Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Everyone Loves Shortbread

Almond Shortbread Stars

Who doesn’t love Shortbread?

Perhaps it’s because I am half British (my father was born in England and moved here as a lad of four) and I never feel more in tune with those roots as I do when I am sipping tea and nibbling shortbread. Throw in a good Colin Firth movie and, blimey, that’s the cat’s pajamas! Of course ‘nibbling’ might be a tad of a stretch-it’s so rich and delicious-scarfing might be more appropriate.

Now what some people don’t know is that shortbread is Scottish, not British. Shortbread is to Scotland what biscotti is to Italy and madeleines are to France. This simple combination of only four ingredients-flour, sugar, butter and salt-lays claim to be the best cookie out there and I tend to agree. If you are bored with the classic recipe, the good news for you is that there are many variations that you can make on the standard.
Trendy foodstuffs such as green tea and espresso have made their way into these delightful sweets, updating them for your 2006 Christmas! You can also get creative on your own. Chop up your favorite nuts or dried fruit and add that to the dough. Dust with icing sugar, dip in chocolate, or glaze with icing-just not all three. You don’t want to mask the shortbread's humble ability to delight of the senses!

Here is a recipe for basic shortbread and following it, some variations. Remember that baking time for each variety will vary depending on the size and shape of the cookies.

Basic Shortbread

Makes 8-12

1 cup unsalted butter

2 cups all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon salt

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

Sift together the flour and the salt and set aside. In a bowl or mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add sugar and beat another 2 minutes until very light and fluffy. Add vanilla if using. Slowly add flour and mix on low until just combined. Gather into a ball with your hands, wrap in plastic and chill until firm.

Roll dough onto a lightly floured surface until ¼ inch thick and cut into desired shapes.
Place on baking sheet and chill until firm.
Preheat oven to 325F.
Bake until firm and just starting to color.

*Keeps well in an airtight containter for up to three weeks.*


Almond:. Add ½ cup powdered almonds and 1 tsp almond extract to the creamed butter. Omit vanilla. Proceed as usual.

Ginger: Substitute brown sugar for the icing sugar in basic recipe. To the flour mixture add 1 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp ground cinnamon and a pinch of cloves. Omit vanilla. Proceed with basic recipe.

Green Tea: Omit vanilla. Sift 2 tablespoons of finely ground green tea with the flour and salt and proceed as usual.

Chocolate: Add ½ cup cocoa to the flour and salt.

Espresso: Dissolve 2 tablespoons espresso powder in 1 teaspoon hot water. Add to creamed butter and sugar mixture before adding flour. Proceed as usual.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Foodie Facebook: Tammy

NAME: Tammy
LOCATION: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
OCCUPATION: Writer, Web and Graphic Designer

1. What is your earliest childhood food memory?

Hotdog Roasts in the country - flame-grilled dogs, several salad varieties, and chocolatey s'mores for dessert. Every time I eat a s'more, I remember my younger self sitting by the fire - sideways ponytail, stirrup pants, sticky hands, and delicious dessert.

2. What did you eat today?
Breakfast: Coffee, Vanilla Yogurt, Fresh Pineapple | Lunch: Toasted bacon, pesto, roasted red pepper and goat cheese open-face sandwich with a side of cucumber slices | Supper: Rotini topped with Putanesca sauce, green olives and light ricotta with a side of mixed greens and balsamic vinaigrette

3. What will your kids never be allowed to eat?
Crayons, Play-Doh, Gum on the sidewalk

4. What do you always have on hand in your fridge?
Lots of fruits and veggies, 3 types of cheese, yogurt, black and green olives, banana peppers, Sweet & Spicy Thai sauce

5. What is your beverage of choice?
Coffee, Iced Tea, Strawberry Margarita

6. If you could have dinner with anyone in the history of man, who would it be?
The entire cast of "The Office" - and we would not have soft pretzels.

7.Ok, it's your last meal ever, what do you have?
I would fly to Mexico for authentic beef enchiladas, guacamole and margaritas. For dessert, I would inhale an insanely rich chocolate truffle dessert with Cafe Americano at an outdoor Paris cafe.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Home with Friends. Good Friends.

With Danny away on business, it i’s amazing how fast I find myself reverting back to girly pre-marriage, ritualistic habits. Noah is fast asleep upstairs, and almost without thinking, I have changed into something cozy, reached for a pint of ice cream and a golden oldie girl movie. Yes, I ha’ve lit a few candles. It'’s almost like a sleepover, but I don't have to share the ice cream with anyone. Sweet!

After all, I have to take care of myself, right? I'’m holding down the fort, so to speak. With all that responsibility, a girl'’s gotta decompress.
There'’s no better way than with my friends, Ben and Jerry. Thanks for being there, guys!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Guilty Food Pleasures

This post started out as my Top Ten Guilty Food Pleasures, but when I started the list, I could only come up with a half a dozen. I guess for me the ‘guilty’ part really outweighs the ‘pleasure’ part, or else I don't take much pleasure in guilt-inducing foods. I'd like to think that is more the case. There is very little junk food, fast food, or processed food out there that I eat. I don’t consider myself an über health nut, but, for better or for worse, I am a food snob, so would never look twice at stuff like pudding cups (especially the bubble gum flavor-blech-just the sight of it turns my stomach), Kraft singles, Twinkies and the like. The more processed and distorted from it origin the food item is, the harder I find it to stomach.

However, I am not without some secret shame and I list a few items below that never fail to tempt me and I never fail to indulge in when I have the chance! Of course there's lots of sweets, munchies and sugar-filled drinks that I will dabble in from time to time, but they are just riff-raff and not very high up on the 'pleasure' chart. To me, if you're not really craving it, perhaps you're just eating it because it's being served at a party, it's not worth the trouble. And by trouble I mean the fat. And the tooth decay, facial breakouts, heart stress and brain sluggishness. The list could go on, but as I am not an expert in nutrition, I'll leave the scientific facts out of it and just go with my standard yardstick for measuring junk food:

If my mother didn't allow it when I was growing up, chances are it WILL kill you.

I was asking around to a few people about this topic and was astounded by what I found. People really have some very astonishingly gross and potentially hazardous eating habits! Maybe I am just blind to what really goes on out there in those dark kitchens in the wee hours of the morning, but I am now immensely curious and must find out more.

If you have a guilty food pleasure –and I know you do- please share it with us at underthehighchair. We would love to hear from you the shocking stuff! the calorie mountains! the unthinkble combinations! Come on, we won't tell anyone else and it will be lots of fun.

What constitutes a ‘guilty pleasure’, you ask?
Well, it will be something different for everyone so I won’t define it , but one common thread is that it should have a very low nutritional value and the rest is self-explanatory. If you’re telling me you can’t resist bingeing on a sack of edamame, I’m not going to swallow it.
It may be a tad out of the ordinary, like whipping cream on toast (my brother) or the same as 80 billion other people: a Big Mac. (Yes, you should feel guilty about fast food. If you don’t have a clue why, go see Fast Food Nation for starters.)
I will also add that Guilty Pleasures are not weird combinations that you come up with when there is no food in the fridge…maybe we’ll address those wacky foods another time.

You can either email your guilty pleasures to me directly and I’ll do a follow up post, or just spill the beans as a comment at the end of the post.

For the record here are my few guilty pleasures:

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. They are so evil and so very good

Poutine: the Quebecois classic dish of fries, curd cheese and gravy. I don’t eat it often, but probably more often than I should. Once in a while I need a ‘fix’.

Microwave Popcorn. It’s so artificial tasting, that fake butter and all, but so addicting.

Sour Cream and Onion Ruffles. My weakness in the chip department

Blak: Coffee flavored Coka Cola. I’ve only had this once, but I may as well add it, because I loved it so much, I can tell we’re going to have a future together as soon as more stores start carrying it. Namely, Costco.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

An Uptown Party

Smoked Salmon on Pumpernickel with Cream Cheese, Red Onion, Clementines and Sea Salt.

My little sister turned 21 in October and a few nights ago she cashed in on a promised birthday present: a fully catered party for her and her dozen or so friends. Guests arrived with a bottle of wine at her third floor apartment near Atwater Market and were welcomed with the smells of sizzling pancetta and freshly baked cheese straws.
It was a lot of fun. I found myself surrounded by college students who mostly exist on take-out and Kraft Dinner and they were gobbling up the food as fast as I could turn it out. This was a welcome change from catering stuffy rich people's parties where everyone is watching their weight and the food is picked over and half of it left untouched.

It felt like the beginning of the Christmas holidays as we munched canapés, sipped wine and kicked back, thoroughly enjoying a night 'in'.

Tomato Thyme Tartelettes

Cherry Tomato, Basil and Bocconcini Skewers: as classic as a vodka martini. A reminder of summer past.
Carmelized Onion, Apple and Brie Phyllo Parcels

Cheddar and Poppyseed Straws

Chip Duo. Top: Baba Ghanouj on a Pita Chip with Kalamata Olive and Parsley.
Bottom: Southwest Blackbean and Grilled Corn Salsa on homemade Tortilla Chip, Sour Cream.

Not Pictured:
Honey Dates With Crispy Pancetta
Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Sushi
Endive with Havarti and Toasted Almonds

A few of these canapes were from ideas I was playing around with and I was pretty happy with the way they turned out. Here's is a recipe from Martha Stewart that I adapted for a salsa that's a little different that the usual tomato/onion salsa. If you don't have a grill, you can roast the peppers in the oven and blacken the corn in a cast iron skillet.

Southwestern Black Bean and Grilled Corn Salsa

1 jalapeño pepper
1 red bell pepper
2 ears fresh corn, shucked
1/4 cup lime juice(about 2 limes)
1 fifteen-ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup fresh loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat grill to medium hot. Place peppers on grill, and cook, turning, until skin is black all over, 5 to 10 minutes for jalapeño and 10 to 15 minutes for red pepper. Place grilled peppers in a brown paper bag; let stand about 10 minutes. Remove peppers from bag, and peel away and discard charred skin; rinse your fingers from time to time under cool running water, if necessary, but do not rinse the peppers. Remove and discard stems and seeds. Mince jalapeño, and transfer to a large bowl. Cut red pepper into 1/4-inch pieces, add to jalapeño, and set aside.
2. Place ears of corn directly on grill. Cook until brown and tender, turning often, about 10 minutes. Remove from grill, and let cool slightly. Use a sharp knife to cut the kernels off the cob; add to peppers.
3. Add lime juice, black beans, parsley, red onion, garlic, and olive oil to corn and pepper mixture, and toss well. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Missing Rib

Beer Braised Short Ribs with Ancho Pepper BBQ Sauce

What to do when you have a gang of hungry guys to feed and quiche just won’t do? Go see your butcher, ask for beef short ribs, pick up a 6 pack (or 12 or two-four) of dark beer, come home and slow cook the ribs in the beer and a mélange of other yummies. It will be a hit, guaranteed. That's what I did the other day and it worked out just fine...except for the sauce...which is why you won't be getting a recipe.....yet.

I went with an idea I had to make a chunky BBQ sauce with Ancho chilies (see below), a dark spicy beer and some blackened onions and tomatoes, but it ended up WAY too spicy-- full of flavor, but too overpoweringly hot for the beef. So I kept adding stuff-can’t remember half of it-and ended up with a deliciously seductive sauce... but which I would be hard pressed to duplicate. Snap! Sorry folks. We sure enjoyed it, but you won't be able to duplicate it in your own home until I work out the kinks. For one, LESS ancho peppers!

Here I am checking to see if the ribs are fall-of-the-bone tender yet. Don't be shy to cook these at home using a simple braise method. I know, the word 'ribs' conjures up a memory of dry, sticky, chewy bar food, but if you pick cuts that have plenty of fat marbling in the meat and cook them, covered in liquid, for several hours, you will be suprised to how they melt in your mouth. Good thing we like them, because we have 2 quarts of my BBQ sauce left over....

Note: If you are not familiar with ancho peppers, they are dried poblano peppers, moderately hot, and used prolifically in Mexican cuisine. They are essential to make the wonderful Molé.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Granola Heaven

"California is like a bowl of granola; full of fruits, nuts, and flakes." Gallagher

Function: noun
: a mixture typically of rolled oats and various added ingredients (as brown sugar, raisins, coconut, and nuts) that is eaten especially for breakfast or as a snack

OR: noun: a Birkenstock wearing, tree-hugging, mushroom picking hippie.

Hip Hip Horray for Granolas!
Somewhere, buried deep inside of me, there still resides a granola; a remnant of a former girl who used to wander the countryside making daisy chains and gathering rosehips for jam. Those were wonderful times, where a lazy day of reading in a tree or knitting wool socks by the fire were not thought twice about. Someday, I'll tell you more about that girl and her many unique and impressionable food experinces that worked together to inspire her to follow her passion for great food.
I miss her occasionally, but I know she's still there, waiting for the day when I'll take her out of the city; but for now she'll (I'll) have to be content with making some crunchy granola with lots of seeds and nuts.

This is a quick recipe that I love and doesn't take any sugar. (Hippies are more into honey, the more natural and unprocessed the better) You can substitute any type of nuts, dried fruit and seeds your heart desires. I generally use up all the scraps in my cupboard.

I almost want to call this 'Granola Topping', because it is good enough to sprinkle over a bowl of ice cream, pile onto your morning oatmeal, or -my favorite- mound onto yogourt. Also, it's better in small portions as it's quite the dose of fiber, and a whole bowl of this just might rearrange your digestive system in a way that may not be the most comfortable. Danny has valiantly attempted to plow his way through a generous bowl of my granola in the morning and when I come on the scene, he is usually rubbing his jaw and looking at me like "What are you trying to do to me?". Of course if you eat a wussy bowl of Frosted Flakes every morning, the real deal granola is going to take it's toll. Ah, men. They don't make them like they used to.

I have to thank my sister, a true granola (with a cute little granola family), for the recipe.

Haidi's Granola

5 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped nuts and seeds (like pumpkin, sesame, sunflower or flax. Not like watermellon or papaya. !)
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
dash of cinnamon
1-2 cups dried fruit

Asemble oats, nuts and seeds together in a bowl. Here I am using coconut, hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds.

Combine honey, oil, vanilla and cinnamon in a pot and heat to near boiling.
Pour over oat mixture and stir quickly until well combined.

Pour oats onto a baking sheet and spread over the entire pan. Oats should be no more than 3/4 inch high on the pan. (you may need two pans)
Bake at 325F for about 20-30 minutes. You will need to remove it from the oven halfway through and stir it to ensure even coloring. It should color to a nice golden brown. Cool.

Now add your dried fruit and mix well. Here I have added raisins and chopped apricots. Mmmm.
Store in an airtight container. Keeps well for several weeks.
Enjoy your homemade granola!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Social Experiment

In America we eat, collectively, with a glum urge for food to fill us. We are ignorant of flavour. We are as a nation taste-blind.” M.F.K. Fisher

There is a new restaurant ‘phenomenon’ on the Montreal food scene called O.Noir that I must comment on and see what you think. This St. Catherine Street restaurant invites you to experience food, drink and conversation like never before-in the DARK. Their website claims that it is “..a sensual dining experience like no other” and that it is all the rage in Europe, Australia, New York and L.A.

Now if you ask Danny, he’s already experienced this at home during the Ice Storm of ’98, but I think they are striving for something a little classier. The general manager claims that when you eat without your sight, your remaining senses are heightened to savour the smell and taste of food. He does have a point, but really, are we ready to go to this length to experience food at a new level? I’m sceptical. As a chef, the visual aspect in enjoying a plate of food is too important to leave out alltogether. I love the moment when the plates arrive at the table and I scan around checking out the dishes, portion size, presentation and garnishes.

Another twist to this whole dining in the dark is that the entire wait staff are blind and a portion (5%) of the proceeds go to associations that serve the blind. A cause to be admired, there is no doubt; however, what would be really amazing would be if the kitchen crew were blind, or at least worked in the dark. Insurance would be brutal!

Before you decide that this would be the perfect place for a blind date, let me alert you to a few things that I might consider before going to see this place (not literally, of course). I mean, it does sound like it could be a lot of fun if you were with the right person, but there a few too many opportunities for a mishap...such as:

  • What if there is a hair in your food? The staff are visually impaired, but no one said anything about follically impaired as well. Hair in the food happens, as much as we would like to pretend it doesn’t.
  • What if you have an allergy to nuts and an absentminded cook tosses some toasted almonds into your salad. Oops. Too bad about that one.
  • What if the young lovers at the table beside you have a little too much to drink, forget where they are, and loose themselves in the moment?
  • What if you are trying a new wine at $60 a bottle and they mess up and bring you a $20 bottle? Would you know the difference?
  • What if the waiter removes your plate without asking, or worse, feel if you are finished. Aye!

I guess it would come down to trust, and here we would find ourselves facing some of the issues blind people encounter every day.
Now this would be a lot more interesting if I had actually eaten at this restaurant and was reporting on my experience, but I just don't feel like giving them my coin yet. There are still plenty of other Montreal establishments where I can have a 'sensual' dining experience, or just a five-star fabulous meal. But just so you can have an idea of what to expect if you go, here is a excerpt from Mr. Slutski's (!) recent review in the Montreal Mirror:

“We all felt pretty giddy when we were first seated; the novelty really was very entertaining, and there was a lot of fun to be had in trying to explore this weird new space. After being there for over an hour, though, a certain pleasant tranquility set in. And overall, accidents were few, the tally coming to one thumb in a pat of butter; one waterfall of salad that ended up on my pants; one forkful of risotto colliding with a shoulder and, just when we thought we were out of the woods, one broken wineglass. Also, one of my dining companions later revealed that after a spill with a piece of octopus he proceeded to strip off his t-shirt and spend the rest of the meal shirtless, which must be some sort of health violation.”

I’m sure it is. Montreal has a wild reputation and I think I would be a bit nervous wondering what other people were up to….

The whole Slutski review.

I believe you also have to love the element of surprise to visit O.Noir. In scanning their website I notice that they offer a ‘surprise entrée’, and that they have live music every Sunday-a band of blind musicians and a ‘mystery singer’. No kidding? Are we to know anything at all? Something makes me wonder if we’re allowing the wool to be pulled over our eyes.

Feel free to report back to me if you decide to try it out. I get the feeling that someone lost a bet or else is trying to win one with this restaurant and I’ll be curious to see how long it lasts.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Odds and Ends

Quebec Crab-Apples or Pommettes

If you are wondering what to do with all those crab-apples you impulsively bought because they looked so pretty, here’s an idea: make crab-apple liqueur.

Stuff a gallon jar with as many (washed) crab-apples as you can, but leaving an inch or so at the mouth. Pour in 1 cup sugar. Now top it up with your preferred brand of vodka until the apples are covered. Close tightly and place in a dark, cool place for about 3 months (think of is as a nice post-holiday stash), and remember to turn it on it’s top every few weeks to mix it up a little. After about 6 months, strain out the apples (keeping one or two to throw back in to look pretty) and strain through a cheesecloth. Return to the jar and voila! you will have a beautiful clear, rose coloured liqueur with a lovely mild apple flavour. I like to drink it chilled as an aperitif, but it’s also great shaken up in fruit cocktails.

Note: I’ve seen recipes where a lot more sugar is added. Up to four times what I have here. This is entirely up to your discretion.

Noah noshing on some green stuff

Broccoli is one thing that is not ending up under the highchair these days. This little guy loves broccoli and zucchini and when I do a stir-fry for dinner, he’ll clean us out. He sits there and is like “Hand it over, Mama” and then, in a twinkle, it’s in the mouth, chewed up just enough to be able to swallowed with a bit of effort, and he’s asking for more. This lack of attention in the chewing department makes for some pretty interesting posts in my parallel blog: “What’s in Noah’s Diaper?”.
Just kidding, there is no such blog…but I bet Zaak wishes there was.

Noah’s old eating habits are much improved (he hasn’t gagged and vomited in a very long time), but he has developed some alarming new ones which leave my hubby and I scratching our heads and pointing at each other.

“No, YOU. He got it from YOU.”

I am not going to give details, but just let you wait until you have kids and then you can make these startling discoveries on your own.

Shut up, your kids will NOT be perfect!

I’ll stop hugely boring you now-if you are even still reading.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Maple Syrup and Butter

If you’re looking for an easy vegetable to go along with tonight’s dinner, look no further than this pretty and simple dish.

Wash a small acorn squash and slice in two. Be careful, these are one of the hardest winter squashes. Scoop out the seeds and place, cut side down on tin foil. Wrap up each half tightly in foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast in 375F oven until it feels soft when you poke it. About 1 ½ hours. While still hot, open up the foil and peel back the skin. It should come off easily and in big pieces. Transfer squash to a plate, sprinkle with sea salt, dot with butter and drizzle with maple syrup. Enjoy!


Birthday Kudos

It seems like a lot of people were born in early November and I would like to wish a Big Fat Happy Birthday to the following friends and family who celebrated this weekend and tomorrow:
Dorothy, Richard, Austin, Elizabeth, Rose, Jeremy, Michelle, Katelyn, Katrina, Katrine, Kelly, and our nextdoor neighbor who had a "Bonne Fete" sign on his door! You all rock!
I'm sorry for the birthday parties we missed, but we were pretty maxed out at three, and Noah will be taking a few days to recover from all the excitement. =)


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