Tuesday, December 29, 2009

We're back from Montreal with beer, bagels and baked goods

YUMMY -O!

"This is where the polar bears live?!" exclaimed Lauren.

Our new discovery in D.D.O. Abie's Smoked Meat and Steak.This is medium old fashion smoked meat. If you order lean, it will be a little dry. This was SO tender and juicy.


Nicholas' eyes almost popped out of his head when he saw this gigantic platter placed in front of him!

We made another pilgrimage to Montreal to celebrate Christmas with the family. All I know is that it is TOO BLOODY COLD in Montreal and when I got in the car today before gladly making the 6 hour drive back to Toronto from Montreal's South Shore, I just kept asking myself why anyone would want to live there! I've also made up my mind that we MUST be snowbirds since as I get older, this four season business is WAY overrated! As we were heading to the highway, my four-year-old asked, "This is where the polar bears live??!!" I REALLY wanted to say YES! but that would really confuse her. With all the drifting snow on this blustery cold winter day, it was after all -14 C (for those of you who are not on the metric system, that's a cool 6.8 F!). My husband says that those who have been brought up anywhere west of Quebec, are winter wimps! After all, the mayor did call the army in a few years ago to clear the snow off the streets. He says that in Montreal, the people would've be out there on the highway ready and armed with shovels!Fresh cut french fries. A little too sweet for my liking but still good!

When we go, it's a food/eat-fest. I feel like a stuffed turkey myself after all that I've eaten over these past couple of weeks. I just keep telling myself (yet again) that my new year's resolution is to lose 20 lbs. But this year is going to be different - I swear! When we arrived in the West Island of Montreal, we headed to Abie's Deli and Bakery for lunch. It was SO good. With my hubby's favourite Ben's gone, and Swartz's so out-of-the-way, we'd have to try this place since an article in Maclean's magazine said it was one of the best smoked meat joints in Montreal. Well, it was REALLY good. I think this is better than Ben's or Swartz's in my opinion, but why should my opinion count since I'm not a Montrealer nor an ex one? What do I know about smoked meat anyway? But if it does count, then I say it is VERY good! Their fresh cut fries were good (I thought they were a little too much on the sweet side) and the cheeseburger made Nicky's eyes pop (and tummy, too!). A fresh hamburger patty with tons of fries and fixings on the side. YUM!

For lunch, I had brought along my leftover Christmas roast beef and juicy turkey and we made a turkey soup. This is perfect since there were two turkey's a generous amount of meat was left on the bones. Perfect to make it a all-in-one meal. We got a few (brother-in-law actually bought 6 baguettes - enough to feel 15!) and we had a hearty soup and sandwich lunch. For dinner, we had Montreal style pizza. You have never had pizza til you've had pizza in Montreal. Di Giovanni's is probably my favourite place there, but after trying several take-out places after St. Bruno's Pizza burnt down, we found a keeper this time. I don't know the name of it though. The pizza is different in that when we order a pepperoni pizza, we might get a few little pepperonis here and there with a little layer of sauce and cheese. Montreal, you order a pepperoni pizza and they give you a nice artery clogging meal! The pepperoni AND cheese are both laid on thick! Now that's a pepperoni pizza if you ask me.


SOOOO GOOD! I almost died when I first had pizza like this from DiGiovanni's Pizza.
Montreal Pizza. The ball of dough is placed in the middle to prevent the boxes from collapsing onto the pie.

La Chocolataire Veux Boleoil.

We also took a walk in the old town of Boloeil. After visiting countless times, they must've finally found that I was worthy of seeing this place. The church my sis and bro in law got married in 20 years ago.


My sis-in-law eyeing the assortment of caramels. We came home with 4 small jars of caramels that are made by this chocolate store - plain, maple, white chocolate and hazelnut.
The church across the river is where my mother-in-law went to school at as a little girl.To-die-for chocolate truffles.

It is a beautiful spot where 20 years ago, my brother and sister in law got married, and across the river is where my mother in law used to go to church and school. The chocolate store made their own caramel and we had to bring a few flavours home to try. As of today, we still haven't had the chance to try any of them but when I do, I will post.

By the river in the town of Boleoil, Quebec.


Before heading home, as usual, we stopped in at Costco. You see, some items just aren't readily available to us in Ontario. For example, classic Montreal Bagels. These are SO yummy especially if you get them hot out of the woodburning oven in downtown Montreal at the Fairmount Bagel Bakery. Because we don't have the time to go downtown, we just get them from Costco (and it's a bit cheaper too). We also get my favourite dessert mille feuille.Yum! One of my favourite desserts - mille-feuille. Must go on hunt for some closer to home!
Authentic Montreal bagels are boiled and baked in a wood-burning oven.


I think I deserve a holiday after all the marathon cooking and eating that I've been doing. When we got home tonight, I actually grabbed a frozen turkey carcass from Christmas dinner and made a delicious soup again. My family aren't real soup lovers but they sure loved this simple soup. Next time I'll try to remember to not carve the turkey so close to the bone so my soup will have more meat.Ah, home sweet home...nice to be home again.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas morning Wild Berry Streusel Coffee Cake


This cake is delicious especially warm, right out of the oven~


We put the milk and 3 Oreo cookies down on the hearth but before we left for our annual Christmas Eve party at my dear friends Grace and Calvin's house, (Lauren says that mommy's favourite friend is Auntie Grace), the dog walked by and snatched one of them! Kids didn't notice, so why waste good cookies and put more out? I didn't get to bed until well after midnight but like a kid myself, I was up before anyone (5:34 am to be precise), wondering if Santa had been good to me this year. With nothing left that I could think of to search online with the ipod in bed, I couldn't linger in bed any longer, so at 6:30, I made my way downstairs. No one else was to follow until 7 am. Incredibly, this was probably one of the latest that they've ever slept in until on a Christmas morning.

Santa was apparently very good to everyone this year. (Thank you, Santa!) The most exciting thing for all of us was that Lauren, being just 4 years old, understood the meaning of the magic of Santa for the first time. She had been so excited from the day we put the tree and trimmings up. The fireplace doors were constantly being opened by someone, which we figured probably was Lauren so when we finally caught her in the act one day, and asked her not to and her response was, "But we have to leave it open or Santa can't come in!" It was only mid-November (oh, I was SO organized and prepared this year! :) All she wanted was a horse and carriage (Barbie version only thankfully) and soft mittens. She hates the nylon waterproof ones that she has attached to her winter jacket. When she first came down, she was excited and wanted to see if Santa had answered her wish and with so much more, she actually kind of lost interest opening gifts after a while. But before she made it to the stocking, she saw the Oreo cookie which she polished off before opening her gifts. After all that, I think she thought the horse and carriage was overrated since the horse doesn't neigh and it doesn't pull the carriage, so we think in the end, her favourite gift was the Hungry Hippo game from her big sis.

Actually, I forgot to mention that it is NOT the Hungry Hippo game that she's most excited about. It's the rodent, I mean hamster named Shaylee that her big sis got her! I have to admit that it is quite cute. I think it'll be cute as long as Bailey, the dog doesn't mistaken her for a snack.

Anyway, where was I??? Oh yes, so... once I started, I was on a roll and baked and cooked all day, strumming up 1 Berry Coffee Cake, 2 plain bundt coffee cakes, 4 banana loafs, then we went out to the dim sum with my mom, siblings, neices and nephews and then back home again to prepare for Christmas dinner which was a turkey, prime rib roast, two salads (Caesar and a Winter Salad), a couple of dips, and some spring rolls. My brother brought an ice cream cake, my other brother brought a couple of coconut cream pies and my cousin brought a shrimp platter, a fruit platter and we were set! Needless to say, we were stuffed by the end of the evening. I made two turkeys over two days and Christmas Day's turkey was probably the juiciest one I've ever made. It was done to perfection!

We have some of the best neighbours ever! To thank them for being so good to us throughout the year and to wish them a very merry day, I had the boys send over some warm cake, hoping they could have something to go with their morning coffee. Each sends their love in their own special little packages. As my boys opened the door to leave, there were a couple of specially wrapped gifts for my little guys. We get a delicious homemade peanut brittle each year from another and other little pleasant surprises from others. We are so lucky to have the friends that we do! Oh, did I mention my arse has gotten a smidgen bigger over these last few weeks?? (sighhh)


Wild Berry Streusel Coffee Cake

(Canadian Living Cookbook)


Streusel:

¾ cup light packed brown sugar

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ cup butter

Cake:

½ cup soft butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1 cup sour cream

2 cups berries (fresh or frozen)

  • Streusel: Mix together sugar, flour and cinnamon; blend in butter until crumbly
  • Cake: Cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then vanilla.
  • Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream.
  • Spread batter in greased and floured 13 x 9 inch pan. Sprinkle evenly with berries then, streusel.
  • Bake in a 350F oven about 45 minutes or until tester inserted in centre comes out clean. Serve warm. Makes about 12 to 16 servings.




Sunday, December 20, 2009

Downtown Adventures

I was born and raised in downtown Toronto. My father came to this great country in hopes of a better life than he had in China, in 1949 at the young age of 18 with not much more than a few dollars in his pocket . He worked in a laundromat and learned English at night, practising at every given opportunity. His next door neighbour, Mel Flowers and family, down at the Toronto beaches on Queen Street had a store and he would visit and help them stock their shelves in exchange for the chance to practice is English in the evenings after work. From a very young age, I remember paying them a visit every Christmas, a chance to say "hello" and express his gratitude for making him feel welcome. He continued to visit the Flowers Family even after Mr. Flowers past.

A few years ago, my husband and I started a tradition of spending a day in December before Christmas, downtown just visiting the old neighbourhood, having lunch at my favourite little pizza joint, Bitondo's Pizzeria and shopping at the Toronto Eaton Centre and enjoying the Christmas windows. This time of year is wonderful! A lot of fond memories are rekindled for me this time of year. As a young child, my parents (a field trip with our class some years) took us to see the windows down at Eaton's at College and Yonge and Simpson's at Yonge and Queen. A lot has changed. There are now only about 5 windows that are dressed up at The Bay (renamed from the old Simpson's) but the feeling of the season is still eminent in the air.

At the New City Hall (Nathan's Phillip Square), they have the huge beautiful Christmas tree. If I remember correctly, this tree is donated to the city annually. As a matter of fact, I learned how to skate here (without a helmet!) with my older siblings, and along with friends each Friday and Saturday as a teenager, would hang out and play tag on the converted outdoor water fountain display. What else was there to do? Although the rink is huge, it seem REALLY HUGE back then. I haven't donned a pair of skates on that ice rink in years (although I REALLY have an urge to, but my kids aren't really interested in even coming downtown with us, it probably won't happen too soon. One day, I will again though. Perhaps sooner than I think.



When I think of The Toronto Eaton Centre, this scene comes to mind - The array of beautiful flying geese suspended in the middle of this atrium.

My favourite pizzeria which brings back a lot of childhood memories. We visit almost every chance we get and it's always as good as I remember.A gigantic veal sandwich is amongst my favourite things on the menu! This is really huge!

This artery clogging giant deep fried ponzo is filled with nothing but homemade tomato sauce and cheese. Hmmmmmm....Harry's Store, where we got our milk and penny candy from (I don't think I really knew the real name of the corner store) is now a Starbucks! We lived 8 houses up from it.
This century home (circa 1887 or so), is the house that I was raised in from the time I was 6 months old. My parents sold it about 12 years ago. It was a ugly yellow colour back then. Now it's a spooky gray colour.
This building, located up the street and two short blocks over had me running or avoiding that route home for years. When I was a kid, I was SO spooked by this building. Why? Back then, it was surrounded with a hedge where the black iron fencing is now. I never asked and I wish I had but I learned later, that it was a synagogue. See the Stars of David on the windows? I thought it was the sign of Satan!!! LOL!Interesting space suits these two ladies had on - like they were from ABBA!This is the New City Hall. I learned to skate on this rink! I have lots of fond memories of this place with my friends.
The Christmas tree at The New City Hall (aka Nathan Phillip's Square).Santa's sleigh with his reindeer at Toronto Eaton Centre.
The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory - lots and lots of yummy treats.Bad parents that we are, we "forgot" to go back for one of these treats!
Christmas windows at downtown The Bay on Queen Street. Sadly, the display seems to be getting smaller and smaller each year.





Down at the Toronto Eaton Centre in front of the beautiful Swarovski crystal tree.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Adventures of Little Miss-chief


Oh, let's see what little Miss Wrecking-Ball has been up to these last couple of weeks: 1st, last week, before our party, we walked into the living room to find a bit of art work on our glider chair with permanent marker. But when asked whether or not she did it, she told us she didn't know who did it. Pretty good EYE for art, won't you say??

Also, she was playing in the kitchen while I was cooking one day, and off she went. I go to get an onion, only to find them ALL gone! Hmmm...to where, she had them hidden around the house and had peeled off all the loose dry skin leaving traces of cooking onions EVERYWHERE!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Our Book Club Christmas Party


Look Karen! You are a published author!!

A few who are dear to us, gather near to us...
The Kitchen Help...(our gracious host, Nancy & dear friend Karen)
Could anyone guess what she the little conical shaped handmade and baked clay item with some red stuff on the underside is used for somewhere in ? Many had creative guesses such as war paint, ashtray, diaphragm, hat, etc. Its lip colour container!Linda was the closest saying it was face paint. She won a beautiful set of ornaments, which in this case, after a few drinks, it can double as earrings and even nipple ring ornaments as well!

A few years ago, 6 to be exact, there were just 4 of us plus hubbies that went out for Christmas dinner and this turned out to be the beginning of our little "Book Club" - minus guys. Each month, we'd decide at the last dinner where and when the next would be. The list has since grown to about 16 great ladies. The thing is, its no longer a book club, but a code word for many of us to retreat for a nice evening without any kids or husbands. We always have a ton of fun, and this year's Christmas get-together was no different.Bonnie sporting part of her new find. I wonder if it was hubby approved...
For someone who has three grown boys, I don't think they'd want to be feeling up this nice silicone mousepad.

This year, 11 of us in all joined in the holiday fun. One of the ladies, dear Nancy, offered to host it and did a wonderful job doing so. Her house is so warm and welcoming and we felt like we were at home! In a beautiful setting, not to mention the beautiful table setting (I would've served everyone with paper plates - at least it would've had Christmas motif!!), great friends, great food, Secret Santa, Christine's Guess-what-this-is game, Karen's cheerful poem - what more could we ask for to make it a perfect evening?
Give me drinks, give me camera, give me cleavage!

With Secret Santa, a gift that could be ANYTHING. You should see some of the fun things that went around. I think these photos will convey what a great time we had.
Look at this great Secret Santa gift - a GIANT bottle of Pinot Grigio, complete with a thong for her and a Santa hat for him!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chocolate Sugar Cookies, Best Sugar Cookies, More Cookies and Royal Icing

Our 20th annual Christmas party is this Saturday and already as it stands, I'm WAY behind in my baking. Each year, I host a friends and family Christmas party and we have anywhere from 60-90 guests, including children. Each year, it is held on the second weekend of December and this is where everyone expects to see one another to wish each other a happy Christmas and new year. I used to cook for everyone and about 7 years ago, someone suggested doing potluck since everyone asks what they could bring anyway. I learned many moons ago that if someone offers to help, take advantage of it! And, so I did and still do! I still make the rib roast and huge proportions of veggies and some appetizers to go along with it. In the past, we've always had a good spread and nobody leaves hungry - NOBODY!

Before the party, guests who have young children are invited to decorate gingerbread and sugar cookies. Up until 3 years ago, each child would take home a self-decorated mini gingerbread house. Then I got lazy and it's just cookies now. Last year, my girlfriend brought store-bought cookies and icing leftover from her company party! It was nice, but not the same. So, here I am, busting my arse trying to get these darn cookies baked.

It's actually a week-long process. A couple of days to get into the mood, then I have to actually take the stuff out, then I have to find my favourite tried and true recipes, then another day to make the doughs, another day to make the cut-outs and bake them all, then another night to make the icing and tint.

For the last two nights, I've been contemplating making my huge batches but sleep won me over. So, today, I spent all day making monstrous batches of cookie doughs doubling and tripling some. Sugar cookie, gingerbread cookie, triple chocolate chip, triple chocolate macadamia nut cookies, and oatmeal raisin cookies, and a Chocolate cut-out cookie (recipe below - all others on other posts under cookies) as well more Cora's Holiday Cookies, too! Lots of butter and shortening went into these, I must remind myself!

The Cora's Holiday cookies were made with the candied fruit and NOBODY in my family liked them. Now what am I to do with these?? There are three more rolls to be baked in the freezer!

I've rolled the triple chocolate and oatmeal cookies into balls ready for the freezer, and Holiday Cookies rolled and frozen into logs. Tomorrow will be rolling and cutting the gingerbread and sugar cookies and making the royal icing and glazes for Saturday. I also volunteered to make the cookie cut-out trains for the my daughter's kindergarten class to decorate at their Polar Express pajama party next Thursday! That's gonna be fun!

If you don't like gingerbread cookies, these Cocoa cookies are a great substitute. This recipe is great in that the dough is VERY easy to work, as is the Best Sugar Cookies.

Cocoa Sugar Cookies
(Canadian Living Magazine, Dec. 08)

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2-1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

- In a large bowl, beat butter with sugar until fluffy; beat in egg and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, abaking powder and salt; stir into butter mixture in 2 additions to make smooth dough. Divide in half and flatten into discs; wrap each and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. (make ahead: refrigerate for up to 24 hours.)

- On flour surface, roll out each disc to 1/4 inch thickness. Using cutter or template, cut out shapes, rerolling scraps and chilling dough before cutting again. Place, 1 inch apart on parchment paper-lined pans. Freeze for 15 minutes or refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm.

- Bake in 350F oven until edges begin to darken, 20-25 minutes. Transfer to racks; let cool. (Make ahead: Store in air-tight container for up to 1 month.)

**I'm not sure why you have to refrigerate before baking (I didn't and they were great). My husband is a big fan of chocolate and he said these were REALLY GOOD!**


The Best Rolled Sugar Cookies

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/The-Best-Rolled-Sugar-Cookies/Detail.aspx

This is my favourite sugar cookie recipe. Very easy to roll out and not sticky.
  • 1 1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
  3. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.

Royal Icing
for "gluing" and decorating your cookies


Royal Icing Using Egg Whites:

2 large egg whites

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

3 cups (330 grams) confectioners (powdered or icing) sugar, sifted

Royal Icing Using Meringue Powder:

4 cups (440 grams) confectioners' (powdered or icing) sugar

3 tablespoons (30 grams) meringue powder

1/2 teaspoon extract (vanilla, lemon, almond)

1/2 - 3/4 cup (120 - 180 ml) warm water

Note: Food Coloring (I use Gel Pastes that can be found at cake decorating and party stores or else on-line)