to create some symmetry I flanked it with two matching sideboards we inherited from my husband’s grandmother. These are substantial pieces of furniture and lend the kind of weight the room needed. Since the couch is relatively modern I updated the sideboards by getting them sprayed a warm chocolately-brown and for fun I replaced the hardware with pale blue milk glass pulls. Sticking with the symmetry theme we put two matching cream lamps on the sideboards. The cream really pops against the grey-brown wall colour, which matches the couch perfectly!
Now back to that focal point; I decided to create a gallery of art work above the couch and that would be the focal point. Some of the pieces came from family while others are inexpensive prints. I think using all black frames gives the gallery a cohesive look without looking too contrived. We added to the gallery as we acquired the pieces and the only thing that ties all of them together are the frames.
My favourite thing in the room is probably the carpet–a wool Sumak rug that I can only describe as a perfect marriage between traditional and contemporary. There are a multitude of colours in it–peach, aqua, taupe, burnt orange, forest green, cream….I picked fabric for the throw pillows based on the carpet and I had so much fun doing it!
My husband’s biggest coupe was finding the Huber bucket chair and ottoman (made in Canada!) on Kijiji–from two different sellers no less. The original fabric was *hallucious* so I had to hunt down a durable fabric that honoured the era of the chair without being too hokey. I must admit the cream and green fabric wasn’t my first choice, but my husband liked it and since he found the chair I figured he could choose the fabric. I’ve got to hand it to him, it looks great and works really well with the rest of the furniture in the room.Â
We spend more time in this room now than we ever did before and I’m really pleased with the results. It’s eclectic, cozy and full of Â family mementos. Now I love my living room.
Okay, it’s been WWWaaaaaaaaaaYYYYYYYYYYyyyyyy too long since my last post. But life gets in the way–a NEW life, in fact. Yes, we welcomed baby boy #3 into our lives about 3 months ago. So we’re through the first tough stretch with him, which I guess should allow me to turn my attention to some other items on my *to do* list. In the last 48 hours that includes baking a key lime pie, a banana chocolate chip cake, mowing the lawn and cutting out the pieces for two baby quilts, which should have been made a long time ago.
The key lime pie was an homage to our recent trip to Floridahhhhh….it came out a bit on the tarty-limey side, and the crust was a little too hard for my liking but not bad for my first attempt. The most annoying part of the recipe was juicing all those tiny key limes to get half a cup of juice. I used my reamer but quick work it did not make. The recipe is from Martha Stewart if you’re interested in trying it.
The banana chocolate chip cake is my go-to stand-by dessert. I make it into muffins, cakes, loafs…you name it. If you’ve got bananas sitting in the freezer or spotty ones sitting on the counter that no one in your family is going to eat, then this is the recipe for you! If you can decipher the recipe I’m posting, it’s yours. I’m not going to make it easy because I guard this recipe closely. It came from my mom’s friend Fern, and I get nothing but compliments when I bake it. Enjoy!!!
I have been trying to come up with a practical solution to my front hall entrance since the day we moved into our newly renovated home just over six years ago. I’ve tried a number of seemingly practical solutions to storage, seating and organization, but in our 4-foot wide entrance, it all ended up looking cluttered and, well, not pretty. So I had to find something practical and pretty that would satisfy our need to store keys, hats, shoes, gloves and other miscellany. I didn’t want to spend a fortune but I didn’t want to cheap out either and end up with yet another unsatisfactory solution.
So I started with the Norden occasional table from Ikea and had it sprayed in Cloud White. I found the brown woven strap baskets that hold all of our hats, gloves, sunscreen and other necessary but unsightly objets at HomeSense. The mirror hanging over the table is also from Ikea and works perfectly, given that sense of light and sparkle that the hallway really needed. My absolute favourite piece is the stool. I had it custom made by my upholsterer. Not only is it practical for putting on and taking off boots and shoes, but the fabric is so much fun! I found it on Etsy, but if you’re looking for it, it’s an Alexander Henry print and it’s called “What a Hoot!” and it certainly is a hoot. The other touches include oil rubbed bronze and porcelain hooks that I found at Restoration Hardware and the chocolate ticking runner is from Dash & Albert.
I know I spent a little more than I probably should have for an area of the house that takes a lot of abuse since it is essentially our Grand Central Station, but I love looking at it every time I walk by and I think first impressions are important. When a person walks through our front door that front hall sets the tone for the rest of the house. It’s fun, it’s relaxed and it’s our family’s way of saying “welcome to our home.”
I miss my dog. My husband and I took him to the vetâ€™s and put him down last night. They put us in a softly lit room with two leather chairs and a black and white fleece blanket on the floor. There was a jar of liver treats on the table so I helped myself to a handful, which I fed to Duke. That was his name, Duke.
Just writing down his name brings tears to my eyes and a tightness to my throat.
If you had asked me six months ago if I would be so overcome with emotion at the demise of my dog, I would quickly have dismissed the idea. He was just a dog. But he was so much more than that.
I remember picking him out from the litter of ten puppies when he was just three weeks old.
The breeder single-handedly picked the puppies up by their backs, flipped them over to determine if they were male or female and then handed them to us to choose one.
I remember Duke nuzzling his black nose into my husbandâ€™s arms, a warm ball of fur, so calm. He was the one. He smelled like the fresh wood shavings used as a bed in his kennel. A mix of standard poodle and golden retriever, his breed would come to be known as the â€œgolden doodle.â€
With black marker in hand, the breeder â€œbrandedâ€ our puppy with the letter â€˜Gâ€™ on his pink belly. We would return in five weeks to take him home.
I didnâ€™t grow up with dogs or any pets for that matter. My father had a thing about dogs that dated back to his childhood in Soviet-ruled Hungary. Dogs were used to intimidate, or guard. Not for companionship or play. But Duke would make a convert out of my dad.
Several years ago we lived with my parents while our house was being renovated.Â When my father came home from work each day Duke was the first one to greet him at the door and my father would make him sit and then he would ask for a kiss, which Duke would obligingly give him with a big wet lick on his cheek.
That was the story for all of usâ€”a friendly greeting at the door after a challenging day and all your troubles would vanish in a moment.
But it wasnâ€™t all wags, licks and fetching.
There was the time Duke injured his Achilles tendon in a futile effort to catch a squirrel, which ended up costing us a pretty penny and a lot of consternation.
Or the time he devoured eight raw lamb chops right off the kitchen counter and we feared he would develop bloat.
Or the time he ran away and hid in the ravine after being scared off by a hot air balloon in the shape of a giant peanut.
I called Duke my perpetual two year-old. Just like a toddler, he demanded our attention; feeding, watering, walking, stooping and scooping, endless throwing of Frisbee or ball. And in return he gave us unconditional loyalty and love.
Early humans must have instinctively known about the fringe benefits of keeping a dog as a pet. In addition to their pack mentality, ability to catch small prey, and fend off intruders, dogs provide a companionship unmatched by any other animal.
Like a true domesticated canine, Duke knew his place in our pack, protecting and playing with us and our children in equal measure.
To non-dog people, the notion of a dog being a member of a family may seem ludicrous, even saccharine. Years ago even I may have been that person.
But I admit Duke had a profound effect on me and my family that I could not have predicted when we first brought him home eight and a half years ago.
Just like humans, dogs grow old or develop illnesses. In Dukeâ€™s case he got cancer. We could have exercised lifesaving measures, like chemotherapy, that just a few decades ago were only intended for humans. Instead we chose palliative care and spoiled him with table food, like my boeuf bourguignon and chicken pot pie.
On his last day I fed Duke three hot dogs. It was a sunny Spring afternoon. The kids were home from school and we were sitting in the backyard. Duke still insisted on fetching the ball even though he couldnâ€™t see it only able to find it by smell and hobbled around the grass on three of four legs.
We decided to tell the kids it was time to say good-bye to Duke. Our three-year-old was more interested in digging in the sand, but our six-year-old had plenty of questions and plenty to say.
After much discussion he wrapped up the conversation with the matter-of-fact pronouncement that all life must come to an end.
Only a day after his death and friends are asking if we will get another dog. Itâ€™s too premature to say, but I feel with some certainty we will get another dog. Iâ€™m just not sure Iâ€™m ready to journey through the peaks and valleys of dog ownership again just yet.
In the meantime our son has planned a memorial service for Duke. We are burying his collar and tags under the dogwood tree in our backyard (how Ã propos) and singing a prayer.
That backyard feels a whole lot emptier without Duke in it, but it is full of great memories that we will carry with us.
It’s rather ironic that tonight of all nights I choose to sit down and write a post about my son’s birthday cake, since I am forbidden from eating such things at the moment. Forbidden might be a strong word to use given that my ban from indulging in such sweet pastries is self imposed. I am on a Spring cleanse. That means many delectables are off limits for a week and a half. And so I must satisfy my cravings through the only means I know how: eye candy. Literally.
My younger son turned three last week and I got it into my head several weeks back that I had to make him a spectacular cake. Put my new found cake decorating skills to work and turn out something fabulous. Being the over ambitious person that I am and with only borrowed time to do it, I thought I was picking a rather easy design in the form of a Lego cake. Lego has become a favourite past time for my boys so I thought it fitting to make a cake in the shape of bricks. The bonus came in the form of a Lego man cake mold from a neighbour. So I started by baking Ina Garten’s flag cake as well as her chocolate butter cream cake. I baked slab cakes AND mini cupcakes. Once baked, cooled and refrigerated, I sliced the slab cakes in thirds and constructed two rectangular cakes, four layers high alternating the flag cake with the chocolate cake. I topped them off with the mini cupcakes, all with a mocha butter cream that I kind of made up a recipe for. Once crumb coated and cooled, I applied home-made marshmallow fondant. I know, I know, I’m crazy. I just could have bought the fondant from the store, but no, I had to make this damn cake FROM SCRATCH! I didn’t love the way the fondant turned out but it was definitely more malleable than the store-bought kind. To make myself super crazy I decided the two bricks needed to sit atop one slab cake, which I covered in green fondant (that one was store-bought). And with a star tip I decorated the Lego man in coloured vanilla butter cream. I think I must have made enough cake to feed a small army. While there were plenty of leftovers there was no man left in sight. He was devoured by the kids and the adults had to satisfy their sweet tooths with the giant bricks of cake (too bad!).
I think it was well worth the effort, and while I’m nowhere near as talented as some of the crazy cake decorators who do this for a living, I did give myself a pat on the back for my attempt. I’ll leave it to you to be the judge. Unfortunately I can’t give you a taste, but I can leave you with the recipe for the mocha butter cream.
MOCHA BUTTER CREAM RECIPE
1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
4 cups of icing sugar (sifted)
1/4 cocoa powder (sifted)
2 Tbsp. (give or take) strong brewed coffee
Cream the butter and shortening together
Add the icing sugar and cocoa powder and whip until fluffy, adding the coffee to thin consistency of icing as necessary.
So I have evidence that I’ve actually learned something in the last 2 months at my cake decorating class. Probably the most important lesson learned was to give up trying to make royal icing with egg whites and go with meringue powder. It resulted in the most fluffy, sweet yet pliable icing for creating delicate roses, branches and leaves that now decorate my cake. While this past week’s class was supposed to be a trial run at putting fondant over a cake dummy, I decided to stay up into the wee hours baking a heavenly white cake and whipping up a batch of butter cream frosting so that I could do the real thing. I added blue food colouring gel to the fondant and it came out a lovely Tiffany blue. I piped the bottom edge of the cake with royal icing beads and then added brown food colouring gel to make the branches. The roses were so-so, but I can live with imperfection on a cake like this–heck, it was my first attempt! And the finishing touch was definitely the green leaves. That was Margaret’s suggestion (she’s our instructor) and the piping tip #352 is an absolute dream. The leaves were the most fun to do. I took lots of pictures but we aren’t tucking into the cake until Friday. Hopefully it will be well worth the wait because the cake is staring back at me from underneath the glass cake plate saying “eat me” and I’m doing everything in my power to resist temptation.
I’ve been taking a cake decorating class for the past 5 weeks every Tuesday night for 2 hours with my girlfriend. Up until last night I felt fairly confident in my abilities to construct a cake and make it look half decent with buttercream, but then came royal icing. Ugh! Being the ambitious A-type that I am, I made my icing from scratch using egg whites and icing sugar instead of store-bought meringue powder. It looked great and tasted great but it was useless when it came to making apple blossoms, drop flowers and especially roses. So I think I’ll be heading to the store in the next couple of days to pick me up some meringue powder, or even better, store-bought royal icing. In the meantime I thought I’d share pictures of the rosettes we practiced making about 3 classes ago and the cake I successfully decorated last week and then proceeded to share with my colleagues at work. You can tell from the picture I’m so over winter and ready to get into my garden. But that’s another story.