Friday, December 31

Christmas 2010 Recap

This year we traveled to New Jersey for Christmas to see both of our families. We got an early start on Saturday and much to our surprise hit absolutely no traffic getting there (which was probably a first for us if you've read any of our Journey to Jersey mini-series). This particular ride into NJ was probably one of the most peaceful ones we've ever taken - still quiet from the night before and the post-xmas rush hadn't yet started.

Even google was in the holiday spirit!

We saw my family first - my siblings and I played a few games on the brand new kinect (far too much fun!), then we opened gifts (far too many!), and after all the fun we finally sat down for a late lunch/early dinner.

It was quite the fancy feast - my parents made cod-cakes (just like crab-cakes but with cod!) for a quick appetizer, but the highlight of the meal was the beef wellington they constructed (that we all pitched in to decorate, as you'll see in a bit). Shawn had never had beef wellington before, and I don't think I've had it outside of my grandmother's house, and even hers aren't homemade... so this one was exciting, to say the least. We had green beans and pan-fried potatoes too, which Shawn convinced my dad to put a bit of smoked paprika on, to everyone's delight! A lip-smacking Christmas feast!

After digesting a bit with some coffee and a Trader Joe's buche de noel, (come on, what's any meal here without a little something from TJ's?!), we spent a few hours with Shawn's mom, catching up and opening even more gifts. (Seriously, families, you went a little crazy this year!) We headed home at a reasonable hour hoping to avoid any snow (thankfully the snow didn't start until Sunday morning around here) and got home just in time to snap a few photos of all our gifts under the 'tree' and then dozed off with full bellies and smiles on our faces. It was a wonderful 2010 Christmas!

Now for photos!

All the gifts lovingly wrapped under my parents' tree... so many!

Playing kinect - even Kusko was entertained. (The dogs kept messing it up with their wagging tails!)

My mom's pretty table settings only come out for special occasions!

Beef wellington, green beans, and potatoes lasted just long enough to take a picture.

We all pitched in to decorate the beef wellington!

Kusko has a bow! And hates us for it.

So Shawn reassures him with a hug. It looks a little silly anyway

And I got a non-blurry pictures of Luna- hurrah!

And lastly, all the gifts under our 'tree'... we were spoiled this year with so many great things! Cookbooks, cookware, yoga things, new scarves and sweaters, and the list goes on. But the true highlight of this year's holiday wasn't the gifts, it was the family time - it was the first time my family had been all together at the house in a very long time, and it was awesome.

I hope everyone's holidays were just as wonderful. Happy new year! See you in 2011!

Monday, December 20

The Two Week Wrap-Up

It's starting to feel a lot like Christmas around here! Despite the lack of snow in these parts, we decorated the apartment with some colorful lights and hung candy canes off of our twiggy plants; I wish we could get a real tree but apartment living makes that slightly difficult. Maybe next year we'll get a mini tree and some ornaments; for now, a few holiday touches work just fine.

We also changed the blog layout to match the season; the autumn layout was nice, but we're craving snow! The new header image was taken last week on the one day we saw some flurries in our courtyard... the bow on the lamp looks so surreal - but it's real, I swear! (Unlike our santa hats and mistletoe) We had a very temporary layout up in-between too, if anyone caught it... it had squirrels and an American flag as part of the header... but it wasn't well liked by everyone ;) and it was only intended to be temporary until we could get some decent snow pictures for a new header anyway. So enjoy the new layout while the holidays last - because you know I'll be changing my mind about it soon enough anyway.

My parents' house is looking festive too- despite the lack of children around there this year, they still did a good job decorating the tree. And they had a fire going strong in the fireplace when we went over there for dinner last week, nothing beats that. We'll be going over there again for Christmas day, so maybe then I can snap a few pictures of the tree in some daylight! I love my mom's ornaments - they're from all over the world and mostly handmade - she has quite the collection. Our christmas tree decorations have certainly evolved over the years, but it always has a few special memory-filled ornaments hidden amongst its' branches.

The other reason we like visiting my parents this time of year is because the dogs are in full-furry mode! And yes, I realize there's only one dog in the photo above, but that's because Luna is elusive and any picture of her inevitably ends up blurred. Kusko smiles like a champ though.

Speaking of dogs, I sold my first bags of dog treats last week too! I also made some business cards and bought the domain because the adress wasn't a very professional url. I also created a little button link to it for it's in the sidebar after the archives - check it out!

We also bought and received a few new things these past few weeks... a trip to IKEA yielded an interesting purchase - a cart for my baking supplies! It's on wheels and has three drawers that conveniently fit almost all of my baking ingredients and supplies. Shawn took out a shelf in the pantry so that the cart now conveniently wheels right underneath and out of the way.

One more new thing - my friend Alina sent us a waffle maker! Awesome! Of course we had to test it out the day we got it; I made my go-to waffle recipe (made with whipped egg whites - it makes the lightest, fluffiest waffles!) but I forgot just how much the recipe yields and it ended up making way too many waffles... so we ate a few with a little maple syrup and wrapped the rest up for another morning. I can't wait to try some different waffle recipes now that we have our very own waffle maker!

And now for the food portion of my post, since I know that's what you've been waiting for. First things first, Shawn's savory touch: baked fries (purple, red, and yellow potatoes boiled, then sliced and coated in olive oil and herbs and baked until crispy) and a side of crunchy but juicy pan-fried chicken.

I tried my hand at linzer cookies this week, strawberry-lemon linzer cookies to be exact. Pretty, but they need some more work - no linzer cookies on the holiday cookie list this year. And I've further perfected my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe! I was puzzled because the ones I bake at work in the convection oven turn out much flatter and crinkled than the ones I make in my oven... then it hit me - the convection oven bakes things much faster than my non-convection oven, so I usually adjust for the that by baking things at a lower temperature at work. But I never adjusted the temperature for the chocolate chip cookie recipe, so all this time I've been baking them at a higher temperature than intended. So I baked off a batch of chocolate chip cookies at home at 325 degrees instead of the usual 300 degrees and low and behold - they came out flatter and more crinkled, just like the ones at work! Note: Sometimes mistakes are happy little fixings.

Lemon is my favorite ingredient right now, but I'm not exactly sure why I'm on a citrus kick. I've been putting lemon in almost all of my baked goods at work and I'm really craving a nice tart lemonade. So last week when Shawn requested a 'lemon something' (yes, those words exactly) I made him choose between a lemon tart or a glazed lemon loaf, and he thankfully chose the loaf. (I really wasn't feeling up for making pastry dough and lemon curd.) Yes, thankfully he chose the loaf, although I'm not sure how thankful I really am because this particular lemon loaf is so moist, so delicate, so sweetly freaking-delicous, that I just can't have enough of it. I want an endless supply of this loaf and I want to share it with everyone! I am seriously considering nixing the holiday cookies this year and just making a lemon loaf for everyone... it's just that delicious.

There was something else I made recently that also had Shawn and I drooling and endlessly reaching for more... Fleur de Sel Caramels. Now, neither Shawn nor I are big fans of soft or hard caramels, but let me tell you a little secret... nothing beats homemade caramels. Most caramels are bland and hard but these are soft but not sticky and you can flavor them however you want! I put a little vanilla extract in these and a lot of sea salt. The salty-sweet combination is what makes them so irresistible.

One more thing and then I'm done writing, I swear! We made our own garlic bread - homemade whole wheat bread and everything! I'll post a recipe soon, but for now pictures must suffice.

Don't forget that you can see more photos on our Flickr!

Sunday, December 12

Think We're Nuts? We're Not Alone

I was taking a look through for new recipes and happened upon a blog I'd never stumbled upon before...

The striking photo of peppermint candy looking meringue cookies caught my eye, but it was the other photos that made me smile and call Shawn over for a look.

Apparently, we're not the only ones with squirrel visitors.


...the squirrels in Montreal are HUGE!

Thursday, December 9

Whole Wheat Bread

This is my go-to bread recipe since I first discovered it back in October. I thought I had already posted this recipe, but apparently, I had not! So here it is, in all it's glory. Making bread isn't quite a difficult task so much as a patience-testing one. It's worth all the waiting though - homemade bread is always worth the wait.

Whole Wheat Bread

This recipe makes two 8-inch loaves.

1 package of active dry yeast
1/4 cup of warm water (not hot water!)

Combine the yeast and the water, stir the yeast up to make sure it dissolves, then set the mixture aside while you get your other ingredients ready.

1 1/2 cup hot water
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons butter

Combine all of these ingredients in a large bowl and let the mixture cool to lukewarm.
Once the mixture has cooled, mix in:

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup bread flour

Once the flours are incorporated, add the yeast mixture and continue to add more bread flour until the dough becomes stiff but pliable.
Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until it's smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes or so.
Form the dough into a ball and place it into a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let it rest in a warm room for about an hour and a half, or until it has doubled in volume.
Then, take the proofed dough out of the bowl and punch it down, cut it in half, then ball up each half and cover with the kitchen towel again to rest for 10 minutes.
Shape each ball of dough into a loaf and place in greased loaf pans, then let them rise for about an hour and a half, until they've doubled in size again.
Bake the loaves at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when they're tapped. Take the baked loaves out of the pans and let them cool down completely on a rack.
Enjoy with cheese, jam, peanut butter, nutella... whatever you fancy!

Wednesday, December 8

Brownie Pie, Oh My!

I promised you recipes - don't worry, I haven't forgotten! This one's a good one to start with.

The crust part of this pie is actually from a lemon meringue pie that didn't quite work out... the meringue part was delicious - like a cloud marshmallow - but the lemon part wasn't much of a success. It was gooey and oozy and just not curd-like in any way! I should have gone with my gut instincts and used my trusted lemon curd recipe from my restaurant recipe files. I'm pretty sure the problem here was that I used too much lemon juice though. Oh well. At least the crust was worth trying again!

Meringue! A success! Lemon pie - not quite.

The brownie part of this pie is perfect perfect perfect. It's not too dense, it's not too fudgy, it's not too crumbly - it's just perfect. Make this pie! Your taste-buds will thank you, and your stomach sure won't complain.

Brownie Pie

For the crust:

Sift together 200g all-purpose flour and a pinch of salt.
Work in 125g butter, either with your hands or with a pastry cutter.
Whisk together 50g sugar and 1 egg and mix into dough.
At this point I usually ball up my dough and refrigerate it until I need it. You can also freeze the dough if you need to.

For the brownie filling:

Whisk together 1/2 cup of melted butter, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of brown sugar.
Mix in 3 eggs and 1/2 cup of cocoa powder.
Whisk together 1/2 cup of flour and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and add to wet ingredients. Then add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Roll out your crust for a 9-inch tart pan then pour in the brownie batter and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until the brownie has set. Top liberally with caramel if you'd like - I did!


Thursday, November 25

Recipes of the Future

Albeit having a nicely sized collection of both savory and sweet cookbooks, I usually end up searching for most of my recipes online (I use my cookbooks primarily for a few staple recipes I've grown fond of over the years). I'm a huge fan of visiting when in search of a specific recipe or ingredient, or even for just a little inspiration on a dull day. But I have a habit of bookmarking potential recipes in my browser... and then never looking at them again. After a while, the bookmarks accumulate and I'm left with so many to go through that I lose interest in them all-together.

But not this time. No, this time, I stopped myself before it got too out of hand. I took all those bookmarks, and I made them into a list. A list of recipes I'd like to get around to making eventually...

Chocolate Opera Cake
Espresso Chiffon Cake w/ Fudge Frosting
S'more Cakes
This amazing Lemon Chocolate Praline Cake
Buckeye Cake
Idle Hand Bars
Glazed Doughnuts
Mocha Buttercream
Lemon Meringue Cake

Cornmeal Parmesan Crackers
Parmesan Thyme Crackers
5-ingredient Harissa

English Muffins
Challah Bread
Braided Lemon Bread
Oatmeal Sandwich Bread
Chocolate Bread

(All those breads look lovely, however, I recently bought myself a much wanted copy of The Bread Bible, so I think I'll be referring primarily to that for most yeast recipes from now on...)

Oh, and of course... butter! The best ingredient ever.

Now, here's hoping I can form a new habit and just add to this list instead of adding to my bookmarks!

Wednesday, November 24

What we've been up to...

So we've been a tad M-I-A for the past three or so weeks, and for that, I apologize. It's not that we haven't been busy... we've been cooking and baking plenty and Shawn's had plenty to rant about, but we've also been watching plenty of 90's movies and episodes of the X-files... so we've both been a little lazy, too. Can you blame us? I've been a little tired of the internet as of late, I must admit; so much less of my time is spent clicking away in front of the computer screen these days - apparently that's a good thing for me, but not a good thing for any of our loyal blog readers.

I really don't have a good excuse other than having shifted my focus to the Bark Bites website two weeks ago. If you're wondering what on earth Bark Bites is, it's my homemade organic dog treat business - check it out! The idea has been in the works for over a year now, and I finally got my rear-end into gear and started promoting myself. With our recent acquirement of a color printer, making labels and flyers has a been a whole lot easier, and my motivation to push forth with the business returned. No orders yet, but at least I'm getting the name out there.

Like I said though, we've been cooking and baking plenty. I'll tease you with some photos from the past few weeks, and leave you with the promise to post a few of these new recipes soon. And by soon, I mean maybe a few days instead of a few weeks this time.

I've been in a bread baking mood since autumn set in; I've made this whole wheat loaf three times now and I wouldn't change anything about the recipe - it's absolutely perfect, and I absolutely must share it with you!

I also made a cinnamon raisin loaf, and albeit being tasty, the dough was a huge pain to work with and most of my raisins ended up on the floor... I'll be tweaking this recipe.

Rice Krispie treats? How about rice krispie treats made with peanut butter and agave nectar instead of marshmallows? Mmm. Healthier and tastier!

That was a chocolate loaf cake that didn't last very long at all. Oh, indulgence.

Speaking of indulgence, have you ever had brownie pie? You're seriously missing out.

Shawn made some tasty things too! He's working on his meatloaf recipe.

We came across this pepper phenomenon one night while prepping for sausage & peppers... not just one germinated seed - every single pepper we'd bought that day had some!

We all know I'm more of a baker than a cook... but when Shawn was coming down with a cold last week I couldn't very well ask him to cook, so I made his some homemade chicken noodle soup - the ultimate cold cure! It was deeeee-licious, if I do say so myself.

We'll leave the real cooking to Shawn though - he made some awesome smoked cheesesteaks the other day when we couldn't find sausage for sausage & peppers like we originally planned.

I'll end this post on a sweet note; the other night I decided to made homemade dark chocolate peanut butter cups... enough said.

Over the next few days you can expect a few new recipe posts, and a post about other bloggers' recipes I've been wanting to try! Until then, enjoy the holiday and get lots of rest!

Tuesday, November 2

Spooky Sweet Halloween

I didn't go trick or treating this year, or even dress up, but this Halloween I got to spend a few hours with my brother and sister! The three of us caught up for a bit, and then my sister and I made some cupcakes in the spirit of the holiday.

My sister was in the mood for pumpkin, so we went with spiced pumpkin cupcakes and got a little crazy with the designs. We picked up some candy corn, black food coloring, and white red and green food gels, and we used some dark chocolate covered raisins too.

Check it out: spider webs, a pumpkin patch, floating heads, and a pumpkin massacre! (My sister is far more creative with her cupcake design than I am...)

We thought the icing looked really cool as we were adding the food coloring!

Monster cupcakes!

We actually had to make two batches of cupcakes... the first batch were under-baked by a good fifteen minutes, but I didn't realize it until we'd already let them cool (my mistake - I thought the cakes were just incredibly moist and delicate... dehhhh). So we made a second batch and baked them twice as long (I wonder if the person who wrote the recipe we used has a convection oven, perhaps...) - the second batch was baked all the way through and puffed up nicely. We used the first batch for practice decoration!

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