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.


If you like this post, feel free to share it. All I ask for is credit and a link back to this page.

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

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.


If you like this post, feel free to share it. All I ask for is credit and a link back to this page.

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
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.


If you like this post, feel free to share it. All I ask for is credit and a link back to this page.

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
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.


If you like this post, feel free to share it. All I ask for is credit and a link back to this page.