Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Cape Breaton Nan's Pie Crust

Cape Breaton Nan's Pie Crust

Makes enough dough for a top and bottom crust

Ingredients:

1/2 Cup butter
1/2 Cup Vegetable Shortening
2 Cup flour
3 Tablespoons ice cold water
1 Tablespoon Lemon juice
1 egg

Instructions:

In a food processor Pulse the butter, vegetable shortening and flour together just until a smooth sandy consistency is reached. The key to a light a flaky pie crust is to never ever over mix. Transfer to a large bowl and create a well in the center of the bowl. In a small bowl lightly whisk the egg, and add the water and lemon juice, add all at once to the flour mixture and quickly combine with your hands. Trying to not over mix as we still need to knead! Turn the just combined dough onto a floured surface and lightly knead till smooth and workable. Divide dough into two balls, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in fridge for at least an hour. After chilling dough, roll it out onto a floured surface and lift onto pie by rolling the rolled out dough onto the rolling pin, and rolling off into the pie plate.  Fill and finish the pie according to the recipe. This dough usually bakes well at 350°F for 10-15 minutes for an empty shell, or upwards of 35 minutes for a filled pie.

Enjoy!

Notes:

So Nearly a month ago I posted a recipe for Snow White's Poison Apple Pie but failed to include my recipe for home made pie crust.  The thing is I couldn't quite find where I had written down my favorite pie crust recipe.  Which makes it extra unfortunate that I was just having a laugh at my mother in my last post about her bad recipe organizing system.  But oh well, I am a scatter brain in a different way than my mother; but we still very alike no matter what.  But let's return to the task at hand, making a perfect pie crust by hand!  It really isn't that hard to pull off, but a lot of people just don't feel they can make a good pie crust, or at least maybe they just feel it's too much work, or the store made ones are good enough.  But pie making should be a prerequisite for marriage in my books, so it's a good thing I already got this pie making thing down.

I must also confess that I am not the one who was lucky enough to have a Cape Breaton Nan growing up, I had a hard line Scots woman as Grammie who was quite bored by children by the time I came around and a lovely Nanny from Nova Scotia. My best friend was the lucky one in the baking Nan department.  My friend was kind enough to share her family recipe for pie crust and I tweaked it a bit to better serve my needs, and because there isn't a recipe on the planet that I don't try and change up.

"Never Ever Fails Fudge"

Fudge

Ingredients:

3 Cup Brown sugar
3/4 Cup butter
1/2 Cup milk
Dash salt
1 1/2 Teaspoon vanilla
2 Cup Castors or icing sugar (really fine powdered sugar)
1/2 cup flour
Non-stick cooking spray

Instructions:

In a medium sauce pan over medium heat combine brown sugar, butter, milk, and salt. Bring the mixture to a strong boil, one that remains boiling after stirring.  Allow to boil for 6 minutes while stirring often.  In a medium bowl whisk the fine sugar and flour together, and spray a 9 inch round or square glass/pyrex pan. After the mixture has boiled for 6 minutes, remove from heat and the flour mixture gradually while mixing with an electric mixer until everything is combined and the batter is starting to thicken, pour the batter into the prepared pan and  try and get it to settle smooth and even in the pan.  Set the pan in the fridge until the fudge gas set which can take between 3 and 5 hours.  Once the fudge has set, cut it into squares and transfer to a container with a lid where it will keep in the fridge for about a week.

Some times I like to add a coating of Skor Chippets to the top of my fudge, which are just little toffee chips made by Hersey. If you can get anything like that I highly suggest trying it. I might not love fudge, but even I can't resist it with Skor chips on top. Oh and if you put the Skor on top, call it something fancy like Caramel crunch fudge, or Cobble Street fudge. People like fancy names.

Enjoy!

Notes:

Can't lie, this isn't my favorite dessert, but it was a favorite of my little brothers growing up, so I did make it a lot more often than most people. Home made fudge does seem to be falling out of popularity, which is a real shame given how easy it is.  Especially this recipe.

The funny thing about this particular recipe is that my little brother had fudge at some other kids birthday party when he was very young and he loved it. So our mother, who was always a champion dessert maker and cook in general (which is hilarious given that she never ate most of what she made) but when she tried to make her mother's recipe for fudge it failed quite miserably. This might be because unlike myself, my mother does not like to write everything out, so she has books and boxes filled with recipes that were passed down to her by my grandmother, but neither of us can use them because pretty much all of them are just lists of ingredients and a title.  That is not a helpful recipe index system if you ask me.  So it's no wonder that her first attempt at fudge was a failure because I am nearly certain that most people who tried to make fudge that way the first time would fail.

However, lets get back to the point, my mother was a dessert queen. Until her fudge failed and my little brother being the sweet child that he was, must have complained to his friend that his mom couldn't make awesome fudge like his mom could.  So a few days later my sweet baby brother came home from school beaming from ear to ear because his friends mom had sent over her recipe for "Never Ever Fails Fudge", which was the title the lovely lady had written on the top of the recipe card.  My mother took that rather poorly and was mortified thinking that people wouldn't trust her desserts in the same way anymore.

Of course that was a foolish thought, no one trusts a six year old boy as a food critic and my mother was still known throughout the land as the queen of dessert making. But every once and a while it's good to remind even a queen that she is still only human.

So knowing no one can be perfect all the time let's make some "Never Ever Fails Fudge"!

Northern Style Buffalo Sauce

Northern Style Buffalo Sauce

Ingredients:

1/2 Cup Chili or hot sauce
2 Tablespoons Honey
1 Teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 
1/2 Teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 Teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon garlic
1 Tablespoon butter

Instructions:

In a medium sized sauce pan melt the butter while stirring and continue to cook until it just begins to brown.

Turn heat to medium setting and add the remaining ingredients.

Allow sauce to just come to a simmer, while stirring often.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Serve warm over chicken, or transfer to a container with a  lid and cool in the fridge to serve later. Will keep for only about 3-4 days, and the flavor will get a bit stronger after it has cooled over night.

So toss some breaded chicken in the sauce, turn to coat and serve some buffalo style wings or fingers! Easy and pleasing appetizer for any casual event.

Enjoy!

Notes:

To go with some awesome fried chicken, or baked chicken, or chicken fingers, or anything else that you could want. Makes a good sauce to add to a chicken sandwich with lettuce and tomato and spice it all up.  There are also a couple different ways to make this sauce. I originally took this out of one of my mom's old community fundraising cookbooks from a place called, Havre Boucher.  Which is somewhere on the north-east end of Nova Scotia, and a very very small place.  The original recipe called for chili sauce, but I had no idea what that was, neither did my mom, so I tried a couple of different things that could be called a chili sauce and the two that I personally enjoyed the most were Sriracha Chili Garlic Sauce, or Rooster sauce as some people know it, or Picante Bufalo Salsa Clasica. Sriracha is a more mellow kind of hot flavor in the sauce I find, while the Salsa Clasica adds a much more Mexican hot spicy flavor to it.  But basically any chili based sauce mix is going to work well here, as long as it adds the kind of flavor that you want. Oh there is also honey in this recipe, and I suggest you try and find a locally produced honey versus a mass produced honey from the grocery store.  If you use the grocery store brands you might as well just use sugar because real and local honey add a more complex flavor to anything and just taste better than anything that has sat in plastic on a shelf for ages has.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Swedish Meatball Gravy

Since I seem to be on a meatball kick lately might as well keep the ball rolling with another way to serve meatballs! Yay! So this recipe can be used with the meatball recipe that I posted a few days ago.  If you want to punch up the flavor a bit- adding about 1/2 - 1 teaspoon each of nutmeg, ground cloves, and paprika to the basic meatball mince recipe will really add some nice depth to the original meat ball.  But if you happen to have made a large batch of the original and have them in your fridge or freezer, they wont go astray in this recipe either, I have served them both ways and they have been a hit regardless.

The only slightly tricky thing to this recipe is that is requires making a roux to thicken the sauce.  Basically the easiest way I find to make a good roux is to start by melting the butter in the frying pan until it is just melted, then add in an equal amount in flour to the pan and gently whisk it all together, ensuring to get all the lumps out until a smooth paste is formed. For this recipe I've found that going at a medium low heat is best, and then allowing the roux paste to cook for about 1 minute works really well. Once the roux is cooked you are ready to add in the rest of the ingredients and being reducing the sauce.

Swedish Meatball Gravy

Ingredients:

3 Tablespoons Butter
3 Tablespoons flour
2 Cup milk
1 Teaspoon paprika
1 Teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon allspice
1/2 Teaspoon ground cloves
1 Teaspoon salt
1 Teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Instructions:

Begin by heating a sauce pan over medium heat and using the above tips making a roux from the flour and butter and allowing it to cook for about one minute.  Once the roux is ready add the milk to the sauce pan and whisk until everything is smooth and looking pretty again.  It will be a bit lumpy when you start but as it cooks over the heat and you whisk it well it will become nice and smooth again, it just takes a few minutes and a bit of work.

Once the sauce is smooth add the remaining seasoning and reduce the heat to low and allow it to simmer for between 10 and 15 minutes.

After the sauce as simmered give it a taste and adjust any seasonings as needed.  More kick comes from the pepper and paprika and more savory-sweet elements are added by the nutmeg and cloves.  If it is just a little flat try more salt.  Now the sauce is just about ready, if it still seems to be a little too thin for a gravy just let it reduce a few minutes longer, if it has gone too far and is too thick ad a tablespoon or two of milk.

Once you are happy with the sauce, you can either throw the meatballs right in the sauce pan and let them bubble away for about 10 minutes before serving, or the meatballs can be arranged in a baking pan and covered with the sauce and baked in the oven at about 375°F for 15-20 minutes, or until the meatballs are warmed through.  I like to serve Swedish meatballs over lightly buttered egg noodles, but my fiance seems to be under the impression that they go better with rice.  The choice is yours!

Enjoy!

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Sweet and Sour Sauce

Sweet and Sour Sauce

Ingredients

1 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tablespoons corn starch
1 Cup water
3/4 Cup vinegar
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 Cup Ketchup
1 Tablespoon mustard

Instructions:

In a small bowl whisk the corn starch into the water set aside.  Measure the remaining ingredients into a medium sauce pan and whisk to combine them.

Turn the heat onto medium and when the sauce begins to nearly boil whisk in the water and corn starch mixture.  Continue to whisk until the sauce comes to a boil, then reduce the heat.  Stir occasionally while the sauce simmers for 10-15 minutes, or until it is a nice consistency.

The sauce is now ready to serve.  To serve with meat balls, add the cooked meatballs to the sauce pan and allow to simmer for 10 minutes before serving.  If serving with chicken or pork, simply ladle the sauce over the cooked meat. Or for an appetizer pour the sauce into a small bowl and serve the meat balls cocktail style (with a tooth pick in it)  The sauce will keep for 3 days in a sealed container in the fridge.

Enjoy!

Notes:

Excellent for meatballs, or over a nice piece of chicken, or pork. It's also the closest recipe that I have that replicates a meatball dish that one of my aunts used to make at Christmas.  I've been dreaming about those meatballs for years, ever since I moved away from home and had to miss out on family Christmas dinner, so these are both awesome as a weekday meal and good for bringing me some nostalgic joy.

So if you grew up int he '80s  and loved someone's recipe for sweet and sour meatballs this might be just the ticket for you.

Basic Meat Balls

Meat Balls

Ingredients:

1.5 pounds ground beef and 1/2 pound ground pork, or two pounds ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, very finely minced, or pulsed in a food processor
1 clove garlic, very finely minced or pulsed in food processor with the onion
dash salt and pepper each
1 Tsp onion powder
1 Tsp parsley, finely chopped
1 Egg, lightly beaten
about 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375°F, and prepare a large baking sheet by covering it with tin foil.

In a large bowl combine all the ingredients and using a kind of kneading motion inside the bowl mix thoroughly with your hands until it all evenly distributed.  The meat mixture should have a nice even consistency and when it is rolled into a ball it keeps it shape. If your mixture is still too runny and sticky add in more bread crumbs until balls can be formed.

Once the mixture is evenly mixed and at the right consistency, begin rolling the meat into balls that are about 1 inch in diameter and placing them on a large baking sheet covered with tin foil.  Space the balls just far enough apart that none of them are touching each other.  When all the balls are rolled and placed on the baking sheet place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes.  At 20 minutes check the temperature of the meatballs with a meat thermometer or by breaking one apart and  making sure it is cooked through.

The meat balls are now ready to eat, you can serve them plain or with a sauce of your choosing, If serving them in a sauce, I would recommend allowing them to stew in the sauce in a pot for about 15-20 minutes before eating just to make sure the sauce flavor gets into meat balls.

Enjoy!

Notes:

Meat balls are one of the most universally useful things you can make when you have a bit of ground beef on hand.  You can use them with spaghetti and tomato sauce, with a gravy, with sweet and sour sauce, or Swedish gravy or goodness gracious  stick a tooth pick in the top and serve them on a nice try with a dipping sauce and you have a very pleasing appetizer.  I like to add a bit of ground pork in with my ground beef just to add a little extra flavor to the final meat ball, but I have my own meat grinder so getting just a little bit of ground pork is a pretty easy task for me.  These meat balls will be moist and tasty if you use only ground beef or a mixture of beef and pork.  I haven't tried this recipe with ground chicken, but I don't think it would work as well since there is a lot less fat in ground poultry and I think they might dry out during the oven baking process.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Lemon and Herb Salmon en Papillote

Lemon and Herb Salmon en Papillote

Ingredients:


4 Salmon fillets
1 large White Onion
2 Clove Garlic
1 bunch Basil
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Parchment paper, about 12′X12″ squares work well
4 Lemon wedges
2 Lemon halves
Fresh parsley leaves

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Finely slice the white onion, mince the garlic, and coarsely chop the basil leaves. Combine the onion, garlic, and basil in a small bowl and lightly drizzle with some olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Tear off four sheets of parchment paper that are large enough to completely wrap up each salmon fillet, with excess to wrap. Think of it like loosely gift wrapping the salmon. Lay out each sheet of parchment and divvy up small amount of the onion, garlic, and basil mix in the center of each sheet, be generous, you want to have a nice bed of herbs and onion for the salmon fillet to lie on. Drizzle each with a bit more olive oil.
Season each Salmon fillet with salt and pepper on each side and place on top of the onion, garlic, and basil mix on each sheet of parchment. If your salmon has skin, cook it skin side down.Squeeze one of the lemon halves over the top of all four salmon fillets and fold the parchment around the salmon. I like to fold the sides in first as far as they will go, and then fold the bottom up to the center, and the top down to meet it, and then curl and crimp the top and bottom flaps into each other so each salmon is in its own little loose paper box. It doesn’t need to look perfectly pretty, just so long as it is a mostly sealed environment for the salmon to cook in, sometimes my folding doesn’t go perfectly but then I can just use a toothpick to help hold it all together.
Once each salmon fillet is wrapped and sealed up, place them on a large baking sheet along with the remaining lemon wedge, cut side down. Place in the oven on a middle rack and back for between 7-14 minutes. I usually leave mine in for about 10 and find that they are perfectly cooked for my taste. To serve, slice the baked lemon wedge in four, open the parchment packages, remove the salmon, and serve with a fresh lemon wedge and the baked one, sprinkled with some parsley and fresh salt and pepper.
Serve this with a wild and brown rice blend, or a spinach salad. And with butter tossed roasted vegetables.
Enjoy! 

Guacamole

Guacamole

Ingredients:

1 whole fresh avocado
3 garlic cloves - or less, I happen to love garlic is all
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 small white or yellow onion
1/4 Cup diced tomato, rinsed of seeds and drained of any excess liquid
Dash salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

First prepare the onion and garlic by either finely mincing it or I like to pulse it in my food processor until it is fairly smooth, a few chunky pieces wont hurt the final dip any.

Peel both avocado's, and remove the pits, rise off and hold on to one of them.

Using a potato masher in a medium bowl or really sturdy fork mash the avocado and the onion-garlic mix together until evenly combined.

Stir in tomatoes.

Season the dip with salt, pepper and add the lime juice, stir to mix evenly.

Taste it, if it needs more spice add more pepper, if it needs more zip, more lime juice, if it is not quite right try salt, salt really helps pick up flavors.

Once you are satisfied Using a spatula transfer the guacamole to your serving dish.

Place the pit from one of the avocados into the center of the dip bowl and the dip is ready to serve, or it can be covered and chilled for a few hours.

Guacamole is best served fresh!

Enjoy!

Notes:

Simple, easy to make and good for you, guacamole is a super dip to know how to make. Just remember to get two good avocado, look back to the Avocado Loaf for tips on finding a good quality avocado.  Also keep in mind that fresh foods lose nutritional value every single day, so this is a dip that is best made right before you plan to serve it, or just a couple of hours before.  After you skin the avocado, hold onto the large pit in the center, and stick that in the middle of your prepared guacamole in it's serving bowl to help keep it looking fresh and green.  The pit helps slow the oxidation process which is what will eventually turn the guacamole a brown-grey kind of color (same process that browns apples, but we know we can stop that with some lemon juice too, right?).

So Get two good avocado, and hold on to the one of the pits and get ready to enjoy.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Spicy Ranch Dip

Spicy Ranch Dip

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Ranch dressing
1/2 cup Caesar dressing
2 chopped green onion stalks
1 teaspoon crushed chilies
Dash paprika

Instructions:

In a small mixing bowl, or the bowl you plan to serve it in, mix together everything except the paprika. Sprinkle the paprika over the top once everything is mixed. Serve or keep covered in the fridge until ready to serve. May also be kept in the fridge for about three days.

Enjoy!

Notes:

Seriously the easiest thing I ever make and people die for it! Ever have surprise guests and then panic over how you can be a good host and provide a snack? This is my go-to recipe for just that purpose. I always end up going to it because I pretty much always have the things to make it.  Or if I don't have the exact things for recipe version A, then there are about a million substitutions that can be done and still end up with nearly the same dip. Plus the extra nice thing about it is that it can be served with just about anything at all that you happen to have on hand. I usually try for a nice cracker with it in a pinch, or some toasted bread cut into fingers, tempura fried veg are lovely, chicken wings, chips etc. Anything you normally dip can be used.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Cheese Ball


Cheese Ball





Ingredients:


Imperial Cheese
Cream cheese, about 6-8 ounces (one block)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Crushed pecans to roll the finished ball in



Instructions:

Take the  Imperial cheese and cream cheese out of the fridge and allow them to sit on the counter for at least 30 minutes, this allows the cheeses to soften up a bit and will make mixing much easier in a second.

In a large bowl with high sides, add everything except the crushed pecans and mix with electric mixers on a low speed until it is all evenly mixed.  Using your hands shape the cheese "dough" into two balls.  On a small plate spread out the crushed pecans and roll each cheese ball in the crushed pecans until evenly coated.

Wrap the cheese ball in wax or parchment paper until ready to serve, or wrap in paper, then place inside a ziplock bag and freeze.  If freezing the ball for a later time, let the cheese ball thaw completely in the fridge before serving. Which will take pretty much a whole day.

Do not try and thaw it in a microwave, it is a soft cheese based product and instead of a thawed cheese ball all you'll have to show for your work is a puddle of orange goo.

Serve with crackers at a party

Enjoy!

Notes:

Here is the simplest appetizer recipe that I know. It involves no cooking, not a whole lot of measuring, and even if you just eyeball everything it pretty much can't go wrong.  Plus the way my mother and I have always done it, is such that you end up with two good sized cheese balls at the end and you can freeze one for something else. . . though we have found that people tend to eat the first one really quickly. So just follow the easy instructions below, and serve the cheese ball on a nice plate, with a few cheese knives to make serving easier and crackers or sometimes I make little toast squares from a nice bread if I happen to have some on hand!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Japanese Dumpling Sauce

Japanese Dumpling Sauce

Ingredients:

2 Tb soy sauce, or 1 Tb each of dark and regular soy sauce
1 Tb murin, or 1/2 Tb white sugar
1 Tsp garlic powder, or 1 smallish clove of garlic very finely minced and pressed
2 Tsp cider or white vinegar

*Sometimes I also add a teaspoon of oyster sauce if I happen to have it. It's not needed, and some people do not like.

Garnish with sesame seeds and or finely sliced green onion

Instructions:

Mix everything together in a small dish, and serve, will keep for a few days if covered and stored in a fridge, the garlic taste may become stronger as it ages if you used a clove of garlic, just a heads up.

Enjoy!

Notes:

So I don't think this has been mentioned before, but my fiance spent over a year in Korea and other Asian countries, teaching English and just generally enjoying another culture.  This is why he has such a passion for all Asian food. Myself on the other hand, had spent my entire life thinking there was only chicken balls and fried rice to enjoy in the Asian scene.  So very slowly I am letting some Asian cuisine creep into my plans for meals every once and a while.  One thing that was pretty easy to get into were dumplings.  Growing up with a pretty Irish-Scottish-Canadian family, dumplings had never once in any way been on my menu. No dumplings, no perogies, no doughboys with soup, nothing like that. I must say that I was missing out. What good is it to be able to make perfect biscuits all the time anyways? I want variety in my options!

So let us return to dumplings, they are a pretty easy thing to make, but it can be a tedious process, so I'm saving that for later. Which is alright because at a lot of grocery stores there are frozen or even fresh dumplings options that are a good sub on a night you want a quick snack.  Making a nice sauce to go with the dumplings is an easy way to at least start adding some home made goodness.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Reading List, 2013

I really enjoy reading, and I have kind of always wanted to keep a tally of how many books I have read. Well since I plan to actually keep on top of this blog for once, here might be my best chance! So I will update this with all of the books I read in a year and if I enjoyed it, that way I can keep a better track of what I've read recently and what I enjoyed so I know I can come back to it.

Here we go!

Books for 2013

The Wheel of Time - All excellent books. If you like detailed fantasy books. I have never loved or felt so challenged by a series before. Challenged in a good way, the world is just so complex, so detailed. It is just wonderful.

  1. The Eye of the world - Robert Jordan
  2. The Great Hunt - Robert Jordan
  3. The Dragon Reborn - Robert Jordan
  4. The Shadow Rising - Robert Jordan
  5. The Fires of Heaven - Robert Jordan
  6. The Lord Of Chaos - Robert Jordan
  7. A Crown of Swords - Robert Jordan
  8. The Path of Daggers - Robert Jordan
  9. Winter's Heart - Robert Jordan, Finished April 29, 2013
  10. Crossroads of Twilight- Robert Jordan, Finished May 28, 2013
  11. Knife of Dreams - Robert Jordan, Finished June 14, 2013
  12. The Gathering Storm - Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, Finished June 22, 2013
  13. Towers of Midnight - Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, Finished June 26, 2013
  14. A Memory of Light - Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, Finished July 7, 2013
Now that it is all over, I loved every page of this book. The ending was great. I will definitely be coming back to this series. 

15. Life of Pi - Yann Martel, Finished June 29 (Been reading this one slowly on the side of The Wheel of Time). A good book to read unless you have already seen the movie Life of Pi by Ang Lee. Both versions were beautiful and well done, so choose your own medium of choice and enjoy this lovely story.

16. The Wind Through the Keyhole - Steven King, Finished July 14 
I Read the Dark Tower series last year, very much enjoyed it, though Steven King is not quite the master writer that Robert Jordan was. The Wind Through the Keyhole is a late addition to the Dark Tower series but it fits in nicely.

17. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams - Wayne Johnston, Finished July 22
A good work of fiction, was easy to get into and laced in accurate historical details about the life and times of Joey Smallwood (He would be the political leader who helped Newfoundland join Canada in confederation). Not bad but not my favorite. Worth a read once I suppose.

18. Spin -  Robert Charles Wilson, Finished July 23
Since it took me the massively long time of an entire day to read this one, I am sure you can assume that I must have loved it. You would be right. Science fiction has to be pretty darn awesome before I am drawn to it and this was such a novel. The world and characters are all bright a vibrant and you feel as though you could be there with them. There are two sequel novels to Spin, so I will be reading them next and swiftly. Really can not wait to read more about this exciting future world.

19. Axis - Robert Charles Wilson, Finished July 28


20. Vortex - Robert Charles Wilson, Finished July 28

Since I read Vortex in a single day along with finishing Axis, I will just lump them together since that is about how I will remember them. While Spin was near expert in its delivery, the two sequels do pale slightly in comparison. I still really enjoyed the series and what it had to say, but I am still sadly left wanting just a little more from this series.

21. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card, Finished July 30

I wont lie, I had read this one before. But it is an excellent novel, and since I have already admitted to re-reading it at least once, I'm sure you can infer that I enjoy this one. I also hear a movie is coming out soon, I rarely get excited for a movie anymore so if I am excited to see something it must be a pretty big deal. Honestly, I don't even hear about most movies anymore.

22. Another Trilogy has been started!

The Braided Path Trilogy
The Weavers of Saramyr - Chris Wooding, Finished August 4
Pretty interesting story, I have no idea how this is going to go but the first novel at least was an excellent read. It opens with a mystery and murder and you can't wait to solve it.

23. The Skein of Lament - Chris Wooding, Finished August 14
Still enjoying this trilogy, but it's not as strong as some other stories I have been reading this year. Good but not top marks for writing and complexity.

24. The Ascendancy Veil - Chris Wooding, Finished August 17
Good ending to the trilogy, left me feeling satisfied.

25. Hence forth 2013 shall be remembered as the year of the trilogies! Yay.
The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss, Finished August 21
Book one of the Kingkiller Chronicles. Simply fantastic. I've already read into book two and as a novel it is beautiful. The story is intense, complicated and layered and building so well. Once again another page turner that I just do not want to put down until I finish it.

26. The Wise Man's Fear - Patrick Rothfuss, Finished August 29
Book two in the Kingkiller Chronicles.  Excellent second novel but I have no idea how I will ever manage to wait for the third installment of the series now.

27. A Dance with Dragons - George R. R. Martin, Finished September 5
Already read these once, this is just another round on the horse for fun. A Song of Ice and Fire is an excellent series and everyone should read it.

28. A Feast For Crows - George R.R. Martin, Finished September 14

29. A Dance with Dragons - George R.R. Martin, Finished September 19


30. The Reason I Jump -  

Autistic Spectrum disorder at university and have a bit of experience with children of different needs. So It wasn't a life changing book for me, but worthwhile the short time it takes to read.


*****

October 18th, Loaded up the Kobo with about 50 more novels so more reading will be happening very soon, I was just on vacation and busy with a friend's wedding and Halloween season and oh my god did you know that as an adult you still need to find time to clean your house when you are busy? It is quite an unfair arrangement.


Oh plus its Halloween season, which means I need to keep an eye on my lovely set of kitchen shears, that boyfriend is aware are only for food and kitchen prep work. He tends to forget this kitchen commandment in October and tries to steal them to cut wires or some other terrible construction related material. Then gets sad when I get mad about it. Ugh I love Halloween but thank god it is only once a year. . .


*****

31. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak, Finished October 22
A story of The Holocaust, as told by death as he follows the life of one girl, from her abandonment by her mother to foster parents, until the end of her life. It was an intriguing read and held me captivated the entire time I was reading it. The character of death is an interesting choice for a narrator, especially as he re-counts the numbers of all those he had to carry away during the Second World War, and how he felt about it.  The beauty is in the story and in the details shared about this one girl's life so I wont be spoiling anything but I do think it should be put on the good book to read list.

32. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood, Finished October 23
Dystopian novel where society has changed drastically and women's rights are removed. It was good, but I think it may have lost some of it's power over the years, as it was first published in 1985 and things in society have come a long way even since then. I just found I had difficulty relating to the main character and felt her to be just slightly too passive for my tastes. I prefer my women to be symbols of strength. But still a well written story and it was interesting.

33. The Stand - Steven King, Finished November 7
Excellent start, not so good towards the middle-end. Oh Steven King, always so close to an excellent novel but never quite getting there. A super flu which kills most people infected has started to spread, how will people in a Steven King universe deal with this? 


34. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain, Finished November 18
Time for a classic novel. It was a classic novel, enjoyable but not really my thing. Glad I did read it at least the once, but maybe once was enough on this one. 

35. The Wind Up Bird Chronicle: Book of the Thieving Magpie -  Haruki Murakami, Finished November 23
Oddly enough this is another book which has been translated from Japanese to English for the reading pleasure of the world. The first installment of this trilogy was quite a good read, a little bit of personal narrative with a bit of mystery thrown in. I quite enjoyed reading this novel and moved very quickly onto the second.

36. The Wind Up Bird Chronicle: Book of the Prophesying Bird Haruki Murakami, Finished November 23
Second book in the series, I don't think I am getting all of the cultural references, or the ones which pertain to Japan's role during any of the wars in the past century. Also the technology talked about is now terribly out of date and it is jarring how out of place some of the technology related scenes feel now. Also enjoying this one less than the first.

37. The Wind Up Bird Chronicle:Book of the Bird-Catcher Man - Haruki Murakami, Finished December 5
This was a drag to finish reading. I dislike the ending, dislike where the story went and was disappointed with the resolution. Possibly my least favorite book I've read this year.

Well that was a good start and a bad end to the year. Hopefully next year is filled with even more excellent books!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Homemade White Bread

Making bread is easy. If someone has shown you the way and you have pretty much a full day to dedicate to it. Plus the smell of baking bread is pretty much one of the most delightful smells to fill a home with.  I learned to make bread from my grandmother,  mostly because she had arthritis in her hands so badly that she couldn't knead the dough properly anymore and needed some assistance from a young person with good strong hands.  I will try and explain the best method for kneading dough, remember when you are done kneading the dough shouldn't be sticky anymore, it should have a really nice and smooth outer layer that isn't flaky. I'm also going to explain how I roll up my dough into the loaf shape because I am convinced that this method makes a much nicer finished loaf when it's all said and done. Some people just kind of push the dough into a loaf shape and drop it in the pan, I think that is lazy, seriously after you've spent over two hours with a dough why would you drop the [dough] ball then? So best of luck with your bread making. Read instructions carefully, and in full before you get started and you pretty nearly can't go wrong. OH I nearly forgot, this is a recipe for white bread, made with white all purpose or bread flour, this recipe isn't the right recipe to use if you want to make brown bread, with whole wheat flour. I'll get around to putting up other bread recipes later if that is what you are interested in.

White Bread

Ingredients:

5 3/4 - 6 1/2 cups flour (sifted is best if you happen to have a flour sifter, but it really wont make too much of a difference)
 1 heaping tablespoon of dry active yeast (1 package of bread machine yeast will also work)
2 1/4 cups milk or buttermilk (if using milk, 2% is best, fat helps keep the bread moist)
1 tablespoon butter (if you insist on it; margarine, lard, shortening also work. I prefer butter)
1 teaspoons salt*

*I must confess that I almost never measure salt, you might also be a person who doesn't measure salt, I don't do it because I just usually find that adding significantly less salt to a recipe tends to give the same results, but with less sodium per serving.  I have already used a reduced measurement of salt in this recipe compared to most. So using less salt than 1 teaspoon could result in blander bread.)

Instructions:

In a large mixing bowl combine 2 1/2 cups of the sifted flour and the yeast and set aside for the moment.  In a double boiler or in a stainless steel mixing bowl over a sauce pan with boiling water in it, combine the milk, sugar, butter and salt and heat gently until the butter is melted and the mixture feels warm to the touch.  NOT hot to the touch, otherwise you run the risk of killing the yeast cells and then the bread wont rise.  If you happen to overheat the mixture don't panic just set it aside off the heat for a few minutes and let it come back down in temperature.

When the milk mixture is warmed add it to the large bowl with the flour mixture and beat on high speed for about 3 minutes.  I use my stand mixture for this and only turn it about to about the 6th speed, or on my hand beaters I use the fastest setting, I'm a speed demon! Now, fine points here, My stand mixer has attachments that are shaped to constantly scrape the batter back down into the main bowl, which is awesome; Should you not have such a luxury, I suggest nearly constantly scraping the sides of your bowl to push the batter back down.  This will ensure that the yeast is evenly distributed, which in turn will ensure that your final loaf rises and bakes evenly.  Using an electric beating method isn't 100% required to make good white bread, my grandmother certainly did not use it with her recipe, but I have found that this quick little step really helps give some lift to the bread during the rising process. Next, using a sturdy [I have broken some. . . ] wooden spoon stir in as much of the remaining flour (about 4 1/2 remember?) as you can.

This amount can vary DRASTICALLY, depending on nearly anything from the weather, humidity, your relative elevation, how careful of a measure-er you are, the type of flour used, or something that only the flour has noticed. Flour is worse than anyone's boyfriend/girlfriend for being finicky, I promise you. Also it is normal to not get to stir in all of this flour measurement, we still need to knead! Which will incorporate more flour into the dough.

Once you have stirred in as much of the flour as you can, it's time to knead! Kneading is a slightly tedious process, it should take you at least 8 minutes of kneading before your dough is ready. Kneading dough is also pretty easy if you know the idea, my method involved using both hands together as a single kneading unit, all you really need to do is pull the dough gently on the side opposite you, farther away from you, turn it back over on top of itself and push the dough down into itself with the "heel" of your hand, the meaty bit right above your wrist. Then just repeat this process over and over again, lightly sprinkling more flour on the dough and turning it as you go, make sure the work surface you are using is kept pretty evenly floured. Keep  it up until the dough ball is smooth and elastic. It really will look pretty darn smooth and even, and be very elastic (will try and pull back to its original shape when stretched) when it is ready.  Shape your ready dough into a ball and lightly oil the outside with canola/vegetable/olive, and place it back in the flour bowl, which should be reasonably clean after you dumped the dough onto the kneading surface.  Cover the bowl with a clean tea or kitchen towel, and set it in a warm, draft free place to rise until roughly double in size.  This can take between 45-60 minutes, try not to leave it for too long past the hour mark to prevent the dough from "over-proofing

After the dough has finished rising this time, make a fist and punch the center of your dough ball down and turn the dough ball out into a floured surface and divide the dough into two equal portions, or if you have a jumbo loaf pan you can leave it in one. Cover the dough again and let it rest for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes shape each loaf by rolling out the dough as flat as you can, it wont be very large because of how elastic the dough is, that's ok.  Then roll the dough up tightly so it forms a loaf and drop it into your greased loaf pan with the seam side on the bottom.  Gently do some finishing shaping so it looks pretty. Cover again and let it rise for about 30 minutes. Now it's time to get the oven on! Preheat it to 375C. Bake for about 35-40 minutes before checking on it, give it a tap on top and it should sound sort of hollow when it is done.  If your dough crust is starting to get to dark you can either brush some milk on it to keep it from toasting more, or loosely cover it with foil until it is done. Once it is finished baking, transfer loaf to a cooling rack to cool completely.

If you plan to eat it now, enjoy! If you want to freeze it, as soon as the loaf is completely cool, wrap it up in several layers of plastic wrap, and then a large ziplock bag and it will keep in the freezer for about a month before it starts to suffer too much.

Fresh bread will only last a couple of days when kept on the counter. Bread shouldn't be stored in a fridge. The fridge will dry the bread out completely.

Enjoy!

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Perfect Chips!

As in kettle chips or french fries or whatever else you want to call them. I love them. They might be one of my favorite foods, which is a bad thing for a girl trying to plan and get fit for a wedding. But I digress, just because I must limit my intake of delicious golden-fried-chips, doesn't mean I should keep the secret of making them perfect to myself. So below I will outline my process. It is pretty much the same if you are making a french fry or a round dollar chip, or super thin chips. Just the time in the fryer will change, so it takes about 5-6 minutes for fries, between 4-5+ for dollar chips, and only 3-4 minutes for thin sliced chips.


Tips:

  • Perfectly clean oil in your fryer is not your friend. If you just cleaned your fryer and the oil is brand new, throw a couple frozen fries in the oil and let them cook before you start the actual chip making process. This dirties up the oil a bit and make more better cooking results. Not sure why, it just is.
  • Checking the fries as they cook is important, they need to be shaken up to ensure they cook evenly.
  • Do not overcrowd the basket or else you get a soggy fat mess. 
  • The process I use is a double-fry one.  The fries will look like they are awesome after the first frying, but after about 2 minutes they become real limp. The double fry method works so well by first cooking the potatoes through once, and then cooking again to crisp up the outer shell. Creating that perfect french fry texture that would create a deadly poutine or with just a bit of gravy.
  • Allowing the cup chips to soak in ice cold water is also a very important step. It changes the internal water balance of the potatoes and helps make that crunchy shell happen,
Perfect Fried Chips!

So perfect, so yummy! These are crinkle cut russet potatoes (I have a crinkle cutting hand blade).


Ingredients:

Oil for the deep fryer
Salt
Potatoes (I find usually that about 3 fist sized potatoes makes a heaping serving for 2 people)

Instructions:

Cut up the potatoes into fries, dollars, or chips, and place the cut chips into a bowl of ice water and allow them potatoes to chill out in the fridge for between 30 minutes to two hours.

After heat up the deep fryer until it is ready.   Remove enough of the potato chips to fill your fryer basket and pat them dry. The dryer the better they will fry.

Follow the guide for cooking times.

French Fries
Shake the basket after 3 minutes
Should be cooked after six minutes total cooking time

Dollar Chips
Shake after 2 minutes
Should be cooked after 4 minutes total cooking time

Thin Chips
Shake after 1 minute
Should be cooked after 3-4 minutes total cooking time

Keep in mind that fryer temps vary between units so these times are just an estimate. Remember to always keep a close on a working deep fryer to prevent nasty accidents.

After cooking the chips once, spread them out on a cooking rack covered with paper towels to drain the fat. Allow the blanched chips to cool for roughly 10 minutes.  After ten minutes repeat the cooking process.  This should crisp up the chips and they are ready to eat now!

Enjoy!

Easy Waffles!

Easy Waffles

Makes about 8-10 waffles in my square double waffle iron

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 3/4 cup milk (I prefer 2% milk)
1/2 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla, or 1 each of vanilla and almond extract

Special Tools:

Waffle Iron

Instructions:

Start heating up your waffle iron!

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Create a well in the center of the bowl, set aside.  In another medium sized bowl beat the eggs lightly and stir in the milk, oil and vanilla.  All at once add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just moistened and the flour is incorporated with the egg mixture. It will still be lumpy, that is ok, but over mixing the batter will change the final texture of the waffles.  Pour the amount needed for your waffle iron onto the heated and lightly greased waffle grill plates. close the lid quickly and allow to cook according to your waffle iron's directions. For mine it usually takes about 6 minutes before the waffles are done.

Now ideally after six minutes the waffles are done and your can start serving them right off the grill plates. but sometimes that isn't always possible. So when I need to make the waffles a little a head of time I heat up my oven to about 250°F and place the cooked waffles on a pizza pan allowing them to just stay at the right temperature till I am finished cooking all the waffle batter.  The waffles can also be wrapped in saran wrap and kept over night in the fridge and then reheated in an oven (about 5 minutes at 375°F) or a toaster oven.

Enjoy!

Notes:

My mom used to like making fun of me because my boyfriend preferred to get me cooking and kitcheny-home-makey kind of things as gifts for all the special events in the run of a year, instead of something specifically like an engagement ring. She was a little pushy on that issue, but that isn't whats important. See I knew that he was buying me things like a hundred dollar giant cast-iron wok (it's red glazed and beautiful), and a Kitchenaid stand mixer because he wanted to be the one to enjoy the delicious products of those gifts. So I wasn't totally surprised when after four years of dating he proposed, I knew he had thought of me as a keeper long before I had the ring. But now that he's popped the question, he has moved on to buying less universally useful kitchen items, like a waffle iron. Because he would reallllllllllly like to have some waffles on the weekends.

So a waffle iron can pretty much only be used to make waffles, actually they seriously only have that one purpose. To be fair, when done Belgian style, waffles are deadly but can also be a bit tedious to prepare and it's easy to make a simple mistake; like over beating the egg whites, or the whole batter all together.  So I set out to test a bunch of recipes for making easier waffles that still have a nice fluffy interior with a light crunchy outside.  Here is the best one I found when I tried my waffle iron, it might work well for yours, but I make no promises. All waffle irons are slightly different, so testing what works with yours is key. Also letting the iron heat up to the proper temperature and misting with cooking spray for each waffle is also key. Unless you like making a mess of things.  OH speaking of mess, test how much batter to add to your waffle iron before going all out with it. It is a lot better in my opinion to have a few waffles that aren't quite filled out to the edge, then to have goopy waffle batter get all over and in the iron electrical parts and all over your counter. I find mine is perfectly filled with my large soup ladle, but a 1 cup measure may also work well for you.

Also waffles are delightful with maple syrup but they are also excellent with berry sauces and whipped cream!

Easiest Cookie EVER.

Cake Mix Cookies

Ingredients:

Any box of cake mix
1 egg
1/2 cup butter

Instructions:

Lightly beat egg, add everything together in one large bowl. Work with hands till well combined. Allow to chill in fridge for two hours before rolling and cutting out shapes, or shape into 1 inch balls with hands and lightly flatten and place on greased cookie sheets.

Bake at 350°F for between 9-12 minutes.

As always allow cookies to sit on baking sheet for about two minutes before moving to a cooking rack to cool completely.

Enjoy!

Notes:

Normally I prefer to make everything from scratch, but every once and while something comes along that is just too good to ignore.  This is such a recipe. Ever need a last minute batch of cookies but were short on money or supplies? With ANY box of cake mix, 1 egg and a 1/2 cup of butter you can make about 2 dozen 1 inch round cookies! Seriously. I saw someone talking about this on facebook and did not believe that it was possible, or it might be possible but there was no way it would taste good when done. I was so wrong. It came together like a cookie dough after just working it with my hands in the bowl. Then I let it chill in the fridge for about 2 hours, because I wanted to try rolling it out and making shapes. It rolled out well on a floured surface, and when baked for between 9-12 minutes at 350°F on greased cookie sheets they were perfect! Finished them off with a bit of butter cream frosting and done. Easy awesome cookies for just a couple dollars and almost no effort!

If you don't want to go through the effort or wait of rolling out the cookie dough, after the dough is well mixed all you need to do is roll the dough into roughly 1 inch balls and flatten them slightly onto the greased cookie sheet and follow the same baking instructions.

Snow White's Poison Apple Pie

Snow White's Poison Apple Pie:

Ingredients/Components:

1 pie crust - 1/2 of this pie crust recipe will work, or a store bought crust

1 batch of Blackberry Sauce or a blueberry

Fresh Whipped Cream

About 4-5 apples, peeled, and diced into about 1cmX1cm cubes (or larger if you like).
3 Tablespoons honey
1/2 Cup brown sugar
1 Teaspoon cinnamon
1 Teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon allspice

2 tablespoons corn starch mixed with 1 tablespoon water, mixed smooth

Instructions:

Start by making the berry sauce, pie crust (if doing from scratch) and the whipped cream and setting them in the fridge until they are needed. You can also wait until the pie is almost done baking to start the whipped cream. Depends on if you want to have everything done ahead of time or serve it all up on the fly.

In a medium sized sauce pan, ad roughly 3 tablespoons of water and add the chopped apples, brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.  Heat over medium heat for about 15-20 minutes or until the apples are just starting to get a softer consistency. Try not to overcook the apples, they will cook more while the pie crust bakes and overcooking will make them very runny. Remove from heat and add the berry sauce and stir to turn the apples an awesome purple color. Add the corn starch slurry to the apples and stir so its evenly distributed. Pour the purple apples into the pie crust you either prepared or bought. Bake according to your recipe or the crust's instructions. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before cutting so the apples don't run too much. Serve with the whipped cream dolloped on top.

If you are finding that the edge of your pie crust is getting too dark you can cover the edges with the ring of tinfoil, or even brushing some milk on the edges will help keep them from getting over done. Be gentle and have a light touch with the milk if you go that route because you can over do it.

Enjoy!

Notes:

Have you seen the movie Waitress with Keri Russel? I enjoyed it, you may not but if you hate spoilers look away now, Keri Russel plays a woman named Jenna who works as a waitress at a low grade dinner, she is pretty unhappy with her life and the only thing that brings her joy is baking different delicious fantasy pies. Basically where I am going with this is that sometimes when you have the flu for a week and watch far too many Disney movies and day time cable tv movies (like Waitress has become) then odd things can happen in  a brain.  Which is basically where this recipe came from.

For this recipe I'll be using a few other recipes on here including the Berry Sauce recipe (I used blackberries), and the recipe for fresh whipped cream. The blackberry sauce will be used to turn the apples a delightful rich purple color to make them "poison apples" and I served this pie as more of a tart so the bright purple color was really shown off. Top off each serving with a dollop of fresh whipped cream (I know it's a stretch but that's the Snow White part in my head).  I wish I had a picture of this one but when I made it for my friends it didn't last long enough to find the camera, but that is always a good sign.

Soy-Ginger Stir fry

Ginger Beef Stir-fry:

Ingredients (for two people)

2 "quick fry" steaks. Ideally a quality cut of beef, not a "simmering" or "marinading" steak
1 carrot
4 white mushrooms, or an equal amount of another type of mushroom
3 celery stalks
1/2 cup snow or snap peas
2 green onion stalks, chopped
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
about 1/2-1 cup Korean BBQ style sauce, look for one that has mostly garlic, honey and ginger flavors

Marinade:
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
5 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar 
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Instructions:

Place the steaks in the freezer for about 5 minutes, and start the marinade by whisking all the ingredients listed in a medium size bowl. Remove the steaks from the freezer and cut into about finger-width slices. Add beef to the marinade and stir to coat all the beef slices and allow to set for at least 30 minutes, but up to 4 hours. Any longer and there is a risk that the acid and salt in the marinade will degrade the steak too far, tender steak is good but falling apart mush is never good.

While your beef marinated, chop all your vegetables for the stir fry. I like to thinly slice the celery stalks, cut the carrot into small match-sticks, and chop the mushrooms into small bite size pieces.  When you are getting ready to start cooking, heat up a cask-iron skillet to about medium high, oil it with the sesame and olive oil and allow oil to heat up for about 5 minutes. Saute the beef strips until they are just at roughly medium-rare temperature. Move the beef strips to a bowl and set aside for now.  Add the celery, carrots, peas,  minced ginger, and minced garlic to the pan and cook for about 7-10 minutes or until the veg is cooked to your taste.  Add the mushrooms last so they don't overcook and lastly re-add the cooked beef. Pour the Korean BBQ sauce into the skillet and stir everything to coat. Cook for about 2 more minutes then serve over white rice, or rice noodles. Garnish with the sesame seeds and chopped green onion.

Enjoy!

Notes:

So apparently when most grown ups think of a quick easy meal to make on a weeknight, they go for something like a stir fry. I am not one of those people. In fact I grew up not really eating any stir fry meals at all. Which means my stir fry cooking skills have my fiance left wanting. . .  I never know what kind of meat to get, or how much to use for the number of people I have. I often do not make the best vegetable combination choices, I cut things the wrong size, cook them in the wrong order, use too much sauce, not enough sauce, etc etc. So yes, while I feel fairly confident when it comes to most kitchen related things the stir fry is something that has constantly kicked my butt. Until now! I kept trying different combinations and finally created a stir fry recipe that I enjoy and that passes the husband test. Excellent accomplishment indeed.

Using a cast iron skillet for this? Tips and tricks are here!