Friday, January 16, 2015

Pear Brandy Liqueur

Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such. – Henry Miller


Golden moments, captured in liquid form? I suppose this liqueur could be considered such.

The scent of ripe pear is a golden moment of autumn. Close your eyes, lift a pear to your nose, and breathe deep. It’s the smell of a well won harvest, of garden labour winding down, of pride in accomplishment.

All in one small, yellow orb.

It’s a nostalgic smell. And it’s one to counter the weeks of cold and wet still ahead. “Farch,” the term coined by local writer and consultant Jim Meek to describe the seeming eternity of February and March in Nova Scotia, is very apt.

There’s really only one caveat for this recipe. Get a ripe, very fragrant pear. It has to have the aroma you want to capture. So look weird, smell the pears in the produce section.

Yes, I may be on a strict diet right now, but I will not always be so. And then I’ll be able to enjoy a sip or two – on occasion – of this wondrous golden liquid.

If you want to capture a few rays of autumn sunshine to brighten this winter, try this liqueur. It’s so very easy, and so delightful.


Pear Brandy Liqueur
Time: 1 week  |  Yield 750ml  | 20% alc/vol (estimate)
375 ml (1 pint) brandy
1 medium pear, fragrant
2 whole cloves
1 cup sugar
1-1/4 cup water

Wash and slice the pear into 12 wedges. Combine the brandy, pear and cloves in a jar. Seal and let steep for seven days. Shake gently once per day.

At the end of the week, strain the pear and clove from the brandy, reserving both. I used a fine sieve lined with eight layers of cheesecloth.

The fruit will discolour. This is normal.
Combine the sugar, water, pear slices and cloves in a saucepan. 

Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Strain the syrup through the cheesecloth again, pressing gently on the pear slices to extract the juice. Then combine with the brandy. Bottle and seal.

The liqueur should last 6 month unrefrigerated if stored in a cool place out of direct sun.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A rant about calories, and a recipe for Shrimp Curry

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. Buddha

That's me on the left.

Let’s just admit it. We all have at least one secret. But did you know that many of the foods we put in our mouths have secrets as well?

It’s secret calories – or calories that you don’t realize are there – that put a diet off the rails. If you’re trying to drop a pound or even 100, it’s important to track each and every calorie.

To lose weight you must run a calorie deficit for what your body needs. Sources say that to lose 1-2 pounds per week you must consume 500-1000 fewer calories than you need to maintain your current weight, at your activity level.

I’m too sedate. To maintain my proper weight (several sources say no more than 150 lbs...), I should be consuming about 2,000 calories per day. I didn’t check before I started, but I bet I was up to 3,000. Now I’m trying to keep it to 1,500 per day to get results.

It’s not really that difficult if you know what you’re eating. For example, one serving (2 bars) of Nature Valley Crunchy Oats and Honey Granola Bars has 190 calories. A medium apple is only 100 calories; a regular sized banana is 105.

To burn the calories just in those granola bars you would have to walk for nearly an hour. 

Unexpected calories are in everything – from added fats and oils, corn syrup and coconut oil, to the most sneaky of them all: the serving size listed on the nutrition label. Even if you do check, the “serving” may be for 1 teaspoon of that item—nowhere near what you would normally use.

Even foods you may think are healthy (or healthier) can sabotage you. One Tim Hortons cran apple walnut bran muffin contains 350 calories. That’s more calories than 2 cups of cooked oatmeal. Don’t think you’re getting away better with a fruit explosion muffin. They’re 340 calories. (Source timhortons.com)

Spice mixture for the recipe.
And for goodness sake, watch out for nuts. There’s 410 calories in 1/2 cup of almonds. That’s apporaching the whole dinner recipe I’m posting today. Cashews are 320 cal per 1/2 cup and walnuts are just under 400 calories.

Calories even sneak in through the most innocuous ingredients – for example, garlic, ginger and spices. That splash of olive oil in the pan adds 120 calories per tablespoon. Who thinks of calories in them? Every. Calorie. Counts.

You have to be hyper-aware of what you’re eating if you’re going to keep a weight loss resolution. Write down what you eat. Cut back on the things you don’t need (like too much sugar and fat) and start putting better foods back in your diet.


Shrimp Curry, for One
Prep: 5 min  | Cook: 20 min  |  Serves: 1  | Calories per serving: 433
12 large shrimp, 31-40 per lb size (65 cal)
1 cup tomato purée (95 cal)
1/2 cup onion, chopped* (32 cal)
1 garlic clove, diced (5 cal)
Juice of 1/2 lemon (23 cal)
1 cup basmati rice, cooked (190 cal)
Spice blend:*
1 tsp coriander, ground (5 cal)
1 tsp cumin, ground (4 cal)
1 tsp turmeric (4 cal)
1/2 tsp ginger, ground (3 cal)
1/4 tsp cinnamon, ground (2 cal)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (2 cal)
1/4 tsp cracked black pepper (2  cal)
1/4 tsp salt

First, start cooking the rice. It takes 20 minutes (15 min simmer, 5 min sit).

In a saucepan, dry sauté** the onions. Then add the tomato purée, onion, lemon and spice blend (or curry powder). Let simmer on low for 5 minutes. Peel the shrimp, add to the sauce and let cook just until opaque.

Serve over the rice.


* Instead of making your own spice blend, substitute your favourite pre-made curry powder, and add the black pepper and salt.

** No one likes crunchy onions in their curry. To minimize this, add 1/2 cup of water while you sauté the onions. Cook until the water evaporates. Then cook a further minute; then add the tomato, etc.

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Chicken, Fruit & Wild Rice Pilaf

Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.  Elsa Schiaparelli


I’m in need of a morale boost this month. I made a distinctly wrong decision by stepping on the scale last week. Not a good idea. I’m in need of dropping quite a few pounds. 

I KNEW those tight pants were telling me something... Against my hopes, it was not an evil conspiracy hatched by the clothes washer and dryer.

I have an ugly habit – I’m a boredom eater. While sitting in front of the TV in the evening, my oft-time companions are ice cream, cookies or potato chips. Kind of like the twins in The Shining with an extra sister... So I’m starting to pay much more attention to what I eat.

I know that January is the “guilty” month so weight loss is what we’re being pedalled by the media. But this morning on CBC Radio the hosts were talking about weight gain and age, and how people of my vintage start to see changes in body shape.

The browned chicken balls, onion and garlic.
Great. Just great. But I will not go down without a fight. I may even pull out the big gun in this battle: exercise (shudder). I’m a rather sedentary creature—even more so since Henry our dog passed away—which I know will come back to bite me in future if I don’t do something about it.

So I have a lot on my plate, metaphorically. But I will succeed. And the first step is what goes into my mouth, as opposed to that which falls out, like this post.

This is an “under 500 calorie” dinner. I succeeded and it was quite delicious and filling, to boot. You don't really have to suffer while watching what you eat.

I’ve broken out the calorie count for each ingredient (number is for whole ingredient) so you can see where the big calorie items are. Those with zero or one calorie are not listed. Six servings does not give heaping platefuls, but the rice and chicken are quite filling, and the sweet fruit rounds it all out nicely.

If course, if you’re not in need of low calorie meals, feel free to make this recipe four servings, two servings, or even just one! We all know how that ends... :-)


Warm Chicken, Fruit & Wild Rice Pilaf
Prep and cook: 1 hour  |  Serves: 6  | 437 calories per serving
1 cup wild rice (478 cal)
Chicken and fruit. Covering the pan not only finishes cooking
the meat, but also partially re-hydrates the fruit as steam collects.
1 cup chicken stock (86 cal)
3 cups water
1/4 tsp salt
chicken balls:
1 lb lean ground chicken, breast (496 cal)
1 cup bread crumbs (427 cal)
1 tbsp finely diced onion (6 cal)
1 tsp yellow mustard (3 cal)
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp mint
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
remaining:
1 tbsp olive oil (120 cal)
1 cup chopped dried apple (290 cal)
1/2 cup dried cherries, whole (268 cal)
1/4 cup pecan pieces (340 cal)
1/4 cup diced onion (16 cal)
1 garlic clove, minced (5 cal)
1/2 cup orange juice (55 cal)
1 tbsp corn starch (30 cal)


The sauce is key. It adds a moistness to the dish that it
otherwise would not have. It makes it more of a "meal."
Combine the rice, stock, water and salt in a saucepan. (If stock is heavily salted, omit salt). Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and cook for 45 min, or until about half the rice has begin to split open.

While the rice is cooking, make the chicken balls. Mix together all the ingredients listed for the chicken balls. Using slightly moistened hands, roll into 3/4” to 1” balls. Heat the oil in a wide sauté pan with a lid. Cook the balls until browned, being careful not to break them apart as you turn them. 

Then add the onion and garlic and sauté until slightly softened. Reduce the heat to medium low. Add the pecans, apple and cherries and cover. Let cook for 5-6 minutes, until chicken balls are cooked through.

Mix together the orange juice and cornstarch. Add to the pan and cook until thickened.

Drain rice, carefully fold together and serve.

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Saturday, January 3, 2015

One lobster? 8 people! Handmade Lobster Ravoli

Handmade presents are scary because they reveal that you have too much free time. – Douglas Coupland


This is the last weekend of the holiday season for 2014/2015. Once again we soon will move back into “normal” life and the start of a brand new year. May yours be filled with dreams fulfilled. Mine will be filled with more blog posts. Or at least I will try – very hard.

Since this is the last hurrah of the holidays, some of us are still in entertaining mode. You might even still have a scheduled weekend get-together. That’s a plus, but the down side is that the entertainment budget has probably been stretched paper thin.

What if I told you that you could turn an average-sized lobster (currently about $7 in Nova Scotia) into a gourmet feast for a table full of friends? You would rightly be skeptical.

I am here to turn you into a believer.

This recipe makes 48 “not small” ravioli. If you count six for an appetizer or eight for a meal, that feeds quite a few. Also, all of this can be made ahead – days ahead.

I just checked the online menu for The Bicycle Thief, an upscale restaurant in Halifax. They are offering “Lobster Ravioloni” (small ravioli??) for $25 per plate. I’m assuming that is a maximum of six, but knowing the penchant for small plates I wouldn’t be surprised if it was four.

So as you can see, you would be treating your eight guests to a plate that would cost you $400 if you were dining out. That’s impressive.

This is one of the best pasta dough recipes I have ever made. It's pliable to roll and perfectly springy when cooked. Very nice. A keeper.

To gild the lily, I’m also posting a recipe for a rosé vodka sauce. Note the recipe makes 500 ml of sauce, so you may want to adjust it up or down. It's enough for 32 ravioli, but you may just want to make more. It's that delicious.

Since I wasn’t entertaining, I opted to freeze my ravioli in bags of 16. One down, two to go!

So without further ado...


Lobster Ravioli with Vodka Sauce
Time: 1.5 hours  |  Yield 48 (2” x 3”)
Freeze the ravioli, if not using right away.
special equipment: pasta machine
pasta dough:
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup semolina flour
1/4 tsp salt
3 lg eggs
1 tbsp olive oil
filling:
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp yellow onion
1.25 lb cooked lobster meat, cleaned
250 g ricotta
1 tbsp brandy
1 tbsp dried tarragon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper

Frozen, and then bagged for later use.
Make the dough first. Place the two flours and salt in a bowl and whisk with a fork. Make a well in the centre and crack the eggs into it. Then add the olive oil. 

Using a fork, whisk the eggs and oil together, slowly incorporating the flour as you go. Continue until almost all of the flour is incorporated. The start to knead in the bowl until all the flour is combined. Transfer to the counter and knead for five minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let rest on the counter for at least 1/2 hour. This resting allows the gluten strands to align and makes the dough even more elastic.

To make the filling, roughly chop the garlic and onion and place it in a food processor. Pulse until fairly fine. Dice the lobster. Add the lobster, brandy, tarragon, salt and pepper and pulse until the lobster is minced. 

Add the ricotta and pulse until just incorporated. taste for seasonings and adjust. It needs to be well flavoured, since only a small amount is in each ravioli. To divide the filling evenly you can mark the top in quarters, so you know how much to use per sheet of dough.

To make the ravioli:
Cut the dough into four equal pieces. Starting on the widest setting, roll one piece out into a long sheet, ending on setting 6. Usual settings on a pasta roller go from 1 through 7 – 7 being very thin. You will end up with a sheet of pasta about 30” long by about 4.5” wide.

Dust a working surface with a little flour. Place the sheet down and begin to add filling. Using a teaspoon measure, drop 12 heaping spoonfuls onto one edge of the sheet, evenly spaced apart.

Using a small brush or your finger, wet the dough well around each pile of filling. Fold the dough up over itself. Seal each ravioli by pressing well using your palms and fingers. If you don’t do this step well they ravioli will come apart while boiling.

Trim off the far edges of the ravioli sheet and then cut between. Place on a lightly floured surface if not freezing. If freezing, place on cookie sheets lined with plastic wrap. Do not overlap.

Repeat with the other 3 pieces of dough.

To cook, bring lots of salted water to a boil. If cooking fresh, boil for 3-4 minutes after the water comes back to a boil. If using frozen, cook for 6-7 minutes.


Sorry for the out-of-focus photo.
Rosé Vodka Sauce
Time: 20-30 min  |  Yield 500ml
2 cups whipping cream
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1-1/2 tsp dried tarragon
2 tbsp finely minced onion
1 cup plain tomato sauce
1/4 cup vodka
salt and pepper, to taste

Combine the cream, garlic, tarragon and onion in a saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil and let reduce to half, stirring often so the cream doesn't stick to the bottom and burn. 

Then add the tomato sauce, vodka, salt and pepper. Bring back to a gentle boil and let cook for another 2-3 minutes.

This sauce can be made ahead, sealed well and refrigerated for at least 3-4 days.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Last Minute Xmas Prep: Homemade Irish Cream

It's delightful, it's delicious, it's de-lovely. – Cole Porter 

This was NOT gifted, unless you count gifting to me...
A 750ml bottle of Irish Whiskey will yield 2-3 of these carafes.

Some things bear repeating, much like all those seasonal activities we put ourselves, and our families, through this time of year. This is definitely on the good side of those activities, and can probably help dull the pain/annoyance of those that aren't! I usually make this once a year.

Many moons ago (about +20 years), Eagle had a wee liqueurs recipe fold-out book stuck on top of their sweetened condensed milk can lids. I believe it was for the Christmas season, included to move more product.

My little fold-out is stained, torn and tucked inside one of my cookbooks that are still packed away. Thank goodness I still have it, because I haven’t seen it on their cans for many years. That’s a real shame.

All of the recipes sounded fantastic. I think there was four or five in total. I do remember one more. It was for a chocolate mint liqueur. I couldn’t find it with a Google search so you’ll have to believe me. It was there. This is by far the best homemade Irish Cream I have ever had. It never—I say never—lasts as long as you would hope.

Note, it’s “Irish” Cream. That means buying Irish whisky. Regular whisky will not yield the same result. Nor will scotch.

I never fiddle with this recipe, but I’m torn between the optional ingredients. Last year I used the coconut extract. This year it was vanilla. Each yields a slightly different result. Of course you can choose to use neither.

A 750 ml bottle of Irish whisky will yield 3 batches if using 1 cup, or 2 batches using 1.5 cups. Go for the stronger, although be advised it has a sneaky kick!

Keep your liqueur refrigerated once it's made. The recipe card said it will last for a month, but I doubt it will make it past a few days at most. Great stuff. Amazing taste. I have some in the ‘fridge right now...

So, get thee to a liquor store!


Homemade Irish Cream
Prep: 10 min  |  Yield 5 cups (1.18L)
1 300ml can sweetened condensed milk
1 to 1-1/2 cups Irish Whiskey (depending on how strong you want it)
1 cup 10% cream (cereal cream / table cream)
3 eggs
1 tbsp chocolate syrup (like you get for sundaes)
1/4 tsp coconut OR vanilla extract, optional

 Mix all ingredients together in a blender until smooth. Strain if desired. I do not.

Bottle and let sit for one day before use (yeah, right…). 

Keep refrigerated and shake before pouring. Homemade Irish Cream can be refrigerated for up to one month.
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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Save money, make your own Mascarpone Cheese

Without frugality none would be rich, and with it very few would be poor. – Samuel Johnson 

The end result. Well worth the 2 day wait.

(This is a re-post, but who doesn't want to save money at Xmas!)

The Christmas season is probably for most people the most expensive time of the year. Even not counting gift buying, there's a thousand things to suck up your money. Food is often a big culprit.

This post covers how to make your own mascarpone cheese. It's disgustingly expensive in stores and is often called for in many "fancy" desserts. So if you're entertaining this holiday, you may want to make this. It doesn't take much active time, and very little skill.

This full recipe makes about 3 cups of mascarpone, which would cost you at least $12-$15 at the grocery store. Full cost of the ingredients is about half that amount.

Mascarpone is made by coagulating cream via acid – tantric, citric, or lemon juice. After coagulation the whey is slowly drained out. 

Aside from the 48 hours for the whole process, this cheese is a breeze. It makes much more than you probably need (word to the wise) unless you're making a big dessert, like tiramisu for 12 or so... 

So feel free to halve it. The result will be the same. Go big or go home, I say.

Mascarpone makes the cholesterol police go on red alert. I always remember Julia Child’s admonition: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” 

This stuff should be treated with some respect. The finished product has about 60%-75% butter fat. We’ll just leave that fact to settle in…

Mascarpone is the colour of cream and is thick like a spread. It has many uses (including in tiramisu). It can be served in savoury dishes or as a fresh fruit topping. It can also be used as a substitute for butter, or for parmesan in pasta sauces or in risotto.

The important fact is that it is wonderfully delicious and addictive. But just like everything else in life, don’t overdo it.


Homemade Mascarpone
Time: 2 days  |  Yield about 3 cups
2 cups 36% whipping cream
2 cups 18% coffee cream
2 tbsp lemon juice
instant read thermometer
double boiler (or similar homemade contraption)

The cream mixture needs to be around 25% butter fat. To do so use the two different creams. The ingredients above make a combination of 27%. Close enough.

Combine the cream in the top part of a double boiler. I do not own a double boiler so I inserted a smaller pot inside another pot partly filled with water. It works just fine.

Raise the temperature of the cream to 185°F. Scalded milk is 180°F so a little beyond that stage. You really need to use a thermometer… (remember yesterday’s post?)

Once the cream reaches 185°F on the thermometer, reduce the heat to hold it at 185°F and stir in the lemon juice. This is barely a low simmer – certainly not a boil.

Mix well. Cover the pot, hold the temperature at low simmer and let cook for 5 minutes.

Remove the pot from the double boiler. You will notice that the cream has thickened slightly. It will thicken more as it cools.

Place the pot with the cream in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

After 24 hours you will see the cream has thickened more (second photo at top). Strain the cream/cheese over a bowl through fine cloth lining a sieve to remove the excess moisture. Let it sit, back in the refrigerator, for another 24 hours.

After 24 hours remove the cheese from the cloth and place in a storage container. The cheese will last refrigerated for about one week.

This is the cheese, plus all the whey that came out. keep that whey! You can
use in in making bread, watering plants, as a treat for your pets...
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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Xmas gifting, Acadian Maple Mustard

Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation. – Robert H. Schuller

The jars were $1.50 each at the Dollarstore. Each one holds about 1.5 cups.

Some things just have to be made ahead. There’s no getting around it, especially if you’re making things for Christmas gifts.

Today on Nova Scotia’s South Shore we received a rude announcement to the fact Christmas is getting very close. It came in the form of about an inch of overnight snow. It was the first of the season. For a while it seemed that autumn would go on forever. Yesterday’s day time temperature was 14°C.

But, according to the calendar, Christmas is a mere 4 weeks away. So one best get cracking, especially for homemade gifts that have to “sit.”

One gift that is a sure-fire winner to give, and amazingly easy to make, is mustard. All you need is some liquid, seeds and a blender. Most recipes require no cooking, and a basic recipe can be tailored very easily.

This recipe is based on my Cognac, but with a maple syrup sweetness and some lemon thyme from the garden. (Which I dug out of the snow!)

I have made many mustards to give as gifts over the past few years and posted the recipes on this site. Some of my past forays were:
Porter, Onion & Thyme Mustard
Rustic Cognac Mustard
Apple Mustard
Dijon (two recipes)
Yellow Hot Dog
and Lumbard Mustard (a resurrected 14th Century recipe)

What gourmet (or gourmand) wouldn’t love a jar? Except maybe the hot dog mustard...

The only caveat is they all, although capable of being used after 4 days, benefit from sitting for a month. The flavours smooth out and blend together better.

So that’s why it’s important to get a move on. Santa will be overhead before we know it. If you’re going to put some things in his sleigh, the time is nigh.

This recipe makes 5 cups of mustard. That's a lot, or in other words, enough for 3 really nice gifts and a small pot for me!

To refrigerate or not:
Mustard is very anti-bacterial stuff and has been used as one for millennia. Prepared mustard is also acidic. Some sources say refrigerate, some do not. It’s always best to err on the side of caution. So refrigerate (although it’s probably fine if you don’t.) I think it’s more of a consistency thing than anything else.


The seeds after soaking 2 days.
Acadian Maple Mustard
Time: 2 days (seed soaking)  |  Yield: About 5 cups
3/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
3/4 cup brown mustard seeds
1-1/2 cup brandy
1-1/2 cup water
6 tbsp maple syrup
6 tbsp mustard powder
3/4 cup white vinegar
1-1/2 tbsp fresh lemon thyme (or 1-1/2 tsp dried)
1-1/2 tsp sea salt

Place the seeds in a 1 L jar. Pour the brandy and water into the jar. Shake, cover and then let sit undisturbed for 1 to 2 days. Pour the entire contents into a bowl. Add the maple syrup, mustard powder, vinegar, thyme and sea salt. 

Working in small batches with a blender or food processor, process the seeds to a paste-like consistency. You can leave some of the partially visible. As you make the paste, pour it out into a clean bowl.

Fill sterilized jars with the mustard and cover tightly. Let sit for at least 4 days before serving. One month is optimal as the flavours mellow and blend.

Ready for containers.
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