Saturday, December 31, 2005

Holiday Greetings and another Feast

Well it’s New Year’s Eve and we’re off to spend it with friends on this snowy last day of 2005. It’s also the seventh day of Hanukkah (if you follow this link, you’ll get a history of the Hanukkah story-probably not definitive, but ... and why we eat fried foods) and I’ve had a number of requests for Jewish recipes.

So naturally I had no time to actually write about what we’ve been eating and now I’ll try to make amends.

Hanukkah is not Hanukkah without latkes (fried pancakes) – always potato in our family, but I also do zucchini and curried sweet potato ones to add a little color to the table (and they’re delicious, of course). My family comes from Eastern Europe and my food memories don't go beyond the latke. In fact I never heard of Safganiot (jelly doughnuts) until I was an adult and had Israeli friends. So here are my special treats...

My trilogy - zucchini, sweet potato & potato
All from Every Kitchen Tells Its Stories

Potato Latkes
Hands-on time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes – 1 hour
Makes 25-30 latkes


6 large potatoes, peeled, and grated (3 lb)
1 small onion, grated
3 eggs
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
¼ cup flour
1 tbsp Nyfat or vegetable oil
2 tsp baking powder
oil for frying

1. To grate potatoes, either use hand grater on large holes or food processor using grater blade but cut potatoes in quarters first. Rinse and drain well before next step. For finer consistency, add this step: Pat dry and using steel blade, process by using “pulse” (on/off) several times. Do not fill the bowl more than halfway. You will probably need to do two or three batches.

2. Combine rest of ingredients except for oil for frying until well blended.

3. Using large serving spoon, drop batter into 2 tbsp hot oil in frying pan on medium high heat. Flatten the batter with the back of a spoon for even thickness and brown on both sides, turning only once. If the edges brown much quicker than the center turn the heat down to medium. (3-4 minutes per side)

4. Drain latkes on paper towels to eliminate excess oil.

5. Continue the process adding oil as needed. There should only be a slight film of oil in the pan. The latkes will absorb as much oil as you give it.

Tips & Variations
To keep potatoes looking white:
1. Keep them in cold water to remove starch;

2. Rinse and drain grated potatoes;

3. Grate onion after first batch of potatoes are grated, rinsed and drained and toss.
The trick to knowing when to turn the latke - it will be almost dry in the center.

To keep latkes warm, but not dried out or burnt while frying remaining batches, place in a oven at 200°F/100°C on a wire rack over a lipped baking sheet. This will allow excess oil to drain.

Zucchini Latkes

Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes – 1 hour
Makes 18-20 latkes

3 zucchinis grated
1 small onion, grated (optional)
3 eggs
salt & pepper to taste
½ cup flour
1 tbsp vegetable oil

oil for frying

1. To grate zucchini, either use hand grater on large holes or food processor using grater blade but cut to fit in the tube first. Should measure 2 cups after grating.

2. Combine rest of ingredients in a separate bowl (except for oil for frying), add the zucchini and onions and toss well.

3. Using large serving spoon, drop batter(2-3” diameter) into hot oil in frying pan and brown on both sides, turning only once. If the edges brown much quicker than the center turn the heat down to medium. Usually takes 3-5 minutes depending on how big the spoonful of batter is.

4. Drain on paper towels to eliminate excess oil.

Tips & Variations
Same as for potato, the trick to knowing when to turn the latke - it will be almost dry in the center.

You can substitute broccoli for zucchini.

These do freeze well and when I’m making a big party, I actually prepare these the week before. Just defrost before reheating. Place latkes on foil lined cookie sheet and bake uncovered at 450°F/230°C for 8-10 minutes.

I love to serve a variety of latkes. For color, and flavors, my favourite combo is potato, curried sweet potato and zucchini or broccoli.

Curried Sweet Potato Latkes
Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes – 1 hour
Makes 18-20 latkes


1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled
½ cup flour
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp brown sugar
½ tsp cayenne powder
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs, beaten
½ c milk
oil for frying

1. To coarsely grate sweet potatoes, either use hand grater on large holes or food processor using grater blade, but cut in large chunks to fit in the tube first.

2. In separate bowl mix flour, sugars, baking powder, cayenne, curry powder, cumin.

3. Add eggs and jus enough milk to dry ingredients to make a stiff batter. Add sweet potatoes and mix. The batter should be moist but not runny. If too stiff add more milk.

4. Using large serving spoon, drop batter (2-3” diameter) onto hot oil in frying pan. Flatten latke and brown on both sides, turning only once. If the edges brown much quicker than the center turn the heat down to medium. Usually takes 3-5 minutes depending on how big the spoonful of batter is.

Drain on paper towels to eliminate excess oil.

Tips & Variations
For those who love sweet potato, but not curry, change the recipe by removing cayenne, curry and cumin and add ¼ tsp nutmeg and some dried cranberries or currants

I usually serve them with either my BBQ Brisket recipe or boneless chicken breasts, marinated in a herb mustard and broiled.

I apologize for the less than stellar photo - but everyone was in a hurry to eat!!!

And, because my mother always said you need a green vegetable ...

I do up asparagus or broccoli gremolata. That’s just a fancy way of saying I steam the vegetables until they are slightly under done and then dunk them in cold water to stop the cooking process. Okay, obviously that’s not the gremolata part – this is….heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a skillet, add grated lemon peel, lemon juice, minced garlic, stir until you get that wonderful smell (1-2 minutes) add the vegetables, toss and season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with parsley. How hard is that? And so yummy, people actually eat it!!!

But now I have to get beautiful…so have a fabulous New Year’s Eve – and if you’re driving, be safe!! Tomorrow starts, what I hope will be an excellent year for all of us.

Happy 2006!!!

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Monday, December 26, 2005

Train Ride Home and Better Food

Well, our visit to Montreal was very short. We didn't get to do most of the things we usually do when going "home". We've lived in Toronto for the past 14 years and, for the most part, it really is our home. But we do miss friends and family and try to see everyone whenever we go back to Montreal. This time was waaaaaaay to cold to venture out much. So we basically hung out at our favorite hotel (Maison Cohen) and ordered in Chinese food so I could get a fix of my favorite egg rolls. No desire to do our usual nostalgic sight-seeing (all the places we've lived, loved, laughed and, most importantly, eaten), but here are two truths we discovered in our venture out to do lunch with my honey's old friend before heading back to Toronto....

1. Montreal fast food courts dramatically outshine any I've seen in Toronto. The variety of vendors goes way beyond those typically found in malls here - even places like Cultures, that we have in many a Toronto food court has fresher looking dishes and more selections. There seem to be more focus on healthy sandwiches, salads and hot mains; less focus on grease and don't get me started on bread options.

2. Central Station in Montreal makes her sister station in Toronto look much poorer, drabber and less sophisticated. For example, there were little, if any holiday decorations in Toronto while the Montreal station was decked out in gold lights and magenta ribbons. While, conceptually, I understand the politically correct attempt to equalize religions, given our multi-culturally diverse Canadian population, I think we're throwing out the baby with the bath water. And why can't we just appreciate the holidays of others, finding joy in how they celebrate, without taking offence or feeling slighted? Personally, I'm proud to be Jewish and wouldn't want to be anything else, but some of my favorite memories (new and old) include helping friends prepare for and celebrate their holidays. But, as is my way - I digress and will now get off my soap box.

And back to Central Station...we brought our own snacks for our trip to Montreal, in large part because the options at the Toronto station were - MacDonalds, Subway and a convenience store that sold bland looking sandwiches made on either white or whole wheat sliced bread with minimal (and bland) filling options. The station in Montreal, on the other hand, had at least 15 restaurants to choose from, including one that was more like a market than a restaurant (in fact it was solely set up for take out) and at least 3 shops that sold cheeses (the kind we only find at specialty shops in Toronto), cold meats ( and this includes a wide variety of pates) and of course, my favorite Montreal staple - delicious breads and desserts. Here's the view of one such shop. Fortunately, I got to take these photos before someone told me I couldn't take any. Unfortunately, you'll have to go there yourself to see the wall of baguettes and another wall of many different bread options that made my choice impossible.

Sorry about the flash and the line from the case. It was hard to get through the crowd to take the shots - at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it! Each bite sized pastry is a work of art.

Yule logs are called Buche de Noel in Montreal and each one is more beautiful than the next, don't you think?

We ended up having tuna salad sandwiches (that sounds ordinary, but trust me, they were delicious. Chopped red pepper and romaine lettuce gave it the crunch factor - no wilty lettuce and soggy buns here, everything was made fresh. I had mine on a black olive bun and my honey had his on a wonderful poppy seed egg bun. Dessert, naturally was pain chocolat ( I admit - we each had one while we waited for the train and another during the trip home.)

I mentioned in my earlier post that the scenery on the trip to Montreal was bleak and grey, but the trip itself was really relaxing. I wish I could say the same for the trip home. Besides the crying babies (there were several), the most annoying trainman who kept giving us very loud, barky messages (it seemed like it was every 5 minutes), and the teenagers sitting beside us (she of the piercing nasal voice, read him the contents of her cell phone), this train did not gently rock us as you can tell from these photos, it almost loosened fillings!!!

See what I mean?

Well, we're back home and who'd have thought it, but appreciating the weather!
Wishing you all the very best of the season - good food, good friends, good times.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Travel by Train - the View & the Food

Yesterday we took the train to Montreal from Toronto. That way we wouldn’t have to worry about pending snow storms or where to park the car once we got there. Montreal recently got hit with 41 cm/16.5 inches of snow and many of the streets have snow banks that come to just below the knee and actually extend at least the width of a car into the street. Cars park at odd angles and one can always hear the whir of tires stuck on ice hidden beneath the snow. So we chose the less adventurous, less stressful way to go.

The most memorable image, that I tried to capture with my camera, flashed by was as we were leaving the station. Unfortunately the photo didn’t come out. It was a very Victorian view of black pillars and arches, half-hidden by a dirty fog – almost sepia in color and reminded me of some of my favorite Anne Perry mystery novels set in Victorian England.

There are two words that best describe the scenery during the rest of the trip – Bleak and Grey – actually, I never realized how many shades of grey there are. The sky went from a soft powdery almost white to steel – except for a few moments near Kingston when the dirty grey clouds changed to white puff balls over blue skies. The interesting thing was that the ceiling of the train was painted to match. It was like a Magritte painting, where the outside IS the inside and the inside Is the outside.

Borrowed from

Lake Ontario was a steely blue-grey that went from pale to almost black. The fog or snow or clouds on the horizon made me think of those pre-Christopher Columbus sailors who believed the earth was flat and we would fall off the edge if we went too far. And on either side of the train were views of fallow farm lands with rusty spikes of wheat and unharvested corn stalks peeking through the snow; mini forests of black spiky tree limbs and the occasional evergreen coated with snow.

Close to the some of the small train stations en route were the rows and rows of suburban houses that always remind me of the Monopoly Game. And further away were smaller, rustic houses and the random bursts of color in an otherwise gray journey – flashes of a bright green fence, some royal blue shutters, pastel sidings on sheds….and everywhere the blur of blowing snow obscuring the view, the muffled train whistle announcing our passing and the wonderful rocking motion making for a lovely, lazy journey.

But enough about the view, more important – what and when do we eat? I am old enough to remember when a train ride included eating a meal in a real dining car, with real tables, linen tablecloths and napkins, china, silver cutlery, glasses actually made of glass and full course meals. Now, eating means coffee in a Styrofoam cup and some sad looking sandwiches wrapped in cellophane that you can buy for $4.25 Canadian; a teeny bag of potato chips or cookies for $1.50…you get the picture. And you eat it at your seat on a tiny 4”x 6”/10cm x 15cm tray that you pull out of the arm rest.

So we decided to bring our own snacks to sustain us through our journey.

Oatmeal cookies with dried cherries and pecans and sweet Mandarin oranges

Of course, that’s not nearly enough for me and my honey, but what can I make at 7 a.m. that will not go bad or soggy by noon? So I settled on some wraps of Italian salami and rosemary ham and Havarti cheese seasoned with a healthy spread of Kozlik’s maple Dijon mustard.

All that was left to do after lunch, was to read. I’m reading Timothy Findlay’s Pilgrim and my honey is rereading The Cluetrain Manifesto.

That's it for now....we're off for a Montreal brunch.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Quick Snacks - Part III

So much to do - so little time. We're taking the train to Montreal tomorrow to visit family for a couple of days. It's about four and a half hours and we thought it would be fun. It also means we don't have to worry about crazy snowfalls that often materialize out of nowhere between Toronto and Montreal. We once got stranded in a white out and, while it was an adventure, it's not one I'd want to repeat.

I really planned on doing a bunch of different quick treats for you, but between laundry, writing, and cooking for the holidays (we'll be back in time to celebrate), all I could do was throw together these little pizzas. Don't worry, the delicious Baco Noir helped relax me.

Speedy Mini Pizzas
I usually keep pitas on hand, and of course, my pesto and some tomato sauce (today I used a bought Porcini tomato sauce and added some garlic), so they really are easy to prepare. Just preheat your oven to 450°F/230°C, cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and leave it in the oven until the pizzas are prepared (about 5 minutes).

It's hard to see, but there are 3 different kinds of pizzas here:
Shrimp & cooked asparagus over pesto - one pizza had Boursin cheese and the other had feta crumbled on top (I liked that better) Peel raw shrimp and if they're large, cut them in half, sprinkle with a little lemon juice, toss with some fresh herbs if you have, if not don't worry the pesto will do just fine. The pizza is ready when the shrimps are pink
Roasted red peppers and grilled artichoke hearts over tomato sauce, extra garlic and grated mozzarella cheese
More Roasted peppers, but this time with slivers of Italian salami and spicy Proscuitto with mozzarella.

For inspiration, just stand in front of your fridge, or look to your pantry and go crazy!!!

Then just pop the pizzas on the hot baking sheets, put them in the oven for 8-10 minutes - the cheese should be melted and they're done.

More quick goodies when I get back from Montreal, so stay tuned. In the meantime, remember, this is supposed to be a fun time of year so don't stress yourself out too much.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Cherry Ham & Holiday Menu

Well the end of the month Fife House dinner always comes a little bit earlier in December. Yesterday we did a huge Holiday Dinner and at least 40 residents showed up, including a very festive Santa – even his glasses had red frames.

This year I was asked to bake a ham generously donated by Cumbrae Butchers So, armed with my trusty cookbooks – and naturally, the internet – I hunted for the perfect ham. Sounds simple for many of you who bake a festive ham or at least grew up in a house where your mom did, but not so simple for me. This was a first. Some of the recipes called for cured ham, others simply said “ham” and since I’ve never seen a “naked” ham before, I had no idea what mine was. I know, I know, I could have asked the butcher, but someone else picked it up at the shop and delivered it to me. And yes, I should have called them, but I felt stupid. Surely every one knows what to do with a ham. After much reading, the finalists both came from Nigella Lawson’s Feast. The choices were The Fully Festive Ham and Ham in Cherry Coke. Naturally, since I can never just leave well enough alone, I took a little of the first and a lot of the second and came up with this…..

Isn’t it pretty, if I do say so myself?! The pineapple rings were added because that was suggested by my team leader when she called to ask me if I would do the ham this year.

So here’s my adaptation

Ham in Black Cherry Soda
6-7 lb/ 2.5-3 kg mildly cured boneless ham (my scale goes up to 5 lb and this was way over the top)
1 onion, peeled & halved
2 qt/litre black cherry soda/cola/coke (whatever it’s called in your neck of the woods)
Apple juice (if the cherry soda doesn’t completely cover the ham)
16-20 whole cloves
pineapple slices (optional)
Glaze & Sauce
1 jar cherry jam (8oz)
1 jar black currant jelly (I ran out of cherry jam)
1 heaping tbsp dry mustard (I like Keen’s)
1-2 tbsp red wine vinegar

1. Place the ham in a large pot with a tight fitting lid. Cover the ham completely with cold water. Bring it to a boil and immediately drain the ham in a colander and rinse. This removes the saltiness from the ham without having to soak it overnight. Good thing I really read this recipe before I started cooking!!!

2. Rinse out the pot, replace the ham, add the onion and pour the cherry soda to completely cover the ham. Mine was a little short so I added apple juice(that I borrowed from the Festive Ham recipe). Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce to a simmer, partially cover and let it cook for at least 2 – 2 ½ hours.

3. Preheat the oven to 450°F/230°C

4. Remove the ham from the cooking liquid and let cool on a cutting board.

5. In the meantime, in a small pot, combine the jam, mustard and vinegar and stir until the jam is melted. Taste for tartness. I like mine tangy so I added a tab more vinegar.

6. Strip the rind, if any (mine didn’t have any, but I was a little nervous trying to figure that out) and score the top and sides in a diamond pattern and stud with whole cloves.

7. Place the ham in a roasting pan and glaze with the jam mixture. I added some canned pineapple slices and glazed some more.

8. Bake in the hot oven for 15 minutes or until the glaze looks dark and gorgeous.

9. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing.

10. Serve with the rest of the glaze as a sauce. Everyone loved it and thought it would be great to serve with lamb instead of mint jelly.

Here’s the entire menu for our delightful holiday dinner.
Hors d’oeuvres
Cheese, pate & crackers
Shrimps with chili cocktail sauce
Main course
Roast turkey & cranberry sauce
Ham & cherry, currant sauce
Bread Dressing/Stuffing (you say potato, I say po-tah-to. There seems to be a debate over when to call it stuffing and when to call it dressing. I'll call it anything you like as long as I get to eat it!)
Mashed potatoes
Scalloped potatoes
Roasted Brussels sprouts with shallots
Roasted turnips, julienned and seasoned
Green beans and carrots
And naturally – tons of delicious gravy!!!
Apple pie
Pumpkin pie
Chocolate brownies
Squares & cookies

I wish you all a happy holiday season and the most fabulous 2006!

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Quick Appetizers - Part 2

As promised, here are some more quick appetizers for this crazy, busy time of year. I really took the easy way out by linking to some of my earlier posts and just putting up some photos here for your reference.

I always have certain "staples" (at least to me) on hand to make it look like I've been expecting whoever that happens to drop by.

Cheese platter with assorted crackers & jellies
My favorites are Brie, goat cheese and Spanish Manchego

Humus & Pita Chips
It just takes a few minutes to whip up the humus and make a batch of pita crisps- you need pocket pitas. Just split the pita in half, separate the layers, cut in thin wedges, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with your favorite herbs - I love mixed Italian, garlic and either cayenne or paprika, put them under the broiler for a couple of minutes until they turn crisp but don't burn and voila!

Focaccia Toasts with Brie over Pesto
I always have some Rosemary Focaccia in the freezer and pesto in the fridge, so this one is a no brainer. Toast the bread, spread some pesto, (scroll for the recipe) top with a thin slice of brie and pop them under the broiler until the cheese melts. What could be easier?

Grilled Cheese
Another cheesy option would be mini grilled cheese sandwiches. I wrote about a number of options and you could come up with a million more, including some grilled sandwiches WITHOUT cheese - like Elvis's favorite fried peanut butter & banana. Just cut them into bite sized pieces and you have decadent party sandwiches, made to order.

Fritatta Wedges
There seems to be a theme here of everything to increase your cholesterol, but you don't have to serve all of them at the same time, you know. I've written about Grilled Vegetable fritattas, leftover surprises, and the mushroom spinach one pictured here. Bottom line - whatever veggies, or cooked meats you have in the fridge plus a few eggs (egg whites only for those more health conscious) make a wonderful treat. Just cut them into wedges or bite sized squares.

Sweet Potato Chips
Last but not least - and it did take longer to prepare than I anticipated - but healthy and everyone loved the taste. I wanted to have something on hand that was really healthier than regular potato chips. So I googled "sweet potato chips" and liked this recipe the best. That said, the search part took a second, but it took way more time, standing at the stove than I expected and when I loved the look of the chips, I found them too chewy. When I liked the texture, they were way too brown (those are the ones hidden underneath). So this is not as quick and easy as the rest of the recipes here, but if you're stranded in the kitchen cooking other things, this is a good one to do so you have them on hand for the next batch of guests.

Happy eating and make the best of the season.

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Weekend Herb Challenge and Quick Appetizers

Wow I don’t know where the time flies. It seems like it was just yesterday that I posted the Italian Braciuolini recipe for last week's Weekend Cookbook Challenge and planned on writing at least two posts for quick appetizer recipes, given the season for entertaining. Now it’s the weekend again and I’m still in rush mode…..just like everyone else.

This is a particularly stressful time of year for most people – trying to tie up loose ends at work before the end of the year, packing for vacations (you lucky ones!!), fighting the crowds for those last minute gifts, baking and cooking for those planned gatherings of family and friends. There never seems to be enough time to go around. So I thought I would share some very simple recipes that are especially valuable when unexpected guests arrive.

And, since it’s impossible to survive this time of year without multi-tasking, I thought I’d make sure the recipes included some herbs (actually, it’s very rare that I DON’T use herbs) so I can be a part of one of my favorite weekly events – Kalyn’s Weekend Herb Blogging Event. The stars this time around are dill and oregano.

So without further ado, and just in time for that unexpected doorbell….here are some things you can whip up in no time:

Blanched Asparagus Roll-Ups (I wrap 3 blanched asparagus spears in rosemary baked ham, with a light coating of mustard, and spicy proscuitto, but Genoa salami is also excellent – the saltiness contrasts so well with the asparagus).

Seafood Tortilla Pinwheels(I like to use a variety of tortillas – sun dried tomato, spinach, whole wheat & plain – to make the plate more colorful) For fillings I used my favorite tuna salad recipe (there’s oregano in tapenade that makes it taste so good) and smoked salmon & cream cheese with dill. I just throw the smoked salmon, cream cheese and 1 tbsp of fresh dill into my trusty food processor – what would I do without you!!! – add the juice of half a lemon, pulse a few times, and we’re done. I also combine all the ingredients for the tuna salad in the processor as well to get a smooth paste. All you have to do is spread the filling right to the edges, I like to add a little something interesting at the first edge (it becomes the center of the pinwheel) – herbs, asparagus spear, be creative. Roll it up tightly and I personally like to wrap it in plastic wrap and put the rolls in the freezer for about 10 minutes before slicing across. It keeps the filling from oozing out.

Stuffed Baked Tortilla Cups ( I was watching Food TV recently and saw Michael Smith whip these up. I must have missed something, because my tortilla rounds refused to stay in the mini-muffin tins during baking. I had to add some dried beans for the first 5 minutes or so and then remove them for the last 10 minutes). If you don’t want to go through the hassle of cutting rounds of tortillas, etc, you can buy ready made shells and fill them with your favorite soft fillings.

PBJ Roll-Ups for those who love their snacks sweet instead of savory, I make these pinwheels - just spread the peanut butter right to the edge of the tortilla (I use plain or whole wheat) and put a dollop of your favorite jam along the first edge of the roll (I’m a purist so nothing but strawberry will do for me). Roll tightly, wrap in plastic, freeze and slice.

Nutella Hearts – take fresh Challah or brioche bread, remove the crusts, flatten the bread and spread with nutella right to the edges. Use cookie cutters to get your favorite shapes.

Cream Cheese and Jelly Triangles. Same as the hearts. For this photo I made two kinds: Boursin Cranberry & Pepper cheese (it was sweet enough without any jelly) and cream cheese with Apple Sage jelly from Tangled Garden.

Tomorrow I’ll post some more….In the meantime, take a deep breath, smile and savor the moment.

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Italian Braciuolini and the Weekend Cookbook Challenge

Alicat from Something So Clever and Sara from i like to cook came up a great theme for the weekend cookbook challenge. They asked us to find our oldest cookbook and pick any recipe. I actually wrote about the Doubleday Cookbook for a meme started by Ed of Tomatom . I’m not sure if it’s really my oldest (it certainly looks it – tattered cover and stained pages), but close enough for me. My mother bought it for me when I first got married ( a million years ago) so I’d know how to boil an egg or roast a chicken…and everything else.

You can see it here with the other two "old timers" Second Helpings Pleaseand The Pleasures of Your Food Processor. In flipping through the Doubleday, I came across a recipe for Braciuolini, the Italian variation of beef "birds" or roulades. I haven’t made it in years and it had some notations in the margins. Apparently, I adapted recipes even way back when.

It still sounds like my favorite kind of food - braised beef in tomato garlic sauce- what's not to like? So this afternoon, since it was too cold for us big babies to go out, my Honey and I played Scrabble while the Braciuolini slowly cooked in the oven. The aroma was wonderful and eased the pain of my Honey winning.

Italian Braciuolini (my adaptation)
Prep time: 20 minutes
Baking Time: 1 ½ hours
Serves 4
(now we'll have some for tomorrow night too)

4 slices of beef round pounded thin as for scaloppini (5”x3”x ¼“)
Salt & pepper
Flour for dredging ( ¼ - ½ cup)
2-3 tbsp olive oil
½ cup chopped onions
1 large clove of garlic, minced
½ lb/ ¼ kg Italian sausage meat
1 cup freshly made bread crumbs (or panko crumbs)
1 lightly beaten egg
½ tsp each dried basil & oregano
1 cup finely chopped eggplant, unpeeled
2 cups tomato sauce
½ - 1 cup chicken stock (beef would do as would red wine) to thin out the sauce.

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C

2. In a large oven proof skillet, brown onions, Italian sausage meat and garlic until the onions are translucent and the meat is no longer pink. (5-8 minutes).

3. Take it off the heat and add the bread crumbs, egg and herbs and toss to blend well. Place in a bowl and wipe the skillet clean.

4. On a lightly floured board, lay out the flattened steaks and put about 2 tbsp worth of the sausage mixture towards one end. Roll the beef over the mix and end with the flap underneath. Season with salt & pepper and sprinkle with flour. (The book suggests tying up the “birds” with string, but I didn’t find it necessary).

5. Put another 1-2 tbsp olive oil in the skillet and over medium high heat, sear the “birds”. Gently flip them over after 4 minutes or so to brown the other side.

6. In the meantime, in another skillet I sautéed some left over eggplant I had (this is not in the book) and added it to the sauce and stock.

7. Pour the sauce over the birds (still in the skillet), cover and bake for about 1 ½ hours.

I served it with farfalle noodles tossed with pesto and some roasted baby asparagus (I’m pretending it’s Spring).

The roundup will be posted on December 16th. I can’t wait to see what everyone’s doing.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Crock Pot Lasagna - Little Used Kitchen Toy & the Recipe

Every once in a while I crave a new kitchen toy, believing that it will change my life. Okay maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean. You eat a Panini in a restaurant, you watch a cooking show on TV and someone’s using a funky Panini maker, or your latest magazine has some gorgeous shots of one…and you’re obsessed. (By the way – the Panini maker is at the top of my list of kitchen toys I NEED to buy and can’t live without).

As some of you who read my posts know, I volunteer once a month (along with a group of really cool ladies) to cook and serve a Sunday community meal at Fife House, an organization that provides affordable housing and support services for people living with HIV/AIDS. A couple of years ago, two of the ladies started bringing their dishes in gorgeous electric crock pots. They extolled the virtues of 1) being able to cook and transport heated dishes easily; 2) the ability to keep food warm for long buffet dinners without it getting dried out; and 3) to be able to “throw things together quickly and just let them slowly cook all day”. Naturally, I was hooked on the idea. What could be better than putting all the ingredients in a pot in the morning, turning it on low, going about your day and returning for a perfectly cooked meal at supper time with no effort at all?

So I bought one…and here’s one of my challenges – I still think I have two teenage daughters whose friends show up unexpectedly and stay for dinner. Neither of them even LIVE in the same city I do anymore – Joanna and her husband live in Halifax and Sharron just moved to Chile, but even when she lived in Toronto, she had her own place. So it’s usually just me and my Honey for dinner unless I invite people over. The crock pot I purchased holds 6 quart/litres – which is great for parties but totally wrong for cooking for two, unless you really, really like leftovers. Oh I know you can freeze, but I hate the texture of frozen chunky vegetables – they’re so spongy! So that eliminates certain dishes- stews, chunky soups, to name a couple. Then there’s the issue that electric slow cookers need to be filled at least three-quarters full to work properly. I only learned that fact after I used it for the lasagna recipe (see my variation at the bottom of the post) I found in a newspaper and was the push I needed to buy my slow cooker. I even bought a couple of cookbooks by Judith Finlayson just for slow cooking - Delicious & Dependable Slow Cooker Recipes and The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes. A few of the recipes I tried were even quite tasty – although many of them required so much prep work that I really don’t see the point. (After all, I wanted it because I’m lazy – well okay, not lazy but I wanted it for those days when I didn’t have time to spend in the kitchen.) Now really, would you make a cake that needs to cook for 2 hours and then be refrigerated for another 4 when you could just bake a cake the regular way and refrigerate it?

Since Joanna & Ezra were coming in for the weekend and I’ve been wanting to test the Crock pot lasagna recipe for my cookbook I thought it a perfect opportunity. Naturally their flight was late getting in and by the time we got home the lasagna had been slow cooking for at least nine hours. It tasted delicious but didn’t really look good enough for a picture for the book (started to darken around the edges, noodles so soft so you couldn’t really see the separate layers when I cut portions, plus we were too starving to wait for me to add cheese to the top and let it melt). Here's the recipe if you're lucky enough to have a slow cooker. If not, just use the ingredients and instead of cooking for 6 hours in a slow cooker, bake in an ovenproof dish for about 1 hour at 350 F/180 C.

Crock Pot Lasagna
Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Total Cooking time: 5-6 hours
Serves 8

1 box precooked lasagna noodles (12 noodles)
4 cups torn spinach
2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
½ cup pesto
¾ cup mozzarella, shredded (3 oz)
¾ cup provolone, shredded (3 oz)
15 oz ricotta cheese
1 large egg, beaten
¾ cup parmesan cheese
6 cups tomato-basil sauce
2 cups thinly sliced pepperoni (optional)

1. Steam or microwave spinach until it wilts. Drain, squeeze dry and chop.

2. Combine cooked spinach, raw mushrooms & pesto in medium bowl and set aside.

3. Combine cheeses with beaten egg in separate bowl

4. Pour the sauce in another bowl.

5. In 6 quart electric crock pot layer ingredients as follows:
Layer of sauce (just enough to lightly cover the bottom of the pot
Layer of noodles (3)
Layer of cheese mixture (1/3)
Layer of spinach mushroom mixture (1/3)
Layer of pepperoni (1/3) optional
Layer of sauce (1/3)
Repeat layering two more times
Sprinkle with ½ cup more parmesan
6. Cover with lid and cook on LOW for 5 hours or until done.
7. Sprinkle with ½ cup more Parmesan cheese for the last 15 minutes of cooking.

Tips & Variations

This recipe really does freeze well. Just divide it up into 1-2 serving portions first.

I used my own Lazy Tomato Sauce recipe but you can try experimenting with different bottled sauce mixes like tomato and roasted garlic or add some crushed dried chili pepper flakes for some heat.

It goes great with a salad and some garlic bread or toasted focaccia slices with pesto and melted cheese.

My pretty, but seldom used slow cooker usually lives in the back of a closet and rarely sees the light of day. I know I’m not alone, so which of your kitchen toys falls into this category? Don’t be shy, I’d love to know…

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Saturday, December 3, 2005

Chicken, Roasted Vegetables, Soup - Too Bad No One Gets to Eat a REAL Meal

I started to write my cookbook, Every Kitchen Tells Its Stories, as a journal of family favorite recipes that I would hand down to my daughters. Then family, friends and acquaintances thought that it would be a great hit and that I should actually publish it for a larger audience. It’s easy to SAY “You should write a cookbook”, it’s quite another thing to actually DO IT. I thought the process would take a few months. It’s a year now and I still finding new… challenges, yeah, challenges, that’s the word.

Here’s the latest in the saga. I’m now in the testing and photography phase. When Ruth Reichl was doing all the talk shows to promote The Gourmet Cookbook, she commented on all the fun “they” (her huge Gourmet team of testers) had eating foods that don’t necessarily go together but needed photos and testing. Well, my “testers” – me – often end up feeding my honey bizarre combinations …or the other extreme…have to order in because I’ve only made desserts or been editing all day and had no time or desire to cook anything. We haven’t eaten a “normal” meal – you know with possibly an appetizer, main course that consists of protein (meat, chicken, fish), a carb (potatoes, rice, grains, pasta) and vegetables (asparagus to zucchini) – or at least ones that really go well together, in ages. Sometimes we invite guinea pigs …er, I mean tasters (friends and family) over to share in the bounty. Oh, and have I mentioned, that no one can eat until I’ve taken a million pictures and made sure at least one works!! So naturally we usually eat food at room temperature – salad, no problem, but some dishes are not quite as tasty cold. Fortunately for me, everyone thinks of this as an adventure.

Roasted Garlic & Rosemary Chicken with Root Vegetables

The other afternoon I made a delicious chicken roasted with all kinds of root vegetables and mushrooms. The chicken is coated (over & under the skin) with a heavenly rub made of roasted garlic, fresh rosemary, a little butter and Dijon mustard. The vegetables get tossed with a heaping spoonful of the rub, some olive oil and chicken stock and cook along with the chicken. Adding small whole beets to the turnip, parsnip, carrot, potato, mushroom and red onion mix gave the rest of the veggies a gorgeous touch of red here and there in addition to the gold and orange I typically get. Anyway, by the time I had done with the cooking, my honey wasn’t feeling well and had already gone to bed. It was just me with enough food for at least 6 others and no one to share it with. Sooooo, after the photos, I sliced the chicken figuring we would use it for lunch or breakfast dishes over the weekend since my daughter Jo and her husband Ezra would be in town. (FYI – we had delicious chicken quesadillas with Boursin herb & garlic cheese and a chipotle mustard for lunch on Saturday). But what would I do with the unbelievably fabulous vegetables? We had plans to go out for dinner on Saturday and probably be too stuffed from all the overeating we would do all weekend to want supper. I hate freezing cooked vegetables. I find they always taste spongy.

What to do, what to do….epiphany!!!! Using my trusty blender (another favorite kitchen toy), I made a puree of the vegetables with some of the delectable cooking juices and some more chicken broth and….voila ….amazing soup. Interestingly, the few beets that added just a hint of color to the rest in the pan of roasted vegetables turned the soup a surprisingly bright pink…..

See what I mean. It really does add a surprise element when having some friends over. First because of the vibrant color and second, because of the roasted garlic and rosemary flavoring all those tasty veggies. ... And all because I needed a photo of the roasted chicken for my book. So, when all is said and done, in writing Every Kitchen Tells Its Stories, every day is an adventure..... and an opportunity to do something new rather than just make the same recipe 17 thousand times to make sure I got it right for the book. Stay tuned for more in my adventure.

For those of you who might be interested in helping me out, I'm looking for some testers to try out some of the recipes and provide me with feedback: was the recipe was easy to follow and what about the taste?; did the layout help you find the particular things you generally look for in a recipe - like time to prepare, variations, ...? I'm compiling a list, working on creating PDF files and a feedback form, so I'm not quite ready, but if you're willing, please email me .

Related links:

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mo at Meggie's Grill - My First Interview

When I started this blog, I knew I would write about some of my favorite food related passions (recipes, local markets, favorite cookbooks…), and share my finds with anyone out there wanting to read about them. I also knew t I would NOT write restaurant reviews for a couple of reasons. First, when I was growing up my father used to tell us (over and over, I might add) that if we didn’t have anything nice to say, we shouldn’t say anything at all. So how can you give balanced reviews if you’re not prepared to talk about the bad as well as the good? Second, I don’t consider myself an expert - just “someone who knows what I like”. I can’t tell what the secret ingredient is (or is supposed to be) so people like Ruth Reichl and other renowned critics can rest easy.

This post is the first of a series on people who are passionate about their involvement with food and I cannot think of a better person to start with than Mohammad Rasekhi-Nejad.

He and his family run my favorite local restaurant called Meggie’s Grill. My honey and I go there often for a delicious brunch, not only because the food is always excellent – and I keep meaning to try new dishes that sound awesome from their huge menu but typically end up with my favorites (more later) – but because the ambiance is so warm and inviting. Everyone who eats there is treated like a favorite family member. And Mohammad is always bustling around making sure you have what you need and that everything is to your liking. Meggie's has won many awards over the years - here are just a few: North Toronto Post Choice 2003, Cheap Eats Best All Day Breakfast 2003 & 2004, Post's Best of list 2003 & 4 as well.

So I thought he’d be perfect for my first interview because I want to know what brings out a person’s passion, what makes them choose a vocation in such a difficult industry ( long hours, fickle diners…the list is long) and what makes a restaurant stand out from the crowd.

From the moment we started talking, it was obvious how passionate he is about his restaurant and how proud he is of his family.

His vivacious wife Parvaneh Nemati has been his partner in the food business since they came to Canada in April, 1987, 17 years ago where he started out making pizza at Pizzaville on Mount Pleasant. It didn’t take him long to buy the business and expand to three locations. It was at the first shop that he realized how exciting it can be to create new combinations of ingredients – it’s still a passion and his latest creation is a fruit breakfast pizza. The pizza dough has a thin layer of jam under fresh fruit and is then baked in the hot pizza oven. The result is a caramelized delight.

Parvaneh spends much of her time in the kitchen making the most mouth-watering Mediterranean dishes along with Mo (as everyone calls him). Every Friday they go shopping together for the freshest ingredients and in her spare time, she enjoys watching the Food Network to get even more inspiration. Her tabbouleh and hummus are two of the most popular dishes and her newly created sun dried tomato dressing gets even more requests than her amazing Balsamic dressing for salads. Parvaneh creates lots of vegetarian dishes and one of the most popular is a vegan French toast – and no, I won’t give away the secret ingredient, but if you live in or visit Toronto you should check it out for yourself.

Their son Arash is a Political Science major and is also studying at George Brown College’s Culinary School. He started making pizzas when he was 13 and at 17 had his father’s confidence to run the Pizza shop on his own. Today, at 23 he already has a wealth of experience in running the business. In fact, he manages the evening shift on the weekends and often during the week.

Atena, their daughter, is studying Interior Design at OCAD and is an artist. It’s her art work and décor that make the restaurant feel like you’re visiting someone’s home. It’s warm and welcoming. When I asked Mo if I could take his picture for this article, he insisted that it be in front of the painting that’s so proudly displayed as you walk into the restaurant. Atena created it when she was just 9 years old. Many other pieces of her art adorn the walls, including the brilliantly colored one in the photo of Parvaneh. On the weekends, Atena can be spotted in the kitchen, adding her own touches and in the front of the house as well.

The menu is so huge that I keep meaning to try something different every time I go, but somehow my favorites keep calling me from the brunch menu…
#7 – eggs benedict with peameal bacon on an English muffin or
#8 - eggs Florentine –poached eggs on spinach on English muffins with Mo’s own Gypsy sauce (he created it originally for his pizza base), and garlic fries - I’m drooling as I write this.

Before I talk a bit more about his signature dishes, I thought I’d share a few questions I put to him and his answers from our interview.

What’s it like to have the whole family involved?
He smiled, well actually, beamed is a better word and said he couldn’t imagine doing it without them. They are all as passionate as he is and all contribute to Meggie’s success.

What’s the best part of running Meggie’s?
“The fun I have with my customers. It’s great to talk to everyone and welcome back the regulars as well as those I haven’t seen in a while…cooing over new babies…building relationships with new customers. It’s exhausting by the end of the day but it’s all worth it.”

His favorite time: putting down the plate in front of a guest and hearing them say “WOW” (and I know that happens often).

His favorite time of year is summer when the patio at the back of the restaurant is open. It seats 60 and the flowering plants and fountain make you feel like you’re in the Mediterranean. (I love it too).

“I can’t imagine doing anything else; I’m in love with the whole environment”

What’s the hardest part?
“On the weekends it gets so busy serving at least 450 guests (after 11:30 the waiting can take from 15 – 30 minutes). I don’t want anyone to get upset or leave without enjoying their time with us. I do whatever I can to make them happy….chat….munchies for kids.”

When Mo was talking about some of their signature dishes, I knew I would have to come back for dinner. Here are just a few of the signature dishes that make a trip to Meggie’s so special:

* Mo’s own bomba is made of walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, basil and sun dried tomatoes and takes 6 months for the flavors to cure properly. But don't worry, they're always creating the "next" batch. (it's the dish in upper left beside the pita and it comes with most of the platters)

* Falafel made from scratch with chickpeas, fresh cilantro, garlic and onions – no prepackaged mix here!! The tabouleh is lemony and crunchy from the bulgar, cucumber, onions and curly parsley and sooooooooo fresh you know it was made just for you)

* Rosto a l’ail (the one I’m heading back for) sirloin stuffed and rolled, grilled and then roasted in garlicy red wine sauce. The secret to the sauce...bay leaves (it's the one I have to come back for at dinner time)

* Sun dried tomato pesto over grilled tofu slices

* Lasagna made with fresh pasta

* And don’t forget Mo’s famous pizzas

Related link:

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Spontaneous Adventure

Well my camera is due back tomorrow, good as new and under warranty to boot, so I thought I'd share one more non-photographic post.

Saturday we returned from our anniversary date by late morning and my daughter, Joanna (in Toronto on business for the weekend) was still at home - her plans fell through so she was going to go on a spontaneous adventure and I happened to walk in the door just before she was heading out. So we both spent the rest of the day together "being in the moment". So much of our daily lives are preprogrammed and tightly scheduled, that it’s wonderful to be able to just leave all of that aside for a while.

Most of the time when Joanna comes to Toronto or we go to Halifax for visits, there’s a purpose or event that drives it. Usually (and this is a good thing) we hang out as a family – Jo and her husband Ezra, and other relatives and friends who want to see them/us. So finding just “Mother-Daughter” time is rare and special and I thought I’d share some highlights in hopes that it will tempt you to have some spontaneous adventures of your own.

We started out hunting for a psychic reading (for her, not for me….I like NOT knowing about what might be around the corner. Although a friend recently had her tea leaves read and she was told that her friend – whose name starts with R is writing a book and having difficulty finding a traditional publisher. She said that I would be very successful selling it on the internet. If the news is good, I’m open to hear!!! But yet again, I digress). We walked along the area she remembered seeing a psychic sign on a previous visit to Toronto. After walking for about a half an hour (we did pass one psychic as soon as we got off the subway, but she was closed) before we found the one she was looking for. Finally we found her but had to wait for a half an hour and so were lucky enough to have a time to chat over a cappuccino. Once she left for her reading I had an hour or so to sit at the window of the Arquin Café on Avenue Road. It’s right beside some of the most fabulous flower shops in the city and every time the door opened, I got this wonderful whiff of fragrant exotic flowers and evergreen branches. It isn’t very often we get the chance to just sit and reflect on what’s going on with us. Usually we just move from task to task, event to event, and I thoroughly enjoyed reliving my anniversary date.

Once Jo finished with her Tarot reading, which was supposed to be 30 minutes but ended up being 90 and I was waiting outside for the last 30 minutes or so freezing my butt off (she's wondering when I'll stop mentioning it). She was hungry and I was frozen, so we headed over to Pho Hung on Bloor for some of our favorite Vietnamese soup and spring rolls.

After spending some time there, we finally headed down to the Skydome for the Canadian Aboriginal Festival that was really awesome. Native costumes, dance contests, art and handicrafts from Aboriginal nations across the country. There were a few non-aboriginals in the crowd, but this really was an event for the Aboriginal community. Healing tents, traditional teaching tents to educate the younger generation on their language & culture, performance tents where one could listen to stories and participate in hoop dance workshops, and more. We stayed for a couple of hours watching the dance competitions that were breathtaking (I wouldn’t be able to choose the winners – they all were great), strolling through the marketplace and listening to performers – it was heartwarming to see the pride in every event, every piece of art, jewelry, clothing and more. Check it out.

By 6 p.m. we were starting to get hungry and my honey came to meet us and took a subway to Dundas with the intention of eating at The Salad King for Thai food but it was packed and had a line up out the door. We thought Korean food would be interesting - for something outside our usual choices and I remembered (at least I thought I remembered ) the Korean BBQ house being in "Korea Town", so we headed over. Of course THAT restaurant is on Queen (far from where we were), but we wandered through a couple of different communities along Bloor and ended up in the heart of "Korea Town" with its shops, cafes, bakeries and stumbled upon a fabulous restaurant – Sejong Restaurant, that served BBQ - which means you grill meat (we had short ribs) & chicken on a charcoal grill that is imbedded in the central part of your table. The main course is served with rice and about 8 little side dishes of kimchee, daichon and other marinated dishes - sooooooooo good that we're going back next week when Jo AND Ezra are coming back to town. After this amazing dinner that started with an appetizer of spicy tuna rolls, we felt the need to walk some more and finally took the subway home.

All that adventure really gave us a work out and, you'll be pleased to know, we all slept like babies.

My open invitation to all of you – make time to have your own spontaneous adventure. When you do, drop me a line – I’d love to hear all about it.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Our Anniversary Date

This weekend we celebrated our 15th anniversary with a wonderful date that started Friday morning. Unfortunately there are no pictures because I inadvertently broke the LCD screen on my new Canon SD400. The good news…it’s probably covered under warranty and even better news, it should be ready in a few days. But back to the fun stuff…

We drove to Niagara Falls to see my favorite duo – Hall & Oates (better than ever) who were singing at the new Niagara Fallsview Casino (quite a Vegas like casino, I must say…but more about that later). We took the scenic route – although it was a particularly grey, cold and windy day. It is quite remarkable how Nature hibernates and the stunning pink and white blossoms of spring and fruit laden trees of summer are transformed into rusty brown sticks. The quaint and charming town of Niagara on the Lake, famous for its Shaw Festival Theater and charming Victorian Bed & Breakfasts seemingly right out of the nineteenth century, and shopping (artisan, wine, home-made preserves and jams and Victorian collectables) is a perfect place for strolling along – just not when it’s below freezing. This is Wine country and some of the local vineyards have fabulous restaurants that we usually enjoy visiting in the summer. There's even a Culinary Institute I keep meaning to check out. This time, though I was just looking for some home style cooking – chicken pot pie to be exact. Although I couldn’t find that, we did have a fine lunch – burger for my honey and club sandwich for me at the Old Towne Restaurant.

Next stop – Niagara Falls. We checked into our hotel – the Sheraton Fallsview and our room on the 20th floor really did have a spectacular view. We were right over the Falls and when we arrived there was the most awesome rainbow. After some relaxation it was off to dinner. Now Niagara Falls is not known for its cuisine, but we were both in the mood for meat and decided on the Keg for two reasons: 1) the food is usually consistent at all the franchises and we weren’t sure about some of the other restaurants with some funky names like Copacabana Grill House; 2) it was way too cold and windy to go far and the Keg was halfway between our hotel and the Casino. This Keg is in a hotel and we actually had some trouble finding the entrance (signs kept leading us by other restaurants) and once we did find it, I wasn’t sure it was the environment I was looking for – way loud over the top heavy metal music and it seemed more like a lounge. To my surprise the hostess led us to an elevator and told us to get off at the ninth floor. Every table has a fabulous view of the falls and is very elegant. We even got to watch the Winter light show on the falls. It changes color every few minutes and that and the mist create a magical setting. We had a local merlot (I’m ashamed to say I forget which vineyard) to go with our meals: honey had the steak au poivre with an even spicier sauce that was overcooked and so spicy he couldn’t finish it; I had prime rib that was sitting under the heat lamp too long, but I wasn’t really expecting an amazing meal and the view and the company certainly made up for the mediocre dinner.

On to the Casino - neither my honey nor I are gamblers but we love to go to Las Vegas. I call it the Disneyland for adults. Amazing restaurants, museums, shopping and every hotel is like its own theme park. We often stay at the Paris because…..well Paris is one of our favorite cities and you can actually purchase fine imported wines, cheeses, French breads, pastries, chocolates, etc., that you can bring back to your room for romantic picnics in bed……….but I digress, as usual. This casino has a similar vibe to high end Vegas casinos, complete with fancy stores and free performances. There was a great blues band in the Casino lounge and one of those living statue performers in the lobby. Rooms at the Casino hotel start at $350 and I’m assuming are lovely, but we didn’t get to see them. While waiting for the show, we played a little slots poker and …for the first time ever… I actually cashed in $55….whooohooo!!

On to the reason for going to Niagara Falls in the first place…..Hall & Oates. I’ve loved these two for years. Now some old timers - you know - the ones that used to be sooooo hot but when you go to see them today, just remind you of how old you are? Well not Hall & Oates - it was the best concert I think I’ve ever been to as an adult. I’m usually disappointed – the sound not nearly as good as listening to music in the comfort of my own home (or iPod); unless you spend a gazillion dollars, you can barely see them on the stage that’s a million miles away…or maybe I’m just getting older and like my creature comforts. The Avalon Ballroom at the Fallsview Casino is billed as “intimate” and seats 1500 people all sitting on plush wine colored upholstered seats. We sat in the 15th row and, I must say, it really did feel like seeing a group at a club rather than in a big theater or concert hall. Wait staff took drink orders at our seats – so civilized.

The show was fantastic – the guys looked cute and they ROCKED!!!!! They opened the show by asking for requests. Some guy in the back yelled “sing them all” and Daryl shouted back “all 315?”. They sang most of my favorites for over an hour and then did FOUR encores and I swear, they sounded even better live than they do on CDs. I was dancing in the aisle – it was awesome.

The walk back to the hotel was actually surreal. It had warmed up and the wind had died down. All the neon lights of the hotels kept the sky a bright deep blue and it started to snow big, fat, slow-falling flakes. I felt like I was inside one of those souvenir snow globes.

We went to sleep with the curtains open and because the red Sheraton sign was over our room, many of the big snowflakes were red and looked like fireflies or sparks swirling around a giant bonfire. It truly was magical to watch.

The morning started with breakfast in bed (well almost in bed – we were eating in front of the window and the spectacular “show” nature puts on this time of year at the Falls. The rising mist and the cold air create mythical, mystical icy sculptures on trees and rocks near the falls. Clouds of mist rise and alternatively cover and unveil the falls themselves…breathtaking, really!!

Well, it’s finally time to go back to Toronto (after all, my daughter Joanna is in from Halifax on business and we do want to spend time with her – but that’s for another post). By the elevator, is a glass wall overlooking the falls and due to the weather (grey & dreary and snowing again) it looks as if we’re watching a film being shot in black and white….absolutely no other colors…another surreal experience.

The car was covered with about two inches of snow, so while my honey cleaned off the outside, I warmed up the inside (hey someone has to do it!). The drive home was bleak and slow-going but we didn’t mind. We just plugged in the iPod and listened to Hall & Oates all the way home.

So that’s about it for our very special anniversary date. As I reread this post, I realize that this was a very visual and auditory feast and (very unusual for me) NOT focused on food at all. It was the ambiance AROUND the food rather than the food itself that was so memorable.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Ultimate SHF & IMBB - Holiday Cookies Swap

It's our anniversary and we have some fun plans for the weekend so I'm posting the Sugar High Friday Cookie post a little early. This month Jennifer of Domestic Goddess has joined forces with Alberto of Il Forno for a holiday special version of SHF & IMBB. It is the season of baking with all the holidays upon us and what a great opportunity to share our cookie recipes. You can check out how to enter here or here

I must admit, when I'm baking, I favor drop cookies - lazy? inept? or just memories of my mother’s always perfect cookies that still intimidate me? – not sure which. But I can’t remember a holiday without my mother baking a million picture perfect cookies and these shortbread with a cherry on top were my favorite.

Well hers were picture perfect, anyway.

And going from one extreme to the standard, make them often, always different Surprise Oatmeal cookies. Besides the oatmeal (and usually chocolate chips for my chocolate addicted family), sometimes you can bite into pecan bits, dried cherries or apricots or raisins or whatever else catches my fancy.

Before I add the recipes though, I HAVE to share my latest purchase. For those of you who visit my site often you know I’m addicted to buying food magazines and books. I’ve never bought a magazine that didn’t have at least a few pages I’ve dog eared and some that seem like half the magazine has pages folded down. But I don’t think I’ve ever bought a magazine where EVERY SINGLE recipe is amazing….until now. Martha Stewart (I know – we love her or hate her) has come out Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies.

There are more than 100 recipes and even the contents page is awesome – I’ve actually included a photo of one of the two double pages so you can see what I mean.

Are they not gorgeous!!! If you’re a cookie person – you have to check it out. I know this sounds like a commercial, but I can assure you I get nothing out of this but the recipes for me and a good feeling about sharing it with all of you.

Now without further ado, here are the recipes for my two cookie submissions…..

Shortbread cookies with a cherry on top
From Every Kitchen Tells Its Stories

Hands-on time: 20-30 minutes
Total baking time: 10-12 minutes
Cooling time: 10 minutes
Makes 4- 4 ½ dozen

1 cup butter (room temperature)
1 egg yolk
¾ cup brown sugar
2 cups flour
maraschino cherries cut in quarters and patted dry

1. Preheat oven to 325°F/170°C.

2. Cream butter and sugar for five minutes. Beat in egg yolk and gradually add flour.

3. Knead dough just until soft and pliable (a minute or so). Do not over knead the dough.

4. Form into balls about the size of the top of your thumb (tip to first knuckle)and flatten with the bottom of a glass*. Press the cherry piece into the center of the cookie.

5. Bake for 10-12 minutes in center of oven. The cookies should be dry on top but NOT brown on the bottom.

6. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes before storing.

Tips & Variations

**Rub the bottom of the glass over left over flour on the board and shake off the excess before you flatten the ball of dough.

Do not let cookies brown at bottom

Surprise Oatmeal Cookies
From Every Kitchen Tells Its Stories

Hands-on time: 10 minutes
Total Baking time: 15 minutes
Makes 2-3 dozen

½ cup Crisco
½ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup white sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
½ tsp vanilla
1 tbsp water
¾ cup flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1½ cup rolled oats
1¼ cup chocolate chips &/or dried fruit &/or nuts

1. Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C.

2. Using an electric mixer, cream Crisco with sugars. Add egg and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Stir in the remaining ingredients and mix well.

3. Drop dough from a teaspoon onto a lightly greased baking sheet (I just cover the baking sheet with parchment paper or tin foil) and bake until barely brown for 12-15 minutes.

4. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Tips & Variations

For variety, I like to use dried cranberries or cherries and chopped pecans.

Related links:

Monday, November 21, 2005

You Are What You Eat - Meme

I just was wandering through my favorite blogger sites – it’s a perfect way to start my day. On my journey I dropped by Molly’s fabulous Orangette and this post is really about Christmas gifts, but I’m going to steal (er borrow) her first few lines ….

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are. So spoke Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, legendary French gastronome. On the surface, it sounds like some sort of cheap parlor game, or maybe a fortune teller’s scam at a traveling circus, but the man had a point. What we eat is an everyday testament to our personal, cultural, and, some would say, political, experience.”

So…..I thought it would be fun to do a meme about our favorite foods and why we chose them. The rules are as easy as 1-2-3:
1. Pick your top ten favorite foods (I was going to go for five, but it was impossible to choose JUST five)
2. Give your rationale (and photos would be nice but are optional).
3. Choose 3 -5 of your favorite food bloggers to invite (don’t forget to let them know you’re dying to know what their favorites are) I ended up with 6 and feel guilty about all the ones I left out.

So without further ado, here are mine.
1. Chicken – I love it in every form but some of my favorites are boneless breasts flattened and rolled around spinach and cheese to create a cool looking roll-up; coated in crushed pecans; southern-fried; roasted with herbs and garlic under the skin and root vegetables all around……I could go on forever, which is funny because my mom used to make chicken three ways (roasted ginger capon for special occasions, southern fried or roasted with a BBQ sauce) and often and I swore that when I got married I would NEVER make chicken. Of course that idea didn’t last long and I make it a gazillion ways;

2. Lamb – I love the flavor and when we go out to a restaurant it’s often my choice. Chops and boneless leg of lamb marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic & rosemary and then grilled. Oh - I hope I don’t short out my laptop as I’m drooling!!! Lamb sausages from Mike’s at the St Lawrence market are particularly flavorful without being greasy. And my daughter Joanna, in Halifax makes a mean stuffed boneless leg of lamb for Passover.

3. Beef – as you can tell, when hungry I usually think first as a carnivore. My late night snacks are cold meat/chicken/lamb leftovers. There is nothing quite as tasty as a rib roast coated in a rub of powdered dried mushrooms and mustard…unless of course you think steaks. I love flank steak marinated any of a million ways and grilled or how about steak au poivre flambéed – it’s actually easy to do and sooooo impressive. Cold meat in a wrap is a great sandwich as is salami or brisket on fresh Challah. I could go on forever, but ….

4. Seafood – if I were on a desert island I would want tons of lobster and shrimp. Okay I would also want scallops, crab and squid. Actually I don’t have to be on a desert island to want them - dripping with butter and garlic would be my first choice. I’ll include fish here with salmon, perch and tilapia being high on the list. I don’t cook it often because my Honey is not a big fish eater.

5. Bread – I LOVE fresh bread – baguettes, Challah, rye with caraway seeds, Montreal bagels, focaccia, rolls. When I was growing up if the bread wasn’t just in from the bakery and still warm, I would tell my mother it was stale. She would just say, wait til you have to buy your own and then we’ll talk. And of course, I now eat bread that’s one or two days old – and even older if it’s toasted.

6. Herbs & Spices – although they’re not what I would eat by themselves, I can’t imagine cooking or baking anything without them. Some favorites: GARLIC (my dad used to say I put it in everything and he’s probably close); basil (it also goes in everything from eggs to mains to dessert (it’s great on fruit salad along with mint); rosemary (I love it on chicken, roasted potatoes and breads especially); my cupboard is never without a blend of Italian herbs to roll cheese in, sprinkle on grilled cheese sandwiches and home made pita chips (oh I forgot to mention pita in the bread section); thyme (it’s wonderful on roasted root vegetables, squash and best of all my Honey’s French toast); a new favorite is lavender (I particularly love it infused in honey syrup over vanilla ice cream or fruit salad) Just in case you think these are the only herbs and spices I love here’s a picture of my spice cupboard.

7. Pasta – what better comfort food is there? (Creamy sauces, tomatoe based, oil garlic and basil, I love them all)

8. Soups – especially this time of year when winter starts in fall and goes into late spring. Chicken soup, hearty lentil or pea soups, French onion soup with fabulous melted gruyere cheese on top, beef based cabbage soup……mmmmmh

9. Pork – how could I forget – particularly ribs, ham and bacon (not necessarily together), other cured salamis, Chorizo sausages – I love it all. Some of my favorites come from Mike's or The Sausage King at St Lawrence Market.

10. Desserts – not what I would think of (or reach for) first, but let’s face it who could turn up their noses at something sweet. I love key lime pie, crème brulee and a good piece of dark chocolate is hard to say no to, especially if it coats some ginger.

But how could I forget my other favorites: eggs, olives, cheese.......

This part was hard for me too. I love so many food bloggers but we’ll start with these five and hope the rest of my faves won’t be hurt.

1. Molly of Orangette because she inspired me to do this and her site is awesome.
2. J of Kuidaore because she always makes the most gorgeous desserts and I’d love to know what else she loves to eat. Her site is a visual delight.
3. Shauna of Gluten-Free Girl because her posts are beautiful and funny and incredibly well written.
4. Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen who I know loves herbs because she does the weekend herb blogging event and I love her recipes
5. Joe of Culinary in the Desert who shares great recipes all the time.
6. I know I said five, but how could I leave out Stephen of Stephen Cooks. Check his site and you’ll understand.
7. Just one more......Sarah Lou at One Whole Clove . Great food, great fun.

I’d love to hear from the rest of you too. If you are what you eat, what are you? And if anyone can figure out what I am from my list (besides a piggy) please let me know.

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