When time is short and the “to do” list is long, I reach for my slow cooker. Then I throw all my ingredients into the pot and set out to tackle that nagging list that just won’t leave me alone. But I’m always somewhat excited when I walk through the door at the end of the day. It is the next best thing to coming home to one of my mom’s home cooked meals . . . which incidentally is one of the many perks of having my mom stay with us every couple of months. (We’re very lucky because my mom has a wonderful, giving spirit—she’s the most generous and helpful person I know.)
One of my favourite things to make in the slow cooker is soup—especially in January. It’s a time when many of us are trying to lighten things up in the kitchen or being lured to the great outdoors for fun, family snow adventures (well, here in North America anyway). Is there any better way to soothe away the winter chills than with a piping hot bowl of nourishing soup? It just feels like home.
Here are 10 hearty, healthy and delicious soups that may just make you feel as good about yourself as walking up 19 flights of stairs two or three times a day. Some are from my trusty “tried and true” collection of soups and a few are on my “must make soon” list after discovering them on blogs I love to read.
1. Beef and Barley Soup from Karista @ Karista’s Kitchen. This was my first attempt at making Beef and Barley Soup and I’ll never eat Campbell’s again. Thanks for the great recipe Karista! My only modification was to add an extra carrot and extra tablespoon of tomato paste.
3. Fassolada (Greek Bean Soup). I’ve made this soup countless times on the stove top and in the slow cooker. The ponytails never complain when I make this soup and that is really saying something. For my post on this soup, click here.
4. Acini di Pepe with Meatballs from John @ from the Bartolini Kitchen. This is one of four soups that John has posted that are based on his mother’s homemade brodo (broth). I can’t wait to make this soup!
6. Asparagus Soup with Herbed Goat Cheese Balls. For my post on this soup, click here.
7. Chicken Leek and Corn Soup that can also be transformed into Chicken and Leek Pot Pie from Saskia @ One Equals Two. Saskia says that this soup is a hit with parents and kids alike–and I believe her!
8. Cauliflower Soup and Pecorino Puffs from Under the Blue Gum Tree. I’ve been wanting to make a cauliflower soup for a while now and so this recipe caught my eye. I’m equally excited about giving the pecorino puffs a try. I’m sure I could stop at just one puff. . . or ten!
10. Greek Lentil Soup. I made this soup on the weekend because I have a cupboard full of lentils that I need to start using. I pureed one cup of the soup to thicken it, but you could puree the entire soup if you prefer it that way. For the recipe, see below.
Greek Lentil Soup
Adapted from Three Sisters Around the Greek Table
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup brown lentils, dried
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 celery, diced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp oregano, dried
- 1 tsp salt
- Pepper to taste
- 6 cups water
- Red wine viegar, as desired
- Kalamata olives (for garnish)
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the lentils, onion and garlic and saute for 3 minutes.
- Add the carrots celery and saute for 2 minutes further.
- Add the bay leaf, oregano, salt and pepper and stir.
- Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the lentils are soft. If the soup becomes too thick, just add some hot water.
- Discard the bay leaf before serving and adjust the seasoning if needed.
- Ladle the soup into bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Add a teaspoon of red wine vinegar to each bowl and garnish with olives before serving.
Keeping Your Soup Jazzy
Biscuits on the side . . . croutons on top . . . sprinkled with cheese . . . there are so many ways that I try to jazz up soup for the ponytails. I can’t wait to try these Goat Cheese and Scallions Muffins from Anne (at Uni Homemaker) or Naan Bread from Eva (at Kitchen Inspirations) with my next batch of soup. In the meantime, here’s my current favourite biscuit recipe:
Mini Cheddar Biscuits
Recipe from Cuisine Grilling Magazine
Makes 12 biscuits
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 3 tbsp shortening
- 1/3 cup shredded sharp cheddar
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 1 tbsp melted unsalted butter
- Preheat oven to 450˚. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
- Cut in shortening with a pastry blender or two knives until pea-sized. Mix in cheddar, chives and parsley then stir in buttermilk.
- Knead dough on a floured surface just to incorporate. Shape into a 6” square, 1 inch thick. Cut into 12 pieces and arrange on prepared baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart; brush with melted butter. Bake until golden, 15 minutes.
“There are no words to describe how good this is,” said my husband after just one bite of the Nutella Molten Lava Cakes that I made for a dinner party over the holidays. One of the ponytails was quick to follow up with: “This is the best dessert ever!”
So, it is without hesitation that I recommend this recipe to you as one to make when you want to impress and delight your dinner guests. Your guests will love the luscious chocolately goodness that oozes onto your plate and melts in your mouth. You will love how easy it is to make.
Now, I have to say that I’m all for making my husband happy these days. He really hit the ball out of the park on Christmas morning with a beautiful new automated cappaccino maker and the Larousse Gastronomique Culinary Encyclopedia. Both items were a complete surprize, as I had forgotten all about the book recommendations that many of you left on the blog post for my book giveaway in November. I owe a special thanks to Tandy from Lavender and Lime for recommending this book. It’s nice to know that my husband reads the blog, isn’t it?
From what I’ve read so far, this book is a must-have for foodies. Packed with recipes, tips and detailed explanations, it is regarded as the French cooking bible. In fact, Julia Child once wrote, “If I were allowed only one reference book in my library, Larousse Gastronomique would be it, without question.”
I’m sure that this book will successfully keep me out of trouble for countless hours this year and I promise to share a few highlights with you.
In the meantime, I’ll be able to keep up with working by day and blogging by night thanks to my convenient new source of caffeine! (I must tell you that I’m addicted to cappuccinos!)
Our dinner guests Tammy and Les asked for the recipe for these Nutella Molten Lava Cakes, so this post is really for them. They both enjoyed these molten lava cakes and liked that the recipe is no fuss, no muss. (The microwave conveniently melts the butter, chocolate chips and Nutella for you and then you just have to stir in the remaining ingredients.) The recipe is from my new favourite cookbook Savory Sweet Life, which my mom gave me for Christmas along with Ina Garten’s Foolproof. I’d say all around I’m a pretty lucky foodie, wouldn’t you? (Remember, my husband reads this blog . . .)
Nutella Molten Lava Cakes
Makes 12 cakes; recipe from Savory Sweet Life
10 tablespoons (1-1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup Nutella (chocolate-hazelnut spread)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1- 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 large eggs
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Whole hazelnuts, toasted
fresh strawberry slices
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.
- Place the butter, chocolate chips and Nutella in a large microwave-safe bowl. Heat the mixture in the microwave for 60 seconds, and then in three 30-second increments, stirring it until smooth after each interval. Stir the flour and confectioners’ sugar into the chocolate-butter mixture. Mix in the eggs and egg yolks, one at a time. Add the vanilla and mix until combined.
- Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling them about three-quarters full. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the edges are firm but the centres are still soft.
- Allow the cakes to cool in the pan for 3 minutes to set up. Run a knife around the edges to loosen the cakes and invert them onto a cutting board. Transfer each cake to a serving plate. Lightly dust confectioners’ sugar over each one, followed by a dollop of Nutella, a hazelnut and strawberry half (optional).
- Molten lava batter can be made up to a week in advance. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin and cover it with plastic wrap. Store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake them. Set the muffin tin on the counter while the oven is preheating. The baking time will be the same.
- Because I only needed six of these cakes for my dinner party, I scooped the batter for six cakes into my muffin tin to cook that day and the remaining batter into six small ramekins to store in the fridge for a later date. This worked well. I just found that the cakes in the ramekins needed to cook for a minute or two longer than they day that I first made them.
There’s no way around it. This time of year is hectic for all of us. I mean that in a “non-stop list of things that need to be done to make your life festive” kind of way.
Evenings and weekends have become a blur of shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating (inside and out) and organizing gifts for teachers and caregivers. The day-to-day parts of life don’t go anywhere either–the laundry, grocery shopping, meal preparation and chauffeuring services–they all need to be taken care of as well.
I guess that I’ve given you a hint to what my weekend was like. It was jam-packed, but I must admit it was fun-filled as well. One of the more unusual tasks was the time I spent assembling and altering a very special costume. You see, I’m on a first name basis with Fritz from the play Beauty and the Beast put on by a group of young people in our neighbourhood.
But all that costume prep was well worth it because it was a very special and memorable production. You can see for yourself. Here’s Fritz in action:
So obviously there are some rewards to all of this work. But, there’s another reward that I look forward to at the end of a long day . . . the holiday cocktail.
It’s the best kind of cheer, isn’t it? My new favourite holiday cocktail is an Eggnog Martini. I love eggnog, but I’m not a huge fan of rum and eggnog. Made with Amaretto and Vodka, this martini is a great alternative. My husband and I had these while we trimmed the tree last week, and then again tonight after we returned home from the big performance. I think it’ll become a holiday tradition for years to come.
Hope that you can find time to put up your feet, relax and enjoy the best kind of cheer.
Adapted from Single Minded Women
- 1 ounce Amaretto
- 3/4 ounce Vodka
- 3.5 ounce eggnog
- pinch of nutmeg
Add ice, eggnog, vodka and Amaretto to a martini shaker. Shake for a minute. Pour into martini glass. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Makes 1. Repeat as many times as necessary.
This time of year can be very overwhelming. Our to-do lists are bursting at the seams and there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day. It’s definitely the time when you need a few good entertaining options at the ready.
Look no further than the charcuterie platter for an appetizer that has something for everyone. One of the greatest things about this appetizer is its simplicity. It really is just a matter of arranging a selection of prepared items on a platter or cutting board–making sure to include a mix of textures, flavours and colours.
Charcuterie is the French word for cured, smoked and preserved meat products, such as pate and sausage, as well as the butcher shop that sells them.
It is also standard fare to add a few other items to your charcuterie platter, including spiced nuts, cheeses, pickles, mustard and bread or crackers. Cornichons and gherkins are a popular way to add a bit of acidity to the platter. I usually have a second platter or plate with the cheeses, but it really is a matter of personal preference.
Here’s a list of things that you can include on your platter:
- Mix of several meats — cooked and cured (I usually use three such as salami, bresaola and pastrami)
- Mustard — a good dijon and/or whole grain mustard
- Chutney or jam, such as onion or fig (I love to use camelized onion chutney)
- Cheeses – For example, 2 soft cheese and 2 hard cheeses, including mix of flavours and textures. I always include either brie or camembert, since they are a crowd favourite.
- Nuts – I like to use my paprika-smoked almonds
- Fruits – grapes and dried apricots are popular choices
- Bread/crackers – I like to have at least one type of bread and one type of cracker, but sometimes I include a couple of each. I usually have either a bread or a cracker with raisins. There so many great arisanal crackers to choose from these days.
- A good red wine — I think this is an ESSENTIAL ingredient to a good charcuterie platter!
If you want to elevate things a little bit, you can try your hand at making your own bread. I’ve started to make the Irish Soda bread below, which just happens to be the easiest bread in the world. You mix it up in less than five minutes, and it cooks in about 20 minutes. This is the first and only bread I’ve ever made and it amazes me how simple this is every time I make it.
No-Knead Raisin Soda Bread
Recipe from Cookery School at Eckington Manor
- 1-1/2 cups flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1 tsp salt
- 1-1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup raisins
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Place flour, salt and baking soda in a mixing bowl and stir together. Fold in buttermilk and raisins.
- Turn dough out onto a well-floured work surface and roll around to lose stickiness; form into a ball. Cover baking sheet with parchment paper and then add dough. Score a deep X on the top to allow steam to escape and bake for 17-20 minutes.
- For a buttermilk substitute, you can add 1 tsp of vinegar to 1 cup of milk. It is recommended that you let this sit for 15 minutes to allow the milk to sour.
- Here is the original recipe for the Raisin Soda Bread. However, I did make this without the raisins as the recipe suggests once, but I found it too sticky and added an extra 1/4 cup of flour to the mixture. In both cases, I did not add the cinnamon. I really prefer the version with raisins though.
- The charcuterie platter is very kid friendly. One of my girls needs to be watched because she will eat ALL of the salami . . . and they are both very BIG fans of the paprika-spiced nuts.
I’m pleased to report that Barb Bamber of Just a Smidgen is the winner of my cookbook giveaway. My eldest ponytail drew the winning entry. I’ve just heard from Barb and she’s selected Ina Garten’s new cookbook Foolproof. Congratulations Barb! A special thanks to everyone who left a message or signed up for email updates.
Parenthood certainly has its ups and its downs. I would say that the ups far outweight the downs . . . well, most days anyway. One of the unexpected ups has been all of the wonderful friendships that we’ve formed with the parents of our ponytails’ close friends. With no family here in Toronto, this amazing group of parents has become part of our “village” as we raise our girls.
There’s one member of our village who has taught us many things: how nothing helps you win an argument like speaking Spanish; how to style long hair into the perfect bun for a ballet performance; and the secret to light and fluffy rice. I’m talking about the one and only Mercedes, our friend from Puerto Rico.
Mercedes is known for cooking a range of authentic Puerto Rican dishes when she holds a dinner party. Apparently though, in the early days of marriage, her husband affectionately nicknamed her Adobo the Alcoholic Chef because of her tendency to add adobo spice to everything she prepared, while sipping on a glass of white wine. She’s obviously diversified her cooking skills since then, but she’s still known to enjoy a good glass of wine now and then.
According to Mercedes, adobo is one of three main ingredients that are part of quintessential Puerto Rican cooking: adobo, sofrito and achiote. Anxious to learn more about the dishes that we’ve come to enjoy at her place, I asked Mercedes to teach me how to make Arroz con Pollo and Stewed Red Beans a few months ago. Her mom also showed me how to make Tostones while visiting Toronto a few years back.
It was finally time to put all of these lessons to the test. This weekend I would try my hand at making a few traditional Puerto Rican dishes (Arroz con Pollo, Stewed Red Beans and Tostone) and then have Mercedes and her family join us for dinner. Fortunately, I was also armed with a popular cookbook authored by an award-winning Puerto Rican chef that Mercedes gave me as a gift, which helped to fill in the gaps where my memory failed me:
It is always nerve-wracking to prepare an authentic dish for an expert, so I was pretty nervous. After tasting one bite of my Arroz con Pollo, Mercedes shook my hand and said “now I’m going to call you Sofrito, My Puerto Rican Sister”. Whew. My rice wasn’t cooked quite perfectly, but the right flavours seemed to be there. Cooking rice perfectly really is an art form – one that Mercedes has definitely mastered! Fortunately, despite this, it wasn’t difficult to get the kids to eat their dinner.
I’ve included all of the recipes required to make this Puerto Rican meal in this post. I recommend making the sofrito, the dry adobo spice and achiote oil a few days in advance – it’ll allow you to focus on preparing the Arroz con Pollo perfectly.
This meal may seem daunting because of all of the steps involved — hopefully not, but if so, then I encourage you to at least try the dry adobo rub. You can use it as a seasoning for so many things (meats, fish and beans) and it works well as a seasoning for beef tacos as well — just add some paprika, dried cilantro and chili powder to the meat along with the adobo. Judy at Petit4chocolatier used adobo recently as part of a coating for tilapia that I can’t wait to try.
Arroz con Pollo [Rice with Chicken]
Recipe created using tips from Mercedes and Wilo Benet’s Puerto Rico True Flavors
- 1 ½ lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into pieces
- 1 batch of wet adobe paste, optional [see recipe below]
- 3 tbsp achiote oil [see recipe below]
- ½ onion, diced
- ½ red bell pepper, seeds and inner white ribbings removed, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, pounded to a paste
- 1/3 cup sofrito [see recipe below]
- 3 tbsp tomato sauce
- ½ cup small green olives stuffed with pimientos, sliced in half
- ½ cup white wine
- 3 cups long-grain rice
- 4 ½ cups chicken stock
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 cup shelled green peas
- Rub the wet adobe paste [see recipe below] on the chicken pieces and refrigerate covered for 2-3 hours, or overnight.
- In a caldero or dutch oven, warm the achiote oil [see recipe below] over high heat. Add the onion, red pepper, garlic and sofrito [see recipe below] and cook until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and olives, and cook for another 3 minutes, stirring so that the sauce doesn’t stick to the bottom.
- Add the chicken and cook for 6 to 8 minutes. Deglaze with the wine and cook until it evaporates, about 4 minutes. Add the rice and stir well to coat with the rest of the ingredients. Pour in the chicken stock, season with the salt and stir. Bring to a full boil and cook until the water evaporates and the surface of the rice is visible with some bubbling in between the grains, about 8 minutes.
- Lower the heat and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Cook until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice grains are loose and fluffy, about 15-20 minutes (check after 10 minutes just in case). Add the peas, cover and cook for another 3 minutes.
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 12 garlic cloves, peeled
- 3 cubanelle peppers, seeds and inner white ribbings removed, roughly chopped
- 10 ajies dulces seeds removed and roughly chopped
- 1 bunch cilantro (leaves and tender stems only)
- 30 leaves culantro (if not available, increase add extra bunch of cilantro)
- ½ cup fresh oregano (leaves only), loosely packed
- In a blender or food processor, combine the olive oil with the vegetable oils. Add the onion and garlic and process for about 30 seconds to obtain a pungent white puree.
- Add the cubanelle peppers and the ajies dulces, and blend for another 30 seconds to obtain a light-green puree. Add the cilantro, culantro (if using) and oregano. Pulse and then scrape the sides of the blender/food processor with a rubber spatula. Process for another 30 seconds to obtain an herbed-speckled light-green puree with a piquant taste and pungent aroma.
Can be sealed in a jar or a bag and stored in the freezer for up to one month. Because sofrito serves as a base for numerous recipes, no salt should be added to the mixture.
I didn’t make this as Mercedes gave me a bag of frozen sofrito that she brought back from Puerto Rico. It was made with culantro, so it was very authentic!
Achiote Oil [ah-chee-O-tay oil]
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 2.5 tablespoons annato seeds
In a saucepan over medium-high heat, heat to achiote seeds and oil for 10 minutes without boiling until the oil has been coloured with the achiote. Remove heat, and steep for another 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and discard the achiote seeds. Allow the annato oil to cool then poor into a container with a tight fitting lid. (No refrigeration is necessary).
Wet Adobo Paste [ah-Do-bo]
(This is an optional step when preparing this rice dish and it is my own take on the recipe. It adds another layer of flavour to the rice.)
- 2 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tsp oregano
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
Smash the garlic with the salt until it forms a paste. Add the pepper, oregano, olive oil and lemon juice and combine well.
Dry Adobo Rub [ah-Do-bo]
Adapted from Wilo Benet’s Puerto Rico True Flavors
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tbsp oregano
- 2 to 3 tsp tumeric, according to taste
- ½ tsp ground white pepper
- 2 tbsp onion powder
Combine all ingredients in bowl and mix well. Store in a tightly sealed jar or bag.
Mercedes always uses Goya’s prepared Adobo all purpose seasoning; I’ve included this recipe since Goya’s version isn’t readily available internationally.
Stewed Red Beans
Recipe based on instructions from Mercedes
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ onion, diced
- 1 tbsp sofrito
- 1 tsp adobo dry spice mix
- 1 tsp salt
- One 398 ml tin of tomato sauce
- 2, 19 ounce cans of Mexican small red beans (or red kidney beans)
- ¼ cup chicken stock
- ½ cup water
- 2 tbsp cooked bacon, crumbled (or ¼ cup cooked ham, diced)
In medium-sized heavy bottom pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, sofrito, adobo spice and bacon/ham and cook for about 3 minutes until the onion is translucent. Stir in the tomato sauce and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beans, chicken stock and water and stir well. Lower heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
Mercedes fixed my version (pictured with the rice and tostones) by adding the water and chicken stock to make it more of a sauce. The recipe above incorporates this. She also typically uses Goya’s ham flavouring, so we developed the recipe with bacon or ham as a substitute.
Based on instructions from Mercedes; Makes about 32
- 4 green plantains
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Salt water or garlic salt in a bowl of water; salt for sprinkling
- Peel the plantains: cut off ½ inch from both ends of the plantains. Using a sharp knife, score the skin lengthwise in three different sections Slide the tip of your knife or finger under the skin and begin to pull it away, going from top to bottom.
- In a frying pan, heat about 2 inches of vegetable oil until sizzling hot. Cut plantain into 1-inch pieces and add to the hot oil. Fry for about 6 minutes until they start to turn golden and are tender inside. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Using the bottom of a frying pan (or tin can bottom/mallet), smash the plantains into thick tostones. If they stick to the pounding device, release them by quickly sliding a sharp knife under the tostones.
- Quickly dip the tostones into a bowl of salted water (but not too long otherwise they will turn soggy). Shake excess water off and carefully return to the hot oil (careful the oil will splatter). Refry for another 5 minutes until they begin to turn golden. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.
Mercedes’ mom likes to use garlic salt in place of regular salt in the salted water for dipping the tostones before frying.
Ingredients and Tools In the Puerto Rican Kitchen
Adobo [ah-DO-bo] is a widely-used all-purpose seasoning that is used to flavor and/or marinate meat, chicken, or fish. The key ingredients are garlic, oregano and black pepper. Other spices are commonly added based on regional preference. It can be made as a dry spice mix or wet rub paste. Adobo is used in Latin America, the Caribbean and Spain.
Aji dulce [ah-HEE-DUL-say] – This small pudgy pepper has a similar shape to the Scotch Bonnet, but it is sweet. It is usually green, but can range in colour from green to orange or red. It is an important ingredient in sofrito.
Annato seeds are a deep orange in colour and have a nutty flavour. They are used to make achiote oil, which gives Puerto Rican rice dishes their colour, in the same way that saffron gives colour to the Spanish dish paella.
Caldero (cal-DAY-ro] – A caldero (aluminum pot with lid) is a mainstay in the Puerto Rican kitchen. I bought this 24 centimeter caldero from Amazon.com and it works really well.
Culantro [coo-LAHN-tro] — Culantro is cilantro’s lesser known cousin and is very hard to find outside of the Carribean/Puerto Rico. It has long serated leaves and is also known as long leaf cilantro.
Plantain [plan-tane] – This tropical banana is used for cooking and is larger than an eating banana.
Sofrito [soh-free-to] – An important ingredient in Puerto Rican cooking that includes onion, garlic, peppers and culantro.
Tostonera — A tostonera is wooden tool commonly used in Puerto Rico to flatten/smash the fried plantain pieces when making tostones, although I found that my small cast iron pan worked like a charm.
- Mercedes says that the key to preparing fluffy rice is to ensure that you bring the rice and liquid to a full boil and cook (over low heat) until the water evaporates and the surface of the rice is visible with a bit of bubbling, then close the lid to finish cooking the rice for the last few minutes (also over low heat). This process helps to ensure lots of pegao — crusty rice at the bottom of the pan — which she and her family members always fight over.
- Mercedes’ rule of thumb is 1 cup of water or chicken stock for ever 1 cup medium grain rice and 1.5 cups of water or chicken stock for every 1 cup of long grain rice. I used long grain rice for the Arroz con Pollo recipe because I couldn’t find any medium grain rice.
- It is important to use green plantains when making the tostones. I bought my plantains at Phil’s Place at St. Lawrence Market (lower level) in Toronto.
- I found annato seeds in the spice shop (lower level) at St. Lawrence Market, although I didn’t need to buy any as Mercedes was kind enough to give me a few packages from Puerto Rico.
- I adapted many of these recipes from Mercedes because she likes to use a variety of Goya spices and products, such as Goya Adobo, which are readily available in Puerto Rico. Unfortuntely they are not as easy to come by internationally.
- Another great resource for Puerto Rican cooking is an old favourite cookbook Puerto Rican Cookery. I have a copy that was kindly given to me by Mercedes’ mom several years ago (thanks again!).
My friend Eva (at KitchenInspirations) and I have been joking around for a while now that we should start a blog called Fifty Shades of Grey Cooks. I guess that it was only a matter of time before someone connected this literary phenomenon with cooking. It was bound to happen. So, really I wasn’t that surprized when I saw this book in the window of an Indigo Bookstore this week:
A quick google search revealed a few of the recipes that this recently-released book has in store: mustard spanked chicken and learning to truss you. Hmmm, I wonder if my spatchcocked chicken recipe made the cut?
I’m not sure if Fifty Shades of Chicken is going to be on my Christmas list, but this cookbook definitely is:
In fact, I’m positive that my mom is going to get it for me because I found it hidden in the room where she stays when she comes to visit. I couldn’t resist having a peek at the book, and well, when I saw the recipe for Salted Caramel Brownies, I knew that I couldn’t wait until Christmas to make them. Fortunately, the recipe is already online so there aren’t any chocolate smears on the book to give my secret away. (But, please don’t tell my mom that I was snooping!)
The brownies were just as good as I imagined that they would be. They combine Ina’s outrageous brownies with caramel and salt, so really, how can you go wrong?
I’m really excited that I have this book to look forward to. But I’m not sure what other cookbook I should add to my Christmas list. Any suggestions? My husband reads this blog and he never knows what to get me, so I’d really love it if you could point him in the right direction by leaving your cookbook suggestions in my comment section.
Blogiversary Cookbook Giveaway
In fact, as a little incentive, if you make a cookbook recommendation or just leave a comment, you’ll be entered into a draw to win a cookbook. I’m in the mood to celebrate, since my one year blogiversary is coming up next week (Nov. 19). The winner will have a choice of either Fifty Shades of Chicken or Ina Garten’s Foolproof cookbook — I’ll contact you if you win and you can decide which book you’d like. If you also sign up to subscribe to my email updates from now until Nov. 19th, you’ll be entered a second time.
You can enter until November 19 at 12:00 EST. The draw will take place on November 20th — the winner will be drawn manually by one of the ponytails.
Even if you haven’t read the Fifty Shades books, you really must watch the trailer for Fifty Shades of Chicken by clicking here.
Salted Caramel Brownies
Slightly adapted from Ina Garten’s Foolproof
- ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 8 ounces plus 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (1 1/3 cups + 1 cup)
- 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
- 3 extra-large eggs
- ½ tablespoon instant coffee granules
- 1 ½ tablespoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
- ½ cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, divided
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 5 to 6 ounces of caramel sauce (see note below)
- 1 to 3 teaspoons flaked sea salt (I used 1 ½ tsp fleur de sel)
Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 9” x 13” baking pan.
Melt the butter, 8 ounces of the chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate together in a medium bowl set over simmering water. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee, vanilla and sugar. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature (see note).
In a medium bowl, sift together ½ cup of the flour, the baking powder, and salt and add to the chocolate mixture. Toss the remaining 6 ounces of chocolate chips and the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour in a medium bowl and add them to the chocolate mixture. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.
Bake for 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake.
As soon as the brownies are out of the oven, place the jar of caramel sauce without the lid in a microwave and heat just until it’s pourable. Stir until smooth. Drizzle the caramel evenly over the hot brownies and sprinkle with the sea salt. Cool completely and cut into (12) bars or more, according to your preference.
- When making the brownies, it is important to ensure that the batter cools before adding the chocolate chips, otherwise the chips will melt and ruin the batter.
- Ina uses a 9′ x 12″ pan, but I find that the 9″ x 13″ pan is standard here in Canada. The 9″ x 13″ worked perfectly!
- Ina suggests using true caramel sauce rather than dulce de leche, which has a lot of milk or cream added. She uses Fran’s. (www.franschocolates.com).
- I used Lyons Caramel Sauce ,which I bought at Pusateri’s. I also really like Starbuck’s caramel sauce, which I have used for years.
- If you have trouble finding caramel sauce, you can make your own. Please see fellow blogger A. Boleyn’s recipe here.
- One 350 g bag of chocolate chips is approximately 12.7 ounces. Sissi, you’ll be happy to know that I finally bought a scale!
- I adapted the recipe by reducing the amount of coffee and increasing the amount of vanilla to make these ponytail-friendly.
- The giveaway is sponsored by me, not a publisher!
So, what’ll it be Fifty Shades of Chicken or Foolproof?
After several posts filled with practical dinner ideas, it felt like I should be bringing you a decadent dessert this week, but I’m afraid there’s something very large standing in the way of baking right now.
A very large bowl of leftover Halloween treats that keeps calling my name. I’m not sure how I ended up on a first-name basis with these little troublemakers, but I’m thinking of changing my name. How about Helga? Yes, I think that might work . . .
Which brings me back to the practical dinner ideas, as the last thing that I need right now is more calorie-laden desserts.
In my recent blog travels, I stumbled upon this intriguing dish called Toad in the Hole, made my British mate Emma over at her blog Food, Fork & Good. (She has a lovely blog, which I highly recommend you check out.) In North America and Australia (thanks Ali!) , Toad in the Hole (aka Frog in the Hole) is something completely different — it is bread with an egg in the centre cooked in butter or oil (also called Egg in the Basket).
However, across the pond (pun intended!), it is a traditional dish that combines two British favourites: sausages and yorkshire pudding. The sausages are cooked in a yorkshire pudding batter that puffs up around the sausages. I understand that it is usually served with onion gravy, veggies and mash.
So, while this isn’t exactly a low-calorie dish, I did lighten it up by using half-the-fat pork sausages and one percent milk. I modified the original recipe by keeping the onions on the side, as this ensures that the dish will appeal to the under five foot crowd.
As I’ve never made or eaten this before, I’m not sure if it turned out perfectly, but the yorkshire did puff up and it was very tasty. It was in fact a hit with the entire family, including my youngest ponytail’s buddy and my mom who joined us for dinner.
Toad in the Hole
Recipe from Emma at Food, Fork & Good
- 4-6 good quality sausages (English-style bangers or mild italian sausages)
- 2 tbsp grapeseed oil or olive oil
- 1 cup flour (125 grams)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Just under 1-1/4 cup milk + 2 tbsp water (just under 1/2 a UK pint)
- 1 egg + 1 egg white
- 1 tsp dried sage
- 1/2 onion + 1/2 red onion, sliced
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- Cook your sausages and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 425°
- Prepare carmelized onions: add onions, honey and balsamic vinegar to a pan that has your slightly heated olive oil. Saute for 10 to 15 minutes until nicely carmelized. Set aside.
- Sift flour, salt and sage together in a medium bowl. Make a well in the flour and add the eggs to it.
- Add 1/4 of the milk mixture and mix well. Gradually add the remaining milk mixture and whisk until smooth (I used my magic whisk). Let the mixture stand for at least 15 minutes before using.
- While the mixture is standing, add grapeseed oil or olive oil to a 10″ skillet or 9″ x 11″ glass dish and pop into the oven for 10-12 minutes until oil is hot (or olive oil is smoking).
- Carefully add sausage to the hot skillet/baking dish (the hot oil will likely spit, so be careful), then pour the flour mixture over the sausages.
- Place into the oven for 25-30 minutes until the pudding has risen and is nicely browned. DO NOT OPEN DOOR!
- I got my conversions wrong, in that I did the 1/2 pint coversion for the US pint (16 fl. oz) and not the UK pint (20 fl oz) when I made mine. I’ve corrected this in the recipe above. Perhaps my yorkshire would have puffed up a bit more with the correct amount of milk (1-1/4 cups milk rather than the 1 cup milk that I used).
- I’ve added an extra egg white to the recipe, as one of Emma’s tips is that extra egg whites add height to the yorkshire.
- I used 1 tsp rather than 1 tbsp of sage, to appeal to a younger crowd.
- I’ve added balsamic vinegar to the onions to take the flavour up a notch.
- I used grapeseed oil for the yorkshire pudding because it has a higher heat threashold.
- Apparently if you open the oven door, your yorkshire will deflate!
- For more tips on making Yorkshire Pudding, please see Emma’s post.
- I used this chart for the flour conversion. Let me know if I’ve got this wrong …since I’m always nervous with the conversions!
On the same weekend every year, we hop into the car giddy as school children, wave goodbye to the ponytails on grandma’s balcony and head for wine country as fast as we can.
Can you think of a better way to celebrate our anniversary than with 24-hours of freedom? We got married in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, so we love to return whenever we can–especially on our annivesary weekend.
The Niagara region has been gaining a lot of attention for its award-winning wines in recent years. There are more than 70 wineries in the area and lucky for us it is less than two hours from Toronto. Would you believe that Southern Ontario is the same lattitude as Provence in Southern France? It’s true!
Our first stop on our getaway was Ridge Road Winery. It’s a boutique winery known for its hand-crafted, award winning wines. But I like this winery for more than its wines. Owners Jayne and Sean have been friends for many years–in fact, my first visit to this property was to visit Jayne’s grandmother when we were in high school. They’ve worked very hard over the past 15 or so years to make this dream a reality and now it’s a thriving business with quite a loyal following of Ridge Road wine lovers.
Fortunately, Jayne was working that afternoon and so we were able to spend a couple of hours catching up and sampling their excellent selection of wines. (Sean is the winemaker.) It was easy to settle in and relax in their cozy tasting area overlooking the vineyard. (Jayne designed the tasting room.)
Sharon, a sommelier who works there, helped us to map out our route for the rest of our trip by recommending some terrific new wineries that we should visit.
One of them was Colaneri in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This winery makes you feel like you have just walked into a quaint Tuscan village. Colaneri is known for its appassimento style wines, which are made from grapes that have been dried first to concentrate their flavour. You may be familiar with the well-known Italian amarone wines, which are made using the same process.
We were running out of daylight, so we headed straight for our favourite place to stay in NOTL, The Charles Inn. The historic inn was built shortly after the War of 1812.
Our tradition on these min-breaks is to have some “house wine” in our room before dinner. We had a bottle of 1999 Brunello di Montalcino that we bought in Tuscany on our honeymoon. My husband still complains that his shoulder has never been the same since he carried all of the wine, honey, pesto, and olive oil that I insisted were essential souvenirs.
The restaurant at the Charles Inn is not to be missed. It is one of my all-time favourite restaurants and the food never disappoints. We enjoyed the tasting menu with wine pairings, which I highly recommend. The appetizer was our favourite: Mushroom and Parmesan Tagliatelle (the inspiration for the recipe in this post).
En route to pick up the girls the next day, we stopped in a couple more wineries recommended by Sharon. One of my favourites was the The Good Earth Winery and Cooking School.
I was delighted to find this charming self-serve pantry at The Good Earth and couldn’t resist buying some (frozen) double smoked bacon. You just leave a note and drop your money in the ceramic canister inside. How cool is that?
Our 24-hours of freedom always comes to an end far too quickly–just like a good bottle of wine! So, I set out to make something with the ingredients that I had picked up along our wine tour: the double smoked bacon and some verjus from Ridge Road Winery.
In case you’re not familiar with it, verjus is made by pressing unripened grapes and is a wine-friendly alternative to vinegar in salad dressings. It is also a great way to add flavour to sauces. Because it is not fermented, it is not alcoholic, so it is also kid-friendly!
Parmesan, Mushroom and Bacon Tagliatelle
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 cups of a medley of mushrooms, chopped (I used oyster and cemini)
- 4-5 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled (I used diced double smoked bacon)
- 1 tsp fresh thyme, stems removed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1-1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup grated parmesan
- 1-2 tbsp verjus (I used 2 tbsp/see notes)
- 1 lb dried tagliatelle pasta
Cook pasta according to package directions.
Meanwhile, saute onions in olive oil for 2 to 3 minutes, until softened. Add mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper, and cook for another 4-5 minutes. Add cream and cook for about 5 minutes until it starts to thicken slightly. Add grated parmesan and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add 1 to 2 tbsp of verjus (according to taste). Add pasta and stir well. Sprinkle with bacon before serving.
If you prefer a creamier sauce, you can add a few splashes of cream to the pasta. Alternatively, you can reduce the amount of pasta that you make to 3/4 lb.
- You can substitute lemon juice for the verjus. However, it is important that you use heavy cream, otherwise the cream will curdle/split. I used half and half cream, which worked well because I was using verjus.