Day 348: Mostly Cheese

I woke up this morning – or rather was bolted awake at 6:30 am to an alarm I forgot to turn off, which woke W as well – he eventually went back to sleep (a tiny Christmas miracle – that never happens) – thinking I’d be making a Fancy Dinner for 8 in Red Deer tonight. Rib roast, Yorkshire pudding, soup, sides, goat cheese gratin, crème brûlée, but at the same time not knowing if the storm would subside enough to make it relatively safe to drive there and back (at midnight) in a blizzard. So by 8 am I was cleaning the kitchen and making crème brûlée (which has to be done in advance) and peppermint brownies and rolling truffles. (I of course was up until 1 am again last night, having arrived back from GO! at 9:30 and still having to make two double batches of peppermint brownies for an afternoon event today, and do my blog post. So this morning I felt like I was being stabbed in the eye with something sharp and blunt all at once.)

By noon the AMA was still advising against travel on highway 2, and the forecast was for more snow overnight. I managed to get through to the party planners in Red Deer and ask if they could order in; it’s a bad stretch of highway, especially when it’s nearing -40 with the wind chill, making it dangerous to even just slide off the side of the road.

OK you guys, it’s morning now and Mike said I actually fell asleep typing last night, somewhere in that last sentence. Fingers on the keys and everything. (He wanted to take a picture but the camera was plugged in to upload my photos.) Probably a good thing I wasn’t on the highway between Red Deer and Calgary then.

So yes, I called off the birthday party in Red Deer and worked the afternoon at Willow Park. And instead of working I got to go make merry last night; on a snowy Saturday a week and a half from Christmas, that’s the best thing to do. Our friends have theme parties every Christmas, and this year it was Polyester and Cheese – everyone had to wear polyester and bring a chunk of interesting cheese, and each was labeled as it arrived with a little stand-up card that we were encouraged to add flavour notes to the back of. N made a real Swiss fondue (being Swiss) and a batch of meatballs (another one of my favourite holiday party foods – my sauce is the one made with chili sauce and grape jelly – hers was a bottle of beer, a cup of chili sauce and 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce) and there were platters of sweets everywhere. Sugar cookies, tarts, chocolate bark, Nanaimo bars (on my list for best holiday party food of my childhood); I brought some leftover peppermint brownies drizzled with white chocolate and sprinkled with crushed candy canes (I made Trish Magwood’s brownie recipe, omitting the espresso and adding a teaspoon of peppermint extract in place of half the vanilla – if you want to make a big batch you can double the recipe and bake them in a rimmed bun pan, which is what they call those heavy-duty cookie sheets you can get at Costco) and her Swiss mum sent an enormous platter of poppycock, into which she had scattered teeny wrapped Swiss chocolate bars. (I am going to bug N for the recipe!) It was completely fantastic and I ate altogether way too much. The kids had their own cheese platter and bowl of cheesies in the basement, and I could tell W was as in heaven as I was as a kid at Christmastime when my parents were distracted at a party and we had free reign of the buffet table.

My favourite cheese on the table, by the way, was a lemon goat cheese (pictured above) from Salt Spring Island (purchased at Janice Beaton). Mike’s was a maple marbled cheddar I can’t remember the official name of. We brought pepper and cranberry Boursin, which I highly recommend – I would have gone a little more local but since I planned to be in Red Deer it was something I pulled out of the freezer (to be perfectly honest) – it’s a soft, spreadable cheese so it freezes very well without getting at all weird. (This spurred conversation about how Boursin can be tossed with hot pasta to make an incredibly easy and spectacular pasta dish. Remember?) You can buy it at most plain old grocery stores.

I’ll have to keep this brief – I have to throw myself in the shower and scrape off the barnacles before an all-day meeting to write scripts and set up 13 episodes of It’s Just Food, which we’ll be taping the first two weeks of February. And I have to be there in 45 minutes!



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14 comments on “Day 348: Mostly Cheese

  1. Buddiegirl
    December 14, 2008 at 10:14 am

    Cheese, glorious cheese, is there anything better? On Friday night we were at at annual get-together with friends and I brought triple cream brie served with Stonewall Kitchen fig and walnutbutter. It was like dessert on a cracker, so good. I had to make myself stay away from the buffet table or I would have eaten most of it by myself.

    I am glad you didn’t make the trek to Red Deer. I have travelled that stretch in the winter and once ended up in the ditch. Not a good way to spend an evening.

  2. robyn
    December 14, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Holy cripes lady! You definitely need more than 24 hours in a day!!!
    I made your meatballs for my party last Saturday, and as usual, they were a huge hit. Someone actually took the bowl and sat on the couch with it.

    Cheeeeeeeeeeeeeese. That picture is heavenly.

  3. Theresa
    December 14, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    I hope you have fun taping get a great assistant host for “It’s Just Food”


  4. Maureen
    December 14, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    Hey Julie!

    Your life is insane. I am exhausted just reading about it!

    I wanted you to know the slow cooker arrived safe and sound and I love it. Thank you very much.
    I just watched your show (Victoria is shut down with 10 cm of snow!) on finger foods. I plan to make them all over the holidays.
    I LOVE the white serving bowls you put the dips etc. in/on. Can you tell me where you got them? I am thinking maybe the Bay?

    Thanks again. And take it easier! :-)

    Look forward to more episodes…..

  5. Carol S-B
    December 14, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    Well, Julie, I’ve gotta tell you about my Fleur de Sel toffee. I didn’t check my candy thermometer in boiling water before I started. I just checked it now: water boils, according to this baby, at just over 200 degrees. Should be 212, right?
    so, anyway…
    I did cook them to 260, which would’ve been the equivalent of ~272… plus today was cold, dry, the perfect candymaking day… and I should’ve dropped between 2 and 5 degrees from my target because of the dry/ cold conditions. Is this correct? (I blame all culinary failures- er, I should say, Random Culinary Events- on atmospheric conditions.)
    The toffee tastes great, BTW. I’ve wrapped much of it in waxed paper twists; I’ll be presenting it to all my buddies who are on dental plans!

  6. Carol S-B
    December 14, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    Another thought: I’m fairly sure altitude would affect candy making? Maybe this is why water boils @ 200 rather than 212 degrees?
    (YYC is at 3500 ft.)

  7. Fiona
    December 14, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    Carol, did you end up with hard candies? I made the caramel yesterday and they’re like little rocks. I salvaged some of it by whacking it with a rolling pin and putting it in biscotti (the bisotti recipe you posted yesterday was delicious, Julie!). I only heated mine to 260, so I’m not sure what my issue was…maybe altitude? I’m happy to go with the phases of the moon….

  8. JulieVR
    December 14, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    Well it couldn’t have possibly been your fault. I don’t know… I cooked mine to 260, and made two batches, and they turned out fine! I don’t hear a lot about high altitudes affecting candy making, but I just dig up some info that suggested lowering the temperature by 2 degrees F for every 1000 feet above sea level… may be worth a try? I’ll try it just to experiment and post the results!

  9. Carol S-B
    December 14, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    Julie, thank you for the vote of confidence :)
    I SWEAR it was 260 degrees… I was even crouching down to read it right on the line!!
    Two degrees for every 1000 ft? Well, 7 degrees COULD make a difference, I guess. Should I add it to the 12 degrees it was out, or would that be part of the 12 degrees already (boiling point of water being lower at higher altitude) I wonder.
    I know, I’ll take my thermometer with me next time I visit my Victoria sister and test it on boiling water there…What an excuse for a visit: I’ve come to calibrate my candy thermometer! JK
    …but if I cooked the candy to the lower temp. and it ended up too soft, I could use it as caramel sauce… or to make Stroopwaffels!
    Fiona– you are right on. It tried my good kitchen knife sorely (anything less than Henkels would’ve bent, I’m sure, but I just kept on rocking through it). I love your idea, but my rolling pin is made of glass. Maybe I could whack them with a cast iron frying pan?!

  10. Fiona
    December 15, 2008 at 9:49 am

    Or a hammer! Just put them in a freezer bag first. A good, tough one. I used a regular one the first time and I’m finding little bits of caramel in the oddest places in my kitchen.

    I’m going to use the rest of the batch to make toffee-almond chocolate bark. Kind of like almond roca, but with different proportions).

  11. Robyn
    December 15, 2008 at 10:18 am

    Julie, you should see the size of Linzer cookies they have in Germany. They are as big as pies, I swear! Am in Germany right now and all the Christmas markets are busy and the stalls are full of wooden toys and cookies (lebkuchen, linzer cookies, and about a 100 other types), stollen, roasted chestnuts, glass ornaments and a million other sensory delights. It is really something to see.

  12. Amanda Root
    March 21, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    A lot of thing to read about your life. I wanted you to know the slow cooker arrived safe and sound and I love it.I LOVE the white serving bowls you put the dips etc.
    thank you so much!

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