Weekend Party Trick: 60-second appetizer

November 20, 2009

brie1

The challenge: make a great looking appetizer that tastes fantastic in less time than it takes to wiggle into your party clothes.

The solution: Fruit and Nut topped Camembert

1 wheel Camembert or Brie cheese
Liquid honey
1 handful Back to Nature Raisins, Almonds, Pumpkin Seeds, Pecans and Apricots blend

Place the cheese on a platter and drizzle with some honey. Mound some of the trail mix on top. Drizzle with a bit more honey and serve with grapes, apple slices and crackers.

Need a wine match? Try an off-dry Riesling for white drinkers or a light, fruity pinot noir for a red choice. Can’t decide between red or white? Prosecco is a great match, too!

Now that you’ve seen my favourite party trick, tell me about yours!


French onion soup

November 19, 2009

Fr onion soup

Every where I turned last week I ran into French onion soup: commercials, blogs, cookbooks. It almost seemed surreal but certainly not bad.

For me, French onion soup has a retro appeal that’s hard to beat. When made well, it’s a rich, full-flavoured broth that begs tender, sweet onions to bask and linger. Instead of covering it with a heavy, greasy layer of cheese, I prefer to make a Gruyere-topped crostini that you can either float on top of the soup or stand up on one side of the bowl.

Regardless of how you position the cheese and bread, be sure to choose good quality Gruyere cheese. I think it’s much yummier than regular Swiss cheese. Given a choice, I buy Gruyere that has been aged for 10 to 12 months since it has a rich, nutty flavor. Gruyere also has a medium fat content so that complements the flavour of the onions without overwhelming their zesty taste.

French onion soup

3 tbsp (30 mL) butter
2 Spanish or 3 medium cooking onions, peeled
and sliced
2 clove garlic, minced
11/2 tsp (7 mL) dried thyme
1/2 tsp (2 mL) each salt and pepper
1 tbsp (15 mL) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (75 mL) sherry
1 tsp (5 mL) Worcestershire sauce
6 cups (1.5 L) beef broth
6 slices, thick baguette
1 cup (250 mL) shredded Gruyere or other Swiss cheese*
1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Melt butter in a Dutch oven set over medium-low heat. Add onions, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 20 minutes or until onions are translucent and very soft. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until onions are just beginning to brown. Sprinkle in sugar and continue to cook, stirring often, until very brown but not scorched.

Add sherry and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to scrape up any brown bits. Add the broth and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.

Preheat the broiler to high. Toast the baguette slices on a baking sheet until golden on each side. Sprinkle cheese and parsley (if using) even over the toasts. Broil until cheese is bubbly and golden. Ladle an equal amount of soup into each bowl. Top with a cheese crouton and serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

* This recipe appeared in Dana’s Top Ten Table.


Judgmental

November 18, 2009

Peanut ButterI’ve always thought of myself as an open minded person but obviously, the rest of the world doesn’t see me that way.  Somehow, I’ve become known as as judgemental. In the last month I’ve been asked to judge everything from cookies and cooking to beer pouring.

First I participated as a judge along with Elizabeth Baird and Stephanie Pick at the Gay Lea Shortbread Contest. The winning recipe was not only delicious but technically interesting as well. (The recipe is below if you’d like to try it.)

Then, I was off to New York to be a judge at the international Stella Artois Draught Master challenge where the world’s best draftmaster was crowned. And, lastly I joined the chefs from the Delta Grandview Hotel as a judge in an Iron Chef style competition between 8 teams of Kraft employees.

I’m both full and exhausted! Seriously, it’s much harder work to judge other people than I anticipated. It’s been a true test of my attention span.

Fortunately, the next contest that I’m involved with requires me to be a host and not a judge. On January 22nd, I’ll preside over the first ever Canadian Pillsbury Baking Challenge ! There’s still time to vote on your favourite recipes so make sure you visit the contest website to find out more details!

Have you ever entered a food or beverage competition? If so, was it fun or frightening?

Peanut Butter and Jelly Shortbread Bars

Shortbread:
1 cup unsalted Gay Lea Butter, softened 250 mL
1 cup granulated sugar 250 mL
1 egg yolk 1
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional) 2 mL
2 cups all purpose flour 500 mL
1 tsp baking powder 5 mL
1/4 tsp salt 1 mL

Filling:
3/4 cup blueberry jam 175 mL
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter 125 mL
1/2 cup icing sugar 125 mL
2 tbsp unsalted Gay Lea Butter, softened 30 mL

Instructions:

In a large bowl, beat the butter with the sugar and egg yolk, using an electric mixer, for 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl blend together flour, baking powder and salt until well combined.

Divide the dough into two equal portions and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough for 1 to 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a 9 x 13-inch (3 L) baking dish with parchment paper; reserve. Remove dough from fridge. Shred dough using a coarse grater or food processor, fitted with a metal shredding blade; replace one portion of shredded dough to the fridge.

Arrange remaining dough in an even layer in the prepared baking dish; lightly pat the dough down. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly golden around the edges; cool for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend the jam with the icing sugar and butter until smooth and well combined. Spread the peanut butter over the shortbread base in an even layer. Drop spoonfuls of the jam mixture over the peanut butter and gently spread in an even layer.

Remove the remaining dough from the freezer and scatter over the jam layer. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the top is set and lightly golden brown. Transfer pan to a wire rack and cool completely; cut into bars.

Makes 24 bars.

Tip: Try grape jelly or strawberry jam in place of the blueberry jam for a fun twist.


Quiche me if you dare

November 12, 2009

quicheIt’s that time of year again. Time to pull out your cocktail party clothes and brush up on current affairs because the holiday season party invitations are going to start rolling in!

Or, maybe you’re thinking of hosting a holiday shindig. If so, chances are mini-quiches are on your list. They’re a party time stand-by but unfortunately, so many of the bought frozen quiches are just awful! Yet, people keep tossing their good money away by buying them. Such a shame when they are so very easy to make ahead, freeze and then heat in the oven when you need them.

All you need to do is whisk together
8 eggs
4 cups (1 litre ) 35% cream

Seriously, that’s it. Then, toss some yummy stuff like cheese, ham, salt, pepper, mustard, green onions and such together and divide them evenly between blind baked tart shells. Fill with the egg mixture and bake at 350ºF (180ºC) until the filling is jiggly and just barely set. Cool to room temp, place in zip top bags and freeze until needed. To serve, bake from frozen on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 350ºF (180ºC) until the crust smells toasty.


Topline Trends Tuesday: Butterscotch

November 10, 2009

butterscotchmeringue

Fancier. Butterier. As yummy as ever before but just more (deservingly) popular. Butterscotch is trending up and that can’t help but be good!

From butterscotch desserts appearing on more fine dining restaurant menus to a twitter chat I had with @finecooking a couple of weeks ago, it seems like I can’t pass the day without hearing a butterscotch reference.

It’s even on sitcoms: on a recent episode of How I Met Your Mother, it was declared that “Butterscotch is Canadian women’s chocolate.”

While I can’t speak for the entire Canadian female population, I can say that chocolate is my chocolate but butterscotch is my butterscotch. Confused? It’s the same as how silk is silk and wool is wool. Both are great but they’re different. And, like a wool sweater over a silk shirt, they’re often fantastic together!

That said, one of my favourite childhood desserts is Butterscotch Meringue Pie; it’s a study in soothing dessert goodness.

What about you? Butterscotch or chocolate? Canadian or American? Fess up!

Dana’s Definitive Butterscotch Meringue Pie

1/2 cup (125 mL) all-purpose flour
1 cup (250 mL) dark brown sugar
2 1/2 cups (625 mL) hot milk
4 eggs, separated
3 tbsp (45 mL) butter
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
1 pre-baked pie crust, 9-in (23 cm)
1/3 cup (75 mL) granulated sugar

Stir the flour with the brown sugar in heavy saucepan. Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth. Cook, stirring almost constantly, over medium heat, for about 5 minutes or until thick and smooth; reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes longer, stirring often.

Beat the egg yolks and stir a little of the hot milk mixture into eggs. Pour the egg mixture into pan, stirring constantly and cook for 3 minutes longer. Stir in the butter and vanilla. Pour into pie shell. Cool completely.

Beat the egg whites until foamy; gradually beat in granulated sugar until soft peaks form. Mound on top of custard, spreading meringue out to edge of crust. Bake in 350°F (180°C) oven for 7 to 10 minutes or until golden.

Tips:
• Because this pie and topping are so sweet and rich, use a lard or shortening-based piecrust to ensure that the crust is a foil to the other elements.
• To pre-bake the piecrust, prick the raw shell all over with a fork; line with foil and pie weights or dried beans. Bake in a preheated, 400 F (200 C) oven for 20 minutes; remove foil and weights; bake for 10 minutes longer or until golden. Cool on rack.


I could go for a ginger cookie…

November 6, 2009

gingersnaps

If you read yesterday, you know that I’m taking the easy way out to end the week by recycling some of my favourite cold weather comfort food posts.

On the list today are recipes from my sweet kitchen:
Microwave butterscotch pudding
Tarte Tatin
Super crisp ginger cookies
Butter Tarts

What sweet treat epitomizes warming comfort for you? Again, feel free to link to your site or recipes that we can all bookmark for a day when we need an indulgence.


It’s perfect weather for…

November 5, 2009

doubl86596

Now that I’ve been blogging for so long (over two years!), it’s becoming harder to post about my favourite fall comfort foods since, at least at this time of year, I like to rediscover my favourite fall dishes. It’s not until later in the autumn that fatigue sets in and I start to experiment.

So, in case you missed them the first time or in case you’re new here, today and tomorrow I’m featuring a glossary of my favourite fall food posts from the last two years.

On the roster today:

Savoury autumn favourites:
Double cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese
Zesty lasagna
Roasted Chicken broth for soup
Lemon parsnip soup
Sausages with onions, apples and Swiss cheese

What savoury recipe epitomizes autumn for you? Feel free to add links to your own posts and favourite sites so that it’s easy for us all to try out your ideas.