Monday, November 21, 2011

snow, Snow, SNow, SNOW!!

It’s that time of year again, when Jack Frost sends frozen kisses our way, and Mother Nature blankets the ground in the fluffy white “stuff”.  For some, winter weather means chaotic morning commutes, back breaking shoveling, and sniffley red noses.  For others – fire up them sleds, wax up them boards, bring on the fresh powder!

ME…  I’m the “in-between” type.   I hate the chaotic morning commute, but really do enjoy the peaceful mornings, when you wake up to a fresh blanket of snow… I just don’t like having to drive in the slushy sh&#*!..oops..err... I mean "stuff".
Allison Lake, BC - room with a view!
I LOVE to fire up the sleds (ok, try and pull start that green machine I use, often times giving up…letting someone else try and start “the thing” – though I am getting better) J  and ride along trails that are barely touched by mankind.  Where Mother Nature covers each tree with a thick blanket of snow, creating a magical forest of  sparkling snow and ice and turns the dusty, rocky hills into a white rolling landscape.   I LIKE (as I still seem to not being able to get the “hang” of it) snowboarding, riding the chair lift up to the summit of a mountain, and looking over what seems to be an endless mountain range.  I must admit my favorite part of the day is the hot toddy warm up at the end.  The winter months is when I enjoy the kitchen and various hobbies I have the most.  I am very lucky to be able to have a winter “retreat” that is easily accessible, and offers many winter activities right on our doorstep.  This past weekend we packed Duke Dog in the car, and off we went to have our first taste of “winter” this season.  Duke seemed to enjoy it the most… there was snow, but not too much so that his “ball” was still discoverable…
Someone's a little happy!
Finally hopping through the foot or so of snow wore Duke out for a few minutes, however, not letting his ball get too far away from him…he snuck in a quick sit down in the snow.  (for those of you who know Duke, or Border Collies in general, this is a rare moment!)
Duke Dog
We also have our daily visitors who enjoy a treat, while showing off their gorgeous blue colorings.  (Though the Stellar Jays are extremely camera shy , and took a while to get a decent pose for the camera.)
When there’s not enough snow to fire up the sleds (which was the case this past weekend), or when the weather isn’t cooperating, I like to enjoy yet another hobby.  Quilting. ..YUP…I do quilt.  Nothing too fancy - or crazy - I just find material I like, and then start the design / quilting process.  By all means, I’m no expert, but I think I can hold my own!  There’s nothing like being wrapped up in a homemade MORRIS original,  (ha ha, well in my opinion  that is!)
Of course, what is a frosty winter night without a little treat from the kitchen?   This past week I experimented with one of the recipes that I learned up at our previous Whistler Retreat.  Risotto.  Trying to keep a healthier spin on dinners, I came up with what I’ll call a “Skinny Chicken Carbonara Risotto”, and of course had to pair it with my new favorite vino - Abbondante Bianco 2010, Mistaken Identity Vineyards 

"Skinny" Chicken Carbonara Risotto
(serves 2, with a little leftover for lunch)

1 c. arborio rice ]
2 c. chicken broth
1 c. white wine  - not too sweet of a wine –
1 small handful freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 slices of bacon or pancetta
1 c. peas (frozen is fine as long as it's thawed)
2 egg yolks
1 clove garlic, freshly minced
Salt & pepper to taste
2 chicken breasts, sliced, slowly pan fried with tablespoon olive oil, herbs & garlic, salt,pepper  to taste.

- Add the chicken stock and white wine to a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Once a boil is reached, back down the heat to just under a boil
- Chop the bacon in a rough chop and fry in pan – I used my wok, as you want the pan you're cooking in to be big  enough to hold 3 cups of rice.  Remove the cooked bacon from the pan and set aside on a paper towel to drain. Reserve just enough of the bacon drippings in pan to barely cover bottom of pan.
- On a medium setting, add the rice to the pan and use a spoon to gently stir the rice in the pan so that the rice can toast in the liquid. Once you smell a nutty flavor, add the minced garlic and move on to next step.
Make sure you stir rice periodically while toasting, so not to burn
- Start by adding 1 c. of the simmering stock/wine mixture. Gently stir with the spoon periodically until the rice starts to drink in the liquid. When you start to see the bottom of the pan when you stir, it's time to add more liquid (a half cup at a time from here on out).
** The rice may or may not need all 3 cups of liquid. Keep adding stock/wine mixture as the previous addition is sucked up by the rice until the mixture is creamy and the rice is al dente (about 20 - 25 minutes). Taste as you go!
- Once the risotto is just about done to your taste preference, remove the pan from the heat. 
- Beat the egg yolks lightly in a bowl and add it in the risotto, being sure to stir to incorporate it so it doesn't curdle!
- Add the parmesan and stir gently to mix. Finally, add the cooked bacon and the thawed peas (the heat of the rice will cook the peas)
- top with the cooked chicken, and bon appetite!
*just a note, in the pictures I provided, you’ll see no peas! – They’re not a “favorite” of my other half… so I omitted them; either way… this was really a delicious dish!
Hmmmm… what’s cooking next??  I’ve been invited to my first ever “Bake Exchange”… looks like I’ve got to fire up the ole’ mixer, heat up the oven………..and decide what I can make 8 dozen of!  Eeek!


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tiny Bubbles

Is it really the MIDDLE of November?! wow.  How times flies!  Sadly, I haven't been able to play in the kitchen much at all - as other "stuff" has taken priority...  things like... a "milestone" birthday!!

First weekend in November we surprised the Birthday Boy with a "Lordy Lordy, Look Who's 40! Party".  Not wanting to deal with clean-up duty, I arranged a private room at Pier 73 Restaurant (OMG YUM) which is located at the Delta Vancouver Airport, adding to our own room, of course there had to be decorations....which also means a "theme".  For anyone who knows the bday boy.... Hair Nation & Jason go together like "two peas in a pod", "fish-n-chips", "cheap wing night & beer"! 
We had the takeaways/table decor:
We Will We Will QUACK YOU!  (guess you had to be there?!)
We had the location ( Pier 73 Restaurant, Delta Vancouver Airport ):

Pier 73 Restaurant
And of course I invited 40 or so of our close friends & family to surprise the Bday Boy...

A Huge Thank You to everyone who helped me make this surprise party a success! Great venue, appy platters to share, decorations, and hotel rooms to house all those who indulged a "little" in the bubbly stuff .... what more could you ask for!

After recovering from THAT party... we moved right on up to being a Guest of the Hilton Hotels, and enjoyed a luxurious weekend up at the Hilton Whistler Resort and Spa , and took part in several of Whistler's Cornucopia Events.  First thing that comes to mind is WOW!!  The room, the views, even a fresh layer of snow falling in Whistler Village set the stage to a fantastic Culinary & Wine filled weekend. 

On Saturday morning, I was lucky to be able to participate in VIKING STAGE SERIES: Good Things Come on Small Plates – with CRU Executive Chef Alana Peckham & Quails’ Gate Winery,  YUM YUM.   We had 3 delicious and decadent dishes prepared from scratch in front of us by Executive Chef Alana Peckham, from CRU, all the while sipping on perfectly pair wines from Quail's Gate Winery. Our plates were delicious - stay tuned to see if I can take accurate enough notes, drink a perfectly paired glass of bubbly, all the while savouring the dish placed in front of me!  (YES, I do intend on trying to make the Edamame Hummus on a Wonton Crisp, as well as the Wild Truffle Mushroom hard can these be?!?!) Though it was awesome.. not so sure on the salad with a seared tuna, as I don't think my "other half" would enjoy the salad again so much... cause' "its got cucumbers and stuff" in it..... :)

Edamamme Hummus on a Wonton Crisp... OMG YUM!

The one apparent trend throughout the weekend was the constant glass of bubbly being placed in my hand. OK, OK, I'll admit it... I enjoyed every sip! To top off our culinary / tasting weekend, we went to the Crush Gala.  Over 60 wineries are respresented, and all are offering several of their wines to taste. *sigh* When I walked through the doors, I was sure I had died and gone to heaven!!  As I finished my current glass of bubbly... another "tasting" glass replaced it... then a quick check to the map of all the wineries...and away we went...swirling, sipping and tasting some of the best wines from all over the world! From Dirty Laundry Winery, Blasted Church Winery to Summerhill Winery...I made my way selectively through.  Of course, there were those that were completely new to me, and far too many to try all of them in one night. How does one choose what wineries were going to be tasted - - well, of course, using the most scientific process of elimination I could think of.  I chose wineries in which the NAME of the Vineyward caught my eye.  I bypassed the "normal" names, skipped passed the commercially-mass produced places and I am very pleased to announce, I found a few that just seemed to fit.  "J Vineyards" - out of California... their Brut Rose ...YUM!!!!!! Just enough of those tiny bubbles dancing on your tongue! Then there's what I consider my most fantastic find... best of all, it's a LOCAL Vineyard on Salt Spring Island ... "Mistaken Identity" Vineyards.  WOW... HOLY... YUM. My first shipment of wine from Mistaken Identity should be arriving before the end of this week, and honestly...can't wait!!  Not only were they friendly to talk to, they have negotiated discounted shipping rates to anywhere in B.C. ...JACKPOT! 

Of Course, after a night of indulging in the various glasses of tiny bubbles...we had a bit of a slow morning. That didn't stop us from finishing up our Whistler Weekend with the Bear Course on Zip Trek.  5 zip lines, snow covered old growth forest and a river!! Talk about facing your fears!  Heights of over 160 feet, and there you are.. zipping through the trees, over the river and gracefully (thankfully) stopping at the other side.  On the last line, your guides actually show you how to "zip"... upside down / free style!! What a rush! Hanging upside down in your harness, zipping at fast speeds, and screaming.. "Look Ma... no hands!!" 

What a view!
Watch out for that first step!!... it's a doooooozey!
All in all, I am very blessed to have such fantastic people in my life.  From those willing to help celebrate that special someone's birthday, to those I have just begun to get to know, letting me indulge (just a little) and experience such an amazing weekend away with the person I love.  I can't wait to see what we "get into" next.  Snow has started to fall... feels like sledding season is just around the corner... OH and there's the kitchen, with several *new* recipes just waiting to be tested out....  until the next time....I'm off to try and catch up on some sleep...quietly humming.. "tiiiinnny bubbles" .....