#Christmas #Recipes Tidings of Comfort & Joy

And here we are our second Holiday season in Toronto, Canada. Thankfully this one is a LOT less hectic than last years’ where it wasn’t so much Rudolph & Co. dashing around as it was me, trying to get unpacked and set up in our new home. As you could imagine not much time was left for baking the traditional festive wares, never mind experimenting and trying out new recipes!

This year however I’ve allowed myself the pleasure of being ahead of the game. A slew of expected visitors may have something to do with that. As crazy as it sounds having the tree trimmed and house decorated in November DOES free you up to do so much more. Or at least plan it!

The last Christmas spent in the UK, I created some food gift hampers to gift to friends and included some of my favourite festive foods. “Twinkling” caramel sauce (subtly spiked with rum); Crunchy spiced cookies; Christmas cake (with the emphasis more on chocolate than fruit) to name a few. This got me thinking as to what I would gift this year if given the opportunity. The first three recipes here would make ideal food gifts for those nearest and dearest to you.

Biscotti make such a great alternative to the stalwart festive cookie. Enjoy their crunchy texture studded with roasted hazelnut and cranberries with a hot cup of coffee while you put your feet up, taking a break from the looming festive onslaught. Stollen has always been my preference to the traditional Christmas fruit cake- maybe the inclusion of sublime marizpan has something to do with it? Here I’ve omitted the usual mixed peel in favour of apricots and cranberries- for no reason other than I personally hate the stuff. I find it too bitty and chewy for my liking. Fudge has always been a favourite of mine. Smooth, creamy and sweet it never fails to warm me. Bringing my ever present twist to things I’ve added some liquid smoke to lend a subtle smokiness which works so well with  the maple flavour of the fudge. Finishing it off with a gentle sprinkling of Kosher salt gives it a lip-licking quality that sings of pure indulgence. Not to mention making the finished treat visually reminiscent of the coats of baby deer in winter snow.

The fourth recipe I’ve included is not so much a food gift for other people but rather for yourself. I  know too well how frenzied and manic Christmas morning can be so I wanted to make something that might help alleviate some of the culinary pressure of that time. Preparing them the evening before is a massive shortcut that helps no end on the big day. Packed full of filling and flavours of cinnamon, apples, cranberries and pecans  they’re an extra special treat that’s sure to get the day off to a wonderful start.

I do hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I have, both creating and tasting them, and I’d like to wish you and yours a wonderful, peaceful  holiday season and happy new year. (Wow! never thought I’d be writing that so soon!)

Biscotti (3)

 

Hazelnut & Cranberry Chocolate Biscotti

Makes 20-24

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup caster sugar
  • 1 2/3 cups All-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa, unsweetened
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2/3 cups of hazelnuts (filbert) , toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • All-purpose flour for dusting

Method

  1. Heat your oven to 150°C/300F
  2. Line a baking tray with baking parchment and dust lightly with flour
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer with balloon whisk attachment,  beat the eggs with the sugar until pale and doubled in size.
  4. Fold in the vanilla and almond extracts
  5. Sift in the flour, cocoa and baking powder
  6. Add in the nuts and fruits and fold thoroughly until the mixture comes together a dough
  7. Tip out onto a lightly floured work surface and lightly roll out into a log shape. Divide the log into two, halfway along it’s length
  8. Place the logs on the lined baking sheet and with your hands lightly flatten logs to approximately 40mm wide x 20mm high
  9. Bake in your pre-heated oven for 12-15 minutes or until firm
  10. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes. After this time cut the logs into slices (10-15mm thick) and  lay  them flat on a baking sheet (with cut-side uppermost) and bake again for 10-15 minutes or until crisp
  11. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack
  12. These can be kept for up to a week in an air-tight container

 

Biscotti (6)


Stollen (4)

Alternative Stollen

Makes 1

  • 4 cups white bread flour
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fast action yeast
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 almond extract
  • 2/3 cups almonds nibs
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried lemon zest
  • 8 oz marzipan

To finish

  • 1/4 stick butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp icing (confectioners’)  sugar

Method

  1. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment and lightly dust with bread flour. Set aside until needed
  2. Put the flour and sugar in a stand mixer bowl and stir to combine. Add the yeast on one side of the bowl and the salt on the other
  3. In a pan combine the milk, butter, lemon zest, orange zest and heat gently until the butter has melted. Remove from heat and set aside to cool and infuse. Stir occasionally to prevent the zests clumping
  4. With the dough hook attached and on a medium speed, add the cooled milk/ butter liquid in a steady stream. Leave the machine to knead for 6 minutes until smooth and pliable
  5. Whilst the dough is kneading, mix the nutmeg, cloves, vanilla and almond extracts, dried fruits and almond nibs together in a bowl
  6. Remove the dough from the stand mixer bowl and place the dough on top of the fruit mixture and knead from the outside into the centre. When everything has been fully incorporated, return to the bowl, cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise for 1-1 ½  hours in a warm place, until doubled in size
  7. Flatten the dough and roll out on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle about 45cm x 35cm. Shape the marzipan to about 25 x 15cm and place on top of the dough. Wrap the dough so it encloses the marzipan and place the full loaf on your prepared baking sheet, with the joining seam at the underside. Cover and leave to rise for 45mins – 1 hour until risen and doubled in size
  8. Preheat the oven to 190C /375F and bake for 40mins. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Brush the baked loaf liberally with melted butter, and dust with icing sugar. Leave to cool completely before serving
  9. This will keep for up to a week, wrapped and stored in an airtight container

 

 

Stollen (2)


Fudge (4)

Salted Smoky Maple Pecan Fudge

Makes 36 pieces

  • 1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
  • 3 cups light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) butter, chopped
  • 1 cup icing (confectioners’) sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pure Maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 1/2 cups pecan halves, roasted and roughly chopped
  • Kosher Salt, to taste

Method

  1. Line and butter an 8-inch square baking pan or silicone pan with baking parchment, allowing the parchment to extend over sides of pan
  2. Mix the evaporated milk, brown sugar and butter in large saucepan. Bring to boil on medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches 236°F on a candy thermometer (soft-ball stage). (Be patient- this will take about 30 minutes. Also DO NOT leave it unattended!)
  3. Remove from heat and pour into the bowl of a stand mixer. (Careful! The sides of the bowl will become VERY hot)
  4. Add the icing sugar, maple syrup, vanilla extract and liquid smoke and beat together with on low speed. Increase speed to medium; beat until thickened and smooth.
  5. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and fold in the chopped pecans. Spread evenly in prepared pan. Sprinkle the top of the fudge with kosher salt to your taste. (I usually use 2 good pinches, evenly sprinkled)
  6. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or until firm. Use baking parchment to lift out of pan onto cutting board.
  7. Cut into 36 squares and enjoy!
  8. If stored at room temperature this will keep for up to a week in an air-tight container, if stored in the fridge it will  last for up to two

Fudge (1)


Cinnamon Rolls (5)

Christmas Morning Cinnamon Buns

Makes 12

For the dough

  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, plus extra for greasing pan
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried lemon zest
  • 4 cups white bread flour
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tablespoon fast-action yeast
  • 1 egg, beaten

For the filling

  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/3 cup fried cranberries
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup apple butter

For the glaze

  • 2 cups icing (confectioners’) sugar
  • 1/4 cup eggnog

Method

  1. Put the milk, butter, cinnamon, orange zest and lemon zest in a small saucepan and heat very gently over the lowest available heat until the butter has melted. Set aside and leave it to cool to a lukewarm temperature
  2. In a bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the flour and sugar. On one side of the bowl add the yeast, and on the opposite side add the salt
  3. Into the flour bowl add the cooled milk/butter mix and the beaten egg.
  4. With the dough hook attachment, knead this on medium for 8 minutes. It should become smooth, pliable and come together in a ball
  5. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled, large bowl and cover tightly with lightly oiled cling film. Leave the dough to rise in a warm place for 1- 1 1/2hrs
  6. Grease with butter a 23cm x 33cm high sided baking tin and set aside until needed
  7. Prepare the filling by mixing together the brown sugar, cinnamon and softened butter in a bowl. Beat until well combined. Set aside until needed
  8. When your dough has risen, tip it out into a lightly oiled surface and roll out to 40x50cm
  9. To fill , spread the cinnamon butter (as evenly as you can) over the surface of the dough. Next spread the apple butter in an even layer. After this sprinkle on the dried cranberries. Once this is done, finally sprinkle on the chopped pecans
  10. Starting at the long edge, roll the dough into a tight log shape
  11. Trim the ends off the roll and then cut into 12 even pieces*
  12. Arrange the rolls in a 3×4 formation (cut side up) in your prepared baking tin. Cover loosely with oiled cling film and pop into the fridge. Leave to slow-proof overnight
  13. On the morning of baking, remove the tray of risen cinnamon rolls from the fridge 30 minutes prior to baking
  14. Preheat your oven to 180C/350F
  15. Bake the rested rolls in the oven for 30 mins. If the edges start to brown too soon, lightly cover the pan with foil
  16. When baked, remove the rolls from the oven and set aside to cool while you prepare the glaze
  17. To prepare the eggnog glaze, combine the icing sugar and eggnog in a bowl or jug. Whisk until well combined and smooth
  18. Drizzle the glaze over the still-warm cinnamon rolls and enjoy

A word of warning- these are very sticky and moreish…unwrapping gifts at the same time is not recommended!

*To cut the cinnamon rolls I use a length of either dental floss or fish-line. Loop it around the dough log where you want to make the cut, pull in opposite directions and there! You have a perfectly cut cinnamon roll ready for baking. Failing this of course, feel free to use a knife!

Cinnamon Rolls (2)


Mother Pic

This post is dedicated to my mother, Anne, who passed away earlier this year. The lady who inspired a thousand cupcakes and so much more.

“But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begins”

Mitch Albom

 

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Maple syrup and more

So finally I’ve managed to snag some time to post here about my recent trip to Toronto. It’s only taken the best part of a month! Seriously- where did that go?!?!? Anyway before time moves on even quicker I CANNOT wait to tell you about the city of Toronto and what it has to offer. Most of what I say will indeed be food orientated but hey- why else would you be here?

We decided to take adavantage of a child-free week (thanks to family!) and jet off to the land of bacon and maple syrup, Apologies for the massive stereotyping there but they do make hella’ good bacon and no one, but no one, does maple syrup like the Canadians.

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Our first day there and I had a couple of hours to myself as my husbear was getting some business meetings out of the way. First on my checklist (and you’d better believe I had a checklist!) was St. Lawrence Food Market. If you’re a foodie and you’re in Toronto, you MUST go here. It’s the Mecca for mezze; the Valhalla for veal; the…you get what I’m saying? I arrived there not long after opening so there weren’t many people and it was fantastic to be able to meander the hall at a leisurely pace taking in a myriad of sounds and smells- meat being cut on the bone; cheeses; freshly baked breads; smoky tendrilled BBQs being fired up; ice being tumbled onto gleaming fish; freshly roasted coffee beans – this was seriously foodie heaven. Suffice to say I spent most of the free time I had here. In fact I had to take in a few laps of the hall as my first couple were spent in complete, child-like wonder at every new stall and culinary treasure trove I found.

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One delight I didn’t manage to partake of was a peameal bacon roll from Carousel Bakery. Consosting of lean back bacon rolled in cornmeal, or “peameal” and served in a soft roll, this apparently is a national insitute with near legendary reviews on the internet. It’s available served in a number of ways from additions of fried eggs and cheese to just good ol’ fashioned mustard. It’s the breakfast sandwich of choice for many discerning Torontonians.

2015-06-30 09.50.12-2And so on to my next Toronto “Bucket list” destination- “The Gabardine”. I cannot rave about this place enough! Sitauted in the finacial/ business district it’s a haven for suits and secretaries alike so I’d recommed going there slightly after what you would expect to be business lunch time. On our first visit we arrived at 1.30pm and not long after being seated the majority of diners left to go back to work. It seems the Torontonian lunch hour is a little ahead of the Britisih one. There were two things on our “must-try” list- the Mac and Cheese, and the Chicken Pot Pie. I’m not normally a pie type of guy (believe it or not!?!) but after seein this featured on TV I knew I needed this in my life! Rich, creamy and utterly, utterly comforting this was a chicken pie of dreams. Not at all scrimping on the filling of mosit chunks of meat and sublimely favoured herb sauce this needs to be perserved for the sake of humainty. If chicken soup heals, then this pie can raise the dead. The best way to eat it is to break off the surrounding pastry crust and dip in, scooping up rich sauce, whilst harpooning meaty galline nuggets. That way you get the flaky, buttery pastry with the creamy herb sauce and succulent chicken…now just STOP IT!

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The Gabardine: Chicken Pot Pie

My other half opted for the other dish synonimous with The Gabardine – their Mac and Cheese. Being of the more Umami persuassion than me, he opted for the pimped version with ham. Now, we were excpected diced bacon mixed into the cheese sauce, or maybe some lardons to add some extra flavoursome oomph. What arrived was…

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The Gabardine: Mac and Cheese (topped with smoked bacon)

Yup – ham topped Mac and Cheese. Topped with ham chunks the size of sugar cubes and then some! Rich, cheesy (sad to say not cheesy enough) sauce with a crispy hearb crumb and then topped with “man chinks” of smoked ham this was no “sissy side dish” . Now while I say the sauce wasn’t cheesy enough I do reckon this was just a one-off as on another visit we say other diners having the dish and there was plenty of “cheese pull” to be had.

Purely in the name of research, I opted for the pudding special that day. Peanutbutter Cream Pie. I’ll let the picture speak for itself.

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The Gabardine: Peanuttbutter Cream Pie

So you may gather I was particularly fond of this restaurant. You’d be right. So much so that we went back a second time for dinner. I opted to try the special of “Korean Fried Cauliflower”- and I was not diappointed. This indeed was a special dish.  Cauliflower was fried and transformed into crispy, sweetly spicy morsels with jam-like stickiness served with green leaves and creme fraiche. If you’re there and this is on the menu (or specials board) I whole-heartedly recommend ordering it. Now I normally errupt in Verruca Salt-esque pouting if I can’t see meat on my plate but so good a dish was this that in fact I happily scoffed the lot and ne’er a word of complaint was uttered! This was follwed by the pork chop, hominy and greens. And boy what a pork chop it was. Brined, moist and succulent- I was a happy man indeed. So happy was I, that I completely forgot what my husabnd had ordered for his meal!

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The Gabardine: Korean Fried Cauliflower (l); Pork Chop w/ hominy (top right); House Chocolate Brownie (bottom right)

And that was just one restaurant! The next on my “To Do List” was the fine establishment called “Rock Lobster”. Or rather one of the fine establishments of Rock Lobster.  Part of a trio of seafood resturant set up by Chef Matt Dean Pettit, we went the the Queen West venue. Situated in the Boho/ Alternaitve area of Toronto (think Camden-esque thrift fashion shops and tatoo parlours) it’s still within easy walking distance. In fact so eager were we (well, was I) to get there that we arrived to be one of the first that day for lunch service. Chef Matt has taken seafood and made it appealing- even for me! I digress a little by saying that prior to this we had sampled our first Canadian signature dish that is “Poutine”. Made up of fresh cut fries, topped with “squeaky” cheese curds, and then finished with gravy, this sounds like the stuff of late-night, taxi rank nightmares. In fact it’s quite tasty! Getting back on track it was with much eagerness, and I believe I errupted with a gurgling of, “Nommm!”, that I saw one fo the dishes on the menu was Lobster Poutine – hand-cut fries; cheese curds; Nova Scotia Lobster; lobster bisque gravy and chives. Yes Sir, I’ll take one of those! This along with the Jerk Shrimp Roll were the highlight for me. While the house Lobster Roll was good with creamy, succulent lobster chunks (none of this spreadable, mayo paste nonsense), it was the juicy shrimp and the wonderful punchy jerk spice seasoning that won me over. My only greivance being that they didn’t have my size available in their Rock Lobster T-shirts (Chef Matt, if you read this please feel free to send one over!). Again if you’re in Toronto make sure you make time for a visit to Rock Lobster and feel the Lobster Love.

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Rock Lobster: Lobster Roll (front); Lobster Poutine (l); Deep Fried Clams (r); Jerk Shrimp Roll (back)

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Rock Lobster: Lobster Poutine

Next on our foodie stop was the CN tower and it’s signature resturant 360. Very much a tourist “must do” the CN tower is none-the-less awe inspiring for it’s views of Toronto and surrounding areas. It was from here that we realised just how big the subrban sprawl fo Toronto really is- whilst getting unnaturally freaked out by the glass floor in the observation area. The first few steps onto it are fine, but it’s when you start getting a couple of feet from the solid floor plate that your feet seem to grind to a halt of their own accord!

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Whilst the food at the revolving 360 restuarant is good the main selling point of it are the views afforded from a loction at such a height. Prompt service, to the point of being a little too prompt, gave the venue an air of table-turning and client conveyor-belting. I guess it’s be expected in such a place with massive footfall. Admittedly this was a downside but overall the food was good and we enjoyed the visit here- particularly the aerial views of the neighbouring Hamptons Islands. I would recommend here for lunch, a good place to eat but not to linger too long.

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Dining at CN Tower 360 restaurant

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Speaking of awe ispiring views we decided to go uber-touristy and take a trip to Niagara Falls. Well if you’ve seen The Great Barrier Reef you may as well take in once of the other Wonders of The World, right? We opted for a bus journey that would take us into Niagara-on-the-Lake prior to dropping us at Niagara falls itslef, while stopping at a vineyard en route. All might sound very hectic but was paced really well and I’d throughly recommend it. The vineyeard stop allowed us to sample the Niagara speciality that is “Ice Wine”. Made from picking grapes harvested on the coldest night of the year, so cold in  fact the grapes freeze, this is a crisp, sweet dessert wine that is definately worth sampling. Niagara-on-the- Lake is one of those quaint Colonial towns here everything is apple pie and shiplap boared houses. Ambling along it’s wide, sun-drenched streets with horse drawn carts it was all too easy to forget the frentic pulse of everyday life. But alas the Falls beckoned!  Niagara Falls itself proved to be somewhat of an antithesis with Niagara-on-the-Lake. Gone were the quaint boutiques, open boulevards and porch festooned houses to be replaced with Hard Rock Cafe; traffic ensanred roads and josstling pavements. The Falls themelves are magnificant and the “Maid of the Mist” boat ride places you right in the middle of The Falls- so much so that the obligatory plastic poncho is required. Although you can be soaked to the skin from the spray it’s a worthwhile trip where you can appreciate just how small humankind can be in the face of Mother Nature.

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Ice Wine grapes

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Niagara-on-the-Lake

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I can hardly write aboout Toronto and not mention Church and Wellesley. Otherwise known as The Gay Village, this has beome a distict in it’s own right. This is where being LGBT has become life, work and leisure- not only were the people are gay, but also the crossings and ATMs! 13 years ago I went to Manchester for Mardi Gras weekend and feel in love with it. My visit here showed me I didn’t have to compartmentalise who I was; to leave being a gay man until the weekend at certain venues, or mind my Ps & Qs with who I was talking to. It was part of something that made up who I was, not defined me. In Manchester I saw people going about their eveyday lives, enjoying and celebrating their lives and loves. I realised I wouldn’t have to go without those things, both large and small, that sometimes can be taken for granted – public displays of affection; a significant other and a family, to nut name a few.  Walking through Church and Wellesley I sensed that same resoulte, steadfast sense of pride around me. Being LGBT wasn’t a taboo here-  it was a cause for celeration and pride. Celebrating everyday life. One sight still sitcks in my mind and at the time made me swell with emotion- an elderly couple of gents walking along arm in arm. Not looking to see if they were being noticed they were too engrossed in their own conversation. Who knows about what? It could have been anything from what to have for dinner, to resolving that morning’s argument, to what color to order the new couch in? The thing was they were having that conversation, arm in arm and not heeding the surrouding world. It was everyday life to them.

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Some of the sights of Church and Wellesley Village

And so that was our trip to Toronto and I loved it. It’s a place of great food, great culture, where the people are friendly and relaxed- free from the hectic pace of life so easily found in London. A place where rush-hour is just that – an hour! Would I go back? Absoluely! But maybe next time it’ll be winter- there’s a hankering to see the place snow covered and white, and feel the bitter chill while walking along Church Street. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off the bath in maple syrup!

In the meantime,

“Remember Mom’s the word- that’s Mr. Mom’s!”