Saturday, December 31, 2011

Indian

I realize it's New Year's Eve and everyone is doing retrospective posts about the year behind, or resolving to make 2012 ______ (fill in the blank with the positive action word of your choosing).  Me?  I don't do resolutions. And I haven't really spent much time looking back on the past year.

So instead of all that, I'm going to talk about my first experience eating Indian food in a restaurant.  I've had (bad) Indian takeout, I've had good curries in the homes of friends, I've made some curries that have been quite good myself, and I had some awesome nibbles  in Toronto during Taste of the Danforth some years ago.  But I had never eaten in an authentic Indian establishment until my friend and I went to a place downtown last night.

It was one of those post-holiday craziness, last minute "I need out!" kind of nights for her, and I was only to happy to go along.  We circled around a few times before settling on the pay and display lot across the street from the restaurant.  It was raining.  We didn't want to walk far (aside - what is up with the weather? No snow of any substantial amount thus far, near double digit temps... I'm in a tank top as I type this).  Anyway, we sat in a quiet little corner by the window and had a look at the menu.  There were several dishes I was familiar with, at least by name, and several I'd never heard of.  The descriptions were very helpful (I'll try to link to as many recipes as possible, for those who, like me aren't as familiar with the cuisine as others, but I make no promises about how authentic they are).  I knew I wanted onion bhaji, and was hoping for pakora, but they don't have that.  There were so many delicious looking appetizers that we settled on a mixed platter, which included two kinds of ground meat kebabs, onion bhaji, generous samosas and chicken tikka, with raita, and two anonymous dipping sauces; one sweet, the other very hot.  We chose a white wine to accompany our meal, though they do have Indian beer as well.

While we waited for our appetizers to arrive, we were served two paper thin papadums, flavoured with whole cumin seeds.  A bit like a very light chip, it was pleasant to have something to nibble while we waited.  We also ordered the rest of our meal at that point, having taken our time with the menu.

We decided to order a meat dish and a vegetable dish each to share, plus two pieces of naan bread in lieu of rice.  My friend ordered Chicken Dupiaza, Channa Masala and a hot mango pickle. I settled on a beef dish called Bhuna Gosht, which boasted a "rich, thick sauce" and Saag Paneer, a classic dish of spinach and Indian cheese.  The dishes were smaller than I'd expected, but they ended up being just right for two to share, with some leftover for my friend to take home.  I really liked the sauces that each of the dishes had.  Perfect for dipping the bread into.  The beef was braised and quite tender.  The chicken was alright, but I found it a little bland.  I really appreciated the contrast that crispy peppers and onions in each dish provided.  The chickpeas (channa masala) were really tasty, and the cheese in the saag paneer reminded me a little of curds.  I found that the spinach was a bit strong, but it was nice when mixed with the sauce from one of the other dishes.

We didn't get dessert, but there seems to be a variety of authentic Indian sweets to choose from.  Maybe next time.  We were a bit full, and opted for a walk before heading to another place for dessert.

The service was great.  We had the manager and two servers taking care of us.  It wasn't terribly busy, and the pace of our meal was very relaxed.  I lost track of time, but I think we were nearly an hour and a half.  I grabbed a takeout menu, and I definitely will be using it in the new year.  There, I'll call that a resolution!


This review is linked to UrbanSpoon
 Touch Of India Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 23, 2011

Nearly ready

I'll save you the ubiquitous "wow, that went by fast," and "I can't believe Christmas is already here" comments so often seen at this point (though they are true). Instead, I'm going to focus on something that doesn't come naturally to me. Organization.  LOL  I'm not making a lot, but much of it needs to be done in the day or two immediately before Christmas.

I'm not hosting Christmas in any way this year. I never do. Our home is too small for more than maybe two extra people. Even at that, the kitchen table would be cramped. We were content to do Christmas here, with just the four of us. It's not how I grew up (we always went to a relatives, or hosted the whole big shebang), but it worked. Except the kids got a bit older and started getting restless spending the whole day at home, even with their new toys. Going to the inlaws for (an admittedly more low key than I'm used to) dinner breaks up the day and gives the kids a whole new (and much, much larger) space to play.


My mother in law likes to cook. We have different styles, mind you. To strike a balance, I've offered to bring a few things this year. I made some of Jamie Oliver's "get ahead gravy" earlier this week. Unfortunately the butcher gave us eight chicken wing pieces instead of eight whole wings. That has a dramatic effect on the end product, I can assure you. I hope the turkey produces lots of flavourful drippings. In the new year I'll make the recipe again, with the proper amount of chicken parts. It would be nice to have some gravy in the freezer for quick meals.

I've broken down the rest of what I need to do into blocks of time.  Last night I made the chocolate crust for the Candy Cane Cheesecake.  This morning I made the base for the sausage stuffing. Bulk sausage, browned with a melange of diced vegetables (onion, garlic, peppers, celery), seasoned with some traditional herbs (sage and thyme) and some which are less so (oregano and basil, in a nod to my Italian roots).  My mother often adds mushrooms to hers, and rosemary, but I'm a fan of neither.  I've added eggplant in past years to bulk things up even more, but I couldn't find any that weren't either huge or past their prime this week.  I've contemplated adding roasted chestnuts.  I still may.  Tomorrow I'll mix it all up with bread cubes and stock and pack it into a pan to cook alongside the bird on Sunday.

Later today I'll make up the cheesecake, using this recipe from Taste of Home.  I'll add extra crushed candy cane to ramp up the Christmas quotient, so I'll need to get those crushed soon.  It seems to be a tradition in our family to finish our holiday meal with a mint dessert.  I think I've done candy cane ice cream the past two years.  The mint is a very refreshing way to end a large meal.  Somehow it makes me feel less over-stuffed and a little more comfortable as I leave the table. LOL

I want to make a couple of gift foods as well, but I'll share about those later, as the recipients might actually read this before I see them.

Then there's the bacon to pre-cook for Christmas brunch and the chocolate chip muffins to bake to nibble between the stockings and the gifts.  I *think* that's everything.  Oh, and I have Christmas cards to finish making, gifts to organize and all of those last minute details (like showering and making sure the children are clean) to attend to.  Glad I wrapped hubby's gifts yesterday.


Since I will not be blogging again between now and Christmas, I hope you all have a wonderful holiday.  Thanks for reading my little blog.  May the year ahead bring blessings of peace, hope and joy to you and those you love!



~Mama B~

Monday, December 12, 2011

Shortbread, part 2

It's a new day, the sun is shining, and I have a large batch of savoury shortbread cooling in the kitchen.  I tweaked and played with a few recipes that I found, wanting to incorporate certain elements into a cohesive treat.  The result is a flaky cookie, with a nice, savoury edge that will pair well with a glass of wine or cider. There is a little sweetness from the cranberries, and a bit of crunch from the walnuts. I wish I'd added a bit more salt (I've compensated in the recipe), but otherwise I'm pleased with the result.  A little cayenne or thyme or even nutmeg would work in variations, too.  So would very small bits of smoky Speck.

Cheese Walnut Cranberry Shortbread

1 Cup butter, softened
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Kosher salt (careful if you're using a salty cheese)
4 C grated flavourful cheese, at room temperature (I used a blend of old cheddar, Oka and Asiago - this is no time for mozarella and colby)
1/2 C chopped toasted walnuts
1/2 C chopped dried cranberries
2 1/2 C flour
milk, to moisten

Preheat oven to 400F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter, spices and salt.  Add the cheese, walnuts and cranberries and blend well.  Mix in the flour until crumbly.  Add the milk, a teaspoon at a time, until the dough just barely comes together.  I may have used a tablespoon or so.

On a floured board, work with half the dough at a time.  Bring it together with your hands and roll out to 1/4" thickness.  Cut out into desired shapes, place on prepared sheets and bake for 12 minutes, until light brown.  Cool on wire racks and store in an airtight container.

Makes about 5-6 dozen, depending on size. 

(As always, I'm not a photo-blogger. My cookies did not actually come out this yellow.)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Shortbread

There's something about Christmas and shortbread, isn't there?  They seem to go together.  I seldom make shortbread outside of the holidays.  At least, not straight up, unadulterated shortbread.  I'll add chocolate chips or dried berries or citrus zest to it.  But plain, buttery shortbread seems to be reserved for Christmas.

I had a package of unsalted, cultured butter in the fridge which I had bought for something else that never did get made.  I thought it would make a lovely cookie, and so I pulled it out to soften.  I found a recipe that used plain flour and some icing sugar, plus a whisper of vanilla.  It sounded lovely.  The softened butter danced in the mixer with the sugar until it was a fluffy mass on the sides of the bowl.  I added a restrained splash of vanilla and smiled.  By the time my 4 year old and I had patted out the soft dough, scored it and docked it with little fork marks, I was eagerly anticipating the cookies that would come.  Going against my own nature, I waited for them to cool before sneaking a taste from a crumbly corner.  The flaky fleck almost melted on my tongue.  Such a wonderful texture.  And then... nothing.  No flavour.  Just blandness. 

I forgot the salt!  The scant 1/4 tsp of savoury balance that holds together the very fabric of the food world was still in my little blue salt pig.  The subtle nuance of flavour from the expensive block of cultured butter was lost forever, and the whisper of vanilla was mute.  I tried in vain to salvage the batch, smearing some of the biscuits with melted chocolate and a sprinkle of salt, but it was too late.  There was no saving them.  Though, to be honest, my husband will probably still eat them all.  He just loves shortbread and can't bear for it to go to waste.

Tonight I'm making a batch of savoury shortbread with Oka cheese, walnuts and dried cranberries.  And salt.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Oh yeah. Duh.

I tried to make candy for my ladies gourmet night.  Twice.  A single batch, and then a double.  And nothing worked.  At first, I thought it was the granulated sugar that I rolled the fruit jellies in, instead of icing sugar.  I thought perhaps the hygroscopic properties of the sugar was the culprit that was making my candies weep and soften.  But the next day the same happened when I used the powdered sugar.  And then I looked outside.  And realized it had been raining heavily for a couple of days.  Um, duh.  High humidity and candy don't mix.  I know this.  And yet somehow I totally spaced on such a simple fact.

That's okay.  I didn't even end up going anyway.  Seriously.  I skipped my beloved gourmet night.  In favour or what, you ask?  Sanity.  Simple sanity.

Wednesday was a stressful day, coming off of a stressful several days (did you read my last post?)  I was frustrated by my candy failure, unimpressed with my appetizer offering (barbecue pulled pork wontons), short with the kids, spinning in circles in my own mind, and feeling like my breaking point was in sight.  My friend was coming to pick me up just after 7:00.  Hubby took the kids out just before 6:00.  Between those two times, I called my friend to let her know that I just was not going.  I asked her to come by and pick up my appetizers, and convey my apologies to the group.  I couldn't go.  The thought of socializing, even with friends, was too much.  The thought of sitting at someone else's house, sitting on the couch watching a movie left me realizing that if I was going to spend the evening in front of the TV, I wanted it to be with my husband. 

And do you know what happened?  The moment I hung up the phone and sat down to continue making my appetizers, I smiled.  I began singing the Christmas song on the radio.  My heart lifted and I felt... good.  Like I'd sprinted back from the brink to a cozy, safe place where I could sprawl out and breathe.  The relief was palpable.  And it felt wonderful.  I'd made the choice to do something for me.  And I didn't regret it or feel selfish.  And I got to put my kids to bed and give them extra cuddles, and I got to curl up with my husband for a little TV and, most importantly, time spent sharing the same space without running here and there.  It was a good decision.  One I won't hesitate to make again.

Monday, November 28, 2011

If My Inspiration Returns

Our four year old princess has been sick for a bit now.  What started out nearly 2 weeks ago as a fever and cough progressed to what we thought was the flu, then maybe nothing, then maybe Roseola, then.... We really don't know.  Any of the above are still on the table, but the bottom line is that she has this wet, lingering cough that is keeping her (and me) from sleeping well and has been the suspected root cause of her throwing up at least 3 times in the past week and a half.  Taking medicine also triggers her gag reflex (though not immediately - a few minutes after willingly taking it).  Now she won't take anything at all.  I don't blame her, mind you.  All of this has left me quite stressed.  And tired.  Very tired.

This week I have a couple of things requiring my time in the kitchen.  I need to make cupcakes for the kids for an event with a group that says it's "nut aware."  We've come to realize that what they mean is that they know peanut allergies exist.  Period.  It doesn't mean that they take any steps to choose safe snacks for affected children.  Don't get me started.  I wish that Babycakes mini-cupcake maker was available in Canada. 

Anyway, there is also my ladies gourmet night.  We're doing a goodie exchange and tapas.  We need to bring 4 1/2 dozen of something, plus appetizers for 8.  I have my dishes in mind.  Pink grapefruit "Turkish delight" (jelly candies, which I'll roll in white sugar and citric acid, for zing), and Asiago frico cups filled with balsamic drizzled arugula and topped with some smoked prosciutto.  Sounds simple?  And it is.  Except my motivation has vanished along with my energy.  I'm debating going at all at this point.  I want to, but I don't, kwim?

What I really want is to take an evening when all of this sick is over and get a hotel room, by myself.  I want to zone out alone, just staring at the wall if I choose to, knowing that short of a fire in the potted plant in the hall or a Spider Man wanna-be smashing through the window in my room, I will not be required to do anything.  Nothing will be demanded of me.  No one will need me to fetch water, get a snack, find socks, wash clothes....

I guess I'm just feeling a bit burnt out.  There is enough positive to keep me going right now.  It's just hard to focus on when I'm so worn down.  Little Miss is really doing okay.  We'll take her to the doctor later, just to find out what's going on and if it's running its course.  I can't imagine trying to give her anything for it at this point.  She's so gun-shy that we'd never get it in, let alone figure out how to make her keep it down.  But I'm heading into the negative again.  Ultimately she's still relatively perky, still cuddly, still her happy self.  Just not as often.  And her brother, who I need to stop referring to as "Little Mister" now that he's turned seven, is taking the lack of attention relatively well.  Must remember to focus some time just for him today.

I'm going to take some time to dwell on the pluses, rather than the minuses, and see where that gets me today.  Prayer is a great way to shift from looking inward at the bad stuff to outward at our blessings.  I'll admit it's not always my go-to solution, though.

So, if I end up roasting the chicken I bought on the weekend (assuming it's still good) rather than sticking it in the freezer, we can assume things are looking up.  I'll Tweet about it later and let you know.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Let the season begin

And just like that, we're hurtling towards Christmas.  Wasn't it just Hallowe'en?  Wasn't it just early October?  So now we sit, on the edge of the cliff, ready to base jump into "the holiday season."  Some have already taken the plunge, diving headlong into the lights and trees and garland and bows.  Others hang back from even peering over for another few weeks.  Me?  I'm gearing up to rappel down for a bit, easing into things so that I don't miss a lot on the way by.

I began playing Christmas music the other day.  Just a little, and mostly instrumental.  I'm not ready for full fledged choirs singing Angels We Have Heard on High yet.  Though I'll admit that I've begun dreaming of a White Christmas and longing for a little snow (it was 17C yesterday).

And I've begun... no, not baking.  I don't bake a lot at Christmas.  I've begun making candy.  I found a bag of my beloved Meyer lemons on the weekend and spent part of yesterday turning them into candied peel (and some bonus lemonade and Meyer lemon infused simple syrup). 
Yes, only one picture. Photoblogger I'm not.
I's so simple to make candied peel.  Last year I made quite a bit.  I love nibbling on it through the season.  The kitchen smelled amazing (until I shattered the plastic spray bottle of vinegar, anyway).

Candied Citrus Peel

2 Cups citrus peel
Boiling water
2 1/2 Cups white sugar, divided
1 Cup water

Scrub the fruit to remove any wax (organic is worth it here).  Peel it and cut the peel into strips (I make mine pretty narrow - think shoestring fry).  Place in a medium saucepan and cover with boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes.  Strain and repeat 2 more times (it helps to have a kettle of recently boiled water handy).  If you're doing grapefruit, you may want to repeat the process for a total of up to 5 times, as it tends to be more bitter.

Meanwhile, place 2 cups of sugar into a medium saucepan with 1 cup of water, over medium heat.  Stir to dissolve the sugar.  Add the blanched, strained peel and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the peel is soft and translucent.

Strain the syrup into a container to save and spread the strips of peel on a wire rack set over foil or parchment.  Once cool, toss them in the remaining sugar.  Epiphany moment - I added a little citric acid as well, to cut some of the sweetness and complement the lemon flavour.  It's wonderful! Spread the pieces out again, keeping them separate, and leave them to dry for several hours, or overnight.

These can be dipped in chocolate, nibbled with a cheese and nut tray, or chopped up to add to fruit breads, muffins and cookies.

Oh, and I've also been replaying our kick off to Christmas last year.  The amazing Chorus Niagara Flash Mob that we got to witness.  Still the best way I've ever started the holidays!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Of Hallowe'en and Chicken Soup

It was a quiet Hallowe'en (am I the only one who still uses the ' in that word?).  Not just because there seemed to be fewer kids out and about, but also because 3 of the 4 of us were losing our voice.  Hubby stayed home from work (always nice on my birthday, which was also yesterday) because he "woke" -aka barely slept- with a really sore throat and almost no voice.  Never good when you have to do work in schools.  My voice was fine until the evening, and ditto Little Mister.  I caught a cold a couple of weeks ago, and am still coughing up a bit of the last of it, and the guys seem to have caught a bit of it now too.  Little Miss seems fine, after getting over it quickly already.

*Bunny trail - There weren't too many costumes last night that made me pause, though there were a few really over the top gory masks.  But there was this one... a girl of about 16 maybe, handing out candy with her mother.  Her dress was the Candyland game board.  Not sure where she got it, or if she found the fabric somewhere and made the dress, but either way there was a measurement issue, because not only was the dress SHORT, but let's just say that this girl's ample jujubes were spilling out of her candy bag. /Bunny trail

So today, with November here, and our routine back to normal after a fun filled evening of Trick or Treating, I've retrieved the capon carcass from Thanksgiving (remember U.S readers that Thanksgiving was nearly a month ago here) and I'm simmering it to make us a very nourishing stock for dinner.  I do not want a repeat of last February, when we lost the whole month to illness that consumed all of us.  And I've realized that our current diet is not exactly supporting our health.  We've been blessed lately with a little extra money, and sadly we've spent a disproportionate amount on take out and restaurant food.  *sigh*  I have no excuses to offer.  I just know that our current habit has contributed to our current lack of well being.  And I want to change that.

The stock is simmering.  The house smells amazing.  Like a warm, soothing hug wafting down the hallway.  Glorious healthy fat is rendering out, along with minerals and other assorted nutrients that will provide us with what we need to nourish our bodies, soothe sore throats and bring us together at the table (in our own home).  There is a whole head of garlic in the pot as well.  Little Mister has requested lentils and barley in his bowl (it's his favourite soup).  I think I want some noodles and hot sauce.  Hubby will want some actual meat in his, and Little Miss... I don't know that she has an opinion.  LOL

Friday, October 28, 2011

Full time blogging

So it's been nearly a month since my last entry.  I'd ask where the month went, but I haven't figured that out for the previous 9 months, so how would I know this time around?  It was the beginning of the month, then Thanksgiving, then general life, our anniversary, and now we're closing in on Hallowe'en, my birthday, the dawn of a new month, the holiday season whose name I will not mention until at least after Hallowe'en, if not until after Remembrance Day....  It's all going so quickly.

Clearly I would not make a good full time blogger.  Never mind that I do not know how to take blog-worthy photographs.  I can't seem to find the time to write when inspiration strikes, or the inspiration when time allows to blog every single day.  Or even every week!  Hopefully my followers are content with the posts which I do produce.

Speaking of time and it racing by, I am going to take a few moments to be deliberate about Autumn before allowing myself to slide into.... not going to say it.  I have a few pins on Pinterest that I can share...

Toothy pumpkins on my Holidays board


 A cool way to turn old books into Autumn decor


And the template hubby used last year for one of our Jack O Lanterns

He may do that one again this year.  It turned out really well.

We're not a family that is into gore or spooky stuff and whatnot, so I won't be baking Mummy cupcakes, or witches fingers or making up a batch of goblin phlegm punch or anything like that.  We're more into Autumn flavours than Hallowe'en creepiness. I've made butternut squash soup already, and I have been looking at a recipe for soft pumpkin dinner rolls that I want to try.  But no "Hallowe'en-y" stuff.  Though I do like to use the abundance of chocolate bars and Smarties to make cookies (for my U.S readers, Smarties here are like a much better version of your chocolate M&Ms.  Your Smarties are what we call "Rockets" and would not be good in baking).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

It's October

The first weekend of October is nearly finished.  For us this weekend always means harvest festivals and a local food fest.  The weather has been cold, rainy, damp, wet, cold, cloudy, cold...  But we ventured out with the kids anyway, hitting up a favourite harvest fest for some games, prizes, cider and beeswax candles.  It was a hurried affair, as little fingers numbed in the cold and little noses turned bright red.  But asking them, the Littles say that they had a good time anyway.

After they tucked in to a welcome supper of veggie chili from the new crock pot, they got to hang out with my middle sister (and the aunt who delivered Little Miss) while hubby and I hit the local food festival.  It's a grand affair, made all the better this year by a return to the wide open space it occupied a couple of years ago (last year it was moved to some local streets, which resulted in a crowded mess of people, with lines from one vendor melding into lines for others, close calls with cigarettes, and a generally unpleasant experience all around).  The space allows for lines to come out from each vendor with no overlap, and provides a large area for picnic tables.  There is a lower level for the beer tent, stage and more seating.  It's really great.  There is also a market area that's supposed to showcase local growers, but honestly it was a disappointment.  There were scant few vendors, and among them was a corporate trailer handing out "natural" deli meat.  It's sad, because a few years ago there were so many vendors, selling produce, cheese, locally made condiments and sauces and so forth...

Given the very cool temps, I was looking forward to trying some soups.  But first, we stopped for an ear each of fire roasted corn, dipped in a crock pot of melted butter, and sprinkled with whatever seasoning one desires. I'm a bit of a purist and prefer salt, but I did try a little garlic powder. Meh.  I like my salt and butter combo best.

Then we split up to get some soup.  Hubby went for our yearly favourite - loaded baked potato soup.  I opted for some wonderful sounding cheddar beer soup, made by a local pub.  I know it was a long, cold day for everyone working there, but when the woman taking the orders went from cheerfully conversing with a friend to taking my order, her demeanor shifted to totally distracted and slightly annoyed.  She nearly forgot to even collect my money.

Speaking of which, I noticed the booth next door had on the bottom of their menu, "Bacon biscuits - 3 for $2, while they last."  Biscuits and soup are a great pairing, so I asked for 3.  The first sign that I should have just walked away came when I noticed the girl taking the money was wearing latex gloves.  Why wear gloves to handle money?  Then she reached into the bin and grabbed the biscuits.  Um, you just took my money and used the same gloved hand to touch my food?  I should have said something.  I don't know why I didn't.  I guess I figured it wouldn't matter.  Clearly they felt that the gloves somehow provided magical protection from any and all transfer of grossness from public money to the food (I've seen this same belief in magic in a local drug-free butcher shop where they handle the raw meat and deli meat with the same gloved hand).  I never did eat the biscuits, as the first tentative bite revealed them to be hockey pucks in disguise.  I got my money back.  I wonder if they tossed the un-nibbled biscuits back into the bin to serve the next unlucky people?

Back to the soup.  Hubby and I met back up and sat down to tuck in.  The cheddar beer soup was... well it was lumpy, with an awful lot of something... thyme perhaps?  No beer flavour at all.  Or cheese, for that matter.  The loaded potato soup I'd been looking forward to was not what I remember having the past few years.  It was actually kind of bland.  We needed to regroup and try something else.

A stop at a booth offering a sampling platter of samosas, gyozas, spring rolls and wings was infinitely better.  Though the wings were cold and fairly inedible, the rest was quite delicious.  I would eat their veggie samosas any day.

We still wanted some meat, though.  So we stopped by a booth run by a local butcher/deli for a chipotle steak sandwich.  A whole steak, pounded thin and marinated in a chipotle marinade was tossed onto the grill, not overcooked at all and put on a bun.  And I need to commend the woman handling the money and the buns.  Not once did she touch the food with her bare hand.  She used tongs and serviettes and did everything in her power to keep something between herself and the food.  I was well pleased to see that.  I was equally pleased that the steak was a tender treat, without the gristle that one might expect in a piece of steak that large that's sold for a mere $5.

Full of savoury goodness, we wandered over to line up for coffee (that was one line that never seemed to get shorter all night).  Though pricey ($2 for a relatively small cup), the warming goodness was much needed.  I popped next door for some freshly made mini-doughnuts.  While there was a gut-churning variety of fried foods available, none appealed to us besides these warm gems (deep fried butter, anyone?)

We took our warm food (and warming hands) to the lower area, where we were pleasantly surprised to hear the strains of music we've enjoyed in years past.  AC/DC, Poison, Guns and Roses, Queen...  Dancing with a warm coffee and warm doughnuts made for a warm body and happy me.

By the time we headed out, the wind had begun to pick up and the temperature dropped further.  It was a good time to leave, with bellies full of some good food, heads full of good music and the knowledge that we'll be back again next year.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

T minus one day. But...

My favourite season of all officially begins tomorrow.  It's no secret that I adore Autumn and look forward to it every year.  But I have a confession to make... 

I've been celebrating it for a couple of weeks now.  How could I not, with the amazingly wonderful cool weather we've been having?  September has behaved exactly as I like it to.  A last hurrah of heat at the beginning of Labour Day weekend, and then cool temps straight through.  Long pants, even long sleeves (and even jackets on occasion).  Covers on the bed, nights where even I've had to acquiesce and close the window, comfort foods, Autumn decor scattered about... *insert big, contented sigh here*

I've got our capon ordered for Thanksgiving, which is coming up more quickly than I'd care to admit.  We don't do a big thing for the day, but I like a rather traditional meal.  A whole turkey is just too big for us, even with our love of leftover bird.  So I've ordered a capon from a local farm, which I'm looking forward to.  Actually I ordered two, in case we want one for Christmas as well.  Capon is what chicken used to taste like when I was a kid.  I love it.

We skipped the local farm show/exhibition this year.  We'd talked about going, but it's really been pretty crappy lately.  We opted instead to hit up a local pumpkin farm that was having it's seasonal grand opening and charity event ($2 per person, instead of the usual $16, and the money went to a local cancer charity).  The kids had a fabulous morning.  We would have stayed longer, since we were told when we entered that the owner is super-conscious of nut allergies at the concession.  But when I went to order food, there were signs saying that they made no guarantees and that the food may not be safe.  So we had to cut our fun short and leave.  It was very disappointing.

The rest of the day made up for it though.  My sister came over to watch the kids, hubby loaded the van up with audio gear and we headed to our pastor's place (a wonderful little house on 13 acres of gorgeousness) for a pig and corn roast.  A couple of guys set up with their guitars to entertain the group (hence the audio gear) and we all tucked in to a potluck buffet, with a fantastic spit smoked pig being the star of the show (I'll spare my vegetarian readers a pic).  There were salads and buns and more salads and corn (and corn, and corn, and corn...) and then there were desserts.  So many desserts (we are Mennonite, after all).  We all ate well, enjoyed some wonderful music, (including a far too brief appearance by our pastor's crazy talented daughter) and good conversation and then sat around a bonfire, staring at the flames in a satiated stupor.  One by one the stars popped out above us and time slowed to a crawl.  It was a wonderful way to celebrate an early Autumn day and night.

There is only a little time left in this month.  I hope that it continues to behave well.  I am enjoying the prolonged sense of Autumn.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Party time

It's Labour Day weekend.  Typically fun, but usually a bit low key around here.  For most of my life I've either worked at (in my teen years) or gone to the local community carnival.  Before kids we kind of stopped going, but now that the Littles are older it's fun to take them.  Plus there's a parade and fireworks to look forward to.

I've been wanting to entertain on our new patio for a bit now, and since my first opportunity got rained out (in spectacular fashion - what a storm!), I decided to invite 4 couples around for a taco party.  I smoked a large pork "butt" last month, and then shredded it up and froze it.  I'll take it out (today, must remember) and fry it in batches to crisp the shreds up a bit.  Then I'll pile the meat into the crock pot and serve it all with flour and corn tortillas, my lacto-fermented salsa, some guacamole that a friend is bringing, cheese, sour cream and pickled jalapenos.  We'll probably have a bonfire and s'mores afterwards. Though I doubt I'll make the marshmallows myself.  Then again, you never know.

The other day I made two chocolate cakes.  Oh, did I mention that somehow my baby girl is turning 4 this weekend too?  I don't know who told her she could get so big, but she has.  So we're having a party for her on Sunday.  At her request there will be pizza, chocolate cake (possible filled with Nutella) and... sushi.  Yep, my soon to be 4 year old who has never had sushi or seen us eat it (we don't) wants to try it at her birthday party.  Going with recommendations from my sister, a friend and a random stranger, I contacted a local restaurant about making a platter of miniature sushi and they are more than happy to accommodate my request.  We will have 16 small bites and 16 regular sized pieces, with an assortment of fruit, veggie and cooked fish fillings.  This should be interesting.  Must remember the camera.

Then there's church snack.  Without thinking, I volunteered to make snack for this Sunday when the call went out last week.  Okay, no problem.  Chocolate chip cookies are easy.  But boring.  So of course I had to play.  The resulting Butterscotch Coffee Drops are on my Church Snacks Blog.

On Monday the inlaws have agreed to either make dinner, or take us all out.  LOL

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Eat Global, Buy Local


That's the theme of my ladies gourmet night tonight.  Inspired by a book my sister bought me years ago on a trip to New York (The All Around the World Cookbook by Sheila Lukins), and the abundance of incredible produce available locally right now, I settled on a menu of dishes from around the Mediterranean, created using what is fresh right here, right now.  It's not a stretch.  Tomatoes, onions, garlic, zucchini, peppers, peaches and more...  All in available right now.  

The book has inspired me ever since I first opened it.  There are no glossy pages full of food porn type images.  Instead there are stories.  Wonderful stories.  Stories of breakfasts eaten around the world, of a dizzying array of appetizers and soups and salads, of a myriad of ways to prepare meats and seafood, each inspired by a specific memory of a wonderful place...  I freely admit that I pick this book up often, just to read it.

So after thumbing through the pages and browsing the internet, I settled on my menu.  There are 8 ladies coming.  Each brings a course.  Appetizer, soup, salad, main, two sides, dessert and, in tonight's case, a cheese plate (instead of a bread course, as there is crostini with  the appetizer).  Here is the menu...


I like that the menu expands the Mediterranean from just Italy, Greece, France and Spain to include northern African and Turkish recipes.  I am really looking forward to trying each of the dishes.  The slathers come from France and Greece, and are more like thick spreads than dips.  They are meant to be "slathered" over the toasted crostini.

Now if only the weather cooperates.  We'll be dining al fresco under the gazebo on our new patio.  So long as we don't get rained on, stormed on or blown over.  Otherwise we'll be crowding around a table at a friend's house, since I do not currently have the space to serve 9 in my own home.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Such a lovely day!

I love weddings.  Especially weddings that so totally reflect the personalities of the couple.  Especially when the couple has no idea what's in store for them, beyond saying "I do."

We went to my first ever "surprise wedding" today.  Our friends dearly wanted to marry, but honestly did not have the time or energy to plan such an event at this point in their lives.  Enter an amazing friend of the bride, who volunteered to take over all of the details, from the decor to the food to the invitations and other assorted details.  The brides dreams were discussed and a team was created to put feet to the plan.  I was honoured to be a part of that team.

The wedding would be a relatively simple afternoon tea affair, with lovely tea cups and saucers for each person to use for beverages and then take home.   The decorations were in pink, green and metallic grey, and wonderfully soft and beautiful.  The food was divided into three parts.  The main course, which was a dizzying assortment of crudites, fruits, dips, sandwiches, pastries, rolled treats, hot hors d'oeuvres and assorted other edibles.  The cake, as per the bride's dream, was really a 3 tiered structure, decorated in colourful cake pops.  Then there were the desserts.  Along with the pastries on the main table, there was a book shelf loaded with canisters and containers and bowls of candy.  Every colour of the rainbow.  And that's where I got to help out.




If you remember my post, Of Strawberries and Artichokes from this past June (click here), I made soft and fluffy strawberry marshmallows for this same friend's bridal shower.  It was decided then that I would make more as part of the surprise for her wedding.  Those who follow me on Twitter or are friends on Facebook read this week about me making up assorted flavours.  I started with peach, using the same recipe from June, but with fresh peach puree.  A little food colouring brought out that lovely peachy hue.  Then I made the strawberry ones (but with a brighter splash of colour).  Then I eyed some leftover coffee in the pot.  Hmmm, I wonder...  Can I substitute coffee for the fruit puree and still have the marshmallow turn out?  Indeed I could!  And here's how.

Crazy Easy Mocha Marshmallows

2 envelopes gelatin
1/2 cup cold coffee
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
3 tbsp cocoa powder



1/2 cup icing sugar
1/4 cup cocoa (for dusting)

Line a 20-cm (8-inch) square dish with plastic wrap and oil lightly.

In a large bowl, sift the sugar and cornstarch together. Set aside.

In a saucepan, sprinkle the gelatin on the coffee. Let soften for 5 minutes. Add the sugar and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

Pour the coffee mixture, corn syrup and cocoa into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (you could do it with a hand mixer, but your arm may fall off first).  Beat on high until the mixture has cooled to room temperature and forms stiff peaks, about 15 - 20 minutes, wiping the bowl occasionally with a
damp cold cloth to help remove the heat (I've found that a fan, aimed directly at the bowl, lessens the beating time considerably!). Spread evenly in the dish and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about 3 hours.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the icing sugar and remaining cocoa.  Lightly dust a clean surface with the icing sugar mixture. Unmould the marshmallow. Using a knife with a lightly oiled blade, cut the marshmallow into 4-cm (1 1/2-inch) squares. Roll each square in the icing sugar mixture in the bowl. Shake off any excess (a sieve works well for this). Place the marshmallows on the cookie sheet and let warm to room temperature. If necessary, roll a second time in the icing sugar mixture.

The marshmallows can be stored in a zip top bag for several days at room temperature.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mid-summer

So, it's August.  I'll admit that this might be my least favourite month, just because by this point the heat and humidity has begun to wear me down.  But this isn't going to be an entry of complaints.  Because what gets me through this month is the amazing bounty that is ripe for the picking.  Tomatoes come into their own this month.  So do peaches and plums.  There are late season strawberries, a second flush of raspberries, amazing greens, soy beans, blueberries, cucumbers, herbs, garlic, onions....  In short, August is a month of abundance.  And for me that makes the continued stretch of hot weather very close to worth it.

I've got a few events on my plate.  This weekend a dear friend gets married.  I'm making marshmallows for her reception.  If you read my "Of Strawberries and Artichokes" post back in June you saw the insanely simple recipe that I use.  I pureed and froze some strawberries for the sole purpose of making these again.  And just the other day I peeled and blitzed some just barely past prime, overripe peaches with the intention of trying a peachy variety of pillowy goodness.  A test batch with sour cherries taught me that in high humidity these treats will not turn out.  So if I have to put a dehumidifier in the kitchen, I will.  I am determined to have a few platters of these ready for the happy couple and their guests.  I will not tempt fate by attempting to also make Turkish delight style gummy candy, however.

In a couple of weeks I'll be hosting my ladies gourmet group here (weather permitting).  We'll be dining al fresco under the light of my freshly painted $5 Kijiji find chandelier, in the gazebo, on our newly laid patio (many thanks to hubby and his father).  The nine of us will be dining on a menu I'm calling "Eat Globally, Buy Locally."  Inspired by what's in season right now, I'm preparing a meal that circles the Mediterranean.  Thick spreads from France and Greece, a grilled vegetable salad from Tunisia, a sweetly spiced tomato soup from Morocco, leeks, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, fresh herbs... all starring in dishes that will showcase amazing food from an amazing part of the world, made with amazing ingredients from our own area.  And for dessert?  I'm thinking of a free form peach galette.  Happily the way these evenings are set up mean that each person brings their assigned dish and the hostess only needs to provide the space and the drinks, so it's not as much work as it sounds like.

During the Civic Holiday weekend I smoked an 11lb pork "butt" on my grill.  It came out wonderfully, and I have a large container of it in the freezer now.  It's too good not to share , so we're going to have some friends around on the Labour Day weekend, not for pulled pork sandwiches, but for carnitas tacos.  I'll take the unsauced meat, crisp it up a bit in a pan and set it out with fixings for a make your own taco bar.  I've recently become a huge fan of lacto-fermented salsa, and I'll make more for the party.  I'm hoping to try my hand at a lactic-fermented tomatillo salsa verde too.  I may make guacamole, though I don't know.  I've never made it before.  I am seriously considering making the corn and flour tortillas myself, though, if we can find my tortilla press.

For anyone who knows me, you can understand how big all of this entertaining is.  I'm something of an introvert, and having people over can be a bit of stress for me.  I really enjoy it once we're in full swing.  It's the actual inviting people that I tend to trip over, so gourmet night is perfect.  And my husband, who doesn't bat an eye at inviting friends round, is a huge help.  He doesn't have my issues.  LOL

Monday, July 25, 2011

The flavours of Summer

For the next while I suspect many of my posts will have a "flavours of summer" theme.  My cucumbers are going gangbusters, the tomatoes are colouring up, the soy beans are staring down the rest of the garden for dominance, the carrots still look good....  And then there's the produce at the farm stands and farmer's markets!  We've been gorging on blueberries and cherries, and peaches have begun too.  Let's not forget the corn as well.  We've had that 3 times in just over a week.

Yesterday afternoon I was looking at the zucchini and summer squash Little Miss (3) had chosen from the farmer's market on Saturday.  We don't eat a lot of either, but I had something ratatouille-esque in mind when she asked for them.  As I began looking at recipes, I realized that I had no eggplant.  Okay, time for plan B.  I had tomatoes, sweet onions and farm fresh garlic.  I chose the yellow squash and thought about what to make.  How about a "marmalade" of sorts (and for lack of a much better term)?  Something sweet and sour that would go well on a burger, or topping some crusty bread slices.  Okay fine, now to make it happen.

I began by lightly caramelizing the thinly sliced onions.  Then I added the garlic, the quartered squash slices and a few diced tomatoes.  Played with brown sugar and red wine vinegar.  I resisted the urge to add oregano, which in my mind always goes with anything having to do with cooked tomatoes (I blame my Italian fore-bearers) and opted instead for thyme.  Ah, a French-inspired creation.  Sounds good to me.  I let it cook until it was relatively thick.  In the end I got about 3 cups of... whatever it became.  LOL  And while I liked it well enough still warm on crusty bread, I'm sure it will be even better at room temperature.




Sweet and Sour Onion, Tomato & Summer Squash Spread

1/4 cup grapeseed oil (or a good, fruity olive oil if you have it)
2 sweet onions, quartered and thinly sliced
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large summer squash or zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced
5-6 tomatoes (peeled if you're so inclined - I didn't, but should have)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp thyme (more if using fresh)
salt and pepper to taste

In a large enamel sauce pot heat the oil over medium and add the onions and a little salt and pepper. Cook until they begin to caramelize, then add the garlic.  When it's fragrant, add the squash and tomatoes and give it a good stir.  Add the thyme, vinegar and sugar, and keep them out to adjust the flavour as you go along.  Let it all bubble over medium-low heat until it starts to thicken and much of the liquid has evaporated away (this took over an hour in my pot).  Check for seasoning and adjust to taste, making sure to cook out any raw vinegar flavour.

Pack into clean canning jars and keep in the fridge (I froze some).  Use as a topping for crusty bread, burgers, chicken, fish... even meatloaf.

I bet this would be nice with a couple of dried chilies tucked into it while it simmers.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Got me a haul

I cannot say enough how much I love living here in Southern Ontario.  I am in the heart of the "fruit belt," which (quite happily) is also the heart of wine country.  Right now we have fruit coming out the wazoo.  There are a few lingering strawberries, and we're in the thick of raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and cherries.  I don't do anything with currants or gooseberries, but they've been available too.  And the early peaches, apricots and plums are showing up on farm stand stalls.  And while it's not a fruit, I'll mention my delight last weekend at finding the first sweet corn of the season too.

But today I am going to focus on the 11lb pail of pitted, unsweetened, fresh tart cherries I picked up yesterday.  Plus the 1kg tub of dried tart cherries.  I got six 3-cup containers of the fresh cherries into the freezer, set aside a cup or so for just snacking and used the remaining 2 cups to make a recipe inspired by one I came across earlier this month at Autumn Makes and Does and have been anticipating enjoying ever since.

The original recipe for Hot Cherry Preserves calls for 3 dried chile de árbo, which I don't have.  It says to use cayenne if need be.  So I did.  I also added some of the dried cherries.

Spicy Cherry Sauce

2 cups pitted tart cherries
2/3 cup sugar
1/4-1tsp cayenne pepper (depending on your tolerance)
1 split vanilla bean (optional)

1/4 cup dried tart cherries
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions
Stir all ingredients except the dried cherries and lemon juice in a bowl or measuring cup.  Taste for heat and add more cayenne if necessary.  There should be more of a pleasant tingle than full on burn.  Cover and store in the fridge overnight.

Place the contents of the bowl in a small saucepan with the dried cherries and boil over medium-high  for about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently. The cherries will begin to break down a little and the liquid will become a bit thicker.

Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.

Let cool to room temperature and store in a clean half-pint (250ml)  jar in the fridge.


Personally I think this is going to be awesome over some dark chocolate ice cream. I wonder if it would pair well with cheese?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Too hot

What is the weather here today?  It's noon and it's already 31C, feels like 39C (that's 88 and 102 degrees American).  It's been this way pretty much since late last week.  And tomorrow it's supposed to be 36C before the humidex kicks in.  *insert melting emoticon here*

I gave the veggies an hour of water this morning. The raspberry canes have drooped and will need to be supported for the rest of the season, I fear.  Some may have snapped already, but I think overall most of the canes are just fine.  We've certainly gotten a lot of berries in the last week.  And this is only the first flush.  The big push comes next month when this years new canes start bearing along with the old ones.

In this heat it's too hot to even boil water. And grilling leaves the family with a meal and me seeking shelter in the nearest freezer, uninterested in eating.  So tonight I'm turning to my other favourite summer meal helper.  My crock pot.  It was a wedding gift from some thoughtful person nearly 14 years ago, and it has been well used ever since.  It, and it's smaller cousin, have been the source of stews, braises, soups, roasts, hams and even hot chocolate and lattes.  Today it is home to a couple of hot Italian sausages, some chicken drumsticks, onions, garlic, bay leaf and a bottle of beer.

I first created this meal many years ago while clearing out the fridge, and it became a favourite.  I love the sausage when it comes out and the chicken shreds into a beautiful, tasty pile.  But it's the broth that I look forward to the most.  The meat juices, aromatics and beer mingle together to create a liquid that is absolutely wonderful served with crusty bread and old cheddar.  Often I skip the meat altogether and just add a green salad or some pickles.  It's a, nourishing meal that doesn't heat the house (or the cook) and isn't salad, again.

Tomorrow we may just order in pizza, though.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer Eating

Wow, it took a while, but summer is definitely here.   My garden is slowly catching up after a cool, wet spring, and today I impatiently picked a few not-quite-ripe raspberries and some extra large snow peas that were hiding in the copious foliage of the 6 foot tall vines. 

The shift in weather brings with it a necessary shift in eating, too.  Although we have air conditioning and I close the curtains and blinds as the sun bursts through the kitchen windows around mid-day, the back of the house still gets hot quickly.  Obviously I limit the use of the oven as much as I can, baking only at night and roasting in the toaster oven if I can get away with it. Even just simmering a pot of soup or boiling water for pasta (or canning) on the stove can make the kitchen air thick and sticky.  I've found over the years that I use my crockpot more in the summer than in the cooler months.  It doesn't really heat up the kitchen, and there is minimal effort involved.  I also barbecue.  A lot.  And we eat lighter things like salads, or grilled pizzas.  Actually, I've made a lot of naan bread this summer, and that's just a topping or two away from do it yourself pizza.

I'm always on the look out for summer friendly meals that we'll all eat*.  Today I came across a post on Chow about playing with stuffed potato skins, changing up the fillings to make a variety of tasty treats.  I love potato skins!  The post (here) was put up in March, but I can see these being an easy go-to for a hot day.  A side of fresh salads and a cold drink would definitely round the meal out.  And even Little Mister, my 6 year old who eats a lot of things, but not ground meat and never cheese (except on pizza), said that he'd like to try them... with his own filling - black beans, corn and salsa.  Sure!  Sounds great!

* For more ideas, check out these two fabulous posts (and don't forget to follow their blogs for a wealth of inspiration throughout the year)  -
http://mixingbowlkids.typepad.com/family_bites/2011/07/meal-planning-monday.html
 - great summer meals for the whole week
http://www.simplebites.net/frozen-treats-cherry-limeade-popsicle-recipe/ - part of a week long series of posts about frozen treats (because dessert is part of dinner too!)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Our food as it grows

My husband and I have been married for nearly a decade in a half.  From that first year, when we planted upwards of 10 Roma tomatoes and a half dozen cayenne pepper plants, oblivious to the sheer volume that would result, we've always had a food garden.  We've made mistakes along the way (and still do), had some hits and misses (still do) and have found great delight in sharing it all with our two children.

There are some things that we plant every year.  Tomatoes are a must, though we plant fewer of them now than that first year (mind you, we've still got 6 plants going right now).  Peppers have never done well for us, but we continue to try, and this year it looks like we may have some success.  Green beans are popular "yard snacks" with the kids.  And our 6 year old son insists that we plant soy beans, which are a favourite of his.  We grew some lovely lemon cucumbers last year, and this year we're trying some conventional ones.  And I've had more success with lettuce as well this season.  Hooray for the cool, wet weather, I guess.



Speaking of which, that same lettuce loving weather has taken its toll on our beans, peas, radishes and beets (which are another crop I always try to grow and never seem to see success with).  Of the 20-30 snap peas I planted, only 4 came up, and those have been rather pathetic producers.  The snow peas are doing better, but the plants seem rather spindly and don't look terribly productive.  The green bush beans didn't germinate well, and are starting to look rather lace-like with their bug eaten leaves.  The soy beans look fairly resilient.  I have high hopes for them.



The one thing that does not struggle in our garden is raspberries.  Oh me, oh my do they do well!  I suspect they are plotting world domination.  We've dug out copious runners once already, and have twice as many to still remove.  They are an "ever bearing" variety, and this year's first flush looks like it's going to be a bumper crop.



We often try at least one new thing each year.  A few years ago (again at our son's request) we tried eggplant.  They did quite well, but we don't eat enough to really make having them worth it.  This year it's kale.  As with our tomatoes and hot pepper (and the seeds for our soy beans and sweet peppers) these lovely plants came from Tree and Twig.  OT, but you know how some people are in an animal shelter, when they want to take home every cute thing they see?  I get that way when I visit Linda's wonderful farm.  Hence the reason why I have 6 tomato plants, which will produce more fresh fruits than the kids and I will eat (no worries - I'll be roasting and freezing them, I'm sure).  Anyway, now I have four beautiful kale plants and no clue what to do with them.  LOL  I'm looking forward to trying some new recipes, and getting suggestions from the Twitterverse.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Of strawberries and artichokes

I am happy to say that strawberry season has arrived, pretty much right on time, in spite of the marked lack of a real Spring this year.  So far (this week) I've purchased and used/consumed nearly 5 quarts of these red jewels.  I've made strawberry sauce, strawberry vinegar, strawberry gelato and these lovely strawberry marshmallows...
I made them for a friend's bridal shower and they were quite a hit.  I'd made them once before, a few years ago, and when I saw the strawberries at the market, I knew what I had to do with them.  I'd considered strawberry cupcakes, but I think I really do prefer candy making to baking for events and holidays.  I adapted the recipe from an episode of Ricardo and Friends on Food Network Canada...


Ingredients

  • 2 envelopes gelatin
  • 1/2 cup strawberry puree*
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch

Directions

  1. Line a 20-cm (8-inch) square dish with plastic wrap and oil lightly.
  2. In a large bowl, sift the sugar and cornstarch together. Set aside.
  3. In a saucepan, sprinkle the gelatin on the strawberry purée. Let soften for 5 minutes. Add the sugar and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
  4. Pour the strawberry mixture and corn syrup into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (you could do it with a hand mixer, but your arm may fall off first).  Beat on high until the mixture has cooled to room temperature and forms stiff peaks, about 15 - 20 minutes, wiping the bowl occasionally with a damp cold cloth to help remove the heat. Spread evenly in the dish and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about 3 hours.
  5. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  6. Lightly dust a clean surface with the icing sugar mixture. Unmould the marshmallow. Using a knife with a lightly oiled blade, cut the marshmallow into 4-cm (1 1/2-inch) squares. Roll each square in the icing sugar mixture in the bowl. Shake off any excess. Place the marshmallows on the cookie sheet and let warm to room temperature. If necessary, roll a second time in the icing sugar mixture.
  7. The marshmallows can be stored for several days at room temperature, though excess icing sugar may crust on the bottoms.
  8. * For 125 ml (1/2 cup) of strawberry purée, process and strain about 180 ml (3/4 cup) fresh strawberries. If desired, use raspberry or peach or mango purée instead (I'm contemplating cherry)
For some strange reason my father has requested that we all go to their house for Father's Day this year.  It's a bit odd, since we always just celebrate it in our own way.  But my dad's work schedule has been weird lately and dinners are out of the question.  So my darling husband agreed that we should go.  Mom asked me to bake a cake, but not chocolate because apparently my nephew doesn't like it (I saw him being born, so I know he's related to his mother and myself... must come from his dad's side).  I settled on a white cake, and decided to turn the leftover egg yolks into the aforementioned strawberry gelato.  I cranked out one batch last night and then my ice cream machine overheated while I tempted fate by trying to freeze the second batch right away.  At least it's not fried.  I'll toss the chamber back in the freezer today and make the rest tomorrow or Friday.

Are we tired of strawberries yet?  Nope.  This weekend I plan on making two batches of jam!  I made 8-10 jars last year and they were gone by December (Little Mister is a big fan).  So this year I'm making twice as much.  Hopefully that lasts until next June.  LOL

On a different (and, in my opinion less tasty) note, I saw some artichokes in the grocery store yesterday that looked nice.  They were big, and on impulse I bought two.  There are a few things that I've always wanted to try for myself but have yet to cook, like risotto.  And artichokes.  I've heard a lot of buzz about them and how wonderful they are and how they're totally worth the work.  I should have taken it as a sign when I went to put the bag on the scanner and one of the little spines cut my finger open.

Following these instructions I prepped the thistles and discovered that I needed a bigger pot.  They were larger than they seemed in the store.  That problem solved, I set about preparing the rest of dinner, and some garlic butter to dip the cooked monster flowers in.  When they were ready, I pulled off a leaf and, careful to not drip butter on myself, scraped the meager flesh off between my teeth.  I was.... underwhelmed.  The flavour was a bit like a bitter potato, with a similar texture.  I ate some more.  Then I dipped some in Baba Ganouj.  Much better!  Probably because all I could taste was the garlicky eggplant dip.  I tore off the remaining leaves, scooped out the hairy choke and tried some of the heart.  Meh.  Boring, really.  Not worth the effort.

But I can say that I've cooked and eaten them, and cross them off my culinary bucket list.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I've now tried lobster...

A while back I heard about an exciting (to me) event happening in the area.  The very name set my heart a-flutter.  The Niagara Food and Wine Expo.  Such an event virtually on my doorstep?  No long drive to Toronto?  No outrageous Toronto prices?  I marked the date on the calendar without needing any more details.

And details there were.  A weekend long event featuring some of the most brilliant culinary minds in the region, preparing carefully selected morsels designed to showcase their talents and passion in a few bites at most.  Couple that with relatively inexpensive admission, a short drive and ample parking and I was counting down the days.

Then the Twitter contests began.  Various connected people had tickets and were giving them away.  Answer this question, win a pair.  Missed?  Try again tomorrow.  And on it went, until finally I was the one answering the question correctly and having two tickets left at the door for me.  Let me tell you, for someone on a bit of a budget, freeing up $20+ dollars to spend on a wide variety of culinary treats was such a huge bonus!

And $20 went a long way towards sampling the amazing bounty the evening offered.  Not only was there a dizzying array of wine to try, there were very interesting beers as well.  And a couple of "other" beverages like slushy Margaritas, Pina Coladas and a really nice cocktail made from sparkling wine and mango puree.  I can't even begin to describe the variety of food offerings.

My husband and I decided to wander around first, getting a sense of what was available.  The tickets were $1, sold in strips of $10 and most things were between 1 and 3 tickets, with a few things for 4 or even 6.  But nearly everything was only a ticket or so, which was pretty amazing.

As I said, my husband and I planned to walk around to get the lay of the land so to speak before trying anything.  Until we got only a little ways in and smelled the amazing Sliders being cooked by Syndicate Restaurant and Brewery.  It was like walking into a wall of beefy yum!  I don't think there was really a choice made.  We just stopped, my husband ordered a beer and we handed over tickets for a slider and a pulled pork sandwich, which was good, but paled in comparison to the richness of the burger.

Our hunger distracted, we continued on.  We saw fresh oysters being shucked, assorted foods in cones, on baguettes, topped with creams and leaves, sandwiches, cupcakes, cheesecakes, chocolates, seafood, game meat, cheese... There were familiar restaurants, and ones we'd never heard of.  And the food wasn't over the top fancy, either.  It was creative.  It was inspired.  But it wasn't fois gras stuffed truffled lobster dipped in the butter of virgin rare breed European mountain goats.  It wasn't pretentious at all, really.

After touring nearly the whole floor, and grabbing a glass of Konzelmann Reisling, we came upon the Maritime Lobster booth.  They were offering Digby Scallops in (I think) a creamy lemongrass sauce and half lobster tails in (again I think) an apricot and Ice Wine sauce.  Or maybe just wine.  It's a bit of a blur.  My husband and I don't eat "sea bugs" as we call them.  I'll tolerate a little shrimp in a Spring roll, if it's chopped finely enough.  But to actually eat seafood outright doesn't happen.  Largely because much of what I come across in the seafood department is mingled with an overwhelming un-fresh fishy smell.  And I don't know how appetizing a lobster lying limp in a scummy tank really would be anyway.  But this was really fresh.  And for $6 I could have a half lobster tail and a plump scallop.  I was still hungry enough to be feeling adventurous (though not so much that I felt drawn to the oyster bar), so I took the plunge.  Hubby and I sidled up to one of the many bar height tables scattered about and I struggled with the plastic fork to cut into the ample scallop.  It looked a little stringy in texture, which is exactly what it wasn't.  Instead I can only describe the texture as being like undercooked chicken with a good deal of chewiness to it.  It had a slightly raw quality to it, but it was also a bit rubbery.  It was strange.  The flavour was alright (I suspect that was mostly the sauce), but the texture was unappealing.

On to the lobster...  The texture was better.  Only slightly chewy.  And a little fluffy.  No discernible "seafood" flavour.  I imagine I'd try it again, if I could find it that fresh.  But only in a very small amount.  I doubt I'd want a meal of it.  But I did it.  As did hubby (he tried bites of mine).  He was far less impressed and did not take a second bite of either.  And while I don't know a lot about wine and food pairings, I can say that I did not like the lobster with the Riesling.

Having conquered that culinary mountain, we moved on and found ourselves at the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel booth.  Where the chef was deftly sauteing some beef.  But not just any beef.  Tender strips of what claimed to be Kobe rib eye.  I doubt it was authentic Kobe (think "Champagne" and the trademark on the name... ditto for authentic Kobe beef).  Probably more like "Kobe-style" beef.  Nevertheless, I was eager to try it.  The rib eye was piled on a mini biscuit with fried onions and mayonnaise.  I picked a bit of meat off the plate which had fallen from the slider and was immediately in awe.  The taste was so intense, so beefy and nothing like anything I've had in recent history.  Maybe, way back when I was a kid, before cattle was so intensively farmed and it still had flavour?  I don't know.  This was just... better.  Richer, with a deeper beef flavour and a silky texture.  Fat that would normally be gristly on your average cut was meltingly tender.  I ate most of the sandwich before realizing that the biscuit was just in the way.  It was too sweet and it took away from the savoriness of the beef, rather than compliment it.  It was also too heavy.  Later in the evening I went back to the Seneca Casino booth and asked for just a plate with beef and a little salt.  The chef laughed, piled the plate high and happily sprinkled a little salt on top before handing it over.  All for only $1.  Yes, only one single ticket for a plate of this amazing beef.

And so the evening went on.  Hubby sampled a very strong maple infused beer that would make an excellent barbecue mop sauce.  He also tried an apple ale beer float.  I tried some strawberry beer, the aforementioned mango and sparkling wine cocktail and a Margarita.  We had some Spring Rolls, some grilled pineapple and sausage, a slice of duck confit pizza (I didn't know you could dry out duck confit), chocolates, chocolate dipped strawberries, cheesecake on a stick, cheesecake in a container...  We even tried another incarnation of "Kobe" beef.  This time in a flat iron steak.  It was decidedly less flavourful than the rib eye, and it was on a cold puddle of pureed Sunchoke, which was really quite unappealing, both in texture and temperature.  We sat in on a cooking demonstration and got free samples of rice balls, eggplant parmesan and cannolis.

Another absolute highlight came when we wandered past the Niagara Fallsview Casino booth.  It had multiple stations, and one featured cured salmon with fruit "caviar."  Little beads of pure passionfruit, strawberry and lychee juice, coagulated via the magic of molecular gastronomy, so that they retained their liquid centres but popped in the mouth like beads of caviar.  Neither hubby nor I are fans of salmon, and we were pretty much nearing the end of our desire for savoury food, but I really wanted to try these fruit beads.  So I asked the chef if we could have a few and he happily obliged.  As each bead burst open in my mouth a flood of passionfruit flooded my tongue.  It was extraordinary.  I must find sodium alginate and calcium chloride in order to replicate this at home!

I hope I haven't forgotten anything.  The jazz music was lovely in the background, there was ample space to move and meander, everyone was very friendly and the whole place was well suited to the event, with stations dotted here and there with taps to rinse out glasses (and, as many did, to get much needed free water to stay hydrated) and tables all around to make eating more involved items a bit easier.  Even the parking was painless, unlike for the home show hosted at the convention centre earlier this Spring (what a nightmare that was).

Even though I won our tickets, I will absolutely go again, even if I have to pay admission.  I hope this event is here to stay.  I've done food for ticket/token events at places like the Grape and Wine Fest (sorry, "Niagara Wine Festival") and this was hands down worlds better.  The food, wine and beer was not only wonderful, but a far cry more reasonably priced!  My husband said it would have been nice if someone was offering coffee or other alcohol free beverages (aside from the $2.50 pop and water cart outside the hall), especially for those driving.  There were some free samples (including a cheese booth manned by someone who wouldn't actually offer us any... he just stared at us.  Only odd thing all night), but at $1 and $2 for most items, abundant freebies weren't missed.  I'm already looking forward to next year.

so What! Jazz finishing up the evening (sorry about the pic quality -iPhone).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Potato salad kind of day

It's been lovely out for a few days.  There's still a bit of squish in the ground from the copious rainfall last week, but the sun has been shining, the windows have been open and the plants (and people) are all so happy.  It's not hot out yet, either.  That makes me even happier.

It's a potato salad kind of day.  The kind of day that says, "Welcome" to the nice weather and acknowledges that we've turned a corner from grey and damp to balmy and bright.  It helps that someone on a forum that I frequent was asking for ideas to help her bland potato salad.  Hers has small red potatoes, which I actually don't care for.  I am not a fan of the "earthiness" of new potatoes at all.  It also had mayo, hard boiled eggs, salt, pepper, and some dry mustard.  That's it.  Mine is quite different.  I like my potato salad to have different textures.  It's actually basically my mother's recipe.

It starts with dicing some Yukon Gold (or other waxy) potatoes, and boiling them until just done with some peeled cloves of garlic.  Then I drain and rinse them under cold water to cool them quickly.  Usually I fish out the garlic to mash into the dressing.  I forgot today.  So there will be some little bits of big flavour scattered about in the salad this time.  LOL

While the potatoes cook, I dice veggies.  I like to use celery (with the leaves), tomatoes, cucumber, red or yellow or orange peppers, radishes and red onion.  The dressing is simple.  Mayo, a little dry mustard and a little yellow mustard.  Plus the boiled garlic, salt and pepper.  My mother mashes in egg yolk, adding the diced whites to the salad, but I don't bother.  I don't really notice much difference without the egg.

Then the whole thing gets gently tossed together and sits in the fridge for a few hours, or overnight.  I garnish it with a sprinkle of paprika and a little freshly ground black pepper.  Hubby and I feast on it for a few days, since the kids won't eat it (they just do not like potatoes that aren't crisp, like my hash browns or grilled slices).

So that is what I made today.  If you don't mind an over exposed iPod pic, here it is...  Tastespotting material it ain't.  But it still tastes great, and is perfect for a day like today.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Trying to find inspiration

Last week was lovely.  Absolutely lovely.  Warm but not too hot, and gloriously sunny.  After much rain, more rain and a lot of rain, plus downright un-Springlike cool temps the warming glow was so welcome.  Then came this week.  We've had so much rain that the city closed down all of the recreational parks.  The week that many minor sports were getting ready to start.  Both kids had their activities canceled due to the intense squishiness of  the fields.  It's been so gloomy that I felt like I was going to bed pre-drepressed by the lack of sunshine ahead.  Then there was that wind storm a few weeks ago...

As I type, it's foggy out.  It's lifting, but the tops of the trees still appear softened by a hazy film.  It's quite calm too.  No breeze at all.  There is a majestic Chestnut tree in my view that was only bare branches earlier this month.  Lilacs that are promising to bloom at the first sign of warmth.  A vase of tulips from my garden sits on my desk, reminding me that it is indeed Spring and not Autumn, regardless of how it feels out there.

It sure doesn't feel like it's Victoria Day this weekend.  The "unofficial kick-off of summer" seems at odds with the weather we've been having.  In past years we've  had the air conditioning running for weeks already.  Yesterday morning the furnace ran.

But it is the May Two-Four (for my American readers that is the first holiday weekend of the season, and usually falls on the weekend closest to the 24th of the month.  It is also traditionally a large beer consuming weekend, and a case of 24 beers is called a Two-Four).  And I am looking for inspiration.  Lately Pinterest has been my go-to for illumination of all sorts.  Today I am perusing pins with barbecue tags.  Check out this space from Design To Inspire...
Now that's a summer kitchen!  Put in some plumbing for a sink and some lighting and I'm there.  Not that I could do that with this house, but I can dream.

For a little more realistic inspiration, I'm looking at the wonderful barbecued foods.  Like Barbecued Thai Chicken Legs and Korean Barbecue Beef.  There are some wonderful kebab images on Pinterest too, as well as salads, drinks, cute summer party invitations and more.  Even though it doesn't feel like summer yet, I can still live vicariously through fabulous pictures and find inspiration for the grilling and entertaining season ahead.