Recipes inspired by musicals: White Christmas

Saturday, December 24, 2011

You probably know the story already: Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) is part of a two-man entertainment act with Phil Davis (Danny Kaye).  Betty Haynes (Rosemary Clooney) is part of an act with her sister, Judy (Vera-Ellen).  They all end up at the same inn in Vermont; great music and romantic hijinks ensue.

What isn’t there to love about this movie?  Here are my top five favourite things about White Christmas:

5. The dancing.  Vera-Ellen was a former Rockette, and she lights up the screen every time she performs, from the perfectly titled “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing” to “Mandy”.

4. The scene where the General walks into the dining room on Christmas Eve and – well, if you’ve seen the movie, you know what happens.  If you haven’t, watch it.

3. Mary Wickes as housekeeper Emma.  Even if you think you don’t know her, you do.  She made several appearances on I Love Lucy.  She played Bette Davis’s nurse in Now Voyager.  She played Aunt March in the 1994 version of Little Women.  She even had an ongoing role in TVs The Father Dowling Mysteries.  (Yes, I watched The Father Dowling Mysteries.  If there’s any sentence I could type that would make me less cool, please don’t let me know.)

2.  The musical number “Sisters”.  It’s sweet when the Haynes sisters sing it and funny when Bing and Danny sing it.  My sister Gwen and I still sing it sometimes, without the props.

1.  I watch it every December.  I make my family watch it with me, and there’s generally an assortment of complaints as we make our way downstairs to the family room.  Then the movie starts and, for two hours, they are as enraptured as I am.

You’re wondering how this relates to food? 

Betty and Bob meet in the inn one evening, both unable to sleep, and Bob offers to serve her a sandwich.  She tells him that she doesn’t care what kind he makes:

Bob: Tell me what you want to dream about and I'll know what to give you.

Betty: What's that?

Bob:  I got a whole big theory about it.  Different kinds of food make for different kinds of dreams. If I have a ham and cheese on rye I dream about a tall cool blonde.  Turkey, I'll dream about a brunette.

Betty: What about liverwurst?

Bob: Oh, I dream about liverwurst.

When I made these chicken salad sandwiches, I’m pretty sure I dreamed about chicken salad.  Many of my favourite recipes come from The Barefoot Contessa and this recipe, simple as it is, is up there with the best.

Later in that scene, Bob went on to sing “Counting My Blessings Instead of Sheep”:

“When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep. 
I fall asleep counting my blessings.”

To my family, friends, and faithful readers, I wish you a very happy holiday season, and a New Year full of blessings.

Chicken Salad Sandwiches

4 split (2 whole) chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
good olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup good mayonnaise
1 1/2 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1 cup small-diced celery (2 stalks)
8 to 10 slices seven-grain bread
1 package mesclun salad mix

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the chicken breasts, skin side up, on a sheet pan and rub them with olive oil.  Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.  Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.  Set aside to cool.

When the chicken is cool, remove and discard the skin and bones and cut the chicken into 3/4 inch cubes.  Place the chicken in a bowl and add the mayonnaise, tarragon, celery, 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper and toss well.

To assemble, spread a little butter on half the bread slices, top with the chicken salad and mesclun mix, and cover with the remaining slices of bread.  Cut in half and serve.

Thursday's Child: December at The Beach

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Admit it: when you read the title, you thought I was taking you to the Bahamas, didn’t you? 

No, this week I’m writing about the Beach in Toronto, admittedly not the first Christmas destination that comes to mind, but a great local area for a beautiful walk and some shopping.

If we’d visited this area in the summer, we’d have battled crowds.  The Beach is justifiably popular when the weather is warm, with volleyball players, dog walkers, cyclists and sunbathers all looking for space.  But in December we had the boardwalk almost entirely to ourselves.  The sun sparkled on the water and the sand stretched out untouched as far as we could see.

After a brisk walk we made our way up to Queen Street.  There were a lot of cute independent stores, but we had our hearts set on one – The Nutty Chocolatier.  They have the most amazing selection of specialized chocolates and imported food I’ve ever seen.  Homemade chocolate bark, Star Wars Pez dispensers, British chocolate bars that one of us recognized from her childhood, German marzipan, tinned goods from Marks and Spencer – the hardest part was making a decision.

What did I buy?  I can’t say until after the stockings have been opened!

Recipes inspired by Musicals: Yellow Submarine

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Most of the musicals I’ve written about are from the 1950s and 1960s, the heyday of Hollywood musicals.  Singin’ in the Rain, Oliver!, and Guys and Dolls fit into that time span. They also sounded the way people expected a musical to sound.

This week’s entry is a little outside the norm.  Although it was released in the same year as Oliver!, Yellow Submarine blazed its own path.  The plot is equally as psychedelic as the animation, and the Beatles’ music shocked traditionalists.  I can’t say it’s one of my favourites, but the girls loved this movie.  What child wouldn’t be amused by the Blue Meanies or thrilled by the idea of travelling in a submarine?

The words to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” may or may not have been inspired by drugs (Paul said yes, John said no).  But to me they always sounded like a beautiful daydream in a stunning landscape, from the “marmalade skies” to “cellophane flowers of yellow and green”.  And didn’t you envy those rocking-horse people who ate marshmallow pies?

I loved this lime marshmallow pie.  The lime filling was so good that another time I’d make more (maybe increasing the recipe by one half, or even doubling it).  And the marshmallow topping was delicious enough to tempt even the girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

Lime Marshmallow Pie

Graham cracker crust:
1/3 cup butter
1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 Tbsp sugar

Filling: (for even more lime flavour, double this!)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Grated zest of 2 limes

1 envelope unflavoured gelatin
1/4 cup cold water (first amount)
1/3 cup cold water (second amount)
1/3 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup sugar
3 large egg whites
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

To make the crust, melt 1/3 cup butter.  Add graham cracker crumbs and 1 Tbsp sugar, and stir to combine.  Press firmly into a 9” pie plate.

To make the filling, combine the lime juice, 1/2 cup sugar, salt, eggs, egg yolks, 6 Tbsp butter and the lime zest in a medium saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and the edges just barely begin to bubble. Pour the mixture through a mesh strainer into the crust.  Bake for eight minutes, until the filling is just set.

Remove the pie from the oven.  Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees.

To make the topping, in a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the 1/4 cup cold water and allow it to soften and swell for 5 minutes.

In a small saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the remaining 1/3 cup water with the corn syrup and 1/2 cup sugar over medium-high heat.  When the sugar syrup reaches about 210 degrees, start whipping the egg whites.  When the egg whites are frothy and the syrup temperature has climbed to 245 degrees, remove the pan from the heat. Increase beater speed to high and, with the mixer running, slowly dribble the syrup into the whites, being careful to avoid pouring hot syrup on the beaters or side of the bowl.

Scrape the softened gelatin into the still-warm saucepan used to make the sugar syrup and stir until melted.  With the mixer running, slowly drizzle the gelatin into the egg whites.  Add the vanilla and continue to beat until the mixture is cooled to room temperature, 5 to 10 minutes.

Using a spatula, spread the topping over the foiling, creating swirls and billowy peaks. Bake until the topping is golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes

Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Thursday's Child: The Toronto Christmas Market

Thursday, December 15, 2011

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll remember that last December I wrote about the wonderful Christmas markets in Europe and how I’d love to visit them someday.  But we’re lucky to have our own Christmas market in Toronto.  It doesn’t have the history of the European markets but, only two years in, it’s one of my favourite things to do in December.  This market features everything you’d want in an old-fashioned Christmas – an enormous tree, choirs singing Christmas carols, and several small streets lined with stalls featuring gifts and food from around the world. 

I visited on one of the few cold days we’ve had this winter, but the hot apple cider kept me warm.  (Another time, a visit to the Beer Gardens might do the same.)  Artisan cheese, poutine and Oktoberfest sausage were just a few of the many delicious food items for sale.

The stalls were adorable with a great choice of gifts and personal items.  I loved the carved wooden ornaments and fabric decorations.  Another stall sold beautiful Christmas greenery, any of which I’d have gladly brought home.  I couldn’t resist the soft wool mittens made from old sweaters, and they’ve kept me warm ever since.

I visited last week when my friend’s daughter was singing with her choir.  These super-talented teenagers gave a short but brilliant performance of Christmas music.  Their lovely voices brought shoppers from all directions to hear their Christmas message: "Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy".

Recipes inspired by Musicals: Singin' in the Rain

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I think everyone would agree that Singin’ in the Rain is Gene Kelly’s movie. There isn’t a song and dance routine more iconic than “Singin’ in the Rain”.  I could watch it every day and still be charmed.  Gene Kelly was a notorious perfectionist who pushed himself and his fellow actors to give the best performance possible.  According to, Kelly had a temperature of 101 degrees while this number was being filmed, but kept going until it was perfect.

However, there are four minutes in the middle of the movie that belong to costar Donald O’Connor.  In the amazingly energetic “Make ‘Em Laugh”, he does just that as he pays homage to comedy in the movies:

“Now you could study Shakespeare and be quite elite,
And you can charm the critics and have nothin' to eat,
Just slip on a banana peel, the world's at your feet,
Make 'em laugh,
Make 'em laugh,
Make 'em laugh.”

“You start off by pretending you're a dancer with grace,
You wiggle 'till they're giggling all over the place,
And then you get a great big custard pie in the face,
Make 'em laugh,
Make 'em laugh,
Make 'em laugh.”

These lyrics could only have inspired a banana cream pie.  Which is why it's fortunate that my mom was here recently, and brought with her a determination to turn me into a pie crust expert.  Although I make the occasional pie crust, I do so seldom and reluctantly, and it's her fond wish that I live up to a long-standing family tradition of excellent pie-making.  Four pie crusts later, some small progress may have been detected.  In the meantime, with my mother's able assistance, I was able to bake this pie. 

I’m delighted to say that I neither slipped on a banana peel nor got the pie in my face at any time in its making.  And my family was far too busy enjoying the pie to laugh at anything I may have been doing.

Banana Cream Pie
(adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours)

For the custard:
2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup packed brown sugar, pressed through a sieve
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
3 ripe but firm bananas
one 9" pie crust, fully baked and cooled

For the topping:
1 cup cold whipping cream
2 Tbsp confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp sour cream

To make the custard:

Bring the milk to a boil.  Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt until well-blended and thick.  Whisking without stopping, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk (this will warm the yolks so they won't curdle).  Then, still whisking, add the rest of the milk in a steady stream.  Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a boil.  Boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes before removing from the heat.

Whisk in the vanilla extract.  Let stand for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until the custard is smooth.  Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the custard to create an airtight seal and refrigerate until cold.  

When you are ready to assemble the pie, peel the bananas and cut them on a shallow diagonal into 1/4" thick slices.

Whisk the cold custard vigorously to loosen it, and spread about one quarter of it over the bottom of the pie crust (it will be a thin layer).  Top with half of the banana slices.  Repeat, adding a thin layer of custard and the remaining bananas, then smooth the rest of the custard on top.

To make the topping:

Beat the cream until it just starts to thicken.  Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and beat until the cream holds firm peaks.  Gently fold in the sour cream.

Spoon the topping over the filling and spread it evenly to the edges of the custard.

Thursday's Child: St. Jacobs, Ontario

Thursday, December 8, 2011

St. Jacobs, Ontario is a village about an hour outside of Toronto, worth a trip any time of year but especially festive at Christmas. St. Jacobs was originally settled by Mennonites in the mid-nineteenth century and their influence is strong, from the horses and buggies that we passed, to the quilt shops throughout town.  I wasn’t sure of the ethics of photographing a local driving a horse and buggy and posting it online, so instead I'm sharing a road sign that’s common in St. Jacobs:

In town, a set of silos has been restored to hold a pottery shop and other studios.  Along the main street, businesses include antique shops, a stained glass purveyor and a corn broom maker.  And regardless of whether you’re visiting in December or in June, you can drop in at the Christmas shop.

One of the loveliest attractions was a mural painted on the side of a gift shop, portraying the Mennonite way of life.

We ended our visit with a visit to the Stone Crock bakery.  We did ask about photographing the bakers here, and were granted permission.  In addition to running a wonderful café, these women were hard at work baking mince tarts and fruitcake, among other sweet Christmas treats.  We knew the food had to be great judging by the number of locals sitting in the café, and we weren’t disappointed.  The beef and vegetable soup was almost chunky enough to be a stew, and the meat and vegetables were absolutely delicious.  And it was only through strict will power that we didn’t come home with a dozen cinnamon buns or lemon meringue tarts.

Andrew and I loved our peaceful, midweek visit to this village.  Although it turns into a bustling little town on the weekends and in the summer, it has retained enough of its heritage to be an appealing place to visit.    

Recipes inspired by musicals: The Wizard of Oz

Sunday, December 4, 2011
Back by popular demand, it’s a month of recipes inspired by musicals!  I first did a musical month in July, when I wrote about meringues inspired by the show Wicked, and four other recipes from musicals that I love.  I'll be starting this month with one of the most beloved musicals ever.

Did anyone else watch The Wizard of Oz every year at Christmas?  That movie had it all – an orphan hero, a quest to return home, fantastic sidekicks and an over-the-top evil villain.  No matter how many times I watched it, there was always something new.  Thanks to Judy Garland's lovely voice, Roy Bolger's graceful dancing and Margaret Hamilton's amazing portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West, it really has stood the test of time. 

Despite all the great songs from this show, the one everyone remembers is "Somewhere Over the Rainbow".  When Dorothy wistfully sang about travelling over the rainbow, she spoke to all of us who wanted to make our dreams come true:
“Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far
Behind me.
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me.”

These dreamy lyrics inspired me to bake Lemon Drop Cookies.  I love lemon desserts, and these cookies are one of my favourite new finds.  If you bake them, your troubles truly will melt away.

Lemon Drop Cookies
(adapted from One Lovely Life)

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
zest of 2 lemons
1 egg
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cup four
1 cup lemon drop candies, crushed (some bigger pieces, some smaller)
1/4 to 1/2 cup powdered sugar


In a large bowl, combine sugar and lemon zest.  Cream sugar mixture with butter.  Beat in egg, lemon juice and vanilla.  Stir in flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  Add crushed lemon drops and stir until just combined.

Chill dough in the refrigerator about 30 minutes.

Place powdered sugar in a shallow bowl.  Form cookies by rolling heaping teaspoonfuls of dough into balls and rolling in powdered sugar.

Place cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  (Note: these cookies spread, so don’t crowd the cookie sheet.) Bake at 350 degrees for 9-10 minutes, or until edges are set and centres are just slightly soft.  Allow cookies to cool on cookies sheets for about 3 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Makes 24 cookies.

Thursday’s Child – Montgomery’s Inn, Toronto

Thursday, December 1, 2011
Often in my Thursday posts I write about locales that are far away.  But sometimes I like to remind myself of the amazing places close to home.  So for the month of December, I’ll be writing about the city where I live, Toronto, and some fun Christmas activities in the area. 

Montgomery’s Inn is a local museum that was not only an inn, but also a bar, a farm and a homestead.  Established in a rural area in 1830 by Thomas and Margaret Montgomery, it’s now a busy city intersection. From the kitchen through the bar and ballroom, the curator has compiled enough information to keep any history student fascinated.  For example, tenants generally shared their room with strangers, and those rooms would have been unheated. The most popular drinks in the bar were beer and whiskey, but Montgomery also sold meals, cheese, crackers, tobacco and pipes.  And according to the inn brochure, “chairs were occasionally broken” in the bar.  Sounds like a lively place.

Although staff doesn’t decorate the inn itself (at the time, Christmas decorations weren’t in vogue), the tearoom is decorated.  And the range of activities over the next month is unbelievable: Visitors to the inn can take part in gingerbread workshops or participate in an evening of singing 19th century carols.  "A Christmas Carol" is being performed later this month.  And if you want a more mobile activity, the Twelfth Night Dance Party on January 7 is not to be missed.  (No chairs will be harmed in this activity.)

Montgomery’s Inn has been targeted for possible closure by the city to save funds. In addition to being a great landmark (and possibly the best place ever to attend a Twelfth Night Dance Party), it’s a true part of the community.  We have friends who rent the dining area every year to host a community potluck and when we go we’re reminded of how fortunate we are to live in a city that celebrates its history.  Let’s hope this history isn’t forgotten, and Montgomery’s Inn is saved.