‘Tis the Season to be Busy!

I know, I know… I’ve been bad, I haven’t been keeping up with my regular postings but I have an excuse! The office has kept me particularly busy for the past month and normally I would say “come on, give me a break, busy is not an excuse!” The office has not only kept me busy but it has also kept me out of the kitchen since I’ve had to travel to meet with an array of clients and consultants. Keeping me out of my kitchen means that my creative juices aren’t flowing the way they usually do. I’m not thinking about what I am going to cook since it is not something that is on the work-travel agenda.

But here I am, back home with the holidays upon us and not exactly on vacation – yet! This is the last haul until I get to decompress with my love, with nothing on the agenda but rest and our choice of outings at our own pace.

Since we have been so busy for the last while, we kept pushing back our holiday dinner party which was first scheduled for Thanksgiving, then to American Thanksgiving, then to the first day of Hanukkah, to finally the last day of Hanukkah, the weekend before Christmas. So, this coming weekend is when we will be celebrating Chrismukkah! Before I get into the likes of prepping for the holidays, we still need to eat in the meantime: since Sunday was the first weekend day in a long time we had to ourselves, we went ahead and simmered a lamb curry for the week and whilst it simmered we decorated our Chrismukkah tree.

Although it requires a long simmer time, this recipe is so much fun because it is incredibly versatile and one of those make ahead meals that you can eat throughout the week or freeze for another busy day!

Make -it-your-own Curry

  • The following ingredient list is what I would recommend as a base to start with:
  • 3 tablespoons of curry powder
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 carrots, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 large potato, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 turnip, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • Choice of meat, preferably bone-in (this adds flavor to the curry)

If you’re making a vegetarian version, then just skip ahead to the next point. For the meat lovers out there, you’ll want to begin by searing the meat, which just means cooking it until the sides are brown and then removing it from the pot. There is no need to cook it through entirely since you will be returning the meat to the pot and simmering it for a couple of hours. Lamb is one of my favorite meats, but it is also an expensive meat. For this kind of dish I like using lamb shanks.  Not only are they less expensive than say lamb chops, but hey give a lot of flavor and the slow cooking process makes the meat super tender and completely delectable.

Once you’ve removed the meat, drizzle the pot with some oil and sauté the onions and garlic. I took advantage of this dish to use up a yellow pepper from my fridge that was almost forgotten, sliced it in julienne and added it to the pot. When everything begins to brown, add the curry powder and stir to blend well. Add the can of diced tomatoes and an equal part of water. Add the remainder of your veggies, notably the carrots, potatoes and turnips. Feel free to add or omit anything you like or dislike, or even any vegetables that are leftover in your fridge. However, if you are using leftover vegetables that have already been cooked, then I would suggest adding those at the end just before serving simply to heat them through.

At this point give the mix a good stir, add your meat, bring down the heat to low and simmer for approximately two hours. After two hours the meat and all the vegetable should be tender. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, more curry powder and/or cayenne if you like it a bit spicier. You can also add a can of lentils or chickpeas (drained and rinsed) to make for a more consistent dish especially if you’ve chosen to make a vegetarian version.

Your curry is now ready to package for lunches, dinners or to preserve in individual portions in the freezer. Serve hot with naan bread, rice or anything side-dish you’d like!

I hear a lot of people talk about how they do not have time to cook and I can see how that can happen especially if these are people who do not particularly enjoy the act of cooking. However, I’m going to say that although stews, curries, soups and the like do require a long cook time, the prep time rarely exceeds 20 minutes (and that’s if you’re taking your time). After all ingredients are in the pot and simmering, you are free to do anything you want for an hour or two or three! Just don’t venture outside your home, your stove is still on! I usually like to take this time to do household chores. So go ahead and stay in the house for a few hours and do some simmering while busying yourself indoors. You’ll be able to free up any busy weeknight resulting from a long day at the office, your last minute holiday shopping or even for some extra quality time with a certain someone!

Jinxed by the Baking Spirits

Every Fall my office hosts a fundraising bake sale for Centraide. However, unlike every other Fall, this year they suggested employees show off their culinary talents with a bake sale and sharing of recipes between the bakers and the eaters. Although baking is not one of my talents (every time it is more of a struggle than anything else), a couple of weeks ago I decided to step up to the challenge and showcase the only dessert that for me is fool-proof – me being the fool in this scenario. Since meringues are one of my favorite sweet treats, years ago I taught myself how to make them and they are always a hit. However, this time around the baking spirit jinxed me as you can see from the picture below. Something happened during the cooking process and the meringues resulted in a sticky caramel mess, as opposed to the light crunchy sweet bites they were supposed to be. This happened on Tuesday night, the bake sale was schedule for Thursday and with a dozen wasted eggs I was completely discouraged. The rest of that evening was spent frantically flipping through my many cookbooks trying to find another baking recipe I could replicate without too much difficulty.

 

At that point I remembered a dessert I had made a few times this summer which was a real hit and easy to make since it did not involve any baking per se. Chocolate pistachio cake – a refrigerator cake they call it since all you need to do is stick it in the fridge overnight to let it set. The recipe is inspired from Picnics, a recipe book published by Ryland Peters & Small. Here is my interpretation of it.

No Bake Chocolate Pistachio Cake

  • 2 ½ cups dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 stick unsalted butter or ½ cup margarine
  • 2 cups crushed graham crackers
  • 1 cup pistachio nuts, chopped
  • ¼ cup crystallized ginger, chopped
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom

Put the chocolate and butter (or margarine) in the top of a double boiler set over simmer but not boiling water, and melt gently. Stir in all the remaining ingredients, then spoon into a 9 inch tin pan (or springform pan) lined with plastic wrap. Press the mixture well into the bottom and sides of the pan and smooth the surface with a spatula. Cover with foil and refrigerate over night before unmolding. Serve in bite-size pieces or slices.

Worried that I wasn’t going to have enough bites to sell at the bake sale, I remembered that I had a large bag of fresh cranberries I had just picked from the market that weekend. I decided to do a Canadian twist to a classic French dessert that my mother made for me growing up. Clafouti is typically made with cherries but since I had cranberries I decided to give that a try. It turned out nicely for a first try, probably the only this to go well for me with this bake sale prep! 

Cranberry Clafouti

  • 1 cup of fresh cranberries
  • 4 eggs
  • 125g of granulated sugar
  • 80g all purpose flour
  • 80g butter
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 pinch of salt

Preheat the oven at 375°F and grease a round glass or porcelain pan, 25 to 30 cm in diameter.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs like you would for an omelet. Add the salt and sugar and mix until well incorporated. Sift the flour over the egg and sugar mixture. Melt the butter and allow it to cool a bit before adding it to the batter along with the milk.

Spread the cranberries in the dish and pour the batter over them. Place on the middle rack in the oven and cook for about 45 minutes or until the top puffs up and begins to brown. Using the tip of a knife, cut through the Clafouti to make sure it has cooked through evenly.

My baking mishaps did not end at the meringues. The morning of the bake sale, I woke up earlier than usual because I had to make individual portions and packages of my desserts. I cut my Clafouti into quarters and packaged them up in plastic wrap. I took out my chocolate pistachio cake from the refrigerator and tried to release it from its glass rectangular mold. Usually I use a metal cake pan for this recipe but since I was making a larger batch for the bake sale, I decided to spread the batter into one of my larger glass rectangular molds. The thing about glass is that, unlike the tin molds, they do not allow for any sort of bending of the pan to release its contents, and that is precisely what happened to me that morning. My chocolate pistachio cake was stuck in its mold and there was nothing I could do about it then. I figured I’d just take it to work as is and hopefully as its tempers it will be easier to release from its pan. A few hours later, it was still stuck. The bake sale was to start shortly and I still hadn’t prepared my individual portions. Eventually I decided to sacrifice part of the cake and cut out a side layer. After this ordeal, my chocolate pistachio cake was finally cut up into individual squares, presented on the Centraide table alongside my Clafouti quarters. Other than my two desserts there must have been about a dozen varieties of desserts for sale. The table was emptied under an hour… I guess you can say the event was a success!