Sugar High!

23. Sugar: Write something so sweet, it makes your teeth hurt.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

Here’s a list of some of my very favorite sweet treats the boys and I have been enjoying during lockdown. I have resolved not to eat any sweets not of my own making, so because I have a terrible sweet tooth, we’ve been doing a lot of baking.

New Zealand afghan biscuits (AKA chocolate corn flake cookies). A wonderful combination of chewy and crispy, with chocolate frosting on top. Here’s the recipe I use. (Slight modification: I add a scant 1/2 tsp salt to the cookie recipe and I put 1 tbsp melted butter and 1 tbsp milk in the frosting instead of water.)

Fudgy cocoa brownies. I can never be bothered to melt the chocolate down in the bain marie, blah blah blah… This recipe is fudgy and delicious and is made with cocoa powder. Easy.

Banana bread. Bananas keep going brown, no matter how many we devour. When I get four good ripe ones, I freeze them until I have time to make banana bread. I always put in walnuts.

Cranberry upside-downer. My très chère cousine sent me Dorie Greenspan’s book Baking as a housewarming gift. I bless and curse her every day. My taste buds bless her, my waistline curses her. This cranberry upside-downer is my favorite recipe from the book so far. It’s the perfect combination of sweet and tart, and can be served with ice cream for dessert or enjoyed as an indulgent breakfast coffee cake.

Big crumb coffee cake. ‘Nuff said.

Apple (or plum, or rhubarb, or blueberry…) pie. I decided to learn how to make pie in 2018. I am both glad and angry I did. Glad because I love pie. Angry because my waistline has yet another reason to curse. I used to use an apple pie recipe from the NYT, but since life is too short to pre-cook the apples, I now use Dorie Greenspan’s recipe. (Bonus: here is my favorite all-butter pie crust.)

The boys love to help me bake. The afghan biscuits above are great because the recipe doesn’t include eggs, meaning I’m less worried about their licking the dough. Here’s another egg-free recipe that my mom got somewhere (not sure where so I can’t give proper credit, sorry).

Oatmeal Raisin Bread

1 cup oatmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsps sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 ¼ cup plain yogurt (I use Greek or whole fat)
¼ cup molasses
1 cup raisins

  1. Preheat oven to 175C/350F. Grease and flour a bread pan.
  2. Combine the oatmeal, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together well.
  3. In a 2-cup measuring cup, measure out the yogurt. Pour in the molasses until you have 1 ½ cups of liquid. You can either stir it together, or I like to use my immersion blender to really mix the molasses into the yogurt. Add to the dry ingredients. Stir in the raisins.
  4. Pour (or spread, because it will be thick) into the prepared bread pan and bake for one hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

This bread isn’t too sweet, so we love to have it for breakfast and spread all kinds of delicious things on it. Nutella, jam, marmalade, honey… And always, always butter.

Baking as a Family

Baking is fun and relaxing, and it’s the only way to get the boys interested in the kitchen. They morph into my little sous-chefs and usually end up with sticky faces. I will break with blog precedent to include a photo of them after our latest batch of brownies had gone into the oven.

There’s trouble for you.

Hopelessly Addicted

16. Addict: Everyone’s addicted to something in some shape or form. What are things you can’t go without?

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

Tea. I cannot go without tea.

Can this article be done?

What, you need further explanation? Fine.

Coffee vs Tea

Think of coffee. It has caffeine, it gives you that boost you need to kickstart your day. Its bitter flavor and strong smell combine to activate your get-up-and-get-going mode.

Now think of tea. (I am speaking, naturally, of the only tea worth drinking. That is Yorkshire Tea, produced by Taylor’s of Harrogate, Yorkshire. If you disagree, stop reading immediately and just go away.)

Sure, it doesn’t have as much caffeine as coffee. And it doesn’t have the energizing smell of coffee. And though it can be bitter if left to brew too long, it doesn’t have the same tangy bitterness as coffee.

So what is so wonderful about it?

Simply everything.

Tea Time is Me Time

My best friend once told me that life gets 10% better when you put the kettle on. Time and again, I have found this statement to be true.

In these times of social isolation and spending seemingly endless days at home, the one thing that lifts my spirits without fail is when I hear my beloved husband put the kettle on to make me a cup of tea.

(A quick side note to say that the saintly man does not even drink tea himself, but he brews a mean cup of tea. He’s got it down to a science, and now I almost prefer a cup of his brewing to my own. He also seems to have a sixth sense for knowing exactly when I need a cup of tea.)

Tea, since it’s made with boiling water, is much hotter than coffee and stays warm longer. When your tea is ready, you know that you have probably 10 to 15 minutes to enjoy it while it is still warm.

That’s 10 or 15 minutes for you to sip, close your eyes, and enjoy the warmth spreading through your mouth, down your throat and into your belly. The warmth then spreads from your core, slowly through your body, finally reaching your outer extremities. You curl your toes in response to it, and inevitably you take a deep breath and let out a sigh of contentment.

Characteristics of Tea

Just the act of wrapping your hands around a warm mug of tea is addictive. The calm that then descends on me in that moment is what I crave.

Coffee tastes like a swift kick in the butt saying, “Get up! Get to work!” But tea… Tea tastes like a best friend saying, “Come on over and sit a spell.” It’s inviting, it’s kind. It’s comforting and caring.

It also stains your teeth something fierce. Oh, well. I guess that’s the price of addiction.

What’s For Dinner?

This is Day 5 in a series of essays based on a writing prompt. I never thought I’d keep it up this long…

5. Food: What’s for breakfast? Dinner? Lunch? Or maybe you could write a poem about that time you met a friend at a cafe.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

“Mama! What’s for breakfast?”

“Mama, what are we having for lunch?”

“Mama, I don’t want that for dinner! I hate that!”

“Mama, we had this yesterday.”

“Mama this is yucky.”

“Mama, you KNOW I don’t like scrambled eggs!”

“Mama, why don’t you EVER make ANYTHING I like?!”

“Mama, but it’s green!”

“Mama, it’s gone mushy.”

“Mama! I dropped some!”

“Mama, it’s on the floor.”

“Mama, can I put ketchup on it?”

“Mama! Can I have bread? With butter on it?”

“MAMA! I WON’T EAT IT!”

*Gagging sounds*

“Mama… It came back up…”


Mi amor, it’s absolutely delicious. Gracias.

Sigh

Mom’s Favorite German Vegetable Soup

The weather is turning chilly and it’s time to break out the soup recipes! Keep your bellies warm and mouths watering with this delicious traditional German vegetable soup–a particular favorite of my mom’s.

German Vegetable Soup

  • 1 large onion
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 6 medium potatoes
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1.5 liter water
  • 1 veggie bouillon cube
  • (Alternatively, if you have stock in a brick or homemade broth, use that–but you will need to check your salt levels)
  • 1 tsp dill seed
  • 1 tsp caraway seed
  • Cream to taste

Slight changes: I only had small carrots and onions, so I used more.
Slight changes: I only had small carrots and onions, so I used more.

Grab a big soup pot (I like my trusty le Creuset). Heat some oil in your pot and sauté the onion and celery (I tend to use olive oil because that’s what Chico likes).

Onion & celery go in!
Onion & celery go in!

Meanwhile, peel and chop the potatoes and carrots into bite-size pieces. Once chopped, add them to the pot and sauté about a minute or two.

Anyone else hate chopping carrots?
Anyone else hate chopping carrots?

Add the water & bouillon (or stock or broth, whatever you’ve got), dill seed and caraway seed. Bring to a boil and cook until the veggies are done (probably about 15 minutes–but check with a fork).

Mmmmm... The spices smell wonderful.
Mmmmm… The spices smell wonderful.

Add cream to taste. I like to add enough to make it a bit milky-looking.

Mmmm... creamy goodness!
Mmmm… creamy goodness!

Fun tip: If you want an even creamier consistency, but still like to have chunks in your soup, transfer half the soup to a large bowl. Using an immersion blender, whizz it until it’s nice and smooth, then transfer back to the main soup pot.

Blending half the soup makes its texture even creamier.
Blending half the soup makes its texture even creamier.

Voilà! You’ve got a nice creamy soup with some chunky texture.

Bon appétit!

(I’m not sure what makes this soup German. Anyone have a clue?)

The Ultimate Thanksgiving Prep Guide

It’s the day after Canadian Thanksgiving, and I’m slowly coming out of my turkey-stuffing-cranberry-sauce-gravy-induced coma.

I spent the three days before Thanksgiving Monday prepping and cooking for the big meal, so as not to end up with a disaster like I did when attempting my first turkey day back in 2012. The hard work paid off, and I had the pleasure of seeing my guests lounging about the living room in a happy stupor after the meal.

The Critical Prep Period

So what is my secret? Organization. Planning, planning, planning.

First, make your menu. I did mine on Thursday. Choose recipes that you know (or at least that you’ve seen made), and that have relatively simple ingredients and processes. Don’t make life harder for yourself.

Second, plan to make everything in advance. I started cooking on Friday, and that helped keep things from getting overwhelming. By the time Monday came around, the only cooking I actually had to do was the turkey!

So here is a breakdown of my Thanksgiving-prep period, complete with recipes. For those of you who celebrate American Thanksgiving, feel free to use this as a guide!

Friday: Shopping & Sauces

Photo cred: roadstories.ca
Photo cred: roadstories.ca

With your menu (and hence, your shopping list) done on Thursday, you can hit the stores on Friday.

I visited Montréal’s Marché Jean Talon for all my fresh ingredients. Apples, pears, cranberries, sweet potatoes, etc.

Next, I visited les Volailles et Gibiers Fernando on rue Roy and picked up a 4.8kg (10.8lbs) turkey. I went for fresh because we’ve never done frozen turkeys in my family, but that’s up to you.

After my experience in 2012, I had learned the importance of picking up your turkey ahead of time!

Next, on to the sauces:

Homemade Applesauce

  • A ton of apples (2lbs perhaps?) – I used “lobo” apples as per the recommendation from the dude at Jean Talon market. They were delicious
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Cinnamon, to taste
  • Nutmeg, to taste
  • Pinch of salt

Coarsely slice your apples (no need to core or peel) and toss them into your largest pot. Add the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and turn on the heat. Cook the apples down, stirring occasionally, until they’re nice and mushy. It took about 30 minutes for me.

Place your food mill over a bowl and spoon your apple goop into the food mill. Leave it to sit and drain into the bowl. This might take a couple of batches if your food mill doesn’t fit all your apples (alternatively you can use a fine strainer). Reserve the runoff liquid.

Pass your apple goop through the food mill, making sure to get every last bit of delicious moisture. If you find your applesauce is too dry, add some of the reserved liquid to help moisten it up.

fresh-cranberries-600x399Homemade Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 bag of Ocean Spray cranberries (about 340g of fresh cranberries)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt

Combine the water, sugar and salt in a saucepan and heat until the sugar is melted in the water. Add the cranberries, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, so that the cranberries start EXPLODING (that’s the fun part).

More prep tip: See my stuffing recipe later for more info, but it’s a good idea to buy a couple of loaves of bread and dice them up at this point to let them get good and stale. You want stale bread for stuffing because fresh bread gets too soggy.

Saturday: Muffins & Broth

You can find my delicious spiced pumpkin muffin recipe right here. Once cooled, I put them in the freezer to keep them fresh.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you’re cooking both sweet and savory things in one day, always do the sweet stuff first and store it away from the smells of the savory cooking. You don’t want your muffins flavored with turkey broth!

Fresh Homemade Turkey Broth

This recipe is inspired from the “light stock from poultry” recipe from the Joy of Cooking, but with a couple of tweaks.

  • Turkey neck & giblets
  • Chicken carcass (like from a roast chicken)
  • Lotsa water
  • 8 peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 6 whole cloves
  • Parsley
  • 1 medium or 2 small onions
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 2 carrots

Bring the raw turkey neck & giblets to a boil and blanch for just 5 minutes. Pour off the water. Add the chicken carcass and enough water to cover everything and slowly bring to the boil. Simmer it, uncovered for 30 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients. Note: I don’t bother even removing the skin from the onion or peeling/chopping the celery and carrot. I just make sure it’s all clean.

Bring that all to the boil and let it simmer, partly covered, for 3 hours. Your house will smell divine.

Saturday is also a good day to get some prep done for your recipes for the next day. I did a lot of pre-chopping for Sunday in order to make life easier for myself on Sunday.

Sunday: A Marathon Day of Thanksgiving Cooking

Sunday was the day to get the bulk of the cooking done. First, I started with dessert. You can find the recipe I used for traditional apple crisp right here. I also made some whipped cream to go with it.

Plan to spend a lot of time making this crisp: you need to peel and chop all those apples. It’s a royal pain. PRO TIP: Remove the zest, and juice the orange and lemon first. Drizzle the juice over the apples as you peel and chop them, to keep them from turning brown. I only used half of the zest.

Thanksgiving_Stuffing_RecipeMy Mom’s Turkey Stuffing Recipe

  • 4 big stalks of celery
  • 2 onions
  • Lots of butter
  • 2 apples, peeled and chopped
  • 2 loaves of bread, chopped and left to get stale
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • Pepper
  • Turkey broth or chicken bouillon

If you’re preparing this recipe a day in advance, start by melting a lot of butter in a generous pan. Cook the celery and onion until just softened. Add the apples and cook for a couple of minutes more. At this point you can set that aside to cool and keep it in the fridge until the day of.

On the day: Bring the celery, onion and apple mixture back to room temperature. If you chopped your bread and let it get stale ahead of time, now’s the time to mix it all together into a large bowl with the raisins, walnuts and pepper. Moisten with a mix of the turkey broth you made and chicken bouillon. The benefit of using chicken bouillon from a cube is that it has some sodium. If you don’t want to use bouillon, you’ll have to add salt to the recipe. Add just enough broth to make the stuffing good and moist, but not soggy (perhaps 2+ cups–depends on how much bread you used).

Heat it all in the oven at 175°C (350°F). The best time to do that is when the turkey has come out of the oven and is resting before carving.

Optional: You can stuff the turkey with some of the stuffing, but that will mean it will take longer for your turkey to cook, and remember that the stuffing has to get to 160°F, which puts your turkey at risk of drying out.

Curried Lentils & Sweet Potatoes

I’m going to save this recipe for a later date because this article is getting huge, but this was a nice twist on a traditional Thanksgiving recipe. The spices gave it a different flavor and jazzed up the whole meal. I’ll share this recipe soon, promise.

Turkey Gravy Recipe

I was probably most nervous about the gravy. I had really failed at it the last time I tried, so this time I was determined to succeed. This YouTube video from Whole Foods was particularly helpful. My mom suggested some modifications, though.

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • Turkey broth
  • White wine (optional)
  • Turkey drippings
  • Seasoning (optional)

On Saturday, I made the velouté. Melt the butter and bouillon cube together in a saucepan and add the flour. Mix it well until it becomes a thick paste and cook for 1-2 minutes. Slowly whisk in your turkey broth, adding a bit at a time until it makes a nice liquid velouté. Simmer for 1-2 minutes. At this point you can remove from the heat, let it cool and put it in the fridge for tomorrow.

Turkey_Day_table_settingOn the day: Warm up the velouté in a saucepan. When you get the turkey out of the oven, place the roasting pan over two burners and get the drippings up and boiling on medium-high heat. Boil for about 5 minutes. If you don’t have a lot of liquid, here you can use some white wine to get the stuff un-stuck from the pan. Cook for a couple more minutes, then add the velouté. Cook for a couple more minutes, then season to taste. (Note: If you used the bouillon cube, taste first because the seasoning on your turkey and from the bouillon might be enough.) Pour it all into a gravy boat! Voilà! No lumpy gravy!

On Sunday, I also tidied the house and set the table for the next day. What can I say, I’m just *that* organized.

Monday: Thanksgiving Day!!

Because of all the prep work I’d done ahead of time, Monday was relatively easy. All I had to do was get the turkey into the oven at the right time and assemble the stuff I had prepared in the previous days.

Roast Thanksgiving Turkey à la BrainInJane’s Mom

  • She was a thing of beauty.
    She was a thing of beauty.

    Turkey – Take it out of the fridge an hour ahead of time to get to room temperature

  • Oven bag
  • 2 onions
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • Lots of olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 tbsp flour

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Clean that turkey! Wash it thoroughly inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels. Chop the onions and lemon in half and shove ’em into the cavities (there’s the main one, and the neck one!).

Combine the paprika, olive oil and garlic in a bowl and generously rub aaaaaall over the turkey. Really pour it on there! Finally, season generously all over with salt and pepper.

Toss the flour into the oven bag and shake it about to coat. Insert the turkey and close the bag with its tie. Place in your roasting pan, making sure that the bag doesn’t stick out of the pan. Cut six 1/2-inch slits in the top of the bag.

Put the whole thing in the oven and cook for the appropriate amount of time. My 10.8lb turkey took 2.5 hours (it’s good to check 1/2 hour before to see how you’re doing, temperature-wise. It needs to get to 165°F in the breast).

IMPORTANT: Your turkey must sit and rest for 30 minutes after coming out of the oven and before carving. That’s the perfect time to throw in your stuffing and casseroles to heat, while your guests are tantalized by the delicious smells emanating from the kitchen… Also, you can get your gravy ready now. Because I used the oven bag for the turkey, there was tons of liquid in the bag and I didn’t need to use the white wine to detach the drippings from the pan.

Sit Back, Relax, and Enjoy!

Well done! You’ve just done a marathon of cooking and prep, and now you can sit back, relax, and enjoy your guests. Since everything was prepared in advance, I was not stressed at all on turkey day, and was able to have fun with my friends without having to worry about anything in the kitchen.

Some additional tips: Have someone bring a green salad and some wine, and make sure you’ve got plenty of coffee and tea to offer to people as a digestif. And of course, a post-Thanksgiving meal walk on a nice day is always a good way to wind things up.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

easy-way-to-polish-shoes

4 Household Tricks to Make Life Easier

I’ve recently learned a few household tricks that have made life so much easier for me. Here are my 4 favorite life hacks:

1. Fruit Fly Trap

Summertime, and the living is easy. Unless, of course, you’re a fruit fly. Then you’ve got about a day of mature adult life and it’s a mad scramble to reproduce.

No one wants fruit flies reproducing on their produce, though! Here’s a great trick I learned for trapping the nasty little buggers so they don’t swarm your fruit.

homemade-fruit-fly-trap
A simple trap for those pesky fruit flies.

What you’ll need:

  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Dish soap
  • Piece of paper
  • Jar (preferably larger than the one pictured here)

Pour about half a cup of apple cider vinegar into your jar, then squeeze a couple squirts of dish soap into it and stir it up. Yum! Then, fold your piece of paper into a cone shape and stick it into the jar so that it’s not touching the liquid.

The apple cider vinegar will attract the nasty little fruit flies and the dish soap will ENTRAP them when they try to take a drink of the forbidden liquid! Then, even if they do manage to fly out of vinegar, the cone-shaped paper will make it harder for them to escape the jar.

Voilà, no more fruit flies.

2. The Lazy Woman’s Shoe Polish

My dad has this amazing shoe polishing kit, full of different-colored polishes for all their pairs of shoes. He’ll pull it out on a Saturday afternoon, set down some newspaper, put on an old apron, sit on a stool, and get to work polishing and buffing his and my mother’s shoes to a gorgeous shine.

I’m far too lazy for that. Plus, it’s hard to find the right color of polish these days.

When my Chico bought me a leather bag for Christmas (yes, you can be jealous), he asked for some care tips from the guy at the store.

The gentleman said the best way to both clean and polish leather is to buff it with a plain old moisturizer.

easy-way-to-polish-shoes
My favorite boots always shine! This Norwegian stuff seems to do the trick.

I find it works about as well as polishing, and my shoes are always bright and shiny.

Note: I would always re-waterproof your shoes after you buff them with moisturizer.

3. Use Boiling Water on Berry Stains

This is a classic old household trick that so many people have forgotten!

Berry stains come out with boiling water. Berries include blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, mulberries… Whatever! But, most importantly, this also includes the killer: red wine.

Spilled some red wine on your white shirt? No problem! Boil up some water in your electric kettle (because everyone has one of those, right??), place a pyrex measuring cup inside the shirt under the stain (because you don’t want to pour the wine stain through one side of the shirt to the other) and simply pour boiling water over it.

It’ll turn a kind of gray color at first, but if you keep pouring it on it will fade slowly. Be sure not to let your pyrex cup overflow, though! And don’t burn yourself!

Bonus: Bloodstains come out with a good soak in ice water. If you cut yourself shaving, gentlemen, just grab some ice cubes from the freezer and place the shirt in a container. Soak it with the ice cubes and very cold water and the blood stain should come out in a cold water wash.

4. Water Stains on a Wood Table

Now, to be honest I haven’t tried this one. But my grandmother has and she said it worked like a charm.

Take water stains out of your wood table with a drop of mayonnaise. Yes, mayonnaise!

Just put some on a paper towel and rub in a circular motion over the water stains. My grandmother said you’ll have to switch out for a clean paper towel to dry up the mayonnaise, but it should take out a relatively fresh water stain.

I doubt it’s very effective on old water rings. That’s what coasters are for, people.

Share Your Household Tricks!

Call ’em what you want: tricks, tips, life hacks. But share them! I’m curious to know, for instance, if an aspirin at the bottom of a vase of flowers really helps keep them fresh. Tell me!

 

 

Homemade_Nutella_Recipe

Homemade Nutella Recipe: Say Good-Bye to Palm Oil

Homemade_Nutella_RecipeDo you love Nutella but feel guilty about consuming such obscene amounts of palm oil?

OF COURSE YOU DO. Everyone does. How can you not love Nutella?

This week I discovered this homemade Nutella recipe by Lollie Rock posted on mamansquidechirent.com (loose translation: momswhorock.com). Since it is in French, and since I discovered a helpful trick to make this recipe easier, I thought I’d share with you guys.

Homemade Nutella Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of hazelnuts, skinned and toasted (see below for a great trick!)
  • 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup of powdered sugar
  • 3/4 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp of salt
  • 3 tbsp of hazelnut oil

Directions:

After skinning and toasting your hazelnuts, toss them in your mixer. You’ll want a good mixer to be sure that you get a nice, smooth consistency (unlike mine which resulted in a somewhat granular–but not unpleasant!–Nutella). Blend them until they have a smooth, buttery consistency. (Alternatively, save yourself some time and find hazelnut butter at the store).

Next, add the rest of your ingredients one by one, mixing each in thoroughly before adding the next. Starting with the hazelnut oil will help keep things nice and moist.

Mix thoroughly. If you find your Nutella is too dry or grainy, add a touch more hazelnut oil until it gets the consistency you want. Don’t worry about the amount of oil: you’ll never get as much in there as in the real thing.

How to skin and toast hazelnuts like Julia Child

I read somewhere that the best way to skin and roast hazelnuts is to put them in the oven at 175°C (350°F) for 15 minutes, then rub them in a tea towel to get the skins off.

I also read that this technique is only partially effective. So I did some googling and found this article from mybakingaddiction.com that revealed a secret shown to Julia Child: boil the hazelnuts in 2 cups of water and 3 tablespoons (you read that right!) of baking soda.

Here’s how it works:

Boil: 2 cups of water. Add: 3 tbsp of baking soda. Pour in your hazelnuts. The water will turn black and will foam up. Boil for 3 minutes (or thereabouts). In the meantime, prepare a bowl of ice water.

Pick out one hazelnut to test. Drop it in ice water and if the skin slips off easily, drop the rest in. Then simply slip the skins off the rest of the hazelnuts one by one, and place them on a tea towel to pat dry.

Toast in the oven at 175°C (or 350°F) for 15 minutes. Your kitchen will smell lovely.

Here is a video of Alice Medrich showing this technique to Julia Child (with a great hazelnut biscotti recipe to boot!):

Bonus info: Why you should avoid palm oil

The production of palm oil is linked to the destruction of rainforest in Indonesia, further endangering species like the orangutan. Visit the World Wildlife Fund’s website for more information about palm oil and why you should avoid it.

l_avenue_du_plateau

Brunch in Montreal: L’Avenue

I’m no food critic. If it’s meaty, flavorful and not under-salted, I’ll usually like it.

However, there’s so much more about a restaurant or café than just its food, and since I’m an opinionated lady, I thought I’d share my thoughts on some food joints around Montreal. You’re welcome.

Brunch is for Hipsters

Brunch in Montreal is an institution. Starting at about 11am on Saturday and Sunday mornings, you’ll see lines start to form outside of popular brunch locations, most of which are located in the Plateau or in Mile End.

Usually, the people in these lines are dressed in the following manner:

  • Skinny jeanl_avenue_du_plateaus (required)
  • Glasses (also required)
  • Fashionably tousled hair that probably took at least half an hour to perfect (yup, required)
  • Slouchy top, sweater and/or jacket (you guessed it…)
  • Old-school Converse sneakers (I’ll stop saying “required” here, so if I say nothing just assume it is)
  • Slouchy handbag, backpack, satchel or messenger bag
  • Facial hair on the men (optional for women)
  • Bored expression (or at least look hungover to show off how cool your previous evening was)
  • Visible tattoos and/or piercings
  • Smartphone

As we waited in line for brunch at L’Avenue (922 Avenue Mont-Royal Est, 514-523-8780), I doubt Chico noticed how out of place we looked as non-hipsters. I couldn’t help but think that if I tried to wear skinny jeans like those I’d more closely resemble the sausage links being served for brunch than any of these fashionable people.

Moving on…

On Restaurant Décor

I realize that restaurants are often trying to achieve a specific look and feel when it comes to their décor. Some are more successful than others, and I think L’Avenue did a good job of making you feel like you were in Grand Central Hipster Station.

Bikes and motorcycles decorate the walls and hang from the ceilings. One bike had a wine bottle in its water holder, which really appealed to Chico. It was pretty cute.

The strangely-attired mannequins and the graffiti on the wall I could have done without, but I liked the bikes.

The tables were well-spaced. It didn’t feel too crowded, but it felt busy and buzzing, which I really like in a brunch place. A tall bar runs the length of the first section of the restaurant, making it a little hard to squeeze past rushing waiters as you enter and exit the place, but once you were seated it was really comfortable.

L’Avenue’s Menu

The menu is your basic brunch fare, split into breakfasts, omelets, burgers, etc. It was pretty extensive and quite varied, with options for all levels of hunger and fat content. They also had a great fresh juice menu.

Chico wanted to order a burger, but unfortunately on the weekends they only serve brunch or breakfast food. I went for a bagel sandwich and he went for an omelet.

It was a nice touch that they first served a fresh fruit skewer as a starter. It made you feel like you were starting off the meal on a healthy note. Ha. Yeah, right.

The Food

First, the omelet: it was about the size of a small Spanish tortilla de patata. In other words, it was HUGE. It probably contained at least four eggs. It was well stuffed with goat cheese, veggies and deliciousness. Chico was impressed and delighted, though not even he could finish it.

My bagel sandwich (tomato, scrambled egg, mayonnaise and cheese) was very tasty. The eggs were lovely, and I actually kind of liked the fact that they used what looked like Kraft cheese slices.

What I didn’t like was the construction. The bagel was really small (and not particularly flavorful–and they didn’t give you a choice of bagel), and it was piled high with the contents of the sandwich. It was cut in half with one brave, lone toothpick holding it all together, but it was impossible to eat with one’s digits. Thoughtfully, the place settings included a good serrated knife, which made it easy to slice it.

God’s Own Homefries

What made the entire meal worth it were the homefries. I’m not exaggerating when I say they were divine. The seasoning balanced perfectly with the sweetness of the potatoes (I’m pretty sure they were russet). They were cooked to perfection: the ideal balance between crispy and squishy.

I’m pretty sure they tasted so good because of the fat they must have been cooked in, but they weren’t overly greasy. They were lovely.

Final Verdict

The food is good (and partially divine) as well as well-priced. The fruit juice was enormous and tasty. I liked the fruit skewers, though the portion sizes are pretty insane.

The service was friendly and efficient and the ambiance was bustling but not too loud for a nice one-on-one conversation.

All-in-all, I’d give this spot a 4.5 out of 5.

Oh, and the bathrooms were seriously trippy.

Pumpkin Loaf

Thanksgiving Spiced Pumpkin Muffins

Thanksgiving Spiced Pumpkin Muffins
In miniature form.

American Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and in my mind it is not Thanksgiving unless there’s a basket of these delicious spiced pumpkin muffins on the table. (Note: I specify “American” Thanksgiving because I now reside in Canada where things are all whack and Thanksgiving is the first Monday in October. Don’t ask, I have no idea what they’re smoking up here.)

I’m posting this recipe tonight because I happen to have a loaf of this stuff in the oven right now and the smell is so tantalizingly delicious, I just had to share.

You can make these in muffin or loaf form.

Pumpkin Bread (or Muffins)

  • 3 cups of flour (I like to do half whole wheat, half white)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups pumpkin (1 can)
  • 1 1/4 cup corn oil (I often use sunflower or colza oil)
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).

Combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar in a bowl. Beat together eggs, pumpkin, oil and vanilla. Combine the dry ingredients & mix until just blended. Add the chopped walnuts.

For bread: Divide the batter in half and spoon into two greased bread tins. Bake for 1 hour.

For muffins: Divide the batter into greased muffin tins (makes about 2 dozen regular-sized muffins) and bake for 30 minutes.

A Tactical Error

Tonight, I made the mistake of putting all the batter into one large bread tin and it’s taking longer to bake. That means I keep having to pull it out, test it, put it back in and guesstimate how much more time it needs. So be sure to separate it into two loaf tins. Your life will be easier.

Pumpkin Loaf
Tonight’s mega-loaf

I love having one (or five) of these and a clementine as a digestif after Thanksgiving dinner (if there’s a corner left).

What are your favorite Thanksgiving recipes?

UPDATE

My mom reminded me that this recipe comes from my beloved aunt! My mom still uses the original recipe card in my aunt’s distinctive handwriting. Check out my aunt’s blog, dedicated to all things food in Rhode Island over at Rhode Island Is My Oyster.

Delicious Prune Bread

“PRUNE bread,” you ask in astonishment?  “How can anything made with prunes be delicious?”

Ah, my friends, how little you know.  Doesn’t the 11th commandment tell us, “Thou shalt add butter to everything and make it DELICIOUS”?

Prune Bread
Butter is all it takes.

Note: Give yourself a good 2.5 hours to make this (not counting cooling time).

Ingredients:

  • 1 12-ounce package pitted prunes, coarsely chopped (350g)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 1/3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Method:

  1. In a large saucepan, combine the prunes, sugar, butter or margarine, water and vanilla.  Bring the mixture to a boil, remove the pan from the heat, and let it stand for 30 minutes.  Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350° F (175° C).
  3. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and cloves (I added the tiniest pinch of salt).  Stir the flour mixture into the cooled prune mixture.  Add the walnuts, mixing the ingredients until they are well combined.  Transfer the batter to a greased and floured 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.
  4. Place the pan in the hot oven, and bake the bread for 1 hour 10 minutes or until a tester inserted comes out clean.

This makes a perfect muchie to go with afternoon tea, or a good hearty substitute for toast in the morning.

Enjoy!