Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sticky Bun Glory

Ah, sticky buns: my preferred cousin to the cinnamon bun.  Not that I have anything against cinnamon buns, you understand… but cream cheese icing and I have an on-again, off-again relationship (I keep cheating on it with chocolate ganache frosting).  There’s something about the super-thick, gooey, and in places hard-baked crunchy caramel that gives sticky buns their name… and I prefer it to a dairy-based topping for these spiraled goodies.

 There’s a back story here (surprise, surprise).  I don’t think I’d truly fallen in love with sticky buns until my family and I took a road trip (picture: giant Safari van towing a pop-up camper) out to Canada’s east coast.  For a couple of days, we camped in the gorgeous Bay of Fundy National Park and stocked up on supplies in the neighbouring town of Alma.  This particular town needs to be commended for two things: lobster and sticky buns.  There’s a teeny tiny bakery called Kelly's that sells them by the half-dozen, hot from the oven every morning.  We learned quickly to get ‘em before they were gone.  I can’t remember how we heard of Kelly's… perhaps Mom and Dad had found it during their east coast trip in 1984.  That could explain my devotion to these buns… I could have been exposed in utero, since I had accompanied my parents as a first-trimester bun in the oven (pun totally intended).  At any rate, returning as a young adult, I immensely enjoyed them again after a dinner of lobster and corn on the cob.  Definitely a weekend in food from the archives to remember.

I’ve had a few attempts at sticky buns in the past, and they’ve always been lackluster.  Last weekend, though, I was hit with a craving and went for it.  I did some Googling, and found this recipe from a Washington D.C. baker’s blog.  They look fantastic, as you can see for yourself in Pete’s blog pics.  Again, trusting everyday-people-turned-food-bloggers took precedence, and I attempted to follow the dough recipe to a tee.  This included halving the recipe for the caramel topping, as Pete suggests.  The only problem was the yeast.  In the recipe, it looks like Pete just tosses in the yeast with the rest of the ingredients, without letting it “bloom” (a.k.a. wake up from it’s dormant little Fleischman’s package nap) first.  Then again, he didn’t really specify what kind of yeast he was using, either… he could have been using an active yeast cake.  Hrm.  In the end, against my better judgment, I tossed the dry yeast in where the recipe indicates.

Some call it kneading; I call it "frustration management"
Ready to roll.
This was a mistake.  The dough did not rise.  I gave up after two hours and formed the rolls; the rolls, in turn, did not rise.  I could still see the little dried yeast granules distributed throughout the dough like little tan-coloured poppyseeds.  Not cool.  In the end, I nestled almost all the rolls together in my glass pie dish, said a quick little prayer, and popped them in the oven.

Now, given the yeast situation prior to baking, I had placed these rolls quite close together.  I figured, if they haven’t risen in the past four hours of prep, they wouldn’t rise now.  I was wrong.  Luckily I had placed my pizza pan underneath to catch any overflow, so my oven didn’t go up in burnt caramel smoke.  Whew.

In the end, the sticky buns were MORE than edible… in fact, they only lasted a few days.  The dough was a bit dense, sure, but still quite tender and moist.  I wish I had trusted my instincts and “woken up” the yeast with a touch of warm water and a pinch of sugar… but then again, this mistake means I get to try, try again!

Hoping my next batch “rises to the occasion”,


More Cookies, More Counsellors

Cookies were a frequent (and blatant) bribe to attend educational sessions or dissertations during my master’s program.  So much so that we were bitterly disappointed if there were no biscuits in evidence; this usually resulted in us declaring the event a wash.  My classmates and I even came up with a saying: “No cookie, no counsellor!”

Now THERE's a cookie worthy of my undivided attention...
I wanted to pass along two cookie recipes that I made recently for my wonderful fellow counselling coworkers.  One batch was made for dessert to finish of my wine-tasting afterparty; the second was made as part of a bon voyage surprise party for one of my coworkers, who will be going on a fabulous pilgrimage across Africa.  Lucky her!!

First up are cherry almond cookies, which come from the fantastic Nemmie on her retired blog, Cast Sugar.  I had been wanting to make these for, no joke, about eight months.  The problem?  A significant lack of dried cherries.  Oh, sure, I could’ve used cherry-flavoured dried cranberries, but it’s just not the same.  Every time I went to Bulk Barn or passed the dried fruit section of the grocery stores back home, I’d keep my eyes peeled… but to no avail.  The Winnipeg food purveyors must be smiling down on me, though, as I found them at both the Bulk Barn at Ellice and Empress, AND two different Safeways.  I bought the ones at Bulk Barn, since a) I didn’t need very much and b) they didn’t seem to be coated in sugar the way the prepackaged ones at Safeway looked to be.

I’m so glad I stuck it out and waited for the real thing.  Oh, man.  The texture of the cherries was nothing like dried cranberries… they almost had a texture more like prunes or dried apricots.  Definitely still some moisture there.  And the FLAVOUR… concentrated tart cherry deliciousness.  If I didn’t have this specific recipe in mind for them, you can bet I would’ve eaten them all out of hand.  Give this one a go, folks.

Next up are these outrageous chocolate cookies, from the lovely Holly at Phe.MOM.enon, in turn from Martha Stewart.  I can’t say I’m a huge Martha fan, but these puppies were GOOD.  The only issue was the sheer amount of high-quality chocolate they demanded.  Since I’d already used quite a bit for a phenomenal chocolate amaretti torte (which, sadly, I forgot to take pics of), I decided to cut down a bit and use the rest of my peanut butter chips in place of the chocolate chunks.  

Ahh, Lindt.  Only the best for my coworkers :D
Yes, kids, this is how baby chocolate cookies are made.  It's a wonderful and miraculous thing.

 The only other change I would have made?  I think I overbaked these puppies.  They ended up a little drier and not as chewy as I had hoped… but it’s hard to tell when the cookies are so dark to begin with.  These cookies are also worth a shot, for sure… I’ll have to try them again as the original recipe intended, with slightly less baking time, to see if they achieve the promised brownie-like consistency.

They're also good with coffee.
As my coworkers have jokingly (and in one case, perhaps not-so-jokingly) warned me about their possible weight gain, I may switch back to bringing desserts from the G.I. diet cookbook that everyone can feel a bit better about.  There are several I haven’t tried yet, and I need my work guinea pigs to help evaluate them!

Wondering if I’ll be lambasted for bringing in a pan of butterscotch brownies before I switch to healthier treats,

Outrageously overboard oatmeal

I've been really enjoying this whole blogging adventure so far.  However, I think I might be coming off as a touch obsessed to those nearest and dearest to me.  Case in point: I finished prepping a simple meal while talking to Hubs via Skype.  I sat down to eat it, and he promptly shouted, "WAIT!!!"  Utensil already halfway to mouth, I shot him a curious look... to which he jokingly inquired, "Aren't you going to take pictures of it first?!"  If memory serves, it was mac and cheese.  Not exactly blog-worthy... but sadly, the thought HAD crossed my mind even before Hubs interjected.  Am I just dedicated?  Slightly obsessed?  Who knows?  And to borrow Hubs' life philosophy, who cares?!

Anyhow, I opened with that little interlude because the oatmeal I made reminded me of it.  I mean, really, what's so special about oatmeal?  Why blog about it?  Well, two things.  One: I feel as though making homemade, not-from-quick-cook-oats, honest boiled-on-the-stovetop oatmeal is going the way of the dodo.  Why go to the trouble when it's so easy to hit up Quaker for an instant single-serving pouch of pre-flavoured hot cereal?  Two: The G.I. Diet cookbook has a good and simple recipe, I was out of cold cereal, and I had a bunch of fruit and nuts that I thought might combine together nicely.  This led me to making a giant bowl oatmeal a few weekends ago.  The base recipe is G.I. friendly, but I doctored it up with a few extra ingredients.  Therefore, I do not recommend its use for weight loss purposes... just for delicious breakfasts.  Read on!

Homey Strawberry-Apple-Hazelnut Oatmeal
Adapted from "The G.I. Diet Clinic" by Rick Gallop
Makes one gigantic bowl (technically two servings)
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup large-flake whole oats (not quick-cooking or rolled oats; read carefully!)
  • 1/8 cup (or 2 tbsp) wheat germ
  • 1/8 cup (or 2 tbsp) chopped hazelnuts
  • About 1/4 cup frozen strawberries
  • About 1/4 of a large apple, peeled and diced
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. In large pot, bring milk, water, cinnamon and salt to boil.
  2. Stir in oats and wheat germ and return to boil.
  3. Reduce heat to low.  Add strawberries, apple and vanilla.
  4. Cook, stirring, for about 8 minutes or until thickened.
  5. Stir in hazelnuts and honey.  Let cool slightly and serve.

I'm not really sure what possessed me to add all of those flavours into one bowl, but it worked.  Obviously, you can doctor this by adding any type of nut or fruit you so desire.  I usually just throw in a handful of dried cranberries or raisins, along with some rough-chopped almonds.  The original recipe calls for Splenda instead of honey, to make it G.I.-friendly, so that's an option too.  If you're trying for healthy, though, remember to split the quantities in half here; my recipe makes enough for two people.

An important point, before I go: I'm not meaning to knock instant oatmeal.  I was practically raised on the peaches-and-cream and maple-and-brown-sugar Quaker varieties.  Mmm.  But, I know how loaded with sugar those can be; and honestly, it doesn't take that much longer to make homemade oatmeal (as a former coworker pointed out).  You can even make this by combining all the ingredients in a medium sized bowl and popping it in the microwave for about five minutes, stirring every so often... the only concern is that sometimes it boils over and makes a mess in your appliance (hence why I recommend a larger bowl).

This isn't actually a cereal bowl; it's a medium-sized mixing bowl.  This was a VERY hearty portion.
Hoping I've inspired some of you to return to a simpler time of homemade porridge,

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wine tasting party alla Spanakopitta

Image from the Downtown Winnipeg Biz website
 I've already sufficiently expressed my love for wine, I think.  So it should come as no surprise that I jumped at the chance to attend the Taste of Downtown event last weekend, which featured wines and cheeses from local merchants.  Manitoba is neat in that, in addition to the provincial liquor stores (Liquormart, the MB equivalent of the LCBO), it licenses private wine stores as well.  I've been to one in The Forks Market, where I found a bottle of rosé from Châteauneuf-du-Pape that reminded me of my family's visit to Nîmes.  Ahh, memories!

The grounds of the festival; slightly muddy, but with a great view of the legislative buildings across the street.
Anyway, back to the tasting.  Despite the ground being a bit sodden, my group (consisting of some coworkers and acquaintances) had a great time sampling the offerings.  Admission was free, and tasting tickets were only $1 each!  I tried mostly whites, though I remember there was a very disappointing rosé that tasted of astringent rhubarb juice.  One booth was set aside for extra-fancy wine, so it cost $2 for a taste.  Most vendors were pretty generous with their "tastes", though.  I also got a nice big hunk of grana padano cheese.   Mmm!  Affordable AND delicious, I'll definitely be back for this next year!

One of the tasting stations set up.  This one had a wine called cupcake or something like that... it was tasty, but clearly a marketing ploy to target people who buy based on the design on the bottle (I'm not judging, I'm one of them!)
After the tasting, I invited my coworkers back to my place to a) meet Pebbles, the ginormous cat I've been petsitting for the past month, and b) to sample an experiment: spanakopitta.  For those not familiar, this is that delicious, flaky spinach and feta cheese pastry that's the cornerstone of Greek restaurants.  Now, I'm not Greek; the closest I come is that my (real) first name is a Greek word.  However, after my previous (successful) foray into meze, I decided to get a little more involved.

As Emeril would say... BAM!!  How I love the super-close-up setting on my camera...
Now, this was my first experience working with phyllo sheets.  After an extremely frustrating (and unsuccessful) time trying to find someone in Superstore to help me locate it, I bought some at Safeway.  In fact, I bought twice as much as I'd need, to save myself the headache for the next time.  I was a little nervous working with this stuff... but I kept a slightly damp tea towel over the stack of sheets to prevent drying, and I was pretty liberal with the melted butter.  Sorry, thighs, it had to be done.

The finished product, minus a piece to sample.  Wanted to be sure it was coworker-worthy, after all!
I didn't want to deviate too much from the original recipe in Rena Salaman's Meze cookbook, however I did make some adjustments based on a) what I had on hand and b) a comment from a coworker stating that she often finds spanakopitta "too spinach-y".  Well, that needed to be fixed.  Here's how I did it:

Spanakotyropitta (Spinach and cheese pie)
Adapted from "Meze" by Rena Salaman
Makes about 20 pieces
  • 1 454 g (1 lb.) package frozen phyllo dough, thawed
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 bag (about 250 g or so) fresh pre-washed baby spinach (from the refrigerated salad-in-a-sack section of the produce aisle)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (I found mine, by the way!)
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4-5 green onions, trimmed and coarsely chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 227 g (1/2 lb. or 8 oz.) feta cheese
  • About 1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped (or freeze-dried, if you kill fresh herbs like I do)
  • About 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsely, finely chopped (see above for my deal)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • For equipment, you also need a pastry brush and a 13"x9" roasting pan.
  1. For the filling, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Sauté the yellow and green onions until translucent.   Stir in the salt and pepper.  Add the baby spinach and stir carefully until the spinach wilts down (it shouldn't take long).  Set aside and let cool.
  2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl.  Crumble in the cheese.  Add the herbs, milk, and spinach mixture and mix well with a fork.
  3. Preheat your oven to 375ºF.  Unroll the phyllo pastry carefully- you will have a rectangular stack of paper-thin sheets.  Brush a 13" x 9" roasting pan with some melted butter.  Then lightly butter the top sheet of pastry and lay it into the pan.  Let any excess hang over the edges.  Continue until about half the sheets are used.
  4. Add the spinach filling and spread it out evenly.  Start covering with the remaining phyllo sheets, brushing each one with butter.  Try to be neat.
  5. Roll up all the overhanging pastry along the four edges to "seal" in the filling (sort of like how you'd roll the top of a paper lunch bag).  Brush the whole top of the resulting pastry "packet" generously with melted butter.  With a sharp knife, score the pastry into squares, but don't cut through to the filling.  Using your fingertips, sprinkle a little cold water on top of the pastry to stop it from curling.
  6. Bake at 375ºF for 50 minutes until golden on top.  Let cool slightly.  Slice carefully all the way to the bottom sheets of pastry and serve hot or at room temperature (as I did).
Not TOO spinach-y... juuuust right.
I know the recipe seems long and convoluted, but it was actually pretty darn simple.  I always marveled at the little savoury phyllo pastries that my aunt Lisa would make for our annual Boxing Day feast... maybe I'll have to attempt something like that now that the mystery shrouding this ingredient has dissipated!

In addition to spanakopitta, I made some yummy dips and finger foods for us to munch on.  The pics aren't the greatest, since they were taken AFTER we'd eaten, but oh well!

Clockwise from top left: local sweet-hot pickles, mild genoa salami, kalamata olives, and dill havarti cheese.
No surprise here... hummus and pita.  This time, I put a bit of garam masala spice in the hummus to try to mimic a recent President's Choice offering... wasn't quite the same, but still tasty!
Crudités and sundried tomato white bean dip.  Shannon likes the snap peas you see in the bowl just raw; after seeing her eat these with hummus at work, I've started doing the same.  Reminds me of eating fresh peas from my Nonna's garden... delish.
I receive some compliments on the white bean dip above, so I'll give you guys a twofer and put the recipe here as well:

Sundried Tomato and Herb Bean Dip
Adapted from Living the GI Diet by Rick Gallop and Emily Richards
Makes about 2 cups
  • 2 Tbsp chopped sundried tomatoes (drained, rinsed and patted dry if they came in oil)
  • 1/4 cup boiling or very hot water (mine comes out scalding right from the tap)
  • 1 can (540 ml) white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • A few cranks of freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp herbes de Provençe (or another herb & spice blend, such as Italian)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • About 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
  1. Place tomatoes in hot/boiling water; let stand for 10 minutes.  Drain and reserve about 1 Tbsp of the water. 
  2. In a food processor (or with an immersion blender, as I do), purée together beans, tomatoes, oil, salt, pepper, lemon zest, lemon juice, and reserved "tomato water" until smooth.  Pulse in herbs and garlic.
  3. For best flavour, let sit in the fridge or at room temperature for at least an hour to get the flavours to meld.  Lasts about 2 weeks in a sealed container in the fridge.  This is also really good as an alternative to mayo on a turkey sandwich.
So there you have it.  I successfully hosted a wine-tasting afterparty!!  I also served coffee and cookies, but I'm saving the cookies for another post (I think you've had enough for one day!)

Wondering what she should make when she (eventually) invites her neighbors over for cocktails,

    Sunday, September 19, 2010 Stuffed Squash

    This'll be a bit of a quickie; there's not a huge backstory here, other than to say thanks to my soon-to-be-inlaws for giving me the delicious squash that resulted in the following dinner.

    I really like squash; oven-roasted butternut squash with just a touch of brown sugar and butter is a Thanksgiving staple in my family.  Mmm.  Maybe at some point I'll make my squash and potato soup, which is another fantastic way to showcase that particular gourd.  On this day, though, I had a lovely-looking acorn squash that had flown back to Winnipeg with me in my checked luggage (sometimes I wonder what airport security thinks of me...)  I wanted something warm and hearty, as the weather's taken a turn towards brisk.  So, I did what I always do in a situation like this: I Googled.

    My laptop, a.k.a. my most valuable cookbook, and dinner.
    I was looking for a stuffed squash similar to the stuffed peppers that Ni, Michelle and I enjoyed while wintering in a cottage in Barrie.  Spicy Italian sausage would have to make an appearance.  Luckily, Google sent me straight to, a very handy site with lots of great recipes, reviews, and feedback to help you find what you're looking for.  This particular recipe seemed right on the money.

    I did make a few changes (surprise, surprise).  Firstly, I halved the recipe; I only had one squash to work with.  Secondly, I nixed the celery.  I really, really dislike celery.  Hubs loves it, slathered with Cheez Whiz, PB, or just plain; I hate the flavour, I hate the texture, and I mostly hate those stupid stringy things that get stuck in your teeth.  I don't care that it's negative calories; I'd rather achieve that with ice water (which I did, as you can see!)  So, I substituted peeled and finely diced carrots.  I figured that the anise in the hot italian sausage (which I swapped in for the sweet) would give enough of that celeriac flavour.   I also left out the raisins and pecans... I just wasn't feeling it (plus I don't regularly keep pecans hanging around.)  I finished the whole deal off, before baking, with a sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese.  Delicious!!

    So, now I hope you do at least one of three things: a) try out this roasted stuffed squash, b) try out for whatever it is you might be looking for, and/or c) start with one ingredient and a vague idea of what sort of flavours/experience you want, and Google your way to a delicious dinner.

    Wondering what to do with the mutant crossbreed "spumpkin" from her coworker Terri's garden,

    A celebratory blast from the past

    As promised at the end of my falafel post, I will regale you with a story about my friend Kimmi (and food, of course).  It's a tale of love, loss, disaster, and redemption, and centers around Kimmi's birthday in the summer of 2009.  That sounds quite dramatic, doesn't it?  Well, since Kim correctly answered a question following a food-disaster event, I thought I'd share a (near) disaster that was created in her honor.

    Kimmi blowing out the candles.
    First, let me tell you a bit about Kimmi.  We've been friends since a fateful coffee date back my in 3rd year of university.  I had met Tori through working in the deli at Valumart (again, food connection... I've been having deli nightmares lately, too).  Kim was one of her classmates, and Tori brought her along for some liquid caffeine in the student centre as we did every week.  It's a lucky thing we met, too, otherwise my dear friend Seanno might never have met the love of his life!  These two crazy kids are getting hitched next month, and I couldn't be more excited for them.  As a bridesmaid, I've been researching what SHOULD NOT happen at weddings on, and I came across a snafu involving hot cake that reminded me of this story.  Just so I don't jinx it, I know that Kim and Sean's wedding cake will turn out wonderfully, much better than the cake in the following tale (well, the point is kind of moot, since they're having stylish individual pétit fours, but nonetheless...)

    Okay, now flashback to 2009, June, Kim's birthday celebration.  Fantastic backyard bbq, particularly featuring wonderful grilled Portuguese chouriço (Kim's dad pronounces it like "cherice", and he's the real deal, so I'll stick with that).  Spicy homemade pork sausage flavoured with pimenta, a red pepper paste/sauce/condiment/jar of deliciousness.  I regret leaving my stash at home in Windsor.  Sorry, back on track.  Earlier in the day, Tori and I were out and about shopping for items to bring to the party.  In particular, we wanted to be responsible for the cake... but we couldn't decide if we were going to buy it ready-made or make it.  Eventually, we decided to make it, and purchased a dark chocolate cake mix, vanilla frosting, and a pint each of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries.  This was going to be legendary.  The only issue?  Erm, we had sort of dilly-dallied around, and ended up with very little time to, y'know, actually bake and decorate the cake.  Oops.

    Hubs and Honeybee, dilly-dallying.  This is the problem with multiple cameras and a distractable partner.
     The baking went fine... but the cooling was slow going.  Everyone who knows anything about DIY cake knows that you DO NOT ICE A HOT CAKE.  EVER.  Sorry.  That warranted all-caps.  Knowing this, we shoved the cake in the freezer (also a no-no, as this puts stress on the appliance, but what could we do?).  We let it chill until the absolute last possible minute that we could before the party began.  We had a heck of a time keeping Kim out of the kitchen so she wouldn't see a) our decorating job before it was complete, and b) the utter catastrophe our icing job was rapidly becoming.  We had wanted to slice the 13"x9" slab cake in half like a hamburger bun, to put icing and berries between the layers.  Remember: hot cake.  The top layer I carefully sliced off sort of... fell apart in places.  Hmm.  Well, not much to do but carry on.  We added the icing (which melted and sort of gave the cake more moisture... not such a bad deal) and the blueberries.  Then we... attempted to ice the top and sides.

    I call this: "Tori's arms and a cake".  Photo courtesy of Seanno.
    This is where we ran out of icing trying to cover up all the crumbs and cracks in the cake.  Graham, Tori's ever-patient and supportive cohab, ran to the store to get more icing.  We just slathered it on as best we could, then added a festive (and generous) clustering of berries to try to "disguise" the mangled corners.  Tori had worked in the bakery at Valumart and was occasionally called on to personalize a cake; she did the honors here.  We finally presented the finished product on a white square serving platter (my favourite!) which doubled as a gift for Kim.  WHEW!  Done.  Everyone complimented the dessert, which tasted great... very few people knew of the panicked icing-fetchery and fevered berry-maneuvering.  It was definitely a lesson in time management and baking 101.  In the end, though, a good time was had by all (and Kim's dad's fireworks display was spectacular!!)

    It could've been worse.  Oh, I forgot to mention the white chocolate curls on top... that ended up being "shards".  Couldn't quite get them to curl.  Just one more thing on top of it all, literally and figuratively!

    Truly a weekend in food to remember, from the archives.

    Wondering if she'll bungle up MacGyver her own birthday cake in a similar way this December,

    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    Cocky Coq au Vin

     So it's not often that I go all-out and make something so swanky for just little ol' me.  But I had the remainder of a bottle of Arabella Shiraz that needed taking care of, as well as a package of succulent boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  I swear by Rachel Ray's 30-minute version of this French classic, hold the mushrooms... honestly, I'm sure the classic slow-cooked version has its merits, but it's hard to see them in this super-easy-and-quick-and-delicious version.  I must say, I'm quite proud of myself for pulling off this presentation, hence the "cocky" in the title.

    Quick Coq au Vin
    Modified from "30-Minute Meals" by Rachel Ray
    Makes 4 servings
    • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts*
    • 4 boneless skinless chicken thighs (*I used eight thighs total for this, no white meat)
    • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    • Salt and pepper, to taste
    • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 large sweet onion (i.e. vidalia), sliced
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 1/2 cups good red wine
    • 1 can (14 oz. or 1 3/4 cups) low-fat chicken broth (I used the stock left over from Skyooking)
    • 3 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves, stripped from stems and chopped (since fresh herbs hate me, I used dried)
    • 3-4 Tbsp tomato paste
    1. Cut breasts and thighs into large chunks (I left my thighs whole, just sort of flattened them out by "unrolling" them). Mix the flour, salt and pepper on a plate and use it to dust the pieces of chicken.  Set aside. 
    2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil.  Brown and crisp the chicken pieces by cooking for 4-5 minutes per side.  Remove the chicken and add the onions and garlic.  Stir every few minutes, cooking down for five minutes or so.
    3. Add the red wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up all the tasty brown bits from the chicken.  Add the chicken broth.  Return the par-cooked chicken to the pan and add the thyme.
    4. Bring to a boil and stir in the tomato paste.  Continue at a low boil, allowing the stock and wine to cook down and thicken for about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
    5. Serve, either alongside potatoes and asparagus as I did, or with giant "croutons" made from slices of French baguette, toasted under the broiler, then brushed with garlic-infused olive oil (just microwave some olive oil with a crushed clove of garlic for about thirty seconds to make this).  They're very good for sopping up the juices!
    You can see Miss Chief in the background, wanting in on this poultry action.
    Who DOESN'T love these gorgeous purple baby potatoes?!
    The juices made a very nice "drizzle" for the schmancy white plate
    Sometimes I get little twinges of loneliness, looking down at a plate like this and wishing that my romantic partner were around to share it with me.  Then I remind myself... due to a rather dry relationship with all manner of fowl in his formative years, Hubs would gladly pass on even a super-moist and delicious offering such as this.  So I guess I'd better get my chicken kicks in before he moves out here!!

    Contemplating how I'll manage to cook for my (hopefully long and happy) married life without using poultry of some sort,

    Table for one... a little lonely, perhaps, but quite pretty and enjoyable overall.

    Lemony Long Weekend

    Lemons are a fantastic fruit.  I don't think I'd drink so much water if it weren't for the addition of a wedge of this citrus to liven things up.  I've been keeping lots of them in the house for both my H2O and for impromptu hummus cravings... it was only a matter of time before the full-blown lemon lust hit.

    I decided, over the Labour Day long weekend, to whip up a batch of my mother's famous Lemon Gems.  These are a huge family favourite, popular around Christmastime; a shortbread base infused with grated zest, and then an egg-based lemon curd on top.  They're so light and refreshing after the loads of heavy chocolate-and-nut based Christmas goodies, and they (blessedly) fall under the category of "baked goods that will NOT kill Ni", owing to their nutlessness.  But what makes them "famous"?  The reaction of a certain Windsor physician to these little treats.  I'll give you the recipe first, then the story!

    Lemon Gems
    From my fantastic mother (not sure where she got it, originally)

    Makes one 9" x 13" slab

    • 2 and 1/3 cups unsifted all purpose flour                       
    • 2 cups sugar                                                                       
    • 1 tsp. grated lemon peel                                               
    • 1 cup softened butter (or margarine)
    • 4 eggs
    • ½ cup fresh lemon juice (so help me if you use that bottled ReaLemon stuff.  Buy yourself some fruit and squeeze it.  You need it for the zest anyway!!)
    • ½ tsp double acting baking powder
    1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.   
    2. In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups of the flour, ½ cup of the sugar and the lemon peel.  Cut butter in until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pat crumbs evenly in a 13x9 inch baking pan lined with buttered parchment paper.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes until lightly browned.   
    3. Meanwhile, in blender (or in a bowl with an immersion blender, as I did in the pic above), combine eggs, remaining flour, remaining sugar, lemon juice and baking powder.  Cover and blend for 5 seconds.  Scrape down sides of container and blend another 5 seconds.   
    4. Pour topping over partially baked crust.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes more or until lightly browned.   
    5. Cool in pan.  Cut into diamonds or squares.  Yield 30 large or 60 small.

    Mom likes to cut these into diamond shapes, but then you run into the issue of having oddly-shaped "half-diamonds" around the outside of the pan.  So, for me, I cut them into right-angled isosceles triangles.  I can feel the trigonometry teacher that gave birth to me just beaming in pride at both my baking and geometry skills!
    Par-baked lemon shortbread crust, ready for topping.  Y'know, you could probably double the recipe for the crust, bake it a little longer, and have a fantastic shortbread on it's own.
    Completed bars, with the characteristic white, crackly, bubbly top layer (probably owing to that baking powder).
    Gratuitous up-close cross-section!  The Omega-3 eggs I used in the filling had yolks that were almost orange; it helped the filling achieve that gorgeous sunny yellow colour
    I promised you a story.  First, some background.  You may have surmised by this point that we do a lot of Christmas baking in our house.  Legend has it that my mother, shortly after marrying my father, managed to get into my family doctor's already over-large family practice by bringing the receptionists a plate of home-baked Christmas goodies.  He ended up with more new patients than he bargained for, once my three sibs and I were born.  Fast-forward about twenty years.  I'm waiting in the lobby of my doc's office for a routine check-up, and in walks a younger carbon-copy of the good doctor.  I had heard that his son, now a chiropractor, was sharing the clinic space with him... clearly, this would be none other than that son.


    Here's the funny bit.  He takes one look at me, and a look of recognition crosses his face (though I'm sure we've never met before).  He walks right over and says, "Excuse me, but are you a <insert family name>?"  I was a bit surprised, but confirmed that, yes, I was a member of that family.  He breaks out into this HUGE grin and says, "Your mother is the one that makes those lemon square thingies!!".  Um... again, I confirm his suspicions.  He then proceeds to tell me how, every year since he was young, he looked forward to his father bringing home my mother's annual plate of Christmas goodies so that he could eat all of these lemon gems.  He spoke of them with such fondness that I offered to forward him the recipe... but apparently he was happy to have it be a special once-a-year treat.  It was so funny, touching, and just a little bewildering how baked goods could have such an impact on someone.  Though, I recently heard a similar story from Hubs and my insurance broker.  She to this day misses the baked goods that my future mom-in-law used to give to her husband near Christmas as a thank you for being such a good guitar teacher to Hubs.  Funny how baking can really leave fond memories!

    Looking forward to making fond memories of my own (mostly for my happy-to-be-taste-tester coworkers),