Wednesday, December 30, 2009

After the holidays...

You know what I love about cooking? You can never out cook yourself, and you will never ever run out of new things to learn or taste. Food can bring back memories, evoke new ones, bring comfort or excitement. You can learn about a culture by the meals they enjoy, and can make new friendships that surpass any language or religious barrier solely by exchanging your passion. I love that my 'hobby' is a life necessity, and so even though it often feels like luxury to savor a bite of a perfectly roasted chicken or a carefully hand dipped chocolate, I need to eat each and every day and that will never end. I can make it as exciting or as boring as I want to. I can nourish my body and my soul at the same time. I can bond with friends, share some of myself with them and make someone feel super special. The best thing of all, is that simple but good quality ingredients pretty much carry themselves, so even if my skill is not that of a top chef, I can let the food sing on it's on and it won't let me down.
Speaking of simple food, it is something I look forward to after a week of feasting on roasts and turkey and perhaps a little too many sweets. So last night I cracked open a box of frozen spinach, sauteed it and added a Bechamel sauce. This is then scooped over perfectly cooked spaghetti and topped with a soft sunny egg, which when cut into oozes it's yellow into the spinach and creates a creamy sensation.

Sunny Side Two Cheese Spinach Spaghetti

Serves 4

Spaghetti, about 4oog
1 tbsp plus 1/4 cup butter
1/2 small onion, finely minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 box frozen chopped spinach, thawed (I pop it into the microwave for a couple of minutes, then squeeze excess water out - don't worry about getting all of it, sauteing will take care of the rest)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp dried basil (or 1/4 cup fresh, chopped, if you have some on hand)
pinch nutmeg
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 - 2 cups milk
1/4 cup finely shredded hard cheese, like Parmesan or Romano
1/4 cup plain cream cheese
salt and pepper
4 eggs

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta for four people. Drain, rinse and set aside.
On low heat, melt 1 tbsp butter in a large saute pan and add the onion. Gently saute without allowing it to brown, 2 - 3 minutes. Add garlic, saute another minute.
Turn heat to med-high, add spinach and 1/2 tsp salt. Cook, stirring often, until evenly wilted and most of the moisture has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
Add basil, nutmeg and white pepper.
Stir in flour, incorporate completely.
Slowly add milk, a little at a time, stirring constantly, adding enough to achieve a creamy consistency.
Remove pan from heat. Stir in hard and cream cheeses, until melted.
Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.
In a separate saute pan, on med-high heat, cook eggs in a little hot oil for a couple of minutes, until whites are solid but yolks are still runny. I lightly salt my eggs as they cook to bring out just a little more flavor.
To serve, swirl some spaghetti on a plate, top with a scoop of creamed spinach and the egg.

And next time someone asks you what you make when you need something quick, don't say frozen pizza, say Two Cheese Spinach Pasta!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Input, anyone?

Spring cleaning always comes early at my home, perhaps I should rename it "spring" mad organizing, because I turn into a Nester in which everything needs a home and should remain there, for at least a little while! (I won't even begin to tell you how it was when I was 9 months pregnant one January a few years ago...) Allow me to take you on a little tour on the before and after of my kitchen. Well, it's more of a before and in-between because I am dreaming of finally finishing this much used and loved space.


Notice the small space to the left of the stove - this is where all the magic happens, and yes, it is just shy of two feet in length. Now I can totally manage with this, if anything, I clean and put away dishes much more efficiently than ever before. I do have a nicely sized glass table but unfortunately it is not a comfortable source for a 5 ft (almost) 11 lady to chop her veggies, and so I very much am wishing for a kitchen island, see below. I have also been debating whether or not to paint the walls, and if so, what color to paint them with. I adore green, and love the shade in my kitchen. However I am not crazy about what it does for, or doesn't do for, my kitchen cabinets. I would like them to blend into the wall a little more, and so eliminate the cabinet, bulk head and ceiling contrast. Any opinion would by highly valued; should it be the same brown-grey of my dining and living room, or a shade lighter? The other option would be a much lighter color, more of a linen. I think this would brighten up the kitchen quite a bit, but I wonder how it would do with the cabinets and the transition to the dining room. On a side note, I have a glass table with four chairs in great condition for sale...!
For the walls I am thinking of mounting two open shelves to replace the art wall which could bring a little more sophistication, and then a series of dark frames with photography instead of the painting (for which I have a great new spot in the house) on the opposite wall.
And lastly, depending on how comfortable I feel to beg for just one more thing to happen in my kitchen (aside from maybe just maybe two low back bar stools), I would like to tile the back splash: natural stone 3 x 3 tiles or small glass or ceramic tiles - either way I would go with colors similar to the counter top.

In the end the question I need to ask myself is this: do these changes accomplish something I only want, or would it truly make a difference in my everyday life?! I tend to go with both, which doesn't make the decision process any easier!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Exciting drop biscuit update!

It's been a truly wonderful Christmas this year, as it is every year, but this one just felt a little *extra* special. I have to brag and say that our dinner was stunning - Beef Tenderloin, stuffed Mushrooms, Asiago Risotto, Caesar Salad and the biscuits you see above. I wanted to relieve my mother in law of all the work that goes into a traditional turkey dinner, and allow her to sit back and enjoy the festivities. This also gave me the chance to change things up a little, as I tend to do, and I decided on a festive, but definitely not traditional meal. Originally, I meant to make a puff pastry type bread stick, to replace the dinner roll, but I was a little over ambitious and so decided to fall back on a trusty staple - my drop biscuit recipe. I did, however, use the filling for the puff pastry recipe in the biscuits. Where I would normally go for a sharp cheese and herb I instead turned them into Sundried Tomato and Basil Biscuits. Now for anyone who loves sundried tomatoes as much as I do, I just know this is as exciting to you as it was to me. Sun soaked tomatoes baked right into a fluffy biscuit and hit with some basil is a simple pleasure I will forever enjoy.

Here's the basic biscuit recipe:

Drop Biscuits
Makes 12 biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 450 F (230 C). Prepare pizza stone or baking sheet.
In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter. Add the milk and flavourings and mix only until the dry mixture has been absorbed.
Drop by heaping spoonfuls (12 even portions) onto a pizza stone.
Bake for 12 - 1 5 minutes, until golden brown

For the Sundried Tomato and Basil version you need:

1 small garlic clove, peeled
6 oil packed sundried tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil (or if you are whipping these up spur of the moment, and aren't well stocked with fresh herbs, use 1 tsp dried basil)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
optional - 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, which the biscuits in the photo do not have, as there was plenty of cheese in the meal already, but I am pretty sure it would be a beautiful addition

Puree garlic clove in food processor, then add sundried tomatoes, basil, oil and salt. Sitr into biscuit dough.
Fold in the cheese, if using.
Bake as in basic biscuit directions.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My very own Lasagna

Okay folks, here it is... a recipe I made 100% from scratch and without any inspiration from any source, using some of the knowledge of food I have gained over the last few months. I do cook without a recipe quite often, but this one is worth publishing, I think, even though perhaps it is nothing spectacular and I am sure that somewhere out there, someone has made this probably much better than I. I did, however, get the stamp of approval from my family on this one, and I am pretty sure we will be making this a staple.
What I have made is what I call a Bacon Chili Bean Lasagna. It feeds 6 - 8 for under $10 and pairs quite nicely with either a Caesar Salad, or torn leaf lettuce with Balsamic Vinaigrette. This Lasagna is not like some other Mexican inspired tortilla shell casseroles, but takes on more of a southern flavour, one of home made refried beans with a variety of textures and flavours that do not get lost in putting it all together. Sweet corn contradicts salty bacon, chewy cheese balances the starchy beans, fresh parsley cuts the heat of the chili. All this in a fresh tomato base. I am happy with the result.

Bacon Chili Bean Lasagna
Serves 6 - 8

8 slices Bacon, small dice
1 medium or two small Onions, small dice
2 Carrots, medium dice
1 Celery stalk, medium dice
2 cloves Garlic, crushed
3 tbsp Tomato Paste
3 medium ripe Tomatoes, medium dice (skin on)
1 cup Tomato Puree
1 - 2 tbsp Chili Powder, according to personal taste
1/2 chicken bouillon cube
1/2 - 1 tsp Salt, according to taste
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
1 tsp dried Oregano
1 can Black Beans, 540mL, drained
1 can Red Kidney Beans, 540mL, drained
1 cup frozen Peaches and Cream Corn Kernels
9 Lasagna Noodles
1 cup shredded Marble Cheddar Cheese
about 1/4 cup roughly chopped flat leaf Parsley

Saute bacon in a large saute pan over high heat until crisp. Remove bacon, lower heat to med-low. Add onions, carrots and celery, sweat in the bacon fat without browning until soft.
Add tomatoes, tomato paste and tomato puree, plus a pinch of salt to release water in the tomatoes, garlic, chili powder, bouillon cube, oregano and black pepper.
Simmer on med-low until it has been reduced to puree consistency, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. (Do not use no cook noodles.)
Preheat oven to 375F.
Use a potato masher to gently smash beans. You want to release the starch, but avoid loosing all shape and form of the beans.
Add the reserved bacon and the corn (no need to cook it). Heat to warm throughout. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt, pepper and chili powder.
Place about 1/4 of the bean mixture on the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Top with three noodles, then layer: 1/4 of the bean mixture, 1/2 of the cheese, 3 noodles, 1/4 bean mixture, 3 noodles and the remaining bean mixture.
Cover the baking pan with tin foil.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.
Remove the foil, sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese and parsley. Bake for another 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted.
Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

We love to bake them, we love to eat them.

Christmas is not only about the birth of Jesus, good food with company and presents galore, but also about creating family traditions. I am the first to admit I like things a little different and freshened up every year, but there are some little tidbits that I love to do every year, and I added a new one just today. I had these cookies in mind last year, but it was Christmas Day when I thought of them, a little too late for making it out to the grocery store. Instead I made a note in my day timer, for Christmas 2009. Here they are, Candy Cane Chocolate Chunk Cookies!

Chewy Candy Cane Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Makes 3 - 5 dozen, depending on how big you like your Christmas cookies... I usually end up with about 3

2/3 cup melted Butter
2 cups lightly packed Brown Sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp Hot Water
2 2/3 cups Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
300g large chocolate chips or baking chocolate, chopped into chunks
1/2 cup crushed Candy Canes (another great opportunity to give food a good beating)

Beat butter, brown sugar, eggs and hot water together.
Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Add to butter mixture.
Stir in chocolate and candy canes
Drop by tbsp fulls onto parchment paper lined cookie trays.
Bake at 374F/190C for 8 to 10 minutes. (Take cookies out when just the centers look slightly undercooked, they will firm up as they cool off, and will remain chewy)

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Motor that drives me.

For some reason, on some days, I forget what it is I am doing on this culinary journey. There is no diploma awaiting me in June, and I am pretty sure I don't want to work the line in a restaurant. But then I remember - I don't just want to cook great food, but I also want to know why it is great and how it got to be great. Not only do I want great flavour, but I want depth of flavour. I love living simply, but food should be complex! I don't want to be bound to recipes and formulas, but instead understand what I am working with and create my own signature meals. I want to achieve excellence, even if it's just for me and my family to enjoy. I want to rock the budget I have and make a stunning weekly menu. I want to be healthy now and also in my 50's - which are the years, if you ask me, when we should be out travelling the world, not stuck in doctor's offices. (You'll probably find me in Tuscany or somewhere in France, checking out the local culture through the food they eat.) And, tucked away somewhere amongst the many other things I would like to do, is a desire to get North American kids growing up on more than just hot dogs and Kraft Dinner. How? When? Who knows... but I think this could very well be my "getting there", when I "arrive" at where I am supposed to be. Not that we ever truly arrive, since tomorrow always lurks around the corner, and to do lists and dreams never go away (and nor should they).
This week I have learned what braising does to a chicken, especially with the bone left in. It is magnificently moist and flavourful. Basically, braising is roasting with liquids in the pan. I made Chicken Fricassee, from a whole chicken split nicely into 8 parts, lightly seared, topped with chicken stock and some other fine ingredients including a sachet of celery, bay leaf and parsley stems - there's plenty of flavour in those stems! - and gently roasted on a low temperature until the meat fell off the bones. Then comes the best part; the depth and layers of flavour in the broth extracted from the chicken and the bones during cooking is reduced and thickened. It's in these simple sauces where we often get the most wow. It is the component in a meal that pulls it all together, in this case, the chicken with the homemade Spaetzle and simple green beans. I'd have to say, these kind of meals are my kids' favourite, even if the older one to my horror asked for ketchup (I did not give in to her, and she did not miss it.) This week I am also going to attempt my first sour dough starter, and make clam chowder from scratch. I am very much looking forward to Christmas Dinner in just a few days... 86 the turkey, and make room for Beef Tenderloin and some tasty, very un-Christmassy sides. Change is good!

Here's what's on the menu at my home:

Soup and Salad
New England Clam Chowder
Fresh and crunchy Carrot Salad

Chicken Fricassee
over Spaetzle and blanched green Beans

Ratatouille (since every home should serve this at least once!)
over Rice Pilaf

Southwestern Grilled Salmon Sandwiches
with Three Bean Salad

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Please DO try this at home.

Pecan Tassies
Makes 4 dozen

250g pkg. Cream Cheese, softened
1/2 cup Butter, softened
1 1/2 cups Flour
1 Egg
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1 Tbsp Butter, melted
1 tsp real Vanilla Extract
115g plus 60g good quality Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips (I recommend Ghiradelli, as was recommended to me)
1 cup roughly chopped Pecans, divided

Grease mini muffin pans.
Beat together cream cheese and butter until well combined. Stir in flour. Gather the dough into a ball, adding more flour if overly sticky. Divide into 48 balls (about 3/4 inch thick) and place one into each muffin tin. Press onto sides and bottoms, about 3/4 of the way up on the sides, then chill while preparing the filling. If you do not have enough muffin tins to bake all 4 dozen at one time, chill the remaining dough balls while baking the first batch.
Whisk together egg, sugar, 1 tbsp melted butter and vanilla until well blended. (Stir several times while filling the pastry as the sugar can settle to the bottom.)
Place one chocolate chip and 1 tsp (or a 1/4 piece of a pecan, as I did) pecans in the bottom of each shell. Spoon the egg mixture evenly over top (about 3/4 of the way to the edge of the pastry shell). Sprinkle with remaining pecans.
Bake at 350 F, 25 - 30 minutes. Cool in the pan placed on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Pop Tassies out using the edge of a teaspoon. Drizzle with melted chocolate on top. Chill.

Christmas Baking

Taking risks can be a lot of fun, it adds that certain zest - or should we call it spice - to life. Sometimes we fail, but more often than not, we find ourselves with a new skill, a new hobby, maybe even a new home or job. When cooking for others, however, we apparently must never ever take these risks, we should only serve what we know best, and at least taste as we prepare in order to know what is ending up in our guests mouths. But, in the spirit of learning, I decided to bake a cookie for my Christmas Cookie Exchange Party which I have never tried before, nor had I heard of them, but reading through the ingredients and instructions, I found a few new skills I so desired to put under my belt. So I selfishly decided to allow not only my family but now also my friends to be my lab rats. And now I can say I have made a sort of a pastry dough, with a filling to boot and I have successfully melted chocolate on a double boiler. Never mind smashing a baggy of pecan halves with my rolling pin, to acquire roughly chopped pecan bits. That, my friends, is something we should all do.
I needed 8 dozen cookies for the party. My mini muffin pan holds two dozen each, and one recipe makes 2 muffin trays exactly. Which means, if I wanted to taste these little gems, I would have had to make up yet another batch of Tassies. But time was running out and I still had Biscotti to whip up to enjoy with coffee... So I took that risk, and divided my contribution to the party into 8 zip tie bags, without knowing what I was giving away. On a side note, I found out with much embarrassment that cookies for an exchange party should be presented in pretty wrapping?! Next year, ladies, next year - watch out!
It turns out Pecan Tassies are quite enjoyable, they are not overly sweet which my European palette appreciates, and I love how pretty they look beside an assortment of other treats (even without pretty wrapping).

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Blueberry Muffins

Ever crave a muffin that has a proper crusty top like a coffee shop muffin, but with the romance of homemade? These muffins are a favourite in our home. The best thing about them is you can turn them into just about anything you have on hand, by replacing the blueberries with chocolate chips, raspberries, or even apples with cinnamon and perhaps a streusel on top. I have, at times, made a few different varieties of muffins with one tray and one batch divided into thirds. Using real vanilla extract does wonders, in my opinion, too. As I make new dishes every day of the week, it can be nice to have a staple to come back to now and again.
I have yet to prove this to myself, but apparently muffins, souffles and the like rise better without papers lining the trays, as they can cling to the butter on the tins and so have a better hold to climb to the top. However, it's the look and convenience of the muffin papers that keeps me going back to them.
Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12 Muffins
3 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
6 tbsp butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1 3/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
Butter or line muffin tins, set aside.
Heat oven to 375 F.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter with sugar with an electric mixer, on medium speed, until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla, mix until well combined. Reduce speed to low, alternate adding flour mixture and milk to mixer, beginning and ending with flour. Gently fold in blueberries with a spoon. (When using frozen berries, leave these in the freezer right until mixing in, or the juices will begin to come out and throw off the muffin batter.)
Divide among muffin tins, sprinkle generously with sugar, if desired.
Bake until light golden, about 30 minutes.
Cool in pan for 15 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Feelin funky...

So I have been feeling a little out of step lately, I am not sure if it's distraction or just the busy-ness of life before Christmas, but I actually feel a knot in my stomach from not writing much lately. I don't have a cute story today, or a new fact, neither have I learnt anything new as of late. But I just need to write! It feels good to be here, which is a funny thing to me since I can be quite bad at talking - I often feel as though I stumble over my words more than I ever make much sense. By which then my head feels clogged with words that need to get out... right now I feel a bit dizzy with thoughts!
As the year comes to a close, I seem to scramble at finishing projects that are long over due and I have this overwhelming drive to organize, purge and discover something new to take me into the next year. So yes, you could say I am distracted. By my house. It's 90% done, and whether it's money or time, I can't quite figure it out, but those last 10% just seem to linger on and on. It hasn't bothered me much in the last year or so, but since the beginning of this month, I just can't stand the sight of unfinished floors, bathroom walls that need fixing, the lack of curtains, and moss green trim around two doors downstairs. I think I must have inspired myself to learn by doing with last weeks post, and so instead of waiting for stuff to get done, I am going to figure out how to do it myself. Don't get me wrong here, my dear husband is not lazy by any means, in fact he's super busy and when there is free time, the kids deserve that time, so the house has been put on a back burner. The problem with repressing these needs for the last while, is what always happens when we hold back words or feelings - they suddenly burst and we bubble over. I am beginning to feel better already...
I must add here that cooking and hovering over a warm stove is what keeps me together at times when other things seem, well, not together. The worry of high heating bills and the need for a new dryer just seem to vanish as I work 4 pots at once or knead a big ball of bread dough. Some days I find myself hiding in the kitchen all day long!
My Gourmet Group had our second dinner last weekend, and I loved every minute of it - not even so much because of the food, all though it was food prepared in ways I had never tried and I did love every minute of that as well - but because here we were, eight ladies, excited about having created a meal together and enjoying each others company. It felt so Christmas-sy, so warm and relaxing. One of our ladies had never tried asparagus (yeah, I was surprised too!) and, oh my goodness, was I excited to be there when she did, almost like being there for a birth of some sort. Who says you need a restaurant, or a chef and wait staff for a good dinner party, entertaining at home is where it's at (for me). I get impatient with myself and my hosting skills at times, it reminds me of being a kid and trying to learn how to play the piano - I just wanted to play and do it perfectly without the trial and error and all that practice. At the same time I don't want to rush this last year before both of my girls are in full day school and I will be back at work (that was the plan from the beginning and I intend to stick it out), but those dollars do tempt me at times. In the meantime I am discovering ways to make things happen using what I have, or looking to nature and and basic items and creating something out of not much. That in itself is an art, let me tell you... but one I hope to keep even when I don't necessarily need to go that route.
So I will sign off with a link to a little something that I like to peek at with my morning coffee just about every day - As much as I love food, I have this thing for decorating, and I love it when a house or a room tells me about who lives there. Most of the spaces on this blog I would never adopt into my own home, but they spark creativity and encourage me to be who I am and to be proud of it! It can be boring to play it safe. I'll leave safety to driving and walking on ice in the winter... Thanks for listening!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Be a doer.

Mozzarella and Prosciutto Pinwheels.

Caramelized Onion, Walnut, Pear and Blue Cheese Tart

Penne Pasta with Italian Sausage, smashed Peas and fresh Basil

Three months... three months of new dinners each and every day = three months of many persuasive words shared with my offspring that what they are about to try may be new, but it is in fact super yummy. Sometimes it was a bit of lie, I suppose, as we all know when you make something the first time it rarely turns out perfect. But on the other hand I am quite impressed with them too, as they have tried many a food I can hardly convince some adult friends to taste. Learning comes by doing though, so doing I will do! If anything I am feeling quite confident to try a new technique or level of difficulty when cooking. It does surprise me a little that I seem to have figured out the direction I would like to call my niche, one of millions of possibilities, much sooner than anticipated. I will continue to get the hang of others as well, since they can often merge into another, as I finish my study books - albeit sooner than later. I am drawn to the world of the Mediterranean and Italian Peasant Food, and as I learn the basics, I would like to spin this with a slight sophistication, in presentation. Peasant food hardly deserves this lowly title, the food is fresh and made by hand, which to me brings out the cooks passion which then results in a beautiful meal. I have written over and over about the rustic beauty of food. I believe that as long as you have a good knife, a thick cutting board and a decent saute pan, you are all set to create culinary excellence. So if in doing we figure these things out, why do we all too often not even try? Here are a few things I have discovered a long the way:
-Menu writing is key.
-Wear an apron! It makes a statement and puts other distractions out of mind.
-Measure, weigh and prep all ingredients, mise en place, after reading all instructions, before beginning to cook.
-Keep the cutlery and utensil drawers open while cooking, for quick access to tools.
-Keep a journal close by to document your own recipes, successes or variations of recipes.
-Decide early on in the day what to make for dinner, or even the day before.
-Designate one cutting board for onions and the like.
-Always keep salad components in the fridge, as this compliments and brings to a new level any meal, from basic to splendid. It could even be the meal all on it's own, within just a few short minutes.
-Find new sources of protein, and create hearty meals. The meat won't be missed!
-Discover the aromatic world of fresh herbs and cheeses. Forget about cheddar for a little while!
-Enjoy candle light and a nice wine with dinner on a Wednesday. Even if it's spaghetti and meatballs. (With salad!)
-Have no fear in expecting kids to eat their veggies. We expect them to stop at red lights when crossing the road, too.
-Make your own salad dressing, and so keep them good for you - three parts olive oil to one part balsamic vinegar, a little salt and pepper, and finely chopped shallots - seriously, how simple is that?!
-And lastly, cooking and eating is often not so much about the food, but about connecting with those around us.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

This one's for you, Tanja!

Inspired by Giada, here's a tummy ache free dinner to impress the British folk. Super easy and super tasty too! This warms up the house with beautiful aromas of garlic and rosemary - and makes great leftovers too, that is, if you have any!

Sweet and Sticky Chicken Drumsticks
with Roasted Potatoes and Caesar Salad
4 - 6 Servings

You need:
1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 cup Honey
1/2 cup Light Brown Sugar
1/4 cup Soy Sauce
5 fresh Rosemary Sprigs
5 Garlic Cloves
10 to 12 Chicken Drumsticks
Combine the vinegar, honey, brown sugar, soy sauce, rosemary, and garlic in a large, resealable plastic bag. Shake and squeeze the contents of the bag to dissolve the honey and brown sugar. Add the chicken drumsticks to the bag and seal, squeezing out as much air as possible. Marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 450F, (230C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
Remove the chicken drumsticks from the bag, reserving the marinade, and arrange them on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the skin is caramelized and very dark in spots, 30 - 35 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the remaining marinade in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook over low heat until thick, about 15 minutes. Remove the garlic and rosemary.
Use a pastry brush to brush some of the marinade on the cooked chicken, use the leftover marinade as a dipping sauce at the table. Place the chicken on a serving platter.

For the roasted potatoes, use big dices of baking potatoes, skin on, toss with a vegetable oil, plus salt, pepper, oregano and some lemon juice. Bake along side the chicken until tender and lightly brown.
Toss romaine lettuce with Caesar dressing, add croutons and Parmesan if you wish, and there you have it... a beautiful, no fail dinner in about 45 minutes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A winner and a loser.

So I came to the realization today that I may have the dinner routine down pat but lunches I have certainly bombed as of late. Or maybe always. My daughter went to school this morning with a yogurt and two cookies, and my husband who requires breakfast, lunch and dinner on Tuesdays, only walked out the door with two of the three. I did intend to pack hot chicken noodle soup for my daughter, but it somehow slipped my mind. Thankfully the school is right around the corner... But a decision was made today to step it up a notch, since who's kid of a food fanatic goes to school with such boring lunches? Mind you, if my dear daughter had her way she would fill it with prepacked junk, just like the other kids have - I suppose the fitting in with others thing has begun. As I do not intend to go that route, I will instead make a menu list, just like my dinner lists, for school and work lunches. I feel that same frustration others have when figuring out dinner when it comes to preparing lunches. The cure for this must be planning ahead!
Off I went to the supermarket, and home I came with fun lunch possibilities. Above is Day #1 - Ham, Cheese and Pineapple Skewers (a straw representing the otherwise poky skewer). I also came up with doing my own pigs in a blanket, yes, using homemade dough, and a tuna roll up. So simple, yet what a relief to me...

Dinner tonight was a total FLOP, Salmon with Lemon Bordette and Sweet Pea Puree. SOUNDS yummy... And I am sure it could have been, but the lemon was so overpowering that it was not edible. The recipe called for the juice of two lemons, plus the zest of one. I am going to blame this on overly large lemons - once again - weight measurements triumphs over "two lemons". I do want to try it again at some point, as the components separately (other than the bordette, which I must tell you I did save the rest of it since I love squeezing lemon juice on potatoes about to be roasted) were incredible. The Sweet Pea Puree was stunning! The reason I wanted to attempt this dish was because it calls for quite a bit of fresh mint pureed with the peas. Peas and mint? Blech! But why not try! Let me tell you, wow! Bracing myself for a peppermint tea slash pea combination which did not come to fruition, I was in love with the fact that this seemingly sweet herb could do savoury so splendidly. And salmon, well salmon is - salmon! I adore simple pan seared salmon.

Here is the kids version:
(I must make a confession and add that I did ask my kids to eat the salmon.)

The somewhat more dressed up grown up version:

Don't be fooled by the nice sear on the fish either, it was way over done... But I did have fun cooking it! And I will be making more vegetable purees from now on, that's for sure.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Curious George I am

OK, so I am a little curious...

Writing this blog has been a surprising way for an introvert like me to process thoughts and ideas - I am astounded at what writing can do, I encourage you all to try it too! But now I would like to here from YOU... because I have no clue how many of you out there read this stuff, have been inspired by it or even used a recipe. So if it's ok, please write me a wee comment today - I figure half way through this thing I may need to come back to these lines to keep me going and continue to make this all that it is intended to be! Now go, write!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Just for the fun of it!

Here's something I found on another blog, but simply had to share, it's looks like way too much fun. And fun in the kitchen is what I am all about!

Have you noticed an increase in expensive kitchen gadgetry for kids, like bendy man spatulas and mouse measuring cups? The aim is to make cooking fun for children. Hello! Put away the credits cards and just do this: Clean an empty plastic ketchup bottle and fill it with pancake batter.
The opening is perfectly sized for making funny pancakes. Before the ketchup bottle discovery, the most I could do to impress my toddler was drop two blobs of batter into the skillet to make a lopsided snowman. Now I can spell names and create turtles, flowers, puppy dogs, caterpillars and bunny ears (well, that one looks more like the “peace sign” hand gesture, but whatever). The point is, the sky’s the limit, almost.
Here are a few tips:
If you’re spelling a name in batter, write backwards so the pretty, golden brown side will be on top when you flip it.
Since the batter expands, it's best to stick to shapes with rounded features, avoiding sharp angles and triangles. Sadly, that means no kitty ears.
Use ¼ more mix than your recipe calls for. Otherwise the batter will be too thin to hold a shape.
To fill a standard 24-ounce ketchup bottle, use about 3 cups of batter.
Add a tablespoon a flax seeds for a tasty health boost. Flax seeds are a great source of Omega-3s, but they also add a mild nutty flavor to pancakes.

Something to check off the list!

I read once that when you can put out a consistent loaf of bread time after time, you understand the ingredients and how they perform and can now claim, "I know how to make bread". Well, today I am happy to announce that I can make bread! Until now it has been trial with lots of error, more of a hanging out by the oven with hopes of success rather than popping it in and being able to walk away until the timer goes. This bread I am talking about is just a basic round loaf of bread, however it's good to know that if I promised someone a round loaf of whole wheat bread, I would be able to follow through on that promise AND know exactly how it would turn out. I am still working on sweet egg bread and have not yet attempted a sour dough. I do have the time to take, the road to knowledge does not need to be a speedy one. This is most certainly not a matter of pride to me, but one of satisfaction and of confidence to move forward from here, with high hopes to attain my goal of making true artisan bread.

It can be more stress than fun the first time one bakes bread, but the joy is always the same when it's all done. The smell and taste of fresh bread can not be tired of, in my humble opinion. I believe the highest compliment to me is to inspire others to step out and try new things in the kitchen too. To share with me in that satisfaction - to be OK with flops, to perhaps do a little dance when it's perfect but most of all to feel that sense of excitement when someone tries your food, and are left speechless. (Especially with food they thought they would never eat!)
So here it is, my recipe with some little tips that make it work:
The recipe is measured by cups and spoons - so please do try it out at your home!
Basic Round Loaf
Makes 4 medium loaves
20 ounces Water, divided (one cup = 8 ounces)
1/2 tsp Sugar
3 tsp Salt
3 tbsp Vegetable or Olive Oil
4 tbsp Malt Syrup
4 cups White Bread Flour
4 cups Whole Wheat Bread Flour
4 tsp Active Dry Yeast
From the 20 ounces of water, use about 5 ounces slightly above room temperature to soak the yeast with the 1/2 tsp of sugar. Let sit for about 10 minutes, or until frothy.
In a large bowl, place remaining water with salt, oil, malt syrup and flours. Add the yeast mixture when it has frothed, combine everything until smooth. Take out of mixing bowl and knead for 10 - 15 minutes, stretching and pushing with your fingers and palms. Drizzle about 1/2 tsp oil into the mixing bowl. Round the dough and place upside down into the bowl. Swirl around several times to coat with oil, then flip right side up. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Preheat the oven at 350 F for 30 SECONDS. Turn the oven off. Ferment dough in the oven for 1 1 1/2 hours.
After fermenting, punch down the dough by folding it like an envelope on all sides. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces (about 475g each), round each section and place on baking stone or parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel and set in a warm, draft free place until doubled, about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 F while the dough is proofing. Place rack on 2nd lowest position. Here you can add a non-glass brownie pan on the lowest rack as you heat the oven. At the same time the bread goes in the oven, add half a cup of water to the brownie pan to add steam to the oven. Remove the pan after 10 minutes. Apparently the steam could potentially damage electric ovens, so the risk may out weigh the benefits. The steam prevents the crust from cracking while at the same time producing a nice crunchy but not hard crust.
When the dough has proofed, remove the tea towel and dust with a little flour using a small sifter. Scour the tops of the loaves with an X, running the knife horizontally over the dough, keeping the full blade in contact with the dough - using only the tip can punch the dough down a bit.
Bake the bread in the preheated oven for about 35 minutes, you will know it is done by knocking on the bottom of a loaf (use an oven mitt to lift it off the baking sheet!) and hear a hollow sound.
Cool bread completely on a wire rack before slicing into it.
These loaves freeze nicely.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quick Comfort

There are days in our house when all we want for dinner is a plate of mashed potatoes and gravy, perhaps with a crunchy salad of dilled cucumbers or simple veggies with dip. Days like these are my favorite to sit around the table and chat with my family about their day, the dreams we have for tomorrow and what we would do with a million dollars, all while listening to fun music. But gravy? Powdered gravy does do the trick (I love Swiss Chalet gravy, which can be found to purchase in powder form), but as I spent a few days on the couch recuperating I had the time to watch Ricardo on Food TV. He made this amazing Hot Chicken Sauce for a Hot Chicken Sandwich. I tried it out last night to accompany meatloaf, and it did not disappoint. But then, coming from a french cook, how could it? The only thing I added was a splash of half and half just before serving. Check it out:

Hot Chicken Sauce
(can easily be halved)

6 tbsp Butter
1/2 cup Flour
1 tsp dry Mustard
1 tsp Chili Powder
1/4 tsp Paprika
1/2 tsp Onion Salt
pinch Cayenne, or to taste
4 cups beef broth
1 tsp Worcestershire
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Splash of cream, optional

Make a roux out of the butter and flour. Cook on low - med heat for a minute, then add seasonings.
Add the broth and Worcestershire, bring to a boil.
Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the raw flour taste is gone.
Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Splash with a little half and half or heavy cream if you like a creamier consistency.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Menu, Senior Style

Well, it's been 3 days since my surgery and I am up and back at it. Recovery was super speedy, an answer to prayer that's for sure - turning fear into faith can be pretty amazing. I'll be applying that to other areas of my life! A faith that almost looks careless to people looking from the outside in... somehow that finally makes sense. It's so great to know that God truly cares about all those details of our every day lives. What sweet relief, having climbed this 'mountain' which, in the end, turned out to have a tunnel carved right through the middle. Does that make any sense? It does to me...

My menu this week could be titled, "Soft Foods from around the World". I am looking forward to making my first Souffle and also trying out Tofu on the family. This week there is no soup of any kind, I've simply had too much of it the last few days.

Italian Style Meatloaf with Gravy
Mashed Potatoes and Sweet Green Peas

Salmon Souffle
Baby Greens with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Noodle Bowl with Stir Fried Vegetables, Tofu and Peanuts

Spaghetti with fresh Tomato Sauce
Broccoli Salad

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Last Supper

What would you eat for your last supper? I realize it's not the end of the world, but in a way tomorrow is the end of food for me for, well, at least a little while. Perhaps I will drop those 5 pounds I have been so dearly holding on to? They have never bothered me much, my love for all things food surpass the worry of a few little poundlets clinging closely to my mid-section. Tomorrow I will finally give in to something I have put off for literally 8 years, I am having my wisdom teeth pulled. I think all the years of worry have left no worry remaining for these last moments, similar perhaps to crying over a good - bye, only to discover at one point there are no tears left. I have made my hubby-do lists and checked them twice, cleaned the house, did ALL the laundry (when does that ever happen?) and stocked the freezer with loads of junk (frozen meals = overpriced junk!). To which my husband replied, "You should have your wisdom teeth removed more often"! I choose to ignore this, as I know he patiently remains my guinea pig in this culinary experience I will probably never leave behind. He does deserve a frozen burrito once in a very blue moon. So what was my 'last supper'? Homemade pizza! Surprised? I was too, as there are so many other things I could have had. But there is just something overly comforting about a good slice of pizza. To no surprise, however, delivery just won't do for me - it simply has to be my sponge method dough (this time whole wheat), fresh marinara made from plump, ripe tomatoes and beautiful basil. I used shredded block mozzarella this time, so I decided to cut the basil into shreds as well, and discovered along the way that my kids will gladly eat the "green stuff" on their pizza like this. In other words not only was my last supper delicious, but it was peaceful at the table, just a few mmmmmm's to be heard. On regular pizza nights, I tend to be a one slice kind of a girl, but today I had three along with a nice blend of baby greens and even dessert. How often can you fill up to the brim without regretting it later? Since I won't enjoy another meal for at least 48 hours, I figured today was that kind of a day.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip with Avocado Cookies

Since the summer, I've been buying an avocado or two a week, but lately they seem to go bad on me before I get around to eating them. I must simply be in the habit of putting them in the grocery cart, and avocados being one of those foods I have to be in the mood to eat, they have not made it to the plate lately. Could be a summer mood for me... how apples are in the fall. But alas, who knew avocados could make a good replacement for butter in cookies?! If you've ever tried applesauce, you know that a cookie is just not a cookie with it. Using avocados, on the other hand, makes a magnificent cookie, perhaps one of the better ones I have ever had! And who can argue with replacing some bad fat with the good stuff. Don't tell the kids, until they are about to take a bite, "By the way, there's avocado in those, mwahaaha"! I am not a huge advocate of 'hiding' veggies in foods as a way to get kids to eat them - since a tablespoon or so of veg simply doesn't count as a serving, and I think it's super important for kids to learn about the colorful stuff, to discover it's taste and texture, and so create a love for it. It's most certainly hardly ever love at first sight, but I am not afraid of expecting my kids to try something they think they don't like. Here it's the cookies that benefit from the vegetable - well, technically it is a fruit.
I hope you try these!

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip with Avocado Cookies

Makes 30

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 peeled, mashed avocado
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp real vanilla extract
1 cup flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups rolled or quick oats
1/2 cup shredded coconut (dessicated will make a denser cookie)
3/4 cup good quality chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Heat the oven to 190C/375F.
Lightly grease or line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Beat butter until smooth. Add sugars, beat for 2 minutes or until light and fluffy.
Gently beat in avocado.
Add the egg and vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda and salt, mix into batter.
Add the oats and coconut.
Fold through the chocolate chips and walnuts.
Drop by teaspoon size on a baking sheet, flatten lightly with fork.
Bake for 10 - 15 minutes, or until lightly golden.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

No poo for you!

My kids like to argue sometimes about who knows more than the other, this is usually followed with an intervention by mom and turned into a situation of love and respect for one another. But on occasion, I just like to listen from a distance, to see what happens if left alone. This time, the older one was boasting about her knowledge of Poutine (I didn't catch how they got onto the subject, but that's really not important), knowing full well that the younger one had never had the privilege of taking part in this wonderful Canadian fast food (we don't do much fast food at our house). As the younger one tries to come up with what she thinks it is, and the older one continually shooting her down, she eventually storms out of the room, proclaiming, "Well, poo (as in POUtine) is an 'unapropriate' word anyway!". I did not make it into the room to intervene, as I was holding back a good belly laugh. Clearly, they are both smart in their own special way. And I will never look at Poutine the same way again!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sachet with garlic and herbs.

Too much going on in a small space!

But it won't be the last time...

The Result

What a day of cooking it was! I now very much believe in practice runs for big meals like a Sunday Roast, I think it will take a few more before I do the 'real thing'. Two ovens would be helpful, too. "Next house", as my husband kindly encourages me. The actual executing of this meal in reality is quite simple, it's the timing of all the steps that can throw a curve ball. At one point I found myself baking Popovers, resting meat, reducing sauce, boiling vegetables, and frying potatoes simultaneously. Oh, and drinking coffee to keep me alert! I think I did OK, but I would only give myself a 5 out of 10 for this one since the Popovers were a bit dark (but not burned, phew!) , the meat wasn't TOO dry, although I am sure it would have been a lot juicier if it hadn't sat for 45 minutes as I baked the Popovers (this is where the two ovens would come in handy), and the potatoes were not as caramelized as they should have been. The sauce, however, was almost divine! I absolutely adore reduced liquids, this one being no exception. I used the braising liquid from the roast, made a roux out of the fat which I stirred into the broth and then reduced. The braising liquid consisted of a mirepoix of onion, celery, and carrot, plus a sachet with a bay leaf, thyme, garlic and peppercorns, plus tomato paste and brown stock. I do wonder if a roast would still be a roast if I wrapped it in some sort of a fat, like bacon, to keep it from drying out? The flavour and tenderness of my roast were quite nice, I can be picky when it comes to beef. I think, too, if kids can chew a piece of meat in under a minute, it's definitely got the right consistency. Perhaps trying a different cut would bring different results as well, as I used a pretty lean Inside Round. Regardless, it was fun, my kitchen was toasty warm (I love that on cold days!) and the dog was thrilled to take part of the fatty bits which us girls do not like to eat.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I know we say this all the time, but it's really hard to believe how fast time slips on by. It always hits me when the time changes to winter time - that very first time it gets dark at 5:30 is tough for me, as I need my daily dose of sunshine! On sunny days in the winter, I have a two o'clock appointment with my couch in the family room, as the sun drenches it for a good hour. What a perfect way to catch some Zzzzz's and that all important Vitamin D to chase the winter blues away. I did finally come to the conclusion this year, however, that Fall is my favourite season of all. The summer heat turns into crisp air, the colors all around are super vibrant, and the food is rustic and aromatic. Today I am attempting my very first real pot roast - in the past these have always been made in my slow cooker - along side a bunch of sides and even Popovers. There is no special occasion to celebrate, in fact, my husband won't even be at dinner tonight, so consider this a practice run! I feel as though I have had many firsts in the kitchen since I began my journey two months ago, and as I learn more, I realize how much I really do not know! Kind of like when you begin your twenties after the know-it-all teen years. I meant to put together a list of 10 things I have learned so far, but I just can't come up with much! Sure, I have learned some new knife skills, and how temperature is vital to the outcome of all food, but to put all that into a list, I just don't know where to begin! On the other hand, I did discover that biscotti originally were dipped in sweet wine, not coffee... how's that for a fun fact? I've noticed that I've gone through a heck of a lot of butter lately (good thing it's so cheap across the border!), that yeast does not allow for any short cuts, and weighing ingredients rather than using cups and measuring spoons gives much better results. I have noticed, too, that I haven't been eating as much as I thought I would before starting this - which confirms to me that eating small portions of rich food replaces the alternative just fine. Oh, and the dust in my house, from all that flour flying around the kitchen, can be a little frustrating at times since I can not stand the look of dust on my dark furniture! What I have loved the most so far is trying out all sorts of new foods, as the possibilities truly are endless, and creativity never needs to be suppressed. I am most definitely only scraping away at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the science of cooking. Did you know that browning meat does not help to seal in the juices? It adds some nice flavour and certainly does a lot for the visual part of eating, but when it comes to retaining juices, exact cooking time, as well as temperature and some technique are key the components.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Move over Cambell's

It's that season again, and I am not talking about the holidays, but the one of stuffy noses, sore throats and upset tummies. It's clear by now that I am a huge fan of soups and stews of any kind, and this time of year is, in my mind, the official Chicken Noodle Soup season. I don't know about you, but canned soup generally leaves me feeling parched for water due to salt overload. It simply lacks that burst of flavour only homemade soup can bring. Stock from scratch most certainly tops it all, but it is possible to pull off a delicious soup with the (dare I say it) canned stock variety. My pantry is never out of chicken bouillon cubes either, since a soup craving can strike at any moment with me!
For a little twist on original Chicken Noodle Soup, but still retaining the feel good qualities of the original, try this Chicken and Tortellini Stew. It's super fast to put together, especially if you have leftover cooked chicken in the fridge. It's perfect for a chilly fall day!

Chicken and Tortellini Stew
Serves 6

2 cups water
1 14 ounce can chicken broth
6 cups roughly chopped fresh spinach (about half a bag)
1 1/2 cups sliced carrots (about 3 medium)
1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch slices
2 cups dried cheese filled tortellini
1 red or green sweet pepper, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, cut into bite-size wedges
1 tsp dried basil, crushed
1/2 tsp dried oregano, crushed
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 cups chopped cooked chicken

1. In a large stock pot, combine water and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Stir in spinach, carrots, zucchini, tortellini, sweet pepper, onion, basil, oregano, and black pepper. Reduce heat. Simmer, covered, about 15 minutes or until the tortellini and vegetables are nearly tender.

2. Stir in the cooked chicken. Cook, covered, about 5 minutes more or until tortellini and vegetables are tender.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

No ketchup please!

My kids did not miss the massive amounts of ketchup they usually gobble up with their burgers this time, as this recipe twists original burger toppings ever so slightly and creates a new and kid-friendly way to dress up a burger. In the end, they use less of everything, which is less mess for me to clean up, and a whole lot less sugar in their bellies. And that makes a mommy happy.
Team Favourite Turkey Burgers
4 Servings
1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs
3 tbsp ketchup
4 tsp dill pickle relish (splurge and buy the good stuff)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 pound uncooked ground turkey or chicken
1/3 cup mayonnaise
4 romaine leaves
8 tomato slices
4 whole wheat burger buns, split and toasted
Preheat broiler (or saute pan - I simply pan fried mine). In a large bowl combine bread crumbs, 2 tbsp ketchup, 2 tsp relish, garlic, salt and 1/8 tsp pepper. Add ground turkey; mix well. Shape into four 3/4 - inch thick patties.
In a small bowl combine mayonnaise, remaining 1 tbsp ketchup, remaining 2 tsp relish, and remaining 1/8 tsp pepper. Set aside.
Place patties on the unheated rack of a broiler pan (or in the preheated saute pan, with a tbsp of oil). Broil 4 to 5 inches from the heat for 14 to 18 minutes or until no longer pink inside (165 F), turning once half way through broiling. (If pan frying, cook for the same amount of time, turning only once, on medium-high heat.)
To serve, place lettuce leaves and tomato slices on the bottom halves of the buns. Top with burgers. Spoon mayonnaise mixture on burgers. Add top halves of buns.
I heard about a trick to make home made burgers keep a flat shape while cooking, rather than puffing up in the middle, like mine always have. I am happy to share that this really works:
When shaping the patties, make an indentation in the middle, as with thumb print cookies, only larger. The middle still puffs up while cooking, but since the middle is now thinner, it ends up even with the sides. I love little tricks like this, don't you?

That's life!

I spent a lovely day in the big city of Toronto this past Saturday, scouring the St Lawrence Market, peeking into the windows of George Brown College (hhmmm, maybe I do want to take some 'real' classes some day) and checking out restaurant supply stores for great deals. I only purchased a few small items, like mixing bowls and dog bone cookie cutters (in order to full fill a promise to my girls that we would make dog biscuits together), all in all it was a bit overwhelming for a small city dweller like me. But now I know where to go to find deals, especially odds and ends I may not find at the local Wal Mart. I wasn't surprised that I would find the best prices in China Town, since all things cheap come from China... my surprise came when all labels read, "Made in India". How ironic is that?! Either way, it works for me. I think the place was called Tap Phang, but I could be wrong. I will probably have to make some calls if I ever want to go back!

So I am feeling a bit under the weather these days, but thank goodness it's just a sore throat and stuffy sinuses for me. However, thinking of food is not always so fun when your appetite is low, so I decided I would make kiddie food this week - since it doesn't take long to get on the table, and I wouldn't have to spend energy on convincing the kids that the strange food in front of them does indeed taste super yummy.

Here's what I came up with:

Team Favourite Turkey Burger
with side salad

Chicken and Tortellini Stew

Zippity-Doo-Dah Shrimp and Pineapple Sticks
with white rice and steamed asparagus

Veggie-filled Quesadillas
with scrambled eggs and fresh tomato wedges

I'll probably mix up four loaves of bread since I discovered time management is vital to keep making home made breads; four loaves done all at once takes much less time than four done on separate occasions.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sauteed Shrimp with Penne Pasta and Puttanesca Sauce

Confidence after the storm.

It's a new day, with a new out look, along side a fresh perspective. When a rider falls off a horse, the most important thing is for that rider to get right back on that horse, or fear will hinder the ability to learn with confidence the next time around. So here I am, back on my horse, putting things behind me and feeling excited about learning yet again. On a side note, my dog got a hold of two chocolate chip cookies today, so I spent a good hour watching his every move to see if he would get sick. (He didn't.) This could not, however, ruin the good day I had begun with a very heart warming experience: My beautiful African friend told me of her children, whom I drove to school this morning, and how they could not sleep last night, awaiting their car ride to school. It's almost bitter sweet, as I think of my own children and of how much they have, and how I often feel they should have so much more. But sweet it is to be able to give something so simple, which means so very much to some one else.

Since I have started my new way of cooking, I often ask myself after a meal, "Would I be satisfied with this dish if I ordered it at a restaurant?" Tonight's dinner was one that appealed to my taste buds on every level; it was bursting with fresh and diverse flavour, it was tender but did not lack texture, and kept my interest right to the last bite. I also love that it feeds at least 5 for under $10. Have a look, I give it a big y-e-s:

Sauteed Shrimp with Penne Pasta and Puttanesca Sauce

Preparation time: 40 minutes

2 tbsp olive oil
4 (large) garlic cloves, minced
28 oz diced tomatoes, canned
3 tbsp Nicoise olives, pitted, chopped
3 tbsp capers, drained
1/2 fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 - 1 tsp red pepper flakes
Salt, to taste
1 lb penne pasta
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
Parmesan cheese, grated, to taste (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. Cook the pasta while preparing the tomato sauce:

Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a large saute pan over low heat; add 2 tsp of garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes (with juice), olives, capers, 1/4 cup parsley and red pepper flakes. Increase the heat to medium and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally until thickened, about 10 minutes. Set the sauce aside.

Heat the remaining oil in a small saute pan over medium heat. Add the reserved garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the shrimp and the remaining parsley, saute for 1 - 2 minutes, then add the shrimp to the tomato sauce. Cook the shrimp in the sauce for an additional 3 - 5 minutes, or until opaque in the center.

Serve immediately with grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

After composing myself, I did get around to making a menu for this week:

Whole Wheat Quesadillas with chicken, jalapeno jack, and mango salsa.
Black Bean salad with Lime Vinaigrette

Sauteed Shrimp with penne pasta and puttanesca sauce

Lasagna (since it's so great for weekend leftovers when the cook is out of town!)

Puree of Cauliflower Soup
with Onion Cheddar drop biscuits

Monday, October 19, 2009

The f word according to me

There are days in every one's life where you want to run away to some place where nobody knows you, a place preferably with plenty of sand to bury your head in. That is always the easy way out, isn't it? But sooner or later we all have to face that one thing that gets us the most. For me, this thing is called Failure. I have opted out on so many things in my life, because of that silly "what if I can't do it" question, lingering in the back of my head, pestering me until I finally give in to it. This year was supposed to be different, and it started out different, but for now it feels as though everything has come to a sudden halt as I feel like a ton of bricks are weighing down on my back, and I find myself wiping a few tears from my eyes.
It was bad enough to have two ladies miss out on our first Gourmet Dinner night, due to my bad planning and communication skills. Here too, a few tears were wiped from my eyes. The dinner itself was beautiful, as we spent time bonding over food and candle light - nothing was burnt, no wine was spilled, no dishes broken. We all went home happy, excited for what our next time together would bring.
The crashing halt came the next day, as I received news that just about all the ladies, except for me, were sick through the night. Here it is, that little word that begins with f, failure. The worst part is, that it wasn't me that was sick, but everyone else, and I had planned the party and it was at my house. My title of foodie has now become foodie whose food may be risky to eat. I immediately think of giving up everything I had started this year, I was ready to say good bye even to this blog - now I was beginning to feel sick, not due to bacteria, but because of what I had done to my best friends... and how my love for cooking and food should be something kept to myself, and not shared with others, even though that goes against every foodies nature. I went to bed early, buried my head in my pillows (since the only sand available is outside in my daughter's sand box, and it's simply not deep enough), tried to shut off my mind and just go to sleep where all is silent and forgotten.
Earlier that day, however, I was at church, as I always am on Sunday mornings, and the message, although simple, ran through my mind, this time with good news and not one of giving up. The message was so simple, I at times had difficulty staying focused. What spoke to me the most was only a little tiny part of the message, but something I knew to be true for years now, something that had pulled me out of a dark time in my life a few years ago. But it came with a different angle this time and went so deep into my soul, I knew it would be something I would go back to at one point in my life. Little did I know that time would come only a few hours later.
The preacher told us a short story of how his wife would kick him out of the house when he felt low, not to get rid of him, but for him to go and help somebody else. Instead of wallowing in self pity, and waiting for something or someone to come pull you out of a situation, go and pull someone out of theirs. I had done this before, but the difference here is that, rather than waiting a day or two or even a week, you go at that moment, without hesitation... Seeing as I was in bed at that time, I decided I would wait until morning, but with determination that I would look failure straight in the face and DO something about it. I would find the first person that I could help, and I was going to DO something for them. And that is exactly what I did the very next morning.
I have been driving a wonderful African lady home in the mornings after dropping off the kids at school for a little while now. I was not able to drive her TO school, as my old car only accommodated 3 children, but - the new one can carry four. She has two kids, and I have two. It works out perfectly! For some reason I just had never acted on it, so today was going to be that day. So on our way home, not only did I finally ask for the spelling of her name (which is a beautiful African name, not so easy to pronounce, even less easy to spell), I got her phone number and offered to pick her kids up and drop them off each and every day, until they get a car this January. The thankfulness in her eyes lifted the heavy burden on my back, and put a spring back into my step. How can such a simple thing change your entire outlook on life... it just does, and it will be something I will never forget and I know will help me through future down falls in life.
As for cooking, well, I feel a little intimidated at the thought of entertaining, but I will continue to learn and, most importantly, bake delicious, hot out of the oven, bread.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Falalala la la la la la!

Ah, the holidays! What a perfect time to break routines, get out of bed late, eat as much as you want (and squeeze in an extra work out hear or there) - but the best part of all must be... once we are filled to brim, relaxed so much our muscles tingle... getting back to the things that make up our day to day lives. I have decided to supplement my "school books" with one from the Culinary Institute of America, since I feel it's along the same lines, but with more recipes. My Cordon Bleu book is mostly a school book - to build a knowledge of food, which is most intriguing I must say, but I do need more meals to chose from - to keep kids and budget happy! Our Thanksgiving celebrations have been carried over into this coming weekend, but look for a new menu in the following week.

Tomorrow is my first Gourmet Night with the ladies - Four courses, 9 ladies and some wine, how divine! Plus tasting new-to-us foods, discovering fresh inspiration, and catching up with friends in between our busy lives, how fun is that!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Let's get back to cooking!

I have added a little something special to my culinary journey, and it's taken up much of my free thought time lately. It's a little something called Gourmet Dinners, which I was introduced to me by a friend and fellow foodie (and much better baker than I). I feel the need to share this on my blog since I think it is a fun opportunity not just for me and my peeps, but should be passed on in a hope to inspire more groups like this.

Here's how it works: Gather a group of 5 - 8 ladies, men, or both. One member is the host - this person creates a full menu with recipes - one course for each participant. For example, the following line up could work for a 7 member group: appetizers, salad, entree, vegetable, side dish, dessert and drinks. The menu can be themed, or not, as long as all courses work together to create a beautiful, harmonious meal. Pick a date for each month - our group is looking at the last Saturday of every month. For every meeting a new host plans the evening, is in charge of the entree and assigns the other courses out to everyone else. You can make a schedule for each month, working on a rotation, so no one gets stuck making vegetables three times in a row. I am hosting our first Dinner, so then next time I will be making the vegetable, the person making the vegetable at my dinner is then in charge of the side dish, the side dish person is now on dessert, and so on. I think this is such a great way to try out new foods, cooking techniques and styles, plus we finally make time to see each others homes (and perhaps get some decorating tips along the way). I know we all get stuck in a food rut from time to time, this could be the thing to break that!

Pass it on

Something else that I think is incredible is Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food. His work is dynamically impacting Britain's food habits and is now in it's beginning stages in the U.S. If you didn't happen to see his Food Revolution on TV, check it out
Put into one sentence, his "mission" is to start a revolution where people teach each other to cook by passing on a new recipe which they have learned, to two other people. These two now pass it on to two more people each, and these again pass it on - by now 7 people have learned a new cooking skill. These 7 do the same, and soon people every where are in their kitchens, cooking, rather than eating out or heating frozen food. I think this could be a great idea for a group of friends to do together. See the above link for detailed instructions, with an outline of how to create such a group. But for most of us who don't have time for a venture of this magnitute, it could be as simple as passing on a favourite family recipe to a few friends, and asking them to pass it on to others.

Anything that gets people excited about cooking and learning about new foods, gets me excited too! Why should we eat the same 5 meals every week? Why shouldn't our kids grow up knowing what a zucchini or what basil is? Let's get back to cooking and enjoy it, too.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Scent of Life!

A funny thing happened to me yesterday: I ran out of onions. Perhaps not a memorable moment to most, but it certainly was to me! I fumbled through my menu and there was nothing I could make - which makes me wonder, if I eat this many onions, do I smell like them too? At one point not too long ago, my fridge boasted 4 different kinds; the average every day white onion, shallots, green onions and leeks. And none of them ended up in the compost! I think most women have moments where we simply must have chocolate, well yesterday I was so stumped at what to make for dinner, I felt the same way about the precious stinky vegetable. It is a vegetable, right? Lucky for me, I had some burgers in the freezer I needed to use up anyway... My kids seemed to be delighted to be eating normal kid food for a change, and I realized how much time I had been spending hovering over the stove lately, as I hung out with the barbecue for a couple of minutes. It felt lazy, but oddly enough was kind of nice, sort of like visiting an old friend. So anyway, that was short lived as I headed straight to the store today and now have a complete pantry again.

And speaking of smelly food, it was Indian night tonight! I have only made Indian food twice in the past 9 years, which is a shame because it's an amazing source for getting all your veggies in. I love that the sauces or liquids in curries are made of vegetables, not heavy cream or a starchy roux. I think here again it's the smell we have to get past. I am reminded of an apartment building I once lived in, with curry loving neighbours - curry that permeated into my apartment and lingered there until the day I moved out. Which very well might be the reason I haven't used curry much in my cooking, that, and my husband needs a little convincing. So I suppose today my skin is onion and curry scented. Which is why I am at my computer, not out with my friends!

One thing is certain, however, food is a big part of who I am, and it's very possible I won't often have long fingernails, smooth skin on my hands, or smell like laundry detergent, but at least I will know who my true friends are!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Corn and Crab Chowder with Basil

Serves 4 - 6

25 mL Vegetable oil
95g Onions, medium dice
1 clove Garlic, chopped
25g Flour

875 mL Mild Fish stock or chicken stock
60 mL Dry white Wine
250g Small Red Potatoes, medium dice
1 bay leaf

250g Corn kernels, fresh or frozen
about 6 Fresh Basil leaves, shredded
250g Crabmeat
125 mL Milk, hot
65 mL Heavy cream, hot (or half and half cream)
to taste Salt and White Pepper

-Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot over moderate heat.
-Add the onions and the garlic.
-Cook over moderate heat until nearly tender. Do not brown.
-Add the flour, Stir into the oil to make a roux. Cook the roux slowly for 3 - 4 minutes, but do not let brown.

-Using a wire whip, slowly stir in the stock. Bring to a boil, stirring to make sure liquid is smooth. Add the wine.
-Add the potatoes and bay leaf. Simmer until the potatoes are tender.

-Add the corn kernels and shredded basil. Return the soup to a simmer.
-Add the crabmeat.
-Stir in the hot milk and cream.
-Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Chalk it up to experience...

It has been an unusually cold week this week, which does not impress me very much. My kitchen, however, is always warm these days as the oven turns out breads and the stove top belly warming meals. I could eat soups and stews with fresh out-of-the-oven bread each and every day this time of year. Perhaps it's my way of comforting the dread of winter approaching! As I had left-over basil from the pizza a few days ago and a box of crab legs in the freezer (since late spring), I made a chowder that happened to need both of these. The girls and I were out shopping for runners after school, so there was little time left for dinner preparations. Chowders don't normally require long simmering times, just enough to soften the potatoes and throw the rest of it together. I love soups that simmer for a long period of time, and how the flavours of individual ingredients come together and create something entirely new. But with chowders I think the opposite is true, as all the flavours are individually intact, and enhance each other, rather than creating a new one. I love that I can taste the sweetness of the corn, the earthiness of the potato and the freshness of the basil. It's the crab along with the cream that pulls it all together to create a harmonious dish.
But there has to be a catch, right?! A couple of years ago, my family and I visited some relatives in California, and the last day there, we shared a meal at a Chinese restaurant. As my kids picked on angel hair pasta and a few familiar vegetables, their 5 year old cousin chowed down one crab leg after the other. She made cracking the legs look like such a simple task, but I am guessing she must have had a lot of practice because when I tried it yesterday it was a disaster! It took me over half an hour for two pounds of legs - which produced just half a pound of meat. At first I attempted cracking them by hand, peeling back the shell and then picking out the meat inside. But since I only had 5 grams peeled after about 10 minutes, I thought there just has to be a better way! I searched my kitchen for tools that somewhat resembled the ones I had seen on Red Lobster commercials. My kitchen came up empty, so I headed for the garage! Luckily I found something, see the photo above! (And yes, it was clean.) Soon I came up with a system of cracking either side of a leg section, then, if the meat didn't come out on it's own, I would jab a chop stick into it. My older daughter is watching me in horror - or perhaps disbelief of what she is witnessing - and absolute disgust at the thought of this ending up in her mouth. Daughter number 2 was delighted to score a pincher of the crab's leg and play with it. I really didn't care what the crab looked like, or how it was extracted, I admit I was stressed and quite hungry! The sun had set and my dog ate two or three crayons (and to his delight, got away with it) by the time all that crab was done! There has got to be a better way to do this, and I will most certainly find it.
Unfortunetly we were out of wine, except for a bottle of sparkling chardonnay, which is not one I would have thought to pair with Corn and Crab Chowder. But at this point who cares, I deserved a little grape juice to go with my dinner! I have had red wine with chicken before, and that was a bad pairing, but somehow the champagne was really nice with chowder. Stranger things have happened...