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.