Posts Tagged ‘holiday’

Easter Fiesta

Tried some wine, the Moscato was quite sweet and peachy (as expected), the Unoaked chardonnay was crisp and not too dry, and the red was shy on tannin (which I like actually). Who doesn’t love a rooster on your bottle of wine, ha! I bought all of these at Sprouts on sale.

Each paired nicely with dishes I prepared. The Chardonnay with the herb roasted turkey breast. The red with the spiral honey ham. The Moscato with the apple cinnamon crisp (a la mode  ). 

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My friends were welcome to bring something as a side, they brought mac’n’cheese (David’s recipe, which rocks because he puts Cheezits on top… I still have to try to replicate it!), green bean casserole, and apple pie tarts.  We could have fed an army!

It’s not the same as my family gatherings back home in Alberta, with a dish of every sort and cousins to match.  But Mom was here at least and my best friends, Stephanie and David, were enough to have a great time.  I love sharing my kitchen.


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Do you know how many times we’ve stayed home on New Year’s Eve, watching Times Square on television as each time zone rings in the new year?


This year we were invited to a friend’s in south Austin, quite a hike for us on the opposite side of the city.  I got all girly and put on a dress (not noticing I haven’t shaved in about 3 months but it’s blonde so no one should see it).  Little Sister was just gorgeous in her holiday dress, I took a stab at trimming her fine baby hair that was growing haphazardly at the back of her head.  You can’t really tell any hair is missing, it’s still fuzzy.

Our friend made a simple cracker spread out of smoked oysters and soft cream cheese.  She just mashed it up and sort of made a mold with the mixing bowl and inverted it on a platter for crackers.  Along with the oyster spread was cream cheese doused in what tasted like mango chutney.  Very simple and very easy to eat.

Hubby enjoyed the oyster cheese dip so much that he wanted it again for dinner today.  The inaugural trip to the grocery store was full of bleary eyed shoppers, who probably just woke up to make it to the store before dark. Night had fallen while we spent the better part of an hour gathering essentials for the house, and the smoked oysters of course.  Little Sister partied as hard as we did, she passed out in the bumper car themed cart for kids (Not the best idea when you know there are loads of groceries to pick up, the actual cart volume is smaller than the regular carts!).

Dinner was a thick steak seasoned with Worcestershire sauce and Montreal Steak Spice, left to marinade and adjust to room temperature on the counter for 20 -25 minutes (the time I took to make rice).  I also sautéed mushrooms and yellow onion for the steak.  The cream cheese (2 – 3 oz) and smoked oyster (3 oz can) was a strong compliment to the beef.  You’d think we were in fancy rotating restaurant in downtown Calgary!

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Hubby declared this as the best snack type food I’ve ever made.  He doesn’t usually eat sweets or deserts (except for the stash of super dark chocolate for their “antioxidants”) but this captured those taste buds by surprise.

I was watching Dessert First on Food Network where the host, Chef Anne, was making tiny cherry pies and petit fours.  While I’m allergic to almonds and can’t make the petit fours, I can certainly eat cherries!  I had a package of frozen pie dough on hand and I must have had ESP at the grocery store when I bought cherry pie filling on a whim.

Baking when it’s 100 degrees outside is not exactly fun, but I’m willing to sacrifice one day of kitchen inferno for the cause (and to eat the food!).

To make this recipe from scratch click here, otherwise I simply took ready-made ingredients and followed the same instructions.  If you are very particular about presentation, make little round shields out of foil for each mini pie.  I used a sheet of foil which caused the filling to spill out of the vent holes, in most cases ripping the roof off the pies.  In hindsight, strategically placed holes would probably have prevented the mini pies from turning into mini volcanoes.

A dollop of plain Greek yogurt and fresh mint adorn my mini cherry pie.

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The holidays are fast approaching and I will have a whole week off of work.  This only means one thing: time to play in the kitchen!

I’m looking for a challenge, or a few since I’ll have more time to cook.  What do you want me to cook?  I need a “secret ingredient” or your favorite food.

I’ll be waiting for your input until Christmas, then choose and cook them over the break.  Sounds fun, eh? 

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Have you ever had one day where you needed to accomplish a mountain of tasks only to be challenged at every turn?

That’s today for me. 

    For the first time in weeks, I have that woman warrior power again.  There’s so much to be done, I’m under pressure from every direction.  Everything weighing on me lately just got a dose of kickass.  I’m in 4×4 all-woman drive!

    The holiday season is my favorite time of year.  Then I remember all those little projects kept in plastic tub tombs in the closets around the house.  Tree ornaments need painting.  Stockings need sewing.  Cards need to be stuffed and mailed. 

    This year I wanted to build Gingerbread houses.  I saw ready-made kits at the store yesterday and that sight really lit my mitts.  I can do this.  I will do this.  First, we need construction materials.  I need a strong cookie dough to build the houses with.  With a bit of searching through all the cookbooks standing attention on the kitchen shelf, I found a recipe.  Hmm…  Where’s the molasses?

The Dough

Adapted for my lack of enough molasses from

Better Homes & Gardens Cook Book (*) Ginger Cutout Cookies

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 sticks room temperature butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/4 honey
  • 2 teas cinnamon
  • 1 teas ginger
  • 1/4 teas cardamom
  • 1/4 teas nutmeg
  • 2 teas baking powder
  • 1 teas baking soda

Cream the butter for 30 seconds then add the sugar.  Mix until well blended.  Add everything except the flour then mix until well incorporated.  Scrape the sides of the mixer bowl as you go.

Add the first cup of flour and blend slowly.  Then add as much flour as you can of the remaining 4 cups.  You should be able to mix it all in, or finish it off by kneading the flour into the dough.  It was not necessary to knead when I made this dough.

Divide the dough in to four equal parts and form a disc out of each.  Wrap in plastic and let the dough chill out in the fridge for 3 hours, or up to overnight.  This recipe is enough for two cottages, about 6.5 inches tall.

The Mortar (Royal Icing)

I have a royal icing mix from a bakery shop which was intended to serve as icing on cute pumpkin cupcakes for Little Sister’s birthday party.  I ran out of time for decorating the cupcakes, so there’s plenty of icing for the gingerbread cottages! 

Whisk one 16 oz bag (or box) with 5 tablespoons of water.  You don’t really need any fancy cake decorating tools for this job.  A plastic sandwich bag will be fine.  Fill one or two bags with the icing then snip one corner at the bottom.  Twist the top of the bags to get all that sticky sugar down to the opening.  The zipper top will tend to pop open (learn from my mistake!) so keep the top end tight with a twist-tie if you will set it down for any reason during cottage construction.  For the children, put a small amount of the icing into smaller bags if you have them, this way they can help themselves to sticking candies to the cookie walls.  I used one bag for the whole lot, Big Brother directed me where to apply his glue.  

Designing Gingerbread Cottages

I really enjoy this part because baking and art come together!  Art that is edible rocks if you ask me.  Trust me, watercolor paint does not taste good at all.  (Go ahead and ask me how I know this.) Make templates – any cardboard or heavy stock paper will work.  I had to get out my civil engineering cap to find a suitable size for my little cottages, and use the dough that was already made.  The east and west elevations consist of a 4″ x 4″ square with a peak 2.5″ on center.  The front and back elevations are 4″ x 4″ squares, the roof pieces are 5.25″ x 3.5″.


Roll the chilled dough to 1/4″ thick, a quarter of it at a time.  The templates can be placed quite closely together to maximize the useful areas of the dough.  The extra dough can be gathered up and rolled again.

There was even enough for a few star cookies, a warranted snack for the hungry cottage builders.  Use a fine toothed grater to smooth and square the edges.  Apply a plump strip of icing to the interior edge of the wall, press gently to adhere then prop the walls up with cans.  Let the walls dry and harden before affixing the roof.  Use plenty of mortar for the roof!

The Candy-Coated Cottages


What makes edible art that much more fun is involving the kids in the creation.   Big Brother really had fun adding his special artist’s touch to his house.  I made the second one for Little Sister, who was napping at the time.

Improvise and have fun building and designing your gingerbread cottages 🙂

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Since we are a few hours away from Turkey Day, I decided to test out a new combination of flavours for roasted birds.  This was prepared with a whole chicken, but you could easily bump up the quantities for a larger turkey.

Mise en place: Roasting pan, cookie sheet, paper towel, foil, room temperature butter, apple, onion, celery, carrot, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon stick, sage leaves and/or dried, salt, pepper, all-purpose flour, measuring cup (Pyrex glass 2 cup measure), whisk and wooden spoon.  Crank up the oven to 430ºF.

First, prepare the bird, same goes for a turkey.  Wash the bird under cool running water, remove any reminence of feathers.  I like to do a lipo job to remove those clusters of solid fat, do this carefully with a small sharp knife while the bird is on a flat surface (cookie sheet).  If you’re not up to this part, leave it alone, I want you to keep your fingers intact.  Discard the excess fat, and flaps of skin next to the thighs.  Pat dry with paper towel, inside and out.  One more step before you go wash your hands: loosen the skin away from the breast meat and legs.  Now wash up!

To the roasting pan, add the spices.  Use about a tablespoon of coriander and cumin seeds along with the cinnamon stick and a couple of sage leaves.  Using whole spices is important here because we want to strain them out to make a gravy later.  If you have a strainer that can separate tiny grains of ground spices, let me know where I can buy one.  Roughly chop the onion, celery (include the leafy tops!), apple, and carrots.  The bigger the pieces are, the longer it will take for them to cook, and they will act as the rack for the bird.  Add them in one layer and a cup or two of water (or white wine if you have it, take it up a notch!).  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, season each layer my friends!

Using half of an apple, I used green, dice it into about 1 inch pieces then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.  Stuff the apple and a couple more sage leaves into the cavity of the bird.

Next is the compound butter.  Simply mix about 2 tablespoons of room temperature butter with a palmful of dried sage, salt and pepper.  If your butter becomes too warm just pop it into the freezer for a few minutes so that you can work with it.  Remember those pockets of fat you removed from the bird?  We are replacing those with this flavoured butter.  Shove 1/4 of the butter into the space between the skin and the meat, repeat on the other side with another 1/4 of the butter.  The remaining half of the compound butter goes on the skin, all over the entire bird.

Move the bird to the roasting pan using the neck hole and breast plate as handles, otherwise you might lose the butter encased bird to the floor.  Tuck the wing tips under.  I did not truss this bird and sometimes you don’t really need to.  The bonus is all that skin between the legs and breast gets crispy because it’s not squished together and shielded from the heat of the oven.

Place the pan in the oven, legs pointing to the back of the oven.  Don’t open the door, this is important: keep the heat and steam inside the oven.  The more you open the door to check on the bird, the more vapour escapes, therefore causing dry-bird-syndrome.  Leave it alone for a while, set a timer for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, check for browning of the skin, look through the glass of the oven door.  Try not to open it.  If you see some nice golden brown, turn down the oven to 350ºF.  Let it roast another 20 minutes. 

Carefully open the door with your body away from the oven.  The steam will give you an unwanted facial if you’re not careful.  Take birdy’s temperature in a thick part of the breast without touching any bones, I use the area near the wings, equivalent to pectorals I guess.  Don’t puncture the top of the bird in the middle of the breast, all the juices will run out (DBS!).  The pectoral should read 160ºF, thighs 180ºF.  Shy by ten degrees? Roast for about 20 more minutes. 

If you have reached the correct temperature, remove the pan from the oven.  Place birdy on a cutting board and tent loosely with foil.  Let birdy rest before carving, let the juices redistribute! 

I have a wee one in the house and if you are a thrifty mama like me, you’ll want to save those carrots and apples from the pan to blend up for your sweet baby.  I even left some celery in the mix, although the strings did a number on my blender!  Fair warning for you.

Gravy!  Life would not be complete without gravy.  Strain the cooking liquid from the pan and separate the grease.  Take note of how many tablespoons of grease you have collected, measure an equal amount of flour.  Add the grease and flour to the pan (you can use another pot) and stir quickly to cook the flour.   Add the rest of the liquid and whisk.  Bring the gravy to a slow boil, cook until the flour is no longer tasted and the gravy coats the back of a spoon.  Now is the time to season with salt and pepper to taste.

Carve and enjoy with your favorite sides.  I made Unstuffing, acorn squash, crescent rolls, and peas to accompany birdy.  Now I’m ready for the big bird!

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Inspired by Mrs. WheelBarrow’s Mushroom Soup, a winning recipe on Food52.com!

Mushroom Soup

by MrsWheelbarrow, published on Food52.com

For this recipe, I’m simplified and reduced some of the ingredients. The less you have to buy especially for the soup, the better.  I’m not a huge mushroom fan, although if you rewind about 25 years you would have met a mushroom black hole.  As soon as those button mushrooms were home from IGA, the brown paper bag would be empty.  It was a phase.  Nowadays mushrooms are not something I pick up with a gallon of milk and dozen eggs – but hubby loves them.  So I’m working on using mushrooms a little more often than never to appeal to his palate. 

Here are the modified ingredients:

  • 8oz mushrooms, any kind you like to eat
  • 8oz cremini mushrooms
  • 1 good sized shallot
  • 1/2 tsp thyme, ground
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary, ground
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 (maybe 2 1/2) cups homemade stock
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp fresh chives

You will need two pots: a small one to warm the stock and a pot large enough to hold the soup once you bring it together.

Start warming the stock in the first pot.  Clean the mushrooms and remove the stems, chuck the stems into the stock pot as you go.  Dice the mushrooms into equal size pieces.  Mince the shallot fairly fine.

In the larger pot, assuming you are using two different sizes, normally home cooks have one good set of pots; each a larger or deeper size than the last, warm the butter and oil.  Add the shallots first for just a minute along with the thyme and rosemary, liberal pinch of sea salt and some finely ground fresh black pepper.  Next, toss the mushroom caps in with the shallots. 

As another blogger who recalled the line from Julie & Julia, “Don’t crowd the mushrooms in the pan!” or something close to that will probably say “eeeek!  That’s too many mushrooms”.  Well, if you’re going to freak out about this, then by all means use a larger sauté pan or brown half at a time.  In my kitchen, I don’t have the luxury of time for dinner.  There are two little hungry beaks looking for their next worm at all times.  Not to mention the mate snooping around the nest.  Do what you like, and get those mushrooms looking like this:

See all those golden brown bits of mushroom?  Exactly.  Now strain the stock which had the stems steeping while all this was going on.  The stems or stocks are woody as you will hear about over and again, this just means they are more fibrous and denser than the caps, which are more porous.  Pores, unlike the ones on my face now, are a good thing.  Why?  The pores can absorb liquid, and what would be better than a flavourful liquid like stock.   When those mushrooms are ready, slowly add some of the stock to deglaze the pan.  Use your wooden spoon to pick up any extra brown bits stuck to the pan, I should have warned you that the shallot will tend to stick before the mushrooms will.  I added a little more olive oil to keep everybody lubricated.

Pour the remaining stock into the mushrooms and shallots.  Bring this to a gentle simmer while you prepare the final two additions to this soup. 

The original recipe calls for the cream to be whipped and dollop into the serving bowls, then topped with chives.  To cut a corner here, I just poured the cream into the pot and stirred.  Make sure you don’t boil the cream, just incorporate it and kill the heat. 

Chives are sneaky.  I tried growing chives in the kitchen window.  Three, perhaps as many as five shoots appeared after taking care of the seeds for so long.  Then they all shriveled up.  Two years ago, in the front flower bed, I added chive seeds with the same intent of looking after them.  Then, Little Sister came along and I couldn’t bare the heat outside for more than a minute.  Amazingly enough, this spring brought life to those little chive seeds.  I was thrilled to have fresh chives, oh the possibilities!  One day I was making  something which I wanted some chives for – only to find the plants weed-whacked down to the ground.  MY CHIVES!!!  Can’t you just go buy some? That’s not the point I returned.  Lucky for us, they grew back twice as full as before and no one is going to weed-whack them.

Enjoy 🙂

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Stuffing a turkey or chicken with stuffing has never been my favorite holiday tradition.  I absolutely love stuffing, don’t get me wrong here.  I would rather leave the stuffing unstuffed.  Bake it as a casserole and be creative with additions.  Last year I threw together an unstuffed stuffing to serve with turkey.  Like all my best dishes, it was literally thrown together with things I had in the fridge at the time.  Little Sister was barely a month old, I hadn’t slept (obviously), and the house was beyond a mess.  I should have one of those ‘Lord Bless this Mess‘ signs in the foyer for such occasions.

This is what I can recall from the awesome unstuffed stuffing.

  • 2 cups cremini mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
  • 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved if large in size
  • 1 each, red and yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 6 cups of cubed bread (baguette, rye, pumpernickel, sourdough or whatever)
  • fresh sage, rosemary, coriander, salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 caramelized onion
  • About 1-2 cups homemade vegetable/chicken stock, enough to moisten the bread

Pre-heat the oven to 350ºF.

Grease the pan well because last time I made this stuffing it stuck to the pan, even though it was glass!

My suggestion is to sauté the mushrooms in olive oil with the garlic.  Toss everything but the stock into the greased casserole dish.  Pour over the stock, preferably warmed first, cover and bake for 30 minutes. 

After 30 minutes, check on it.  If you like it a bit wet add more stock.  If it’s too wet, leave the cover off and return to the oven to dry out and crisp up.  Whatever you do – don’t stir.

Enjoy this unstuffing with gravy, cranberry sauce, or naked.

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This week Food52 is looking for vegetarian side dishes for the Thanksgiving table.  I’m usually quite the carnivore, except for holiday spreads.  This time of year calls for extra veggies, just because I love winter veggies!

I’m planning to submit a few side dishes to the contest, the first is my cabbage rolls (sans bacon).  Next will be my potato and cheddar perogies.  I also have a stuffing (which is not actually stuffed into anything but my mouth) and a twist on green bean casserole.

Check out Food52 for inspirational vegetarian dishes to round out your holiday table!

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Any time is perfect for a batch of Pozolé!

With a little planning you can make part of this  soup while you are at work, then finish it off once you arrive home. The cabbage topping can be made the night before and stored in the refrigerator, the lime juice will keep everybody fresh. If you don’t have time to make totopos, you can certainly use your favorite corn tortilla chips.

I make Pozolé during the holidays for guests and especially on cool days here in Texas. Traditionally in my husband’s family, this dish is made with pork.  I have used whole cut up chicken, turkey drum sticks, and even left-over turkey from Thanksgiving to prepare it.  It’s just fabulous any which way you make it.  If you see cans of hominy on sale, stock up!  The only special ingredient here is the achioté, you’re best bet is to look at Fiesta (in Texas) or Google for the nearest latino/mexican market in your city.  If I could find one in Edmonton (Alberta), I’m sure you’ll find one in your area! 



  • Large pot or crock pot – the bigger the better!
  • Pork roast of some kind (shoulder or rump), fat trimmed.
  • Canned hominy (sorta like chick peas or garbanzo) – twice as much as the pork!
  • Achiote, six 1″ cubes (it comes as a brick in a box)
  • Vinegar – 1/4 cup
  • 3-5 Garlic cloves, whole,
  • 1 whole white onion, peeled and halved
  • Bouquet garni: 6 green cardamom pods, tbsp coriander seeds, tbsp black peppercorns, cilantro stems, smashed garlic cloves, 1-3 whole Serrano peppers (adjust to size and heat of the peppers, and to taste). Tie up in a sachet of cheesecloth or coffee filters.
  • 1 small green cabbage, shredded
  • 1 white onion (or shallots if you like the fancy stuff), fine slices
  • 2-3 limes, juiced
  • Optional horse radishes, sliced
  • Optional avocado, sliced or diced for garnish – alternative is guacamole 🙂
  • Optional cilantro, chopped roughly for garnish
  • Really good option is totopos (tortilla chips made by frying fresh corn tortillas – yum yum!)

This takes a while to make, you could let the crock pot do much of the work for you. Cover the pork roast with water and add a bit of salt, bouquet garni, whole onion and the garlic. Simmer the meat until mildly cooked, this was 4 hours on high in my crock pot. Remove the meat to cutting a board. Degrease the surface of the cooking liquid with a flat spoon, you can strain the liquids to get all the little bits out and the garlic and onion to end up with a “cleaner” soup.  Reserve the strained liquid and bouquet garni, add these back to the pot.

Chop up the achiote then grind up in a blender with a cup of warm water. You may need to add another cup of water after pouring out the first bit of spiced liquid, because it tends to clump up in the bottom, grind/blend some more until it’s all dissolved. Add blender contents to de-greased liquid in your pot. Turn on heat to medium-high if you turned it off to blend the achiote. Add the vinegar and salt to taste.

It’s best to wash the hominy, as with any canned beans. Add hominy (maïze treated with a lye solution) to the pot. The pork can be torn with a fork into large chucks, while removing visible fat too. Add chucks of meat to the pot. You may want to adjust the salt to taste. Stir gently to be sure the achiote is well distributed. Turn down the heat a bit. Let it simmer away for as long as you can stand it, about 30mins to 1 hour.

In the meantime you can prepare the toppings:  Toss in a bowl the shredded cabbage, onion, lime juice, and radishes. The more lime juice the better! You may need more if they are small or do not carry too much juice. Option to add the cilantro here. Slice the avocado right before serving.

To serve:  Ladle soup into a bowl, take a balance of hominy, broth and meat. Top with the cabbage mixture, I like to add a lot of it for the contrast in temperature and flavor. Avocado can go on last, or be eaten on the side with totopos…

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