Mushroom Barley Soup w/ Mini Meatballs

Beef barley soup is a classic old-world dish, and it’s been simmering away in pots for centuries, probably as long as people have been making soup. It just makes sense ~ the little white pearls of barley add lovely texture, as well as extra nutrition and satisfying bulk, all important things when you’re trying to make dinner out of a pot of soup. For an added bonus, barley’s natural starch thickens the soup as it cooks.

Beef Barley Soup is classic comfort food that you can make on the stove or in the crock pot. The soup has roots in the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. Mushrooms were popular in these cold-weather countries because they could be harvested, dried, and stored for later use.

Barley was also plentiful and easy to grow in the Eastern European climate, making it a common addition to hearty winter dishes like soup. Barley’s history goes back even further; in fact, it is arguably the world’s first and most ancient, cultivated grain.

As far as the meatballs, texture can be an issue. If the meatball is too wet, it will disintegrate when cooking in soups. If it is too dry, it will lose its flavor and potentially break up into pieces. Using the right amount of liquid or eggs for the mix to keep them moist, but equally so, enough breadcrumbs or flour to bind them adequately. Remember, you can never get enough seasoning, so don’t be gentle with it, and use spices and herbs liberally.

One of Brion’s favorite soups has always been mushroom beef barley, so now seems a good time to make some.

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Mushroom Barley Soup w/ Mini Meatballs
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Instructions
  1. In a large saucepan, combine the broth, water, barley & thyme. Season with salt & pepper; bring to a boil. Cover & cook over low heat until the barley is nearly tender, about 18 minutes.
  2. In a large skillet, heat oil. Add the mushrooms & shallot, season with salt & pepper; cook over high heat until tender and browned, about 8 minutes.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, cheese, 1/2 teaspoon of salt & 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Knead the mixture until blended, then roll it into sixteen 1-inch balls.
  4. Add the meatballs & mushrooms to the soup. Simmer over moderate heat until the meatballs are cooked through & the barley is tender, about 8 minutes. Discard the thyme. Stir the parsley into the soup & serve in bowls with sour cream.

Shortbread Christmas Trees

Years and years ago, the Canada Cornstarch company printed a four-ingredient recipe for shortbread on the side of a cornstarch box and the rest is history.

Here in Canada, shortbread is in our DNA. This beloved cookie is simplicity personified. If the holidays had their own taste, I’m pretty sure it would be a shortbread cookie.

Over 40 years ago a Canadian company, by the name of Mary Macleod’s Shortbread was opened in Toronto, Canada. Mary, a homemaker and fantastic baker who took her love of this cookie and created Canada’s first shortbread-only bakery.

Her shop was an instant hit when she first opened its doors – she’d bake until midnight, and her goods would be sold out by noon the next day. Mary’s business grew and expanded, and her loyal customers followed her everywhere, but, to this day, the company crafts small-batch, all-butter shortbreads, the best butter being the key.

Mary Macleod’s Shortbread became synonymous with the Christmas season. Many people have made shortbread part of their holiday and family traditions.

Shortbread is undoubtedly one of the best cookies, but it’s without question that it all comes down to the butter. A good shortbread cookie can be transformed into the stuff of  dreams by placing freshly baked shortbread into a tin, store it in the back of your pantry, somewhere cool, and forget it  for a few months. You’ll be amazed at the flavor when it comes time to eat it.

So here we are … the famous Canada cornstarch shortbread cookies!

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Shortbread Christmas Trees
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Instructions
  1. In a bowl, sift together cornstarch, powdered sugar & flour. Blend in butter & flavoring with a spoon, mixing until a soft, smooth dough forms. If dough is too soft to handle, cover & chill about 1 hour.
  2. Between 2 sheets of parchment paper, roll dough out into a rectangle about 12" x 7" & 1/2-inch thickness. Make 7 strips on the longest side & 6 strips on the short side. Transfer to ungreased baking sheets spacing 1 1/2-inches apart. Place baking sheets in refrigerator & chill 30 minutes. Halfway through preheat oven to 300 F.
  3. Bake for about 20 minutes or until edges are just barely browned.
  4. When shortbread is cooled, decorate with icing & sprinkles to create Christmas tree design.
Recipe Notes
  • The almond flavor is optional but I think it adds a nice touch.

Chili Cheese Quiche

If you haven’t had quiche lately, it is time to remedy that situation. I could eat quiche for breakfast, lunch, and dinner without ever growing tired of it. This recipe takes the classic chili con carne and turns it into a quiche which makes an ideal winter meal, right?

Cornmeal crust is the perfect foil for meaty and cheesy savory pies. Not only is the rustic texture and flavor of cornmeal pastry a nice change, but it also helps if you have something that is super juicy to avoid soggy bottom pies.

If you like quiche and cornbread, you’ll love this. The cornmeal crust gives a sort of cornbread feel while maintaining the flaky composure that any great crust should have. This is one of my favorite crusts to use for savory pies, tarts and galettes.

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Chili Cheese Quiche
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Cornmeal Pastry
Eggs/Milk
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Cornmeal Pastry
Eggs/Milk
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Instructions
Cornmeal Pastry
  1. 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 fingertips, cut in 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.
  2. 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 & wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Filling
  1. In a large skillet, sauté beef, onion & garlic until meat is cooked & any liquid has evaporated. Stir in spices, corn, tomato sauce, beans. Remove from heat & allow to cool slightly. Grate cheese.
Eggs/Milk
  1. Whisk together eggs, milk & seasoning.
Assembly
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Roll out pastry to fit a 9-inche quiche pan. Place filling mixture in crust; sprinkle with cheese then pour milk mixture over the cheese.
  3. Bake for about 45 minutes or until set. Top with more grated cheese if you wish.

Persimmon Lemon Mini Hand Pies

Let’s face it: we live in a world of portable food. Much like with many heritage recipes, there’s room for debate about how to make a proper hand pie. Historically, hand pies were primarily created with reconstituted dried fruit–apples, peaches–since fresh fruit often is too wet to be supported by the delicate pastry. Today, a blend of dried and fresh fruit (or a generous amount of thickener) yields a nicely balanced mixture of flavors and texture.

Hand pies are very often deep fried, but can be skillet fried (preferably in cast iron) or baked for those who are wanting something more health conscious. The dough is typically an adapted form of biscuit dough instead of traditional pie crust, which is better able to withstand the frying process without splitting or leaking filling.

Persimmons are typically in season from September to December. As soon as I see them at the grocery store, I just can’t resist making them into something special. Using my favorite cornmeal pastry gives them a bit of an interesting crunch and balances out the sweet persimmon filling.

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Persimmon Lemon Hand Pies
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Instructions
Cornmeal Pastry
  1. 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 fingertips, 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.
  2. Press dough into a disk shape & wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. This 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.
Persimmon Filling
  1. In a skillet, melt butter & sprinkle sugar evenly over it. Add peeled, sliced persimmons & sauté until liquid is bubbling & lightly golden. Reduce heat & continue cooking until persimmons are tender (if you wish, thicken any juices with cornstarch). Add 5-spice & salt. At this point you can either mash persimmons to make a filling or you can puree them in a food processor,
Assembly/Baking
  1. Prepare egg wash. Remove pastry from fridge & roll out to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 3-inch cookie cutter, cut into 18 rounds. On each round place a heaping teaspoon of persimmon filling. Fold in half & seal with your fingertips. Place the mini hand pies on a parchment lined baking sheet & keep in the fridge or freezer while you continue to make the rest of the pastries.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  3. Brush egg was all over the pastry crusts. Bake for about 12 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Remove from oven & place pastries on a wire rack to cool.
Lemon Glaze
  1. Grate lemon to make lemon zest for top of pastries. In a small dish combine powdered sugar with enough fresh lemon juice to make a runny glaze. Dip pastry tops in glaze then sprinkle with lemon zest & silver dragees.

Beef & Potato Wellington

Today, November 24th, our neighbors to the south in the USA, are celebrating their Thanksgiving Day. It encompasses both religious and secular aspects … being both a harvest festival and a festival of family.

Here in Canada, we have already enjoyed our Thanksgiving in October but I thought it would be nice to acknowledge their holiday with posting a special meal.

While a classic beef wellington makes for a elegant dinner, it is easy to re-create a Wellington into a gourmet, hearty meal but on a more reasonable every day budget & time frame. Rather than using an expensive steak cut, this beef wellington recipe uses inexpensive ground beef and puff pastry sheets. The ground meat can be changed to ground pork, chicken, turkey or sausage. The list of additions to the meat is endless ranging from mushrooms to cheese. Some bacon mixed with the beef gives the dish that nice bacon impact that is very tasty.

This classic beef wellington-revisited is not only delicious but decadent. It is so good with a mushroom gravy.

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Beef & Potato Wellington
Instructions
  1. Thaw puff pastry overnight in refrigerator. Cook potatoes & mash with grated cheese, salt & garlic powder. On a piece of parchment paper, roll potato/cheese mixture into a log shape. Set aside, keeping warm.
  2. In a large saucepan, cook bacon until browned but not real crisp; drain on paper towel then chop & set aside.
  3. Sauté onions, mushrooms & garlic in bacon drippings; set aside. Add beef to saucepan & scramble fry until browned, stirring to break up & moisture has evaporated. Remove from heat.
  4. Add vegetables back to saucepan along with flour, beef broth powder, beaten egg, bacon & seasonings. Combine well.
  5. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  6. On a sheet of parchment paper, roll out puff pastry thin but not so it will break when filled. On one end (which becomes the center underneath the roll) spoon a layer of meat mixture. Next, lay the mashed potato 'log' on top. Spoon the rest of the meat mixture on top & around the sides, lightly patting it into the potato log.
  7. Taking hold of the pastry (that is already tucked underneath), wrap it over top & tuck the edge in underneath to join up with the other pastry edge. Pinch together the open ends, leaving a bit of a gap to allow steam to escape.
  8. Make egg wash & brush liberally over pastry. Lift the 'wellington', using the parchment paper to a baking sheet.
  9. Bake for about 45 minutes or until nicely browned. Remove from oven, cover lightly with a sheet of foil for about 10 minutes. Slice & serve with a mushroom gravy if you wish.

Sweet Potato Focaccia

Focaccia, known and loved in Italy and abroad, is yeasted flat bread which belongs essentially to the northern shores of the Mediterranean and has its origin in classical antiquity. Early versions were cooked on the hearth of a hot fire, or on a heated tile or earthenware disk, like the related flatbreads. Bakers often puncture the bread with a knife to relieve bubbling on the surface of the bread. Also common is the practice of dotting the bread. This creates multiple wells in the bread by using a finger or the handle of a utensil to poke the unbaked dough. As a way to preserve moisture in the bread, olive oil is then spread over the dough, by hand or with a brush prior to rising and baking.

The Latin root of the word focaccia is ‘focus’ and refers to cooking by a fireplace or hearth, literally a focal point for the family, a place where dough was baked over hot stones, fire and ashes.

Focaccia is not pizza and is about 2000 years older, a sort of missing link between traditional flat bread and pizza. Above all it is distinctly Italian. Focaccia has undergone many upgrades and evolutions, however, the basic recipe has remained unchanged.

Today, focaccia is a flat oven-baked Italian bread similar in style and texture to pizza. The interesting part, however, is that Focaccia started out as a side dish but over time it became part of the main dish as sandwich bread. If we go further back in time, focaccia was the only star of the show and was originally the prototype of early pizza.

This sweet potato focaccia with fresh rosemary and sea salt is perfect for making turkey sandwiches.

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Sweet Potato Focaccia
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Course Lunch
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Dough
Course Lunch
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Dough
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Instructions
  1. In a bowl, combine yeast, 1/2 cup flour & 1/2 cup lukewarm water. Let sit for about 20 minutes until frothy.
  2. Cook & mash sweet potato; add it along with the remaining 3/4 cup lukewarm water, 4 cups flour, olive oil & salt to the yeast mixture. When dough forms, knead about 7-8 minutes until the dough is soft & satiny. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap & allow to rise in a draft free area until doubled in size.
  3. Add a little bit of additional flour to your cutting board. Put the dough on it & pat it out with your hands into a 12 x 16-inch rectangle. Cut the dough into 16 pieces.
  4. Place the pieces on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Cover and allow to raise until doubled in size.
  5. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  6. Punch holes in the dough. Add the rosemary to the olive oil. Brush the tops with the olive oil and rosemary mixture. Sprinkle with the sea salt.
  7. Bake for about 20 minutes. Tops will be lightly browned. Remove to a rack to cool.

Cheddar Pear Tart

Why do we eat cheese with fruit? Most people don’t question the notion. Our earliest image of enjoying cheese is a still-life of a glass of wine, a slab of cheese (probably brie), and a fat cluster of grapes.

We eat fruit with our cheese because the combination of flavors are complementary, because the fruit brings out certain notes in the cheese, or vice versa. You have sweet and juicy against salty and savory, firm versus soft, nutty with candylike, and so on and so forth.

This sweet pear and cheddar tart is the best of both worlds. Bosc pears are beautiful; they have a crisp, dense, slightly grainy texture with a sweet flavor and subtle hints of fall spices. So I’m thinking why not make it a trio? Port wine is a sweet, red, fortified wine from Portugal that pairs wonderfully with aged cheddar cheese. What’s not to like??

This elegant pear tart is topped with cheddar streusel and served with a raspberry-port wine sauce.

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Cheddar Pear Tart
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Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Raspberry-Port Wine Sauce
Cheddar Streusel
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Raspberry-Port Wine Sauce
Cheddar Streusel
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Instructions
Sauce
  1. Puree raspberries in a blender. Pour into a wire sieve placed over a bowl to remove seeds. Add port wine to raspberry juice. Chill. Alternatively, whisk in cornstarch & place in a small saucepan. Heat, stirring constantly until sauce cooks & thickens. Set aside to cool.
Tart
  1. Line a tart pan with a removable bottom with foil paper then a piece of parchment paper. Spread 170 gm of the shredded cheddar cheese evenly in bottom of lined pan. Chill.
  2. Prepare pears & place in a large bowl, toss pear slices with lemon juice if using. Layer pears over shredded cheddar in baking pan. Chill.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, 5-spice & 60 gm shredded cheddar cheese; cut in butter & sprinkle over pears.
  5. Bake for 50-60 minutes until top is browned. Cool on a wire rack.
  6. Place on a serving platter, cut into wedges & serve with raspberry-port wine sauce.

Mincemeat Quick Bread w/ Orange Butter

I just can’t resist fitting a bit of fruit mincemeat into my Christmas baking, so this year it comes in a quick bread. Quick breads cover a wide range, from biscuits and scones, which are made from a dough, to muffins and loaves that are made from a batter. They can be large or small, savory or sweet. The major thing that identifies them is the fact that they are, as their name implies, quick to make.

Quick breads have evolved as a distinctly different tradition after the introduction of baking powder in 1850. Before that, breads and cakes were leavened with yeast.

These breads come in all shapes and sizes. Even though they are called breads, lets be clear, they are a cake of sorts. Some breads are light and airy, others are hearty and dense. The ingredients used will greatly affect the final volume and texture. Oats gives breads a somewhat dense and chewy texture. Sugar helps to keep breads tender and without salt will taste flat.

The basic way to prepare a quick bread is the two-bowl method. This entails mixing all dry ingredients separately from the liquid and sugar, then quickly combining the two with only a few strokes. The idea is to not overmix or overbake.

If you like mincemeat, this loaf is so nice to have on hand during the Christmas season.

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Mincemeat Quick Bread w/ Orange Spread
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Course Brunch, dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Orange Butter
Course Brunch, dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Orange Butter
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Instructions
Bread
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 4 1/2-cup ring mold pan or bottom only of a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl, beat eggs; stir in mincemeat, brown sugar, milk & butter.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together flour baking powder & salt. Add to wet mixture, combining ONLY until flour mixture is moistened. Pour into chosen baking pan
  4. Bake about 45-50 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven & cool 10 minutes before removing from pan.
  5. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if you wish. Serve warm or cool with Orange Butter.
Orange Butter
  1. In a small bowl, beat marmalade with butter until softened & blended.

Couscous & Beef Stuffed Butternut Squash

Israeli Couscous is an invention of the North American culinary mind, just like French and Italian dressing. In Israel, the dish is known as ‘petitim’, which means little crumbles in Hebrew. It was created by the Osem food company in the early 1950’s at the request of Ben Gurion, the prime minister of Israel at the time. Israel was in its early beginnings as a new state and resources were very scarce. At that time the government imposed a period of rationing known as ‘tzena‘. Osem was asked to develop a starch that was more affordable than rice which was very expensive at the time. The company’s response to this request was petitim or small rice shaped pieces of pasta that were toasted. Later, Osem expanded it’s product line to include the little round balls of pasta we know as Israeli couscous.

Couscous has a neutral taste, just like pasta, but infused with broths, stocks, meats, vegetables, and spices will become a satisfying meal. If you are a fan of butternut squash, this dish pairs the lovely sweetness of butternut squash and spicy beef with Israeli couscous.

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Couscous & Beef Stuffed Butternut Squash
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Servings
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a sheet pan with foil & butter.
  2. Cut butternut squash in half. Remove seeds & membrane. Rub oil on cut sides & place cut-side down on roasting pan, season with salt & pepper. Bake for 40 minutes or until tender but not soft.
  3. Place couscous in a mixing bowl. Pour boiling water over couscous & set aside until the couscous has absorbed all of the water. Fluff with a fork.
  4. In a saucepan, scramble fry ground beef in olive oil; add onion, celery & garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until celery softens, about 3 minutes. Stir in seasonings & salt; cook for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat, add to couscous mixture & pepita seeds; stir gently until mixed. Set aside.
  5. Remove squash from the oven. Flip the squash so that the cut side is up. With a teaspoon, create a tunnel in the middle of the straight end of each squash, scooping out the flesh but leaving a border of flesh on each side. Remove the flesh, chop coarsely and gently mix into the couscous mixture. Divide the couscous between the two squash halves, filling the tunnel and the round hole that held the squash seeds.
  6. Return to the oven for about 10 minutes or until heated through. Cut squash into four to six portions and serve.
Recipe Notes
  • Adjust the amount of ground beef used according to the size of squash you have.

Spicy Apricot Mango Stilton Galette


This spicy galette makes an interesting dessert with the sweetness of mango and apricot fruit, as well as savory with the creaminess of stilton, crunchy pepitas, and the perfection of a cornmeal pastry crust.

Stilton cheese takes its name from the village of Stilton, in the east of England. White Stilton has a light, fresh, slightly acidic flavor that makes it a perfect partner for fruit.

White Stilton with mango & ginger is a blended cheese which incorporates mango and ginger to impart a sweet, savory intense flavor to the traditional Stilton cheese. Stilton on its own is extremely creamy and delicious but the addition of fruit accords the cheese a new dimension. As it melts, the unusual combination of the mango adding a fruity flavor and the ginger adding a mildly warming, spiced overtone. White Stilton with mango & ginger is perfect for a breakfast or dessert cheese.

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Spicy Apricot Mango Stilton Galette
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Instructions
Pastry
  1. 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 fingertips, 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.
  2. 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.
Filling
  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, add apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, ginger, anise seeds, cloves, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon & sea salt. When mixture starts to bubble, add dried apricots & mangoes. Cook, stirring often, until fruit is soft. Set aside to cool.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425 F.
  3. On a large sheet of parchment paper, roll or press out chilled pastry into a 13-inch circle. Spread mixture evenly over dough, leaving about a 1 1/2-inch border. Gently fold pastry over filling, pleating to hold it in. Sprinkle with crumbled Stilton cheese. Brush with egg wash (if using).
  4. Bake 35-45 minutes until filling bubbles up & crust is golden. Remove from oven & sprinkle with pepita seeds. Serve.
Recipe Notes
  • If filling seems too dry, add a bit of water or apple juice.