Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Holiday Cookie Recipes

It's the time of year when many of us are on the hunt for cookie recipes for our holiday celebrations or holiday cookie exchanges.  I am probably like most people where I have a few go-to recipes and then usually around now start looking out there to see if there is anything new I might want to add to my list. Here are a few that have grabbed my attention lately, in case you need some inspiration.

My go-to cookie recipe for the holidays (and really most times of the year) is the Chewy Molasses Spice cookie from Martha Stewart. It has many layers of flavour and is perfect with a glass of milk or cup of tea.

I love peppermint. I love biscotti. I have a feeling I will love the two of them together. Recipe from Chatelaine. 

These cookies look so cute! I can't wait to try them. Recipe from Canadian Living.

Simple thumbprint jam cookies- keeping it simple is sometimes the best route to go.

I also still loooove these ooey gooey chocolate chip cookies. I may have to make them again too.

What are your go-to cookie recipes? 


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Homemade Mushroom Soup

The weather was a bit cool today, and after doing a little bit of backyard clean-up, a hot bowl of soup sounded great for lunch.  We decided to make homemade mushroom soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. Yum!


It takes in total about 25 minutes to make this soup- how easy is that? Forget those cans of creamy mushroom blobs and make it from scratch the next time you want it- trust me, you won't be disappointed. 

To start off, cut up mushrooms into pieces and try using a variety of them. I like creminis, button and chanterelles- I used them today. Also cut up 1/2 of a red onion into small diced pieces.  Add 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil to a non-stick pot and put your onions and mushrooms in.  Add 1/4 tsp of pepper and the same for sea salt.  Then, add thyme. I used about 1 tsp. using thyme from our garden.  Move them around and sautee them on medium heat for about 5 minutes until they soften.  If you'd like a spicier soup,  you can also add a cut up thai chili pepper (or similar hot pepper) and add it into the mixture. You can also add garlic to this soup- garlic and mushrooms go very well together.


Then, add a couple of splashes of red wine vinegar (trust me, it adds a little dimension to the soup so it's not bland), stir everything around, and then add 3/4 of a container of low sodium chicken broth. 

You're almost done.  Mix one can of coconut milk with the rest of the chicken broth and 3 tbsp of flour. I used our Magic Bullet to mix everything together but a covered mason jar would work just as well. Just make sure there are no lumps and everything is mixed well together. 

Reduce the heat and add the coconut milk mixture.  Stir everything together well, then turn the heat back up and get it to boil.  Once you've reached a boil, turn it down and let it simmer.  If you'd like less chunks of mushroom, you can use an immersion blender to puree it a bit.  I like to leave chunks so I don't puree it for more than 60-90 seconds, if at all. 

Taste and add seasonings as you see fit. I like to let it simmer to get the flavours to blend together for about 15 minutes.

Enjoy!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

How to Plant Garlic for a Great Summer Harvest!

Garlic is perhaps the easiest item I've ever grown in my garden. It's also one of the tastiest additions and produces two harvests: garlic scapes in late spring and then pungent, flavorful garlic in the summer.  You don't need a lot of space to grow garlic (yay for those of us living in small spaces!)- in fact, you can grow garlic in containers if you don't have a garden bed or plot to use.  Here are more detailed instructions on how to grow it, including a few photos.


To get started, get thee some local garlic from a seed catalogue company or local nursery. Don't use garlic from the grocery store that has been shipped from a foreign country like China, it is old and less flavorful by the time it reaches us.  You want garlic that has a higher quality.  I have picked up garlic at Halifax Seed and ordered it from Veseys before, both Canadian companies.  I use a hard neck garlic variety.

Break the heads of garlic apart, separating bulbs. Be careful not to remove the paper from each bulb- they shouldn't be naked, they need their protective shell.  For organic gardening, I soak the bulbs in a seaweed solution. It's ground up seaweed that I purchased at a local feed store.  It too can likely be ordered online or picked up at a local nursery.  I mix 2 tbsp with water in a 1.5 litre mason jar and then drop the bulbs in.  I let them soak overnight before planting them- usually for about at least 12-16 hours in total.


To get your soil ready, make sure the ground isn't frozen (it likes to be planted when temperatures are cool, but not when the ground is frozen. For me in zone 6B, it's usually early November).  Give the soil a good turn so the soil is loose.  Then, plant each bulb with the pointy tip upwards, about 1.5-2" deep.  You can plant the cloves surprisingly close together and still get good results- I usually leave about 3-4" between each.

Garlic bulbs peeking before they got pushed down further into the ground

Once you've got them planted, it's important to make sure to cover up the holes so they're protected.  Then, add a layer of mulch on top to protect them further. I like using straw (also purchased at a local feed store) and put about 2" worth on top.  If you don't have access to straw, there are lots of alternatives- you could use a thick layer of chopped up leaves as an example.

That's it!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Easy Beef Stew Recipe

I love a good beef stew. It has to have layers of flavour and beef that is slow cooked for it to be full of stew goodness for me.  This recipe is pretty simple- add ingredients to a dutch oven pot + slow cook everything in the oven for a few hours.  I like to make it on the weekend to have during the week- it heats up well as leftovers or from individual containers that had been stored in the freezer.

Start off by patting off your cubes of beef with a paper towel to remove moisture. Add salt and pepper generously, then place in a hot pot (I recommend cast iron) that has a bit of canola oil in the bottom.  You can roll the beef pieces in a dusting of flour- it will help thicken the sauce- before placing them in the pot if you'd like. I didn't do this step this time but have done it in the past.  Don't play with them when they're in the pot- let them get brown.  When they're ready to be flipped over, they'll turn over easily. If they're stuck to the bottom of the pot, they aren't ready yet. Also, you may need to brown them in batches- don't overcrowd the pot or else the meat will start to boil.  You need room around the pieces of meat to let steam escape.

Once the meat has been browned, add 1/4 cup of chopped onion, 2 garlic cloves and a small can of tomato paste.  Let it cook for a few minutes, mixing it with the beef.  You can also add a splash of red wine, a splash of balsamic vinegar, or a splash of coffee to the mixture if you'd like.  Then, add 4 cups of beef broth (I like the reduced sodium broth so I can control the salt level), 1 small package of whole mushrooms (about 8-10 mushrooms in total), 6-7 small carrots cut into wedges, 1 tbsp of thyme, and 1 sprig of rosemary.  Add 1/4 tsp of sea salt and a few pinches of pepper.
Awesome local carrots from the farmers market. I like leaving the skins on, they are packed with nutrition.
Mix together, then put in the oven at 325 degrees, with a lid on the pot.  Let it cook for 2.5 hours.

After 2.5 hours have passed, add the potatoes and green beans.  Put the lid back on and let it cook for another 45 minutes or a bit longer.  When the potatoes break down, they help thicken the broth.
This is what it looks like after 2.5 hours in the oven.
Serve it with a rustic country bread or roll, and a few pickles on the side.  I love having stew with beet pickles.  You can add vegetables as you like- if green beans aren't your thing, then maybe sweet potato or turnip would work better.

NYC trip round-up

Dear blog, I promise I haven't forgotten about you!

I'm back from NYC and ready to share a few photos. I had a great week of job-related training, and managed to sneak out in the evenings to eat some great food. I ate at Eately twice, ordered Mexican take-out, had the best brunch at Bar Americain and finally tried some fried chicken in the Big Apple.  On the down side, I ate at the trattoria in Macy's Herald Square and it was just so-so; we also had a mediocre experience at Becco- it was the most crowded restaurant I have ever been in and we felt rushed.

We also managed to stroll around Central Park on the weekend and dropped by the ice rink at Rockefeller center. We also thoroughly enjoyed seeing Macbeth at the Lincoln Center- a beautiful production with amazing performances- a  highlight of the trip. 

Now, back to normal life and autumn goodness.  I'll soon have a recipe up for THE best beef stew. I'm also planning on getting an early start on holiday preparations, so I'll be posting tips and recipes.  Lastly, I haven't stopped gardening. Lots of tasks coming up that I'll be blogging about.

Cheers!

Ordered beignets at Bar Americain and it came with these cute little jam jars! Each jam was amazing.

Beignets

Crab cakes benny- so good!

Cheese plate appetizer at Eately. Served with local honey that was so creamy and delicious.

Awesome pizza at Eately. The tomato sauce was fresh pureed tomatoes- tasted like it had just come out of our garden.

Yum!
Fried chicken from Hill Country Chicken. Best french fries ever. (Pic was taken with my Blackberry- apologies for quality)

Beautiful fish soup from Eately. Had a tomato mixture in the middle, sitting on top of a piece of bread in the bowl. The broth had saffron, anchovy oil and lots of other good flavors. (Pic was taken with my Blackberry, apologies for quality).

My main at Eately on the same day as when I had the soup. It's a white fish with a breadcrumb topping, broiled.  Served with some of the saltiest olives I've ever had and simple roma tomatoes. It was delicious!

Such a beautiful evening for a walk!

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