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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Wishing you and yours a very happy new year!

The past year has flown by.  It’s been a busy year – finishing up my Master’s thesis, travelling in Tanzania, starting medical school – and I have been very fortunate.  While I’ve had fewer new cooking adventures (to be remedied in 2013), I have certainly enjoyed many old favourites with friends and family!

Gourm(eh?) continues to exceed expectations. It’s hard to believe that a small project for me and Sitelle to share recipes has turned into a blog that has received over 30,000 hits!  We look forward to sharing many more in 2013 – including a few more Canadian specialties.

To start off 2013, I wanted to share the five most popular recipes from 2012.  Bon appetit!

– Catherine

5. Lotus Land Linguini

Creamy lotus land linguine

This pasta from rebar was initially cooked to fulfill a peanut craving.  The lotus land linguini turned out to be a fun and tasty dish enjoyed by all – the leftovers were perfect as a picnic lunch the next day on a wintertime outing to Peggy’s Cove!

4. Whitewater Cinnamon Buns

Waiting for the cinnamon buns to finish rising

Waiting for the cinnamon buns to finish rising

These cinnamon buns from Whitewater Cooks were nice and cinnamony, and perfect for a late morning brunch!

3. Spicy Steamed Fish, Gambian Style

Gambian platter

Sitelle shared many of the recipes she picked up while living in Gambia – and this one looks divine!

2. Christmas Cookies

Swedish Pastries (Thumbprint Walnut Christmas Cookie)

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Slice-and-Bake Icebox Cookies

Icebox Cookies

Christmas baking is a favourite family tradition, and these two cookies are my great-grandmother’s secret recipes.  They continue to be loved year after year!

1. Benachin

Bowl of benachin

Another of Sitelle’s Gambian dishes was our most viewed of 2012, and this is certainly a dish meant to be shared with company!

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There is something magical about gingerbread houses.  I have always loved assembling them with friends and family while listening to holiday tunes, drinking hot chocolate, snacking on clementines, and soaking in Christmas joy.   I have been satisfied with the kit from the grocery store over the past few years,  but last year, I wanted to try something even more special.

Just before Christmas, my old roomate from Toronto came up to visit me.  We had two missions: visit Peggy’s Cove and build a gingerbread house from scratch.   With -9 C cold and biting winds, we braved Maritime weather to drive out to the Cove.  As for the gingerbread house, we were inspired by Joy of Cooking, with their tried and true recipes, to build one from scratch.  Over two days we mixed, rolled-out, baked, and decorated the house.

The most difficult element of this recipe is waiting: waiting for the dough to chill, wating for the gingerbread to bake (while delicious aromas waft through the house), and waiting for the icing to set.  But the end result was well worth it: A gorgeous gingerbread house – with far more delicious candy and gingerbread than you find in a kit – of which we are incredibly proud!

The gingerbread can be baked up to a week in advance of assembling.

 

Gingerbread House

(makes one gingerbread house, about 5 1/2 inches wide by 7 inches high on a 9-inch square base, plus a few extra cookies)

 

Ingredients:

GINGERBREAD DOUGH

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 cup molasses

5 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
 

ROYAL ICING

3 large egg whites

3 cups icing sugar

Food dye

1/2 teaspoon vanilla
 

DECORATION

Your favouite candy for decorating a gingerbread house.  The sky’s the limit!
 
Gingerbread house!
 

Directions:

GINGERBREAD DOUGH RECIPE

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the sugar and molasses and stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture no longer feels gritty. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool to lukewarm.

In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients except for 1/2 cup of flour.  Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, pour in the lukewarm butter mixture, and beat to blend everything together.  Work in the remaining flour, beating until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Remove the dough from the bowl and knead 3 or 4 times on the counter, until smooth and pliable.  Wrap well and refrigerate until dough is thoroughly cool.

After refrigerating, if the dough feels to soft to roll out, work in a tiny bit more flour.
 

GINGERBREAD HOUSE PREPARATION

PREPARE THE PATTERN PIECES: Copy the pattern pieces onto stiff cardboard and cut them out.  You should have seven pieces: 2 sides; 1 front and 1 back; 2 roof panels; and 1 base.  Rub flour over both sides of the pattern pieces to prevent the dough from sticking to them.

SIDES – cut two: 4 inches x 3 inches (base x height).  If desired, add a window (1 inch x 1 inch) in the middle.

FRONT AND BACK – cut two: 5 1/4 inches x 6 3/4 inches (base x height).  These pieces should be pentagon shaped (so the base is 5 1/4 inches, the height is 6 3/4 inches in the centre, but only 3 inches on the sides).  If desired, add a door (1 inch by 2 inches) and two windows (1 inch by 1inch).

ROOF – cut two: 5 inches x 6 inches

BASE – cut one: 9 inches x 9 inches
 

BAKING THE GINGERBREAD

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Position the racks to divide the oven in thirds.

With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out about one-third of the dough directly on an ungreased cookie sheat, preferably with only 1 raised edge, to about 1/4 inch thick.  Lightly dust the dough with flour.  Position as many pattern pieces as will fit comfortably on top of the rolled dough, leaving about 3/4 inches between them to allow for spreading during baking.  Cut around the patterns with a sharp paring knife.  Remove the pattern pieces.  Peel away the dough between the cut pieces and gather the scraps together to reroll.  Repeat with a second and third cookie sheet if needed, using the remaining dough and cutting out all the pieces.

Cut around, but do not lift out the windows and front door (if they are removed know, the shapes will warp). Roll out the scraps and use cookie cutters or a paring knife to cut out gingerbread people, fence posts, animals, and other designs.

Bake the gingerbread pieces 12 to 15 minutes, or until the colour darkens slightly and the pieces feel nearly stiff – they will firm completely as they cool.

As soon as they come out of the oven, set the cookie sheets on a heatproof surface and immediately, while the dough is still hot, place the pattern pieces on the corresponding pieces of hot gingerbread.  One at a time, cut around each pattern with a paring knife (trimming all the house edges will make them fit together neatly.  Lift off and save the scraps for decorations.  Cut out and remove doors and windows.  While the dough is still warm, you can cut each window in half to make them shutters.

Once the shapes are rigid but still slightly warm, use a broad spatula to transfer them to wire racks to cool completely.  Store them flat on a tray or in a sturdy box in a cool, dry place until ready to assemble.
 

ROYAL ICING

Stir together the egg whites, vanilla, and 1 cup of the icing sugar in a microwave-safe bowl until thoroughly combined.  Microwave on high until the mixture reaches 160 F on a thermometer, 30 to 60 seconds.

Add 2 cups of icing sugar and beat on high speed until the icing is cool and holds stiff peaks.

If the icing is not stiff enough, add more sugar.  Color, if desired, with liquid food colouring.

The icing can be stored in a covered container for up to 3 days: Press a piece of wax or parchment paper directly against the surface to prevent drying.  The icing can be rebeaten if necessary.

To pipe, use a small pastry bag fitted with a fine tip, or cut off the corner of a sealable plastic bag or the tip of a parchment paper cone.   Immediately cover bowls of icing with plastic wrap so they don’t dry out; keep tightly covered when you are not using the icing.
 

ASSEMBLING THE HOUSE

Set the gingerbread base right side up on a tray. (The right side of each piece is the side facing up when baked). Centre the front, back, and side pieces, right side down, on top of the base, with the bottom corners touching.  Pipe out a thick 1/2-inch-deep line of icing around the foundation lines.  One at a time, lift the side pieces into place, and pipe a generous line of icing along both side edges of each piece.  Repeat with the front and back pieces, icing their side edges and standing them up in the foundation icing next to the sides.  Gently press all the iced edges of the house together.  If the icing is thick enough, the house should now stand up unaided (but if it is wobbly, support it on all four sides wiht jars or cans until the icing dries, 1 hour to overnight, depending on the humidity.  Do NOT attempt to add the roof until the icing is dry and structure feels solid.

To attach the roof, spread icing generously along the top edges of each house piece and along one long edge of each roof panel.  Press the roof panels in place, touching each other at the peak.  Use your fingertip to smooth all the joints where pieces meet; add extra icing if necessary for stability.  If the roof panels droop, support them with jars or cans until the icing sets.  Don’t decorate the room until the icing is set, or the weight of the decorations may cause it to collapse.

To decorate the house, using icing to glue on the window shutters and position the front door ajar.  Use icing as glue, decorate the house with your favourite candies.

To make icicles: add a little water to some of the white icing, and pipe drippy icicles along the edges of the roof.

For snow: lightly sift icing sugar over the top of the house and the base.
 

Bon appetit!

– Catherine

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To accompany the cranberry sauce post I did a few days ago, here’s the recipe for an absolutely divine cheesecake we made for a dinner party last night. G. has been coaching boy’s volleyball, and last weekend he brought a big bag of his home-made chocolate chip cookies along for the team. They loved the cookies apparently, but the poor quality of the flour meant that before the boys managed to eat all of them many had disintegrated. He came home and announced we must make a cheesecake to use up the crumbs. Yes!

Warning! Bake this cake in the morning – it requires a lot of cooking and cooling and rest before you can serve it to your guests or bring it to a dinner party. It’s well worth the effort though, I promise. It’s lighter than many cheesecakes, and the nuts in the crust along with the browned butter make it absolutely irresistible.

Ingredients

Crust

1 1/2 cups cookie crumbs (we used crumbs from the chocolate chip recipe at the back of the “chipits” chocolate chip bag, and picked out the chocolate chips we could find)

3/4 cups chopped pecans

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup browned butter

Filling, first layer

2 eggs, well-beaten

1 lb (454g) cream cheese (this is two packages of philadelphia cream cheese, not one!)

2/3 cup sugar

2 tsp lemon juice

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Filling, second layer

1 1/2 cups thick sour cream

1/2 cup white sugar

1 tsp vanilla or 1 Tbsp maple syrup

pinch of salt

1-2 cups Spirited Cranberry Sauce

Directions

In a saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Once it is melted, allow it to begin to bubble. Reduce the heat and watch it carefully until the bubbles start to get bigger and then smaller. Once they are tiny and look foamy, keep your eye out for little golden and then light brown specks in the butter. Remove it from heat immediately as the butter is now at the browned butter stage which is delicious as it tastes like hazelnuts but it can easily be burned. If you like you can keep a shallow pan of cold water next to your stove and when the butter is browned you can dip the bottom of the pan in order to kill the cooking process and protect your butter from burning.

Mix the cookie crumbs along with the brown sugar, and then pour the butter over that whole mixture. Mix well, and then press into a round, 2 1/2 inch deep springform pan (ideal… we don’t have anything of the sort though and managed well enough). Press the bottom and sides up to form an even crust. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes while you process the first layer of cheesecake. Remove the cream cheese from the fridge so it can soften a bit, as with the eggs.

Next, preheat the oven to 375F. Whisk all the ingredients for the first layer together, except the cinnamon. If you have a food processor, process them together. If not, as is the case with us, you can press it through a sieve several times with a spoon and that does the job too although it is a bit messier! Spoon that into the crust and bake for 20-22 minutes. When it is cooked remove it from the oven and let it cool to room temperature. This takes several hours. Sprinkle the cinnamon over top of the first layer.

To make the second layer, preheat the oven to 425F. Mix the ingredients for the second layer thoroughly. Pour it all over the first layer. When the oven is ready, cook for five minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool first to room temperature and then to chill thoroughly in the fridge for at least 6 hours before it is ready to be served.

Before serving, prepare spirited cranberry sauce, and drizzle over top.

-Sitelle

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I mentioned we’re working on emptying our pantry, and the result is big baking extravaganzas every so often when the weather cools off enough to justify heating up the oven.

Ice cream sandwiches have been a favourite easy dessert of mine for a long time now. They can easily be made according to your schedule: you can make the cookies or buy the cookies; you can make the ice cream or buy the ice cream, or use any permutation in between. Just as long as you have a bit of time to soften the ice cream and then give it a good freeze again, you’re in for a treat!

Ingredients – 8 ice cream sandwiches

16 cookies (plus a few more for snacking on during prep if you’re that type of cook)

1 batch ice cream or one tub (maple-walnut or your favourite flavour from the store)

Directions

Let ice cream soften a bit (leave it out for 10-15 minutes depending on how cold your freezer is). Place cookies in the freezer in the meantime.

When cookies are frozen and ice cream is softened, use a spoon to scoop some ice cream onto one cookie, and slap another cookie onto the other end! It’s that easy. Place in a tupperware container and re-freeze for another hour or so, so they don’t squish everywhere when you serve them to your guests/friends/children!

Bonne appétit.

-Sitelle

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Today is a very special day – 3/14 – the best excuse of the year to make pie!

So in honour of pi day, I share below my five favourite pies from last year.  May your days be filled with delicious pie!

– Catherine

 

Tourtiere – Easily my favourite savoury pie, this traditional Quebecois meat pie is a treat!

White Chocolate Cranberry Tart with Toasted Pistachios  – This combination of tart cranberries, nutty pistachios, and smooth chocolate is elegant and stunning. 

Raspberry Glacee Pie – If you ever need to bribe my mother, look no farther.  This delicate raspberry pie is truly divine served with whipped cream.



Pumpkin Pie – Nothing screams autumn more than impeccably spiced pumpkin pie.

Chocolate Hazelnut Pie –  Whipped hazelnut cream filling topped with chocolate ganache.  Need I say more?

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I thought I’d perk the mood up a bit with this hot chocolate recipe, with winter approaching. I, however, will be avoiding the snow altogether in my new home in Sénégal. This situation is definitely a bit ironic: I’m one of the small number of Canadians who loves winter, as long as it is a good one, but I will also be part of the group that avoids it. So, I thought I’d share my secret hot chocolate recipe for all of you to come home with a frosted nose and pink cheeks and enjoy a cup for me (and for you, I guess)!

Let me preface this next part by saying I’m quite a chocolate-lover. This past spring I was lucky enough to go to Cacao Fest in Punta Gorda, Belize. For those of you who do not know about this, it is a week-end of festivities surrounding chocolate, from its origins in the Maya culture, to its agricultural production, processing, and finally, to its consumption. Who could refuse such an event?

A Maya woman roasting cacao beans on her stove

I was hoping to be able to eat the fresh flesh from cacao pods this time round like I’d tried in February, but they were already harvested and so I had to make do with only actual chocolate. For those of you who have the chance, I encourage you to try the “food of the gods” as they call it (the white flesh inside cacao pods). It was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tried. At Cacao Fest I visited the Cotton Tree Chocolate Factory where I learned how they make chocolate. This reminded me of when I learned how to make the traditional maya cacao drink in my last trip.

This hot chocolate recipe is absolutely delicious, and its secret is using real, un-powdered chocolate. What surprises most people when I tell them I sometimes make hot chocolate with squares of chocolate is that it takes as much time to make milk-based chocolate with squares or powder! And if you want to celebrate a special occasion or just indulge, add a bit of whipped cream.

Ingredients – Two 1.5 cup servings or three 1 cup servings

-3 cups milk
-80g your favourite chocolate (I like to use 75% for this) + a bit extra for decoration if you like
-granulated sugar (to taste – I actually don’t add any if I use 75% chocolate, but it’s up to your taste!)
-1/2 cup whipping cream
-2 tsp icing sugar (or more to taste)

Directions

Place milk in a saucepan and heat gently over medium heat. Break the chocolate up into chunks, and the place in milk. Once the milk begins to warm, begin to whisk the mixture to help dissolve the melted chocolate. Do this until you reach your desired temperature, and then remove it from the heat (if you avoid it boiling over, you avoid the risk of the chocolate forming small granules).

Now for the extra special part: in a bowl, beat (or use electric beaters) the cream until it thickens, then add the icing sugar and whisk a bit more.

Return the hot chocolate to the heat for a few minutes if it is not to your desired temperature and whisk. Pour into your favourite cups and top with a dollop of whipped cream and grated chocolate.

-Sitelle

 

 

 

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Scallops – Coquilles St. Jacques in French – are one of the family specials. In proper form, the ingredients are few: scallops, butter, cream, and parsley…

The night I arrived in my family’s village supper was from 8pm till 12:30am, and even so, we had to pry ourselves away before coffee was offered because I was so tired!

We began with soticot (tiny shrimp that were caught by one of my relatives), escargots, fresh crab… then a soup, a roast chicken, some cheese, dessert…  and so this recipe continues on the seafood theme that we live by here.

Ingredients – serves 4 as an appetizer

-16 – 20 scallops, sliced in half if they are large
-8 sprigs parsley, minced
-2 Tbsp butter
-1/2 cup crême fraiche

Directions

Wash and slice the scallops in half if they are large. Heat butter until it bubbles, over medium heat to sear each side for 3 minutes or so until they are golden-brown, and then simmer for a couple more minutes until they are gently cooked through. Add parsley, and cream. Melt cream over low heat over the scllops (avoid making it boil as it curdles). Serve with baguette crisps or other crisp bread, and a glass of dry white wine.

Bon appétit!

-Sitelle

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