Holiday Treats: 2 Family Faves

Chocolate Truffle Mice 

My mom used to make these chocolate truffle mice every Christmas. When other kids brought in cookies or bar desserts their moms made during our elementary school Christmas parties, I brought these mice. Santa may have even been left a few mice on more than one occasion. This recipe and the recipe below, candied orange peels, are in the notebook my mom passed onto me.

Adult me is wondering how kid me did not appreciate “gooey pizza muffins”.

As an aside, this notebook is the first thing I will grab if there’s ever a fire. It’s full of clippings from magazines and newspapers my mom stuck in a huge spiral-bound notebook. There’s notes all throughout, “excellent”, “not great”, “Heather loves these” and lots of these recipes I remember my mom making growing up.

Chocolate Truffle Mice (Canadian Living Magazine)

4 ounces/squares of semi-sweet baking chocolate
1/3 cup sour cream
1 cup chocolate wafer crumbs (or Oreo baking crumbs… But if you grind up the cookies yourself, about 30 cookies.)
1/3 cup more crumbs for later (or you can use icing sugar or sprinkles… But be warned, icing sugar will make your little mice disturbingly realistic)
Dragees
Almond slivers or flakes
Licorice for tails

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, then remove it from the heat. Mix in sour cream, and then the cookie crumbs. Park it in the fridge to cool for about an hour.

Roll about a tablespoon’s worth of truffle into a ball, and then shape the ball to have a little point at the end for the mouse’s nose. Coat the truffle in more cookie crumbs.

You can then decorate with dragees (silver balls) for eyes, almond slivers for ears and licorice strings for tails. Do not be surprised if once everyone is done eating them, you are left with a plate of disembodied tails.

Candied Orange Peels

I’ve been making the candied orange peels on my own for the past three or four Christmases. Matt’s mom showed me a recipe in a magazine for candied orange slices, not peels. I thought this was really interesting and I am going to do both peels and slices during this run.

One interesting note is that the recipe for peels is done in two stages: first, you boil the peels in water for 15 minutes to remove the bitterness, then simmer them in sugar syrup until they are candied. For the slices, all the recipes I have found skip that first step. In addition, the peels use sugar and corn syrup, while the slices do not use corn syrup, but simply a 2:3 water to sugar ratio.

I’ve experimented with this recipe, and the only other citrus fruit that holds up well to the process is grapefruit, which still retains its distinct grapefruit flavour. Lemon and lime peels seem too thin and turn out crunchy and burnt-tasting.

The chocolate dipping is what I added to this recipe. Dark chocolate tastes really good, but semi-sweet chocolate chips are easier to eat out of the freezer when no one is looking.

This recipe is from Family Circle, December 1989.

Candied Orange Peels

2 to 3 lbs of navel oranges, or about 8 oranges.
3/4 cup of water
2 cups of sugar, with extra for rolling the peels in
2 tablespoons of corn syrup

Remove the peel from the oranges. I’ve found cutting them into quarters and scooping out the flesh works best, but if you intend on eating the leftovers later you will be left with a pile of mush. I always intend to eat the oranges, but never do. This is why I am excited about trying slices this time around, because there is less waste.

Boil the orange peels in a pot of water for about 15 minutes, drain.

Boil sugar, 3/4 cup of water and corn syrup, add the orange peels and simmer for about 35-55 minutes or until translucent. Do not burn it, or your pot will never be the same again. In addition if you burn the syrup, your peels will taste burnt and be crunchy even if they don’t look burnt.

After the peels are simmered, they are left to cool/dry before rolling them in sugar. They are supposed to be rolled in sugar when they’re just “tacky”, but I have found if you roll them when too dry the sugar won’t stick, but if you roll them just before the tacky stage the sugar is absorbed because of the moisture and the peels stay… Juicy.

I found the slices difficult to candy evenly, as they float. And, the more you push ’em back into their syrup, the more they fall apart. But if you cover them with enough chocolate it doesn’t really matter 🙂

Enjoy!

Inspiration 2: Perogies

For the second time in as many visits, a trip to Piggy Market changed our dinner plans on the spot. We spotted heads of local cabbage in the corner, molasses-cured smoked bacon and perogies behind the glass counters and a lovely home-made apple pie cooling on the counter. My plan hatched immediately. It was cool, grey day, calling out for a dinner of old-world comfort food.

The cabbage was chopped and blanched. Onions and bacon fried together, the pot de-glazed with a generous couple of glugs of Waupoos hard apple cider. The cabbage was added and fried until soft, absorbing the bacon fat and flavours from the thickened cider.

 

The pot, now emptied of its  mixture, gets a fresh dollop of special, high-milk fat butter, and we fry the cheese and potato pillows until they are golden. Everything is tossed together and served with the rest of the Waupoos, paving the way for the punctuation of a perfect sweet bite of pie.

 

Holiday Lemon Cheesecake Bars

Instead of perusing the internet for fun new recipes, I actually ventured outside and purchased the Canadian Living Special Cookbook Edition – Holiday Favourites at the grocery checkout to find a second new recipe to try. I love Canadian Living and I’d say 80 per cent of the recipes in my most prized possession, my mom’s scrapbook of recipes cut out from newspapers and magazines, are from Canadian Living. I chose the lemon cheesecake bars, because I love lemon bars – but have never made lemon bars before – and the cheesecake layer seemed like it would be an interesting addition.

The "healthy" lemon cookies I used for the crust.

The original recipe calls for 30 lemon social tea cookies, but all I could find at my pathetically understocked, low-variety grocery store were no- sugar-added Peek Freans lemon “Lifestyle” cookies. Healthy ones. I wasn’t confident they would be lemony enough for the purpose, so I added two heaping spoonfuls of lemon curd to the butter and whisked them together after melting. I used almost the entire package of cookies and fed the leftover five or six to Matt. I also ground up enough to make a little more than the required two cups of crumbs to compensate for the extra liquid from the lemon curd.

Sometimes I get overzealous while baking, so here’s where I screwed up:

I didn’t follow the order when making the cheesecake layer, instead of beating the cheese and sugar first, then adding the egg, I just beat it all together. This is probably why when I bake cookies they melt into a giant cookie puddle in the oven. I didn’t trust the texture after I realized my mistake, so I let the cheesecake layer sit in the fridge for a few hours to firm up before pouring over the lemon layer.

Doing my best to make up for lost deliciousness in the crust by adding lemon curd.

Onto the lemons: it took me approximately three regular-sized lemons to come up with the lemon zest I needed, and two and a half of those lemons for the juice required for the recipe. And with the shhht shhht shhht of the microplane, our puppy Bodie came running into the kitchen. I’ve been known to spoil him with some asiago microplaned over his kibbles so the sound of the microplane in use is akin to a can opener to a cat, but not today. Sorry, Bodie.

The lemon squares turned out very well, and extremely rich. The cheesecake layer was not overpowering in its cheesecakey-flavour. The crust tastes like any good, buttery shortbread crust with a hint of lemon. I would recommend parking them in the fridge for a while after they cool to make cutting them easier, as they are quite delicate. I cut them into very tiny, one-bite pieces. The recipe says it makes 60 bars, and I got 60 very tiny, 1 1/2-inch pieces.

Lemon Cheesecake Bars

4 eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 Tbsp finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tsp baking powder
Icing sugar for topping

Cheesecake Layer:
1 package cream cheese (one brick, 8 oz)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg

Base:
30 lemon social tea cookies
1/2 cup butter, melted

Base:
In a food processor, crush cookies to make 2 cups crumbs, pulse in butter until moistened. Press into 9×13-inch parchment-paper lined or greased cake pan. Bake at 325 until firm, about 12 minutes. Cool on rack.

Cheesecake layer: In bowl, beat cream cheese with sugar until smooth; beat in egg. Spread over base, set aside.

And the rest:
In a bowl, beat eggs with sugar until thickened. Beat in lemon zest juice, flour and baking powder until smooth, pour over cheesecake later.
Bake at 325 for about 35 minutes or until edges are brown, the top is slightly golden and lemon layer is set. Cool on rack, cut into bars, dust with icing sugar.

Makes 60 bars (apparently).

Click HERE for a printable version of this recipe.

Lemon bar base, out of the oven and cooling. Instead of one large, 9x13 pan, I used two smaller ones.
The second layer - cheesecake.
With the frothy lemon layer added, it's time to go into the oven.
Out of the oven, cooled and dusted liberally with icing sugar.
A close up of the lemon cheesecake strata.
The finished lemon cheesecake bars.

Contributor Heather Rose is a freelance writer living in Toronto with her puppy, Bodie and boyfriend, Matt, one of whom enjoys her culinary experiments more than the other. She applies her life-long philosophy – “I did my best” – to all her recipes and cooking experiences. Check out her website at www.heatherrosewriting.com.

 

Fatboy’s Roars into O-town

When it rains it pours. Ottawa, after having existed in a BBQ vacuum for so long, now has a third joint gracing the real BBQ landscape and we have heard unconfirmed rumours of yet another joint to open on Bank. Fatboy’s Southern Smokehouse opened this week on the Byward Market. Rob and I headed down there last Satuday to check it out.


Fatboys Southern Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

The entrance is warm and beckoning and we were immediately greeted by friendly staff. The interior is brightly lit, bustling, charming and traditional with a warm faux wood floor, accented with a  brick wall painted nostalgia-style with the Fatboy’s logo, featuring pine planking and steel accents, red checkered tablecloths, comfy padded armless chairs, and a bright open kitchen showcasing a monster Southern Pride smoker that holds 750 pounds of meat. They have a smaller one elsewhere as well. The large bar area with stools and tables propped up on real Jack Daniels casks is cheery.

Flatties featuring sports abound. The opposite wall features a replica 1914 Harley Davidson. More Harley and Jack Daniels paraphernalia complete the decor. The bathrooms at the rear of the restaurant are marked by huge cans of Bud light and Budweiser. Fun, but the server has to explain to each customer which is which. Still, fun.

We are seated and I order Waupoos, which they don’t carry. They make up for this by having a small but decent beer menu including Rolling Rock and Shock Top. Fatboy’s also offers small pictures that hold two beers worth and saves you half a loonie. Rob and I both order a 1/2 rack each of St. Louis cut pork side ribs. We decide to share the Campfire Baked Beans, Kansas City Cornbites with Maple Butter, Tangy Coleslaw and Picnic Potato Salad. The menu features some other genuinely southern items like Fried Green Tomatoes  Warm Cinnamon Apples, Catfish and Memphis BBQ Spaghetti. These are all items I will definitely be back to try.

Fatboy’s serves the sauce on the side. Memphis Traditional. They offer 3: Memphis BBQ (Sweet, brown sugar, molasses) Hillbilly Heat (Memphis BBQ with a nice mild kick) and Memphis mustard (yellow mustard and brown sugar, non traditional). Hillbilly Heat was the clear winner at our table where we tend to like a sweet heat style of BBQ.

Our food arrives shortly. The ribs look amazing. We dig into those first. They have great hickory smoke flavour, a nice rosy smoke ring and a most excellent bark. The real deal. With the exception of the potato salad, the sides are good but not outstanding. The beans are sweet with chunks and bits of brisket with little or no heat. Very traditional. They just were not as sweet as I like them and seemed a bit bland. As per my rule regarding BBQ beans, if they are not excellent I don’t eat more than a spoonful or two. I did not eat them. The Tangy Coleslaw was simply not. It appeared to be completely undressed. I loved the cornbread but it was not Rob’s favorite. Fatboy’s cornbread is of the cakey sweet variety. I also love the coarser, lightly sweet cornbread. I’m happy either way. I was however hard pressed to find any maple flavour in the maple butter.

The Picnic Potato Salad was by far the best side we tried. And one of the better potato salads I’ve had anywhere. The potatoes are just slightly undercooked and the salad is lightly dressed with chunks of bell peppers. The highlight of the meal was the meat and I would go back in a heartbeat for the ribs and some hillbilly heat. The sides are fine but we would probably opt for different ones next time. A notable missing component of all the BBQ joints in Ottawa is crunch. There is no crunch on any of the plates. In the south you are often served a few slices of pickle and sometimes a slice of red onion on the side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our server let us know that the restaurant was still experimenting with the dessert menu. Today they offered a Southern apple dumpling. Rob and I shared the small portion which was good but it was only marginally better than a PC frozen apple blossom. To finish we had a shot of Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey. Awesome. Fatboy’s is one of the only places in town that carries it.

Ok. What you have all been asking. Which is better? Fatboy’s or SmoQue Shack? There is no better. They are both very different and both are welcome to fill us up with awesome BBQ. SmoQue Shack is a little more on the “boutique” side, offering a taste of world BBQ including Texas beef ribs and Jamaican jerk, with slightly more exotic ingredients gracing its sauces. Fatboy’s is down-home Southern: fried green tomatoes, catfish, and sweet heat on the side. Can’t wait for their patio to open! We look forward to visiting both for a long time to come.

Fatboy’s takes reservations. Buh-bye Baton Rouge. Ottawa knows better now.

 

 

 

Locavore Artisan Food Fair

On a sunny, but chilly December morning Maureen and I headed to the Locavore Artisan Food Market at Memorial Hall in New Edinburgh. Located in a tiny community centre, the room was brimming with local food vendors and patrons, all there to celebrate our local food business and the local food movement.

The room was small, but it was packed!

Cookies, salsas, ice creams, breads, spreads, mustards, sauces, jams, pies, spices, cakes, full meals and many other items were being sold at a brisk pace. By the time you read this, the event will be over, of course. However the vendors make their products available via many outlets in the city and sometimes directly. It really is worth seeking out these artisans and supporting their businesses. It helps to diversify the Ottawa palate, grow the local economy, bring together the Ottawa food community, and it’s damn tasty too. These items make terrific presents and also make form a more interesting table at home.

Jams from michaelsdolce
Pie and ready-made mincemeat from Life of Pie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art-is-in Bakery wares. Hard to not want to buy everything!

We picked up more of Pascal’es amazing hot chocolate (and I hope to actually have some this time), some “Hot Toddy” ice cream, some michaelsdolce jams, Mrs. McGarrigle’s mustards, Yummy Cookies chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies and some smoked tomato jam from Just Wing’it. Yum!

Some yummy cookies from...well, Yummy Cookies.

Here’s a listing of all the local artisans with links to their websites. Please support them!

Everything looked so good.
Goodies galore.