Autumn is Here!

The earthy, crisp scent of autumn is everywhere, and we can’t get enough of it.  Windows are cracked open, we’ve dug out sweaters and cozy socks, and lit the fire.  This must be the best season of the year: bounty for the senses, and bounty of harvest.  Spectacular!

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Our local farm and road-side market.  Fresh is best!

We’ve been craving food with deep, robust flavours: what else after a hike in the brilliant autumn landscape?

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Rich, flavourful, and satisfying coconut chicken curry is the name of the day.  Yes, we have a recipe for from-scratch curry posted, but this is another delicious version which is quick to prepare, and wonderfully delicious.

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One of the best things about curry is that there aren’t any rules of play – any vegetables that are in season, or that happen to be in your fridge, are fair game.  The recipe here is really just a guide-line.

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After a vigorous hike a warm fire, a rich glass of red wine and a bold curry hit the spot!  Autumn is one of the best seasons in Canada to get outside!  We hope you enjoy!

 

Coconut Chicken Curry (in a Hurry!)

Ingredients

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 cans of coconut milk

2 tablespoons of Patak’s Madras Curry Paste (mild, medium, or hot)

dash of Spiracha Chili Sauce (optional)

about 12 button mushrooms, chopped

1 red pepper, chopped

1/2 a red onion, diced

2 teaspoons fish sauce

1 cup basmati rice

2 – 3 cups of water

lime

chopped cilantro

Method

Pour both cans of coconut milk into a large, wide pan.  Gently bring to a boil, then immediately turn heat down and simmer until some of the water in the coconut milk has evaporated; approximately ten minutes.  This naturally thickens the curry.  Be sure to stir frequently while it simmers.

Meanwhile, chop the chicken breasts into cubes approximately 1 inch by inch in size.

Add the chicken cubes to the coconut milk, and return to a boil.  Immediately return the heat to low and simmer.  Add the curry paste and stir.  Cook at a low simmer until the chicken is cooked through.  Approximately 20 – 30 minutes: you really can’t go wrong here.

This is a good time to prepare the rice, as per the package directions.

Add the vegetables and simmer for approximately 10 – 15 minutes more.  We prefer al-dente vegetables, so we don’t cook them for too long.

Add the fish sauce and stir.

Serve on, or beside, the rice.  Add a squeeze of fresh lime and chopped cilantro.

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What Have We Been Up To?

Spring sights and sounds are edging into our days, and the extra hours of sunlight have combined to generate a familiar seasonal feeling of new beginnings and promise.

What have we been up to lately?  We’ll let the pictures speak for themselves … and I promise a recipe in the next post!

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The Captain is ready for spring!

A glimpse of some of this winter’s activities.

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Skiing on a gloriously sunny day!  But was it ever cold … brrrr!
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My desk, with gorgeous roses, while going over old family recipes.

And, of course, two of our usual pursuits: long walks and skating on the outdoor rink.  Note The Captain trying to get onto the ice in the corner of the pic?  What a guy.

Until next time!  xx

Giving Thanks

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Autumn happens to be my favourite season.  In this part of Canada we experience all four seasons to their extreme, and autumn is the best of them all. 

The landscape is stunning, with the leaves on the trees turning to brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow.  When the sun shines on the trees at just the write angle they almost look as though they’re on fire.  Did I mention the heady scent in the air?  The earth and the air smell like renewal, and the fresh cool air refreshes the soul.

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It’s the season when we bundle up to go for beautiful, brisk walks in the forest, and stoke a fire in the fireplace.  Steaming hot chocolate, mittens come out of hiding, children throw leaves in the air just for the joy of it.  Theo loves it too: notice the Halloween prop he stole on a walk through our community’s haunted forest event?  And did I mention that there’s not a whole lot better than wrapping in a throw blanket, sitting outside in a Muskoka chair, and enjoying a warming glass of red wine? 

Not only is autumn a feast for the senses, it’s also a feast for the table.  The harvest is upon us, and it’s the season of thanksgiving.  Apples, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes … just to name a few.  Bounty is everywhere!

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We celebrate the annual Thanksgiving holiday with a tradition meal of turkey with stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry chutney, beans, and of course apple pie and pumpkin pie.  The table is so bountiful I wonder if it just might sag in the middle under the weight of the feast!

As this is a traditional meal, it stands to reason that the menu is also born of tradition: recipes and wisdom passed along orally and with guided practice from generation to generation.  So, I’ve written a few of the main items here, and tried to capture the pearls of knowledge and tradecraft that I’ve absorbed from my mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law. I hope you enjoy them!

Turkey dinner is a full day event, so ensure all ingredients are in the house and have fun!  The first step is making the stuffing, first thing in the morning.

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Dianne’s Turkey Stuffing

This is simple recipe, which delivers incredible flavour. 

  1. spread two loaves of sliced white bread over baking sheets and leave out overnight to stale the slice
  2. crumb the slices of bread through food processor
  3. grate 2 or 3 yellow onions, 3 stalks of celery and 2 large carrots through food processor
  4. sweat above veggies in lots of unsalted butter
  5. add melted butter, veggies, and sage (2 loaves = 2 tablespoons) to crumbs: include some salt, but not lots because the inside of the turkey will be salted
  6. any extra stuffing can be baked in a casserole dish

Roasted Turkey

Allow 20 minutes cooking time per pound: for a very large bird budget 15 minutes per pound.   For example, an 18 pound turkey will take approximately 5.5 hours to cook, and also an additional 20 minutes to rest.

Ingredients:

  • one thawed turkey (fresh, or if previously frozen ensure the turkey is thawed before cooking)  average size is 18 lbs, which serves 6 – 8 and allows for leftovers
  • unsalted butter
  • salt
  • lemon
  • prepared stuffing

Method:

  1. preheat oven to 325° F
  2. clean turkey with water inside and out and then pat dry with paper towels
  3. place turkey on a roasting rack in either a roasting pan or a large cast iron skillet
  4. rub a little bit of salt on the inside of the turkey
  5. stuff stuffing into the neck and cavity of the turkey
  6. use small metal skewers to close the neck and cavity
  7. if necessary tie legs with string, or stick them under the turkey
  8. rub exterior turkey with melted butter, fresh lemon, and salt
  9. loosely cover turkey with aluminum foil and place into oven
  10. baste turkey every hour or so
  11. approximately 1.5 hours before turkey is finished cooking, remove aluminum foil
  12. the turkey is finished when a slight puncture near the thigh allows the inner juices to run, and the juices are clear (rather than red)
  13. when turkey is finished, remove from oven and transfer to a platter, cover with aluminum foil, and let rest for approximately 20 minutes

Note: a frozen turkey can be thawed in the fridge for approximately 2 or 3 days.  Alternately, an 18 pound turkey will thaw submerged in cold water in approximately 24 – 36 hours.  Be sure to change the water every 4 to 5 hours or so.

Homemade Gravy

  • in the same cast iron skillet that the turkey roasted in, skim fat off of the juice that was left in the skillet
  • add 3 to 5 tablespoons of flour to a little bit cold water (this prevents clumping) and whisk, then add mixture to the skillet
  • add salt and pepper as desired
  • cook on low heat, stirring frequently, until thick and juicy

One of the Great Debates of Modern Times

 

Nobody loves a swim more than Theo.  He happily spends his entire day in The Bay.  We recently celebrated the first long weekend of the summer; Victoria Day. This annual holiday feels like the launch of summer. The air is warm and fragrant with fresh blooms, and The Bay calls for a swim.

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It seems these days that one of life’s big questions is “to go organic or not to go organic?” Is this a trend? Is it part of the current inclination toward artisanal living, and the “locally grown” movement? Does this big question deserve careful consideration? Does the world really need another voice adding to the conversation?

I’ve been giving this debate a lot of thought lately, and one thing that comes to mind is my late grandmother’s perspective on food during the last decade of her life. You see, she loved food, and she was utterly convinced that “nothing tastes like food anymore”. We weren’t sure if it was her age: nostalgia mixed with overly romanticized memories of days gone by.

But, I have come to believe that she was absolutely right: food does not taste the same. Meaning, organic produce, poultry and beef taste very different, and far better, than anything that’s been grown (or raised) with pesticides, preservatives, hormones and antibiotics.

For example, fresh naturally grown garlic tastes incredible: an explosion of flavour. The taste of organic garlic is a lot like watching the sunset over Georgian Bay in July, versus merely looking at a picture of the same sunset. Store bought garlic is like the picture of that sunset. The powerful flavour of organic garlic is the difference between tasting garlic, and merely looking at a picture of garlic.

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Our dear friend provides us with the most exquisite, delicious, naturally grown olive oil. Her family in Greece grow the olives and press the oil, and we’re lucky enough to get some of the harvest every spring. The taste is divine! Here’s an interesting fact to ponder: Theo loves the olive oil from Greece, but he will not eat olive oil bought off of a shelf in the store. He has a very discerning palate!

 

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A throw-back to Victoria Day weekend last year.

Hence, we recently embarked on what began as an experiment, and is now a way of life. Every Thursday I look forward to our evening delivery of organic produce. Also, for reasons I still can’t quite put my finger on, we feel so much more grateful for the food … each piece of fruit and each vegetable is just so much more beautiful; so much more special.

Each piece is unique. It might be a bit lopsided; it has it’s own individuality … it’s own character. It has occurred to me that things found in nature are not supposed to be identical, like the perfect spheres of hothouse tomatoes. Allowed to grow naturally, tomatoes are never quite the same shape or size.

And then there’s genetically modified food. “Non-GMO” is popping up everywhere. Doesn’t anything genetically modified seem to bear the potential to go very wrong? “Genetically modified” just doesn’t sound right at all … so enough said on that topic.

So, for us, the answer to the big question is yes, eat naturally grown food whenever possible. Organic produce just tastes better. It’s as simple as that. And I’m sure my grandmother would agree. Quality wins over quantity in our kitchen. The best ingredients taste better, and make every dish taste better too. I’m also pretty sure that they’re packed with more nutrients as well.

My grandmother would have told me that this is not a special debate whatsoever. She would wonder what all the fuss is about, as she simply felt that people should eat naturally grown, delicious food. After all, isn’t that what she did for most of her life, without thinking there was anything special or ‘lifestyle choice’ about it?

So, on to today’s recipe for Cawaja Cooks. We had a lovely beef curry lately. I used to make curry from a jar, and that’s still a delicious option. But when I’m willing to fuss, making it from scratch really does kick it up a notch. And you can be sure it contains plenty of organic garlic. Enjoy!

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Beef Curry

Ingredients

1 large flank steak (or other cut of beef that you prefer)

2 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon coriander

2 yellow onions, sliced

8 cloves garlic

1 inch of fresh ginger

small bunch of fresh cilantro

a pinch or so of chili flakes (to your liking)

2 – 3 cups of water

kosher salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon garam masala

¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

3 or 4 small tomatoes, chopped

lime

chopped cilantro

basmati rice

Method

Cook the flank steak to your liking. We prefer to BBQ it, but when that isn’t an option, we sear it in a cast iron skillet. To prepare the curry sauce, in a large cast iron pan over medium heat, dry roast the onions, stirring often, until the edges are brown and start to curl. This takes about 6 – 8 minutes. Add ½ cup of water, scrape the onions and liquid into a small food processor with the garlic, ginger, cilantro, chili flakes, and a couple pinches of salt. Puree into a paste. Using the same pan heat the olive oil (on low heat). Fry the paste until brown, stirring frequently (about 5 minutes). Add the ground spices, cinnamon stick, garam masala, turmeric, cardamom and cook for another minute or so. Add the tomatoes, the remaining water and stir well. Bring to a boil, and then let simmer for about half an hour or until the sauce has thickened to your liking. Add the cubed beef to the sauce and stir. Serve with basmati rice, a wedge of lime, and a sprinkle of cilantro. Add your favourite vegetable side and enjoy the feast!

 

 

 

 

In Like a Lion

March roared in like a lion: fierce, deliberate, and bold. The month began with a tempest: a beautiful and powerful blizzard that brought 35 cm of snow in one severe blow.

Last week brought a massive ice storm, which covered everything with a thick layer of solid ice. It was miraculous, like a fairytale, our world being in such a silent cocoon of ice. The dogs slid on the ice in the yard, looking very much like Bambi as they tried to get their feet. It was hard not to giggle at them: they know when they’re being laughed at, and it’s important to mind their feelings as they’re easily embarrassed.

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We are currently rounding out Easter weekend, which is earlier than usual this year. Easter Sunday was brilliant: warm and sunny. Perfect for egg hunting. It must have warmed up to welcome the Easter Bunny.  Well, at least that’s what we think!  Magically the clouds cleared, the sun appeared, and we all spent the afternoon outside on a day that felt like a prelude to the warmer seasons to come.

We had a glorious Easter Sunday brunch, complete with Gouda and Shallot Quiche, Orange French Toast, breakfast sausage, and a bountiful salad. A grand feast to awaken the senses on a perfectly clear day in early spring.

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The proverb goes that if March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb (and vice versa). Well, we’re a few short days from April, and last night brought one of the most deafening thunder and lighting storms we have ever heard. The house shook more than once, and thunder cracked so violently it sounded as though the roof would cave in on us in our beds.

The origin of the proverb seems to be unclear. Some say it refers to March beginning it’s days in the winter season, and ending them in spring. Others think it’s a reference to the stars, with Leo transitioning through the month into Aries in April. And still others find religion in the verse, believing that Jesus arrives as the sacrificial lab, but will return as the Lion of Judah. I’m not sure which I believe. But I do know that this month began with surly, snarly weather, and as it always does it is inevitably succumbing to the gentler season of spring.

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In any case, it always seems that just when it feels that winter will never relent, tout de suite one glorious morning the season of renewal is upon us. We’re on the cusp, and Easter weekend has shown us what is in store.

Bon Appetite to you and yours!

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Orange French Toast

This recipe creates creamy, decadent french toast, with a delicate aroma that heralds spring into your home.  Your kitchen will smell delicious!

Ingredients

6 large eggs (we use free range)

1 cup half and half milk, or whipping cream (35% b.f.) mixed with ½ cup whole milk

1 teaspoon grated orange zest (organic oranges don’t have toxins embedded in the skin, and we think they taste better too)

2 tablespoons orange blossom water

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon pure honey

½ teaspoon salt

1 large loaf of good, hearty bread

unsalted butter

pure maple syrup

Method

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk mixture, orange blossom water, orange zest, vanilla extract, honey and salt. Slice the bread in generous slices, and soak each piece in the egg mixture until saturated. But not for too long, or the bread will fall apart on the way to the pan. Heat a tablespoon or two of butter in a large skillet (we use cast iron), and once the butter has melted cook the pieces of bread until golden brown. Usually 3 or 4 minutes per side, turning once. It’s important that the skillet isn’t too hot during this process, or the butter will burn.

Serve immediately with butter and good quality, pure maple syrup.

 

 

 

 

An Asian Cuisine Feast

Did I mention that I’m a teacher? It’s a rewarding job, and has the added feature of allowing me to spend significant amounts of time on The Bay over the summer months.

My grade six classroom has become increasingly multi-cultural in recent years, and with this change came interesting dialogues and the sharing of new ideas. For instance, about a month or so ago the students came up with the idea to host a class potluck: the purpose being each child would bring a dish from their family of origin’s heritage to share with each other.

To be honest, I wasn’t too sure what the buffet would feature, but the end result was by far one of the most delicious meals I have ever had.  We ate incredibly flavourful sweet and savory dishes from places including (but not limited to): Iran, Afghanistan, the Philippines, China, Korea, England, and the Canadian First Nations. What a feast! The aromas brought other students and staff following the scents down the hall and into our classroom.

The buffet was yet another great example of how food unites and brings people together.

One of the dishes really captured my attention (I’ll admit that I had two, maybe even three, helpings – it was just that good). The student who brought in the dish has come to Canada from China, and her aunt (also from China) helped her to make Chinese Stir-Fried Noodles with Prawns. The pair were kind enough to translate their recipe into English and share it with me. Thank you!

Asian food has always been one of my all-time favourite types of cuisine. When I was a young girl, we lived in the Philippines for a few years. As an adult, I’ve taught and lived in Japan and traveled through Southeast Asia including Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Memories of all those places and experiences always involves food.

Also, having lived for a few years in Vancouver, I’m going to go ahead and take the liberty to reveal that although I’m wholeheartedly Canadian, of British, Irish and Scottish decent, my childhood and adult life have also been heavily influenced by Asian flavours. Upon reflection, they’ve integrated into who I am just as much as sheppard’s pie, yorkshire pudding, and turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

So, back to business, and here we are in Canada in late February, yearning for spring. During this time of year, in this part of the world, everyone seems to become impatient. The days are increasingly (but it seems so very slowly) becoming longer, the sunshine feels warmer and more intense on the skin, and periodic warmer days bring about melting snow. Even the dogs seem to be looking ahead to spring; their noses tilted up in the air sniffing out the earthy aromas of freshly uncovered dormant grass and mud.

This edgy impatience for spring most certainly calls for the zesty, fresh aromas and flavours of lemongrass, cilantro, citrus, and spring onions. So, naturally, we had ourselves a glorious Asian feast! One of our kids noted that a dish on the table “tastes like a warm holiday”. Mission accomplished.

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The bounty of our organic produce delivery this week included beautiful, fresh spring onions. Oh how they burst with flavours of spring and warmth. Spring onions are planted as seedlings in the fall, and mature over the winter months before being harvested in the spring, hence their name. Sometimes we call spring onions “green onions” or “scallions”, but the flyer in our delivery box offered the explanation that while spring onions look like green onions, they differ in that they feature an edible red or white bulb at the base. Naturally these lush spring vegetables found their way into our feast.

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Our Asian spread featured a variety of dishes, in a festival of glorious abundance. Here’s my version of Fried Rice with Stir-Fried Vegetables, including those spring onions, in case you’d like to try for yourself.

Spring is pushing back at winter, and we’re ready and waiting. Meanwhile, bon appetite!

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Fried Rice with Stir-Fried Vegetables

Ingredients

3 tablespoons canola oil

4 spring onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal (white and delicate green parts)

1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon rice wine (rice vinegar is a fine substitute)

3 tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth (homemade or store bought)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

3 cups cold, cooked rice (we often use whole grain rice, sometimes basmati rice)

½ cup fresh, or thawed, peas (optional)

any other vegetables that you have on hand will do (chopped asparagus, red pepper, and zucchini are some of our favourites)

a small handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

Method

In a large wok over high heat, warm 2 tablespoons of the canola oil. Add the copped vegetables and stir-fry until just soft. Then add the green onions, ginger, and garlic and fry for about a minute further, or until fragrant. Pour in the rice wine, stir together and then remove to a bowl.

In another bowl, combine the broth, soy sauce and pepper. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the wok and return to high heat. Add the rice and stir-fry until heated through. Return the vegetable mixture to the pan and toss. Pour in the broth mixture and stir-fry for a few more minutes, until it is absorbed through. Add the sesame oil for a punch of extra flavour, and toss together.

Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with fresh cilantro and spring onions, and serve hot.

 

 

A Whole New Year to Explore

There is a custom to create a feet fireplace 2list of resolutions at the dawn of each new year.  “Resolutions” seem to be promises that we make to ourselves about giving up unwanted habits with sheer willpower and restraint.  Sometimes they’re an attempt to commitment to do more of the things that we know are good for us (making better use of that gym membership sound familiar to anyone?).

With this new year firmly under way, I’m reminded of my Aunt’s custom.  She did away with “resolutions” a long time ago, and rather prefers to think about what she hopes for, with a fresh start, in the year ahead.  This is a much more exciting prospect, don’t you think?   For example, rather than deciding to eat less of one thing, why not look forward to trying more of something else?

So, we’re ushering in 2016 with new hopes, a dash of dreams, and a generous helping of excitement.

IMG_0092One thing on our list of non-resolutions is to visit and explore new places this year.  We’re also looking forward to spending more time with good friends that we don’t see as often as we’d like.  I’m excited about visiting new farms and markets, and exploring more locally grown food sources.  I’d also like to try my hand at cultivating a small vegetable garden; perhaps beside my little rose garden?

As for that gym membership, we’re going to get our kids and ourselves (dogs too, of course), outside more often.  This summer the sailing club will be taking on two new members, our eldest children, who will be learning to sail on glorious Georgian Bay.

Meanwhile, it’s still January and it’s cold outside.  The kids are on the ski hill, the dogs are hopeful that we’ll soon go for a long walk in the snow, and the fireplace and my new book are calling.

Today’s menu calls for warm, hearty soup.  Homemade chicken noodle soup is a staple in our house, and it’s never made exactly the same way twice.  Nevertheless, the recipe is below.  By the way, Andrew brought cilantro home instead of parsley … and I didn’t have the heart to tell him, so I sprinkled some on top of each bowl of soup anyway.   Surprisingly, the cilantro added a delicious, fresh, zip to the flavour.  A happy mistake!  I’ll post a recipe for roasted chicken stock at a later date.

Bon appetite!

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Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

1 cup chopped yellow onions

2 cups chopped celery

2 cups chopped carrots (we like the pieces chunky; about ¼ inch)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon Kosher salt

2 tablespoons Maggi seasoning (our secret ingredient)

4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (or cilantro if you prefer)

4 or 5 chicken breasts

4 cups homemade roasted chicken stock

2 cups noodles (we like whole wheat macaroni noodles)

To prepare: Preheat oven to 375° F. Place chicken breasts in shallow casserole dish and drizzle lightly with olive oil, followed by a light sprinkle of salt. Cook the chicken breasts in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until cooked through but still tender. Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed stock pot or dutch oven. Sauté onions and celery until soft and then add the carrots and continue to sauté on low heat for another 3 or 4 minutes. Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Add salt and Maggi seasoning. Allow the soup to simmer for about 30 minutes. Once the chicken has cooked, shred the breasts into chunks and add to the soup mixture (I have found that pulling the chicken apart with my hands is easier than chopping with a knife, and the pieces end up chunky and hearty.) Allow the soup to simmer for about 15 or 20 more minutes, or until flavours have blended nicely. Taste test and season as required. Add the noodles and 2 tablespoons of parsley, and simmer until the noodles are soft. Serve with fresh, chopped parsley and a hearty loaf of bread.

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We love this vintage shot!

Rounding out the Holidays

Our Christmas and New Year holidays are winding down with snow, skiing, and comfort food filling the house with warm, nourishing goodness.

We’ve enjoyed family and friends, and time spent on The Bay.  Perfect!

While we didn’t have a white Christmas – for the first time in a long while – within a couple of days the snow flew and the ski season was on.  Hunting for Bay critters on Boxing Day was a novelty this year.

The gatherings were plenty, and the food sublime.  Far too much to write about in detail here!  But, I’ll share today’s creation.  After the ski hill, the kids are enjoying an old favourite: homemade mac and cheese.  Nothing beats this rich, tasty, warm treat after a day outside on the slopes.  And not only the kids like it: adults and dogs do too.  If you’d like to try it, the recipe is below.

It’s always sad to say goodbye to the holidays.  It’s back to school now, and routine, and looking forward to a couple months on the slopes.

Homemade Mac & Cheese

1 tablespoon kosher salt

olive oil

one 375 g package of macaroni noodles (I use whole wheat)

4 cups milk

8 tablespoons butter

½ cup flour

2 cups cheese, grated (we like a mixture of Parmesan, Gruyere, and maybe some Comté, but any cheese you love that melts well will be delicious)

4 cups extra-old cheddar

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon nutmeg

1 ½ cups Panko breadcrumbs (if you prefer a less crunchy texture, homemade breadcrumbs are delicious too)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook, stirring occasionally, until the noodles are just soft (al dente). (About 6 minutes.) Drain immediately.

Heat the milk in a saucepan, until it is hot but not boiling. Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a large pot, and then add the flour. Stir with a whisk until combined. Then add the hot milk, stirring constantly. Cook until thickened. Take the mixture off of the heat, and then add the cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and combine. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour the mixture into a casserole dish.

Melt remaining butter and combine with the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle on top of the mixture. Bake casserole for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are browned.

Enjoy!

Christmas Traditions

Our children woke up this past Saturday with gleeful sighs of “it’s finally the day of the Christmas party!” It’s less than two weeks until Christmas, and other than the lack of snow, the Christmas spirit is in every corner of our home.

Being in the middle of three generations of family at the party reminded me not only of how much effort my parents put into family holidays while we were growing up, but through adult eyes I now see from a different lense just how precious these moments are for our children. Don’t you think that the appreciation of family moments takes on another understanding when you enter a new role in life?

My friend and former colleague has begun creating beautifully handcrafted wooden charcuterie boards. He sources each piece of wood with a scrutinizing eye, and carves each one in his workshop with a nod to the wood’s individuality. It’s so satisfying to pull out something beautiful that was made by someone you know, and to be able to share it with family and friends. (If you would like to purchase one of Rick’s boards, please email me at cawajashores@gmail.com.)

Being used to the expression “cheese boards” I was compelled to seek out the meaning of “charcuterie”, as they have become quite popular. “Charcuterie” is French in origin, and is the branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products, such as ham, terrines, pâtés, and confit. Charcuterie was originally intended as a way to preserve meat before the advent of refrigeration. The French word for a person who prepares charcuterie is “charcutier”, loosely translated as “pork butcher”. Don’t be deceived, however, as modern charcuterie is not limited to pork.

The first to regulate the trade of charcuterie may have been the Romans. But, as a lover of French cuisine I admit to being happy to note that in 15th-century France local guilds regulated tradesmen in each city. The guilds that produced charcuterie were those of the ‘charcutiers’.

Needless to say, the children helped to prepare a beautiful table laden with flowers, Christmas treats, the charcuterie board, an assortment of cheeses, mandarin oranges, and mouth watering baklava brought by my lovely sister-in-law. I dressed the table with vintage glass ornaments, which adorned the tree when I was a young child: they’re too fragile now to rest in our Christmas tree, but they took pride of place on the festive table.

Our dogs always love a party, and they caught the spirit too. The evening rounded out comfortably with a visit from a good friend. In all, a very satisfying holiday “fête” was had. That night, the Christmas spirit tucked us all very cozily into bed.

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It seems to me that the most vivid memories from childhood Christmases are not the gifts that were opened, but the experiences that were had. I hope our children have beautiful memories to take with them throughout their various roles in life.

 

A Chill in the Air

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Saturday Morning Frost

This weekend has brought a chill along with it.  We woke up with frost on the grass and windows.  I think it makes things feel more like Christmas.  Now all we need is snow.

Since a couple of us have had the sniffles, it seemed like the perfect weekend for comforting French onion soup.  A village near my hometown on The Bay is French Canadian: and the most delicious food comes from the kitchens in that nook of the world.

A local grocer in our town always has beautiful, fresh produce, and never fails to provide special ingredients.  This time, I went in search of onions, duck fat, and a special French cheese for our soup.  The proprietor made sure to remind me that “fat is where the flavour comes from”!

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Theo would agree.  He found it difficult to leave the stove while the duck fat was slowly transforming the onions into lovely aromatic bites of goodness.

There are few things more inviting and comforting than the smell of soup warming the home for an afternoon.

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Everyone loved the nourishing soup.  And, it tasted even better the next day.  Family taste test success; all agree that French onion soup makes it into the pages of Cawaja Cooks.