Sunday, December 25, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Some last-minute ideas for giftmas...

Happy whichever-end-of-the-year-holiday-you-choose-to-celebrate... or for those who don't celebrate any of them, happy festivus ;)

I don't know about you, but the holiday season was extra stealthy in sneaking up on me this year... I was feeling ahead of the game getting my gifts and cooking done a few weeks back, then all of a sudden I've only got a few days left and way too much to get done. To ensure this does not happen again (like it does every year), I have asked Santa for a personal assistant. ;) Here's hoping my stocking is big enough...

While I do love a good excuse to shop, I often end up making at least some of the gifts I give each year. For any of you who may still need some last-minute ideas, and break out in a cold sweat at the thought of having to go to the mall, here are a few of the goodies I whipped up this year:

  • Spoon Butter: an excellent gift for anyone who has wooden (or bamboo) utensils or cutting boards that could do with a little bit of TLC. Mix up a batch and pour it into a nice little mason jar with a ribbon... it is thoughtful and useful, and super simple to make (it doesn't get much easier than two ingredients, c'mon). Plus it makes your kitchen smell amazing. 
  • Sugar scrub: another simple one to make, you just need some type of granulated sugar (white, brown, raw, etc) and either oil or liquid glycerin. Oil is good for those with dry skin, especially in the winter months, but I prefer to use glycerin as it does not leave a slippery film in the shower after! You can customize this one to your heart's content: essential oil, honey, ground coffee, spices, dried flowers, different sugar/oil combinations, etc. Bottle it up in a nice jar with some ribbon and a tag. 
  • Mug rugs: these are great little gifts for someone who likes coffee, tea or any warm drink on a regular basis. They can be as simple or elaborate as you like... I made mine with a filling of rice (to hold the heat from the mug) and added some spices (cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and citrus peel) that will release their fragrance when warmed by the mug set on top. 
  • Coffee sleeves: in a similar vein as the rugs above, you can whip up a reusable sleeve for that Starbucks addict on your list. You can sew, knit, crochet or even felt them... they're a great way to add a little 'green' to someone's daily routine. You can also make a similar sleeve for a Bodum french press, or, if they prefer a cuppa tea over a cuppa joe, a tea cozy
  • Homemade treats: for many of us, desserts define the holiday season. Don't underestimate the impact of a nicely wrapped plate of holiday goodies... only the Grinch would turn their nose up at a gift like that. Bon Appetit has a wonderful array of ideas to get you started; I strongly recommend the Chewy Ginger Cookies :) 
You've still got plenty of time to put together any of the above items before Sunday morning, whether it is the finishing touch on someone's gift, or just a gift for yourself! ;) 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Beet Buche de Noel

What happens when two entirely disparate recipes collide?


Originally, I was going to make the chocolate beet bundt found over at Epicurious, but then B had been talking so much about getting a Buche de Noel cake, I wondered if I couldn't use the beet recipe to make one? Well, long story short, the cake came out nicely, but it was so dense, it didn't appreciate trying to be rolled into the log shape. But hey, that's what whipped cream filling and chocolate icing are for, right?? ;)

This recipe is, sadly, not as SOLE as I had planned it to be. In fact, the only local item are the beets themselves. I had planned to make this recipe a bit closer to christmas and to hunt down some local organic beets, eggs, flour and a few other items to go in it. However, this week I found myself with a large amount of cooked beets (i ran out of time to do the pickling i'd intended, and the beets would go bad if they didn't get used right away), so I improvised a little in order to avoid wasting them.

I guess I preferred making use of something I already had on hand (that would otherwise have to be thrown out) than to go out and buy more ingredients simply to make this a dessert I could boast about for the challenge ;) Ah, the ego of a cook... it takes a lot of abuse. :) But, one good thing did come out of this: I was able to make this recipe lactose-free, which B appreciated enormously. The cake calls for no dairy, other than the chocolate chips and there are lactose-free options for that. Also the frosting recipe I used was simple, freakin' delicious, and lactose-free as well. That one is a definite keeper. Plus, it was fun to make the frosting look like tree bark:

So there you have it.... despite my good intentions, my first 'fail' of the challenge. Well, fail by my standards, anyway... but it was a learning experience. I need to be a bit more careful in my shopping going forward so that i don't have to constantly run out and get something i'm missing (spending more money on gas and groceries isn't really keeping with the spirit of this challenge, i don't think) and i need to plan my time a bit better. Trying to do a large batch of canning on top of a zillion other things was not smart, and left me in a pickle, so to speak, as to what to do with the produce before it went bad. But, at least the story ends with a tasty chocolate cake ;)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Local/organic resources for Quebec

In doing my homework for the Dark Days Challenge, I've come across a fair few resources on the web for finding local producers. A lot of other challenge participants are sharing some great resources, but most of them  sadly are US-centric, so I've had to do more searching on my own. I don't think there are many (if any) other bloggers in the Montreal area taking part in the challenge so far, but I wanted to put this list out for the benefit of anyone who might be interested, local or not.

For my part, I am casting my net wide to start with and simply learning what things I can get locally. As we move on in the challenge, I will focus more on optimizing my use of organic/sustainable products found within that local radius. Below are some of the sites I've used to start my SOLE education :)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dark Days Week 2: Coq au Vin

As I've dug into what sort of products are available to me for this challenge, there is one thing I am certain I won't have to go without: booze. You do not have to venture far to find a local version of your drink of choice, be it beer, wine, hard ciderliqueurs, or heck, we even make vodka. One of the more famous alcoholic drinks from Quebec, aside from hard cider, is Caribou which seems to be the French-Canadian version of mulled wine or glögg. I've not had it myself (yet), but I've heard it'll put hair on your chest. Or perhaps singe it off

Anyway! I digress. Point being, we gotta lotta da strong stuff ;) So, how best to put it to use? Why, by drinking it, of course! But also by cooking with it... and for this particular task I chose to cook up some local chicken with some carrots, mushrooms and onions into the dish known as Coq au Vin.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Vacation eats - Salem, MA

Wow, this post was difficult to get done... I wanted to try and include every little detail, and it just kept getting longer and longer. And now it's been almost 2 months since the trip, so enough is enough. Here are the (food related) highlights of the October trip to Salem with my friend Allison :)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dark Days Week 1: Unintentionally eating local

So the Dark Days Challenge has officially begun. This is something of a marathon challenge, running from November through March of next year, so I will have to both pace and organize myself. This is also the first time I'm embarking on a challenge like this... while I've come across some organic and/or local options at random at the market, I've not specifically searched them out. So before we go any further, let me say this: as I am new to this, I will *not* be 'hardcore' about this challenge. While I will happily look into local sources for staples like flour, salt, sugar, etc. I will not avoid them entirely if I cannot find them locally (which I fully expect I cannot). I will absolutely look into alternatives, such as maple syrup or honey instead of granulated sugar, but the focus for me during this challenge will be mainly on exploring options for things like meat, fruit, and veggies, and also capitalizing on such local beauties as beer, wine, maple and, of course, cheese...

Image of lovely, melty Quebec cheese courtesy of IGA

But what did I cook for the first meal of the Dark Days challenge, you ask?