Winter Squash and Arugula Salad

plated 2 625 sqBig sisters have a very important job to do in this world. It is their mission to pave the way for their little sisters, teaching them the ropes and ensuring that they do not stumble through life’s little land mines along the way. My big sister taught me where babies come from, (I didn’t believe her!), how to shave my legs, and, with instructions whispered through a locked bathroom door, how to use tampons. She taught me how to hide cigarettes from our mom as well as how to sneak out of the house, late at night, when boys came calling, by throwing pebbles at our basement bedroom window. Sadly, I never had to use that last one. I was a late bloomer and the boys only came for her!

Now that we’re all grown up, she is still passing on lots of valuable lessons. She works for the popular blog, “Yummy Mummy” and is quite knowledgeable about the business side of running a blog. She is always going on about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and how important it is for my blog.  SEO is the practice of improving and promoting a web site in order to increase the number of visitors the site receives from search engines.

She explained that the title of your blog posts is of utmost importance. Beginning the post title with a number assists in making the post’s content more actionable. It also reassures those readers, whose attention span matches that of a gnat, that they can scan through your list post quickly if needed. My sister also emphasized the need to use exciting adjectives that promise audacious results.

As I was writing this post, I thought about some of her tips and tried to put them into action. “Seven mind blowing ways to roast winter squash.” Or, “Four essential steps to cutting squash without hacking off your finger.”  (On that note, check out this very helpful video on cutting winter squash) Somehow, they just seemed too sensationalist, and not really very “me.” However, I do promise you a delicious squash salad, that while perhaps not exactly mind blowing, will make dinner time at your house a very happy place to be.cutting squashready to assembleI was inspired to make something with winter squash after a visit to my neighbourhood Farm Boy store. If you don’t have Farm Boy in your city, I am just a little bit sad for you. Entering the store you are heartily greeted by a life-size animatronic singing Farm Boy and his dog Barndoor Buddy. (Not sure if it’s just me, but some days it feels like he’s mocking me!) Perched in the produce section, resides a mischievous monkey who performs endless backflips over the banana display. Rounding the corner into the dairy section, you will encounter Lulu the cow who moos every time you open the dairy case to get milk and Rusty, a crowing rooster, standing guard over the eggs. My kids and I spent a lot of time there when they were little. It was the lazy mom’s version of taking your kids to the petting zoo. And, it had the added bonus of not stinking like a zoo.

The produce bins were overflowing with a myriad of winter squash. Unable to decide what to get, I excitedly filled my cart with about 35 pounds of assorted varieties. As the cashier was ringing me through, her curiosity got the best of her. She just had to know what I was going to do with all these squash. When I told her I was going to take their picture she looked at me like I was a bit crazy. And yes, perhaps you might agree, when I confess that I spent the better part of a very happy afternoon, arranging squash.assortment 3

Click here to print recipe for Winter Squash and Arugula Salad.close up


Celery, Green Olive and Plumcot Salad

cropped closeIf you are anything at all like me, then there’s a pretty good chance that even though there’s not much to eat in your home, and you are in desperate need of a trip to the grocery store, there are always some olives and a few stalks of celery, albeit, a little limp and bendy, in your fridge. So you would be forgiven if the title of this post has you believing that this is one of those, “Clean out the Fridge” deals.

That is precisely what my husband thought when he discovered this salad on our dinner table last night. Au contraire, my dear husband. Although this salad does contain said limp celery and the dregs of the olive container, it is actually one of the most delicious flavour combinations I have come across in quite a while. Thanks to Chef Bonnie Reichert, for this inspired combo.

Instead of using plums in this salad, as in Bonnie’s original recipe, I substituted my fruit crush of the month, Plumcots. Can we just talk about plumcots for a minute please? A super sweet cross between a plum and an apricot, plumcots (sometimes called pluots) are consistently delicious. The sweet apricot cancels out any hints of sourness from the traditional plum. Plumcots are available June through late-October and each variety is only available for a few weeks. Seek them out. You will thank me later!plumcotsSweet juicy plumcots and fat salty green olives make such excellent playmates in the bowl. The crunch from the celery stalks add a very welcome crispness to this salad. The tender celery leaves, from the heart of the celery, which most people sadly discard, are chopped up and added to the salad and provide a lively hit of pale green freshness.mise en placeA simple vinaigrette, boosted by a dash of grainy mustard and dollop of sweet honey, make all the flavours of this salad start to hum. Toasted sliced almonds, scattered over top make this salad literally sing. Cleaning out your fridge has never been this delicious.

Click here to print recipe for Celery, Olive and Plumcot Salad.

with forks 2

Roasted Tomato and Carrot Soup with Cheddar Crisps

flat bowlI may get drummed out of the core for saying this, but even though the Farmer’s Markets are still full of beautiful ripe tomatoes, I find myself shunning fresh sliced tomatoes with a hefty pinch of malden sea salt and a chiffonade of basil. With October just around the corner, I am yearning to roast something.roastedRed ripe plum tomatoes are halved and combined with some sweet carrots, aromatic garlic, onions, thyme and rosemary. Salt, and a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes woke everything up. I wanted a grown up tomato soup. Tossed with some olive oil until glistening, the veggies are roasted in a hot oven for 45 minutes.

I pureed it all in the blender and added some water to thin it out. I decided against using chicken stock as I really wanted the taste of the vegetables to shine through. A tiny bit of 35% cream stirred in just before serving really brings all the flavours together.

I decided to serve the soup with some cheddar crisps. This is what I imagine the childhood classic of tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich would grow up to become!

If you have never made cheese crisps before, you need to try them. They can be made with almost any firm grating cheese (Cheddar, Parmesan, Gruyere, Manchego, Asiago). They are delicious with a glass of wine, served on the side with a salad or even slipped onto a burger for some crunch.  Beautiful to look at, salty and crunchy, they are the perfect counterpoint for this velvety soup. tall bowl 1The crisps are quite simple to make. They can be flavoured with almost anything you like. I decided on fresh thyme leaves, a pinch of cayenne and some black pepper. cheddar crispsThe trick is to spread the cheese out into flat circles so that they are lacy when baked. They will be a bit soft when you remove them from the oven, but they will harden upon cooling. making cheddar crisps

Click here to print recipe for Roasted Tomato and Carrot Soup with Cheddar Crisps.

Baked Apple Spice Donuts with Maple Brown Butter Glaze

yeast donuts with milk 1F 625 sqSometimes, when I’m in the shower, belting out “My Man” from Funny Girl, there’s a little voice inside my head that tells me I could be Barbra’s vocal doppelgänger. But then the steam in the bathroom clears and I realize that, no, I can’t sing like Barbra Streisand. But that’s ok, because you know what I can do? I can bake donuts.

Yes, I said bake donuts, not fry. Who even knew such a thing was possible? Well, as it turns out, lots of people, particularly two of my favourite bloggers, Joy over at joythe baker, created Apple Cinnamon Baked Donuts with Brown Butter Glaze and Naomi over at bakersroyale crafted Baked Apple Donuts with Caramel Drizzle. 

Before I knew it, that bossy little voice in my head, ordered me to go online and get these baked donut pans from Amazon. Never mind that I had recently declared a moratorium on online shopping after my girlfriend Paula whispered to me that she was going cold turkey, especially with shoes. She sensibly pointed out “We only have two feet you know. How many pairs could we possibly wear?” The little voice in my head agreed with her and said, “Yeah, no more online shopping for me anymore either.” However, in my defense, I will say that these pans are way cheaper than my current shoe crush.

The big question was, should I make the yeast style donuts that Naomi crafted or the cake style ones that Joy featured? The Cake vs. Yeast Donut debate can get almost as heated as the New York vs. Montreal Style Bagel debate. Apparently, people are very passionate about their foods with holes in the middle.

Yeast style donuts rely on yeast to do the leavening work. They have a more open crumb structure and a chewier texture. Cake donuts, on the other hand, rely on baking powder and/or baking soda to do the heavy lifting. They result in a donut with a tighter crumb structure, and are denser and more crumbly than yeast donuts. Unable to decide which ones to try, I ended up making both. That way you don’t have to. You’re welcome!

Truthfully, I have no business making any variety of donut this week as there are more pressing matters at hand. Instead of baking donuts, I should be reading Chapter 12 in my Canadian Securities textbook, clearing all the food photography props off my dining room table so I can set it for the Rosh Hashanah lunch I am hosting later this week for 21 people, and watching the season premiere of Big Bang Theory. sifting dry ingredients for cake donutsgrating apples-2diced applesThe cake donut batter is quite loose and can be piped. The yeast donut batter needs to be formed by hand. They are really fun to make.piping cake donuts into panforming yeast donutsBoth varieties were delicious. My friends at yoga inhaled (deeply!) the cake variety and the staff at my hair salon quickly gobbled up the yeast ones. My personal preference was for the yeast donuts. I really liked the chewy heft of the dough. The yeast ones do take longer to make, but it is not hands on time, just dough resting time.

I adapted Naomi’s recipe by adding cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg to the dough and instead of topping them with a caramel drizzle, I crowned them with a Maple Brown Butter Glaze. You can either chop or grate the apples. If you chop them, you end up with little bits of apple poking out from the dough and they look quite rustic. I love it when my baking looks like it didn’t come out of a factory, but rather was made with love in my kitchen. If you prefer a tidier donut, grate the apples so they remain inside the dough.

The topping for the donuts can be made quite thick, so it needs to be spooned on or spread, or thin so you can dip them like a glaze. The main difference is the amount of liquid, in this case, maple syrup, that you add. The other liquid ingredient in the glaze is brown butter. This is a small extra step that makes a huge difference in flavour. If you have never made brown butter, give it a try. It is as simple as melting butter over medium heat until it browns. The nutty aroma and taste will astound you and you will soon be browning butter for everything. One of my favourite restaurants here in Ottawa makes brown butter and then lets it solidify, whips it and serves it with their house made bread. Genius!icing cake donuts 626 sq I don’t want to say goodbye to the summer, but Baked Apple Spice Donuts make saying hello to fall very sweet indeed.

Click here to print recipe for Baked Apple Spice Donuts with Maple Brown Butter Glaze.

Apple, Honey and Almond Tartine for Rosh Hashanah

half with almonds 2Apples and honey go together on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), like cookies and milk, every other day of the year! We dip apples in honey to symbolizes our wishes for a sweet year for family, friends and all the Jewish people. While this explanation makes sense, I have often wondered why specifically apples and honey?  Why not figs dipped into date syrup?

In researching this question, the interpretation I discovered on the website, resonated quite strongly with me. Their insight regarding the apple part of the equation, is explained this way:
“On most fruit trees the leaves appear before the fruit, thus providing a protective cover for the young fruit. The apple, however, makes a preemptive move by appearing before the leaves. The Jewish people are compared to an apple because we are willing to live out our Jewish lives even if this seems to leave us unprotected. “

The choice of honey was brilliantly explained with this insight:
“A bee can inflict pain by its sting, yet it also produces delicious honey.  Life has this same duality of potential. We pray that our choices will result in a sweet year.”

And so apples and honey it is again, this year on my holiday table. I usually place a big platter of apples on the table with a little knife and cutting board and a bowl of honey for dipping to start the meal. What results is a table littered with hacked up apples, band-aid wrappers (someone inevitablly cuts themself) apple cores and lots of gooey drippings everywhere.

Leave it to Martha to come up with a tidy, delicious and very beautiful solution to this sticky mess. It truly is a good thing. slice close up 625 sqMy take on Martha’s idea starts with my ultimate braided challah, sliced lengthwise into 1 inch thick planks. The slices of bread are lightly spread with honey and then covered with thinly sliced apples. A scattering of toasted sliced  almonds and a final drizzle of honey makes a very special start to your holiday meal. braidingbrushing with eggwith toppingThese open faced sandwiches really should be assembled just before serving. This is not usually a problem since there are always those guests who hang out in the kitchen, asking if they can help. Set up an assembly line and assign apple slicing, honey spreading and almond scattering. Your tartines will be ready in no time at all.

Wishing you all a sweet and healthy New Year.

Click here to print recipe for Rosh Hashanah Apple and Honey Tartine sliced 2