Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lemon & Sour Cherry Biscotti

Last Christmas, I made some Chocolate Hazelnut biscotti for my SIL's parents, C&R, who have always been so good to me. The gift was a big hit last year, so I decided to do the same again this year, only changing up the flavours.

I decided to try out one of the items from Jodi's parcel, the dried sour cherries! I have coveted these little babies for, like, ever because I see so many recipes for them. Yet, I have never been able to find them around here - only the whole ones in syrup. And I was dying to open a package to try them out, so I thought this was a good reason to do just that!

Holy crap - talk about tart! Talk about sour! But good!

Here is the recipe I concocted for the biscotti. Again, this is as culinary school recipe I doctored, and it will require a scale.

Lemon & Sour Cherry Biscotti

85g butter
185g sugar
2 eggs
zest of one lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
2tsp vanilla
353g flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 pinch salt
1 cup dried sour cherries
white chocolate, for melting, to decorate the top

Cream butter & sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, then vanilla. Add the dry ingredients.

Knead the dough lightly and pat into a "half moon" shape for even cooking, about 3/4" thick. (The "half moon" thing is in the original culinary school recipe; it's a little deceiving. What that means is rounded sides and a slightly rounded top.)

Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes, or until the top is firm to the touch, dry and cracked-looking. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Slice with a serrated knife, and then bake again until crisp and dried out - another 20 minutes or so.

Cool completely. Drizzle melted chocolate over the top.

Nice flavour combination, actually. It worked out well and these turned out beautifully! When C&R received them on Christmas morning, they were very much looking forward to having some coffee.

Thanks again to Jodi for the parcel!

Monday, December 28, 2009

My Apologies

I am heartily sorry for this, but I am really having a hard time with my energy levels right now. We have been socked in with fog for so many days now I have lost count, and even though I am sitting in front of my SAD lamp lots, I am just not feeling like my brain is working great, and it's affecting my body, too. The unread items in my Google Reader are overwhelming me, so, while I will endeavour to post regularly, I am clearing all my unread items and this means that I won't get around to reading many of your wonderful posts. I apologize for this. I might also not be around visiting as much in general until I feel more energetic. I will try to keep to my five posts/week publishing schedule, something I've kept up for over a year now, but I just don't know about that anymore, either. Hopefully, I'll start to feel better soon. I kind of don't even want to look at food anymore at this point; I've overindulged and am feeling it. I might just eat canned soup (shocking, I know!) and crackers for the next little while.

I just wanted to let you know. Your comments and loyalty have meant so much to me; I don't want you to think I'm being aloof or anything, and I don't want you to take my lack of participation in your blogs personally. I just need a little space right now.

You can keep up with my non-food related stuff on my regular Wandering Coyote blog, but I'm not sure how much I'm going to be writing there either. It's a different ball of wax altogether there.

Thanks for your understanding, guys!

Magazine Monday #59: Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle (Solstice Dessert!)

Finally, a week after the fact, I present to you the dessert I made for this year's Solstice meal, and let me tell you, this is a doozy! I knew the moment I saw it in the November (and final) issue of Gourmet Magazine, that I had to make this. It was just too good to pass up.

And boy was I right! This was an incredible concoction. And pretty simple to make. You can find the original recipe here.

The only change I made to the recipe was that, for the gingerbread cake, I used about 1/4 cup of chopped ginger in syrup that came in Jodi's parcel, and I reduced the ground ginger to about 1 tsp. It was a good call; the chopped ginger really added a lot of flavour to the cake. In the end, however, it wasn't the greatest gingerbread I've ever had, but since it was going in a trifle, it didn't matter as much.

The pumpkin mousse was fabulous and easy to make. In fact, in general, this was a very easy dessert to put together, and very light. I would definitely make this again!

As it happened, it didn't all get eaten on Solstice, so guess what I had for breakfast the following three mornings? Yep. And it makes an awesome breaky, too, I must say!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Breakfast

So, as if were weren't full enough from the previous night's Christmas Eve feast! Because on Christmas morning, it's time to bring on the Benny!

Yep, we have Eggs Benny on Christmas morning, accompanied by bacon and sausage. Usually, Dad provides the bacon in the form of this double smoked stuff he got from a local butcher, but the butcher closed shop during this past year, so dad no longer had access to his favourite bacon! Well, we made do with regular bacon, and we also had traditional English sausages made by another local butcher (who doesn't smoke anything). The sauce is from a package. The eggs are poached by yours truly. We also had fried potatoes, mimosas, and special coffees with Kahlua!
And we had a great guest for breakfast on Christmas morning, too! His name is Crushy and he's my SIL's friend's dog! He was so great! He's half American Bull Dog, and 1/4 each Pit Bull and Blue Heeler. He was so happy and mushy and just great company!For other Christmas pet shots, go here!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Solstice Dinner, Part 2, and Christmas Eve Dinner

I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays this fine Boxing Day morning, and that you are all not too hung over from last night's festivities! I am just relieved this trying time in my life is over and that life can now return to normal.

Which includes posting here!

Let me just briefly finish my round-up of the Solstice meal I served on Monday (though the dessert will be Monday's Magazine Monday post so, really, I'm only covering the side dishes right now).

So, in addition to the sausage-stuff, bacon-latticed pork loin roast I served, I made three sides.

One was very simple, and that was steamed yellow beans from my garden, which I took the time to blanch and freeze immediately after picking in August. I was a little concerned about how they would turn out because when I removed them from the freezer, they looked odd...Not freezer burnt, but kind of translucent and splotchy. But, they steamed up just fine and were great!

I also made the same Brussels sprouts recipe I used last year. You can see that here. Really simple dish, even if slicing all the sprouts is a pain in the ass. Instead of the pine nuts, though, I used some of the pecans that came in the package from Jodi, and let me tell you, they totally elevated this dish to a new level! And once again, when I added these to the heat of the pan, they had an out-of-this-world aroma! Brilliant!
And then, finally, everyone's favourite, the Caramelized Onion & Brie Bread Pudding. Again, this was a smashing hit. I think a lot of people get potatoed-out over the holidays, and this is a great idea for a starch in your meal. In addition to using brie, and party because of the exorbitant cost of brie in these parts, I had a bunch of mozzarella left over from the pork loin, so I cubed it up and put it in, too. It was awesome and everyone was really happy with it.

So, apart from dessert, which as I said I'll post about on Monday, that's a wrap for Solstice 2009!
Now, onto Christmas Eve, which happens to be my father's birthday. We always have a big family get-together for this and my SIL does most of the cooking. Usually, Dad gets his favourite, steak & kidney pie, which is quite disgusting. This year, though, Shan decided to make another of Dad's perennial favourites, Beef Wellington.

But before we get to the main course, let's talk about the appies! Because we always have appies! First of all, Shan's aunt brought some West Coast prawns her brother had caught himself over the summer. These were to die for! There is absolutely no comparison between these prawns and the ones you buy frozen at the grocery store. They taste way richer, for one thing, and they have a much more tender texture and a more subtle colour. In the dish Shan's aunt brought, she paired the prawns with a sour cream mixture, cocktail sauce, and then topped with the prawns. We ate this with crackers and it was so good! Shan's aunt also makes a wonderful crab dip that has sambal olek in it. It was gone very quickly, I can tell you that. And finally, because my dad doesn't touch seafood with a 10-foot pole, Shan made him some stuffed mushroom cups, which were also excellent.
So, if you don't know what Beef Wellington is, basically, it's fillet mignon wrapped in puff pastry with shallots & mushrooms. Shan added gorgonzola this time, though not for me as I cannot stand moldy cheese. She did an outstanding job and everyone in attendance was thrilled to bits.For side dishes, we had steamed asparagus and green beans, salad, roasted butternut squash, and a risotto made with aged Asiago cheese.
This was a meal you'd pay a lot of money for in a restaurant, let me tell you! It was incredibly impressive. Thanks to Shan for all your hard work!

And yes, there was dessert. But that deserves a post of it's own, so you'll have to be patient with me!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Wishing all of my readers a very happy, safe, fun, and warm Christmas! You all rock!

I'm sorry I didn't get around to posting Part 2 of my Solstice meal, but I simply got far too busy yesterday. You know how it goes! I'll get one going soon, though!

Take care, everyone!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Solstice Dinner 2009 - Part One

Simply put, last night was fabulous. I was worried I wouldn't have enough food, but that was ridiculous because I came home with a crapload of leftovers. I'll be feeding myself this meal for the rest of the week! There were 8 of us altogether, and the company was great.

My organization paid off and cooking the actual meal went very smoothly and almost seemed too easy.

So, let's start off with the main star of the show, the spiral cut, sausage-stuffed, bacon latticed pork loin roast.

I had made the stuffing the night before, and here is what I used:

6 mild Italian sausages, casings removed (it payed to ask the butcher at LOGS exactly what was in the sausage as flavouring, and it turned out that it was just salt, pepper, and garlic - perfect)
1 onion, finely diced
about a cup of whole cranberries
about a cup of maple pecans (thanks to Jodi's parcel!)

I boiled the sausage meat and drained off all the liquid in a colander. Then I sauteed the onion, added the sausage to brown it, then added the nuts & cranberries.

I have a TON of this left over. I made way too much and only used about 1/3 of the amount for my one pork loin roast. Not sure what I'm going to do with the rest. I'll freeze it for sure, and I thought of stuffing a whole chicken with it...

The next morning, I assembled the pork loin roast. Spiral cutting this sucker wasn't fun, mainly because of the odd shape of the roast: it was kind of oblong. Dave's blog said to keep the knife parallel with the counter and slice as if you were peeling an apple. This seemed simple enough in my mind, but the reality was a bit different. It was quite tricky and I think I really bungled it up. You can see the result in the upper right photo in the collage. At one point, I even cut through the roast to the outside, and I though that would be disastrous when it came to stuffing that sucker, but the cut was in the right place and wound up on top in the end. So, once it was as flat as I could get it, I put the stuffing at one end and topped that with sliced mozzarella cheese.

The trickiness wasn't over yet! Now I had to roll this up and that wasn't easy as the stuffing kept falling out. I eventually just folded the flap of mean over the filling and tucking it under. That worked fine, and then it was time to truss, truss baby.

This was also tricky. I am not an expert trusser by any stretch of the imagination. The roast was too big for my silicone trussing thingies, so I had to use butcher's twine.After that, I seasoned the roast with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

Next came the really fun stuff: the bacon lattice! This was fiddly, but luckily not too difficult as I've made lattice top pies. Same principle applies when making a bacon lattice. This took one and a half pounds of bacon and wasn't big enough to cover the entire roast. The spots that remained uncovered I just wound with bacon, not doing more lattice work, and decided that that wouldn't be my presentation side. But the top of the roast looked quite impressive when I was done. I secured the lattice at both ends with toothpicks. Then I wrapped the whole shabang in plastic wrap, put it in a pan, and threw it in the fridge until I was ready to take it to Jem & Shan's to roast for dinner (the dinner was at their place; I don't have enough room to entertain a group of 8).

So, at Jem & Shan's, I got out a roasting pan, oiled it, and threw the roast into it, then into a 350F oven. Shan & I estimated it would take at least an hour and a half. After an hour it was looking and smelling really good, at that point, I put in my electronic probe thermometer with alert on to dingle when it reached an internal temperature of 170F. I let it rest for 20 minutes while I finished up other things that were on the go at the same time.

Here it is - finished!
And here it is on a platter, after I sliced it:
The meat was tender and juicy and perfectly cooked. It was well seasoned and the flavours were excellent. Everyone was thrilled with the results. The previous night, Jem & Shan had had a friend come over and cook a meal for them, too, and coincidentally enough, this friend had also made a stuffed pork loin roast. He had made a really nice sauce for it that was pan drippings, white wine, pureed shallots and pureed apples...It was so good. We just added my pan drippings to that and a bit more wine and served it my pork loin! It was perfect. Incredible, actually.

Thanks to both Dave and Chris for inspiring this dish! You guys are awesome! While I couldn't BBQ this, I will have to try that when BBQ season is back, because that would definitely have taken this to the next level!

Here is the entire meal on my plate:Tomorrow, I'll post about my side dishes and dessert!

Full Flickr set here.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Happy winter solstice, everyone!

Tonight I make a fancy meal for my family as a Christmas gift, and I thought I'd share the menu with you all.

Spiral Pork Loin stuffed with a filling made of mild Italian sausage, onions, maple smoked pecans (thanks to Jodi!), cranberries, and mozzarella cheese, and wrapped in a bacon lattice (Dave and Chris will be all over this!)

Caramelized Onion & Brie Bread Pudding

Brussels sprouts sauteed with pancetta and pine nuts

Yellow beans from my garden

Pumpkin Gingergread Trifle

You can see last year's Solstice meal here.

FYI, I haven't been feeling well lately and things are once again backing up in my Google Reader. I am sorry I haven't been around visiting & commenting as usual, but I really do need to take a step back at this time and take care of myself a bit. I will be posting about this meal for sure, though!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Peanut Butter Tart Squares

I mentioned in an earlier post that I made about 33 dozen cookies this year, and this simple but totally decadent recipe was one of them. It's like a pecan tart, only with peanuts, and on a peanut butter cookie crust. These are not too sweet, surprisingly enough considering the corn syrup content. I got the recipe from this year's Bakefest insert that came in the December issue of Canadian Living, and I doubled it and used a 9x13" pan.

Peanut Butter Tart Squares

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup corn starch
1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup corn syrup
2 tbsp corn starch
1/4 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
2 tbsp butter, melted & cooled
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
1/2 cup peanut butter chips
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

1. Beat butter, peanut butter, and sugar in a bowl until creamy. Stir in flour, cornstarch, and salt until well combined and crumbly. Press into 8" pan lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350F for 12 - 15 minutes, or until pale golden around the edges. Set aside.

2. For the topping, stir together corn syrup, corn starch, baking powder, and salt until smooth. Stir in butter, eggs, and vanilla until well-blended. Pour over crust. Sprinkle peanuts, peanut butter and chocolate chips over the top.

3. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until golden and just set in the middle. Let cool completely in pan on rack. Cut into squares. This was probably my favourite out of this year's batch of baking. I just love peanut butter and chocolate together, and these squares totally satisfy that craving!

So, here are this year's cookies:

Two-Tone Chocolate Shortbread
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Shortbread
Mini Mincemeat Tarts
Pecan Dulce de Leche Sandwich Cookies
Christmas Blondies
Pecan Cookies
Oatmeal, Cranberry, and White Chocolate Chip Cookies
and these squares

Not bad, eh?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jodi's Parcel

Once again, I have been blessed by the generosity of my wonderful blog friends.

Last week, I got an out-of-this-world parcel in the mail from my good friend Jodi. It was full of the most amazing baking ingredients I have ever had! Here is a shot of the contents:OMG - real, actual, in the flesh vanilla beans! I have never ever had any at my disposal before EVER. Up here, they are about $7 per bean! Jodi sent me three packages - and they are all different!

Also, dried sour cherries! I have never been able to find these here, either! So, now I have tons for all kinds of different uses!

Additionally, there were some smoked pecans, a selection of maple products (the maple sugar is really nice on oatmeal), a selection of nice hot chocolates, some citrus oils (I cannot wait to use these babies!), some chopped ginger in syrup, a can of almond paste, some seasoning mix, some nice chocolate, and a cookie cookbook! I plan on using the ginger for an upcoming dessert - it will be perfect for a gingerbread cake I'm making.

I am blown away by the vanilla beans...I feel so decadent with them and now am not sure what to do with them all! I have lots of ideas for the cherries, though.

Thank you, Jodi! This is an awesome gift! I will definitely post about the things I make with these luxuriant ingredients!

And Juno was happy, too! She loves a new box to play in!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Shortbread

I was really pleased to see a feature in the December issue of Canadian Living on different kinds of shortbread. While I really enjoy your regular old shortbread and the Two Tone ones I made the other week, I was intrigued by some of the combinations CL came up with. One of them was this recipe for Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Shortbread. Who doesn't love oatmeal chocolate chip cookies? Mixed with shortbread? Yum city!

This is pretty easy to throw together, and like the Pecan Dulce de Leche Cookies, you roll this dough into a log, refrigerate, slice, and bake. And these were pretty good, actually, though not terribly shortbready in the end, but nice nonetheless.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Shortbread

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 tbsp each granulated sugar and packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup quick oats
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Cream butter, sugars, salt, and vanilla until light. Stir in flour, oats, and cornstarch until just combined. Gently fold in chocolate chips.

Divide dough in half; roll into 9" long log on waxed paper or plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour, or overnight.

Using a serrated knife (trust me, use an actual serrated knife, OK?), cut each roll into 18 pieces and place about 1/2" apart on a cookie sheet. Bake at 275F until firm and bottoms are lightly browned, 40 - 45 minutes (I baked them at 350F for 10 - 15 minutes as I couldn't be bothered waiting 40 minutes...). Cool.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Curling Cookies

If you didn't know this already, I curl! Every Monday evening, I head out to our local curling rink and chuck a 4o-odd pound hunk of granite down a length of ice, and then I sweep like crazy. It's fun, it's social, and it's good exercise. It's a great group of gals this year, and every other week we have "goodie night" in which two teams, in rotation, bring some small snack to share with the league. We usually have really great spreads and everyone looks forward to goodie night!

So, tonight, two recipes that are related to curling goodie night: one is from a lady who brought these amazing pecan cookies in and everyone wanted the recipe! She was kind enough to print off a whole bunch for us, and these were so good that I made a double batch for my Christmas baking spree this year. The second recipe is one that I made when it was my team's turn to bring goodies. I got the recipe from an issue of Taste of Home that my good friend Pierce was kind enough to send me a few weeks ago. It's actually an OceanSpray recipe, but it was a good one.

Pecan Cookies, courtesy D. of my curling club

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
2/3 cup pecan pieces
pecan halves, for the tops

Do you need directions? Seriously? OK: cream, combine, drop, stick a pecan half on top, and bake @ 350F for 8 minutes.

It is KEY that you underbake these for a fudgey, chewy cookie.

They spread quite a bit, so make sure to drop them onto the sheet about 2" apart.

Lovely cookies!

OK, so I made these really nice Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Chunk Cookies, found here.
I do NOT recommend you bake these at 375F as the recipe tells you to! That is way too hot for white chocolate! Do not bake any chocolate above 350F, especially white.

Other than that, nice recipe!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Magazine Monday #58: Pecan Dulce De Leche Sandwich Cookies

Guess where this week's Magazine Monday recipe comes from?

Come on!

Yeah, Canadian Living. Sue me - they rock.

All right, I saw this recipe and knew I just had to make these cookies as part of my Christmas baking spree this year. I cannot resist the siren call of dulce de leche! President's Choice makes a good one, and that's what I used. I still have some left over in the jar, and it's all I can do not to take a spoon and empty that jar in seconds!

Of course, typical CL, this recipe is not in their online database probably because they want you to buy the December issue of the magazine this recipe appears it. So, here it is!

Pecan Dulce de Leche Sandwich Cookies (slightly adapted by me)

3/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup each granulated sugar and packed dark brown sugar
1 egg yolk (you know, I hate it when recipes ask for one freaking egg yolk; forget it - I used a whole egg and things turned out just fine)
1 tsp vanilla
pinch salt
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup toasted finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted
1/2 cup dulce de leche

1. All right, make cookie dough as you would any other cookie dough.

2. Once you have a nice, smooth cookie dough, divide it in half; form each half into a 4cm-wide log, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour, or overnight.

3. Cut logs into 1/4" slices and arrange 1" apart on a lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350F until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to rack & cool completely.

4. Spread bottoms of half of the cookies with about 1/2 tsp dulce de leche. Top with remaining cookies to make sandwiches.You're supposed to get about 36 cookies from this, but I got closer to 24 - 25 in total, probably because I cut my slices a little thicker.

These are really tasty, let me tell you!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Thanks for Voting...

...But I didn't make it to round 2 of the Canadian Blog Awards.

Oh well! Maybe next year!

Thanks to everyone who took the time to go and vote, though - I do appreciate it!

Cooking with Kylie: Stir-Fried Asparagus with Baby Corn

I haven't made anything with Kylie's book Simple Chinese Cooking in a little while, but I am back on the bandwagon! This time, I made a simple stir-fried side dish that was really quick and delicious. Now, obviously, asparagus is not in season here in my little corner of the world, but I have to say that the LOGS has been carrying asparagus from Peru that has been a very decent price, like $2.99/lb, and it has been very tempting. So, I caved. And actually, the asparagus was very good. I always have mini corn cobs on hand for stir fries and snacking - I love these things!

I made half a recipe and had enough for two meals, but I made the regular amount of sauce because I didn't want to deal with the 1/3 cup of chicken stock the original recipe calls for. I never have small amounts of stock around like that, and I have no intention of starting to keep ice cube trays of stock in my freezer because I simply don't have the space or the inclination. The sauce was yummy, so I have no regrets! I also skipped the green onions.

Stir-fried Asparagus with Baby Corn (page 205 of Simple Chinese Cooking), adapted by yours truly

1 bunch asparagus
1 tbsp safflower oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 can baby corn, drained and sliced in half lengthwise
2 tbsp sake
2 tsp oyster sauce
2 tsp malt vinegar
1 tsp white sugar
1/4 tsp sesame oil

Wash & trim asparagus, discarding woody ends.

Heat oil in wok until surface seems to shimmer slightly. Add garlic and stir-fry for 10 seconds. Add asparagus and corn and stir-fry for about 1 minute. Add sauce ingredients and stir fry for a about three minutes, or until asparagus is bright green and tender-crisp. Serve immediately.

Awesome! I really enjoyed this, and plan to make another version of it tonight, incorporating chicken into it as well as some water chestnuts. I loved the sauce, too; it's light, like a vinaigrette, almost. Another fabulicious Kylie recipe!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

Mailing Baking

I officially finished my Christmas baking yesterday, and the official count this year was 33.3 dozen cookies, squares and mini tarts. Someone asked me the other day what I do with this all, and the answer is that I mail some of it away. I also take it to various seasonal functions and use it for dessert contributions at holiday dinners, but giving baking away is one thing I like to do and it is one thing that is also affordable for me to give as gifts.

You can mail cookies! I have been doing this for a few years now, and I have never had anyone say to me that they received their baking in crumb form. This is a run down of what I do, or have learned to do from experience, and what I suggest you do if you want to mail baking to people for Christmas or any other special occasion.

First of all, you will need bubble wrap - and a lot of it. Also, tissue paper is great. Also, packing tape.

I recommend mailing cookies/squares/mini tarts in cookie/candy tins as opposed to boxes because the tins are much sturdier and there is way less risk of things getting bashed around and dented in transit.

The key to parceling up baking is to make very sure that there is no room in the tin itself for cookies to bang against each other and turn to crumbs. It's all about filling gaps so there is nowhere for anything to move.

Step One: line the bottom of your cookie tin with bubble wrap.

Step Two: wrap like cookies in plastic wrap in packages of two or three, maybe four, depending on the size of your tin. Make the little packages tall enough to come just under the top of the tin. The purpose of packaging the cookies this way is to A) keep them tightly packed together to minimize movement within the tin, B) to maintain freshness and C) to keep flavours from mingling.

You'll get something like this (no, Karen, this is not your tin!):And this:
Step Three: start filling the little holes up. I find small candies like the Hershey's Kisses and similarly-sized stuff to be great for filling up the odd spaces between cookies that are inevitable. They also make the contents of the tin look pretty and add a bit of variety. But their main function is to fill space so nothing can move around. If you don't want to go the candy route, you can fill the spaces up with tissue paper or paper towel or something like that.

Step Four: pad the top. I use tissue paper for this, but you could also use more bubble wrap. This is why you need a little space between the top of the cookies and the top of the tin - you need padding! You'll get something like this:Step Five: bubble wrap the whole shabang! Call me paranoid, but I do not have 100% faith in 100% of the postal workers out there (no offense, postal workers who read this), so I feel the need for more padding. Step Six: Wrap in whatever you're going to wrap this sucker in. Or, put it in a box - with more padding. At this point, it's all about the padding! Address the parcel, etc.

Step Seven: Slap a FRAGILE sticker on that bad boy. Actually, I slap two on - one on the front and one on the back. Again, call me paranoid. But really, you need to do this to give your parcel of precious cookies the best chance it can get at being treated gently, as it so deserves. Make sure, if mailing to another country, you leave space somewhere for the customs thingy.
Step Eight: If you have an odd-shaped tin, i.e. something not square (for instance, I had two round tins and an octagonal one), and you are wrapping the tin in this brown paper or something similar, like I am, tape the crap out of this baby. It needs to be compact so that when the postal people go to measure, it's as small as possible. Also, you don't want any edges that can snag or tear.
There you go! No, I do not mail anything priority or express or whatever. No, I haven't mailed anything overseas because A) it takes too long and will compromise freshness and B) call me paranoid, but entrusting my cookies to the universe at this level is just very uncomfortable for me. No, I would not mail cakes, loaves, muffins, or anything soft or that can crumble or break easily, or that will go dry/stale quickly.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Catering Capers

My SIL and her mom, C, have a catering business they do in addition to their day jobs. They are very popular, I can tell you, and I have eaten quite a bit of their excellent food! Last Friday, C was away in some exotic locale celebrating her birthday and Shan had an Xmas party to cater at a private home for 40 people, and she asked me to help her.

This was a big deal for me. It was going to be a very long day and an early morning for me, and I haven't had an early morning or a long day on my feet for 3.5 years, when I came down with my latest bout of MDD. My shifts at the place I bake for now are late in the morning and are very short, which is what I need because A) I always have a medication hangover in the morning that takes about 2 hours to overcome, and B) I have big issues with focus and concentration that make sticking to a task for long periods of time difficult for me. Also, I have a lot of problems maintaining physical energy for sustained periods of time. But, because I have been feeling so well these past few months, I really felt it was time to start taking on more challenges, and this catering gig with Shan was right up my alley. I was so pleased that she'd asked me to help her out!

The menu for the party consisted of appetizers and some sweets. Here is the list:

  • veggies & dip
  • tomato tart with a cornmeal crust
  • bruschetta and crostini
  • crab-stuffed mushroom caps
  • beef satays with peanut dipping sauce
  • yogurt marinated chicken skewers
  • baked brie & candied pecans on crostini
  • sushi: California rolls, smoked salmon rolls, and veggie
  • chocolate cupcakes

Shan had done a lot of the prep the day before, but there was still a lot of work to be done. She picked me up at 8am on the dot and we drove to her mom's place in Castlegar to do all the other stuff.

Here are some pictures! There aren't tons because we were very busy and also it isn't, obviously, professional to be clicking away with your camera while you're at someone's house catering their party!
Here is the veggie tray I put together. We made a lemon & dill dip to go with them.

Stuffing the mushroom caps. The filling was delicious!

Tomato tarts. Yes, those are olives.

Baked Brie & candied pecans on crostini. These were fabulicious!

And these were the cupcakes! Shan made them the day before, and I did the icing and the piping, and then Shan cut up fruit to garnish the platter. These were amazing!
Full Flickr set here.

The day went very well for me. My back was very sore by early afternoon, and I did get pretty tired, too. But I took a break at about 2:30 and had something to eat, and then after that I seemed to get a second wind.

At the house - which had a gorgeous kitchen that was a pleasure to work in! - there was a lot to do, too, but it went smoothly. I did have to stand outside in the -5C weather BBQing the beef satays and the chicken skewers, but I did get to do this grilling on the host's rather lovely Weber grill, so I wasn't going to complain too much!

It was a great day! I was sore and exhausted at the end of it, but I was so pleased and proud that I had such a successful time. It was fun, too! I hope Shan asks me again sometime!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Chocolate M&M Cookies

Just to let you all know, I was away all weekend and came home to over 400 unread items in my Google reader, and due to time & energy constraints, I have deleted them all. So, if I'm not up to date on all your blogs or haven't left any comments in the last few days, that's why!

All righty! Recently, there was a customer appreciation day at the coffee shop I bake for and I was asked to make some special cookies. My boss suggested something with M&Ms, so I came up with a riff on this cookie recipe we use all the time at work. Accidentally, when purchasing the M&Ms, the person who does the grocery shopping picked up peanut M&Ms, but those are my favourite so I thought they made the cookies extra special!

Chocolate M&M Cookies

1 lb butter or margarine, softened
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 cups white sugar
4 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
4 squares unsweetened chocolate
3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
2 bags M&Ms (I can't remember what size they were...The ones you get in the candy aisle)

Cream butter & sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs and vanilla until light and fluffy. Melt the chocolate carefully in the microwave, and beat it into the butter/egg/sugar mixture. Fold in the dry ingredients. Fold in the M&Ms. Bake at 350F for 12 - 15 minutes. DON'T OVERBAKE!

Apparently, they were a hit!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Lunch at Jackson's Hole

Yet another shopping trip to Nelson last week meant yet another lunch out with Dad. This time, Dad wanted to go somewhere completely off my radar, though he had eaten there before...Years ago. He had had a great experience at Jackson's Hole with a friend way back in the mists of time (a few years ago, but other than that he couldn't specify how long it had been) and wanted to try it out again. Well, who am I to argue? Though I hadn't heard anything about it myself, I did silently acknowledge that things do change in the restaurant business from time to time, so hopefully the place was still good.

It was crap! Crap, I tell you!

The bar & grill type restaurant, located at 524 Vernon St., is located in a funky old building constructed in 1899 or thereabouts, and the interior is very cool indeed. The menu was decent, consisting of the usual lunch suspects you tend to find in a bar/grill. I had a hard time choosing, actually, but went with the BBQ Club House sandwich with fries, and my dad went with the Cajun Chicken Fajitas.

My sandwich was great - very tasty, nice bread, tangy BBQ sauce, but there was something wrong with the fries. They had a...flavour...It took me a few bites to recognize what I was tasting, only to realize it was staleness with a hint of freezer. I couldn't believe this. This place had to have a high turnover so there shouldn't be any stale fries on hand, but that was definitely what this odd flavour was. Ugh!
My dad's fajitas had several problems from my perspective, though he said the flavour was fine. For one thing, they arrived terribly presented in three different parts: the filling, a small ramekin with uninteresting and punily portioned toppings & little containers of salsa & sour cream, and then a third thingy containing the tortillas. It took up a lot of space and I have seen much more well-organized presentations of fajitas at other places. The ramekin with the toppings, as I mentioned was small and there were two problems with it. For one thing, it contained a whole bunch of olives. Now, this wouldn't ordinarily be a problem for me, but my dad detests olives, so he was trying to pawn them off on me. But when I dug in, the olives were obviously canned AND they were dried out and wrinkly - as if they'd been sitting out uncovered for a long time. They were disgusting. The second issue with the toppings was that there was no lettuce, but rather a spring mix situated underneath all the other toppings. Not practical at all. As for the filling, Dad said it tasted "all right" but it looked not very fresh and very unappealing.

So, if you're ever in Nelson, BC, give this place a miss. We won't be going back. Luckily, this is the first really bad meal Dad and I have had on our trips to Nelson, so we're doing pretty well, I think!

Monday, December 07, 2009

101 Uses for a Roast Chicken #23: Cream of Chicken & Caramelized Onion Soup

I don't know exactly what inspired this recipe, although I'd been seeing some great chicken soup recipes on other blogs, and I for some reason this combination came to me. For the stock, I used, of course, one of my many chicken carcasses. It's a really simple soup to put together.

Cream of Chicken & Caramelized Onion Soup

2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 cup chicken from a roasted chicken
1 cup half & half (10%) cream
2 tsp flour
1/2 tsp ground sage
4 onions, thinly sliced & caramelized (for easy directions, see this post)
salt & pepper to taste

Bring the stock to a boil & add the chicken & sage. Whisk together the flour and cream & add to the soup. Add the onions & season. Simmer until thickened. Serve.

This was...okay...I'm not sure how I feel about it now. I ate it all, for sure, but I'm not sure I'd make this again. It was kind of a strange combination. It definitely tasted better the next day when the flavours had a chance to mellow a bit. I don't know. I wasn't super stoked on it. What do you think of the idea?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Texas Brownies

I made these at work last week for the residents' dessert. It's a really easy, really delicious recipe that makes quite a large batch. The recipe calls for a 17.5x11" jelly roll pan, but at work, I use a pan that holds about twice the amount a 9x13" pan does. This time, there were leftovers, so I actually got to try one of my own desserts for once! These were moist & lovely, and the icing was, although very sweet, had a nice texture.

Texas Brownies

2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup butter
1 cup strong brewed coffee
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla


1/2 cup butter
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 cup milk
3 1/2 unsifted icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour & sugar.

2. In a heavy saucepan, combine butter, coffee, and cocoa. Stir & bring to boil.

3. Pour boiling mixture over the flour & sugar in the bowl. Add the buttermilk, eggs, baking soda, and vanilla.

4. Mix well and pour into a well-greased 17.5x11" jelly roll pan. Bake at 400F for 20 minutes, or until done in centre.

5. Meanwhile, as the brownies bake, make the frosting. In a saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa, and milk. Heat to boiling, stirring. Mix in the powdered sugar & vanilla until very smooth.

6. Pour warm frosting over brownies as soon as they come out of the oven. Cool. Makes 48 bars.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Saturday Laugh

I got this from an internet acquaintance of mine! I don't know the original source.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Magazine Monday #57: Two-Tone Chocolate Shortbread

I know it's not Monday, but I am going to be away on the weekend, so I want to get this MM submission published before that.

OK, this isn't technically a magazine recipe, but it did come from a magazine. I've made these shortbread squares many times and I got the recipe way back in 1998 from the Bake Fest insert that comes in the December issue of Canadian Living. I always used to look forward to the Christmas issue of CL just because of this insert, but in recent years I think it's gone down quite a bit. The recipes aren't as interesting and it's more about advertising than it used to be.

But these shortbread squares are excellent and very, very simple! I encourage you to try them. I doubled the recipe this year so I got a huge whack!

Two-Tone Chocolate Shortbread

1 cup softened butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
2 squares (2 oz) semi-sweet chocolate, melted

1. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, or in a stand mixer, beat butter & sugar until fluffy. Sift in flour & cornstarch and beat into butter mixture until just combined.

2. In a parchment lined or well-greased 9" square pan, drop 1/2 the dough in small portions, scattering randomly. Combine chocolate with remaining dough. Drop chocolate dough between the non-chocolate dough in the pan. Press to flatten.

3. Bake @ 3o0F for about 25 minutes or until firm to the touch in the centre. Let cool & slice into squares or bars.


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