Tuscan Braised Short Ribs -a great way to star the New Year

tuscan-braised-short-ribs-with-mashed-sweet-potatoes

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”-Edith Lovejoy Pierce

I will not tell you about how glad I am that 2015 is finally over. It was a year of ups and downs, births and deaths, marriages and break ups, successes and failures, and of great sadness.

Instead, I am sitting at my desk, fountain pen in hand, staring at the blank pages of a 2016 journal and wondering what I shall write.

What will you write in your 2016 story? Will you tell us of travels to far your dream destinations, or of how you built something wonderful, or about love, or new beginnings. Will you tell us that you moved toward becoming the person that you want to be by learning something new, or by trying something that you have never tried before.

Whatever it will be; I wish you much love, happiness, success and good health in 2016!

If you are looking for a great dish to serve your family and friends I suggest these Tuscan Braised Short Ribs. I made them for a dinner party a few weeks ago and everyone asked for the recipe and raved about how much they loved it.

Happy New Year!

Tuscan-braised-short-ribs

Tuscan Braised Short Ribs

Ingredients:

4-1/2 to 5 lb. English-style beef short ribs (8 to 12 ribs)
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
2/3 cup medium-diced carrots
2/3 cup medium-diced onions
2/3 cup medium-diced fennel
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic
1 to 2 tsp. paprika
1 to 2 tsp. ground coriander
1-1/2 cups dry red wine
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup lower-salt beef broth
1 to 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Directions:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F. In an 8-quart Dutch oven, heat 2 Tbs. of the oil over medium heat. Season the ribs with 2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper. Add half of the ribs to the pot (or as many as will fit without overlap), and cook, turning with tongs, until nicely browned on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer the ribs to a platter and repeat with the remaining ribs. Pour off all but a thin layer of fat from the pan.

Add the remaining 1 tbsp. oil, carrots, onions, and fennel to the pan. Season with 1/2 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring and scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, until the vegetables are soft and lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the thyme, garlic, paprika, coriander, and anchovies, and cook, stirring, until well distributed and fragrant, about 1 minute.

Pour 1/2 cup of the red wine into the pot and cook, stirring to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot, until the liquid is reduced to about 2 tbsp., about 1 minute.

Transfer all the ribs (and any juices that have accumulated) back into the pot. Pour 1-1/2 cups water, the tomatoes, beef broth, and remaining 1/2 cup red wine over the ribs and using tongs, arrange the ribs as evenly as possible and no more than two layers deep.

Bring the liquid to a simmer, cover, and put the pot in the oven. Cook, turning the ribs with tongs about every 40 minutes, until they are fork tender, about 2-3/4 hours. (The meat may fall off most of the bones about midway through cooking; this does not mean that the ribs are fully tender.)

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the ribs with the sauce spooned over, sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Make Ahead Tips

It’s best to braise short ribs a day (or at least several hours) ahead for a couple of reasons. First, this allows you to chill the sauce so it can be defatted thoroughly. Also, the flavors only get better with time. To reheat, arrange the meat snugly in a baking dish, cover with foil, and put in a 350°F oven. Reheat the sauce on the stovetop.

Recipe from FineCooking.com

Advertisements

Holiday Ginger Crinkle Cookies

ginger-crinkle-cookies-plated

Every time I smell the sweet scent of baking cookies it brings back wonderful memories. The rich aroma of ginger cookies reminds me of holidays past.

When I was a child my mother would bake cookies for the holidays. We would carefully cut each one out with the same old set of cookie cutters every year; carefully creating trees, bells, and candy cane shaped treats. Each cookie was decorated with sprinkles and sparkling sugar candy. It was one of my favourite childhood memories.

When my children were young I tried to create similar traditions so their memories would be as sweet as mine. They still ask for us to celebrate some of those traditions even though they are grown up. I am happy that they still cherish those magic moments.

These Ginger Crinkle Cookies are so good you will want to add them to your holiday baking list.

Make some magic memories of your own. Happy Holidays!

ginger-crinkle-cookies-plated-2

Holiday Ginger Crinkle Cookies

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 large egg
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp. turbinando sugar

ginger-crinkle-cookies-2

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon, salt, allspice and cloves.

Add the shortening, butter and the brown and granulated sugars to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Slip in the molasses and egg and beat until well incorporated. Add the flour mixture by scoopfuls and beat until combined.

Add the turbinado sugar to a small plate or bowl. Roll the dough into balls that are 1 inch in diameter, then roll in the sugar. Place balls on a baking sheet 2 inches apart. Bake the cookies 9 to 11 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time. Cool on the baking sheets for 4 minutes, then continue cooling on wire racks. Repeat with the second batch.

Recipe from the Foodnetwork.com courtesy of Jamie Deen

Butternut Squash, Ginger and Pear Soup

butternut-and-pear-soup8744

Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada! I made big turkey dinner for my family last night and then we watched the Blue Jays’ baseball game together. It was fun family time and the Blue Jays won, so we had much to celebrate.

Many people take a moment on Thanksgiving Day to mention all of the things that they are thankful for. I have a long list of family and friends who make my life special and I hope they know who they are. I also have a passion for photography and food, and the joy that sharing those passions brings me. I am thankful for those blessings every day, not just today.

One of my blog followers asked me to feature a fall soup so I tried out this vegan version of Butternut Squash, Ginger and Pear soup. It is a compilation of a few recipes. I really like the complex flavour that adding coconut milk adds to the recipe. The consistency is lighter than other butternut squash soups that I have made but, it is still packed with flavour.

I hope you enjoy the soup. Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian readers!

buttenut-squash-and-pear-soup-8787

Butternut Squash, Ginger and Pear Soup

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces

2 medium leeks, finely chopped

2 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced finely

6 pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces

6 cups low sodium vegetable broth

1 cup coconut milk

Fresh thyme sprigs and pumpkin seeds for garnish (optional)

leeks-on-a-chopping-board7846

squash-on-a-cutting-board7877

Directions:

In a large saucepan heat oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and ginger and sauté until tender, stirring often, about 10 minutes.

Add the squash and pears and continue to cook another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes until squash is tender.

Remove from heat and add coconut milk. Puree the soup in a blender in batches and serve with your choice of garnish.

butternut-squash-and-pera-soup-8765

Memories of Summer in Every Jar of Peach Jam

peaches-0906

“By all these lovely tokens September days are here, With summer’s best of weather And autumn’s best of cheer.” ~ Helen Hunt Jackson

Every year we make up a batch of jams and preserves so that we can capture the taste of summer in a jar. When we taste the sweet peach jam on toast, even in the dead of winter, we remember the fresh, juicy peaches of summer. We remember sunny days and lazy afternoons. We remember picnics in the park, sailboats dancing across the water, and children playing in the yard. Each bite brings back a moment that we will not forget.

peach-jam-on-a-scone-8096

This was my first year making Peach Jam. The Niagara peaches are so full of flavour and when they are in season, I cannot get enough of them.

peaches-0844

I found this recipe in the Canadian Living Test Kitchen book called The Complete Preserving Book. It is an excellent source of information for those who are new to jam making and preserving since it contains sections on canning basics, equipment and techniques.

Peaches-0984

When I took a bite of the fresh-baked scone covered in peach jam, I just smiled and remembered. So long summer… till we meet again.

peach-jam-on-a-scone-8176

“One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Peach Jam

Makes about 5-6 1 cup jars

Ingredients:

6 cups sliced and peeled fresh peaches
2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 package light fruit pectin crystals (49 g)
3 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Directions:

In a large Dutch oven and using a potato masher, crush peaches. Measure 4 cups of fruit.

Add lemon juice. Mix pectin with 1/4 cup of the sugar, stir into the peaches. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often.

Add remaining sugar, return to full rolling boil. Boil hard, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.

Remove from heat and skim off foam.

Fill hot 1-cup (250 ml) canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch (5 mm) head space. Cover with prepared discs. Screw on bands until resistance is met, increase to fingertip tight.

Boil jars in the canner for 10 minutes.

Turn of heat. Uncover and let jars stand in the canner for 5 minutes. Remove jars from the canner and transfer to a cooling rack. Let cool, undisturbed, for 24 hours.

Recipe from-The Complete Preserving Book-by the Canadian Living Test Kitchen

Fregola with Peas, Ricotta, Pancetta and Mint

Fregola-6886
Live long and prosper!

Have you ever wondered what keeps us young? I am approaching a milestone birthday and when I hear the number I just shake my head and say “That cannot be me!”

I still feel the same as I did before my children were born. I am wiser and a little less agile, but I am still that person. I still love music, nature, theater, photography, travel, cooking, family and laughter, as I always have. I can still skate, cycle, walk for miles and keep up with the rest of the family.

We all know that eating well and living an active lifestyle is important. I have also read that a glass of red wine now and again is good for you. So is dark chocolate. All of these facts were proven through research. Researchers spend countless hours studying the affects of lifestyle and diet so we can understand what we need to do to live long and healthy lives.

It really makes me wonder if we know it all when I hear about places like the island of Sardinia. On this wonderful rustic island there are more than 10 times as many people living to over 100 years old, as there are in the U.S. and Canada.

Sardinia is a region of Italy located in the Mediterranean off the west coast of Italy’s mainland. In spite of its prime location, Sardinia remains a culturally isolated place where the locals live a rural lifestyle of hunting, fishing and farming.

Many researchers have visited Sardinia hoping to unlock the secrets of their longevity, while falling in love with the island, the food and the people. The locals enjoy a Mediterranean diet, paired with wine, friends and family. What more could you want?

Fregola (also known as Fregula) is ancient pasta from the island of Sardinia. It resembles Israeli Couscous but has a slightly chewy, almost nutty taste. I recommend using it in soups and salads and mixing it with vegetables for a tasty pasta dinner. It can be purchased in many specialty stores in North America such as Whole Foods and McEwan’s.

This recipe was adapted from the one on the Bon Appetit website. The flavours are well balanced and the ricotta and mint add a freshness to the pasta. I would definitely make this again.

fregola-7084

Fregola With Peas, Ricotta, Pancetta and Mint

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups fregola
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 ounces pancetta cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups low sodium chicken stock
Salt and Pepper
1 cup frozen peas or freshly shelled peas
3 sprigs fresh mint
4 oz. ricotta cheese

Directions:

Cook fregola in a large pot of boiling salted water 6-8 minutes. The pasta should be a little firm. Drain pasta, do not rinse.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add wine, bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid has reduced, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth and simmer. Add the fregola and cook, stirring often, until pasta is al dente and broth has thickened, about 5 minutes.

Taste and season with salt and pepper. Add the peas and cook, stirring often until peas are warmed through, about 2 minutes.

Serve topped with ricotta and fresh mint and drizzle with oil.

Recipe adapted from bonappetit.com

Thai Red Curry Chicken with Avocado Foam

Wine-for-dinner---B-6720

Where do find your inspiration?

This past couple of weeks I have been bogged down with day to day living. I was not inspired to try new recipes, or to really cook for that matter.

So this weekend I packed my bag and headed off to see my sister, Cate, and brother in law, Chuck. They are both wonderful cooks and wine enthusiasts. My kind of people.

Since they live in the heart of Ontario’s Niagara wine region, visiting their beautiful home is like going to a resort. Weekends are filled with lunches out, wine tastings, and beautiful scenery. I also enjoy checking out the latest music playlists that Chuck has compiled from iTunes.

After an afternoon of visiting a local winery, we decided to crack open a great bottle of wine, turn on some music, and watch Chuck cook his famous Thai Red Curry Chicken.

Instant inspiration!

I am so happy that I took the time to connect with loved ones and let the rest of the world go past, while finding my inspiration.

thai-red-curry-chicken-B-6778

Thai Red Curry Chicken with Avocado

Ingredients:

2 tsp. coconut oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts sliced into bite-size pieces
1 tbsp. Thai red curry paste
1 cup zucchini, sliced
1 red bell pepper sliced into strips
½ medium onion, cut into chunks
1 cup mushrooms
1 can full fat coconut milk
1 avocado, peeled
½ jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely minced
⅓ cup of lime juice
4 tbsp. of water
salt to taste
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, loosely chopped

Directions:

Heat the coconut oil at medium heat and brown the chicken. Add in the vegetables and cook until chicken is done and vegetables are slightly cooked but still firm.
Add the coconut milk and red curry paste, stir and simmer for five minutes.

thai-red-curry-chicken-cooking-B-6741

In a blender or food processor combine the avocado, jalapeno pepper, water and lime juice. Add water as necessary to thin. Add salt to taste. Mixture will become foamy.

Serve the Thai Red Curry Chicken over rice with a dollop of avocado mousse on top sprinkled with fresh cilantro.

Raspberry and White Chocolate Scones

raspberry-scones-with-blue-roses-5768

Life has been pretty hectic, lately. So hectic, that I had to schedule an hour this weekend to take some quiet comfort with a cup of tea and a scone.

During these rare moments of reflection I start to feel myself relax and even smile a little. You see, I have been spending one evening a week babysitting my grandchildren. Even though this adds to my already crazy life it has become one of the highlights of my week.

I have two wonderful grandchildren , Aiobheann (pronounced Even) who is 2, and Kieran who is 4. They are equally as cute and cuddly, as they are mischievous and challenging. What one thinks up, the other follows.

One of the evenings that I was babysitting I put the two of them in the bathtub for a bath. Kieran spent most of the time pretending to swim and playing with toys, while Aiobheann spent her time squirting foamy children’s soap and washing herself as well as a two-year old can. Just when we were almost done, Aiobheann asked if it was okay if she were to pee in the bathtub. I said that she had to use the potty and not pee in the tub. Then she looked down and then looked at me with big eyes and said “Uh Oh!”

I scrambled to pull them both out, as quickly as I could.

Another time, Aiobheann did not want to go to bed so Kieran tried to convince her to be a Big Boy and go to bed. That is what he understands about his bedtime and how he should behave. Well this just started a half hour debate between the two of them about why it did not apply to Aiobheann because she is not a Big Boy; she is a Little Girl. I know, at times like these, parents get frustrated because this is holding up the schedule, but as a grandmother I found it amusing.

Being a grandmother is a whole new adventure. I get to do it all over again without the day-to-day responsibilities and with the wisdom that I have developed through raising my own daughters. I am really enjoying it!

So here I am, at the end of a long work week, sipping my tea and savouring my scone and I am still smiling about my grand babies and their innocent view of life.

I am looking forward to my next visit.

raspberry-scone-with-book--5955Raspberry and White Chocolate Scones

Makes 12 scones

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. sugar
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, chilled and chopped into small pieces
1 cup miniature white chocolate chips
1 cup frozen raspberries, chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 egg, separated
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and sugar. Add the chopped cold butter and rub with your fingers into the flour until the bits of butter are roughly the size of peas. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Separate the egg; reserve the white for an egg wash before baking. In a separate bowl, whisk together the cream, egg yolk, and vanilla extract.

Add the frozen raspberries to the flour mixture. Pour in the cream, and stir lightly with a fork until just moistened.

Gather the dough into a ball with your hands and knead it lightly a few times, just to roll it together. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and divide into two balls. Gently roll out each ball into a 1-inch high disk, and cut each disk into 6 wedges.

Place wedges on the baking sheet and brush the tops with the reserved egg white. Sprinkle each with sugar.
raspberry-scones-on-baking-sheet

Bake for about 12-15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and scones are cooked through.

The scones are best eaten the day they are baked, but will keep in an air tight container for 2 days. For the best results do not thaw the berries before using them.

raspberry-scone-with-book5875

Another Adventure in Tofino, BC

tofino-beach-3893

We recently flew off to Vancouver Island to seek refuge from the freezing winter temperatures in Toronto. We were also traveling to welcome a new addition to my friend’s family, Liam, who was a little over a week old.

In true BC style, we were only there a day or two when we set out on an adventure with the baby in tow. We drove to Tofino on the other side of the island so that my friend Joseph and his son-in-law, Wade, could set off in search of a crashed 1945 plane. The RCAF Canso Flight 11007 took off from the RCAF Air Station in Tofino on February 8, 1945 but crashed in the woods not far south of the airport. Miraculously, the 12 crew members survived and made it out to safety but the plane remains at the crash site deep in the woods south of town.

For the past 70 years, hikers have braved the deep woods, unmarked trails and muddy marshland to find the plane just so that they can say they made it. It is a tough 3 hour hike through mud and marshland best made wearing rubber boots. That said, our fellows decided to try it without waterproof gear. Close to the crash site Joseph slipped off a fallen wet tree trunk, while traversing it across a gully, falling 4 feet  and hitting it on his way down. They made it back to the road hobbling and covered in mud, Wade’s pants showing wear and tear of the journey.

Photo by J.S.Swider

Photo by J.S.Swider

Photo by J.S.Swider

Photo by J.S.Swider

While the guys were hiking Mom, and Baby and I relaxed over a deliciious lunch at Sobo Restaurant and shopped around town. I love the atmosphere in Tofino where locals enjoy life with a true sense of adventure.

We waited for a call that they had made it back the highway and drove down to pick them up. I was surprised to see Joseph walking with a tall walking stick, since he is quite an athlete, but both had smiles of accomplishment on their faces.  I surmised that the hike was much more difficult than they had expected.

Wolf in the Fog

We ended our day over a relaxing dinner at The Wolf in the Fog. We were excited to experience this wonderful place after it was named Canada’s Best New Restaurant 2014 by Air Canada’s Enroute magazine. We wanted to know what the fuss was about.

When we arrived Joseph was still muddy up to one knee and a little worse for wear. Nevertheless; the staff welcomed us and found us a spot in the cafe where we could snuggle up for dinner.

 

wolf-in-fog-chef-3906-b

Chef Nicholas Nutting prepared wonderful West Coast comfort food from local ingredients. We decided to order 2 plates to share. The first was the French Bombshell consisting of scallops, shellfish “Bourguignon”, black cod, baguette and endive salad. Our second choice was the Mighty Duck featuring whole BC duck, beetroot and Gorgonzola lasagna with blood orange. The flavour combinations on these platters were amazing!

_PMP3953

I love that the plates and the serving platters were vintage china, making it all feel very like Sunday dinner at Grandma’s place. I loved the casual ambience and the feeling that we could just relax and enjoy the wonderful food with friends and family. It had been a long day and we were ready for a feeling of comfort and some great food.

wolf-in-fog-server-3945

In spite of its more modern decor, Wolf in the Fog has a retro feel to it. The staff were attentive and the service was good. I enjoyed the full size LPs playing classic rock music in the ground floor cafe. It reminded us of simpler times.The evening was filled with stories of the day, laughter and memories.

wolf-in-fog-sous-chef-3926
wolf-in-fog-wolf-3936wolf-in-fog-3957

The restaurant deserves it’s great reviews. The staff were welcoming and the food was amazing. I cannot wait until our next trip to Tofino so we can go back.

Braised Beef Short Ribs

short-ribs-3320

I am finally going to acknowledge that winter is here!

I have been overly optimistic in thinking that maybe it will not be a cold winter, and maybe it will go by quickly. I even bought a light weight winter coat thinking I would be the stylish one on the subway filled with a sea of down coats and Canada Goose jackets. Well, last night I bit the bullet and bought a warmer coat.

Today I am walking around in my new toasty down filled jacket with a big smile on my face. There are giant snowflakes fluttering in the evening sky and I am smiling. The wind chill factor is well below freezing, but I am still smiling.

Since I am admitting that it is winter, I might as well feature a hearty winter recipe. These braised short ribs take a while to slowly cook but they are well worth the wait. The meat is so tender it falls off of the bones and the flavours are rich and satisfying.

I found the recipe on the FoodNetwork.ca website which was created by Chuck Hughes, a great Canadian chef from Montreal. It has a little different style from most braised short rib recipes with the addition of cocoa and cinnamon. The result is darker and richer in flavour so I served the ribs with a full-bodied red Valpolicella wine from the Verona region of Italy.

It was a match made in heaven!

short-ribs-3492

Braised Beef Short Ribs

Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients:
2 large onions, roughly chopped
3 – 4 stalks celery, roughly chopped
4 large carrots, peeled, trimmed and chopped in 2 inch chunks
3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 tbsp. canola oil
6 beef short ribs (about 3 inches long)
1 cup flour
1 750 mL bottles full-bodied red wine
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 cup brown sugar
Handful peppercorns
A generous pinch coarse salt
Black pepper, freshly ground

short-ribs-in-a-pot-3028

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. (177 C)
Prepare all vegetables and place in large bowl. Add herbs and spices, set aside.
Cut ribs between the bones, and trim all excess outer fat.
Season ribs well with coarse salt. Dredge in flour till well coated.
In a large Dutch oven or wide soup pot, pour in oil to coat bottom of pan. On high heat, sear the ribs so they are browned well on all sides (about 3 min per side). Set aside.

short-ribs-veg-in-a-pot-3032

In same pan, transfer all vegetables from the bowl, and stir to caramelize and pick up all the brown bits.
Add meat back into pot. Pour wine over. Ensure all is covered and if not, top up with water.
Sprinkle on cocoa powder and brown sugar, bring to a boil, cover with a lid or foil, and place in oven till meat is fork tender. (About 3 hours)
Remove ribs to a platter and strain out the solids to use for something else.
Boil the cooking liquid in a wide shallow pan till it is reduced by half. It will be richer, more flavourful and thicker. Add a nub of butter at the end for sheen and flavour.

Recipe adapted from Foodnetwork.ca-Chuck Hughes