This week we are celebrating Brion’s birthday. We have never felt the need to give gifts on ‘occasions’ but rather just enjoy another holiday travelling together or ‘gift’ each other at random. As we grow older, it comes clearer everyday, the special privilege it is to simply have each other to share life with. I appreciate the fact that Brion has always believed in me and supported my endeavors and I’ll be forever grateful for the love we share. This picture of Brion was taken in Havana, Cuba this year along the beautiful seawall.
Preheat oven to 450 F. Lightly spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.
Trim chicken, rinse & pat dry; season with salt & pepper. Place the chicken in pan, not overlapping.
Drain pineapple chunks, reserving 1/2 cup of the juice. In a saucepan, whisk together juice, honey, ginger, vinegar & soy sauce. Place over medium heat & simmer, whisking often until slightly thickened, about 8 minutes. In a small bowl, dissolve cornstarch in the water; whisk into the pineapple/honey sauce.
Place the pineapple chunks on top of chicken; pour pineapple/honey sauce over all & sprinkle with the almonds. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until chicken registers 165 F.
Rhubarb is one of those flavors that signals the coming of spring. A staple crop for every Canadian homesteader, in the 1800’s, as it thrives specifically in cool climates. The focus was initially on function, not flavor and was used as a medicine due to it’s perceived benefits for the digestive system. The tartness adds kick to it’s character causing it to be adored and despised with equal vigor.
Rhubarb ‘fool’ is a traditional English dessert that was popular throughout the 19th century on both sides of the Atlantic. It generally consists of a pureed fruit folded gently into a light, custard. Today’s recipe is a take on that idea using custard, pureed rhubarb and some mini donuts for ‘dunking’.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a bowl, whisk together milk, egg, oil & lemon juice. In another bowl, combine flour, sugar & baking powder. Stir wet ingredients into flour mixture until combined in a smooth batter.
Brush mini donut pan with butter. Fill each cup about 1/2 full; bake for about 4-5 minutes or until they test done. Place some sugar in a shallow dish. Remove baked donuts from oven; while still warm coat with sugar. Set aside.
Cut rhubarb into small pieces. In a saucepan, add rhubarb, sugar & water; bring to a boil & simmer, covered, gently for 10 minutes. Remove lid & stir, then remove from heat when it reaches a jam consistency.
In a saucepan, bring milk & vanilla to a boil. In a bowl, whisk egg yolks, sugar & cornstarch together. Add the hot milk to egg mixture slowly whisking as you do so. Return the mixture to the saucepan & bring slowly to a boil, whisking constantly until thickened.
Divide custard between 4 custard dishes; place a spoonful of sauce on top. Serve the mini donuts on the side, ready to be 'dunked'.
About five years ago, Brion and I planted a ‘Cupid’ cherry tree in our back yard. I don’t know if you have ever heard about these ‘prairie’ cherry trees. They were developed here in Canada at the University of Saskatchewan for colder climates. A sour cherry was cross pollinated with a Mongolian cherry. This resulted in a variety of very hardy, smaller trees with a tart-sweet cherry about the size of the well-known ‘Bing’ variety. A group of five cherry trees were developed and became known as the ‘Romance’ series.
We chose this particular one because it is an early bloomer with large, dark red cherries that are both sweet and slightly astringent. The fruit matures in late August -early September with about a three week harvest period. The tree size is perfect as it matures to around eight feet tall. In the fall it’s glossy green leaves turn a beautiful yellow-orange. Last year we harvested over five pounds of cherries. Not a bad yield for a young tree.
I was going through the freezer the other day and noticed I still have some cherries left from last year. A Sour Cherry Cheesecake Galette seems like the perfect way to use them.
In a small bowl, combine sour cream & ice water; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar & salt. Using a pastry blender or finger tips, cut in the butter until mixture resembles BOTH coarse crumbs & small peas. Sprinkle the cold sour cream mixture over dough, 1 Tbsp at a time, tossing with a fork to evenly distribute it. After you have added all the sour cream mixture, dough should be moist enough to stick together when pressed; if not, add additional cold water, 1 tsp at a time. Do not overwork dough.
Press dough into a disk shape & wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. The dough can be kept in the refrigerator for a day or two or it can be wrapped airtight & frozen for a month. Thaw, still wrapped in refrigerator.
In a bowl, beat cream cheese, egg yolk, 2 Tbsp sugar & vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth. In another bowl, toss cherries with cornstarch & remaining 1 Tbsp sugar.
Remove pastry from refrigerator. Preheat oven to 375 F. On a large sheet of parchment paper, roll out pastry dough into a 12-inch circle. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly over dough, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Spoon the cherries over cream cheese, leaving any excess juice in bowl. Gently fold pastry over cherries, pleating to hold it in. Brush with egg wash & sprinkle with sugar.
Bake 35-45 minutes until filling bubbles up & crust is golden. Cool for at least 20 minutes on a wire rack before serving.
I realize raspberry season in our part of the country is still a number of months away. I still see nothing wrong with using some of those frozen ones from last years crop. If there’s one thing I love, its an easy dessert that is still totally delicious. Combining raspberries and cream cheese is a match made in heaven then add some oatmeal and it becomes amazing.
The cheesecake part of this recipe has been one of my ‘go to’ recipes when it comes to the base for any any number of variations. Since I had some frozen raspberries on hand I though they would give this dessert just what it needs. I have also used different pie fillings and preserves in it or just left it as a plain cheesecake bar — all are good. These bars freeze well so its great when you need a bit of dessert on short notice.
In a saucepan over medium heat, stir together 1 1/2 cups raspberries, sugar & water until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil, stirring often. Reduce heat & add vanilla. In a small dish, combine cornstarch & 2 Tbsp water; mix well. Add to boiling mixture, stirring over medium-low heat for about 4 minutes or until mixture has thickened. Remove from heat & allow to cool for 15 minutes, then fold in the last of the raspberries. Set aside.
In a bowl, combine flour & brown sugar; cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in oatmeal. Reserving 1 1/2 cups; press remainder onto bottom of a 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese & sugar until fluffy. Add eggs; beat well. Add milk & vanilla then lemon juice & beat well.
Pour cream cheese mixture over crust evenly. Next, carefully pour raspberry filling over cheesecake evenly. Sprinkle top evenly with reserved crumb mixture. Bake 25 minutes or until tests down. Cool thoroughly & cut into bars or diamond shapes.
This recipe will divide easily into thirds for a smaller batch.
If you prefer the raspberries sweeter, add another 1/4 cup sugar.
Easter is synonymous with spring which speaks of new life and fresh hope. After the cold winter there is nothing we look forward to more than having a sunny day and seeing the flowers peeking up through the ground. Buds on the trees open up after having slept all winter. Leaves burst out of the buds in fresh green color when the sun gets brighter and warmer. The season of spring really is a time of renewal.
Whether or not your religious, Easter has some pretty magical facets to it. I remember as a kid the ‘secret bunny’ leaving colorful eggs and little baskets filled with a few goodies. My sisters and I always got a new Easter dress and ‘straw bonnet’ to wear to the church service. Then of course, the wonderful Easter meal itself.
After having good luck with my Easter bread, we are having some for Easter brunch. ORANGE ANISE FRENCH TOAST w/ STRAWBERRIES & GREEK YOGURT — perfect!
Rinse, hull & slice strawberries. Zest & juice lemon. In a small saucepan, whisk together lemon zest & juice, sugar, water & cornstarch. Add strawberries, mixing gently while bringing to a simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cool slightly.
In a shallow bowl, beat eggs; whisk in milk, salt & cinnamon. Soak the slices of Easter bread in egg/milk mixture for 30 seconds on each side. Cook on hot griddle until golden brown on both sides & cooked through.
Serve strawberry compote over french toast & Greek french vanilla yogurt.
Much of the world refers to ‘hand pies’ as meat pies or pasties which trace their origins back to at least 19th century England. At that time they were a convenient lunch for the Cornish tin miners. The pastry casing was a good way to keep the filling warm and free from dirt. The miners would hold the edges, eat the filling and discard the dough when they were done.
Various countries tend to differ in their crusts for hand pies. Some are lighter and flakier, like a puff pastry or yeasted almost like bread. Others use margarine rather than butter, which will give a different texture and flavor. We live in a world of portable food so what could be more versatile than a hand pie. Once you have the pastry made, fillings can be any number of choices be it sweet or savory. Make a large batch and freeze them unbaked so you can bake when needed. Here are a few things I have learned over the years that make the process fail proof:
Fillings should be soft and moist but not wet otherwise you end up with a soggy crust.
Chop veggies and other ingredients into small dice so they cook evenly and quickly.
Always par-cook veggies and other filling ingredients so both pastry and filling are finished baking at the same time.
Allow filling to cool slightly to room temperature to prevent softening the dough.
Don’t be tempted to overfill hand pies and risk bursting at the seams.
To strengthen the seal, brush with water or one egg white mixed with one tablespoon of water.
For best results, freeze the unbaked hand pies for 20 minutes before baking.
You can freeze the unbaked pies for up to three months, then bake right from the freezer giving them 5-10 minutes extra time in the oven.
I never pass up a chance to enjoy mangoes in any form. Hopefully you will get a chance to try these.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a saucepan, combine mango cubes, brown sugar, cornstarch, cardamom & lemon juice. Heat for a few minutes just to thicken slightly; remove from heat & cool. Roll out pastry & cut 8 -6" circles. Lay pastry circles on parchment lined baking sheet & divide filling between them. Try to keep the filling piled in the center , away from the outer edges. Use a fork to press the pastry layers together around the outside forming a seal. With a sharp knife cut 3 vents in each hand pie.
Whisk together egg yolk & milk; brush over the tops. Sprinkle with pearl sugar & bake for 15 minutes or until golden.
If you prefer, you can substitute store bought refrigerated pie dough or frozen puff pastry; allow puff pastry to thaw in refrigerator for 2-3 hours before using.
The puddingbrezel is a special kind of pretzel. Made with buttery ‘danish pastry’, filled with a smooth, sweet vanilla pudding. The term danish is connected to a strike among Danish bakers in the 19th century. When bakers from neighboring countries, especially Austria, were invited to work, they brought with them a new kind of dough. As soon as the strike ended, the Danish bakers started to experiment with this new dough adapting it to their needs.
This dough technique was called lamination. Although the dough is prepared with yeast, it is processed with cold ingredients. After kneading, it is folded and rolled out again multiple times to achieve the desired fluffy and flaky texture. For successful danish pastry, butter is needed as it works to separate the various layers of the dough as they bake.
To put it simply, we have an Austrian pastry that was adapted by the Danes, which is used to make a German delicacy. How is that for ‘interculinary’.
Dissolve sugar into lukewarm water & sprinkle with the yeast. Allow to stand 15 minutes. In a food processor, combine flour, sugar & salt; pulse in cold butter cubes. Mixture should resemble pea sized chunks. Remove mixture from food processor & transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Whisk together eggs & whipping cream. Stir in yeast mixture & pour over the flour mixture. Toss together with a wooden spoon, just enough to make dough form. Divide into two portions. Each portion makes about 8-10 pastries so if you don't need it all right away, double wrap one portion in plastic wrap & freeze for later. Refrigerate dough for several hours or overnight.
In a small dish, combine cornstarch with 1/4 cup milk & beat until completely smooth. Slice vanilla bean lengthwise & scrape out the seeds. Cut the remaining pod in half crosswise.
In a saucepan, add remaining 2 3/4 cups milk, sugar, salt, vanilla pulp & pod. Place on stove over high heat. As soon as the mixture begins to boil, remove from heat & add cornstarch mixture stirring constantly. Return saucepan to stove, continue cooking ONLY until bubbly & thickened. Remove from heat & take out vanilla pod. Cover with plastic wrap to avoid forming a skin as it cools.
To make PUDDINGBREZELS: Roll a portion of the dough into a 12 x 18-inch rectangle. Cut strips on the long side of the rectangle, about just over 1/2" wide. Twirl two of the strips together & form into pretzels. Transfer carefully to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, with some room in between to expand during baking. Let rise 30 minutes before filling.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Using a pastry bag, pipe cooled vanilla pudding into the two holes of each pretzel. Brush each pastry with an egg wash consisting of 1 egg whisked together with 2 Tbsp water. Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden.Timing depends upon the size you chose to make your puddingbrezels.
Appetizers, starters, hors d’oeuvers or whatever you want to call them, are such an important part of any gathering. They provide the ‘welcome’ and set the stage for what comes next.
A comfort food and party food all in one, Christmas and New years celebrations would not be complete without cheese. Brie, one of the world’s best known soft cheeses, originated in northeast France, but is now produced all over the world. A decadent cheese that evokes thoughts of sophistication and elegance.
Brie, a soft, creamy, off-white or yellow cheese with an edible rind is produced from whole or semi-skimmed cow’s milk. Typically described as tasting earthy, nutty, fruity, grassy and even mushroomy.
In France, Brie is very different from the cheese that is exported. ‘Real’ French Brie is unstabilized and the flavor is complex when the surface turns slightly brown. When the cheese is still pure-white, it is not matured. If the cheese is cut before the maturing process, it will never develop properly.
Possibly, the most incredible way to serve brie, is to bake it, but of course that’s just a personal opinion. However, it can be difficult to find the perfect balance between under and over baking. If you remove brie from the oven too soon, it will only stay melted for a few minutes. On the other hand, if it is left in the oven to long it will lose it’s shape and be difficult to handle.
There are a variety of brie options on the market and any of them technically work. ‘Double Cream’ (227 gm) is an excellent choice, whereas ‘Triple Cream’ will become too runny when melted.
After all these years, our memories of France, it’s food, culture, beauty and not to be forgotten — the wine (and Brion’s favorite goat cheese) have not lessened. My sister, Loretta joined us on that first trip any of us had ever made to Europe, which added to those memories of a lifetime.
I wanted to share a few BAKED BRIE recipes today that have been favorites of mine to use at this time of the year. Hope you will enjoy.
227 - 375gram wheel of Brie cheeseIf you plan to make all 3 kinds you will need 1 wheel of brie for each.
In a large saucepan, combine all chutney ingredients; mix well. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Boil 1 minute. Remove cinnamon stick. Cover & cool.
Gingered Grape Chutney
Slice grapes in half. In a saucepan, stir wine with cornstarch until dissolved. Add sugar, candied ginger & grapes. Stir over high heat until it comes to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, stirring often until liquid thickens, 4-6 minutes. Remove from heat & stir in green onion. Cover & cool.
Place fig jam/preserves in a microwave-safe dish. Microwave for 30 seconds to soften. In a small bowl, combine the sliced, dried figs with chopped pistachios & walnuts. Add half of the fig jam & mix well to coat the nut mixture.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Set the brie on prepared baking sheet.
For the Blueberry or Grape Chutney: You can either bake the cheese FIRST & then add the topping or TOP it & then bake it.
For the Fig & Nuts: Before baking, coat the brie with the remainder of the jam. Top the brie with the fig & nut mixture.
Bake the brie for 12-13 minutes. At this point it should be starting to bubble on top. The trick is to leave it in the oven for as long as possible before the wheel begins to lose it's shape. You may have to leave it a bit longer. Serve the brie warm with crackers.
For best results, allow the brie to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before baking as it will ensure that the cheese melts evenly all the way through.
Brie tastes equally wonderful with a mix of both savory and sweet toppings.
Cream puffs are unusual pastries. Flour is added to a boiled mixture of butter and water, then baked at a high temperature until the mixture becomes a smooth ball of dough with a hollow center. This fairly tasteless mixture is known as choux pastry. When served as a sweet dessert they are called cream puffs — when served with a brown gravy & roast beef, Yorkshire pudding.
Although a very basic shell, these puffs can be made into some pretty elegant desserts. One idea that I had originally developed for a company Christmas party, used Chambord (raspberry) liqueur.
Chambord, France’s Liqueur Royale is a magnificent liqueur created using all natural ingredients. The finest black and red raspberries are blended before being steeped in Cognac to achieve a highly concentrated base. The mixture is then extracted and a second infusion captures the remaining flavors from the berries. The final step marries the berry infusion with Cognac and extracts of Madagascan vanilla, Moroccan citrus peel, honey and hints of fragrant herbs. The result is an unprecedented level of all natural complexities, flavor and aroma.
To fill the puffs, I made a simple pastry cream using instant vanilla pudding mix, spices, whipped cream and some rum flavor to give it an eggnog taste. Once the puffs were filled and placed on a serving dish, I drizzled them with the sauce. Any remaining sauce was served in a dish in the center of the cream puff ‘wreath’. It definitely brought the spirit of Christmas to the dessert buffet table!
Preheat oven to 400 F. In a saucepan, heat water & butter to a rolling boil. Whisk in flour & salt. Stir vigorously over low heat until mixture forms a ball, about 1 minute; remove from heat. Beat in eggs, all at once; continue beating until smooth.
Drop dough by scant 1/4 cupfuls about 3 inches apart onto an ungreased or parchment lined baking sheet. Combine 2 Tbsp milk & egg yolk; brush over tops. Bake until puffed & golden. about 35-40 minutes. Cool away from drafts. Cut off tops; pull out any filaments of soft dough.
Eggnog Fluff Filling
In a large bowl, combine DRY pudding mix, milk, rum extract, nutmeg & ginger. With a mixer blend on low speed; Add whip cream, beating on high speed until soft peaks form, about 1-2 minutes.
Raspberry Chambord Sauce
In a food processor, puree raspberries with water until smooth. Strain into a small saucepan, pressing puree through a mesh. Whisk sugar, cornstarch & liqueur into sauce. Cook all ingredients together over medium high heat until thickened & clear. Remove from heat & add remaining sugar IF DESIRED. Transfer to a non-metalic container, cover & chill until ready to use.
Fill puffs; arrange on serving platter & drizzle with fresh raspberry Chambord sauce. Place remaining sauce in center of cream puff wreath. Serve immediately or cover & refrigerate no longer than 3 hours.
The humble meatball is one of the most versatile foods. They seem to exist in just about every culture and can be used in any number of ways, not only with pasta and rice but as a tasty little hors d’ oeuvres.
I find apricots to be a good compliment to meatball hors d’ oeuvres. Using Mediterranean (also known as Turkish) apricots is a good choice as their flesh is thicker and plumper as well as having great flavor.
Many people prefer to fry meatballs but it seems to me that usually ends up with a charred outside and they are still raw inside. Baking them in the oven will result in a much more even cooking. Personal choice I guess.
This recipe for APRICOT-SPICE MEATBALLSis one I’ve used many times over the years. They work well at Christmas events when hot hors d’ oeuvres are in demand. Make the meatballs up, bake and freeze ahead of time — thaw when needed! At serving time, make the spicy apricot nectar sauce and your ready to go.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 15 x 10 x 1-inch baking pan with foil; lightly grease. Set aside.
In a bowl, combine bread crumbs & milk. Let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in egg white, onion, apricots, salt, garlic & chili powder. Add ground pork & turkey; mix well. Shape meat mixture into 30 meatballs. Place on prepared baking pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until meatballs are cooked. Remove meatballs from pan to paper towels.
Spiced Apricot Sauce
In a small saucepan, combine sauce ingredients. Cook & stir over medium heat until thickened & bubbly.
Place meatballs in a slow cooker. Add sauce, stirring gently to coat. Turn heat setting to low. This should keep meatballs warm, while being used by guests for about 2 hours.
If you find your sauce gets to thick or you prefer it thinner to begin with, just use a little more apricot nectar.
This meat combination makes a real flavorful meatball.