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It is Boxing Day here in Canada and I am not venturing near a stove or oven — after all, even a cook needs some downtime. Because I enjoy sharing my food experiences with you, I thought I would tell you about our new family Christmas Eve tradition. My husband, Bryan, asked me if I would make Boeuf Bourguignon for Christmas Eve last year when we were watching the movie Julie & Julia. At first I thought he was kidding and sometimes it is difficult to tell with Bryan. However, he was being genuinely serious. With great trepidation I perused my cookbooks to find a recipe for the dish. He loved it so much that he asked for it again this year. It has the stigma of being fussy and difficult to make but it really isn’t as complicated as it first seems. I modified the recipe from The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook slightly by using triple A stewing beef. The wine I used was a lovely burgundy of which I purchased two bottles from the Vintages section of the LCBO on the recommendation of the Vintages manager. I will post more about the wine below the recipe.

boeuf bourguignon

makes 6 servings

6 strips bacon cut into 1/2-inch (12 mm) pieces
3 lbs (1.5 kg) beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch (4 1/2 cm) cubes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
3 Tbsp all-purpose (plain) flour
1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) Cognac or other brandy
3 cups (24 fl oz/750 ml) Burgundy or other dry, full-bodied wine
1 1/2 cups 12 fl oz/375 ml) Beef Stock or prepared low-sodium broth
1 Tbsp tomato paste
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb (500 g) white button mushrooms, quartered
7 ounces (220 g) fresh pearl onions, blanched and peeled (see note)
3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). In a frying pan over medium-high heat, sauté the bacon until browned but not crisp, about 3 minutes. Transfer to paper towels.

Pat the meat dry and season with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Working in batches to avoid crowding, add the beef and brown on all side, 4-5 minutes per batch. Transfer the browned meat to a bowl and set aside.

Add the chopped onions and carrots to the pot and sauté over medium-high heat until the onions are lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, sprinkle the flour on top, and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour is incorporated, 1-2 minutes. Return the bacon and meat, along with any juices, to the pot.

Remove from the heat, add the Cognac, and flambé. Return to medium-low heat, add the wine, stock, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaf, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Transfer to the oven and braise, covered, until the meat is fork tender, about 2 hours. Discard the bay leaf.

Meanwhile, in a frying pan over medium-high heat, melt 2 Tbsp of the butter. Add the mushrooms and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Melt the remaining 1 Tbsp butter, add the pearl onions, and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup (4 fl oz/125 ml) water, cover, and cook until the onions are softened, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the mushrooms.

When ready to serve, stir the mushrooms, pearl onions, and 1 Tbsp of the parsley into the stew. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the remaining 2 Tbsp parsley. Serve at once.

Note: Peeling pearl onions… Sweeter and less sharp-tasting that full-sized onions, pearl onions are no more than 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter, with papery skins. Because they hold their color and shape well when cooked, they make an attractive visual contrast in a deep brown stew or braise. To remove the skins, trim off the root ends and blanch the onions in a saucepan of boiling water for 4 minutes. Drain, then quickly transfer to a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. Drain again and peel off the loosened skins; they should fall away easily.

courtesy of The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook © 2008

The wine that I cooked with and served alongside the Boeuf Bourguignon was a classic French Burgundy — Le Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2008 from Chanson Père et Fils.

Tasting note: “After a beautiful spring, the weather at the start of summer was quite demanding.  It became fine again from the end of August with much sun and a cold wind, which aided concentration of flavours.  The harvest commenced in mid-September in perfect conditions under an Indian summer. Bright red colour with dark purple nuances. Intense aromas of red currant and liquorice with a hint of spice. Concentrated and complex. Refreshing and lively. Very pure fruit aromas. Spicy nuances in the finish.” – http://www.vins-chanson.com

My notes: This was a very nice pairing for the meal. At about $20 Canadian a bottle it is quite reasonable. Because it is a lighter red than the Cabernet Sauvignon that I often serve with beef, the leftover wine also made a good pairing for the roasted turkey that we enjoyed the next evening for Christmas dinner. I love the fruitiness of this wine and how it balances with the meats. It was also delicious on its own and the finish lingered nicely.

mulled wine

mulled wine

In my last post I mentioned the Cookie Swap I hosted and the mulled wine. I had a few emails asking for the recipe and here it is. I used a Canadian Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon blend by Pelee Island Winery. Enjoy and toast to a Merry Christmas!

mulled wine

peel of 1/2 lemon
peel of 1 lime
peel and juice of 1 clementine
195 grams superfine granulated sugar
4 cloves
2 allspice berries
1 small bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
6 gratings fresh nutmeg or a scant 1/4 teaspoon
1 black cardamom pod cut in half
2 ounces cognac or brandy
5 cups dry red wine
2 whole star anise

Peel the citrus using a carrot peeler aka speed peeler. In a large saucepan add the lemon, lemon, and clementine peel to the juice and sugar. Add the spices except for the star anise and add the cognac. Pour enough wine over the mixture to just cover it. Heat over medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir frequently. When the mixture has boiled add the remaining wine and the star anise. Heat gently for an additional 5 minutes and serve warm.

Last night I hosted my first-ever cookie swap. It was so much fun and the cookies were terrific. We enjoyed mulled wine and great company. However, I forgot to ask everyone to bring copies of their recipes to share. A few other friends have asked for my cookie recipe so I thought I’d just post it here for everyone.

vanilla-almond snowflakes

vanilla-almond snowflakes

vanilla-almond snowflake cookies

About ten years ago I purchased some snowflake cookie-cutters from a company named Gourmet du Village. The cutters came with a delicious recipe and a vanilla powder and turbinado sugar mixture. I’ve since lost the recipe but I still have the cookie cutters so I needed to come up with a new one. This recipe was adapted from an old cookbook in my collection. So now, every Christmas I can make pretty snowflake cookies that remind me of how much I love winter and the beauty of a snowflake.

1 1/2 cups powdered (icing) sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 egg
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Cream the powdered sugar and butter together in a large bowl. Mix in the vanilla, almond extract and egg. Combine the dry ingredients and then mix them into the butter, sugar, and egg mixture until you have a soft dough. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet with vegetable shortening or line with baker’s parchment. Very lightly dust your board with a little flour. Do the same with your rolling pin or use a pastry cloth on the rolling pin to prevent the dough from sticking. Roll half of the dough 1/4 inch thick. Dip your cookie cutter into flour or icing sugar and tap off any excess. Cut the rolled dough into shapes with your favorite cookie cutters. Move, using a thin spatula, to the greased cookie sheet leaving 1-inch between cookies. Bake for 6-7 minutes or until edges are just start to turn golden. Remove from cookie sheet to cool on a wire rack.

When cool, ice with your favorite frosting and decorate as desired.

Makes about 50-60 cookies depending on the size of your cutters. I used 2 1/2 inch snowflakes.

Notes: To roll the dough evenly use 2 pieces of 1/4-inch dowel that are about 14-inches long. Place them beneath either end of your rolling pin. Roll the pin over the dowel with the dough in between the pieces. You’ll end up with perfectly even cookies.

Try to limit rerolling the dough to 1 or 2 times as the cookies will become tough if you handle the dough too much. Use very little flour to keep the dough from sticking as adding too much dough will result in a tougher, drier end product.

waiting for icing to set

waiting for icing to set

almond icing

2 cups icing sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
1 1/2 tablespoons milk plus extra as needed

Mix the icing sugar, almond extract and milk together. Add additional milk by the single teaspoon until you have an icing that is thin enough to spread but thick enough that it doesn’t run off the cookies.

For the snowflakes I iced the cookies once they had cooled completely. After icing a cookie I immediately sprinkled it with coarse sugar to add sparkle. Then I used a silver candy ball on each point to jazz them up. I found that decorating 1 or 2 at a time gave the best results.

Be sure to let the icing set completely before you package the cookies. If you are layering them in a tin, separate each layer with waxed or parchment paper.

Happy Holidays!

Swedish tea ring

tea ring

Christmas is just around the corner and I’ll be making our traditional family Christmas breakfast bread once again. I had a slight mishap with this in 2007. We had just moved into our home about a month earlier and I had a gas oven that I wasn’t used to. There I was, on Christmas Eve, baking the first of two tea rings. I sat on the floor in front of the oven marvelling at the fact that it was going to be our first Christmas in our new place. I saw a little lever above the oven door and started playing with it. What I didn’t know was that I had engaged the lock for the self-clean cycle. While the oven wasn’t on self-clean mode my setting the lock meant that the oven couldn’t be opened until it cooled to 90°F. So there I sat, crying, as my beautiful breakfast became golden, then brown, then black. Thankfully the dough makes two so once the oven cooled I was able to open it and bake the second one. I learned a lesson about playing with things when I don’t know what they are for. Even cookbook authors can have a bad day in the kitchen.

my Mom’s Swedish tea ring

makes 2 large rings or 3 smaller ones

Every Christmas morning from my childhood entailed waking up Mom and Dad, emptying our Christmas stockings, opening presents, and devouring slices of Swedish tea ring for breakfast. I remember one year Mom was so excited that she finally found cardamom and she added 1/4 teaspoon of it to the filling mix. It switched up the flavor nicely. It’s a very pretty bread that looks like a decorated wreath. Sometimes I divide the dough into 3 or 4 and make mini tea rings to give as gifts.

Measure into a large bowl

1 cup lukewarm water
2 teaspoons granulated sugar

And stir until dissolved

Sprinkle with contents of
2 envelopes Fleishmans Dry Yeast

Let stand 10 minutes then stir well.
In the meantime scald
1 cup milk

Remove from heat and stir in
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons shortening

Cool to lukewarm and add to yeast mixture. Stir in 2 well beaten eggs. Stir in 3 cups of pre-sifted flour and beat until smooth. Add in cardamom if desired. Work in 3 more cups of pre-sifted flour. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic. Place in greased bowl and let rise until double in bulk.

Divide the dough into 2 and roll into a rectangle about 3/8 of an inch thick. Spread with melted butter to 1 inch from the edge of the dough. Sprinkle the following filling on top of the melted butter…

1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup sultana raisins
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Roll the filled dough up like a jellyroll starting at the longest side. Seal the edges and place on a well-greased baking sheet. Bring the ends together to form a ring damping the edges to seal. Make slits about 1 inch apart but only 3/4 of the distance to the centre. Turn each section on its side. Cover and let rise until double in bulk.

Bake at 400°F for 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from pans immediately.

While still warm, ice with a mixture of…
3/4 cup of icing sugar
1 tablespoon milk (may need a little more)
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

Okay, so I don’t really have a wine cellar. Well I do, but I never use it because the wine never seems to make it downstairs. I know a little about wine but I am, by no means, an expert. I have the philosophy of “drink what you enjoy” and leave the rest to the wine snobs. I hadn’t really had any wine since October of 2009 because of being pregnant and then with breast feeding. Now I’ve gone back to having a glass or two every couple of weeks. I love to learn about wine and the complexities of it even though I am a bit of a novice.

I thought I’d like to share a few of my latest discoveries…

I prefer wines with good tannins and I love the heavy reds. That said, I do enjoy a nice, full-bodied white wine from time-to-time. One of my favorite “new world” wines is the 2008 Toasted Head Chardonnay from California. It is one of the more flavorful Chardonnays I’ve had from North America and it lived up to its description.

Tasting note: “The nose offers ripe pineapple and peach aromas with toasted graham cracker. The bright straw color prepares the palate for the rich tropical fruit and luscious stone fruit with a viscous mouth feel accented by toasted coconut, vanilla and butterscotch. The creamy finish lingers with hints of buttered toast and lemon zest. This wine will pair well with creamy Italian pasta dishes, roasted chicken or fish, and fresh summer corn.” – from Toasted Head

My notes: I was a little surprised at the color and flavor of this wine. It is one of the tastiest new world Chardonnays I’ve tried. The color was a little richer than some of the other Chardonnays I’ve had in the past and the flavor was bold and delicious. There was a great toasty element that made the wine live up to the name of its winery. I served it with chicken that had been cooked on the rotisserie, golden baby potatoes mashed with cream and a fresh salad.

We were invited to the Olmsted’s for Thanksgiving dinner back in October so I went searching for a red wine to enjoy while sitting outside enjoying a gorgeous fall day. I was in the midst of trying to wrap up the manuscript for Another Fork in the Trail and had decided to take the full weekend off. When I went to the LCBO and wandered through the Vintages section I saw the perfect wine. It was a 2008 Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon blend called The Procrastinator and was from the Wits End (Chalk Hill) winery in Australia. I have to say that I bought it just for the name of the winery and the wine… it just seemed fitting.

Tasting note: “Good colour; bright blue fruit with a pleasant seasoning of spice and floral aromatics; the palate is fleshy and concentrated, with good texture and focused acidity cleaning up the finish.” – James Halliday, http://www.winecompanion.com.au, Feb. 2009

My notes: This was a wine I quite enjoyed beyond the way the name made me smile. It was velvety, full and very dark. The color was simply gorgeous. I could really taste cherry and other rich berry flavors in this one. The wine had a beautiful finish that lingered perfectly on my palate. I wish I had purchased several bottles because when I returned to the store this past weekend the wine was no longer available, much to my dismay. Delicious! I’m going to have to see if I can find another bottle or three of this one.

Speaking of not being able to find The Procrastinator brings me to my next wine find. On Saturday we were going to our friend’s home for a birthday party. I popped into the LCBO hoping to get a bottle of Wits End’s Procrastinator. No luck. The lovely lady in the Vintages section showed me another wine from Wits End named Free Settler & The Convict. You have to love the creativity in naming these wines. Anyway, it was a Shiraz/Grenache blend from 2008. Anyone who knows me also knows I adore a good Shiraz so I thought I’d give this a try.

Tasting notes: “Opaque purple in colour, this crowd-pleasing red features a black fruit nose, and smoky aromas of chocolate, black licorice and blackberry. Add to that further flavours of raspberry, strawberry, mocha and herbs and you’ve got palate pleasure! Enjoy this ripe and round red tonight along with some burgers smothered in sharp cheddar.” – VINTAGES panel, Jan. 2010

My notes: I had a little of this wine before dinner. I liked it well enough, however, not as much as The Procrastinator. It had a lovely finish and I liked the chocolate and berry flavors which are common in Shiraz. The Grenache added a little more fruitiness which balanced nicely with the Shiraz. We had lasagna for dinner and this wasn’t the perfect wine for the meal. In hindsight a vintage Ruffino Chianti would have been a better choice but I still enjoyed the wine. I think it might have paired beautifully with a nice slice of chocolate torte!

Last but not least is a Canadian find. We were having Steak au Poivre for dinner. I was in a hurry so I just went to the little wine shop in Sobey’s Grocery Store. I enjoy the Inniskillin Meritage on occasion but thought I’d try one of their East West Series wines — a 2008 Cabernet/Shiraz blend. This blend is made from Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon from their Okanagan vineyards and Cabernet Franc from the Niagara-On-The-Lake vineyards.

Tasting notes: “This wine shows the full bodied complexity of the West with the approachable aromatics and texture of the East. Layers of dark chocolate, black cherry, and spice aromas and flavours deliver a wine with excellent mouth feel with an extended finish and soft tannins.This wine is an ideal match with prime rib, leg of lamb, grilled steak, roast venison, and cheddar or other aged cheeses.” – from Inniskillin.com

My notes: It was a good pairing for the steak and it held up well to the richness of the dish. It had a good finish. The spice of the Shiraz worked well with the pepper. I was pleasantly surprised and would purchase this one again.

In closing, I’d like to mention cooking with wine. I like to do this as it can add a complexity to a dish. I just wanted to say to avoid “cooking wines”. Always cook with a wine that you’d enjoy drinking because if it doesn’t taste great in the glass it is not going to taste good in your dish.

Remember… if you are going to indulge during this holiday season — don’t drink and drive.