Monday, December 1, 2008

Hardy Biscotti: Shape, Bake & Ship. Canada Post Holiday deadlines are fast approaching!

Looking for an edible, long lasting, road-worthy, portable holiday gift to send to junior’s teachers or perhaps a far-flung friend in East Africa via Canada Post? Holiday shipping deadlines are fast approaching! Explore no further. Follow Caesar and Columbus’ command and say Hello to biscotti boot camp. This hard-as-a-rock, dippable, shippable snack with a shelf-life of infinity is suitable for troops and teachers alike. Columbus rationed biscotti to his crew on board his sailing vessels and Newfoundland fishermen to this day delight in dipping their “hard-tack” (hard bread) in tea. Let me break it to you, biscotti is super easy to create a la maison.

Biscotti is derived from the Latin word “Bis” for twice and “Coctum” (cotto), meaning baked. This twice-baked, hard cookie served as a dietary staple for the Roman Legions and many seafarers throughout history being famous for its super-duper indestructible powers during transport, everlasting shelf life and nourishing qualities for troops on the go. Biscotti’s real credit goes to a crafty Tuscan baker who perfected the crunchy, dry mixture by adding almonds and suggesting the handy snack be dipped in the local sweet wine. Today, Canadians from coast to coast delight in dipping their biscotti in coffee, tea, cider or hot chocolate and even sweet wine. Take the plunge and try these biscotti recipes at home. I can't decide which is my favourite but since the Candy Cane variety struck such a cute pose, I chose it to be first:

Candy Cane Biscotti

1/2 cup butter softened

1/2 cup sugar

3 eggs

2 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

2/3 cup finely crushed peppermint candy canes (Tip: Use large candy canes and grind them up in a food processor. Pu on your ear muffs first. It's a very noisy activity!)

For glaze (optional)

¼ cup crushed candy canes

¼ cup red decorating icing

Heat oven to 350. Combine butter and sugar in large bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often until creamy. Add eggs; continue beating until well mixed. Reduce speed to low. Add flour and baking powder; continue beating until well mixed. Stir in crushed candy. Divide dough into fourths on lightly floured surface. Shape each fourth into 9 x 1 1/2 inch round logs with lightly floured hands. Place logs 3 inches apart onto lightly greased or parchment paper lined large cookie sheet.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until tops are cracked and ends just start to turn light brown. Remove from oven; reduce temperature to 325. Cool logs 10 minutes on cookie sheet.

Carefully remove logs to cutting surface. Cut each log into 1/2 inch slices with sharp serrated knife. [Discard ends] Arrange pieces on same cookie sheet, cut-side down.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, turning once, or until cookies are light golden brown and crisp on both sides. Place onto cool rack; cool completely. Makes 24 biscotti.

Optional glaze:

Place cooled biscotti on wax paper. Warm ¼ cup red decorating icing in the microwave to a runny consistency. Drizzle glaze over top in a zigzag pattern with a fork. Dip each cookie in crushed candy canes. Allow glaze and topping to set before storing in an airtight container for up to one month, or freeze for several months.

Gingerbread biscotti

1 cup whole or slivered almonds, toasted
3/4 cup sugar
½ cup butter
1/2 cup dark molasses,
1/4 cup fresh ginger; minced
3 eggs
3 cups flour

1/2 Tbsp baking powder
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp allspice

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, beat sugar, butter, molasses, and ginger until smooth. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice and almonds. Add to egg mixture; stir to blend. On prepared baking sheets, use well-floured hands to pat dough into 2 logs, 2 inches in diameter. Bake until browned at edges and springy to touch, about 25 minutes; switch positions of pans halfway through baking. Let loaves stand on baking sheets until cool to touch, then using a bread knife cut into slices on an angle. Place slices on cookie sheet and return to oven and bake at 350 F. until cookies are brown, 15 to 18 minutes longer; switch positions of pans halfway through baking. Transfer biscotti to racks and let cool completely. Serve, or store airtight up to 1 month; freeze for longer storage. Makes 24 pieces.

Holiday biscotti

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup chopped candied red cherries
1/4 cup chopped candied green cherries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Egg wash: (optional)
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsp water.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease cookie sheet or line with parchment paper; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder; set aside. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in almond extract. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in candied cherries, white chocolate chips, and semi-sweet chocolate chips. With lightly floured hands, shape dough into two 10-inch long by 3-inch wide loaves. Place loaves on prepared cookie sheet and flatten slightly. Optional. In a small bowl, beat together 1 egg and 1 tbsp water. Brush each loaf with egg wash. Bake 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool loaves for 10 minutes and then with a very sharp serrated knife cut diagonally into 1/2-inch slices. Place slices cut side down on cookie sheet and return to even for 10 minutes. Turn slices over and bake an additional 5 minutes. Makes 24 biscotti.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hot beverage tips - psst save double-double, grandé bucks!

Grandé bucks got you feeling small? Create your own coffee shop delights at home!
So you’re perplexed about the ever-changing hot beverage choices at your favourite coffee shop? Or, perhaps you’re considering a degree from “Barista University” just to figure out the bizarre lingo required to order a simple cup of coffee or tea. And if it weren’t for all those “grandés” or double-doubles you sucked back over the last year you probably could have bought that little coffeehouse franchise on the corner. Take heart, your expensive love affair with the hot stuff is not unusual. 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 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! 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. But if you’re feeling a little like Lightnin’ Hopkins in his 1969 Coffeehouse Blues and the high cost of your grandé or double-double is getting you down, try these hot stuff recipes at home. Grab a little milk frother (under $15 at Cdn Tire or Stokes, etc), whip on the Barista apron, strum a few chords on the guitar and create your own oasis for you, your family and friends. Who knows, my friend? Maybe your Espresso Barista degree isn’t blowin’ in the wind afterall!

Spicy Chai Latté
2 tea bags (regular or non-caffeine)
1 ½ cups boiling water
1 ½ cups 2% milk
1 three inch cinnamon stick
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
1/8 tsp allspice
6 black peppercorns
1 peeled 3 cm quarter-size piece fresh gingerroot
1 tbsp honey to taste

Add spices to boiling water, return to boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add tea bags and steep for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat milk in microwave or saucepan. (Froth warm milk with a milk frother, if desired) Strain tea mixture into mugs. Add hot milk and honey (frothed milk should be scooped on top of each mug of tea mixture).

Pure & Simple Cappuccino
Make Espresso coffee for 2 (Try the President’s Choice brand)
Warm approximately 1/3 cup of milk (if desired add 1 tsp white sugar to the milk before warming)
Pour into a tall container
Froth milk with a milk frother
Pour coffee into a fancy mug and spoon milk over top
Sprinkle with cinnamon, cocoa or nutmeg or all three!
Serves 2

Aztec Hot Chocolate with a fiery twist
1 2/3 cups milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
½ or whole red chili pepper, split with seeds removed
1 cinnamon stick, around 3-4"
1 1/2 oz chocolate (bittersweet)
Simmer milk in a saucepan with vanilla bean, cinnamon and chili. Heat through for about a minute. Whisk in grated chocolate, and continue to simmer until melted. Remove from heat and let 'steep' for another 10 minutes. Strain out the spices and serve. Serves 2.

Homemade Spicy Mulled Cider Mix
¾ cup crushed cinnamon sticks
¾ cup chopped dried orange rind
1/3 cup whole allspice
¼ cup cloves
In a jar, combine cinnamon, orange rind, allspice and cloves. Makes about 2 cups. (This mix makes a nice host gift)

To make cider:
4 cups apple juice or half apple juice plus half cranberry juice
2 tbsp Spicy Mulled Cider Mix
In a saucepan, combine apple juice and Spicy Mulled Cider Mix; cover and bring to a simmer. Gently simmer for 20; strain into mugs. Makes 4 servings

Blueberry Tea
Add ¾ oz each Amaretto and Grand Marnier to a warmed snifter glass. Top with 5 oz cold Orange Pekoe or Earl Grey Tea. Garnish with an orange twist and a few fresh blueberries, if desired.

No-Caffeine Extra Zesty Moon Chai
10 1-inch size pieces of peeled ginger
4 cinnamon sticks, broken
1 tsp green cardamom pods
2 1/4 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp cloves, whole
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp licorice root
1/2 tsp allspice
5 cups water
3 tbsp honey
Milk, to taste

Combine everything except milk and honey, in a saucepan. Cover pot and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove the pot from heat, and let sit for another 35 minutes (covered). Strain out the spices and add honey, and honey and milk to taste.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pumpkins: October’s bounty is versatile, colourful and good for you too!

Mini-pumpkins serve as lovely centrepieces, name card holders (just make a slice to hold the card) and tealight candleholders (slice off top and hollow out) for a Fall dinner table.

It’s October 1535. You’re Jacques Cartier navigating your way up the St. Lawrence River for the first time. Peering through your scope you see scattered patches of large, bright orange round things sitting in the riverbank fields ahead. Hmm? Have you been at sea too long or, are you about to be invaded by an army of very pudgy, misshapen aliens with a serious camouflage problem? Being a seasoned world explorer you pull over and ask the local native people what these orange things are. “Isqoutm squash, monsieur,” they reply. Translation: “Pumpkins”. And so, you and your French confreres are introduced to the monster member of the Cucurbita family, her siblings being the petite squash and svelte-like cucumber. The French named this mysterious large melon the Pepon, then Pompon. The English changed it to Pompion, and finally, the Pumpkin.

Our native people though were the real discoverers of the pumpkin’s many virtues. High in fibre, heart-friendly potassium, vitamins A and C, and good-for-you antioxidant beta-carotene, pumpkin was used as a daily food staple in the native people’s diet long before the colonists landed in North America. In these pre-marshmallow times, as a delicacy, the Native Indians would roast long strips of pumpkin over an open fire. Hollowed out pumpkins also performed double-duty as biodegradable, disposable and nutritious roasting pots in the hot ashes of dying fires. No pot scrubbing required!

But it was the Irish who revealed the pumpkin’s inner magical spirit. Always in pursuit of life, liberty and luck, Irish settlers to North America began the tradition of carving pumpkins into Jack-o-lanterns and placing a piece of coal inside to light up the creation, as part of their Samhain holiday on October 31st to welcome back dead souls. They used turnips in the old country but quickly discovered pumpkins were much easier to hack up in a hurry.

These days pumpkin seeds are used to deworm humans, to prevent prostrate cancer and to relieve burns—not surprising since pumpkins are comprised of 80 per cent water.

With the pumpkin being a lifesaver in so may ways, it’s easy to see why the wise Fairy Godmother reserved a pumpkin carriage to whisk away the one-shoed lady to life-altering bliss in the children’s fairy tale, Cinderella. And, we have lived happily ever after with the pumpkin ever since!

Try these pumpkin pleaser recipes to get you started.

Tasty Bacon-Pumpkin Pasta
Serves 4-6
3-4 cups dry penne pasta (or your favourite pasta)
2 cups pumpkin puree (1 large tin)
6 strips bacon
2 garlic cloves minced
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
¾ cream or whole milk
pinch of sage
pinch of nutmeg

1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
Toasted chopped pecans for garnish, if desired

Boil penne to al dente. In a deep fry pan cook bacon until crisp, drain on paper towels to absorb grease and dice into thin strips. Discard all but 1 tbsp bacon fat from fry pan. Lower fry pan heat to med-low and cook garlic in remaining bacon fat. Stir often to prevent it from burning. Add the pumpkin, parsley, sage, nutmeg and cream. Stir until warmed. DO NOT BOIL. (If you wish, reserve some of the sauce and Parmesan cheese for another meal at this point.) Drain pasta. Stir Parmesan cheese into pasta, then stir in sauce. Mix well and serve immediately. Top each serving with toasted chopped pecans.

The Crowd-Pleaser Pumpkin Cheesecake
This recipe is easy to make but allow yourself enough time to bake and cool the cake, then chill it overnight. You will need a 9 inch spring form pan and an electric mixer.
2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs
(PC English style Gingersnaps crushed in a food processor work well)
3 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp granulated sugar
(Reserve a tbsp or two of this mixture to sprinkle over the baked cake, if desired)

3 250 g pkgs light cream cheese, softened
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 ½ cups canned pumpkin
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp EACH nutmeg and ginger
2 tbsp milk
1 tbsp bourbon, if desired

Combine ingredients. Press firmly onto bottom and ½ inch up sides of a 9 inch spring form pan. Chill for 1 or more hours.
In a large bowl, using a electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugars until very smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, until just blended. Beat in pumpkin, spices, milk, cornstarch and bourbon, until thoroughly combined. Pour into pan. Bake at 350 F for 50-55 minutes or until center of cake is just set. Remove cake from oven and run a knife around sides of pan. Cool at room temperature on a cookie rack. Chill, covered, overnight. To serve, remove sides of pan and garnish as desired with crumb mixture, whipped cream or whole pecans or pralines.

High Fibre Breakfast Pumpkin Muffins
Dry ingredients:
¾ cup bran
¾ cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup white sugar
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cloves
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup raisins or currants

Wet ingredients:
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 egg unbeaten
½ cup canola oil
½ cup plain yogurt

In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add pumpkin, egg, oil and yogurt and stir until just combined. Tip for muffin success: after adding wet ingredients to the dry ingredient mixture, only stir the mixture 17 times! Spoon batter into paper-lined muffin tins. Bake in 400 F oven for 25 minutes or until firm to the touch. Let cool in tin on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove muffins from tin and allow to cool on a cookie rack. Makes 12 muffins.

Bon Appétit!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fire up the slow-cooker and get cozy - Fall is here.

The autumnal equinox has passed, leaves will be falling; temperatures cooling. Time to pull out the fuzzy, wuzzy socks, head-to-toe long underwear and, of course, the slow cooker. But that sad old slow cooker of yours has seen better days. The cord began to fray two years ago, the dog bit off the temperature knob in ‘98 and the recipe book went missing in ’85. Now you’re thinking of applying for an archaeological permit to excavate it from the recesses of your basement or donating the hot, dangerous and dusty little number to a cooking museum.

If the idea of using a slow cooker has you humming Helen Reddy’s “I am woman, hear me roar”, visualizing harvest-gold kitchen appliances or dreaming of wearing hot pants, STOP! You’re in desperate need of a slow cooker update. First of all, know this: new slow cookers cook food faster than their grandparent models. Second, slow cookers today are jam-packed with a mother load of counter intelligence, like programmable digital timers, automatic on/off switches and dual cooking compartments. Third, they’re very snazzy, sleek and hip; available in many contemporary colours and sizes (one to seven quarts), as well as round or oval shapes. There’s nothing retro, square or slow about the slow cooker today. This smart little 70’s baby is all grown up!

Either way, whether your slow cooker is young or old, there’s no dating the relief of arriving home to the aroma of a slow-cooked pot roast, chili, stew, spaghetti or hearty soup for dinner. OK, maybe the time(s) your partner made a “gourmet” dinner and set a romantic table with flowers and candles is date worthy too.

Use these tips and recipes if you’re still a little slow to warm to the slow cooker’s charms:
· Half empty or half full? The slow-cooker pot should be half full but no more than three-quarters full of food.
· Size up the situation. A medium (3-41/2 quart) slow cooker yields 4-8 serving recipes. A large (5-61/2 quart) cooks 6-12 servings.
· No peaking! Don’t lift the lid during cooking. Add 20-30 minutes per peak to cooking time if you do.
· Order please. Layer ingredients as instructed in the recipe; pour liquids over meats and place vegetables on the bottom, under meat. Veggies take longer to cook.
· Timing is everything. One hour on HIGH equals about two hours on LOW.
· Lose the fat. Remove fat from meat before cooking. Fat keeps the heat in and overcooks the meat Your heart and waistline will love you for losing it too.
· Watch your stock liquidity. If you don’t want your dish to be saucy, don’t add a lot of liquid. Liquid seeps out of veggies and meat during cooking, anyway.
· Tough love equals cash saved. Choose less expensive, tougher cuts of meat. The simmering process will soften them and bring out their flavour.
· There’s a catch. Add fish or seafood near the end of the cooking time to preserve their delicate flavours.

Blue Plate Chili
Serves 4-6
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb lean ground beef
1 onion, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cracked black peppercorns
1 28 oz can tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
½ cup condensed beef broth, undiluted
1 19 oz can red kidney beans drained and rinsed
1 green bell pepper

In a non-stick fry pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add beef and cook, breaking up with wooden spoon, until no longer pink. Using a slotted spoon, transfer meat to slow cooker bowl.
Reduce fry pan heat to medium. Add onion and celery and cooking, stirring often. Add garlic, chili powder, caraway seeds, salt and peppercorns and cook for one minute. Stir in tomatoes and beef broth and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add beans and transfer to slow cooker.
Cover and cook on LOW for 8-10 hours or on HIGH for 4-5 hours.. Add green pepper, increase heat to high and cook for 20 minutes, until tender.

Red Lentil and Carrot Soup with Coconut Milk
Serves 4-6 as a main coarse or 8-10 as a starter.
2 cups red lentils
1tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black peppercorns
a few drops hot pepper sauce (to taste)
1 28 oz can tomatoes, including juice
2 large carrots, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 14 oz can coconut milk
thin slices or lemon
finely chopped cilantro

In a colander, rinse lentils thoroughly under cold water. Set aside. In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until soft. Add garlic, turmeric, cumin seeds, salt, peppercorns and a few drops hot pepper sauce. Add tomatoes and bring to a boil, breaking up with back of spoon. Stir in carrots, lentils, lemon juice and broth. Transfer mixture to slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 8-10 hours or on HIGH for 4-5 hours until carrots are tender and mixture is bubbling. Stir in coconut milk and cook on HIGH for 20-30 minutes, until heated through. When serving, garnish each serving with lemon slices and cilantro, if using.

Zesty Pears
Makes 6 servings
6 fresh pears
½ cup raisins or currants
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp grated lemon peel
¼ cup brandy
½ cup sweet white wine or ice wine
½ cup macaroon crumbs or gingersnap crumbs

Peel and core pears. Cut into thin slices. Combine raisins (or currants), sugar, and lemon peel. Layer alternately with pear slices in slow cooker. Pour brandy and wine over top. Cover and cook on LOW for 4-6 hours. Spoon into serving dishes and sprinkle with cookie crumbs. May also be served with frozen yogurt, Sherbet or gelato.

Ms. Friendly Chocolate Mud Cake
Serves 8 (3 quart cooker is ideal)
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp butter
1/3 cup semi sweet chocolate chunks or chips
1 cup white sugar, divided
½ cup cocoa, divided
1 tbsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
1/3 cup fat free milk
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 ½ cups hot water
Vanilla ice cream

Spray slow cooker with cooking spray. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Set aside.
In a large microwave able bowl, melt butter and chocolate and microwave. Mix well. Whisk in 2/3 cup white sugar, 3 tbsp of cocoa, vanilla, salt, milk and egg yolk. Add flour mixture. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Pour batter into slow cooker. Spread evenly. Whisk together remaining sugars, remaining cocoa, and hot water until sugar is dissolved. Pour over batter in slow cooker. Do not stir. Cover and cook on high for 1 to 2 hours. The cake will be very moist and floating on a layer of molten when done. You’ll know it’s done when nearly all the cake is set and its edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pot. Turn off slow cooker and remove lid. DO NOT let the lid’s condensation drip on the cake! Let cool 25 minutes before spooning into individual bowls and topping with ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Appoint a plum to lead your next entrée or dessert! Try this devine Plum Phyllo Pie.

Add the word plum as a term of endearment in addressing your loved ones and you may be pleasantly surprised with the helpful, cheerful cooperation you receive. To your partner try something like “Sugarplum darling, could you empty the dishwasher?” or to your offspring “my cherub-cheeked, plum-ducky, could you please promise to be home by 11 pm?” There’s something, just so indelibly sweet about the plum, the mere utterance of the word brings music to our ears and visions of whimsy. This, thanks to Russian composer, Peter Tchaikovsky, who gave the plum a cheerful, bouncy sound of its own in his bubbly Christmas ballet hit, Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy.

And as we Ottawans know, the fruity, four-letter “P” word pops up here on the Parliamentary stage quite frequently because it rings a few bells with politicians who especially love plums--as in plum-appointments! If we savvy capitalists hear of any sour or shady plum political deals, however, the politicians do a different dance to the tune of, My Popularity Doth PLUMmet. I digress. The plum is neither scandalous or shady. It is in fact an innocent,colourful character on the fruit stands and plays a melodious and surprising accompaniment to any entrée or dessert. Plums play lovely duets with pork or chicken, cinnamon or ginger in desserts and add a sweet soprano note to salads with sharp cheeses.

Hundreds of years ago, wild plums grew in perfect harmony in temperate climates around the world in Canada, the US and Europe. Eventually, these wild varieties were replaced in North America by cultivated European plums and Japanese varieties from Asia. The dried plum, AKA “the prune”, has a chorus of regular followers for its “digestive assistance” and scored a big hit in ancient times as a popular, dietary staple among old world tribes. US marketers [or should I say the KGP (Plum Police)] have now ordered us to call prunes, “dried plums”. Apparently the word prunes is undesirable and causes some age-phobic folks to shrivel and cringe.

Plenty of fresh varieties of Ontario plums are available throughout September in red, yellow and purple, and in all sizes. To choose a perfect plum, look for a smooth skin and a little bit-of-give when pressure is applied at the base of the fruit. Try these recipes to get you and your “sugarplums” tuned into eating this marvelous Ontario-grown fruit. Bon Appétit!

Delicious Plum and Sausage Kebabs (from Foodland Ontario)
3/4 lb (5-6) mild Italian uncooked (or other meat) sausages
8 small bulb Ontario Onions, 2-inch (5 cm) green stem attached
4 large Ontario Red or Blue Plums, pitted and quartered

For the basting sauce, mix together:
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp Dijon Mustard
1 tsp liquid honey

Pre-cook sausages by boiling them in a saucepan for about 10-15 minutes. Poke each sausage with a fork to release any fat. If onions are large, partially cook them, then cut in halves or quarters. Steam or microwave onions with 2 tbsp water for 2 minutes.

For skewers: Cut sausages into 1-1/2-inch chunks. on metal skewers, alternately thread sausages, plum quarters and onions onto skewers. Place on oiled rack in preheated barbecue over medium heat; grill, brushing with basting sauce, for 3 or 4 minutes per side or until onions are barely tender. Serves 4. Serve over couscous or rice and your favourite veggies.

Devine Plum Pie
¼ cup all purpose flour
½ cup white sugar
1 tsp ginger
½ tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup sliced almonds (optional)

6 cups (10 med plums) pitted, quartered, unpeeled plums
¾ cup dried apricots cut into strips
2 tbsp lemon juice

Mix together flour, sugar, spices, then almonds in a large bowl. In a separate bowl mix together plums, apricots and lemon juice. Add plum mixture to flour mixture and toss gently. Spoon into a spray-greased a 13x9” baking dish.

Phyllo pastry topping:
1 tbsp white sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 sheets phyllo pastry
¼ cup melted butter or margarine

Tip: Work fast! Phyllo dries out quickly and must be kept covered to stay moist while you are working with it. Keep “work in progress” pastry completely covered with plastic wrap and lay a slightly damp tea towel on top. Don’t let the damp tea towel touch the phyllo sheets or they’ll go mushy!

Mix together sugar and cinnamon. Lay one sheet of phyllo on a wax-paper covered work surface. Brush the entire phyllo sheet with some of the butter and sprinkle one-quarter of the cinnamon mixture over it. Continue laying on sheets and topping with butter and cinnamon until done. Lay stacked phyllo layers on top of fruit mixture. With scissors, trim one inch beyond the edge of dish, roll edges under fruit and press into sides of dish. Using a sharp bread or steak knife, cut slits in the top of pastry and score 8 squares. Place the baking dish on a rimmed cookie sheet to avoid bubble-over mishaps. Bake at 350 F for 30-35 minutes or until golden. (Lay a large sheet of tin foil on top if the pastry browns too quickly.) Serve warm with icing sugar sifted overtop, or with frozen yogurt.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tomatoes - A round of applause for the outfielders please!

Blushing red and tasting marvelous. No matter how you say it, slice it, or spell it, the tomatoe is enjoying a show-stopping Broadway starring role this month as the season’s “vegetable of choice”. So adaptable, delicious and nutritious, who could turn away from its enchanting garden performance as the saucy, juicy, and succulent leading lady. Check your programme and you’ll quickly see, served freshly sliced (sliced with a sharp bread knife from stem to stem, of course) or acting as the base player for a hearty bruschetta , there really is no other nominee that comes close to this annual winner in the tasty edibles category.

Originating in South America in pre-Columbian times, Mexican cooks quickly ladled up this vegetable-mryiad of sensational talents and auditioned its riches in many of their dishes, from salsa to quesidillas. On the rest of the world circuit though, the tomato blushed timidly backstage, lingering with stage fright behind the big curtain, only known as a lowly ornamental plant and distasteful to eat. By the 1800’s, the tomatoe began appearing in more supportive roles in soups and sauces. Full glory status shone on the tomatoe in the 1900’s when, internationally it gained its rightful place, playing the leading role in a cornucopia of popular Mediterranean, Asian and North American dishes.

As a healthy, robust stage hand , the tomatoe continues to light up the show being high in Vitamin A and C, Folacin, Calcium, Potassium and best of all, Lypocene. Scientists now believe Lypocene inhibits prostrate, breast, uterine and lung cancers, as well as heart disease. It is also believed to be a key antioxidant guarding against Age-Related Macular Degeneration, a condition that may cause blindness. [Visit for more details]

Best of all ladies and gentlemen, in true Hollywood fashion, there’s a tomatoe named after the handsome, soft-spoken and lanky Dirty Harry and Bridges of Madison County star actor and director, Clint Eastwood. Yep, “Clint Eastwood’s Rowdy Red” tomatoe plant apparently produces robust, “not for sissies”, bold, tomatoey flavours, that invite “snacking in the garden, cooking, canning and seed-saving”. A portion of the tomatoe’s seed sales go toward his children’s educational charity. Now I wonder, since a trip to California isn’t in the cards for me, would I be “forgiven” for asking Mr. Million-Dollar Baby himself to deliver some of his Rowdy Red seeds to me personally?

Bon Appetit until next week. Try these easy tomatoe recipes the next time you’re entertaining!

No-Brainer Bruschetta
Place French loaf slices on a cookie sheet. Slather 1 tbsp of *Pesto on each slice. Top with 2-3 chopped tomatoes, 3-4 green onions. Broil until tomatoes are soft. Top with ½ cup crumbled Feta or Parmesan cheese and ¼ c chopped black olives. Broil again until cheese bubbles but don’t burn the bread!
*Try the Pesto recipe I posted earlier in August.

Simple-hearted Tomatoe and Asiago Salad
3-4 ripe firm Round or Beefsteak tomatoes sliced into ¼ “ rounds
8 thin slices of Asiago cheese (Use a vegetable peeler to slice)
3 sun-dried tomatoes cut into thin strips
2 garlic cloves, chopped
½ med-sized Vidalia or mild onion sliced into thin rounds
1/3 cup each fresh chopped basil leaves, parsley and oregano (reserving one whole basil leaf and one sprig of parsley to garnish)

¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ tsp balsamic vinegar

Drizzle 1-2 tbsp olive in the bottom of a rimmed glass or ceramic dish (not metal). Stir in balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle 1/3 of garlic on top. Layer one layer of tomatoe rounds and Layer one round of onions on top. Drizzle with 1-2 tbsp oil. Sprinkle with garlic. Repeat this pattern until no tomatoes, onions and garlic are left. Top with chopped basil, parsley and oregano and sun dried tomatoes. Drizzle with a more oil. Top with sliced cheese in a pinwheel design and place 2-3 whole basil leaves and a sprig of parsley to garnish the center. Cover with wrap. Refrigerate if making ahead but allow flavours to blend at room temperature for one hour before serving. Serves 6.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Blueberries Galore - Recipes and stuff about these sweet little numbers

The Sweet Little Blueberry Marches On!

August has arrived. Time to reinforce your brainpower for back-to-school, fight free radicals, and boost your antioxidant intake and rekindle your mid-summer relationship with the fresh darling of sweet delight, the blueberry. Who knew this tiny but delicious, wild but virtuous, berry of blue had also been performing a tour of duty on your body, playing a double role of peacekeeper and governor—neutralizing those nasty free radicals and quietly up keeping your Vitamin C and E and dietary fibre. Oh so Canadian, eh? Just like our Canadian motto says, “peace, order and good government.” Free radicals by the way, if not countered by antioxidants, can cause damage to cell membranes and DNA through “oxidative stress”. Scientists now believe several life-threatening aging diseases like heart disease, cancer, dementia and Alzheimer’s are directly associated with free radicals. Fortunately, the word is spreading about the healthy powers of our cherished diminutive berry and our little peacekeeper is now gracing dinner tables around the world in Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, the United Kingdom and Europe. It seems, everyone is hankering for a piece of the pie!

No worries, there’s lots to go around. Growing wild, and cultivated, across Canada, the blueberry will be waltzing into Canadian kitchens this month, from British Columbia to Newfoundland, popping up in all sorts of delightful concoctions for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Since blueberries top the antioxidant list in the fruit and vegetable category all you need to fulfill your daily antioxidant intake of these fresh little power kegs of nutrients is one cup per day—fresh or frozen. A handful at every meal and you’ve fought the good fight, everyday. On top of this, scientists also think blueberries may reduce LDL cholesterol build-up and improve your fine motor, memory and explorative skills.

There’s no need to Mapquest these nutritious little beauties because they’re readily available frozen (year round) or fresh at roadside stands and grocery stores, right now. Better still, use those antioxidant explorative powers and make a day of discovering “you pick it” places all on your own. Here’s the scoop though, the blueberry season is short and the blueberry’s storage life is even shorter! Choose firm berries and store them in the refrigerator or freezer but be sure to remove any soft or moldy berries from the batch first.

Try these recipes to sharpen your wits:
Breakfast Blueberry Smoothie
1 banana
½ c blueberries (fresh or frozen)
½ c plain low fat yogurt or frozen low-fat flavoured yogurt
¼ c milk (optional)
Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Serve immediately or store in the fridge for a few hours.

Blueberry Pie with Ginger Crust

Cooking time: 8 min Chilling time: 3 hours
1-1/2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs (in a food processor grind up about 35 cookies or 1/2 a bag of PC English Gingersnaps)
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted

2-1/2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp cold water

1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 cups (1 L) blueberries
1 tbsp lemon juice

Crust: In small bowl, combine cookie crumbs with sugar; stir in butter until moistened. Press evenly onto bottom and sides of 9-inch pie plate. Bake in 375°F (190°C) oven for 8 minutes. Cool on rack

Filling:In medium saucepan, mix cornstarch with water. Add sugar and 1-1/2 cups blueberries; bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Boil 1 to 2 minutes, stirring, until very thick and clear. Remove from heat; stir in remaining blueberries and lemon juice. Mix well and pour into pie crust. Refrigerate until set (about 3 hours). Serve with Maple Whipped Cream.

Maple Whipped Cream: Beat 1/2 cup whipping cream or Cool Whip with 2 tbsp Ontario Maple Syrup until stiff. Store in refrigerator.

Wholesome Blueberry Muffins
1 cup oats
1 cup buttermilk (substitute with: 1 cup milk+1 tbsp vinegar)
½ c canola oil
½ cup brown sugar
1 beaten egg
1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup blueberries
Mix oats, buttermilk, oil, brown sugar and beaten egg in a bowl. Mix the remaining ingredients in another bowl and then stir in blueberries. Add the wet first mixture to the dry mixture. Do not over mix. Stir 17 times, just enough to moisten dry ingredients.-mixture will be lumpy. Spray grease or line a 12-size muffin tin with large muffin paper cups and drop mixture into cups. Bake at 400F for 15-18 minutes.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Backyard-Barrhaven-Grown Pesto

If your basil and mint crops are overflowing, as mine in are in my Barrhaven Backyard, try these easy to assemble pesto recipes to alleviate your herbish woes:
Basil Pesto
3 cups packed frsh basil leaves (no stems)
3-4 healthy garlic cloves
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup toasted, chopped pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil

I also add:
1/2 cup packed fresh parsley
1/4 cup melted (cooled) butter
pinch of ground black pepper
Purée everything in a food processor until well blended. Place in small, clean glass jars. Place a piece of saran over top and screw on the jar lid. Serve with hard crackers or on bruschetta. Enjoy!!!

Mint Pesto:
This recipe is terrific with lamb chunks (barbequed on skewars--metal ones) or a roast leg of lamb. I also like it with cantaloupe but that's just me...taste it for yourself!
1/3 cup walnuts
4-6 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup oilive oil
1/8 -1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and purée until well combined and smooth. Place in small glass jars, place plastic wrap over top and screw on jar lid. Serve with lamb, chicken, couscous or whatever your minty heart desires!

If you have a great garden-grown recipe to tell. Food is the peaceful unity-builder for all mankind. And of course....TEA!