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Verses from my Kitchen: December 2010

December 31, 2010

Sweet and Salted Almonds

This is one of those easy cocktail snack recipes that's always a hit at the party. Standing around at a gathering with a cocktail in hand and carrying on a conversation. You know what comes next. The awkward conversation when the person you're taking with whom you met maybe 10 minutes sooner won't give you a moment to insert a witty comment or, better yet, escape. Instead you keep reaching for that addictive bowl of nuts. Thank goodness for the almond bail out!

The first time I nibbled on something resembling these I was captivated by the crispy exterior and sweet and salty flavour. I kept noshing away at them until they vanished. Trust me, it doesn't take long. It's the perfect marriage between nuts and cocktails. One makes you thirsty and the other tempts to you to eat the nuts. Back and forth they go.

This is a simple process where you take natural almonds, unless of course you buy them blanched, soak them in boiling water, strain them, plunge them in cold water and slide the skins off. Pat dry the wet almonds and toss them in olive oil and roast for 20 minutes. The whole process takes barely half an hour. The results are delicious! Roasted almonds tossed with coarse sea salt, smoked paprika and a pinch of cinnamon. Prefer regular paprika, no problem. Sweet and salty love.

Next time you have to bring over a snack for a cocktail party or you're making tapas, include this recipe. One of the great joys is that it's super easy to prepare and can be made with ingredients around your house. Like I said, easy peasy.

The brilliant crunch from the crisp exterior with the spices smothering each almond and the salt popping through. Great texture, great taste. Great snack.

Happy New Years! I appreciate all your support. Thanks for reading!

Sweet and Salted Almonds

The Goods:
  • 8 ounces of whole almonds, in skins or blanched
  • 4 tbsp. good olive oil
  • coarse sea salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin or paprika
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If almonds are not blanched, place them in a large bowl and cover them with boiling water for 4 minutes. Drain and plunge into cold water for 1 minute. Drain them in a strainer and then slide off the skins between your fingers. Dry on paper towels.
  2. Add olive oil to roasting pan and swirl to cover entire base. Add the almonds and toss in the pan until evenly coated. Spread in a single layer.
  3. Roast for 20 minutes or until light golden brown. Toss several times during roasting. Drain to paper towels and transfer to a bowl. While still warm, sprinkle with plenty of salt and paprika and toss to coat. Add cinnamon and toss.
  4. Serve almonds warm or cold.

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December 27, 2010

Bubble & Squeak Cakes with Poached Egg: My Christmas Leftover Breakfast

First off, let's get the name out of the way. If you're not English, Australian or from another Commonwealth country than you're probably utterly perplexed. Perfect. Bubble and Squeak is a dish originally made up of leftover meat and cabbage fried up together. Today, the meat is often replaced with potatoes. 

The dish is now a lovely mashed potato cake with various vegetables added in. Usually cabbage and spring onions but also brussel sprouts or winter greens. It gets its name from the sounds made when cooking. Simple, right? I can hear a collective "Aha" moment happening right now.

We all face the same leftover issues. I have Christmas Dinner on two straight days. Everybody rushes for the turkey and leaves behind all those other tempting goodies. The mashed potatoes get thrown out, as do the brussel sprouts and other veggies. What a shame. With just a little bit of love you can turn those forgotten dinner side dishes into a fabulous breakfast with your family.

The truth is, Christmas leftovers are brilliant in this British classic. Get ready to let the joyful indulgence continue. You'll love these leftovers so much that you'll make your own mashed potatoes at home just to make this. Trust me. They're that good.

The cakes in this recipe are similar to traditional potato cakes but instead start with mashed potatoes. The difference is the sublime, chewy texture of these British cakes. They're also riddled with flavour in each and every bite.

So the next time you get together for a holiday dinner, run for the leftover potatoes. Within a few minute and a few twists you'll have a lovely breakfast to enjoy with your family all over again. That is if you can wait that long.

Happy leftover Eating!

Bubble and Squeak Cakes with Poached Egg

Yields: 2

The Goods:
  • 1 small bunch green onions, sliced on the bias
  • knob of butter
  • 4 large potatoes (peeled, cooked and roughly mashed)
  • 1 cup cabbage, shredded and cooked
  • small bunch parsley, chopped
  • a bunch of cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • olive oil
  • 1 tsp. white wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 poached eggs

  1. In a large pan over medium heat, cook half of the green onions in butter for a minute. Add in the potatoes, cabbage, parsley and half of the cilantro. Season liberally and form into 4 small cakes.
  2. Over medium heat, fry the cakes in butter and olive oil for 5 minutes per side, until golden brown and crisp.
  3.  To make the salsa, mix the other half of the cilantro and green onions with the tomatoes, 1 tbsp olive oil and white wine vinegar. Season.
  4. Serve two cakes per plate topped with a poached egg and tomato salsa on the side.
** This post made Foodbuzz Top 9!

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December 23, 2010

Chocolate Crinkles with Sambuca and Coffee Extract

I'm going to keep this short and sweet today. And what's sweeter than a last minute cookie recipe to make for your family for the holidays. Nothing says happy holidays like a batch of chocolate crinkles, specifically a batch of grown-up cookies with hints of coffee and licorice. It adds to the flavour and texture profiles.

The only way to ensure a chewy, domed batch of crinkled goodies is to refrigerate them for a few hours. Chilling the cookie dough allows them to hold their shape and the chewy texture is properly attained. The extra few hours in the prep time only enhance the finished batch and it's definitely worth the wait.

Ready, set and go. These are ready for the oven!
Hot out of the oven, these cookies have a slight crispiness to the outside and are soft and chewy in the middle. Bake as many of these as you can eat in a day. These are best eaten while warm and fresh. They do last up to a week when properly stored but nothing touches the flavour and texture of those first few hours.

These are perfect for the holidays. Beautifully flawed and incredibly tasty.

Happy Eating!! Happy Holidays!

Chocolate Crinkles

The Goods:
  • 1 tbsp.unsalted butter
  • 250 grams semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Sambuca
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp. coffee extract
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 cup icing sugar
  1. Using a metal bowl over a medium pot with 2 inches of simmer water, add the butter. Stir until melted and dd the chopped chocolate. Stir until just melted and remove from the heat. Set aside.
  2. Using an electric mixer, whip the eggs with sugar, vanilla, Sambuca and coffee extract until both pale and thick, about 5 minutes. In a separate bowl, combine sifted flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Stir the melted chocolate into the egg mixture until incorporated. Stir in the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 3-4 hours before baking.
  4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  5. Spoon the cookie batter by tablespoons and roll gently to shape into a 1" ball. Roll the cookie in icing sugar until completely covered. Place gently on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, leaving 2 inches between the cookies.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes, or until you lift a cookie off the tray and it comes off cleanly.
Crinkles have a lovely crisp exterior and a soft and chewy middle. Fudge heaven.

These cookies make fantastic gifts! If you don't eat them all first!

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December 21, 2010

Simple Sunday: Brioche French Toast with Fresh Raspberry Sauce

As a child I lived the good life. If I had to describe it I'd say it was like a breezy Sunday morning in late summer. I didn't have to think about food, it just appeared. It was like magic, only better. I would flip the channels and the food would appear on a plate in front of me. The Amazing Kreskin had nothing on me.

Every summer and periodically throughout the year I would visit my grandparent's. During the longer, warmer days I would stay for a week or two. It felt like an eternity but I never wanted the days to end. Each morning after waking, which grew later and later as I aged, my grandmother would ask me if I wanted breakfast. I always nodded. I knew what was coming next. The best french toast this young boy ever tasted.

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December 19, 2010

Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

This is one of those cakes that shaped my adolescence. Although I remember it fondly as a banana loaf, the substance of the cake remains the same. I can taste the memories every time I see a recipe or a picture of it. When I bite into it I get transported back in time to my childhood home sitting outside with the warm sun christening each piece I eat. For the longest time, these were the best days of my life.

There are so many brilliant modern cakes today with layer upon layer of fondant and decorations. And that's great. There's a time and place for those, absolutely. When it comes to cakes, I prefer the classics. I always did. The simple, moist and flavourful cakes that hypnotize a household with the aroma that escapes from the oven and tracks down every person in the place. One by one knocking on the door of your senses and awakening the child within.

Fresh out of the oven
The first time I had a banana cake I was young. It came out of the oven and it was hot, fresh and smelled too good for words. My mom made me wait a few minutes before eating it. She said it was to prevent the roof of my mouth from burning but I know better. It was a lesson in patience. I failed. Due to my incessant pleading she sliced off a small piece and spread a thin layer of butter on it. Surely I had died and gone to heaven. I'll never forget the taste, and it's one of the reasons I make recipes like this today.

Watching the banana batter puff up and explode in the oven is a sight I'll never grow tired of seeing. The soft gooey mixture browning with increased exposure in the oven and eventually forming a soft but crisp top. A simple press down on the cake and bounce back and I know it's good to go.  Now I only need to practice the patience I was taught years ago and wait for it to cool down before proceeding. This is still the hardest part.

The first slice from the cake, always the best.
Once fully cooled I add the cream cheese frosting over top. Spreading back and forth until I have a nice, thick layer of heavenly goodness covering the cake. A lovely contrast of colours and complement of flavours. A bit of simple luxury in the madness of our lives.

This is why patience pays off. Finally, after the oven is off and the cake has cooled down and the camera is put away I can finally enjoy the fruits of my labour. The cake is creamy and moist and unbelievably tasty. I had this for breakfast today. I think I'm going straight to hell when I die. Life shouldn't be this decadent first thing in the morning. 

Happy eating! Happy holidays!

Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

The Goods:
  • 4 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Cream cheese icing (recipe below)
The Prep:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 9" x 2" cake pan.
  2. In a small bowl , whisk together flour, baking soda and salt and set aside until later.
  3. In a large bowl, mix sugar, brown sugar and mashed bananas with electric mixer on lowest speed until fully combined. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add the buttermilk, sour cream and vanilla. Mix until smooth
  4. Add the flour mixture while mixer on low speed. Mix until combined. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 45 minutes or until a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean of batter.
  5. Remove from the oven and place on a damn towel to cool for 15 minutes.

Cream Cheese Icing:
  • 6 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups sifted icing sugar
  • zest of 1 orange
  1. In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla and then stir in the icing sugar, gradually, until smooth.

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    December 17, 2010

    Dark Chocolate-Covered Peanut Butter Cups

    Peanut butter and chocolate. I'm beginning to salivate just hearing those words. What a great combination of flavours. No, not great. Amazing. I know this to be true because a simple Internet search produces countless recipes and variations using both of these ingredients together. That's how they roll. Together. It's classic, really. Peanut butter and chocolate. Anything.

    I'm throwing down an admission. Since I was a kid I've loved candy bars. I could debate the merits of one over another. I had a top 5 list even. Guess what? Reese's Peanut Butter Cups didn't make that cut. Not even close. The store-bought variety just didn't match up with the nuggets and caramel and gooey goodness.

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    December 15, 2010

    Sweet Potato Lasagna

    I distinctly remember the first time it happened. I was young and my mom was making dinner, as was the norm in my household. I was called to the table when dinner was ready and found a small mound of something vibrant and orange on my plate. This wasn't going to fly.

    I mumbled, "What is that?"

    She responded, "Sweet Potatoes. Try it, you'll like it."

    Not so fast. As adventurous as I am today with food and my palette, that wasn't always the case. There were foods I steered clear from because I didn't like them and then there were foods that I dismissed because I thought it wouldn't taste good. Thought. Not a really good reason, but I was a kid and common sense wasn't in my vocabulary.

    So I tried the sweet potatoes. I'm not sure why, but I did. I was finicky back then. But on this day I ate them and I was amazed at the flavour. I actually liked it. It had this caramel sweetness to it and it was buttery and, most of all, I couldn't get enough.  So began my love of sweet potatoes.

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    December 14, 2010

    Holiday Party Bites: Smoked Salmon Spread and Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Dates

    During the holidays we're all pressed for time. Each day seems to be busier than the last and we're torn in a thousand directions. That applies to holiday parties, especially the ones we're hosting. With commitments extended deep, sometimes we're left with a brief window of opportunity prior to our guests arriving. That window is drawing tighter and tighter.

    If it's one of the lucky nights we merely need to freshen up and head out for a night of holiday festivities and banter at a friend's house. And yes, they'll be plenty of moments just like this in the next couple of weeks. But what if you have a few people dropping in for a cocktail and snack and you only have an hour to spare?

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    December 11, 2010

    Buttermilk Pancakes

    The snow is falling again. One after the other, each in rapid succession as if trying to catch the one ahead. The sound is a soft, gentle tap of rhythm and harmony. It's a prelude to something bigger and more meaningful. It's my signal that Christmas is finally here.

    I dig the holidays. Say what you will but I love this season for the possibilities, the family gatherings and the food we'll share one too many times over the next few weeks. In a season of plenty, I can't get enough. I like to eat and this is the time of year our friends and family pull us in. Keep pulling.

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    December 9, 2010

    Lemon Self-Saucing Pudding

    I often wax poetic about my love of heart-warming comfort foods that help my family steer the winter months safely. That same affection can be applied to fresh out of the oven desserts as well. Those special warm winter treats that satisfy my sweet tooth cravings and add a sense of warmth to the entire house.

    This pudding handles all my needs. It triggers an avalanche of happiness because it's super simple, really tasty and a brings citrus tang to another level. Plus, it's incredibly comforting. How easy is this to make? This pudding is clever in that it separates as it bakes. You read that correctly. It separates leaving two distinct layers: a fluffy and slightly crisp sponge top and a liberal sweet and tangy lemon sauce.

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    December 7, 2010

    Root Veg Soup with Crisp Onions, Yogurt and Parsley

    The Roots. No, not the jazzy electric hip hop band with Black Thought and ?uestlove famous for infusing live instrumentals into classic hip hop beats. This is about the medley of root vegetables-including carrots, leeks, celery and potatoes-that bestows a refreshing sweet something to this soup. Cooking these roots together until soft creates the perfect harmony of flavours and allows them to be easily pureed into a creamy and smooth union.

    Surprise, surprise. I'm rockin soup yet again in my homage to the holidays and the cold weather that keeps us inside our warm houses spending time with the people that matter. I'm busting out another recipe that brings flavours to another level and ends with a mouthful of sweet delight promising warmth and happiness to all that eat it. Ok, maybe not happiness but definitely warmth. I can deliver that much at least.
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    December 4, 2010

    Sweet Apple and Carrot Latke

    I was left to my own devices this morning. My wife was up early and off to a blowout holiday makeup sale just outside Toronto with a friend. The things we do for the things we love. After I waved goodbye I headed to the kitchen. There was a bit of work to be done.  No, really. I tidied up, emptied the dishwasher and quickly realized how hungry I was. I think it was the pangs that did it.

    I've made potato fritters countless times before. This time, however, I needed to indulge and satisfy that sweet tooth craving. I thought of the perfect combination of ingredients and flavours that would do the trick. It was so simple I'm baffled as to why I didn't do this before.  A bit sweet and savoury. All delicious.

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    December 3, 2010

    Fragrant Mussels with White Wine and Shallot

    Mussels have always been bountiful along the Eastern and Western shorelines of Canada. Thankfully for those of us residing in the heart of the country, they're arriving in markets in swish net bags ready for our bowl and table. One trip to the shop secures a bag full of meaty, tasty mussels.

    The first trick to making a batch of mouth-watering mussels is to make sure they're properly cleaned and ready for steaming.  If the mussels don't shut tight after handling or tapping, they're useless, so get rid of them. Those mussels just aren't fit for eating. Also, stay clear of any that don't open after cooking. They too are expendable and aren't worthy of a spot on your dinner table. The motto is simple: raw and open or cooked and closed, toss them.

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    December 1, 2010

    Gourmet Popcorn 3 ways

    This is the story about a little kernel that could. Gourmet popcorn that sums up my love for all things savoury and delicious. It's made with the finest and freshest ingredients, like premium butter and fresh herbs, Parmigiano Reggiano and caramel sauce. Real flavour and real ingredients. Irresistible snack food.

    The combinations of flavours and styles are boundless. My wife still loves classic popcorn with premium melted butter, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Simple but fresh and addictive. It's a throwback to drive-in movies and a tub of popcorn that barely lasts the previews. I still fall for the classics but I'm equally satisfied with the sweet and salty fusions and creations today. The new classics.

    I like mixing and matching flavour profiles depending on my mood. The all-time favourite caramel popcorn with luscious butter notes and sticky brown sugar sweetness. The taste will hook you for life. Why stop there? We can take it up another level with a few other ingredients that will let the caramel really sing.

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