Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mum's Birthday Dinner!

Two Fridays ago I hosted my Mum's birthday dinner at our house! I was a little concerned because I really was at a loss for what to cook AND there were going to be 8 of us. I hate having those parties where everyone is out and about throughout the house enjoying the party and the host/hostess is stuck in the kitchen milling away. In order to avoid this fiasco, I knew that I had to do some serious preliminary work! 

After asking Mum what she wanted to eat for a few days, we finally figured out a menu. The menu was set as:
  • President's Choice Puff Pastry Hors D'oeuvres - provided by one of our guests
  • Homemade Torpedo Shrimp
  • Cheese and crackers - an oldie but a goodie
  • Grilled Steak - provided by our other guests
  • Roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, and pearl onions
  • Spicy Garlic Shrimp
  • Sautéed creamy mushrooms 
  • Garden salad with maple red wine vinaigrette
  • and the pièce de résistance!!!! Lemon Galore Cheesecake! 
Do you see why I needed to do some preliminary prep work!?!? By the advice of my darling friend, Sophie, who is a very talented pastry chef, I made the cheesecake the night before. I used her basic cheesecake recipe but grated some lemon zest in it too! Then, I made some of Ina Garten's Lemon Curd (from her Lemon Curd Tart) and slapped that on top of the cheesecake inside of a cream cheese frosting boarder. And then, if heaven hadn't produced this cheesecake, I made some candied lemon slices and put em on top! Now you understand why I've called it Lemon Galore Cheesecake!

This cheesecake was so delicious (if I may say so myself!). 

As for the torpedo shrimp, they may have been the easiest thing EVER to create! I took some raw shrimp, shelled them and skewered them so that they were straight. Once skewered, season them however you like. Cut two sheets of phylo pastry layered on top of each other in 3.5 inch by 2 inch strips and wrap the shrimp. Bake them at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes and serve with a spicy dipping sauce (I used Sweet Chilli Sauce for Chicken)

I swear the Spicy Garlic Shrimp recipe was truly a sign from above. I woke up that morning and turned on the tv to my favourite channel - The Food Network. There I found my favourite French Canadian chef, Ricardo Larrivée making what else but his Garlicky Paprika Shrimp at that exact moment! It was perfect and I wouldn't have asked for anything better. They were simple, quick to make and divine and I swear you MUST follow Ricardo's suggestion to have some bread handy to sop up the sauce because it is heaven! 
The sauce is simmering

I'm sorry for the photo quality... this was another one of those days where I was bouncing between my digital camera and my blackberry's camera! There were about 5000000000 things going on on top of that so my brain was a little fried and I was just trying to grab shots of whatever I could with whatever I could at the moment. Phew! That's my rant. I hope we can still be friends.

As for the rest of the meal, here is it in pieces (again, thinking of taking a photo of my plate before I dug in was not an option... 24 of cooking makes for a very hungry gal!).
Creamy Sautéed Mushrooms
Fantastically grilled steaks
Roasted baby potatoes, sweet potatoes and pearl onions
Garden Salad with Maple Red Wine Vinaigrette
And just to add a bit of fun to this post, here is a pic of the two birthday girls - Debbie was my babysitter when I was in kindergarten and she celebrated her birthday the week before my Mum. 
The birthday girls (Left - Debbie, Right - Mumma!)
The birthday girl opening presents!
Happy Sunday guys! Keep cooking! 


Friday, January 7, 2011

Shepherds Pie - OH MY!

Do you ever get a craving that just won't go away? I'm talking about weeks of this craving? Well I had one of these. When I was 10, I had an major accident that landed me in the hospital for 4 days. While there, I got to enjoy some hospital food and some of it was amazing! I know what you're thinking... No one in their right mind would enjoy hospital food. I swear, the shepherds pie that they served was awesome. Once I returned home, our family started having the store bought version of shepherds pie on an occasional basis and once again I loved it. However, we got to a point where we all got sick of it and needless to say, I haven't had any shepherds pie since I was 10. 

This was fine and dandy until a few weeks back, a friend at work (thank you, Persaud!) had some shepherds pie for lunch. It smelled wonderful and brought me right back to those days when I was 10. I swore I would make some as soon as I got a chance. Unfortunately, things got a little busy with Christmas and New Years getting in the way but I was still determined. Last Sunday night, it happened! 

Part of me really wanted to use an established recipe and part of me wanted to throw all recipe ideas out the window (Chef Michael Smith would have been so proud of me!). So I Googled some recipes to see what secret ingredients people were putting in their pies... Some recipes called for a whole array of veggies, some called for few, some made a stew under the mashed potatoes, some used sweet potatoes... I found it all a little overwhelming. So I took a few of the ideas and RAN with it. Here are the things I knew I wanted to get out of this pie:
  • To make a large dinner for my family
  • To make enough dinner to potentially freeze some as well
  • To include as many veggies are humanly possible (including a few that I despise)
  • To include some element of tomatoes in with the beef/veg mixture
  • To make a classic shepherds pie by using regular potatoes
  • To include some delicious grated cheese on top
Not a huge list of wants, but when a girl knows, she just knows (especially this girl!). So, I decided to include green pepper*, onions, carrots*, celery*, peas, corn, and mushrooms (veggies with * are veggies that I don't enjoy eating at all). I sauteed the veggies in a tiny bit of oil and butter (I typically use a combo of the two to get flavour and a higher smoking point).

Then I added some beef (okay, I made a LOT of pie, so I added quite a lot of beef) and let it all cook and get delicious! I also threw in some hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, soy sauce and a small can of tomato paste.

(Notice the two different coloured pans... I had enough meet to make 2 pies!). I then whipped up (literally) some garlic mashed potatoes (potatoes, garlic powder, a few tablespoons of 35% cream, some butter and some LOVIN!) and topped the pies.

My Mum had suggested that I use a piping bag to pipe out the potatoes but in the end I just smoothed them out with a spatula. Once smooth, I added some cheese and then shoved it in the oven for about 20 minutes at 425. Really, everything is cooked so you're really just heating it all through and melting the cheese. Voila mes amis! 

I regret not taking a picture of it done or sliced but it was DIVINE! I also apologize for some of the photo quality as I was bouncing between my blackberry's camera and my regular camera. 

Go forth and make shepherds pie! 

Happy Weekend! 


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cupcakes... oh cupcakes...

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! I hope you all had wonderful new years and that you rang in the new year with those you love! My new year was supposed to be wonderful, then turned crummy, and then turned wonderful again. Sometimes the simpler plans are the best ones. That being said, I am officially vowing that I will be hosting a dinner party at my house next year complete with full blown meals and tons of little appetizer things to eat! 

BUT on to the good stuff. After the adventures of new year's eve, I was certain that 2011 would have to be better than the last day of 2010 and so I decided to kick off the year with some baking of cupcakes for our family dinner on New Year's Day. I also figured that since I was going to be seeing the fam that this would be an awesome chance to try out a new recipe and get some feedback on it. Well... I tried out a chocolate peanut butter cupcake recipe from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes (aka My Cupcake Bible). I hate to say this but Martha, it was such a disappointment. The recipe tells you to make a chocolate batter and a peanut butter batter (this part was easy). Then you are instructed to:
  1. Scoop in 2 tablespoons of chocolate batter
  2. Then scoop in 1 tablespoon of peanut butter batter
  3. Then scoop in 1 tablespoon of chocolate batter
  4. And then scoop in another tablespoon or peanut butter batter
  5. Then swirl. 

Now, while this may sound (and look) simple enough, I truly feel that perhaps TEASPOONS would have been a more accurate measurement because these cupcakes were FULL before they even hit the oven. Again, I trusted Martha's advice thinking that maybe these cupcakes really wouldn't rise much. *sigh* I was wrong. They rose.... and they rose and rose and rose until they spilled all over the flats of the muffin pan and all over the bottom of my oven. Needless to say I was a little upset but tried to remedy the situation. I scraped off the flats and discarded or redistributed the batter in hopes of just having this be a little mistake. Nope... wrong again! After 40 minutes of baking, I had a giant cupcake mess not only on my muffin pan but all over the bottom of my oven too which made me wanna scream. Please keep in mind that I had time constraints that I was working with too and this flop was not helping. 

So it was 'au revoir' to those cupcakes and on to a new recipe. After deciding that I was craving a banana based cupcake, I gave Martha one last shot with her Banana Cupcakes with Caramel Buttercream... except that I didn't want caramel buttercream, I wanted cream cheese frosting and I wanted white chocolate in my cupcakes too! After a brief mission of hunting for eggs on New Year's Day and a text message to the fam that I was running late due to a cupcake crisis, the new cupcake mission was in full effect.

Thankfully, not only did these cupcakes turn out amazing, I swear I have found my new favourite recipe for Banana Cupcakes. I tweaked the recipe a bit by adding some cinnamon (about 1 tsp) and nutmeg (about 1/4 of a tsp) in addition to 6 oz of chopped white chocolate. Oh sweet mother, these babies are DELICIOUS! The recipe made 24 cupcakes and 2 small (2 1/2 in x 5 1/2 in) loaves. I think the key is to making these delightfully moist and soft and wonderful little cakes is to JUST BARELY mixing them. Mix them (I used my mixer) until almost all of the flour is absorbed. I promise, it will be worth it. I also used my Oxo Large Cookie Scoop and I swear it makes the most perfect cupcakes ever. One scoop with this scoop is the perfect amount of batter. 

PLUS (wow I've used CAPS a lot in this post), I have discovered my new favourite cream cheese frosting recipe. It's Anna Olson's Cream Cheese Frosting from her Banana White Chocolate Cake. It's smooth, it's creamy and really people, this is what dreams are made of! Not only is it amazing but it pipes beautifully.

And as such, here they are in their glory plus the loaves. Please note that I altered the image so that you could see the detail of the piping!

Happy New Year darlings :)