Tuesday 23 December 2014

christmas cookies - part III


This is probably the easiest and quickest Christmas cookie recipe you will ever take on but it’s also quite possibly the most delicious. This recipe was given to me years ago by a no-nonsense German grandmother and it’s served me well since. The only amendment I’ve made was to utilize a mix of hazelnuts and walnuts but this is optional. So why go nuts with all that holiday baking this year when you can bake those nuts, that’ll show’em! 

makes about 20 cookies

200 g softened butter
200 g sugar
2 packets vanilla sugar
2 eggs
200 g chopped Hazelnuts (or a mix of Hazelnuts and Walnuts), plus 20 whole hazelnuts for decoration
200 g oat flakes (quick oats work best, do not use whole oats or steel-cut)
4 Tb flour
4 Tb rum
2 packets baking powder

  1. Preheat oven to 390 F
  2. In a bowl, whisk together butter, sugar, vanilla sugar, and eggs until well incorporated
  3. To this add the chopped nuts (I like them to be chunky but not too large so I use a mortar and pestle or a rolling pin to get the consistency I want), stir with a wooden spoon
  4. Add the oat flakes, stir
  5. Finally add the flour, rum, and baking powder and stir until well incorporated
  6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper then using a teaspoon scoop up the mixture and spoon onto the sheet making sure there is at least 2 inches between each as they spread out. Place a whole hazelnut in the centre of each cookie
  7. Bake in oven for 10 minutes or until the sides of the cookies just begin to turn golden brown – you may only need 8 minutes in the oven

Friday 19 December 2014

christmas cookies - part II


 As I said in an earlier post, when it comes to Christmas, I am all about German cookies. If you are a traditionalist like me you will surely appreciate this old classic: Pfefferkuchen (also known as Lebkuchen and is similar to gingerbread).  I’m being quite literal here when I say “old classic” because Lebkuchen was invented by monks in Franconia, Germany in the 13th century.

The reason I love this treat so much, besides its seven hundred year plus history, is because it’s full of wonderful aromatic spices and honey, and it goes a really long way. I find myself having a couple of these with my morning coffee or afternoon tea for weeks after Christmas as they keep well and are not sickly sweet. Also, they are perfect for dunking!

So here is an oldie but goodie, the wonderfully fragrant Pfferkuchen:

makes around 60

140 g butter
175 g sugar
400 g honey
1 ¾ Tb. dark unsweetened cacao powder
1 ½ Tb. ground cinnamon
1 Tb. ground coriander seed
1 ½ tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground aniseed
1 tsp. dried lemon peel
¾ tsp. ground cardamom
½ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. nutmeg
840 g all -purpose flour
11 g baking powder (or ¾ of a packet)
2 eggs
nuts for garnishing (blanched whole almonds, whole hazelnuts, or walnut halves)
1 tsp. milk

  1. In a medium sauce pan melt the butter on medium low heat
  2. While whisking, add in the cacao and sugar, followed by the honey. This should result in a very glossy smooth texture
  3. Turn up the heat to medium and throw in the spices. Cook for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool
  4. In a large bowl, add the baking powder and flour
  5. In a separate dish, break the eggs and whisk lightly. Pour ¾ of the eggs into the bowl and put the rest in refrigerator for egg-washing your cookies later
  6. Pour in the cooled down honey and spice mixture
  7. Using a mixer, whisk the ingredients together so that they are evenly incorporated. The mixture should resemble clumpy wet sand
  8. Using your hands bring the mixture together until it begins to bind then divide into four sections, about a large handful each
  9. On a lean flat surface, knead each section of dough into a smooth round ball. Be prepared to spend a good 5-7 minutes kneading each section, it’s a good workout! You should end up with four smooth round large balls which you will cover with cling wrap and leave in the refrigerator overnight to rest
  10. The next day, take out a ball of dough and roll it out on a clean flat surface. To ensure the dough does not stick to your surface, I suggest you roll it out on a sheet of parchment paper. Get ready for another good arm workout
  11. You can roll out the sheet as think or as thin as you like, you merely need to adjust the cooking time.  I like to mix it up. Just ensure you bake similar sized cookies at the same time.
  12. Preheat oven to 390 F
  13. Using a cookie cutter, cut out desired shapes or create a freehand shape with a sharp pairing knife
  14. Add a splash of milk to the eggs that you left in the refrigerator and whisk
  15. Top the cookies with a nut or nuts in whatever design that you prefer, then using a brush, give the surface of the cookies an egg wash
  16. Line baking sheet with parchment paper then set your cookies on it about 1.5 inches apart
  17. Bake for 8 minutes for thinner cookies or 10 minutes for thicker ones
  18. Let cool on a rack
  19. Don’t be shocked by how hard your Pfefferkuchen is, it’s completely normal. Just place them in a cookie tin with the lid on but not completely fastened. They should be nice and soft the next day
Perfect for dunking!

Tuesday 16 December 2014

christmas cookies



Christmas is just around the corner and it’s time to start baking those sweet and decadent desserts.  For me Christmas is very much about tradition which is why my personal go-to inspiration for holiday baking is invariably German. Germans have such an admirable tradition when it comes to Christmas sweets and I for one am a BIG fan. This year I'm kicking off the baking marathon with the beautifully dainty Spitzbuben. You will surely recognize these jam sandwich cookies but I will show you how to make them so that they are flavourful and never dry.

makes 28 sandwich cookies
  • 2 heaping cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 heaping cup ground almonds
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 200g butter, cold and cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup raspberry jam, or other red jam
  • 1 tsp. brandy, or other fruit liqueur
  • icing sugar for dusting

1.       Using large bowl, bring together flour, ground almonds, sugar, and salt
2.       In small cup, lightly whisk egg then add in the vanilla extract. Pour mixture over the dry ingredients
3.       Add cubed butter to dry ingredients then using your hands, work the butter into the flour until you get a breadcrumb-like consistency. Work the dough a bit more until it begins to come together but do not overwork it
4.       Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling wrap, and place in refrigerator for 2 hours
5.       Preheat oven to 350 F
6.       On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into about half a centimetre sheet. Cut out desired shape using a cookie cutter. Keep re-rolling dough until finished.
7.       Using an apple corer, a very small cookie cutter, or a bottle cap, cut out the centre of half the cookies
8.       Place cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 10-12 minutes or until slightly golden. Let cool
9.       Meanwhile in a small bowl, stir brandy or a fruit liqueur into your preferred jam.  Raspberry is ideal but I like to mix it up and use sour cherry jam or a white current and cardamom jam
10.   Place about half a teaspoon of the jam mixture on the underside of a cookie then press it together with one of the cookies with the centers cut out.
11.   Leave to cool then dust with icing sugar

TIP: The cookies keep well for days in an airtight container

Monday 8 December 2014

bone marrow


I think there is something about bone marrow that connects us to a very primal part of ourselves.  Some anthropologists believe that in some parts of the world early humans were scavengers rather than hunters and bone marrow would have supplied the large brains of us tool-using hominids with much needed fat.

Be that as it may, I like to indulge myself in primal activity now and then and what could be more indulgent than the exquisite, fatty and nutty bone marrow? However, as if the bone marrow weren't enough of an indulgence, I like to smother it with red wine braised beef brisket and oxtail. I promise you that this will be one of the most memorable dishes you will ever enjoy, right down to the last drop of marrow as you will surely wiggle your tongue along every crevice of your boat-shaped bone in pursuit of it. I took a photo of a friend of mine getting right amongst it like a Cro-Magnon and I have to say, it was an image to remember. 

The great thing about living in an area with access to farms with their own country meat stores is that you can ask for the cuts of meat you want. This ensures that the next time the cattle goes to the abattoir, part of it has your name on it and you will get the freshest cuts from a small herd of local organically raised animals. What can be better that that?

A good rapport with your local butcher is particularly handy when it comes to preparing this dish as you will need to ask for the shin bone to get sliced lengthwise. I tend to put my order in at Oakridge Acres http://www.oakridgeacres.ca/ because their meat is outstanding. The cattle are fed mostly grass/hay as well as non GMO barley. This is some of the best tasting meat I have ever had and I’ll look for any excuse to drive down to Ayr to pick up my order.


Serves 4

2 Tb. olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 beef shin bones cut lengthwise
400 g beef brisket
300 g oxtail
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 large carrots, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2/3 bottle red wine
1 cup tomato passata
1 sprig of thyme
Parsley, finely chopped
Lemon rind, grated 

  1. Preheat oven to 325 F
  2. First start off by seasoning the brisket and oxtail amply with salt and pepper
  3. Heat up the olive oil in a deep cast iron pan or pot on medium high heat
  4. Sear the meat on all sides until brown
  5. Remove meat, set aside
  6. Throw in the onions, carrots, celery, and thyme sprig and cook for a 3 minutes
  7. Place the meat back in then pour in the red wine followed by the tomato passata
  8. Let it come to a simmer then cover with lid and place in oven to cook for 3 hours
  9. Remove pan or pot from the oven. The meat should be extremely tender. Using two forks shred the meat up and stir it into the sauce so the meat gets completely incorporated into that lovely dark red braising liquid. Cover and set aside.
  10. Turn the oven up to 420 F
  11. Lay the bones marrow side up on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper and bake for 10-15 minutes. Once the marrow begins to soften and bubble, remove it from the oven
  12. Pile on the shredded braised beef on the bone marrow then sprinkle with the chopped parsley and lemon rind for a punch of colour and freshness
  13. Serve with a nice mash as I did or with a couple of golden buttery slices of toast for scooping up that marrowy goodness
TIP: The brilliance of this dish comes out when you get the braised meat and the bone marrow in the same mouthful. The sweet nuttiness of the marrow along with the rich savouriness of the braised meat is out of this world.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

sour cherries

                                                  SOUR CHERRY LIQUEUR

There is something so rewarding about drinking your own homemade booze. Though I have yet to taste a good home made wine, there are some things of an alcoholic persuasion that taste best when made at home. Where I come from it’s the infamous plum brandy that comes to mind.  The other favourite is a sweet and flavourful sour cherry liqueur which is enjoyed after a meal like a dessert wine or on its own. The first time I tried it I must have been around 3 or 4 years old! We had guests over for dinner and as my parents were seeing everyone out at the front door, unbeknownst to them,  I made my rounds finishing each and every remaining drop of liqueur that the guests had left behind in their glasses. I then climbed on the couch and proceeded to give an enthusiastic rendition of ABBA’s Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie (A Man After Midnight). How’s that for an image?

Growing up it was my grandfather who made this drink and it was absolutely delicious. For the past couple of years I started making it as well because I missed the smell and taste of this nectar of the gods. Normally it’s made with pure alcohol but this being Ontario, finding pure alcohol is out of the question. So I use the next best thing, vodka. Come every July I seek out the ripest sour cherries I can find to make my batch however, this past July I decided to take a drive to the Niagara region to pick my own so I can milk every ounce of authenticity out of the experience, such a purist I am.

Just a bit of a warning though: if you are a person who requires immediate gratification, this may not be the drink for you as it requires  about 10 weeks of cellaring. On the bright side, it should be ready to drink just as the weather begins to get nippy. Think of it as a gift for future you, who probably really needs something sweet and strong to warm up those dark and cold days or wants to break out into a rendition of an old ABBA classic.

2 kg sour cherries, washed and dried (stems off, pits included)
800 g white sugar
3 L vodka

  1. First, choose the ripest sour cherries you can find, the darker the better.
  2. Wash and dry them with stems still on. I like to spread them on paper towels to let them air dry outside gently. De-stem the cherries after they are dried.
  3. In a large glass demijohn, pour in enough cherries to cover the bottom of the jar, cover them in a layer of sugar on top, follow this by another layer of cherries and sugar. Continue layering the cherries and sugar until finished making sure the last layer of cherries is covered by sugar.
  4. Cover the mouth of the demijohn with gauze and secure with an elastic. The reason for this is so that the fruit can breathe whilst ensuring the insects are kept out.
  5. Leave out in the sun to macerate for at least 4 days until the sugar is fully dissolved, and the dark red juices from the cherries have seeped out.
  6. Now it’s time to pour in the vodka. Roll bottle around gently in your hands so everything is evenly incorporated.
  7. Close the demijohn with a cork and place in a dark cool room for at least 10 weeks. Occasionally roll the bottle around to give things a bit of a mix.
  8. Once the end of October rolls around  it’s time to reap the rewards of this aromatic and sweet treat. You’re welcome!

Sour cherries are smaller and more translucent than regular cherries, and have a unique texture

TIP:  Don’t throw away those plump vodka-infused sour cherries!They are great in desserts and can last a long time in your freezer ready to use next time you want to bake dessert.

Monday 10 November 2014




Hey, bite your tongue! No, I really do mean it. I am literally inviting you to seek out and try cooking with the marvellous beef tongue. As far as cuts of beef go, you simply cannot get a more tender and unctuous cut of meat. The irony is that if prepared properly tongue will literally melt on your tongue.

This weekend we took a meandering drive through the country enjoying the haunting beauty of the Ayr countryside on an overcast and cool November day. We stopped off at a couple of antique shops and contemplated our next meal. We were heading toward our favourite place for sourcing organic local meat when all of a sudden the heady aroma of cow manure infiltrated our car. My partner’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree and before we knew it we saw a group of laid back cows outside a barn chewing contently. Not 15 feet away we see a sign for Faul Farms in front of a beautiful old house set in what can only be called an idyllic pastoral setting beckoning us to try their naturally grown beef. So we parked our car and headed towards the country store that was presumably inside this house when a beautiful small black cat crossed our path. We chose to see this as a sign of good luck (as we both love black cats). She, along with a very friendly dog guided us to the front door of the house. It felt a bit odd to enter someone’s house just like that. We looked inside and had no idea which way to turn, it just looked like someone’s home. So we went back outside the front door, rang the bell to announce ourselves and nothing! So we proceeded back in again treading awkwardly in a random direction when suddenly something resembling a shop towards the end of the house came into full view, phew. We were greeted by two friendly young girls behind the counter and we proceed to check out their meat products. We found oxtail, which has been surprisingly difficult to find either because it gets sold out quickly or because it’s become a bit too steep in price. What I was really after now however, was tongue, and after scanning their product list I was left disappointed at its omission. I walk away to check out some other cuts when my partner calls me over to tell me that tongue is listed under the Pet Food section, appetizing right? This delicacy has been relegated to pet food?! Lucky pets I suppose. So I asked if they had any of the tongue in stock and they did. I asked if it’s fit for human consumption and the girl explained that most people don’t eat tongue so they market it as pet food. However, seeing as it was a whole tongue, I happily took it. Sophie, the black cat was on to something, this place was a lucky find and is truly worth checking out: http://www.faulfarms.com/Welcome.html

We were expecting two very special guests the next day, one of which had just flown in from overseas so this tongue had better be good, and boy was it ever! I could tell the tongue was fresh and healthy the moment I unwrapped it so I was excited to get to it and prepare it in a luxurious white wine sauce. I grew up with a tongue recipe my mother used to make which was served with a simple white sauce, however this sauce is an elevated and elegant version that is both simple to prepare and an exquisite accompaniment to the tongue.


INGREDIENTS (serves 4):

1 whole beef tongue
1 carrot, peeled
1 onion, peeled
1 stick celery
A few sprigs of fresh parsley, thyme and/or rosemary and oregano
A few peppercorns
A couple of juniper berries (optional)

1 shallot, finely chopped
1 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. flour
3/4 cup of white wine
1 ladle-full of chicken stock
¼ cup of cream
10-12 fresh tarragon leaves
1 tsp. capers
4 thinly sliced small cornichons
Salt and pepper

  1. Wash the beef tongue thoroughly in cold water
  2. Place in a large stock pot along with onion, carrot, celery, herbs, and peppercorns and bring to a boil. Once boiling turn down the heat to low and let simmer gently for 3 hours
  3. Remove the tongue from the stock, let cool slightly then peel off the thick rough skin. It should come off quite easily.
  4. Slice tongue diagonally into ¼ inch slices. As you get to the thicker part of the tongue you will notice more fat and blood vessels. Continue slicing just the same then simply trim off those ugly bits (hopefully you have some grateful pet to feed them to). Wrap tongue slices in tinfoil and set aside while you make the sauce
  5. In a pan on medium heat, melt the butter then sauté the shallots. Add the flour and continue to fry for another couple of minutes while stirring with a wooden spoon
  6. Pour in the wine and let simmer until reduced by a third, the sauce should look fairly thick
  7. Pour in a ladle of stock and let reduce again by about  half
  8. Add cream along with salt and pepper to taste and let simmer for a few more minutes. The consistency of the sauce should be such that it’s thick enough to coat the back of your spoon, not too thick or clumpy nor too watery
  9. Once you are happy with the thickness and seasoning you can drop in your tarragon leaves and capers
  10. Place your tongue slices inside the sauce and let cook gently in the sauce for another minute
  11. Garnish with cornichon slices and a few more tarragon leaves
  12. Serve with roasted potatoes and fresh green salad leaves

Wednesday 5 November 2014



TARRAGON CHICKEN WITH POTATO GRATIN                                          

I think that of all the herbs out there, tarragon has got to be the most exquisite and aromatic of them all. It isn't as versatile as other herbs but that’s just fine because it knows what it’s good at. When paired with particular ingredients, tarragon transforms them into something extraordinary and magical. 

Last night I was going through some tarragon withdrawal. I was missing the scent of tarragon wafting through the house so I decided to prepare a classic French dish that is a perennial favourite in our home: Tarragon Chicken.

The first time I had this dish perfectly executed was in a little mountain town called Arrowtown which is in New Zealand of all places. It is situated near renowned Queenstown which is in the south island of New Zealand. This picturesque little place has plenty of international tourists and expats who decided to make it their home, and who can blame them? This area is visually stunning, it’s home to some of the best vineyards in the world, the best skiing, mountains, crystalline lakes, etc. … heck, it’s the actual Middle Earth (much of the Lord of the Rings was filmed there).

Okay, back to the chicken. One evening a few years back, I went out to a French Restaurant in Arrowtown that was run by the French, even the wait staff was French so my confidence was high when I saw Poulet à l'estragon on the menu, I absolutely had to have it and I am still benefiting from it to this day.  It created such an impression on me that I decided to recreate it once I got home. After much tinkering and experimenting I finally had it down to a science. My tarragon chicken dish is rich, intense and exquisite. I have yet to meet a soul that hasn't fallen in love with it. So if you want to elevate your roast chicken to something exceptional, you will adore this recipe.


Makes 4 servings
  • For the roast chicken:
  • 1 whole organic chicken, about 1.2 -1.5 kg
  • One large onion, sliced
  • A bunch of fresh tarragon leaves
  • 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 Tbs. soft butter                                    
For the tarragon gravy:
  • 1/2 of a bottle of white wine
  • Tarragon leaves, at least 20  (can also add 1 tsp. dry tarragon leaves for more intense flavour)
  • 1/2 cup of cream
  • Salt and pepper
For the Potato Gratin:
  • 4 potatoes (I prefer Yukon Gold because they keep their shape), very thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ cup cream
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • Grated cheese, I prefer Gruyere here but you can use something similar as well
  • Salt to taste

How to make the potato gratin
How to make the tarragon gravy

  1. Preheat oven to 450 F
  2. Rinse chicken then pat dry with paper towel
  3. Rub soft butter all over the body
  4. Season entire chicken well with salt and pepper
  5. Stuff half a lemon into the cavity along with 5-8 or tarragon sprigs, this will infuse the chicken with a mild lemon and tarragon flavour as well as ensure a moist bird
  6. Place the round onion slices flat on the roasting pan then lie the chicken breast-side up over the onion slices. This will not only protect the bird as it’ s cooking but will sop up all the rendered chicken fat and caramelize them for a knock-out gravy.
  7. Place the chicken in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 400 F. Let roast for 1 hour
  8. In the meantime, remove the excess water from the potato slices by wrapping them in paper towels or a clean dish cloth then putting a weight on them for about 15 min. I used a heavy cutting board.
  9. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a light simmer on medium heat along with the crushed garlic cloves and thyme sprigs. Let simmer on low for about 15 minutes until the flavour of the garlic and thyme imparts itself sufficiently to the cream. Remove the garlic and thyme sprigs. Season with salt and set aside.
  10. I  like individual gratins so I use ramekins to make this dish. Rub soft butter over the inside of the ramekins and place a layer of potato slices over the bottom of the ramekin. Spoon over some of the infused cream then sprinkle on some of the grated cheese. Repeat this layering process pressing down firmly on each layer, until you get to the top. Cover this last layer with slightly more cream and sprinkle a good amount of the cheese over top followed by a little knob of butter. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  11. Once your chicken has been roasting for a full hour, it should be golden and crispy and the fat should be nicely rendered covering the onions at the bottom of the roasting dish. At this point, pour in the white wine and continue cooking the chicken in the oven for another ½ hour.
  12. This is also a good time to put in your gratin ramekins as they take about half hour to cook.
  13. Once the half hour is up, remove chicken from the pan leaving behind that liquid gold. Wrap the chicken in tin foil and leave it to rest for 15 minutes.
  14. Meanwhile transfer the roasting pan to the stove to create that heavenly tarragon gravy. This is where the magic happens! By now the onions should be caramelized and almost melting into the rich liquid. Turn to stove on medium heat, and using a fork mash the onions down to thicken the liquid. Take the tarragon leaves off the stem, chop them up and add to the gravy, then season with salt and pepper. Let the gravy simmer and reduce by about a 1/3. The gravy should be thickened up now. Give it a taste to check if there is sufficient seasoning and tarragon flavour.  You can chop up more tarragon at this point or add some dry tarragon for a more intense flavour. Finally , stir in the cream and cook for another minute.
  15. Pour the gravy into a gravy boat  or pour directly over the roasted chicken. Make sure to leave some gravy aside because you WILL be going back to it over and over again as you surely devour your bird. Enjoy!