Downside of Aging

This time last year (give or take six weeks), I turned the big 5-0. So far it’s been great. I feel better and better each year I grow into my skin, but one thing that changed that I really want to find a way to change back is the ability to wear earrings.

In a former life, I made jewellery. I still own a lot of the custom pieces I couldn’t bear to sell in my personal collection, but in the last few years, I have noticed I can’t wear earrings anymore. It’s too painful – no matter what metal the hook or stud is made with. I can get the earrings in, but immediately the searing pain starts. The longest I have been able to keep earrings in has been an hour, and that’s after a week of working my ear lobes up to that amount of time.

*whimpering*

I really want to wear earrings again. I’m not sure if I need to pay someone to pierce my ear lobes in the same place the holes are located now, or give up forever. In the end, I have a feeling I might have to bite the bullet and convert all of my earrings over to clip-ons like a blue hair granny.

*more whimpering*

Jalapeno Boats

I love making these little boats as part of our ‘Pub Night’ meal, or as a starter to a longer cooked meal. Easy to make, easy to fill, easy to bake.

Jalapeno Boats:
6 Jalapenos, washed, stem end cut off, halved, and hallowed out
1 Bacon Strip, cooked, tiny dice
4 Tbsp Cream Cheese, tiny dice
1/4 Cheese Shred of choice
S&P

Wear gloves when working with the jalapenos, and I tend to wash my hands three times after I take the gloves off. Add everything but the jalapenos to a small bowl. Squish it all together with one gloved hand, making sure everything gets evenly smushed together. This is your filling.

Take a half jalapeno at a time and using the back of a spoon, add a bit of the filling to each cavity at a time. Using the hand holding the jalapeno being filled, start molding the filling to the cavity so it stops trying to fall out. I tend to make each filling flush with the tops until I get to the end of the jalapenos I need to fill. If there’s extra left over – depending upon how much is left – I may store the rest in the fridge for more jalapeno boats the next day or simply plump up the ones in front of me.

1/4 C Breadcrumbs (optional: with seasonings and grated parm cheese)

Dip each jalapeno boat into a small bowl filled with the breadcrumbs. Gently push down so the breadcrumbs stick into the filling.

Place each finished boats onto a baking tray and pop into a pre-heated oven set to 400 degrees. Bake for 20 mins. Let them rest on the tray on top of the counter for another 10 mins. Serve hot, but not blazing hot straight from the oven.

Note: If you’re like me, lactose intolerant, good news. Walmart sells their own lactose free cream cheese now, and it totally works in these jalapeno boats. And the price is on par with regular cream cheese, which, btw, is almost unheard of for a specialty product!

Eggnog Talk

Eggnog is so controversial. Like cilantro, I find people either love it or they hate it. Unlike cilantro, I don’t believe there is any science to back up why that would be. My husband hates cilantro – it’s tastes like sand or dish soap in his mouth. Science backs up the theory that we are all predisposed to either like or dislike cilantro; no grey area in between. And that’s coded into our DNA. Fact.

But, when I bring up eggnog, I get a lot of the same reactions: “EWW!”, or, “Gross. I can’t deal with the raw egg situation.” Ok, clearly some of you have issues. (snort)

For the rest of us who are onboard with this custard concoction, have you ever tried making it at home? No? Why not?? Sure, it’s got a shorter shelf life than commercially produced batches, but find me one eggnog fan who won’t blow through a slim 1L carton in less than 48 hours. Go ahead. I’m wait.

This Chowhound Eggnog recipe produces roughly the same 1L volume. I love that I can potentially make a batch of this eggnog the night before and wake up to a bit of it in my morning coffee in less than 12 hours later.

(EGGNOG ALL YEAR LONG, KIDS.)

Give it a go.

Halloween Candy Redo

So, we don’t normally get kids at our door on Hallow’s eve – and therefore haven’t bought candy for the occasion in a few years – but one of our condo neighbours felt strongly that we would this year (not too sure why she felt that way, but she bought loads of candy she was that certain). I bought some when it was on sale the day before; just in case.

Fast forward to the night of, and oh mah gerd!, the weather was wet and nuts, so no kids. Again. (le sigh)

I really didn’t want the box of candy bars to be consumed one after another in from of the tv like years past, so I turned the best of the bars into a lovely ice cream I’m calling Candy Surprise.

The base was made using the Alton Brown recipe, and to that right before I poured it in the ice cream machine, I whisked in two heaping tablespoons of Coffee Crisp hot chocolate powder. As the machine ran the first 15 minutes of the cycle, I cut up the fun size chocolate bars (Snickers, Mars, and one other I’m blanking on) into tiny bite size chunks.

I added half of those bite size cuts to the batch in the last full minute. (I didn’t want it all to sink to the bottom of the ice cream.) I also held some back to scatter in as layers (bottom, middle and top) to compliment what the batch froze in place. I find this produces a much more satisfying inclusions distribution.

The husband loves this batch despite not being a fan of coffee (and yet still a lover of Coffee Crisps? Uh, ok.) But really, if it’s 1000% sugary and over the top, he will love it regardless of what I make. Sort of. He refuses to try my Basil ice cream, and I’m A-ok with that. All the more for me! 😀

PLS Linky Love For Sabrina

The best part of Fall, for me, is PSLs (Pumpkin Spice Lattes). I really love them. Call me a basic bish all you want; it’s a badge I wear with care. I don’t go crazy and burn PSL candles or anything, but you will find me constantly thinking about a lovely PSL, pumpkin spice infused teas, pumpkin glazed scones, and even baking pumpkin pie tortes around this time of the year.

It’s a huge distraction for me. 😀

For most of those things, I make my own syrup. This PSL syrup.

Enjoy!

Chicken Penne Fra Diavolo

Fra diavolo is loosely translated as “brother devil,” or devilish brother pasta, and it’s not a traditional Italy manner of serving pasta dishes. It’s something American-Italians made up from what I gather.

( picture placeholder )

All skillet pasta dishes like this one are very easy to assemble and plate using pre-grilled chicken, pre-made sauce, pre-cooked pasta from the fridge *, and prepped veg.

But, if you don’t have time to prep the night before, or the morning of, you can still make this dish on the fly when you get home in under an hour (assuming you’re giving the chicken 30 mins on the counter to come up to temp for more even cooking).

Boil the pasta water while the oven heats up, and start slicing up the vegetables. Roast the pillared or butterflied chicken in the middle of a sheet pan surrounded by vegetables coated in oil and red pepper flakes (this deepens the heat of the flakes and spices up the veg) at 400 degrees for 10-12 mins. Salt the boiling water well, and drop the pasta in. In a small sauce pot, heat up the sauce or med-high heat.

Flip the chicken at the halfway point of roasting. Heat up a big skillet and get it hot enough to add oil to it. Cook the pasta to almost al dente. The pasta finishes it cook in a sauce pan with the veg + sauce over a high heat. Pull the sheet pan out when the chicken reads 165 degrees with a thermometer.

Let the chicken rest off the sheet pan up to ten minutes before slicing. When the sauce and pasta are finished, add 2 tbsp of oil to the heated skillet and add the roasted veg to soften a bit more, followed by the pasta for a minute or two. Add some pasta sauce, and heat the whole dish through. Add a bit of the pasta water to thicken up the sauce in the last minute of cooking.

Plate the pasta into a bowl plate and top with slices of the chicken, some chopped green onions, and a smattering of a grated parm. If too many red pepper flakes were used, use pinch of toasted breadcrumbs can be snowcap the pasta to sop up a bit of the stinging.

Chicken Penne Fra Diavolo:
2C dry Penne noodles
6C heavily Salted boiling water
2 large seasoned Chicken Breasts, butterflied or pillard
1 1/2C Pasta Sauce of choice (I use a jar sauce when pressed for time)
4C large cuts of Red & Orange Peppers + Broccoli florets
Neutral Oil
A pinch Red Pepper Flakes (to taste)
1 -2 Green Onions (finely chop stems only)

This will make enough to serve 4 hungry people comfortably.

Topping Ideas: Can be fresh cracked black pepper (a smidge – you will already have spicy veg and flakes in the dish) and fresh shavings of parmesan or any other cheese of your choosing, and a small sprinkling of breadcrumbs to compliment the sting of the red pepper flakes.

* Often I will cook a pot of pasta the night before as I cook another meal that night, and lay the noodles out across a plate or a sheet pan in a thin layer to rapid cool it all down before storing it in an airtight container in the fridge. That pasta will get dropped in a pot of slightly salted boiling water for up to a minute to heat through before transferring it to another cooking vessel like a skillet or a casserole dish. It really does speed meals up.

Bowtie Ballsagna

Bowtie Ballsagna:

( Placeholder for new picture )

2-3 C bowtie noodles
2-3 C fresh spinach
3 C homemade pasta sauce + 12oz of tomato puree
24-36 mini meatballs
6-8 fresh Thai basil leaves
2 C ricotta cheese with S&P to taste
2 C grated mozzarella and parmesan cheeses
2 C toasted breadcrumbs (optional)

Layering from the bottom up:
Thin coating of pasta sauce (no meatballs)
Cooked bowtie pasta noodles
Pasta sauce with meatballs
Wilted spinach (in a thin covering)
Ricotta cheese
Cooked bowtie pasta noodles
Pasta sauce with meatballs
Wilted spinach (in a thin covering)
Ricotta cheese
Pasta sauce (no meatballs)
Mix of grated parmesan and mozzarella cheeses
Breadcrumbs (toasted, and optional)

Start by cooking your bowtie noodles in water that’s been generously salted. In a large non-stick pan, start wilting down the spinach with a small pinch of salt and a teaspoon of oil (your choice); set aside to cool when it’s all cooked down.

As you cook the pasta and wilt the spinach, reheat your prepared or jarred pasta sauce in a deep sauce pot. To this, add your freshly cooked (if you had time to make any, of course) or frozen meatballs, the tomato puree, some freshly picked and cleaned Thai hot basil (if using dry leaves, half the called for amount; whole or chiffonade) and freshly cracked black pepper. Let that cook long enough to heat the meatballs all the way through.

Note: If you don’t have fresh or dried out Thai hot basil leaves, fresh sweet basil will be fine in the sauce. We like a bit of zing in our lasagna sauce, so that’s why I grow Thai hot basil in my garden.

Scoop out a bit of the pasta sauce to spread all over the bottom of your lasagna pan thinly. Scoop out a few more spoonfuls of the pasta sauce and set aside (this is for the topping). When your pasta is done cooking, drain it well. Layer more or less than half of the cooked pasta over the sauce in the lasagna dish. (Only use enough to cover the sauce, otherwise this lasagna will become very bulky.) Over the pasta, place a generous amount of sauce with half of the meatballs to cover the pasta noodles, but not much more.

Over the sauce and meatballs layer, lay half of your wilted spinach all over and top that with a few blobs of ricotta cheese; (I use a medium size offset spatula to) spread the ricotta over the spinach in an almost opaque layer. Top the ricotta with the second half of your pasta noodles and top them with the last of the sauce and meatballs. Top those with the last of the wilted spinach, and then top the spinach with the last few blobs of ricotta spread out and the reserved pasta sauce before finishing the lasagna with your two grated cheeses (and toasted breadcrumbs if you like).

Auntie Stacey’s Gingerbread-Espresso Snowflakes

Ginger-Espresso Christmas Cookies

Ginger-Espresso Snowflakes

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. This flavour addition lends a lovely sophisticated update on the old, somewhat tired gingerbread theme.

The other changes I made were shape (mine are gingerbread snowflakes, not gingerbread men) and icing colour (I used blue icing for a smashing pop of colour against the dark cookie base). I love this look.

Picture courtesy of Glorious Treat's blog - gingerbread cookies

Inspirational 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 Snowflakes:
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 1 to 3 months in advance of your Christmas bake-a-thon. Wrap the dough up as a disk in plastic film, and then again in tin foil, before storing it in the freezer. 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 when you’re ready to get your Christmas bake on.