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. 

Sunday, 11 November 2012


Ugh. I truly wish this fad about macaroni and cheese would soon wear itself out. I'm not saying "Don't eat macaroni and cheese." Of course eat macaroni and cheese. In fact, make Bailey's recipe for macaroni and cheese contained here on our blog. It's amazing. But I was just perusing through a flyer and it had a recipe for mac and cheese bundles, served on individual tasting spoons, and I had to throw up my hands in the air and say NO to that! They were suggesting that this could be a fabulous appetizer to serve at a cocktail party. Puleeeze. Mac and cheese can only take you so far. And to try to pass off the mac and cheese bundle on an individual tasting spoon at a cocktail party would only serve to tell your guests that you never really actually wanted to stray away from college life. Better to serve those little wieners from the can stuck on a toothpick with a hunk of cheese and an olive. That would have more flavour and draw more interest.

If you've reached a point in your life where you are having a cocktail party, and where ice is in abundance and no beer pong table exists, then it's time to serve some grownup appetizers too! So no macaroni, and no mini sliders (although both are delicious in their place), and certainly no corn dogs. Redneck parties are designed for all of these delicacies. In other words, don't expect your lady guests to shave their legs and put on hose and lipstick, and your male guests to shave their face and wear something other than a logoed T Shirt from a beer case unless you intend to impress them with your newly found adult culinary skills.

I've always said that food and entertaining are all about smoke and mirrors, and this recipe is a true example of that ideology. Your guests will suck in their cheeks with amazement when you tell them that you made your own pate. But really, this is a budget friendly version with more flavour than any pate you've ever tried. Save for the Pate de Foie Gras. That's the real thing using duck liver. It is off the charts amazing, and if you've just won a lottery, and you can serve that, skip over this recipe and send me a cheque in the mail. But just remember that we're having more fun over here with the chicken liver variety!

You'll need:
8-10 ounces of chicken livers. If you use frozen, make sure they're thawed, but fresh is better
3/4 cup of chicken broth, again, your own homemade is best, but canned will do
1 finely chopped scallion
2 minced cloves of garlic
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
4 slices of bacon fried crisp and crumbled
1/4 cup room temperature butter
1 tablespoon of Dijon
1 tsp of peppercorns. I like the ones with pink in them, but black will be fine too
A small splash of brandy

Simmer your chicken livers, broth, scallion, garlic, thyme and peppercorns for about 15 minutes on med-low heat. Drain and keep 1/2 cup of the liquid.
Process this with the bacon, butter and Dijon in a processor until smooth and creamy. Add your reserved liquid as necessary. Add the brandy. For God sake, don't use too much or that's all you'll taste. You just need a nip or two here. No more than a couple of tablespoons or so.
Taste it and add salt or pepper if you think you need it.
Bacon crumbled
Refrigerate it either in a nice serving dish or roll it up in plastic wrap in a ball or a log, for at least 4 hours.

Not for pups! 
You can take this visiting for a hostess gift, or serve it at your own cocktail party. But here is the key to your success. Do Not serve this with crackers. The salt will destroy the taste and also minimize your efforts. Slice a baguette and toast the slices. The bread will be neutral in taste, but more importantly, if you surround your creation with something that looks like you just hauled it out of a box, nobody will fuss over you. But if your presentation says "Step aside, step aside people - there is a chef coming through the crowd with a platter that demands your attention" then you'll get the ooohs and ahhhhs that you deserve! Hahaha And well you should friends! Let's get our Party Season on and I'll keep posting ideas for that as we go along! Cheers!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Mid Week Lamb Shoulder Chops

Finding inspiration for dinner on a dreary Wednesday in the middle of November is a hard fought battle. I discovered that today in my local grocery store. I work in a small town where there is no fast food to be found, so every day at lunch I go to the Foodland to grab a soup or a sandwich at the deli counter. That's at noon. Many mornings I go into that same store to get coffee supplies for work at 8:00 am. And without fail, I go back into that same store at 5:00 to get something for dinner. And this has been going on for over 5 years now. So I guess I've drawn attention to myself. I thought the employees wondered if I was a secret shopper or a head office spy or something like that. Haha and because I find it harder everyday to come up with inspiration for dinner, I've come to enter the store everyday and grab a cart and head straight to the back of the store and troll back and forth and back and forth along the meat section. It's a small country store, so meat also means fish and poultry and all things in between. Today I started at ground beef and meandered all the way to the end at chicken, and not getting a vibe, I doubled back along again. I picked up a piece of salmon, but it gave me nothing back, so I put it back down. I tray of sausage caught my eye, so I picked that up too, but placed it back again. And so on it went until I began to realize that 3 store employees started trailing me along the row. Then it dawned on me! I was being watched and clearly they were checking to see if I was going to stuff a slab of meat into my jacket! How funny and amusing it was to me because my monthly bank statement is 3 pages long, and more than 90% of the purchases are made at that exact grocery store!
I was not to be daunted however, and they could search me if they dared. So I continued along in my mission for flavour and it was amusing to know that half the employees of the store were pretending to busy themselves as I made a choice for my Wednesday night dinner!
Alas, two lamb shoulder chops practically jumped off the shelf and into my cart! The choice was made. The one thing I do like about the end of barbecue season is that you can buy cheaper cuts and do a slow braise which means tons and tons of flavour and half the price of a grill worthy cut of meat. I felt sorry for my tail that I just bought the chops and left the store without drama or incident. They'll see me again in the morning when I buy cream for work coffee and I pray that someday they will apprehend a shoplifter in that little country store to add some spice to their lives.
But we're going to make an easy lamb chop braise and you only need what you already have in the fridge.
2 lamb shoulder chops
1 quartered onion
4 cloves of garlic roughly chopped
2 stalks of celery cut into 3 inch long pieces
2 carrots peeled and cut into 3 inch long pieces and quartered lengthwise
1 lemon thinly sliced
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp each of cumin and coriander
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups of red wine
Preheat the oven to 350
place the lamb chops in a roasting pan and season with salt, pepper, cumin and coriander
pour in the red wine and add the vegetables, garlic and rosemary and lemon slices.
Put the lid on and bake for 1 hour at 350 and reduce the heat and bake for another hour on 325 degrees.

And that's it. The meat will be melt in your mouth tender. You can serve it with garlic mashed potatoes or rice. Or a salad. And you can make a side vegetable or just serve it with the vegetables in the roaster. And some bread of your choice if you like. Since it's a midweek meal and it tastes so amazing just in itself, don't go to any trouble for your side dishes. I just serve it with bread usually. Voila! Sometimes loitering in the grocery store until inspiration finds you is time well spent. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Burmese Chicken with Fried Rice and Broccolini

You may or may not know this about us Reid Girls, but we absolutely love writing this blog. It is a constant topic of conversation, and we check our stats every day. The beauty of Blogspot is that it tells us when we have hits from different places in the world, and it’s so fun to look at the different countries people are reading us from. We’re big in Russia, and we have a few faithful followers in Germany and the UK.

When Mummy called me the other day to tell me that we have a reader in Burma, I was especially touched. Burma (also known as Myanmar) is a country in South East Asia that I must admit, I had never even heard of until I started working with refugees. In the last few years, I have worked with a number of children leaving this part of the world because of a civil war, human trafficking, poor health care and numerous other human rights violations. I had to Google Burma when I first heard about it to learn more, and I would encourage you to as well.

Sadly, like so many gorgeous countries in the world, Burma’s bad reputation precedes it, and people often don’t look past the violence. But if you do a quick Google Image search, you’ll see it’s actually a beautiful country. It is full of teak forests, has a huge coastline, and a vibrant culture. Like most Asian countries, the cuisine is varied and incredibly flavourful. It borders India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Laos and China. Each of those countries has its own incredible cuisine, so you can imagine the influence on Burmese cuisine. I came across a recipe for Burmese chicken right after I learned about our reader, and I knew I had to try it.

I cannot find this recipe online, but it’s from a book called “Burma” by Naomi Daguid. This recipe, despite tasting complex and amazing, is actually quite simple. Unlike many Asian recipes, you don’t need a ton of ingredients, and you’ll be able to find everything in your local grocery. But if you have an Asian store in your neighbourhood, I strongly urge you to take a trip there one afternoon to see what you can find.

You’ll need:
·      Chicken (I used boneless skinless breasts)
·      1 tbsp. garlic
·      1 tbsp. ginger
·      ½ tbsp. turmeric
·      ¼ tbsp. chili powder
·      ½ tbsp. salt
·      Splash of peanut oil
·      2 tbsp. fish sauce

I don’t often take shortcuts, but when I do I have good reason. You can buy minced garlic with ginger in a jar, and when it’s for something like a marinade or a curry, I strongly urge you to use it. Would I do this for a fresh dip? No, probably not. But since this is going on a barbecue, you can get away with it. It will just makes this recipe that much easier. Mix all of this together in a bowl and rub on the chicken. Let sit for thirty minutes in the fridge and then fire up your grill. This will cook on low medium heat for about thirty minutes.

            While you have that fired up, make your rice. This is a recipe that works really well if you have leftover rice, but you can also make it fresh. You need:

·      ½ cup of sliced shallots
·      ¼ tsp turmeric
·      3 tbsp peanut oil
·      Rice (4 servings)
·      Cup of peas (optional)
·      Lime wedges (optional- and I am mortified I had none because it would have been amazing)

Start by heating your oil and sautéing your shallots. When they are transparent, add in your turmeric and rice. Finish with peas (I just used frozen) and fry that all up. Turn it down when it gets golden and just keep it warm.

Your broccolini is the last step. This is just a skinnier, taller version of your standard broccoli. It only needs a brief sauté in the pan, with a little sliced garlic and sesame oil. Go easy on the sesame oil, because it is strong.

Plate this all in an attractive way, I sliced the chicken and put it on the rice. Fresh cilantro is never a miss when it comes to Asian cooking. Let me give you a word of advice about cilantro though. I don’t know if they grow it by the side of the road or something, but it is always absolutely filthy when I get it home. Rinse it very well, or you will be serving grit with your chicken, and that will not be pleasant at all.

I really enjoyed making this and especially enjoyed eating it. I hope that this recipe brings our Burmese reader some joy, and that this recipe honours your culture and cuisine! 

Monday, 5 November 2012

Sunday Dinner

There would be your meat in the roaster.

I’m not really sure what it is about Sundays, but they really make me want to cook. And I love the Traditional Sunday Dinner. I’m talking about a roast of some sort, either a roast chicken or roast beef, with some delicious vegetables and of course some variety of potato. If you went to my Newfoundlander grandmother’s house for Sunday dinner, this meant canned peas, sliced carrots, mashed potatoes, Bisto gravy and a roast that had been in the oven since noon. (She believes in well-done meat.) It’s a little different at Mummy’s house, where Sunday roast usually meant a roast chicken with flour gravy (so yummy), still sliced carrots (but DEFINITELY not any peas- Mummy hates them!) and either roasted or mashed potatoes. Now, my father’s clan believes in meat that can still breathe practically, so Sunday dinner at Daddy’s house is a roasted prime rib with Yorkshire pudding (have you ever tried to make those? Damn difficult), roasted potatoes and some level of veg. All different, all delicious, and all wonderfully nostalgic for me.

That is some well-rested meat. 
Daddy would be so proud! 
Despite being a woman of the new millennium, I still love my Sunday Dinners. Maybe, when I “have it all” in the traditional sense (you know, screeching children, careers, etc.) the last thing I will want to do it cook a huge dinner on a Sunday. But- my mother, a single mother, who “had it all” still pretty much always made a Sunday Dinner. This meal could certainly become an exploration of my feminist identity, but let’s not read too much into that, because at the end of the day, cooking is fun, eating is more fun, and having a lunch for the next three days makes life so much simpler!

My Sunday Dinner is a little of the family influence, and a little of my own creation. The menu for this Sunday was prime rib (because Loblaw’s had a sale- this is not a roast for a girl on a budget), roasted fingerling potatoes with rosemary and garlic, butternut squash with brown butter and sage, and steamed snow peas (because something has to be light). The joy of cooking on Sunday is that you can crack an ale, watch some football, and take all day to cook. So don’t stress about the menu, even though it sounds wonderfully complicated and sophisticated, because it is not.

That is a rib bone in the pot- boil in water overnight to make beef broth!
First things first. You need to cook your meat properly. The general rule of thumb for a medium rare (a.k.a ideal) roast is 20 minutes per pound plus 20 minutes over at 375°. Then it must rest for 15-20 more minutes. Resting is crucial because it allows the juices to redistribute in the meat, and it will be a like a dried out lump of clay if you slice into it immediately. (Doesn’t that bring back memories of the overcooked turkey scene in Christmas Vacation? That movie has been on my mind all week.) You can start the meat for the first twenty minutes at a higher heat and then turn it down to really get a nice crust on it. Start by preheating your oven, and then season your meat. I like black pepper, garlic powder and dry mustard (this is the Reid style, but you may have your own rub you like, which is fine.) In your roaster, either make a rack of celery and carrots, or place your roast on a metal rack. Place the potatoes and either garlic cloves or pearl onions around it. Give everything a nice drizzle of olive oil and put some fresh rosemary all about the potatoes. Fingerling potatoes are lovely and heirloom looking; and they don’t need to be peeled. I hate peeling potatoes, so I almost always go for a ruby red or fingerling variety. Good for you- that’s all set up and ready to go. Once your oven is hot, in it goes. Just a little splash of water in the pan keeps everything from burning.

Pre-roasted squash
You don’t have to do anything for about twenty minutes now except prep (but don’t forget to turn down that oven if you started with it hotter than 375). That roasted squash will take some time to roast, so I would advise you to get those started. I have told you before, and I will tell you again, unless you are a strong person who is great with a knife, just buy pre-peeled and cut squash. I promise you it is worth the extra two dollars because all your fingers will be intact by the end of the meal. Put it in a roasting dish with olive oil, salt, pepper, just a touch of sugar, and some chopped fresh sage. Put that in about an hour before you are ready to eat. Give yourself ten minutes before you are ready to eat to toast the pine nuts and brown your butter, and then pour that mixture on the squash for the last ten minutes in the oven. You toast nuts by putting them in a frying pan and watching them like a hawk while they are on medium heat. They will burn quickly so you really do need to keep an eye on it. Browning butter is much the same in that you put a glob of it in a pan, and then watch it while it turns a nice golden colour. Then get it off the heat because you are only seconds away from burnt butter, which does not taste delicious at all.
And post-roasted squash

And that is what I call Sunday Dinner! 
Finally, your snow peas can be steamed fifteen minutes before you serve dinner. Remember to calculate the standing time for the roast when you are thinking about your cooking times here. You may want to start the peas after you take the roast out. Once you take out the roast, tent it with tinfoil and let it rest. Get your veggies good to go and then right before you serve, slice the roast, very thinly. It will be a lovely pink inside and I promise, so tender. People who like more well done meat (I am such a meat snob, I will raise my eyebrow to that) can eat the outer bits, and it will get rarer as you move inwards. Serve your potatoes right out of the roasting pan. Horseradish would be amazing- I didn’t have any in my fridge last night and if my father knew that, he would have a conniption. I hope you enjoy your Sunday Dinner- serve with a dash of nostalgia and a little smugness about how well you cook a roast!