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Recipes for Realtors: A figgy Cornish Hen Christmas | REM





As many of our readers know, I keep a large jar of fresh, not dried, black (blue) mission figs, either Spanish or Italian, in my refrigerator at all times soaking in brandy. (I did try but have not had good luck with the figs from Mexico, so I would not recommend using them.)

If you follow my style, you will have marinated juicy figs and macerated ones that have been longer in the jar. Long ago I discovered that marinating in Asbach Uralt cognac produces a wonderful congealed jus as the figs and cognac marry.

So here is a wonderful stuffing, baked in a separate dish and spooned into the hen cavity after the hens are roasted. I know. That sounds a little odd, but the result is wonderful.

You can prepare the stuffing ahead of time. (You can even freeze larger quantities, packaged in full cups so you can choose how much you need; thaw overnight in the fridge the day before using.)

In the oven on a sheet pan, toast a pulled apart loaf of stale bread, or chop into large chunks a loaf of black-olive bread or a couple of baguettes that you have left on the counter overnight to dry. Ideally you will fill six cups with bread or double the recipe if you are roasting many hens. If there is any leftover stuffing, refrigerate it covered and serve it the next day, perhaps just a breakfast plate (or served hot in an oval au gratin dish) of stuffing with a couple of poached eggs and hollandaise.

Finely chop a couple of split, long celery stalks and mince a few leaves. Add a cup of coarsely chopped Spanish onion and a half teaspoon of your refrigerated homemade oven-roasted golden garlic purée.

Sauté the mix in sizzling butter just briefly. You don’t want the celery and onions mushy, but to retain a little crunch. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and a little thyme, a tiny bit of nutmeg and just a pinch of sage.

Let cool. Fold in a generous cup of chopped cognac marinated black mission figs, coarse or fine (but not the macerated ones) and a half cup of the congealed cognac figgy jus. Add a cup of coarsely crushed shelled beautiful green pistachios. Mix the toasted bread into the sauté pan.

Lightly butter a glass loaf baking dish.  Gently pack the stuffing into the dish. Bake in a 325 F (350 F if using a metal dish) preheated oven for about 45 minutes, covered in foil, shiny side in. Remove foil and continue to bake for about another 10 minutes. Let rest on the counter for a half hour. Then spoon the stuffing into the still very hot roasted hen cavities just before serving.

In the last 10 minutes of roasting the Rock Cornish hens, baste with my kumquat marmalade. Or use a high-quality bitter orange store-bought marmalade. Add a tablespoon of the cognac figgy jus to the marmalade to make it easier to paint on the hens.

I’ve noted previously that I prefer to roast the hens standing up, and yes they are touching one another, in a preheated oven 400 F; after 15 minutes reduce heat to 350 F. Paint the hot hens with butter at this point, and continue to roast for another half hour, or until juices run clear. Puncture the leg crease to check doneness. Timing will depend on the size of the hens. Make sure to choose ones of nearly equal size. I buy frozen hens and keep a stock in the freezer. Remove the packaging. Thaw in the refrigerator 24 to 48 hours before roasting.

It’s important to choose a right size roasting pan, dependent upon the number of hens you are serving. I’ve done as many as 26 standing medium-size hens, using a large turkey roasting pan or double tinfoil pan, nearly the size of the oven. The kind I would roast a 20 to 23-pound turkey in each Christmas. Allow one whole hen per serving. They are roasted uncovered but cover in foil shiny side in for the first 15 minutes on high heat.

As a special treat, prepare Yorkshire puddings (one or two for each serving) oven roasted in very hot sizzling butter, deflate and fill the hole first with a little well-drained, hot, fresh regular wilted spinach, buttered and topped with just a little extra pistachio stuffing. Deglaze the roasting pan with just a little brandy. You could light it to burn off the alcohol, or if you are experienced, you could just tilt the pan.

Drizzle a little pan dripping deglaze, perhaps a teaspoon (there won’t be much drippings) over top of each filled Yorkshire pudding, and just a spritz of extra figgy jus.


You could substitute prunes soaked in cognac overnight. Or just choose to use chopped Medjool dates. They are very naturally sweet.

A perfect side dish is buttered, sugared fresh carrots, oven-roasted halved acorn squash, with butter and maple syrup, and/or pan-roasted Brussels sprouts. A creamed Belgian endive is also a great side; any of the above with my special whipped mashed potatoes.

You could offer a serving dish of cranberry sauce, just to be festive. Want something a little different? Chop a macerated black mission fig and add it and a little figgy jus to the cranberry sauce and add a few homemade candied walnuts from your pantry jar.

I like to serve the hens in a place setting of their own in a just right size hot au gratin oval ovenproof dish, placed on an oversize plate with space where people can serve themselves however many sides they want to add, family style from covered vegetable bowls or hot water heated chafing dishes.

In the kitchen, heat the oversized dinner plates and position the stuffed hens. Deliver the plated hens to the table and place each hot plate onto a large charger on a tablecloth or placemat, to keep a distance between your table and the hot dinner plates.

It’s perhaps a little different Christmas Eve or Christmas Day special feast. It seems like a lot of work. It’s time-consuming but not difficult. And so worth it.

Just a note: If you feel a must-have need for a salad, my Caesar salad is a nice balance of flavours. And further, if a dessert is absolutely necessary, make it a light cranberry or fig panna cotta that could be made a day before and dressed at the table, or a figgy zabaglione in a martini glass topped with a brandy marinated fig and a drizzle of the cognac figgy jus, or just offer a slice of my Asbach Stolllen that you made months before. You could even go overboard and drizzle each slice with your favourite plum pudding sauce.

A centrepiece or multiples made of snipped single flowers from a poinsettia plant add a little festive colour to the table. Careful with having live rosemary trees in the house, although they are sold in the festive season. The fragrance can be wonderful or can be overpowering, as are hyacinths brought indoors. Consider that some people have allergies. It’s generally safe to use potted herb plants; maybe cover the pot in shiny foil gift wrap and add a candy cane or two.

© From Lady Ralston’s Kitchen: A Canadian Contessa Cooks | Turning everyday meal making into a Gourmet Experience


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Real Estate

7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary





Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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Real Estate

‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market





The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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Real Estate

10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers





Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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