A new year

Sunday, January 8, 2017
Sintra, Portugal - May 2016
We're a week into the New Year, but I want to write about one of my favourite year-end traditions. Andrew, the girls and I always go out to dinner between Christmas and New Year's, and spend the meal taking turns talking about our favourite memories of the past year.

2016 was a year many people were glad to see the end of, so we really appreciated remembering the wonderful experiences we had, either individually or as a family. While some of them were big (a family trip to Portugal, and a 25th wedding anniversary trip to Argentina), most of the things we remembered were smaller: a picnic lunch by Lake Ontario, a Thanksgiving weekend hike with my mom, going to church together on Christmas day. We had so much to be grateful for, we were still sharing memories when it was time to go.

Evora, Portugal - May 2016

Iguazu Falls, Argentina - September 2016
As always, it was a great way to end a year. And a good way to start this year is to prepare food that's both delicious and healthy. Susie Middleton is my cookbook hero - her recipes make vegetables the star, and I can always count on them being full of flavour. If this is a taste of what 2017 will be like, it's going to be an awesome year.



Gingery Sweet Potato and Apple Saute
(adapted slightly from Fast, Fresh and Green by Susie Middleton)

1 tsp cider vinegar
2 tsp chicken broth
1 Tbsp unsalted butter (first amount)
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (first amount)
2 3/4 cups sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2" dice (about 1 1/2 medium sweet potatoes)
1 small yellow onion cut into 1/2" dice
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp olive oil (second amount)
1 Golden Delicious apple cut into 1/2" dice
2 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
1/2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp roughly chopped toasted sliced almonds

Combine the cider vinegar and broth in a small bowl and set aside.

In a 10" saute pan or skillet, melt 1 Tbsp butter with 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add sweet potatoes, onion, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened and lightly browned, and the sweet potatoes have turned bright orange and are starting to brown, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add 1 Tbsp olive oil and the diced apple. Turn the heat down to medium low, and stir frequently until sweet potatoes are tender, and the apple and onion are browned, 8 to 12 minutes.

Add ginger and stir for about 30 seconds to incorporate. Remove the pan from the heat, clear a small spot in the pan, and add the vinegar-broth mixture and remaining 1/2 Tbsp butter. Stir well immediately to incorporate the butter. Transfer to plates and garnish with toasted almonds.


The cookie house

Monday, December 26, 2016
Three cousins
Yesterday was a wonderful Christmas day. After gathering around the tree for gifts in the morning, we attended church with mixed feelings, as we bade farewell to our senior minister and organist, both of whom are retiring after 23 years with the congregation. The girls have grown up in the Sunday School and youth choir, and it's been home to our family since we joined 19 years ago. We're sad to see Mark and John leave, but we look forward to welcoming our new senior minister, Maya, in January.

In the afternoon, we visited my sister Gwen and her family, who hosted Christmas dinner this year. The meal was fantastic, but the highlight was the cookie house that my mom has made every year since I was a kid.  It's a part of the holidays my kids can't imagine being without, and they're still happy to pose with the cookie house on Christmas day. 

Today's recipe can't compete with a cookie house! But this kale and cauliflower gratin is a terrific side dish for holiday meals. Served with a salad, it would make a complete vegetarian meal. 

Wishing all my readers a happy Christmas season, and much joy in 2017.


Cauliflower Kale Gratin
(slightly adapted from Goodness, by Peter Neal and Chris Neal)

1 large head of cauliflower, cut into 1 1/2” to 2” florets
1 1/2 cups kale, stems removed and leaves sliced into 1/2 inch ribbons
2 Tbsp butter (first amount)
2 Tbsp flour
1 cup skim (fat-free) milk
1/2 cup half-and-half
2 cups coarsely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions, green part only
1/2 tsp kosher salt
a few grinds of black pepper
2 Tbsp unsalted butter (second amount)
20 square (2-inch) saltine crackers

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Butter a 2-quart shallow baking dish.

In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook cauliflower 5 minutes. Add kale, stir well, and cook another 2 minutes. Using a colander, drain cauliflower and kale and transfer to the prepared baking dish.

Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 2 Tbsp butter. Whisk in flour to create a roux, then add milk in a slow stream, constantly whisking to prevent lumps from forming. Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat and stir until thickened.

Remove milk mixture from heat and add cheese, green onions, salt and paper, whisking until cheese is melted. Pour cheese sauce over cooked vegetables and stir gently to combine. Set aside.

Coarsely crumble crackers into a bowl. In a small saucepan, melt 2 Tbsp butter. Pour over crumbs and toss to coat.

Sprinkle crumb topping evenly over vegetables. Bake until topping is golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Cousins at the Cookie House, December 2001

Decorating the Cookie House with Gwen when we were kids




Brown butter chocolate chip cookies

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Truth: there is no such thing as too many chocolate chip cookies.

And even though I've written about both my classic Chocolate Chip Cookies and my Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies, it's time to add the third member of that triumvirate. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce the fabulous Brown Butter Chocolate Chip cookies.

Brown butter makes everything better - amirite? And normally I don't put nuts in chocolate chip
cookies, but here the pecans set off the brown butter perfectly.

Chocolate chip cookies are one of the first things I remember baking as a little girl helping my mom in the kitchen. They were one of the first recipes I learned to bake as a young woman living on my own. They were always one of my favourite recipes to bake with my daughters when they were young. And even though I'm not really a chocoholic, I'll always have a special place in my heart for chocolate chip cookies. No matter which recipe I use.



Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted slightly from Joy the Baker)

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter (first amount)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (second amount)
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp molasses
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup chocolate chips

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

Brown 1/2 cup butter in a pot over medium heat. Once it has browned, pour it into a small bowl and let cool for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, cream remaining 1/2 cup of butter with brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add vanilla extract and molasses, and beat until incorporated.

Once the brown butter has cooled slightly, pour it (brown bits and all) into the creamed butter and sugar mixture. Add the sugar and beat for 2 minutes, until well-incorporated. Add the egg and egg yolk, and beat for 1 minute more.

Stop the mixer and scrape the bottom of the bowl to ensure that everything is evenly mixed. Remove from mixer. Add the flour mixture and stir until the flour is just incorporated. Stir in pecans and chocolate chips.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop dough by the two tablespoonful onto prepared sheets, leaving 2" of space between cookies.

Bake for 12 - 14 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven, let rest on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then remove and let cool.


Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread

Sunday, December 4, 2016

I know without even looking at the calendar that it's the first weekend of December:

- With a week off between my last work contract and the next one, I set a goal to both start and finish my Christmas shopping last week. I came very close, and am now basking in the knowledge that I don't need to visit another mall until 2017.
- We had an early celebration of Andrew's birthday yesterday, when both the girls were home. I baked his favourite cake and we enjoyed some wonderful family time together.
- Andrew put up the Christmas lights this morning, and now our house looks like it's ready for Santa!

The cake I baked on Saturday was the simple but amazing Gingerbread recipe I've shared on this blog before. But this Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread is terrific too, and a festive choice to celebrate a birthday, the holiday season, or being almost done your Christmas shopping.


Upside-Down Pear Ginger Cake
(from Epicurious.com)

For topping

2 1/2 firm pears (preferably Bosc)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar

For cake

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup molasses (preferably mild)
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Peel and core pears and cut each into 8 wedges. Melt butter in 10" or 12" heavy skillet until foam subsides. Reduce heat to low, then sprinkle brown sugar over bottom of skillet and cook, undisturbed,  for 3 minutes (not all sugar will be melted). Arrange pears decoratively over sugar and cook, undisturbed, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If the skillet handle isn't ovenproof, wrap it with a double layer of foil.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together molasses and boiling water in a small bowl. Beat together butter, brown sugar and egg in a large bowl with an electric mixer until creamy, about 2 minutes. Then alternately mix in flour mixture and molasses in 3 batches, stirring after each addition, until smooth.

Pour batter over topping in skillet, spreading evenly and being careful not to disturb pears. Bake in middle oven until a tester comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool cake in skillet for 5 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of skillet, then invert a large plate with a lip over top. Using pot holders to hold the skillet and plate tightly together, invert cake onto plate, replacing any pears that stick. Serve warm or at room temperature, with whipping cream or vanilla ice cream.


Enchilada Pie

Sunday, November 27, 2016

This is my favourite new family recipe. It takes just 15 minutes or so before it goes in the oven, and most of that is stirring time. Forty minutes later, you're serving it for dinner. Served with a salad, it makes a complete meal; it's so filling, you're sure to have leftovers for lunch the next day.

It's worth looking for the corn salsa to make it with, but I think it would be a winner even with regular salsa.


Enchilada Pie
(From Goodness:Recipes and Stories, by Peter Neal and Chris Neal)

1 lb. ground turkey
2 tsp ground cumin
2 cups corn salsa (if you can’t find corn salsa, regular salsa would be fine)
1 cup frozen corn kernels
3 large (12”) flour tortillas
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (I used a touch more than a cup, and it was super-cheesy)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper to make it easier to remove the pie when done.

In a skillet over medium heat, stir ground turkey to break up any clumps until meat is no longer pink. Add cumin and combine. Stir in salsa and corn. Bring mixture to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes to let the flavours meld. Remove from heat.

Place one tortilla on the parchment paper. Spread with half the turkey mixture. Sprinkle with one-third of the cheese. Top with second tortilla. Cover with remaining turkey mixture and sprinkle with another third of the cheese. Top with remaining tortilla (reserve remaining cheese). Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Sprinkle with remaining cheese and bake, uncovered, for another 10 minutes. Let cool 5 to 10 minutes before serving.


You can garnish with chopped green onions or sour cream, but it's also terrific served exactly as is.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Brown Butter and Sage

Sunday, November 13, 2016
There's nothing about this recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash with Brown Butter and Sage that isn't perfect for a cool fall day. Once the squash is cubed, it requires very little effort. The brown butter and sage complement the squash beautifully, making an ideal side dish. The cookbook says it goes well with pork, but it would also be great with poultry or roast beef. For my American friends, this would be a perfect addition to your upcoming Thanksgiving dinner! And it's versatile - next time I'd love to try it with either carrots or sweet potatoes as the main ingredient.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Brown Butter and Sage

4 cups cubed butternut squash (or other root vegetable, such as carrots)
1 Tbsp olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
24 leaves fresh sage

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Peel the squash and cut into 1” cubes. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes. Stir the squash and continue roasting until tender and browned, another 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from oven.

In a small frying pan, melt butter over medium heat until foam subsides. Add sage and cook just until the butter turns a light hazelnut brown and the sage is crisp, about 30 seconds. Immediately pour brown butter and sage over the squash on the baking sheet and toss to coat. Transfer to a warmed serving bowl and serve.

A birthday cake

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Yesterday was my birthday, and I celebrated it in the best way possible - in the company of my family. The girls took a day off work and school, and joined Andrew in helping me celebrate. The day was unseasonably warm, and we enjoyed a lovely walk along a nearby river. (I only wish my birthday was this warm every year.) 

My oldest daughter gifted me with a professional cheese tasting (given by her! She works at a local cafe and has been educated in how to sell cheese.) And we finished the day by going to dinner at one of my favourite restaurants. All in all, a great day.




One of the highlights was baking with the girls in the afternoon, something we used to do together all the time but, with our busy schedules, rarely do anymore. At the top of my list to try was an orange cake with orange cream cheese icing that I saw a few weeks ago on my friend Liz's blog. It was every bit as wonderful as I'd hoped - a fine addition to a day that couldn't have been any better.

Orange Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients

Cake:
1 cup butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp orange extract
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt

Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 Tbsp butter (1/2 stick) at room temperature
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 Tbsp finely grated orange zest
1 Tbsp orange marmalade
2 Tbsp orange juice
additional grated orange zest for decoration (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9" x 13" pan with parchment paper and set aside.

Beat 1 cup butter until soft. Add sugar and beat for 2 minutes, until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition, then add orange extract and zest and beat for another 2 minutes.

Remove from blender. Add flour and salt, and stir to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove to wire rack and cool completely.

When cake is cool, make the frosting: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth, then add the butter and beat until well-combined. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar, mixing until smooth. Beat in the zest, marmalade and orange juice. Spread over cake. Sprinkled with additional grated orange zest, if desired.