Thursday, December 30, 2010

Leek and Potato Soup

When I decided to make some touriere last week I had to buy some leeks. And of course it's cheaper to get a bunch of them rather than only 2 or 3. And as it happened they were on special, big bunches of 6 big leeks for under 5 bucks. Yippy! I immediately thought of making this soup. It's one of my favorite soups ever. Tastes really smooth for a bunch of onions! And when it's cold outside and you feel like having something velvety and comforting, especially after eating so much on Christmas, this soup is amazing. Sometimes I add chick peas to this for extra protein but not this time. I really wanted only the vegetables and that nice leek flavor.

So here's how simple this is to make. You'll need:

3-4 leeks, chopped (i only used 3 'cause they were pretty big, and also keep in mind they will wilt down when they cook!!).
3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped.
1 medium yellow onion
2-3 cloves garlic
4-5 cups chicken broth
Salt, pepper, dried thyme, to taste.
1 TBSP each of butter and oil

Saute the leeks, onion and garlic in the butter and oil, on medium heat until it startes to soften. Add the potatoes, season, stir and add the broth.
Bring to simmer than turn down to med-low, semi-cover and cook until everything is soft.
In batches, puree in the blender, until it's all nice and smooth. Return to the pot, on low heat, check the seasonnings, add a bit of milk or cream if you feel like it ( I added about 1/3 cup 2% milk) and you good to go.

The perfect dunking item for this is a nice toasted bread with melted gruyere. Potato and gruyere and really good friends.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

French-Canadian Tourtiere Phyllo Pockets

It wouldn't be Christmas around here without this traditional meat pie. All across Quebec there are many ways of doing it, and it's apperance differs form region to region. If you ask someone from Lac St-Jean and someone from Quebec City they will tell you a complete different recipe for THEIR traditional tourtiere. In and around Montreal this is how the middle looks like. But he way I "wrap" it though is kind of new. Tourtiere for us is usually done like a pie, with a flaky golden crust, and I LOVE that too, but wrapping it in phyllo like this allows me to have it many weeks after Christmas is over. Plus, I'm really not that good at making pie crust. This is safe...
When I was growing up we usually had tourtiere the way Grand-Maman Therese (paternal grandma) used to make it, with lots of leeks and 3 different meats. I've since then always made it the same. Well, this year it didn't come out exactly the same because, I believe, the leeks were a little more bland than normal. So I had to add some spices that are kinda "new" for me in this tourtiere filling. They still taste amazing though (I'm sure my grandma would approve), and I will be able to have my tourtiere fix for a while!

This recipe gave me 32 triangles total. And I packed them up real good, I could've stretched it a bit more. You can see on the picutres, when I cooked those 2 they kinda exploded...oh well, it's all going in the belly anyway!
It's a bit of a process making these, but it's so worth it! What I did is I cooked the mix a day ahead. That way it didn't seem like it took all day.
So first step:

3 lbs ground meat: mix of beef, veal and porc
2-3 big leeks, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3-4 potatoes, peeled and cut in half(or in 4 if they're big)
Salt and pepper

Mix all of that in a bowl, get in there with your hands and make sure the meats and leeks are well aquainted. Then throw it all in a big pot and cover with cold water, almost to the surface but not quite. I needed about 1 1/2 to 2 cups water.

Simmer on medium-low heat for about 1 1/2-2 hours, until the potatoes are tender.
Turn the heat off, take out the potatoes and mashed them up, but not into a puree! You need to have chunks of potatoes in there!!
Return them to the meat, mix and adjust seasonning. I added more salt, pepper, and the unusual I was talking about: all-spice and bit extra ground cloves.

Let it cool and put it the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
*Also, as it cool, you will see the fat come up to the surface. It's a good idea to skim a bit of it. If you don't do it right away, you can always wait until the next day, it will all be at the surface, white and harden and you can just scrape it off.

Now comes the fun part. Like I said earlier, the traditional way to make tourtiere is in a pie crust. So if you want the full tourtiere experience then go ahead with that. But here's how I've decided to put my own spin on it:
I first learned to work with phyllo a while back in Whistler, making spanakopitas with my friend Jazz(Hi Jazz!!), and that's when I realized it would be a good idea to make individual tourtieres that way. It's a process, and it takes patience and delicatness (i don't know if that's a real word, but you know what I mean..). But it's easy when you get the hang of it. The most important thing to do when you work with phyllo is to get all you stuff ready BEFORE getting the dough out. Counter clean, small bowl of oil and brush ready, mixture out of the fridge, sharp knife, humid and clean dish towel...Ok, ready.
Take out the dough, unfold it and keep to one side. Take one sheet, brush with oil gently, take a second sheet, lay it over the first, brush again with oil, then repeat with a third sheet. After taking that 3rd sheet cover the rest of the dough with the humid dish towel so they don't dry. When the final sheet is all nice and oily, cut the dough length-wise into 3 strips. Grab a spoonfull of mix and lay it on the bottom part of the strip:

Then fold like a flag! Delicately, making sure all the filling stays in.


Until you end up with a nice triangle (also lightly brush with oil):

Then you just keep doing that until there's no more mix. Yes, it takes time. Put some tunes on or something! I made these listening to reggae. Island music, wrapping a traditional quebecois meat mixture into a greek-looking pastry. With a nice spanish red wine on the side. Vive la culture internationale, huh?!
Also, if you see the dough is ripping when you brush it, don't worry, the folding process will patch it all up!

After each one, I put it carefully in a big ziploc bag, ready for the freezer. I fit 16 in each bag, not touching each other too much since I want to be able to take them out one or 2 at a time!!
When you're ready to eat, get a few on a cookie sheet, and bake at 400F, about 10 minutes on each side until golden and crisp.

THAT tastes like Christmas!!

Yes, go ahead and put some ketchup on it if you want...I do too, sometimes...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Chocolate Walnut Fudge

What can I say about chocolate fudge?? Well, not much, really, except whoever discovered chocolate and the fudge principle is genius. Seriously.

I rarely make it because I don't want to gain 400 pounds, but it's Christmas, so I made a batch and will give most of it to my brother and his family. But of course I kept some, they didn't all fit in the box....Oh, too bad...
I got the recipe in the same magazine as the cherry balls. It's so simple, it's a charm to make, not too messy, and it's also easy to cut. Big plus when it comes to treats like that!
So without further ado, I give you the best fuedge in the world, and wishing you all a very Happy Christmas filled with good food and family.

1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips
1 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate vhips
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup icing sugar
1/2 TBSP almond extract
1/2 TBSP vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts.

Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie (fancy word for "stainless steel bowl over a pot of boiling water) or in a micro-wave if you a have a big enough bowl (it's A LOT of chocolate!!).
While that's going on, line a 8x8in square pan with foil and brush with butter, or margarine.
When the chocolate is all nice and smooth let it cool a bit and add the condensed milk, sugar, both extracts and a pinch of salt. Stir it until all smooth, incorporate 2/3 cup of walnuts and pour into the prepared pan.
Smoothe the top, sprinkle the rest of the walnuts, pushing them down a bit so they stick, and send it to the fridge for at least 2 hours.
Then all you need to do is lift the foil out, the fudge will come out with it, and cut into cubes with a sharp knife.
Who wouldn't love this as a gift??

The kids are gonna go crazy...(and the big kids too!!)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cherry Brandy Chocolates

Christmas time is the perfect time to make treats like these. Last night was the swim team's Christmas party and as always we all were required to bring something..Let me just say, potlucks are the best partys! There's so much variety and you get to discover new ways of doing things. Usually at these kind of parties I always bring dessert. Or something along that way...One time I made jello shots...what, it's kinda like dessert!
Anyway, for this party I had a recipe picked out, some kind of brownies, but one night last week I was going through a special edition of "taste of home" featuring cookies and candies only, looking for something cute to bring to my brother on Christmas Eve, and I came accross these little babies. Oh My...I was instantly intrigued. Seemed relatively easy to make, with only a few simple ingredients, so I decided to make these for the swim party too. And I'm glad I did! They were a hit and (like the jello shots) I think they will be remembered...
Here's the recipe, as written in "Taste of Home; Best cookies and candies":

For about 4-5 dozen little balls, you'll need:

1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped
1/2 cup cherry brandy (may be a little hard to find, but it's worth it, and btw that brandy is amazing in Sangrias!!)
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 TBSP unsalted butter, softened
3 1/2 cup icing sugar (yes, it's a lot of sugar...)

6-8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1 TBSP shortening
White cookie icing (optional but pretty!!)

First step, the night before, soak the cherries in the brandy, cover and refrigerate overnight. I'm sure if you're pressed for time 2 hours would be enough, but the longer it soaks the softer the cherries will be, and soft is what we want here!

The next day:
In a bowl cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar in batches and mix, at first with the mixer but after a while you'll have to let go and put some effort into it, with a good ol' spatula and some elbow grease. It will seem like a lot of sugar, but in the end what you're looking for is a crumbly mixture like this:

Drain the cherries (keep the liquid!! that precious brandy...), add to the sugar mix, along with 2-3 teaspoons of the soaking liquid. Mix until it come together. If you feel like you need more sugar, add more sugar; or if it's too dry more brandy ...
It will look like this:

Then it's time to make the little balls, about teaspoon fulls, roll them nicely and place them on a baking sheet lined with wax paper.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.
After one hour, melt the chocolate and shortening until smooth, and cool a bit.
Roll the balls in chocolate, covering them all around and return to the sheet. I found the best way to do this was with a spoon and a toothpick.
Finally, drizzle the white icing in a disordely fashion, and send it to fridge again, uncovered. Chill until you're ready to go.

Plate, cover, and when you get to that party make sure they stay in the fridge until ready to serve!

Merry Christmas!!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fruity Date Squares

A few weeks ago I went a little crazy at the grocery store and somehow thought I might "need" a big box of dates. Huh. Well it's all good dates are good in oatmeal. But I think deep down I had a craving for date squares. I love those. Plus you don't even need a recipe just some simple guidelines. I remember making them a lot when I was baking at that coffee shop in Whistler. It's super easy!
For these ones though I decided to make them a little more Christmas-sy and add candied fruit and apricots. And it worked really good!

Check this out.
First off, cook the fruit:

2 cups dates
1/2 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped
1/2 cup candied fruit mix
1/2 cup raisins

Put them all in a sauce pan and cover 3/4 with orange juice, add a teaspoon or 2 of brown sugar if you like really sweet things...:

Let them turn into this:

Meanwhile do the "crust":

2 cups oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup flour (all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour...)
Spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, about 1/2 tsp each.
1/2 cup butter, melted and slightly cooled
*you may need more butter, melt a little extra just in case...

For this part, just mix all the ingredients, butter last, and stir until it clumps together when you squeeze it:

If you feel like you need more butter or oats, adjust necessarily.
Oh and by the way, that mix can be used for fruit too much is no biggie..!
Oil-spray or butter a 8inch square pan and evenly press 2/3 of the crumb mix at the bottom. Spread the date mix (that has cooled a bit; really it takes about 10-15 it carefully though you don't want that sticky mess!!), evenly, and sprinkle the rest of the crumb mixture on top.

Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes, until golden, and if need be turn on the broiler for a few minutes for extra crisp!

Let it cool completely on a rack, cut and enjoy!

p.s. don't be impatient like I was and eat a piece 5 minutes after it was out of the oven.....holy burn...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

White Chocolate and Cherry Cookies.

I will have to ask you all to ignore the "healthy baking" at the top of this blog for this post. In fact, from now until after Christmas there might be more "comfort and traditional" rather than healthy and "good for you"...Hey, it's that time of year, let's indulge a bit, right? Right.
These cookies are more like the typical chocolate chip cookie, with lots of butter and sugar. I got the basic recipe in a magazine but changed the flavors a bit.

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cacao powder, sifted
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
3/4-1 cup dried cherries

In a large bowl, start by creaming the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and orange zest.
In another bowl mix the flour, baking soda, salt, and gradually add to the butter mixture in 3-4 batches and mix well. Fold in the cherries and white cocolate chips with a spatula.
Roll into balls (or drop heap teaspoonfulls if you don't like getting your hands dirty...) about 1 inch diameter, and place on an oiled cookie sheet, about 2 inches appart.
Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes, until the edges are golden but the middle is still soft-ish. They will continue to bake for a bit even when out of the oven. Cool on the sheet for 4-5 minutes and transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

Enjoy with a nice cup of tea, or a glass of milk...