ice cream (cup)cakes: birthday baking, the frozen edition.

I asked Brian what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday, and he answered, individual ice cream cakes. Supposedly him and his roomies have become ice cream connoisseurs, and their freezer perpetually looks like an ice cream parlor.
BBQs are the way to go for parties: sitting outside, the wind ruffling your napkins, enjoying the last rays of summer, and having random seagulls come and steal your bread. Oh, the barbeque. Couldn't ask for a better way to celebrate a birthday with a friend.
Ice Cream Cupcakes

1 c. oreo cookies, finely chopped
4 c. ice cream (I used frosties bought at Wendy's to create a more 'dairy queen'-esque taste)
1/2 c. hot fudge sauce

1. Let the ice cream melt a bit while chopping the oreos. Take a muffin tray and line it with plastic wrap. Place chopped oreos in the bottom of each tin, about 2 cm in each. Place a spoonful of fudge on top.

2. Take the melted ice cream and pour over the cookies. Spoon the soft ice cream on top and level. Place a piece of oreo on for garnish.

3. Pray. Eat. Enjoy. Never go to a birthday party without a treat.

shortbread tarts with cream and fruit: baking birthdays.

I don't bake a lot. That is pretty evident from my posts. But birthdays, mostly because of alliteration, call for baking. As I had one group of friends over, I baked for another. Tartlets are always a hit at a party - unfortunately mine weren't that good-looking, but sure tasted lovely (shortbread makes everything taste spectacular)! The secret to good shortbreads is to substitute about 1/4 of a cup of flour with 1/4 of a cup of corn starch. This makes them melt, absolutely melt, in your mouth. But shhhhh, don't tell anyone!
After a rousing game of I-have-no-idea-what-they-are-playing-but-Brendan-went-somewhere-sketchy-to-get-it, we ate! Pizzas, in fact. A great Friday-night-with-friends-playing-boardgames meal.
To make these: take foccacia, slice it in half, slather on some basil pesto, throw on some marinated artichoke hearts, reconstituted sun-dried tomatoes, prosciutto, sliced tomatoes, caramelized cooked thyme onions and mushrooms, and top it off with cheese. Stick it in the oven at 425 F for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese has browned on the top. Take a bite and slowly pull the pizza away - essentially pretend you're on a pizza commercial - it will make it taste a lot better.  
After dinner, wedding photo time. And then I said goodbye to my lovely friends, and went two floors down in my apartment to other delightful amis, one in particular that was celebrating his day of birth.  A night of fun awaited, but needed a little sugar-kick first.
Shortbread Tarts with Cream and Fruit
(Adapted from Joy of Baking) 

1 c. butter, room temp 
1/2 c. icing  sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. flour
2 tbs. cornstarch or rice flour

1 package cream cheese - softened
1/2 c. sweetened condensed milk
1/3 c. lemon juice (fresh)
Zest of one lemon
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1. Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla on medium speed with a hand mixer. Blend in flour and cornstarch, until fully combined. Preheat the oven to 325 F.
2. Divide the dough into 36 pieces, and place it into muffin tins. Press down, making an indent in the middle. Stick the dough in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Bake 20 minutes. Remove and let cool completely.

3. Beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Add the milk, lemon juice, zest and vanilla. Blend. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. 

4. To serve, spoon the cream cheese mix on the top of a shortbread. Add a couple pieces of candied lemon if desired, or fruit.
5. Pray. Eat. Enjoy. Bake for birthdays.   

turkey breast in spicy plum compote: pillars of friendship.

As I've said the past couple posts - my food is starting to reflect the change in seasons to come. Rock fruit is ripening and is enticing me to use it in every meal, till I can no longer take part in the bounty until next summer.
There is nothing better than letting fruit simmer on the stove, with spices and sweetness pervading the air. Well, there is one better thing: watching Pillars of the Earth (I know! They made a mini-series!) with a lovely friend while that spicy-sweet smell wafts over.
We sat down with our slushies and multi-colour mouths and proceeded to enjoy a good half of the first episode until the computer decided that it didn't like the show as much as we did. Over all, however, a successful night (Allison popped by later and proceeded to get into a debate with Kevin about the health care system - I just sat quietly and post-processed photos). There is nothing better than enjoying the company of those you love, even if they have raised voices and shaking fists.
Turkey Breast in Spicy Plum Compote

2 turkey breasts
1 lb. of ripe purple plums, pitted and sliced
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
2 tbs. lemon juice
2 tsp. powdered ginger
1 tsp. powdered coriander
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 c. brown sugar, packed
1 c. mushrooms, chopped
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste

1. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Brown for several minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the mushrooms and turkey. Simmer for 20 minutes, if really watery, uncovered, if watery, covered.

2. Add turkey breast and mushrooms. Simmer for another 6 minutes, then cut the turkey into strips. Simmer for another 3 minutes.

3. Serve on rice or quinoa (we opted for the latter in an homage to South America).

4. Pray. Eat. Enjoy. Find some Pillars.

Chicken Borscht: food for films.

Again, it was a cold day on Sunday morning. I'm starting to feel the chill of autumn, and my inclinations in cooking are reflecting it.
There are two things that I adore when I'm making dishes for people: serving them foods that they have never eaten before, and somehow incorporating my favorite vegetable of all time, beets. Borscht served both those purposes on Sunday.
Gord and I had actually planned a golfing day. However, since the sun is setting so early these days, and our stomachs only partook of food so late, we decided a movie was more in order (with golf being put off until Friday). Tinseltown theatre in Chinatown always has good films - Sony Classics and Focus Features being two production company mainstays at the theatre (and also two of my favorite producers of quality films). Get Low, a receiver of 84% on Rotten Tomatoes (an amazing rating on a harsh site), was an intriguing movie full of folklore and tall tales - enjoyable to say the least. If you get a chance, go see it.
Chicken Borscht

2 chicken breasts
4 c. chicken stock (homemade is the best, which I used)
2 large onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
3 carrots, chopped
4 medium beets, chopped
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/2 head of cabbage, chopped (I didn't get to use for this particular soup, because I was remiss in remembering to buy it, but it is an important ingredient for any good borscht!)
1/2 c. fresh dill, chopped
1/2 tbs. dried oregano  
2 bay leaves
salt, to taste
pepper (loads if you can stand it), to taste

sour cream

1. Take a large soup pot and heat the olive oil in it on medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until brown, about 3 minutes.

2. Add the rest of the ingredients. Simmer for an hour or until the liquid has reduced by about a quarter. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.

3. Pray. Eat. Enjoy. Get Low.

basil pesto chicken with penne: saturday sharing.

It wasn't that pleasant a day on Saturday, weather wise. The temperature couldn't decide whether it wanted to be hot or cold, and the sun only occasionally graced us with its presence. Summer is showing us that it is soon going into hibernation and giving its warm throne up to colorful autumn. With the change in the season, comes a change in food.
Josh, Stelna and I felt the chill beginning to creep into the air and were on the same page (Stel literally, while Josh was in contemplative mode) in terms of what food would comfort us against the devastation wreaked with knowing that summer will soon be over - pesto pasta.
 The smell of fresh basil, frying on the stove, is enough to revive any body, and any stomach, from summer-withdrawl.
Digging in was almost a triumph over the weather. And as we gazed out of the window, at a time when we thought the sun should still be up, we wondered what the autumn would bring. I know at least - heartier food. And I look forward to the challenge.
Basil Pesto Chicken with Penne

2 c. dried penne pasta
2 tsp. olive oil

1 c. fresh basil 
1/4 c. grated parmesan
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. pine nuts
1/2 lemon, squeezed and zested
3 garlic cloves
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste

2 chicken breasts
1/2 tbs. tarragon
1/2 tbs. oregano
1/4 c. parmesan cheese, powdered
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbs. olive oil
2 onions, diced

1. Combine all pesto ingredients in a blender, blend until smooth. Set aside.

2. Put pasta on to boil. Cook until al dente. Drain, add 2 tsp. olive oil, mix well and set aside, covered.

3. Combine all ingredients for chicken breasts together except for the olive oil and onions. Heat the oil in a sauce pan on medium. Add the seasoned breasts and onions; cover. Cook on one side until brown, about 5 minutes, then cook on the other, about another 5, until done. Remove and slice.

4. Pour pesto on pasta.  Add cooked onions to pasta. Stir until everything is coated. Either add the chicken into the mix, or serve on top.

5. Pray. Eat. Enjoy the last vestiges of summer.

thai panang curry: nose-sweating roommate joy.

With my mandatory lunch hour at 12:15 (my boss prefers I take early lunches, I prefer later, but, as always, the boss wins), I always try to do something productive with the hour given to me. Yesterday, I walked over to the Korean grocery store and picked up ingredients for the Thai dish I was making for dinner (yes, they may be Korean, but they stock many more South East Asian ingredients than the standard white walls, white shelves, North American megastore).

Thai food is essentially a fusion of Chinese and Indian food. It ranges from sour to sweet, spicy to salty - an array of flavors can be found in the recipes. One big difference from these full-bodied dishes to North American ones, is that the non-edible spices and herbs are not removed before serving. Bay leaves or cinnamon sticks may very well find their way into your mouth. Red curries are quite predominant, and the paste is chock full of taste (and spice!).
What better way to celebrate ex-roommates than to eat something so exotic and spicy that it makes their noses sweat. It was lovely to see these marvelous chaps again, and be able to feed them a good home-cooked meal.
Thai Panang Curry

2 lbs. sliced beef
1 tbs. peanut oil
2 tbs. red curry paste (store bought or homemade - the latter is better, a good recipe is here)
1 can coconut milk
1 tsp. palm sugar
1 tbs.sliced kaffir lime leaves plus 1 tbs. for garnish
1 tbs. fish sauce

1. Heat peanut oil in a saucepan on medium. Add the red curry paste and fry until it becomes quite dry (but not burning!). As it dries, add a little coconut milk, about 1/4 c. every couple of minutes.

2. Let it simmer for about 5 minutes - its ready for the meat when you see red oil floating on the top.

3. Add the beef, fish sauce, palm sugar, and 1 tbs. kaffir lime leaves. Cook for about another 5 minutes, until meat is cooked and sauce is very thick. Garnish with the 1 tbs. reserved leaves.

4. Pray. Eat. Enjoy. Reconnect with those you shared a space with, and take pleasure in their company.

pan fried salmon with sweet mustard sauce: fish to remind me of a good day.

My 'real' birthday was on Sunday.  It was a more mellow day than the one before as we were in 'recovery mode' from our adventures.
Again. Yet again. Breakfast. At Nice Cafe. We had to show Robbie and Gord - they loved it.
After our hearty meals, we headed over to the Latin American Festival at Trout Lake. Filled with music and food, we couldn't help our hips from swaying, but then realized - we were expending way too much effort in the heat.
We settled on the long, damp grass, with a warm breeze playing across our shoulders and echoing beats of Latin music in the distance (accompanied by the constant snapping of a lens as Robbie played with my camera - is that what it is really like for me to be around?!).
After Stel and Robbie left us, we met up with Steve and went to the pitch and putt at Queen E Park. It's funny - I always resisted playing the game where you hit a ball with a stick, for the only reason I would ever play would be to please someone else - however, when I made the choice myself to go, just for the heck of it, I had the time of my life. I think I might adore this odd-game-that-Robin-Williams-makes-fun-of. 
On my first hole, I hit par. Oh yeah baby.
On around the 14th hole, Steve almost hit a birdie, but then missed the hole by a few centimeters. Oh no, poor baby.

The boys then treated me to dinner. I couldn't have asked for a better birthday.
Because the previous day was so good, I decided to try to recreate at least the culinary feeling by making salmon for dinner on Monday. Hopefully this recipe conjures up lovely memories for you too - it will always make me think of the amount of expletives that golf makes you use.
Pan-fried Salmon with Sweet Mustard Sauce

1 lb. salmon fillet
1 tbs. seedy mustard
2 tbs. dijon mustard
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 tbs. dried tarragon
1 tbs. soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbs. olive oil and 2 tbs. olive oil
1/2 red onion, sliced
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste

1. Combine all ingredients except salmon and 2 tbs. olive oil in a bowl. Spread the marinade all over the salmon.

2. Heat a frying pan over medium with 2 tbs. olive oil. Place the salmon fillet, skin down first, for about 4 minutes on each side, covered with a lid.

3. Serve on quinoa and a bed of greens with skin side down. Spoon remaining marinade and onions over the top.

4. Pray. Eat. Enjoy. Golf.

oven roasted pork ribs: a day of birth, with friends encompassing.

I have the loveliest friends. And I had the loveliest day.

My morning was filled with good food and a great friendship (again going to my favorite spot for breakfast - the Nice Cafe on Main Street). I decided to celebrate the day I was born on a Saturday because, honestly, who wants to celebrate on a Sunday (though Sunday the 15th must be a spectaular day for not only was Napoleon Bonaparte born on that day, but Kevin's mom was as well!).
We headed to Wreck Beach, and the sun readily acquiesced to our intentions - it was sweltering!
I couldn't ask for a better day, and I couldn't be blessed with more friendships. I've had a lovely year, though it may have been filled with trials and tribulations, departures and travel, one thing that I have learned, that I treasure the most are those relationship that continue even through emotional and physical distance. My friends are there for me, and always will be. And the best, most memorable parts of my year have come from working on those relationships.
After the beach was a potluck and a night out. Brendan even brought a twinkie-style cupcake, placed some candles in the top, and everyone sang happy birthday - I felt as if I was 12 years old again, enjoying the glow not only coming from the candles but from the joy my friends brought me.

In return, I decided to make ribs (the large piece of meat pictured in my last post). The decision came from my realization that there was a long, spectacular night ahead, and we needed some protien to keep us going. A wise decision, for the night was long, but it was fun. What a day - the perfect transition into another year of my life. Thank you all.
Oven Roasted Sweet Pork Ribs

2 small racks pork ribs, or one enormous one (such as I had)

1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2/3 c. balsalmic vinegar
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/8 c. Worcestershire sauce
3 dashes Tabasco sauce
2 tbs. dried tarragon
1 tbs. dried oregano
1/4 c. olive oil
pepper, freshly ground, to taste
salt, to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Blend all ingredients together (except for the pork!) until smooth. Drizzle over ribs, until coated. Cover and marinade for 1 day.

2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake for around 2 hours, turning over once. Remove when done. Take out most of the sauce and boil on the stove until reduced to about half. Drizzle over ribs.

3. Pray. Eat. Enjoy. Realize that the most precious things in the world are those who surround you, and the relationships you form.