Saturday, December 31, 2011


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


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.