Watermelon Lime Gin Fizz and Family Togetherness

pouring 625 sqDepending on where you are in your particular family life cycle, hearing the phrase “Family Togetherness” may wrap your heart like a warm hug or may cause you to run screaming from the room.

In my case, the chicks are all grown and have flown the coop. When my progeny all come together under the same roof, I sleep sounder at night. It fills me with joy. However, there was a time when I wanted to run kicking and screaming from their loving and sometimes all encompassing embrace, but that’s a tale most moms can relate to, and there is certainly  no need to go into the gory details here.

This past weekend, the stars and planets were aligned just right and we were together as an entire family at the cottage.  As we were having dinner on Saturday night, the youngest, wanting to relive the defining moments of his childhood, asked his siblings what were some of their worst memories of growing up. He is a bit of a “glass half-empty” kind of kid. We all laughed and then they were off down memory lane, telling stories about the time(s) mom yelled, or the time blood spurt everywhere when dad cut the youngest with an electric razor during his inaugural shave.

As I listened to my kids tell these tales it struck me that even with all the digital advances we have made with memory keeping, a family’s folklore and history really lives best through good old fashioned story telling. It is the telling and retelling of these anecdotes that connect us as a family. In our family, some of the stories have been told so many times that my kids and their cousins use a shorthand system to refer to them. As in, “Oh come on Uncle Roger, tell us Chapter 18 again.” (Chapter 18 is the tale of how my husband came to shave off his moustache of 31 years, after losing a hockey bet.)

My daughter and I collaborated on Saturday to create this cocktail. One to two of these will be all you’ll need to get the stories flowing. Somehow, the kids and I polished off the entire pitcher while my husband was napping on the hammock, so I am certain that by next summer he will be telling the saga of his hurt feelings when his family neglected him during aperitivo hour.

Click here to print recipe for Watermelon Lime Gin Fizz.

Icy cold watermelon spiked with lime and gin refreshes like nothing else on a sweltering afternoon.bowl of limes and white bowl of frozen melon cubes 3jpg

 

 

Grilled Chicken Skewers with Ginger Coconut Sauce and Mild Annoyances

on white 625 sq I am the grill master of our house. However, if the weather is particularly nasty, I will try to send my husband out to cook, but inevitably I will be beckoned to see if the food is done. It seems that I have the magic touch. Well, total disclosure here; I spent the summer between my first and second year of cooking school working in a restaurant as the grill chef. 

The restaurant had a huge stone barbecue on their patio. They stored the charcoal for the barbecue in 50-pound bags on the roof of a shed at the back of the patio.  I had to climb a ladder at the side of the shed and toss down the sacs of charcoal. My nickname that summer was Cinderella as my face was always covered with charcoal streaks. In addition to cooking the proteins, I also had to prepare pan sauces on the grill. That required a deft hand in moving the charcoal around to create hot and cool spots on the grill. I burned more than my fair share of pans the first few weeks, but eventually I got the hang of it. By the end of that summer I was fairly proficient in determining when a burger was done, when a strip steak was cooked to medium rare and when halibut was just cooked through to perfection.

These days I cook on a gas grill, and rely more often than not, on an instant read thermometer. They are basically idiot proof and they guarantee perfect results almost every time. This one is expensive but works very well.

This recipe for Grilled Chicken Skewers with Ginger Coconut, sauce hails from Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby’s brilliant book, “License to Grill.” Although this book was written over 17 years ago, it still feels fresh and relevant. I have been making this recipe for many years and never tire of it. The original recipe calls for boneless skinless chicken breasts, but I recommend using boneless skinless thighs.

I must admit that I get mildly annoyed when people tell me they only use boneless skinless chicken breasts. Not quite as annoyed as when people tell me they never use salt in their cooking, but I won’t get started on that one right now. I always use boneless skinless thighs and serve it to guests who say they don’t like dark meat. They don’t even realize they are eating thighs and they always ask me how I keep my chicken so moist. Thighs are a no-brainer. They are next to impossible to overcook because of their higher fat (and therefore flavour) content.

The velvety coconut-ginger sauce enrobes the chicken and the ginger, jalapeño and lime add a seductive little flavour zing. The “shake” topping, crafted from peanuts, sesame seeds, cumin and red pepper flakes adds crunch and packs a welcome buzz of heat.mise en place 2If you are using wooden bamboo skewers, be sure to soak them for about an hour before skewering the meat, so that they do not burn. This recipe is also quite delicious when you substitute tofu for the chicken (or so I have been told by my vegetarian daughter!)

Click here to print recipe for Grilled Chicken Skewers with Coconut-Ginger Sauce.

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Lemon Poppy Seed Baby Bundts

holding platterThis Spring , Universities and Colleges all around the world, released into the wild the latest crop of new grads. My daughter, newly minted herself in May, is among the hordes. She moved back home with us, just for a few months, while she considers her future. It has been a joy having her home again, although her angst at figuring out what comes next is sometimes painful to witness.

She asked me if having her home again was cramping my newly aquired empty nester status. I had to let her in on the cold hard truth that with her home, I felt like I had to be a responsible adult again and plan a proper nutritious meal. Without her there, I could be quite content with a glass of Prosecco and a bowl of Kettle Brand Sea Salt Baked Chips (my guilty pleasure), and call it dinner.

She was telling me about a dream she had. We were up at our cottage and she was outside. Suddenly, she was being chased by a tiger and a bear. Running into the cottage, she locked the door behind her turned to her parents, pleading for help. My husband, a take charge kind of guy, immediately reached for the phone to call animal control.

As she was relaying the dream to me I started analyzing it in my mind. How sweet, I thought. Even though she’s all grown up, she still needs and counts on her parents for protection and assistance.

Then, she continued on with her dream. The folks at animal control told my husband that there was really nothing they could do. Wild animals were having a rough time making it on their own in their natural habitat, because  humans had wreaked havoc with it . We would just have to learn to live with the animals. My daughter was distraught and asked her dad what his next step would be. He just looked at her and admitted defeat. She looked at him with such fear and sadness. Her protector was no longer able to keep her safe.

My keen analytical mind quickly did a flip as I realized the significance of this dream. The baby bird is about to be turfed from the nest and she’s on her own to make it in this big world. For sure it’s an exciting time, but doubtless, quite scary as well.

These Lemon Poppy Seed Baby Bundts are a perfect metaphor for this story! Tiny in stature but bursting with huge lemon flavour, these baby cakes can hold their own in a world of towering mega cakes. Finely textured, rich, moist and buttery, these minis deliver a puckering burst of fresh lemon flavour.mise en place

lemon juice and zest

scooping batter into pans

glazing Thickly coated with a tart lemon glaze, the inside is vivid yellow from flecks of zest. The tiny  specs of deep indigo blue from the poppy seeds, add a wonderful crunch as you bite into them. Mini things are so adorable and these diminuative cakes are no exception! They keep well, wrapped in an airtight container for up to 5 days, although they didn’t last that long at my house.Take one sq 625

last one

Click here to print recipe for Lemon Poppy Seed Baby Bundts.

on stand with lemons at base 1

 

 

An Unapologetic Turkey Burger

burger with runny egg 625 sqThe popularity of hamburgers continues to soar and our desire for novel and sometimes bizarre burger concoctions knows no bounds. Have you sunk your teeth into a Luther Burger yet? Hot on the heels of the Ramen Burger comes the Spaghetti Burger. And although you gotta give the guys at Slater’s 50/50 in Huntington Beach California some credit for creativity, I won’t be trying the peanut Butter and Jellousy Burger any time soon.

I have often felt that turkey burgers are the Rodney Dangerfield of the burger world. They just don’t get much love and respect. People look down on the lowly turkey burger. Not exciting, bland, boring and often dry as dust. I aim to change all that.

These are turkey burgers with nothing to apologize for. They are spiced with cumin and just a hint of chipotle chile powder. Lightly oiled and heavily salted just before they hit the grill, they are cooked through with just the perfect amount of char and crunch on the outside. Delicious as this burger is, it’s really all about the toppings here. I thinly sliced several onions and cooked them low and slow in a bit of olive oil, for almost 40 minutes until they were sweet and caramelized. A pinch of sugar helps the process. Patience please. Do not try to rush this process by turning up the heat. You will end up with burned onions.slicing onionsSome thickly sliced heirloom tomatoes, sour kosher dills and buttery avocado, sliced into wedges round out the toppings. I toasted a multi grain bun and spread it liberally with some chipotle mayo.  toppings The cherry on top is a fried egg. It seems that fried eggs are showing up on top of everything these days. There’s a very good reason for the fried egg trend. It just tastes freaking amazing. The crispy edges and the runny yolk of a fried egg are really one of life’s simpler pleasures in our ever increasingly complex world.

The richness of the yolk is the ideal way to counteract the natural leanness of the turkey.burger with egg 2 625 sqFrom that very first bite when you chomp into the burger and the yolk dribbles down your chin and the side of the burger, happiness will ensue. with sweet potato friesThe flavours and textures of this burger are something very special. The contrast of the cool crunchy sour dill with the warm tender egg will get your taste buds very excited for a second bite. Slow down and notice the sweet-acid zip of the tomato and the smooth buttery avocado. Take note the heat of the chipotle mayo, thickly slathered on the bun and the smoky accent of cumin in the burger. It all just works.

Click here to print recipe for An Unapologetic Turkey Burger.

Butterscotch Toffee Salty Oatmeal Cookies

with cake stand 1The fact that I have made these cookies four times in the past two weeks would lead you to the inescapable conclusion that I have a humungous sweet tooth and a total lack of willpower. And you would be correct! However, each time I made them I tweaked the recipe slightly until I came up with what I believe to be an outstanding cookie. So you could say that it was all in the name of research.

I made them exactly as the original recipe was written. I had seen these cookies on seriouseats.com, and was intrigued. They are essentially an oatmeal cookie but with some butterscotch chips mixed in. I baked the first batch but found them to be a bit too sweet and one-dimensional. So I baked a second batch and added some Skor bits to amplify the toffee flavour. They were good but not perfect. Something was missing. My daughter suggested I add dried cherries to the dough. Jackpot!

I love the way the Skor bits melt and ooze out of the cookie as they bake. There is a tiny bit of crunchy toffee on the edge of each cookie as they cool. The textural contrast between the crispy edges and the chewy center is what keeps you going back bite after bite. Tart dried cherries  temper the sweetness of the butterscotch and toffee. The occasional ping on your tongue, from the Fleur de sel crystals sprinkled on top keep everything in check. These are a perfectly balanced (albeit, not nutritionally balanced) cookie!mise en placeUsing an ice cream scoop to portion the cookies ensures that they will all be the same size and shape and bake evenly. I like the #24 size scoop  (about 1.3 ounces). I was able to get 12 cookies on my baking pans (13 x 18 inches). scooping dough Pour a cold glass of milk and prepare to be enchanted. These are quite addictive.overhead 625 sq 2 Click here to print recipe for Butterscotch Toffee Salty Oatmeal Cookies.pink cookies in circle