Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Celebrate the holiday season
with Sparkling Ginger Cocktails

With the season of holiday parties now in full swing, it’s time for festive cocktails to be shown off at their sparkling best.
   This time of year, I like serving cocktails that contain champagne, sparkling wine or Prosecco. They have an air of sophistication and fun that I think fits a holiday party best.
   Sparkling Ginger Cocktails (click for the recipe) from Gourmet magazine fit this description perfectly. Each one is a lovely pale yellow color, with a sugared rim that makes one think of soft, powdered snow.
   There’s a bonus with this recipe, too.
   Not only does the ginger syrup made for the recipe combine with Prosecco to make a fab cocktail, it can also be combined with club soda for a great mocktail that tastes leagues above the average ginger ale.
   Some of the reviewers of this recipe on the website complained of trouble making the ginger sugar that’s put on the serving glasses’ rims.
   I didn’t have any trouble at all. The recipe calls for crystallized ginger, the kind that can be found in any bulk foods store or bulk foods section of the supermarket. I ground the pieces up in a mini-chopper, rather than the blender or food processor mentioned in the recipe. There were some larger grains of crystallized ginger among the smaller ones, but it wasn’t a problem. I then put sugar into the mini-chopper with the crystallized ginger and ground it up again.
   The ginger sugar stayed perfectly on the rims of the glasses, which had been wet with lemon juice from a lemon wedge. I used wine glasses to serve the cocktail, by the way, but wide-mouthed champagne glasses or even a martini glasses would also work.
   If making the ginger sugar seems like too much trouble, simply putting sugar on the rims of the serving glasses is also nice too. I recommend using superfine or berry sugar, however, since it’s not going to be ground in a chopper.
   Water, sliced fresh ginger, and sugar are simmered in a small saucepan for about 10 minutes, then the liquid is removed from the heat and left to steep for 15 minutes. The syrup is strained through a sieve into a bowl, and the solids discarded. The syrup is refrigerated until cold.
   The rims of glasses are sugared, one tablespoon of the ginger syrup is put in each, then Prosecco is poured in. I stirred each cocktail to make sure the syrup blended well with the Prosecco, even though the recipe doesn't say to do this.
   I estimate I used about ½ cup Prosecco for every one tablespoon of syrup, but you can taste away until you find the flavor combination you like.
   For the mocktails, I used about two tablespoons of syrup with about ¾ cup of club soda. Make sure to serve the non-alcoholic version on ice!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Butterscotch Shortbread - this year's "I don't have any more time to bake for the holidays" recipe

As I write this, it’s less than a month away until Christmas. You may have holiday baking on your mind.
   You’d like to make some homemade holiday treats for your friends and family.
   But time flies, and all of a sudden it’s mere hours before the gang will show up on your doorstep.
   What to do?
   Don’t fret. Make Butterscotch Shortbread (click for the recipe) from Company’s Coming.
   Butterscotch Shortbread is my recommendation this year for an amazingly quick-to-make baked treat that tastes like you spent much more time and energy on it than you really did. (Last year’s was 15-Minute Chocolate Walnut Fudge - make both and people will think you're a genius.)
   This shortbread is perfect to set out after supper or for a snack, and it will please adults and children alike.
   The secret ingredient is graham cracker crumbs, which extends and deepens the flavor created by brown sugar.
   But don’t buy ready-ground graham cracker crumbs. It makes for much tastier shortbread if you grind your own from whole crackers in a food processor or mini-chopper.
   Butter (I used unsalted) and brown sugar are creamed (beaten) together in a medium bowl with a stand-up or hand-held mixer.
   Flour and graham cracker crumbs are combined and added to the butter mixture. Continue to mix until a soft, slightly crumbly dough forms (it won’t be in a ball).
   The recipe says to turn out the dough on to a floured surface and knead until smooth, about two minutes.
   However, I see absolutely no need to knead – it seems like a redundant step that isn’t included in other shortbread recipes I’ve made.
   Simple press the dough into an ungreased 8 x 8 inch baking pan, prick the top of it in several places with a fork, then score it into triangles with a knife (scoring means to draw the lines in the dough with a knife.)
   The shortbread is baked for about 30 minutes until edges are golden, then is cooled completely. It’s cut along the scoring into triangles.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fig and Rum Squares 'are really great'

They were a hit with my co-workers and my husband’s co-workers.
   They are a delicious combination of finely-ground figs, orange zest and a shortbread-like crust.
   They were easy to make.
   They are perfect treat for the holidays.
   They are Fig and Rum Squares (click for the recipe) from Bon Appetit magazine.
   “These are really great, Mandy,” was the general sentiment muttered from people as they ate the squares.
   I agreed with them.
   Not only do these squares have all that I mentioned above going for them, they will keep well for about three days in an airtight container at room temperature.
   The recipe calls for dried black Mission figs, which can be found in some well-stocked supermarkets in the baking aisle (in Canada, I found them at Superstore.)
   Because the recipe called for an 11.5” x 7.5”-inch metal baking pan, a rather unusual size which I don’t have, I converted the recipe ingredient amounts to a 13” x 9” inch baking pan.
Here are the ingredient amounts I used:
- 2.7 cups of flour
- 1.36 cups of butter
- 1.36 cups of golden brown sugar (0.68 cups then 0.68 cups)
- 0.33 tsp. salt
- 1.36 tbsps. dark rum for crust
- 1.36 cups of dough is reserved for the topping
- 12 ounces (340 g) of black Mission figs
- 7 tbsps. of orange juice
- 1.36 tbsps. finely-grated orange peel
- 1.36 tsps. ground cinnamon
- 4 tbsps. dark rum for fig mixture
- 1 cup sliced almonds

   To make the crust, flour, unsalted butter, golden brown sugar and salt are combined in a food processor until a coarse meal forms. Rum is added and the mixture blended until a moist dough forms (it won’t be in a ball; it will just come together into a soft dough mixture lining the processor.)
   Some of the dough is reserved for the topping. The remaining dough is pressed into a baking pan. The food processor is not cleaned (yay!)
   Figs, orange juice, orange peel, cinnamon, golden brown sugar and rum are blended together in a processor to a coarse paste. This filling is spread over the crust.
   Sliced almonds are mixed into the reserved dough, which is then dropped onto the filling in small clumps (pick up some dough, press it together and place it on the filling.)
   The squares are baked, cooled completely, then cut into squares or bars.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Oven-Barbecued Asian Chicken
makes a fun family meal

A fun family meal that’s a whole lot better than takeout – that’s what you get with Oven-Barbecued Asian Chicken (click for the recipe) from Eating Well magazine.
   It’s the kind of dish I’d serve on a cozy, casual Friday or Saturday night, eaten before (or during!) settling down to watch a movie.
   After the chicken was baked, we set the baking dish aside, covered it with aluminum foil and a towel to keep it warm, and baked some frozen store-bought fries to go with the chicken. The combination of the delicious, sticky chicken with the crisp fries was perfect.
   The chicken is easy to make, although it takes about an hour to cook – valuable time to clean up the dishes that have already been used.
   The recipe calls for four bone-in chicken thighs and four drumsticks. Truth be told, my husband and I preferred the juiciness of the drumsticks, and I so I recommend using only drumsticks. Besides, that makes them more fun to pick up and eat.
   The greens of scallions (also known as green onions or spring onions) are thinly sliced, and the whites of the scallions are minced.
   The scallion whites, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, minced fresh ginger, minced garlic, Chinese five-spice powder and Asian hot sauce, such as sriracha, are mixed together in a large bowl (we used ½ tsp of sriracha, instead of the full teaspoon listed in the recipe).
   The chicken pieces are added to the mixture and tossed to coat, then the chicken is arranged in an even layer in a glass 9”x 13” baking dish (I used a baking dish made of glass).
   The chicken is baked, being turned once halfway, for about an hour. It’s then transferred to a serving platter and sprinkled with scallion greens and toasted sesame seeds before being served.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Spaghetti squash provides
entertainment while cooking

One of the most fun foods to prepare for a dish is a spaghetti squash.
   It’s kind of miraculous the way the insides of a cooked spaghetti squash scrape out in thin strands which look just like the pasta for which it is named.
   The words “that is so cool,” will likely come out of your mouth, as they did from mine, as you scrape out the squash insides in preparation for Spaghetti Squash & Pork Stir-Fry (click for the recipe) from Eating Well magazine.
   Cutting the raw squash isn’t fun, however. It’s rather tough. The best way my husband and I have found to cut open spaghetti and butternut squash is to use a meat cleaver, and hack away at one line until a break can be made through the shell into the flesh. Extreme caution must be used this method, of course!
   This stir-fry dish is satisfying and delicious. The squash strands and pieces of pork are a nice combination. If you don’t tell people what the strands are, people may just think they are some type of Asian noodle!
   The recipe calls for a three-pound squash, but if you can't find one that size and you need to buy one that’s bigger, no problem. I had one that was six pounds, and so I cut it in half, then one of the halves in half again. These are the two halves I placed cut-side down on a baking sheet before putting them in the oven.
   The recipe is easy to make, though the squash does need to bake for one hour.
   A spaghetti squash is cut in half, and the seeds scooped out and discarded. The halves are placed, cut side down, on a baking sheet, and baked until tender, about one hour, then left to cool for 10 minutes. The flesh is scraped out with a fork into a bowl (the fun part), and the shell is discarded.
   A pork tenderloin is cut into thin rounds, and each round into matchsticks.
   A large wok (or frying pan or skillet) is heated, then sesame oil, scallions (green onions or spring onions), garlic, fresh ginger, salt, pork and squash threads are added and cooked. Soy sauce, rice vinegar and Asian red chile sauce (we used sriracha, but half the amount – ½ teaspoon instead of one teaspoon) are added and the whole mixture is cooked until it’s aromatic.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Maple Pecan Tart with Dried Cherries
says a grand goodbye to fall

Now that the snow has fallen here in Saskatchewan, I’ll be turning my attention to winter food and desserts (think holiday-style cookies and cakes).
   But to send off fall with one last hurrah, I made Maple Pecan Tart with Dried Cherries (click for the recipe) last weekend.
   It’s a really terrific dessert – delicious and elegant, yet easy to make.
   The dried cherries are a highlight that adds a little extra somethin’-somethin’ to the already-lovely combination of a pecan crust filled with maple syrup and brown sugar and topped with more pecans.
   Be sure to serve the pieces of the tart at room temperature, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.
   Egg yolk, melted butter, canola oil and water are combined. Pecans and sugar, flour and salt are pulsed in a food processor to the consistency of coarse meal. The yolk mixture is drizzled through the feed tube, and the mixture is pulsed until just combined.
   The mixture is spread in a nine-inch tart pan with a removable bottom that has been coated with cooking spray, and pushed all along the bottom and up the sides to form a crust. The pan is placed on a baking sheet, and the crust is baked for 12-14 minutes.
   While the crust is baking, eggs, maple syrup, brown sugar, dark rum (optional, but I recommend it), melted butter and salt are combined in a medium bowl, with ¼ cup of the mixture being transferred to a small bowl. A half-cup of pecans are chopped and added to the medium bowl, and cherries are stirred in. The remaining one cup of pecans is mixed into the reserved maple mixture.
   The filling is spread evenly on the crust, and the maple-syrup coated pecans are arranged on the filling.
   The tart is baked for 25-30 minutes, then let left to cool for 20 minutes before the pan sides are removed. Let cool completely.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Carrots and fennel make a great
pair in comforting soup

Individually, carrots and fennel are great soup ingredients.
   But I don’t think I’d ever had them together in one soup until recently, when my husband made Carrot Fennel Soup (click for the recipe) from Gourmet magazine.
   They were a terrific pairing.
   People who like the earthy, deep flavor of carrot soup will likely be delighted by the very slight licorice taste the fennel and fennel seeds add.
   Because we have a hand blender (also known as an immersion blender), my husband adapted the recipe to use it instead of a regular blender.
   Instead of puréeing the roasted vegetables in a blender with chicken broth, then transferring it to a saucepan and bringing it to a simmer with some water to thin the soup, my husband brought the broth and water to a simmer, then added the roasted vegetables. He then used a hand blender to purée the soup until smooth.
   The recipe says to use an electric coffee or spice grinder to grind the fennel seeds that go on top of the soup, but my husband used a mortar and pestle to grind the seeds instead. A small electric chopper may also do the trick.
   Fennel bulbs are found in the produce section of many supermarkets, while fennel seeds are found in the dried spices aisle.
   The recipe says to chop the fennel fronds, the part that looks like dill growing out of the top of a fennel bulb, to save as a garnish to sprinkle on the soup. We didn’t bother with this step.
   The stalks and fronds are cut off two medium fennel bulbs. The bulbs are sliced and tossed with carrots, onion, garlic, olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper. The vegetables are spread in a baking sheet and roasted until tender, 25 to 30 minutes.
   The vegetables are then combined with the store-bought chicken broth (in the way the recipe outlines, or the way my husband did it – see above.)
   Fennel seeds are finely ground and stirred into olive oil.
   Serve the soup drizzled with the fennel oil.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My first outing with quinoa
is a success with Pear-Quinoa Salad

Quinoa, a whole grain, has been getting a lot of attention these days thanks in part to a bestselling cookbook called Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood.
   I turned my personal attention to it on the weekend by cooking quinoa for the very first time, and was happy that the recipe I made was a definite winner.
   Pear-Quinoa Salad (click for the recipe) from Eating Well magazine is a fresh little number, perfect for eating alongside pork or chicken.
   The flavor and texture of the salad is best if the salad is refrigerated before serving, so it’s great for preparing in advance or storing leftovers for lunches.
   The toasted pecans or walnuts sprinkled on top are a must-have, adding to the naturally nutty flavor of the quinoa. I toasted chopped walnuts in a small skillet on medium heat for about three-and-a-half minutes.
   Quinoa can be found in the rice section of supermarkets.
   The salad was incredibly easy to make.
   Store-bought chicken stock or vegetable stock (I used vegetable stock) is brought to a boil. Quinoa is stirred in, and the heat reduced to a maintain a simmer (I set it at four). The pot is covered and the quinoa cooked until the liquid is absorbed (the recipe says this takes about 15 minutes but I found it took about 13.5 minutes.)
   While the quinoa is cooking, walnut oil or canola oil; a fruity vinegar such as pear, raspberry or pomegranate; chives and salt and pepper are whisked together in a large bowl. Diced pears are added and tossed to coat with the dressing.
   The cooked quinoa is added to the pear mixture and tossed to combine, and the bowl put in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes before serving (but the can be refrigerated much longer than this.) Serve topped with the toasted nuts.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

One-Pot Chinese Chicken is the latest
Donna Hay recipe to amaze and impress

It’s only taken three of Donna Hay’s recipes to convince me she is a genius.
   She’s amazingly clever at creating dishes that are super-easy and quick to make, but deliver on flavor.
   And they’re often family-friendly.
   The Australian cookbook author and lifestyle expert’s latest cookbook (available in North America, anyway) is Fast, Fresh, Simple.
   The recipe from the book I tried most recently is One-Pot Chinese Chicken (click for the recipe). Once again, I was impressed with Hay’s ability to streamline the preparation process of the dish to make it seem effortless.
   This is the ideal recipe for those of you leading such harried lives that cooking and enjoying a decent meal is like winning the lottery.
   Everything really is made in one pot, and there are only a few things to chop. Because everything needs to cook for at least 20 minutes, there is time to clean up the dishes and utensils you already used, leaving just a few dishes to clean up afterward.
   If you leave the green onions and coriander off the portions being served to children, I think this dish certainly falls into the family-friendly category. Make sure to take out the pieces of ginger, garlic and green chili from young folks’ servings, too.
   For adults, be sure to sprinkle soy sauce and green onions on the servings as the recipe says – they add nice sharp shots of flavour. And, if you’re like us and you hate coriander (cilantro), use parsley instead.
   If you double the recipe, it will easily serve four, but it will require more cooking time. The best way to know if it is ready is by checking to see when the rice has absorbed all the chicken stock.
   We used a jalapeno pepper for the green chilli listed in the recipe, making sure to take out the seeds and white insides before using it to reduce its heat. Chicken thigh fillets are the same as boneless, skinless chicken thighs, but be sure to weigh the correct amount required with a kitchen scale before using them.
   We used a stock pot instead of a frying pan.
   Chicken stock (we used store-bought chicken broth), sliced ginger, garlic, and a green chili are placed in the pot over high heat and brought to a boil.
   Jasmine rice and sliced chicken thighs are added to the stock, and the mixture is covered. The heat is reduced to low (we set it at about 2.5), covered, and cooked for at least 20 minutes or until the rice has absorbed the stock and the chicken is tender.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ground beef from local farm
finds good home in chow mein dish

During the summer, we bought a couple of packages of ground beef at a local farmer’s market.
   We’ve found this fresh beef from a local farm to be exceptionally good.
   After popping the packages safely in the freezer and making a mental note they were there, I waited until I found the perfect opportunity to use one of them to its utmost potential (besides the usual suspects of burgers.)
   The opportunity came along in the form of Beef Chow Mein (click for the recipe) from The Australian Women’s Weekly.
   With great-looking ingredients such as fresh vegetables and egg noodles, this dish looked like it would be a wonderful home for the farm ground beef.
   It was – the dish was delicious and family-friendly, perfect for a casual weeknight dinner. It’s a recipe that’s perfect for the one-pan-stir-fry-cook you may have in your home. If you're making it for children, be sure to use mild curry powder.
   Wombok in the recipe is another name for Napa cabbage. Not being able to find Napa cabbage, we used regular cabbage instead, and for the brown onion, we used a yellow onion. Beef mince is another name for ground beef.
   Fresh, not dry, egg noodles can be found in the produce section of many large supermarkets, although they’re not always labeled as egg noodles. You may need to take a look at the ingredients at the back of a package of fresh Asian-style noodles to see if eggs are a primary ingredient.
   Ground beef, onion and crushed garlic cloves are stir-fried until the beef is browned. Curry powder (we used mild), carrot, celery and mushrooms are added and the mixture stir-fried until the vegetables soften.
   Chicken stock (we used store-bought chicken broth), oyster sauce, soy sauce, frozen peas and shredded cabbage are added to the beef mixture and stir-fried until the cabbage just wilts.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pumpkin Pie-Croissant Pudding brings
the creation of bread pudding into my life

Until recently, I’d never made bread pudding because there wasn’t a recipe for it that caught my attention or imagination.
   It’s not that I strive to find wacky recipes -- far from it. It’s hard to describe, but a recipe has to entice me to try it. Something about the recipe needs to reach out and stroke the part of my brain that says, “try me, you’ll love me.”
   When I saw Pumpkin Pie-Croissant Pudding (click for the recipe) in Food & Wine magazine, I knew my day to make bread pudding had arrived.
   With the use of croissants rather than bread, and the addition of pumpkin pie filling to turn the dessert into a creation meant completely for autumn, this recipe drew me in immediately.
   The recipe was developed by two Canadians, David McMillan and Frederic Morin of the restaurant Joe Beef in Montreal, so that piqued my interest even more.
   It also looked extremely easy to make, which is always a major criteria for me when deciding whether or not to try a recipe.
   I was right about that – it was extremely easy to make.
   And it was extremely good.
   I think its deliciousness will impress anyone who likes bread pudding, or even dessert for that matter! It has a lovely aroma, too.
   A couple of my recommendations: 1) The recipe says to serve the pudding with vanilla ice cream, but my husband and I agreed the ice cream is not needed – the pudding is absolutely terrific on its own. 2)The recipe says to let the pudding cool to warm and then serve. I found it better to let the pudding completely cool and solidify, then scoop out a serving and microwave it for about 30 seconds before eating.
   The pudding will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.
   I used the recipe’s recommendation of tenting the pudding with foil if the top starts to brown too quickly when baking, but I put foil overtop even earlier than that, about 20 minutes into baking time.
   To make the pudding, raisins are put in a bowl and covered with rye whiskey. Croissants cut into two-inch pieces (I just tore them up) are spread on a baking sheet and toasted until golden brown. The recipe says this will take about 10 minutes, but I found it took only five minutes.
   Pumpkin pie filling, heavy cream (I used whipping cream), milk, eggs, sugar and salt are whisked together.
   In a 9” x 13” buttered baking dish (I used a glass dish), the torn croissants are tossed with the raisins and whiskey. The pumpkin mixture is poured on top and pressed with the back of a spoon until most of the croissants are moistened.
   The pudding is baked for about 40 minutes, and is tented with foil if the top starts to brown too quickly. (That means you'll need to check it at some point during baking time!)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Craving for split pea and ham soup
satisfied by slow cooker recipe

Every year about this time I have a major hankering for split pea and ham soup.
   My mom always made it in the fall when I was a kid, and I remember loving every spoonful of it. It was warm and creamy, with a green color that made it seem mysterious, wonderful and wacky.
   I haven’t yet satisfied my own craving until recently, however, when I saw Emeril's Slow Cooker Split Pea Soup (click for the recipe), developed by chef Emeril Lagasse. The recipe was in Everyday Food magazine.
   I haven’t used my slow cooker in a long time, so here was a chance to get two things done at once: Get the slow cooker going again and satisfy my craving for split pea soup.
   The slow cooker makes this recipe magnificently easy to make. I made it late in the morning one Sunday, taking the half hour required to prepare the ingredients and put them in the slow cooker, then turning it on at noon. Six hours and a bit later, we were enjoying split pea soup.
   And it was wonderful. My craving was satisfied.
   Since I ate split pea soup when I was young without complaining, I suspect that it’s a family-friendly dish. Emeril makes it and eats it with his two young children, so that’s an assurance. (Although, it can wreak a bit of havoc on the ol' digestive system, making things a bit gassy, so keep that in mind.)
   The recipe produces a lot, so it will make for great lunches during the week, or put it in the freezer to enjoy another time. Add a bit of water when warming it up in the microwave or on the stovetop to loosen it up and get it creamy again.
   I bought the required ham hocks at my local butcher.
   Ten cups of low-sodium chicken broth is brought to a boil, then carefully poured into a five- to six-quart slow cooker. Two pounds of dried green split peas, diced onion, carrots, celery, red bell pepper, minced garlic and thyme, bay leaves and two small ham hocks are placed in the broth.
   The soup is covered and cooked on high until the split peas are creamy (six hours), and is stirred occasionally.
   The ham hocks are removed from the slow cooker, and the skin and bones are discarded along with the bay leaves. The meat is diced, and the peas lightly mashed with the back of a wooden spoon. The ham is returned to the soup, then the soup is served.

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