Homemade Mayo for Sandwiches

My family was up early this morning, attempting to hit the local ski slopes before the crowds. I decided I was going to stay home, but it was my responsibility to pack them a delicious lunch.

One look in the fridge reminded me that we were completely out of mayo. No worries... I did have the ingredients that I needed to make the missing sandwich spread. It was quick, it was easy, and the sandwiches were delicious (just received a confirmation email)!

The sandwiches were very simple. Fresh light rye bread, generously spread with the homemade mayonnaise, a couple layers of thinly sliced mortadella and/or Black Forest ham, and crisp green leaf lettuce. Each sandwich was slightly different, depending on who it was for.

For the record, when I do use store-bought mayonnaise for sandwiches, I prefer the regular (full-fat) Hellman's. I'm all about the taste!

Homemade Mayo (from The Harrow Fair Cookbook)
Makes 1 cup.

1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup vegetable oil

Mix together the egg yolk, mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Pour 1/4 cup of the oil in slow, steady drops with the mixer on medium.
Add the remaining oil, but at a slightly faster rate. Mix just until the oil is combined and the mayonnaise is the desired consistency.


Salted Caramels

If you are just now coming around to the idea that using salt in sweets is a good thing, don't beat yourself up about it. There is plenty of time for you to hop on this incredibly delicious band-wagon.

When I say "salt", I don't mean table salt. There is a whole world of salts out there that most of us have no idea about. But for this recipe, I am suggesting fleur de sel (the "flower of salt"), which is available at most good grocery stores these days, including Costco. Fleur de sel is a hand-harvested salt collected by workers who scrape only the top layer of salt off before the majority sinks to the bottom of the salt pans. I use fleur de sel in recipes where it won't be cooked (or at least not very long) and you will be able to enjoy it's taste - salads and salad dressings come to mind, as well as these caramels.

Candy-making is labour intensive and it can be quite finicky. Do you have a reliable candy thermometer? Do you have the time to sit by the stove and babysit the caramel for at least 30 minutes and maybe more? Great. Pull a stool up stove-side, make yourself a cup of tea, and enjoy the process.

Salted Caramels
Makes approximately 6 dozen.
(picture taken by Kristine Newman)

2 cups (500 mL) corn syrup
2 - 300 mL cans sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) milk
1 cup (250 mL) whipping cream
1 cup (250 mL) unsalted butter
4 cups (1 L) granulated sugar
2 tsp (10 mL) pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp (15 mL) fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling

Line a 15- x -10- x 1-inch (38 x 25 x 2.5 cm) baking sheet with parchment paper (this size is known as a jelly-roll pan).
Combine the corn syrup, condensed milk, milk, whipping cream, butter, and sugar in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven. Place the mixture over medium heat and stir occasionally with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes to a boil.
Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 240 F (the soft-ball stage). Remove from the heat. Stir in the vanilla and 1 Tbsp fleur de sel.
Pour the caramel into the prepared pan without scraping. Generously sprinkle with more of the fleur de sel.
Allow the caramel to stand at room temperature overnight. Cut into 1 - inch (2.5 cm) pieces and wrap the pieces in parchment paper squares or waxed paper squares.
Keeps at room temperature for up to two weeks or in the freezer for up to 3 months.


Sweet Potato Pie

After ending up with a sizable amount of sweet potatoes in our veggie share boxes (from Cooper's CSA), I decided to take matters in a different direction. I always think of sweet potato pie as a southern specialty, but there is no reason why the deep south should be the only ones enjoying this pie. For those of you that know my obsession with pumpkin pie, you won't be surprised that this is close to that recipe. Predictable, yes. But still delicious!

Sweet Potato Pie
2 or 3 large sweet potatoes
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 eggs
1 cup whipping cream

1 - 9-inch deep dish pie crust - for one of my favourite crusts, go to http://moira-thegoodegg.blogspot.com/2008/06/rhubarb-custard-pie.html

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Wash and prick the sweet potatoes with a fork. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until they are soft. Let cool to room temperature (or burn the tips of your fingers like I did...) and scoop the flesh from the peel. Mash with a potato masher and use immediately or refrigerate until needed.

2. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Mix the brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg thoroughly. Whisk in the eggs. Add the mashed sweet potato, making sure that the mixture is well blended. Stir in the whipping cream. Pour into the prepared pastry shell.

3. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 F and continue baking 30 minutes longer, or until the filling is slightly firm and the crust is well browned. Cool completely and serve with freshly whipped cream.


Creme Brulee

Sunday afternoon was my "French Lesson 1" cooking class and this was dessert. There is a certain mystique about creme brulee that keeps people from making it themselves. It probably has something to do with the blow torch portion of the recipe, but don't let that stop you.

This creme brulee is very rich and very delicious. It is easily doubled, depending on your needs (or wants). For the blow torch, we happen to have a small butane model that is probably sold for home cooks. However, a regular handy-man's torch works even better and I would not recommend going out to get anything special.

Before I let you loose on this recipe, I also want to mention that a vanilla bean is sublime in this. I didn't include it in the recipe because I didn't want that to be another deterrent from making it. But use the best-quality pure vanilla extract that you can find, and if you are feeling particularly indulgent, scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean and add them to the cream.

Creme Brulee
Serves 6.

2 cups whipping cream
6 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar + more for the tops
Pinch fine sea salt
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 300 F. Line a 9x13 baking dish with a small dish towel. Place six - 4 oz. ramekins on the towel. Put a full kettle on to boil.

2. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and a pinch of salt together in a large bowl. Set aside. Warm the cream over medium heat in a large saucepan. When the cream is starting to steam and bubbles are forming around the edges, slowly add a half cup of cream to the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Add another half cup of cream and eventually add all of the warm cream.

3. Add the vanilla extract. Pour the custard mixture into the ramekins, filling each one evenly.

4. Place the baking dish on the rack of the oven and carefully add the boiled water until it comes up to at least halfway on the ramekins. Bake for 30 minutes.

5. Remove the ramekins from the hot water. Allow to cool to room temperature and refrigerate for at least a few hours.

6. When ready to serve, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar and using a blow torch, melt the sugar until it caramelizes to a nice golden brown. Allow to cool for a minute or two and enjoy!


It's Harrow Fair Time!

This Thursday marks the opening day of the Harrow Fair 2010. The gates open at 1pm and there is plenty to see and do throughout the weekend. However, if you are interested in trying your hand at entering something in one of the many competitions that are offered, you need to have your entries in to the Agricultural building on the fairgrounds Wednesday, September 1st, 10am-9pm.

For the first time ever, my sister Lori, and I will be calling the fair "home" throughout the weekend. The Harrow Fair Cookbook is making it's big debut on home turf and we are so excited! Not only will we have lots of books for sale, we will also be sharing samples of our recipe for Cheddar Loonies, providing gift wrapping in a variety of motifs, and having a great time, to boot!

And just in case you wanted to know but were too shy to ask.... we are selling The Harrow Fair Cookbook for an even $25 (retail price is $29.95), and we are able to accept all credit and debit cards (so you won't run out of cash for the rides and cotton candy!). Looking forward to seeing you there!


Rugelach Cookies

For any of you who haven't tried rugelach cookies before, you don't know what you're missing. While spending time at the bed & breakfast in Vancouver this summer (see previous blog entry), I made a couple batches of these cookies. Each afternoon, Alison puts out fresh cookies for her guests and because this recipe makes 4 dozen cookies and also freezes well, I thought they would be perfect. After I returned home, I received an email from Alison... "What are those COOKIES?!" Apparently, the rugelach were being eaten up, lickety-split!

The first of my cooking classes has come and gone, and these cookies were part of its success. The topic was Prize-Winning Baking and we did it up right, starting with the Double-Double Chocolate Cake from The Harrow Fair Cookbook. Halfway through the class, the cake was iced and cut and we all enjoyed a slice of chocolate bliss.

We then moved on to rolling out pastry for the famous Black Raspberry & Blueberry pie, also in the cookbook. For those of you who don't know, this is Gayle Hedges' pie that was sold for $2400 at the pie auction in Harrow a few years ago. That is one pie - $2400. (It even had a sliver taken out of it by the judges!) Not deterred by the cake previously eaten, the students tucked right in to the warm pie, savouring every bite. Did I mention that we also had homemade vanilla ice cream to with it? Oh yes.

To round out the evening, we made these rugelach cookies, with fresh apricot jam that I had made earlier in the week. I love switching up the jam in these cookies. One of my all time favourite versions are made with my mom's homemade crab apple jelly. Seriously delicious and unique if you can get your hands on some.


8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 lb. unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 c. white sugar + 1/2 c.
1/4 t. kosher salt
1 t. pure vanilla extract
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
3/4 c. currants
1 c. walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 c. jam or jelly
1 egg beaten with 2 T. milk, for egg wash

1. In mixer with paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese together until light. Add 1/4 cup of white sugar, the salt, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and mix until just combined. Divide the dough up into four equal pieces and form each one into a disc. Wrap each one in plastic, and refrigerate for one hour.

2. To make the filling, combine 6 tablespoons of sugar, the brown sugar, 1/2 t. cinnamon, the currants, and the walnuts.

3. On a well-floured board, roll each ball into a 9-inch circle. Spread the dough with 2 T. raspberry jam and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of filling. Press the filling lightly into the dough. Cut the circle into 12 equal wedges. Starting with the wide edge, roll up each wedge. Place the cookies, points tucked under, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Chill for 30 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush each cookie with the egg wash. Combine 3 T. white sugar with 1 t. cinnamon and sprinkle on the cookies. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack and let cool.


Summer Bean Salad

Having recently returned from cooking at a bed & breakfast in Vancouver, this was one of the recipes that I promised to post when I returned home. I have been making this salad, or a variation of it, at least a few times a week this summer. It's perfect for using up veggies and herbs that are kicking around this time of year. A handful of corn, fresh off the cob. New potatoes, boiled until just cooked. Green herbs from the garden... tarragon, basil or even mint. Here is the basic recipe - now run with it!

Alison & David Bentall are the wonderful owners of the Cherry Blossom Bed & Breakfast. Located near Southwest Marine Drive and 50th, their home and gardens are impeccable and the breakfasts match the beautiful surroundings. Check out their website and make sure to say hello for me! www.cherryblossombb.com

Summer Bean Salad
1 can navy beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup diced cucumber
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 cup finely chopped green onion
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil)

1 minced clove garlic
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Combine all of the salad ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside.
For the vinaigrette, combine the garlic, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Whisk the oil into the other ingredients and whisk until everything comes together in a creamy consistency (this is an emulsion).
Pour the vinaigrette over the salad before serving.


Strawberry Pops

Back in early spring, I found a set of star-shaped popsicle molds. They make such dramatic looking popsicles, everyone loves to eat them. With the weather being so hot here, I thought, if not this week, then when?

These are so easy to make but they do take a little planning. This recipe will make about 6 popsicles, but it all depends on the size of the molds. When you want to serve the strawberry pops, simply run the molds under warm water until the popsicles loosen up and come away from the mold.

Strawberry Pops

3 cups fresh strawberries
1/2 cup berry sugar (instant dissolving sugar)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine all of the ingredients in the work bowl of a food processor or a blender. Puree the mixture until smooth. Taste and add more sugar if necessary. Pour the mixture into individual popsicle molds. Freeze until firm.


Long Weekend Jello

There is something about a jello salad that screams summer. This is an old favourite given to me by my friend Kristin who, being American, makes this with the appropriate patriotic colours for the most American of all holidays, July 4th. Every time I make this jello it is incredibly popular with crowds of all ages. I think it has something to do with the creamy middle.

When I made the jello in the picture above, I started getting creative and tried a variety of different shaped jello servings. The feet were really cute, as were the hearts. If you are going to get creative with this jello, make sure it is well chilled beforehand, and don't even think about wasting the scraps. You will no doubt have family members who are willing to help you out with that!

Long Weekend Jello
Serves 8-10.

2 - 3 ounce packages flavoured jello* (choose your preferred colours and flavours)
2 cups half & half cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup sour cream
2 packages Knox unflavoured gelatin
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla

Prepare the first layer: Make the first box of jello, according to the directions on the box, in the bottom of a glass 13x9 inch dish. Chill until firm.

Prepare the second layer: Heat the cream and sugar until warmed through, but not boiling. Dissolve the gelatin in a small dish with the water. Add the gelatin mixture to the hot cream and stir well. Remove from the heat and blend in the sour cream and vanilla. Allow to cool completely. Gently spoon the cooled cream mixture over the first layer of jello and return to the refrigerator until firm.

Prepare the third layer: Make the second box of jello, according to the directions on the box, and gently pour over the cream layer. Return to the fridge and chill until firm.

To serve, cut into 1 or 2 inch squares, or use a small, straight-sided cookie cutter to cut out your favourite shapes.
*For the jello in the picture, I used lime on the bottom and raspberry on the top.


Buckwheat, Banana & Blueberry Muffins at the Mount Albert Fair

This past weekend was the official start of the summer for me. The Mount Albert Sports Day Fair was on and I was in my element - at the baking contest!

After spending most of Friday and the early hours of Saturday morning preparing entries, I was well rewarded for my efforts. Here is what I had up my sleeve this year.

1st place - rustic bread loaf, bread & butter pickles
2nd place - buckwheat, banana and blueberry muffins, pumpkin pie, rhubarb custard pie, grape jelly
3rd place - apple pie squares, blueberry layer cake with banana mousseline buttercream

Besides being awarded with ribbons, there are cash prizes and a trophy which goes to the participant who has won the most prize money. Once again, I was beat out by one of Mount Albert's finest bakers, Evelyn M. One of the secrets to Evelyn's success, besides the quality of her entries, is the fact that she enters something in EVERY category. This can really boost your cash winnings, thus putting you in line for the coveted trophy. I know what I need to do next year to win that trophy. Look out, Evelyn! (Did I mention that she is in her mid-eighties?! It's the one's with all the experience that you have to look out for...)

These muffins were delicious and I loved the addition of the buckwheat flour instead of regular whole wheat flour (which can be substituted if you don't have buckwheat on hand). I seemed to have a banana/blueberry theme going this weekend. A great combination and with frozen blueberries, easily done any time of the year.

Buckwheat, Banana & Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12 large muffins.

1 cup buckwheat flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 cup butter, melted & cooled
1 cup mashed banana
1 cup blueberries
1/4 cup demerara sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-spot muffin pan with paper liners.
Combine the flours, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.
Whisk the eggs, buttermilk, honey, melted butter, and mashed bananas in a medium bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Quickly fold in the blueberries.
Scoop the batter evenly into the muffin cups. Sprinkle the demerara sugar on the top of each muffin. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the muffins are light golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Serve the muffins warm or at room temperature. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.


Spicy Lamb Burgers

These burgers have been on my family’s dinner menu all spring. Easy to make but special enough for company, I love serving them with a simple Greek salad and lots of yummy condiments (see list below). I don't always have all of the condiments ready to go in the fridge and there have been times that I have resorted to just plain ketchup & mustard. I can confidently say that whatever you top these burgers with, they will be delicious.

My secret for great flavour on the barbecue is charcoal. Not briquettes, but real wood charcoal. It can be a little harder to find, but it's worth the effort. Many people consider it a crazy waste of time to start a charcoal barbecue every time you want to grill something, but I completely disagree. With the chimneys that are available for starting the charcoal, the grill can be hot and ready in about 30 minutes. If you were presented with the choice of eating something grilled over charcoal or over propane gas, what would you honestly choose?
Grilled Lamb Burgers
Serves 4.

1 pound ground lamb
½ cup cooked rice (basmati or brown basmati are my favourites)
1/3 cup finely diced red onion
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp fine sea salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 pitas or burger buns

Combine all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Form into four even-sized patties and refrigerate until ready to cook.
Heat the barbecue to at least 300F. Grill the burgers until cooked through, about 4-5 minutes per side. Toast the pitas or buns until golden.
Serve with a selection of condiments.

Ideas for topping Lamb Burgers

red onions
green or red leaf lettuce
feta cheese
goat cheese
pickled beets
tahini sauce


Rhubarb Sauce

The rhubarb in my garden has really taken off this year. I have been making all sorts of rhubarb-y desserts... cakes, pies, muffins, etc. I have even experimented with a rhubarb custard ice cream, but I think one more batch will be necessary in order to perfect this frozen delight!

With extra rhubarb leftover, I remembered the stewed rhubarb that my Mom used to make every spring. We used to love it and I wondered if my kids would feel the same way. I whipped up this sauce in just over 10 minutes and it was so good. Ellen, who is now 5, loved it. Gavin, at an argumentative 7 1/2 years of age, wouldn't touch it.

It crossed my mind that using orange juice or zest in this recipe would probably be a creative way to go. But I just don't agree that orange would make this any better than it is. The rhubarb is so full of it's own flavour, why mess with perfection?

Rhubarb Sauce

4 cups rhubarb
1 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp water

Slice the rhubarb into 1/2-inch (1 cm) pieces. Place all of the ingredients into a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes.


Grilled Chicken & Applewood Smoked Bacon Salad

This is a real dinner salad and my take on the famous Cobb salad. Using the tastiest, freshest ingredients available delivers a salad full of flavour and goodness.

I recently overheard my local butcher telling another customer that they had applewood smoked hams for Easter. My thoughts ran to the unbelievably delicious applewood smoked bacon that Zingerman's sells in their famous Ann Arbor deli. Could it be the same bacon I remembered so well? I hopefully asked my butcher and he proudly informed me that they smoke their own hams and bacon with applewood, gesturing somewhere behind him, presumably to the smoker. Turns out, that local bacon was almost as good as my memory of the Zingerman's bacon (and that is a high compliment, to be sure).

For the chicken, it might be simpler to poach or bake the chicken breasts, especially if you have a charcoal barbecue. However, juicy, grilled chicken adds another taste to this uber-salad that you won't want to miss. Keep in mind, grilling an extra couple of chicken breasts the next time you are barbecuing is an easy way to have the chicken ready for dinner the following day.

Grilled Chicken & Applewood Smoked Bacon Salad
Serves 6.
2 chicken breasts, on the bone with skin
6 slices applewood smoked bacon
8 cups salad greens (a combination of green & red leaf, romaine, or bibb lettuce)
1 bunch watercress
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
3 tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 ripe avocado, sliced
1 cup feta cheese

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Heat the barbecue. Generously sprinkle the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Slowly cook the chicken over indirect heat to avoid burning. When the chicken is cooked through, remove from the grill and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the bone and skin; discard. Slice the breast meat into bite-sized pieces.

Cook the bacon until crisp (a 375 degree oven cooks bacon evenly and without all the greasy spatters).

Wash and dry the lettuces and watercress and place on a large platter. Artfully arrange the chicken, bacon, tomatoes, and avocado on the lettuces. Crumble the feta cheese over everything.

For the vinaigrette, whisk the lemon juice, mustard and garlic together. Slowly pour the olive oil into the lemon juice mixture until incorporated. Add the salt and pepper. Check for seasoning and add more salt if necessary.

Just before serving, drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad and gently toss.


Lemon Curd Ice Cream

Open my freezer these days and, along with the usual suspects, you will find the cannister for my ice cream maker. And if you're lucky, a partial tub or two of homemade ice cream might be stashed there, too. When we decided to include ice creams in the cookbook, it was essential that we have an ice cream maker to test recipes with. I happily volunteered to purchase the Donvier ice cream maker, in the interest of research, of course....

Many people have ice cream makers, but often the machines are tucked away in the basement, essentially forgotten. Just pull it out of it's hiding spot today. If it's handy, you can have homemade ice cream in just about the same time it will take you to run out to the grocery store.

Lemon Curd Ice Cream

We took a litre of this ice cream, along with a wild blueberry pie, to our friend's house for dinner not long ago. Brenda called a few days later and said that she had served the remaining ice cream to a group of mothers. One of the women commented, "If that ice cream was in my freezer, I wouldn't have shared it!" Makes about 4 cups.

1 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup granulated sugar
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups whipping cream

Prepare an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions.
Combine the lemon juice and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a low simmer.
Whisk the egg yolks together in a medium bowl. Add a tablespoon or two of the hot lemon juice to the egg yolks and quickly whisk together. Repeat this step two more times before adding the egg yolks into the saucepan with the lemon juice.
Stir continuously until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove the the pan from the heat. Add the butter and stir until dissolved. Strain the lemon curd through a fine sieve. Chill the mixture thoroughly before proceeding with the recipe.
Blend the whipping cream and lemon curd together. Freeze the mixture according to the manufacturer's directions.
Store in the freezer. Allow to thaw slightly before serving.


Progressive Dinners

When I started telling people that we were going to be part of a progressive dinner, I was surprised that many people had no idea what I was talking about. Of the people who did know about progressive dinners, most hadn't thought of them in years.

The progressive dinners that I remember from my childhood were casual affairs, which took place on the beach where we grew up. It was an "adults only" event. In a small, enthusiastic, and progressively rowdy herd, the participants would walk from house to house according to the meal schedule. These memories started me wondering why I don't hear of progressive dinners anymore? Perhaps, we don't feel comfortable enough with our neighbours to initiate the idea or, quite often, our closest friends and family don't live in the same town. Regardless of the reason, logistics seem to be the main barrier.

We were intrigued to find out that our church holds an annual progressive dinner, and we decided to join the fun. Alan & I signed up to host an appetizer course. Three couples showed up at our door at 5 o'clock sharp. I served a warm spinach & cheese appetizer (see The Good Egg, June '09), smoked trout dip (see The Good Egg, Dec. '07), a white bean, roasted red pepper and feta cheese spread, crostini, and crudite. Everyone enjoyed the food and each others company until about 6 o'clock, at which point this progressive dinner took an interesting twist. We said our goodbyes and Alan & I went on to the next course at an unknown address (we had no idea who our next hosts would be). We were greeted by three new couples and enjoyed pumpkin soup and pizza soup amidst good conversation and wine. After an hour, we were on to our next destination, greeted once again by new hosts and two more couples. This was the main course and we were served stuffed pork roast, mashed potato & sweet potato casserole, and vegetables in a cheese sauce.
The last stop on the progressive dinner was back at the church with everyone for a dessert buffet and coffee. With the lights low and candles lit, this was the perfect way to end what had been a thoroughly enjoyable evening. The point of the evening was to get to know people and it was certainly a success.

Accommodating a large amount of people in a progressive dinner is a substantial undertaking. However, you can keep things on a much smaller and simpler scale. Why not plan a progressive dinner of your own with your friends, co-workers, or neighbours? Get the food cooking, the wine flowing, and let the socializing begin.

White Bean, Roasted Red Pepper & Feta Spread

This recipe is great to serve with veggies, crackers, crostini or fresh pita triangles. For a smoother consistency, puree the mixture an extra minute and add another tablespoon of olive oil.

1 cup dried white beans (or 1 - 17 ounce can white beans, rinsed and drained)
2 sweet red peppers, roasted
1 garlic clove, minced
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

If you are using dried beans, this method eliminates the need to soak the beans overnight. Place the dried beans in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover the pan. Let sit for 1 hour. Drain the water from the pan and cover the beans with fresh, cold water. Bring the water to a boil. Simmer the beans on low heat for 30 minutes, or until the beans are cooked through. Drain the beans.

Combine the cooked beans, roasted red peppers, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in the work bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture comes together and continue pureeing until the spread is smooth. Add the feta cheese and puree just until incorporated. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

A Barbie Birthday Cake

My daughter, Ellen, had been thinking about her 5th birthday for, literally, months before the day. I listened to the ideas she had for a party and decided I better jump into action quickly. The idea of a tea party was born and Ellen was soon dreaming of tea cups and party dresses.

As with any party I have the slightest influence over, the food was the highest priority. Besides a few groceries, most of the party gear was easily found around the house, so it was just a matter of putting it all together. The morning of the party, I was feeling less confident than I should have been. Sure, Oprah says that love is in the details, but those little details really eat up a lot of time. It was suggested that I cut back on the number of menu items, but that would have been a last resort, in my mind. I would just have to work smarter and quicker.

The work began just after 8am. Tablecloths needed ironing. The china tea cups were dusty and needed to be hand-washed. The cake I had made the day before had not turned out and I had to bake another one. Two batches of sugar cookies needed to be rolled, cut-out, and baked off. The tea sandwiches needed to be made. And here’s a tip – do not make egg salad just before having guests over. It's an unpleasant smell that will greet your guests at the door before you do. Luckily for us, the fresh-baked scones masked the smell of the boiled eggs, but it was a close call.
Then there were bubble baths and beautifying for both Ellen & I. The ironing of dresses, the picking out of jewelry, the application of lipstick (for both of us)… this was not going to be just any party! And let’s not forget the general tidying up that needed to happen before 3 o’clock when our guests were due to arrive. When you have two furry dogs, there is never a day without vacuuming (well, there shouldn’t be…).

The guests arrived after school, wearing their pretty dresses and Sunday best. It was quite a sight. Faced with an event of this caliber, the kids were also on their best behavior. It isn't every day that they have a chance to drink tea from real china tea cups!

The Barbie-on-a-stick that we bought for the cake was a real hit. Between the tea sandwiches, the mini scones with clotted cream and homemade jam, strawberry tea and hot chocolate, they probably didn’t have much of an appetite left for the cake, but it was enjoyed by every one. And then it was time for their one and only activity – decorating sugar cookies. With ten different types of pretty candies and coloured sugars and lots of little bowls of royal icing dyed with the most vibrant of colours, the temptation to snack would have been too much for some of them to stand with an empty stomach. There were letters, dinosaurs, Christmas items, farm animals, fruit, and lots of hearts. It was a decorating extravaganza. Each child was able to design several cookies to take home with them.

What a day. I hope Ellen enjoyed her first real birthday party. I know I will remember each and every minute.

A Barbie Birthday Cake

Barbie dolls for cakes are available in most good cake decorating stores or craft stores (try Micheal's). There are many different ways to make and decorate a Barbie cake. Ellen's cake was simply three 8-inch layers of white cake (see The Good Egg Blog, March '08). I recommend spreading thin layers of strawberry jam between the cake layers (a safer bet for kids). Using a serrated knife, trim the top edges of the cake until they are rounded and are in the shape of a ball gown.
Before you make the icing (recipe follows), decide on what Barbie will be wearing. She only needs a shirt or coat, as her bottom half is the pick that sticks into the cake. Ellen chose a pink and blue hounds-tooth jacket that looked great with a pink "skirt". We decorated the cake with silver dragees and star-shaped candles.

Butter Icing

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
4 cups icing sugar, sifted
1/3 cup whipping cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Food colouring

Whip the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the icing sugar, a cup at a time, until it is fully incorporated. Add the whipping cream and vanilla and continue beating for 1 minute. When the icing is completely smooth, add a little bit of food colouring and beat it into the icing. Continue adding more, a little bit at a time, until the desired colour is reached. Use the icing immediately or cover with plastic wrap until needed.

When icing a cake, it helps to do a crumb coat first. A crumb coat is a thin layer of the icing that seals the cake in and keeps the crumbs off of the outer layer of icing. I remove a cup or two of icing from the large bowl and use this as the crumb coat. If crumbs become mixed in with this small amount of icing, no problem. After you have applied the crumb coat, it helps to chill the cake for 15-20 minutes to set the first layer. Then apply the main layer of icing and you won't have any problems with pesky crumbs on Barbie's dress.


The New 'Moira Sanders Blog'

I'm happy to announce that I'm officially back online... returning to blogging! For those of you who were followers of 'The Good Egg', you may have a few questions that you would like answered...

Where have you been?
For the last 8 months I have been working away on The Harrow Fair Cookbook, with my sister, Lori, and our cousin, Beth. We had a deadline with our publisher of December 31st, and since then we have been working through the editing process. The book is currently being designed and will be ready to launch at the Harrow Fair (Sept. 2-5, 2010). We are very excited about the cookbook and we cannot wait to see it in person!

What are you working on now?
I am launching a new website: http://www.moirasanders.com/
At the heart of the website will be a blog which will feature new and original recipes. The recipes will still be family-oriented, with a focus on simplicity, deliciousness, and using seasonal and local ingredients. Basically, the Moira Sanders blog will be what you have come to expect from The Good Egg, but hopefully even better.

What is going to happen to The Good Egg?
The Good Egg blog will still be available whenever you want to access a favourite recipe or re-read an old story. It can be accessed via http://www.thegoodegg.ca/ or http://www.moirasanders.com/ Many of you have expressed sadness at losing The Good Egg blog. I promise that it isn't going anywhere. The new blog will contain the same elements that you had come to expect and enjoy about The Good Egg.

And now, I would love to hear from you! What would you like to read about on the new blog? Email me your suggestions and ideas - moira@thegoodegg.ca