Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Endulgence Weekend

Okay, I didn't get to the Pumpkin Farm, we decided that the trip will be postponed until next weekend when all the kids are home and the pumpkins will be fresh for jack-o-lantern carving.

So what did I do? I indulged! or rather Over-indulged. I had a horrible run in with food poisoning last weekend (tip to the health dept; check the marinara - note to self; never eat there again.) and I missed out on a lot, including Ethan's first minor league hockey goal. So this weekend I decided that I would treat myself.

Indulgence #1

Indulge Ice Cream. This fantastic little ice cream kingdom is perched like a jewel right on the corner where we turn for Ethan's hockey each Saturday. It's an old train caboose, which just makes the whole experience that much more indulgent. Mike had Mint Chocolate Chip with real chocolate chips and mint! The boys enjoyed Oreo Cookie and Cotton Candy Flavours.

I love the cute little explanations for the flavours Indulge offers; under Chocolate is says Boooooorrrring! Under Maple Walnut it says... maple and walnuts and childhood memories...that hooked me, Maple Walnut was my childhood flavour of choice, perhaps because it seemed so grown-up, it was always the flavour my mom chose when Rum & Raisin wasn't available. (kind of like choosing tea when you discover the bar is dry).

My Indulge Maple Walnut did not disappoint, it delivered all of those childhood memories in spades with smooth maple flavour and walnut halves (not pieces) the size of your head. At one point I actually complained to Mike that the pieces were so big and plentiful that I was having trouble getting to the ice cream! Indulgent without doubt!

I have yet to figure out how to get a good picture
through the steam.
Indulgence # 2

Cauliflower or rather the cheese sauce it swam in. Cauliflower is one of those ingredients I don't prepare very often. We eat it raw as crudite but rarely served as a sidedish or maindish as the case should be. Afterwards I always wonder why I don't prepare it more often. The kids love it, I could eat the entire bowl myself and even Mike who claims is triggers intense heartburn, indulges. In keeping with my theme of indulgence this weekend I decided the only way to celebrate cauliflower with more zeal was a cheese sauce, the way Mom used to lure the vegetable reluctant to the darkside. (Just a note here; Mom you could have chocolate coated those brussel sprouts they would still have been stuffed in my socks)

4 of us ate an entire ginormous head of cauliflower for dinner dressed in cheese. (leftover chicken makes great sandwiches)

In retrospect I should have just made a cheddar & cauliflower soup.

Indulgence #3

Portuguese Custard Tarts from the Lisboa Bakery & Grill down the street. I have to admit that I am not overly fond of their other offerings. Not that their food is not good just that I am not a fan of that distinctive  oil, paprika, salt combination, so common in the food. It's a hangover from my days celebrating around my stepfather's Portuguese table, I didn't enjoy it then either.

The custard tarts however, recall warm comfort food memories of those same days and I can not resist when Mike brings home a pastry box full of decadence. They are creamy and silky with the caramelized tops speckled with charred patches that enhance that sweet custard, all nestled in a puff pastry shell that I have never been able to completely replicate at home.

I enjoyed my tart with tea before bed and it was the perfect night cap to a weekend of indulgence.

If you haven't enjoyed some indulgences lately, make a weekend of it. Your soul will thank you for it, and the gym can help ease the guilt come Monday morning. Just don't do it too often, you'll spoil the effect, not unlike have Christmas everyday.

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often


Monday, October 10, 2011

Cooking Up My Gratitude

Thanksgiving came together beautifully, on the menu...

mashed potatoes,
marinated carrots
butternut squash
orange jelly salad
green goop
 with the addition of meatballs, scallop potatoes, dinner rolls and cranberry sauce contributed by family diners

For dessert the menu included....

Mandatory Pumpkin Pie
Grapple Pie
Apple Butterscotch Cheesecake
Bavarian Apple Torte
Carrot Cake
& a big bowl of whipped cream

All together we were a table of 21, a few regular members absent because of work, but well remembered. The diner count explains the vast menu, there is a favourite of everyone... a cook's heaven! I love those days planning, timing, prepping, cooking and satisfying my family. I love the look on my youngest brother's face when he asks if I made turnip. I love watching my oldest brother and my daughter horde the pistachio salad (green goop) from one another. Cod cakes never leave Poppa's side, Mike's only request is always potatoes. My nephews love that jello is being served for the main course and my father-in-law believes that turkey makes the holiday. As I make each dish I naturally reflect on the person who has inspired it.This perhaps is what makes the job of cooking Thanksgiving Diner so enjoyable. What better way to say thank-you for what you bring to our family and our lives than to say "I made your favourite."

Many dishes come from the recipe archives of family and friends who have left our arms. Everyone knows why orange jelly salad is special and why Bavarian apple torte is a dessert table icon. Nobody says anything but you know that these dishes bring these loved ones together with us once again.

Organizing 21 diners to the table while the food is still hot  is a challenge. We make a long snaking table and everyone dines together, no kid's tables or teens dining in the recroom. There are always special requests and I find myself bobbing up an down from the table for most of diner. After cooking, I love this moment the best, to watch people enjoy the meal, double up on favourites, banter, share love, gratitude and inside jokes.

I'm not sure I have ever really eaten Thanksgiving dinner, not that I mind in the least however... my favourite item after all is a turkey sandwich on wonder bread on the day after Thanksgiving!

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often


Friday, October 7, 2011

On the Brink Of Thanksgiving!

Right now I am a kid in a candy shoppe! I've got turkey and pie pumpkins, colourful mini marshmallows, carrots, cranberries, celery, onions, turnip, squash, apples, potatoes, veggies, veggies, veggies, whipping cream, butter, herbs, lemons, mushrooms ..... a busy couple days ahead and a fluttering heart!

Thanksgiving is the holiday that revolves around my two absolute passions....Food and Gratitude and there will be a lot of both!

I'm going to keep a running diary of this weekend in my kitchen, should be fun. If you want details on any thing I'm preparing just send me a message...always happy to share!

Stay tuned. right now I have a house to clean before I can get to the good stuff...ugh!

Pie pumpkins, washed and punctured,
ready for a 90min
 bake in a 350 degree oven.
Friday 7:30 pm - Update

Pie pumpkins are baking in the oven

Salt cod is soaking for Portuguese Cod Cake (a special treat for my stepdad)

I am sitting my butt in a chair organizing recipes - all that housework has done me in, need some rest tomorrow is a whole day in the kitchen

The turkey brine is cooked and cooling.
Brine for the Turkey.
salt, sugar, thyme, pepper, garlic

The pumpkin is cooked, cooled and pureed


Turkey Spa. a 24 hour brine treatment
Saturday 7:30 am Update

Turkey is in the brine!

Pies are underway

Stuffing smells are filling the house! sage, sausage, onions, celery...sauteed in a pan.

Pumpkin Pies hitting the oven

I love to make the stuffing a day
ahead so that all those flavours
get sometime to develop before they
meet the bird on cooking day!
Jelly salads coming up!

My Gran was the Matriarch of Thanksgiving. She had an amazing way of putting every
person's favourite dish on the table. That's the story behind the jelly salads. Thanksgiving would not be the same without Orange Mandarin Jelly Salad and Green Goop. I have to admit I choke up a little when I put the Green Goop into my Gran's serving bowl

Pumpkin pies are out of the oven.

Now a break for Hockey!

Grandma's Famous Green Goop!
Update Saturday 4:00 pm

Awesome game from my little Penguin!

In the oven right now is Bavarian Apple Torte

On the counter a mound of carrots waiting to be peeled sliced and blanched for marinated carrots. Any takers?

The afternoon has been productive.... Grapple Pie has been made.

Marinated Carrots
Marinated Carrots are ready for the fridge. This is a great recipe actually because it needs to be made the day before and can be served hot or cold

 Sunday 5:30 am

An early start (thank you minor hockey) Mike took Ethan to practice which left me with just enough time for a good cup of coffee before root work begins.

Dear farmer can you grow potatoes

20 lbs. of potatoes being peeled: 10lbs of Yukon for mash, 10lbs white for roasting

Next up....Turnip and squash

Just hours away from dinner now....Veggies done, stuffing done, gravy done. potatoes up next!

getting ready for the oven

cod cakes ready to go

turkey check - 3 hrs to go

Monday, October 3, 2011

It's Pie People - Have Some Respect (The Filling)

I have a thing about making pie and I wanted to talk about my method to create what I think is the perfect slice of wholesome. The bit about the crust got a post of it's own and you can go back to it and learn how to make it here.

Filling deserves a post of it's own too, so today we talk about part 2 of creating a perfect apple pie. I'm a little bit more relaxed about phase 2 of pie creation. The rules for filling are not as rigid as they are for crust. This is an area to exercise some culinary creative license. Not to say that filling is less serious business, right after tasters rate the flakiness of the crust they will judge what's inside. (and they will judge.)

There are 2 schools of thought on filling a pie...

1. Toss all of the raw ingredients together with sugar, spices and flour. Dump the mix into the prepared crust and let the oven do the rest.

2. Create a pre-cooked filling. Pour it into the prepared crust and let the oven finish the rest.

Both work, but you know I have a preference. I like option 2. I have made plenty of pies using the raw filling method and they are good, some pies work better with the raw filling method in fact, but for apple I choose the create a filling.

Here is why...
  • Creating a filling let's you taste the final product before you put it all together. You can sample and adjust the salt, sugar and spices if needed to create that perfect flavour balance.
  • A pie made with raw filling looks wonderful, mounded apples covered with perfect crust, it doesn't stay that way. Two things happen when that pie hits the oven. 1. the crust cooks to a shell of golden brown in the first 15 minutes. 2. In the remaining 45 minutes, the apples soften and cook down and leaves a gap between the filling and the top crust. Leaving a hollow finished pie or a beautiful golden dome that collapses .
  • When apples cook they release a lot of steam. This steam gets trapped under the top crust regardless of the vent slits. This trapped steam affects the texture of that crust you have worked so hard to perfect. (come to think of it this should probably be a crust rule not a filling guideline) Pre-cooking the apples in the filling stage releases a lot of that steam ahead of time.
Those are my reasons, I think they are good ones. Years of pie questionnaires have garnered the best responses to a pre-cooked filling.

Here is how...

12 cups of peeled, cored and sliced apples (we better talk about this) For the best apple pie you want apples that hold their shape when they cook as well as fruit that has great apple flavour.

Apples to avoid...Red Delicious, Macintosh
Good apples to use...Empire, Gala
The best apples to use...Courtland, Spartan, Spy

Lets start again....

12 cups of peeled, cored and sliced apples (aprox. 10 large apples)
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup butter
3 tablespoons of minute tapioca

Apples filling gets started on top of the stove.
Place the sliced apples into a large saute pan, add the sugar, salt, cinnamon and butter. Cook the apples over medium heat stirring frequently.

Cook the filling until the apples are just beginning to soften.

Now is the time to taste. If the apple flavour is not as strong as you would like add a pinch more salt.

Allow the filling to cool to room temperature. Stir the Minute tapioca starch into the cooled filling (tapioca is the magic that will turn all that liquid released during the cooking, into a thick creamy sauce in the oven.)

Transfer the prepared filling to your prepared crust. Finish construction of the pie by adding the top crust, cutting some slits for steam to escape. Brush the top of the pie with butter and sprinkle with sugar.

Apple pie - fully assembled and ready for the oven.
Baking the Perfect Pie.

The #1 rule for baking a pie is HEAT! The oven needs to be very hot at the beginning to create that flaky crispy crust. Then the heat gets turned down to cook the filling and keep the crust from over browning.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F

Place the pie in the center rack position and bake for 30 minutes.

Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and continue baking for 20 minutes.

Golden brown and cooling
Pie serving tips...

The smell of fresh baked apple pie will set your mouth watering and test you patience. I promise, however  will be happier with your slice if you allow it cool. Cooling is when the filling sets.

Cut the whole pie before you remove that first piece.

Not that you need anything to improve the perfect slice of pie but if you want to kick it over the top add a scoop of good vanilla ice cream to the side of the plate (not on top) or a slice of old cheddar.

Simple goodness  -  Apple Pie
Now you have the crust how to and my filling how to...put them together and bake a piece of goodness! Part 3 'The happiness factor" speaks for itself, but I have a story about fulfilling the happiness quotient of every guest...that will come... for now, it's Thanksgiving this week and I have a lot of pie baking to do!