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.


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