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Archive for the ‘winter’ Category

Broccoli and Pepita Pesto w truffle oil & applecider vinegar

For a little dinner, which the dapper Mr P and I had with some fun friends last night, we decided to explore our decadent side a little with both a dessert course and a cheese plate. Is that a gasp I hear in the corner? Both dessert and Cheese? That’s crazy, I hear you yell. Crazy, yes. Delicious, definitely. But in order to survive such decadent and lavish behaviour, one must make sacrifices in the total volume of food presented. Therefore, an executive decision was made by the cook and her sous not to make an appetiser. Is that another gasp I hear behind me? No Appetiser? At a sit down dinner, a Winter dinner?! How barbarous! Ha. And you thought you knew me better.

I did, however, think it rather uncouth to allow any guest our home to wallow in the joys of pre-dinner wine and conversation without just a little something to stay the hunger for a while. Enter the Amuse Bouche. Remember this little gem? Well, with a little twist of the Truffle-oil wrist and a sniff of apple cider vinegar added to the mix something that was already pretty darn good turned into something simply gorgeous.

On an aside; that bottle of truffle oil given to me by the vivacious Mr W has been one of the best food gifts ever given. I’ve had a certain reluctance to ever buy one of those little, fancy bottles of truffle oil you see in speciality food shops on the basis that if I was going to ever eat a truffled anything, it was going to be a truffle omelet in the South of France in November one day. Some food experiences, in my humble opinion, should be saved for the Real Thing. Macaroons? I’m waiting for my next visit to Paris. Jamon de Bellota? The next time I find myself in the south east of Spain, I’m in. But until then, I’m quite happy to read about it, build up my expectations and tuck into some Prosciutto. So, I’d never even thought to buy a bottle of truffle oil here in Toronto but when dear Mr w cooked up an absolutely mouth watering penne with afore mentioned truffle oil, the aroma, the taste, the entire experience had me begging for more. The trick, it seems, as in so many things in life, not what you know but who. Knowing someone who makes there very own truffle oil from fresh truffles and sells it not in those dinky, if cute, little bottles for the price of your first born’s university fees but in a decent sized amount for an unpretentious amount is all it takes to convert me to the truffle side. Thank you, Mr W, you’re a gem.

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Chickpea and Luganega stew

Funny that in French the word for garlic is ail. Funny, that is, when garlic, that wonder, that golden child of the onion family, is so good at protecting you from what ails, meaning keeping those nasty little cold and flu viruses at bay. I have personally noticed the relationship between number of cold viruses inflicted to the amount of garlic consumed. The New Year put that theory to the test with a bout beans-on-toast living followed by a visit from Sniffy ‘n Snotty. I love garlic and I tend to use it in just about every dish I make for dinner, along with a liberal and counteractive sprinkling of parsley, to be sure. I do, after all, have to interact with the rest of humanity now and again. When my dear friend and partner-in-crime at the Summer Market, Ms A, gave me a treasured bottle of Iranian pickled garlic, I gushed with happiness. These sweet, heady, more-ish pods of sweet, slightly tart garlic are a delicacy produced in the north of Iran and I can see why it’s a well kept secret. I’ve had the jar in my fridge for a good few months now, nibbling on a clove de temp en temp and in my mood of using what’s in the cupboard I tried to make a dish which would perfectly compliment them.

I opened up my pantry, now stocked mostly with canned and bottled goods, pickles and conserves, dried herbs and spices and jars of various sauces and did what we all like to do now and then: I winged it. So here is something made pretty much from what I had on hand in pantry and refrigerator. The last couple of carrots and the last but one clove of fresh garlic from the Summer Market went into the pot, along with the frozen, left over Luganega from the Pizza Rustica. And I have to say, not only was this little dish heart warming and super satisfying but it made fabulous wraps the next day for lunch, which the ever inventive Mr P made up with a good smearing of balsamic onion chutney. For the dinner it was served with minted couscous and goes brilliantly with those pickled garlic and a dollop of plain yogurt.

*note: I used Luganega sausages because I had a few left in the freezer I wanted to use up. Use any spicy pork sausage, or lamb, or leave them out for a vegetarian option.

Chickpea and Luganega stew 2

Chickpea and Luganega Stew

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 pork sausages, thickly sliced
1 tsp cumin
¼ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp sweet paprika
½ ginger
½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 14oz (400g) can whole, peeled Italian tomatoes
1 14oz (400g) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
½ cup water
2 carrots, finely grated/chopped
cilantro

– heat the oil in a large, heavy based pot. Saute onions and garlic over a moderate heat until softened.

– add sausage and fry until browned. Add spices, cooking for a couple of minutes until fragrant.

– add tomato paste, cook for a minute, then add the tomatoes and water, breaking them up with a wooden spoon as they cook.

– when the mixture is bubbling, add the chickpeas and carrots. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer very gently for 40 mins.

– serve with generous cilantro and minted cous cous.

pickled garlic

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Whiskey figs with oats

There’s something about a hot, steaming bowl of fresh oats porridge on a lazy Sunday morning that somehow sets the tone for the rest of the day. A good, long read of the Sunday papers, a walk in a park in the winter sunshine and a late afternoon nap, followed by a sightly too long, intricately woven Sunday Night Movie, with the wonderful Mr P’s fabulous toasted cheese and a glass of good red wine.

My mother used to make us oats porridge in the winter back home and it still remains an essential part of our routine here, steeped as it is in nostalgia and caring. Of course, we wouldn’t be indulged so much with such adult delights as whiskey and figs, but rather heap our bowls up with a slathering of butter and golden syrup. Our tastes being somewhat more subtle and grown up these days, the smokey, peaty flavours of a good whiskey or scotch paired with fruity figs takes that humble bowl of oats from chilly school morning to the glories of the Sunday breakfast table.

*As with all things cooking, the better the ingredient used the better the results. Don’t skimp on a cheap whiskey, use what ever your favourite nightcap version is; after all, you only use a tiny amount. Naturally, if you don’t do the booze feel free to leave it out.

**Try get dried green/white figs as the flavour is more subtle than the red or black mission figs. I like the softer ones from Iran or Turkey.

Figs in whiskey

Whiskey Figs with Oats Porrige

5 or 6 dried figs, quartered
about 1 cup water
1½ Tbsp good whiskey or scotch
2 cardamom pods, lightly crushed with the back of a heavy knife
1 cinnamon stick

whole oats, not the instant kind, enough for 2 people
water for cooking the oats

cinnamon sugar to serve

– combine the water, whiskey, cardamom and cinnamon in a small, heavy based saucepan and bring to a simmer.

– add the figs and simmer over a low heat for 10 – 15 minutes, checking that the pot doesn’t run dry. Top up with water as needed.

– when the figs are done, drain, reserving liquid, and keep warm.

– use the liquid from the figs along with hot water to make up the liquid needed to cook the oats as per the package instructions.

– top cooked oats with figs and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar to serve.

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Fruitcake Bread and butter pud 1

Somehow, after all’s been said and done, after all the post-fest pickings and snackings and nibblings, there remains a large piece of Fruit Cake from the Christmas feasting, sitting sleepily on the counter. Now, I realise that fruit cake and Christmas Pud will keep until the next Snowy Season (indeed, traditionally, the top tier of a wedding cake is kept safe and sound for the celebration of the Christening of the first chile) but in all honesty, who would want to eat last year’s fruit cake, thrifty though it may be? One, surely, wants to experience the joy of Christmas baking afresh every year, non? Besides, isn’t it enough already? Out with the old to make way for the new, is my motto this week. My cupboard is starting to feel like that one house on the corner which keeps it’s Christmas lights up until the middle of February. I have a bit here and a bob there left over (still!) from the revelries of the fattening season and they must go, people! Fruit Cake, piles of odds and ends in the dried fruit ‘n nuts department and a quarter jar of boozy fruit mincemeat, as well as one last little Christmas Pud, which somehow escaped being given away or eaten at home. It’s time for the Christmas Spring clean.

Fruitcake Bread and butter pud 2

Christmas Fruit Cake Bread and Butter Pudding

4 – 6 slices fruit cake (or any other robust left over cakeiness)
4 Tbsp fruit mincemeat
Butter, about 2 Tbsp
1 egg
1 cup milk
nutmeg

-Preheat the oven to 325˚F and butter a 500ml pudding bowl (or a casserole if you prefer)

– beat the egg with the milk in a small bowl

– arrange slices of fruit cake in the dish, then dollop teaspoons of mincemeat around the slices.

– dot with butter and pour over the eggy milk mixture. Sprinkle with Nutmeg

– let the pudding sit for about 3 minutes before baking in the oven for 40 mins

– enjoy with cream or custard, preferable in front of a happy little fire with your feet on the coffee table. Mmmm. Leftovers.

Fruitcake Bread and butter pud 3

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basler brunsli

These little hearts of joy were a new thing for my cookie collection this year. This is traditional Swiss cookie-making at it’s best, if you ask me. Chocolate, cinnamon, cloves and almonds, what’s not to like? And with no butter or other fat in it, it’s a conscience-soothing nibble at this cookie-glut time of the year. Goodness, it doesn’t even use the yolk of the egg, so you have a great excuse to make real custard for your Christmas pudding this year as well. I’m just so in love with these cookies, I made two batches instead of one and intend to extend their seasonal allocation right past Christmas Nibbles on to Spring Snack and Summer Ice-cream Garnish.

A friend gave me lovely gift of fair-trade cocoa and vanilla sugar, which I used to make the second batch. Just too yummy.

basler brunsli 2

The dough can seem a little tricky the first time you make these, not being quite so doughy as crumbly, but just keep the batches you work with small, the rest in the freezer, and keep working the crumble, nutty, chocolatey mass together one cookie at a time if need be.

*note: I used turbinado (Raw) sugar for the top sprinkling because I like the slightly golden colour and the texture, but you can get large sugar crystals in all sorts and colours so don’t feel limited.

**note: for the first batch I used Callebaut Couverture, chopped up and on the second batch I got a little lazy and used Callebaut Choc Chips. I found the chips a little harder than the couverture and ended up having to warm them, along with the cocoa and spices, over a bowl of warm water until just before the chocolate started to melt in order to grind the chocolate up.

***note: if you don’t want to use the alcohol, substitute water or apple juice. Although, the actual alcohol will evaporate during cooking, so it’s perfectly fine for children. Also try using Kahlua for some fun.

basler brunsli 3

Basler Brunsli

250g good dark chocolate, 70%, chopped
⅓ cup cocoa powder
2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cloves
2 egg whites
¼ cup icing sugar
3 cups ground almonds
3 Tbsp Brandy or other
Course sugar for sprinkling (about ¼ cup)

– blend the chocolate, cocoa and spices in a food processor until finely ground

– add almonds and mix well

– in a large bowl, whip the eggwhites until frothy. Add the icing sugar in two batches, whipping well between additions, until firm peaks form

– fold in the chocolate-almond mix and the brandy

– form into two logs, wrap in plastic and freeze for at least 30 mins

– preheat the oven to 325˚F

– working with one batch of dough at a time, sprinkle your pastry board with sugar and roll dough out carefully over sugar until 1cm thick. Cut shapes (traditionally 2″ hearts are used) and place on a cookie tray. Sprinkle each cookie with sugar crystals, pressing slightly on each cookie to embed the sugar a little.

– bake in the oven for 18 – 20 mins

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Christmas Cookie selection

Phew! Finally I can sit down to a nice cup of tea, wipe the flour from my forehead and, more importantly, wash my apron. The poor thing is starting to look more like a piece of modern sculpture than an apron, so covered is it in flour and cookie dough and various bits of other pastry. But what a bake it was! Even though I didn’t get around to making the shortbread I wanted to, or those cheddar and rosemary crackers, my freezer is chock-a-block full of a large enough variety of Christmas Cheer. Enough to make me wonder quite seriously about that gym membership pamphlet the postman so kindly popped through my letter slot this morning. I’ll need a team of hungry elves to get through this lot!

I truly do revel in this time of year, here in the cold, white north. Each season brings its own joys and flavours, but somehow, despite my love of all things fresh in the Summer, and warm in the Autumn, it’s the Winter that puts a smile in my heart. Just put a pot of hot, mulled apple cider on the stove and I’m in heaven. I’ve always been a Winter person, loving, from an early age, the bite of cold on my cheeks and nose, and the burrowing one must do into warm woolens and snuggly sweaters. Thank goodness the somewhat more Winter-weary Mr P puts on a brave and tenacious spirit when ever I want to walk to Destination B instead of taking a warm and comfy street car because I do love a stomp in the snow. It’s the time of the year when any one can act like a child again and not risk immediate institutionalisation.

Christmas Cookie selection 2

I made this year pretty much what I made last year, in terms of cookies, which include traditional seasonal favourites like the somewhat crunchy, somewhat chewy Molasses Spice cookies; Gingerbread men with silver buttons and Royal smiles; peanut butter cookies, perfect with a glass of milk, plus a couple less traditional types like chocolate-orange harlequins, South African Crunchies and Basler Brunsli (which is currently my favourite Christmas treat).

One or two recipes to follow…

xxx

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Spiced Maple cup cakes w cream cheese

Isn’t there something magical about a cupcake? Stupid easy to make, requiring, in general, no special ingredients that you don’t normally have in the pantry and taking just about no time at all to whip up, yet they illicit a disproportional amount of joy and happiness in the recipient. Everybody, surely, loves a cup cake. What’s not to love, I ask you with icing sugar in my eyes? It’s the one time you get to eat the whole cake from start to end and it’s socially okay to do so. No sharing, no fighting over who’s slice is bigger, no dainty little forks, no politely leaving the last slice on the platter. Just you and the cake, head to head. Winner takes all. And then, of-course, there is the cute factor. Mini-cakes!? Yes, please. Sign me up.

So when you’re invited, back to back, to mid-week social events, in between a schedule involving working for a living and a long list of errands, can you honestly tell me you can think of a better take-along than a little plate of cup-cakes? I think not. These babies took 45 mins from tying on the apron to cinnamon-sugar dusted end and I can honestly say, they went down a treat. They were perfect, in their Mapley, cinnamony, cream-cheesy goodness, for the chilly weather. In fact, they were eaten on the day of the first snowfall of the season. Oh my, what brilliant timing.

*note: I used a generic cupcake recipe I’ve always had around and substituted maple syrup for the sugar, then left out any milk at the end. You might find you need to add a bit more flour at the end to form a suitable Cake consistency.

Spiced Maple cup cakes w cream cheese 2

Maple Spiced Cup Cakes with Cream Cheese Centers

For the cakes:
1 stick (125g) butter, softened
½ cup maple syrup
2 eggs
½ tsp maple essence
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
pinch ground nutmeg
cream cheese (about ⅓ cup, maybe a little more)

For the Icing:
½ stick (60ml) butter, very soft
about 1 cup sieved icing sugar
1 tsp maple essence
pinch cinnamon
2 tbsp cream cheese

– preheat the oven to 400˚F and line 12 muffin/cup cake tins

– in a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.

– in a different bowl cream the butter until very soft, then add the syrup and beat until combined. Add the eggs and essence and 2 Tbsp of the flour.

– then add the rest of the flour mix in two goes and mix well

– divide cake mix between 12 muffin tins. Place a blob of cream cheese in the middle of each (about ½ Tbsp each)

– bake for around 15 mins until cooked and golden. Cool well before icing.

– to make the icing, first beat the icing sugar into the butter, then add essence, cinnamon and cream cheese. Mix well and taste: you might want a little more cinnamon.

– ice the cakes and sprinkle with some cinnamon sugar to decorate

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