Monday, 24 December 2012

Chocolate Ganache Pots

Phew! It's Christmas Eve and mixed with all the joy, there can be lots and lots of work that goes along with it.  Shopping and wrapping is only the half of it. There are still groceries to buy and meals to plan and people dropping by and you name it! It all adds up to a bit of stress if you let it. I certainly don't! Here is an easy dessert recipe that is so delicious and easy and it just uses ingredients that you have on hand. This one is perfect for those unexpected guests that pop by.

So here we go. You only need:
2/3 cup of semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup half and half
2 eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
Dash of salt
2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier or rum (or you can omit this if you like)
Preheat the oven to 350.
Heat the chocolate chips and cream over medium heat stirring all the while until the chocolate has melted.
Let it cool as you whisk the remaining ingredients together. Mix just a small amount of the egg mixture into the cream mixture, whisking all the time. Then slowly whisk the cream mixture into the eggs.
The recipes makes dessert for 4 people. So use 4 individual ramekins, and divide the mixture evenly among them. Set them in a baking dish (I use my lasagna pan) and fill the pan up to about halfway up the cups with boiling water. Bake for 20 minutes and let them cool for 3 or 4 hours in the fridge. They will come out of the oven still liquid. Don't worry, they set up solid in the chill! Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a half slice of orange for decoration.

That couldn't be any easier if you tried. This is a great fall back on recipe when you don't want to have to get in the car and make an unscheduled grocery shopping trip! Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and Blessings galore! xoxo

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Healthy Winter Pasta

So my poor kitty cat has a bit of an obesity problem. He is now on the prescription satiety diet, which means his food is supposed to trick him into thinking he's indulged. Well I don't want little Jonathan working hard all alone, so here is a healthy recipe that you can have when you still want to feel like you're having a treat. This one is a favourite of mine, and I'm happy to say that I actually made it up all on my own one day. And then proceeded to eat it every day for months at a time because it's just so good!

This is Healthy Winter Pasta. It's sauceless, has lots of veggies, and tastes awesome. You will be satisfied, I promise. You need:

About 20 white mushrooms, sliced (Use portabello or cremini or whatever you like, but I like the regulars).
Four hothouse tomatoes
One pack of baby spinach
One onion, slice into rings (I've tried both red and white, and both are good)
Whatever pasta you like (I like this recipe with penne)
Olive oil
Small pack of goat cheese

First get a pan going over medium heat and put some olive oil in. Once the oil is hot, put in the mushrooms and onions. They take the longest to soften, so that's why they go in first. Give them a stir every now and then, but mostly just let them sweat down. Add a little salt to draw the moisture out. Once they're quite soft, add the tomatoes, which you should have sliced into wedges. I like to keep them a bit bigger with wedges rather than dicing because I like them to keep their tomato shape.

Let the tomatoes stew, and stir it around once in awhile. By now, get your water boiling and good God don't forget to salt your pasta water. Cook your pasta as your tomatoes, onions, and mush are getting stewed. I use whole wheat pasta to keep this recipe healthy, but you could also use rice pasta to keep this recipe cleanse-friendly. Also, you should probably halve the amount of pasta that you feel you need. Use way less, because all of vegetables will satiate you, I promise.

Just as your pasta is almost cooked, add the entire package of spinach to the tomato mixture. GENTLY fold it in so that the heat softens it. But don't be aggressive, because the spinach is delicate and it should stay that way. Drain your pasta and toss with the sauteed veggies. Add a little salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

When serving, crumble a little goat cheese over top. As it melts, it will add a little creaminess. Don't add too much though or you may as well just have an alfredo!

It goes without saying that you can add chicken, salmon, or whatever you like to your pasta. I like to keep it vegetarian though. The vegetable ragout (I suppose!?) is also great over green lentils, and I'm sure it would be nice with quinoa too if you want to be even healthier. This is a versatile one, friends!


Sunday, 16 December 2012

Crepes Suzette

Did I ever mention the time I made my Ladygirls a 7 course meal for New Year's Eve? Well maybe now is a good time to mention that dinner. They were both in high school and Bailey was in her senior year, so I knew she'd be away at university for the next New Year's Eve, and most likely many more to come. They both had parties to go to that night, so I selfishly decided to steal a few hours of their time. In short, I wanted to build a memory so spectacular that they would always remember that meal and think of me on New Year's Eve! Haha Jewish Mothers have nothing on me!
I invited my family and sent out invitations with the menu printed on them. We dressed to the nines! The meal took 3 days to prepare and cost me hundreds of dollars. It was the best money I ever spent in my life and I will cherish the memory forever. Building memories with your family is the best investment you'll ever make! The menu read like this:
Coquilles St Jacques
Salade d'en Hiver
Remise en Bouche
Crepes Suzette
Fromage et les Fruites

I set the table with all my very best linen and china and paired each course with a different wine and we topped it off with champagne for a toast to our future. And who could have ever know what wonderful futures lay ahead of us on that night? Of course the girls put their forks down the first chance they could and threw on their coats to dash off and meet their friends! Fair enough. I planned on that! And I might as well tell you that the menu is mostly smoke and mirrors. The Salade d'en Hiver is just French for a winter salad. And for that I just made a watercress salad with oil and balsamic vinegar and sea salt. The Remise en Bouche is just a palette cleanser, so I made a lime ice with champagne. The fromage was a platter of the best cheese I could find along with some fruit and walnuts and port. It was actually the best course in my opinion, but you don't need a recipe for that. I've already shared my Chateaubriand recipe in this blog. So tonight, we're going to make the Crepes. (Another Mad Men retro recipe to be sure!) You can make the crepes a day ahead of time. Here is the crepe recipe:
1 1/2 cups of flour
1 tablespoon of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 cups of milk
2 eggs
2 tablespoons of melted butter
1 teaspoon of vanilla
Mix all of your dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk all of your wet ingredients together in a separate bowl. Add the wet to the dry and whisk it all together until its smooth and sans lumps. (French for no lumps!)
Heat a NON STICK skillet over medium heat with some butter on it. Just enough to cover the surface. When it bubbles up, add just 1/4 cup of batter and immediately swirl the pan so it covers the bottom of the pan. This will be very thin. We're making crepes here, not pancakes! After a minute or two, you'll see it all bubble up in the middle. Loosen all around the edges and flip it over and cook the other side. Cook only one at a time and put a little more butter in the pan with each new one. For sure, the first couple you do might be looking like a horror show, so just throw them in the garbage until you get the hang of it! Reduce your heat a bit if they are scorching. The main thing is not to get stressed because in no time you'll have the hang of it and you'll be wanting to quit your day job and start running a crepe food truck all around the city! As they come off the pan, separate each one with parchment paper or waxed paper and just pile them up in a stack. Now you have crepes! At this point, you can ditch the idea of making them into Suzettes and just fill them with fruit and whipped cream or Devonshire cream and have a perfectly wonderful dessert. BUT if you made the homemade Grand Marnier, then you'll want to forge ahead here. And the Suzettes are flambeed, so only a coward would turn back at this point in the game! Who doesn't love to flambe?
So here's the sauce recipe:
2/3 cup of butter
grated zest and juice of an orange
1/4 cup of sugar
1/3 cup brandy
1/3 cup of Grand Marnier
Heat the butter, zest, orange juice and sugar in a 10" skillet. Stir once in a while and let it boil for a minute or two until the sugar melts. Reduce the heat to low. Fold the crepes into fourths (so in half and then half again) and using 2 or 3 crepes per person, lay them into the sauce around the sides of the pan. Leave a space in the middle. In a small saucepan, heat up the brandy and Grand Marnier, just until it's hot but not to a boil. If you're ready to serve dessert now, pour the brandy mixture into the middle of the crepe pan and ignite it! For God sake, use a long barbecue style lighter! Be Careful! Keep your body well away from the pan! While it is still aflame, spoon the flaming sauce over the crepes. The flame will die out fairly quickly. Serve 2 or 3 crepes per dessert plate with some warm sauce spooned over each one.
This is another one of those recipes that will put you into the hall of fame of culinary skills among your family and friends. These are fun and oh so delicious! Or as I like to think of this one - a memory builder! 
I'll be posting photos of this recipe next week when my LadyGirls arrive home for Christmas. I didn't want to make this one just for the blog with nobody to share it with! It's way too special for that. Hug your babies and share in the special joy of the season friends!

Monday, 10 December 2012

It's That Time of Year...

My trusty Masala tin
I was driving home today and was inspired for this blog post. Who knows where inspiration can strike! I was listening to CBC on the radio and the discussion was about food banks. Of course, this time of year there is a huge emphasis on donating food and giving, which is wonderful! Unfortunately, sometimes people don’t always think when they donate things. I can attest to this, as I used to work in a shelter for women. Donating shampoo is generous and useful, but donating your half-used bottle of shampoo is slightly less useful. In the context of the food bank, this means you probably shouldn’t donate those cans of Spam, because no one wants them.

I once donated all the canned food in the house to Kosovo refugees, at the encouragement of my high school. I’ll give you a little timeline on this. I’d say this was late September, early October, and it was my first foray into charitable giving. I quietly packed up all the canned food in the house one day and took that off to school. I didn’t mention this to anyone, because there wasn’t really any reason to.

We will now fast forward to Christmas dinner. My mother, placing the ingredients on the counter, as she is wont to do before she begins a recipe, starts digging through the cupboard deeply. “Where are the smoked oysters?” This was the main question, although there were various other grumblings to go with this. In my 14-year-old mind, the smoked oysters do not register as something that would have anything to do with Kosovo refugees, so I have no answer for this and continue on with my teenage girl thoughts.

My mother is an industrious woman, and is not about to let a lack of smoked oysters destroy her Christmas dinner. She moves on, now begins to look for the cranberry sauce. I don’t know about you, but in my family, we always forget the cranberry until we’re halfway through the meal. The grumblings begin to get louder, and I begin to develop a sinking feeing in the pit of my stomach. The smoked oysters didn’t ring a bell, but the Ocean Spray Cranberry (I know, I know, we’re foodies but we love us some cran in a can) definitely triggered something. My photographic memory kicked in, and I was able to recollect not only the cranberry sauce in the IGA bag that went to school, but also the smoked oysters. “Um, Mummy…” was the way the conversation started. It ended with us in the car on the way to IGA and so much Christmas Joy in the car you could cut it with a knife.

Let me be clear. I wasn’t in trouble for giving food to the food bank, but for giving away half the Christmas dinner and then neglecting to tell anyone about it. In the end, Mummy waited in the car while I ran in and got the cranberry sauce. And the smoked oysters. Christmas was salvaged and there was peace on earth.

Anyway, that was a long story about giving at this time of year, and I really hope all of you are able to find some time to donate to the food bank, not just in December, but also all year round.

My challenge for myself today was to create a delicious meal, ingredients solely from what you would get a food bank. I hope this increases the accessibility of our blog, because I am blessed to be able to afford a lot of different ingredients, but cooking should be fun and exciting no matter what your income level is. The menu is Indian inspired, with daal, rice and a chickpea curry. (Let me emphasize “inspired”- I don’t want to claim these recipes are wildly authentic, they’re just tasty.)

For the daal, we need lentils, turmeric, cumin, coriander and mustard seed. You should use a fresh onion, but since we are doing food bank only food, you could use minced onion in a jar. You can also use minced garlic with ginger in a jar.  

Start with 1 cup of lentils and rinse them 6-8 times. Then add about 4 times the amount of water, depending on how runny you like it. Add a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon and a half of turmeric. Bring to a boil and then skim off the foam that comes to the surface (especially if you’ll be eating with company- this will avoid any embarrassing moments during digestion). Turn it down to a simmer and then in a fry pan, sauté your onion, and then add mustard seeds. Wait until you hear them start to pop, then mix with the onion. Now add garlic, half a teaspoon of chilli powder, a teaspoon of cumin and a teaspoon and a half of coriander. These are my serving suggestions, but you can adjust it as you like. Simmer this for 45 minutes.

The chickpea curry is delicious, you’ll need a can of chickpeas, can of coconut milk, canned tomatoes (mine were from Mummy but any can will work) and then turmeric, chilli, cumin, mustard seed and coriander again. Use the jarred garlic and ginger again. Again, if you had a fresh onion, you would chop that up and use it. But I didn’t for this recipe. Start with hot oil in a pan, then add a teaspoon of mustard seed. When they pop, add your ginger, garlic and onion. Sauté for a minute, and then add the tomatoes (with the liquid), chickpeas and spices. Pour in your coconut milk and simmer.

Cook your rice as the package directs you to. This is a delicious meal made with basics, and I hope it inspires you to give a little extra this holiday season!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Fettuccine Alfredo

Well I guess that's it for me till the spring comes. My last day to eat the beloved food of my homeland. Or rather, any food of the world except Portuguese. Mario and I have a rule that the first person home from work starts dinner. (I insisted on this rule because I am a feminist and I will not be taken for granted!) And this is why I blaze out of the work parking lot at the stroke of 5:00 on the dot leaving a smoke trail behind me as I go. I tear around the final corner on two wheels everyday to try to beat him to the stove. He is a seasonal worker, so if it rains, I'm pretty much out of luck because he'll beat me home for sure. In fact on rainy days, I generally stay a bit later at work and meander my way home on the back roads to try to miss dinner altogether. And now his work season is over and he'll be in charge of dinner until mid April of next year. I can feel my trousers getting baggy on me already and I usually lose a size every winter, only to gain it back again when I get my turn back at the stove!

I'm very certain that Mario's "Portuguese" food is not what you would ever have to eat if you were to actually go there. For certain, they would have no tourists at all. His idea of dinner, seven days of the week is to fill up the biggest pot we own with everything under the sun he can fit into it and never spend more than a dollar on the ingredients. And then boil it for six or seven hours. In fact when we go grocery shopping together, he takes his cart and I take mine and we go our separate ways. We usually meet back at the car. But it has happened on occasion that he was just ahead of me in line and I truly did not recognize most of the icky, slimy looking things he bought. My bill was always triple what he spent and I have the one bag to his six bags. And I'm certain I've seen the eyeballs of a creature of God in my dish a time or two. But God bless his enthusiasm and his dream is to one day open a restaurant of his own! I of course will warn you if this ever were to happen! Hahah So let's make the easiest and yummiest pasta dish there ever was. College students - listen up! You can do this!

For the sauce you need only:
1/2 cup of melted butter
1/2 cup of heavy cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
a dash of nutmeg
1/2 cup of Parmesan. Even the powdered stuff works here, but freshly grated is always better.
I use the fresh pasta from the deli section of the grocery store, but make your own if have the time.

This dinner is literally ready in 5 minutes. Bring your salted pasta water up to the boil. While this is heating up, melt the butter and whisk in the cream, salt and pepper and nutmeg. When it comes up just to the simmer, remove it from the heat and whisk in your Parmesan. There. Your sauce is done. Put the pasta into the water when it starts to boil and let it boil for about 3 or 4 minutes and drain it off. (If you use packaged fettuccine, follow the directions on the package. I think its about 20 minutes) After you drain it, add the pasta back to the pot and pour your Alfredo sauce into the pot. Toss it up using your tongs and top with another couple of tablespoons of cheese and some freshly ground pepper.  Can you even believe that's all there is too it? It is literally easier than Kraft Dinner! You can serve it with Caesar salad, or any salad you like or grilled or sauteed shrimp. Garlic bread or Bruschetta.  It's your call! Make it a side dish or a main. You're the chef!

Okay friends, you all go ahead and enjoy your wonderful and tasty food this winter. I'll just push the offal around my plate and pretend I'm not all that hungry. And once in a while, I promise you I'll boss my way up to the stove and cook up something Wonderful to share with you! (Oh and I just realized I gobbled up my dinner like a hungry savage and forgot to take a photo of it! Soon...)

So here it is. I added shrimp sautéed in garlic butter and lemon juice!

Monday, 3 December 2012

I'm Feeling Saucy!

So I have had to take a brief food blogging break because I went and got myself some fantastic and jazzy Rihanna nails, which are delightfully fun, but a huge impediment on my typing and cooking. Or anything involving effort on my part really. These are lady of leisure nails.

But I am more used to them now, and yesterday I chopped up an onion with them, so I’m moving forward. Sadly, they did not find me a rich husband in the week I’ve had them, so I’m not a lady of leisure at all and I still find myself having to scrub the bathtub and make myself food.
In other news, last night I had a wonderful evening with my uncle and cousin watching football. My cousin is quite the chef as it turns out; we’ll see if we can get him to do a guest blog for us! He made roast chicken with olive oil, white wine and potatoes. It was delicious and so light, not an overly heavy roast chicken meal. That meal was wonderful, and afterwards we discussed food for quite some time.  He also asked me if I had ever made chimichurri sauce, which inspired today’s blog.
Now, I have not made chimichurri, but I have heard of it, and I have wanted to make it for some time. I found a recipe on, so I may try that recipe. It looks delish, similar to a pesto, but using parsley as a main ingredient instead of basil. I am WILD for pesto sauce, so next time I have myself a steak, I think I will try chimichurri. And then I will let you know how it goes!
Fish being cooked "en papillote" for the leek sauce

Two sauces I am very confident in are a white wine and leek sauce, which I love for fish, and a gorgonzola cheese sauce for beef. We are talking opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of calories probably, but my God they are both just a wonderful addition to any meal.

We’ll start with the lighter sauce, which is possibly a “beurre-blanc” sauce. If anyone would like to pay my tuition to go to Le Cordon Bleu, I will study these things and be much more of an expert on this.

Little packages of fish!

For now, we’ll go with Wikipedia. As it turns out, this sauce is not exactly a beurre-blanc, as it is not emulsified. But I feel confident in saying it is an adaptation on one. All you need are leeks, butter, white wine and some salt and pepper. So simple, and so yummy. And maybe not THAT low on calories, considering there is some hefty butter in the sauce. But anyway, it’s the holidays, so let’s not worry ourselves with that. Start by slicing your leeks. Let me just take a moment to give you a little advice about leeks. They grow in the ground. They are FULL of dirt and sand, always. Secretly, and don’t you tell anyone this, sometimes I don’t wash my produce. Unless there is visible dirt, I just skip it. Even apples.  What doesn’t kill you, right?

I can already hear the lectures I’m going to get about pesticides and germs, so we’ll move on. Just note that leeks really do require you to wash them thoroughly first, unless you want to serve your guests a mouth full of dirt and centipedes. (I’m just kidding, I have never seen an actual centipede in a leek- but I guess I’m feeling a little morbid today.) So wash your leeks, and wash fresh coriander too. That’s always full of the dirt.

This sauce is ready for a friend!
Now, that’s enough of a lecture on filth. Slice your leeks. In a pan, put a large chunk of butter, I’m going to say a two good tablespoons or so. (Don’t worry- it’s not THAT much! It is a sauce after all.) Let that melt and sauté your leeks. Just as they are turning golden, add about a cup of white wine. A nice white wine, because you are going to drink the rest of that bottle with your fish dinner. I learned pretty early on that cooking with cheap wine is a bad idea, because you never use the whole bottle in cooking, and then you drink the rest. Headaches are annoying, so use a wine that is not $7.45, as my first wine bottle for cooking was.
Stir that around and taste it. Add salt and pepper until it tastes great. Spoon on your fish and enjoy!

Now we’ll do the heavier sauce, which is amazing on steak and roast beef. I’m really into this blue cheese/red meat trend, it feels decadent, and with red wine, it’s just the best thing for a chilly December evening. This could be a really nice addition to a New Year’s Eve roast.

Completed fish dinner, and yes that is a fish plate!
Start with dicing 3-4 shallots very finely. Sauté them in some butter (only a little this time) until they are translucent. Add about a cup of cream to your pot. Here’s another tip- don’t boil your cream. Then it gets to be a strange texture. Last time I made this, I thought it was curdled and I had to screech out to my mother that the sauce was ruined. She told me not to be so dramatic and stirred it, and then it turned out just fine. But to avoid that kind of theatre at the dinner hour, just don’t boil your sauce. Once your cream is hot (not boiled and curdled) add half a cup of crumbled gorgonzola. In the same way that you want to use nice wine to cook with, go for a nice cheese. Blue cheese is great, but it does come in the fancy cheese section of Loblaws, so you will have to spend a bit more. It’s okay though, because you aren’t going to eat beef with gorgonzola sauce every single day, unless you are Elvis or King Henry or something.

Stir that sauce well and the cheese because melted in. Add the juice of one lemon to add a little freshness to it. Voila! So easy, so decadent, and so delicious.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Scalloped Potatoes

The other day I asked Bailey if my recipes weren't a little bit too retro for our hipster blog. They're old fashioned for sure, but I like to think this food I've been cooking for so many years hasn't stayed back in the 60's. I've tried to evolve my recipes as I go along and I love to use fresh herbs and adapt my dishes to include the different flavours I've grown to love over the years. I especially love the flavours in dishes from Thailand and Mexico. So I guess I really expected her to say that my dishes were totally sexy enough for our blog. Hahah here is what she said "No mummy. I love your recipes. They always remind me of an episode of Mad Men." So sweet. Not really what I wanted to hear. But very sweet and very honest. So I guess I've found my niche, and Mad Men it is. And Mad Men is very cool, so I'll take it! I'll embrace my Betty Crocker style with a few added twists of my own, and I'm going to share all of these old recipes, and everything old is new again! So, to my way of thinking, Scalloped Potatoes are the new Little Black Dress! Lots of flavour here and you can serve them with anything.

You'll need:
An ovenproof casserole dish with a cover.
4 potatoes, peeled and sliced about 1/4 thick
1 onion, sliced
1/2 cup of butter
3 tablespoons of flour
1 1/2 cups of chicken broth
1 cup of cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon of mustard powder
3/4 cup of grated cheese. I use parmesan (not the powdered stuff. Fresh on your big holes on the grater) but Gruyere works beautifully here too.
If you're making these for a crowd, use 6 potatoes and 2 onions. The amount here will serve 4 people.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Layer some potatoes to cover the bottom of your pan, then layer some onion. I break out the rings in the onion slices and sort of spread them out. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Now repeat for another layer and so on until you've placed all the potatoes and onions in the dish.
On the stove on Med heat, melt the butter and add the flour. (A roux if you will) and whisk until it turns golden. Add the chicken broth and the cream and whisk just until it comes to the boil. If it's too thick, thin it down with a little more broth. Remove it from the heat and whisk in the rosemary, the mustard powder and some freshly ground pepper. Pour it all into the casserole dish over the potatoes. Sprinkle cheese over the top and cover it. Bake for 1 hour. Let it sit with the cover on for about 10 minutes before you serve.

This is definitely 60's style Mad Men food! And I promise you this will be the best potato dish you've ever tasted. Don't forget to bring your man his slippers and his martini the minute he gets home from work and let him relax from his long workday! Hahaha or better still, let him get his own slippers and you drink the martini so you can relax from your long workday! Cheers friends!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Homemade B52s!

Well I'm not just all work and no play you know. I've always got a fun little trick or two up my sleeve! So let's put our knives down and have a little bit of fun. I first got introduced to the B52 back in the early 1980's at a bar in Calgary, Alberta, and I truly thought I had died and gone to heaven! How absolutely delicious and who thought up such a wonderful thing? A shooter (which meant that you knock it all back down your throat at once) made of 3 layers - Kahlua, Bailey's Irish Cream and Grand Marnier, all sitting perfectly separated. A truly beautiful thing to behold! Back then, only lonely old cowboys with the lovesick blues drank shots. Usually a shot of Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey. Ew! I could never be that lonely. B52's are pretty retro now, but back then, they were very avant-garde, and they were the concoction that brought shooters into the main stream of bar life. They required skill, and as a former bartender, to make hundreds of them in a night was quite a challenge. I adored them alright, but they were such a very rare treat to have at home because of the cost of buying all that liquor was quite out of reach back then. And it still is if you love them as much as I do. Plus it's way sexier to make your own liqueurs!

So I learnt to make my own. Back then, computers were not invented and certainly not the internet, so you had to ask around and get recipes by word of mouth. There were no cell phones, or even microwave ovens. Haha and this wasn't 50 years ago. Just 30 years have gone by! But by my great, good fortune, I got hold of a Grand Marnier recipe that is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. I've shared it here earlier on my Grand Marnier cheesecake recipe, but we'll go over it again. You'll want to make this one first because it takes a week to ten days. Make your Kahlua a few days before your grand marnier is due to be ready and make your Bailey's the day before you want to start partying. Here's what they look like just before you knock one back:

So we'll start with the Grand Marnier. You'll need a bottle of brandy. Don't bother with the expensive ones because we're not sipping on fine cognac here. 1 beautiful orange and 3/4 to 1 cup of sugar. Slice the top quarter off the orange and set in pulp side down in a glass bowl. Add the sugar and the brandy and cover it with plastic wrap for a week to 10 days. Don't stir it or disturb it the whole time. Just leave it on the counter and forget about it. After the time is up, remove the orange, give it a stir (the sugar will have all dissolved by now) and using a funnel, pour it back into the original brandy bottle. There will be extra, so you can put that in a mason jar. I use 3/4 cup of sugar because I like it a bit less sweet, but use the full cup if you don't like the taste of brandy as much as I do.

Now for the Kahlua:
In a medium sized saucepan, boil 4 cups of water, 2 1/2 cups of sugar and 3 tablespoons of instant coffee. When it comes up the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Stir once in a while. Now I veer off the path a little bit at this stage ever since Bailey went to Cuba and was so sweet as to bring me back some star anise. I put a piece of that into the pot and let it simmer around for about an hour and pull it out. It gives a very subtle back note of licorice which I love. You can skip this, but I like to feel a connection to my lovely Ladygirls in all things I do, so the star anise makes it quite magical to me!
After about 2 1/2 hours of simmering, you'll have quite a thick molasses type of brew going. If it doesn't seem to be thick like tar, let it go the full 3 hours. Pull it off the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of vanilla and 2 1/2 cups of vodka. Again, don't use your Grey Goose here. It's the alcohol we're after. Let it cool down and put it into a clean bottle using a funnel. Again, you'll have extra, so put that into another mason jar.

Now for the Bailey's and this is fast and easy. Just use your blender for this one and you'll need:
1 tablespoon of instant coffee
1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 cup of Half and Half cream
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon of vanilla
1 1/2 cups of whiskey. I use Irish whiskey since it is Bailey's Irish Cream, but Canadian whiskey would be amazing too!
Blend it all up and put it into a large mason jar and store it in the fridge. It will keep for about 6-8 weeks, but I'm sure it will be long gone before then. Give it a good shake before you use it.

So now you have 3 amazing liqueurs at a fraction of the cost of the real thing. But here's where the fun part comes in. Assembling the shot! Start with your Kahlua and fill up a shot glass 1/3 of the way. The secret to these is the density and you go from densest to least dense. Next comes the Bailey's layer and a little bit of finesse is required to make them perfect. If you have those bartender bottle spouts, that's the best way to do it so you can keep the flow slow. If not, put a little bit of Bailey's into another small shot glass and hold a spoon over the glass, bottom side up and slowly pour the Bailey's over the back of the spoon and it will sit perfectly on top of the Kahlua. Repeat the same process for the Grand Marnier. And Ta Da!!! A perfectly layered shot of pure bliss! Lots of fun to make and more fun for parties or to give as a hostess gift when you go visiting. Put them in 3 separate pretty bottles with festive ribbons on each and a couple of shot glasses makes a beautiful gift.

Now not to be a Debbie Downer, but as a mother and a good citizen, I must insist that you do not drive if you're drinking. Not Ever because it will ruin your life when you get arrested, and not to mention you could kill innocent people. Drinking is fun if you do it responsibly and never get behind the wheel. And don't drink too many of these even if you're staying home because you'll curse the day I was born when you wake up with a pounding head the next morning. And I want to stay in your good books. So Cheers! And may the wind always be at your back and moderation be your guide!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Nanaimo Bars

Well it's certainly getting busy now! We're exactly a month away from sleigh marks on the rooftop. How is it that we get a full year to plan ahead for Christmas every year, but we're always in a scramble to get everything done? I'm one of the guilty for sure. I hear of people starting their Christmas shopping in July and I just shake my head in wonder. In July, I'm totally trying to stuff myself into last summer's shorts and thinking about the barbecue and beer and fun and the beach! Christmas is a century away! I'm a "live in the moment" person, and I wouldn't have it any other way. And scrambling is fun and a great challenge if you manage to pull it off. I adore the highs and lows of life, and mostly I love to live on the edge.

So you just got a last minute invitation to a house party, or worse you just got a call that you're having company at home and no time to prepare? I've got you covered. Here's a dessert recipe that doesn't require any baking! It's fun and easy and people will swoon for this one. I procrastinated making this forever and I really don't know why because it was done and to the chill in less than half an hour. But the glory is that everybody will think you were at this all day. So let's make a Canadian favourite!

This is a chilled dessert made in 3 layers, I'll give you the whole ingredient list, separated by layer. But as I always tell my Ladygirls, please lay out all of your ingredients before you begin! (They never listen, but you should!)
1/2 cup room temperature butter
1/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
1 beaten egg
1 3/4 cups graham crumbs
1 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup room temperature butter
3 tablespoons of heavy cream (I use whipping cream)
2 tablespoons of custard powder
2 cups of icing sugar

5 squares of semisweet chocolate
3 teaspoons of room temp butter

Use a non stick brownie pan for this, or a square aluminum pan if you're taking them visiting.
For the first layer, beat an egg with a fork and set it aside. Use a double boiler if you have one. I just set a glass baking dish into a pot of boiling water. The idea is to keep it off the direct heat, so invent if you must. Melt the butter, sugar and cocoa powder on Medium heat until it's smooth and then gradually beat in your egg, whisking all the while so you don't have a scrambled egg in a puddle of chocolate butter. Keep whisking for about 2 or 3 minutes until it becomes glossy. Take it off the heat and stir in the coconut, graham crumbs and walnuts. It's going to be tight, so work it with your hands if you want to. Press this into the pan and try to make it level like a skating rink. Put this into the fridge to chill and now we'll start the second layer. Don't be afraid as you read this because I'm telling you that literally only 5 minutes have passed by.

For the middle layer, use your electric mixer and mix the butter, cream and custard powder for about 2 minutes and add one cup of icing sugar and mix that up. Then add your second cup. If it's too tight and thick, add just a drop or two of cream until it's smooth and you think you can spread it. Spread it over your graham crumb layer and put it back into the fridge to chill. We are now about 8 or 10 minutes into the clock.

Now while that's chilling, back to the double boiler method and melt the chocolate squares and butter and whisk until all the chocolate is melted. Pour this over the amazing creation and spread to cover. Chill it for at least 3 or 4 hours. And You're Done! The one tip I must tell you is to let it sit at room temp for 10 or 15 minutes before you slice it into squares or the top chocolate layer will crack and crumble. Serve these really chilled. Oh Yum! It's no wonder Canadians have such a great joy of life, and you will too after you taste these. And for me, the best thing about them is that there is no baking required! Enjoy friends!

Monday, 19 November 2012

It's Better in the Dark

GOOD LORD. I have been gone far too long. That's what happens when you move and start three jobs all at the same time, plus have no internet at home! But I'm back, and with a vengeance. My own cooking pursuits have been fabulous ever since we got a new grocery store in Kingston called Farm Boy. Of course all the Kingstonians think it's too pretentious and expensive, but I love it. It's the one place in town you can find duck breast, mangoes, kale, and gouda all in the same place. My love and I have been cooking up a storm.

But today I am writing about something else entirely: a dining-out experience that I had this weekend. My lovely and gorgeous friend Sabby is getting married next year, so this weekend was Bride Day. We went to three lovely bridal salons in Toronto to look for dresses, and this was to be followed by a surprise dinner at the restaurant of Sabby's choosing. All we knew was that it was going to be in the Church&Wellesley neighbourhood, so I thought we were going to a gay cabaret. Which would have been awesome. But I was wrong, and we went somewhere even awesome-er:

The restaurant is called O Noir. You can check their website out here. For the foodies out there, you've probably heard of the concept. It's all about dining in the dark. I had heard of the restaurant several years ago and thought it sounded super cool. But I also thought you'd be able to see, at least a little bit. I was wrong.

The restaurant, first of all, is underground. You descend a set of stairs as though you're going into a subway tunnel, and suddenly you are in a sort of anteroom that is lit normally. It has the host stand, a bar, a till, and a gigantic wall display of the Braille alphabet. Here is where you peruse the menu. You can choose either two courses or three courses, and it was pretty reasonably priced. I chose to do two courses and that was $32. Some of the options were grilled octopus, roasted vegetable salad, beef tenderloin, etc. Standard fare. But there are also "surprise" options for each course. So naturally I chose to do the surprise starter and the surprise entree, because I wanted to pretend like I was doing the palate test of Hell's Kitchen. And also because I eat absolutely everything and I wanted to really take the experience of dining blind for what it was.

After choosing the menu, you and your party are guided to your seats. You have to line up and hold hands as the waiters lead you to your chair and touch your shoulder when you should sit. The waiters are all visually impaired, by the way. This explains their comfort in the dark, but their adeptness is astounding. I've been serving for years and still my hands tremble with a full tray. I just can't imagine doing it with no sight at all.

So anyway. It's actually the absolute darkest room I've ever been in. "Our eyes will adjust," our party said before we went in. That's actually false. There is no ambient light coming in from anywhere at all, so two hours later I saw as little as I did when I first walked in. Not even my hand in front of my face. We were passed our beverages by our waiter Gavin (who was amazing, by the way) as he touched our shoulders and indicated where to reach our hands out. "The first five minutes will be crazy," he said. It was true. All the voices in the room were terribly loud, perhaps because our lack of sight heightened our other senses or perhaps because everyone's voice were raised with anxiety.

Our starter was delicious. It was a salad of greens and warm roasted vegetables, with goat cheese and pesto (I think?!). I thought it was zucchini, but it was actually beets. Gordon Ramsay, I fail. The entree was also tasty: chicken with green beans and potatoes. I wish I could be more descriptive than that, but I didn't even know what it was until I left. I thought it was pork. Whoops. Tasty though it was, my inner Iron Chef was hoping for truly weird ingredients like offal or something. Oh well.

The best part, though, was the experience of dining in blindness. Our fingers had to navigate our plates to find the morsels. In the dark, without judgment, some of us licked our plates. We got butter on our hands by accident. Nobody spilled anything, but only just barely. Our conversation was animated and constant because we weren't distracted by other people, our cell phones (strictly verboten), or the decor. We were vulnerable. We wrestled with perceived limitations. We were in awe of the agility and ability of the "impaired" folks who served us. And it tasted so damn good. 

(And, as a restaurant industry veteran myself, I have to say that when the server is the one with total control, that is not such a bad thing. Diners be ware.)

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake

Finished Product 

Have you ever had the most perfect day in your life, and you don't want it to end? Bailey came into town for the weekend just to hang out with me and cook a nice meal. We like to try to spend one weekend together in November before all the mad rush of Christmas begins every year. Is it so wrong to say that I look forward to this weekend much more so than Christmas itself?

We always spend the Friday night talking about ideas we have about what we might like to cook and we drag out all the Food & Drink magazines to come up with ideas. Bailey wanted to try out a recipe she really liked the look of, and I wanted to fix a wrong that has been bothering me to no end. I made some pumpkin spice brownies last month that were such a disappointment. They were so dry that I thought I might choke to death and the flavours were so wrong together. It just was all wrong in every way. Plus I blogged a recipe for pate that I was shooting my mouth off about, but I wrote it off the top of my head and had no photo to post on it. So the menu was born. Pate (because we needed a photo), French Onion soup (because we adore it), sliced beef tenderloin in Yorkshire pudding drizzled with Bearnaise sauce on a bed of arugula (this is the one that caught Bailey's eye) and to right the wrong - scrap those shitty brownies altogether and modify the idea to become a cheesecake!

So off we went this morning to gather up the ingredients we needed. We were blessed with a nice, sunny warm day and our travels took us all over the town. First the Walmart because I finally bought a food processor which I needed for the pate. I've been without one for twenty years since the motor blew out of my last one. I've managed to make do, but there comes a time when you just have to cough up the sixty eight bucks for the good of all. And thank God too because the pate was awesome. Just as I remembered it after all this time. Then we hit up the liquor store because I just knew this menu was begging for a nice bold and robust Chilean Carmeniere. Plus we needed cocktails to keep us from dying of thirst as we slaved away at the stove all afternoon. Then we stopped off for an amazing lunch of Pho and cold shrimp rolls and imported beer from Thailand, and finally to the Asian market for the remaining ingredients. Chicken livers and beef tenderloin to be precise. And off home to start the process of the amazing meal! Bailey will post the recipe for the main course, but I take the privilege to right the wrong of the really bad pumpkin brownies. So let's make an amazing cheesecake!
Homemade stencil- the most creative thing I have ever done! 

I used a ready make graham crust because I had one in the pantry. But you can easily make a crust from scratch. 3/4 cup graham crumbs, 1/3 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of melted butter. Stir it all up and press it into a pie pan.
Preheat the oven to 350.

You'll need for the filling:
2 packages of cream cheese
2 eggs
3/4 cup of sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup of pumpkin pie filling
1/2 tsp of cinnamon
1/2 tsp of allspice
1/2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg
1 tbsp of vanilla

Beat this with an electric mixer for about 5 minutes until it's creamy and smooth. Pour into the pie pan and bake for about 35-45 minutes. Let it cool and refrigerate for 4-5 hours. We topped it with sifted icing sugar and a design we made of cocoa powder, But whipped cream dollops would be awesome too. Thank God it turned out to be so delicious and I can put the shame brownies behind me for good! Possibly though, this turned out to be the most magical cheesecake ever because I had one of my beautiful Ladygirls standing right beside me the whole way through it! I guess you won't know until you make your own. Happy Thanksgiving to my wonderful American friends, and I'll be thinking of you and wishing you many blessings this week!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Shortbread Cookies

This is the time of year that I always want to sit on my hands and hide at the back of the room for the shame. And why? Because it's baking season. Everybody is talking about starting their baking now and freezing their piles and piles of wonderful baked treasures for Christmas time. The grocery stores have special display cases out in the middle of the aisles to store all the extra icing sugar and brown sugar and decorations and dessicated coconut and candied cherries. I just drop my head down and try to slink through baking aisle unnoticed.

It's no secret that the Ladygirls and I don't bake. Bailey downright puts an angry disclaimer on all things having to do with baking. And Kelly blithely turns a blind eye to it completely. They think they just don't have the sensibility for it. And possibly that's true. To really bake well, you must have been exposed to generations of wonderful recipes to share and to have helped your grandma bake pies and squares and cakes and you name it! Baked treats have to be a part of your world. You have to know all the little tricks about dough and batter to really excel.

Unfortunately for us, the timing has been all wrong for the past two generations. 3 for the girls really. My grandmother raised 11 children during the 1930's and the Great Depression when butter and eggs were such a luxury item that you would never waste them on a dessert. And then my mom raised her family in the groovy 1960's when Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines came out with the cake in the box. Sixties moms were all about convenience, so in their mind, only a fool would bake a cake from scratch when you could just buy a boxed mix and add eggs and oil and voila! And not having been exposed to desserts in her lifetime, dessert was never a part of my life. We got cake in a box whenever anybody had a birthday, and if she was in a really fantastic mood, there would be Jello with Cool Whip topping, or those Pilsbury cookies in a tube that you slice and bake. The end. So there was never any inspiration for me to bake. Other than the odd Snack"N Cake, but we all know what we did with them. Hahah. And I don't think I even tasted a coconut macaroon until my own baby shower.

When I had Bailey and Kelly, I really had that Supermom drive in me that they now call Extreme Parenting. So I had a go at baking all sorts of things. I always felt like I had cookie dough up to my elbows and a sink full of bowls and pans and measuring cups and at the end of the day, neither of the girls could care less about it. They were much happier with an ice cream cone for a treat. Who do you think ate all the goods? So I retired from baking altogether. I don't miss it at all until this time of year, and something compels me to buy cocoa powders and custard mix and things that will sit in the cupboard for years to come, untouched. I was even thinking of buying some measuring spoons. But for cooking, as opposed to baking, the palm of your hand is the best measuring spoon going.

So last year, I found a really easy shortbread recipe and made cookies to take to an open house. I bought a festive cookie tin to put them in and everything! And guess what - I got compliments on them!! So now this is my go to recipe for all things to do with baking. Except my Nanaimo Bars which are killer. But they aren't baked. But I'll share them with you on my next post.

You'll need:
1/2 cup of cornstarch
1/2 cup of icing sugar
1 cup of flour
3/4 cup of room temperature butter

Sift all your dry ingredients together, stir them around and blend in your butter with a wooden spoon until your dough is nice and soft. Shape them into little balls, about half the size of a golf ball and flatten them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, with a fork or the bottom of a glass. Bake at 350 on the middle rack for about 15 -20 minutes. Let them cool before you take them off the parchment paper. You can add sprinkles or icing or those really amazing little silver balls that could break your molars in half, but it's worth it because they are so beautiful! These cookies will melt in your mouth and they are delicious and easy, and that's my kind of baking!

Just one more thing I want to mention. When I write these blogs, all the recipes come out of my memory bank, so I don't always have a photo to put with them. But when I get around to making the recipe the next time, I take a picture and add it in then. So eventually there will be photos to go along with everything! Cheers and happy baking!

Editor's note: We just added these photos! We also added a teaspoon of rosewater and a tablespoon of lavender to these cookies for some extra flavour! 

Monday, 12 November 2012

French Onion Soup

            I am in love with the Food & Drink Magazine the LCBO puts out for free. IN LOVE. In my family, a new Food & Drink day is better than Christmas. We live for it. For a while, I was just going to the LCBO blindly, stumbling upon it here and there. Too many days of disappointment resulted from that lack of planning though. Since I’m in Ottawa, there are always as many French versions as there are English. I would get excited that there were some left (because they are always gone within 24 hours) only to discover it was in French. My delicate heart simply cannot take that kind of crushing disappointment, so I needed a better way.

            This is where the Internet becomes a beautiful thing. I am only telling you this because you are our trusted reader, and I would encourage you to keep this type of info under your hat, but the Food & Drink comes out on Wednesdays. Usually every other month or so. Again, you can go in blindly knowing that, and have a fairly good chance of getting one, but you are even better off to know that the LCBO actually puts the release date on its website! I write this into my Moleskine agenda (because I am a hipster and this blog simply did not have enough product placement) and I have never been defeated in the LCBO again, begging them to check in the storeroom for one last box.

            They do not check for another box for you. In fact, I am quite convinced my LCBO has given up on trying to put them on the shelf entirely (and I’ll leave my conspiracy theories about how many copies the employees take home for another day). They just have one employee that stands there and opens new boxes as they run dry. That is their official title, but their REAL job is to ensure you take only one copy of the magazine. I have been scolded countless times for trying to sneak off with 2 or 6, because this is how you have to help out your friends. 

            So this week, the Holiday 2012 came out, and everything in it is just a delight. My personal ritual with the Food & Drink (and everyone has one) is to set aside a full two hours with it, preferably with a nice gin cocktail, and read every single page. I mark the recipes I want to try, and then I go back and re-read those recipes.

            I could wax rhapsodic about the Food & Drink all day, and I’m pretty sure I’ve already blogged about it at least once. The whole thing is just great, but this week reminded me of around this time last year. Have you ever had that feeling where you just need to sit next to your mum on the couch and watch TV together? Every time I go home, it is usually for an event of some type. A birthday or party of some type, occasionally a holiday. This makes everything rushed and we never have time to just hang out. So, last year, I went home with the only goal of sitting next to Mummy on the couch, and cooking together.

            Being the ambitious women that we are, we broke out about 6 issues of the Food & Drink, and went looking for recipes. Several hours later, we had spent about $100 on different cheeses, bought two types of ramekins, and had a five-course meal to cook. This might stress out someone who doesn’t love to cook as much as we do, but our house felt like Christmas morning for the sheer joy of it.  Just for your interest, the menu was cheddar cups with bacon, French Onion soup, roasted pork loin, a salad of some variety and lemon soufflé for dessert. It was an unbelievably delicious meal, which my aunt and cousin joined us for, and every ounce of homesickness I had was cured within a few minutes.

            One day, when I have ten days to do nothing but blog, I will help you with that menu. For today, we will start with the French Onion soup.

            French Onion soup is my absolute favourite thing order in a pub. Pair that with a side Caesar salad, and I am in pub heaven (okay, and a Strongbow too). I never even thought that it was something I could re-create at home. How could I make a melting pot of cheesy deliciousness? It was one of those recipes in my mind that could only happen in magical restaurant kitchens.

            Mummy does not have the magic restaurant kitchen affliction, and nothing is too big to take on (as we see from her homemade pâté recipe). She said we were going to make that at home, and by-God, we did! It’s actually very simple, and you can do it too!

            You will need a few things to make this happen though. You do need an ovenproof ramekin for this, because I don’t think a regular bowl would work. Plus, presentation counts, so just get to the Dollar store and buy some ramekins. You won’t regret this purchase, because you can make anything look special if you put it in a ramekin.

            Ingredients are as follows:
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·      <!--[endif]-->Beef broth
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·      <!--[endif]-->2 onions, sliced
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·      <!--[endif]-->Sherry (I bought mine from the Wine Rack, because it was not the same shopping trip as the LCBO. If you plan on drinking that sherry though, I would recommend not chintzing out like I did.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·      <!--[endif]-->Fresh thyme
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·      <!--[endif]-->Bay leaf
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·      <!--[endif]-->Worcestershire sauce 
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·      <!--[endif]-->Gruyère cheese, grated
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·      <!--[endif]-->Baguette
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·      <!--[endif]-->Dijon mustard

How simple is that grocery list? If you saved that rib from the prime rib we made last Sunday, hopefully you simmered it overnight with water and seasoning and made your own beef broth. I did. But if you didn’t, Campbell’s will do just fine. I suggest buying the low sodium variety, so that you can control the seasoning in your soup better.
The first thing you want to do is give yourself so time to simmer the soup. The longer it simmers, the better it will be. In fact, I had the leftovers the day after I made it, and they were even more delicious than fresh.

Start by sautéing your onions in butter until they are golden. There will be bits stuck the bottom of the pot, (you are using a large pot, right?) so get our your wooden spoon because we are going to de-glaze the pot with the sherry. Add a good-sized splash, ¾ of a cup or so, and stir right away to get all the flavour off the bottom of the pot. Let this reduce by half to really bring out the flavour of the sherry (hence, why good sherry is better). Next, add your beef broth (enough to cover the onions), splash of Worcestershire, quite a lot of fresh thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Just be careful with your salt, especially if you are using store bought broth. Finally, throw in a bay leaf (because bay leaves make everything taste better) and bring to a boil. Then turn down and simmer for several hours. At least one, two or three is better.

When you are getting ready to serve, grate your cheese. Two handfuls is good for two bowls of soup, so about a handful per serving. Next, make some crostini. For my ramekin, I needed two slices of baguette per bowl, plus one more for the side of the plate. Toast your baguette under the broiler (you might as well leave that on for when the soup) and then spread the two slices for the bowl with a bit of Dijon mustard.

Place your toasts in the bottom of the ramekin and spoon your soup on top, with just a half centimetre at the top for the cheese. Put a healthy layer of cheese on the soup and put your bowls on a baking tray. This will keep it so that you don’t have to spend the rest of the evening scrubbing your oven. Broil your soup until golden and bubbly on the top. Serve with a crostini and some Caesar salad (and possibly a breath mint). You’ll never have to go to the pub again! At least, not for French Onion soup.