The real reason I haven’t posted in a while

So – here’s the main reason I haven’t posted for quite a while…. Or at least the flimsy excuse I’m giving!

I’ve been too busy watching episodes of my new favourite TV show – Come Dine With Me. (Yes, I’ll admit it! I’ve been tied up watching the telly!)

If you aren’t familiar with Come Dine With Me, here’s the premise of this British (reality) series.

Five strangers get together to each host a three-course dinner party on successive evenings. At the end of each evening, the guests score the host on his or her hosting/cooking/entertaining skills. The host with the highest score is revealed on the last night and wins £1000, and the title of top dinner party host for the week.

The show is a real life comedy, drama, tragedy, cooking show and sometimes worst nightmare all rolled into one. Things invariably go wrong in the kitchen, personalities clash, and the competitiveness of some ALL of the participants fuel each half hour episode and make for sometimes strange and bizarre, but rather entertaining TV.

Then you mix in the British accents, eccentric characters, the chance to peek into other people’s homes and see how they prep for and host a dinner party in the UK (one of my favourite countries!), and you’ve got a recipe for a show quite unlike others currently available for sampling. And if you really want to sample, often there are some inspired and inspiring menu plans and recipes served up! (And posted online for viewers who saw something that whet their appetite.)

I can’t forget to mention the show’s host/narrator. Dave Lamb (his voice, accent and witty comments!) is a huge reason why I like the show. Throughout each episode he interjects a comical runny commentary about what the participants are doing – or should or shouldn’t be doing!

Continue reading

Serving up at-home food and flicks

Dinner and a movie. It’s as perfect a pairing as salt and pepper, Ben and Jerry, peanut butter and jelly, Milo and Otis, chocolate and caramel, sour cream and onion, oil and vinegar, milk and cookies, M and M’s……..

Dinner and a movie is also a perfect way to spend an entertaining evening out – or in.

When you choose to enjoy dinner and a movie at home, forget what you’ve heard about the perils of eating in front of the TV. Let the movie you plan to watch inspire some creative menu planning. Or, if you’re short on ideas, look for any of the following books at your local library or bookstore. They are all great sources of inspiration for recipes and menus to pair with a wide range of movies. (If you want to watch a foodie flick, check my March 31st post for lists of movies about food or with food scenes.)

1. Dinner and a Movie by G & R Publishing, 2006

2. Movie Menus: Recipes for Perfect Meals with Your Favourite Films by Francine Segan, Villard, 2004

3. Claud Mann’s Dinner & A Movie Cookbook by Claud Mann, Andrews McNeil Publishing, 2003

4. More Than Just Dinner and a Movie by Gordana Mosher, Spice of Life Books, 2001

5. Generation Eats: Great Recipes for a Fast Forward Culture by Amy Rosen, Warwick Publishing Inc., 1997

6. Dinner & A Movie Cookbook by Kimberlee Carlson, Andrews McNeil Publishing, 1993

7. From Group’s Dinner and a Movie: Friendship, Faith, and Fun Series:

- Adrenaline Rush: Flix for Guys by Brian Diede, Mikal Keefer, Tony Nappa and Michael Van Schooneveld, Group Publishing, 2007
- Friendship, Faith and Fun for Small Groups by Cheri R. Gillard, Group Publishing, 2005
- G-Rated: Friendship, Faith, and Fun for all Ages by Linda Crawford, Heather Dunn and Gina Leuthausen, Group Publishing, 2007
- Chick Flicks, Group Publishing, 2006
- Chick Flicks 2, Group Publishing (available June 2008)

A St. Patrick’s Day menu – snake free!

Although I like to watch Survivor on TV, I could never participate in the game. There are many reasons, not the least of which is that there are always snakes slithering or swimming about in whatever location the show is filmed.

I’m not a fan of snakes. I figure the game of Survivor could probably use Ireland’s patron saint, St. Patrick. He is said to have rid Ireland of snakes and is commemorated annually on March 17, the date of his death in 460 A. D.

How he actually performed this feat is the stuff of legends. A popular explanation is that one day St. Patrick created a nice cozy box and invited the chief snake to climb in. The snake took a look at the box and deemed it too small. A heated discussion ensued. To prove he was right, the snake crawled into the box. Quick-thinking St. Paddy slammed the lid shut and threw the box into the sea!

To this day, Ireland is said to be snake-free (lucky Irish!), and some insist that the rough waters of the Irish Sea are caused by the boisterous attempts of the snake still trying to free himself from the box.

On March 17, whether you wish to celebrate a snake-free Ireland or the pleasure of swilling green beer, take the opportunity to indulge in some hearty Irish cuisine. Vegetables such as potatoes, onions, leeks, carrots and rutabagas figure prominently in Irish cooking, as do lamb stews, and braised meat and corned beef dishes. Accompany the main dish with potato bread or soda, and finish the meal with a sweet custard or apple cake, and an Irish coffee.

Irish Stew
(Makes 8 servings)

If lamb shanks are not available, thick shoulder chops can be substituted.

8 lamb shanks
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup (125 mL) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon each (5 mL) dried thyme and rosemary (or 1 tablespoon/15 mL) chopped fresh
2 bottles (341 mL each) stout-based beer
3 cups (750 mL) beef stock or broth
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3 tablespoons (45 mL) packed brown sugar
3 onions, cut in wedges
3 carrots, cut in 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
3 parsnips, peeled and cut in 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
Half a rutabaga, peeled and cut in 1-inch (2.5 cm) chunks
1/4 cup (60 mL) chopped fresh parsley

Continue reading

Pancakes, Plain or Chocolate Chipped

A few co-workers and I prepared a pancake lunch yesterday at work. We used a basic Buttermilk Pancake recipe courtesy of Carolynne Griffith, the chairwoman of the Board of Directors for Egg Farmers of Ontario. The pancakes were tender, light and fluffy, and enjoyed by everyone. For the chocolate lovers in the group, we made one batch of pancakes with chocolate chips. They were exceptionally delish! (The Triple Chocolate Pancakes from my February 4th post would also have gone over well with the chocoholics!)

Here’s the recipe, with the chocolate chip variation. (We omitted the sugar in the recipe.)

Buttermilk Pancakes
(Makes about 16 pancakes)

1 cup (250 mL) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (30 mL) sugar (optional)
2 teaspoons (10 mL) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) salt
2 large eggs
1 cup (250 mL) buttermilk
2 tablespoons (30 mL) melted butter or cooking oil
Cooking oil
Butter and maple syrup

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, sugar (if using), baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs. Add buttermilk and butter; whisk to combine.

Add dry ingredients to liquid ingredients; whisk just until combined (batter should be lumpy).

Heat a small amount of oil on a griddle or frying pan over medium heat. When the surface is hot enough, spoon about 2 tablespoons (30 mL) batter per pancake onto the skillet, spreading batter into a circle. Cook until edges appear set and bubbles form on the surface, about 1-1/2 minutes. Flip and cook second side until browned, about 1-1/2 minutes.

Serve immediately with butter and maple syrup. Or, transfer to a baking sheet or heatproof platter. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and keep pancakes warm in a 200F (95C) oven. Continue cooking remaining batter, brushing griddle with a small amount of oil as necessary to prevent sticking.

Chocolate Chip Pancakes: Prepare dry ingredients, adding 1/2 cup (125 mL) chocolate chips. Proceed as directed above.

Tips:

  • This recipe can be doubled or tripled.
  • If batter is too thick, thin with a small amount of additional buttermilk.
  • Freeze any leftover pancakes up to 3 months. Reheat on a baking sheet in a preheated 350F (190C) oven. Pancakes can be also be reheated in the toaster or microwave. If using the microwave, be careful not to overheat as they will become rubbery.

Triple Chocolate Pancakes

chocolate-pancakes.jpg
Triple Chocolate Pancakes

Got your pancake recipe ready for tomorrow, Pancake Tuesday? Consider celebrating with an extra special recipe for Triple Chocolate Pancakes!

With cocoa powder and chocolate chips in the batter, you may think you’re making a cake or brownies, but don’t be tempted to pour it into a cake pan and slide it into the oven. We really are making pancakes. Just chocolatey ones, finished off with a good drizzle of chocolate syrup. Some might consider this chocolate overload. For chocoholics, this may be the best way (the only way??) to eat pancakes.

If you don’t have a nonstick frying pan or griddle, you will need to grease your pan with a small amount of cooking oil, butter or margarine before making each batch of pancakes. I like to cook a test pancake to check my pan’s heat.

To serve all the pancakes at one time, keep cooked pancakes on a heatproof plate in a 200F oven until all the batter is cooked.

If you want to take these pancakes completely over the top, serve them with vanilla or chocolate ice cream. In season, sliced strawberries are a great addition. Instead of chocolate syrup, the pancakes can be served with maple syrup.

This recipe is easily doubled, or more appropriately tripled! Any leftover pancakes will freeze well.

Triple Chocolate Pancakes
(Makes 12 3-1/2 inch pancakes)

2 large eggs
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons cooking oil
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Cooking oil, butter or margarine
Chocolate sauce or hot fudge sauce

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs until blended. Add milk and oil; whisk to combine.

In a small bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, cocoa and salt until blended. Stir in chocolate chips.

Add dry ingredients to liquid ingredients; whisk just until combined. There should be some lumps in the batter.

Heat frying pan or griddle over medium heat (adding a small amount of oil to grease surface if using a nonstick pan) until a few drops of water scattered over surface sizzle and evaporate. Drop about 1/4 cup pancake batter per pancake onto pan, spreading batter slightly. Leave some room between pancakes; they will expand a little during cooking.

Pancakes are ready to flip when the edges appear set and the top is full of bubbles; this will take about 1-1/2 to 2 minutes. Flip pancakes and cook second side until lightly browned, about 45 seconds to 1 minute.

As pancakes cook, serve them immediately or keep them warm in a 200F oven. Continue cooking remaining batter.

Serve pancakes with chocolate or hot fudge sauce.

A Perfect Pork and Potato Pairing

pork-tenderloin-with-mashed-sweet-potatoes-ii.jpg
Pork Tenderloin with Brandied Cranberry and Thyme Reduction
Smashed Sweet Potatoes

This was on the menu for dinner last night. Sweet…and simple!

Pork Tenderloin with Brandied Cranberry and Thyme Reduction
(Makes 4 servings)

If you wish, oven roast unsliced tenderloin at 400F (200C) until meat reaches an internal temperature of 155 to 160F (58 to 60C), about 20 to 25 minutes. Prepare sauce as directed. Slice tenderloin and serve sauce alongside.

1 cup (250 mL) chicken broth or stock
1/3 cup (75 mL) brandy (or additional chicken broth)
1/2 cup (125 mL) dried cranberries
1 lb (500 g) pork tenderloin
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon (15 mL) butter
1 tablespoon (15 mL) cooking oil
2 teaspoons (10 mL) chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) dried thyme

In a medium saucepan, combine broth, brandy (if using) and cranberries. Cover and simmer until cranberries are plumped, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Meanwhile, cut pork into 3/4-inch (2 cm) slices. Cover with plastic wrap or waxed paper; with a meat mallet, flat side of a cleaver or bottom of a small frying pan, pound slices to flatten to about 1/2-inch (1 cm) thickness. Season pork with salt and pepper.

Heat butter and oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add pork to frying pan; cook for about 3 minutes per side. Remove pork from pan; cover to keep warm.

Add cranberry mixture to frying pan, stirring to loosen any browned bits on bottom of pan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until sauce has reduced slightly and thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in thyme. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Return pork to pan; cook until pork is heated through and glazed with sauce.

Continue reading

Dippidity Fondue

fondue-forks.jpg

Since putting up the last post, I’ve been craving fondue!

Here’s a favourite cheese fondue recipe which I demonstrated on the cooking stage at the Total Woman Show in Kitchener last February. (This year’s show takes place at Bingemans on February 9th and 10th.)

Cheese fondues are typically cooked on the stove top, then poured into a fondue pot for serving. Make sure you regulate the flame below the fondue pot so it doesn’t overheat the bottom of the pot – and burn the fondue! (You want the smokey flavour to come from the bacon in this recipe, not burnt cheese.) If you occasionally give the mixture a stir with your fondue fork as you dip you should be able to prevent it from badly sticking or burning on to the bottom of the pot. (Some consider the cheesey bit that inevitably sticks to the bottom of the fondue pot as a tasty treat.)

If you wish to leave out the bacon, go ahead, but it does add a crunchy texture and a smokey, salty flavour.

Although bread is always a winning dipper for cheese fondues (and there is likely a tempting selection of bread available at your local bakery!), for variety, reach for some of these great dipping options as well: chopped celery and apples; cooked mini potatoes, sausages, tortellini or perogies; and/or button mushrooms.

Cheese and Bacon Fondue
(Makes 4 servings)

1 cup (250 mL) sour cream
1/4 cup (60 mL) milk
250 g (8 ounces) Gruyere cheese, grated
125 g (4 ounces) old Cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon (.5 mL) ground nutmeg
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
Dippers: cubed bread; cherry tomatoes; chopped celery; cooked mini potatoes, tortellini, and mini sausages; and/or chopped apples

Heat sour cream and milk in a medium saucepan over low heat until smooth and warmed through, stirring frequently.

Meanwhile, combine Gruyere and Cheddar cheeses in a bowl until well mixed. Add cheese a handful at a time to sour cream mixture, whisking or stirring well after each addition, until all the cheese is melted.

Add Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard and nutmeg; mix well. Transfer mixture to a fondue pot. Sprinkle bacon over top. Serve with dippers.

Tip:
* If fondue mixture is too thick, whisk in additional milk, a tablespoon (15 mL) at a time.

Any Excuse for a Celebration!

istock000002579442xsmallcalendar.jpg

Feeling a little down in the dumps now that the holiday season is over and life has returned to normal? A long year stretches ahead. The calendar pages are mostly blank. Life is just plain boring.

It’s time to lose the attitude and get a life. There is much to celebrate – if you have the right calendar.

Continue reading

A Couple Appetizers to Help Ring in 2008

The following two appetizer recipes are courtesy of my friend, food consultant and food stylist Yvonne Tremblay. Either (or both!) would be a flavourful addition to your New Year’s Eve menu.

In the weeks before Christmas, Yvonne was busy doing TV interviews/cooking demonstrations as a media spokesperson for Mushrooms Canada. One of the recipes she was demonstrating was Bacon, Walnut and Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms. I was the lucky recipient of some of the leftover filling one day and promptly went home to stuff a few mushrooms.

stuffed-mushrooms-2.jpg

Bacon, Walnut and Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms
(Makes 32 appetizers)

3 strips of cooked crisp bacon
1/2 container (250 g) spreadable herbed cream cheese
1/2 cup (125 mL) coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
32 fresh medium mushroom caps
Paprika

Crumble bacon (about 2 tbsp /25 mL) into a small bowl; mix in cheese and walnuts until well blended. Stuff each mushroom with about 1-½ tsp (7 mL) of mixture. Place on baking sheet; sprinkle with paprika. Broil just until the tops are browned slightly and filling is warm, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Tip:
* To toast walnuts, heat in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly until browned slightly, about 3 to 5 minutes. Cool.

Nutritional Information: Per Stuffed Mushroom: 29 Calories, 0.9 g Carbohydrate, 1 g Protein, 2.5 g Fat, 0.4 g Fibre
Recipe Source: mushrooms. ca

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Continue reading

Building A Holiday House

The moment the roof collapsed, I knew it was all over. My career as a builder of marshmallow igloos, that is.

The writing had probably been on the wall of the igloo project from the start. (Too bad there weren’t support beams there as well!) I had initially started out using sugar cubes as the building blocks, but for a variety of reasons that had just not worked out.

When the idea to use marshmallows occurred, it seemed to make logical sense. The shape and appearance of the marshmallows would be perfect, I naively assumed. In fact, that was true. It was building the darn thing where the problems surfaced.

Continue reading