Friday, November 25, 2011

Christmas Bliss: Espresso-Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

To the future Mrs. Jessica Brickell,

Since your relationship status has been changed on Facebook, I am going to assume that I can officially say CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR ENGAGEMENT! I am soooo thrilled for you both. You two make an amazing team and I am so excited to have shared in the first few moments after the proposal, and am looking forward to the excitement of wedding planning, and of course supporting and encouraging your future journey together. ... Have I mentioned that I am excited yet?!

So, on top of your exciting news, I have just realized how quickly Christmas is creeping up on us. I have decided (again) that most of my gifts will be homemade. Last night I decided to try this new recipe because - let's face it - I saw the recipe on my friend's blog Graceful Oven and almost melted in my seat. I thought to myself 'If these are as sublime as they sound then they will make perfect gifts!' 

The ingredients are easy to get. I thought it would be difficult to find Instant Espresso, but there it was in the instant coffee section in Independent. When I went through the check out there was this adorable middle-aged cashier with an English accent who was intrigued with the Instant Espresso. She said she had never seen it before. Terrified that she would think I was actually going to drink the stuff and think it's good espresso, I quickly said I was using it for baking. Well this got her very excited and we spent a good 5 minutes (to the annoyance of the man in a backwards baseball cap in line behind me) about Christmas baking and what else you could incorporate Instant Espresso into. So, long story short, the Instant Espresso created an Instant Friendship that would never have happened otherwise. Trying new things is beneficial for all!

I used my mom's stand mixer. So I could actually mix a batch of these puppies in 8 minutes - from dropping the first ingredients into the mixer to putting the final dough into the fridge. (I made two batches because the first took so short of a time. We actually timed the second batch for fun.)

My friend got this recipe from another blog, and that girl made a groundbreaking suggestion: Why not try Toffee-Coffee Shortbread instead of Chocolate-Coffee Shortbread? So while going through my cupboards looking for the chocolate chips what do you think I found? That's right! A whole bag of toffee chips! That is the story of how my second batch became Toffee-Coffee Shortbread Cookies.

Espresso-Chocolate Shortbread Cookies
makes 42 cookies
1 tbsp instant espresso powder
1 tbsp boiling water
2 x 8oz sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
4oz bitter sweet chocolate, finely chopped, or 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips (or toffee bits!)
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting (optional)

1. Dissolve the espresso in the boiling water, and set aside to cool to tepid.
2. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and confectioners' sugar together on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is very smooth. Beat in the vanilla and espresso, then reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, mixing only until it disappears into the dough. Don't work the dough much once the flour is incorporated. Fold in the chopped chocolate with a sturdy rubber spatula.
3. Using the spatula, transfer the soft, sticky dough to a gallon-size zipper-lock plastic bag. Put the bag on a flat surface, leaving the top open, and roll the dough into a 9 x 10 1/2 inch rectangle that's 1/4 inch thick. As you roll, turn the bag occasionally and lift teh plastic from teh dough so it doesn't cause creases. When you get the right size and thickness, seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible, and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours, or for up to 2 days.
4. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
5. Put the plastic bag on a cutting board and slit it open. Turn the firm dough out onto the board (discard the bag) and, using a ruler as a guide adn a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1 1/2 inch squares. Transfer the squares to the baking sheets and carefully prick each one twice with a fork, gently pushing the tines through the cookies until they hit the sheet.
6. Bake for 18-20 minutes, rotating hte sheets from top to bottom and front ot back at the midway point. The shortbreads will be pale - they shouldn't take on much color. Transfer the cookies to the rack.
7. If you'd like, dust the cookies with confectioners' sugar while they are still hot. Cool the cookies to room temperature before serving.

And there you go! Christmas presents for all! I baked mine a couple minutes too long. The next batch I will do for only 15 minutes (in a convection oven). I really really really love the concept of rolling the dough in the Ziplock bag. The dough gets so firm, that you can cut it out of the bag and cut off as many squares as you need for that day, and then transfer the rest of it into a new bag and put it back in the fridge! I still have 1/2 of each batch in the fridge to bake again tonight! And let me tell you... the smell that goes through the house when these babies are in the oven is absolutely heavenly! They should make candles that smell like these cookies!

I love you so much. I can't wait for our weekend coming up. Good luck with all your lesson planning and ... report cards? Is it that time of year or am I making it up?

All My Love,

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jamie Oliver's Spaghetti with Shrimp and Arugula

Dear Jess,

I have been thinking about you a lot lately. I miss you. I am so excited for our upcoming adventures on the 3rd.

Jason has been wanting pasta for about the last... 14 months. I don't eat a lot of pasta because I find it too heavy. So when I was craving spaghetti I ripped open my copy of Jamie Oliver Italy and scoped the pasta pages for inspiration.

I found: Spaghetti con Gamberetti e Rucola (Spaghetti with Shrimp and Arugula). I think any recipe where I get to cook with alcohol is my favourite. There's something about the aroma that jumps out of the pan at you... there is just nothing else like it. So when you add some sun-dried tomatoes, hot peppers, shrimp, garlic, lemon and fresh arugala to white wine... mmmmmmmmmm.

Spaghetti con Gamberetti e Rucola
From Jamie's Italy
1 lb. dried spaghetti
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1-2 dried red chilies, crumbled
1 lb. peeled raw large shrimp (If you're using frozen, make sure they are completely thawed)
1 small wineglass of white wine
2 heaping tbsps sun-dried tomato puree, or 6 sun-dried tomatoes blitzed in a blender
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 handfuls of arugala, roughly chopped (I used way more than this)

Cook your spaghetti in a large pot of salted boiling water according to the package instructions. Meanwhile, heat 3 good glugs of extra virgin olive oil in a large frying pan and toss in the garlic and chili. As the garlic begins to color, add the shrimp and saute them for a minute. Add the white wine and the tomato puree and simmer for a couple of minutes. When the pasta is ready, drain it in a colander, reserving a little of the cooking water. Toss the spaghetti with the sauce, squeeze in the lemon juice, and add half the chopped arugula, using a little of the reserved cooking water if you want to loosen the sauce a bit, and correct the seasoning. Divide between four places and sprinkle with the grated lemon zest and the rest of the arugula leaves.

As I am always saying: I love you and miss you and can't wait to see you.

So much Love,

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Corn Chowder and Mini Walnut and Rosemary Biscuits

Dearest Jess,

Wow, it's almost the middle of November! How did this happen? I was in Ottawa last week again for work and it was snowing! When I returned home I heard it had snowed here as well. Christmas decorations are making their way from the stores into our homes. Some people have already set up their Christmas trees! I have told Jason we can't do any Christmas decorations until December 1st. (Mainly because he keeps them up until the end of February.)

On Saturday we went out into a blustery but sunny day to see Mike perform in the musical Chicago. It was so well done! I love live theater and it was so much fun to watch someone you know in such a high profile play.

After the show we went to the grocery store and picked up the ingredients to make the Corn Chowder and Mini Muffins from the Fall issue of Food and Drink. We didn't use the BBQ for the corn or the peppers in the chowder, and the muffins turn into more like mini biscuits/scones. Regardless, everything turned out to be tasty and sufficed for a cozy dinner. I think I still like the Corn Chowder from Eat Shrink and Be Merry more than this one though.

Tip: Grilling the corn and the peppers adds a depth of flavour to this simple chowder. If fresh corn on the cob is not available, substitute 6 cups frozen corn, thawed and drained. Toss with oil and place in a single layer on foil-lined baking sheet. Broil for about 8 minutes, stirring often, or until browned. You can broil the peppers, too, if that's more convenient. If you can't find poblano peppers, substitute 2 cubanelle peppers and 1 jalapeno pepper. To dress this soup up a little more, garnish each bowl with sauteed shrimp seasoned with fresh lime juice.

Corn Chowder
adapted from Food and Drink, Autumn 2011, page 182, 183
12 cobs of corn, shucked
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 sweet red peppers
2 pablano peppers
2 tbsp butter
2 onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
6 cups homemade or low-sodium vegetable stock
2 cups 35% or 18% cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1. Preheat BBQ to medium

2. Brush corn with oil and grill, turning often, for about 8 minutes or until tender and brown. Set aside.

3. Increase BBQ to medium-high. Grill red peppers and poblano peppers, turning often, for 10-15 minutes or until charred on all sides and tender. Place in a bowl, cover and set aside until cool enough to handle.

4. Melt butter over medium heat in a large pot. Saute onions for about 5 minutes or until tender and just starting to turn golden. Add garlic and saute for 2 minutes or until onions are golden. Add potatoes and stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, leaving lid slightly ajar, reduce heat and boil gently for 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are soft.

5. Meanwhile, cut corn kernels off teh cob with a serrated knife into a bowl. Peel peppers and discard skins, seeds, cor e and juices. Finley chop peppers; set aside.

6. Use an immersion blender in the pot to puree for 5-15 seconds or until about one-quarter of the vegetables are smooth. (I didn't have an immersion blender, so I just used a masher and mashed everything a bit.) Stir in corn and peppers and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until flavours are blended.

7. Just before serving, stir in cream and heat, stirring often, until steaming (do not let boil). Season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in basil.

Walnut and Rosemary Savoury Biscuits
adapted from Food and Drink, Autumn 2011, page 182
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp freshly bround pepper
1 egg
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt (not fat free)
1/3 cup butter
1 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts
1 large tbsp minced rosemary

1. Preheat oven to 375. Grease 36 cups of mini-muffin pans. (Next time I will just do them like biscuits/scones on a baking sheet with parchment paper.)

2. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda and pepper in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, sugar, yogurt and butter. Pour over dry ingredients and stir just until moistened.

3. Gently fold in Rosemary and Walnuts to incorporate flavourings.

4. Divide batter into the muffin cups. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden and tops spring back when lightly touched. Let cool in pans on a rack for 5 minutes, then transfer muffins to the rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.

I can't wait to see you guys in December. Things here are still busy. I am looking for a job hopefully to start in December, and Jason starts training for his driving job today. So things are changing which is always exciting.

Lots of Love,