Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Soups on, again!

Yes, I am about to do it again... get excited about soup, that is. I think my soup thing started as my babies grew to be toddlers and I was introduced to the world of picky eaters. Thankfully, I discovered early on that soups are an amazing opportunity to introduce veggies and even meat to kids who's taste buds are hyper sensitive and would rather not chew on something for hours. Sure it's messy for them to attempt to eat on their own, but who cares if you have to help feed them for just a little longer. Don't worry, this won't turn into a habit, as I don't know of any teenager or adult that would like their mommy to spoon feed them still! Every time a mom asks me what they should feed their finicky eater, without hesitation, I proclaim, Soup! Who doesn't love Cream of Broccoli? Or soft cooked carrots who's nutrients have made their way into a beautiful broth? Soup can be a balanced meal, too - protein can be delivered in so many different ways. Think beans, meat, poultry and dairy.

As the kids grow older, we can make soups a little more sophisticated, check out this Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup. We enjoy it quite often at our house. The wild rice is a little time consuming, however the rest is very simple to put together. Round this out with good bread and butter - stunning!
A gentle reminder to get your recipe entries in - just 5 more days to go until deadline!

Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup
Serves 6
1/2 cup wild rice, washed and drained - use a fine mesh sieve to drain the rice, if you have one
3 cups water
90g butter
100g Onion, chopped fine
150g carrot, cut into small cubes
70g flour
900ml chicken stock
30g butter
200g mushrooms, sliced
300ml milk, hot
to taste salt and white pepper
150ml heavy cream hot - optional
handful of finely chopped parsley

Place the washed rice with the 3 cups of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a rapid boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Take off the heat and let stand for another 20 - 30 minutes, until rice is tender. Drain and set aside.
Once you have boiled the rice, and it is now sitting off the burner, heat the butter in a large stock pot over low - medium heat.
Add the onion and carrot and saute for about 5 minutes, until just starting to become tender.
(Do not brown.)
Add the flour. Stir to combine (this is called a roux) and cook for about 2 - 3 minutes, stirring, but do not allow to get brown.
Gradually add the chicken stock, whisking to blend into the roux. Bring to a boil, continually whisking until thickened.
Lower the heat, allow the soup to gently simmer until there is no taste of raw flour, about 5 minutes.
If you are using home made chicken stock, you will need to skim the soup at this point - all this means is to skim the white bubbles off the top.
While the soup is simmering, heat the butter in a saute pan on medium heat and and add the mushrooms. Cook for about 5 minutes or until tender, then add them to the soup.
Stir the hot milk into the soup, and add the cooked and drained rice. Simmer for a couple of minutes, to heat through.
Season to taste with salt and white pepper.
Ladle into bowls and top with a swirl of hot cream (if using - I don't always do this) and top with a sprinkling of finely chopped parsley.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tears of joy?

I caught myself almost shedding a tear today as I kneaded some basic white dough. Perhaps this has gone a little too far, this peace and joy I feel while making bread?! I encourage everyone to get their hands in some dough and see it from beginning to end... it's a beautiful thing (figuratively and literally).

Bread making is largely something done by feel, one can have estimated times for kneading, rising and all these other things, but temperature, types of flour and so on change these factors from bread to bread. Today I decided to take it to the next level and allow my baking stone to heat up in the oven, then slide the shaped dough onto it once the oven is good and hot. Bread making can seem overwhelming at first, but after having done it so many times, little steps like these are no big deal. It reminds me a little of when I learned how to drive a car. Here in Canada we have the choice to learn on automatic or standard - I chose standard since my roots are German and it is a shame for a German not to drive stick, let me tell you! But while driving such a car, there is a lot to do at once, we must shift gears, watch the road, stop at stop signs and avoid running over pedestrians. I focused on shifting first - and ran through a few stop signs! In bread making, shifting gears is a little like figuring out how the flour comes together with the water, yeast and anything else it may need. Once this is perfected, we can add some extra steps, a stop sign may be likened to a hot baking stone in the oven, or giving the dough a particular shape.
I made Fougasse today. I think it's french. But I could be entirely mistaken. Regardless, it's a baguette style dough, just flour, salt, water and yeast. I love to tear into bread at dinner time, don't you? Crusty on the outside, fluffy on the inside... So fresh, so very handmade, so .... cheap to prepare! It cost me under a dollar to make 6 large Fougasse - and I probably would have spent at least $5 at a bakery. But, really, it's certainly not about the money here, but rather the process that goes into it and the reward at the end when you get to enjoy.
What's the next step? Figuring out how to time my baking right in order to bring friends warm bread more often than now. It's just all that better when shared!
I have no recipe for you today, rather an invitation of bread making together, as I strongly believe in the sharing of knowledge. It can be a 3 hour process, but time flies when you are having fun...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Time, it is a-sailing!

So much seems to have happened these past few weeks. Not only did I turn 31 and am now knee deep in my thirties, but our house is officially green trim free, tile has been laid, I've read a book (well, almost), been on a carriage ride in beautiful Niagara on the Lake, have been out to dinner with friends, have cooked with other friends and enjoyed dinner at anothers home. Of coarse this is only a very quick skim of the things that have "kept" me from my studies. My camera has enjoyed a little rest on the shelf, and so some of the things I have thrown together lately have not been eternally documented. Something that stood out in my mind was a pesto pizza I made, for which I used the sponge dough method - it simply is the best. Pesto is a wonderfully easy, but amazingly luscious thing to make. As soon as the dough is rolled out and ready for the oven, spread a generous amount of Basil Pesto on it and top with a mixture of finely grated Italian cheeses. I used a trio of fresh Parmesan, Asiago and Mozzarella. They complement each other quite well, and since the first two of the three are strong in flavour, not much is needed to adequately cover the pizza.

I feel the need to confess that I purchased a very large box of Chicken Fingers during one of my grocery runs. Having said this, I loving wrapped these in whole wheat tortillas, along side tomato, lettuce and steamed asparagus and added a drizzle of homemade thousand island dressing. To which my husband said with a surprised tone to his voice, "you know, these are actually pretty good"! And they were. I do love chicken fingers.

I decided to dust my camera off today even though dinner was in the comforting category - not overly beautiful in presentation, but it was a soul warming hug I needed on this snowy February day. I've been pretty good at dealing with winter this year, I've hardly caught myself complaining about it at all! But nearing the end of this month, I think we have all had enough as our bodies long for a warmth only the sun can provide.
Not only do I enjoy roasted cauliflower, I love (homemade !) macaroni and cheese, although I hardly ever use elbow pasta, but much prefer a rotini or penne. If you are up for a little stirring and a whole lot of creaminess infused with tender cauliflower, this might be something for you, too. It's a recipe in the works, which means it can be tweaked to your own liking. What I have here for you is the way I love it - it's creamy, a lightly gooey, but still holding it's texture through the al dente pasta. It has a little zip too - add as much or as little Tabasco as you like. I used marble cheese today, but any smooth melting cheese would work. Cheddar is a given, but a cheese like Gruyere would really stand out.

Moni's Super Creamy "Macaroni" and Cheese
Serves 6 - 8

3 cups pasta Use any shape you like, and go up to 4 cups if you prefer a little less creaminess
1/3 cup each butter and flour
3 cups whole milk
1 bouillon cube (big grocery stores carry organic brands, and are filled with real ingredients, however, salt and pepper can be used instead of a cube)
half a head of cauliflower, roughly chopped - about 3 - 4 cups
2 cups finely shredded cheese
1/2 tsp dry mustard
dash or two of Tabasco
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (zip a slice or two of bread in the blender into fine crumbs)
1/2 - 1 tsp paprika

Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water. Place in a casserole dish, and stir in the shredded cheese. Set aside.
Meanwhile, make a roux with the butter and flour: melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then add the flour. Cook, stirring with a whisk, for a minute or two. Add the bouillon cube or salt and pepper and all the milk to the roux. Whisk quickly to dissolve it. Add the cauliflower, and cook over medium or medium-high heat until cauliflower is cooked soft and the sauce has thickened. (Cooking it right in the milk infuses all the flavour and the nutrients from the vegetable into your sauce, rather than losing it in cooking water.) Depending on the size of your florets, this will take between 10 and 20 minutes.
Take the sauce off the heat. Add dry mustard and Tabasco.
Using a blender or immersion blender, puree the sauce until perfectly smooth. Or you may decide you would like a more chunky version - then no blending is needed!
Add this to the noodles in the casserole dish. Stir to combine. (It seems like a ton of sauce, but after baking it's just right!) Top with bread crumbs and paprika.
Bake, uncovered, in a 350 F oven for 30 minutes.
Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

I made a quick honey mustard vinaigrette, which I think works amazing well with a heavy cheese dish, for my baby greens salad.

Mustard Vinaigrette
60 ml olive oil
20 ml cider vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 - 2 tsp honey
salt and pepper to taste

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Love redefined

I am sure you have noticed the lack of beef dishes on my blog. But also the promise of a 'meaty future' to my husband (and a 7 year old daughter who has inherited his steak loving gene). Just as with baking, I find it difficult to put love into preparing beef. I love certain cuts, but they happen to also carry a big price tag: Filet Mignon, or a roast tenderloin, is what I can honestly say I enjoy. New York strip being a close second when barbecued, but other than that I love my veggies and, of course, bread - but especially veggies drenched in olive oil that then soak into fresh bread. Add some fresh herbs and I am a happy lady!

Yesterday I set out to take a less expensive Round Roast (cut from the leg, so it's a tougher cut, but with the right technique - braising - it does get quite tender), in hope of turning it into something spectacular. I carefully sweated out my flavour base: a trio of onion, carrot and celery. Then lovingly added fresh rosemary, sage and bay leaves plus a good amount of garlic. The beef was seared, which doesn't necessarily keep in the juices but does add an element of flavour to the dish. Everything was then topped with some stock and left alone to simmer for a good hour. Sounds yummy! But I just couldn't get in the mood... After an hour or so, I removed the beef, reduced the braising liquid, added a splash of lime and fresh black pepper. Still nothing...

Let's just say my husband gets to eat a bunch of beef over the next few days! I did eat a little - it was very tender, full of flavour. So I would say it IS possible to take a cheap cut of beef and make into something great. For those of us on a budget (and who isn't), this can be great news! But it looks as though this is not a place I personally can cut costs, and that's OK. I am OK with beef just once or twice a month.

So if you are reading this, and following my recipes, be prepared to get depth of flavour, sometimes crisp and fresh, other times robust - out of the ground, off of trees and snipped from an herb garden. That's where the love is! And should I invite you over for lunch some day, you may find yourself eating Bruschetta and Guacamole, with home made crispy bread and pita, of course!

Tomato Bruschetta with Basil

6 ripe tomatoes
fine sea salt
1 clove of garlic, make sure to remove any green from the middle of the clove
1/4 cup olive oil
pinch of cayenne
handful of fresh basil leaves

crusty bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick, about 3 inches in width
olive oil
a few cloves of garlic, halved

Dice the tomatoes into 1cm pieces. Place in a fine mesh sieve over a bowl or the sink. Sprinkle with a generous amount of salt (about 2 tablespoons) and allow the salt to pull the water out of tomatoes for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, mash a clove of garlic into a paste, either with a mortar and pestle or the side of a knife on a cutting board.
In a medium size bowl, combine the garlic, cayenne, olive oil and a handful of roughly chopped basil. When the tomatoes have drained, add them as well. Stir to combine.
Heat up a saute pan to medium high heat, add a good splash of olive oil. Crisp the bread slices on both sides.
Remove bread from the heat and immediately rub them with garlic.
Place a basil leaf on the bread, plus a heaping spoon of the tomatoes, and enjoy!

Add a thin slice of fresh mozzarella on top of the basil leaf to change it up once in a while! YUM.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A challenge and a contest!

Walk into any bookstore, and guaranteed at least one large section of the store is dedicated to cookbooks. Not even the decorating or self help books come close to the amount of options there are for cooks. So why is it that most of us still struggle to get nutritious meals on the dinner plate? Why is it that if we want a 'real' meal, we need to eat out? And why is it we think if we are on a tight budget we should eat Kraft Dinner? I speak of personal experience, but also one of realizing I can turn all of that into something much, much more - and not spend more cash than I had previously. So in the spirit of a love for books, specifically cookbooks, I want to put out a little contest. But what's a contest without a challenge? I challenge you to find a new recipe in one of your cookbooks, prepare it, take a photo of it and write a short blurb about the experience - what you liked, what you would do different, how it inspired you, and so on.
Send this by email to me: moniclark@cogeco.ca
Contest closes on February 28, 2010, when I will send the winner the book in the photo, "Quick Breads", by Linda Collister. We may not all have time to make yeast breads, but quick breads, are just that, quick! Also, the winner's recipe with photo will be posted here on Sprout.
Please make sure to include your full mailing address with your entry. One entry per person. Photos should be a jpg file. Include full recipe and instructions.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Creamy goodness in a bowl.

Risotto. If there something I love about the Italians, it is Risotto. I have made all sorts of these and seem to fall more and more in love with them! This Squash version is inspired by eatingwell.com - it delivers plenty of vitamins A and C along side it's stunning fall flavors. And even though we are headed for spring (what a nice thing to be able to say), I could eat squash in any season. The earthy mushrooms with the creamy rice bring comfort but I think they deliver it in style. Risotto, in my opinion, is simple to prepare and there's no reason to be daunted. After a few tries, I have discovered the right texture for it: lightly al dente, but not crunchy, and creamy but not gluey. Serve with a crisp white wine like a pinot grigio, and you've got yourself a nice meal!

The white wine in this risotto *could be* optional, but, I think it is that little extra something which brings it over the top. I have made it with and without, either way, the risotto received a standing "mmmmmmmmmm"!

Creamy Squash Risotto
Serves 4
5 cups reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth (if you don't have reduced sodium, use 3 cups broth and 2 cups water)
2 tbsp olive oil
3 medium shallots, minced
3 cups peeled butternut squash, 1 cm pieces
2 cups shitake mushrooms (caps only, so buy more than 2 cups), sliced about 1/4 cm thin
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Heat the broth in a saucepan, over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to keep the broth warm but not simmering.

Heat the olive oil in a wide, deep skillet. Add the shallots; cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Stir in the squash and mushrooms; cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.

Add the thyme, salt and pepper, cook for 30 seconds.

Add the rice; stir until translucent, about 1 minute.

Add the wine and cook, stirring until almost absorbed by the rice, about 1 minute.

Stir in 1/2 cup of the hot broth at a time, cooking over gentle heat (just over low heat), stirring constantly, until all the liquid has been absorbed. Continue adding 1/2 cup of broth at time, stirring at all times, until all the liquid has been absorbed, and the rice is creamy and tender. This will take about 30 - 40 minutes. You may have broth left, or you may run out - if so, use hot water to finish it off.

Remove from heat and stir in the cheese.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Must Love Chocolate

As you know Valentines Day is around the corner. But seriously now, it's a little cheesy and far too commercialized for me to get into the festivities of it all, if you know what I mean. At the same time, NOT doing anything sounds like a relationship in a rut of oldness and boring nights in front of the TV. When I think of love, my thoughts often wander to chocolate, so I declare Valentines Day the official day of cocoa, with a little love on the side.

Can't find a sitter? Not to worry, it's easy to impress with these smooth and rather rich Chocolate Pots de Creme. I think just about anyone can make these! A stemmed glass really brings it up to another level, too. Use good quality dark chocolate, it's Valentines Day, after all!

Chocolate Pots de Creme
Serves 2 - can easily be doubled if you include more than just yourselves for Valentines Dinner!
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup whipping cream
2 egg yolks
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3oz (90g) bittersweet chocolate (70%), chopped
whipping cream
icing sugar

Heat milk and sugar in a small sauce pan. Stir at all times, milk scorches very quickly.

Lightly beat egg yolks a medium size bowl. While whisking, pour the milk mixture into the egg yolks. Don't stop whisking, unless you want scrambled eggs!

Return everything to the sauce pan. Cook gently, again always stirring, until mixture comes just to a boil. Continue to cook for 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and chopped chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted.

Pour into two ramekins or small glasses. Chill completely before serving - give it a couple of hours, or even overnight.

Top with a dollop of whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

To make sweetened whipping cream, add 1 tsp of icing sugar to 1/2 cup of cream and whip until thick.

Today is what matters!

Sleep can really work wonders some days. I think I had about 12 hours last night, if you count a couple in front of the TV. I say if you can't make a decision, sleep! Somehow our minds organize all those thoughts and we wake up the next day with new understanding. The outcome of all those hours of sleep is... that I am going to hold off until either January or September 2011 to head to school. It comes down to finances, and I think it is wise to go in with the tuition paid in full, as I don't want to pay off a student loan after I am finished. I want to start a business instead!
I must admit I felt quite discouraged, so much so that not even cooking made me feel better last night (thus the marathon of sleep). It felt horrible being in the kitchen, dicing and slicing away and trying to enjoy it. It oddly reminded of being on a bad date (this being before I met my husband, of course)! My passion was no where to be found. However, having made a decision lifts some of that weight, I can look to tomorrow and most certainly not give up on what I have started. I feel confident that I can use this "gift" God gave me (although I feel like I need to learn so much still to even call it a gift) in some way or another, even now, at home and in my writing. Then today I received an encouraging note from someone I have lost contact with over the years, telling me that she has found inspiration through what I do and that just puts my feet back on the ground. Why worry about tomorrow, when tomorrow will take care of itself. Do what you can TODAY, and give it your all. This is the path that will lead to that tomorrow!
I love Sprout... and I will continue to nourish it, no pun intended. My discouragement had nothing to do with Sprout, but the desire to take it to a higher level.
PS - thanks for listening...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Hungry... for more!

I find myself in an old familiar spot... thinking about my future, trusting God with it, and wondering if or perhaps when I should go back to school. There is no doubt that family and raising kids is my number one priority, but I do wonder about 10 years down the road. The girls will be off to their own college or university studies - will it simply be too late for me to start then? Will I be too old to learn then? So I wonder, do I put the kids "aside" for a year, and make it happen for myself, and in return give them a much better future?
When I put all that noise away, thoughts that I have put to the back of my mind get a chance to voice themselves, and I know that I am hungry for more. Not just food, but knowledge. I love what I have going this year, but I realize it is "just" a filler, a hobby, something that keeps me busy and gives me a break from mommy thoughts and breaking up fights and teaching values. On the other hand, I felt like I have learned so much these past very few months, and I am thinking I should have done this years ago! It goes to show, if we want to learn, the opportunity is there, whether big or small. We never, ever need to sit around and let time go by. We have been given dreams, and I believe these dreams are in direct relation to our gifts/talents, so why not pursue them. And in the end become that person we were created to be.
So it's decision time! I am not sure if it's coincidence that the idea of college came back to mind last week, because when I checked for the registration deadline and saw that it is February the 2nd, I am reminded of how God seems to do things in my life. I used to see it as direction coming in at the very last minute, but have redirected that into direction coming at just the right time. At times like these when I just trust and know that I have heard right, and I jump in with both feet, things seem to fall into place all on their own -however knowing full well that God has had things worked out for me all along.
Do you remember that little song, "Trust and obey, for there's no other way...".