Sunday, 16 December 2007

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Posted by Bonita

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we've no place to go
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!


It may be a blizzard outside, but it's warm and toasty inside my house and the winter storm is only more incentive to stay home and keep ourselves amused in the kitchen. With me being back home, and my brother coming home for the holidays as well in a few days, my mom has been cooking up a storm in the kitchen, so our stove and oven has been working overtime for the past few days. Thus, I thought I would help alleviate the holiday kitchen stress for my mom by making a few meals for the family.

There is nothing quite like the tradition of Sunday Brunch. It used to be my favourite meal of the week. I'd get up and help my dad make pancakes, and there would delicious, fatty bacon sizzling on the stovetop. However, my dad made pancakes some time last week (as evidenced by the leftovers still lying around in the fridge), so I thought I would make my parents French Toast instead, especially since I made a loaf of bread the other day.

I grated some orange zest and added some Grand Marnier to the egg and cream/milk mixture. I also made a Sour Cherry Sauce to accompany the french toasts, using some of the many frozen ones we have sitting in our deep-freezer. Topped it off with some toasted flaked almonds and a sprinkling of confectioners' sugar and it was a delightful Sunday brunch treat! The toasts came out nice and fluffy, and the slight sourness of the cherries countered the sweetness of the sauce itself, and went really well with the orange-scented toasts. Accompanied with some sliced polish sausage my parents picked up last weekend and it was a delicious but simple meal!


I also made dinner yesterday evening, in my adventure of cooking Chinese food. Made Lemon Chicken, with my mom walking me through it on the sidelines. Our version is a healthier version, since we merely pan-fry our chicken pieces rather than deep-fry them, as you would often get in restaurants. Granted, you won't get the same crispiness, but I think I'd rather forego crispy chicken than clog my arteries. Our lemon sauce is also more natural, since all it consists of is lemon juice, sugar, a bit of salt, water and cornstarch solution. No custard powder (a common ingredient in lemon sauce) or colouring is added. Thus, our sauce is definitely not as sweet as the ones you'll find in restaurants, but I like the residual acidity of the lemon that remains in our sauce, giving it the perfect sweet and sour note to the chicken dish.


It was surprisingly very easy to make, which is great for a student like me who doesn't always have the time to slave away in the kitchen (although if I really could, I would!). I also stir-fried some baby Shanghai bok choy with some garlic. I CAN cook Chinese!!! :P


Orange-Scented French Toast with Sour Cherry Sauce
Serves 3
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
  • 1 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • A bit of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 2 tbsp Grand Marnier, or other orange liqueur
  • A pinch of salt
  • 6 slices of stale bread (white, country, challah, etc. work really well), about 1/2-inch thick
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
  • Confectioners' sugar, to serve
  1. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the bread. Whisk together until well combined and smooth.
  2. Place the bread slices in a large, shallow dish. Pour the egg and cream mixture over the bread slices and allow to soak for 10 minutes. Turn the bread slices over and let sit for another 10 minutes.
  3. Place a wire rack on a baking sheet and keep in a preheated oven at 250°F.
  4. Heat a little vegetable oil or butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook bread slices one or two at a time (depending on the size of your pan), cooking for about 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and cooked through. Placed the cooked slices of toast on the wire rack in the oven to keep warm and proceed to cook the other slices.
  5. If bread slices are large, you can cut them in half. Plate with the sour cherry sauce (recipe follows) and sliced almonds. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve.

Sour Cherry Sauce

  • 2 cups jarred or frozen sour cherries, drained
  • 1/3 cup reserved cherry juice **
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp cornstarch (depending on your desired thickness)
  • A sprinkle of lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp Kirsch
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the cherry juice, sugar and cornstarch and heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low.
  2. Add lemon juice, almond extract, cinnamon and Kirsch and stir through. Add the cherries and cook until heated through. (If the sauce is too thin at this point, dissolve some cornstarch in some cold water and add to the cherry sace a little at a time until it reaches desired thickness. If too thick, add a bit of water until it has reached desired consistency.)
  3. Turn off heat and serve with pancakes, waffles, french toast, ice cream, crepes, meat, or just about anything you'd like!

**Note** If you do not have enough juice to measure out 1/3 cup, just add water.

Friday, 14 December 2007

'Tis the season... Part II

Posted by Bonita


What's more Christmasy than a plate or cookies? Perhaps several plates of cookies, which seemed to be the dilemma at my house these past two weeks as I got lost in the throes of holiday baking. I always like to give out cookies to my friends and the lovely admin ladies of my Department during the holiday season, so my tiny little kitchen in London turned into a full-on Cookie Workshop all last week.


I got a variety of different cookies going on this year. Naturally on the list were biscotti, since my Italian friends always look forward to them now. I made three different biscotti this year (pictured above - from top to bottom): Cranberry Pistachio, Cinnamon Mocha and Chocolate, Cherry and Almond. I also just realised that the three biscotti juxtaposed together creates a lovely brown colour palette, with the progressive shades of brown!


There were also several varieties of drop cookies, probably one of the simplest cookies to make: Ginger, Orange White Chocolate Chip, and Cranberry Coconut Oatmeal. The Ginger Cookies is actually a recipe from my brother, which he got off of a friend back in high school. These cookies are absolutely delicious and reminds me of everything Christmas with all the different spices going on. If you underbake them a little, they have a chewy tenderness to them, whereas if you leave them for an extra minute or two, these cookies turn into wonderful Gingersnaps. The Orange White Chocolate Chip was a new recipe I tried out (again wanting to try a variation on the popular but worn-out Chocolate Chip Cookie. The flavour of this beyond words. The orange-flavour from the zest packs a delightful punch to the cookie without being overpowering, and the white chocolate just adds that nice hint of sweetness that surprisingly works well with the orange. Next time, I think I'll try this recipe with dark chocolate chips and see how that will turn out!


I also made Coconut Macaroons. I was having cravings for them three weekends ago while writing papers and studying for midterms, but I don't like the store-bought ones because they are so sickeningly sweet. This recipe, however, is divine (as long as you use unsweetened coconut). The taste really reminded me of some that I had as a kid without having that cloying sweetness to it. Dipping the macaroons in semi-sweet chocolate also helps to cut the sweetness, and works really well with the cookie. Be warned though, these macaroons are highly addictive!


What is Christmas without the classic Shortbread? I absolutely adore the recipe my old roommate and friend, Nicole, gave me last year. It produces a deliciously buttery, decadent, melt-in-your mouth shortbread that has all my friends coming to me for more. The sprinkling of sugar on top make these lovely cookies even more irresistible!


There is also another classic Christmas cookie: the Sugar Cookie. What I love about the Sugar Cookie, besides it lovely buttery and vanilla flavour, is the fact that it makes anyone a kid again. The process of rolling out the dough, stamping out my shapes and decorating the cookies to my own liking is so therapeutic, and I quickly become lost in childhood memories of standing in the kitchen with my own mom as she stamped out cookies and I decorated them (or more likely stood around sprinkling a few candies and what not on the cookies, and then proceeded to munch on the rest).

So yes, aside from papers and finals, holiday baking has certainly been keeping me busy as well. In a few days, I'll need to start my holiday baking all over again for my family and friends back home! My next post will be about the Fruitcake I made, and wait till you see my new kitchen toy (just in time for Christmas! :D)!!!

Orange White Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 30
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line your baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar with an electric mixer until light. Beat in egg, vanilla and orange zest and mix until fluffy.
  4. Gradually add in the flour mixture, stirring only until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  5. Drop the dough by rounded tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets and bake for 9-11 minutes, or until the edges are very lightly browned.
  6. Cool for 3-4 minutes on the baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

'Tis the season... Part I

Posted by Bonita


I love December. Forget about the fact that I will soon have a nice, well-deserved three week break from school. December means all things Christmas, my favourite holiday of the year. Nothing gets me more giddy than bringing out my Christmas tunes (which I think I brought out in the second week of November this year...), decorating the tree and putting up Christmas lights. Oh yeah, let's not forget about baking!

Despite the school term winding down these past two weeks, I've still been a busy bee, either studying for midterms and finals, finishing off those last few essays or more importantly, starting my holiday baking. I always love giving cookies away as Christmas presents. It's fun for me to make them and it makes for great gifts that were made with much love.


I've been doing a lot (and I mean a LOT) of baking on my own these past two weeks, but I thought it would be a nice end to the term this year to have some friends over to bake cookies. With the Italian lit class over for good, it would be a nice way to get everyone together and celebrate having survived the term while eating good food, enjoying each other's company, singing along to christmas carols and baking cookies. It's nice for me because I get to play hostess, it's nice for them because they get to revisit their childhoods, and honestly, it's nice for everyone to just take a break from school before we all go back into hibernation-mode for finals.


I asked everyone to bring something savoury to the party, so we ended up with a pretty nice spread: cheese and crackers, an antipasti platter, these delicious fried risotto balls stuffed sausage and cheese (I think they were called polpette...but they are also known as arancini), sausage rolls, swedish meatballs, shrimp cocktail, and a Baked Brie with Roasted Pears and Thyme.

Good times were had by all. In between eating, laughing and reminiscing about the many inside jokes that involved our time in class, cookies were baked (with minimal mishaps!). Most importantly, my friends had loads of fun baking and decorating cookies, and I sent all of them home with treats that they could munch on these next few days as they bury themselves in their books and notes.


The leftover brie and the antipasti made for a lovely lunch yesterday afternoon, especially with a plate of good bread, crackers and some raspberry jam!




Stayed tuned for "Part II" to see what I've been baking lately!