Friday, December 16, 2011

Adventures in Wedding Planning

source
One of the horrible things about wedding planning is all the things that people suddenly try to sell you. As soon as your facebook status switches to "engaged", the ads for weight loss, honeymoons, rings, wedding dresses, and teeth whitening appear on the sidebar. Sites full of dreamy photographs try to convince you that you need professional makeup application, crystal toasting flutes, and mason jars wrapped in burlap with chalkboard paint in a vintage picture frame (or something like that). It's not wrong to want any of all of these things - but the conviction with which people will say that you need them is disturbing.

From this utter ridiculousness, come the websites with "wedding checklists". From these, comes my favourite wedding planning hobby: checking off all the items I have no intention of doing and feeling productive.

"Start working with personal trainer" - check. "Make appointments for spa treatments" - check. "Choose jewelry for bridesmaids", "Schedule engagement photoshoot", "Buy cake cutting set" - check, check, check.

I'm so good at this wedding planning stuff!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Scale model

I found this photo on Huffington Post this morning, from behind-the-scenes at the Victoria's Secret fashion show.


Of course Victoria's Secret models always look slim, but with normal people for scale this girl looks insanely tiny.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Begging the question...

"Begging the question" and "raising the question" are not synonyms.

This is the most useful thing I took away from an ill-advised course in undergraduate philosophy (and yes, I recognize that it is not particularly useful).

"Begging the question" is a logical fallacy where the premise implicitly or explicitly assumes the proposition to be proven - it means the reasoning will be circular.

This mistake happens all the time and it doesn't bother me because language is defined by how it is used, and the important thing is that people understand what you're trying to communicate. Here is a gem that I couldn't overlook though:

Ralph Fiennes on the decline of the English language:
"Our expressiveness and our ease with some words is being diluted so that the sentence with more than one clause is a problem for us, and the word of more than two syllables is a problem for us," he said. [...] "I think we're living in a time when our ears are attuned to a flattened and truncated sense of our English language, so this always begs the question, is Shakespeare relevant?"
The irony is so delicious. Get off your high horse Ralph Fiennes.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Unphotogenic Banana Zucchini Bread

In the spirit of not wasting food, but sticking true to my refuses-to-eat-spotty-bananas roots I decided to make banana bread to use up those bananas. I didn't have much in the house by way of food, but the improvised results were pretty delicious. The photo is kind of ugly though. 

Ingredients: 
  1. 2 ripe bananas, smushed
  2. 1/2 zucchini, grated
  3. 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
  4. 1 cup brown sugar (loosely packed)
  5. 1 egg, beaten
  6. 1/4 tsp almond extract (I'm sure vanilla would do as well, I just never have any)
  7. dash each of cinnamon, ground cloves, nutmeg 
  8. 1 tbsp baking soda 
  9. 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
  10. (optional) chopped walnuts
  11. (optional) tablespoon flax seeds
Directions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. combine oil, bananas, and zucchini 
  3. add egg, sugar, spices, and almond extract and mix
  4. add baking soda and salt and mix
  5. optionally, add flax seeds and/or walnuts
  6. add flour and mix. Yum.
  7. Butter and flour a 4x8" loaf pan
  8. Put batter in pan and bake for 40-60 minutes
  9. Remove from oven when finished, cool and remove from pan

Thursday, September 22, 2011

So... when do I get my report card?

In case you missed my large-scale social-media broadcast yesterday, I will reveal that my first academic paper has been published.* If you're interested in reading it, it is available to all here (no paywalls, yay!), but unless you're on my thesis examination committee I won't be disappointed if you just look at the pictures.

This is my favourite figure (Figure 5).
I think I should get a medal for designing the greatest histogram ever. 

While I'm thrilled that my paper is out there, I can't help but feel a little let down. You see... no one gave me a grade on it, and even though I'm done I have to write more of them (forever). Some people need to have a purpose behind their work, to be able to see how it fits into their life goals. Those people aren't me - I just need the work I do to be evaluated and found worthy. Yes, a successful peer review is an evaluation, but a pass/fail doesn't have the same deep satisfaction as an A. 

All said and done, though, seeing your name on google scholar is pretty satisfying all by itself. 

*Well, first as a first author... I have a fourth-authorship from some work I did as an undergraduate.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Quinoa Salad #1 (Mushrooms and nuts)

As a recovering pasta addict, working quinoa into my diet has been an important coping strategy for me, so I have been inventing recipes based on what I have in my fridge and cupboards. I also like to hide vegetables in things, so salads are right up my alley. This isn't actually quinoa salad #1, but it's the first one that actually turned out delicious. Apparently part of being a grownup is eating your kitchen experiments even when they taste gross. 

This recipe makes two smallish portions (my dinner and lunch, I'd multiply everything except the lettuce by 1.5 if making it for two people, or add a meat to make it a bit heartier).


Ingredients: 
  1. Half a cup of dry quinoa
  2. 1/4 cup crushed walnuts
  3. 1 Tbsp flax seeds
  4. 1 portebella mushroom, diced finely (shut up, mushrooms are a perfectly legitimate vegetable)
  5. 1 shallot, in thin slices
  6. 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  7. 6 leaves of green lettuce (three per serving), in bite size pieces (Baby spinach would probably be good too, but I didn't have any)
  8. Salt and pepper to taste
Directions:
  1. Put quinoa in a saucepan with 1 cup of water, and bring to a boil. Keep an eye on it, and when it boils, bring it down to a simmer and cover and cook for 10-15 minutes. 
  2. In the meantime, melt coconut oil in a skillet and sautée the shallot and mushroom.
  3. I added salt generously here, because I was afraid it would taste gross. It's ok if this mixture is over-salted, because the quinoa is kind of bland on its own. Add pepper too, but no need to go crazy.
  4. When the mushroom looks almost done, add walnuts and flax seeds - toss them around until they're toasted and remove the whole thing from the heat. 
  5. My quinoa wasn't done, so I took this opportunity to fill my dinner bowl with lettuce.
  6. When the quinoa is done, empty it into the skillet and mix everything around.
  7. Serve the quinoa and mushroom mixture over the lettuce and enjoy. I hope. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

This PhD thing might actually happen

Signs the end is nigh:

  1. I finished the last of my coursework at the end of April, and my last comprehensive at the beginning of June. That means the next thing I submit is my thesis. 
  2. I've finished and submitted one journal article/future data chapter and the second is on its way. 
  3. I'm done collecting data for my experiments, "all" that's left is refining the model. 
  4. Looking at apartments for next year, I'm not growing too attached. The thought of living somewhere for only a year is very strange to me after 3 years on Johnson St. and 4 years here.
  5. I'm spending a lot of time thinking about a postdoc and what my next big thing will be like. At least this time I don't feel the same unmitigated joy as at the thought of leaving highschool and undergrad. I'm savouring the things I know I'll miss about being a grad student and living in Montreal. 
  6. My thought pattern tends to be a cycle of: Australia woud be amazing/but I would be driven insane by the spiders/but I would forget what it feels like to be cold/but the SPIDERS etc.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

April and May and June??

This post goes out to Chantal and Andrew for calling me out on abandoning my procrastination station. 

I have no idea where spring went, but now I'm sitting barefoot in my apartment in a sundress with the AC on (very low). Fortunately, my digital photos are date-stamped, so I can recover some idea of what happened.

In April I went to an "I'm on a boat"-themed bachelorette party for our beloved T-bride Meg,

Landlubber Liz and Admiral Anna
and Chantal made her famous jello shots (only one bottle of vodka! .... a texas mickey).

Not pictured: two additional trays
Dave and I went to Kingston to celebrate Easter with family,

Posing with my lovely cousins. 
and then went off to Ottawa for a wedding. We paused in Montebello to drink a caesar by the lake before returning to Montreal.


I started May by jetting off to Naples, Forida for the annual Vision Sciences Society conference. The banquets and beach were nearly as much fun as the lectures and posters.

The cabanas by the small pool. Life in Naples is rough.
After I got back, Twiggy missed me terribly and needed some serious snuggles.

That's her holding on to my arm.
It was difficult to work in this position. 
Twiggy and I together worked hard on some papers (both for degree requirements and publication).

And by "together" I mean "she napped"
I went out for dumplings with friends from the lab,

Where the teacups are beyond adorable - it's a little dumpling.
and then we watched a live taping of Quirks and Quarks Questions. A professor in our research unit was one of the experts they had answering questions.

"Do we all see the same colours?"
In June, Dave and I were in Peterborough for his sister Andrea and now brother-in-law Matt's gorgeous wedding,


I love this photo - I don't care if it isn't in focus
and then in Ottawa, reunited with the 152 Johnson ladies for Megan & Earl's fantastic wedding party. My feet hurt more than my head the next morning, so I know I'm getting old. And need to stop wearing stilettos if they don't have platforms.


Roomies (n. plural). Sisters, therapists, lovahs, chocolate dealers,
fellow procrastinators, motivators, and people who make sure you never drink alone.
In between, I've been keeping up with yoga, finished the course work for my last class ever, submitted my first journal article, read the latest book from Wheel of Time (and have since been re-reading the original series), and have been admiring the pictures on too many wedding websites.

Whew.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Let the Spreadsheeting Begin

Thinking about wedding planning is an awesome way to procrastinate on my schoolwork. Yesterday, instead of a gloriously well-crafted progress paper I produced a venue cost-comparison spreadsheet that is both sufficiently elaborate, and very easy to update as we get more information on the actual expenses at each venue. Behold:

The yellow cells can be changed, the red cells are guesstimates and must be changed.
Other than that, it's all self-updating 
I'm glad we aren't planning this somewhere (like Toronto) with a hundred thousand possible venues. We narrowed the options in Kingston down to five front-runners pretty easily.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Why?

Source
This is a small thought, too big for a tweet, too small for a proper post, but here goes.

I put music on the websites I designed... awesome MIDI files back in 1998. Around that time, the convention in web design became "don't include music just because you can. Your audience is forced to listen to it, and they should be allowed to peruse the website at their leisure."

Given that, WHY FOR THE LOVE OF GOD do 99% of wedding photographers put horrible sappy "mood" music on their portfolios? I have my own music, or I might be at work. See the above reasoning for why the music on your website, if you choose to include it, should be on pause by default with the option to play. Web designers who create these horrendous Flash monstrosities for photographers: what are you doing? Have you ever opened the sites for eight photographers in tabs and then after a moment of aural assault had your (awesome) computer seize up and die under the weight of so much Flash??

Whatever your reasoning, stop, please.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Whine Time

Because (1) Dave lives far away from where I live and (2) I can't drive, I am the train-equivalent of a frequent flyer. Normally, I am a-ok with my 5.5 hour trips. I have power for my laptop, sometimes wifi, a comfy place to sit and if I book one of the fancy new trains, I can often get a seat by myself. Today, I have a very special seat - the handicapped seat. Perhaps so called because when they're done with me I'll be handicapped.

Pros: it's nice and private, lots of leg room. Technically a single - there's no one beside me.

Cons: this seat is so unbelievably uncomfortable. I have no idea how it was modified from the normal seats that I love, but all I have is physiological evidence of abuse-by-chair. My butt is simultaneously numb and sore. My neck started hurting within half an hour of sitting down, in the last four hours and 45 minutes that pain has worked its way down my spine to my shoulder blades. I can't find anything comfortable to do with my legs. It's right next to the toilet and smells like pee. AND to add insult to injury, the lady with the snack cart didn't notice/ignored me on her second pass, so I didn't get my tea.

Pros: VIA has a twitter account (@VIA_rail), and I have been able to use the free* wifi to complain to them already.

I'm looking forward to sending them the details on this seat when they email me to ask how my trip went in two weeks. I have also learned that if my ticket seats me in row 17, beware.

*Rather, my tethered iPhone because the free wifi is so spotty

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

So close yet so far

Legend: Black = a point to include, red = to-do, blue = references
This is the discussion for the paper that has been (intermittently) plaguing my life for the last three years in a half-decent outline form. It's the last big hurdle between me and submitting this work for publication, but it's a pretty darn big hurdle.  

Monday, February 28, 2011

Just Gorgeous

Instead of writing a paper, I spent the evening researching calligraphy, pens, and inks. Somewhere along the way I found this video:



It makes me miss scoring music, but mostly makes me happy.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Winning the Dress Lottery

I have a wedding dress. Way WAY sooner than it really makes sense to have a dress.

I can't post pictures, they're secret from Dave!
Here is a photo of the garment bag instead.
Mom and Dad didn't want to miss out on dress shopping with their favourite daughter, so while they were in Montreal last weekend, I thought we could drop by "that shop Catherine got her dress at, where you don't need appointments."

Saturday morning, I gave them a call - just to make sure they were open on Sundays, when we planned to do some browsing. I found out that no, they weren't open on Sundays. Oh. But would I need an appointment to come by some other time? I asked. Ah.... yes. Unless it was one of their sale days (maybe once or twice a year), appointments are necessary. And they had one that afternoon because of a cancellation.*

We showed up a bit before 3:30, and were let into the beautiful (very flatteringly lit) salon just as the group before us was leaving. I explained that I was recently engaged, and just hoping to get a sense of what sorts of styles suited me. I was happy to try on anything. Ten dresses and an hour later we had a pretty good sense of what looked good**, and my mom pulled out "just one more dress" two dresses after I said I was ready to be back in my normal clothes.

The (wonderful) lady helping me tossed the layers of satin and tulle over my head, and zipped it up smoothly. It was perfect - a very elegant and classic dress that didn't stray into "mature bride" territory at all. Flattering in every dimension and a perfect fit.*** It didn't fill me with childlike glee, like the cinderella ball gown I had tried on seven dresses previously:

Not like this except for the extreme amount of tulle in the skirt.
But also unlike the cinderella dress it was the sort of dress I could definitely see myself getting married in. Then I saw the train, and the detail on the back, and I fell completely in love with it. Mom & Dad agreed - it was the sort of dress by which all other dresses are measured. They quoted us a price, but suggested that I wait and come back the following Saturday for one of the sales.

Me and my dress, outside the salon.
This morning I walked out with my dress! Even though it's not in agreement with the month-by-month wedding to-dos available online, the dress is the first thing we've checked off the list!

*Stroke of luck #1: same-day appointment at a bridal salon
** no strapless, no white, no lace and tapered through the torso to my natural waist. This eliminates about 95% of bridal gowns in existence.
***In this salon, the dresses aren't samples - they're produced one at a time, and when they sell, they sell. If it's made in your size, it can work. If it isn't, you're out of luck.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Steak au Poivre (also: Yum Yum Yum)

Peppercorn heart from findingthenow on Flickr
Dave makes this maybe once every couple of years, and tonight was my lucky night.

Note: there is no photo for this recipe because I did not want to pause before digging in. Cognac, cream,  pepper, and a wonderful steak are not the sort of things that invite self control.


What you need:
 - 2 beef tenderloin steaks (filet mignon)
 - 2 tbsp whole peppercorns
 - 1 tbsp unsalted butter
 - 1 tbsp olive oil
 - kosher salt
 - 1/3 cup + 2 tbsp cognac
 - 1 cup heavy cream

What you do: 
1.  Remove steaks from refrigerator 30 minutes to 1 hour before cooking.   Lightly salt with kosher salt.  Cover and let sit.

2.  Crack peppercorns with rolling pin, skillet, or mallet.  Works best inside a ziplock bag.

3.  Spread cracked peppercorns on a plate.  Firmly press steaks into peppercorns, coating both sides.

4.  In a skillet on medium heat, melt olive oil and butter.   Cook steaks 4 minutes per side for medium rare.   When finished, set steaks aside and cover.  Do not clean skillet.

5.  Remove skillet from heat and add 1/3 cup cognac.  Ignite alcohol with a match.  When flames die, return to medium heat and add cream.  Whisk cream for 5 minutes or so, until it coats the back of a spoon.  Add 2 tbsp cognac and salt to taste.

6.  Slice steaks into strips and plate.  Pour cream over steaks.

7.  Enjoy with a nice Bordeaux.  2005 is a very good year.

Monday, February 14, 2011

It's Monday (in Two Acts)

Act I

It doesn't feel like Valentines, because it's rainy and cold and I'm sitting in a conference room but no students have come to see me (even though colour vision is a really hard topic and I think they'll need help*). It felt like Valentines yesterday when we spent the afternoon being lazy and talking about guest lists and dresses and venues and nothing. Then we dressed up and went to my favourite Italian anything restaurant (hi Ennio!) with new dear friends and ate until we could barely walk home.

It was kind of like this:



Still, it reminds me of a rainy and cold Valentines-on-a-school-day a lot of years ago when Dave and I were studying for a midterm in Douglas Library, and I was telling him about the chocolates I'd gotten in the mail from a new not-quite-boyfriend-yet and he was happy for me and we went to Subway for lunch.

Act II


The thing that makes Dave laugh at me/tear his hair out the most is how literal I can be, so when this joke popped up on my Google Reader, I sent it to him right away:

A wife asks her software engineer husband: "Could you please go shopping for me and buy one carton of milk, and if they have eggs, get 6!" A short time later the husband comes back with 6 cartons of milk. The wife asks him, "Why the hell did you buy 6 cartons of milk?" He replied, "They had eggs."


At least I haven't done that. Yet. 


* Though, I have plenty of work to do that I'm writing schmoopy** blog posts instead of doing so there's plenty of evidence that we don't always do what's best for us. 
** I've added an "aww" category in its honour, we shall see if it ever gets used again.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

It's so exciting


Engaged as of February 3, at Hôtel Quintessence in Mont Tremblant, Quebec.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Love of my life: Macaroni and Cheese

Eat Make Read
It made my winter when I found Celia's rendition of this recipe on Eat Make Read. I think the trick is the goat cheese - it makes me want to skip the baking process and just eat the sauce with a spoon. Depending on what has been available at my grocery store, I've substituted some variant of aged cheddar for the gouda and parmesan for the cheddar (proportion-wise). Yum.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Making up multiple choice questions

It's not exactly my favourite way to spend a Wednesday evening, but I like it so much better than marking. I always feel bad when I make the sort of questions that I hated answering on tests and exams.

In the interest of not providing any misinformation,
the answer is actually angelic-smiley.
However, one can entertain oneself by pasting the questions to share over MSN. The answer is martini, definitely martini.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Decorating Project: Help Needed



This is the TA office. I think I'm the only person who uses it, as everyone else seems to have found an alternative. 

I'm going to spend a few hours a week here, and I don't want to be as sad as I was last week, hunched alone at my laptop and bathed in fluorescent light. Any ideas for how to spruce it up?

Given that (in theory) I don't have exclusive use of the room, I don't want to do anything crazy, overly personal, or expensive. I'm pretty sure I'd get in trouble for trying to paint it, and I can't replace the furniture because A) that would be expensive and B) that would be heavy. 

An Appetizer Party: Grand Finale (Dessert)

They're just so darn classy.

Tuxedo Strawberries


Ingredients:

  1. Fresh strawberries (~30)
  2. White melting chocolate (~ 500g) 
  3. Dark melting chocolate (~250g)
  4. Milk melting chocolate (~250g)
Wash and dry fresh strawberries, skewer with toothpicks through stem for easy dipping and eating. Prepare a baking sheet or two with parchment or waxed paper - you'll set the strawberries here to cool once they have been dipped in chocolate. 

Melt white chocolate in a double boiler or microwave. Dip each strawberry in the white chocolate and place it on a baking tray. If you gently scrape the back of the strawberry along the side of the bowl to remove excess chocolate, there won't be a puddle of melted chocolate on the tray to deform the silhouette of the berry. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Combine dark and milk chocolate and melt. Dip each strawberry twice, at an angle, to form the sides of the tuxedo. Again, scrape the back of the berry to preserve its shape. Using a pastry bag with a tiny tip, pipe little buttons and bow ties (like squared figure-eights) to finish off the tux. Allow to cool one more time, then serve and bask in the praise for your adorable dessert.

We followed the method suggested by this guy on YouTube, but added the toothpicks because it made the process easier.

For the rest of the party, catch:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Next Food Project: An easy one!


I think these are the cutest thing I've seen in awhile, and the faces are just painted on with food colouring. Easy beans! I need to have a party so I can serve these. 

An Appetizer Party: Hot Appetizers

In my true dedication to procrastination, I have delayed this post by nearly a week. It wasn't when we were preparing the appetizers that I thought "This a ridiculous number of different things to serve", it was when I had to go through and write up the recipes.

Without further delay, here is the thrilling next edition to "An Appetizer Party" the tale of New Years Eve 2010 chez Arsenault, in food.

In case you missed them, Catch the cold appetizers here.

Blue Cheese Bites


Ingredients:
  1. 1 tube Pillsbury biscuit dough 
  2. 4 oz. blue cheese (we used Stilton)
  3. just under 1/2 cup unsalted butter
Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Melt the butter in the bottom of your approximately quiche-sized pan. Or rectangular pan. It's flexible. Release the biscuit dough from the tube, and cut the rounds into quarters. Sprinkle crumbled blue cheese evenly over bottom of pan. Lay the dough on the cheese. They'll expand, so don't worry if there are a few empty spaces. Bake for 12-15 mins until biscuits are golden. Allow to cool for 3-5 minutes, and enjoy with sparking wine.

Mom's Marinara Sauce

This delicious marinara is used for both the olives and the meatballs. Leftovers can be reheated, thinned with milk, and served as an awesome tomato soup. 

Ingredients:
  1. 106 oz. San Marzano canned roma tomatoes with basil (any brand will work, though note that the best way to get mediocre tomato sauce is to buy the cheapest canned tomatoes.)
  2. about 1/4 cup of butter
  3. 2 onions, diced
  4. 2 stalk of celery, diced
  5. 1 carrot, grated
  6. Salt and pepper
Directions:

Put butter in a big pot, heat. Add onion, celery, and carrot, season with salt and pepper - no need to measure, just do what feels right. Sautee until soft. Add tomatoes, and puree. Reduce for 2-3 hours to enhance the flavour, if you have the time.

Best Meatballs Ever


Ingredients:
  1. 1 lb ground beef
  2. 1 lb ground pork
  3. 2 cups bread, cubed-no crust (baguette or rustic italian)
  4. 3/4 cup milk
  5. 1 ½ tsp sea salt
  6. freshly ground pepper to taste
  7. 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley - finely chopped
  8. 1/4 cup pine nuts - ground
  9. 2 cloves garlic - finely chopped
  10. zest of 1 lemon
  11. 1/3 cup grated pecorino or parmasan cheese
  12. 2 eggs - lightly beaten
  13. 1 ½ cups Panko Japanese bread crumbs
  14. 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil + extra if needed
  15. Marinara sauce
Directions:


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl soak the bread in the milk. In a large bowl, using your hands, combine the beef, pork, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, lemon zest, egg, cheese, salt & pepper. And Panko. Then remove most of the Panko and some of the parmesan cheese. Squeeze the milk from the bread and incorporate into the meat mixture.

Wet your hands a little (prevents sticking) and take around a heaping tablespoon of meat and form into a ball, then flatten down slightly so they wont roll around in the pan. Next coat them in the Panko and parmesan you removed and set aside. Heat the oil in a large skillet over med heat and fry the patties until they're nice and brown. (note: you're not cooking them all the way through, just browning the outside.) Arrange them in a large casserole dish or roasting pan in one layer.


Pour the marinara sauce over the meatballs evenly, adding a splash of olive oil over the top and place in the oven for about 35-40 minutes. When they come out top with freshly grated parmasan or pecorino and some finely chopped parsley for garnish. Makes a ton of bite-sized meatballs.



Fried Olives

Posting this recipe makes me feel like an impostor, because I don't actually like olives, so I didn't taste it. I do have it on good authority that it is a delicious and unusual way to enjoy olives. Apparently the combination of sausage, olive, cheese, bread, and marinara is reminiscent of pizza. I think that's a good thing.


Ingredients:

  1. Pitted, big, green olives
  2. An italian sausage
  3. about 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese
  4. a splash of olive oil
  5. about 1 cup of flour
  6. 2 eggs, beaten
  7. about 2 cups of Panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  8. A lot of oil for deep frying. We used peanut oil because we didn't have enough vegetable oil.
Directions:

To prepare the stuffing, cut the italian sausage out of its casing and sauté to cook, breaking it up into small pieces of ground meat. When it is cooked, put it into a food processor with some parmesan and a bit of olive oil and puree into a paste. It should be about the consistency of paté, so add parmesan and olive oil slowly until you reach the desired consistency.

Using a pastry bag and tip, pipe the filling into the centre of the olive (we had to dig out cloves of garlic to do this, you may need to remove pimentos or seeds depending on the olives you buy). 

Once the olives are stuffed, bread them by coating in flour, then egg, then panko. If they're too dry for the flour to stick, you can brush them lightly with olive oil. They can be kept refrigerated in this state for a while (up to two weeks) if you want to get your prep work done in advance, and then you can fry them right before they will be served. We fried them later that day. 

Pour oil into a large pan (with deep-ish sides, the oil will be very hot) so that it is about 1cm deep.  Lower olives into the oil (I think we used tongs to do them one by one). Cook for about 2 minutes, turning halfway through. They should be golden brown when they're done. Remove to a paper-towel-covered plate and then serve in marinara sauce, though rumour has it that cocktail sauce works well too. Watch them disappear. 


Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts


Ingredients:

  1. 1lb of thick-cut bacon (smoky, not maple or honey, or any other strange flavour)
  2. About 40 large, whole water chestnuts 

Directions:

Cut the strips of bacon in half. Wrap each water chestnut in half a strip of bacon, and skewer with a toothpick. These can be set aside overnight and cooked later.

Lay the skewers out on a baking tray, and cook at 350-400˚ for about 45 minutes, or whenever the bacon looks done. Serve immediately with some sort of dipping sauce. Cocktail sauce is delicious.

Chicken Skewers




Ingredients: for 10 skewers
  1. 3/4 cup soy sauce
  2. 1/4 cup sugar
  3. 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  4. 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  5. 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  6. 2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves - cut into 1 inch pieces
  7. 6 green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  8. 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, stems removed (for easier skewering)
Directions:

To prepare the marinade,  in a mixing bowl, combine first five ingredients. Stir in chicken and onion; allow to marinate for 30 minutes. Soak wooden skewers in water. On each skewer, thread a piece of chicken, onion, mushroom and another chicken piece. 

The original recipe gives these instructions for broiling: 
Place on a broiler rack. Broil 5 in. from the heat, turning and basting with marinade after 3 minutes. Continue broiling for another 3 minutes or until chicken is done. 

We grilled them on the barbecue instead.

Serve immediately. We served them with a spicy peanut sauce for dipping.


Stay tuned for the single-recipe finale: dessert. Hint: it's going to be adorable.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

An Appetizer Party: Cold Appetizers

We closed 2010 with a party at my parents' house. We spent much of December 30th and 31st planning and preparing a suite of appetizers to serve in lieu of a sit-down dinner. Following is an account of what we decided on, how we prepared it, and most importantly: how it looked.

Shrimp Cocktail


Ingredients: 
  1. Raw, frozen shrimp
  2. Lemon
  3. Sea Salt/Kosher Salt
  4. Ketchup
  5. Horseradish
  6. Worcestershire Sauce
  7. Sugar
  8. Tobasco
Directions: 

Thaw shrimp and toss in kosher salt. Bring a huge pot of water to a boil - if you forgot to let the shrimp sit in kosher salt, add some sea salt to the water. We squeezed a lemon in too. 

Drop the shrimp into the boiling water and watch carefully. It's done when it curls/turns pink/floats in the water (experience finds that they tend to be done 30 seconds before you're confident they're done). Drain the hot water, and rinse the shrimp in cold water to keep them from cooking any more. Shell the shrimp - you don't want to buy pre-shelled because all the flavour is in the shell - and then pop them in the fridge until ready to serve.

The cocktail sauce is prepared by combining ketchup, horseradish, worcestershire sauce, sugar, and a touch of tobasco to taste. For details, ask Dave.

Garnish with leaf lettuce and lemon wedges, and serve in a bowl over ice to keep them cool.


Oyster Roll


Ingredients: 
  1. Two 8 oz.  packages of cream cheese
  2. 1 clove of garlic, minced
  3. 2 tsp finely minced onion
  4. 1 Tbsp mayonnaise
  5. 2 tsp worcestershire sauce
  6. 2 packages of smoked oysters
Make sure the cream cheese is soft by leaving it out of the refrigerator for a few hours, then mix together all the ingredients but the oysters. Spread this mixture on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet to form a rectangle that's about 1/2 an inch thick.

Chill.


And put the baking sheet in the fridge until firm-ish (about an hour or so).

Prepare the oysters by draining them and patting them dry. Smush them a little as you arrange them on the cream cheese rectangle for even coverage, leaving a little bit of space at the edges.

Roll along the long edge of the rectangle (like a jelly roll), and then smooth the surface with a knife.

Garnish with parsley or tomatoes and baby spinach and then serve with crackers or baguette.


Tomato, Basil, and Bocconcini Skewers



Ingredients (for 40 skewers):

  1. 40 Cherry tomatoes
  2. Fresh basil
  3. 40 "small" bocconcini balls
  4. Olive oil (about 1/3 cup)
  5. Salt (about 1.5 tsp)
  6. Fresh ground pepper (about 2 tsp)
  7. 2-3 cloves of garlic
Quick recipe: get a toothpick, skewer a tomato, a small piece of basil and a bocconcini ball. Repeat. 

For added yumminess, flavour the bocconcini in advance by soaking them in a seasoned oil. 

To make the oil, mince garlic and (about a tablespoon of) fresh basil. Add these to about 1/3 cup of olive oil with salt and pepper. Heat until quite warm, then cool. Dry 40-45 bocconcini balls (it's best to do a few extra in case of accidents or snacking), then put them in a ziploc bag with the cooled oil. Let them sit for a few hours in the fridge, and then execute the quick recipe outlined above. Leftover oil can be drizzled over the plated skewers. 

Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus


Ingredients:
  1. A small wheel of Boursin cheese (garlic and herb flavour is delicious)
  2. 40 medium-sized spears of asparagus
  3. 20 slices of prosciutto
  4. Zest from one lemon
  5. Cracked black pepper
Break the tough ends off the asparagus spears. We also trimmed these rough edges with a knife for presentation purposes. Blanche the asparagus by submerging it in boiling water for about 2 minutes, and then drain it and rinse it in cold water to stop any further cooking. Pat dry and set aside. 

Prepare the prosciutto by spreading a thin layer of cheese on each slice and then cutting it in half (along its shorter dimension). Sprinkle cracked black pepper on the cheese, and then wrap the prosciutto around the middle of an asparagus spear. One slice of prosciutto should do two asparagus spears.