Tuesday, October 30

A Drink for All Hallows' Eve

Halloween . . . though I can't say it's one of my favourite holidays, I do love a day to revel in all that is eerie, taboo, and darkly ethereal.  However, after the costumes - scented of candle wax and burnt pumpkin - are hung in the closet, my doorbell is quiet and there are but a few lonely pieces of candy left at the bottom of the bowl; after my children are tucked safely in their beds, sinking sleepily into mysterious dreams, and the ghosts and ghouls which haunted our evening begin to retreat to the darkest corners of our house - this is when I love to light some candles, curl up on the couch under a warm blanket, and descend into the macabre stories of Edgar Allan Poe.  May I recommend The Murders in the Rue Morgue, it's one of his most gruesome and chilling murder mysteries. 

To top the night off, I love a steaming mug of this Apple Cider Spiced Tea (with a shot of rum for good measure).  It's the perfect All Hallows' Eve nightcap: warm, festive, and simple enough to carry you through the coming Holiday season.  Wishing you a very spooky Halloween!

All Souls' Night, 1917
by Hortense King Flexner
You heap the logs and try to fill
The little room with words and cheer,
But silent feet are on the hill,
Across the window veiled eyes peer.
The hosts of lovers, young in death,
Go seeking down the world to-night,
Remembering faces, warmth and breath-
And they shall seek till it is light.
Then let the white-flaked logs burn low,
Lest those who drift before the storm
See gladness on our hearth and know
There is no flame can make them warm.

Apple Cider Spiced Tea

10 oz plain apple cider
1 tea bag of Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice® tea *
a shot of spiced Rum or Calvados, to taste

Simply heat the cider with the tea bag and steep 5 minutes. Add the rum and enjoy. Makes one serving.

* kitchen note: Bengal Spice® tea is an exotic blend of cinnamon, chicory, carob, vanilla, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, cloves and nutmeg. If it is not available where you live, look for a spicy herbal tea with similar flavours. The chicory root add a certain magical quality which isn't found in traditional spiced cider.




Friday, October 26

Banana Spice Muffins

My family goes through phases where they either really like bananas, and devour an entire bunch in a single weekend, or they want nothing to do with them whatsoever.  So I never know, on any given shopping trip, whether the bananas I bring home will be gobbled up or sit on the counter to turn brown and mushy.  That's why I have an array of banana recipes in my collection which can be whipped up quickly in the morning for breakfast, or in early afternoon for my kids' goûter when they return from school.

I love this Banana Brown Bread for its rich, deep, molasses-y taste and hearty texture.  If, perhaps, you're looking for a gluten-free treat, these Banana Oatmeal Muffins just might fit the bill.  They are moist and very filling; perfect for a cold autumn morning like this one . . .

Today I was in the mood for something a little different.  I was craving something spicy and complex.  Something that evoked all the tastes of fall; of damp leaves and wood smoke and cinnamon.  Something to warm my kitchen against the webs of snow which gathered on my window panes overnight; to fill my home with the heady, intoxicating aromas of autumn.  A warm spice muffin with a salty-sweet streusel topping was just what I needed today.

Since my kids both fell victim to strep throat last week, our latest bunch of bananas went untouched, in favour of something a little more soothing.  So I folded two of the most ripe into the muffin batter.  After all, bananas, nutmeg, allspice, and vanilla grow together naturally.  Doesn't it make sense that the combination should be delicious, naturally, as well?  It certainly is!

Monday, October 22

Crimini Risotto

Now that the weather is cooler, the days are shorter, and the sun slants into my kitchen at such a sharp angle that I'm sure autumn has finally arrived, I'm beginning to crave the hearty, earthiness of mushrooms.

My family loves sautéed mushrooms, and frequently there's a competition between my children as to who can eat the most (Eve wins!).  Last week I came across some particularly beautiful Criminis, which deserved their place in the spotlight.  I took our favourite recipe for mushrooms, simmered with thyme and garlic in white wine, and folded it into a creamy risotto.  Do I have to tell you that we were one happy family that evening? 

By now you know how much I enjoy making risotto.  Do you remember this Roasted Beet and Chicken Sausage Risotto which I shared this spring?  Never has there been a cooking technique that is more relaxing or comforting than stirring a pot of risotto.  When I'm stressed, this is the dish I go to.  Dare I even say that I sometimes make risotto solely for the purpose of calming my frayed nerves.  The repetition of stirring the smooth, creamy rice around and around is a sure way of relieving tension.  Enjoying it with dinner is a happy consequence.

I make an endless variety of risottos, each one slightly different and unique.  Risotto is an infinitely versatile dish and can hold its own as a side to a hearty roast, or can be the star of your table.  The only necessary ingredients are good quality arborio rice, stock, a cup of wine (half for the pot and half for you), and some good background music - the rest is up to you.  I frequently pair mine with organic sausage links, as sausage is easy to prepare with little supervision or effort.  It can be left on the back burner to simmer and brown while you relax with your glass of wine to the methodical rhythm of your spoon against the bottom of the pot. 

I'll be honest with you.  This Crimini Risotto does take a little more busy work than some of my other risottos.  In fact, I used every burner on my stove to prepare this dish, though the two back burners were used only to keep the sausage and broth warm.  Don't worry, it's not as difficult as it sounds.  Especially if you've prepped your ingredients beforehand.  Chicken stock will work fine in this recipe; however, if you can get your hands on some organic mushroom broth it raises the risotto to the next level.  Mushroom lovers everywhere rejoice!  This is the risotto for you.

Tuesday, October 16

Leadville or Bust

I was talking to a friend the other day and we were lamenting the fact that we don't travel nearly as often as we'd like.  She said, "I guess this is just our season for exploring Colorado."  I think she's right.  Luckily there is a lot of Colorado to explore.  The mountains are just minutes away, Denver is an hour, and nearly each bordering state is only a three hour drive.  We live in the heart of ski country, and though I'm not a skier, I love to visit the resort towns during the summer months when the crowds are light and the prices are reasonable.  The condos are luxurious, there are hidden five-star restaurants tucked into the shadows of the mountains, and an abundance of high quality, gourmet food markets can easily be found.  Wi-fi and cell phone service is available and reliable.  Yet at night, when every star in the sky is shining down on you and the ancient lodgepole pines rise to meet them, when the coyotes and wolves howl in the not-so-distant forest, you feel like you've finally escaped the frenzy of this crazy world.  It's a magical place high in the mountains in the middle of the night.

There is, however, one other reason why I love to visit ski towns in the summer.  One that I often keep to myself, hidden deep inside - a calm reassurance for when the nights are long and I'm up with worry.  One that only a parent of a severely allergic child can appreciate.  Ski resorts have hospitals.  In a place where there are so many injuries, how can they not?  It's an incredible sanity-saver to know that there is a hospital just a few miles away if our worst enemy, anaphylaxis, should come rearing its angry head.  For that reason alone I choose to visit ski resorts when we need to get away from it all.

Another mother told me that when she travels with her severely allergic son, she plans her route by the location of the hospitals along the way.  Isn't this just the incredible length that we all, as parents, will go to keep our little ones safe?

Leadville, Colorado - once a rowdy mining town, rich in silver and poor in morals, a strike-it-rich-or-die-trying kind of place - is now a sleepy little mountain village cradled at 10,200 feet between the two highest mountain peaks in Colorado.  A place I hadn't been in years but, as trains seem to be the obsession of all six year old boys, mine included, I was dying to take my son on the Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad which travels along the continental divide.  Being just 9 miles from the nearest ski resort there are plenty of mountain cabins and condos for rent in Leadville.  I looked for one with a fully equipped kitchen, and planned to prepare all our meals there rather than eating out.  I was excited to discover Grand West Village Resort, which far exceed my expectations both for a simple ski cabin and for a fully equipped kitchen.  It made for the most relaxing trip we've taken in a long time.  It's so refreshing to not have to worry about every meal eaten at a restaurant.

We prepared the majority of our food at home, froze it, and brought with us a large slow cooker.  The garden this year was plentiful in green beans and zucchini which we incorporated into every meal. The menu looked something like this:

Day 1
Dinner: Rotisserie Chicken, nut-free French bread, and Cinnamon Green Beans.

Day 2
Breakfast: Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread (baked at home and warmed in the oven) with eggs and bacon.
Lunch: Caramelized Onion Tartines
Dinner: Savory Beef Stew with root vegetables and left over Cinnamon Beans in the crock pot.

Day 3
Breakfast: Pain Perdue with cinnamon and vanilla made with the leftover French bread.
Lunch picnic: Sandwiches, chips, and fresh fruit
Dinner: Chicken Noodle Soup, made with the leftover rotisserie chicken and Cinnamon Beans, also in the crock pot.

Day 4
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with the last of the toasted zucchini bread.
Lunch: out at a safe restaurant

I know it seems like a lot of work, but with just a little forethought it's absolutely possible to have a wonderful, relaxing vacation with your food allergic children.  And it's worth every bit of work to see their eyes light up as they take in this marvelous world.   If you'd like to know more about how I travel with my children's food allregies, here is a guest post I wrote for Food Farm Health.

Since I've already shared my grandmother's Cinnamon Beans recipe, I'll leave you with the recipe for my Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread.  It is so moist and delicately spiced, no one will ever know that it's whole wheat.  Good straight from the oven, and even better toasted the next day.  This is one of my favourite travel recipes.

Friday, October 12

Cinnamon Beans

Fresh green beans simmered in chicken stock until perfectly soft and tender, spiced with Saigon cinnamon and finished with a blanket of tomato . . . it sounds strange, but really it is such a satisfying combination.  The warmth of the cinnamon and the rich, creaminess (yes, creaminess) of the tomato paste compliment the green beans perfectly. 

This is another recipe I inherited when I received my grandmother's recipe box after she passed away.  We had these often growing up; they were our traditional Thanksgiving green bean dish.  I've had variations of it throughout the years, but when I found this recipe, and made it the way she instructs, I was overwhelmed by memories.

This is a dish we prepared on our latest trip.  I was planning on telling you about it in that post but due to the oven fire and zucchini pandemonium which I told you about on Facebook, that post won't be out for a few more days.   You, however, shouldn't have to wait to try these amazing beans.  Especially since good green beans are in season now and are so plentiful.  If you're freezing your beans, this works just as well with them, too, in the cold, dead of winter.

Cinnamon Beans

1/4 cup diced onions
1 tsp Saigon Cinnamon
1 Tbsp butter
1 lb green beans, trimmed and cut
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 Tbsp tomato paste
 salt and pepper to taste

In a large sauce pan with a tight fitting lid, cook the onions with the cinnamon in the butter until soft but not brown.  Add the beans, chicken stock, and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Cover tightly and simmer for 20 - 25 minutes or until the beans are perfectly tender.  Gently stir in the tomato paste and cook 3 - 4 minutes longer.  Serve hot.

Friday, October 5

Enchiladas Montadas

Enchiladas are one of those nostalgic dishes that always unleash a flood of memories.  An icon of my childhood - the tang and bite of the red sauce; the soft, slightly sweet blanket of corn tortillas, so supple they melt on your tongue; the creamy, rich fried egg which saturates everything in golden opulence the moment you slice into it.  They were something I'd request on every birthday growing up.  My mother would prepare them the old fashioned way - by lightly frying each tortilla in hot lard before gently filling it with tender, slowly simmered meat and a peppery red chili sauce.  She'd roll each one individually and secure it with a wooden pick, then line them neatly in a baking dish before enveloping them all in another layer of tangy sauce.  It was topped with a dense crown of grated cheddar or Monterrey Jack, and baked until everything was bubbly, crisp, and delectable.  While the enchiladas baked, she would cut the remaining tortillas in wedges and fry them until crispy in the remaining lard.  Then she'd drain the oil and fry the eggs in the hot pan.  There was always a pot of re-fried beans heating slowly on the back burner.  And calabacitas with extra garlic in the oven.

I've simplified things a bit (this is my go to enchilada recipe for busy week nights), and I've lightened them up while still retaining the authenticity of the dish.  I use ground bison in place of beef, which may be a little more authentic considering the animals native to this part of the world.  Bison is fairly easy to find here, and I prefer it to beef.  It is always grass-fed, adapted to the land and climate where it's raised (making it more sustainable than beef), and it has a deep, gamy flavour which stands up well to the heat of the red sauce in the enchiladas.  If you can only get ground beef or pork, however, these work just as well.  Instead of frying each tortilla separately, I layer and stack them in the baking dish like lasagna.  The sauce can be made well in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up the 3 days - just be aware that if you use coconut oil, it will solidify.  Heat it slightly to soften and add a little water if it seems to tight.

Traditional Enchiladas Montadas are the stacked enchiladas of New Mexico.  The tortillas are layered with meat, cheese, and sauce and stacked one on top of the other on a plate.  The tower is then topped or mounted (montada) with a fried egg, which is how these enchiladas earned their unusual name.  The egg is optional, but in my opinion, enchiladas are not enchiladas without it.