Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sugar Cookies - Sweet Memories

From halloween sugar cookies 2009

My paternal grandmother, Olive, died when I was quite young so I have few real memories of her. The strongest, most significant "mem
ory" I have of her isn't a memory at all but rather a smell. The smell of sugar cookies. I can feel being in her kitchen and standing next to her while she baked them - I don't remember what she looked or the set up the kitchen but I have feelings of love, safety and joy when ever I smell these cookies. I hope you enjoy them.

Olive's Sugar Cookies
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla (I use McCormicks)
  • 2.5 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
What to do:
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  • Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • In bowl; whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt to combine. Set aside.
  • In another large bowl beat butter and shortening
  • Beat in sugars until light and fairly fluffy
  • Beat in egg and vanilla.
  • Mix in flour mixture.
  • Divide dough in half; flatten each slightly.
  • Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
  • On lightly floured surface, roll out dough, 1 piece at a time, to 1/4-inch (5 mm) thickness
  • Using 3-inch (8 cm) cookie cutters, cut out shapes.
  • Press scraps together to reroll.
  • Bake in centre of oven for about 12-14 minutes or until light golden on bottom and edges.
  • Let cool for 1 minute on baking sheets.
  • Transfer to racks; let cool completely.
  • Decorate as you like.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Really Good Ribs!

Saucy and Spicy Baby Back Ribs

Not only do these ribs get massaged with a spicy dry rub, they are lathered and pampered up with BBQ sauce!

You will need:

Dry Rub

2 Tbsp smoked paprika

1.5 Tbsp chipotle powder

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 Tbsp cumin

1 tsp celery seed

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground pepper

BBQ Sauce

We use a local bottled variety - any will do.


2 large racks of baby back ribs.

What to do:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Line a large rimmed baking pan with foil.

3. Mix the dry rub spices together in a small bowl and set aside.

4. Rinse and pat the ribs dry.

5. Remove the paper thin membrane covering the bone side of the ribs. This is important otherwise you will end up with tough meat.

6. Put the rub all over the ribs and place on baking sheet. (If time permits, let sit in refrigerator for 2-3 hours.)

7. Cover with foil and place ribs in bottom third of oven for 1hr and 45 minutes minutes.

8. Ribs can be prepared to this point and refrigerated till ready. (very convenient for make ahead meals)

9. When ready to grill use medium heat.

10. Cut rib racks in 1/2 or in thirds.

11.Put fat side down and baste with sauce. Grill for 5 minutes with lid closed.

12. Rebaste. do not turn. Grill for 2 minutes.

13. Flip. Baste. Close lid again for 4 minutes.

14. Baste again if you like them saucy.

15. Plate and enjoy!

Good side options: Baked beans, salad, corn on the cob

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Burstin' Blueberry Cake

Burstin' Blueberry Cake
From Burstin' Blueberry Cake

My next-door neighbour, Shirley, was not only our babysitter and mother of 6 kids, she also made a mean blueberry cake. I don't remember the first time I had this cake but I remember the smell, I remember sitting at her table eating it with the other kids. I don't remember the conversations we had but I do remember the laughter and the lingering delicious taste of this old-fashioned cake.
From Burstin' Blueberry Cake

1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp salt
2 cups all purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
¾ cup milk
1 cup blueberries - fresh or frozen will work.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease 9x9 pan.


Cream shortening and sugar together until well combines. Add eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla.

Sift flour, salt, and baking powder in another bowl.

Add 1/3 of sifted mixture to creamed mixture. Mix until blended. Add 1/2 of milk and mix until just incorporated. Mix in another 1/3 of dry ingredients and then mix in milk and then the last of the dry ingredients. Fold in blueberries.

Pour batter into pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

- if using frozen berries, tossing berries in a bit of powdered sugar before adding to batter will cut down on colour bleed.
- sprinkling cake with powdered sugar is a nice option.
- I haven't tried it but I pretty sure you can substitute the shortening with butter, if desired.

- In picture above I substituted same amount almond extract for the vanilla and sprinkled with toasted almonds. mmmm.

- 9 x 13 pan can be used. bake for 30 minutes.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cold Season = Roasted Tomato & Basil Soup

Roasted Tomato & Basil Soup

Although my three year old son doesn't like to share his toys, he's more than willing to share his cold with me. When I get a cold all I want is soup...tomato soup.

So off to the kitchen I went. I couldn't handle anything too complicated tonight so I made up a batch of "Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup."

First I drained 2 cans of whole tomatoes - the juice went into a big pot and the tomatoes went onto a baking sheet (along with 2 fresh ones because they were in my veggie bowl). I roasted them for 25 minutes at 425 degrees. (Warning: when I took them out of the oven the steam set my smoke detectors off!) I also added a head of garlic to roast with the tomatoes.

While they were roasting, I sauteed a carrot, stalk of celery and a half of a red onion in a little oil. I also cut up about 1/3 to 1/2 a cup of fresh basil - I love basil so the more the better.

All of this went into the big pot with the tomato juice. I added two cups of chicken stock but veggie stalk or probably even tomato juice would work. The roasted tomatoes and garlic were added to the mix along with a pinch of sage and thyme and about a quarter cup of olive oil.

I used my hand blender to puree the whole thing. Now I like this soup with a thick/slightly chunky texture but if that isn't your style, it could be put through a sieve too. You could also add milk or cream if you wanted too. I like it without.

The soup will be even better tomorrow but it hit the spot tonight - my cold is still here but my stomach is happy!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thanksgiving a la Julia

I have to admit Julia Child was not part of my youth. I did not watch her TV shows and my Mom didn't have any of her cookbooks. But thankfully I love Meryl Streep and went to Julie and Julia a few weeks ago. I LOVED that movie! In fact, I must admit that I have seen it twice - once with a friend, the 2nd time I took my Mom. I laughed, I cried and I went out and bought not only Julia's book upon which the movie was based but also her iconic Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

The cookbook is a little intimidating to me. I, like my mom, am a baker (amateur only) and cakes, pies and cookies are in my comfort zone. Braised anything, is not. But I am determined to learn how to cook and I have chosen Julia as my master.

The first event that was Julia worthy I figured was Canadian Thanksgiving. My husband insisted he did not want turkey. To look for alternatives I opened Julia's book of treasures. I wanted something we could carve so soups, stews etc were out. However, Beef a la mode was in! Besides, I liked telling my husband and kids we were having it only to see the horror as they translated that to mean beef and ice cream. Ha! To go along with it I went along with her suggestions of brown braised onions and potatoes. I passed on the carrots because when I did a trial version they were to mushy for our tastes. For dessert, I decided on a gratin of apples. I was also going to try her lemon almond tart but two days before the big day I got stressed out and ixnayed it. Instead, I chose a non-Julia recipe for "pumpkin whip" that my 5 year old and 3 year old could be in charge of making.

The day before ...
The day before the dinner for 8 was to happen I had to get the ingredients for everything and bake the apple dessert and start marinating the beef. It also meant buying a dutch oven and two new skillets!

I went to a local farmers market for the veggies - is it coincidence that the fingerling potatoes that were only $2.50/lb a few weeks before the movie came out are now billed as "quintessentially french" potatoes and cost $4/lb now? hmmm. I bought them anyways. I also bought the apples.

At the local butchers my husband picked out the baron of beef (the butchers felt for him since they figured if the meal went wrong, I would blame it on the piece of beef he picked...hmmm they were probably right) and bought the butter (lots of butter) and the wine needed for the marinade (an entire bottle!).

Let's start with dessert...

Later that afternoon the kids and hubby were sent out of the house so I could start with Julia's lesson on gratin of apples. Translated btw way I think should really be titled "fried butter with apples cake".

Basically, you fry or sauté 2.5lbs of golden delicious apples in butter (nothing else) till they are golden, soft but still look like apples. You layer the apples in a baking dish as you sauté them.

Plum jam and rum are mixed together and added to the apple mix. After that, you make the "cake" top. I baked it for 25 minutes, sprinkle powdered sugar on it and then bake it for another 25 minutes. Voila! Cool it and stick it in the fridge for 24 hours so the flavours can get to know each other before the entire masterpiece is wolfed down by guests :)

Bring out the wine...

Beef a la mode needs to be marinated for up to 24 hours before being cooked. The marinade consists of a bottle of red wine, brandy, oil, herbs, a cup each of carrots, onions and celery, garlic, salt and pepper. I put half the veggies in the bottom of the dutch oven and then the beef and then the other half and the herbs and garlic. The liquid gets poured on top.

Let's talk about the beef for a second - my husband did exactly what I requested - brought home 5.5 lbs of meat! Too bad I didn't think about the size of my pot - it barely fit!! It must have been quite a hilarious sight to see - 2 grown people trying to shove a big piece of cow into a too small pot. Anyways... off it went into the fridge. Julia tells us to baste it every hour or so. I basted it about 6 times in 24 hours.

The Big Day...

So for beef, I took it out of the fridge and the marinade about 45 minutes before it went in the oven. The idea is to drip dry it a bit before I took paper towels and dried it even more. Julia says the beef must be really dry in order for it to brown properly. I used canola oil and my biggest skillet to brown the beef. It took about 10 minutes to do and it was definitely brown so I guess Julia was right about drying it!

After that it went back into the dutch oven with the marinade and I boiled it til the marinade was about half of its original amount. Then I poured beef broth (which I bought from a local market) until it reached the 2/3 mark on the beef. PS once the beef browns it is even HARDER to put that hunk of meat back in the dutch oven! Anyways, I was supposed to skim the mixture once it was boiling but I forgot and stuck it unskimmed into the oven at 325 degrees (it was supposed to be 350 but it seemed to hot).

Julia says you cannot overcook this beef - I think she is wrong on that cause even though I cooked it for the recommended time, it was a bit dry for my tastes though still very tender and with the gravy it tastes amazing.

While the meat was doing it's thing in the oven I made the brown braised onions which are simple to make, though not low cal. The hardest part is skinning those little suckers. I used white yellow and purple pearl onions. Once skinned they are sauteed in butter and then simmered in beef broth. The best thing is that I made them and just put them aside to just before serving when I put them in the sauce/gravy.

After the onions there was about an hour to clean up and set the kids up to make pumpkin whip which is just a mix of butterscotch pudding, milk, pumpkin and whip cream. The kids then put them into little pre-made tart shells. The best thing about the 20 minutes this recipe took to put together was the lack of fighting and gobs of cooperation that went on between the kids...perhaps the best part of the whole experience :)

Next, the carrots were cut up and put in the steamer ready to go once the beef came out of the oven.

The beef a la mode came out after 2.5 hours but honestly I think 2 hours would have been better. The beef was put on a platter and then the juices and veggies were put through a sieve and all the juice possible was squeezed out and put back into the dutch oven. I boiled down a bit and then I added some cornstarch to a bit of the hot liquid and then put back into the bigger pot. Within 5 or 10 minutes the thickening takes hold and voila gravy/sauce/nectar of the gods is born.

Honestly my husband does not like gravy - but he LOVED this. It is that good.

Carrots went on and potatoes were next. The potatoes were also Julia's. I used the expensive fingerling variety and peeled them without washing them as instructed by Julia. Then they went into a butter and oil mixture and basically pan fried until nicely browned on all sides. Once browned, I put the lid on the skillet and let them cook at a lower heat for another fifteen minutes. So again like the onions the recipe is simple once peeled which is the only time consuming part.

The beef was carved up and placed on the platter. The carrots were added to the sauce along with the onions. Then they were taken out and put around the roast along with the potatoes. Sauce went on the beef and the rest in a boat.

Honestly, we thought we'd have a tonne of left overs...boy, were we wrong. A couple pieces of meat, a few potatoes and maybe one onion was left along with a piece of the apple dessert. Judged on that alone, I'd say the meal was a huge success. The meal also seemed to me to be easier to put together than past turkey thanksgiving dinners. I actually had time to sit down with a glass of wine with our guests before dinner. The last few minutes was, of course, a flurry of activity but not too bad. I really liked putting things on one platter and it cut down on a few dishes!

The entire evening from the meal to the company was fantastic!

I hope your Thanksgiving was fabulous too!