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

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Making edible snowflakes

It’s March Break in Ontario and students are out of school for the week.

If you’re running out of things to do with your brood during the Break, consider spending time with them in the kitchen making edible snowflakes!

The kids will enjoy cutting snowflake shapes out of soft tortillas, then broiling them (with an adult’s supervision), and dusting each faux snowflake with icing sugar. They’re crisp, slightly sweet, cinnamon-scented and flavoured, and just plain fun to eat!
And since there’s not much you can do about the mountains of real snow still on the ground outside, helping the edible stuff disappear inside may give everyone at least some satisfaction!

Tortilla Snowflakes

Small flour tortillas
Melted butter
Cinnamon sugar (3 tablespoons (45 mL) sugar and 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground cinnamon)
Icing sugar

Preheat broiler.

Gently fold the tortilla in half without making a crease, then in half again. Hold the folds together without creasing the folds firmly into the tortilla. With kitchen scissors, cut out shapes and designs from the folded edges of the tortilla. Cut through all the layers, being careful not to tear the tortilla.

Open the tortilla and place it flat on a baking sheet. It should look like a snowflake. If more design is needed, carefully refold the tortilla and add more cuts. Repeat to make as many snowflakes as desired. (The number of snowflakes that can be broiled at one time will depend on the size of the snowflakes and the baking sheet.)

Using a pastry brush or an unused inexpensive artist’s paint brush, brush snowflakes with melted butter. Pick up a pinch of cinnamon sugar between your fingers and sprinkle over the snowflakes. Repeat with more cinnamon sugar until top of each snowflake is lightly covered.

Place the baking sheet with tortilla snowflakes under the broiler just until snowflakes begins to brown. Watch carefully; this only takes a minute or so. Wearing oven mitts, remove the baking sheet from the oven. Let snowflakes cool for a few minutes.

With a turner, remove snowflakes from the baking sheet to a wire rack. Let snowflakes rest for a few minutes to cool and firm. Sprinkle each with icing sugar.


* Cocoa Snowflakes: Stir 1 teaspoon (5 mL) cocoa powder into cinnamon sugar mixture. Continue with recipe as directed.

* Cheese Snowflakes: Sprinkle grated Mozzarella or Swiss cheese on the tortilla snowflake, being careful to keep cheese on the tortilla and not in the holes. Place snowflakes under broiler to brown and crisp a little, 1 to 2 minutes. Let cool and firm on a wire rack.

Recipe Source: Adapted from Cooking Art by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Jean Potter, Gryphon House, 1997

Depressing Week Not All Bad with News of Transparent Toaster!

According to Welsh researcher Dr. Cliff Arnall, this week was supposed to be the most depressing week of the year. (I guess we should all be glad it’s just about over!) Monday, January 21 was actually the saddest day of the year. Arnall devised a formula to calculate this which took into consideration things like the weather, debt loads carried by many of us post-Christmas, failure to keep our New Year’s resolutions, and motivational levels in January.

What made my week particularly depressing was that I spent an inordinate amount of time in my vehicle commuting to work in Missauga and to meetings in Toronto. Snow and cold weather, at times less-than-optimal road conditions, and traffic accidents that created chaos on the highways resulted in me wasting too much time behind the wheel of my car this week.

On the bright side, if this is as depressing a week as I’m going to have this year, other than some long commutes, the week really wasn’t that bad. And at least it’s almost over and done with!

Thankfully the commutes were made bearable by having something to listen to on my car’s radio. In the morning, I generally tune into CHYM FM for the music, traffic reports and entertaining banter between the hosts. For the drive home I like to find out what’s gone on in the world around me while I’ve spent the day concentrating on the world of eggs, so I dial up CBC’s Here and Now and As It Happens for news, interviews with interesting people doing interesting things, and current events.

During what stretched from an anticipated 1-1/2 hour drive to an over 3 hour commute from Kitchener to a meeting in downtown Toronto on Thursday morning, CHYM’s morning show hosts George and Tara talked about the development of a prototype for a transparent toaster. The toaster was applauded for its potential to end the trauma of toasting. The toaster’s transparency would allow you to see your bread while it was toasting. The toast could then be removed when it was done to your liking – eliminating burnt or under-done toast.

Before you rush out to look for the toaster, be advised that it is still in the concept stage. The idea for it was developed by the Innovations Concept Studio.

Glass toaster

Here’s how the toaster would work.

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Bring on the Biscuits!

Cheese Biscuits

Sorting through some Creative Cooking columns I wrote for The Record and Guelph Mercury, I happened across one from March ’06 which made me smile as Murray and I had just enjoyed a few meals of homemade Hamburger Soup (see post from Jan. 19) and made-from-scratch biscuits. (The biscuits in the photo are actually small cheese biscuits I made in a mini muffin/tart baking pan. They took about 9 minutes to bake.)

When the column was initially published, apparently Murray endured a little teasing from a few friends and colleagues who read it.

Read on to learn why. And for a good basic recipe (with variations) for biscuits.

I will admit it may have been a less than stellar supper that appeared on our kitchen table a few nights ago. But at that point in what had been a busy week and a particularly long day, I figured I had done well to produce something edible at all.

When my hungry husband sat down to a supper of hot biscuits and soup, and then spied the empty soup can on the kitchen counter (I had neglected to recycle it immediately after opening it), his response to that night’s menu was “at least we’re having biscuits.”

To be fair to canned soups everywhere, there are many good varieties that come in a can. This was a thick, stew-like soup to which I had added some frozen vegetables. But my husband is just not a big canned soup fan. Fair enough. That’s why I lovingly prepared some biscuits to serve with the soup. From a box of Bisquick, mind you.

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