Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Baked Goods

I saved this post until after Christmas Day because I wanted to keep my baked goods a surprise and I know some of my family read my blog. Finally, finally, everyone has received their treats and I can write about it.

I have been giving baked good for Christmas for a few years now. The treats change from year to year. I used to make truffles and stopped for no particular reason. Then I regulargly gave Mom's Ginger Snaps after I discovered the recipe. Now that both my mom AND my sister have the recipe, I thought I should move on.

Giada's Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti
My mom does not love chocolate but she loves Ferrero Rocher so I looked for a recipe involving nutella and hazelnut. I found this one from Giada De Laurentiis. I have to admit that in terms of food TV personalities, I do really like Giada. These cookies were really good but I thought the nutella flavour would be stronger. I replaced the butter with vegetable shortening for my mom.

French Chocolate Bark
This recipe was inspired by watching the Barefoot Contessa holiday episode. The French Chocolate Bark looked so pretty that I couldn't resist! I wasn't sure that I would like the dried apricots but I actually really did against the dark chocolate. Out of the treats I made this year, this was my favourite, which means I ate my fair share...

Cranberry Pecan Bars
Finally, I decided to make this recipe because of my mom's love for pecan pie! My mom even likes adding dried cranberries! I got this recipe when my (old) general manager brought in these bars as treats. When we raved about them, his wife provided the recipe which came from Bests Foods Canada Inc. I thought these surprisingly not too sweet since there seems to be a lot of sugar in the recipe. A really easy recipe to make. I forgot to spray my baking dishes and I was still able to get the bars out.

For the crust
* 2 cups all purpose flour
* ½ cup sugar
* ¾ margarine - I didn't have any and used vegetable shortening

Combine all ingredients for crust until crumbly.
Press firmly into 13" x 9" cake pan sprayed with cooking spray.
Bake 350F for 15-18 m inutes, or until light golden.

For the topping
* 4 eggs
* 1 cup sugar
* 1 cup corn syrup
* 3 tbsp margarine
* 1-½ cup coarsely chopped peans
* ¾ cup corasely chopped cranberries - I used dried cranberries.

eggs, sugar, corn syrup and melted margine together until blended.
Stir in pecans and cranberries.
Pour evenly over crust.
Bake about 40 minutes longer, or until set and golden.
Cool completely on wire rack.
Cut into bars.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Leftover Chicken Pizza and Pasta

I had to figure out what to do with the chicken I picked from the bones for the chicken broth I made. For my first meal, I made a pita pizza and second, I made a baked pasta dish.

Leftover chicken.

BBQ Chicken Pita Pizza
I often make pita pizza. It's a great dish to throw whatever you have on. I made a tomato sauce from the leftover canned tomatoes I used in the beef stew I made. This time, I mixed some of the chicken with BBQ sauce. I laid the tomato sauce, potato slices, chicken mixture, some mushroom and onion, and finally mozzarella cheese. Perfect light dinner!

BBQ chicken on the potato slices.

I had yummy shiitake mushrooms and onion.

Pita pizza ready to eat!

Backed Chicken Penne
Before Christmas, not only did I want to use the leftover chicken, but I wanted to use the most leftover I could before going to my mom's. I still had leftover tomato sauce, half a tomato, mushrooms, full fat milk and cheese. Sounds like the perfect ingredients for a baked pasta dish!

* oil
* 1 onion
* flour
* mushroom
* tomato sauce
* full fat milk
* shredded chicken
* sundried tomatoes, sliced thinly
* salt and pepper, to taste
* pasta, cooked and drained
* mozzarella, grated

Stir fry onion in oil.
Add a bit of flour to thicken the sauce.
Add the mushrooms.
Once the mushrooms are cooked, add the tomato sauce and a bit of milk.
Add the chicken, sundried tomatoes and pasta.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pour into a baking dish.
Top the pasta with the grated mozzarella.
Bake (or broil since everything is already cooked) until the cheese is melted and golden.

Leftover mushroom.

Stir frying the onion, mushroom and tomato.

The pasta would probably be good as is.

I wouldn't use so much cheese but I can't let it go bad, can I?

Nice and golden, yum!

Not such a light dinner this time!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mini Apple Tarte Tatin

After the beef stew for dinner, I followed up with tarte tatin for dessert. I love apple desserts and especially love tarte tatin. I even ordered some in Vietnam at Le Toit Gourmand with The Gastronomer and company! I have been looking for an excuse to try Ricardo's Mini ‘Tatin’ Apple Tarts with Caramel recipe.

I halved the recipe since we were three people. My Gala apples were rather small so had they been bigger, there would have been more filling. I decided to slice the apples and fan them out to make it pretty when I flipped the invidual pies. I'm not sure it was noticeable, especially with the caramel sauce and ice cream, so next time I would just dice the apples.

Coring and peeling Gala apples.

Slicing and dicing Gala apples.

Trying to fan out the apple slices.

Using puff pastry makes this recipe really easy. I have always bought pastry that was already rolled out. The supermarket didn't have that type anymore. However, this one was easy to use also; I just had to cut a piece and roll it out.

Aren't the super thin layers of pastry amazing?

Before flipping the tarte.

I made the caramel sauce and thought the portion was a bit too much. I guess leftover caramel is not necessarily a bad thing... Luckily, I found Häagen-Dazs ice cream on sale for $3.33 so I was able to top the dessert with vanilla bean ice cream. This dessert was a success with the boys, was a breeze to make and looks rather impressive. I'll have to find another opportunity to make this again!

I forgot to take a picture with the caramel sauce... Oops!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Beef Stew, Dumplings and Pancetta Mashed Potato

I like to repay favours with meals. So I promised to have my friend J over for dinner. I left my car at his place for 7 months, then 3 weeks and now again for the holidays. I’m also getting a ride to Montréal with my roommate G and he lives with me, so I included him too. I have promised many more meals in the new year for various things.

I’ve never made roast chicken and the idea appealed to me, especially because our meal was on a Sunday. I still gave G two options: roast chicken or a stew. Being the WASP that he is, he picked a stew. I asked if he wanted mashed potatoes and he said his (British) mother made dumplings AND mashed potatoes. I’m sorry but I’m Asian; I only eat dumplings at dim sum! But for G, I found a recipe for dumplings that I made and ate for the first time.

Beef Stew – 4 servings
I grew up eating an Asian version of beef stew that we called ragoût, or bò kho in Vietnamese. I make beef stew on a regular basis in the winter. I follow a pretty basic recipe: beef, carrots, vegetable and red wine. This time I tried to “fancy it up” with butter and bacon. I referred to a few recipes, and combined two of them. This is a perfect “make ahead” recipe. I made it the night before and heated it up the next day.

Adapted from
Ricardo’s Slow Cooked Beef with Red Wine
Laura Calder’s Beef with Carrots

* 3 strips of bacon, cut into pieces
* butter
* flour
* salt and pepper, to taste
* 2 pounds of stewing beef cubes
* 1 large onion, sliced thinly
* 4 garlic cloves, sliced roughly
* 1 cup of red wine
* 1-½ chicken broth
* 1-½ diced canned tomatoes
* bay leaf
* 3 sprigs parsley
* 3 sprigs thyme
* 4 peppercorns
* 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
* sugar
* dried chili flakes, optional

In a big pot, cook the bacon until crispy and remove them.
Meanwhile, mix flour, salt, pepper and garlic powder.
Dredge pieces of beef into the flour mixture.
Add butter into the pot and brown the pieces of beef in batches. (Note: I cooked the beef in the bacon fat but found it created blackened, burned pieces so you should use separate pots, or give it a quick clean before browning the beef).
Repeat until all the beef is browned and set aside.

Slicing the bacon into pieces.

Cooking the bacon.

The three key ingredients.

Stewing beef cubes and then dredged.

Browning the beef.

Browned meat always looks good!

Add a bit more butter, and sauté the onion and garlic.
Add the wine and scrape all the brown bits (and hopefully not black!).
Add the chicken broth and tomatoes.
Bring to a boil.
Lower the heat to a simmer and add bay leaf, parsley, thyme, peppercorns.
Add back the beef and bacon.
Add red wine vinegar.
Let simmer for 4-5 hours until the beef is fork tender, adding water as needed (you can also cook this in the oven; I just don’t have an oven proof pot).
Add the potatoes and carrot with about an hour left to cooking.
Taste and season with salt, pepper, chili flakes and sugar, according to taste (I added sugar because I thought the tomatoes and vinegar made it a bit too acidic).

Sauté onion and garlic.

Adding the beef and bacon back in.

Hmmm! I like stew!

Anna Olson's Fluffy Dumplings
As I mentioned, dumplings is a foreign concept to me. Luckily, I found a very easy recipe and it worked out perfectly. I like how the use of the herbs give flecks of green that make it so pretty. I halved the recipe since we were only 3 people.

From Fresh with Anna Olson:
Fluffy Dumplings

Drop spoonfuls into the simmering stew.

Cover for 10 minutes and voilà!

The dumplings grew on me!

Pancetta Mashed Potatoes - 3 servings
Is it embarrassing that I get all my recipes from food TV shows? Why stop here? I knew that I wanted bacon in the potatoes since my friend C loved her bacon mashed potatoes at The Bison Mountain Bistro. So I looked for a mashed potato recipe with bacon. I have a not so good history with mashed potatoes. Growing up, I went to daycare that served lunch. Every day, we were served mashed potatoes, a meat and overcooked vegetables. I absolutely hated mashed potatoes (or patates pilées as I knew it). I don't eat it really anymore except in shepherd's pie but bacon (or cheese) does make it much better!

Adapted from:
* 50 g (2 oz.) pancetta - I got pancetta at the deli counter of my supermarket because I didn't want to buy a package of bacon
* 3 tbsp garlic butter
* green onion
* ¾ cup full fat milk
* salt and pepper, to taste

Boil potatoes until cooked.
Meanwhile, cook pancetta until crispy.
Cook green onion in melted garlic butter (I happened to have some and thought the extra garlic flavour would be good).
Turn off the heat and add in milk.
Mash the potatoes.
Add the milk mixture to the potatoes and mix. (I would add the milk a bit at a time. I think mine came out too liquid-ey).
Add crumbled pancetta to the mashed potatoes and mix.
Season with salt and pepper (after adding the pancetta because it is quite salty!).

I find pancetta so pretty!

And I love crispy, super salty pancetta!

Green onion in butter!

I just mash the potatoes with a fork.

Finished product!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Canh Gà (Vietnamese flavoured Chicken Broth)

After seeing asparagus on sale at the Farmer's Market and experiencing a crazy snowstorm, I thought I could really go for asparagus and crab soup. However, I was without any homemade broth so I stopped by an Asian market and bought chicken bones.

Snowstorm that brought 20 cm of snow. I bet the Californians out there are happy where they are!

Homemade broth seems like a bit of an effort considering you can buy it from a can. I grew up with homemade broth for soups and just can't live without it. In addition, I make a differently flavoured broth for Vietnamese dishes. I just make a big batch and freeze a few portions. Whenever I want to make soups, I just grab it from the freezer. My mom used to make broth with pork bones but switched to chicken. That's what I use now too.

Canh Gà (Vietnamese flavoured Chicken Broth)
Wandering Chopsticks also has a recipe for Vietnamese broth.
Viet World Kitchen has a cheat's recipe to add Vietnamese flavour to canned chicken broth.

* water
* chicken bones (I used 3 carcasses)
* 2 onion, cut in two
* 2 knobs of ginger
* salt
* sugar

Boil water in a big pot that will fit all the bones.
Remove all the fat and skin from the bones to minimize a fatty broth.
Cook the bones in boiling water until the exterior looks cooked, about 5 minutes - this step is just to remove the grime from the blood (ew!).
Take out and rinse the bones.
Add the bones, onion and ginger into a pot.
Cover with water and bring to a boil.
Lower down to a simmer.
Top with water whenever the water gets low.
Cook for 2-3 hours.
Season with salt and sugar to taste - you just need a bit of sugar to balance the taste (if you're not going to use the sweet powder, i.e. MSG!).
Strain the broth.
It's ready to use for soups.
If you decide to freeze it, just remember liquid expands as it freezes so leave a gap in the container.

Removing fat from the bones. I also break the pieces so they fit in a pot.

Cooking the bones before making the broth helps remove all the "gunk".

Cooked broth.

Beautiful clear broth once it is strained.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lemon Grass Restaurant

1300 Garth Street Unit #1
Hamilton, Ontario

My friend J dropped me a message on Facebook asking if I was up to painting. I said yes; it was the least I could do after leaving my car in his garage for 7 months! After painting the first layer of primer, we took a break to let it dry and went out for lunch. J suggested Lemon Grass Restaurant, a Thai and Vietnamese restaurant, on Hamilton Mountain. I have often heard about this restaurant and was glad to get the chance to try it.

I recognized a few Vietnamese items in the the Asian-inspired décor.

J suggested starting with meat spring rolls. The plump spring rolls were freshly fried and piping hot.

Thai Crispy Spring Rolls, $4. Crispy rolls stuffed with ground pork, glass noodles, green beans, leek, cabbage, carrots, served with spicy sweet and sour sauce.

Close up of the filling that is heavy on vegetables.

We then ordered from the lunch menu. J got the Crispy Roast Duck with Sweet and Sour Sauce while I got the Thai Chicken Curry. Each combo came with a soup of the day and a side of rice. The soup was very flavourful with pieces of chicken and coconut milk in the broth. J seemed to enjoy his duck dish but initially wasn't sure what to do with the sauce. I really enjoyed the curry though it did not quite taste like a Thai curry or a Vietnamese one. It was very flavourful and maybe even a tad too salty. The vegetables included peppers, carrots, bamboo and a lot of pieces of onion; luckily, I like onion!

Soup of the day.

Crispy Roast Duck with Sweet & Sour Sauce, $9.

Side of sweet and sour sauce.

Thai Chicken Curry, $7.

Lemon Grass Restaurant served good food. I suspect that the owners are Vietnamese since I heard some Vietnamese and recognized Vietnamese paintings. I think for this reason the Thai food is not quite authentic. I prefer Banh Thai Restaurant for Thai food. As for Vietnamese food, I have not tried any but noticed their phở was quite popular. I would go to B & T restaurant for phở near my house, rather than driving to the Mountain. However, it's a great restaurant for Mountain residents!

Lemon Grass on Urbanspoon