April Fool’s Day

Our family, especially the kids, have taken a real liking to April 1st. The kids plan pranks for weeks in advance, which they then gleefully execute on the day. We also have a little tradition of having waffles for dinner on that night. It started off as dessert for dinner, but we adults had a hard time stomaching that, so we turned it into waffles (with sweet toppings, still!) for dinner. This year Ben and I had a little left-over chili before we had our waffles. We’re getting so old and boring!

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Pie Day

Back in mid-November I had a few girls from church over at our house for a pie making day. We worked hard, had lots of fun and got to enjoy some pretty yummy pies.

For those of you who might be interested, here are the recipes of what we made. Some of the pies were just assembled on the day, and even as it was I attempted to do too much! It was still fun, though. :-)

Oh, and here’s a little confession: even though some of these recipes have directions for the pastry, I have yet to make a pastry that rivals store-bought pastry. Maybe I need more practice, but until then it’s store-bought all the way!

Spinach and Cheese Pastries
(makes 16 triangle pastries)
Ingredients
2 packages flaky pastry
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 package frozen chopped spinach (about 1 lb)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 package of cream cheese
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon flour
½ cup of milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg
Method
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Sautée the onion until it starts to brown, then add the garlic and fry for a minute or so before adding the spinach. Cook until heated through, then add cream cheese. When the cream cheese has melted and been incorporated, sprinkle over the flour, and stir it in until well mixed. Fry for a minute or so, then add the milk and cook until thickened. Season with salt and pepper, and take off heat and stir in the cheddar cheese.
While the mixture cools, lay out the sheets of pastry and cut each sheet into 4 squares. Place spinach mixture on a triangle half of the square, making sure to leave about an half inch margin on the edges. Fold the pastry over and seal the edges with your fingers and then press down with a fork. Stab each pastry lightly about 3 times with the fork (this helps the steam escape as it is cooking).
In a small bowl, whisk an egg and use a pastry brush to brush egg over the pastries. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Steak and Cheese Pie
Pastry
Ingredients
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp salt
2 sticks butter, fridge cold
½ cup fridge cold water
Method
Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Roughly break the butter in small chunks, add them to the bowl and rub them in loosely. (Or use food processor with blades) You need to see bits of butter.
Make a well in the bowl and pour in about two-thirds of the cold water, mixing until you have a firm rough dough adding extra water if needed. Cover with cling film and leave to rest for 20 mins in the fridge.
Turn out onto a lightly floured board, knead gently and form into a smooth rectangle. Roll the dough in one direction only, until 3 times the width, about 20 x 50cm. Keep edges straight and even. Don’t overwork the butter streaks; you should have a marbled effect.
Fold the top third down to the center, then the bottom third up and over that. Give the dough a quarter turn (to the left or right) and roll out again to three times the length. Fold as before, cover with cling film and chill for at least 20 mins before rolling to use.

Pie filling
Ingredients
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
½ pound bacon, chopped
2 lbs stew beef (like chuck roast), cut into 1 inch cubes.
Salt and pepper
2 T dried parsley, or 1 T fresh parsley
1 ½ c wine (preferably red, but white works too)
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
2 T corn starch
¼ c cold water
6 oz cheddar cheese, cubed

Method
Preheat oven to 275 °F. In a Dutch oven, fry one large onion with bacon and garlic until browned. Add beef cubes and brown the meat. Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper, parsley and cook for about 5 minutes, then add the wine. Place the Dutch oven into the oven and cook for about 3 hours, until the meat is tender.
Place on the stove on low heat. Mix corn starch with cold water until no lumps remain, then stir into the stew mixture and cook for a few minutes until thickened. Take off the burner and let cool.
Prepare the pastry in the pie dish (you can do a bottom layer as well as a top layer, or only a top – whatever you prefer), spoon in the filling (you might have some left over), and dot with the cheese. Put the pastry lid on and seal. Place the pastry over the top of the pie dish and criss-cross it lightly with a sharp knife. Brush the top with beaten egg, then bake the pie directly on the bottom of the oven for 45 minutes, until the pastry is cooked, puffed and golden.

Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 t salt
4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
About 1 cup milk
1 t garlic salt
1 T oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1-2 cups vegetables—diced celery, carrots, corn, peas
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt, pepper
1 t ground coriander
1 T dried parsley

Method
Place the peeled and quartered potatoes in medium sized pot. Cover with at least an inch of cold water. Add a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until tender (about 20 minutes.
While the potatoes are cooking, heat the oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat. Add the chopped onions and cook until tender, about 6 to 10 minutes. If you are including vegetables, add them according to their cooking time. Carrots and celery should be cooked with the onions, because they take as long to cook as the onions do. If you are including peas or corn, add them toward the end of the cooking of the onions, or after the meat starts to cook, as they take very little cooking time.
Add ground beef to the pan with the onions and vegetables. Cook until no longer pink. Season with salt and pepper. Add the Worcestershire sauce and tomatoes. Bring the broth to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes. When the potatoes are done cooking (a fork can easily pierce), remove them from the pot and place them in a bowl with 4 Tbsp of butter and milk. Mash with a potato masher, and season with garlic salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread the beef, onions, and vegetables (if using) in an even layer in a large baking dish (9×13 casserole). Spread the mashed potatoes over the top of the ground beef. Rough up the surface of the mashed potatoes with a fork so there are peaks that will get well browned. You can even use a fork to make creative designs in the mashed potatoes.
Place in a 400°F oven and cook until browned and bubbling, about 30 minutes. If necessary, broil for the last few minutes to help the surface of the mashed potatoes brown.

Apple Pie

Ingredients
Dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
14 tablespoons cold butter, diced
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons cold water
Filling:
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 pounds baking apples like Golden Delicious, Cortland, or Mutsu
2/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling on the pie
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Generous pinch of ground nutmeg
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Method
Make the dough by hand. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Using your fingers, work the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles yellow corn meal mixed with bean sized bits of butter. (If the flour/butter mixture gets warm, refrigerate it for 10 minutes before proceeding.) Add the egg and stir the dough together with a fork or by hand in the bowl. If the dough is dry, sprinkle up to a tablespoon more of cold water over the mixture.
Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 1 hour.
Make the filling. Put the lemon juice in a medium bowl. Peel, halve, and core the apples. Cut each half into 4 wedges. Toss the apple with the lemon juice. Add the sugar and toss to combine evenly.
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the apples, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture begins to simmer, about 2 minutes. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until the apples soften and release most of their juices, about 7 minutes.
Strain the apples in a colander over a medium bowl to catch all the juice. Shake the colander to get as much liquid as possible. Return the juices to the skillet, and simmer over medium heat until thickened and lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes.
In a medium bowl, toss the apples with the reduced juice and spices. Set aside to cool completely. (This filling can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated or frozen for up to 6 months.)
Cut the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll each half of dough into a disc about 11 to 12 inches wide. Layer the dough between pieces of parchment or wax paper on a baking sheet, and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.
Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Line the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan with one of the discs of dough, and trim it so it lays about 1/2 inch beyond the edge of the pan. Put the apple filling in the pan and mound it slightly in the center. Brush the top edges of the dough with the egg. Place the second disc of dough over the top. Fold the top layer of dough under the edge of the bottom layer and press the edges together to form a seal. Flute the edge as desired. Brush the surface of the dough with egg and then sprinkle with sugar. Pierce the top of the dough in several places to allow steam to escape while baking. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
Bake the pie on a baking sheet until the crust is golden, about 50 minutes. Cool on a rack before serving. The pie keeps well at room temperature (covered) for 24 hours, or refrigerated for up to 4 days.
Note: You may freeze the uncooked pie, but don’t brush it with egg or dust it with sugar beforehand. Place the pie in the freezer for 30 minutes, to harden it slightly, and then double wrap it with plastic wrap. Freeze for up to 6 months. When ready to bake, unwrap the pie and brush it with egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake, from the frozen state, until golden brown, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Pumpkin Pie
(Absolutely nothing special here: it’s the Libby’s Recipe!)

Ingredients
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 can (15 oz.) p puree
1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated milk
1 unbaked 9-inch (4-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell
Whipped cream (optional)

Method
Mix sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk. Pour into pie shell. Bake in preheated 425° F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near centre comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream before serving.

Apple picking day

On a lovely warm day back in October, the girls and I took a field trip to a farm about an hour’s drive from where we live to go apple and pumpkin picking. The weather was fantastic — it was nice and sunny and not too hot or cold, a real Goldilocks kind of day. We took the drive out, and when we got there figured out which of the many activities on offer we wanted to do. We checked out the farm animals first and fed the donkey and goats a bag of carrots which I thought would last a long time and actually only took about a minute for them to munch!

After a little morning snack we went and did the corn maze. The kids were so excited, and it was good for their map-reading skills too. The older two would probably have been able to do the adult corn maze without too much trouble, but Laurelin needed carrying even through the kiddy one, and I didn’t really want to be carrying her for an hour while getting claustrophobic in a big corn maze!

After the corn maze, we went on a hayride to the orchards to go pick apples.

We got two whole boxes full of apples, and I was glad when someone offered us their little wagon. Then we could load some kids and apples on there and get around a little easier! Marica was pretty keen to pull them and she did a good job… until it got a little hard. :-)

Then it was on to the pumpkin patch where they make it very easy for you to pick your pumpkins — no prickly vines! They’re all just lying there, easy to choose which ones to take home. We got a whole bunch of them with the intention to carve them… right now they’re still sitting in our dining room, slowly going rotten. Oops.

It was a pretty tiring walk back to the main area, but we did eventually make it and had lunch before heading home again. What fun!

And then at home, these beauties

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turned into this kind of beauty.

Now that’s what I call the fruit of one’s labors!

Marica’s newest yummy dish

Marica recently got a cookbook out of the library and was looking through it one afternoon. She came to me and said, “I’m going to make Stromboli, and I don’t want you to help me.” Sure! I told her to go ahead and call me if she needed any help, but she didn’t need any help. Look at the awesome results! Both beautiful and tasty.

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Marica’s recipe repertoire is growing and there are now a few dishes she can make without any help. I love that this is something she wants to do all of her own volition. She enjoys it, she’s good at it, and I get a night off! Win-win, in my book!

April Fool’s Dinner

A few years back, on a whim, I decided to start a fun tradition for April Fool’s Day dinner: dessert for dinner (and no need to have dinner for dessert!). Turns out the kids think this is great, but the adults give a little groan at the thought. So this year, I decided to make waffles, and everyone could have any topping on it they liked — if they wanted all the toppings, that was fine too, so long as they ate it! For Ben and me I had some grated cheese and fried mushrooms too, and in the end the kids all had a cheese version too.

As for tricks… by the time we were done with school, it was already mid-afternoon, and I had to scramble to get a few things going. I colored the toilet water, put tape over the bathroom tap so they’d get sprayed, and I sewed their pajamas shut. Esther was very confused: “Mum, look at my pajamas! Who did that?!” So cute.

Christmas 2014

This year was the first year I hosted all of Christmas (meaning both our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations), and it was fun!  We had my parents with us, which was very special, and we also hosted James and Laura Williams and Laura’s friend, Ella.

Traditionally, my side of the family have our main gift-giving on Christmas Eve, along with a finger food dinner. We start our celebration with Bible reading and carol singing and then proceed to open the presents. There’s the job of official ‘present hander-outer’, which this year was shared by Marica and Esther. We try to take the time to watch people open their gifts, to appreciate it with them, and for the recipient to thank the giver. We don’t want a mob swarming the gift pile! :-)

On Christmas Day, we started off with some coffee and monkey bread. We were keen to attend a church service, but the church we normally attend in Manhattan didn’t have a Christmas Day service, so we thought about it and decided to try out the local Catholic church, which was a new experience for most of us. There church is a block from our house and is very large and beautiful. The singing was pretty good and the hymns all familiar; the message was sound, but we all thought that he was onto something really good and when he finished what we thought was the intro, we were just settling into our seats waiting for him to dig deeper into what he had started. Unfortunately the intro was all of it!

After church, we came home and got ready for our Christmas Dinner. Rather delicious, even if I say so myself. :-)

Another Christmas over, another big year at an end.

Homemade nutella

I’ve always wanted to try making a version of Nutella at home, so recently I tried it. There are oodles of recipes online, and the one I tried is from here. It calls for coconut sugar, which I think is a bit of a fad food (not to mention its sustainability is questionable), so I used regular sugar and maple syrup. It is rather delicious, but quite different from regular Nutella. Ben reckons he likes it better because it has a slightly coarser texture. I’m sure you could mix it for ages and get it super smooth, but I tend to have a bad habit of trying to make things like this right at the same time as dinner, so I take short cuts.

Here’s how to do it if you want to try it yourself.

Roast 1 1/2 cups of hazelnuts in a 300F oven for 20 minutes or so. Pour them into a tea towel and rub off as much of the skins as you can, then place them in a food processor.

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Process the hazelnuts until you’ve made a hazelnut butter. Throw in a pinch of salt, 3 Tablespoons of cocoa powder, 1 Tablespoon melted coconut oil, 1/4 cup sugar, 3 Tablespoons maple syrup and 6 or so Tablespoons of water.

The first time I made this, I thought I could just cut out the sugar and water and use maple syrup instead. It did not work! It really needs the water for it to become glossy.

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Whizz it all together until you have the glossiness and texture you want — play around with mixing it more or adding more water, cocoa or sugar to get the consistency and taste you want.

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And there you go. A really tasty yummy chocolate spread that took hardly any time to make.

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(And yes, a teaspoon might be making its way into that jar more often than a knife…)