Monday, March 03, 2014

When Calls The Heart

Since Downton Abbey has wrapped for the year, I have a divine little recommendation for you.  The Hallmark Channel unveiled its new show, When Calls The Heart earlier in the year.

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Being a fan of Little House on the Prairie, I have been watching since day 1. The show is about Elizabeth, a well-to-do young woman who took a teaching assignment in Coal Valley.  Upon arrival, she has been dealt a great number of character building opportunities but maintains a positive, can-do attitude.  Also sent to the town is Jack, a mountie.  As constable, he has been asked to investigate a great many cases in the town (church burned down, the mine caved in, etc.) but is REALLY there to look after Elizabeth.  He is not happy about the last responsibility but has no choice.  Elizabeth's family has got money and connections. 

What makes this family friendly show so wonderful is the sweetness of the scripts, the sumptuous costuming and set design, and the chemistry of the cast.  Remember Lori Loughlin from Full House... Uncle Jesse's wife?  Yep!  She is in it and is always the voice of strength and reason.
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Elizabeth is played by Erin Krakow, a Hallmark Channel regular.
Image retrieved from http://blog.zap2it.com/frominsidethebox/when-calls-the-heart-daniel-lissing-erin-krakow.jpg

Daniel Lissing plays Jack... and he is one dreamy mountie.  I love the play between Elizabeth and Jack, their witty banter makes me smile.  This show makes for a great Saturday night.
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There are a number of episodes left in this season so jump in and watch!  It airs on The Hallmark Channel at 9/8c... but check your provider in case you need to catch the East Coast feed like I do. You can also catch previously aired episodes!

Seriously, who can resist this?!

Image retrieved from http://perioddrama.com/wp-content/uploads/2014-When-Calls-the-Heart-Series-Daniel-Lissing-as-Mountie-Jack-Thronton-02.jpg


Monday, February 03, 2014

A Super Bowl that wasn't terribly SUPER

So, the entire 2014 Super Bowl was a bit of a dud.

Seattle's blow out score was painful to watch. (I don't like to see any team to get creamed.)


Bruno Mars gave the best Super Bowl show I have ever seen but I wanted to see more of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Admit it, you did too!!

While the commercials as a whole were so-so, I did find a couple of gems.  What do you think?

Chevy Silverado's Romance


What can Tim Tebow do with no contract?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Gingernuts... It's Downton Day!!

  Image from https://static-secure.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Media/Pix/pictures/2014/1/9/1389260679206/Downton-Abbey-014.jpg

The third episode of Downton Abbey this season left me a little, well, flat.  Anna's agony continued quietly.  The storyline for Lady Edith and Rose were just starting to do something, and Lady Mary was had to endure some awkward moments.  I am still smiling about Mrs. Hughes' moment in the sun... and soo hope she and Mr. Carson hit it off romantically.  Wouldn't that be just wonderful?  

Okay, onto food.  Since last week's Downton viewing recipe was more elaborate, I wanted go a little more low-key this Sunday.  I found this recipe for gingernuts, an English ginger snap cookie that is perfection with tea.  Harboring a deep seated love for all things gingerbread, I had to give it a go.

Gingernuts


Ingredients:

2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup fine sugar 
1 Tbsp molasses
1/2 cup golden syrup (I got mine at Cost Plus World Market)
2 cups flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda



Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Use a baking stone or line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.  Place the brown sugar in a small bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and fine sugar until light.  

Add the molasses and golden syrup. Continue beating the mixture until well incorporated. Aren't the colors stunning?


In another bowl, sift together the flour, ginger, allspice, coriander, baking powder, and baking soda.  The scent is intoxicating!

Add the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture to form a soft dough.  

Form dough into walnut-sized balls. Roll the balls in brown sugar.  


Place 2-inches apart on the baking sheet.  Press down gently to flatten slightly.  

Bake  5 minutes at 350 degrees F, then reduce heat to 325 degrees F and bake another 10-15 minutes.  The cookies are done when they have cracked, are slightly firm to the touch and golden brown all over.  

Cool on the sheet for few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.  Store in an air tight container.  Makes 2 1/2 dozen.


This spicy cookie has a crunchy outside, a soft inside, and is absolutely delicious with tea and a little Downton drama.  While the cast attire was stunning yet again, I am just in agony for Mr. Bates and Anna.  Let's hope she is on her way toward healing and he doesn't murder Mr. Green.  I am excited to see how Mary handles this new guy... and what was the deal was with Edith and the doctor's office?  Until next week!!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Downton Abbey and Cherry Bakewell Pudding

Sundays have become a feast for the palate and a feast for the eyes!  I love, love, love Downton Abbey!!  Okay, so last week's episode was a bit difficult to endure but I am quite certain Anna will rise like a phoenix... after a few more bumps along the way.

Tonight, I made my first REAL steamed pudding.  I have never been tempted to try a British pudding.  I mean, why?  It always sounded just awful, at least to me. Despite my thinking, the images on this site were enough to entice me into giving it a go myself. 

Image from:  https://www.facebook.com/DowntonAbbey/photos_stream

Let me first say, I have been so very wrong.  The Cherry Bakewell Pudding was, well, WHOA!  It wasn't just Mrs. Hughes' tough talk that had me captivated.  This thing was soo easy to prepare and soo worth it!!  Don't believe me?  Let's discover this together, shall we?


Cherry Bakewell Pudding


Ingredients:

Pudding:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened - plus more for greasing the dish
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1/8 tsp almond extract
2/3 cup self rising flour
14 Tbsp finely ground almonds
2 Tbsp milk
3 generous tablespoons of cherry preserves


Sauce:
5 ounces milk
8 ounces heavy cream
1/4 cup fine sugar
6 large egg yolks
1 Tbsp vanilla bean paste (or 1 vanilla bean pod, split and seeds removed)


Instructions:
Butter a metal or glass dish with a 1 1/2 pint capacity.  Set aside.  Lightly spray a piece of foil with nonstick cooking spray.  Add water into a large stockpot.  Since I was unsure how my glass Pyrex bowl would do in boiling water, I placed a large ring cookie cutter on the bottom of the pot and made certain the water came up no more than halfway up the bowl.  Begin to heat the water to boiling.


In a large bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.

Slowly add the eggs, beating until well incorporated.  Add the almond extract and milk.  Gently fold in the flour and ground almonds.


Spoon the preserves in the bottom of the buttered dish.


Pour the batter on top and smooth.  Cover the pudding with the foil and secure with baker's twine.  Place into the stockpot of boiling water.

Cover and steam the pudding for 1 1/2 hours, checking regularly to be certain the pot of water does not go dry.  Add additional water as needed.


In the last 20 minutes of steaming, begin preparing the sauce.  In a saucepan, add milk, cream and one teaspoon of the sugar.  Bring to a gentle simmer and turn the heat down to low.  In a heat proof bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the rest of the sugar until light.  While continuing to whisk, slowly drizzle in the hot milk mixture.


Continue until all of the milk is mixed in with the sugar and egg yolks.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer and pour the mixture back into the saucepan.  Add the vanilla bean paste and cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken a bit.  The sauce is ready when it can coat the back of a metal spoon.  Pour through a fine mesh strainer once more and keep warm until serving.


Test the pudding for doneness by lifting the foil and inserting a skewer into the center of the pudding.  If purely batter, leave in for longer.  If it comes out with sticky crumbs, turn off the heat and carefully lift the bowl from the pot.  Place onto a dinner plate.  Remove the twine and foil.

Place another dinner plate on the top.  Flip the pudding over and gently lift the bowl from the pudding.  The pudding should release freely from the bowl.


Slice the warm pudding and place into a shallow bowl.  Drizzle with the warm sauce.


Enjoy with your favorite tea or coffee!  (Serves 4 -- if doubling the recipe, extend cooking time.)
Image from: https://www.facebook.com/DowntonAbbey/photos_stream

This pudding is absolutely divine!  It smelled heavenly.  Come to think of it, I think angels sang when I released it from the bowl.  I will definitely try this again for a special event.  It would be a beautiful dessert for Christmas or even Valentine's Day.  My advice though, is to make sure those almonds are as finely ground as you can get them, especially if you aren't fond of nuts in your baked goods.


So, let's talk a little Downton Abbey... shall we?  What did you think of Lord Gillingham's bold proposal?  Yikes!!  I thought it was rather soon... and way too forward.  And I thought the English had manners!!  I was overjoyed to see Tom's stalker get the boot.  I didn't even mind Thomas' snippy comment to her.  Ha!  As expected, our dear Anna is stewing in the horror of last week's event but she will see better days soon... I hope.



Sunday, January 12, 2014

Birthday Banoffee and Downton Abbey

Tonight, PBS Masterpiece Theater aired the second episode in the fourth season of Downton Abbey.  It was also my birthday.  Ordinarily, I would expect to have some decadent chocolate cake with chocolate frosting but that wouldn't be very British, would it?  To celebrate my XXth year (Tsk. Tsk.  You thought I was going to tell you!) and the latest in the Downton saga, I prepared a banoffee pie.  A WHAT, you ask?  Banoffee Pie!  Yeah, I didn't know what it was either but it is British and I have to stick with my Downton Abbey tradition... birthday or no birthday.

Prior to tonight, I had never tried banoffee pie.  Heck, I didn't even know it existed.  BUT according to Saveur, it sounded like a decent birthday cake alternative.  I pretty much followed the Saveur recipe... with a change or two.

Banoffee Pie

 

Ingredients:

     Crust -
     1 stick unsalted butter, melted
     10 oz McVities digestive biscuits, crushed

     Filling -
     1 stick unsalted butter
     1/2 cup dark brown sugar
     1 - 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
     4 bananas, sliced
     Heavy cream
     grated chocolate, cocoa powder, or cinnamon

Directions:
For the crust -
Measure out 10 ounces of McVities digestive biscuits.

Pulse in a food processor until finely ground.

Transfer to a bowl.  Add 1 stick melted butter and combine until even dispersed.

Press mixture into a 9" tart pan with a removable bottom.  Be certain to press it up the sides.  Refrigerate for 1 hour.  I chose to use a deep dish pie plate since my tart pan was much larger and I was making this pie for the first time.

For the filling -
Melt 1 stick of butter in a saucepan with brown sugar.

Add the condensed milk and bring to a boil for a couple of minutes, or until the mixture begins to darken.  Stir constantly.
Other recipes do not use the sugar and butter to make the toffee.  Merely submerge the can of sweetened condensed milk in water and boil for two hours.  Cool completely.  Although I did choose this style, it is certainly worth a try!

Pour onto crust.  Refrigerate for another hour, until the caramel is firm.

To serve -
Remove the tart from the pan to a serving plate.  Allow to warm up a bit so the toffee layer softens a bit.  Slice bananas and place in a single layer over the tart.

Whip the heavy cream and spoon over the tart.  Sprinkle with chocolate, cocoa powder or cinnamon.  I chose to do a dusting of cocoa powder and cinnamon.  Perfect!
The resulting pie is not as sweet as one would imagine.  The crust is not sweet, nor is the whipped cream.  A special treat!  (Oh, and I just figured out where it gets its name... BANana tOFFEE PIE!!  Yes, I am quick.)

Happy birthday to ME!!


So, what was your favorite moment in tonight's episode?  I cannot get enough of the gorgeous scenery.  This shot of Lady Mary riding a white horse was as delicious as the banoffee pie!

By the way, my 4-year old decided she needed to blow out the candle.  I feel like Lady Edith getting upstaged by her sister Mary.  I guess there is always next year!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Almost Like Donetta's Chicken and Rice

My friend Donetta makes the BEST chicken and rice.  When I delivered my first baby, she brought dinner to me and it featured her chicken and rice.  She was generous enough to give me her recipe but for whatever reason, mine has never turned out as well as hers... until now.

Tonight, I had chicken thighs in the fridge and had no idea what I was going to do with them.  Suddenly, chicken and rice popped into my mind but I didn't have any condensed mushroom soup.  Ugh.  I didn't want to head out to the store with my little ones so I consulted my dear friend Google.  I found two recipes (a & b) that sounded promising.  However, as I cooked, I found myself combining them.  I am soo glad I did since the result was absolutely delicious.  The whole family loved it... including the kiddos!  Here is what I did.

Almost Like Donetta's Chicken and Rice

Ingredients:
6 chicken thighs, skin removed
1 medium chopped onion
1 cup chopped mushrooms (I used the whole package so it was more)
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup white wine
5 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
1 can low sodium chicken stock
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper
1 cup long grain rice
2 Tbsp fresh/dried parsley
1/2 tsp paprika


Directions:
Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper and set aside. 

In a pan, heat a little olive oil and add onions and mushrooms.  Sautee until softened and the mushrooms release most of their liquid.  Add garlic and cook another 30 seconds.  Pour vegetables into a 9x13 baking dish and top with rice.  In pan, add butter and melt.  Whisk flour into butter and cook for 1 minute... until the mixture begins to brown slightly.  Pour in the stock, milk, sour cream, salt and pepper to taste.  Cook until mixture begins to get bubbly and thicken, about 5 minutes.  Pour sauce over rice and veggies and add parsley.  Mix until the contents are evenly dispersed.  Top with seasoned thighs.  Sprinkle top with paprika and cover with foil. 

Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 45 minutes, until rice is soft, chicken is cooked through and liquid is evaporated.  My dish needed more time, so I removed the foil and baked for another 10 minutes.

Downton Abbey Returns!!!

Season 4 of Downton Abbey began last Sunday night.  I have had this day marked in my calendar since October when I learned the date of the premiere.  I know, I am a total nerd.

Last season, I decided to try out a different British/period dessert to enjoy with every episode.  I blogged about the experiences too.  The result was absolute success!  I had so much fun trying new sweets and sharing them with others, I felt compelled to continue my new tradition!

So, how did I commemorate the premiere?  I made raspberry scones!!


Don't they look decadent?!  Here is how I made them.

Raspberry Scones

Ingredients:
2 1/2 C flour
1/3 C sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cold and cut into smaller pieces
3/4 C buttermilk (or substitute with 1 cup milk and 1 Tbsp white vinegar... let sit 5 minutes)
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste (can substitute vanilla extract)
1 1/2 C frozen/fresh raspberries
1/2 C chopped dark chocolate
Heavy cream

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  In a food processor, blend the dry ingredients.  Add the butter and pulse until it has a sand-like quality.  In a large measuring cup, mix together the buttermilk, egg yolk and vanilla bean paste.  Pour into the food processor and pulse until the dough just comes together.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface.  The dough might be very crumbly and not fully combined.  Gather the pieces and top with the raspberries and chocolate.  Knead ingredients together with the dough a few times until combined.  Pat dough into a 1"-thick disc.  Cut the scones into 8 slices and place onto a baking stone.  Brush with heavy cream and sprinkle with additional sugar.  Bake 15-18 minutes.  Serve warm or room temperature.  Delicious with tea!



I cannot wait to see how Lady Mary handles her new role as part owner of Downton.  I imagine she and her father will have words.  Lady Edith has a new, forbidden romance in the works.  I am sure it will be fraught with disappointment.  Their young wild child cousin now lives in the house and she is already up to her crazy antics.  THIS season should be good!!!

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