Coffee Chatter – Sunday Edition

Happy-Mothers-Day-Graphic-Design-4While I wait patiently for my mother’s phone line to free up so I can wish her a happy Mothers Day, I have been trolling around on Pinterest, pulling weeds out of the garden (it’s raining right now so I’m on a coffee rest break), and checking up on some online friends.

I’m not sure about your lawns but ours seems to be over run with dandelions this year. Last year was bad enough, but this year they’re back with a vengeance. I blame the local township banning all kinds of chemical weed killing products.

badweedsMy hips and lower back hate weeds more than I do. They will only allow me to bend down while pulling for a half hour at a time before they seize up on me. I have been thinking a lot about one of those pole devices that leave holes in the grass big enough for gophers to pop up out of. My body’s not getting any younger, and my next door neighbour lent me hers last year for a quick trial. My pride wasn’t quite to the place it is this year back then, so I passed on picking one up at Crappy Tire. But this year… I might just break down (before my back does). πŸ˜€

nappingGuess what? I guess I got too much sun weed pulling that I fell asleep on the couch halfway through this post. LOL I woke up and a few hours of my life disappeared. And it’s about to rain again. It started raining when I fell asleep, so perhaps I should just stick a fork in this day and put my PJs on now.

And no, I still haven’t gotten a hold of my mother. I have no idea what’s going on over there, but she did birth seven of us, and she is legally blind, so my best guess is she didn’t hang up the phone properly after one of the others called her to also wish her a happy Mothers Day. I will have to try her again tomorrow after work. *sigh*

hotcoffeePS: When I fell asleep, my freshly brewed cup of coffee was HOT. When I woke up it was cold. That’s quite the feat given how hot it is outside and in the house today. How long was I out cold, anyway!? Jee-bus! Oh, well. It’s nothing a few ice cubes couldn’t sort out. πŸ˜‰

[ All images found on google.ca ]

How things are going in my little world

Since taking on a different role at my job earlier this year, all of my free time has almost evaporated. I apologize to the three of you (?) left who may still be reading this page, or keeping an eye out for new posts.

I haven’t really had time to work on new recipes since Christmas, and I’m disappointed about that. I really like playing in my kitchen, but since I work a lot of overtime hours now, and I’m tired all of the damn time when I finally get home each day, I’m having a hard time forcing myself to stand at the stove for more than ten minutes at a go.

I’m hoping I can carve out a new routine very soon. I will let you all know when, or if, that ever happens. πŸ™‚

Christmas 2014 Tear Down

2015-01-01 12.36.37 An old tv production term still used to this day is “the tear down.” It refers to the tearing down of the set, lighting, cameras and furniture (desks, chairs, etc.) when a show has finished being shot or aired live. I haven’t worked in tv in a very long time, but that doesn’t stop me from saying, “Well, I guess it’s time to tear Christmas down around here,” in our home every year. Today I tore Christmas 2014 down.
2015-01-01 12.37.00 [ sigh ] Well, that’s another holiday season in the can, kids. Hope yours was all you wanted it to be.

Happy 2015, everyone!

Happy New Year 2015!

Happy New Year 2015!

Happy 2015! Hope you were all able to stay up and see the new year being rung in. If you weren’t, don’t feel bad. My husband had a long nap in the afternoon, and he still turned in early. πŸ™‚

But, beforehand I was able to share this dinner with him. It’s homemade cabbage rolls with bacon on top, sauteed cabbage with kielbasa and onions, and served with rustic red potato mash.

New Year's cabbage rolls, sauteed cabbage with kielbasa and onions, and served with rustic red potato mash

New Year’s cabbage rolls, sauteed cabbage with kielbasa and onions, and served with rustic red potato mash.

It was all tasty, and we washed it down with this great non-alcoholic sparkling wine drink I found at the grocery store. I really like it. I’m not a fan of booze, or champagne, but I like the taste of this drink. A lot. We finished the bottle as I did the dinner dishes.

2014-12-31 22.48.45It’s about ten minutes to the big moment, and my husband is now sitting on the couch. I guess he wanted to wait it out with me after all. Aww. He’s a total sweetheart.

I’m not one for resolutions, but if you are, I wish you the best in keeping them. Conviction is the key. Conviction and a clear goal without any other voice in your head telling you change isn’t possible. It is. Totally.

Ok, we’re down to five minutes left in 2014. Get your drinks, noise makers and lips ready, kids.

Talk to you in next year!

Auntie Stacey’s Gingerbread-Espresso Christmas Cookies

Ginger-Espresso Christmas Cookies

Ginger-Espresso Christmas Cookies

I used this gingerbread cookie recipe as the base of my cookies, and then tweaked the overall flavouring by adding 2 tbsp of fine ground coffee beans for texture. You can see the flecks the grinds create in the final baked cookie form, and you can feel the grinds as you chew them. They add a lovely mouth-feel to contrast with the chewy gingerbread base, and together I think they create a sophisticated update on the old, somewhat tired gingerbread theme.

The other change up I made to my gingerbread cookies was in shape (I chose a lovely scaled snowflake over the man figure), and in the icing colour (typically you’ll see a lot of piped white icing, and some chocolate, red and green piped icing accents) which I did in a blue icing for a smashing pop of colour against the dark cookie base.

Picture courtesy of Glorious Treat's blog - gingerbread cookies

Picture courtesy of Glorious Treat’s blog – gingerbread cookies

I mean, LOOK at how fabulous this colour combination is. I won’t lie, Glory’s iced cookie version utterly seduced me. When I saw that, no other colour compared!

Gingerbread-Espresso Christmas Cookies:
1/2 C Unsalted Butter, room temp
3/4 C Brown Sugar
1 Large Egg, room temp
1/3 C Fancy Molasses
2 /2 C All Purpose Flour (unbleached is fine)
2 tea Ground Ginger
1 1/2 tea Ground Cinnamon
1/2 tea Salt
1/2 tea Baking Soda
1 tbsp Instant Espresso Powder
1 1/2 tbsp Coffee Grinds, Fine (not used – yuck!)

In your mixer, blend the butter and sugar together till it’s pale in colour and fluffy in texture (about 5 mins).

In a medium size mixing bowl, add the flour, ginger, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Whisk well to combine all of these ingredients. Set near the running mixer.

On the mixer’s slowest speed, add the egg and the molasses. Blend that in a bit before adding in your dry ingredient mixture slowly one cup at a time. When the dry ingredients have been incorporated into the dough finally, add the espresso powder and coffee grinds. Quickly run the mixer enough to blend them through out the dough batch before turning the dough out of the bowl to portion it out into four balls for chilling.

I used a pair of thick chopsticks that are about 3/8″ in diameter to flank each ball of dough between two sheets of wax paper as I rolled it out flat into a circle or square. I then placed all four flattened out dough balls on a tray and let them rest in my refrigerator or about 1 hour before cutting them up into shapes.

After an hour, I pre-heated my oven to 350 degrees (I have a convection oven so I have to set mine at 375 because the oven drops the temperature down by 25 degrees automatically), and poured a bit of flour into a bowl to dip my cookie cutter into between cuts.

I made as many snowflake cookies as I could fit on my baking pans with at least 1″ around each cookie and when the oven was ready, I baked two pans at one go on the middle rack for 8 minutes. I continued cutting out more snowflakes to line my next two pans as the first batch baked up and cooled down. I continued to repeat this until all four balls of dough were baked up into cookies.

I left the cookies to cool completely for about two hours and then started my decorating process. You can use whatever icing you like, but I happen to have been pressed for time so I cheated by melting some baking chocolate waffers in a small Ziplock baggy in my microwave (about three 30 second times for a handful of waffers). As the chocolate started to harden while decorating the cookies, I would melt it some more in the microwave at 15 second intervals.

NOTE: This is a great cookie dough to make up to one month before you need to bake it, so for Christmas I would say mix it up in the last week of November or the first week of December, wrap it as a disk in plastic wrap and then tin foil, and throw it in the freezer to speed everything up as you get into your baking groove. It shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes sitting on the counter for the dough to come up to temperature so you can work with it.

 

Christmas baking round up

2014-12-22 12.21.14So I baked a lot this year. For both sides of the family. And friends and co-workers. This isn’t the whole list, just the ones I could recall off the top of my head after the first three day marathon in the kitchen.

My Gingerbread-Espresso Christmas Cookies came after this list was made, and almost at the end of the second baking wave. It was an inspired last minute recipe idea I threw together, and I think it was the best cookie I gave out as gifts.

Speaking of, I promised you all that recipe the other day, and then life got in my way. Apologies! Coming right up. As promised, each will have their own post entry so you can search for it in the future.

Coffee Chatter – Sunday Edition

hide-and-seekSo. It’s been four months already, has it? Huh. Well, how is everyone?

I suck at this blogging thing. I know, I know. So sorry. The last four months at work have been hectic and then Christmas rolled around before I knew it, and well…

Ok, here we go. I should probably give you the rundown on what I made for Christmas baking gifts since that’s the most interesting part of my absence, and really the only part most of you care about besides the sweet, sweet new sink faucet the husband bought me for Christmas and installed himself. Don’t lie, I know you want to see pictures of the new faucet! πŸ™‚

Before - hated this one. Really couldn't deal with it. It came with the house. Good riddance!

Before – hated this one. Really couldn’t deal with it. It came with the house. Good riddance!

New one - Love this high swan necked faucet. LOVE.

After – Love this high swan necked faucet. LOVE. I don’t mind dishes as much now.

You like?? Haha. Ok, I’ll shut up and go back to the baked goods now.

I found this lovely recipe on Martha’s website for what looks like coffee bean cookies. And indeed they are designed to taste like espresso beans, too. I had a lot of fun and flashbacks to my time as a child playing with Play-Doh and modelling clay.

Martha Stewart's Espresso Bean Cookies

MSL’s Espresso Bean Cookies

The indent was tricky for me because the instructions didn’t give any hints on how to make them look authentic, but I figured it out after a few tries. I think they turned out well. And I loved the taste of them so much, I co-opted it for another recipe I created this year.

The trick is to make a centre crease with the skewer, and then push down on both sides tapering inwards as you go till you reach the middle of the crease. That opens the crease up and emulates the split bean look perfectly.

The trick is to make a centre crease with the skewer, and then open it up with the skewer by shaving down a bit of each side, tapering inwards as you go. That emulates the split bean look perfectly.

That recipe was for my Gingerbread-Espresso Christmas Cookies.

Ginger-Espresso Christmas Cookies

Ginger-Espresso Christmas Cookies

They were easy to make and retained their cut-out shapes well while baking (much like some of the better sugar cookie recipes will get you). I’m not the best cookie decorator in the world and I struggle each year to find a pleasing look that I can duplicate on a few batches of the same cookie in a short amount of time before the icing hardens up. I think I stumbled on to something this year with the blue swirl over the snowflake shape. I really like it. And it makes for a fantastic photo composition.

I will post each of the cookie recipes in their own posts so it will be easier for you to search for them later if you want to make some yourselves.

I can’t believe I typed all of the above without a drop of coffee in me. Let me hit publish on this now, and I will stop to make a coffee before I post the recipes. πŸ™‚

Coffee Chatter – Saturday Edition

embarrassmentI know, I know. I keep doing this disappearing act on you. I’m sorry but life has this way of sucking up all of my time and attention. And to be honest, I really haven’t had much to say lately on anything. Ironic, right? Anyhoo…

IRSo, this morning’s coffee was a lovely Starbuck’s VIA Italian Roast pack that I spiked using the pumpkin syrup I made a week or more ago. I have to use it all up before it goes bad in another week, so the race is on. πŸ™‚ No latte for me today; just a straight up coffee, syrup and a splash of 10% cream did the trick. But, I did enjoy it with two (eek!) yummy, fresh buttery croissants, so I guess I win? Maybe? Hee.

Auntie Stacey’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee Syrup:
1C Sugar + 1C Water
2 Tbsp Pumpkin Puree (not the pie filling)
2 Tea Pumpkin Pie Spices

Stir the sugar around in the water till the cloudiness disappears before adding the pumpkin puree and spices to the pot over med-high. Bring all of the ingredients up to a boil. Let it boil for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so the sugar doesn’t burn. Remove from the heat and let the pot stand covered for about 1-2 hours till it hits room temperature. Pour it into a jar with a tight lid and store it in coldest part of the fridge up to two weeks. Pour 1 Tbsp or more per mugful of any hot beverage to enjoy.

My summer break is almost over, and I still haven’t finished my damn Spring quilt yet. (snort) I’m slower than molasses in February when it comes to sewing this sucker. The biggest problem is, although my sewing table is big, it’s apparently not big enough to fit my quilt properly so I can do the actual quilting part of it (where you run the sandwiched material layers pinned together in place under the needle to create pretty patterns with the sewing machine all over).

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX A503A lightly less aggravating problem is there is so much material, I have to constantly hold it taunt and roll up the excess as I slightly raise my arms to run it thought the machine, and that causes improper posture which then bugs my compressed shoulder issue that causes the nerves in the same area to become compressed, sending pain and numbness all down my arms and fingers, so I can only do a few runs a day, and each run is taking on average five minutes to do because I picked a patterned stitch to jazz my quilting up instead of using straight stitches in random patterns.

stitchesOh, I just HAD to be fancy!! Had to be. Oy ve. Sometimes I am my own worst enemy.

So, perhaps at this rate my quilt will be done in time for Spring of 2015? One can only hope. πŸ˜‰

Work is picking up nicely. Even though I’m on summer break, most of the staff that stayed behind are getting me to cover them for a few weeks here and there so they can have their time with their kids at one job, and the students at my other job suddenly realise summer school is ending and now they need time to study and complete projects to finish up in time for their regular classes to start two weeks later, so there has been many frantic S.O.S. calls being put out over the bat channel to see if I can cover them. Of course. I’m happy to help students who are serious about their studies. Always.

COLLARBONEslingAside from that, I have been busy cooking for my mother-in-law while her broken collar bone healed. She told me last night she doesn’t need me to help her out anymore, that she’s fine now since she’s out of the sling she hilariously kept wearing incorrectly the whole time she needed it, but we immediately noticed she’s very forgetful. Upon further chatting with her, the husband realized she’s not eating properly (and sometimes not at all as in only coffee for lunch) the way she’s supposed to as a diabetic, so I don’t feel right about not cooking for her anymore. I think I will continue to do so, but will keep a better eye on what she eats and when.

coffeeAnd her coffee maker seemingly died yesterday, so we bought her another one. When we got there last night, the husband unplugged the existing one and plugged it back in, and hey it worked. He then discovered another broken coffee machine in her basement sitting in a box beside a twin coffee maker to her existing one that was still sealed in its box. She insisted on keeping the one we brought her for some strange reason after that discovery, but we brought it home with us instead. It didn’t make sense to us for her to keep it, but to her it did. We’re still baffled by that. Especially after she made a crack about how the new unit comes with a two year warranty and she’s not even guaranteed to live that long herself. (raised eyebrows) Ok, then.

And then there was the equally confusing discussion with her about not needing a model with a timer on it since she’s retired and she only used the timer when her husband was still working, but he was retired for 25 years before he died in June, so… But, she insisted on the timer model despite being the only person in the house who drinks coffee, and that she brews it after she wakes up instead of setting it up before going to sleep. (head scratching)

ActifrySpeaking of my MIL, she gave her other DIL and me Actifry machines for Christmas last year. It’s been a very slow start for me to warm up to using it because, frankly, I felt it was a dud after multiple tries at making french fries in it according to the manufacturer, the recipe book it came with, youtube videos and lots of food blogger attempts (including Oprah’s famous gleeful video about her successful french fry try) and I STILL couldn’t get the machine to work for me.

I would put the fries in – whether they were freshly cut or frozen, it didn’t matter – and then the recommended amount of oil in, closed the lid and 20 minutes later I always found a wadded up pile of fries that somehow managed to fuse themselves together like a moon rock that fell out of the sky. So frustrating and maddening!!

That was back in January – March. Roll forward till about a month ago when I finally decided to dust the machine off and try again. My first instinct was to re-watch some of the same demo videos I bookmarked since I didn’t remember all of the prep involved. A few of those links had gone dead, so I had to do more googling to find new ones. There is one from a lovely New Zealand woman that was uploaded after my first attempts that states that if my potato has a high starch factor, I should use about 1/3 of the recommended oil, or none at all, to get the fries to remain dry and crisp up.

Ding-ding-ding, we have a winner!

Nowhere in the documentation or online was that ever stated by anyone else but this lovely woman. She was right on the money with this tip. When I cooked a batch without oil, only then did my yellow cooking potatoes crisp up into individual fries instead of a singly fry moon rock.

So this is what successful Actifry french fry baking feels like! Me likey.

mooshueggrollsTwo nights ago I made some very tasty Moo Shu (chicken and beef) Egg Rolls and put them into the Actifry to crisp up. OMG. These were the best non-oil fried egg rolls I have ever eaten, and I’ve eaten a lot of egg rolls in my lifetime. Haven’t I, Ellen? Not to mention frozen chicken balls straight from your dad’s restaurant locker freezers. πŸ˜‰ I even cooked all of the filling in the Actifry machine before rolling it up in the wrappers. It was a fair amount of time to make the egg rolls, but probably no more than making them to cook on or in the stove, really. Egg rolls will always have multi-cooking steps involved, so I don’t feel like this isn’t worth the effort. Especially when I consider I used a whole pack of wrappers with the amount of ingredients I cooked up and it came out to 18 egg rolls in the end. I used the leftover for lunches the husband took to work this week. He was happy to have them.

And then I challenged Oprah to out do my egg rolls in her Actifry. LOL (Ermine is going to love this story when she hears it. “Oprah? Stacey, are you insane?!?” And the answer will be, “Of course I’m insane! But, you already know that about me, Erms!”)

Michael Brown Receives His DiplomaAnd finally, onto something serious. I’ve been glued to the media and Twitter reports about the Ferguson, MO story since it broke even though I haven’t talked about it much in social media. I’m very upset about the killing of an unarmed black youth who was on the cusp of starting his adult life in college, about to make some of his dreams that he dared to have come true. That’s Michael in the above picture at the moment when he received his high school diploma. (He did something I never did – he graduated from high school. I’m one credit short but never bothered since I have two college diplomas instead. And there have been a few instances where that has hindered me while seeking employment.)

Such a horrific loss of life and potential for his family to be forced to deal with. And the cop responsible is in hiding. Why? If was a justified killing (which it most certainly was NOT), why didn’t he stay to file a report and face the public with his truth, his version, his account of how he felt that child should be put down like the animal this cop treated him as? WHY IS DARREN WILSON IN HIDING? What does he have to fear if he was in the right, if he was doing everything by the book that day on the street?

Oh… right. (nodding)

Jesus H. Christ on a cracker. That Wilson man better come forward to face his music before someone who isn’t a part of the blue brotherhood finds him first. It will not be pretty for him if it goes down that way. Even George Zimmerman stuck around, Darren Wilson. Are you reading this? Are you hearing what I’m saying here??

(sigh)

I have to change the subject now. I am too upset, and honestly, what can a white girl from Canada do anyway beyond keep this story alive online until some kind of justice is served?

And that is where I will end this chat. I’m sorry if I’ve bummed any of you out with my final subject matter thoughts, but you know me. I’m not one to hold back when an injustice has been done.

Auntie Stacey’s Moussaka

moussaka-4Today it’s raining, so today is a great day for us to get real about, of all things, Moussaka.

Moo-saka, as most would say, or Moo-ss-ah-kah, as the Greek people pronounce it, is comfort food at its simplest, finest, and tastiest. This is a casserole dish my husband will unabashedly ask for a third helping of. It is that good. Oh, yes it is.

Traditionally this classic casserole is made with eggplant, but since only one of us likes eggplant, I have taken to making substitutions for him. I love him that much. Oh, yes I do. My version swaps out the eggplant for strips of zucchini and roasted red peppers.

I have been in Greek restaurants in a few parts of Canada that serve this dish with thicker generous layers, and whipped potatoes on top, but I don’t feel any of that’s right. This is a peasant’s dish, therefore it should be kept it as simple and bare bones as possible, and layered with Bechamel sauce up on top just like the Greek peasants did it when it was first invented. This is a great dish for the Spring/Summer time when you don’t want to eat a lot but you do want to eat well. This will do the trick. Every time.

Give this one a whirl, and if you are from different regions near Greece, feel free to add something that is familiar to you in place of the eggplant and let me know how that turns out. Here is the basic recipe I use.

Auntie Stacey’s Moussaka:
2 Zucchinis – sliced lengthwise 1/4″ thick
Salt – sprinkle over both sides of the zucchini slices, set aside for 10 minutes
Black Pepper – freshly cracked
10 oz Roasted Red Peppers – sop up excess brine with paper towels

1 Tbsp Oil
3 Cloves Garlic – minced (or whole if you only want to flavour the oil)
1/2 Yellow Onion, chopped finely
1/2 Lbs Ground Lamb (or veal, beef, or pork , or a combination of a few)
8 oz Tomato Puree
1/4 C White Wine
1/2 Tea Dry Basil
1 Tea Oregano
Small Bay Leaf
S&P – roughly 1/2 Tea each

2 Tbsp Butter
2 Tbsp Flour
1/2 C Milk
S&P – small pinches
1/4 Tea Nutmeg – grated (optional)

1/4 C Cheese – grated (I used Parmesan)
1/8 C Breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 500 degrees while heating up a large skillet. When the skillet is hot enough, add 1 Tbsp of oil to warm up. Add the garlic to the pan (I drop the cloves in and heat them up for about a minute or so to flavour the oil, then I discard them), and after a minute I add the chopped onion. Cook the onion until they are translucent and smell fragrant.

Add the meat to the pan and start to break it up into small grinds while tilling it over in the pan for about 5 minutes. Wash and dry the zucchini at this point and start slicing it up lengthwise into one quarter inch pieces. The idea is to have them cover the whole bottom of the baking dish in the assembly stage of this casserole.

When the meat is browned all over, add the tomato puree and white wine. Stir to incorporate it all with the meat before adding the seasonings. Cook another two minutes and remove from the heat, discard the bay leaf, and let it rest while broiling the zucchini slices.

Wide Zuke StripsPlace the slices on a lined baking sheet and broil each side of the slices about 3-5 minutes. Set them aside once wilted and browned enough to cook a bit while bringing the oven down to 350 degrees.Bechamel SauceIn a small sauce pan, heat up the milk and butter to start the Bechamel sauce. Once the butter is melted completely, add the flour and seasonings and stir constantly until it comes together in a thick white sauce. Remove from the heat immediately at this point to rest a minute or two while assembling the layers casserole like so:

Layer 1: Zucchini slices
Layer 2: Roasted Red peppers
Layer 3: Meat mixture
Layer 4: Bechamel sauce
Layer 5: Breadcrumbs
Layer 6: Parmesan cheese – ground or very fine grate

Bottom Two Layers Meat Sauce Middle Layer Bechamel Middle Layer Top Two LayersMoussaka-3aOnce assembled, bake for 30 minutes uncovered. Let it rest 5 minutes before serving with a lovely side salad and small hunks of bread with some heated up oil on the side. Or let it cool down as much as it will in a holding time of no more than 30 minutes before storing it the freezer for the future.

Finito[ This two container batch is for my MIL who is 87, a diabetic, never eaten Greek food in her life, and is suspicious of anything she’s never heard of before hence labelling them as Greek lasagnas. It’s a close cousin of Italian lasagna, but without the pasta layers. ]

Note: I often grind meat in my food processor or Magic Bullet if I have a great piece of meat already on hand at home to use up, or I cannot find any good already ground meat I’m after at the grocery store. I cut the meat of choice up into 1 inch cubes, and I process them in a few small batches.grindingmeat