Pears

Sunday, March 12, 2017
A pride of lions, a herd of cattle, a flock of sheep. Is there a word for a large number of pears?

Whatever the word is, I recently had one on my counter, and it made me very happy. Once I'd made the usual muffins and crisps, though, I still had a couple left over. I needed another recipe before they over-ripened.

I found this scone recipe in the deep recesses of my bookmarks. Adding pears to scones wasn't intuitive, but I loved the way they were partnered with almonds. And scone recipes are so quick and easy, I knew they'd be ready in no time.

The flavours worked as well as I hoped. With the sweetness of the glaze, they make a perfect teatime treat - maybe even breakfast, if you're in the mood for something sweet. I think they'd be lovely even without the glaze.

And I'll make them again, the next time I'm the owner of ... an abundance of pears.

Pear Almond Scones with Honey Almond Glaze
(adapted from Good Life Eats)

For the scones:

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, sliced
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
1 large egg
1/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 Tbsp honey
1 pear, peeled and diced (approximately 1 scant cup)

For the glaze:

1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp honey
a couple of drops of almond extract
about 1 Tbsp milk (to reach desired consistency)
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Cut the mascarpone cheese and butter into the flour mixture until you have coarse crumbs. Mix well and set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together egg, milk, almond extract and honey.

Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture. Pour in the egg mixture and the diced pear. Gently stir until the dough forms together, then turn it out on a piece of parchment paper placed on a flat surface. Knead it a few times, being gentle to avoid squishing the pears. Flatten into an 8-inch round and transfer dough and parchment paper to a baking sheet. Score into eight equal triangles.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

For the glaze, combine powdered sugar, honey, and almond extract. Add milk until desired consistency is reached. When scones have cooled completely, drizzle with glaze and sprinkle with sliced almonds.


Simplicity

Sunday, March 5, 2017
This recipe, and its photos, have been sitting in my files forever, waiting to be posted. I'm not sure why, other than it never seemed like much of a recipe. There are 7 ingredients and two sentences, which basically amount to, "Mix everything together and serve."

That's just part of what makes it so perfect. It doesn't hurt that two of the three salad components are taken from the freezer, and the dressing is made from pantry staples. It also doesn't hurt that the flavour is surprisingly complex, and a great side dish for grilled meat.

I think I just talked myself into posting it.


Edamame, Red Pepper and Corn Salad

Ingredients:

2 tsp sodium-reduced soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp liquid honey
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup frozen edamame, thawed, drained and patted dry
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed, drained and patted dry
1 cup diced sweet red pepper

In bowl, whisk together soy sauce, sesame oil, honey and garlic until blended. Stir in edamame, red pepper and corn.


Half birthdays

Sunday, February 19, 2017
When the girls were young, we celebrated half-birthdays. Half birthdays happened on the six-month anniversary of the actual birthday, and we celebrated them with half a cake. Literally, since we cut a one-tier cake in two and placed the halves on top of each other. The other rule of half-birthdays is that you do something nice for someone else (instead of receiving something as you would on your regular birthday).

We haven't celebrated half-birthdays in years, but did so recently when both girls were at home and my youngest daughter reminded me it was hers. I'm always happy to recreate childhood memories, and it was fun baking our traditional half-birthday white cake with caramel frosting.

What are your favourite family food traditions?


Half-birthday White Cake with Caramel Icing
(Note: if you want to make the whole cake, it was inspired by this recipe. The icing recipe is adapted from a recipe in Company's Coming Cakes, a cookbook I received at one of my wedding showers.)

For the cake:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 egg white
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1/4 cup milk, room temperature
1/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter one 9" round cake pan on sides and line with parchment paper on the bottom.

Using a stand mixer, cream together butter and shortening until light and fluffy. Slowly add sugar, continuing to beat. Add eggs and egg white one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Continue to beat, scraping down the sides as necessary, for 2 - 3 minutes until very fluffy.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Combine milk, buttermilk and vanilla in a measuring cup. Add to butter mixture alternately, starting and ending with dry ingredients, stirring until smooth.

Pour cake batter into pan and bake 36 - 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Let cool slightly in cake pan for 5 minutes, then remove and cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting:

1 cup brown sugar, packed
6 Tbsp cream or milk
1/2 cup butter
3 cups icing sugar
8 - 12 pecans, toasted

Heat brown sugar, cream, and butter in medium saucepan until it boils. Boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and cool completely.

Add icing sugar and beat until smooth. (You may need to add more cream to make it spreading consistency.)

Frost the cake and top with pecans.



Repetition

Sunday, February 5, 2017

If you read my blog carefully, you'll have seen that a few weeks ago I did something I hadn't done before: double-post a recipe.

For some reason, I had no memory of posting Gingery Sweet Potato and Apple Saute in March 2015, and didn't even realize the duplication until a week after posting it again in January. At least, one might argue, they were nearly two years apart.

I'll admit life is busy now - in addition to my full-time (plus overtime) contract position, I'm juggling a few freelance projects. And maybe that's making me absent-minded. Because when I went to post a recipe today, I hovered over the cauliflower-kale gratin photos on my computer before realizing I'd posted that one six weeks ago.

After that near-miss, I triple-checked that I hadn't already posted my recipe for Garam Masala cookies. And I'm happy to say this is a brand-new recipe for my blog! I've made so many cookies in my life that it's rare to come across one that's completely different, but this one truly is. I wouldn't have imagined how great an impact garam masala would have on a batch of cookies. And I promise you this - if you make these cookies, you'll never forget them.



Garam Masala Kitchen Sink Cookies

Adapted from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook by Nancy Vienneau

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp fresh orange zest
1/4 tsp orange extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoons garam masala
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cherries 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a stand mixer, beat butter and sugars until creamy. Add egg, orange zest, and orange extract and beat well. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and garam masala. Stir the flour mixture into the creamed sugar mixture a little at a time until combined. Fold in oats, toasted pecans, chocolate chips and dried cherries, and stir until just mixed.

Drop rounded tablespoons full onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and bake for 12 minutes, or until golden brown.

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Fog

Sunday, January 22, 2017
Fog

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

- Carl Sandburg, "Fog"

It was a foggy drive today as I went to visit my youngest at university. She and I cooked together, making food for a friend whose brother died this week.

"I don't know what to say when somebody dies, Mom."
"Neither do I, honey."

We take food, and say how sorry we are, and hope they know how much we care.


Pasta and Chicken with Mascarpone

Inspired by Italian Food Forever 

1 cup mascarpone cheese at room temperature
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
a few grinds of black pepper
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into 1/2” dice
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 cups baby spinach
2 cups dry penne
salt (for pasta water)
1/3 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds

Combine the mascarpone, zest, lemon juice and pepper in a bowl, and whisk to combine. Bring a pasta pot of salted water to boil.

While waiting for the water, heat the oil in a skillet, and cook the chicken until it is cooked through and just beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and spinach, and cook another minute or two, until spinach is wilted. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook the pasta until al denteDrain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.

Return the pasta to the pot, and set over medium heat. Stir in the mascarpone and lemon mixture, the chicken mixture,  and sun-dried tomatoes. Loosen the sauce with 1/4 cup of the water and toss the ingredients together until everything is combined, adding a little additional pasta water if needed.

Serve immediately, topped with toasted sliced almonds.

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