Friday, December 19, 2014

Festive Homemade Liqueur Recipes

Homemade liqueurs can be as delicious as commercial brands! A snap to prepare and less expensive than liquor store offerings. This season bring along your own ‘house’ liqueur as a gift when you visit friends. To make your gift special, use antique or reproduction bottles to present your creations. 
When vodka is called for; of the various vodka brands, I have found that the really cheap varieties have a distinctly bitter and unpleasant taste, which becomes part of the liqueur. Smirnoff has proven to be a consistently good trade-off point between price and quality.
The following two recipes are cream based liqueurs. They have a short storage life of up to a week and must be stored in the fridge.
Please drink responsibly, do not drink and drive!
Season's Greetings, till next year ...Bon Appetit!

Irish Cream Liqueur ~ Yield: approx. 1 litre
This retro recipe takes me back to the 1970’s! It is an inexpensive way to enjoy the great taste of Irish Cream Liqueur. Store refrigerated for up to one week.
1 can (300 ml) sweetened condensed milk
1-1½ cups Irish whiskey
1 cup table cream
3 eggs
1 Tbsp. chocolate syrup
½ tsp. coconut extract, optional
Place all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Keep refrigerated and shake before pouring. Store refrigerated for up to one week. 

Chocolate Mint Liqueur ~ Yield: approx. 1 litre
Chocolate and mint are a classic combination in this creamy, smooth liqueur. Store refrigerated for up to one week.
1 can (300 ml) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup homo milk
½ cup Crème de Cocoa
½ cup Crème de Menthe
½ cup 80 proof vodka
¼ cup chocolate syrup
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 tsp. pure peppermint flavoring
Place all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Keep refrigerated and shake before pouring. Store refrigerated for up to one week.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Recipes by Sally Rae ~ from 'Festive Homemade Liqueurs' ~ The Flagstone, October 2009
Photo ~ Christmas Poodles by Sally Rae

Friday, December 12, 2014

Gifts From Your Kitchen

Finish up your Christmas shopping without leaving home! Homemade condiments, jams, baking etc. are always welcome gifts. Especially to those friends or relatives who do not make such things for themselves. If you have a few goodies assembled and packaged, you are never at a loss for a suitable gift for those hard-to-please friends, stocking stuffers, as a hostess gift, or as parting gifts for your guests.
Use interesting or antique bottles and decanters, fancy tins and festive cellophane to package your creations. For a larger gift, assemble a gift basket. Choose a theme; gourmet feast, coffee and biscotti, teatime, breakfast jam basket... the possibilities are endless.
My cookbook, 'For the Love of Food' is a gift in itself and features many of my favorite recipes suitable for giving. In years past, I would bake an assortment of 12 'fancy' cookies and squares. Festive boxes and cupcake papers can be found at Dollar Stores and used to create a beautiful box of assorted goodies. This year I have prepared and packaged; 'Sugar n' Spice Nut Mix', 'Caramel Nut Popcorn', 'Fruit and Nut Bark' and 'Chocolate Truffles' for those with a sweet tooth. And for those who prefer savory; 'Pickled Eggs' (with quail eggs), 'Aunt Stella's Pickles In-a-Pail' and 'Mini Dill Pickles with Garlic'. (These three gifts must be kept refrigerated.)
Mini Dills, Aunt Stella's Pickles, Pickled Quail Eggs

Package and label your gifts in decorative jars with festive fabric or ribbon tied on the lid. For sweet gifts use fancy jars, food safe cello bags or wrap in cellophane tied with a ribbon for the perfect gift or stocking stuffer. These delectable treats from your kitchen are easy and enjoyable to make.
Avoid the commercial madness of the season, go back to the days of handmade gifts that show you care. Friends and family of all ages will appreciate your delicious treats... made with love. 

Until next time... Happy Holidays and Bon Appétit!

Photos by Sally Rae ~ Gifts from Sally's Kitchen 2014
*All recipes from 'For the Love of Food'

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Menu Planning

There are two weeks left to plan, shop and prepare for Christmas meals and entertaining ...time to start Menu Planning. 
We will have out of town guests this year, so I am planning meals for the duration of their stay. A menu will be made for each evening meal and ingredients on hand to prepare an assortment of options for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Be sure to check with your guests in advance for any special dietary requirements or restrictions. All menus should be planned with consideration to the equipment you have available and its capacity. Especially the evening meals that usually consist of more components. For example; when a turkey is in the oven, plan to use other cooking methods for side dishes and dessert rather than the oven that may already be to capacity.

In a commercial kitchen, the menu acts as a production sheet which helps organize shopping and advanced preparation days. Once the menu is made, the lists for shopping and prep for each dish are assembled. Prep usually starts two to three days before a party or big dinner. Defrost items one or two days before, depending on when you will be using them. Please be aware, the only safe way to defrost a frozen turkey is in the fridge. Leave it in its original wrapper and place in a pan or tray deep enough to collect any juices that may leak out. Place it in the bottom of the fridge so any leakage will not contaminate anything below. Allow 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of frozen turkey. A 24 pound turkey will take up to 6 days, so plan ahead! 
Vegetables can be trimmed, washed and cut a day or two prior to serving. Most cold sauces, marinades or dressings can be prepared two days in advance and kept in the fridge. Make notes of required cooking times (or times to start cooking each item) on the final dinner assembly list. This will assure all components of the meal are hot and ready at the same time. With the distraction of guests, possibly a glass of wine and cooking, it is much easier to look at your 'cook time check list' than trying to keep it all in your head. Several timers; digital, wind up or on the stove, are also an easy way to keep your cooking on track.

Breakfast menu options can include juices, fresh fruit, hot or cold cereals, egg dishes, muffins or loaf slices, pancakes, toast, yogurt, smoothies, coffee, tea etc. It does not have to be complicated or fancy. Inquire the evening before what your guests preferences are, and prep the night before to save time in the morning. For example; assemble the dry ingredients for pancake batter, defrost muffins or loaf slices that were baked in advance and frozen, set the table. A 'breakfast  strata' (or casserole) is a great way to save time in the morning. It is prepared the night before, kept in the fridge overnight and baked fresh in the morning.

For lunch, different breads and fillings make fast and easy sandwich options. This is where a freezer full of single serving, assorted soups comes into play (see my November 23, 2014 post -'Soup's On'); it is a matter of defrost, heat and serve! Hummus, guacamole and other dips can be made a day or two in advance and work well for lunch or snacks; serve with crudites, tortilla chips, crackers or bread.

Snacks kept on hand can be fresh fruit, nuts, popcorn, cheese, assorted crackers, muffins or loaf slices from breakfast. Again, it will depend on your guests and if they have any dietary restrictions or preferences.
Dinner for Four

A well organized menu along with shopping and prep lists are the key to efficient, on time and smooth entertaining. 

Till next week... Bon Appetit!

Photo by Sally Rae ~ Arts Denman Studio Tour 2010

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Quail Eggs... Unbelievably Adorable!

My affection for miniature cuisine began early in my
8 dozen Quail Eggs
culinary career. While in my first year of Culinary School, the 'Garde Manger' training supplied me with many tiny tools of the trade. I loved the decorative elements of buffet presentation and still enjoy the detail and art of food presentation and garnishing. It is referred to as ‘Culinary Art’ for a reason and a favorite saying of mine is, “We eat with our eyes first!”
A special darling in the miniature foods category is the quail egg. They are much smaller than a chicken egg, about one quarter of the size. They are usually speckled shades of ivory to deep brown in color; this combined with their miniature size makes them unbelievably adorable!

3 Chicken Eggs ~ 24 Quail Eggs  
The shell of quail eggs is much softer than hen eggs, so you have to be especially careful when handling and storing them. Check the expiration date and be sure you will be able to consume all the eggs before that date. Store the eggs in their original carton, with the rounded ends up. To keep them safe from bacteria, they need to be stored in the fridge, and are best on the top shelf. This will ensure that they get plenty of ventilation and an abundance of cool air around them. If you cannot store them on the top shelf, keep them as high off the bottom as you can. Keep the carton closed to minimize exposure to strong odors. Store the eggs for a week if they are needed for boiling because week old eggs will peel easier than fresh laid ones. Take the eggs out of the fridge ahead of time (to warm up to room temperature) for boiling. Cold eggs will crack when dropped into boiling water.

They taste pretty similar to chicken egg but they have a higher yolk to white ratio, which is a bonus for us yolk-lovers. They cook in a very short time and make an elegant addition to a salad, soup, hors d’oeuvres or canapés.

To cook a perfect soft-boiled quail egg, time them for 2-1/2 minutes to produce a set white and thick yet runny yolk. After 4-5 minutes the egg will be hard boiled with a completely set yolk. These miniature hard-boiled eggs are a fun, make-ahead, one-bite cocktail party appetizer or snack. They can be fried but keep in mind the quick cooking time. If you want to make your quail eggs sunny side up, turn the heat off immediately after pouring the egg into the fry pan. Do not cook any longer than 3 minutes or they will be overdone. Softly poached quail eggs are delicious with salads or in soup on special occasions when you’d like to serve up something ‘out of the ordinary’ for your dinner guests. Poaching quail eggs is quite easy and can be left right until the last minute to cook, as eggs cool quickly and if served on a salad they should be served warm. Do not overcook; they should be soft inside. For poaching use only the freshest eggs possible.

You can find quail eggs at Superstore in the egg refrigerator.
Till next week... Bon Appetit!

photos by Sally Rae

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Soup's On!

Jamboree Pumpkins, Butternut, Buttercup and Amber Cup Squash
As winter winds blow and our West Coast ‘monsoons’ arrive, my stockpot is put into overdrive! There is nothing more satisfying than a bowl of hearty, homemade soup with thick slices of homemade bread to banish winter’s chill. Even if you live alone, you can make a big pot of soup and freeze it for future use. My freezer is always stocked with a variety of soup in single serving containers, ready for a quick meal or unexpected guests.

Stock should be used as a base, as there is no flavor in water. When a recipe calls for liquid, try to use the one that has a flavor that will enhance the end product. Desirable qualities of a stock are; clear, mild in flavor with a definite flavor of the meat and bones from which it was derived, free of excess grease and free from floating food particles. Soups are only as good as the stock used to prepare them and the stock will only be as good as the ingredients used. Fresh is the key. Avoid coarse outer leaves and ‘old’ vegetables that will detract from the stock’s final flavor and color. Remember not to over-spice stocks at the beginning. As stocks simmer they reduce in volume and increase in flavor. Don’t worry about making ‘too much’ stock. Use what is needed, then package, label, date and freeze the leftover immediately in various sized containers (I find 2 cup yogurt containers work well), freeze for up to 3 months. A freezer full of stock is as comforting as a security blanket for me.

Soup can be so versatile: served as a starter, lunch, evening meal or even dessert... thick, thin, hot or cold! Hearty, filling and an economical source of nourishment, they are easy to make and pure pleasure for the palate and soul.
Till next week... Bon Appetit! 

Apple and Jamboree Pumpkin Soup

Apple and Butternut Squash Soup ~ Yield: 8-10 servings
What a perfect winter combination! Any of the pumpkin or squash pictured above can be substituted for the butternut squash in this recipe. This soup can be made in advance or frozen without the cream.

2 Tbsp. butter
2 large onions, diced
2 Tbsp. curry powder
1/4 tsp. chili powder
5 cups flavorful chicken stock
1 large butternut squash, (7-8 cups), peeled, seeded and diced
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley

In a heavy skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, approximately 5 minutes. Add curry and chili powders, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for another 5 minutes. Add 3 cups chicken stock and bring to a boil. Transfer mixture to a large soup pot, add squash and apples, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, partially cover and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the squash is tender. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching. Strain soup and reserve liquid. Place pulp in a food processor or blender and purée. Return purée, reserved liquid, and remaining stock to a clean pot and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Whisk in cream, ladle the soup into warm bowls and garnish with chopped parsley.

Photos by Sally Rae
Recipe from 'For the Love of Food' by Sally Rae 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cakes for Kids

#4 - Horse
I have a lot of fun decorating cakes in the shape of numbers for kids' birthdays. I start by baking a cake (from scratch) that will produce a heavy, sturdy cake suitable to cut out, manipulate and decorate without crumbling. Madeira cakes are often used for this type of decorating but I prefer, (as does the recipient!) either a carrot cake or heavy chocolate cake. The #4 cake, is baked in an 11"x16" pan so the sides can be trimmed. This leaves a smooth edge that is easy to ice. The #6 and #9 cakes, are an 8-inch round cake plus a loaf cake. The #8 is two 8-inch round cakes, trimmed so they fit together in the center of the #8 with a flat edge. The cakes are leveled so the top is flat, not rounded.
#6 - Ballerina
If you need more servings, make 2 cakes for each section and layer them. The layer cakes are filled with icing and allowed to firm up in the fridge before moving to the next step.  
*Note: Cake mixes produce a crumbly, light cake that is not suitable for this type of work.

#8 - Race Track
Before cutting out the number, score the desired shape into the top of the cake with a paring knife. This means if there is an error, it can be corrected and not ruin the cake. I use a ruler so the width on each section of the number is consistent at about 3-inches wide. If it is difficult to see the scoring of the paring knife, use a decorator bag with icing tip and outline the shape with icing. A round cookie cutter or the lip of a water glass can be used to mark the inside circles for the #6, #8 and #9. Adjust the number to look uniform before cutting out the get one chance!

#9 - Iditerod ~ Dog Mushing
To cut, use a sawing motion with a very sharp knife. Keep the knife at a 90 degree angle to the counter so the sides of the cake are straight. Gently remove the unwanted sections of cake and transfer the cake number carefully to a prepared 'cake board' for decorating, transportation and serving. Cake boards can be purchased or made with clean, heavy cardboard cut to the size you need, covered with tin foil then plastic wrap. A paper doily or colored tissue paper can be placed under the plastic wrap if desired.

Once on the cake board, 'crumb coat' the cake number. This means, ice all surfaces of the cake with a very thin layer of icing then refrigerate until the icing is firm. Now it is time to ice and decorate the number. Use your imagination, keeping in mind the theme of the birthday boy or girl. Dollar Stores or The Bulk Barn are great places to find fancy candles, figures, candy and other decorations. Strips of fruit rolls were used for the reins on the horse, candy mint leaves for trees and candy rocks for the Race Track. Craft popsicle sticks were used to build the Iditerod sled, with cheese cloth and butchers string for blankets and rope.
These special cakes take a bit of planning and time to create but it is worth the effort to see the faces on children and adults alike when presented with such a personal gift!
Bon Appetit, till next week...

'Number Cakes' and Photos by Sally Rae

Friday, November 7, 2014

Delectable Handmade Truffles

Raspberry & Irish Cream Truffles
My chocolate saga continues to the final stages of decorating and packaging. Each flavor of truffle is distinguished by a different garnish. As with any garnish, two basic rules apply; it should represent or identify the flavors of the dish (or in this case truffle) and be 100% edible. A piping bag with various sized decorator tips is used to drizzle or swirl a contrasting color of chocolate. Other options are to roll in cocoa or chopped nuts, wrap in colored foil, use crystallized edible flowers or mint leaf. If there are dried fruit or nuts inside, place a small piece on top for the garnish. I grow specific varieties of violas and mint on my deck to crystallize between April and June for the chocolates. For instructions of how to make 'Crystallized Edible Flowers', see page 105 of my cookbook, 'For the Love of Food'.
Garnished Truffles and Crystallized Ginger in paper Bon Bon cups
I carefully choose the dipping chocolate to enhance, not overpower flavors of the fillings. For example; the delicate flavor of Raspberry Liqueur is dipped in white chocolate then drizzled with dark. Milk chocolate is used to enhance the rich, smooth flavor of Bailey's Irish Cream and is then finished with a swirl of white chocolate. The bold flavors of Kahlua, Grand Marnier and Peppermint are dipped in dark chocolate. My 'Peppermint Leaf Patty' is adorned with a tiny crystallized mint leaf.
Once the truffles are dipped, decorated and firm enough to handle, they are each placed in a tiny paper Bon Bon cup. It is important to handle the finished chocolates with cotton gloves to prevent any damage from the warmth of your hand or fingerprints on the finished chocolates.  

Special Selection Truffles;
all recipes from 'For the Love of Food'
The 'Special Selection' of Handmade Belgian Truffles in the photo at left were prepared as a gift. All recipes for this chocolate selection can be found in my cookbook 'For the Love of Food'. I place a piece of wax paper between layers and on top of the chocolates in boxes and make a descriptive 'menu' of what garnish depicts each flavor. 
Boxes, bon bon cups and ribbon can be found at Dollar Stores and The Bulk Barn in Courtenay, or at Micheal's Craft Supplies, 6677 Mary Ellen Drive, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, BC.

Chocolate is temperamental to work with; moisture or heat over 104F. can render it unusable. For more detailed information of working with chocolate, see page 56 and 57 in my cookbook, 'For the Love of Food'. It takes time and experience to develop the skills, so if you are a beginner, be patient with yourself. I have been producing this line of handmade truffles for over 21 years, that adds up to over 25,000 individual chocolates. It is truly a labor of love. These handmade delicacies are very special gifts for very special people in your life. Till next week... Bon Appetit!

Handmade Belgian Truffles ~ Lovingly prepared and photographed by Sally Rae

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Spooktacular Halloween

Poodle and Howling Wolves ~ pumpkins carved by Sally Rae
Halloween night is full of amusement, friends, neighbors and most definitely fun. It is a time to indulge in a few sweets, dress up in costumes and fill the night air with laughter ...maybe even some fireworks. It is a great time to decorate, carve pumpkins, to eat and celebrate. Spooky food preparation for your Halloween gathering should be easy and fun. 'Graveyard Pudding' is a super-fast, fun cooking activity to do with the kids. You can make the pudding from scratch with your favorite recipe or use instant pudding mix. For the candy, sprinkles, chocolate cookie crumbs and other decorations, I shop at the Bulk Barn in Courtenay. I love the fact that I can buy small amounts, only what I need with no left-overs. If you have not yet been to The Bulk Barn, it is a must see especially if you enjoy cake decorating. Locally you can find them at 3175 Cliffe Avenue, Courtenay BC. Give this spooky Halloween dessert a try, it is suitable for kids and adults alike. 

Spooky Graveyard Pudding
Graveyard Pudding  
  ~makes enough to serve 18 little ghosts and goblins~
2 pkg. JELL-O instant chocolate pudding      
3-1/2 cups cold milk
1-1/2 cups fresh whipping cream  (*see note)
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3-4 Tbsp. confectioner's sugar
1-1/4 cups chocolate cookie crumbs
Assorted decorations; oblong vanilla sandwich cookies, decorating gel or icing, candy pumpkins, gummy worms, gummy rats, candy corn etc.

With an electric mixer, whip the fresh cream with vanilla and icing sugar to firm peaks, set aside. In a large bowl, beat the pudding mixes and milk with a wire whisk or electric mixer for 2 minutes. Let stand for about 5 minutes. 
Stir into the chocolate pudding; 1/2 cup chocolate cookie crumbs and 2 cups of the sweet, whipped cream. Spread pudding mixture into a 9x13-inch dish. Sprinkle with remaining cookie crumbs. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, decorate the sandwich cookies with decorator gel or icing to resemble tombstones.
Just before serving, insert the decorated cookies into the dessert, add candies. Drop large spoons of whipped cream onto the dessert to resemble ghosts.

*NOTE: you can substitute a 12oz. tub of COOL WHIP topping for the fresh whipped cream. Remember to defrost it ahead of time!

Enjoy a safe and spooky Halloween! Next week more about chocolate, till then...
Bon Appetit!

Photos and food preparation by Sally Rae