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Short and sweet

I had intended to write about Friday afternoon cocktails today, but that outing was kaiboshed, so I shall hold that idea for another posting. I do have a redeeming thought, brought about by a dinner inspired by our purchases from a recent visit to Granville Island Market in Vancouver (one of my most favourite foodie haunts).

We had a winter picnic tonight, enjoying treats such as raw milk cheeses and fresh exotic fruits. I read an article in SAVEUR magazine recently about a newly appointed cheese from Switzerland called L’Etivaz (appointed in that they have designated a style and protocols for the making of said cheese). I looked for it, and was thrilled to find it at Benton Bros., the cheesemonger. It was deliciously nutty, and went very well with the tomato chili jam I had.  Martin splurged and got a beautiful mango – it cost $12.38 ! He made a delectable salad with jicama, cilantro and an Asian vinaigrette. A bottle of local wine gave us the chance to toast our good fortune, while bringing back memories of my time in France – Quails’ Gate’s Cailleteau, a light red in the style of Beaujolais Nouveau.

cheese-and-wine-picnic

It was a wonderful way to round out the holiday season. After all, today was Epiphany, the 12th night. I made a traditional torte, just as I remembered from France. (It sounds even more grand when you say “Galette des Rois“, I think. “King Cake” is what they call it in New Orleans, where they eat it at Mardi Gras.)

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Here’s to celebrating every day of the year in its own way. Life is short, why not make the most of it?

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Sunday cooking

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Sunday is our day of rest and often, indulgence. Sunday brunch, full of rich creamy dishes and comfort food – an excuse to jam all the best parts of breakfast and lunch into one occasion, not to mention allowing cocktails and dessert as part of the menu as well, just because, well, it’s Sunday 🙂 Then there’s Sunday dinner: the roast beast and all the trimmings. Granted, most of us are used to having this meal with numerous family members (not always good for the digestion) but a larger group allows for economies of scale in cooking… and it makes for good sandwiches in the coming week! Sunday roastIt often means a few more calories consumed, but we’ll be back at the workouts on Monday, won’t we?

At Rabbit Hollow, we often work Sundays, so the brunch happens whenever we have a day off, which might just as easily be Tuesday. With only the two of us for family close by, we don’t tend to do a large dinner either. But I often take on baking projects if I’m not out in the garden on a Sunday, so I thought I might share some of those favourites during the Spring Break season. With kids home all week, you could even take on these recipes on a weekday!

A fun item to add to any breakfast or brunch is a muffin, and I have a great, healthy (but tasty!) recipe – Banana Bran Muffins. Leftovers are great to take to work with coffee, too.

I made Chocolate Coffee Cake this week. A friend posted a recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens blog, one of their most popular items. I thought why not? Martin, my husband, loves coffee cake. Well, it’s an all-afternoon project with dough that needs rising, but if you don’t mind the start-and-stop, the result is pretty wonderful. He loved it for brunch this morning.

Cookies are always good to have on hand, and fun to share at the office or with friends. One of my faves is a recipe I kind of made up, Tropical Delight Cookies . If you are feeling down about not getting away to a more exotic destination, these might help lift your spirits. This is an easy recipe that the kids can make, too – just in case they are driving you crazy being underfoot at home.

exotic Sunday brunch

If you’re more the savoury type, but you still want to feel that exotic sense of wonder, how about Chicken with Cinnamon & Dates ? It’s a great way to jazz up any night’s dinner.

A tradition that we had when I was growing up was for each of us kids to cook one meal a week. Spring Break is a good time to start that if you haven’t already… Sundays work well, too. Kids can start out chopping veggies or assembling salad, and then as they get older (and taller) they can work their way up to preparing dishes for the oven, or cooking at the stove. Carrots with coriander and caraway is a great first recipe for kids – simple, fast and tasty.

Even something as straight-forward as flavoured popcorn can be a family cooking experience. If Sunday brunch or dinner seems too much, try just getting everyone together for a pick on Netflix and then adding a bit of zip to your popcorn or pretzels or nuts. Spice blends are fun to play with – you can try the ones in your cupboard (cajun popcorn or pretzels? smoked salt on toasted almonds?) by just adding a drizzle of butter or olive oil. Toasting nuts a bit first really brings out their flavour – about 5 minutes at 400F will usually do it. If you don’t have any mixes, think of flavours you like – spicy hot? herbs? (rosemary popcorn is fun). Cheese is a fun addition too – the powdered parmesan you get works great (look for real cheese, not the processed stuff in a can). You can mix it with other flavours or just add it on by itself.

Any effort you make in the kitchen is worth some quality time – it might just be a moment with a cookie and a glass of milk or a cup of tea, but especially if you can share that moment with a friend you have a chance to connect and catch up. In our busy world, that’s worth a few calories any day, if you ask me.

Happy Birthday to me!

I wrote this in the movie theatre while waiting for my popcorn on my birthday a few days ago. There was no wifi to get it to post. I hope you will still enjoy the sentiment 🙂

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Today is my birthday. I enjoy birthdays and in some years I have made a big deal about birthday meals. When I was a kid the cake was always important of course and I was lucky enough that my Mom was at home and liked baking. She made angel food, chocolate fudge, and any other whim I came up with. She wrapped nickels inside Saran Wrap and made sure there was one for every piece, for every kid. A few times we went out or restaurants and then there were always sparklers and singing and much fanfare.

Once I got older I did my own thing. I once made a checkerboard chocolate and orange cake I saw in a food magazine. It took half the day to cut out the checkerboard pieces of sponge and then put in the filling but it did taste amazing.
I’ve never had a surprise birthday party but my husband has surprised me with beautiful birthday treats. His chocolate Baileys ganache cake is one of the reasons I married him 😉
We celebrate lots of occasions together; our life is full of fun. Like Tuesdays for example. They have been our date nights since before we were married. We go to a movie almost every Tuesday. Many of our inside jokes are linked to some of our screen favourites. So this year having a birthday on a Tuesday is just about perfect. I get to be spoiled, and have quality time with my guy while having popcorn. Maybe he’ll surprise me with a piece of birthday cake when we get home 🙂

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Recipe Testing – you win some, you lose some

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So I decided to try some recipes that I saw in my surfing this week… I must admit, I still do more surfing in good old-fashioned print than I do online, but nonetheless there is lots to sift through. I have taken to pulling pages from magazines to minimize the stock in my recipe bookcase, as after 25 years of surfing I would be suffocated otherwise 🙂

Fall always makes me want to cook, with all the goodness of harvest overflowing at the market stands. This last week I found a few fall dessert recipes and I got to making 3 of them. Two were a hit, one was a miss. I am posting the links to both here, and would love to hear comments – have you tried them,, or similar recipes? Did you like them? Do you read recipe reviews? Do you believe them? Do you trust recipes in print more than online, or vice versa?? When I started gathering recipes they were the ones I had tasted or had come from cooks I knew (my Mom, my Aunts, my best friend… you know how it used to work). One of the recipes I made was supposedly from a restaurant chef, and yet it was a total fail. How do I know in today’s remote world what to trust? Help!!

The first recipe I made came from a blog that is hosted through a shop I love in Seattle, World Spice Merchants. They have the most complete selection of spices and herbs I have ever seen under one roof, and their staff are extremely knowledgeable. Cardamom and Olive Oil Cake was the title. I was interested by the uniqueness of the recipe, and how it offered an “outside the box” combination of ingredients. I have posted on the blog asking if I made some error in the recipe preparation but I have not heard back.  (I printed the page and followed the listed directions explicitly, using the noted weights and not measurements in hopes of being the most accurate).  I’m still interested to try the recipe if there is something I missed, but the way it came out it’s not my cup of tea. I suppose I should have taken a picture but it was so sad – only 1 cm (1/2 inch) high, and pale and oily. Not nice.

The second recipe I made was a much more mainstream item but it looked good.  Apple Cake with caramel sauce It came out of a Walmart magazine if you can believe it 🙂 Apple Coffee Cake. We live in the Okanagan and it’s harvest season so an apple cake seemed like just the thing. Full disclosure: I did tweak this one a bit by adding dried cranberries along with the apple. It’s not racy, but it works, even if you want to go more healthy and omit the caramel topping. (We almost always have homemade caramel sauce on hand so I used that for a few pieces and we ate the rest plain.)

buttermilkThe third recipe I also found online, through a search based on an ingredient.  We had a litre of buttermilk in the fridge that was nearing its expiry and so I thought it would be good to make some muffins using buttermilk. This recipe from Williams Sonoma looked to be the best reviewed of the ones I found. I tweaked this one too at the last minute, adding a few spoonsful of mixed peel just for fun. These were tasty – great breakfast muffins. banana buttermilk muffins

It’s coming up on Thanksgiving and I’m thankful I’m not testing recipes on my guests for the holiday. I’d hate to have something “not nice” come out of the oven and have to make excuses for friends and family. Having a husband as a chef that is a cardinal rule in our house – we test things at home and might use each other as guinea pigs, but people we invite get treated to tried and true recipes we know and love.

Do you have any cooking disappointments? What’s your philosophy on cooking a new recipe for guests? At the end of the day I suppose the most important thing is gathering people together around the table, so even if it’s to decide as a group that pizza needs to be ordered, well that’s OK too.

Happy Thanksgiving. May your kitchen be full of good smells and good company.

Many Happy Returns to a best friend

It’s birthday season in my world it seems. I just wrote a post remembering my Dad’s birthday. Now I have another day of note worth mentioning, so I hope you’ll indulge me, and my loved ones.

Today is Simon’s birthday. He is 10 years old today. Everyone deserves to be celebrated on their birthday, even someone as egocentric as Simon. You see, Simon is my husband’s German Short Haired Pointer.He is a well-trained and handsome dog, but he loves me for my throwing arm. ImageSo, any tribute I make in this article is directed much more towards MY best friend, Ella, the Chocolate Labrador you see gracing my photos in this blog. She is the one who nurses me through my sinus infections in winter, and watches over me when I garden in the summer, and always looks back when we walk to make sure I am still there. (Simon, on the other hand, could care less till it’s dinner time where I am.)

In honour of all four-legged best friends, I am contributing a recipe for healthy dog treats to my archives. You can just feed your dog popcorn as a natural treat, or slow roasted sweet potato slices (cook them in the oven at 200F, or a dehydrator, for about 6 hours). This is a fun recipe to do with kids, and it gives them great practice at kitchen skills. It’s also a great gift to give a fellow dog owner. I once even hosted a canine birthday party at the local park where we walked our dogs, and gave out homemade dog treats as a take-away. Dog owners tend to be really sociable people; it was a fun party!

Of course, if you’re not a dog owner, your best friend would likely enjoy a more decadent birthday treat. For this kind of celebration, I suggest chocolate. One of my favourite special desserts is my husband’s Chocolate Souffle. ImageIf your friends are more into simple fare that is not so decadent, how about Pavlova? It’s even gluten-free, for those who don’t eat wheat.

Whether your friends are two-legged or four, you could hold a party with just balloons and still elicit many smiles. But I am a firm believer that birthdays deserve a cherry on top, if you know what I mean. Gathering people together to share a taste of something special makes for a great memory.

Here’s to doing back flips for birthdays!

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