Monday, December 20, 2010

The final post before Christmas: Tequila Christmas Cake

     If the stress of the holidays has you looking like this;

and let's be honest, we've all had those kinds of days, here is the cake to cure whatever ails you. I have no idea who's recipe this is, it was forwarded to me and I just had to share.

Once again this year, I have had requests for my Tequila Christmas Cake recipe so here goes: 
Please keep in your files as I am beginning to get tired of typing this up every year!
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup water
1 tsp. salt
1 cup brown sugar
Lemon juice
4 large eggs
1 bottle tequila
2 cups dried fruit
Sample the tequila to check quality. 
Take a large bowl ; check the tequila again to be sure it is of the highest quality...Repeat.
Turn on the electric mixer. Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl.
Add 1 teaspoon of sugar. Beat again.
At this point, it is best to make sure the tequila is still OK.
Try another cup just in case.
Turn off the mixerer thingy.Break 2 eggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit.
Pick the fruit up off the floor.
Mix on the turner.If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers, just pry it loose with a drewscriver.
Sample the tequila to test for tonsisticity. Next, sift 2 cups of salt, or something.Check the tequila. Now shift the lemon juice and strain your nuts.
Add one table. Add a spoon of sugar, or somefink. Whatever you can find.Greash the oven.Turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over.
Don't forget to beat off the turner. Finally, throw the bowl through the window.
Finish the tequila and wipe the counter with the cat.
Cherry Mistmas!

     I'm not sure if your guests will enjoy this cake, but who cares ROFLMAO Cherry Mistmas, jenoy.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Holidays from the crew in the kitchen

     Well, I'm up to my eyes in candy, gingerbread and singed Christmas cakes (damn you Marilyn for your delicious maple syrup substitution last year. Now I have to do a post about the dangers of sugar substitutions in baking LMAO) A friend gave me some of the currant cake she baked so now I'll have to make that too because it was so good I'm jonesing for more. I've also got a batch of mulled wine jelly on the go. So many delicious things to try and the season is just too short. Add shopping for gifts, wrapping, (Sherry where are you when I need you most?) and I'm sure you'll understand, like most of you, I'm swamped. You'll notice I didn't add cleaning the house for entertaining guests to my list. Why try putting on airs at this late date.....  This will probably be my last post until the new year. I'll still check for comments and such so if you have questions feel free, I'll give any help I can.

      You have seen my face all over the site and a couple of Ferd as well so I thought it only fair to give the other three people who reside here at the house on Ossington some face time.

Charlie, Kristen and Kevin, my on site taste testers
( they're smiling because I promised cookies after, LOL )
      When I started this, it was a rather personal project. I thought it would only be of  interest to family and friends. I am amazed that it has had over 750 views so far, I'm even a Google search term, who knew? I can't tell you all how much I appreciate the response, even if it just you Mom, making me feel popular LOL. It is one of the most gratifying Christmas gifts I have received.

     I have posted various recipes to help you in your holiday celebrations, so eat, drink and if merry is still a little elusive you can always Elf Yourself. As you may have guessed, I am a big kid at heart. I always enjoy a good laugh, even if it is sometimes at my own expense. Click on any of the links below to see all of us at our holiday best.

     Unfortunately the links have expired so you'll just have to wait until next year.

     If that didn't make you laugh, well, I tried. Once again, thank you all for dropping by. I can't tell you how much fun this has been so far. From all of us here to all of you out there, have a happy and safe holiday season. Enjoy.

Holiday sparkle; Champagne cocktails

     The holidays aren't complete with out a little sparkle.Whether it's champagne or sparkling cider, who can resist the allure of those millions of tiny bubbles.

     The champagne toast at midnight on NewYear's eve isn't the only time you can enjoy a glass. Here are some recipes to help your entertaining sparkle all through the holidays.

Classic Brunch Mimosa/ Morning Glory/ Orange Blossom/ Orange Kiss*

3 oz champagne
3 oz orange juice
Garnish with orange wheel

Kir Royale**

1 oz cassis
5 oz champagne

Classic Bellini

1/2 oz peach schnapps
3 oz champagne
2 1/2 oz peach nectar

Classic Champagne Cocktail

1 oz brandy
1 sugar cube
Dash of bitters
5 oz champagne
Place sugar cube in bottom of champagne flute
Add bitters, wetting sugar cube
Add brandy
Fill with champagne
Garnish with cherry and orange wheel
* You can add what ever juice you like to the mimosa recipe but it isn't a mimosa anymore, cranberry or pomegranate garnished with a fresh cranberry, pear nectar garnished with a slice of fresh Bosc pear, blueberry cocktail garnished with fresh blueberries, I'm sure you get the idea
You can also try the champagne version of a Salty Dog, champagne, grapefruit juice, a salted rim and a wheel of grapefruit for garnish, you'll love it or hate it, I don't judge LOL
If you don't drink, use sparkling cider for a non alcoholic sparkler.
** Switch the Cassis, black currant liqueur, with Chambord, raspberry liqueur, and garnish with fresh raspberries, delicious
     As with cooking with wine, I don't use good champagne to make cocktails with. Save the Dom, Veuve Cliquot, Cristal, Krug etc for drinking straight, savour what makes champagne great from these great names unaltered. The taste of the juice or additional alcohol mask all of the subtle flavours in good champagne so why waste it?

     For maximum fizz, add the champagne last and just before serving. Don't pop you champagne either. Twist the cork gently to open the bottle, you save the fizz and don't waste the champagne in overflow. No hazardous flying corks either. You'll put some one's eye out with that thing.......

     There you have it, my guide to adding the sparkle to your holidays. ( and you thought it was about shining ornaments, twinkling lights or some such nonsense LOL) Enjoy.

Dealing with left overs; Turkey and Broccoli Casserole

     This is my aunt Jean's recipe and I'm sure she'll be so impressed this is her introduction to the blog. She is an amazing cook and I have her pumpkin torte recipe but this is the one I'll share for now.

     I first had this probably thirty years ago and I still love it. It falls into the "quick and dirty" category and again uses canned soup. It also has my number one guilty pleasure in it, Cheez Whiz. I love the stuff, I know, it probably doesn't even fall into a food group but I don't care. I don't have a picture of her so it will have to wait until later.

Turkey with Broccoli and Cheddar Casserole
2-4 cups diced turkey
1 head broccoli
1 can cream of “whatever” soup, I use mushroom
½-1 cup shredded cheddar/ 3-4 tablespoons cheez whiz
1 cup bread crumbs, bread cubes, optional
Grating of fresh nutmeg, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Wash and cut broccoli into florets.
In a medium sized casserole dish, combine turkey and broccoli. In a small bowl, combine soup and cheese, stir until well mixed. Pour over turkey mixture. Top with bread crumbs.
Bake for approximately 30-45 minutes, until broccoli is tender

     Hard as it is to believe, Cheez Whiz is perfect for this recipe. It is made to melt smooth without separating like real cheese can sometimes do leaving those puddles of oil on top of your cooking.

     For all the foodies who won't use canned soup refer to the hash brown recipe, just omit the chicken stock and add mushrooms to the celery and garlic. I'm not typing all of that over again. LOL

     Every time I make this people rave about it. I always feel a little guilty, " dirty" accepting the praise. LOL Okay, maybe not that guilty, I tell them no effort is too much for my friends, I guess the secret is out. Enjoy.

Dealing with left overs; Big Sur Sandwich

     So it is the day after, your stock is simmering away and you are wondering what to do with the left overs. Mine normally disappears in hot turkey sandwiches but I do have a couple of other great recipes to help deal with any leftovers you might have.

     If I have enough of everything and extra pie dough I make pot pies. It uses it all, extra potatoes, vegetables, gravy and turkey. I also make Torta Rustica sometimes but I digress. Sorry, I'm not posting either of those.

     This is a grilled turkey sandwich, the Big Sur, that is a great alternative to the classic hot turkey. I first had these at a restaurant I worked at called Hughie's. It is sometimes called a California Reuben.

Part of the Hughies crew, Annie, Neil, Wendy and me

More of the crew, Danny, Sharon, Sophie, Ian, Ron and Neil

Big Sur sandwich
Sliced turkey
Cranberry sauce
Swiss cheese
Rye bread
Thousand Island dressing
Butter or margarine for frying
Assemble sandwich, turkey, Swiss cheese and approximately a tablespoon of Thousand Island dressing and cranberry sauce. Butter the outside of the sandwich and grill as you would for a grilled cheese.

     Use what ever type of bread you like. I love rye and the taste works well with all of the other ingredients.

     Delicious and easy to make, perfect after you have been hard at work in the kitchen over the holidays.

Roasted turkey stock

     Dinner is finished, your beautiful turkey as been reduced to bones, what now? Throw it away? Not a chance, put it somewhere cool overnight and relax for the evening. I'm sure you deserve it. Enjoy the time with you guests, tomorrow is soon enough to deal with the remains of Christmas dinner. Procrastination rules. 

          Every time a turkey is cooked in our family, the bones always end up used for making stock. We don't all use the same method. My mother roasts the bones first as do I and the spicing I'm posting is mine. Roasting the bones adds colour to the finished stock and a slightly different flavour as opposed to just boiling it.

Roasted Turkey Stock
Bones from a cooked turkey
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1-2 medium onions, chopped
16 cups cold water
12 black peppercorns
4 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 tomato, caramelized or fresh, optional
Preheat oven to 350°.
Cut turkey carcass into quarters. Place the turkey bones, carrot, celery, tomato and onion in a shallow roasting pan. Bake at 350° for 45-60 minutes.
Place bones, trimmings, vegetable mixture, 16 cups of water, and remaining ingredients in a large stockpot; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 3 hours; skim surface occasionally.
Strain stock through a sieve, lined with damp cheese cloth, over a large bowl or stock pot; discard bones, etc. Cover and chill.  Skim solidified fat from surface; discard.

     You don't have to add any of the vegetables or spices to the bones to make the stock. They are all just to enhance the flavour so use what you like.

     Add enough water to cover the bones. The 16 cups I use is because I have huge stock pots. The bones are what flavour the stock so just keep them covered to maximise the taste.

     If you boil the stock, a rolling boil, for the whole cooking time it will be cloudy. That doesn't bother me but if you are looking for a clear stock keep it simmering.

     I always roast the bones when I am making stock because this is where I use all the wing tips I have frozen from making chicken wings but you can just boil the bones skipping the whole roasting stage.

     When the stock has cooled, it may have a jelly like consistency. Not to worry, it isn't ruined. You have made gelatin. Natural gelatin is made by boiling skin and bones for a long time so if you added uneaten skin, I always do, your stock may gel. Just add water and reheat, it is fine.

     I usually don't make soup so I reduce my strained stock further and freeze it. A little trick, freeze it in ice cube trays and then put the stock cubes in a freezer bag and store. They keep for ever and you have convenient little cubes of fresh stock you can use when ever you need them. Another frugal cook tip.

     Most of my stock goes to make more gravy for hot sandwiches or into stew and dumplings, MMMMM dumplings. However you use it, home made stock is always nice to have on hand. Enjoy

Hash Brown Potato Casserole

     The humble potato, the starch I love the best. Bread is great, pasta, okay, rice if I have to but I am a farm boy at heart and meat and potatoes are the base for any real meal LOL. Grandpa Fisher would be proud. This recipe comes from a friend Terri, not chicken wing Terri, another one. She brought it to a pot luck we had and graciously shared the recipe.

Hash Brown Potato Casserole
  4 cups frozen hash brown potatoes
1/4 cup diced onion
1/2 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream (250 ml)
1/4 cup melted butter/margarine
1/2 cup sharp cheese grated (1/2 of 227 package)
Let potatoes thaw 1/2 hour
Mix ingredients together and put in greased baking dish
(Can put bread crumbs on top)
Bake 1 hr @ 350
 (serves 6-8 people)

     This is at heart a variation of scalloped potatoes with a lot of the work cut out. I call these types of recipes "quick and dirty". "Quick" because you can make them fast, always good to have a few of these on hand in case unexpected guests drop by. "Dirty" because people will think you spent far more time preparing this delicious dish than you did, your " dirty " kitchen secret. Just sit back and accept the praise, your secret is safe with me. Maybe add a smudge of flour to you hands or face, just to complete the picture. LOL

     For all of you hard core foodies out there who are gasping, he's using "canned soup", well, yes I am. It always makes me laugh that people think if you use canned soups you really don't know how to cook. I'm not a huge fan of cooking with them but I have a few recipes that it really cuts down the prep time and I'm all about that. If you are dead set against it here is what you do.

In a medium sized skillet over medium heat, saute a clove of garlic, minced, and 1/4-1/2 cup of finely chopped celery in 2 tablespoons of cooking oil.

Cook until celery is soft and most of the oil has been absorbed. Remove from pan and set aside.  

Return skillet to medium heat and melt 2 tablespoons of butter, remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons of flour, mixing until smooth.

Return to heat and gradually add 1/4 cup of milk whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming. When the flour and butter mix is all incorporated and before it has reached the scalding point add an additional cup of milk and 1/4 -1/2 cup of clear chicken stock. If you are using this method, undoubtedly you made the stock yourself.

Add a grating of fresh nutmeg.

Add the reserved celery and garlic and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer for about five minutes until lightly thickened.

You now have a variation of a flavoured Bechamel sauce you can use in this recipe. You don't want to really thicken it like you would a true Bechamel because it will thicken further as it bakes.

Or you can just use the soup, your choice.

     I would imagine you could substitute sliced or cubed fresh potatoes for the frozen hash browns, it cooks about the same time as scalloped potatoes so ... Just test the potatoes with a fork before you serve and adjust your cooking time as necessary.

     However you decide to prepare this, it is definitely worth a try. It is a perfect side to just about any meal. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Artichoke Dip

     The holidays are upon us and that means a lot of get togethers, at least for most of us. This is another recipe I like. This dip is great because it is served warm, and the weather is soooooooo cold this time of year. It is relatively easy to make, although I have never actually made it as I'm posting it. This is how I got it and I will add my changes after the base recipe.

Hot Artichoke Dip with Sun-dried Tomatoes
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1-14 oz can artichoke hearts, drained and pressed to remove excess water
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped sun dried tomato
1 teaspoon paprika
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Lightly grease 8x8 baking dish
Combine all ingredients except paprika and mix until well combined.
Transfer to baking dish and bake until lightly browned, about 25 minutes.
Garnish with paprika and serve.

    I have been cooking a long time so I can look a some recipes and see what I would like to change right off. It isn't so much about being picky, I know what I like, how much time adjustments will take and what extra effort is involved. For most recipes, I have a base I work from and then add the things I like best. That is one of the great things about making things yourself. That being said here are my changes to this recipe.

     Fresh grated Parmesan makes this recipe incredible, so use it if you can. I always use fresh if I can get it. It is quite pricey but there really is no comparison.

     I always add a small jar of artichokes packed in oil. I drain them and squeeze out any excess oil, but I love the taste they add. I find artichokes in water a little bland.

     I use a couple of fresh cloves of garlic instead of the powder. It is a personal preference and you can omit the garlic altogether if you don't like it.

     I don't use mayonnaise. I do like it but for most recipes I find it has an unpleasant vinegar aftertaste. I strain yogurt or sour cream and use that instead. To strain either, line a fine mesh colander with a coffee filter and dump the sour cream or yogurt on top. Let it sit for a couple of hours or over night. It is surprising how much moisture will come out. When it has drained, scrape it off the filter and use it where you will. It comes off the filter fairly easily.

     Same as the spinach dip recipe, I usually add a tablespoon or two of cream cheese for taste. Again, this is just my personal preference.

     I usually reserve the tops of the green onion for garnish in addition to the paprika. I like the taste of onions and the red and green sprinkled over the top look nice, very festive, or at least I think so.

     I usually bake this covered so it doesn't brown, again just a personal preference. Bake it as you like. This is also great cold so if you have any left over, keep it and refrigerate it.

     Serve with you favourite crackers or bread. I'm sure you guests will love it. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Marinated Mushrooms

     There are hundreds of different kinds of mushrooms available. Each with it's own unique texture and taste. Neither plant nor animal, mushrooms are very good for you and offer a variety of health benefits not found in other foods.  I don't really care about all that, I love the taste. The following recipe is one of my favourite ways to prepare them.

Marinated Mushrooms
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lb mushrooms
5 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon oregano*
½ teaspoon basil*
2 green onions chopped
½ teaspoon chili flakes
1-2 bay leaves
10-15 peppercorns
1 teaspoon strained fresh lemon juice/ balsamic vinegar
Diced red pepper for garnish
Clean mushrooms thoroughly.
In a medium saucepan, bring all other ingredients to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered for 5 minutes. You are infusing the vinegar and oil with the flavours of the herbs and spices.
Add mushrooms, re-cover and cook for another minute. This blanches the mushrooms, allowing the marinade to penetrate more easily.
Remove from heat, uncover and cool. Stir in red pepper garnish.
Refrigerate, when cooled.
This can be used as soon as it cools but is better if left overnight. Keeps about a month refrigerated.
* If using fresh herbs, double the quantity. 

     The oil and vinegar are the legs of this recipe. I always use extra virgin oil but if you like the taste you can use any grade. I have used red wine, cider and regular vinegar to vary the taste but prefer red wine. All of the spices can be increased, decreased, omitted or substituted, it all depends on what you like.
    Don't cook this uncovered or let it remain at a boil. Vinegar evaporates quickly when heated. You'll end up boiling it off, then you have to start again. I know, I've done it making spiced vinegar for ketchup.

     This recipe also works for vegetables but the procedure is a little different. If you are marinating beans, carrots, broccoli or cauliflower the procedure is the same, just cook a little longer, 2-3 minutes, until the vegetables are tender or blanche them before you add them to the marinade.

     If you are using eggplant, onions, zucchini or peppers, grill them a little first and pour the marinade over them while both are still hot. I don't know how long the vegetables will keep, at least a week I would imagine, but mine never last. I usually drain the marinade after  a couple of hours, these can get a little soggy if left too long. These are also the ones I use Balsamic vinegar with.

         Add some olives and you've got you own antipasto plate. Toss them in a salad or use them in sandwiches. I serve mine at room temperature to allow all the different tastes to come through. Enjoy.

Caramel Apple pudding

     I know I said no more dessert recipes but how can you resist this one. When the temperature outside is freezing, this is the perfect end to any meal. This recipe is from my aunt Karen, the first family recipe I have received since starting the blog.  Hopefully the first of many more to come. Okay, I badgered her a little so I could put up this photo.

The Hanewich Superheroes
My aunt Karen, husband Mark and her three boys, Matt, Mitch and Marsh
I wonder what their super powers are?

Caramel Apple Pudding

Pudding Ingredients
2 apples, cored, leave the skin on and cut into small bite sized pieces
1 cup of all purpose flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
** 1/2 raisins or currants
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp. melted butter
Add apples to dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.  Add milk and melted butter to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.  Spread in the bottom of an 8" by 8" deep casserole dish.  There should be at least one inch of space above the apple mixture.
Sauce Ingredients
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tbsp. all purpose flour
1 tbsp. softened butter             
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups of boiling water
Mix ingredients in a 4 cup measuring cup and add boiling water.  Stir well and pour over top of the apple mixture.  Bake at 350 F for 30 - 40 minutes until sauce bubbles on the sides.  Serve warm or cold scooping the sauce over top the apple cake.
**If raisins creep you out, add dried cranberries - umm yummy!

     I'll definitely be trying this one out. Thanks again for sharing the recipe Karen. Seriously, who can resist that photo. Enjoy.

Curried Chutney Thumbprint cookies

     This recipe was passed on to me by someone who had seen the recipe for thumbprint cookies I posted in November. It is a savoury version, perfect for those holiday gatherings.

Curry Cashew Thumbprints

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Preparation time: 15 minutes.
Cooking time: 20 minutes.
This recipe makes 45 serving(s)

3/4 3/4cup cup(175 ml) (175 mL) unsalted butter, softened
2 2tbsp tbsp(25 ml) (25 mL) granulated sugar
1 1tbsp tbsp(15 ml) (15 mL) mild curry paste
2 2eggeggs, separated
1-3/4 1-3/4cups cups(425 ml) (425 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 1/4tsp tsp(1 ml) (1 mL) salt
1 1cup cup(250 ml) (250 mL) finely chopped unsalted cashewunsalted cashews
1/3 1/3cup cup(75 ml) (75 mL) mango chutney


In bowl, beat together butter, sugar and curry paste until fluffy; beat in egg yolks, 1 at a time. In small bowl, whisk flour with salt, stir into butter mixture until combined.

In shallow bowl, whisk egg whites until frothy. Place cashews in separate bowl. Roll dough by scant 1 tbsp (15 ml) into balls; roll each in egg whites, then in cashews to coat.

Arrange, 2 inches (5 cm) apart, on parchment paper–lined baking sheets. Without cracking dough, gently press finger into centre of each to make well.

Bake in 325°F (160°C) oven until browned on bottoms, 20 minutes. Let cool on pans on racks for 5 minutes, reforming wells if necessary. Transfer to racks; let cool.

Fill each well with about 1/2 tsp (2 ml) chutney.
Source: Canadian Living Holiday Cookbook: Fall 2010

     This recipe is a little different from mine, but I don't see how you couldn't adapt it, just add the curry paste.

     I'm also not sure why the cookies are baked then filled. I think when I try this I will just make my recipe with the substitutions.

     Thanks for sharing, enjoy.

Chocolate Oatmeal bars

     I think this is the last dessert post before the holidays. These are great sweets to have around to satisfy that chocolate craving; delicious chocolate, kind of healthy oatmeal.

     These are another of my friend Erin's favourites. These aren't the ones she raves about, that recipe belongs to Jen, a friend of mutual friends of ours, Llijah and Monica. Jen always brings amazing food to Llij's place for any occasion but I don't know her well enough to hit her up for recipes, yet. LOL These are my version and Erin assures me a perfectly acceptable substitute.

That's Llij and Monica, she is a brilliant young composer.

Chocolate Oatmeal Bars
3 cups rolled oats                                                              
2 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda                                                  
1teaspoon salt
1 cup softened unsalted butter                                     
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs                                                                                   
4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1-14 oz can condensed milk                                          
1 ½ cups – 12oz semi sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter                                                        
½ cup toasted walnuts                                                     
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Oatmeal crust: Cream together 1 cup softened butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Continue mixing until combined.In a separate bowl, mix together rolled oats, flour baking soda and salt. Stir into butter mixture.Press 2/3 mixture into greased 9x13 pan.
Chocolate filling: In a double boiler, heat condensed milk, chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons butter, stirring until smooth. (Be careful not to overheat or the chocolate will “break” and you’ll end up with a lumpy oily mess.)Remove from heat and stir in 2 teaspoons vanilla and walnuts.
Spread the warm chocolate mix evenly over the oatmeal crust. Use the remaining oatmeal mix to “dot” the top of the chocolate, don’t even try to spread it on it won’t work.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown.

     As always, I omit the salt and reduce the sugar by 1/2 cup. Pecans, almonds or pistachios are substituted for the walnuts. I also use more chocolate, anywhere from 4-8 oz more. You can never really have too much. I don't use chips often, any 65-75% cocoa chocolate will do.

     I aways use a double boiler, again my microwave hates me, but melt the chocolate however you like.

     These freeze well so if you are trying to get your baking done ahead of time these are great. I have never had them last long enough to freeze, maybe you'll have more success. Good luck and enjoy.

Pumpkin Hermits

     Like most of you, I have been out and about getting ready for the holidays. That doesn't mean I haven't been in the kitchen a bit though. After all you need some sustenance to get through all that shopping.

     This recipe is a variation of one of my mother's, and father's, favourite cookies, hermits. I don't actually have my Mom's recipe for the original and this is my friend Erica's recipe for the variation. These are great little spice cookies; light, not too sweet and the pumpkin makes them really moist with just a hint of an aftertaste. They are easy to make and this recipe makes a lot, which is always good in my book.

That's Erica, the slightly singed brownie, with another friend Haley.
When I was talking about cooks who can whip  amazing things up off the top of their heads, I was talking about Erica.

Pumpkin Hermits
¾ cup butter, softened
½ cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree, canned or fresh, strained *
2 tablespoons molasses
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt**
1 cup dates or raisins
1 cup pepitas (raw shelled pumpkin seeds) /nuts
Pre heat oven to 375 degrees
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, pumpkin puree and molasses.
Whisk together all dry ingredients, except raisins and nuts. Add to the pumpkin mixture, mixing until well combined. Stir in raisins and nuts.
Drop by rounded tablespoons on to parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until firm to the touch.
Makes about 60 cookies.
* The straining is optional. Sometimes pumpkin puree can hold a lot of extra moisture.
** I omit the salt.

     I love both variations of these cookies and will post Mom's version when I get it. It's always nice to have these around when you are looking for something that isn't super sweet.

     I use raisins and pecans when I make mine. I don't particularly like the pepitas and my Mom's recipe uses raisins and walnuts. Not a big fan of those either, everything has walnuts in it and there are so many other different kinds of nuts out there to try in your baking.

    You can actually use almost any kind of roasted squash for pumpkin. It will change the taste slightly, but they are interchangeable. This is where Jack from Halloween goes at my house. I use a battery powered light in my jack o' lantern so no wax or singeing and it gets cut up and roasted the day after. Another, nothing gets wasted tip. Enjoy.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Get to know your ingredients

     This started out as a long rambling rant, but I roped myself in. I may still publish the other but this will suffice for now. As we are all out shopping for our ingredients for holiday get togethers, here are a few things to keep in mind.

     You will undoubtedly come across terms like free range, organic and grain fed in you quest for the best ingredients for your recipes. Do you really know what that means? Are they really worth the price? Do they taste better?

     Right off the bat, grain fed is a marketing tool that means nothing. It is usually found on poultry, what the hell else do birds eat?

     Free range, again usually applies to poultry and eggs. This means the animal in question has access to outside. As of yet, Canada has no laws governing this designation. That means 5000 chickens might have access to a square metre of yard for 10 minutes a day and still carry the designation free range. Hopefully that is an exaggeration but you get the point. True free range, uncaged and roaming, means an unrestricted diet, for demonstration here, grass. Chickens that eat a lot of grass are leaner, tougher and stronger tasting. The eggs produced have a darker yolk, almost orange and a stronger smell and taste. It also can mean the chickens run with a rooster so free range eggs can have a lot of red spots. Those are fertilized eggs in the first stages of development. I don't use those ones. There is no reason not to other than a little squeamishness on my part. They aren't healthier for you and until there is some regulation governing the designation, you have no way of knowing if the animals are treated any more humanely. So again, a marketing ploy.

     Finally, the big one, organic. There is so much hype around this topic and I will do a post about this eventually but I am not a fan. Just let it be for now that I have my reasons.

     None of these terms are a guarantee of quality or, and of more importance to me, freshness. What I am a big booster of is buying local or fair trade. Get to know your grocer a little, find out what comes in that is local and fresh. Buy at farmers markets, talk to the growers. Get to know a little bit about where your food is coming from and how it is produced. Fair trade means your imported goods are coming from farms where workers aren't exploited and they get fair value for what they produce.

     A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, but it can also be a good starting point to help avoid spending money where you don't have to. As with your kitchen equipment, do your homework before you shop. Good luck and happy shopping.

Friday, December 3, 2010

All about the bird

     If your family is anything like mine, the bird is the star attraction at any holiday gathering. Goose, duck, chicken or turkey, wild or domestic; they cook them all.

     Unfortunately, I don't have a definitive answer for cooking your holiday fowl. I fast cook mine, both my grandmothers slow cook their's, Grandma Fisher cooked her's breast down to keep it moist and my aunts are split down the middle. All I can share is how I cook mine and more importantly how I choose mine.

     The real secret to a good finish is a good start. To that end, pick you bird with some care, or at least some knowledge. A lean bird is a dry one, or one that needs a lot of basting. For that reason I am not a fan of the free range or organic options. Cringe Before I get inundated with hate mail, let me explain. Free range birds and I mean true free range, uncaged, get a lot more exercise while foraging so are leaner, tougher and have a gamier taste. I find the same for any of the organic birds I have tried. They are much more high maintenance to cook and I have had spotty results with both. I am also not a fan of pre-basted, if I'm going to go to the work of basting my bird I'll do it with what I choose. The best results I have had personally have been with regular utility birds or from fresh local ones. I am a huge booster of buying local. You don't have to spend a fortune to have a great holiday turkey. I also never buy a stuffed bird, that's just holiday sacrilege. LOL

     I cook mine covered at 350 degrees, 20 minutes a pound for un-stuffed, 10 pounds and under, 25 if stuffed. If the bird is over 10 pounds, 15 minutes un-stuffed and 20 stuffed. It is a sliding scale with the weight so I usually check mine about an hour before it should be done to check how everything is going. To brown, I uncover for about 15-30 minutes and brush with a little butter, honey, maple syrup or sugar water depending on how I'm feeling that particular day.

     Stuffing also varies depending on my mood, but I always use bread as my base. No, stove top isn't really stuffing at least not if you have ever had either of my grandmother's. It's called dressing in the Ottawa valley, by the way. My favourite is potato and onion stuffing. It is; cooked potato, onions, bread, savoury, thyme, poultry seasoning, celery and peppers, a classic in my family. Having worked in restaurants for so long I have also had stuffing with wild rice or roasted corn that was also very tasty. My friend Agy, crazy Hungarian woman,

Agy, Ferd threatened to cook her dog LOL

her mother made a traditional liver stuffing. Yech, was my reaction. I loathe liver, but it was delicious. She was also the first person I had seen stuff under the skin of the bird, at the breast and around the legs.

     The latest thing around home has been deep frying turkey and a couple of my relatives do that. I haven't tasted it yet, but it just seem wrong somehow?? Wild turkey is also back on the menu. My father helped to re introduce them to the area over a decade ago and they are thriving. I haven't tried that either but have been told they are fantastic.

   I have also had brined turkey. Ferd made it. It is turkey that has been soaked over night in a flavoured brine and it was also very good.

    As the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat, so try whatever strikes your fancy when cooking your holiday bird. The worst thing that can happen is you know better than to do that next year. LOL Better yet, try new recipes or ideas on a smaller roasting chicken to see what you think before committing yourself.

     A friend relayed this story to me years ago. His step monster, his words, not mine, decided to try a new recipe and cook the Christmas turkey in a paper bag. It was all the rage about 15 years ago. Unfortunately, the bag was resting on the top element of the oven, caught fire, ruined the turkey and burned the kitchen. So take heart, as long as the kitchen is still standing when you are finished, you've come out ahead. Enjoy