May the 4th Have Food

Finally back in the kitchen after a hiatus due to work schedules.

I gotta admit…it feels pretty good.

I’m known as a Star Wars Geek. I cut my teeth in a darkened movie theater at the age of 6 watching A New Hope and decided two things:

1) I totally wanted to be Princess Leia
2) I wanted to marry Luke Skywalker

Now I ended up married to a rogue (who is also a bit of a farm boy) and together we have 3 little Jedis, or he’d tell you Siths in Training. I decided this this year I wanted to introduce them to the fun that can be Star Wars Day aka May the 4th.

Now I went to Google to mine for ideas so I want to be sure to credit justJENN with the idea of one of my mains The Double Sided Lightsaber Dogs.

Pinterest was also a treasure trove of ideas.

One of the best finds we have had at a Target in Fargo was a set of Solo cups that were solid plastic in the Dollar bin. Originally purchased for our deck last year it was mentioned by a friend yesterday that you could use Solo cups and have it fit the theme. So this morning I asked the kids…Light side or dark side. Sadly they all went red “dark side”.

Starting with breakfast this morning I went with Bantha Blue Milk and Leia Waffle Buns.

Bantha Blue Milk

Bantha Blue Milk – A simple combination that got a huge respsonse.

The Bantha Blue Milk is a simple creation of some 1% milk with two drops of blue liquid food colouring.

Leia Bun Waffles.

Leia Bun Waffles – A trick I learned from my roguish farm boy

A common theme I saw on many Pinterest boards was to do a Leia Bun but there is a recent trick learned from Kevin using my Belgian Waffle Iron. You take a refrigerator cinnamon bun and put one piece in each section of the waffle iron and press the iron together. I’ve got a Proctor Silex Waffle Iron and I set it to 3 and let it go for a couple of cycles before taking it off to serve.

I also highly recommend making sure you have some non-stick cooking spray on hand when you do this.

Leia Bun Waffles - I really like the shape.

Leia Bun Waffles – I really like the shape.

I had to work so a lunch menu was not in my hands today but maybe next year.

On to the dinner menu:

As previously mentioned I went with a Double Sided Lightsaber Dog.

Prepped Lightsaber Dogs - An homage to my husband's Dark Side Leanings.

Prepped Lightsaber Dogs – An homage to my husband’s Dark Side Leanings.

A really simple but fun entree. Simply take a weiner and then wrap a refrigerator crescent roll around the centre to make the handle so that you have a “blade” on either side of it. This was an homage to my husband’s love of the Dark Side and frankly I really think Darth Maul’s saber is pretty bad ass.

Finished Lightsaber Dogs - I made extras for the kids to take to school for lunch tomorrow.

Finished Lightsaber Dogs – I made extras for the kids to take to school for lunch tomorrow.

Now I wanted to provide a bit of variety in my menu today so I inspired by the Han Burgers I’d seen on Pinterest and decided to go with a Han slider which my kids are a huge fan of. While measuring out my 1lb of ground beef for my sliders I remembered that I had a spice from Epicure called Dukkah.

Epicure's Dukkah Spice - I thought it was a fun play on Count Dooku.

Epicure’s Dukkah Spice – I thought it was a fun play on Count Dooku.

This spice blend is one that I have come to love with ground beef. I’ve used it in past to add some spice to a meat loaf and the fact that it was a perfect play on a Star Wars character’s name really tickled my fancy. I added 1.5 teaspoons of it to the ground beef along with my salt and pepper and then went to mix my meat together.

Dukkah spiced sliders in the pan.

Dukkah spiced sliders in the pan.

Now for what to serve my sliders on. Princess Leia was known for her epic hair styles and I often wished my hair had been long enough to braid like hers. I was thrilled when I found these Braided Egg Buns from Kub Bakery.

Braided Egg Buns - An Homage to Leia's many braided hair styles.

Braided Egg Buns – An Homage to Leia’s many braided hair styles.

Finally for a side I felt giddy at the play on Yavin 4 with my Yam-in 4 Fries.

Yam-in 4 Fries in the oven and cooking on my Epicure chip pan.

Yam-in 4 Fries in the oven and cooking on my Epicure chip pan.

The two meals were a total win with my kids so I’ll take it as a sign that the Force, or maybe just the 4th, was with me.

Back At It!

Life has been a crazy mix these days. I started a new job over the summer and with shift work comes a need to re-learn the life/family/career balance.

So I’ve been out of touch which makes me sad because I adore this blog and I love writing it.

Now with things settling down and routines coming back more naturally I’m glad to say I’m getting back in the kitchen and will be able to put more posts on here.

Good to be back!

Into Darkness Brownies

My dad celebrated his birthday this past weekend and like any great dad he celebrated by helping my husband Kevin build a deck.

So like a good daughter I decided that alone was worth a pan of brownies just for him. Now my dad is a fan of very dark chocolate, in fact the darker the better in his opinion, so I wanted to make a dark chocolate brownie for him to enjoy.

Now I’m familiar with the concept of using stout beers to enhance the overall flavour of chocolate baking and I decided that this would be the time to experiment as my mission was to produce the darkest brownies I’d ever made before. Bolstered with my recent success using Rickard’s White in my Chicken Fajitas I decided to go with the Rickard’s Dark as my beer and began to assemble my experiment.

I dusted the recipe my mother calls “Worth the migraine” (chocolate gives her migraines) and decided to play with it.

Our collection of flavour. One bottle of Rickard's Dark, 6 ounces 70% Cacao chocolate squares, 50% cacao chocolate chips, and semi sweet chips.

Our collection of flavour. One bottle of Rickard’s Dark, 6 ounces 70% Cacao chocolate squares, 50% cacao chocolate chips, and semi sweet chips.

I started with assembling my flavour quartet which ended up being Rickard’s Dark, 6 ounces of 70% cacao in 1 ounce chocolate squares, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and dark chocolate chips made from 50% cacao.

Combination of flour and cocoa.

Combination of flour and cocoa.

I started with combining my flour and cocoa. You could add a 1/4 teaspoon of salt at this point but I held it back as I was using salted butter in the recipe. My dad suffers from high blood pressure so I knew that leaving the salt out would be a good idea and I was counting on the beer to enhance what I was trying to accomplish.

Butter, chopped chocolate, and chocolate chips.

Butter, chopped chocolate, and chocolate chips.

While preparing my chocolate and butter for melting I realized I needed 8 ounces of the chocolate squares and I only had 6. So I brought out my kitchen scale and used some semi sweet chips to make up the short fall of 2 ounces. Also used the semi sweet chocolate here because I felt the 50% cacao would be perfect sprinkled on top to add a melted chocolate component to every bite.

Successful melting!

Successful melting!

Now I found I had two road blocks to my melting chocolate.

1) I have failed more than once in my attempts to make melted chocolate without having the chocolate seize on me so I was concerned I couldn’t get the chocolate the way I needed it.

2) I lack a proper double boiler.

For #1 all I could do was take it slow as I attempt to melt and be sure to whisk continuously.

For #2 I took one of my metal mixing bowls and kept placing them on the bottom pot of my steamer set until I found one that fit nicely and then set the water to boil. Once it was boiling I placed the bowl on the top of the pot and started furiously whisking my chocolate and butter while they melted. Once I have it completely melted I pulled the bowl off and it kept the chocolate warm until I wanted to add it to my egg and sugar mixture.

Eggs and sugar

Eggs and sugar

Another lesson learned from this recipe was how to bring eggs to room temperature  Usually you would bring them out overnight but trust Kevin to tell me that if I placed my eggs in lukewarm water for 30 mins or so they would be room temperature.

The reasons that the eggs should be at least room temp becomes clear with this next step…

Melted chocolate meet eggs and sugar.

Melted chocolate meet eggs and sugar.

With the warm chocolate being combined with the eggs and sugar you definitely didn’t want your eggs to start cooking.

Finished batter with beer and flour/cocoa mixture added.

Finished batter with beer and flour/cocoa mixture added.

After adding the chocolate to the eggs/sugar and combining them I added the flour and cocoa mixture.

Finally I poured in my beer…

And it foamed up like crazy at me as I turned on the mixer and there was a small wave of beer over the edge of the bowl but in the end I had this lovely batter shown above.

Parchment lined 9 x 13 pan with batter and sprinkled with the 50% cacao chips.

Parchment lined 9 x 13 pan with batter and sprinkled with the 50% cacao chips.

I am still loving the parchment paper trick of lining my baking pan with at least 2 inches of  parchment up over the sides of the pan for easy removal from the baking pan and a clean pan when you are done.

I didn’t get to taste this creation as my dad got to take the whole pan home. It was his birthday after all.  But he did share with me that they were cake like in texture, which is the perfect brownie texture in his opinion, and very rich and moist.

I named these brownies after the new Star Trek movie coming out this week in honour of my dad being a long time Trekkie fan.

Into Darkness Brownies

In honour of my Dad! A good guy who loves Star Trek and helps to build decks on his birthday.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 6 tablespoons butter, room tempurature, cubed (I only had salted in the house so used that and omitted extra salt)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounce 70% cacao baking squares, chopped
  • 3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 4 large eggs, room tempurature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup Rickard’s Dark beer
  • 1 cup 50% cacao chocolate chips

Preparation:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa and salt (if using) until well combined.
  3. Melt butter, chopped very dark chocolate, and semi sweet chips in a double boiler (or fashion one from a metal bowl and a pot of boiling water) and stir until it is thoroughly melted, over low heat.
  4. Remove from heat. In a seperate bowl, beat eggs and sugar on high speed until well combined.
  5. Add melted chocolate mixture to the eggs and sugar and beat until combined. Beat flour mixture in and then add beer.
  6. Pour batter into a 9 x 13 prepared pan. Prepare pan by lining it with parchment with 2 inches up on the side making handles.
  7. Sprinkle the 50% cacao chips over top of the batter.
  8. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes.

Tequila Sunrise Grilled Chicken Fajitas with Rickard’s White Finish

With Spring attempting to break through I’ve made the decision to not let the weather curb my grilling and with warm weather and grilling comes cravings for fresh produce and cold beer in my fridge.

I was successful in making my first fresh salsa as well as guacamole this week and I wanted to try my hand at grilled chicken fajitas despite a rainy day in Winnipeg.

A recent line of marinades I’ve discovered at my local Sobeys is from Sauza Tequila. We’d tried one with beef before but I was intrigued to give their Tequila Sunrise a try on chicken breast.  I put about 3/4 of the bottle in a freezer bag with 5 chicken breasts and placed them in the fridge. I left the chicken in the marinade for 2.5 hours taking it out every 30 minutes or so to mix the contents up and try to get great coverage on my chicken.

When it comes to beer I enjoy many different ones. I’m a mood beer drinker and as such I am a huge fan of the Rickard’s Taster Pack because each beer is truly distinctive in their flavour. This fact was key in my decision to pull out a bottle of Rickard’s White to warm on the counter for use in my meal that evening.

I went with Rickard’s White because I felt the orange and coriander notes would enhance and pair well with the orange, lemon and lime citrus flavours of the Sauza marinade,as well as the cilantro in both the salsa and guacamole I’d made, and Kevin was positive about the pairing when I ran it by him.

He’s my experimentation touch stone. If he thinks the flavour profile doesn’t blend he’s pretty upfront before I begin.

The Daring Duo - Sauza Tequlia Sunrise Marinade and Rickard's White.

The Daring Duo – Sauza Tequlia Sunrise Marinade and Rickard’s White.

Kevin also taught me that it is ideal to use room temperature beer when you cook with it so I had the bottle warming up on the counter top for 2 hours before I used it.

To go with my grilled chicken breast I cut up one purple onion and two bell peppers.

One purple onion, one yellow pepper and one red pepper. Chopped and ready to go.

One purple onion, one yellow pepper and one red pepper. Chopped and ready to go.

I tossed them in the remaining 1/4 bottle of the Sauza Marinade before placing them in warmed frying pan with 2 tablespoons of heated grape seed oil on medium low (between 3 and 4) heat and left them to soften. When the onions began to become translucent I turned the heat down to low and let them continue to caramelize.

Onions and peppers - caramelized and ready for their Rickard's finish.

Onions and peppers – caramelized and ready for their Rickard’s finish.

The marinade coated the onions and peppers nicely and as they caramelized in the frying pan the sauce nicely thickened so they were coated in a flavourful sauce, similar in thickness to the packaged sauces you can pick up at a grocery store. When the onions reached the glassy state I took the bottle of Rickard’s White and did a turn and a half around the pan and stirred my veggies around so they got covered in the beer and then let it continue to simmer over low heat.

With my onions and peppers taking care of themselves I turn my attention to the chicken.

Marinated chicken breasts.

Marinated chicken breasts.

I heated my grill up for 20 minutes as it was raining and this can affect the overall temperature. I place my chicken on the grill and set the timer for 20 minutes and when the timer went off I flipped the chicken and was delighted at the nice grill marks. Another 20 minutes and I put the chicken on a plate to rest for 5 minutes.

While the chicken rested I removed my onions and peppers from the frying pan and kept it on the heat to keep warm.

After the 5 minute rest I sliced the chicken into strips and placed them into the pan my onions and peppers had just been removed from. I poured approx 1/4 cup of the Rickard’s into the pan and let it fry off while tossing the chicken strips.

Finished meal ready for the table.

Finished meal ready for the table.

After the Rickard’s had cooked off I combined the chicken strips with my onions and peppers and served with fresh guacamole and salsa on tortillas.

My dad, who had dropped in, was invited for dinner and he had high praise for how great the chicken turned out. I have to agree that it was juicy and flavourful. The Rickard’s added a nice depth to the marinade from Sauza.

Not bad for a moment of I think this will work….

Life’s a Chocolate Buffet, My Friends

We are all familiar with the tale of Charlie Bucket. The lucky child who finds that last golden ticket to visit the magical and mystical factory of one Willy Wonka where chocolate delights abound.

Saturday I was the proud recipient of a ticket given away for Winnipeg’s First Annual Chocoholics’ Buffet held on behalf of the United Way of Winnipeg. I entered the giveaway located on their Facebook page and was delighted when I received the notification that I had won my very own golden ticket to chocolate delights.

Held in the beautiful Ballroom of The Gates on Roblin the first thing I noticed when I entered was the long table in the centre of the room that was already laden with, what turned out to be, only some of the offerings for the evening. To the left of the entrance was the Lindt Chocolatiers table teeming with truffles ready for the sampling. To the right an espresso machine set up to create hot chocolate or a mochaccino to order. For a flavour boost a splash of Triple Sec added hints of orange to your beverage of choice.

My Hot Chocolate- sans Triple Sec- ready to be sipped as I survey the room.

My Hot Chocolate- sans Triple Sec- ready to be sipped as I survey the room.

With hot chocolate in hand I took a walk around the room and noted the many different chocolate offerings that ended with the chocolate fountain surrounded by sliced fresh fruits ready for dipping. I will confess that as I went along I started a mental list of items that I was going to enjoy when I finally got to go through and select my choices. I will also confess to skipping dinner in order to have room to enjoy my fill.

This shot is only half of the buffet table as seen from my seat.

This shot is only half of the buffet table as seen from my seat.

It was at this point that I came across my companions for the evening. A big thank you to them all for helping to shape my overall experience as often social eating is as much about who you share the experience with as much as the food so thank you to all my table mates, your conversation and impressions added to my enjoyment of the evening.

First pass through the buffet provided this array of tastes.

First pass through the buffet provided this array of tastes.

After the ribbon cutting I had my first closeup experience with the buffet itself. It was a sight to behold being near so many different styles and interpretations of chocolate desserts.

Milk shots - the official shot of the Chocoholic's Buffet

Milk shots – the official shot of the Chocoholics’ Buffet

After we had settled in with our first selections we were treated to ice cold milk shots which made the perfect accompaniment for all of our rich bites. My table companions agreed it was a welcome palate refresher and we were asking for more as the evening went on.

I want to say I could name every item, but the sheer amount of offerings from so many talented culinary artists still causes my head to swim,even 24 hours later. I can tell you that I didn’t have a bad bite all evening. Everything I tasted was amazing,be it a slice of cake, cupcake, truffle or chocolate. I am already planning to attend the event next year with my husbandas he enjoyed the tidbits I got to bring home in my provided take home box.

For a list of all the Chocolate Artists and their offerings please click here to head over to The Chocoholics Buffet. Also take a moment to click here for the Chocolate Artist Spotlights to learn more about who they are and where you can get your own bites of their work.

Be sure to peruse the list of amazing sponsors some of whom used their business savvy to support and promote this event.

Finally Congratulations are in order for the planning committee for their visionary event. I am still trying to explain the whole experience to those who have asked me about it and while I am not often at a loss for words I find I can’t convey the whole experience.

All I can say is…you have to experience it for yourselves.

With that said….

Save these Dates:

Sunday December 1st, 2013Tickets for Winnipeg’s 2nd Annual Chocoholics’ Dessert Buffet will go on sale!

Saturday March 22nd, 2014Winnipeg’s 2nd Annual Chocoholics’ Dessert Buffet will be held!

Sorry Aunt Jemima

A quick hit from my kitchen this morning.

I’ve been trying to convince my kids that sometimes fresh fruit, pure fruit spread or peanut butter make fine substitutes as toppings on waffles and pancakes instead of syrup  and I’ve been successful so far in not buying syrup for about a month or so now.

This morning however came a big  challenge….French Toast.

Pancakes and waffles are easy to tuck some sweet hits into with either fresh fruit or pureed on top but for some reason French Toast invokes the idea of stacks of thick bread dripping with syrup and powdered sugar.

Of course that could be what I see when I think of it. Making food changes has been a bit of a challenge in my life recently.

My youngest son and daughter both wanted to have French Toast and I rejected the suggestion from my 7 year old daughter to give them corn syrup as a substitute for Aunt Jemima’s warm smiling face…after all I’m trying to get some good eating habits in them as well as a sense of experimentation with their food.

So into my pantry I go and come out with a jar of a friend’s homemade apple sauce with cinnamon. Into my custard of 4 eggs and a tablespoon of heavy cream I put two tablespoons of this apple sauce. Whisk it together, dunk my whole wheat bread slices in the custard, cook it on my pancake pan and serve it up to some of my harshest critics…

There wasn’t a bite left after 5 minutes and while neither commented on the lack of syrup but kept delighting in the hints of apple.

Sorry Aunt Jemima but there seems to be a new sweetener in town…and it’s called pureed fruit.

Gotta say I’m very much looking forward to this coming berry season just so I can play with the flavours that can be incorporated as I loved this twist on a family favourite.

I Was Wrong About This One…

I’ve been handling the lion’s share of the cooking over the last little bit as my family has been under the weather in one form or another.

I’ve been keeping track of processes and recipes and will be sharing them in the coming days.

However, today I wanted to change things up a bit and talk about my husband’s 40th birthday present and my favourite new culinary item this year.

For his 40th Birthday Kevin requested a pellet grill  made by the good folks at Traeger Grills. These top of the line smokers/wood grills are a fair penny in price but like most quality culinary items are a value for how much you can do with it.

I will admit to being concerned that the investment would hold any returns but I agreed that for his 40th Birthday we’d get one for him to enjoy.

Smoking has become Kevin’s recent passion over the last year. He’s done reading and research on smoking for the last year now determined to put smoke rings on his food, making sure that it falls off the bone, which wood to use with which meat.

If smoking meat has a sommelier equivalent that knows which wood to pair with which protein to go in the smoke he’s well on his way there.

So this last weekend the house was on the mend and Kevin decided it was time to take the bad boy Lil’ Tex Elite onto our deck and fired it up for some ribs.

One real advantage of this pellet grill is that you can set it and forget it. You don’t have to sit and watch it as closely as you would with other smokers. I can well recall spending a majority of day last August checking our former smoker every half an hour and adjusting the temperature accordingly to help our pulled pork along

Another advantage is that Kevin will not longer have to get up at 2 am to make an amazing pulled pork for our guests.

The ribs only needed 6 hours and the smoke ring was visible and a triumph for my resident cook. My rack was fall off the bone amazing and the crust was so juicy and thick that absolutely no sauce was required.

Just when you’ve seen it all…This machine also bakes.

After the ribs came the smoked carrot cake. Smoked with Apple wood this amazing cake is one of the most moist cakes I have ever eaten. The smoke is subtle in the flavour of the dessert but definitely adds to both the ingredients as well as the overall colour of the dish. The suggested cream cheese icing to pair with it is a perfect compliment.

Today the Traeger cooked our burgers and apple wood bacon to go with them.

With each bite I’ve had to eat my words. I’m starting to love this grill…even thought that we could go ahead and sell our propane grill.

Next challenge…apparently you can make chocolate chip cookies in this thing.