In the Driver’s Seat this Christmas

November27

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I was recently invited to a special pre-Christmas event by Ford Canada which included a luncheon speaker to help us all on the “Road to Wellville” this season.  She had these great suggestions to ease the stress in preparation for the holiday season:

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  • Make sure that your vehicle is in top working order so that it always starts, you never run out of gas, your gas line never freezes and you never get stranded on the highway.
  • Have a family meeting to prioritize events and divide up the task list.  Agree to due dates.
  • Always have healthy snacks available while shopping and running errands to avoid eating unhealthy fast food.
  • Stay healthy by eating extra portions of fruits and vegetables.
  • If your vehicle is equipped with blue-tooth or a voice activated feature, make arrangements via phone while driving.
  • Use the time while your car is warming up to take a few deep breaths and consciously relax.
  • If you send cards, create a spreadsheet of addresses for future card sending.
  • It is okay to say “no” over the holidays.

I really appreciated these hints and added them to my own suggestions for saving both money and time over the holidays:
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  • Have an appetizer exchange instead of a cookie exchange with friends and family.  Appetizer ingredients are more affordable when purchased in larger quantities.  The time to make six dozen is not a great deal more than a single dozen.  Baking off larger quantities is also more energy and cost efficient.
  • Grocery shop in the early mornings when there are no checkout line ups and there are clearance stickers on many entertaining items like dips and pate.  Immediately place these items in the freezer when you get home.  When unexpected company arrives, defrost in the mic, place in a fancy bowl with some crackers and voila!
  • Attend bake sales at community clubs and churches.  You will be supporting your neighbourhood, save time and you can buy a variety of hand-baked items.
  • Stick to tried and true recipes so that you never experience a culinary disaster and have to waste food.  My siblings and our families even have a traditional menu for Christmas brunch so I always know that I will be providing the sausage rolls, so I can shop and cook in advance.
  • Mix up spicy cocktails with apple or cranberry juice and spices, that can be quickly heated up.  The taste is extravagant even though the ingredients are not.  Prepare sangrias and punches so that guests can pour their own and you are not running back and forth to the fridge.
  • Prepare some old school treats like nuts and bolts or peanut brittle instead of purchasing expensive alternatives.  Bowls of popcorn and dried cranberries make a pretty and healthy treat.
  • Shop for your turkey early.  Prices can go up just before Christmas when demand is high.  Use every single part of the turkey including saving the carcass to cook up for soup stocks.
  • Plan your dinner menu in advance, then when your guests ask “What can I bring?”, you can be specific and assign a dish from your list.  This also saves your guest stopping at 7/11 to buy you a box of Turtles that you don’t really need.
  • Get everyone involved in the clean up.  You can assign duties by pulling tasks out of a hat.  In my husband’s family, the guys do all the clean up complete with their annual tea towel flicking fights.
  • When you think that you are getting tired of your left-overs, swap yours with a neighbour.  You’ll get to taste someone else’s cooking and the tastes will be new for everybody.

Use the time that you save to reflect on the meaning of the season and take the money that you didn’t spend and pay it forward, you will be richly blessed.

Kath’s quote: “I don’t like the turkey, but I like the bread he ate.” A three-year-old’s reaction to her Christmas dinner.
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Love-that is all.

Seafood Paella

November24

I had the good fortune to travel to the Spanish island of Majorca many, many years ago.  I still remember the people and the beaches.  The clearest memory was of the seafood.  We had been travelling through Europe that spring and had arrived back in England where we still had another week of vacation before we flew home.  The time was May and although it had been warm and pleasant in Greece and Italy, Britain was suffering through a late and miserable spring.  Instead of enduring the rain and gloomy skies, we decided to see if we could find an affordable warm spot to spent the dwindling days of our vacation.  We went back to the travel agency that had booked our original tour and trusted them to point us in the right direction.  Our spending money had dwindled as well and upon arrival, we decided that we would find a market and stock up on fruit, cheese and lunch fixings and only dine out once a day.  On our second day we longingly watched people stream into the dining room and inquired about lunch details.  Lo and behold, we were booked into an all-inclusive without even knowing it and were missing out on our three meals per day!  That lunchtime, we were served a cold whole lobster salad and from that moment on, the seafood meals came in a continuous stream.

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Friends for 40 years

The same friend that I traveled with that spring. now lives in Toronto and she told me about a paella party that she and her husband had attended.  Supposedly a huge paella caldron was set up in the yard of their friends and they got to watch and participate in the preparation of this famous dish.  It has been years since I’ve enjoyed paella in Winnipeg but understand that both Hermano’s and Bonfire Bistro include it on their menus.

This past weekend, we dined at the home of good, good friends.  She is Italian and an amazing cook.  I know that we would have loved anything that they put in front of us.  To our delight, it was their favourite paella recipe.  She showed me the Anne Lindsay Heartsmart cookbook that her recipe came from but unfortunately it was not one that I had in my Anne Lindsay collection.  I have had the pleasure of meeting and being cooked for by Anne, a very long time ago (about the same time as this European adventure) and I remember the time (and the food) fondly.

I searched on line to try to find the recipe and could not come up with anything.  I found instead this one that looks to be pretty close.  It is from the Epicurious website and is credited to Claudia Roden-The Food of Spain.

Seafood Paella
Author: 
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Spanish
 
Ingredients
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 5 T olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste or finely chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • ½ t sugar
  • salt
  • 1 t sweet paprika
  • a good pinch saffron threads
  • 4 cleaned small squid, bodies sliced into ¼-inch-wide rings, tentacles left whole
  • 2 c medium-grain Spanish paella rice or risotto rice, such as Arborio or Carnaroli
  • 3 c fish or chicken stock, plus more if needed
  • 1 c dry white wine
  • 12 jumbo shrimp in their shells
  • 16 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
Instructions
  1. Fry the onion in the oil in a 16-inch paella pan until soft, stirring often.
  2. Stir in the garlic, and before it begins to colour, add the tomatoes.
  3. Add the sugar, salt to taste, paprika and saffron, stir well, and cook until the tomatoes are reduced to a jammy sauce and the oil is sizzling.
  4. Add the squid and cook, stirring, for a minute or so.
  5. Add the rice and stir well until all the grains are coated.
  6. (You can prepare the dish to this point up to an hour in advance).
  7. Bring the stock and wine to a boil in a saucepan.
  8. Pour over the rice, bring to a boil, and add salt to taste (even if the broth tastes a bit salty, it will not be salty when it is absorbed by the rice).
  9. Stir well and spread the rice out evenly in the pan (do not stir again),
  10. Cook the rice over low heat for 18 to 20 minutes, moving the pan around and rotating it so that the rice cooks evenly.
  11. Lay the shrimp on top after 10 minutes and turn them when they have become pink on the first side.
  12. Add a little more hot stock toward the end if the rice seems too dry and you hear crackling frying noises before it is done.
  13. When the rice is done, turn off the heat and cover the pan with a large piece of foil.
  14. Steam the mussels with a finger of water in a pan with a tight-fitting lid. As soon as they are open, they are cooked.
  15. Throw away any that have not opened.
  16. Arrange the mussels on top of the paella.

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Toni’s version did not include squid but did include Italian sausage, chicken and clams.

Kath’s quote: “Do not overcook this dish. Most seafoods…should be simply threatened with heat and then celebrated with joy.” -Jeff Smith

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Love-that is all.

 

Manitoba Chicken

November21

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I live a wonderful life.  Unexpected invites give me particular joy.  Recently one came from a foodie friend who asked me to join in at a Chef’s Table (Chef Brent Barna of Pine Ridge Golf Course to be specific) featuring Manitoba Chicken and De Luca Fine Wines.  How could I refuse?

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I was pleased to be sitting with my friends Robin a.k.a. PegCityGrub on one side and Getty Stewart on the other.  Over dinner and wine, we had an opportunity to get caught up on life and our mutually favourite topic: eating in Winnipeg!

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First up was chicken (of course) which had been slowly poached in a garlic and thyme broth and then encircled with foie gras.  The treat was subtle but delicious, made even more so when paired with a Canadian Riesling from Chateau des Charmes a family vineyard that D and I had the good fortune to visit one beautiful fall.  I am happy to know that Chateau des Charmes wines are now available in Winnipeg at De Luca Fine Wines.

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Mulligatawny has long been one of my favourite chicken soups (second only to Sopa de lima y pollo).  I appreciated Chef Barna’s light touch with the curry so that flavours of coconut and apple could shine through.  The soup was married to a fine Lingenfelder Gewurztraminer which next to Rieslings is my favourite white wine.  I was one happy girl.

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This jerk spiced boneless chicken thigh accompanied by watermelon salad adorned with queso fresco of bison mozzarella was my favourite dish of the evening.  The jerk spice was beautifully offset by the sparkling tastes of watermelon, lime and cilantro.  A Croatian Primitivo (a.k.a. Zinfandel) was sipped with this course and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this wine as I usually go more heavier and drier red wines.

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The main was  a classic chicken breast supreme served with a nutty barley pilaf, braised bok choy and ginger coriander sauce.  I appreciated that the breast had been seared and oven roasted with the skin on but that the it was so easy to remove.  Truth be told, I love to indulge in poultry skin because it holds all the seasonings and much of the flavour but a skilled chef can transfer all that yumminess into the meat, which is what Chef Barna was able to achieve.  The coriander ginger sauce was a light touch of heaven.  This grand dish was paired with a Chilean Pinot Noir.

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An amazing dinner deserves an equally amazing dessert and Constance Popp’s chocolate cake was spectacular-not too sweet but rich and dense with glistening chocolate and if that was not enough, there were shards of chocolate too.

Good company, excellent food, well chosen wines, what could be better?

Kath’s quote: “Often, admiring a chef and getting to know him is like loving goose liver and then meeting the goose.”-George Lang

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Love-that is all.

 

 

 

 

Boston Arrival Day

November20

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Our plane touched down just as the sun was beginning to set on the city of Boston.  By the time we retrieved our luggage and caught the shuttle to the water taxi stand, it was gone but there were still gorgeous colours in the western sky.

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Our water taxi driver was a lovely gal who asked if we minded taking a couple of extra minutes to rendezvous with another boat.  She explained that her parents had arrived by water from their home and had her dinner for her.  Hey, we’re laid-back folk from the Canadian prairies, it certainly sounded neighbourly to us.

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Boston harbour is gorgeous.  I guess we should not have been surprised by the number of huge yachts also enjoying the waterway.

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We came closer and closer to what we found out would be our hotel for our stay-the Battery Wharf Fairmount.

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After a quick check in, we ventured out again to see where we could scrounge up a late dinner. There were a number of cozy looking restaurants all within walking distance of our hotel.  It was going to be hard to choose.

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We had done our research and we knew that we wanted seafood as fresh as we could get it.  An restaurant dubbed the “sea” in Italian presented itself as a likely candidate and we were able to secure the last table at Mare Oyster Bar.

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We commenced with a couple of local beer and knew that we had come to the right city and would be in good hands.  We had been tempted to order the Shellfish Tower which included 18 oysters, 6 clams, 4 jonah crab claws, 4 shrimp cocktail, and 1/2 chilled lobster, when we had seen it delivered to other tables.  I was glad that we had restrained ourselves.

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We cleverly settled for a platter of oysters on the half shell.  They were amazing but our server seemed taken aback when I requested my customary Worcestershire sauce to make them even more stellar.

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Our jumbo shrimp cocktail blew us away.  They were $6 for each shrimp and were so enormous that we had to eat them with a knife and fork like a lobster tail.

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Next up were two absolutely enormous pan seared scallops, the likes of which we had never seen before.

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These were the seafood meatballs composed of calamari tentacles and shrimp.  We were more than satisfied with our first tastes of Boston and decided to stroll and do some more exploring.

Mare Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

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We walked through this door into Mike’s Pastry a.k.a. cannoli heaven!

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D loved his pistachio cannoli and I managed to limit myself to a single bite.

We couldn’t believe that we had only been in Boston for four hours.  We headed back to the gorgeous Battery Wharf Fairmount  to rest up for the next day.

Kath’s quote: “And this is good old Boston, The home of the bean and the cod…”-John Collins Bossidy

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Love-that is all.

Sydney’s at the Forks

November19

After this past weekend it looks like winter is officially here.  I don’t particularly like winter meaning that I am not into snowmobiling, ice fishing, skiing or the like.  With the onset of the cold and snow I make sure that the cupboards and fridge are well stocked and that we have an adequate selection of red wine and craft beer available.  I do love to read and this is when I get caught up on the stacks of books that have been waiting for me to crack open.  D and I are also hooked on Netflix and TV series available on ITunes.  We often get into our jammies and binge watch a series on a weekend.  As a result, it sometimes takes an effort to get our butts off of the couch and out into our city.

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Sydney’s at the Forks is in a gorgeous setting with views outside of the snowy landscape and Christmas lights strung across a foot bridge.

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Inside is warm and cozy with subdued lighting and the hushed conversations of fellow diners.   Sydney’s has a prix fixe (fixed price) menu where you chose a starter, an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert for $55.  Although the selection is extensive, I find $55 a bit steep.  Our favourite Prix Fixe restaurant is across the river at The Promenade Café where the all inclusive price is $28. Read on for a remedy to offset the expense.

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We both started with the smoked crab croquette.  I particularly liked the  caviar aioli that was dotted around the plate.  Alas, I missed out on the promised beet popcorn, so D shared a couple of his kernels with me.  I was surprised at the smoky taste and wondered if I might like smoked crab as well as I do smoked salmon.

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For the appetizer course, I chose a truffle mushroom ravioli topped with a  chestnut purée, floating in a tomato broth and garnished with sage.  I was a bit disappointed that there weren’t deeper tones of the truffles.  I am absolutely hooked on the pungent, musky taste.

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Even though D was having a pork entrée, he decided on the pork belly appetizer as well. The fatty meat had been braised with apples and bourbon and was perched upon butternut squash succotash.  He couldn’t detect the promised hickory stick crumble.

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By this time, we need a little rest and were pleased with the red pepper/strawberry sorbet that came by to cleanse our palette.

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I was drawn to the main of flounder because the menu promised roasted artichokes.  In fact, there was 1/4 of a marinated artichoke that looked more like the garnish. The fried squash was delicious but I could not detect the pickled jalapeno aioli.  In the mean time though the flounder was plentiful and fabulous.  The searing of the fish in browned butter lent it a salty and nutty flavour as well as keeping the flesh of the fish succulently moist and piping hot.

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As I filled up on the scads of fish, I felt badly for D who was presented with this tiny plate.  He did appreciate the pork tenderloin and single gyoza but would have appreciated a bigger portion of the gyoza at least.

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Normally, we would have not indulged in dessert but because it was included in the one price, we couldn’t resist.  D decided upon the pecan pie, anticipating that it would be as good as his Mom’s.  Unfortunately, it was not.  I, on the other hand loved the flourless gianduja chocolate cake.   Gianduja is a sweet chocolate spread containing hazelnut paste and since I prefer savoury over sweet desserts, it was just my cuppa tea.  I gave the chili brandy snap and white russian ice cream to D who needed more sustenance.

The table service was attentive and polite but a little bit on the robotic side for my tastes.  Case in point: I was enamoured by the way the server indicated that he could make me a special cocktail until I heard him use exactly the same words and intonation with the lady sitting next to me. The evening had some pitfalls but we thought that we came out quite well as we had used a special gift card with a value of $75 that had been purchased for $60 (available from a participating Safeway, Sobeys, PharmaPlus, Real Canadian Superstores). This was accomplished through a program entitled Main St. Offers.  Check out their website to see their other Winnipeg promos at: http://sambadays.com/offer.  If you are celebrating a special occasion, you may want to do the same.  The setting is very intimate and romantic.  Had we dressed a wee bit warmer, we might have taken the opportunity to stroll along the river walk.

Sydney's at the Forks on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote: “Pork fat rules!”-Emeril Lagasse

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Love-that is all.

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