Sunday, 2 December 2018

Crockpot (Slow Cooker) Recipe - Zesty Braised Beef with Potatoes

Another Sunday, another crockpot supper. This week I made Zesty Braised Beef with Potatoes from the Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook.

Here are the ingredients:

2 lbs (1kg)-        stewing beef
2 oz (60g)-         chunks pancetta (I used regular but you can use hot)
2 tbsp-                olive oil
3 -                       shallots
4 -                       cloves garlic
1 tsp -                 dried thyme
1/2 tsp -              salt or sea salt or to taste
1/2 tsp -              fresh ground pepper or to taste
1/2 cup -             dry white wine
2 cups -              chicken stock
2 lbs -                 potatoes (I used Ontario red but the recipe called for new)
1/4 tsp -              cayenne pepper dissolved in 1 tbsp lemon juice

Thinly slice the potatoes and store in a bowl of water (next time I would make them thicker).

Put a little oil in a large fry pan and brown pancetta for about 3 minutes. Add to crockpot.

Brown stewing beef in batches in fry pan. Add to crockpot.

Add a little more oil to the pan and add onions. Cook, stirring frequently until translucent. Add crushed minced garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and cook for a minute.

Add wine and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add stock. Drain potatoes and add. Bring to a boil.

I found the best way to add this to the pot was to spoon in the potatoes first, then pour in the liquid

Stir, cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

With 10 minutes to go, mix together a 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne with 1 tbsp of lemon juice. Add to pot.

Time to serve!

The book says it's hard to believe that this simple combination of ingredients can taste so luscious. Believe it!

The beef comes out so tender and there seems to be potato and pancetta on every forkful. Teena didn't find this but I felt a nice little hot snap in the back of my throat which lingered in the aftertaste. Teena enjoys spicy foods which is why she may not have noticed. I can't do a lot of heat anymore (sob!) but found this enjoyable.

Not only is this Teena-approved but she asked that I make this for her again. That tells you it's a dish worth trying!

Saturday, 1 December 2018

"It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" at the Lower Ossington Theater

Tonight was opening night for It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play at the Lower Ossington Theater. Teena and I were there. This is the third year in a row we have seen this play here, which, I guess, makes this a Christmas tradition for us! The first two we saw were excellent and tonight we were not disappointed.

Faced with a life of dreams deferred, George Bailey sets out to throw himself from a bridge — until a dotty angel-in-waiting shows him what might have been. Don't miss this beloved holiday classic, brought to captivating life as a live 1940s radio broadcast!

Revisit Bedford Falls, fall in love again with George and Mary, and discover the magic of an angel named Clarence! It’s Christmas Eve in 1947, and inside a radio studio, a live broadcast brings to life Frank Capra’s timeless film in all of its feel-good glory!

Be a part of the live studio audience, and join the cast and crew as they take you on a journey through the most important evening in one man’s life. It’s the perfect holiday outing for the entire family and, who knows, an angel might even get his wings!

The play takes place inside a radio station broadcasting the play in the days before TVs were around. It was interesting watching how the different sound effects were created, such as one person crumpling candy wrappers while another snapped Popsicle sticks to imitate the sound of a crackling fire. I closed my eyes many times to experience it in the same way as person listening on a radio.

I found it very interesting too, how the performers didn't just read their lines into their microphones (old fashioned 40's style) but would act it too. The broken-hearted look on George Baily's face (as acted by character Jake Laurents, played by Vince Deiulis) was memorable. the actors really got into their roles. I thought Jada Rifken was a hoot with her facial expressions playing her many roles in the performance. There wasn't a weak player on the stage.

Each performer when not in the action would work the sound effects. Again I found this so interesting. The cast even did two 40's style commercials.

The story is a classic. I would say I enjoy and become as much involved in this live performance, as I do in the original movie.

A must see for this time of year.

"Attaboy Clarence!"

Friday, 30 November 2018

Book Review - The Business of Being a Writer

I'm not sure how I came upon this book, The Business of Being a Writer, but however I found it, I'm glad I did.

Writers talk about their work in many ways: as an art, as a calling, as a lifestyle. Too often missing from these conversations is the fact that writing is also a business. The reality is, those who want to make a full- or part-time job out of writing are going to have a more positive and productive career if they understand the basic business principles underlying the industry.

The Business of Being a Writer offers the business education writers need but so rarely receive. It is meant for early-career writers looking to develop a realistic set of expectations about making money from their work or for working writers who want a better understanding of the industry. Writers will gain a comprehensive picture of how the publishing world works—from queries and agents to blogging and advertising—and will learn how they can best position themselves for success over the long term.

Jane Friedman has more than twenty years of experience in the publishing industry, with an emphasis on digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is encouraging without sugarcoating, blending years of research with practical advice that will help writers market themselves and maximize their writing-related income. It will leave them empowered, confident, and ready to turn their craft into a career.

The book covers everything from magazine writing, seeking an agent, the publishing industry, self publishing, short stories and even writing contests. I have read a few books on writing and always learn something from each. This is no exception.

If your starting out in writing, it sure wouldn't hurt to give this book a read.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Authors Talk -Crossing Over: Writers Talk About Their Reasons for Working in Different Forms, Styles, and Genres

Tonight I was at an event put on by the Canadian Authors Association's Toronto Chapter. During the introduction, we were informed the name is far too cumbersome, so now we'll be known as Canadian Authors Toronto. I like the acronym, CAT.

The Canadian Authors Association has been around since 1921.

The Canadian Authors Association provides writers with a wide variety of programs, services and resources to help them develop their skills in both the craft and the business of writing, enhance their ability to earn a living as a writer, and have access to a Canada-wide network of writers and publishing industry professionals. 

We are a membership-based organization for writers in all areas of the profession—aspiring, emerging and professional—in every genre and across all writing-related professions.

Tonight's event was called Crossing Over: Writers Talk About Their Reasons for Working in Different Forms, Styles, and Genres. It's a long title but a very accurate one. Diana Fitzgerald Bryden, Catherine Graham, and Robin Richardson. They will tell their stories of working across styles and genres — or of wanting to and not always being able to do so — and will share what they’ve learned from those experiences.

The three authors sat on the couch and told their stories, then answered questions. Robin Richardson is on the left, Catherine Graham is in the middle and Diana Fitzgerald Bryden is on the right.

Diana Fitzgerald Bryden, started it off.

Diana Fitzgerald Bryden will speak about her movement from poetry to the novel and back to short fiction, and discuss how an experiment with short, online fiction led her to hone her skills and place a story in the Malahat Review.

She spoke about her life and what took her from poetry to short stories and novels and the advantages and disadvantages of doing so. Diana said how it was impossible to go from, let's say, writing a manuscript for a book but trying to jump back midway through to poetry. It's almost impossible to switch the mind over. The others agreed. I can see that.

Robin Richardson was next.

Robin Richardson (Sit How You Want) will discuss her transition from poetry to personal essays and memoir, as well as her attempts at long-form fiction.

It was interesting that from an early age she wanted to write but suffered from dyslexia which put a hold on that idea for five years before overcoming it. She explained how it is still difficult to write as she worries about miswriting or misreading her poetry or stories. Thankfully she has a very supportive agent to assist her. It was a family tragedy which really put her into the depths of poetry. She explained how she went from it to other forms of writing. Turns out, she's also an artist. I enjoyed her story.

Last up was Catherine Graham.

Catherine Graham (Quarry, The Celery Forest) will speak about the journey that led her to branch out beyond poetry to write her award-winning novel, Quarry (Two Wolves Press, 2017), and the impact it had on her current writing.

It's funny what impacts a persons life. In her early life, her family lived next to a limestone quarry. This became a theme in her poetry and not surprisingly, her first novel, Quarry. She didn't start to write until her parents died while in university. It was a road she stayed on.

All three talks were excellent and entertaining. Some people, I feel, in Q&As just talk to hear themselves speak but not in this group. Great questions were asked and terrific answers followed.

There were draws for different door prizes. I love the picture below as it shows Diana drawing my number. I won two tickets to the AGO.  In a double stroke of luck, I also won an hour mentoring session with Jennifer Foster, an editor and writer. I'm looking forward to it and, of course, will write about it after my session, which I expect will be in the New Year.

It was an entertaining night. With willpower, I walked by the sweets table at the end.

Canadian Authors Toronto, CAT, is up and running. I'm looking forward to the next event.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Recipe - Slow Cooker Tuscan Chicken with Sage

Teena and I have quite a few cookbooks which we are starting to go through again, including many using crockpots or slow cookers. Today I am making a recipe from the 163 Best Paleo Slow Cooker Recipes cookbook.

So what is the Paleo Diet? This diet, also known as the Caveman Diet, is based on the diet eaten by hunters and gatherers of ancient times. This means meats such as poultry, beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, eggs and vegetables. There is no dairy, bread, grains, butter, sugar, cheese or legumes.

We are not on this diet but this recipe looked tasty. Here is what is needed:

3 lbs (1.5kg) -         skinless chicken breasts, bone in (we used boneless)
2 cups -                  dry robust red wine (did hunters back then have wine?)
1/2 cup -                 fresh sage leaves or 1 tsp dried sage. Try for the fresh!
3 -                           shallots
2 cloves -                garlic
1/2 tsp -                  salt
1/2 tsp -                  fresh ground peppercorns
2 tbsp  -                  vegetable oil

Arrange chicken around the bottom of a small crockpot.

Heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook till they become translucent. This takes about 2 minutes. Add garlic, salt, pepper, and sage. stir for a minute. Add wine and allow to boil while stirring for about 5 minutes to reduce by liquid by a third.

Pour over chicken.

Cover and cook on low for 6 hours.

The book says this is an Italian version of coq au vin and to serve with vegetables. That would be the Paleo way. Coq au vin is made using rice so this can be served with it on the side. As this is an Italian dish, we served it over pasta.

The dish came out good but not great. It seemed to need more spice, maybe a little more kick. It's worth making again but next time I would find some more spices to add and, though it's not a Paleo method, would add flour to thicken the sauce.

We both liked but didn't love it.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Recipe - Slow Cooker Madras Beef

Lately every Sunday has been a crockpot day. The cookbooks I have been using say they are for slow cookers not crockpots. So, what's the difference between a crockpot and a slow cooker?

According to A true slow cooker consists of the same three components as a crockpot: glass lid, pot, and heating element. However, instead of the ceramic or porcelain pot of the crockpot, slow cookers generally have a metal pot.

This means the two Teena and I own are crockpots! The recipes are for both.

Today I'm making Madras Beef using a recipe from Donna-Marie Pye's Cookbook, Easy Everyday Slow Cooker Recipes.

The ingredients:

2 tbsp-            vegetable oil
2 lbs (1 kg)-    stewing beef cubed 
2-                    shallots (fine dice)
1 10 oz           can (284 ml) - condensed cream of tomato soup
2 tbsp-            madras curry paste (mine was not madras)
1/2 tsp-           curry powder or garam masala
1/2 tsp-           paprika (I use smoked paprika)
1/2 cup-          plain yogurt   

Finely dice the shallots. Then in a bowl combine the tomato soup, curry paste, curry powder and paprika. Set both aside.

Then in a large fry pan, heat half the oil on medium high heat. It's best to cook the beef in smaller batches as if they are crowded together in the pan, they steam instead of saute. I did mine on two batches. Turn meat often so it cooks quicker.

Spoon meat into the crockpot with a slotted spoon. Once the beef has all been cooked and added to the pot, saute the shallots in the remaining oil/juices and, once they are translucent, spoon over the beef.

Pour the sauce mixture over the meat and stir in.

Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. Stir in the yogurt, turn off and let sit for 5 or 10 minutes. Spoon over rice.

Madras Beef has a very earthy taste. It's comfort food with a little snap. I'm not sure if using Madras curry paste and garam masala spice would kick it up a notch or change the flavour profile. I do know Teena is quite happy that there is enough left for a couple lunches!

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Recipe for Slow Cooker Barbecue Chicken Casserole

Today I made another supper in our slow cooker (Crock pot), a Barbecue Chicken Casserole from the Best of Bridge Slow Cooker Cookbook. It was easy to prepare and tasty. Here are the ingredients:

8-             skinless chicken thighs (we used boneless but you can use bone in)
1 tbsp-     vegetable oil
2-             onions chopped fine
3-             cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp-      brown sugar
1 tbsp-      dry mustard
1/4 tsp-     salt
1/4 tsp-     pepper (I just used my grinder and stopped with I thought it was enough)
1 cup-       chili sauce (I use Willies chili style sauce, a favourite of mine)
1/2 cup-    chicken broth
1 tbsp       Worcestershire sauce

Place chicken in your slow cooker. I find the slow cooker bags to be very handy for cleanup afterwards, especially when using a slow cooker from 1976.

Heat oil over a medium heat. Add onions and garlic. Simmer 'til onions have turned clear.

Add brown sugar, mustard, salt, pepper, chili sauce, chicken broth and Worcestershire sauce.

Bring to a boil and pour over chicken.

Cover and cook for 5-6 hours on low. Turn to high for last 20 minutes.

The recipe says to serve this with a baked potato but Teena and I thought rice would work better with the sauce. Below is a photo of the way I served it for myself, Teena's plate is at the top of the article.

It's very tasty with a little more sweetness than I expected. Teena enjoyed it and said it was great comfort food. It's Teena-approved which makes it a dish we will definitely have again.