Sunday, November 24, 2013

Menu: The First Snowfall

Random snow storm that can't make up its mind? Welcome to Toronto. With all that's going on, we can't always have dinner as a family. Well, couple. Things were so scattered last week that I never even got around to formalizing the dinner invitation I extended to a friend who "keeps hearing about all the wonderful meals". Sometimes this happens. I plan a week of meals, but only make a few, or end up modifying plans so much, that it's not really what I had intended.

The chili I intended never manifested. Started late and made with a packet of spices (always a mistake, even when bolstered with fresh), it was bland and uninteresting. It didn't follow the original recipe. It's the kind of thing that will fill you up, but not leave any wonderful memories.

Following our first snow, dinner was the Lazy Sunday Casserole from Kayotic Kitchen. Chop some veg, steam-roast, sear the sausage, add to oven and finish. It was simple and delicious. The husband really likes crisp roasted vegetables, but I thought the moist addition of the chicken broth was a pleasant change. Cooking time was a bit excessive and I lopped off at least 15 minutes near the end. Ultimately, it was a perfect dinner for a cold night and a silly movie.


  • Smitten Kitchen's Buttermilk Chicken
    • Probably my absolute favorite savory recipe of all time. It takes about 5 minutes to assemble, another 5 to get it ready for the oven, and then you bake. Your reward for struggling through this impossible task of putting some stuff in a bag and letting it sit overnight (absolutely mandatory, do not go less than 24 hours!), is the most tender, mouthgasm inducing chicken on the planet. I've yet to have chicken from a restaurant that comes close to this recipe. Personally, I use smoked paprika and a bit of cayenne pepper. Drain the chicken a bit, letting it rest on a rack for a few minutes, while you preheat the oven will give you slightly crispier skin, but don't expect anything like fried chicken.
  • Kayotic Kitchen's Baked Cod with Crispy Herb Topping
    • New! Super pleased with the Lazy Sunday Casserole, I lurked around the blog a bit more and found a lovely, simple fish recipe. Both of us love fish, but rarely eat it. Every time I make it, we love it, but it's one of the few ingredients that give me a bit of anxiety. I know I just need to work with fish more to be more comfortable, and this recipe looks like an easy step in.
    • Final Verdict: So salty. Salt in the ranch marinade, salt on the shallot mix, salt in the crispy topping. Next time, I'd reduce the ranch marinade by at least half and leave the topping unsalted. The tomato side was really perfect though. Overall, an easy dish to make and worthy of making again with future tweaks.
  • Just the Tip's Spinach and Artichoke Tortellini Bake
    • New! We don't tend to eat pasta, *at all*. But we're also not psychos. Good food is good food, and if it's occasional and inexpensive, we don't let it bother us. There happened to be a good offer on tortellini at one of the stores this week, but I was disappointed with the selection when I got there. I found some tri-colored, three-cheese filled pasta near the same price instead and a surprising deal on Asiago. Since the weather is colder, a hearty meal like this is a nice addition to the week.
    • Final Verdict: Disappointing. The sauce, even though properly salted and seasoned, was bland causing the spinach to be under-flavored and the artichokes surprisingly boring. The dish didn't really come together and it felt like eating four different ingredients.
  • Canadian Living's Chicken Pot Pie
    • New! Never got around to making this last week! Although I finally decided this would be the recipe for us, we ended up with a week's worth of boring chili and no guests to have over. The only change I'll be making to this recipe is using chicken I precooked in the slow cooker (whole chicken, bay leaf, peppercorns, water to cover, high for 3 hours). It shouldn't make a difference. Hopefully, we'll finally have guests over to share in this tasty recipe.
    • Final Verdict: Split opinions. Personally, I thought the cream sauce came together with perfect texture and richness, but I agreed with my husband that the dish tasted average. I would recommend this recipe, but I think some heavy doses of salt, fresh herbs, a seasoned egg wash on the pastry, and a few different vegetables (maybe turnips, sweet potato, fennel) would give this that je ne sais quoi that perfect dishes have. For the wine, I used an unoaked Chardonnay which seemed to pair very well once chilled. As the recipe stands, it's an excellent basic chicken pot pie.

Sweet Tooth

  • Kitchen Riffs' Pfeffernüsse Cookies
    • Remember our random discovery of the Cheese Boutique last week? One of the last minute impulse items my husband found was a giant display of Pfeffernüsse cookies. The traditional Christmas cookies from my side of the family (my mom) include shortbread, sour cream tarts, and spiced pecans. My husband however has memories of these spicy, dense, dry things. I'm all for spicy and sweet, so when I had them for the first time, I fell in love. I'll be substituting the corn syrup for brown sugar, and then probably hiding these in a closet so the husband doesn't find them while they do their thing for two weeks.


  • Burnt Butter Biscuits from the Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient cookbook by Jennifer McLagan
    • More cookies, yes. Since the Pfeffernüsse cookies won't technically be ready to eat this week, and pretty much anything with browned butter is lovely, I can't wait to try this weeks edible dessert. If you're looking for a new cookbook, something different, informative, interesting, and yet utterly practical, Fat is for you. Beautifully photographed (though there could also be more, especially for some of the trickier recipes) and thoughtfully divided, this cookbook really does a great job explaining the benefits and versatility of various fats. Which you totally need to be healthy.
      No you totally don't need cookies to be healthy. 
    • Final Verdict: Husband really liked the crunchy texture when dunked into his evening tea. Personally, I loved the nuanced richness from the browned butter, but it takes a somewhat sensitive palate to pick up the flavor note as it seems to be most prominent at the end of the bite, just before you swallow. If you wolf down these lovely cookies, they'll just taste like sugar cookies for adults. But if you savor them, you're in for a treat. Total keeper.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Menu: Santa Claus Parade Week

As the holiday season gears up and the weather winds down, it seems like a good time to revisit some favorite recipes. Tried and true, but not yet quite comfort food. This week's menu seems to be a balance between the newcomers on this list, the recipes I've found to be 100% guaranteed nomable. All of these recipes strike me as set and forget, chop and heat, prep and cook and not much in-between. I'd rather grin about the upcoming "Best of the Worst" Date Night plans with the husband than stress out over challenging recipes.


  • Smitten Kitchen's French Onion Tarts
    • Divine recipe. Relatively inexpensive and other than needing about 40 minutes to caramelize my onions, it's simple and quick; not a lot of hands on. Make dough, cook onions, shred cheese, blend custard, assemble, bake. The sweetness of the onions and the nuttiness from the Gruyere is wonderfully comforting. While I love full-blown quiche, this recipe makes a creamy, filling punch using only a single egg. I couldn't believe it the first time I tried, but it works perfectly. Personally, because I have such a great pan, I make individual tarts instead of a giant pie. Cooking is reduced by about 5 minutes. 
    • Food Wish's Buttercrust Dough: This recipe is so easy, I just use it for all savory tarts and pies right now. One batch is enough for two 8" pies, one double crust pie, or 6 mini tarts.
  • Chicken Pot Pie
    • What.. no link? At the moment, I'm undecided. Oxmoor House's Golden Pot Pie with Sweet Potato Crust sounds like a perfect fall treat, but David Hammond's Chicken Pot Pie, as published in Canadian Living sounds like true comfort food (though in need of mushrooms and rosemary.) Which one should I try first?
  • Easy Sausage Casserole
    • New! I recently found a nice deal on honey garlic sausages. I usually stick to hot Italian and make sausage and peppers or Spinach Lasagna Variation, but I'm itching to try something new that's not just a cooked pepper. I think the topping might compliment these sausages. I like the idea of baking the sausages too, since I normally saute them.
    • Final verdict: Keeper! Delicious and easy.
  • Brown Eyed Baker's All-American Chili
    • New! I already know I'll be making a few changes to this recipe, but not with any intent to wreck it. There was a good deal on green peppers this week, I'll be soaking my own beans instead of using canned (yes, it really does help with ~intestinal issues~). Oddly enough, tomato paste is kind of hard to find up here, so I may make my own.

Sweet Tooth

  • Smitten Kitchen's Intensely Chocolate Sables
    • New! I have not tried this recipe yet, but the husband and I are dark chocolate nommers. An intense chocolate crunch sounds very satisfying right now. 
    • Final verdict: Difficult dough, but nice chocolate flavor. Recommend adding extra butter and shaping into balls. Don't bother with refrigerating the dough. As soon as you smell chocolate, take them out. Mine only needed 7 minutes.
  • Family Spice's Lemon Blueberry Clafouti
    • I love clafoutis. They are so mindlessly simple to make and they are not overly sweet. This particular recipe does justice to the lemon. the kitchen smells absolutely heavenly while this is baking. As we don't keep powdered sugar in the home, I put a tiny sprinkle of plain sugar on the top after it finishes baking. Creamy, fruity, sweet but without inducing the heavy guilt you might get from a cake or pie. The last time I made this, I threw in frozen blueberries we had bought way back in August. It was delicious.


  • Breakfast at Figs before the Santa Clause Parade. Excellent Eggs Benny and friendly service. The addition of genuinely interesting fruit salads on the side, figs, pomegranate seeds, strawberry, apple, and orange, makes you feel like you're dining at a foodie's dream diner.
  • Gourmet Platter collected from Cheese Boutique. We had no clue this place existed. Lost on our way to a smaller shop east of St. Joseph's Health center, we snuck down a side street and found a rather gigantic cheese shop. Compelled to stop in, we were constantly offered samples of cheese, freshly brewed tea served in glass glasses with two sugar lumps on the side, exquisite olive oils and so much more. Mustards, sweets, beautiful chilled meat and veg shop, lovely pantry items, impressive charcuterie selection, and of course cheese. Not just cheeses from elsewhere, but an entire cheese locker with massive cheese wheels and columns of cheese. Dinner will be Mediterranean beef sausage with black olives, red pepper, and Asiago; Guillaume Tell cheese and Ambrosia apples; and Green Peppercorn Mustard spread on homemade French baguettes.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Apple Showdown

Over the past several weeks, post-apple picking, I had the great fortune to attempt several new recipes. What else was I going to do with 25 pounds of apples? Each recipe was followed with only modifications for apple-sweetness (cut back on sugar if appropriate). All recipes were consumed in full, with the husband, and requests for seconds were made. 

This Showdown edition consists of: Buttercrunch Apple Pie, Salted Caramel Apple Tart, Homemade Apple Cider, Apple Chips, and Apple Sharlotka. Recipes were ranked on requests for seconds (and/or speed of consumption), ease of prep and cooking, and overall deliciousness. Although there is a ranking here, I highly recommend trying all these recipes. I'm positive some people will disagree with my choices, so please, try these out for yourself. 

Let the rankings begin!

  • 1st Place: Smitten Kitchen's Apple Sharlotka, or "Apple Thing". Using sweet apples, like Honeycrisp or Ambrosia, you can cut the sugar in half. Ridiculously easy recipe, deceptively decadent treat. Texture is almost similar to a clafouti. Not so much cake or custard, definitely not like a pie, it's soft, fluffy, and creamy all at once. I highly recommend giving it a try!
  • 2nd Place: Baker Bettie's Homemade Apple Cider. Crockpot users ahoy! This was really simple and very tasty. Using sweet apples, it didn't need any extra sugar and the house smelled ah-maz-ing. Don't skimp on the spices! (But do try to use whole spices instead of ground. It makes the final result much more tasty and easy to drink.)
  • 3rd Place: Sally's Baking Addiction Apple Chips. A pretty basic, healthy snack. Chop and bake. Having a mandolin would make prep a breeze, but a steady hand got the job done. I don't like that they take 3 hours to make, but they're a nice change from chips and crackers. Sugar is totally optional in this recipe. (We made these three times!)
  • 4th Place: Smitten Kitchen's Salted Caramel Apple Tart. Don't get me wrong. This is delicious. But there is a level of prep and skill involved here the top three don't require. If you're an experienced cook, try this out. Your mouth will be very happy.
  • 5th Place: Sugar Pie Farmhouse's Buttercrunch Apple Pie - Waaaaaay too sweet. Unnecessary amount of sugar in the recipe. No need for it in the crust, total overkill in the crumble topping. It really was just like eating solid blocks of sugar. Sorry, Aunt Ruthie! However, the apple filling is solid, especially the advice to use different kinds of apples (I used Empire, Granny Smith, Ambrosia, and Honey Crisp) and I would make it again, just using different crust and different topping.

Speaking of toppings, one I'd like to try soon on some unsuspecting pastry is the craquelin recipe courtesy of David Lebovitz. I think a lightly sweet crackle atop some otherwise predictable pastries could make for an extra special holiday treat.