Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Countdown to the Jam Swap!

Less than two weeks to go until my jam swap! There isn't much to prepare for, but I'm working on a surprise or two for you all; yes, even those of you who can only attend virtually.
Seems like not that along ago that I put out the invitation and now it's finally happening! I am really looking forward to this little event and meeting a few of my readers.

I had a great initial response; in fact, so many people said they would come that I started getting a little nervous: was I in over my head? But then the summer wore on, people got busy, and the emails started trickling in...cancellations. I had expected as much, though. Folks have good intentions and big plans, but sometimes life has a way of showing us we can't do everything!
So now with just days to go until the swap, it's crunch time and of course people are dropping like flies. I am not worried though, (I just had another person cancel as I am writing this) it's about quality, not quantity!!
I would have thought most everyone would have their canning all wrapped up by now, but I know of a few invitees that have every intention of tackling it this week! That's dedication for you!

I'll be contributing three kinds of fruit preserves: a Raspberry-Vanilla Bean Coulis, Spiced Golden Plum Jam, and Spiced Maple Apple Butter(pictured above). I'm all about the spices, as you can see!

Check back in a few weeks to get the full update from the swap and maybe you'll be inspired to host one in your area next year.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sugar High Friday: Tonka Bean Spiced Apple-Raspberry Cake

If you've ever had an apple cake, you'll probably agree that it just might be the second-most comforting, soul-satisfying cake out there. (Obviously chocolate cake takes first place, right?)
It works with tea or coffee, brunch or dessert, and can be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion. Apple cake stands alone; it requires nothing save perhaps a dusting of powdered sugar to spiffy it up, and doesn't rely on filling and frosting to meet its full potential.

Back in March when I was recovering at home from the birth of my second son, Mateo, my good friend and neighbor, Linda, brought over a box of home cooked food. There were at least three meals worth of hot dinners, warm artichoke dip with pita, a salad and her famous apple cake.
After the hospital food (which I barely survived), her cake tasted like the best thing I had ever eaten. I'll never forget standing in my kitchen with Danny, eating it from the pan and just looking at each other saying, "Everything is going to be OK now. We have this cake."
We could have brought home triplets, and I would have felt equipped.

There's a lot to be said for the benefits of good, home cooked food when you are emotionally and physically low on reserves. Remember that the next time a friend has a baby or an operation or something. Sure flowers or another baby blanket is a nice gesture, but how about a crock pot of Beef Bourguignon...and an apple cake.

I called Linda up a few months later and requested the recipe. She laughed and said it was a 'very popular' recipe and got a lot of reactions. I understood why.
Thanks Linda!

OK, so of course I changed a few things, but not much.
My raspberry bush was still yielding fruit when I made this cake, so I tossed in a few handfuls between the layers of batter along with the apples. The recipe originally called for a dusting of cinnamon at this point, but I reached for my microplane and grated Tonka bean over the fruit. You should always use a light hand when working with Tonka bean as ingesting too much of it can be a health hazard.

Tonka-Bean Spiced Apple-Raspberry Cake

(don't sweat it if you don't have tonka bean, just use a teaspoon of cinnamon instead)

1 cup sugar

3 eggs, room temperature

2/3 cup oil

3/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 ½ cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced thinly

3/4 cup fresh raspberries
1/4 tonka bean, grated superfine

Preheat oven to 350F.
Butter an 8 inch round cake tin and line with parchment. Beat eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in oil and almond extract. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Fold into egg mixture. Spread half of cake batter in tin. Cover with sliced apples and raspberries and sprinkle with tonka bean. Cover apples with the rest of the batter and bake for about 45 minutes.

This is my entry for October's Sugar High Friday event hosted by Anita over at Dessert First. Anita chose spices as her theme for this event and I originally didn't have anything to submit, but when I took my first bit of this cake and the tonka bean quietly, yet masterfully, stole the show away from the fruit, I knew I had nailed it!
And my love affair with the tonka bean continues...

Check out Anita's blog on October 31 for the entire SHF roundup.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thanksgiving Part 3: Dessert

Why is pie synonymous with Thanksgiving? I have yet to make that connection, but I've eaten pie every mid-October for as long as I can remember and I'm mighty thankful for that.
Perhaps it is because the holiday falls right in the middle of apple and pumpkin season and who wants to be baking anything else than gorgeous pies with that fresh, affordable produce?

This has been the most beautiful autumn I can remember. The weekends have been sunny and warm and we've been lucky enough to get out and do plenty of our favorite fall activities such as apple picking (twice!), pumpkin harvesting and getting lost in a corn labyrinth.

I made a lot of pies as a kid. My siblings and I would earn spare cash over the summer by holding a stall at the local farmers market. My mother would sell her bedding plants--fragrant herbs, perky tomatoes and broad-leafed cucumbers; my brother usually had to find a home for a litter of bunnies or young goat, but my older sister and I baked. Apple, strawberry and rhubarb pies, butter tarts, cinnamon buns, bagels and anything else we figured would sell. Those were some lucky customers we supplied; boy we should have charged double!

Those pie-making skills certainly rubbed off on my youngest sister, who brought this towering Spiced Apple Streusel Pie to our Thanksgiving dinner. While Miranda's true passion is for animals and animal care, she also knows her way around the kitchen, as this gravity-defying deep dish pie demonstrated. I mean, just look at those apples, they are stacked four high! No slouchy sunken apple pie for her.

I knew you had to have this recipe. I've already made it again since Thanksgiving and it's only been a week!

Spiced Streusel Apple Pie

for streusel
2/3 cup pecans

1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar

1/4 cup granola

1/4 cup all purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

5 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

for filling:
2 1/4 pounds Granny Smith apples (about 6 medium), peeled, quartered, cored, cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
1/2 cup sour cream

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 Flaky Pie Crust
, prepared and chilled


For streusel: Combine pecans, brown sugar, granola, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg in processor. Using on/off turns, process until nuts are finely chopped. Add butter and process until small moist clumps form. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

For filling: Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Toss apples with sour cream in large bowl to coat. Mix sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in small bowl. Sprinkle mixture over apples and toss to coat.
Transfer filling to prepared crust. Sprinkle streusel over apples, covering completely. Bake pie until apples are tender and streusel is golden, tenting pie with foil if streusel browns too quickly, about 1 hour. Transfer pie to wire rack and cool slightly. Serve pie slightly warm or at room temperature.

Keeping things seasonal, my awesome sister-in-law, Melanie, seduced us all with the other dessert of the night: Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Toffee Sauce.

I swear, we had this bread pudding and the apple pie keeping warm in the oven while we digested our dinner, and when I opened the oven door to take a peek it smelt so good my knees nearly buckled. The combination of apple and pumpkin with all the spices was just too good to be true. If only there was a scented candle that smelled so sweet!

Last fall I created the memorable Pumpkin Spice Bread Pudding with Rummy Raisins and Mel's version only confirmed that I love, love bread pudding. It's a great do-ahead dessert, the flavors only improve over time, and it's actually a brilliant dessert to bring to a pot-luck--nothing is going so squish, spill or crack.
I had suggested we whip some cream to top of both the pie and the pudding, but that was deemed to be 'overdoing it' and the idea was shot down. (I know, I know, who runs the kitchen anyway, right?)
However, it turns out the toffee sauce was really all I needed, and no one noticed that I splashed a little onto my pie as well.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Toffee Sauce

5 cups cubed day-old bread, (crusts left on or removed)
1/2 cup golden raisins

2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup canned pure pumpkin (no spices added)
1 1/2 cups half & half, milk, light cream or a combination thereof
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt

Toffee Sauce:
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F and place rack in the center of the oven. You will need an 8 inch square baking dish.

Custard: In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin, half and half, melted butter, sugar, vanilla, spices and salt. Add the bread cubes and raisins and toss to coat, making sure all the bread cubes are coated with the custard.

Transfer the bread pudding to the ungreased pan and bake for about 25 mins or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the bread pudding from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool slightly.
Served warm with toffee sauce.

Toffee Sauce:
Place the butter, sugar, and cream in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for about 3 minutes then remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. You can make this sauce in advance and simply reheat.

Makes an 8x8 inch bread pudding (serves 6 people)

I hope you've gotten some inspiration from this little Thanksgiving series. It's been fun!

Missed the rest of the meal?
Thanksgiving Part 1: Turkey & Co

Thanksgiving Part 2: Side Dishes

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Thanksgiving Part 2: Side Dishes

Guess what arrived in my mailbox yesterday? The Martha Stewart Living November issue with a big, fat, perfect turkey on the front and the title "Thanksgiving Solved!" We're a little ahead of the game here at UtHC.
I think my side dishes--not to mention my stuffing--were better than the ones she featured, but you can decide for yourself! Let's continue with our meal.

First up we have Maple Glazed Baby Carrots, harvested from the earth the same day they were served. They were so naturally sweet, the syrup was an unnecessary, but lavish touch. Wondering why they are a funny color? These are my purple carrots, which look almost black when they are cooked.

I've enjoyed brussel sprouts every time I've had them; I can't understand why they have such a bad rap. They brought such gorgeous color to our Thanksgiving table and were far more elegant than the common green bean (and don't even get me started on canned peas!). Just a head's up for the mama's reading: there were plenty of brussel sprouts rolling around under the high chair as these were not a hit with the little ones. More for us grown-ups, that's all!

Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Walnuts and Lemon

Brussel Sprouts

Walnuts, lightly toasted

Salt and Pepper

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Prepare brussel sprouts by peeling away one layer of outer leaves and scoring an 'X' in the bottoms, about 1/8th of an inch deep. Drop brussel sprouts into the boiling water and blanch for about 3 minutes, less if they are really small. A sharp knife poked into the center should still meet with some resistance. Remove from water with a slotted spoon and allow to drain on a tray. (This part can be done well before the meal)
Just before serving, melt butter in a sauce pan and toss in a pinch of the lemon zest. Add
brussel sprouts and pan roast until they start to get some golden patches. Some people prefer to slice them in half and brown the cut side generously. Mine were very small, about the size of a grape, so I chose to leave them whole. Toss in the rest of the lemon zest and a handful of walnuts. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
This dish held up well in a warm oven for about 15 minutes while I brought the rest of the meal together.

Lest I lead you to believe I cooked this entire Thanksgiving dinner on my own, let me assure you that I didn't! It was a joint effort, a well-executed pot-luck, I would go so far as to say, and that made all the difference. How else would I have been able to photograph every dish for your viewing pleasure?!
The best part of a pot-luck is getting to try new dishes that you may not necessarily have made on your own. My brother-in-law, Kevin (of the Egg McMuffin) contributed this amazing Butternut Squash Gratin, which was so light, it reminded me of a soufflé. I am not accustomed to cooking with Miracle Whip--I've never purchased it in my 30 years--but this gratin just might make me a believer. Maybe.
If you have family members who protest when you serve squash, try this dish and see if any one is complaining! I don't think you'll hear a peep.

Butternut Squash Casserole

3 cups chopped butternut squash

1 onion, chopped

2/3 cup sharp cheddar, shredded

15 crackers (Ritz like), crushed

1 egg, beaten

2 Tbsp. Miracle Whip dressing

Heat oven to 350F. Cook squash in boiling water in covered saucepan 15min. or until tender. Rinse under cold water; drain.
Mix squash and remaining ingredients; spoon into 8-inch square baking dish.
Bake 1 hour or until heated through.

Dinner is served! Clockwise from top center: Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Sweet Onion Buttermilk Rolls, Apple & Fruit Stuffing, Maple Glazed Purple Carrots.

My sister contributed these Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes; comfort food at it's best. She also found time between volunteering at the SPCA and writing an essay to whip up a gravity-defying deep-dish Apple Streusel Pie, but I'm saving that for the next post! Stay tuned.

Click here for Thanksgiving Part 1: Turkey & Co

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Thanksgiving Part 1: Turkey & Co.

This was my first time cooking turkey dinner at home since...I can't remember, and I got off to a terrible start. Do these things happen just to me? Read on.

Normally I am a big planner; life with two babies is just much more negotiable when I am organized and able to plan ahead for event such as holidays. However, when plans to dine elsewhere for our Thanksgiving dinner went awry, I decided to host it here--with five days to go.
I managed to hunt down a fresh turkey and get some Sweet Onion Dinner Rolls in the freezer, but that was the full extent of my dinner prep, due to an especially jam-packed weekend.

With Thanksgiving dinner planned for 3 PM Monday afternoon, I found myself in my kitchen around 10:30 PM on Sunday with every intention of getting started on the preparations.

My ears were still ringing from a lively and thoroughly enjoyable Indian engagement party we had just returned from and my shoulders ached from that wedding I photographed on Saturday (who knew that six hours of continuous shooting could take their toll?). I should have listened to my body and hit the sack, but as many of you know, I can be rather hard-headed, and it seemed perfectly logical to start cooking at that time of night. I at least wanted to get my cranberry sauce made so it could set all night in the fridge, so I juiced a few oranges, tossed the ingredients in a small pot, cranked my stove and went to check my blog feeds. (Can you see where this is going?)

A minute or two later I was squealing with excitement upon discovering that I had won a giveaway from the fabulous Michele over at Fine Furious Life. You would be excited too! All thoughts of cranberry sauce evaporated rapidly from my brain as I lost myself in the fun of discovering what I had won. It turns out the cranberry sauce evaporated too.

I didn't smell the smoke, and I really don't know what ejected me from my chair with a smothered shriek, but as I skidded into the kitchen I could see the smoke billowing from the pot.
I yanked the pot from the stove and like a true die-hard, thrust my finger into the molten mass and tasted it. That motion was enough to confirm what I feared, this wasn't just a first-degree burn, where the top can be scraped off and used, this was scorched through and through. I'd be lucky if the pot survived.

Update: It didn't.

Time to talk turkey! I had so much fun cooking this dinner and the burnt cranberry sauce--which I blame entirely on Michele--was the only bad part of the menu. As you can see from the photo at the top of the post, I had some cranberries reserved and was able to use them for a second batch of sauce.

Now, recipes you want and recipes you shall have. I am giving you this menu in three parts: 1) Turkey & Co, 2) Les à'côtés (or sides) and 3) Desserts, to give myself a chance to write up the recipes and remember what I did for each dish.

OK, the turkey is obviously the star of the show, although I admit, mine looks a bit like a washed-up has-been. How do they get them to look so great on those magazine covers?
In the past I've done it all to try and keep the turkey moist: the 24 hour brine bath, the wine-soaked cheese cloth wrap, and the heavy butter basting. This time I just kept in simple and was happy with the results. This isn't a recipe, per-se, but here's the method I used.

Basic Roast Turkey
Note: this is for an unstuffed,
10-12 Lb fresh turkey.

Remove turkey from it's wrap and rinse under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels and place on a wire rack in a roasting pan. Allow to sit for about 2 hours to come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350F. Season the bird inside and out with plenty of salt and pepper and place in the oven. Roast for about 2 hours, turning as needed to allow for even coloring.

In a small heat-proof bowl, melt 1/4 cup of butter and combine with 1/4 cup of maple syrup. Brush over turkey to coat completely and continue to roast another half an hour or so until an instant-read thermometer reads 165F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. Remove from oven and let stand, covered loosely with foil for a half an hour before carving.

Reserve the drippings in the pan for your gravy.

Ah, la farce or stuffing. I was drooling over different recipes featuring chestnuts, fennel, sausages and other tantalizing ingredients, but didn't have time to get out shopping and so this one came together at the last minute out of items I already hand on hand. Surprisingly it was fabulous and a lovely balance between old-fashioned heavy-on-the-savory stuffing and an updated, fruity stuffing. Fresh thyme, sage and parsley from the garden certainly worked their magic in this dish, while several apples from our apple picking outing sweetened up this stuffing.

Aimée's Fruit & Herb Stuffing

1 cup butter
1-1/2 cups celery, chopped

2 cups sweet onions, chopped

3/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup golden raisins

1 large loaf of crusty Italian-style bread, cubed

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

2 teaspoons, chopped fresh sage, loosely packed

1/2 teaspoon dried savory, ground

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 tablespoon salt

2 cups chopped apple

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

In a large skillet, melt 3/4 of a cup of butter over medium heat. Add onions and celery, stirring often to sweat. Add thyme, sage, savory, salt and pepper and continue to cook until vegetables are tender. Add apples and cook gently for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with bread cubes.
Plump cranberries and raisins in hot water for about ten minutes. Drain and add to bread mixture. Add parsley and toss well. Melt remaining 1/4 cup of butter and pour over stuffing. Mix well to combine. Butter an ovenproof dish and pack stuffing into it. Bake at 350F for about 45 minutes of until golden brown on top. Serve hot. Stuffing can be assembled the day before and baked off with the turkey.

The last item to be included in Part One of this series is my favorite: the cranberry sauce. You already know how the first batch turned out, but the second fared a little better! Of course you don't have to make it in a mold and I even wonder why I did... AsI was serving dinner I made the mistake of setting the pretty cranberry sauce, pink plate and all, in front of Noah. I turned my back to get something and--chop, chop, chop--with three swift motions of his spoon, he had flattened the entire thing. Oh well, I had to laugh.

Orange-Anise Cranberry Sauce
serves 6

2 cups fresh cranberries
1 orange, in suprêmes
1 whole star anise

3/4 cup sugar

1 leaf of gelatin

Roughly chop orange suprêmes and combine in a small pot with cranberries, star anise, sugar and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring often (do not leave the stove and go check your email!).
Reduce heat and simmer gently for about 10 minutes until berries have 'popped'. In a small bowl of cold water, soften gelatin until limp. Whisk into hot cranberry sauce. Line a small bowl with plastic wrap and fill to the brim with sauce. Allow to chill thoroughly in the fridge. Just before serving, place plate on top of the bowl and swiftly invert. Remove bowl from on top of the cranberry sauce and peel away the plastic wrap. Garnish with another star anise, fresh cranberries or whatever you desire.

Stay tuned for Thanksgiving Part 2 and see some wonderful recipes for side dishes!

Sneak Peek: Thanksgiving Dinner at UtHC

From Prep...

to Plate

Coming soon!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Thankful for...Sweet Onion Rolls and more

By now, my fellow Canadians probably have their Thanksgiving menus all planned out for this weekend. The turkey is relaxing in its briney bath, apple pies grace the pantry, and cranberry jelly is quivering in the fridge. But wait! I'm here to tell you there's one more item you simply must serve your dinner guests and that is these Sweet Onion and Buttermilk Dinner Rolls.
Granted I'm a little late with the turkey talk, but these are easy enough to whip up on the fly, and if I can't convince you to make them, at least bookmark the recipe for Christmas!

The amazing smell of caramelized onions with nutmeg and freshly baked bread wafting through the house is reason enough to start whisking yeast and warm water together for these rolls. With their soft dough, tangy from the buttermilk, and the sweetness of the slow-cooked onions, these rolls just might replace the ever-popular cinnamon bun in your home.

The method is exactly like a "cinnabun": onion filling is spread onto a rectangle of dough, which is then rolled and sliced. The rounds are tucked into a tin and left alone for a second rising.
If you struggle with the 'slicing' part, you're not alone. Who wants to squish and mangle a delicate roll of soft dough with a dull knife that leaves the rounds looking almost unrecognizable?
I give you my solution: dental floss. I don't remember where I first hear about this, I've been doing it ever since I started baking.
To demonstrate what I am talking about, here's a quick video of me 'flossing' my onion rolls:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Buttermilk-Onion Pull-Apart Rolls
(from Martha Stewart Living, November 2005)
Makes one dozen large rolls.

11 tablespoons unsalted butter (1-3/4 sticks), softened, plus more for bowl, plus 5 tablespoons melted
1/4 ounce active dry yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons warm water (105 degrees to 110 degrees)

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 large egg, lightly beaten

2-3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for surface and pin

2 teaspoons salt

2 pounds sweet onions (1 1/2 pounds cut into 1/4-inch slices, 1/2 pound finely chopped)
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

  1. Butter a 9-inch cake pan using 1 tablespoon softened butter. Butter a large bowl; set aside. Stir together yeast, sugar, and water in a small bowl; let mixture stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir until dissolved. Stir in buttermilk and egg.
  2. Mix 2-3/4 cups flour and 1-1/2 teaspoons salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook. Make a well in center. Pour in buttermilk mixture; mix to combine. Add 6 tablespoons softened butter; mix on medium-high speed until a soft dough forms, about 10 minutes.
  3. Scrape dough onto a lightly floured work surface; sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons flour. Knead dough until smooth, about 5 minutes. Transfer to buttered bowl. Cover dough with a clean kitchen towel; let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
  4. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons softened butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions; raise heat to high, and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Stir in nutmeg. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let cool.
  5. Punch down dough, and turn out onto a lightly floured work surface. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough into a 17-by-10-inch rectangle, and brush with 3 tablespoons melted butter. Spread onions evenly over dough. Starting on 1 long side, roll dough into a log. Press seam to seal. Cut into about 12 slices, about 1 1/4 inches thick each. Arrange slices, cut sides up, in buttered pan, and brush with remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 50 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake rolls until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Immediately invert and unmould rolls onto a wire rack. Serve warm.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

An Afternoon Outing and The Best Autumn Sandwich

Our annual apple picking outing is always more than a trip down memory lane (we pick apples in the same orchard where we were married) and buying bushels of apple for canning, but usually evolves into a gastronomical tour of the region as well.
We munch on wedges of local aged cheddar with our Mac's, scarf warm apple-custard tart straight from the pie pan and sample maple taffy. Along Mont Saint-Hilaire's Chemin de la Montagne (Mountain Road) apple growers are selling the best their orchards have to offer and at some places, that includes some pretty amazing organic ice cider. Yum!
We usually pick our apples and then sprawl out on the grass for a picnic lunch, but last Saturday the bitter winds blew us out of the orchard and back into the car where we headed for one of our favorite bakeries just down the road, La Femme et Le Boulanger.

Our pockets and bags bulging with crisp cold apples and various delicacies we had already picked up, we snagged a little table by the window and surveyed the tantalizing baked goods. It was hard to choose, but we selected several croissants for our sandwiches, rum & coffee cannelés for dessert and a bacon baguette to have with our poached eggs for Sunday breakfast. (If you've never tried a toasted bacon baguette with a poached egg on top, you haven't lived, my friends)
I sliced some three year cheddar, cracked open a jar of confit d'onion, both purchased from La Vieille Cave, and with some slices of our Macintosh's and the fresh croissants, constructed the best sandwich I have had since my pulled pork party.

Seriously, the tart apple paired with the strong cheese and the sweet onion jam was just fabulous packed between flaky croissants. With a hot latte to wrap our chilled fingers around and a bottle of fresh squeezed apple cider, we were in heaven.

So by now you are probably wondering-where are all the recipes?

Yeah, I know, it's been a while; I've been giving you interviews, garden updates, and oatmeal, for pete's sake, and now a sandwich??
Hang in there, there's tons of good food coming, I promise. In the meantime, why don't you head over to the Blogger's Choice Awards and vote for me. Much appreciated and good luck to all the nominees!

Since I'm already on a rambling streak, allow me to get sidetracked for another minute with this sequence of photos from Noah's apple picking experience...

Boy spies apple
Boy picks apple
Boy eats apple
Boy contemplates the meaning of life.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Monday Garden Update: Harvest

This month is a busy one: two more weddings and everything that goes hand in hand with weddings (NO not cakes, I mean like rehearsals and stuff), a funeral, a few birthdays, and that glorious holiday of feasting-Thanksgiving.
It's hard to squeeze in time to get out to the garden, but frost is imminent and things need to be harvested. The days have been chilly, even with the bright sun, fortunately there's nothing like digging to get the blood pumping and the body warmed up.

We only got two pumpkins from our experimental plant, one large one and a slightly smaller brother-- very originally named 'Noah' and 'Mateo'. We've been watching them grow and ripen in the garden for close to two months now so they feel like part of the family in a odd way. Right now they have a decorative function on the steps and I think we'll spare them from being made into pies.

My purple carrots are a perfect size to make the trip from the earth to my crisper in the fridge. Too bad I don't have one of those root cellars to hold all of them.

Here's my young onions drying in the sun. I still have a lot to learn about growing these as about half of the crop rotted in the ground. Why would one bulb rot while it's neighbor grew perfectly well? Curious.

These are a few plant that refuse to give up. They were in their prime about a month ago, however, even though everything around them is turning brown and drying up, they continue to produce and flower. I'm also getting a terrific second crop of sweet raspberries; they are making up for the pitiful beet production and woody turnips. Blech.

I'm sad to see my garden shutting down and I'll miss dashing out there every time I want a tomato and a handful of basil for a sandwich, but such is the turning of the seasons and until I live a lot further south, like a LOT, I'll be putting away my trowel and gardening gloves for six months or so come mid-October.
Who knows what I'll try next year?!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Rise and Shine

I'm not a person who obsesses over weight. I hate diets and diet talk, am not up to date on the latest weight-loss novelties, and most health-related jargon goes in one ear and out the other. My sister insists it's because I don't have to worry about my weight, but I insist right back that's not true. Even if I hadn't inherited my mother's metabolism--she's about 105 soaking wet--I would still eat whatever I wanted. Anyone who knows me can attest to my 'cherry on top' approach to eating. Yes, I want whipping cream on my Cafe Mocha, butter and cream cheese on my bagel, and bacon with everything.

However, as gluttonous as that sounds, I do watch what I eat, but not in a calorie-counting way. I'm not indifferent to the importance of a balanced diet. I could name you off ten 'power foods' in a flash (blueberries, avocado, pomegranate, tomatoes, kale...) I almost never eat fast food, stay far away from overly-processed foods and eat balanced meals prepared from scratch.

Still, I always get The Question. Sometimes it's asked in an accusing way, sometimes wistful, sometimes puzzled, but there it is:

"Why don't you weigh like two hundred pounds?"

People know how many sweets I consume, that I am a former chef and, yep, my world pretty much revolves around food, and they assume I should weight at least 50 lbs more than I do. How do you answer that? I never know. Sometimes I even feel apologetic, especially if the question is tinged with accusation.
"I'm sorry?"
Maybe I will say that sometime.

You know, I realize that weight is a huge (sorry, terrible pun, but I use that word for everything) issue for many people, and I don't mean to make light of it (someone stop me already!). It's just no fun to always have people telling you how unfair it is that you are not fat.

Now, I don't want to offend anyone and so I will stop while I am ahead and tell you what got me going on all of this in the first place.

This month's Saveur is entirely devoted to breakfast! Awesome.
Thumbing through it I was skeptical at first, a write up about the southern U.S. chain Waffle House? An article on McDonald's Egg McMuffin? But I picked up a copy anyway, huge breakfast lover that I am, and was glad I did, for it transported me for a breakfast tour around the world that was most enjoyable, and supplied me with so many breakfast recipes that I wished it was Saturday every day so I could try them out.

Inspired by the issue, I decided to show you what I have for breakfast every morning. Perhaps THIS healthy start to my day has helped to keep my weight down, perhaps not.

Nope, not sugary cold cereal, not buttery Danishes, and no greasy fry-up, but oatmeal porridge is my standard breakfast five days a week. It's not always with roasted peaches and cinnamon sugar, as pictured, but with a variety of seasonal toppings. My dining room table perpetually has a tray with plenty more add-ons for the hot cereal: wheat germ, coconut, honey, craisins, granola and whatever else suits my fancy.
The weekends are for the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes and the Raspberry Chocolate Muffins, but during the week the babies and I wake up together over stone-cut oats.

Seriously though, I grew up eating hot cereal and vowed to keep it up so that my children would also. My husband was raised on cold cereal and our pantry is stocked to meet his needs, however this is about to change. Noah is plenty old enough to realize Daddy's Honey Nut Cheerios are more fun than his oatmeal. On the rare occasion he is up before Danny has to leave for work, one can usually find him sleepily trying to climb up on his dad's lap for of bite of 'cheewios'.

Ah, this is fascinating, stuff isn't it?

OK, so if anyone is still reading, tell me, what do you eat for breakfast?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Foodie Facebook: Kevin

When he's not standing in line at Cafe Art Java (far right guy in the photo) brushing up on his coffee geek skills or destroying spice grinders while cooking Indian, Kevin can usually be found packing around his three-month-old son, Owen. We're glad he took some time out to be interviewed and you will be too, as soon as you check out his answers.
Oh, and today happens to be his birthday.
Happy Birthday, Kevin!

Name: Kevin

Place: Montreal

Occupation: Clean Energy Engineer

Under The High Chair: What is your earliest childhood food memory?

Kevin: I don't really know if I have a single distinct "earliest" memory about food. I remember awesome birthday cakes (cars! spiderman! pumpkins and Halloween!) I remember returning home from church on Sunday morning and stopping by the bakery to buy a fresh, hot miche and passing it around to all my brothers and parents, pinching off a two-bite piece and devouring it until the loaf was mostly gone. We called this "pinch bread". On special occasions, the timing of which was an eternal mystery -- not birthdays, holidays or any other calendar-related day -- we would get one pastry each. I guess today I would call them "petit gateaux", but the most memorable part was the animals made from pastry cream and covered in coloured fondant. There was pink (pigs), yellow (birds) and more I'm sure. I was partial to the green frog petit gateaux. My parents bought rum balls which we were NOT allowed to eat. To this day rum balls are mysterious to me.

UTHC: What did you eat today?

Breakfast: I would love to say that I had fresh croissants from the bakery around the corner. Or my wife's incredible Scottish Oat Scones with apple jelly or peach preserves. Instead, I have an embarrassing admission. Ahem. McDonald's Egg McMuffin. But I must explain. This is highly unusual. I woke up with 5 minutes 'til my first bus and rushed out the door. The bus ended up being about 15 minutes late, meaning I would soon be waiting over an hour for my second bus. With only 4 minutes to spare, and a McDonald's coupon in my bag which I found in the mail and must have forgotten to throw it out, I knew that this was my last chance to put something in my tummy for the next hour. I'd already been awake on public transportation for 50 minutes and I caved. As soon as I got to work I made myself some wonderfully strong steaming press-pot coffee from freshly ground beans. This erased all memories of McDonald's and (sorta) redeemed my morning.

Lunch: Toasted pumpernickel sandwich with Dijon mustard, cilantro, smoked turkey and Montery Jack cheese melted on top. Two yogurts, a banana and some yummy homemade chocolate chip banana bread my wife made me (as a snack in the late afternoon).

Dinner: Indian dal (bean and lentil-based curry) on steamed basmati rice and gratin cauliflower with Dijon and melted-leek sauce.

Before-bed snack: Chocolate-chip cookie dough. Home made. Straight out of the container. With a spoon. Oh yeah!
UTHC: What will your kids never be allowed to eat?

Kevin: Nothing. Everything's fair game and will be a personal option at least once. Now I'm not promoting root beer at age 2, but I want them to know and experience everything, from bad to good. Also, I won't be promoting or serving anything and everything. But I love food, and like most foodies, enjoy the good, the unusual, the special, the unique, the one-off. I believe that part of truly enjoying these things also means knowing what the unspecial, the usual, the downright basic Belle Province hot dog and poutine is like. It's a question of setting benchmarks. I don't want my kids to become food snobs. Kraft Dinner is consumed by millions, and although I don't want them to eat it weekly, I think it would be good for them to know what it's like so that they learn what the good stuff is. Ever make your own macaroni and cheese? It's out of this world!

UTHC: What do you always have on hand in your fridge?

Kevin: Chilled white wine, chilled beer, Dijon mustard, strong cheddar cheese, olives, capers, yogourt. Also, I usually have wilted lettuce, some slimy spring onions, eons-old hoisin sauce, simple syrup and a 3-year-old frozen French Onion soup in the freezer. Hey, at least I'm honest; I know you all have these embarrassing items in your fridge too, or some equivalent!

UTHC: What is your beverage of choice?

Kevin: Gin and tonic, always. Red wine is a close second, but lately I'm on a wheat beer (white beer on lees) kick. I could go on and on about gin. But perhaps that is for another post.

UTHC: If you could have dinner with anyone in the history of man, who would it be?

Kevin: Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin or Henri Poincaré. Mainly for the conversation and the ideas. If it had to be food-related, as in a foodie bonanza, I think I'd love to have a dinner party with the loudest, most obnoxious food-celebrities out there: Gordon Ramsay, Anthony Bourdain, Martin Picard, Rocco, serve a few martinis to warm everyone up, then let them duke it out and just sit back and observe. Man, that would be wild! However, if the dinner party was to be more enjoyable, just for me and some close family and friends, I think Jamie Oliver. I have a serious guy-crush on Jamie Oliver.

UTHC: OK, it's your last meal ever, what do you have?

Kevin: Boy, this is a scary thought. I find I'm focusing more on the fact that I'm about to die, or at least never eat again, rather than what I would actually like to eat. I think I'd have to go with spaghetti with meat sauce, hot garlic bread (not gratiné), spicy red wine -- like some deep, complex Shiraz -- and vanilla ice cream with caramel, or fudge, sauce. Or both, 'cause hey, it's my last meal.

Thanks Kevin! Interesting fact about Jamie. Oh, and let's get together and demystify rum balls sometime, OK?
You can read more about Kevin at his (seldom updated) blog.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin