Sunday, November 16, 2014

Kitchen Day

     It has been a cold weekend, and we have even had our first snowfalls, some of which has remained on the ground!  Yesterday we cleaned, rearranged some pictures on the wall in the front room and then relaxed.  For the first time ever, I started to make Mincemeat, something I have always meant to do.  Well, I can check that one of my bucket list!  It was a two-day process, but quite straightforward, and the result was mouthwateringly successful, if I do say so myself.  I used Delia Smith's recipe as a guide:, but, as always, tweaked it to my liking. I used a little over a pound of Golden Delicious apples (4, peeled and chopped), added some dried cranberries instead of some of the raisins, and added some finely chopped crystallized ginger. I also left out the nuts.  Basically, you combine all of the ingredients in a large, oven-proof, stoneware bowl, which looks like this:

Then, the bowl is covered with a clean tea-towel and left in a cool place overnight to allow the flavours to combine. The bowl is then loosely covered in foil, and baked in a 225'F oven for 3 hours.  After it's removed, the ingredients are mixed every so often as they cool, to coat them in the melted suet and juices. 

The smell was a combination of Christmas + Heaven!
Once cooled, the brandy was added and I divided the recipe amongst 4 properly sterilized Mason Jars.

I plan to use some in a Mincemeat Wellington for a dessert for an upcoming dinner party.  I thought I'd bake the mincemeat in a large, rectangular puff pastry tart, then serve it with cardamom-infused custard.  Stay tuned for that one!

I also made Carrot Cake cookies, a recipe I got from one of Martha Stewart's cookie recipe books.  I've made them before and they were a huge hit with the household.  They are basically hermit-like cookies chock full of grated carrot, raisins and oatmeal, then cream cheese icing is layered between two cookies to make a sandwich.  A very decadent sandwich!

Cookies ready for baking
After baking
Ready for eating

I also wanted to do a test run of an appetizer I plan to make for this year's Christmas dinner party.  Every year, I try to do a different theme, which gives me a bit of a challenge and also helps tie all of the courses together.  In past years, I have done Morrocan and traditional British, so this year, I thought I'd attempt an Indian-themed Christmas dinner based on a more traditional menu.  I always try to make one hot and one cold appetizer, so I thought of making Indian-style Lamb meatballs. I figure they would be good finger-food if I put toothpicks in them and served them with a mint-cilantro sauce, and the lamb-mint combination is very traditional. I combined a few recipes I found online and in a recipe book, and they turned out wonderfully!

Meatballs with chopped mint and cilantro cooking on the stove
Mint-Cilantro Sauce
The dinner party isn't until the beginning of December, so stay tuned for the full menu, and lots of pictures.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Chalet Weekend (one week ago)

     Last weekend, we had the pleasure of going up to a chalet with friends for another mini-getaway.  It's near Creemore and we drove up on the Friday, taking country roads the whole way.  There were lots of farms and rolling countryside, and the occasional Windmill farm, which looked like something out of a science fiction movie.  Our hosts are longtime friends and we enjoyed a relaxing food and drink-filled weekend.

Sunset, first night
     After a hearty breakfast on the Saturday, we went further afield to go on a hike in a Conservation area.  Sadly, there are (get this) Hummer tours along the same trails, which end up destroying the trails. We actually had to get off the trail at one point to let the monstrosity take it's cargo of mostly young people (go figure) through the countryside. I turned my back on them, but, apparently, they smiled and waved.  Can you say "losers"?  We did come across some lovely views, however, so it was well worth it.

Working off breakfast
Stupid, stupid, stupid!
Lovely view of Georgian Bay looking almost tropical
Pastoral view
Hay there!
After that, we drove into Clarksburg and Thornbury to check out some Flea Market-cum-antique shops.     I have had good luck finding cheap, but interesting items in Clarksburg and this time was no exception. I purchased an Imari plate for $12 and three blue and white Imari-type plates for $20 each.  We then headed back to the chalet and had a very relaxing evening full of laughter, food and drink (not necessarily in that order mind you).

The living picnic table
     We had another grand breakfast the next day, cleaned up and headed back home, swearing up and down that it was going to be a week of salads and vegetables.

Straw bales as viewed from the car
Attack of the windmills!

Ottawa Visit (two weeks ago)

     We have been away for the past two weekends, so I haven't had a chance to update my blog.  Two weeks and a bit ago, we left G-town on a Thursday to have a mini-vacation in Ottawa.  We had planned to visit my dad and step-mother, who live just outside of O-town, and spend the rest of the time exploring the city and enjoying some good food.

Fall colours en route
     We made good time getting there and stayed in the centrally-located Lord Elgin Hotel, across the street from Confederation Park, and just down the street from the houses of Parliament, the Chateau Laurier and the Rideau Canal.

Confederation Park Statue
Houses of Parliament in the distance
Rideau Canal with Chateau Laurier in the background
Looking down the Rideau Canal towards the Ottawa River
Looking up the Rideau Canal towards the Chateau Laurier

Houses of Parliament across from the Rideau Canal
     After having a bit of a walkabout and a rest, we walked over to the Byward Market to get some dinner. It started to rain and we couldn't decide what we wanted to eat, so were walking around, crankily, desperately trying to figure out what to eat.  We ended up at a place called Luxe Bistro, and had a very tasty, cosy meal, the first of many!

First meal - Fish Tacos appetizer
     The next day, after a filling breakfast at a diner further down Elgin Street, CC went back to the hotel for a lie-down and I did a quick investigation of the neighbourhood and took some touristy photos.

Houses of Parliament Eternal Flame
Peace Tower through the wrought-iron fence
Post Office lion
Fun botanical sculptures (with legs!)
     We then drove out to Carleton Place to visit my dad and stepmother.  They moved earlier this year and my dad turned 88 in August, so we wanted to see how they were getting on.  They have three dogs and just got a kitten, so there were plenty of welcomes when we arrived.  We went out for lunch to a converted farmhouse that is on the local lake.  After some good grub and conversation, we went back to their place in town and chatted a while longer. Although my dad's getting on in years and his body is not what it once was (he used to be taller than me), his mind is as razor-sharp as ever. That's promising! 

Myself and my future self - eek!
Step-mummy, daddy and I
     We headed back to Ottawa and went for a walk along the river to stretch our legs, as we had been sitting most of the afternoon.  It was cloudy and grey, but there were some lovely views.

River walk
Tunnel under Wellington Street
     The next day, Saturday, was our final full day and we wanted to make the best of it.  We had an overpriced breakfast in the hotel, then headed over to the pedestrian path by the Ottawa River to go to the War Museum.  It was a bit of a hike and the Museum resembles a bunker or trench from the first world war, not the prettiest of sights on a grey day.  We didn't find the layout all that wonderful or engaging, and we both felt there could have been more artifacts and less text.  The different wars also flowed into one another, and I thought it would have been better to have separate areas for the different wars.  Regardless, it was quite overwhelming, and we hurried through the WWII part as we had had enough.  Strangely, there was no special exhibit commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI, which I thought was a huge oversight.

The bridge to (from?) Hull
Sumacs in foreground, Hull in background
Fall colours
War Museum exterior
War Museum interior
Creepy WWI exhibit
We then took a different, seemingly longer walk back to the hotel, had some lunch at a pub, then split up to do our own things.  CC wanted to go to the Market and I wanted to go to the Natural History Museum, which is in a gorgeous, old Victorian building.  It was a very interactive experience and had very well prepared exhibits that were very kid-friendly.  It was quite fun to watch all the kids getting excited about birds, geology, and, of course, dinosaurs!

Museum of Natural History
Giant Jellyfish for bioluminescence exhibit
That night we went to a restaurant called Signatures, which is in the building that houses Canada's only Cordon Bleu School.  The setting, service and food were memorable and the meal was one of the best I ever had.  Octopus and duck sausage on a bed of kimchi for starters, rabbit with Swiss chard gnocchi for the main and a wild strawberry-themed dessert.  Each dish was a paragraph on the menu and combined flavours and textures that I will long remember.

Stuffed rabbit with dried fruit and pumpkin seeds, swiss chard gnocchi, wild mushroom mix and rabbit juice with apple verjus

Strawberry licorice custard, dehydrated strawberry milk, coconut semifreddo, vanilla pebbles, pop rocks, vanilla bean ice cream, Swedish berry drops, meringue chips
It was a great finish to a much-needed break, and we can't wait to return.

     On the Sunday, we tried the breakfast buffet at the hotel, also disappointing and not inexpensive, packed up and headed home.

Back to G-town
N.B.  A few days after we left Ottawa, all hell broke loose as Nathan Cirillo was gunned down in front of the National War Memorial, where we had been just a few days earlier.  Such a tragedy.

Lest we forget