31 December 2013

New Year's Festive Apricot Streusel Crumble Cake

An early morning baking session yielded a softly sweet streusel-strewn coffee cake that was perfect for snacking with mid-morning (that would be SB) tea. Later in the day, it became a cozy dessert with a pot of hot tea.

Tomten's Christmas Adventures - Part Two

It was quiet in the kitchen at the grey cottage. Tomten felt a little lonely being away from his friends Gnome and Joseph. The only thing catching his eye this early in the morning was the flicker of the flames in the woodstove. Master had come early to start the fire, as the winter cold had crept into the cottage over night, making everything cold and stiff. He turned the lights on and quietly made his morning cereal, then he went to tend the other fire in the living room ... brr, it was chilly!

Why, even the kitty walked stiff-legged toward the fire ! Opey sat close to the stove door, whisking her tail back and forth and turning this way and that to the warmth. After a bit of preening, she hopped into the rocking chair and settled down for a morning snooze.

Tomten felt happy to sit in his special spot and watch Opey snooze. It gave him a happy feeling to have his Animals come to keep him company and he knew that once Opey came to the kitchen, the Lady of the House could not be far behind!

29 December 2013

Classic Lamb Tagine

After all the rich meals and constant onslaught of sweets, it seemed fitting to simplify our first post-Christmas dinner by doing an easy tagine simmer of  lean lamb, ginger, garlic, saffron, cinnamon and fruits with chopped onions. The new tagine got put to good use and two hours later, a drizzle of honey gave the juices a soft sweetness.

Over plain couscous, this was a nice change from all the traditional Christmas knosh ... we added a salad on the side for a cool crisp break from the warm saucy tagine. 

28 December 2013

New Years Eve

What are you doing New Years Eve?

Since the adolescent years, that question has cropped up every year in the time between Christmas and New Years Eve ... and it's always been a loaded question. When I was a teen, I dreaded New Years Eve. If one didn't have a special person to share the New Years kiss with, one was pitiful. During the college years, New Years Eve was a time of complete alcoholic excess and loud ranting bedlam. During the young family years, it was a time of packing up the kids and travelling to family parties. Now, in retirement we finally have a real choice, but still there's always the question. What are you doing New Years Eve?

Do I admit that the last thing I want to do is get all dressed up and go lollygagging around someone's fancied up house drinking too much champagne and chatting it up over music that's too loud? Do I lie and say I have special plans when asked ? The truth is I don't have special plans and I don't plan to get dressed up. I don't want to get bundled and walk around outside in the cold at some 'First Night' celebration. I don't want to make a huge meal and eat at ten o'clock at night, dallying at the table for a midnight toast. I don't want to walk the neighborhood in a progressive Open House that ends with fireworks shot off the neighbor's deck and champagne toasts echoing down over the back yard. I don't want to have a huge family get-together with way too much food and drink and a massive midnight clean-up. I don't want to remain glued to a television special or movie fest. I don't want anything contrived  or falsely jolly. 

Nope. I just want a quiet evening with my favorite person in the world. That's all. This year, I want to stand outside in the quiet of the early evening with my arm around SB. I plan to look up at the stars and enjoy a quiet moment. Then, I plan to come inside, make a pot of black tea, warm plates of Chinese pork dumplings, chicken wings, spicy wontons, and fried rice, set out some cool Asian pickle and enjoy dinner. As midnight draws near, I plan to uncork a nice bottle of chilled Prosecco and sip away while playing backgammon. And at midnight, I plan to be fast asleep ... bringing in the new year peacefully.

So ... what are YOU doing New Years Eve? Whatever it is, I hope you enjoy yourself just the way you like. I hope you enter the New Year full of peace and in the New Year I hope you have enough of everything that makes you comfortable and happy. 

Video Credit:  You Tube - What Are You Doing New Years Eve - Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

26 December 2013

Merry Christmas Mango Ginger Scones

Christmas morning ... Bloody Mary cocktails, vegetable strata , mango and ginger scones and cold clementines ... steaming hot coffee, homemade gingerbread cookies and chocolates, and Christmas stockings ... Ottolenghi signed 'To Susan - Yotam and Sami" ... Nigel Slater's Notes From the Larder and a new tagine ... international vanilla extracts and tea lotus blossoms ... bags of beans, rice, sea salt ... a very foodie Christmas all around!

19 December 2013

IHCC Pot Luck - Giada's Chicken with Mustard Mascarpone Marsala Sauce

Think juicy chicken thighs, a mountain of fresh mushrooms, ribbons of slivered onions, and that sauce. Holy smokes good ... that's what it was. This week, I took advantage of the I Heart Cooking Club's potluck challenge to go back into Giada De Laurentiis's archives and find this recipe. Giada suggests making this dish with chunks of white meat chicken breast, and of course, she would. The dish is a bit more sophisticated looking with boneless chicken breast, but I just pulled the skin off bone in chicken thighs and savored the darker, richer meat.  Giada also tells us to have this saucy dish over fettucine, but I opted for steamed rice instead ...

16 December 2013

Random Recipes and Baked Ziti Straight From the Jumbled Pantry ....

Sometimes one has to dig deep, snuffle around, shift things here and there to come up with all the necessary pieces of the puzzle called 'supper' .... welcome to my pantry cupboard. Well one of them, that is.

15 December 2013

Fruit Mince Tarts ... IHCC

A quiet Sunday morning with church services cancelled due to blustery snow and icy roads ... frost at the windows ... the Christmas tree all lit up ... and tins and plates to be filled for neighbors, near and far! This snowy Sunday has been a cozy Godsend, as these little tarts have been the result! Perhaps this afternoon I'll make the apricot jam thumbprints, chocolate rum balls, and Russian teacakes that are always a traditional favorite!

09 December 2013

Tomten's Christmas Adventures Part One ...

For much of the year, Tomten spent his time perched on the edge of a high shelf in the corner of his Lady's kitchen. He watched her come and go with the dogs and the cats, arrange lovely flowers into pretty little nosegays, and bake cookies that she put in the cookie jar that kept him company.  All the while, he kibbitzed with the other gentlemen who occupied his shelf.

07 December 2013

IHCC's 'Under Thirty Minutes' ... Linguine and Shrimp

With greens and flavours like these, this is bound to be a good plate of pasta! Add some shrimp and olive oil to make a zesty sauce and boil the pasta. Dinner's ready in less than thirty minutes!

06 December 2013

Butter for Breakfast with No Apologies !

I recently gifted myself this book about apples. Now, I suppose there are a kazillion books about apples out there in Biblioland, but this one struck me as really interesting, as most of the orchards and the places that the author writes about are within spitting distance of our little grey cottage. Amy Traverso writes a book ABOUT apples and then hits us with recipes that have apples, cider, cider vinegar, dried apples, apple juice as main ingredients or as complements to other mains. It's an awesome book with a lot of interesting tidbits about heritage apples, apple genetics and cultivation, stories about regional orchardists and the apples they grow, interviews with horticulturists, brewers, bakers, and backyard hobbyists. It was such a fun read for me that I passed it over to SB. He enjoyed it also ... which says something because SB doesn't usually give a hoot about cookbooks. Well, after SB had his way with the book, I grabbed it back and took second and third looks through it. The book rested on the floor by the bedside table for a few days, which is probably a bad place for a cookbook to be - visions of sugarplums and all that. However, it may explain the overwhelming urge this morning for these sticky apple biscuit buns...

05 December 2013

Braised Sirloin Tips and Mushrooms ... A Pub Food Rant!

I recently found a heavy cast iron Dutch oven on Ebay that called my name ... it was well-used and came to me for a song ... what care do I have that it has dings and a bottom that is stained and a bit pitted ... I plan to add to the 'patina'! The key for me was having a heavy pot that would take the shift from stove top to oven and go right to the table. The key was also having a pot much like a La Creuset, but without the sticker shock. Digging around on the Ebay auctions brought me to this Danish Copco cast iron beauty. I can put a whole chicken or big pot roast and all the fixings in this baby and let things simmer away to a soft 'fall off the bone' finish or make a huge soup or stew. Once this pan gets hot, it radiates warmth for a good long time!

Today, the house is chilly and I have decided to bake and use this Dutch oven to make some classic pub food ...

04 December 2013

Creamy Sweet Potato Soup - A Healthy Virtual Supper Club Holiday Meal

This month, we'll all be eating rich foods and sharing a glass or two of bubbly with friends and family. Some of us will be eating more rich food and drinking more bubbly than usual, so in the off times, it's pretty important to knosh on some lower calorie and super healthy dishes. Picking and choosing light and nutritional dishes can offset some of the over indulgence that comes with the holiday party season and family feasts.

Hence, the Cooking Light Virtual Supper Club menu for December reflects several good choices for lighter fare. Take this soup for instance - 244 calories for a 1½ cup serving. Pair it with a salad and you have a nice lunch or light supper. Put it on a holiday dinner menu and it lightens the calorie load quite a bit. Plus, it's healthy and pretty much dairy free ... and phew, the colors!

02 December 2013

Taming the Leftovers ... Gingerbread and Cranberry Bites

I have been such a slouch of late, as far as The Spice Garden is concerned! I apologize to those of you who drop in regularly. It's not that I've been a complete couch potato. I haven't. I've been extremely distracted with prepping the house for Thanksgiving visitors, working with the little ones in my little church's Sunday school on Advent activities, sewing and prepping a Christmas box for German friends that must be sent very soon, reading some awesome books, visiting some family and friends, and baking for my church's fellowship hour and for that cookie jar/cookies post for the Typhoon relief bake sale. It seems that my energy just ran out when it came to writing and photographing for a Spice Garden post!