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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

5 ways to reduce your mortgage amortization




Since the pandemic hit, a lot of Canadians have been affected financially and if you’re on a mortgage, reducing your amortization period can be of great help.

A mortgage amortization period is the amount of time it would take a homeowner to completely pay off their mortgage. The amortization is typically an estimate based on what the interest rate for your current term is. Calculating your amortization is done easily using a loan amortization calculator which shows you the different payment schedules within your amortization period.

 In Canada, if you made a down payment that is less than the recommended 20 per cent of the total cost of your home, then the longest amortization period you’re allowed to have is 25 years. The mortgage amortization period not only affects the length of time it would take to completely repay the loan, but also the amount of interest paid over the lifecycle of the mortgage.

Typically, longer amortization periods involve making smaller monthly payments and having a much higher total interest cost over the duration of the mortgage. While on the other hand, shorter amortization periods entails making larger monthly payments and having lower total interest costs.

It’s the dream of every homeowner to become mortgage-free. A general rule of thumb would be to try and keep your monthly mortgage costs as low as possible—preferably below 30 per cent of your monthly income. Over time, you may become more financially stable by either getting a tax return, a bonus or an additional source of income and want to channel that towards your principal.

There are several ways to keep your monthly mortgage payments low and reduce your amortization. Here are a few ways to achieve that goal:

1. Make a larger down payment

Once you’ve decided to buy a home, always consider putting asides some significant amount of money that would act as a down payment to reduce your monthly mortgage. While the recommended amount to put aside as a down payment is 20 per cent,  if you aren’t in a hurry to purchase the property or are more financial buoyant, you can even pay more.

Essentially, the larger your down payment, the lower your mortgage would be as it means you’re borrowing less money from your lender. However, if you pay at least 20 per cent upfront, there would be no need for you to cover the additional cost of private mortgage insurance which would save you some money.

2. Make bi-weekly payments

Most homeowners make monthly payments which amount to 12 payments every year. But if your bank or lender offers the option of accelerated bi-weekly payment, you will be making an equivalent of one more payment annually. Doing this will further reduce your amortization period by allowing you to pay off your mortgage much faster.

3. Have a fixed renewal payment

It is normal for lenders to offer discounts on interest rate during your amortization period. However, as you continuously renew your mortgage at a lower rate, always keep a fixed repayment sum.

Rather than just making lower payments, you can keep your payments static, since the more money applied to your principal, the faster you can clear your mortgage.

4. Increase your payment amount

Many mortgages give homeowners the option to increase their payment amount at least once a year. Now, this is very ideal for those who have the financial capacity to do so because the extra money would be added to your principal.

Irrespective of how small the increase might be, in the long run, it would make a huge difference. For example, if your monthly mortgage payment is about $2,752 per month. It would be in your best interest to round it up to $2,800 every month. That way, you are much closer to reducing your mortgage amortization period.

5. Leverage on prepayment privileges

The ability for homeowners to make any form of prepayment solely depends on what mortgage features are provided by their lender.

With an open mortgage, you can easily make additional payments at any given time. However, if you have a closed mortgage—which makes up the larger percentage of existing mortgages—you will need to check if you have the option of prepayments which would allow you to make extra lump sum payments.

Additionally, there may also be the option to make extra lump sum payments at the end of your existing mortgage term before its time for renewal.

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Real Estate

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: What you need to know




Your home is likely the biggest asset you’ll ever own. So how can you protect it in case something were to happen to you? To start, homeowners have a few options to choose from. You can either:

  • ensure you have mortgage protection with a life insurance policy from an insurance company or
  • get mortgage insurance from a bank or mortgage lender.

Mortgage insurance vs. life insurance: How do they each work?  

The first thing to know is that life insurance can be a great way to make sure you and your family have mortgage protection.

The money from a life insurance policy usually goes right into the hands of your beneficiaries – not the bank or mortgage lender. Your beneficiaries are whoever you choose to receive the benefit or money from your policy after you die.

Life insurance policies, like term life insurance, come with a death benefit. A death benefit is the amount of money given to your beneficiaries after you die. The exact amount they’ll receive depends on the policy you buy.

With term life insurance, you’re covered for a set period, such as 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. The premium – that’s the monthly or annual fee you pay for insurance – is usually low for the first term.

If you die while you’re coved by your life insurance policy, your beneficiaries will receive a tax-free death benefit. They can then use this money to help pay off the mortgage or for any other reason. So not only is your mortgage protected, but your family will also have funds to cover other expenses that they relied on you to pay.

Mortgage insurance works by paying off the outstanding principal balance of your mortgage, up to a certain amount, if you die.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes directly to the bank or lender to pay off the mortgage – and that’s it. There’s no extra money to cover other expenses, and you don’t get to leave any cash behind to your beneficiaries.

What’s the difference between mortgage insurance and life insurance?

The main difference is that mortgage insurance covers only your outstanding mortgage balance. And, that money goes directly to the bank or mortgage lender, not your beneficiary. This means that there’s no cash, payout or benefit given to your beneficiary. 

With life insurance, however, you get mortgage protection and more. Here’s how it works: every life insurance policy provides a tax-free amount of money (the death benefit) to the beneficiary. The payment can cover more than just the mortgage. The beneficiary may then use the money for any purpose. For example, apart from paying off the mortgage, they can also use the funds from the death benefit to cover:

  • any of your remaining debts,
  • the cost of child care,
  • funeral costs,
  • the cost of child care, and
  • any other living expenses. 

But before you decide between life insurance and mortgage insurance, here are some other important differences to keep in mind:

Who gets the money?

With life insurance, the money goes to whomever you name as your beneficiary.

With mortgage insurance, the money goes entirely to the bank.

Can you move your policy?

With life insurance, your policy stays with you even if you transfer your mortgage to another company. There’s no need to re-apply or prove your health is good enough to be insured.

With mortgage insurance, however, your policy doesn’t automatically move with you if you change mortgage providers. If you move your mortgage to another bank, you’ll have to prove that your health is still good.

Which offers more flexibility, life insurance or mortgage insurance?

With life insurance, your beneficiaries have the flexibility to cover the mortgage balance and more after you die. As the policy owner, you can choose how much insurance coverage you want and how long you need it. And, the coverage doesn’t decline unless you want it to.

With mortgage insurance through a bank, you don’t have the flexibility to change your coverage. In this case, you’re only protecting the outstanding balance on your mortgage.

Do you need a medical exam to qualify? 

With a term life insurance policy from Sun Life, you may have to answer some medical questions or take a medical exam before you’re approved for coverage. Once you’re approved, Sun Life won’t ask for any additional medical information later on.

With mortgage insurance, a bank or mortgage lender may ask some medical questions when you apply. However, if you make a claim after you’re approved, your bank may ask for additional medical information.* At that point, they may discover some conditions that disqualify you from receiving payment on a claim.

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Real Estate

5 common mistakes Canadians make with their mortgages




This article was created by MoneyWise. Postmedia and MoneyWise may earn an affiliate commission through links on this page.

Since COVID-19 dragged interest rates to historic lows last year, Canadians have been diving into the real estate market with unprecedented verve.

During a time of extraordinary financial disruption, more than 551,000 properties sold last year — a new annual record, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. Those sales provided a desperately needed dose of oxygen for the country’s gasping economy.

Given the slew of new mortgages taken out in 2020, there were bound to be slip-ups. So, MoneyWise asked four of the country’s sharpest mortgage minds to share what they feel are the mistakes Canadians most frequently make when securing a home loan.

Mistake 1: Not having your documents ready

One of your mortgage broker’s primary functions is to provide lenders with paperwork confirming your income, assets, source of down payment and overall reliability as a borrower. Without complete and accurate documentation, no reputable lender will be able to process your loan.

But “borrowers often don’t have these documents on hand,” says John Vo of Spicer Vo Mortgages in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “And even when they do provide these documents, they may not be the correct documentation required.”

Some of the most frequent mistakes Vo sees when borrowers send in their paperwork include:

  • Not including a name or other relevant details on key pieces of information.
  • Providing old bank or pay statements instead of those dated within the last 30 days.
  • Sending only a partial document package. If a lender asks for six pages to support your loan, don’t send two. If you’re asked for four months’ worth of bank statements, don’t provide only one.
  • Thinking low-quality or blurry files sent by email or text will be good enough. Lenders need to be able to read what you send them.

If you send your broker an incomplete documents package, the result is inevitable: Your mortgage application will be delayed as long as it takes for you to find the required materials, and your house shopping could be sidetracked for months.

Mistake 2: Blinded by the rate

Ask any mortgage broker and they’ll tell you that the question they’re asked most frequently is: “What’s your lowest rate?”

The interest rate you’ll pay on your mortgage is a massive consideration, so comparing the rates lenders are offering is a good habit once you’ve slipped on your house-hunter hat.

Rates have been on the rise lately given government actions to stimulate the Canadian economy. You may want to lock a low rate now, so you can hold onto it for up to 120 days.

But Chris Kolinski, broker at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based iSask Mortgages, says too many borrowers get obsessed with finding the lowest rate and ignore the other aspects of a mortgage that can greatly impact its overall cost.

“I always ask my clients ‘Do you want to get the best rate, or do you want to save the most money?’ because those two things are not always synonymous,” Kolinski says. “That opens a conversation about needs and wants.”

Many of the rock-bottom interest rates on offer from Canadian lenders can be hard to qualify for, come with limited features, or cost borrowers “a ton” of money if they break their terms, Kolinski points out.

Mistake 3: Not reading the fine print

Dalia Barsoum of Streetwise Mortgages in Woodbridge, Ontario, shares a universal message: “Read the fine print. Understand what you’re signing up for.”

Most borrowers don’t expect they’ll ever break their mortgages, but data collected by TD Bank shows that 7 in 10 homeowners move on from their properties earlier than they expect.

It’s critical to understand your loan’s prepayment privileges and the rules around an early departure. “If you exit the mortgage, how much are you going to pay? It’s really, really important,” Barsoum says.

She has seen too borrowers come to her hoping to refinance a mortgage they received from a private or specialty lender, only to find that what they were attempting was impossible.

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