Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas from Under the High Chair

Dear Readers,

Merry Christmas one and all from us here at Under the High Chair in snowy Montreal! May your holidays be filled with love, laughter, hope, and of course, plenty of great food.
We feel very blessed this holidays season and are thankful for so many things, snow included!

Best wishes to all of you and your loved ones.


Friday, December 21, 2007

More Cookies: Espresso Biscotti & Cranberry Shortbread

We haven’t had enough of cookies around here; we’re still rolling, slicing and pressing them out by the dozens. Nearly all the goods from the cookie swap are gone and we found it necessary to replenish the stores. By we, I mean Noah and I, as he has been my sous chef for all of this. His little red apron is caked with flour, his hair has dried bits of dough in it, and goodness knows how much dough he has consumed, but by golly, this two-year-old knows the difference between whole cloves and whole allspice, can count out ten eggs lickety split, and sift flour with a flick of his wrist. What a pro! He can say ‘ginger’ and ‘bread’ and ‘men’ all on their own but when challenged to say ‘gingerbread men’ all together, he adds about four extra syllables and it comes out a bit garbled.

Two recipes that we love are cranberry shortbread and espresso biscotti. Both are variations on classic cookies and wonderful in their own way: one very delicate, perfect with a cup of tea, and the other much more sturdy and needing of a steaming latte for dunking.
On another note, Under the High Chair is the proud recipient of an award! The enthusiastic and talented David, over at Book the Cook in the UK has awarded my Pumpkin Spice Bread Pudding with Rummy Raisins a “Cerys the Well Done Angel Award”, as it more than met with the approval of his adorable daughter, Cery. Thank you, David and Cery!
Also, speaking of awards, congratulations to all the winners of the 2007 Food Blog Awards!

Cranberry Shortbread

1/4 Cup Corn Starch
1/4 Cup Confectionery Sugar
1 Cup Unbleached, All Purpose Flour
3/4 Cup Butter
1/4 Cup Dried Cranberries
2 Tablespoons Sanding Sugar

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Sift flour, corn starch and confectionery sugar into a large bowl.
Measure and chop the cranberries with one tablespoon of the sanding sugar. (This helps keep them from sticking to everything and to candy them while they bake.)
Add the butter and cranberries.
Stir the mixture, using a wooden spoon, just until everything begins to come together in a soft dough.
Roll the dough with your hands into small balls.
Flatten the cookies with your palm or the bottom of a lightly flour-dusted glass.
Top with a sprinkling of the remaining sanding sugar.
Bake for approximately 10 - 12 minutes, watching carefully towards the end. The cookies should be removed just as the edges begin to turn a light golden.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Espresso Biscotti

3 tablespoons coffee beans
2 tablespoons strong coffee
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
dash of salt
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325F. Grind coffee beans finely.
Place in a small bowl and mix with coffee. Set aside. Cream together butter and sugar.
Beat in eggs and coffee mixture. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add to creamed mixture. Fold in chocolate chips if desired.
Pat dough into two equal logs on a floured baking sheet.
Should be about 14 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide.
Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly brown.
Transfer from sheet to rack and let cool for 5 minutes.
Cut diagonally at a 45 degree angle into 1/2 inch thick pieces. Place slices upright on sheet and return to oven for 10 minutes longer or until the desired crispness is reached. Let cool on baking rack and store in airtight container.

For variations substitute toasted almonds for chocolate chips or dip in chocolate.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Weathering Out a Storm with Peanut Butter Fudge

A major storm blew in our way yesterday: a foot of snowfall combined with high winds made for a twenty-four hour blizzard. Our concert was postponed, people holed up in their houses, our evening guests canceled, and the city basically hunkered down to weather it out.

A few hours before the snow was about to fly, I went out to buy staples. The grocery store parking lot was packed bumper to bumper as folks hastened to stock up on staples before they got snowed in. While most people were doubling up on milk, diapers, bread and maybe wine to last them through the storm, not I. I bought a jar of marshmallow fluff and a jar of smooth Skippy peanut butter.

I had seen this recipe for Killer Crack Peanut Butter Fudge on the ever inspiring blog Cookie Baker Lynn and knew this is what I would be needing to make it through the storm. Lynn calls her fudge the crack cocaine of the candy world, so addictive you can not have just one piece, and warns that after consuming the whole pan (naturally the only choice here) you may find yourself huddled under the table, holding your sore tummy and whimpering for more.

This sounded like my kind of fun and even before I had finished reading Lynn's post (aptly named Warning: Hazardous Material) I was reading for a pen to make a shopping list. No, you're right, I don't keep marshmallow fluff on hand.

This fudge turned out to be every bit as good (or 'bad', depending on your view of drugs) as Lynn had threatened. The texture alone is so amazing, you never want to be without a piece melting on your tongue. If you are a peanut butter fanatic, you'll want to print up this recipe and invest in some marshmallow fluff shares.

This morning the sun shone brightly, glistening off the three foot drifts of snow. Luckily, Noah and I were able to dig out his sled from where it was nearly buried and go for a brisk walk.
Hey, I have to work off that fudge somehow!!

Killer Crack Peanut Butter Fudge (from Lynn)

3 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 cup peanut butter
1- 7 oz jar marshmallow creme
1 tsp vanilla

Combine sugar, butter, and evaporated milk in a heavy 2-1/2 quart saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Continue boiling over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Remove from heat. Add the peanut butter, stirring until melted.. Add marshmallow creme and vanilla; beat until well blended.

Spread in a buttered 9 x 13 x 2 - inch pan. Cool at room temperature, then refrigerate. Cut into squares when firm.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Winter Salad of Russet Apple, Pomegranate and Pecans

After all these sweets my teeth are starting to ache a little. Snow is piled up two feet deep over the garden and I am starting to crave something fresh. A deep rummage in my fridge unveils the ingredients for this ideal winter salad. Bright and pretty, crunchy and juicy, it satisfies that need for something healthy and light amidst all the rich holiday goodies. As a nice bonus, the colors are rather festive too!
(An alternate name could be 'Play-Date Salad' as it is a perfect salad to whip up for those Mama's looking for a light lunch. We sure enjoyed ours.)

Things have been busy here at Under the High Chair:
Extensive baking is still underway, with pretty packages of it being shipped to loved ones in New Mexico and British Columbia. A bake sale fund raiser I organized raised over $500 that will be turned into food baskets for needy family in the neighborhood. After three months of practice, our Christmas cantata gives two performances this weekend and we are looking forward to having that over and done with! (I am trying to remind myself why on earth I agreed to do a solo...) Gifts are slowly being made or purchased and wrapped up prettily. Grocery lists are getting longer and longer as menus are being formed and reworked.
I am thrilled that we have mounds of fluffy white snow and that I can organize a tobogganing party, just like my family hosted every year when I was growing up. Those are some Christmas memories worth repeating. Chili and Cornbread, anyone?

Here's wishing you all an enjoyable and relaxed week-end leading into the last few days before Christmas!

Winter Salad of Russet Apple, Pomegranate, and Pecans

1 russet apple, julienne
1 pomegranate, seeds removed
1 stalk firm celery, julienne
¼ cup pecans, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
1 shallot, julienne
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons grape seed oil
Salt and pepper

In a very small saucepan, bring apple cider vinegar to a boil. Pour over julienne shallots and allow to cool to room temperature. Mix in grape seed oil and set aside.

Reserve about ¼ cup of the pomegranate seeds and crush the rest to extract the juice. Pour off the juice into a wide, shallow bowl and place in microwave. Microwave on high for three minutes, then scrape down sides with a spatula a stir slightly. Juice will be reducing and thickening. Microwave, one minute at a time, checking consistency between each minute until juice is consistency of maple syrup. Cool.

In a bowl, toss together the apple, reserved pomegranate seeds, celery, and shallots and some of the apple cider marinade. Season with salt and pepper and add more vinaigrette if needed. Add pecans, toss and mound onto a plate. Drizzle with pomegranate reduction and serve.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Foodie Facebook: Amanda

This edition of Foodie Facebook is with the delightful Amanda of Little Foodies.
If you haven't checked out her cheery, young-at-heart food blog, get cracking!

Thank you, Amanda. I'm with you on drinking more water. Why is it so hard?!

Name: Amanda
Place: South East, England
Occupation: Brain!

  1. What is your earliest childhood food memory?
    Mushrooms in gravy from the Chinese Take Away; it seemed very exotic then. Chips in proper newspaper (no thoughts to hygiene in those days) from the fish and chip shop with scratchings as a treat. Scratchings were the small bits of batter that had fallen off the fish into the fryer.

  1. What did you eat today?
    No breakfast. I don't like eating so early (please don't tell my children, I want them to grow up loving breakfast). Brunch is a much more civil time to eat.
    Lunch: a soft tortilla wrap with hummus, grated carrot and spinach.
    Dinner: Homemade chicken curry, using leftover chicken from Sunday.

  1. What will your kids never be allowed to eat?
    Tricky one. I don't think I'd stop them from trying much. Only because I think you can make some foods more appealing if you say they're not allowed to eat it. I don't want them eating overly processed food and I'm quite pleased that both of them would choose a restaurant over Macdonald's. If you'd asked me a few years ago I'd have reeled off a list.

  1. What do you always have on hand in your fridge?
    In no particular order: Cheddar Cheese, Parmesan, Milk, Unsalted Butter, Salted Butter, Organic Eggs, Wine, Cucumbers, Carrots and various Condiments.

  1. What is your beverage of choice?
    Oloroso Sherry, or a cold glass of Cava, or a really good cup of coffee with hot milk. Which reminds me, I must start drinking more water!

  1. If you could have dinner with anyone in the history of man, who would it be?
    My Nana, with my husband and children who she never got to meet. If she had got to meet them then, Roald Dahl? or Stephen Fry? or maybe some Royalty, but only after they'd had a few to loosen up a bit.

  1. OK, it's your last meal ever, what do you have?
    So difficult, if I really could have anything, then I'd like lots of little dishes from around the world, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Indian, British. I'd like there to be some dim sum and definitely some trifle, but it would have to taste just like the ones served every New Years Day while I was growing up. I can never recreate that same taste. There was obviously some secret ingredient.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Cookies and Company

If your December "To Do" list is anything like mine, you’ll find yourself scratching your head and wondering how you can possibly get everything done in the allotted time. Everywhere you look there is a countdown to Christmas, taunting you and reminding you that you are going to have to exercise some super powers to wrap up your list.

However, readers of Under the High Chair may remember last year’s cookie swap, which presented my sweet-toothed friends a fun, practical, and time-saving way to shorten their long list of baking and freezing by coming together to exchange baked goods. Just prepare one kind of cookie in massive quantities, bring them to the swap, and leave with an beautiful assortment of holiday baking worthy of your finest tea tray, like this GQ gingerbread man.

Last year's exchange was such a hit, we knew we had to do it again; this year the bar was set even higher...

Hardly anyone declined the invitation and on a chilly Sunday afternoon, cars lined the snowbanks along our quiet street and ten girls (not to mention a journalist and photographer from Montreal's major English newspaper, but we'll get to that) swarmed my kitchen, burdening my kitchen table with armloads of cookies. We did a rough estimate and figured we probably had about 1200 cookies and squares: enough to make the pulse quicken of any foodie or sweet-lover.

The menu was indeed impressive:

Grandma Fisher's Sandwich Cookies
Cranberry, Pecan and White Chocolate Cookies
Marshmallow Squares
Mayan Chocolate Sparklers

Raspberry Swirls
Butter Pecan Cookies
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Aimee's Spice Snaps
Noir Bars
Double Chocolate Cookies
Gingerbread Men

While we valiantly did our best to sample all the cookies brought (only a few were successful), the charming Susan Schwartz from the Montreal Gazette quizzed us on the recipe to a winning cookie swap, and a bona fide photographer (not a wannabe like me) documented the event and the pretty cookies.

You can read her kind and enjoyable article here and file away the 6 or 7 cookie recipes included on the same page for your future use. They are all tried and true and worthy of your holiday baking repertoire.

Little Noah's picture made it into the newspaper, and he looks quite adorable, if a little sleepy, as he had just woken up from his afternoon nap.
If only we could all wake up more often to a warm home brimming with fresh, homemade cookies, what a happier place the world would be!

Pecan Butter Cookies
Makes about 50 cookies

This recipe comes from my friend Liz Leon, a Montreal pastry chef and super mom of twin toddlers.

1 cup (250 mL) pecans
1/2 pound (225 g) butter, softened
Pinch salt
1/2 cup (125 mL) icing sugar
1 teaspoon (5mL) vanilla
2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour

Toast pecans carefully in a non-stick frying pan, tossing constantly so they don’t burn. Cool completely, then finely chop.
Beat together butter, salt, icing sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Add the pecans gradually. Then sift the flour over the mixture and stir to blend well together. Roll into 1-inch (2.5 cm) balls and place them on a cookie sheet about an inch (2.5 cm) apart. Press a half a pecan into the center a bit with thumb to flatten a bit.
Bake at 350F (180 C) for 12 to 15 minutes.
Once cookies are out of the oven, let them stand until they become slightly firm. Then transfer cookies to racks to cool completely. Coat with icing sugar.

Friday, November 30, 2007

"Who Stole My Stollen?"

Say the word "Christmas" and the word "tradition" is usually not far behind, especially where food is concerned. Around the holiday season, families tend to lean heavily on customs passed down from generation to generation and you will find most are reluctant to change. My mother-in-law has made blueberry pancakes on Christmas morning for the last 22 years and when the 25th rolls around in just a few weeks, she'll be serving them to her grandson for the first time. (Thank goodness Noah adores pancakes!)

Without even noticing, over the last six years that I have been married, I have slipped into a pattern of holiday baking. While some may label these food habits as my own traditions beginning to emerge for my sweet little family, I see them more as a rut I have fallen into.

There is usually a traditional English trifle, dozens of dark chocolate truffles, Russian Tea Cakes and Gingerbread men for nibbling, shortbread in abundance, and plenty of mincemeat tarts. There is nothing wrong with any of those, but here I am almost 30, asking myself:

"Why am I only making fruitcake now? Why have I never baked a traditional German Stollen or an Italian Panettone? How come I've never attempted a steamed Christmas pudding?"

Heck, I haven't even perfected a Buche de Noel. Shame on me.
Why? Because I'm too busy making my standard fare every holiday season to experiment with something new.

Now, this is quite the 'Ah ha!' moment for me, because every other month of the year I am all about trying new things, so what's been happening around the 25th of December?

I am not big on traditions and never have been. I like surprises, spontaneity and change. Most people can't get over the fact that we don't have a Christmas tree (GASP!!), but that is just one of the Christmas traditions my hubby and I balk at. (OK, it mostly stems from my tree-hugging/save-the-planet upbringing, but don't get me started going down that road...and Santa Claus? Pul-leeze. )

I realize I am on thin ice here so I will lighten up and tell you where I am going with all of this! Starting with my first attempt at Tourtiere last December, and continuing with fruitcake this year, I am starting to branch out with my Christmas cooking and baking and avoid the tendency to always make the same things. It's just something I have to do. I am not belittling your traditions, your family recipes or your blueberry pancakes; I deeply respect all of those dear-to-your-heart patterns, but in my kitchen I have to mix things up a little!

And so I present my Christmas Stollen! Now I have never even eaten Stollen, not to mention made it, but it sounded to good not to try, and so we welcomed a little bit of Germany came into our home as a result. Stollen is a yeast-based fruitcake, full of fruit and nuts, flavored with spices and rum like a classic fruitcake, but more like a challah or a brioche in texture. I didn't know where to start looking for a recipe, (no German relations here, unfortunately) so I used my trusty Joy of Cooking. I always find bread baking deeply satisfying and this stollen did not disappoint. It was SO good, we couldn't stop eating it.

Although I had enjoyed the better part of a loaf with my afternoon tea, when I toasted up a slab for my husband in the evening, I couldn't resist nabbing some off his plate when he wasn't looking. That prompted the "Hey, who stole my stollen?" quote from above, a line Danny was quite tickled with and giggled over for the rest of the night.

So does this mean Christmas Around the World for Under the High Chair? I don't know yet, we'll have to wait and see. It would make me proud if my kids grew up not expecting a certain line-up of dishes around the holidays, but rather were open to other cultural favorites like Paella, Cougnou, Nougat glacé, or Tamales.

If you're in the mood to try something new, this stollen is a great place to start. Just don't turn your back on it--it may disappear!

Christmas Stollen

(Adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

Have all ingredients at room temperature.

6-8 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon yeast
1 ½ cups milk, scalded and cooled to 110F
¼ cup dried cherries
¾ cup golden raisins
¾ cup currants
1 ½ cup almonds, chopped
½ cup chopped candied citrus peel
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups butter, plus extra for brushing loaves
3 eggs
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons rum

In a large bowl, combine warm milk and yeast. Allow to sit 10 minutes until yeast is dissolved. Add 1 cup of the sifted flour and mix to form a sponge. Let sit in a warm place until doubled.

Meanwhile, combine cherries, raisins, almonds and citrus peel. Sprinkle a little of the sifted flour over and combine. Set aside.

When sponge has sufficiently rested, place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat well. Beat in sugar and blend until light and creamy. Add eggs one at a time, followed by the salt, lemon rind and rum. Mix well.
Mix in the fruit and nuts. Add all the sponge and the remaining flour. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if too sticky.

Cover dough with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.

To shape dough, toss it onto a floured board and divide in two. Pat dough into a rough oval and fold over one third of the dough lengthwise onto the other two thirds. Repeat with remaining dough. Place on baking sheet -one loaf per sheet- and brush with butter. Allow to rise again until almost doubled in bulk.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Bake loaves for about 40 minutes until they are a dark golden brown.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Fruitcake: Part II

Wednesday is Fruitcake Day here at Under the High Chair since it is the day I set aside time to lovingly tend to my fruitcakes. I carefully unwrap my Figgy Christmas Fruit Rolls from their parchment paper swaddling and brush them with brandy; the smell of dark chocolate, figs and spices almost as intoxicating as the fumes from the brandy. I haven't had alcohol for about six month's now, thanks to a dear baby on the way, and I am feeling lightheaded just getting a whiff of the stuff!

After the rolls are taken care of, I crack open a bottle of rum and unwrap my other, more traditional, fruitcake from it's cheesecloth. It has gotten all soft and moist in the last three weeks and I am salivating in anticipation of how good it will be by Christmas.

Then I remember, I haven't given out the recipe for this fruitcake yet! Oops.

Here is a photo of the cake just out of the oven - a baby, if you will. It had yet to mature into an adult.

I love what goes into this fruitcake. Not the usual load of maraschino cherries (which I loathe) and candied fruit mix, but a decadent concoction of whole Brazil nuts, dried cherries, and apricots. Lightly flavored with vanilla and rum, this cake perfumes your whole house during it's rather long baking period. Like most traditional fruitcakes, it is then brushed with rum, wrapped up in muslin or cheesecloth and hidden away for a month, only coming out once in a while to be doused with rum again. Let me tell you, it is very hard to resist sneaking a little taste during those weekly rituals.

I am sure it's going to be fantastic and it's not too late if you still want to have a fruitcake ready for the holidays. This cake takes about a month of aging, so get started on it today!

Traditional Fruitcake
(Adapted from Martha Stewart's Backhouse Family Fruitcake)
Makes 1 eight-inch cake

1 ½ sticks (1 cup plus 2T) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
½ cup raisins
½ cup dried pineapple, chopped into ½ inch pieces
½ cup apricots, chopped
1 cup dates, pitted and chopped
½ cup dried cherries
¾ cup whole blanched almonds
1 ½ cups whole Brazil nuts
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cake flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup light-brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons rum, plus more for dousing

Heat oven to 300F. Brush an eight-inch spring-form pan with butter. Line bottom and sides with parchment; brush parchment with butter.

Combine fruits and nuts in a bowl and set aside. Sift the flours, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed; add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Add vanilla and rum.

In two additions, add dry ingredients to butter. Scrape down sides of bowl between additions. Fold in fruit and nuts. Pour batter into pan. Bake until golden and set, about 2 1/2 hours. Cover with foil if it colours too much.

Cool on wire rack. Remove from pan; discard parchment. Wrap in cheesecloth or muslin. Brush all over with ¼ cup rum. Store in a cool, dry place; douse with ¼ cup rum weekly for at least 1 month before serving.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Warm Gingerbread with Cortland Applesauce and Cream

The annoying thing about living in a post-renovated home is that you can never find anything. It's not like after a move where you know you'll eventually unpack a box and find what it is you are looking for; it is much more uncertain than that. In the pre-renovation haste, I was just stashing stuff anywhere and everywhere and now I am suffering the consequences.
Please, if anyone finds my Diana Krall Christmas CD, hand it over. I'd like to be listening to it since we seem to be hurling toward Christmas at a breakneck pace.

I always associate this gingerbread recipe with Christmas, although I am not sure why. I can't for the life of me remember any particular incident that would connect the two together, yet, when I dusted off my Kitchen Aid and started mixing, I said to myself "I guess I'm starting my holiday baking".

I hope I am not the only person who starts baking a good month early. I tell myself that with a enthusiastic toddler to keep my busy and a baby on the way, I have to be organized and I am--in the kitchen anyway. As for the rest of the house? Forget it!
Where IS that dang CD?

Merci to my MIL for this recipe. I believe she got it from her mother and although we know it is called 'Prize Gingerbread', we have no insight into just what kind of prize this cake earned...
I think as far as gingerbread goes, this one is about as good as they get. Moist, flavorful, fragrant, and a lovely dark color from a whole cup of molasses.
Cortland apples are hard to pass up in the market these days, with their blushing bride coloring and sweet fragrance. They make the most delicate-of-pink applesauce that is a must with this gingerbread; however, if you don't have any apples, a drizzle of lemon icing would be delightful too, and whipped cream is essential.
There you have it! Your dessert for the week.

Prize Gingerbread

2 ½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar

1 cup molasses
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs, well beaten

Preheat oven to 325F

Butter a 9x13 cake pan or two loaf pans and line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment.

Combine flour, baking powder, and ginger together and set aside.

Cream shortening and brown sugar until fluffy, then add molasses, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Mix well. Add baking soda to boiling water and mix into molasses mixture. Fold in reserved flour mixture and combine. Add beaten eggs and mix well.

Pour into pan(s) and bake about 50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Serve warm.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Russet Apple and Gouda Grilled Cheese

Dust lies on my Kitchen Aid as thick as a dredging of flour. It may look like finely ground buckwheat, but it's actually micro sawdust from the home renovations we are undertaking this month. It's during grueling, exhausting, yet rewarding times like these when you simply don't attempt to cook. When the living room furniture is piled up in your kitchen, making it impossible to move, you just have to give up, drop into an over sized armchair, prop your feet up on the oven door and think about what to defrost for dinner.

Fortunately, I have a plethora of meals too choose from as I usually prepare extra when I am cooking a freezer friendly meal and stash it away for such times as these. Chicken curry, cabbage rolls, lasagna--we haven't been going hungry, despite the barricade in front of the fridge door.

Lunch is another story. Again, a girl's gotta eat and there's no time or space for fuss, so I've been working my way through a loaf of miche blanche, a huge wedge of Gouda, and a pile of Russets, my favorite munching apple. These ingredients come together to make a very satisfying sandwich-Noah even agrees.
Hmm, then again, anything with apple seems to agree with him, especially if it's just that: an apple, clutched tightly in his little hand, as he wanders around from room to room, wondering when his house will be back to normal!

This sandwich is yet another stopover along the comfort food journey that I am taking this fall.
With a dab of old style apple mustard, it's impossible to resist, and who would want to? With a combination like this still warm in my belly,and my fingers still slightly greasy, the dust doesn't look so bad.
And that says a lot.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

WFD? Balinese Shrimp & Corn Beignets

It’s here! The much-anticipated cookbook: La Cuisine et le Gout des Épices! At a time when there are so many useless, fluffy cookbooks out there with pretty pictures, yet little content, there comes along a cookbook you can really sink your teeth into from Philippe de Vienne, local spice guru, chef extraordinaire, and my old boss. (Click here to see the insane menu from the last party we did together)

This cookbook gives you more than just something to nibble on, it’s like sitting down to a full five-course meal. It’s a literal spice bible that features much more then original recipes from the four corners of the world, but also a beautiful photo glossary of spices, an insightful look into the role spices play in the kitchen, and a few amusing anecdotes tucked here and there from the de Vienne’s extensive travels.

I am so excited to get my hand on so many of these recipes that I remember eating and serving when I catered for the de Viennes. Recipes such as Cari de noix de cajou (Cashew Curry), Tarte de figues au laurier (Fig Tart with Bay Leaves), Hummus chaud (Hot Hummus) and Poulet roti au berbere (Berbere Chicken).

The first recipe I chose to make was the amazing Beignets de mais et de crevettes that Philippe created after a trip to Bali. We used to serve them as bite size canapés for cocktails we catered, but Danny and I enjoyed them shaped slightly larger and served with a big salad for our dinner. With fresh pineapple spears for dessert, who needs to travel to Indonesia?!

There is a lovely blend of spices that go into these fritters, making them go from ho-hum to sensational and isn't that the beauty of spices? So much flavor for so little effort.
Here they are pictured below, clockwise from the nutmeg:
Thai Chili, Coriander, Cardamom, White Pepper, Cumin and a whole Nutmeg.
It is always best to buy your spices whole and then grind them yourself. I use an old Braun coffee grinder and that works well.

There is a note in the cookbook that says this blend of spices is wonderful with other corn dishes, such as a soufflé, soup or gratin. I am getting some good ideas already!

Shrimp and Corn Beignets

3 cups fresh kernel corn or frozen corn, thawed
5 green onions, sliced

1 bunch fresh basil, chopped

3 branches of coriander, chopped
1 cup shrimp

1 egg

1-2 cups all purpose flour
Vegetable oil

Ground Spices:

4 dried Thai peppers or Cayenne peppers
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
3 cardamom pods, seeds removed and ground
¼ nutmeg seed, grated

Place corn, green onions, basil, coriander, shrimp, salt and egg in a bowl. Add spices and mix well. Add one cup of flour, mix well. Slowly add more flour to the mix until the batter reaches a consistency of muffin batter. Heat a large pot with 1/8th inch of oil in the bottom. When the oil is hot, put a large spoonful of batter in the pot. With the help of the spoon, form a galette of ½-inch thick and 3-4 inches in diameter. Form other galettes. Cook over medium heat just until the bottoms are well colored (4-5minutes). Turn and cook the other side until golden. Repeat with the rest of the batter, and add, if needed, more oil in the pot. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Makes about 24 beignets

Ed Note: If you are interested in purchasing this cookbook, I believe it is available at Librairie Gourmand at the Jean Talon Market, or you can find it online here. For more information on Philippe and Ethné de Vienne or their products, visit their website.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Psst! It's Fruitcake Time!

Around here the Christmas parties get started as early as the first weekend in December. I always like to have baking on hand - like homemade fruitcake - to serve to guests in my home or to bring as a gift for the hostess if we are going out. Consider this a friendly reminder to get your fruitcake started! A month is the minimum recommended time for allowing it to age, which means it's time to start cracking nuts and chopping fruit.

I am no fruitcake expert (have you ever seen it on a menu?). I have no family recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation, no great culinary mentor who whispered me his secret recipe on his deathbed, just my own curiosity and eagerness to try a few recipes until I find one I like. Maybe once I do, I will play around with it until I am truly happy with it and then I will have a recipe to pass on to my children. (Note: if you have a truly stellar recipe, feel free to send it my way via email)

I chose this first recipe (Yes, first! I indeed have not one but two beautiful fruitcakes fermenting in the deep, dark recesses of my pantry) because I love dried figs and figs make up the sticky base of this interesting no-bake fruitcake. I can not vouch for it's taste yet, but I will be sure to keep you posted when I tuck into it come mid-December. Of course, by then it will be too late for you to whip up a batch for Christmas Eve, but if it really looks too good to be missed, and your holiday won't be merry without some, drop me a note and I'll ship some out to you. The recipe makes a very large batch!

If the figs don't do it for you, consider a few of the other ingredients rolled into this mosaic confection: Dark chocolate, toasted walnuts, golden raisins and pungent spices, all doused with a hefty shot of brandy, swaddled in cheesecloth and hidden away so the flavors meld.

I am hoping to convert some fruitcake atheists and make them true believers with this figgy concoction. We'll see.
At the very least, maybe I can help polish up the fruitcake's sadly tarnish reputation.

Figgy Christmas Fruit Roll

(adapted from MS Living Holiday 2000)

12 oz (3 ¼ cups) walnuts
4 ½ lbs (about 10 cups) dried figs
3 oz (½) cup currants
4 oz (3/4 cup) golden raisins
6 oz (1 cup) candied citrus peel, roughly chopped
7 oz buttersweet chocolate, chopped into ¼ inch pieces
5oz (1 cup) pistachios
6 Tablespoons brandy, plus more for sprinkling
2 tablespoons anise flavouring
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Confectioners sugar, for dusting
Cheesecloth for wrapping
Parchment paper
Kitchen twine

Heat oven to 350F. Spread walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast in oven until walnuts are just fragrant, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely. Roughly chop walnuts.

Working is small batches, place figs in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely minced. Transfer figs to a large bowl and add walnuts. Add currants, golden raisins, citrus peel, chocolate, pistachios, 2 tablespoons brandy, anise flavoring, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and salt, and mix well, using your hands works best!

Divide mixture into four equal parts. Dust a clean work surface with confectioner’s sugar and dust your hands as well. Gently mold each part into a log and then roll to smooth edges. You should have a cylindrical log about 2 inches in diameter and 12 inches long.

Gently brush off excess sugar with a pastry brush and place on a rectangle of cheesecloth large enough to wrap the log around. Brush each log with 1 tablespoon brandy, wrap well in cheesecloth and tie ends with kitchen twine. Roll logs in parchment, sealing the ends again with twine and place in a cool dark place.
Once a week for at least a month, remove parchment and sprinkle cheesecloth with brandy. Wrap well in parchment and store until ready to serve. Slice rolls into thin rounds to serve.

Makes four 12 inch rolls.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Pumpkin Spice Bread Pudding with Rummy Raisins

What's with all the pumpkin? you are probably asking right now, but don't tell me you can resist their rock-bottom prices, rich fall colors, or a chance to make something other than pie either! I can't promise this will be the last recipe...

I have had all these ideas in my head about building a dessert around a classic bread pudding made with a fluffy brioche, adding pumpkin puree for that seasonal flavor, plenty of spices to complement the tame pumpkin, a creme caramel-type base for added stickiness, and rum-soaked raisins thrown in just because. Sound good? It was!

(I had also though about making it with heavy cream for a crème brulée feel, but decided to add whipping cream as a garnish instead.)
The bread pudding turned out well, and as good as it was straight from the oven, I thought it was even better the next day when I warmed it up for lunch. Maybe all those flavors needed a chance to meld, or maybe I was just really, really hungry and anything sweet would have tasted like heaven. (That happens a lot)

While the bread pudding baked, the smells coming from the oven that perfumed the whole house were absolutely amazing--forget scented candles. If my windows had been opened we would have had people lining up outside the front door. Roasted pumpkin, freshly ground spices and Jamaican rum all contributed to having our home smell better than any Thanksgiving dinner you have ever sat down to enjoy.

Hmmm..., comfort food seems to be in the spotlight on Under the High Chair these days. With rice pudding a few days ago and a bread pudding today, what's next? Pease pudding? I think I'll leave that one up to the British - like Amanda at Little Foodies who makes her pease pudding with ham. Delicious!

And now for the recipe.

Pumpkin Spice Bread Pudding with Rummy Raisins

Unsalted butter, room temperature, for ramekins
½ cup sugar, for dissolving

1 cup golden raisins

1/3 cup rum

1/3 cup hot water
1 1/12 cups firm pumpkin puree

4 large eggs
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
½ cups milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ inch fresh cinnamon stick
Three whole allspice
½ tonka bean
Pinch of salt
One 12-ounce, day-old loaf brioche cut into 3/4-inch cubes
(or desired size)
Whipping cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter six 10-ounce ramekins or custard cups.

In a small, heavy bottomed pot, carefully dissolve 1/2 cup sugar and cook until golden, stirring occasionally. Divide evenly among ramekins to coat the bottom and allow to cool.

Place raisins in a small bowl, and cover with rum and the hot water; let soak until plump, about 20 minutes. Drain; set aside.

Combine cinnamon stick, whole allspice and tonka bean in a spice grinder and grind until fine.

In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, eggs, granulated sugar, milk, ginger, vanilla, spice mix, and salt. Toss in the bread cubes, and stir gently to evenly coat; let stand a few minutes.

Fold in the raisins. Divide among prepared dishes, pressing down slightly to make level.
Bake until custard is set in the center and top is golden, about 40 minutes.
If bread browns too quickly, cover loosely with aluminum foil.

Remove from oven and run a sharp knife around the edges; let cool slightly.
To serve, un-mold onto plates; serve with sweetened whipped cream. It is entirely up to you if you wish to spike the cream or not!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

WFD? Pumpkin & Parmesan Ravioli with Rapini & Pine Nuts

Now that have I moved into the second trimester of this pregnancy, I can feel my energy creeping back. It feels good--maybe a little too good. Uh oh, do I really have this many things on the go?
As we speed toward the holidays and with the impending baby arriving soon after, it’s as if a fire has been lit under us to get some of the house projects wrapped up—I mean, started--which, as anyone who knows us can testify, means renovations.

So, let’s see. There is wall paper to strip, closets to build, flooring to lay and painting all around. I’ve also taken on a small, weekly catering contract that helps keep me even busier in the kitchen. All this on top of our usual active schedule makes for some long days.

I like to work, I really do, I don’t really know how to not be busy, but when my doctor is telling me I have low blood pressure and to slow down, I realize I have to try and not do quite so much.

That brings us to our recipe for tonight’s dinner. It involves a shortcut. Although I am not one to regularly open a can of soup or bake from a mix, I am not opposed to simplifying recipes or eliminating steps such as this one.
I have used dumpling skins on occasion to make ravioli or tortellini and find that they are a superb alternative to the time-consuming homemade pasta dough. I would love to haul out my pasta machine in the afternoon and spend an hour or so playing with dough, but I don't always have the time or energy. Although the taste of fresh pasta is hard to beat, these dumpling skins at least provide great texture and look pretty good too!

Pumpkin recipes are popping up all over the place and so I'll add my two cents with this ravioli recipe. The squashes are particularly beautiful this fall and if you live anywhere near a market, you should get out and enjoy the colours.

The bitter rapini is a perfect contrast to the rich filling of the ravioli and the pine nuts provide a needed crunch. Of course, no pasta is complete without some shavings of Parmesan!

This is a quick supper to put together. Have your partner toss a salad and let the kids grate the Parmesan. You can fill the ravioli while your water is coming to a boil and before you know it, dinner is on the table.

Pumpkin & Parmesan Ravioli with Rapini, Brown Butter and Pine Nuts
Serves 6

2 cups firm pumpkin puree
½ cup grated parmesan
1 egg yolk
¼ teaspoon white pepper, ground
1 teaspoon salt
1 pkg dumpling skins (available at most Asian grocers)
1 small bunch of rapini
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
¼ cup butter

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
In a small pan, melt butter and cook gently until it browns lightly. Set aside.
Trim rapini, removing tough stalks and keeping the heads. Blanch or sauté lightly, season ,and reserve for dish.

Prepare filling by combining pumpkin puree, Parmesan, egg yolk and seasoning. Have a small dish of water on hand. Place about a tablespoon of filling in the center of a dumpling skin. Dip your finger in the dish of water and run your finger around the edge of the skin to moisten. Top with another skin and press firmly around edges. Repeat with remaining filling and dumpling skins.

Drop into rapidly boiling water and boil for two minutes. Drain and toss with brown butter and warm rapini. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with pine nuts and parmesan. Serve at once.
Makes about 24 ravioli.


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