Hello my dears, will you do me a favour? Preheat your oven to 400°F. While you're at it, start slicing some leeks while we catch up.

I was feeling pretty good about my preparedness for the coming holiday season this whole year-end business, that is, I was until a friend sweetly pointed out that as of today, there were a mere six days left until our merriment begins. How'd that happen?

Their math must be wrong. Let's see, 24-18 equals ... oh.

Shoot. No such luck. We're almost at the count-the-days-on-one-hand stage, people.

Before I go on, how are those leeks coming? All sliced? Take a second and put a skillet on to heat with a knob of butter in there. When that's melted, toss in your leeks and stir them around so that everybody's friendly.

Where was I? Yes, there's a lot going on. I'm particularly giddy to report that Menu for Hope is off to a rip-roaring start. We've just hit the $20,000 mark, with fingers crossed that the momentum continues through the second half of the campaign.

And we've got some happenings that should help in the momentum department, first off let me extend my thanks and welcome to the kind folks at EAT Magazine, who have donated another raffle item to our efforts. "Taste of British Columbia" brings together a variety of offerings from producers from this gorgeous province, including Untamed Feast’s delicious dried wild mushroom products (Forest Blend), locally grown roasted hazelnuts from Butler Hazelnut Farm, Vista d’Oro Farm’s Turkish Fig with Walnut Wine, a ½ lb. bag of Mile 0 Roasters Niagara Blend, Gathering Place’s Organic Rooibos Tea, and two chocolate bars from organicfair. To bid on their item, enter code CA12, when donating.


There are lots of new raffle items being added every day; be sure to keep checking the worldwide listing for the most up-to-date information.

Speaking of donations, we've got a brand spankin' new donation form for you; it lists all raffle items available worldwide, with a simple widget alongside that tallies your bids. To see it in all it's point-n-click glory, click here.

Oh! Back to the leeks. How are they doing? Are they all loopy and lithe yet? No? Okay, we've got a few more minutes to go.

More news. Remember way back in June when I said I'd be in the summer issue of UPPERCASE magazine? Well, Janine was kind enough to extend the invitation for me to write for them again. I'll be in the Winter issue, out in January 2010, talking about Maple Walnut Caramel. It's the recipe that started my recent walnut fixation.

While we're on the subject of UPPERCASE, a first look at the cover for the issue was recently available for subscribers to their newsletter. I'm sort of in love with it. I think you will be too.

The leeks should be looking about there by now - give them a poke with your spoon. They should be soft and sweet, still green and brightly fragrant. Good stuff, we're ready to go.

Now this is probably only exciting to me, but I've finally settled on what I'm making for the savoury portion of our Christmas breakfast. As you might have surmised, those scrummy leeks play a big part in the deliciousness to come this December 25th's a.m.

I have been looking for a partner to the Breakfast Bread from Donna Hay from years ago. A steadfast presence our menu that's focaccia in feel, but with a biscuit method for the base. A thick, spongy dough lays beneath a Christmassy landscape of wilted spinach and oven-dried tomatoes, with a crowning snowdrift of Gruyère to cover all. This is a bread that I start thinking about in the fall, when the last of the tomatoes are coming off the vine and I'm drying and preserving them in oil in eager anticipation of their winter debut.

Whatever arrives alongside that bread has to be a humdinger of a dish.

Enter the wonderful Lusia Weiss, with exactly what I was looking for. The Baked Eggs in Cream she introduced last week are, as she says, adorable. And boy are they tasty.

From the softly-set egg that is lush and dreamy, to the supple leeks hiding underneath the whiteness, it's ridiculously easy to get all swoony about this recipe. What's even more brilliant for my needs is that I can cook the leeks the night before, so they're ready and waiting come Christmas morn; crack an egg and spoon over some cream, in to the oven they go. En masse, everyone's taken care of.

If I'm being honest, the presentation of the individual ramekins was of specific appeal. Not only does this recipe allow you to cook for many with minimal fuss, it also allows for some greedy indulgence. A fleet of these little darlings on the table looks abundant and generous, but to each is own means that nobody has to share.

With all the support we've had for Menu for Hope, a moment of mine-all-mine gluttony can certainly be overlooked. You've all earned it.

Camino's Egg Baked in Cream
A multiplied rendition of Camino's original, via The Wednesday Chef. Luisa's advises cooking the leeks longer than in the original recipe, and I am not one to argue. A cluster of oil-packed dried tomatoes nudged up against the yolk added an appreciated acidity.

Ingredients
6 tablespoons butter
4 leeks, cleaned and the white and light green parts sliced thinly
Salt
2 sprigs thyme, leaves roughly chopped
2 sprigs parsley, leaves roughly chopped
4 large eggs
1/2 cup half-and-half or coffee cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Grilled or toasted bread slices to serve

With a rack set in the middle, preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).

In a small sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the leeks, along with a splash of water and a pinch of salt. Cook until the leeks are tender, around 10 minutes. Stir in the herbs. Divide the herbed leeks among four small dishes or ramekins, flattening the vegetables out slightly to make a nest for the eggs.

Crack one egg in the middle of each dish. Add enough cream to just over the white, then season with salt and the freshly-ground black pepper. Set the dishes on a baking sheet and bake in the oven until the white is set, between 8 to 12 minutes. Serve immediately, with the grilled bread.

Serves 4. Or really 2, as you'll want seconds. Trust.

Now the fun begins. Ring the bell, the bidding is open.

In case you haven't heard, I am the proud host of the Canadian contribution to this year's Menu For Hope Campaign. Today's the day that this amazing worldwide event goes live, with monies raised going to benefit the United Nations World Food Programme's new initiative, Purchase for Progress.

Here's how it works. Food bloggers from around the globe have rallied together to offer a spectacular array of items upon which to bid. If you see something that catches your fancy, simply follow the instructions below to donate to the campaign. For each $10 donated, you get one bid towards the item of your choosing. Bidding will be open from today until December 25, 2009. Once bidding has closed, winners will be chosen at random and announced on Chez Pim on January 18, 2010.

The master list for all Menu for Hope 6 bid items is available here, and a direct link to the donation site is here. Regional lists are being hosted by Shauna, Helen, David, Ed and Alder. For the goods on the Canadian listings, please read on.

Note: these are the items hosted by Canadian food bloggers, but that does not necessarily mean that they are only available to Canadians. Most are available for international bidding, those items with shipping restrictions are noted at the end of the specific listing.

But before we get into all of that, one last thing. Thank you to the friends who offered and organized items to be put towards this worthy cause, for devoting their time and effort to making this campaign a success. And thanks to you for reading, for your past support and for considering supporting again this time around.

Thank you. We really mean it.

CA01: The Latest Books from Canadian Celebrity Cooks
Courtesy of: Whitecap Books and seven spoons

This four-book bundle features the latest titles from well-known Canadian cookbook authors and celebrity chefs. Fresh with Anna Olson, by the star of the Food Network Canada show by the same name, offers recipes for vibrant, seasonal meals. Chef Michael Smith has compiled his favourite recipes in his new book The Best of Chef at Home, sharing his passion for the "everyday comfort food his family craves." Erik Akis returns with the latest in his Anyone Can Cook series, this time with a focus on celebrations. To round out the collection, Ken Kostik keeps both budget and quality in mind with his book The $10 Gourmet. (Shipping to North America only.)

CA02: Windows on the World and Wine Book Bundle
Courtesy of: Whitecap Books, Sterling Epicure and seven spoons

This three-book bundle includes titles from some of the most knowledgeable experts in wine. For Windows on the World Complete Wine Course: 25th Anniversary Edition, Kevin Zraly travelled to "eighty wine regions in twenty countries, tasting more than 4,000 wines and meeting 500 winemaking professionals." 500 Best-Value Wines in the LCBO 2010 is a guide to the wines offered by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, with straightforward reviews and suggested food pairings. And finally, Had a Glass 2010: Top 100 Wines For 2010 Under $20, $25, AND $30 lives up to its title, with recommendations for wines at a range of prices to suit just about every taste. (Shipping to North America only.)

CA03: My Favourite Things
Courtesy of: seven spoons

I have filled a gift box with some of my most favourite things; the cookbooks I've been reading lately and the beautifully-designed items that inspire me every day. The winner will receive two of my cookbook picks from 2009, a selection of stationery (including papery goodness from simplesong design and The Beautiful Project, a copy of Uppercase magazine, and maybe a vintage treasure or two. To top it off I'll bake up a batch of cookies, just for you.

CA04: Herriott Grace Handcrafted Mortar and Pestle
Courtesy of: Lance and Nikole of Herriot Grace and forty-sixth at grace

This mortar and pestle set from Herriott Grace, made especially for Menu for Hope, will most surely become a treasured heirloom. Each piece is hand-turned from a single piece of maple wood, without joints or glue. The mortar boasts a beautiful black grain with pretty markings throughout, while the pestle, from the same tree but higher on the branch, is slightly lighter in colour. The pair are joy to hold and a pleasure to use, fitting snugly in hand with a smooth, shiny finish. The mortar measures 4 inches at the rim, and 2 1/2 inches at its base; the pestle length is approximately 3 1/2 inches.

CA05: Grazing
Courtesy of: Julie of Dinner with Julie

This revised and updated edition of Julie Van Rosendaal's best-selling cookbook Grazing provides grazers, party hosts and snackers with ammo against the vending machine, comfort when they need to relax and help when they need to feed a crowd. These delicious dishes are easy to make and low in fat, without ever compromising taste.

CA06: One Smart Cookie
Courtesy of: Julie of Dinner with Julie

For most, the thought of a low fat cookie is impossible. However, in the second edition of One Smart Cookie, Julie Van Rosendaal shows us that cookies and other sweets can still taste great even when they are lower in fat. Julie is certainly an expert in the field of low fat baking through her own successful low fat bakery as well as her diet-free weight loss of 165 pounds. Julie also shows you how to make your own favourite recipes healthier through helpful tips on substituting ingredients. Embrace your Inner Cookie Monster!

CA07, CA08, CA09, CA10: Fresco 24-centimetre Professional Grade Stainless Steel Frying Pan
Courtesy of: Fresco and Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess

A stainless steel 24-centimetre frying pan from Fresco, designed by celebrated Canadian Chef Mark McEwan (North 44, Bymark). With a heavyweight aluminum core that promotes rapid and even heating, this pan will be an everyday essential in your kitchen. Four pans are available; please choose one prize code when bidding. (Shipping within Canada only.)

CA11: Comfort and Restoration with Brownies
Courtesy of: Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict

Coming home to this package, donated by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict, will be a welcome treat when you want to regain your energies after a hectic day. Along with two caffeine-free Roobios teas from Distinctly Teas (Evening Fireside and Chocolate Supreme), you will be sent a lidded Paderno 33x 23-cm/9x13-inch non-stick baking pan and the dry ingredients for one batch of Nick Malgieri's fabulous Supernatural Brownies. All you need to do is add butter, eggs and vanilla ... and of course heat. The full recipe will be included.

CA12: A Taste of British Columbia
Courtesy of: EAT magazine

EAT editors have assembled a prize package bursting with food items from the province of British Columbia, including the Farm Folks/City Folks 2010 calendar, a 20g bag of Untamed Feast’s delicious dried wild mushroom products (Forest Blend), locally grown roasted hazelnuts from Butler Hazelnut Farm, Vista d’Oro Farm’s Turkish Fig with Walnut Wine, a ½ lb. bag of Mile 0 Roasters Niagara Blend, Gathering Place’s Organic Rooibos Tea, and two chocolate bars from organicfair. Web Editor Rebecca Baugniet has also thrown in a signed copy of her latest cookbook.

To Donate and Enter the Menu for Hope Raffle

Here's what you need to do:

1. Choose a bid item or bid items of your choice from our Menu for Hope main bid item list.

2. Go to the donation site at Firstgiving and make a donation.

3. Please specify which bid item you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per bid item, and please use the bid item code. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a bid item of your choice. For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02 - 2xEU01, 3xEU02.

4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.

5. Please check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we can contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

Got it? Good. Now, ready, steady, go!

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