Snapshots from Christmas 2014

I know I'm pretty late posting this but honestly, since it's only March, I feel like it's less behind then usual. So I'm not going to feel too guilty about it. I've actually been really happy with all these posts I've been getting out in the last few weeks. I'm trying to do it more regularly and since I now have a tiny bit more free time, I'm making the most out of it. I've never been someone who can just relax. Even when I get a little extra time on my hands I just end up just throwing myself into a new project. Anyways, here are some snaps from Christmas.

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Started off the Christmas season with an Holiday Afternoon tea party complete with scones, mince pies and tiny finger sandwiches. Plus a live harpist to amp up the sophistication of the afternoon.

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Yummy drinks here had all season long, hot and cold.

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I took 24 pictures of Christmas trees over the 24 days leading up to Christmas. It was the best. So much fun.

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Met a weird Santa, bought a cute new hat.
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Won some awesome prizes at our work Christmas raffle. Dressed up as a 70's diva for the Retro party.

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Had an all out blast with my amazing co-workers!

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Spent the holidays cooped up at the cottage and in Newmarket, cuddling by the fire, reading and relaxing.

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I love my fake tree at the condo but nothing beats the smell of out real tree at the cottage.

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Did a bunch of yummy baking.

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Gave lots of love to poor, sick Chloe.

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Took some hilarious pictures of the same pose from picture taken 20 years ago.

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Cherished seeing our California critters again.

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Opened Christmas presents like we were kids again.

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Wore my favourite Christmas pyjama's and holiday Mickey ears.

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Took pictures of Mila and Tori spending time together again. Reunited at last.
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Enjoyed some downtime with Dan and my old art history books.

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Was treated to the most delicious breakfasts.

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More cuddling.

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Did some yoga with Tori. She rocks.

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Mila, just in general treated us all to her ever more delightful personality.

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I ate the most amazing meals, full of laughter, love, sweets and smiles

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Watched Liam school everyone at chess.

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But best of all, I spent the holidays surrounded by the most loving of families. What more could one ever want? That's what Christmas is all about.

....oh and I had a ton of baths ;) cause this chilly winter requires a certain kind of warmth only that baths can achieve.

Thanksgiving Biscuits

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As mentioned way back in the beginning of November, sage is to be found everywhere in my Thanksgiving dishes. Hidden between corners, tucked in under the covers and peeking out between layers of all this delicious goodness. And here it is again, in my favourite biscuits. Although I do have a soft spot in my heart for those super soft (my microwaved) dinner rolls you get in grocery stores for $1 and seem uneasily addictive, I also love a beautiful homemade biscuit. The perfect thing to sop up all those amazing Thanksgiving flavors.

This biscuit recipe is also perfect since you can make the entire recipe up to the baking point in advance and then freeze them on the actual trays. This can be done up to two weeks in advance. When you're ready to cook, just bring them out and put them right in the over. If you're cooking straight from frozen just add a few more minutes to your cook time allowing for the biscuits to come up to room temperature. You could also thaw them out but I never seem to find the time and this trick has always worked out for me.

Sage and Fontina Thanksgiving Biscuits Recipe from A Cozy Kitchen

Dry: 2 cups cake flour (all-purpose flour will work too) 1 tablespoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1 scant teaspoon fine grain sea salt (table salt works too!) 1 1/2 stick (6 ounces) unsalted butter, cold 1 cup fontina cheese, grated 3 tablespoons fresh sage (about 6-7 fresh sage leaves), minced Freshly ground pepper Wet: 1/2 cup buttermilk, cold and shaken 1 large egg, cold Egg Wash: 1 large egg 1 tablespoon milk (or 1 tablespoon water)

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Firstly, preheat your over to 400F and get out a nice, big baking sheet covered with parchment paper.

Take all your dry ingredients and mix them together in a large bowl. Chop your Sage and grate your cheese. Be sure to put your butter in the fridge before using so when you take it out, it's nice and hard. To make sure the butter is nicely mixed into the biscuits but isn't creamed to the point where the biscuits will lose their texture, use your cheese grater and grate the butter over the dry mixture. Don't mix it just yet! After that's all down, put the bowl in the freezer to harder the butter up a bit again. Now turn your attention to the wet ingredients.

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Next, mix the wet ingredients in one bowl and the egg wash mixture in another (if you're making this in advance don't make the egg wash until you're ready to bake the biscuits)

Get the dry mixture bowl from the freezer and break up the butter with your fingers and start combine with the flour. Use your hands, get dirty and get intimate with your dough ;P Eventually the butter will combine with the flour and you'll be left with flours and little pea shaped balls of butter. Then, add in the cheese and toss to combine. Take the buttermilk mixture and gently stir it into the dry. Kneed the dough on the counter, being very gentle as you do, until it forms a dough like ball. We don't want to be too vigorous with our kneading since it will make for a tough dough.

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Roll the dough out until it's about 1/2-inch thick. Cut out your biscuits using a 2-inch round cutter or even just an upside down mug. Transfer the biscuits to the pan and parchment paper and brush the rolls with the eggs wash. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper before putting it into the oven.

Bake for 10-12 minutes and until lightly golden brown. Serve warm with butter and all those other delicious Thanksgiving accoutrements. Be careful serving these too early - they might get eaten up before you have the chance to bring anything else out onto the table ;)

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The Perfect Thankgiving Cranberry Sauce

We'll we're on the topic of side dishes (see my previous post about gravy for more on that topic) there is one recipe I HAVE to share. This is something that I've had laying around in my recipe book forever. I honestly can't remember where the original recipe came from but year after year I've made it and the second the cranberry's and cinnamon hit the pan the whole house instantly smells like Thanksgiving!

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Cranberry-Pear Sauce  4 cups fresh (or frozen and thawed) cranberries 1 large onion, chopped 3 small pears, chopped 1/2 cup packed brown sugar 1 cup apple cider 2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1/8 teaspoon cloves 1/4 ground allspice 1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

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The best thing about this recipe is once all your ingredients are chopped and ready to go, all you need to do is throw it in one big pan. No separate roasting, cooking or frying. Everything just needs to be put into a large saucepan and heat to boiling over high heat, stirring frequently. It's simple and easy and best of all -- deliciously fresh!

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Once the mixture starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 25-30 minutes stirring constantly until it's thickened.

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Cool it at room temperuature and refridegerate for at least 3 hours. This mixture will stay fresh for up to two weeks but it's best served the 2 days after cooking since the spices will have a chance to really soak into the fruits. This is a wonderfully tart yet sweet cranberry sauce that trumps anything from a can you've ever had. It will surprise and put a smile on all your guests faces this year!

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Thanskgiving Make Ahead Gravy

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Gravy is one of those little side dishes which takes up no more than 3 square inches of space on the table but which (for a stellar tasting gravy) takes an incredible amount of effort. So don't leave it till the last minute! Make ahead gravy is the saving grace of my meals. And doesn't skimp of flavour. It might not seem that important but if there is one question every Thanksgiving is hear more often than any other it's always "Is there any more gravy?"

Personally, I detest that commercial on TV right about those sachets of gravy claiming that "it's better than scratch". I'm here to tell you, it's really really not. Not that they're not a good option for quick and dirty gravy but they're simply not as good as scratch. Processed and freeze dried powdered foods just don't feel like Thanksgiving to me. And with this easy recipe you'll wonder why you ever resorted to gravy from a plastic packet anyways.

Most of the ingredients you need for the recipe you'll already have hanging around your crisper drawer and the rest are cheap chicken wings and a few strips of thick bacon. Since you'll only need a few strips, plan on making yourself a nice bacon and egg sammie while you're roasting away your gravy - because a little bit of bacon as sustenance always helps.

IMG_9044 Make Ahead Gravy Ingredients Recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver - as he's the king of getting holidays done right and ready on time!

Ingredients  2 celery sticks, trimmed and roughly chopped 2 carrots, roughly sliced 2 onions, peeled and quartered 5 fresh bay leaves 5 fresh sage leaves 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary 1 star anise 4 strips of smoked streaky bacon, the best quality you can afford 8 chicken wings - if you're wings are on the skinny side add a few more for balance olive oil sea salt freshly ground black pepper 4 tablespoons plain flour

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Start by chopping up roughly all your veggies and herbs. This doesn't need to be pretty, it just needs to form the base for all your lovely meats to sit upon and absorb all those delicious juices that bequeath them. After you've got your veggies all done, turn your over onto 400ºF.

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Ah bacon. The life source of all good Canadians and the secret ingredient to making really great gravy (or pretty much anything else for that matter). Make sure you choose thick cut bacon with a good balance between meat and fat. Too little fat and it won't add enough flavor to the mix and too much will just make the whole thing too oily. I love my local butcher over at the St. Lawrence Market since you can get your strips cut into what ever thickness you want and any kind of smoked bacon really adds to the recipe. I get them about 1/4" thick and slice them up in 1" pieces and layer them onto the veggies.

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Bash the chicken wings open with a rolling pin (this will help release more juices during the roasting process) and add them to the pan. Then drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a few pinches of salt and pepper. Toss to combine and cook for 1 hour, or until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.

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See how the skin is nice and crispy! That's the magic! Once everything is soft, take the pan out of the oven and put all the ingredients into a large pot over low heat. Take a strong potato masher and grind everything up on the bottom of the pot, letting the heat cook away at the ingredients as you mash. That will give it all a sweet and smoky flavour. Slowly add in the flour to thicken the mixture and continue to mash and mix. The longer you cook it like this before adding in the water the longer it will give your gravy a nice dark colour. Don't worry about burning it, a little bit of burnt ends will only add to the taste.

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Once the flour is combined, add in 2 litres of hot water and boil for 10 minutes. Then turn down the heat and simmer for another 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Once it's thickened, do one more round of mashing before taking off the heat. Then put the entire mixture through a fine sieve. Do this in batches as the sieve will get clogged up if you put it all in at once. Make sure to use the masher to push all the juices through the sieve, you don't wanna leave the good stuff behind.

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Once that's all done, put the mixture into a Tupperware container and refrigerate till the big day. If you do this more than three days in advance, put the mixture in the freezer and thaw out the day before use. Then, to put the finishing touches on the gravy, add in your turkey drippings to enhance the sauce and you'll have the perfect gravy done in a flash. The other benefit from doing it this way is you'll yield soooo much more gravy than if only done from the drippings or from a packet. And, you know, the more the merrier :) This year if someone asks, "Is there more gravy?" you can answer with a smile, "Yes, indeed".

Sorry I don't have a picture of the finished product, it all got gobbled up faster than I could photograph it. I guess that's a good sign though. Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Thanksgiving Butternut Squash Soup

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After years of making mistakes and rushing I've started to iron out the kinks of making a truly stupendous Thanksgiving dinner without (most of) the stress. I love cooking and I love cooking for a big crowd even more but that doesn't come without it's problems. The most important thing I've learned about cooking for the big day is it shouldn't be just the one BIG DAY. Spreading out the things you've got to get done throughout the week leading up to Thanksgiving isn't as hard as it seems and will in the end allow you to have a much more simple and enjoyable Thanksgiving Day.

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I usually start the planning process a week before the actual day. Start by making sure everyone is confirmed and the time is set in stone so you can begin the planning. Write out your grocery list and see what dishes can be done in advance. This is the best way to avoid taking on too much on the day of.

Two days before the actual event is when I start most of my cooking and one of the easiest things to make in advance (even 2 weeks prior to Thanksgiving if you want) is your soups. My favorite is Butternut Squash soup. There is something about this rich and velvety starter that simply screams Autumn. And by starting with you a soup, you can put this out on the table for your guests to enjoy while you finish up any last minute sides or turkey craving you want to get done seconds before it steps out onto the table.

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Cut butternut squash lengthwise and remove seeds. Preheat oven to 375° F. Cut inside small 1/2" pieces, this way each piece will cook with a roasted shell adding to the flavour of your dish.  Covered pieces with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place on cookie sheet or in roasting pan. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until squash is tender.

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Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt butter and add finely diced onion. Cook until onion is softened. Remove from heat until squash is cooked.

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When squash is cooked, remove from oven and spoon out the softened squash into the saucepan with the butter and onion, discarding the squash skin. Add enough chicken stock to the saucepan to cover the squash by about an inch. Return to heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add maple syrup, salt, black pepper, a pinch of cinnamon, the cinnamon stick and the rosemary sprig. Once simmered removed the stick and the sprig since they will have already infused the soup and do not need to be blended. At this point if you wish to add a bit of heat to the soup ad 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper for a touch of heat that also helps reduce any over sweet aspects of the dish.

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I prefer my soup with a smooth finish to I puree it with an immersion blender or a bit at a time in a regular blender.

(Note: You can freeze the soup at this point, prior to adding the cream or just refrigerate to serve later. Simply re-warm then add cream before serving. Thin with a bit more chicken stock, if needed).

Now, add as much or as little 10% (will make a thinner, not so rich soup) or 35% (will make a thicker, richer soup) cream as you like to the soup. Cook over low heat just until warmed through (do not boil).

Garnish with a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream and a sprinkling of toasted sunflower seeds for that extra gourmet touch.

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INGREDIENTS 1 large butternut squash (or 2 small) 2 Tbsp. olive oil 1/2-3/4 cup onion, very finely diced 1 Tbsp. butter 2-3 cups chicken stock 1/2 – 1 cup 10% or 35% cream Cinnamon, to taste (about 1/4-1/2 tsp. 1/4 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp. black pepper 1/4 cup maple syrup 1 Sprig Rosemary 1 Stick Cinnamon 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Prep time: 15 min | Cook time: 1 hour 15 min | Total time: 1 hour 30 min

Number of servings (yield): 6