classic shortbread

shortbread

I know. It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. Far too long. All I can say is that I have two dogs that seem to have taken over my life.

Larry & Mila aka "the bears"

Larry & Mila aka “the bears”

Aren’t they just the cutest?

So as you can see – my snuggle bears keep me busy. But don’t worry. I haven’t abandoned my baking. Far from it!

Right now I am elbow deep in decadent holiday baking classes at The Urban Element. Every Saturday and Sunday I get to “teach” 16 individuals. People of all ages and varying comfort levels in the kitchen and with baking. Together, we bake close to 1800 cookies and squares. Everyone goes home with 8 dozen baked goods … all in a 5 hour time frame. It’s fun. It’s crazy. It is a little tiring (since I do still have my day job) – but boy do I LOVE it. I heart how enthusiastic everyone is. It’s the kind of day that brings good people, positive attitudes, and a lot of laughs and tasty treats.

I’m so lucky to be able to do this again this year.

When we came up with the baking list for this year we decided to include shortbread. Originally I think I thought we would roll it out or make it a slice cookie. But then I picked up a Donna Hay cookbook. That’s right. This recipe is all in thanks to Donna Hay.

Donna Hay's shortbread

Her picture of her shortbread was so pretty that I knew I needed to try it.

And then the recipe itself was so simple that it was a no brainer.

Honestly. You add all the ingredients to a food processor. Process it together. At first you’ll think nothing is happening and then all of a sudden the dough will gather together… and it’ll be done. Simple perfection.

classic shortbread

Do you think you’re ready to give it a try?

I think you are.

PS. this is so user-friendly you don’t even need a mixing bowl. I mean you can use one if you want … but honestly, I just place everything into my food processor bowl and go. You’ll have hardly any dishes to do … doesn’t that sound like the absolute perfect holiday cookie recipe?

You can click here to watch me demonstrate this on CTV Ottawa Morning Live Friday December 5th, 2014.

classic shortbread

ingredients:

250 g cold butter, cubed

1 1/2 cup flour

1 cup icing sugar

1/2 cup tapioca flour

1 tsp vanilla

butter

dry ingredients

In the bowl of your food processor, using your metal blade, place the butter, flour, icing sugar, tapioca flour and vanilla. Place the lid on your food processor and turn it on. You don’t need to pulse it. Just turn it on and let it go.

Right now you’re probably seeing just a lot of dry ingredients go around and around … and you’re thinking “should I stop it and use a spatula to mix it up?”. Don’t. It’ll come together. Give it a couple of minutes.

Now you are seeing it gather into a ball of dough. See it? It’s pretty perfect isn’t it.

Turn it out onto your counter and knead it all together. No flour required. Just knead it into one ball.

press the dough into your pan

Press the dough into your ready pan (I use basic PAM spray first). I decided this recipe was the perfect opportunity to use my loose bottom rectangular tart pan. I’d get pretty fluted edges that would add to the look of my shortbread. Add the skewered holes to the shortbread and I think mine could pass for Walkers Shortbread. If you don’t have the pan, line a rectangular pan with parchment paper and then press the dough on top. It’s the same idea … only it’s fun to have the pretty edges.

Once it’s been pressed along the base and into the sides and edges of your pan, allow your dough to rest in the fridge for 15 minutes.

This is a great time to turn your oven to 350 F in order to heat it.

When you’re ready to take it out of the fridge (after its resting time) the fun starts. At least I think it’s pretty fun.

creating the "walker" shortbread

Cut your shortbread. If using a rectangular pan you will likely want to cut the dough in half and then cut slices into that. I’m able to get 24 cookies in my 14 x 5 inch tart pan. You can use a round pan too! I simply encourage you to also place a round cookie cutter in the middle. That means your tips won’t ever break off – and you end up with an extra round shortbread cookie!

before baking

Use a skewer to pierce holes into your shortbread. This creates a really pretty effect.

Now you’re ready to bake it for 35 minutes. I always bake it on my upper-middle rack. I haven’t had to worry about the bottom not being cooked enough and it gets my top a little golden brown as well.

When the time is up … remove the pan from the oven.

after baking

And re-cut all those cookies you already cut out. If you do it while it’s still hot, you don’t end up with brittle edges. If my holes aren’t as pronounced I will re-skewer the holes too. But that might be a little OCD.

Now for the reason why I really love the loose bottomed pan.

removing the side of the pan

Rather than allow the cookies to cool in the pan, I’m able to simply slip the sides off the pan and allow the cookies to cool on on a wire rack (they are still sitting on the loose bottom). I leave the cookies for a few minutes because they are very delicate – but I find that without the sides on the tart pan, it doesn’t over-bake the sides of the shortbread.

allow to cool

Allow the shortbread to cool and then gently remove them from the base.

shortbread

You end up with little sticks of cookies. I like that they are quite thick – but not dry. They have a crunch on the outside, yet they still melt when you bite into them. A brilliantly lovely shortbread recipe.

We have changed it up a bit for the decadent holiday baking classes. Rather than a classic shortbread we bake orange cardamom shortbread. A beautiful, citrus and spicy buttery cookie – perfect for an afternoon tea break. Simply add 1/2 tsp of cardamom and the zest of one orange to your shortbread ingredients.

I’ve also swapped out the orange and the cardamom and made these with a chai spice mix. That just might be my absolute favourite version of this cookie. I’ll be making those for my own family this year … and likely dipping them in chocolate as well. Why not twist up a classic?

 

Red & White 2014

R&W2014

It’s that time of year again.

It’s time for one of my absolute FAVOURITE events.

The Red & White.

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 is going to be an evening of great food, wonderful entertainment, some wine, locally brewed beer, and all for a good cause: Harmony House.

This year Chef Michael Blackie is back (two years ago he made this event one of my favourite food events of the year). Joined by Chef Norm Aitken (Juniper Kitchen & Wine Bar), I’m already anticipating what dishes they are going to have on offer.  Seriously – these men can cook.

And guess what?!

I’ll also be on hand with CUPCAKES.

That’s right!  This year I’ve been asked to make some cupcakes in support of a great cause.

Doesn’t that sound like the icing on the (cup)cake?

Ok.  Now for the important stuff.

This is what I need from you.  I need YOU to go to eventbrite and buy a ticket.

They’re $65 each.  You get food, alcohol AND entertainment.  Not bad eh?

Then I need YOU to get a friend to join you.

I mean … although there will already be loads of awesome people attending … you might want to have a partner in crime while you watch the cooking demos, eat your food and then wander over and snag a cupcake or two… right?

Come join me next Wednesday evening as we help raise some money for Harmony House.  With your help, countless staff and volunteers will be able to provide safe, affordable, transitional housing for women and children who are survivors of violence.

chefx

chefx This last week has been a revelation to me.

Seriously.

I discovered that I love to cook.  I know you must be wondering … what is she talking about?  Of course she loves to cook … doesn’t she write this blog and bake just about every night?

But that’s the thing.  I bake.  I’ve pretty much completely stopped cooking anything more difficult than a poached egg on vegetables.  I don’t know when I stopped loving pottering away in the kitchen … but at some point in the last 3 years, I have.

And no matter how much I love the look of a recipe … I just haven’t been able to get myself excited enough to want to get all the ingredients and start the process of cooking.

Ever feel that way?

And then … about 10 days ago, I got an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Jeff Heaton, the owner of ChefX sent me an email asking if I’d be interested in testing out the first official week of their program.  They would provide me with a free sample box: 2 chef inspired meals, recipe cards, all the ingredients (save the staples: oil, salt, pepper, eggs), enough food for 2 people … with leftovers.  In exchange, I’d blog about it.

I figured … it was kind of a win-win.  I mean, I’d have to cook again, but I was willing to do that in order to give it a shot.

Last week’s box featured both Marysol Foucault’s (Edgar) lemony leek lamb with sautéed zucchini and yoghurt, and The Urban Element‘s pan-seared chicken breast with tomato caper vinaigrette and celeriac mash.

Both sounded pretty darn delicious.  The question remained … would I be able to re-create these dishes?

The answer.  A simple yes.

The beauty of ChefX is that you not only have a large cooler delivered with all the necessary ingredients, you’re also provided with a recipe card – bright colours, clear instructions, pictures of mis-en-place and ingredients to demonstrate what you will need and what steps to follow when cooking.

PanSearedChickenTomatoCapers_V3_650px

As you can see, the recipe cards are broken down into level of difficulty, estimated time, and kitchen tools required.

the ChefX box

I made the Urban Element’s pan-seared chicken breast dish after work on Monday.  A very relaxed 45 minutes after I started cooking, the man-friend and I sat down to probably the tastiest chicken I have ever cooked.  We both liked the celeriac mash, but it was the tomato caper vinaigrette that really brought the dish to another level.  It was the perfect level of acidity and sweetness and thickened perfectly.  It was a dish that the man-friend and I would happily make again.  Heck – I have some chicken breasts in the freezer I can’t wait to pan-sear.

pan-seared chicken breast

I waited until Wednesday to make Marysol’s lemony leek lamb with sautéed zucchini and yoghurt.  I will admit that it took me longer than the estimated 55 minutes to make this one – but within 65 minutes the man-friend and I tucked into rich meatballs (which according to the recipe should have yielded 8 – I got 13), perfectly sautéed zucchini, a spicy gremolata, and a lemony greek yoghurt.  I can honestly say this is probably a recipe I wouldn’t have made otherwise (lamb isn’t my to-go ingredient), but I’m glad I did.  It reminded me that I love the mixing of ingredients and flavours.  It also showed me a few new simple tricks to create something delicious without any stress.

lemony leek lamb

Now you might wonder … why should you consider ChefX.

1.  If you love to eat out, but don’t love what it does to your wallet (or your waistline).

2.  If you love to cook, but are stuck in a rut.

3.  If you like to watch what you eat, but still want to eat well.  .

4.  If you hate wasted food.  You get what you need.  Seriously – they packed me a small pack of sugar.

5.  It allows you to see what inspires some of the best chefs in our city.

6.  You love to cook, but are famished when you get home.  It’s quick and painless.

Oh … and in case you’re wondering … I enjoyed my experience so much I signed up for this week.  The Wellington Gastropub has created a salmon dish that sounds just about right … and The Urban Element‘s roasted squash soup is sure to warm me right up!

A little Q & A with Jeff … aka. additional information:

The cost per week for 2 meals in portions for 2 people is $59 (taxes and delivery costs included).  Bigger family?  No problem!  ChefX is still an option.  Cost for 4 people is $99, and the cost for 6 people is $139 per week.

Portion sizes are large enough that there should be leftovers.

Wondering how quickly you need to cook these meals right?  Generally you can count on a shelf life of 5 days for the vacuum packaged meats.  Cook the more perishable ingredients (eg. seafood) sooner to be safe.  Or you can freeze the meat if you’re worried. All that to say – you basically have until Thursday to cook your meals.  Not bad for delivery!

The boxes are delivered every Sunday between 1 pm and 9 pm.  Not home?  No problem.  I wasn’t home last Sunday and so they left my box in the entrance of my apartment building (note: make sure you can trust your neighbours before making those arrangements!) … I got there and everything was still chilled.  All I had to do was put it away and wait until Monday night to start cooking!

The service is subscription based. Once you sign up, you’ll automatically be charged week by week.  HOWEVER … if a menu doesn’t sound quite right, you’re going away, or you just don’t feel like it – you can pause or cancel your subscription.

You get a cooler every week.  Which means … you store it for the week (ice packs can be left inside it) and come the following Sunday, return it to your delivery spot.  They will swap in the new, filled cooler for the old empty one.

What chefs are participating?  Every week one of the following chefs will create a dish.  Steve Wall, Supply & Demand.  Chris Deraiche, Wellington Gastropub.  Marysol Foucault, Edgar.  Chloe Berlanga, Whalesbone Oyster House & Elmdale Tavern.  Marc Lepine, Atelier.  Steve Mitton, Murray Street.  Marc Dorion, Town.  Patricia Larkin, Black Cat Bistro. Chris Lord, Union Local 613.  Matthew Shepheard, Marisposa Farm.

The Urban Element will be creating the second dish.

ps.  Sign up before 11:59pm Monday night and you can get a ChefX cooler Sunday November 3rd.  It’s never too late to give it a try ….