Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Baked Apples!

These were the ultimate Christmas time dessert! I would highly recommend this recipe. My Mom and I did these up pretty much exactly as described. It does require a lot of not-usually-on-hand ingredients (crystalized ginger, dried tart cherries, apple cider) so plan ahead. I am now trying to think of every occaision possible to make them--Epiphany, perhaps? Anyway, enjoy!

My First Christmas Dinner

Yes, I am too old to have never been head chef for Christmas dinner, but I've been spoiled by a talented mother. This year when she gently wondered if we should all go out for dinner Christmas Day, I made my move.

I knew it would be tough, as I am not a carnivore so I'd be bypassing the traditional turkey and instantly placing myself as the "unpopular" new chef. Mom helped out by saying she'd take care of the turkey portion by getting a simple-to-prepare turkey breast. Meat, check. I was now free to plan as I liked. But could I create a menu that satisfied the traditional palate AND my urge for culinary experimentation? Yes, I could, and I did.

We started with a yummy appetizer (alas, forgot to photograph) by baking halves of red peppers and filling them with a simple greek rice --we did not use carrot and added quite a bit of feta cheese. It was good and looked very Christmas-y.

Thanks to this very blog, I found the PERFECT stuffing (thanks Thomas and Orianne!) and enjoyed eating the leftovers all week. Man, that stuff is serious delicious.

Mom's colleague had given her a fresh spaghetti squash from her own garden, so of course I couldn't resist throwing that into the mix...cutting it in half, gutting it, baking it face-down in the oven for an hour, then adding butter and salt. Easy.

Also featured was one of my favourites--bocconcini and tomato salad. For those who need the basics on this one, the ingredients are:

-- 15 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
--Bocconcini mozzarella balls
--arugula or spring mix
--fresh basil to taste
--balsamic and olive oil vinagrette (just mix these two together and add a bit of salt and pepper)

...and this salad has the added bonus of the red, green and white colours.

The "main course" was a creative veggie pot pie I found on epicurious.com. The roasted vegetables made it quite delicious. The polenta crust meant it was pretty easy. I had to leave out the mushrooms (replaced with broccoli instead) because my brother would have sung an aria of utter disgust if I had included them. We aim to please.

My Mom prepared dessert...a family favourite "Log" which is chocolate wafers layered with whipped cream. This gem needs to spend the night in the fridge to unleash all the soft yummyness.
That said, I of course have to give brother Dave kudos as my "voluntold" assistant for dinner. That man has fun slicing, dicing and the compulsory drinking wine during preparations, which made it fun for me too. Doesn't he look thrilled?!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Two Chefs and a Table (for 6 at Brunch)

Catherine's post about the Commodore inspired me to share another great find for excellent quality and reasonably priced food in the city. Two Chefs and a Table is a restaurant located just east of Gastown in the Downtown Eastside, an unsuspecting location for a restaurant like this which I think is the big reason they don't have lines out the door for weekend brunch. They do brunch, lunch and a prix fixe dinner that is usually paired with wine. I've never had dinner there (though I'm dying to!) but I can speak very highly of the brunch and I think Claire will agree.

We went there a couple of weekends ago when Heather was in town. For $10 bucks you can get an asparagus risotto with a poached egg, grilled heirloom tomatoes and crisped prosciutto on top (you can ask them to hold the meat if you wish). It's delish! You get to watch the chefs cook (yes, there are only two) and the atmosphere is at once classy and casual. I don't think it will be long until the secret's out!

Holiday Baking

Last year Vince and I hosted a Holiday Baking Extravaganza for which all our friends arrived bearing the gift of baking! There were cookies, brownies, squares and biscotti galore and everyone went home with an assortment of treats to enjoy over the holidays. We all suffered a major sugar overdose but it was fun to see (& taste!) everyone's delicious creations.

I promised I'd post photos and the recipes that people sent me so that we could continue to enjoy these divine bites for years to come.....and then I didn't do it. I could use the excuses of pregnancy-brain or new-mommy-absentmindedness, but maybe it was just that once Christmas passed my desire to pour over buttery, sweet treats also seemed to fade (along with those New Year's Resolutions!). Excuses aside, here they are at long last!

One more thing....Claire made the chocolate cookies pictures above which were so chewy and tasty. She does the classic chocolate chip like none other. I thought I'd use that photo to get the tastebuds ready and, most of all, to encourage her to post her recipe!!!

Rochelle's (also referred to as the Master-Baker) Recipes

Lemon Squares

For the crust:
3/4 c unsalted butter, frozen
1 3/4 c flour
3/4 c confectioner's sugar
3/4 tsp coarse salt

For the filling:
4 lg eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/3 c sugar
3 tbsp flour
1/4 tsp coarse salt
3/4 c fresh lemon juice
1/4 c whole milk
confectioner's sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350. Butter 9x13 glass baking dish and line with waxed paper.

Make crust: grate butter on a cheese grater with large holes; set aside. Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add butter; stir with a wooden spoon until combined and mixture looks crumbly.

Transfer mixture to prepared dish; press evenly onto bottom with your hands. Freeze crust 15 min. Bake until slightly golden, 16-18 min.

Meanwhile, make filling: whisk together eggs, sugar, flour, and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Stir in lemon juice and milk. Pour over hot crust.

Reduce oven temp to 325, and bake until filling is set and edges are slightly golden brown, about 18 min. Let cool slightly on a wire rack. Lift out: let cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into 2 inch squares. Dust with confectioner's sugar. Lemon squares can be refrigerated in single layers in airtaight containers up to 2 days.

Kahlua Fudge

3 c semi-sweet choc. chips
1 c sweetened condensed milk
dash of salt
1/2 c chopped nuts
1/4 c kahlua

Melt chocolate in top of double boiler. Remove from heat, add milk, salt, kahlua, and nuts. Stir only until smooth. Pour into 9 inch square pan lined with wax paper. Refrigerate 2

Chris & Carla's Recipes

According to Carla, these are "the best peanut butter cookies I've had"

1/2c shortening (they use butter instead)
1 & 1/4c lightly packed brown sugar
3/4c peanut butter
1 egg
3T milk
1T vanilla extract
1 & 3/4c flour
3/4t baking soda
3/4t salt

Bake at 375 for 8-10 min.

After they get out of the oven they put a piece of chocolate in the middle of each cookie. (a macaroon, hershey's kiss etc.)

Apparently Chris said this recipe was a family secret and didn't want to give it up :) but here it is:

Kuffles (this is a German word and is possibly spelled wrong)
3c flour
3T sugar
1/2t salt
1 pkg yeast
2 eggs
1c butter
1/2c warm milk

sugar mix:
3/4c sugar
1-2T cinnamon
3/4c melted butter

Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm milk
Blend butter, eggs, salt with milk
Cover and refrigerate overnight
Divide dough into 5 wedges
Roll each into 8-9 inch circles
Cut into 12 wedges
Dip each into sugar mix
Roll up into croissant
Allow to rise double in size
Bake at 350 for 12-15 min.
Mama Recipes

These two recipes are from the wonderful Mamas in my life: my mom and Vince's mom. Neither of them got to attend the party, but I made both their recipes. I often lament that these cookies only tend to get made once a year! (I'll try to remember to add photos of these ones after I make them this year.)

My mom's Pecan Shortbread

Cream together:
1/2 lb. butter (2 sticks, if your American)
1/3 c. white sugar
2 T brown sugar

2 T water
2 T vanilla

2 c. flour
1 c. chopped pecans

Mix until thick & creamy. Form dough into a log, cover with saran wrap or parchment paper. Chill in the fridge until firm. Cut into circle (rotating the log 1/4 every cut to keep the shape circular)

Cook at 325 until they very slightly golden

Variation: Roll balls of dough, dip them in sugar and then cook as above

Donna's Gingersnaps

3/4 c. margerine/shortening
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. molasses
1 egg
2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. ground cloves
1 t. ground ginger

Cool the dough in the fridge. Form dough into balls & roll them in sugar. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.