Ruby Red Borscht

Let’s be honest.  The only reason I made this soup in the first place was because it is the shade of my favourite colour.  A deep magenta, this soup has been calling my name ever since I saw the picture of it in my very first Canadian Living cookbook.

This soup is the ultimate cheap student meal, and cost less than a dollar per serving.  I made it late last week and have been eating the leftovers at school non stop since then.  I was so worried that the tupperware container holding the soup would simply explode in my backpack and leak all over me, making me appear like some sort of mass murderer and Dexter wannabe.  Luckily this did not happen.  Okay, back to cheap.  You can’t really tell from the picture, but this soup actually had several different types of vegetables in it.  While it’s true that the colour of the beets dominated EVERYTHING (and dyed my hands a bright pink hue), there was also carrots, potato, celery, onion and green beans.  Only the latter managed to partially maintain its colour.  Also, can we just mention how awesome it is that this recipe has ketchup?!  Seriously, ketchup added to anything is the best.  Leaving these ingredients in a big stock pot to brew away for two hours resulted in a wonderful soupy liquid that made me feel like I was in Harry Potter’s potions class.

Ooo, and fresh dill is SO good!!!

PS: I have so, so, sooo many backlogged blog posts chilling out in my “blogger queue” right now.  I’ve been making all this stuff lately, particularly food of the baked variety, and simply haven’t had time to blog about it!  I think this weekend I’m just going to prepare a bunch of posts and have them schedule to publish at various times throughout the week.  Let the phantom blogging begin!

PPS: Holy, beets are super good.  I’m going to make beet chips next week.

Check out the recipe after the jump!

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Chicken and Lentil Curry with Homemade Naan Bread

For some reason I seem to be going international with my food.  With this Indian feast of a meal and last week’s greek-style macaroni, I guess I’m trying to inadvertently embrace some of the non-Americanized eating traditions.  If that means I get to eat tonnes of delicious ethnic food, I am SO down.

The recipe for this curry also came from the January edition of Canadian Living, which seems to be providing me with lots of great meal choices for the winter months.  Like all Indian food, this recipe was very…fragrant.  By this, I mean that both my kitchen and me smelled like garam masala and cumin for a day.  On a related note, is cumin not the most wonderful spice in the world?  If I wasn’t going to be shunned from society for doing this, I would definitely look into purchasing some sort of eau du cumin perfume (please don’t judge me).  The spices in this recipe were what made the meal.  The curry part of this turned out to be really filling and chalked full of protein.  Also, I got to use up loads of lentils, bags of which have been sitting in my cupboard since the summer months.  All part of my never ending task to empty out the giant void that is my second shelf pantry.

As for the naan bread, this was sort of an impulsive make.  On Saturday morning I knew I was going to be making this curry, and quite simply decided that there was no other way to eat Indian food than by piling it atop some delicious naan.  I got this recipe from the blog Itsy Bitsy Foodies which I found on Tastespotting.  Since I’m lacking the whole authentic clay oven thing that they actually use to bake this bread, I used our pizza stone and my normal oven, which had to be turned up to a whopping 550°C.  Hot, I know.  Let me tell you, our whiny fire alarm did not like that one, and frequently reminded us of its presence throughout the naan’s baking period.  The bread turned out pretty well for a homemade job, I think.  It was way more doughy than the authentic Indian naan and in turn not as light.  Nonetheless, it was incredibly satisfying to shove layers upon layers of naan/rice/curry into my mouth, so I consider this one to be a success.

This meal’s leftovers became a huge and filling lunch on Sunday when I had all day television training at school.  That’s right, on a SUNDAY </complaints>.  The big meal helped cheer and wake me up, so it was much appreciated!

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Good Morning! Breakfast Strudels

Before I start, let me say HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!  May your 2011 be filled with delicious recipe discoveries and good health!

Now that I’m back in Ottawa for the winter term, I figured it was time to resume blogging.  For my last days at home I was almost never on my computer, since my parents were worried that I was over-doing my computer usage by watching endless amounts of How I Met Your Mother on my brightly lit macbook (I’ve almost finished four seasons in two weeks, a tv addiction like this hasn’t happened since I fell in love with LOST…).

But back to the food… These are the breakfast strudels that my family and I have every Christmas morning.  They’re rich, tasty and the perfect start to a special day.  My mom has always made these in the past but, just like with my dad’s fruitcake, I decided it was time for me to take up the reins on making this second Duff family tradition. The recipe for these strudels was from an old edition of Canadian Living and has been adapted by my mom to become the recipe that I love today.

The one challenging thing about these strudels is the phyllo pastry.  Phyllo is probably the most delicate item you will ever have to cook or bake with and it becomes a bit of a hassle when you’re a tad impatient like me.  In the process of making my strudels, I wrecked one or two sheets of phyllo simply because I wasn’t careful enough when handling it.  Luckily for me I enjoy eating raw pastry dough (one of those weird Hilary things), and ate the destroyed sheet despite the disapproving look I got from my mom.  Regardless of the initial challenges, these strudels are a foolproof way to make an awesome breakfast!

End note: you know you’re back in a student kitchen when you keep watching the stove while boiling water, waiting for a fire to begin.

End note 2.0: YES, my suitcase just got delivered after it was lost in transit yesterday.  Going to unpack this instant!

See recipe after pictures.  ALSO: Since the directions may be a little confusing, I’ve included a very poorly-photographed/focused (my kitchen is dark, okay?) step-by-step visual guide on how to arrange the phyllo pastry for these.  Hope it helps!

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Cheesy Shepherd’s Pie

I AM DONE EXAMS WAHOOOOOOO!  Other than half of a take home exam that I need to finish for tomorrow night, I am now officially on Christmas break.  This means that I finally have time to do things other than sitting in my bed/library studying and eating Costco-sized Toblerone bars.  For the next two weeks, I will have all the time in the world to blog, relax, play Super Mario with my little brother, cook and spend endless amounts of my day watching my new favourite tv show, How I Met Your Mother.

So ANYWAYS…

I realized the other day that I haven’t been testing out many of the recipes that have been in the recent issues of Canadian Living.  For a few months I was on a real roll, and had been trying out nearly half of their recipes from each issue.  Since I am now regularly getting their monthly magazine sent to me at home (thank you cheap student subscription rates!), it should be easier for me to try out their stuff, right?  Well regardless of the answer to that question, I am just going to have to make a conscious effort to review more of their recipes, starting now.

Making this recipe was actually what saved me from complete unhealthiness last week.  With leftover tourtiere in my freezer and this, I was eating somewhat decently for at least one meal a day, something which I am sure my stomach appreciated.

This shepherd’s pie recipe is found in the December issue of the magazine.  For some reason that boggles my mind, the recipe is actually called “cheddar cottage pie.”  The only reason I didn’t call it this in the title was because I really had no idea what a cottage pie was.  After several debates with Britt and our other friend Freya, we came to the conclusion that this name was because the pie was a “warm winter cottage-like food.”  Apparently we were wrong.  Here is what the ever helpful Wikipedia says:

The term cottage pie is known to have been in use in 1791, when potato was being introduced as an edible crop affordable for the poor (“cottage” meaning a modest dwelling for rural workers).

Alright, so we were completely off there.  But we ARE students after all, and “affordable crops” are always a plus.  Thank you again to Wikipedia for the endless bank of wisdom.

So this one was pretty good, but unlike many other Canadian Living recipes, I found this one to actually be a bit bland.  Ever since I started cooking in the summer, my taste buds have somehow gotten super sensitive, meaning I’m always craving some sort of spicy kick.  I think it’s probably just me and my neuroses, but I’d add a little extra thyme, salt and pepper to this one just for safe keeping.

Also, happy first day of winter!  To celebrate, here is a picture of the circumstances that I’m going to have to photograph under until the day I decide to make myself a light box. I get even more weird looks from the neighbours now that I’m dragging a chair out to the front steps…

The final product.  I think my potato level was a little dominating in a “I’m going to crush the life out of your meat layer so it’s not photogenic” sort of way, but so such is life.  The half Irish in me screams that you can never have too much of our little spud friend.


Radio Potluck Party aka Christmas Baking Part ONE

It is currently 12:23 a.m. and I am sitting at the kitchen table waiting for a chocolate cake to bake.  This cake is for the family potluck (i.e. my six roommates and close friends) are having tomorrow eve.  While I listen to Glee music (which is WAY too peppy for my current mood), I figured I might as well type out a new blog post.  Please excuse me if my sleepiness is greatly apparent within this post.  Grammatical skills depart as the evening goes on.

So today was our last radio class of third year (sob).  Through newsroom days and the rest of the semester our class has gotten pretty close, and I’m hoping that most people will be in Thursday TV next semester so we can have more delicious potlucks.

PAUSE: One of my cake layers just finished baking!!  This is very good news, the other half has now entered the oven and sleep time crawls more and more near by the minute.  Hoorah.

ANYWAYS, back to radio.  Since I baked something for two out of three newsroom days, I figured it was only appropriate to end off the semester with a Christmas-themed potluck.  Also, I actually look for ANY excuse to hold a potluck and was extremely eager to once again display my baking skills to an audience other than my roommates.  At one point in the afternoon, Mary (our professor) actually said: “this is the reason why I don’t believe journalism students are too busy,” or something along those lines… Not true.  I just have ZERO life and spend any time that would normally be consumed by a university student’s social life baking.  It’s an addiction.

Okay, but seriously.  This potluck dealt me the perfect opportunity to begin my Christmas baking.  And so, I spent approximately 10 hours this past Sunday baking to my heart’s content.  Although some people dread it, I LOVE doing this sort of thing and the unfortunate “woman slaving over a hot stove” thing totally applies to me here.  Did I just set feminism back decades?  Apologies.  Let me explain: I’m actually the LEAST domestic person in the universe.  Sure, I love cooking, but I’m not a domestic diva or anything.  Yes, I occasionally answer to the name “Martha Stewart,” but I really want nothing more than independence, adventure, and zero children (until I’m old and have lived my life).  There, perhaps feminism has been restored to its 2010 level.

Okay, so here’s what I made:

1. Peppermint brownie bites
2. Ricotta cookies
3. Chocolate-dipped orange shortbread rounds (don’t these cookies look like little Spock heads?)
4. Gingerbread cupcakes with a cinnamon cream cheese frosting – SO amazing.  The recipe came from the blog Sweet Girl Confections and they were just wonderful.  Thank you so much!

Now, for any Canadian Living fans out there, I can tell you that the top three recipes came from the magazine’s special “Holiday Cooking” edition.  All three were marvelous, but I especially appreciated (a) their freezing ability from Sunday-Thursday, and (b) the fact that CHEESE can be put in cookies.  Fantastic, right?

Also, I made hand-moulded chocolate Christmas trees.  It was fun.

Alright, better check on the other half of my cake.  Later days!

AND the preparation/chaotic packing mess…

Christmas tree farm?

One more thing… In anticipation of tomorrow night’s cake and the blog post to follow it, please just take a look at what my baking looked like last year at this time.  I hope to improve on this times a badgillion.  Yes, the icing did melt off the cake, laugh away.  I’m so ashamed.  On that note, I’ve come a long way, n’est ce pas?