January 30, 2013

Why I love my grocery store roasted chicken...

Roasted Chicken & mixed salad greens lunch

This month as been a busy one.  I'm putting in a lot of extra work hours, the best that I can around my children's school schedule, while continuing my responsibilities around the home.  On occasion, something has to go to the wayside, and that something has been dinner more times than not. I need something quick (since the kids are always STARVING RIGHT NOW!) and easy (by dinner time, I'm too tired for complicated), something the kids will like (Mom, what is that?!) and preferably on the healthier side (No pre-made frozen or boxed full of preservative crap which contains no vitamins and minerals.)  

Thank goodness for those ready-made roasted chickens at the local grocery store.  Seriously, they have saved me more times than not.  A great price and we all love chicken at our house.  After I pick up the kids from school, we make a quick stop to pick one up, and on the way home, I think of a side dish to make.  Stir-fried carrots or broccoli, peas and corn, all of which the kids like or if hubby and I are looking for a lighter dinner, mixed salad greens as a side.  All those things can be prepped, cooked and served by the time my kids have washed their hands and set the table.  Hallelujah! 

I think grocery stores should look into other ready-made protein.  Beef roast?  Pork loin?  That would really help out busy moms and dads and have them feel that they are still feeding their families healthily.  

January 22, 2013

Hazelnut Cake with Nutella Cream Cheese Icing

Hazelnut Cake

Before our stay in Austria the only German I knew was Gesundheit and Volkswagen.  And Danke but that is about it. Once we arrived, the grocery store is where I picked up more German.  Standing in the produce section, I'd be staring at the onions and saying "zwiebel" in my head several times after reading the sign.  "Tomate" is easy enough to remember but "knoblauch" sounds as alien as the the object itself: garlic.

Upon perusing the various food magazines at the local Billa grocery store, I noticed they had a magazine that the company itself produced almost every month called "frisch gekocht" at a fantastic price of 1 euro.  The recipes are top notch as is the photography and styling.  I was pleased when I recognized the work of  Dietlind Wolf, one of my favorite stylists, within the glossy pages of the magazine.  I was doing double the dance of joy when we went to pay for the magazine and the cashier told my hubby that it's free if you have a membership card, which we did!  It is amazing that such a stunning, high-caliber magazine is produced and given for free to it's members.  I looked forward to it every month it came out and I would hurry to the store, with much excitement, to pick it up.

Since I am very familiar with cooking and baking method, I slowly increased my German vocabulary.  Of course, I had my hubby to go to when I needed clarification and when no one was around and I couldn't decipher a word, there was always Google translate.  When it was time to leave Austria, I packed up the 3 magazines into my suitcase, sure that I would try more recipes out once I settled back home in Canada.

Hazelnut cake closeup

And that is exactly what I did at Christmas.  It was my turn to host Christmas dinner and seeing this beautiful Hazelnut cake recipe in the magazine, I had chosen my dessert for the evening.  I had to make modifications, such as the size of the cake, since I didn't have the 6 inch baking ring it asked for (I was so certain I did!) and I used cream cheese instead of marscapone (much cheaper alternative).  I swore out loud many times, angry that I didn't buy skinless hazelnuts, since removing the outer skins took up more of my time than I expected it to. But when I couldn't find chocolate hazelnut mass anywhere, sure that I ruined Christmas dessert, I crossed my fingers and made the executive decision to use Nutella, hoping it would be a decent substitution as I played around with the other icing components to get a good consistency.

I really can't believe my luck it all worked out at the end.

The hazelnut cake layers filled with Nutella cream cheese icing made it the perfect ending to the meal.  A thin slice was all one needed since it was so rich.  There was a lot of work involved with the cake, from cutting and brushing each layer with a rum-sugar syrup, to assembly and icing of the cake to the final topping it with toasted hazelnuts that were first coated with caramel.  It was not a simple recipe but I was so proud of myself that I had conquered it, especially with all my changes! Kudos to pastry chefs everywhere, making it look much easier than it actually is, I bow down to you.

* I am not going to translate the recipe as it would take me forever and a day to do so, especially with all my modifications!

January 11, 2013

Chanterelle Mushrooms

Chanterelles

In my everyday cooking, when a recipe calls for mushrooms, I typically buy the white button variety.  They seem to be the most common variety available in supermarkets here in my city.  Once in a while, I will venture out and try different varieties: cremini, enoki, shitake and very rarely the big ole portobello, but my usual weekly mushroom purchase is still the white button kind.

But this last fall, when we were living in Austria, I hit the local supermarket and saw these beauties.  I stared at them, not sure what variety they were. An Austrian friend happened to come into the grocery store at this perfect moment and tell me that I must try these. "Eierschwammerl", as they are called in Austria or "Echter Pfifferling" if you are in Germany but in the English and French speaking countries, they are called Chanterelles. 

While I was translating Eierschwammerl to Chanterelles, I stumbled upon sites that explained that they are worth their weight in gold because Chanterelles can not be cultivated indoors but must be foraged in the wild.     Their trumpet shape, meaty texture and subtle earthy flavor is quite coveted by chefs and foodies around the world.  And to think, I paid peanuts for them! Oh, how I miss Austria for the very reasonable cost of food.
   
Sauteed Chanterelles with creme fraiche and chives

Cleaning these lovely Chanterelles can be quite the feat since dirt and other small particles are found strongly clinging within the gills. I dry brushed off as much as I could but eventually had to rinse off the rest with water. Dry them up with a cloth, or leave them to air dry for a short time. 

My friend recommended that I slice lengthwise into thin slices, making sure to cut off the dry stem ends first, and saute them in butter and garlic until golden brown. Something I found was that Chanterelles have quite the moisture content, so it will take quite some time to boil off the excess liquid.  Make sure you boil it off over medium heat but watch that they don't burn.  Depending how many mushrooms you are sauteeing in your pan, this can take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes!  Remove them from the heat, allow them to cool a little and then blend them with creme fraiche and sprinkle with chives. 

January 8, 2013

Fresh Figs dipped in White Chocolate

White Chocolate dipped Figs

I'm not sure how many of my friends ate figs throughout their childhood but I have plenty memories of eating them.  Not fresh figs but the dried version that comes packed so perfectly into a circular pattern, one fig next to the other, like peas in a pod.  My mom or dad would pull out a package from the pantry and all of us would take our turns grabbing one after another, anticipating every sweet little bite.  

But there is a method to eating the dried figs, according to me.  One must grab the dried fig by the "handle", the stem actually, which is not edible since it is hard and chewy.  Since the dried figs we bought always came packed together, you need to first grab and pull the stem away from the body.  Then you have the mighty handle, as I call it, that will allow you to eat this sweet succulent fruit, the "correct" way.

Secondly, one must only bite into the fleshy fruit enough to leave half the fruit remaining, no popping the whole fig into your mouth, as that would be a travesty!  Why, you wonder?  Because, you must be able to admire the beautiful inside, full of little seeds that pop with every bite. As a child, I often would use my front teeth to rake out the center, enjoying a full concentration of seeds and it's honey-like flesh, leaving the outer skin to eat last.  Another reason to only bite into half or merely peel open the fig? To check for insects. I have eaten hundreds, if not thousands of figs and have only had one or two incidents of insects within the bulb-like bodies, however, once this has happened to you, your paranoia alert heightens and then you always bite into it first to do a quality check.

Lastly, the chewy outer skin remains of the fig.  I would pop the rest of the fig and throw away the handle.    The skin is also sweet with a toothsome bite leaving you looking for your next experience. Figs seem like the perfect fruit, giving many textures and tastes.  

Fresh Figs dipped in White Chocolate

Fresh figs are very similar experience, however not as sweet as their dried versions.  Their delicate skins are a fresh green color with some varieties giving either purple or brown color when ripened.  

I purchased a handful of fresh figs for Christmas dinner.  Using a damp cloth, I lightly wiped the skins clean and set them aside.  With a double boiler, melt good quality white chocolate and dip the fruits to coat the outside.  Set them onto a wire rack to dry before serving.  Any chocolate can be used, dark or milk varieties, but I find the white chocolate gives a punch to the colorful exterior to the fig.  

My pantry often has dried figs and my children love eating them as well.  I'll bring home fig jams to change it up from our usual berry variety and every so often, I'll bring bring home fig cookies.  I'm sure many of you remember the infamous Fig Newton cookies, which I very much loved eating throughout my childhood.  Figs.  A life without them just wouldn't be as sweet.  
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