Saturday, November 27, 2010

Caramels for all!

I won't lie to you - these little guys are time consuming, somewhat finicky, and will make a huge mess of your kitchen.

But aren't they fun?

As many of us have, I've been a part of many, many bake sales. They are, after all, great fundraisers and, I think, every one's a winner - baker and buyer. I have, however, grown tired of baking the same old thing, over and over, so I thought I'd change things up this year. I love it don't you? (But I my feet are exhausted, having added a good 10 dozen other - same old, same old - cookies to my bake sale contribution anyhow.)

I think these Caramels would make pretty fun favours for dinner parties or birthday gatherings, too.
Start by unwrapping store bought caramels, and poking them with a flat tooth pick each. Next, grab a few small bowls for sprinkles, coconut, toffee bits, or even crushed pistachios. Now you are ready to melt dark and white chocolate over a double boiler, being careful not to end up with any water drops or steam in the chocolate. I use bulk melting chocolate, it's cheap but doesn't taste cheap. Carefully twirl one caramel at a time in the chocolate, then dip into sprinkles, and onto a parchment paper lined cookie tray they go. Continue until all caramels look stunning, allow to dry for about an hour, then, using a spoon, hit it with some contrasting chocolate for fun detail.
Easy as 1 - 2 - 3. But give yourself at least 2 hours. Especially if you insist on pretty wrapping them with ribbons, like I did.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Deliciousness and a little game of "Where's Waldo"

My Thursday turned out to be a fun day. Even with my strong disappointment in the Canadian public, and for the first time perhaps ever, possibly also a little embarrassment, too. Then again, maybe that's meant for a certain someone named Jamie Oliver, too. I've seen enough of him on my Telly to know he's a pretty chilled out guy, but Thursday, well...

Sadly, I did walk away from spending two hours in the same room as Mr. Oliver wondering. I'm not sure what I was wondering, but I am pretty sure the evening could have been much better. Should I point fingers at an audience that asked insanely stupid questions, like - "How do you do your hair, Jamie?" Or at a host that seemingly had not much more planned for the evening than to answer question after question from an audience more interested in his looks than his cooks. (I really should stop rhyming!)

Okay, okay... so it was really super cool to see him live... stupidity and all, Thursday will still be a day I'll always remember. And most importantly Jamie did kick me into cooking mode again, with a perfectly cooked steak which even I could smell and drool over far, far away from the stage, spanked with rosemary (yes, that would be spanked - ask me later) and tossed in fresh herbs and the ever important olive oil.

No later than Friday did I crack open a nice bottle of red, and before you could sing the Mary Poppins theme song, I had a gorgeous stew simmering away. So Jamie, you still rock. Everyone has off days, I suppose you can, too.

I am sure you've guessed it by now, there is no photo in my possession of Jamie and me, just a few fuzzy 'pics', this one being the best. (Isn't that sad?)

Red Wine Beef Stew with Potatoes & Rosemary
Adapted from Dave Lieberman

Serves 6

2 pounds beef chuck, 1-inch cubes
3 tbsp butter
4 carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 small onions, diced
2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups white mushrooms
900 ml low sodium beef broth
2 cups red wine
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1 6-inch sprig of fresh rosemary
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled, 1-inch chunks
2 handfuls green and/or yellow beans, ends trimmed
2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley

Season the beef lightly with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Heat 2 tbsp of butter in a large, heavy pot over high heat. As soon as the butter starts to brown, add half the beef. Brown beef on all sides then remove from pot to a bowl. Add 1 tbsp of butter and brown remaining beef. Remove from pot also.

Toss carrots and onions into the pot, adjust the heat to medium. Cook until the onions start to turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and stir until it has been worked into the veggies and you can't see it anymore.

Now add the beef broth, red wine, crushed tomatoes and toss in whole mushrooms and sprig of rosemary. Stir the beef back into the pot and bring to a boil.

Turn down the heat to a gentle simmer. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 50 minutes. Stir occasionally.

After 50 minutes, add the potatoes and simmer another 45 minutes, stirring once in a while.

Lastly, add the beans and allow them to heat through.

Serve with fresh parsley.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mood Swing

I'm so very much in the mood lately.

Oh, don't even go there... THAT's not what I'm talking about.

No, every year the Christmas Season seemingly brings out a pregnancy like nesting in me. It's unstoppable. I don't hire designers, or shop at expensive stores. I diy. Do you?

This year things heated up in the bedroom first. NO, don't go THERE again!

After 10 years of hoping to buy that super awesome, solid wood bed I've had my eyes on, I finally gave in and went to IKEA. Why do I even hesitate. They should call the place MONEA. $15 for a wood closet door, a few flush mount brackets and a coordinating white bed skirt later, my husband and I could finally enjoy a proper looking bed. (I know you're smirking.)

Phase #2:
I thought it might be nice for the grown-ups to open stockings this Christmas, too.
So I started with a simple free online pattern, made it my own and went to town on a useless, over sized, heavy white quilt. I made five stockings, since my doggy has stolen a piece of my heart, and I'm pretty sure I'm not getting it back.

Next: Diy doesn't get much simpler than this, and yet I adore the results. Flip a poster in your largest frame so the back of the poster is now in the front. Separately print each desired letter on your home printer, and with as little glue as possible, center and evenly glue them on. Put the frame back together and think, "I could've spent $20 on that, but I didn't. Nice."
Decorating ideas stolen from friends I think pays them homage. Right? Well, I am guilty many times over (although this NOEL is all mine) and at Christmas, these cranberries in water with floating candles is my favourite bounty. It's also very budget friendly, coming in under $5. Changing the water once a week allows these babies to float and shine for many weeks. So start decorating early, November 1st sounds just about right to me.
I've also painted an old black and silver mirror white (white paint is the diy'ers best friend, FYI), and am currently working on transforming old beige curtains into a fun, yet sophisticated Advent Calendar. I am so over bad chocolate first thing in the morning.

And so we come to food. I've not challenged myself as of late. I do need to get back at it. But I do love some good staples, and I'll never tire of this Spicy Roast Chicken, out-of-this-world tender and succulent. A proper homemade gravy is irreplaceable, too. From scratch olive oil, s & p fries are delish along side tender baby greens with my Citrus Honey Vinaigrette. I could eat this every day. (All recipes on this blog.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fancy frugality

I am learning some new things these days. After 8 years far from the world of pay cheques and scheduled hours, and instead being my very own boss (ha ha, you know as well as me the kids have taken over!) I have returned and am discovering juggling schedules and priorities once again. Nope, I haven't made bread on a regular basis. Yup, there's packaged pizza in my freezer. And yes, I only work part time. Still, things have shifted, but, I am feeling refreshed and renewed with a new sense of purpose and/or responsibility.

Some things have not changed, however - some things never will. For one, budgeting food expenses. I'm convinced even the super wealthy have some sort of a food budget! And, I still very much enjoy taking budget meals and presenting them fanciful, even with time constraints and slow cookers doing part of my work. The kids are catching on to this idea, too, and are much more interested in dinner lately. "Make sure my potatoes are square, too, Mom!"

Is it as exciting to you as it is to me when "clean out the fridge and use up all the left over bits and pieces" dinners turn out super yummy? Certainly a slow cooker hides many flaws, and with a little plating ingenuity, meals from them can look more than one coloured slop. (Please do take a moment to feel inspired, to put away frustrations, and to get excited about your budget foods!)

So what's in this? And what do I call it? How about Upside Down Shepherd's Pie. If you ask my opinion, this version is much more pleasing to the eye than vice versa.

Towards the end of my grocery week, my choices become slim, and since I do not waste, I use up. I had -

1 onion
2 celery sticks
4 carrots
3 green onions
5 slices Prosciutto
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 cup red wine

To this I added some fresh things -

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
fresh ground pepper
kosher salt

I first browned the beef with the vegetables, as sauteing adds incredible flavour a slow cooker alone can not achieve. I then added the remaining bits and pieces, threw it all in the cooker, set it on low and walked away. What I do love about cooking this way, is how the aromas start filling the house a few hours in to it. Unfortunately, this also leaves me hungry hours before the dinner table is set.

I love fluffy mashed potatoes, and so, rather than adding them raw into the crock with everything else, I find it very well worth my time to cook these stove top. This extra step also ensures a beautiful jus-like gravy, as the potatoes did not get the chance to soak up those scrumptious liquids. I search my kitchen for an ingenious way to plate the mash, and discover part of my Spaetzle maker works amazingly well. A little fresh parsley, which is still growing like mad in my garden even though it's rather frosty in beautiful Canada these days, chopped and sprinkled adds a little texture and a whole lot of fresh. Seconds, anyone?