Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tea, sympathy & banana muffins

 Things have been quiet around here.  Winnipeg doesn't seem to have gotten the memo that spring/summer should really be around the corner.  Today it's overcast, drizzly, and 10ºC (50ºF for those south of the border!)  Perfect time for sipping hot beverages and making muffins.

Banana muffins were a weekend staple in our house.  It seemed we always had overripe fruit to contend with.  My mom had a spiral-bound cookbook called "Muffin Mania", which I loved... it was perfect for the beginner cook (which I definitely was, at age 12).  My Nonna loves making banana muffins, too... she'll make a batch, freeze them, and reheat them individually whenever we show up for weekend coffee.

The pics here are from a batch I made quite awhile ago, but I found a recipe that seems to work super-well, and has the added benefit of being quick and easy.  I whipped up a batch in about 10 minutes while Skyping with Tori last week, and Nonna-style, they lasted me well into this weekend.  Mmm!

Best-ever Banana Muffins
From Robin Hood Home Baking 2004, by way of "The Canadian Baker" (another fellow Blogger user!)

Makes 1 dozen
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana ( 3 or 4 large)
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line with paper liners.
  2. Beat egg, mashed banana and melted butter in a large bowl until thoroughly blended.
  3. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to banana mixture and stir just until moistened. Spoon batter into prepared muffin pan.
  4. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly touched.
  • Add 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries or blueberries to the batter.
  • Add 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips to the batter (I used chopped 70% chocolate last week... mmm!)
  • For a vegan version, substitute 1 Tbsp ground flax mixed in 3 Tbsp water for the egg and dairy-free margarine for the butter.

Off to put on my ugly sweater and curl up with a warm, snuggly (if somewhat annoyed) cat,

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sunday Dinner Series Part VI: Totally Non-Polish Perogies

Hooray for the iPhone!! Without it, I'd be very bored sitting here in the Winnipeg airport without my library eBooks, Facebook, email, Skype, Words with Friends, etc etc. and now Blogger!! Hooray! Flight delay entertainment? There's an app for that!

Perogies are a big thing in Winnipeg. I've been good-naturedly teased about buying frozen Cheemos from Superstore when there are so many great local, handmade offerings. These pillowy pockets seem to be a staple at big family meals here, even if there isn't a drop of Eastern European blood sitting around the table.

Despite defending my frozen, mass produced varieties, I felt the need to see if I could make a decent perogies from scratch (and nobody criticize my spelling... This is how I've ALWAYS spelled it. You people and your kubasa... I'll never understand). Turns out, I can!! I got the recipe here.

I did doctor the filling somewhat, keeping Hubs in mind. I added a seeded, chopped jalapeño when cooking the onions. I also fried, cooled and chopped some top-of-the-line PC double-smoked bacon. Heaven, people.

I will admit, all the hassle didn't seem worth it in the beginning. I had a hard time rolling the dough to a consistent thickness, so some were more doughy than others. Also, the dough seemed a bit tough (not tender and pillowy) the first time around. This actually improved after freezing... I stored a batch and cooked them later in the week and was much happier.

So would I do it again? Meh, maybe, if only to fool around with the filling some more. Otherwise, how can you beat a jumbo variety pack on sale for $3.99??

Feeling her Winnipeg (and food blogger) cred slipping away,

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Dinner Series Bonus: Challah!

I've got one of these in the oven right now, so what better time to post?

There are times I'm glad I don't do a vlog/audio component to these entries.  One of the docs I work with keeps criticizing my pronunciation of 'challah.'  I guess I just can't make that Hebrew/Yiddish 'ch' sound properly...
Deb once told me about a wonderful bakery in Winnipeg that closed many years ago.  According to her, they made the best challah.  I've always thought it was a beautiful loaf of bread, and so versatile... good for dinner, breakfast, French toast, etc.  I've also heard that it can be challenging to braid.  What's that?  A food challenge?  Accepted!

When we had Deb over for a roast beef dinner, I decided to surprise her with my first-ever challah efforts.  She was definitely surprised!!  I felt like a whole slew of Babas were rolling over in their graves at the thought of two goyim (me and Hubs) working in the kitchen- he with the laptop+YouTube, me with the six strands of bread dough- trying to make this thing work.  And work it did!  After the first bite, our guest exclaimed, "Y'know what this reminds me of?  Did I ever tell you about that bakery that closed..."  YES!

It's somehow fitting that I got the recipe for this loaf from another Deb, over at Smitten Kitchen.  Her blog is something that all other food blogs aspire to, I'm sure (I know I do).  I cut her recipe in half (I don't usually have a use for two loaves at once), and use black sesame seeds instead of poppy seeds (I prefer them, myself).  In terms of braiding, this is why Hubs was holding the laptop for me in the kitchen...

Very, very helpful.

Best Challah (Egg Bread)
Adapted from Joan Nathan by Deb @ Smitten Kitchen
Makes 1 loaf
  • 3/4 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 tablespoon plus 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 4 to 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • Sesame seeds for sprinkling
  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1/2 tablespoon sugar in 7/8 cups lukewarm water.
  2. Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 2 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading, but be careful if using a standard size KitchenAid - it’s a bit much for it, though it can be done)
  3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.
  4. To make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular, form the dough into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together.  Watch the YouTube video I posted :P Then place braided loaf on a greased cookie sheet.
  5. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaf. Either freeze breads or let rise another hour.
  6. If baking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. Sprinkle bread with seeds, if using. If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking.
  7.  Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden. (If you have an instant read thermometer, you can take it out when it hits an internal temperature of 190 degrees.) Cool loaves on a rack.
Note: Any of the three risings can be done in the fridge for a few hours, for more deeply-developed flavor. When you’re ready to work with it again, bring it back to room temperature before moving onto the next step.

I also made this for Christmas/Chanukkah this year, for my aunt, uncle and cousins.  The whole family gobbled it up!!
Off to enjoy a traditional brisket dinner at Deb's tonight and celebrate the Oscars,

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday Dinner Series Part V: You'll Roux the Day...

I might be French, but I'm nowhere near Creole or Cajun.  Regardless, when I saw the recipe for gumbo in my new favourite cookbook, I knew I had to give it a try.  Sausage?  Shrimp?  Those are two food things that Hubs loves!  Done!

I knew we were in for a long day of cooking with this one, so I used a lazy Sunday as an excuse to make it.  I was VERY SCARED of the whole dark roux situation, but I managed to make it happen without burning the apartment down.  Pictures for proof!

Gettin' ready.  Is it sad that I didn't know you could buy plain ol' clam juice?
The roux.  I've never made one with oil and flour in the Cajun style... I was kind of surprised at how dark it got!  In retrospect, I think I could've let it go a bit longer for a darker colour, but I was getting nervous.  They don't call it Cajun Napalm for nothing!!
Finished product, with some basmati rice.  Again, I was trying to emulate the picture seen here; I think I succeeded for the most part, but you can see how the roux COULD have been darker.
So, normally I'd post the recipe for my delicious creation... but in all honesty, I followed the book's instructions exactly.  To a T.  And with all the nonsense about SOPA and the Canadian bill C-11 going around these days, I'm feeling a little gun-shy.  Not that I'm expecting the RCMP to come knocking on my door and demand that I shut my blog down... but still, I don't want anyone to think that I'm claiming ownership of someone else's copyrighted intellectual property!!  Instead, I'll direct you to this website, where two of the chefs from America's Test Kitchen demonstrate their version of gumbo via a free video.  It's a bit different from the recipe I followed, but from the same great team.  Worth trying!!

Wondering if she'll ever get to see N'awlins (maybe during Mardi Gras??),

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sunday Dinner Series Part IV: Hot Diggity Clam!

There seems to be a direct relationship between the number of parts in this series and the lameness of the title puns.  But we soldier on!

In case I've never clearly laid it out before, I'm Italian on my mother's side (Nonna and Nonno immigrated to Canada in the early 1950s, I believe), and French and Irish on my father's side.  It's been at least seven generations since my ancestors left, however, so I was never really exposed to many "traditional" French or Irish dishes in my formative years (though my sister Sar got her fill of the latter over the past little while... mmm, pudding and Irish breakfast).  Regardless, there are still certain meals that I associate with my paternal family and tradition.  One of these was New England clam chowder and freshly-baked biscuits.

As a kid, I wasn't in love with eating soup containing bivalves.  But as my palate has matured, I can't help but look back and think of how much I missed as a child, eating Lipton or Campbell's chicken soup while the adults feasted on THIS.

I'd still eat the biscuits, of course.
Many years have passed, and I'm now married to a wonderful man who loves shellfish of any sort.  I can't remember the first time I made this for him... it might have been a joint effort with my lovely friend Kimmi (her hubs also loves clam chowder... you should've seen how happy he was when he found it at a Chinese buffet!)  At any rate, he is an avid fan of my mom's old standby recipe for chowder and biscuits.  It's a delicious meal, to be sure... and it also has enough fat to nicely round you out and keep the cold Winnipeg winds out of your bones!  Ah well, it was never a weekly thing anyway... just a nice hearty "special occasion, Grandma and Grandpa are coming over to play bridge!" meal.

In the making!
Ready for its close-up.
New England Clam Chowder
Adapted slightly from the Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery (circa 1970, I think...)

Makes about 3 quarts, says the recipe... about 12 cups, says I.  It'll feed 6 people well.
  • 3 cans (10.5 oz each) minced clams
  • Water
  • 1/2 lb bacon, diced
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 3 cups diced raw potato (I usually use red potatoes and leave the skins on)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 4 cups (1 L) homogenized milk (3.25% milk fat, I believe)
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • Paprika
  1.  Strain canned clams and reserve the liquid.
  2. Measure clam liquid; add water to top up to 4 cups.
  3. Fry bacon in a large pot until golden and crisp.  Remove and drain on paper towels and reserve.
  4. Drain off bacon fat, leaving behind about a 1/4 cup.  Add onion and sauté for 5 minutes.
  5. Add potato, salt, pepper, and clam liquid.  Simmer until potatoes are tender.
  6. Add clams, milk, and butter.  Reheat but do not boil.
  7. Top with crisp bacon and sprinkle with paprika.  Serve with biscuits.
Seriously, do as I say and serve with biscuits.
Biscuits: all the cool kids are doing it!
Cloud Biscuits
Courtesy of our honourary Aunt Kim, from out East (that's how you know they're legit)

Makes about a dozen regular-sized biscuits... only six if you make massive square ones like I did.
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 Tbsp sugar (increase to 1/2 cup sugar for sweeter biscuits worthy of strawberry shortcake)
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening (you can use lard, if you have some that needs using... ;))
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • Optional: 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese and/or 2 green onions, trimmed and sliced finely
  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Sift together dry ingredients; cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs (a pastry blender, fork, or two butter knives works well here).
  3. Combine egg and milk; add to flour mixture all at once.  Stir.
  4. Add "optional extras" if using.  Stir until dough follows the fork around the bowl (i.e. until just combined).
  5. Pat or roll dough out on lightly floured surface until about 1/2 inch thick.  Dip a biscuit cutter into flour and cut straight down into the dough.  Put biscuits onto a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray.
  6. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 8-12 minutes.  Keep an eye on them-- you might need to use a spatula to lift them up and see how dark the bottoms are getting.  They should be a good golden-brown- not too light, but not burnt either (I've been guilty of this).  The tops should look dry, with no wet uncooked dough in evidence.
  7. Cool slightly (if you can wait that long) and serve warm.
Note the colour of the bottoms!
Nom nom nom.  Good for a Sunday dinner, plus lunch AND repeat dinner on Monday! Yes, I baked fresh biscuits the next day... they really don't take long to come together!
Sorry for the blurriness... I think this is about the last of my Cannon photography.  From here on out, I'll mostly be using my iPhone 4 camera-- it does a FANTASTIC job of taking food shots!

Now, if you've made it with me this far and are still thinking, "Ugh, clams... can't do it, Honeybee, sorry!" then I have a good modification for you.  Instead of three cans of clams, try using three cans of tuna packed in water instead.  You can even reserve the tuna liquid in the same way as the clam liquid; just make sure to test for saltiness before you add more salt in step 5.  Even if you're still against the whole seafood thing (I'm looking at you, Sher), you can make this without the fish.  Try using chicken stock in place of the fish juice + water, and add more potatoes for a lovely bacon potato chowder.  Maybe add some corn to the mix.  It's versatile!  Even better, it will warm you up from head to toe as the mercury (or more accurately these days, coloured alcohol) drops!

Off to curl up with her Nonna blanket while reminiscing about dinners with Grandma and Grandpa,

P.S.- This trip down memory lane seems like a great opportunity to show off one of my favourite shots from the wedding:
My seesters, helping me put on Grandma's pearls for the big day... but what's that?  The clam chowder aficionados are watching over us, just to the right of my shoulder!  Cute little Easter egg... funny the details you notice after the fact!  Also funny how something as simple as chowder can remind you of loved ones and simpler times.  Miss you, Grandma and Grandpa!

Sunday Dinner Series Part III: Where's the Beef?

Blah blah work married life busy blah.  Back to the food in general, and the Sunday Dinner Series in particular!

Unseasonably warm weather aside, it's still winter here in Manitoba.  For me, that means finding the heartiest food possible and tucking in.  Warming from the inside out, if you will.  I can only fathom how the voyageurs survived the cold season all those years ago... though I'm pretty sure pot roast (or something like it) would've come into play.

He Ho!
"Roast beef dinner" is definitely a Honeybee family tradition.  In recent years, however, I've come to realize that while it does involve roasted beef, it doesn't necessarily fit most people's idea of "roast beef".  This is really more a pot roast, with lots and lots of veggies.

I had been perusing my new favourite cooking tome, and found not one, but TWO recipes for "perfect pot roast" (don't ask me how that works... how can they BOTH be perfect?  Meh).  At first, I thought I would follow the recipe exactly, especially since there was never really a recipe for Mom's roast.  But about halfway through, her voice started creeping into my head.  "What, no onion soup mix?  Are you really only going to use a half cup of wine?  What do you mean, no roasted carrots on the side?!"  Telepathic-mom was absolutely right.  What was I doing??  Why mess with what I know I like??  So, I started ignoring the book (Hubs would be proud) and started doing my own thing.  I've done it again since the first "hybrid recipe" attempt, with good results.  If you want to try it out for yourself, have a look here:

Lil's Sunday Pot Roast
Sort of adapted from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV
Show Cookbook... for the first bit, at least.

Serves four, with leftovers
  • 1 boneless beef roast (like a chuck-eye roast), about 3-5 lb*
  • ~2 Tbsp canola oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 small white onion, chopped medium
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped medium
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped medium
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 bottle of red wine (some for cooking, some for drinking... so pick a decent one!)
  • 1/2 package onion soup mix
  • 1 large red onion, peeled, trimmed and cut into large chunks
  • 4-6 red potatoes (depending on size), scrubbed and cut into large chunks
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled
  • 3-4 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • Cornstarch (for gravy thickening)
*I didn't realize that I bought a bone-in roast.  So, at about 8 am on a Sunday, I gave myself a crash-course in deboning.  It was messy.  Hence the butcher twine... better now!  My apologies to any vegetarian readers... but in all honesty, having to deal with that aspect of food prep made me consider a plant-based diet myself!
  1. Preheat the oven to 300ºF.
  2. In a Dutch oven or other oven-safe pot, heat the oil over high heat until shimmering.
  3. Prep your roast.  If it's a sort of large ungainly piece of meat, use butcher's twine to tie it up into a nice uniform loaf shape.  Using paper towels, pat it dry.  Season liberally with salt and pepper.
  4. Sear the roast on all sides in the hot pot (I like using my Le Creuset for this, since it can also go in the oven.  Less dishes, yay!)  Once well browned on all sides, remove the roast to a plate.  Turn the heat down to medium.
  5. Toss the white onion, celery, and medium-chopped carrot into the roast pot.  Cook until the veggies soften and start to brown.  Add the garlic and sugar; cook and stir for about 30 seconds until fragrant.  Add the thyme.
  6. Pour in a generous amount of red wine to deglaze; be sure to scrape up all the delicious brown bits on the bottom of the pot (I honestly just free-pour.  It's probably about a cup to a cup and a half of wine that I use.  FLAVOUR.)
  7. Add the roast (and any juices it's leaked) back to the pot.  Sprinkle the 1/2 package of onion soup mix over it.  Add enough water to the pot to bring the liquid halfway up the roast.
  8. Bring the roast + liquid up to a simmer.  Fit the lid tightly over the roast (I usually put a sheet of foil in there for a good seal).  Put in the oven.
  9. Bake for 2-2 1/2 hours, turning the roast over every 1/2 hour.
  10. At the 2-2 1/2 hour mark, add the veggies (potato, sweet potato, whole garlic cloves, red onion).  If things look a bit dry, add more wine.
  11. Bake for another hour or so, until the veggies and meat are fully tender (poke them with a fork- if the fork slides in and out easily, you're golden).
  12. Take the roast out and let it sit on a carving board, tented under the foil you used earlier, until you're done the gravy.
  13. With a slotted spoon, remove all the veggies from the pot to a serving bowl.  Try to leave behind as much juice as possible.
  14. If there are still a lot of "chunks" in the gravy, take an immersion blender and whiz it up a bit.  On the stovetop, put the pot on medium heat and simmer the gravy down until it thickens and reduces somewhat.  Scoop out some of the hot proto-gravy with a ladle into a mug.  Add a tablespoon or so of cornstarch and whisk well.  Add back to the whole pot of gravy (this is how you can avoid getting lumps).  Repeat until desired consistency of gravy is reached!
  15. Carve your roast.  I'm not going to lie, I can never get nice "slices" like my Dad does.  So we just sort of end up with large tender meat chunks.  Nobody complains.
  16. Serve the roasted veg and beef with the gravy.  A loaf of fresh bread is especially nice here, to spread the roasted whole garlic cloves on like butter.  BUTTER, I tell you.
Starting the sear.
Almost done searing... look at all that brown-bit flavour on the bottom!
The bowl of delicious vegetables, pre-cooking.  Looks so pretty with all those vibrant colours...
Meat chunks!
Roast veg.  Not the prettiest bowl, but oh man, the flavours in here are not to be believed.
Dinner with Hubs (he's wearing his 'Polar bear in a snowstorm' Winnipeg shirt!).  Observe the fresh-baked bread, with roasted garlic clove spread.  It's a whole delicious meal, in one pot!  Make sure you get that red wine on the table, too.
So overall, the pot roast doesn't look like anything special.  It's certainly not haute cuisine.  Presentation's not great.  But let me tell you, this was the ONLY way to finish off a day of skating on the trails at The Forks.  It was also a great dinner to share with Deb, which gave me an excuse to attempt challah for the first time (more on that another day!)

Digging through the archives and continuing to cook (and photograph) up a storm,