After the worst ice storm in Toronto’s history and more than 40 hours without power, I was losing hope that I’d see the bright lights of our lovely tree on Christmas Eve. But last night at dinner time our power was restored and we all did a little dance of joy.
I stayed up late to enjoy the lights of the tree and count my blessings. We are so thankful to have warmth and light for the holiday. Our greatest wish was to be able to cook our turkey dinner here at home on Christmas Day. Simple pleasures really do mean the most. This is the powerful reminder the ice storm has left behind.
It is such a hectic time of year so you can imagine the impact of this widespread outage with close to 250,000 homes and businesses without power. Our neighbourhood was hard hit and many of the small shops and businesses were out of commission for several days. Only one of the five grocery stores in the area was open yesterday. I battled the crowds and walked for 30 minutes with an 11 lb frozen turkey . . . so you know it is going to be the best turkey ever. Starbucks was wall-to-wall with people (including me) recharging their phones so that they could reconnect with friends and family. It brought out the best in everyone and we appreciated all of the offers for help.
But it hasn’t been a good week for those who leave things to the last minute.
While I typically count myself part of the last-minute crowd for many things, baking isn’t one of them. This is one time that I’m glad I had all of my baking done for the season. One of my favourite cookies this year was shortbreads. I made them several different ways and found this to be a real time saver. I’ve included photos and the recipe below.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas with your family and friends. I hope that your Christmas is filled with simple pleasures. Our thoughts go out to the more than 125,000 homes in the Toronto area who are still waiting for power.
Recipe from Christmas Cookies from the Whimsical Bakehouse
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup icing sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 lb cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ cubees
Preheat oven to 350˚.
Line two cookie sheets with parchment.
Sift together flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer.
Add butter and mix on low until the dough comes together.
On a lightly floured board, roll the dough out to a thickness of ¼ inch. Cut out your desired shape(s) using cookie cutters and arrange about an inch apart on the lined cookie sheets. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes for small cookies or 10 to 15 minutes for larger cookies, or until lightly coloured.
Let the cookies cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
Adaptation for Chocolate Shortbreads
Follow same recipe and method above except:
- replace 4 cups of all-purpose flour with 3.5 cups of all-purpose flour and ½ cup cocoa powder;
- add 2 extra tablespoons of cold unsalted butter
- Use a stocking shaped cookie cutter
- Prick each cookie once with a fork
- Once baked, dip the top of the stockings in melted white chocolate and sprinkle with smashed candy cane pieces
Adaptation for Cranberry Orange Shortbread
Follow basic shortbread recipe and method, but add a handful of chopped dried sweetened cranberries and zest of small orange. Mix well. Cut and bake.
It’s September and I can’t stop thinking about Italy.
I guess it’s my way of not thinking about closed-toed shoes and the blurry-eyed, dark drives into work that are just around the corner. In fact, I’m so obsessed with Italy at the moment that I’ve taken to using the only three Italian expressions that I know—grazi, caio and prego—around the house.
My youngest ponytail looked at me with an odd expression at breakfast this weekend and said: “did you say pregnant?” Definitely not. No chance there. Thank you, but no. “I said you’re welcome . . . in Italian, and if you’re really, really, really good maybe we’ll go there someday.”
Because if I have my way, we’ll go there next summer as a family to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary. But alas, it’s still a dream of mine. I just need to convince the rest of my family that we need to go there . . . and then start saving my
pennies loonies wherever humanly possible.
To keep my family in the right frame of mind, I’ve enlisted a little help from the domestic goddess and what has become my favourite Nigella cookbook: Nigellissima. I’ve already made three recipes from the book and I’ve flagged about 10 more to make as soon as possible. (And all three recipes have been highly rated by the ponytails!)
Given that plums are abundant in September, I decided to make Nigella’s Ruby-Red Plum & Amaretti Crumble this weekend. I really think that plums are an under-rated fruit, but this crumble could change all that. The crumble was wonderful and the amaretti in the topping is pure genius, if you ask me. I’ll be making this one again . . . soon!
So for all of you who love Italy as much as I do, I have one important question for you: Positano, Venice or Rome? Or perhaps all three?
Before I sign off, I must apologize for disappearing from the blogsphere this summer. I won’t bore you with all the details, but I will say that it has been a challenging year in a number of ways. I’ll do my best to stay in touch when I can . . . I hope you understand. I certainly have missed connecting with all of you and hope things turn around this fall.
Ciao for now!
Ruby-Red Plum & Amaretti Crumble
From Nigella Lawson’s Nigellissima
For the fruit base:
4 ounces Amaretti cookies
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2-1/4 pounds red plums, quartered if large, halved if small, pits removed
2 tbsp sugar
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon (unwaxed)
For the crumble topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
7 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into osmall dice
3 tbsp sugar
1 9″ ovenproof pie dish
- Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5 and slip in a baking sheet at the same time. Put the amaretti into a freezer bag and bash with a rolling pin or similar, until reduced to coarse crumbs, then decant them into a bowl.
- Melt the two tablespoons of butter in a large pan (that has a lid), add the prepared plums, sprinkle in the two tablespoons of sugar, add the lemon zest and juice and shake the pan over the heat, cooking for two minutes without a lid and two further minutes with the lid on. These timings are based on having plums that are ripe: if the fruit is disappointingly unyielding, be prepared to cook for longer with the lid on, checking frequently. You may need to add the juice of the remaining half lemon – and more sugar – if cooking for much longer.
- Pour the plums (with care – they’re hot) into a 23x6cm/9x3in deep ovenproof pie dish and set to one side. Already the red skins will have made a gorgeous garnet gravy. Sprinkle in two tablespoons of your amaretti crumble.
- To make the crumble the easy way, put the flour and baking powder into the bowl of a freestanding mixer, shake to mix, then add the small cold butter cubes and beat, not too fast, with the flat paddle until you have a mixture rather like large-flaked oatmeal. Or you can do this by hand, just by rubbing the butter into the flour with your fingers.
- Add the sugar and mix with a fork, then tip in the rest of the amaretti crumbs and use a fork to mix again. Pour the mixture over the waiting fruit in its pie dish, making sure you cover right to the edges to stop too much leakage: although for me, some of the rich-hued syrup spurting out over the crumble topping is essential.
- Place on the baking sheet in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes; you should see some ruby bubbling at the edges, and the top will be scorched gold in places. If you can bear it, let this stand for 10-15 minutes before eating, with ice cream, whipped cream or mascarpone.
I’m going to date myself. Do you remember that 80s Faberge Organics Shampoo Commercial where Heather Locklear says she told two friends about this fab shampoo, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on . . . ? (What, you weren’t born yet? Then click here and see the giggle-worthy commercials that us oldies grew up with.)
Anyway, this is how things went with my mom recently. She tried these cheesey, sorta but not quite crackers, at a friend’s place and couldn’t stop talking about them. Her other friends were intrigued. Then they tried them. Now a few of mom’s friends have requested the recipe and so did I. Your (rotary dial) phone line was busy, so I thought I’d be all new age and post the recipe here so that you can check them out. Then you can tell your friends, and so on. Get the idea?
The source of this cheesey kinda cracker-like recipe is mom’s friend Raymond, who goes to her church. Apparently Raymond has been making these cheesey bites for about 40 years and it’s one of his most requested recipes. Raymond is someone who really knows his way around the kitchen and has catered countless dinner parties over the years. While I’ve never met Raymond, my mom raves about his cooking abilities, so he’s got my vote of confidence.
I hope that Raymond doesn’t mind, but I’ve adapted his recipe–mostly because his secret ingredient, MacLaren’s Imperial Cold Pack Cheddar, is only available in Canada. I’ve also renamed them “crackies” because I’d describe them as a cross between a cracker and a cookie. And, I’ve spiced them up with rosemary and a sprinkle of fleur de sel, even though I usually make half the batch plain to keep the ponytails happy. My oldest daughter likes to take them for her school snack.
Yield: approx 50 crackers
1/2 cup vegetable oil + 1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup flour
2 cups tightly packed grated old cheddar (orange)
1 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
t tsp dry mustard
2 cups rice crispies, crushed
2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary + a few unchopped rosemary sprigs
fleur de sel for sprinkling
Pulse all ingredients in food processor until mixture is smooth and well mixed; roll into balls the size of a quarter and flatten with a fork dipped in water. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.
Place one small sprig of rosemary and a pinch of fleur de sel (or sea salt) on top of each “crackie” after it has been flattened with a fork.
The crackies freeze beautifully. Reheat at 350 degrees for 8 minutes.
Raymond’s Original Version:
Follow the instructions noted above, except replace the 2 tightly packed cups of grated old cheddar with one container of MacLaren’s Imperial Cold Pack Cheddar and do not add one extra tablespoon of vegetable oil (total amount of vegetable oil will be 1/2 cup) or the chopped fresh rosemary and fleur de sel.
- For crispy crackies, be sure to press them down well with a fork dipped in water until they are quite thin.
- To retain the crispness, they are best stored in a tin container, rather than plastic. Mom likes to freeze any uneaten crackies and crisp them up again in the oven before serving.
- If you live in Canada, I recommend trying this recipe using the Imperial cheese. Just eliminate the extra tablespoon of vegetable oil. The rosemary and fleur de sel are optional.
I wrote the note below for Mother’s Day because I couldn’t stop thinking about how mothers can carry around a lot of guilt. We feel guilty for not doing enough. Guilty for doing too much. Guilty when we let our frustration or anger get the best of us. I’ve been trying hard to let go of all of this guilt and just enjoy the special moments as they come along. Moments like waking up to two little girls spilling over with excitement as they presented the gifts they’d made for Mother’s Day.
As a daughter, I love my mom dearly.
As a mom myself, I love my children with a kind of love that I’d never known before they came into my life. A love that wants to protect, nurture and teach. A love that is fierce, strong and true.
But it is also a love that is perfect in its imperfections. Real motherly love has small scratchy, rough patches where you’ll sometimes find impatience, anger or annoyance.
It’s a test of wills. It’s a daily dance. It’s a marathon.
Motherhood is all about finding the energy and spirit to keep countless balls in the air, without dropping one . . . or not losing hold of “strong and true” mom to “tired and impatient” mom.
But it’s a battle worth fighting, an important role to play. It’s a job I’m proud to hold.
And, it makes me love my own mom even more . . . because I now know how much went into each and every milestone celebration, family meal and hard-learned life lesson along the way.
Today, love your mom . . . or remember fondly the mom you once loved and still hold in your heart. Love yourself. And most of all, love and accept being perfectly imperfect . . . because you’re certainly not alone.
To all of you who are mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunties and friends, I wish you a very Happy Mother’s Day.
There’s no recipe today because, well, I think everyone needs at least one day off from the kitchen. Today, I highly recommend ordering in.
And before I sign off, I’d also like to apologize to all of my blogging buddies. I’m afraid that life has got in the way of commenting and posting lately. I promise I’ll be in touch soon.
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.