Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Today was Jet's first Halloween and although he's had a bit of a bug, we couldn't pass up putting him in his costume. Jet was born this year, the year of the Tiger, according to the Chinese calendar so this was quite the fitting outfit for him. He didn't exactly love wearing it so we had to move fast but is he not the cutest little feline you ever did see?















Friday, October 29, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Chocolate Mocha Souffles

Souffle. This word literally means "breath" and that is a very fitting word for this dessert. Light and airy, beautiful and elegant, this recipe is so easy to make and the "Wow!" factor is huge. I love that these souffles were meant to be made ahead of time, you can refrigerate it up to 24 hours for immediate baking or they can be frozen for up to 2 weeks. This means that all you have to do is pop them in the oven whenever you're close to serving dessert, and voila!, you've got yourself a gorgeous dessert that makes it look as though you've slaved all day.

- 3 ozs. (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, more for the ramekins
- Sugar for dusting
- 3 tablespoons dark rum, brandy, Grand Marnier, or water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
- 6 ozs. dark chocolate (at least 70%)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
- 3 ozs. (3/4 cup) powdered sugar

- whipping cream for garnish

*Serves 6.

Lightly butter six 6oz. ramekins and dust with sugar, tapping out excess.

Stir together the liquor or water and instant coffee. Set aside and stir occasionally until the coffee is dissolved. Melt the chocolate and butter in a bain marie (in a large bowl over a pot of simmering water). Remove from heat and whisk. Stir in coffee mixture and salt. Whisk in egg yolks, one at a time. *Note: the mixture at one point might begin to coagulate, don't panic, just keep whisking throwing some elbow grease into it and soon enough, the mixture should become smooth and glossy. Add about 1/3 of the powdered sugar and whisk. Set aside.

Beat egg whites in a mixer with a whisk attachment (or hand-held) on medium-high until soft peaks form. Gradually add the rest of the powdered sugar and whisk until firm peaks form. Spoon about a quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and whisk until blended. Add the remaining egg whites and gently fold in until just blended. Pour batter into prepared ramekins. If you want to bake the souffles within 24 hours then refrigerate them. Put them in the fridge for 30 minutes to let firm up then cover with plastic wrap. If you'll be saving them for a later time then put the souffles in the freezer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Then wrap each ramekin in plastic and freeze for up to 2 weeks. If you're going to bake them right away, then let sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes first.

To bake from fridge: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place ramekins on a baking sheet and bake until they're puffed and risen about 1 inch above the ramekin, about 15 minutes. To bake from freezer: place frozen souffles on a baking sheet and bake for about 18 minutes. Serve immediately, with plenty of fresh whipped cream.


This is a must have in the kitchen. I love my Kitchen Aid mixer!




This is what a stiff peak should look like for the egg whites


Use a gentle hand when folding in the egg whites. Folding means a scooping under and lifting up when mixing, this ensures keeping the mixture aerated, which is key to having your souffles rise.




People always eat first with their eyes, so have fun in playing with the presentation

Thursday, October 21, 2010

And Then There Were Two...

Someone's second tooth came through...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Simple Spaghetti

I don't mean to sound like a snob but I cannot stand jarred spaghetti sauce. They all taste the same to me and the flavor is typically bleh. Besides, why buy sauce in a jar when you can whip up your own easily, quickly, and cheaply? Trust me, the little extra effort results in major taste difference - the homemade sauce is so much more flavorful and delicious and definitely worth the making.

*Note: the portions of things here in terms of canned goods in Canada are a little different than the typical measurements in the States so some of these things might be estimated in terms of cups

- 1 package of pasta of your choice (we used whole-wheat spaghetti)
- 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 pound ground meat of your choice (we used extra-lean beef)
- about 4 to 5 cups of canned tomato sauce (about 2 cans of 15 ozs?)
- 1 tiny can of tomato paste (I think it's 6 ozs in the States?)
- Fresh basil, chopped (about 6 large leaves)
- Salt and fresh ground pepper
- Chili flakes (optional, if you like a bit of kick in your sauce)
- Grated parmesan cheese (for topping)

Boil the water in a big pot for the pasta first. While the water heats up, begin making your sauce (when you notice the water coming to a full boil, throw in the pasta). Heat olive oil in pan over medium high heat. Add onions and saute until translucent, then add garlic and saute for another minute. Add meat and cook till no longer pink, season with some salt and pepper. Add tomato sauce and tomato paste and basil (and chili flakes if you're using) and season by taste with some more salt and pepper and let simmer for about 15 minutes. During this time, your pasta should be done or close to it by now, so check to make sure it's al dente, which literally means "to the tooth." So what you'd be looking for in testing for the pasta's readiness is a little firmness in the middle when you bite down on it; in other words, it shouldn't be mushy, that means you've overcooked it. Once the pasta is finished cooking, strain the liquid and pour pasta back into the big pot and pour the simmered sauce over and toss together. Serves 6 to 8 people.


Delicioso!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Happy Birthday Markie!

Today is my brother-in-law's birthday. Mark is such a great guy who is characterized by a gentle, kind, humble, and caring spirit, with a bit of goofy thrown in for good measure:) He loves the Lord, is married to an amazing girl named Tara, is a very gifted and talented musician, and makes the best camera faces. We miss you Markie; we are so thankful that we get to know and love you! Happy, happy birthday!

First Tooth!

Lo and behold, Monkey's first bottom tooth just broke through this morning - woo hoo! If you click on the photo and zoom up on his gums, you might be able to see it. Yay Jet!



Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Canadian Thanksgiving

People are always asking me how the move to Canada has been, wanting to know how an American is adjusting to the Great White North, and overall, it's been great. But one thing I will have to get used to is celebrating Thanksgiving before Halloween! Yes, that's right, Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving near the beginning of October (yesterday) - so weird for me! But my mother-in-law and I became the Dynamic Duo and cooked up a traditional turkey meal and we had a great time feasting with family and friends. So whether it's October or November, anytime is always the right time to give thanks.


I made my first turkey a few years ago and I remember being SO, SO, SO intimidated by the task but once you get the basics down, it's easy breezy. And don't skip making gravy out of the turkey juices - the flavor is amazing!


The spread


We tried to be somewhat healthy with dessert, by making only one pie:) Pictured here is my version of the traditional pumpkin pie - it is so good! With all the various spices and its graham cracker crust, this will be a hit with any pumpkin pie fan. Here's the recipe:

For the crust:

- 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 10 full-size crackers)
- 1/8 cup sugar
- 6 tablespoons butter, melted

Whisk the crumbs and sugar together. Add butter and mix until well combined. Press into 9 inch pie pan. (I used a fluted tart pan so you can definitely mix it up if you'd like).

For the filling:

- 2/3 cup (packed) brown sugar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons flour of your choice
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (fresh if possible)
- 1 1/2 cups (packed) canned pumpkin
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup whipping cream

Place baking sheet in oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Whisk first 8 ingredients together in large bowl. Whisk in pumpkin, molasses, eggs, and cream. Pour mixture into crust.

Place pie on preheated baking sheet in oven. Bake 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake until sides puff and center is just set, about 40 minutes. Cool. Garnish with whipped cream as desired. Can be made 1 day ahead, keep refrigerated, serve at room temperature.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Butternut Squash Soup

When the weather turns cool, I love to make soup and I think this is my most favorite to make. It is simple and tastes amazing. Although the butternut is the main ingredient, surprisingly it isn't the star of the soup. To me, it's the fresh sage that accentuates the squash in such a delicious way that if I can't find fresh sage, I won't even bother to make this soup. Served as a starter before dinner or whether alongside a yummy grilled sandwich, I can guarantee that you will love this soup.

- one 3 pound butternut squash - peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes (5 to 6 cups)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 large yellow onion
- 3 stalks celery, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped (about 6 large leaves)
- 6 cups chicken broth

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a baking sheet, toss the squash with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast in oven for 15 minutes. Turn cubes over and roast for 15 minutes more or until the squash begins to golden and caramelize. Set aside.

In a large stockpot, heat the remaining oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and sage and saute, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are translucent and tender, about 10 minutes. Add the squash and broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 45 minutes. Remove from heat and puree the soup mixture in either a blender or food processor until smooth. Return to pot to keep warm.


Sage - a soft and furry herb, it is as tasty as it is beautiful


If you don't have time to deal with a full on squash, you can sometimes find it already cubed at the store. I know that in the States, Trader Joe's sells them ready to go. But just make sure that you do not skip the roasting process since this brings out such a nice flavor in the squash.


Delicious! You can always freeze some to save for another rainy day.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Apple-Cranberry Crisp

This post is for my friend Carly who asked me to recommend an apple recipe. This is definitely one of my most favorite recipes, it's quick and easy, you can make it the night before baking, and it's absolutely delicious. The tartness from the cranberries, combined with the juiciness of the apples, topped off with the sweet crisp, is amazing. Try it this Fall/Winter or even as an alternative to a pie at Thanksgiving - you will love it!

For the filling:

- one 12 oz. package of cranberries
- 2 1/2 pounds apple of your choice, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 6 medium apples - I like to go with a sweeter apple on this one to balance out the tartness of the cranberries i.e. Red Delicious, Fuji, etc.)
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons apple juice or cider

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine cranberries, apples, sugar, and apple juice in heavy large pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Boil until cranberries are tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer filling to a 13x9x2 glass baking dish.

For the topping:

- 3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
- 1 cup old-fashioned oats
- 3/4 cup flour of your choice (I used whole-wheat)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated if possible - this way is much more flavorable)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Combine brown sugar, oats, flour, and salt in large bowl; toss to blend. Add butter and rub in with fingertips (or process in food processor) until mixture has texture like lumpy cornmeal. Sprinkle topping over cranberry-apple filling.

Bake crisp until filling bubbles and topping is crisp and deep golden brown, about 40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes. Serve with vanilla icecream. Yields 12 servings.






You can bake off the crisps in personal serving sizes. I like to bake them in individual ramekins.








The best way to eat a crisp - a la mode

Caramel Apples

One of my favorite things about Fall is the food associated with the season and what could look more Fall-festive than caramel apples? Now I know that I typically try to wax eloquent about cooking and eating healthy but of course we want to be balanced in making some fun foods to celebrate certain events so I typically make these just once a year, during the Fall. I think people can be intimidated by working with anything that requires using a candy thermometer but once you give these a go, you'll see that like in the Wizard of Oz, the voice behind the curtain was really nothing to be scared of at all.

Some keys for success: 1. Make sure your apples are waxless, the hot caramel can slide right off due to the wax coating, buying apples at the Farmer's Market will ensure there's no wax on the apples or you can gently wash and brush the apples under some hot water to get the wax off 2. Patience. The caramel takes a while to hit the right temperature so just make sure you keep your eye on it but don't be tempted to turn up the heat to speed up the process 3. Work fast. Once the caramel is ready, you'll want to dip each apple as quickly as possible. Prepping your apples beforehand (washing, drying, and "stick-ing" them) is essential.

The combination of a tart and crisp apple teamed up with a rich and chewy caramel coating is a winning pair, put that all on a stick and you've got yourself a tasty treat that will make everyone feel like a kid again.

For about 8 large apples you'll need:

- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- wooden dowels
- candy thermometer

Cook 3/4 cup of the cream, the corn syrup, butter, and sugar in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. It is important to use a pot that has a thick bottom or else the caramel will scorch. Every once in a while give the pot a whirl or two but you won't need to stir it. Cook until the thermometer reads 265 degrees, remove from heat and carefully swirl in the remaining 1/4 cup of cream and the vanilla, this will cause the mixture to bubble up so make sure you still have room in the pot before adding this last bit. Be super careful, getting a caramel burn will kill! Working fast, dip in the apples, letting any excess drip off and place on your non-stick surface. Let cool for a few hours then package as desired.


I like to use wooden dowel sticks for the apples, you can find these for cheap at your local craft store. They typically are long so I just cut them in half with a scissor and push them cut side in. You can use any kind of apple you want, I personally like a tart and tangy apple to balance the sweet caramel, so anything like a Granny Smith, Empire, or MacIntosh is good. Also, if you have Silpats, use these to place your apples on. If you don't know what Silpats are, Google it, then go get some! They are one of my most invaluable baking tools and the apples come off easily when using them. You can use parchment or wax paper (make sure you have a light coating of non-stick spray on it) but even that can sometimes leave behind some paper on the bottom of your apples.


What it starts out looking like. It will take a while for it to start caramelizing, during this stage you'll wonder if it will ever brown.


Then slowly but surely it does


Grandpa doing a taste test and Jet wondering why he's not sharing


Just beautiful


Voila! Happiness on a stick

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Crawling!

Jet is now officially crawling and he is getting quick! Here's a little video for your viewing enjoyment. Our little baby is growing up so fast!


video

Monday, October 4, 2010

Happy Birthday Baba!


Today is my Dad's birthday, can you believe that he is 57? Born the oldest of 11, my dad has had a difficult life and has been through much. But despite it all, he has risen to the challenge and has been diligent in working hard and having fun and is a prime example of someone coming to America and accomplishing the American dream. My dad is one of the most tireless, hard-working, disciplined, and generous people I know. He is fearless on the dance floor and on the mic. He has been chased down by people wanting Jackie Chan's autograph. He will walk for 5 hours straight just because. He will know the best price for any item in town. He is a doting grandfather. And I am thankful to have him as my Dad. We love you so much Dad and we hope you have a great birthday celebrating with Mom on your cruise!

Friday, October 1, 2010

How You Like Them Apples?

One of the things I love about living in Ontario are all the local family farms populating the region. Right now is prime apple-picking time so today we visited a farm and sampled and purchased some of the most delicious apples I've ever tasted. So fun!




Can you believe how many apples are on this little tree?


These are my new favorite kind of apples


Jet is all over the apple-picking


Victory!












Can you tell that my father-in-law likes apples?








Snow White worthy


The Grandparentals


Pumpkins!!!




The farm also had some animals. Isn't this baby cow adorable?






The best fruits I picked today