Monday, April 9, 2012

Desserts for the Oscars

For our annual Oscar party this year, I wanted to make use of the kazillion mini-mason jars that are always clinking and tumbling around my cupboards and just calling out to be made into something pretty and delicious. So I decided on mini dulce de leche cheesecakes, mini coconut cream pies and trifles in a jar, with some s'mores on a stick on the side. Handy-dandy, individual, no-cook, make-ahead desserts that were hopefully gonna simplify my life and delight my guests. Assemble and chill; perfect for my busy weekend.

Maple Mustard Ham for Easter

For the first time in years, we did not go to my sister's house to celebrate Easter with family. There have been so many unsettling things going around here and none of us were up to straying too far from home this time so we decided to hang around the house and have dinner with The Neighbours, which is always a treat. Our upstairs neighbours are moving out after many, many years and it will be the last official building dinner which made it a bit sad but we are all exited for them as they go off on their next adventure and save up for a house of their own - in fact, they have promised to have all of us for dinner next Easter at their new house and we all look forward to that (although The Neighbours and I are bringing all the food because we love her dearly but cooking is not one of her strong suits).

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Risotto With Beer

It's not secret that The Kid loves him some risotto and we have had a tough few weeks so I thought he deserved a nice, big bowl of something he loves. I still want to make a risotto with sparkling wine and seared scallops but that would have meant a major shopping trip, which was not in the cards.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Gooey Caramel Butter Bars

I don't know about you but Kraft caramels bring back vivid childhood memories of Halloween for me. Yes, the taste was memorable but even more so was the impossible-to-open challenge of trying to unwrap them without leaving any of the plastic stuck within the deep hard grooves of the little candy, only to be found as a slippery choking hazard in your mouth a few moments later. And you couldn't even try to do it quietly and surreptitiously under your desk during class... the crinkly crackliness would bust you each and every time. But always worth the wait and effort, once the hard caramel softened to a rich creaminess and kept your mouth busy for several happy minutes. None of the cheap no-name versions could ever compete with the real thing... throw them away with all the other Halloween knockoffs and just keep the Kraft originals. Unfortunately, during my teens I discovered the calorie count of one caramel and that pretty much ended my Kraft-caramel love affair for several years. Okay, decades.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Porcupine Meatballs with Smoked Paprika

When I was a kid, one of my brothers would always eat the meat stuffing out of my mom's cabbage rolls and leave all the delicious, tomato sauce napped cabbage untouched. I loved that cabbage  so I always thought he was nuts but just last week, I made gemista and Shack and The Kid did the same thing. They both ate up the stuffing but didn't touch the delicious peppers that the stuffing was roasted in. Clearly, they really liked the meat and rice thing so it made sense to run with that and find another use for it and for some reason, I couldn't get porcupine meatballs out of my mind. It's not even like I have fond childhood memories of eating them  like many of my friends. If my mom ever did make them, she would have used minute rice and cream of mushroom soup so if I she ever served them them I have blocked them out of my mind along with the reoccurring nightmare where everyone in my family turned into zombies and I had nowhere to run. Still, the idea of making them was intriguing but they would have to be different than a bland old meatball with rice on a toothpick.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gemista - Greek Stuff Peppers

There are so many things that I enjoy eating that I have never made myself and stuffed peppers are among those things. I know that Shack had not had them before would love to try them and yet, they have never been attempted in this house. For example, after 17 years of being asked to make veal parmesan , I have never made that for him either so, clearly, I am not really the fabulous, considerate person that I like to think I am.
Regardless, I am making him stuffed peppers now so better late than never, right?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Brown Butter Soda Bread

I guess I go backwards sometimes. After a lifetime of never making bread, I dove into the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day with gusto and spent two winters making all of our artisan loaves. I felt like a master baker, using yeast and not running scared out into the woods. Okay, I didn't have to knead it or do any other fancy bakery things to it but it was real bread and it was good.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chili Beef Stew

Last week was a crazy week that involved NO cooking at all. We had a long weekend away with family followed by a sick kid for two days and it wrapped up with two 13+ hour work days for me. Frankly, we are lucky to be alive at this point. We made a big pot of spaghetti sauce on the weekend for the freezer and I was anxiously awaiting Monday so I could be alone again and get back in my kitchen.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Rocky Road Bars and One-Bowl Chocolate Chunk Pecan Cookies

My new copy of Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey arrived in the mail this week (and Sticky, Chewy, Messy Gooey Treats for Kids is on its way) and I was hoping it'd be as good as Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy, which Carole gave me for Christmas two years ago, and which I totally love and go back to time and time again (spine is broken and pages are sticky... always good signs). Different authors and totally different looks to the books but obviously titles with delicious-sounding adjectives stacked one of top of the other appeal to me... great marketing idea! I'd been wanting to do some baking since The Eldest was coming home from university for reading week and that's as good an excuse as any to pull out the sugar and vanilla and get the kitchen smelling good.

I first decided on making these Rocky Road Bars from Carole's book, but halfway through remembered that Corbin had sworn off anything marshmallowy years ago, following a particularly dramatic upchuck on the cobblestone streets of London after gobbling back a dime-bag of penny candy in our rental car. To be fair, Q's driving of a manual car generally gives us all motion sickness of some sort, but Corbin has held a personal grudge against marshmallows ever since. Sorry... too much information on our domestic affairs but this is only to explain why I ended up baking twice that afternoon, following up with the "best" choc chip cookies from my newest cookbook. Some ooey-gooey followed by some chewy-crispy. O'Connor's approach is to use melted butter and then to refrigerate the dough for an hour before cooking. The results were worth the extra time involved... and loved the addition of pecans, even though it ruled out taking cookies for school lunches. Bummer.

Rocky Road Bars
from Alice Medrich's Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy
makes 16 2-inch bars

6 tbsp (3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups fine graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup walnut halves or large pieces
12 regular marshmallows, quartered
1 cup milk or semisweet chocolate chips

Line an 8-inch square pan with foil (bottom and all sides). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the butter with the graham cracker crumbs and sugar until all of the crumbs are moistened. (I screwed up here and used 3/4 cup of butter instead of 3/4 stick so I had to add more graham crumbs. Made for a thicker crust but no complaints.) Scatter half the nuts on top and pop in the oven for 10 mins until crust starts to turn golden brown. Remove from the oven (turn up heat to 375 degrees) and scatter the remaining nuts, marshmallows and chocolate on top. Pop back in the oven on the top shelf and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool completely and then cut into bars.

The Best One-Bowl Chocolate Chunk-Pecan Cookies
from Jill O'Connor's Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey

makes 3 dozen cookies

2 cups pecan halves

1 cup unsalted butter (melted)

3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp salt

2 tsp pure vanilla

2 large eggs

2 1/4 cups bleached all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp baking powder

2 cups semisweet chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast pecans for 6 to 9 minutes; remove and allow to cool. Turn off the oven.

Stir together the melted butter and the two sugars. Add the salt, vanilla and eggs and stir until smooth. Add in the flour, baking soda and baking powder, and stir until until incorporated. Fold in the chocolate and pecans. Transfer the batter to the fridge and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a 1-inch ice-cream scoop, place the dough balls on parchment lined trays and bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden brown.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Vietnamese BBQ Lemongrass Pork

Although I like chinese bbq pork, nothing beats vietnamese bbq for me and I order a side of it almost every time I go out for pho. It's like pork candy.

I didn't actually bbq this because it's winter but I will most certainly do that ASAP because this stuff is the bomb. Sticky, sweet pork is always my friend and even without the charred bits that it gets from grilling over charcoal, this stuff is delicious. After much searching around and needing a new recipe to try, I settled on this recipe from The Ravenous Couple.

Vietnamese BBQ Lemongrass Pork
adapted from the ravenous couple

2 pork tenderloins
1/4 cup minced lemongrass
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbls fish sauce
few grinds of black pepper
3 cloves garlic
3 tbls sesame oil
1 tbls kecap manis ( i am not sure what thick soy sauce is but this is what I use)
3 tbls toasted sesame seeds

I chopped up 3" of lemongrass stalk and then whizzed it up in the bullet   - do enough that you end up with 1/4 cup of the minced lemongrass.
Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the sesame seeds, to your food processor or blender or bullet and whiz it up until its completely blended.

Slice the pork into thin slices, probably about 1/4" or so and then pour the marinade all over the pork, mix it well making sure that every inch of each piece of pork is coated. Cover and put it in the fridge for at least an hour up to 24 hrs.

You can heat a grill pan (or just a heavy sauté pan if you don't have a grill pan) over medium high heat and grill the pork for a couple of minutes per side. You could also broil it. If you want charred bits but want to cook it on the stove top you can just throw it under a really hot broiler for a minute before you serve it.
Luckily for me, The Neighbour has a gas BBQ so I threaded the meat on skewers and we grilled it over med high heat for a few minutes per side. It gets nice and caramelized when you grill it so I was happy to share our meal with them - they have the bbq lol.
We ate it with rice this time.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Smoked Paprika Roast Chicken

My first dish of the new year was roasted paprika chicken breast with tomatoes and chick peas . I used bone in chicken breasts that time and I fell so in love with the oil that I have been using it for lots of other things like some roasted some cauliflower and a batch of peppers, zucchini and red onion. This stuff is the bomb.

Tonight I wanted to roast a chicken and so what could be more perfect than a slathering of the paprika oil on a whole chicken? It is very similar to the original but I think adapting the dish to a whole chicken and changing up the veg makes it new enough for me. As a change from my sticky rotisserie method that I usually use, I roasted the bird at high heat. So simple. It really is cooking for dummies and since I have a no good, terrible head cold and can't even remember my own name right now, that made it a perfect dish. The skin was beautifully crispy and the smoked paprika flavour really shines through.

Smoked Paprika Roast Chicken

smoked paprika oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbls smoked paprika
1 tsp cumin

1 3 lb roasting chicken
kosher salt

3 yellow fleshed potatoes
handful of brussels sprouts, washed and ends trimmed but left whole

mix up the paprika oil

Rub some of the paprika oil on the chicken, making sure you get every spot covered.If you can do it earlier in the day and leave it, uncovered, in the fridge that would be great but I am sure it would still be good if you can't do that.
Preheat the oven to 450F

Cut the potatoes into big chunks and toss them, along with the brussel sprouts, in a small drizzle of the paprika oil, salt and pepper and toss to coat well.

Place your chicken in a roasting pan and surround it with the potatoes and brussels sprouts, sprinkle the bird with some kosher salt and roast it on the second to bottom level in your oven for about 1 hr. I put the other rack on the top spot and lay a piece of foil on that so that the fat won't splatter up onto the upper element and make it smoke like crazy.

That's it. I didn't baste it or stir the vegetables or anything.
I took it out after an hour, carved the chicken, put the veggies in a bowl.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Carrot and Parsnip Soup with Parsnip Chips and Apple/Cheddar Quick Bread

After eating away from home so much lately, I was craving some veggies and comfort food, so what better than a nice bowl of soup and some cheesy bread alongside? Maddie ain't a big fan of parsnips but I figured the carrots would hide their existence... and who could resist the crispy parsnip chips on top? Apparently she could. At first she asked if this was my "burnt carrot" soup (aka roasted carrots that I guess she thinks get overly browned in the oven) and then she was highly suspicious that another ingredient was being kept from her. But she was the only non-believer. Austin and I were busy popping back the parsnip chips so quickly before dinner, I wish I'd made double the amount. Total yum. And the quick bread was quick, easy and delish. When I saw that it had no spices, I was concerned that it might be really bland but instead it allowed the tang of both the apples and the cheese to shine through... in fact, it would have complicated things to add another flavour. And kids have already asked to take for lunch tomorrow... a hit for sure.

2 tbsp olive oil, divided

2 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions

3 cups coarsely chopped parsnips (about 1 lb)

2 1/2 cups coarsely chopped carrots (about 1 lb)

3 cups water

2 (14-oz) cans fat-free, low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth

1 cup thinly sliced parsnip

1 tbsp chopped fresh chives

Heat 1 tsp oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender (about 10 mins). Add the parsnip, carrot, watter and broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 50 mins or until veggies are tender. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 mins. Use a handheld blender to process until smooth. Stir in salt and pepper.

Heat remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the parsnip slices; cook 5 minutes or until lightly browned, turning occasionally. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle chips and chives over soup.

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup milk plus 2 tbsp

1/3 cup canola oil

1 egg

2 tbsp brown sugar

1 cup finely diced apples

1 cup strong cheddar cheese, grated

3 tbsp cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prep your loaf pan by lightly greasing it with butter and then use a mixture of cornmeal and flour to dust the insides. About a spoonful of each will do.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the milk, oil, egg and brown sugar until well blended. Pour in the diced apples and stir in the flour mixture. Add in the cheese in 3 handfuls--stirring between each. Dump the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 45-50 mins. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and cook for 10 mins longer until the cheese melts and the bread is cooked all the way through--use a wooden skewer in the middle to test doneness.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Greek Stuffed Pork Roast

It was a rare night where both of my men were going to be home for dinner so I kindly asked them if they would like to put in any requests. I got a "whatever you want to make" from The Kid and a very emphatic "I don't want any curried anything and nothing stir fried" as Shack stomped out the door.
Well, okay then. Somebody has been working and living off catering for too long I think. It was time for a manly meal of roast meat.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Toblerone Shortbread Cookies

It's been a hairy few weeks and we've all been flying by the seat of our pants in terms of food... as a result, unfortunately there's been nothing of interest to post--not even baking! It must be bad! Work has been crazy so it's been a relief to be able to return to old favourites and, more importantly, to repeat them and eat them as leftovers. The kiddies have also been pitching in and, as is always the case when I'm swamped, Q promptly got on a plane and left town. The timing is uncanny and somewhat suspicious but I guess I can't really question a conference in Whistler in January. He's a smart guy, after all, and who's going to turn down that opportunity? Just bad timing for the rest of us remaining on the homefront.
Anyway, back to domestic issues. I thought I'd at least buy some goodwill from the young 'uns by doing some baking over the weekend. After all, if the cookie jar is full, they must know that their mom at least remembers they exist, even if they're not seeing her very often. Three Toblerones had been sitting on the kitchen countertop for the past week and they were driving Austin and Maddie to distraction. They begged to open them; I refused because I knew they'd be gone as soon as we had a bite. Instead, I was determined to bake with them, and since we hadn't made any shortbread over the Christmas season, chunky Toblerone shortbread cookies seemed like the perfect solution. With just a handful of ingredients and a couple of quick steps, they were minutes in the making and a huge hit for kids who'd been neglected for too long. I've seen some Toblerone cookies with the chocolate triangle embedded on top, but I've never had a lot of success with that technique. Either the chocolate burns or turns white or runs over the sides, so I figured hiding chunks inside was probably the safer bet and so far the critics haven't registered any complaints.

Toblerone Shortbread Cookies
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp icing sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch or rice flour
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 100-gram bars Toblerone, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter until light and fluffy. Sift in icing sugar and beat again until fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Sift in cornstarch or rice flour and blend in. Sift in all purpose flour and salt, and mix until dough comes together (it'll be soft). Stir in vanilla and chunks of Toblerone.
Using a 1-inch ice cream scoop, spoon cooking dough onto parchment-lined cookie sheets, leaving 2 inches between cookies. Bake for 9 minutes, turn cookie sheets, and bake for another 9 minutes until bottoms brown lightly.
Remove from oven and allow to cool on racks. Makes about 28 cookies.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Third week of January and it's time for Chili with Pork

It was a drizzly, miserable morning and so comfort food was certainly on the menu. Poor Shack is back on set and so I am trying to make things that he can heat up and eat when he gets home later in the evening because even though they do feed him on set, he doesn't always have the time to eat much. Some movies have better catering than others as well, so it becomes even more important to try to make sure he has yummy food at home to even out the endless parade of chicken dishes they serve at work.

We all love chili and we although we are dying for all of our old favourites again, in the spirit of adventure and trying new things, I thought I would make a different kind of chili. Thinking I had a container of leftover canned poblano chills in the fridge, I foolish planned it around those without actually looking at them first.  I went out and bought some ground pork, PC tomatillo salsa and a can of black beans, thinking I would do a chili version of our favourite pork stew, chili verde.

Once I got my ingredients ready, I realized that my poblanos had gone bad but I was already committed so I had to forge ahead anyway. I was also out of beer so clearly this was not going to be my regular chili verde with ground pork instead of chunks of pork. I really need to take inventory BEFORE I go shopping.
In the end, I just made it up as I went along and the end result was very tasty indeed. The brand of tomatillo salsa you use will determine how spicy the end product will be so keep that in mind. I am, once again, quite thankful for this blog because this is the kind of thing I would normally whip up on the spot but then I would have forgotten how I made it. Now that I actually have to measure and write everything down, I can make this again whenever I want.
Actually, now I can make it again and again and again and again!

Oh, and Dianne has not disappeared but after her christmas break with her family, she had to dive straight into a huge work project and is most likely living on deli sandwiches and diet coke.

Chili with Pork

500g ( 1 lb) ground lean pork
glug of olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, small dice
2 cups tomato puree
3/4 cup chicken stock (or beer but I didn't have any)
1 540 ml can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup tomatillo salsa
salt and pepper
1 tbls mexican oregano
1 tbls ground cumin
1 tbls chili powder
l tbl lime juice

Heat a heavy pot over med heat. Add a small glug of oil and brown the ground pork. When it's cooked, remove it to a bowl using a slotted spoon and set it aside. If there is more than a tbls or so of fat in the bottom of the pot, get rid of enough to leave you with about a tbls. Throw the onions, garlic and celery into the pot and sauté until softened, about five minutes. At that point, add the pork back in and stir to mix well. Add the tomato puree, the salsa, the chicken stock, black beans, oregano, cumin and chili powder and bring to a light simmer. Lower the heat and let it simmer gently for about an hour or so. It's chili so it can certainly simmer a bit longer than an hour but not less that that. During the last ten minutes of cooking add a handful of chopped cilantro and the lime juice, stir and let it simmer for ten minutes before taking it off the heat.
Chili is always better after it sits so if you can make it in the morning and then reheat it for supper that's great but it will be even tastier the next day.

Of course, you could also throw the whole think in a slow cooker after the meat and the onion/garlic/celery have been done and let it cook on low all day too.

serve with more cilantro, a wedge of lime, whatever things you like on your chili - we do sour cream or crema and some tortilla chips

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I'm back with my first new dish of 2012

I have been thoroughly enjoying either eating out OR eating the same thing for a couple of nights in a row since New Year's and I don't feel one ounce of guilt about that. It was a long year and we all enjoyed our spaghetti and meatballs two nights in a row at last. We would have made it three nights but we ate it all in two to be honest but it was time to find my new dish of the week.

I bought some nice looking chicken breasts and was just going to do my greek roast chicken but the need to try out something new was nagging at me. I found this dish on bon appetite and was very intrigued by the spiced oil. I just ate at Pizzeria Libretto on The Danforth in Toronto where they have an addictive spiced chili oil that I basically drank out of the bottle and so flavoured, spicy oil is very much on my mind right now.  For some reason, I didn't like the idea of throwing the chick peas in there and was just going to just steal the oil/chicken breast part and that alone made this an obvious dish for my first of the new year. The fact that I would NEVER add chickpeas to this chicken was the very reason that I MUST add the chickpeas.

The oil is delicious and I think I can see myself making this to use on other dishes or as a beverage, I mean, condiment all the time. I mixed the tomatoes, chickpeas and cilantro with the oil prior to adding it to the roasting pan and it would have made a delicious cold dish on it's own, served raw just like that. Add some slivered red onion and maybe a bit of crumbled feta and you have yourself a really great salad for dinner next time.

In the end, this was DELICIOUS! All plates were licked clean and this is definitely going into the regular rotation. As frustrating and difficult as the year was, this recipe is the reason I am happy to devote a day a week to the cause because this is something I would have never made on my own. The very idea of the roasted chickpeas and tomato was just completely unappealing to me and it ended up being my favourite part.

roast chicken with chick peas, tomatoes and smoked paprika
from bon appetite

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  • 4 garlic cloves, pressed

  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt

  • 4 chicken breast halves, bone in and skin on

  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas , drained

  • 1 350g container red and orange cherry tomatoes

  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided

  • Preheat the oven to 450F.

    Mix the olive oil with the garlic, paprika, cumin and dried crushed red pepper and set aside. I did this in the morning and let it sit all day. Whisk a generous tsp into the greek yogurt and set aside to serve with the finished dish.
    Place the chicken on a large rimmed baking sheet or a roasting pan (I always use my huge cast iron skillet). Rub 2 tbls of the spicy oil mixture over the four chicken breasts. 

    Mix together the remaining oil, the chick peas, the tomatoes and about 1/2 cup chopped cilantro and pour that around the chicken. Salt pepper the whole shebang.

    Roast until the chicken is cooked through, anywhere from about 25 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of your breasts. To serve, sprinkle each portion of chicken and tomato/beans with a bit more cilantro and serve with the yogurt sauce.
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