Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry, Merry Christmas...and last minute gift ideas

I will be taking a break over the holidays.  The Friday Night Dinner Project and other posting will resume in the new year.

If you are looking for any budget, beautiful, DIY last minute gift ideas I highly recommend Brandy's list over at The Prudent Homemaker.
Note:  The free music is only available to download in the US.  I tried many ways to get around it, but in the end I am trying to get a good friend in the US to download it for me and then send me the files.

Thank you for visiting my little blog over the past few months.  I look forward to sharing with you in 2015.

To all my Jewish readers, chag sameach.

Merry Christmas to all, may you be blessed enough to share some special moments with your family this holiday season.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Friday Night Dinner Project: Dinner with Chuck

For this week's Friday Night Dinner Project I chose the "Dinner with Chuck."  Who is Chuck?  Chuck is Bonnie Stern's nephew, Corporal Chuck Krangle of the Canadian Armed Forces.  The menu is one she prepared for him when he returned to Canada from Afghanistan.  People who know me know that I am a huge supporter of our military, so the theme behind this menu right up my alley.

Don't forget to buy Friday Night Dinners and cook along with me!

Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini
Well, when I went to use my cauliflower it was not looking particularly fresh.  I ended up not roasting any cauliflower, but I did make the tahini sauce which I used on the roasted brussel sprouts (more on that below).

Oh falafel.  It's so good.  This recipe is simple and quick to make (if you don't count the overnight chickpea soak).  The one thing it made me realize is how much I want a really good food processor.  At the moment I just have a little mini one.  But alas, space, money, etc.
Anyway, my favourite way to eat falafel is stuffed in a pita with red and green peppers and either tzatziki or hummus.  Today I just served it as a snack, with red peppers and hummus.  You can make your own hummus, however on this plate is Sabra hummus (my favourite store bought hummus).  Sidebar: Costco Canada is now carrying garlic flavoured Sabra hummus.  You can get two massive tubs for $8.00.

Roast Chicken on a Rack
I had to deviate a bit from the menu here.  A few weeks ago our roast pan died and it has not been replaced (hopefully it will be for a Christmas present, but if not I will be ordering one up).  As a result, there was no roast chicken on a rack.  Instead I roasted some chicken breasts in a casserole dish (not the same, but still good).

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Having never cooked Brussels Sprouts before (because I don't like them!), this recipe was a pleasant surprise.  I guess anything can taste good with a little roasting, olive oil, salt, and spices.  These were actually not too bad, and this is coming from someone who cannot stand Brussels Sprouts.  We sprinkled them with the tahini sauce.  It was a nice touch.

Creamy Mashed Potatoes
Seriously, it's mashed potatoes.  It would be pretty sad if you messed these up.

Chocolatiest Chocolate Chip Cookies
Attention, attention!  This week's menu is all.  about.  the desserts.
These cookies are amazing.  Amazing.  You know when you are throwing in a cup of butter and 375g of assorted chocolate that they are going to be good.  I used President's Choice Chocolate Chunks for this.  Good choice.  I also deviated a bit and substituted some plain chocolate for Reese's Peanut Butter Chips.  Because my husband loves them.  These cookies are simply delicious.  Be very careful not to overcook them - they might not look done after the recommended cook time, but they are.  Trust me.

Chuck's Chocolate Brownies
When I read the ingredients for this recipe, my eyes started to bulge and I feared for my waistline.  10 oz of chocolate, plus 2 cups of chopped chocolate, plus 1 cup of butter, plus 2 cups of sugar..........yikes!  Then I realized this recipe makes a 9x13 pan of brownies.  Somehow this made me feel like I had just cut the calories in half.  Ha!  Well these have just come out of the oven and are still cooling so I can't comment on their taste quite yet.  I can however comment on the batter (like any good cook I saved some of the batter for myself) and it was delicious.  Rich and delicious.  You will definitely want to make these.  And the cookies.  Hello chocolate.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Holiday Fun: The Ugly Sweater Cake

First off, I do not do cake decorating.  I am horrible at it and I do not have the time or patience for it.  I actually think it is an art, and in this particular area of art I have zero talent.  However, the mother of one of my friends is incredibly talented when it comes to the fine art of cake decorating.
Butterface Cakes is run by the mother of my dear friend Jayna (hence the nametag on the cake below).  I have tasted her delicious cakes, cupcakes, and cookies on many special occasions.  They are always beautiful and delicious.
 This Ugly Sweater Cake is a wonderful holiday project for anyone who likes to decorate cakes.  You can visit her blog by clicking here for a complete tutorial on this cake.

Source: Butterface Cakes

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Friday Night Dinner Project: Standing-Up Dinner

This week's menu is slightly delayed because....chaos!  But here it is:  Standing-Up Dinner

Caramelized Onion Mini Quiches
Very good.  It turns out that making your own mini tart pastry from scratch is super easy!  It did not take nearly as much time as I thought it would.  I did not have the supplies to do the recommended blind bake, so instead I just baked them empty.  They rose slightly, but I used my handy Pampered Chef Mini Tart Shaper to push them back down and fill them after the pre-bake.
As for the filling, I found the recipe made more than I needed, but maybe you won't have this happen.  I wasn't sure about the Cambozola cheese, since it is a blue veined cheese and I hate blue cheese.  However, it turned out to be just fine because the blue vein in it is very mild.  I'm sure you could use brie instead if you are truly terrified of the blue vein.
These would be amazing to make ahead and freeze for a party.  I have been eating them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.....they are rich and delicious.  (Here is the recipe for Caramelized Onions, but not the mini quiches)

Standing-up Fish Stew
Ever since giving birth to my son I've had a serious aversion to fish and seafood.  I made this stew, which is full of salmon and white fish (I used tilapia) and was hesitant to eat it.  Once I paired it with the homemade Roasted Garlic Aïoli and croutons I found it quite delicious.  I also tried serving it over rice which was also good.  The recipe says it makes 8-10 servings but I would put it closer to 12-14 unless you eat large servings.  This recipe goes a long way - which is good because it contains about $45.00 worth of fish.

Salad Skewers
I had this as just plain old salad because I did not have any skewers on hand.  Because of this, I bought the pearl sized bocconcini cheese.  I just like the way they look.  You can't go wrong with this salad and you cannot possibly mess it up.

Sesame Bread Biscuits
Unfortunately I have no picture or link for these.  I did not actually make them this weekend, but I have made this recipe many times before.  It is so quick and easy to make - a wonderful quick bread recipe.  I have sprinkled these biscuits with sesame seeds, za'atar and brushed them with olive oil.  They are great with toppings or plain served with jam for breakfast.  They are best served straight out of the oven.

Sticky Toffee Cake with Butterscotch Sauce
When my husband saw me boiling the dates for this recipe on the stovetop he said, "that looks disgusting."  He was right.  Now I totally appreciate Bonnie's comment that "some restaurants make the mistake of sticky date cake" and people refuse to try it.  My husband tried it and loved it.  It's a wonderful recipe.  I also sent some to my mother-in-law (not by mail) and she loved them just plain without any of the sauce.  There are delicious and very sweet when served with the sauce.  I highly recommend serving them with French Vanilla ice cream.

And that's a wrap for this week.  Buy the book (Friday Night Dinners) and follow along!!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Be Generous

Please take some time this week to be generous, whether in spirit or with goods, or both.  There are many people hurting this holiday season.  Even the smallest gesture can make the world of difference to someone in need.  You may regret missed opportunities, but you will not regret helping someone.  You do not need to look for someone in need.  We do not always know by appearances who is in need.  Be generous with a friend, a colleague, a neighbour, a client.  When you are generous with others, it warms your soul.

Friday Night Dinner Project: Israeli Dinner

This week's menu for the Friday Night Dinner Project is the Israeli Dinner.  This was my first week back to fulltime work (complete and utter chaos), so I was not sure if I would be able to get a menu done, but I did.  I find I am making big batches of dishes so that I can have meals for us at least until Wednesday from these menus.  Also, I am really in love with the Egg and Smoked Trout Salad with Capers from last week's menu.  I actually picked up more smoked trout yesterday so that I can make it again this weekend.  I have been taking it to work with crackers for breakfast.  I digress....

First up on this week's menu is Pomtinis.  I made the non alcoholic version, which is essentially pomegranate juice mixed with ginger ale.  These drinks always seem festive to me, so I am still putting them in the Christmas glasses.  They would be oh so refreshing in the summer in a nice pitcher full of ice, sliced oranges, and pomegranate seeds.

Kebabs on Cinnamon Sticks
These are meant as a lovely appetizer, but I actually wanted to use them as meatballs so I made them without the cinnamon sticks (although making them this way would be wonderful for a party!).  I was delighted to read that I could put them directly into the oven and bake them without browning them first (skipping this step just means they do not have a nice glaze to them).  I made them using all beef, but they would be amazing with lamb or the beef/lamb combo that is recommended.  These meatballs were so fast to make and taste wonderful.  They are excellent for a party appetizer or for a quick dinner.

I served the Kebabs (or meatballs as I made them) on top of Couscous with Preserved Lemon, Dates and Almonds.  This is another dish that was so quick and easy to make.  You could easily make the meatballs and couscous along with salad in 30 minutes.  The dates add great flavour and moisture to the couscous.

Grilled Eggplant with Tahina and Tomato Lime Salds
Well I have to be honest and say this dish was not my favourite.  Likely because it features eggplant front and centre, and I do not like eggplant.  Although in other dishes from the book (like the vegetarian lasagna and the roasted ratatouille) eggplant also makes an appearance, and I like them, I just couldn't embrace this one.  I did make it so I could try it but......this girl just does not love eggplant.  It looked very pretty though, and I'm sure eggplant lovers would thoroughly enjoy it.

Chicken Tagine with Honeyed Tomatoes and Chickpeas
This is a lovely chicken recipe, full of flavour.  It pairs well with the couscous and a salad (sorry I forgot to take pictures of the Salad with Pomegranate dressing).  The really nice thing about this recipe is that it makes lots of meat, and it is very tender.  If you are cooking it for a small family it could last for several meals.
Spice Mix

This is what it looked like coming out of the oven

Individual Halvah Soufflés
If you are looking for a "wow" dessert that is quick and easy to make, this might be it.  These look very beautiful and have a lovely flavour.  They are surprisingly rich.  I tried them both with a chocolate sauce and sprinkled with icing sugar.  I loved it with chocolate sauce.  My husband preferred it with just icing sugar.  A very nice way to finish the meal.

That's it for now.  Happy cooking!