Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Baking Favorites

This is the time of year when people tend to ask me:

What are your favorite Christmas treats?
What are those tried and true favorites that never disappoint?
In this busy season, we all look for recipes that are guaranteed to deliver in both taste and ease of execution. So here are a few picks that are especially appealing for the holiday season. Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Bars
Peanut Butter Bars: two versions

Santa and Snowman Milkshakes
Santa and Snowman Milkshakes

Gingerbread Cookie Cups
Gingerbread Cookie Cups

Homemade Caramels (the recipe for these is included in this link: Caramel
Cake with Carmelized Butter Frosting and Spun Sugar)

Crunchie Bar
Homemade Sponge Toffee

White Chocolate Toasted Pistachio with Ground Cherries and Passion Fruit Pizza, Tart or Parfait
White Chocolate Cranberry Coconut Bark

To find more recipes, click "Photo Index" on the menu bar. Or, click "Christmas" to see all the recipes flagged for the holidays.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Cornfields and Chicken Wild Rice Casserole

Running through cornfields
with my three beautiful daughters
who thought I was crazy
and unlawful to trespass
just to play tag!
But we have fun memories.
You can see the joy in Anna's face!
Got muddy.
And felt the joy of life.

I've had my second surgery to rid my body of thyroid cancer, and everything's going well. I have a well-earned scar on my neck that I wear with honor as a symbol of the tough stuff life throws at you to keep you brave. (I've banned the word strong from my vocabulary and can't wear my LiveStrong bracelet anymore!) You're not strong. You just have to go through the door put in front of you, whether you want to or not. And this year I've gone through enough doors. Separation in January. New job in March. Cancer and surgery in June. Second surgery in November.

I'm very lucky to work with wonderful people. One of them is Ted. He's like no other person I've ever met who always has a wild story and knows just what to say at the right time. He makes me laugh and enjoy life. {Sara, you're lucky to be married to such a wonderful guy.} Ted wrote this poem for me the day before my second surgery.

hospital poesy

there you
unmatched by fire
still shine

there you
who breathes by taste
and tongue

who small-to-big laugh
bites the world

bites this whole world
and holds fast
juices streaming
on your chin

do not waver

there you
not small but grand

there you
green gowned
still glow

strength is a story
we all tell each other
a whistle

in the dark
a feather clasped to breast

no cell, no knife
just you
just life

and onward, upward
past such strife

©Ted Rodney

I will be past such strife with friends like you.
Thanks, Ted. :)

Chicken Wild Rice Casserole

Comfort food. I crave comfort food now. And this is one of the first dishes I learned to make long ago. Everyone seemed to like it when I brought it to potlucks. And it comes from the Best of Bridge series of cookbooks, which are cookbooks filled with Campbell's soup-based type recipes! Since then, I've tweaked it and applied what I learned at Le Cordon Bleu to this simple recipe. And it still gets rave reviews.

What Le Cordon Bleu Basic Cuisine taught me: how to build flavor. At every step you can build flavor, starting with the chicken. Dry the chicken. Otherwise, it can't brown well. Salt and pepper it just before sautéing it. Heat the pan until hot and then add the oil. {I like peanut oil.} When all is good and hot, add the chicken, but only enough to cover one layer of the pan. Do not overcrowd. Make sure you get a good browning going. Don't turn the chicken over too soon. Let it do its thing, and get brown. {To avoid the smoke alarm from going off, clean the pan of dark bits in-between each batch of browning and turn your overhead fan on!} When all the chicken is cooked, deglaze with a bit of chicken stock (or even better, wine!) and get all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan off and pour them over the chicken.

Butter makes everything tastes better. Sauté the onions in butter until translucent (not brown!). Add the wine, deglaze and reduce until half. Then add the chicken stock. {Use the best chicken stock you can find or make your own!}

Make sure you season with salt. This is basically a mushroom soup with chicken and wild rice. You can't go wrong, unless you have friends like Ted who don't like mushrooms or other friends who are allergic to dairy! LOL

Recipe for Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole

adapted from Best of Bridge

Serves 8

3 cups diced chicken (cooked)
1 cup wild rice (cooked)
½ cup butter
½ cup chopped onion
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup flour
1 cup sliced mushrooms (fresh is best!)
1 cup chicken stock
1½ cups light cream (I use whole milk sometimes)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
½ cup slivered almonds (I've used sliced almonds too)

Heat oven to 350°F. Butter a 2 quart casserole. Combine cooked chicken and wild rice.

For sauce, use a large pan. Cook onions and mushrooms in butter. Deglaze with wine until reduced by half. Remove from heat and stir in flour. Add chicken stock and water to measure 1½ cups. Add chicken stock mixture to flour mix. Add cream, salt and pepper. Cook and stir until thick.

Note: You can prepare all of the above ahead of time.

To finish: combine chicken, wild rice, and sauce. Stir in parsley. Sprinkle with almonds. Bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly.

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    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Chickadees and Fluff-Filled Chocolate Madeleines

    Feeding Chickadees

     Do you ever think
    This could be your last week?
    Last day?
    Last moment?
    What do you dream?
    Would you change anything?

    What would be on your
    day-to-day to-do list?
    What would be on your
    life's to-do list?

    Which one will you do?

    There's always
    hair to wash
    mundane things.

    I want to
    Splash in puddles
    Get muddy
    Dance in the rain
    Do something I've never done.

    And dream
    Of what is
    And what could be.


    Life is transient,
    always re-focusing
    changing aperture.
    But it's always about the light.
    Capturing the right light.
    Moving to find it.
    Or sometimes patiently waiting for it to
    change its angle
    or find you.

    waiting for

    Chocolate Madeleines

    Reflections on life and Madeleines somehow seem to go together. Maybe it's because when we think of Madeleines, we remember Marcel Proust’s autobiographical novel, Remembrance of Things Past, which begins with his mother serving him tea and "those short, plump little cakes called petits Madeleine’s, which look as though they had been molded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell."

    As the narrator begins to eat his Madeleine, dipping it into the tea, he is overcome with memories and he becomes aware that the simple Madeleines bear “. . . in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”

    However, as charming as that recollection is, according to Patricia Bunning Stevens:

    “Madeleine’s had existed long before Proust’s boyhood. Numerous stories, none very convincing, attribute their invention to a host of different pastry cooks, each of whom supposedly named them for some particular young woman. Only three things are known for sure. One is that Madeleine is a French form of Magdalene (Mary Magdalene, a disciple of Jesus, is mentioned in all four gospels). Another is that Madeleines are always associated with the little French town of Commercy, whose bakers were said to have once, long ago, paid a "very large sum" for the recipe and sold the little cakes packed in oval boxes as a specialty in the area. Finally, it is also known that nuns in eighteenth-century France frequently supported themselves and their schools by making and selling a particular sweet.

    Commercy once had a convent dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, and the nuns, probably when all the convents and monasteries of France were abolished during the French Revolution, sold their recipe to the bakers for an amount that grew larger with each telling."
    ---Rare Bits: Unusual Origins of Popular Recipes, Patricia Bunning Stevens [Ohio University Press: Athens] 1998 (p. 178)
    Whatever its origin, these delightful pastries have become a national treasure for the French and I was thrilled, in June of this year (2010), to experience eating an authentic Madeleine in Paris, France.

    I also love making Madeleines myself and have experimented with various versions. They are not only fun to make and tasty, but they are also dainty to eat. Not nearly as messy as our ever popular cupcake.

    This recipe is for Fluff-Filled Chocolate Madeleines, from Dorie Greenspan’s book, Baking: From My Home to Yours.

    The photo of the Fluff-Filled Chocolate Madeleines is taken against a backdrop that is actually a table runner of riddles; not exactly the Proust Questionnaire, but definitely a conversation starter!

    Recipe for Fluff-Filled Chocolate Madeleines

    2/3 cup all-purpose flour
    1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    Pinch of salt
    2 large eggs
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

    For the Dip
    4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
    1/2 cup heavy cream
    1 and 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

    Click here for the recipe and method.

    This antique Madeleine pan was given to me this summer
    by my mom and dad to mark half-a million visitors to my blog.
    Thanks to everyone for stopping by!
    It's been a great ride!
    Live well!

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    Monday, November 1, 2010

    Foodies of the World Cookbook and a Giveaway

    And the winner is...
    Congratulations Jessica!

    It sounded like a cool idea when I was first approached last March (2010) by an Australian Publishing Company (The Slattery Media Group) about their plan to create an international cookbook from the food blog world. Here's a summary of the book:

    "Foodies of the World is a collection of profiles and recipes from the best blogs around the world. It compiles the greatest recipes, with the sweetest stories, from the best bloggers into one handy guidebook and recipe collection.

    As the blogs selected come from all over the world (India, France, USA, UK, Australia, Germany, Italy, Estonia and Turkey are represented so far), the recipes will cover a variety of cuisines and courses.

    The overall tone is one of community, and sharing your love of cooking with the world. Its quality, complete and beautifully real' design will inspire the reader to spend time in their own kitchen."

    It was intriguing – allowing the world of the blog to interact with the world of print while creating a cookbook that would feature recipes from different countries with links back to the featured blogs. So if you liked one of the recipes featured in the book, you could then go to that person’s blog and get more recipes.

    And here it is, a few months later, and the book is published already! When I agreed to be part of this project, I didn't know who else would be included in the book, so the other week when I received my copy, I eagerly looked inside to see the list of participants, many of whom I recognized and have admired. Here is a sampling of food bloggers:

    Partial List of Participants
    Haalo from Cook (Almost) Anything at Least Once
    Christine from Fig and Cherry
    Béa from La Tartine Gourmande
    Ilva from Lucullian Delights
    Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry
    Kelly from Sass & Veracity
    Sara from Sprouted Kitchen
    Jaden from Steamy Kitchen
    Meeta from What's for Lunch, Honey?

    So here is the book – just waiting for you to order that special Christmas gift – for someone on your list – or for yourself!

    To order your copy, simply click here. Cost is $40AUS plus shipping.

    I just happen to have one extra copy that I am delighted to offer as a giveaway.

    Giveaway starts Monday, November 1 Eastern Time and ends on Saturday, November 6, 2010 at 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern Time. One winner will be chosen using

    Include your email in your comment so that I can reach you. If your name is selected, and your email isn't included, I'll draw another name.

    1. Follow me on Twitter, then Tweet this giveaway. Make sure you come back here and comment to let me know you now follow (or already do) and that you tweeted. That counts as ONE, not one each. Just one.

    2. Sign up on the Google Friend Connect (see the widget in the left sidebar at the top of my home page). Then leave ANOTHER comment on this post.

    3. Subscribe to my RSS feed. Then leave ANOTHER comment.

    4. Post about this giveaway on your own site with a link to this post. Return. Comment. Rinse, repeat. You get the picture.


    The Slattery Media Group
    The primary publishing services of the Slattery Media Group are publishing consultancy, creative concepts, writing, editing, design, photography, web development, and digital communications. While the foundations were built around sport, SMG has expanded into a publisher of cookbooks, children's stories, and art, craft, music, finance and entertainment publications, with much more to be explored in the future.

    Monday, October 25, 2010

    Geese and Poutine

    I've been strong
    I've been angry
    I've repented
    I've shed puddles of tears
    I've had enough

    I want to fly
    Like the geese
    In a gaggle
    To new lands
    Far flung and distant
    Over corn fields
    Under blue skies

    To warmth
    To forgiveness
    To love
    To happy
    To healthy

    Earlier this week,
    after hearing about the geese I saw that made me cry,
    my mom sent me this poem.
    It's brilliant.

    Wild Geese

    You do not have to be good.
    You do not have to walk on your knees
    for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves.
    Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
    Meanwhile the world goes on.
    Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
    are moving across the landscapes,
    over the prairies and the deep trees,
    the mountains and the rivers.
    Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
    are heading home again.
    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
    the world offers itself to your imagination,
    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
    over and over announcing your place
    in the family of things.

    from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
    published by Atlantic Monthly Press
    © Mary Oliver


    So, as the story goes, this trucker walks into a restaurant and asks the owner to mix French fries and cheese curds together in the same bag. The year was 1957 and the restaurant owner was Fernand Lachance. The location: the dairy town of Warwick, Quebec, Canada.

    "Ça va te faire une maudite poutine," ("It's gonna make a hell of a mess"), replies Lachance. But he complies, and the first Poutine is served. “La sauce” (rich, brown gravy) was later added to the dish to keep the food hot.

    Several Quebecois communities lay claim to the origin of poutine, including Drummondville, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, and Victoriaville, but the most popular story is the Lachance story.

    Poutine has been described as a cholesterol highball, a fatty delight and a fast food icon.

    But Charles-Alexandre Théorêt, author of Maudite Poutine!, describes the dish to Montreal's The Gazette as being more psychological in nature:

    A generous portion of shame
    fried gently in an inferiority complex
    and topped with a hint of denigration
    from the ROC (Rest of Canada) –
    and a touch of guilty pleasure.

    "Love it or hate it, poutine has become a strong symbol of Quebec," says Théorêt.

    In his book, Théorêt insists that the real poutine is properly made with cheese curds softened - not melted - by the warm gravy and fresh enough to squeak when bitten, due to their high humidity.

    Poutine even made it on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) list of the 10 greatest Canadian inventions, beating out basketball, the Canadarm, and the music synthesizer, and finding its place between the electric wheelchair and the cobalt 60 “bomb” cancer treatment. It even placed ahead of the snowblower in the list of Canadian inventions.

    After 53 years, Poutine is finally gaining respect beyond the borders of Quebec. .The New York Times referred to Poutine as “a staple from Quebec, embarrassing but adored.”

    Have you ever made Poutine? I have yet to do that!

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    Monday, October 18, 2010

    Apple Choosing and Apple Tart

    we couldn't pick apples this year
    mother nature had other plans for us

    the frost bit the blossoms in the Spring
    the apples fell early
    the tree was bare

    we had to choose
    from a bin
    from the ground

    we went apple choosing
    and still had fun

    According to Linda Stradley, on the web site What's Cooking America, one of the first records of apple pie was in a cookbook originally compiled around 1390 A.D. by the master cooks of King Richard II. The following, according to historians, is one of the first recipes of what we know today as apple pie.

    XXIII. For To Make Tartys in Applis
    Tak gode Applys and gode Spryeis and Figys and reyfons and Perys and wan they are wel ybrayed co-lourd wyth Safron wel and do yt in a cofyn and do yt forth to bake well.

    These early pies differed from pies today in that no sugar was used – for obvious reasons. Sugar was both scarce and expensive. Also, the pastry, referred to as a “coffin” in the ancient recipe, was considered simply a container, something not to be eaten.

    It was said that the mark of a good “coffin” was if it could be run over by a wagon wheel without breaking!

    Apple trees were brought to America from Europe. The only apple trees native to North America are varieties of crab apple trees. However, the acceptance of apples in the American culture is demonstrated by the well known slogan:

    “As American as motherhood and apple pie.”

    Today, the mark of a good apple pie is its tender, flaky crust and the shortest possible period of time between the picking of the apple and the baking of the pie. It has become a family tradition at our house to pick our own apples in the fall. At Thanksgiving this year, we made pies with apples that had been at the orchard as recently as the day before we made the pies.

    Recipe for Apple Tart

    An apple pie is often made with a double crust. This time we used only a bottom crust, making it an Apple Tart.

    Serves 8

    200 g flour (about 1½ cups)
    100 g butter, unsalted, and broken into pieces (about 7 tablespoons)
    70 g confectioners' sugar (about 1/3 cup)
    5 g salt (about 1 teaspoon)
    4 ml milk (about 1 teaspoon)
    3 egg yolks
    5 ml pure vanilla extract (1 teaspoon)

    700 g apples (about 3 cups)

    500 g apples (about 2 cups)
    50 g sugar, optional (3½ tablespoons)
    50 g butter (3½ tablespoons)
    cinnamon, to taste

    For the dough:
    Sift the flour onto the counter. Make a big well. Add the butter, confectioners' sugar, salt, milk, yolks and vanilla extract. Using your pointing finger, start bringing the flour into the liquid ingredients in a circular motion. When you have a paste-like mixture, use a pastry scraper and break the dough up into a crumbly, sandy mixture.

    Fraisage: Take a small amount of dough and rub it through the palm of your hand along the work surface. This pulls the butter around the flour and ensures that you don't overwork the dough, keeping it tender. Set this piece of dough aside and repeat with remaining dough.

    After you've performed this technique on all the dough, then you can knead all the dough into a ball. You should be able to see a fingerprint in the dough that springs back a little before resting. If the dough seems dry, add fingertips of water. If wet, add touches of flour. Form into a circle, cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

    Fleurer (sprinkle) the counter with flour. Roll the dough out. Always roll from the middle of the dough and roll evenly. Position the dough in the tart pan or ring. Chill until needed.

    For the filling:
    Core, quarter and slice apples. In pan, melt butter. Add apples. Then add sugar, to taste (depending on how sweet your apples taste). Cook until soft. Then add pure vanilla extract. Cook (adding water if it dries out too quickly and turn heat to low) until somewhat soft. Pass through a food mill (or use a food processor to purée.

    Spread the compote on the bottom of the pastry. Layer the remaining slices of apple on top in a circular pattern. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 350˚F for 30 to 40 minutes, until done.

    Tasting Notes
    My 11 year-old loves to help make pie and she does it now with minimal supervision. We all love it when she gets into her pie making mood. The only thing better than the taste of fresh apple pie is the anticipatory smell of it baking in the oven. This year, the pie came out just in time for the turkey to go in and the lingering aroma of apple pie spices with a slow roasting turkey – well, memories are made of this!

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    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Doodles and Pumpkin Pie

    This year for Thanksgiving,
    I decided to make a paper tablecloth
    that we could all doodle on.
    Throughout the day,
    we would grab a marker
    and doodle
    things we were thankful for.

    nail polish!

    It was fun
    and something I think we'll do not just at Thanksgiving,
    but for many upcoming holidays.

    My favorite pie is pumpkin. What's yours?

    Recipe for Pumpkin Pie

    Serves 8

    1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
    1 1/4 cups whipping cream
    3/4 cup maple sugar [or use regular sugar plus 1 tablespoon maple syrup]
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    3 large eggs

    Whisk all ingredients and pour into a pre-baked pie shell. Bake in a preheated 325°F oven for about 1 hour, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

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