Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Raise a cuppa tea for January – It’s Hot Tea Month!



For centuries, folks around the world have enjoyed the ritual of drinking tea or coffee while chatting with their comrades or enjoying a quiet moment to themselves.


In the 15th century in Middle Eastern countries, coffeehouses served as social gathering places where men—and only men—would meet to drink coffee or tea and talk politics, listen to music, read books, or play chess and backgammon. Thanks to Mr. Twinnings, of Twinnings Tea fame, the “men only’ policy changed in 1717 when he converted his London coffeehouse to a teahouse and began admitting both genders. Several centuries later, coffeehouses could be found in countries around the world serving both coffee and tea to men AND women. Imagine that! In the US and Canada during the 1960’s, political activists held coffeehouses in church basements. Usually a sole singer/guitarist performed onstage while the steamy politics of the day were discussed among guests. The careers of folk singers like Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were launched via these grassroots.

For your next tea party, whip up a batch of these svelte little morsels of delight. I used Sugar Plum Spice Tea but Earl Grey tea or any other favourite tea of yours would do, I’m sure!

Sugar Plum Spice Tea Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. finely ground Celestial Seasonings Sugar Plum Spice Herbal Tea leaves from about 4 tea bags (This is a Holiday Tea sold around at Christmas time and into January. It is sold at the Bulk Barn and grocery stores in the tea section)
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
½ c confectioners’ (icing) sugar
1 tbsp. finely grated orange zest (that’s orange rind)

Whisk together flour, tea and salt in a bowl.
Put butter, confectioner’s sugar and orange zest in a bowl and beat together with an electric mixture (or your own brute strength!).  Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture until just combined.

Divide dough in half. Transfer each half to a piece of parchment paper; or lightly floured cutting board and shape into logs. Roll each log to 1 ¼ inch in diameter. Each log will be about 9 inches in length. Roll up each log in parchment paper and twist the paper ends-like a Christmas cracker. Freeze logs—just until firm, about 1 hr.

Preheat oven to 350F. With a sharp knife, cut logs into ¼ inch thick slices. Space about 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.

Bake cookies, rotating sheets at half-time, until edges are golden, about 13-15 minutes in total. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Store in airtight containers for up to five days. They freeze well and make lovely gifts. Gift idea: place cookies in a canister-style tin, wrap the tin in Christmas paper and place a bow on top…or place in small festive cookie tins. The great feature about these cookies is: they are so darned tasty, cute and svelte-like!




Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Recipes ordering you around? Get a grip and trim 'em down to size!


Goodbye dear! I’m just dashing off to China and taking the donkey. I must get a quarter teaspoon of saffron. My gourmet magazine recipe says it is a “must-have” for my Marco Polo Mac n’ Cheese.  Fast forward to a few months later, my Facebook timeline says I got sidetracked at a Yoga retreat in India and my fabulous Instagram pics have me swimming with elephants in Thailand. What can I say, the dolphins were all booked up! But wait…what was my New Year’s resolution? 

Right--I forgot--to trim my recipe collection and to steer clear of recipes that send me trekking to all corners of the earth!

This year, I am focusing on simplicity in the kitchen; eating more plant food and less meat, keeping long-lasting root veggies on hand and using leftovers more efficiently. Above all, I will choose recipes with just a few simple ingredients and short preparation times.  

One upcoming wintry afternoon, I will sit down with a pair of scissors and a hot cup of tea to hack away at my favourite cooking magazines and cull my current cookbooks according to my new mantra. On the bright side, two years ago, I came up with a recipe organization system that works for me. I arrange my “saved” recipes according to three cookbook categories: Main Entrees, Baked Goods and Extras/Sides. Each cookbook binder is a 5x4 photo album with plastic photo sleeves tabbed with Post-it Tabs labelled in black marker. In my Main entrée cookbook for instance, I have labelled each sleeve with a meat type (i.e. Pork, Turkey, Beef etc), fish type (Salmon, Cod Halibut, Tuna) or vegetarian dishes (Lentils, Eggs, etc) I put all my recipes for one meat type in one sleeve…so all my Pork recipes are in one sleeve…you get the picture. I find this system encourages me to try different recipes and to weed out the ones I thought I might try but sadly, know I never will.  My five star favourites recipes bear the obvious signs of popularity; messy fingerprints, dog-eared corners and important production notes.

Now that I have shared the dreary details of my recipe retrieval and organization system AND my New Year’s resolution, I will get down to the point of the post and share my five-star favourite recipes with you!

Oatmeal Bars

2 cups oatmeal, uncooked (I used the quick rolled oats)
¾ cup brown sugar
½ cup butter (I used butter. Julia Child said to!)
dash of baking soda
Heat until lightly bubbling and stirring often: sugar, butter and pinch of soda. Remove from heat. Add oatmeal and blend. Spread mixture in a well-greased 8-inch square pan (or round equivalent) and bake at 350F for 10 minutes. Cut into bars or triangular slices while warm.

My Mother’s Oatmeal Cookies

1 tsp baking soda
¼ cup boiling water

½ cup butter
½ cup shortening
1 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup rolled oats
1 ½ cups flour
½ tsp salt
¾ cup chocolate chips (or other flavoured chips)

Dissolve soda in boiling water, stir well and set aside. Cream together butter, shortening and brown sugar. Mix in oats and boiling water mixture and blend well. Gradually blend in flour sifted with salt.  Shape dough into 1’ balls. Place on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and flatten with fork, once then a second time for a plaid pattern, if you’re feeling Scottishy.  Bake at 350F for 7-10 minutes until lightly browned.

Light n’Fluffy Shortbread with benefits
Note: If you have an electric mixer or food processor—do use it for this recipe. If not, your own brute strength and a strong wooden spoon will do…remember that New Year’s resolution to buff up those biceps?

With an electric mixer or food processor, beat together
1 cup softened butter with
½ cup icing sugar.

Sift together
1 ½ cups all purpose flour and
½ cup cornstarch.
Stir this gradually into the butter mixture.

At this stage, you may wish to stir one of these ingredients, or create your own concoction!
-1 cup chocolate chips OR
-4 oz cup dark chocolate roughly chopped OR
-1 cup chopped cherries OR
-1 cup dried cranberries

Shape into balls – about 1 ¼ in size.
Place on an ungreased baking sheet or on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake in 300F over for 20 to 25 minutes or until firm and lightly browned around the edges. Makes about 32 to 40 cookies.

(For a gluten free version, substitute 1 ½ white rice flour for 1 ½ cups all purpose flour and add 1 tsp xanthium gum with white rice flour.)

Gorgonzola Pasta Sauce
¼ cup butter
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ cup white wine
1 ¼ cup whipping cream
½ cup Parmesan cheese
¼ cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
¼ cup toasted pine nuts (to sprinkle over each dish)

Heat butter in a large skillet then add the garlic and sauté until light brown. Add wine and simmer for two minutes. Add cream and cook on medium heat until cream begins to bubble, about 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, then Parmesan and Gorgonzola cheese.  Toss sauce with cooked fettuccine and place in pasta bowls. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts.
NOTE: For the meat lovers in the bunch, add thinly sliced prosciutto or cooked bacon on top of each dish.

Salmon with Maple-Pistachio Crust

1 large tail piece of salmon
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup chopped shelled and chopped pistachios (sold at the Bulk Barn)

Line a rimmed cookie sheet with tin foil. Wash and dry salmon with paper towel and place skin side down on the sheet. Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper. Mix together syrup, curry and mustard. Chop up or crush nuts. Preheat oven to 425F.. Cover the areas of the sheet that don't have fish on them with tin foil this keeps the oil from splattering and burning. Spoon half of maple syrup mixture over fillets then sprinkle with nuts. Drizzle remaining maple mixture over tope. Bake in centre of oven at 425F for 35 min.

Pork with almond crust

This recipe is one of my all-time favourites!  
For the marinade, whisk together in a small bowl:
¾ cup plain yogurt
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp pepper

Place roast in a Ziploc bag 
1 3 lb boneless centre-cut pork loin roast.

Place roast in a Ziploc bag and pour marinade over top. Seal the bag and then place it in a dish large enough to hold it. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 6 hours, turning several times.

For nut mixture coating, mix together
1 cup finely chopped almonds
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
½ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Scrape off most of the marinade from the roast, then roll roast in the nut mixture and press into the roast.  In a shallow baking dish or roasting place, place roast. Cook 40-45 min per lb until meat thermometer reads 170F (about 2 hrs for a 3 lb roast).

Smoked Salmon and Red Onion Pizza Topping

See recipe below for thin crust pizza dough or buy a frozen thin crust and omit the pre-bake instructions.

125 g pkg cream cheese softened
2 tbsp snipped fresh dill
½ tsp coarsely ground pepper
½ cup thinly sliced red onions
1 cup mozzarella cheese
25 g  (1 oz) smoked salmon
Blend together and cream cheese and dill and spread over partially baked pizza crust or frozen store-bought thin crust. Sprinkle with pepper, onion rings, then mozzarella. Bake at 400F for 15-20 minutes or until crust is golden brown and cheese bubbles. Cut salmon into strips and arrange over pizza.

Breadmaker Thin-Crust Pizza Dough

Makes 2 12” thin crust pizzas or 1 16” crust
1 cup water
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp granulated sugar
2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ tsp breadmachine yeast

For a Herb Crust, stir into flour:
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp oregano

For pans:
Spray oil
2 tbsp cornmeal

Measure ingredients into breadmaker baking pan in the order given. Insert pan into oven breadmaker chamber and select the Dough option. Prepare pizza pans: lightly spray with oil and sprinkle 1 tbsp cornmeal on each pan. When dough is ready, remove it to a lightly floured board, cover with a heavy tea towel or large bowl and let rest for 10-15 minutes. Divide dough in half. Roll out one piece into a 12-inch circle and place in pan. With fingertips, gently push dough to edges of pan.  Repeat with second piece of dough.  To partially bake the crust, prick the crust lightly with a fork and bake in a preheated 400F oven for 6-8 minutes on the oven’s lowest oven rack. Add your choice of toppings and bake for another 15-20 minutes at 400F or until lightly browned.


Smoky Ontario Apple Oka Bites
12 slices smoked bacon
1/4 cup grainy mustard
2 crunchy apples cut into 24 wedges     
250 g    Oka cheese, cubed into 24 pieces          
(Or, try other cheeses like Gorgonzola or Stilton for savoury substitutes)

In a skillet over medium heat, cook bacon in batches until cooked through, limp but not crispy. Place on a paper-towel lined plate to soak up fat and let cool. Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut each strip of bacon in half to make 24 small strips. Spread each strip with 1/4 tsp mustard and wrap around an apple wedge and piece of cheese. Secure with toothpick. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Arrange bites on a parchment or foil lined baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven just until bacon starts to bubble and cheese begins to melt, about 3-5 minutes. Do not overcook. Serve immediately or refrigerate and quickly reheat under the broiler. Makes 24 pieces.

Irresistible Emmenthal Cheese and Garlic Spread
1 lb Emmenthal cheese, finely grated
3 tbsp low fat mayonnaise
4 garlic cloves, minced
Coarse black pepper to taste
Salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together. Let stand 30 at room temperature or overnight in the fridge to develop flavour. Great served with mini pitas or very firm crackers. Do not heat. (Tip: Allow grated cheese to reach room temperature before mixing with other ingredients. This will make it easier to mix.)

The Nutty Canadian Cheese Log
You can make this ahead and freeze it, allowing it to thaw in the fridge overnight.
1 pkg cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups finely grated Old Cheddar Cheese
4 tbsp syrup, divided
1/2 cup toasted, finely chopped pecans

Blend cheeses with 2 tbsp maple syrup. Chill until firm in plastic wrap, about 1 hr. Using plastic wrap, shape the cheese mixture into a rectangle block. Place block on wax paper and brush with remaining 2 tbsp syrup.  On another sheet of wax paper, place chopped pecans and roll the block in the nuts to coat all sides. Wrap nut-covered log in this wax paper and refrigerate for 2-3 hours (or freeze and thaw for a few hours in the refrigerator). Serve with crackers.

No-Fail Spicy Topless Apple Tart
Use McIntosh, Cortland, Spy or Newtown Apples.
Pastry:
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp white sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cloves
¾ cup cool butter
1 egg yolk, beaten

2 tbsp water

Filling:
6 cups (6-7 medium sized apples) peeled, coarsely grated apples (no need to core!)
2 cups white sugar
¼ cup white flour
1 tsp cinnamon
icing sugar

Pastry: In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and cloves. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in egg yolks with water; stir into flour mixture to form a soft dough. Using fingertips, spread dough evenly onto bottom and up sides of 11” flan pan or fluted glass dish, patting gently.

Filling: Combine all ingredients except icing sugar. Spread mixture evenly over pastry.
Tip #1: After filling the pastry, make a tin foil ring to place over the edges of the pastry to protect it from burning.
Tip #2: If the apples are very juicy, it is a good idea to line a rimmed cookie or pizza pan sheet with foil (or even a tin foil oven liner sheet will do) and place the tart on top of this to bake. This way, the apple juices won’t drip and burn in the oven.

Bake at 375 F oven until apples are tender or about 45 minutes. Be sure to turn and check after 20 min and place the foil ring on the pastry edge if necessary to prevent burning. Let cool. Sift icing sugar over top.  Serve with frozen yogurt or ice cream.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Maple Syrup Baklava - Let the Springing begin!



For some reason, when I hear George Harrison's tune "Here Comes the Sun" I am reminded of maple syrup season in the Ottawa Valley. The early morning sun is creeping over the horizon, zigzagging its way through a hilly grove of maple trees standing in a bed of melting snow. A hollow pinging sound echoes throughout the forest as maple sap drips from tree trunks into large aluminum pails.  Alas, winter is over and it's maple syrup season. Time for a batch of my East-meets-West Maple Baklava!

I developed this recipe a few years ago when I happily discovered that I had an abundance of maple syrup AND a lot of phyllo pastry on hand. I also discovered that phyllo is kind of impatient, just like me. It demands that you work quickly and efficiently to prevent the pastry sheets from drying out. I suggest you pretend you are a dentist or surgeon and prepare all of your tools and ingredients in advance so they are ready to go for the final pastry assembly. In addition, keep the phyllo sheets that are to be worked, covered with a damp tea towel or plastic bag to prevent the pastry sheets from drying out and tearing. Until next time.....happy baking! And remember, phyllo doesn't bite. Honest!


NOTE: See more of my phyllo pastry tips below the Maple Baklava recipe.

Maple Baklava
(Note: have everything ready before you start)
1 1/2 cups pistachios or walnuts, finely chopped
1/4 c sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 pkg phyllo dough (in pastry section of frozen foods) thawed
1 c melted butter

2 1/4 c pure maple syrup, heated
¼ cup water
1 ½ tsp lemon juice
1 ½ tsp lemon or orange rind grated
2 tbsp chopped nuts

Combine nuts, sugar, and spices. Brush a 9x13" baking pan with butter. Lay thawed pastry on table or large, work surface. Cover sheets to be worked with a plastic bag and damp towel until you’re ready to use them. Cut all sheets from the pkg in half width wise. Set aside 10 to work with and cover remaining pastry. Brush a sheet of pastry with butter and then layer in pan, do this with 10 sheets. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the nut mixture. Butter and layer 7 more sheets in pan, top with 1/3 nut mixture. Butter and layer 7 more sheets and rest of nuts. Top with 16 more buttered phyllo sheets and brush with remaining butter.
Important: With a very sharp, serrated knife, score and cut through the layers of pastry into 1 1/2" squares. (It will crumble to pieces if you cut it after it’s baked.) Bake at 350F for 15 min, then 325F for another 30-35 min, or until a rich golden brown. (Keep an eye on the edges for burning.) During the last 20 minutes of baking, in a saucepan mix together syrup, water, lemon and rind. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and let simmer for 10-15 min, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. When baklava is done, immediately pour the very warm syrup mixture evenly overtop. Sprinkle 2 tbsp chopped nuts overtop. Cool in the pan for at least 4 hours and enjoy!

Phyllo tips:

  • Buy frozen phyllo dough in long rectangular boxes in the frozen food aisle at the grocery store. One 1 lb/500 g box contains 18-20 sheets pastry sheets. Folding and cutting instructions are in the box.
  • Thaw frozen dough in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Read the entire phyllo recipe before you begin.
  • Practice folding or rolling instructions with a cloth napkin, first.
  • Work fast with this pastry because it dries out quickly. Pretend you’re a surgeon: have fillings, tools and work surfaces prepared before you unwrap the pastry from the package.
  • DO NOT let phyllo sheets to be worked, dry out or get wet. Keep them well covered with a large sheet of plastic wrap and a very slightly dampened tea towel on top. (Large clear plastic lawn bags are great for this purpose!)
  • Unroll the sheets from the package. Very gently pull sheets apart. Using a soft pastry or paint brush, quickly brush each entire sheet, right out to all edges, with melted butter or oil.
  • Always cut pastry with a sharp serrated knife before baking. It will flake and crumble if you cut it after baking.