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"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." - James Beard


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Roundup - Favourite Meals From 2012

As 2012 draws to a close I though I'd look back at some posts from earlier in the year that may have been missed.  These are some of my favourite meals I posted near the beginning of the year, but I've made them again several times since then. Some were old favourites and some were new to me but they're all part of my permanent rotation now.

Hopefully you can see some improvement in the photography since these older posts.  The lighting should be better at least!

So here's a second look at some great meals this year.

#1  Simple Seafood Pasta

This was our New Years dinner last year.  It is simple and delicious and the best part is, you can really use whatever seafood you have on hand.  

#2 To Do: Make Caesar Salad from Scratch

The first time I made this it was a revelation.  I'm not going to say I haven't used store-bought Caesar salad dressing this year but I really feel strongly that home made is the way to go.  

#3 Easy & Fancy Rack of Lamb for Two

I made this in January and again a few times this year because it is so sophisticated and delicious but so easy!  The potatoes taste amazing after cooking under the lamb.  You can serve two or four or more by just increasing the ingredients. 

#4  French Onion Pastina

This is one of my go-to pantry recipes for a cold night.  I always have onions and parmesan cheese on hand and I keep pastina in the cupboard just for this.  It's very easy and even with fancy Italian Parmigiano Reggiano it is still pretty inexpensive.  Try this!  

#5 Pork, Butternut Squash and Fennel Stew

Another one of my favourite recipes. I make this often throughout the year but especially in fall and winter.  I've got some pork shoulder in the freezer right now and plan to make this soon. The finsished stew also freezes very well.  

Friday, December 28, 2012

Year End Roundup - Most Popular Posts of 2012

Well, it's hard to believe it's been almost a year since I started this blog.  I thought it would be nice to have a look back at some of the best posts of the year.  First lets look at the most popular posts based on the number of pageviews.  I thought this might take us back to some older posts but 4 out of the top 5 are from the past few months.  

Here are the top 10 most popular Clockwatching Tart posts this year:

Barbecue Chicken Drumsticks

This post from August shows my special tip for de-skinning chicken drumsticks.  It's simple and really nice for summer.

Chicken & Sweet Potato Hand Pies

I wish this one from October was more popular since it's also one of my favourite posts of the year. It was an amazing discovery that is not too complicated, uses mostly leftovers and worked out great even though I made the mistake of putting hot filling in cold puff pastry.  

Braised Lamb

This one from September is a bit of a surprise. It's really nothing special. Super quick, cheap and easy lamb shoulder chops braised in wine.  But I think it's a little Google magic, as a few of these posts seem to be.  People stumble across them while Googling the ingredients and I guess that's great for me!  Also, the pictures turned out terrific.

Lobster Bisque

This is another one of my favourite meals of the year. The post is from November and I think these are also some of my favourite photos I've taken.  It's not skill, seafood pictures just have this gorgeous colour that brown meat can't compare to. We did freeze the leftovers and they did turn out great the second time around.   

Steak Salad with Mango, Avocado and Jalapeño Vinaigrette

This salad is amazing but the pictures in this post are just brutal. It was in July just a few days before I got my amazing indoor blogging light, but there's no excuse for the sheer amount of crap in the background of these photos.  Try the salad though.  It's a winner.

Saltine Toffee aka Christmas Crack

This is no surprise at all. I shared this post/recipe from December with everyone I know. It has to be made. It is SO amazing. I also changed the title from just Christmas Crack and added the Saltine Toffee for SEO purposes. I hope this will continue to be popular all year round, since there's no specific season for deliciousness.

Turkey Scallopini with Kale in Mustard Lemon Sauce

Another surprise from November. I loved this meal and I raved about it.  Maybe it was popular because it was featured in Clean Eating and they never post their recipes online?  Who knows but it's a healthy, tasty meal that's deserving of 4th most popular post of the year.  (And a great way to make kale!)

Stripetti Squash with Sage and Rosemary

Another triumph of Google.  I assume the people who viewed this post from October were searching "what the heck is a stripetti squash" like I was when we found it at the market.  The recipe wasn't even that spectacular but it was an interesting squash I'd eat again.  The pork we served with it was the real winner.  

Putting Up With: Tomato Sauce (Guest Post)

I have no idea how this post from September became the number two most popular post of the year. We shared it all over but the title is not very Google-friendly so I just don't get how it has twice as many hits as number 3.  But it is a wonderful canning recipe and a great guest post from my amazing husband so I'll take it!  

Crock Pot Pot Roast

Here we are with the most popular post of the year from all the way back in February 2012. It had way more than double the number of hits as the last one.  This is all Google. Somehow I tapped into the search term preferred by weirdos like me and it got searched hundreds of times.  I also entered this post in a Canadian Beef blogging contest so maybe some of the hits came from there.

I was worried about looking back at the pictures for this one in the dead of winter without proper lighting, but it's not that bad.  The amount of junk in the background of the shots is more concerning. At least I've learned that lesson!

Hope you've enjoyed this trip down memory lane.  Soon I'll have a look at my favourite posts of the year so thanks for reading and stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Beer Baron: Westvleteren 12

Merry Christmas! As a Christmas present to me (and to you) my husband has written a guest post about the best beer in the world.  Enjoy!

You might have heard a little bit about Westvleteren 12 in the news lately. The beer, which is often rated as the no. 1 beer in the world and is certainly the hardest beer in the world to find, was sold at the LCBO for the first, and likely last, time.

The reason for its scarcity is that it is a Trappist ale, which means it is brewed by real, honest-to-goodness monks. There are six monasteries in Belgium where they brew beer and the other five operate more like businesses, but not the Westvleteren Brewery. They have no interest at all in commercialism or branding and only ever wanted to brew just enough beer to live a quiet life and give a little to charity.

LCBO Westvleteren Gift Pack
LCBO Westvleteren Gift Pack
However, that was before they needed a new roof on their monastery. In order to afford the repairs, they increased production just for one year, meaning Ontarians had a chance to get their hands on some without travelling to Belgium or begging an independent beer broker.

So, what’s it like?

Westvleteren from Belgium in unlabelled bottle
[Disclaimer no. 1: Beer is like food or wine. Just because I smell or taste or like something, doesn’t mean you will.]
[Disclaimer no. 2: I’ve been saving some Westvleteren 12s from our trip to Belgium in 2009 and also from a beer broker in 2011. Westvleteren 12s are “bottle conditioned”, which is a fancy way of saying there is yeast in the bottle and they can be aged like wine for several years. The one I’m talking about now is from 2011, which means it won’t taste exactly like one you pull from the new gift cases.]

First off, it smells fantastic. I am no super-taster and you won’t see me writing tasting notes for the backs of wine bottles any time soon, but I get a wonderful mix of dark fruits like raisins and figs and ripe plums as well as a little bit of spiciness and fresh bread.

As for the taste, I think it is absolutely apropos that Jen is posting this right around Christmas time. It gives me visions of sugar plums and gingerbread men dancing in my head. I taste the same dark fruits that I smelled but now they are joined by dark malts, molasses and a spiciness that reminds me of cinnamon or cloves.

As for the mouth feel, considering it is a 10.2% ABV beer, it is pretty exceptional. It is much more carbonated and light-feeling than you might imagine and it is not at all syrupy like some other Belgian ales or high-alcohol, viscous stouts. You can taste the alcohol slightly... it is present but by no means overwhelming and actually seems to add to the balance, not detract from the overall enjoyment.

Overall, I can’t think of a better Christmas present for a beer lover – or someone starting to love beer – than a Westvleteren 12. It’s impossible to say it is the best beer in the world, but it is damn close and it’s something you can brag about for two reasons: 1) you’ll be trying something not that many beer drinkers get to try, and 2) you’ll be helping monks build a new roof.

[Tip no. 1: Don’t drink Westvleteren 12 ice cold! It’s not a damn Bud Light and you don’t want to hide the flavours, you want to let them bloom. Either take the bottle out of the fridge and let it warm up slightly before opening it or pour it into your chalice and wrap your hands around it and warm it up that way.]

[Tip no. 2: When you are pouring it and get towards the bottom, give the bottle a nice swirl and then pour the rest in right away. Bottle conditioned beers sometimes get sediment in the bottom and you don’t want to miss out on it. If you see a few darker spots at the top of the head of your beer where the sediment pours out, that is anything but bad, it is delicious.]

[Tip no. 3: Cheers!]

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Short & Sweet Sunday - Holiday Appetizers

Since it's the end of the year I'm planning a few roundup posts of things I've cooked this year that deserve a second look.  This will allow us to reflect back over the year and allow me to take some time off from cooking.  

If you're still looking for ideas for appetizers this holiday season, consider shrimp!  Two tasty appetizer posts are linked below - one simple as can be and the other a little more complex.  Enjoy!  

Shrimp Cocktail

This is so much nicer and and almost as easy as buying a frozen shrimp ring!  Give it a try.

Shrimp Summer Rolls

A little trickier but a lovely appetizer if you're having guests over.  Healthy too!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Boozes: Chai Cream Liquor

The other day I showed you how to make home made Irish Cream Liquor.  This is a variation on that recipe that gives you the yummy spice of chai.  If you like eggnog, you would probably love this.  Although I love this but I'm not a fan of eggnog.  You can make nicer labels than this and give it as a gift or drink it all yourself.

I just made a half batch but that left me with half a can of condensed milk, so here's what you need to make 750mL and you can do the math if you want to halve it.

1 cup 18% table cream
1 300mL can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup Canadian whisky
3 chai tea bags
1/2 cup water 
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

Heat 1/2 cup of cream in a small saucepan along with the teabags, water and spices.  Bring to a gentle boil and whisk spices to dissolve. Boil 5 minutes.

Remove the teabags and pour the mixture into a bowl or large measuring cup.  Add the sweetened condensed milk, whisky and remaining cream and whisk together.  

Pour into a large jar or bottle with a tight fitting lid.  This will keep in the fridge for about 2 weeks and is great over ice or in coffee.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pork Fried Rice

This is a combination of leftovers so delicious I actually planned ahead for leftovers to make it.  

I had leftover pork from this delicious pork roast, and I made rice the day before and refrigerated it because fried rice is best made with cold, leftover rice.  Cold rice lets the grains stay separate and whole when tossing them around in the pan.  You can use fresh, hot rice but the grains will break up and get kind of mushy.

I used these ingredients but feel free to mix up the vegetables and aromatics.

3-4 cups cold cooked rice

About 1/2 to 3/4 lb leftover cooked pork. You can use pork tenderloin, pork chops or pork roast.  You can cook it expressly for this recipe (I'd recommend roasting or grilling in a hoisin barbecue sauce), but leftovers are quicker and easier.

2 carrots, peeled and diced.

1 bunch scallions or green onions, sliced.

Green parts separate.  

2 garlic cloves and 1 inch of ginger, minced.

4-5 heads baby bok choy chopped (optional).

Plus 1 cup frozen peas, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, and sriracha to taste (optional if you like it spicy)

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok or large pan.

Add the carrots, the white parts of the green onions and the garlic and ginger.  Stir fry for about 2 minutes.

Dice the pork into bite sized pieces and add to the vegetables.

Add the cold rice. 

Break up the rice and add the soy sauce and rice vinegar.  

Stir in the sriracha if you like it spicy. This amount gave it a big kick.  

Stir fry until the rice and pork begin to warm through.

Then add the frozen peas.

And the chopped, rinsed bok choy and green parts of the green onions.  

Toss together and stir fry until the bok choy is wilted and the rice is hot.

Serve it up in a shallow bowl or plate.

This is a one-pan meal made mostly of leftovers that only takes about 15 minutes start to finish. But it's packed with veggies and with flavour.   Give it a try!  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Saltine Toffee aka Christmas Crack

Christmas Crack

A good trashy recipe means many things.  It often includes unlikely, cheap and/or processed ingredients, it's generally easy to make, and it usually becomes much more than the sum of its parts.  This recipe is all those things. It has only four simple ingredients and takes only about 10 minutes of cooking time plus resting and cooling. And it is amazing!  You've got to make it.  It'll become your holiday tradition forever!

All you need is:

40 saltine crackers (one sleeve)
1 cup butter (2 sticks/ 1/2 lb)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 bag chocolate chips

Plus (optional) pecans, white chocolate chips, or anything else you'd care to sprinkle on top.  

I used whole wheat soda crackers because they were out of regular ones at the store, but normal saltines with salted tops are best in this.  I used dark chocolate chips but semi-sweet or milk chocolate ones are good too.  

First preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prep your pan.  You can do this on a non-stick cookie sheet but mine isn't as non-stick as it used to be so I used a couple of layers of foil to keep it from sticking.

First cover in normal foil making sure it hangs over all sides.

Then I used my favourite trick, non-stick foil over top.  If you don't have the non-stick foil you can just use another layer of foil lightly sprayed with cooking spray. You just want to make sure there's no place for the liquid caramel to escape under the foil.

Now lay out your saltine cracker evenly on the cookie sheet.  I used 40 for this pan.  You can use a larger pan if you have one. Just make sure the crackers are flat and even.  If there are a few broken ones, no worries, just piece them together as best you can so there's no space between them.

Now take your cup of butter.  You know butter packages have measurements on them, right?

Add 3/4 cup brown sugar to the butter in a small pot.

Bring to a boil over medium high heat and boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.  

Pour the hot caramel over the crackers in the pan.

Spread it evenly to cover all the crackers, right to the edge.  Then pop it in the oven for 5 minutes.

The caramel will bubble and melt into the crackers.  Carefully remove it from the oven, keeping the pan level.

Let it sit for 3 minutes to cool slightly.  The crackers will sort of float to the surface.

If the crackers are uneven, use a butter knife to lay them flat so none are overlapping.

Now pour the bag of chocolate chips evenly over top.  Let them melt for about 5 minutes.

Once the chocolate chips are softened, spread them with an offset spatula (or regular spatula).

Keep spreading...

...until you have an even layer of chocolate over the caramel crackers. 

Now you can add some toppings if you want.  Pecans are good, or other nuts.  I added some white chocolate chips just for contrast.  A sprinkle of sea salt is a classy topping too.  

Now, put it in the fridge or a cool place for about 20 minutes to firm up.  I put mine outside on a cold day which is easier than finding room in the fridge.

Once firm, break it up into small-ish pieces.

Keep breaking it up.  Don't eat it all while you're doing this - very important.

Now package it up in an airtight container and store it in the fridge.  It also freezes beautifully.  I like to serve it cold but it will be ok at room temperature. The chocolate just gets a little softer.  

This is so simple to make for such great results, you've got to try it.  People go nuts for it. 

Thanks Leila for introducing me to this!