Tuesday, March 30, 2010

To my dearest Rocco,
Words fail me to describe the hole I feel in my heart. Two days ago you were healthy, snuggly and full of life. I still am hoping to pinch myself awake and have this all be a really bad dream. But I know it's not, because the house is so quiet. The room is empty here without you constantly by my side. I so loved your company, holding you like a rockstar would and how you were the epitome of a lap dog which kept me warm on cold winter days. You allowed me to be your mommy this past year, it was a crazy year in which you taught me about the amazing world of having a dog as a friend. Training you wasn't easy, but I wouldn't take back a day. Just two short days ago I looked at you with admiring eyes, you had come so far. I adored your endless energy, I loved our walks together.
As I wipe my tears from my cheeks - which don't seem to run out, I see your little paw prints on my wood floor. I can't bear to put your food bowls away, your leash is hanging up, ready for us to go for a walk. I miss you little buddy. You'll always have a special place in my heart. Thank you for bringing joy to our family, for letting the girls dress you up like a girl, for never leaving my side...
You were the best little yappy dog a girl could ever ask for.
I have never been good with good-bye's, so I'll see you later...
Rocco Scoobie Clark
December 24, 2008 - March 30, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hot Cross... Buns?

It's about time we take old fashioned Hot Cross Buns and gave them a modern touch. Who's with me on this one? With Easter celebrations just around the corner, I have put a little thought into Easter Morning breakfast. This year I finally added super cute pastel coloured egg cups to my dinnerware collection, and am hoping for a bright, sunny morning on April 4th, 2010. But what is Easter breakfast? I have never, ever spent a minute of my life thinking about it... for some reason or another it just didn't hold any value. But now I picture children and adults gathered around a big table, (which may even flaunt a table cloth - something new to me and my woes of ironing!), I imagine it to have a tight gingham pattern, and a pot with tulips right in the center. We'd munch on Hot Cross monkey'fied Bread, drink freshly squeezed juice along side strong, black coffee and enjoy a feast of Potato Pancakes topped with Smoked Salmon, Poached Eggs and fresh Chives. Perhaps Broiled Grapefruit on the side? Now doesn't that sound like a bright and sunny way to say good-bye to old man Winter and hello to the warm seasons, on top of what Easter really is about, of course - a hope for our future, and a guarantee of Eternal Life!

I came up with this recipe after reading many original recipes. They were all similar, and yet had some interesting differences. I have decided to only use Raisins in my version - as I am not sure there are many candied fruit lovers left on the planet. (But I would love to hear from you if you are!) The assembly for this bread is derived from Monkey Bread, which has been around forever as well, I am sure, but the excitement of pulling off a chunk of warm Bread with sticky drizzle still holds true to today's modern culinary world, I think!

If you don't have an angel food cake pan, a Bundt pan will do.

Hot Cross Monkey'fied Bread
Serves plenty

3 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 cup warm milk
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp real vanilla extract
5 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
a pinch or two of ground cloves - feel free to add more of each of these, as you prefer!
3/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup melted butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup icing sugar
2 -3 tsp milk

To make your dough, add the yeast to the warm water and allow to dissolve and froth up, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the flour, sugar, salt and spices. When the yeast has dissolved, add to the flour along with the milk, butter, eggs and vanilla. Mix in the bowl (with your hands!) for about 2 - 3 minutes. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 - 7 minutes. The dough should be quite soft, but if it's overly sticky, add another 1/2 cup of flour during the first couple minutes of kneading only.
Place the dough in a bowl, cover with a lint free towel, and set in a warm draft free place for 1 hour. (I like to preheat my oven for 30 Seconds, then turn it off, and place the bowl in the oven with the door shut.)
After the first rise, turn out the dough onto your work surface, dump the raisins on it and knead them into the dough very gently and only for a few seconds. Divide the dough in half, and roll into 40cm logs. Cut these into 3 - 5cm pieces, which you then gently roll into balls.
Grease an angel food cake pan with butter. Set out a bowl with the melted 1/4 cup butter and another with the 3/4 cup brown sugar. Dip each roll of dough in the butter (dip, don't soak or you will run out of butter!) to cover, then dip in the brown sugar. Place it in the prepared baking pan. Repeat until all the dough is used up. Make sure the balls are placed evenly in the pan.
Cover again with a lint free towel and allow to double in bulk, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake the Hot Cross Bread for 40 minutes. If your angel food cake pan is a two piece model, like mine, you will want to set it on a rimmed cookie sheet otherwise there will be a burnt puddle of butter and sugar on the bottom of your oven!
When baked, place the bread in the baking pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes.
Remove the bread from the pan, but do not turn upside down.
Whisk together the icing sugar and milk, and drizzle over warm bread.


Monday, March 22, 2010

It's a family affair

I awoke this morning to the cheerful sounds of my children playing cheese store. Yup, that's right, cheese store. You see as parents we have such enormous influence on the lives of our children - they know we love them and blindly trust us to point them in not just the right direction, but the best. "From now on we should only buy cheese from Ontario!" Amongst many giggles, the girls turned socks into cheese (underwear being the stuffing!) and their bedrooms into a variety of necessary stations for successful cheese production. From production to packaging, and tasting to selling. It was music to my ears! What a way to start our day as a family. This journey has been an amazing one for me - and I love how it has spilled over onto the kids.

Visiting the Upper Canada Cheese company is the start to a Spring and Summer journey of discovery, one of enjoying the fruits of our home, the beautiful Niagara Region. There is bounty right at our doorstep, and I am honoured to call Canada, and specifically Niagara, my home.
It's taken me until just recently to feel this way. Until now I have simply viewed Canada as a place where I live, not one I am truly home at. Moving from to Canada from Germany just over 15 years ago has been a long and outstretched adjustment. I came to this realization of home in a much grander scale last week as I drove home from our country stay, not just because I ate Maple Syrup harvested only meters from where I slept, but also as I drove down the 401 from Trenton, our Highway of Heroes. I felt overwhelmingly thankful to the strangers who gave up their lives to ensure mine and that of my children. What an honour! As the sun beat through the car windows I took a moment to look at each and every poppy pictured to resemble our heroes. Had I not felt choked up, I may have burst out into Song.... Oh Canada!

Picture above is a Brie Baker made in Niagara-on-the-Lake, stamped with the Upper Canada Cheese company logo. An heirloom in the making?

Please visit:

Their Comfort Cream is a Camembert style cheese which just won #2 cheese in Canada!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Take care!

What is it about spring and the onset of warm weather that makes us want to get out every piece of cleaning gear in the house and get to work? Or a week spent in the country which invokes a desire to plant tomato plants, eat locally and go back to basics? Spring seems to be here, and it came at the same time I took my daughters to enjoy some fresh country air. So what's a (small) city dweller like me to do after I have aired out the beds and found every bit of dirt in the (city) house - just after spending a week at one with nature? Do I pack up my home and move? Or do I do what I can right where I am...

Not helping much with this matter is having watched the movie, Food Inc., right smack in the middle of all this. Our farming as we know it has changed dramatically in the past decades, and I strongly believe if we don't do something now, if we sit around and do nothing - our grandchildren will suffer tremendously. I won't get into the details of this documentary, but please, take an evening out of your time and watch it. It's a wake up call, it's a push in the direction of demanding for better things, and for supporting the right people that we want growing our foods.

So what to do with the country versus city debate?! One of my favourite things about going away for a few days is coming home, as this is where home is most comforting, most welcoming, and more beautiful than at any other time. And in this I know the answer - I am at home in suburbia, with traffic noise and shopping malls. With high speed Internet and coffee shops at every corner. However, I have a new project brewing in my head... it has everything to do with farms and our beautiful land which we call home. Stay tuned in the next weeks and especially the upcoming warmer months as I turn a "should do" into a "must do".

In the meantime, let's focus on the things we can do...
Eat locally, this could be as simple as visiting a local farmers market.
Eat in season. Do your research and find out what that means in your area.
Find sources of organic meat and dairy. With your support, this industry will grow and it will become the norm.
Take pride in where you live, and find a new desire to leave our environment intact, replenished and nurtured for the next generation. This is, of course, something we do for others, not our own gain. But I think even we will reap the rewards from this in our life time. Let's be the generation that puts an end to GMO madness, to mass produced and tortured animals and let's go down in history as a movement that made food better again.
And lastly, ask yourself this - how do farmers raise whole animals and manage to sell them for just a few dollars?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Muffin that thinks it's a Cupcake

Okay, so I am not going to pretend that muffins are the latest health-craze, since in essence, the really are just a glorified cupcake. However, what you put into them is what separates them from dessert to perhaps breakfast, or an after school snack. People, and children specifically, eat with their eyes first. And why not? Food can be stunningly eye-catching, or utterly drab.

I love the art of food presentation. I could not draw a beautiful picture if my life depended on it, but I have noticed that no matter how simple food is, if I make it three dimensional, balance the colors and vary the textures, it becomes a work of art. One which never lasts more than a few minutes on it's canvas, the plate, but on the other hand one I have the privilege of creating a minimum of three times a day.

And so I want to share with you my absolutely favourite Banana Muffin recipe - I strongly believe our best recipes should be shared, not hidden. They need to be passed on from one person to the next, otherwise we will turn into a generation of people that eat their best food at restaurants. Oh wait, I think that has already happened! Let's celebrate home cooking, let's reignite the passion, and let's enjoy the after-effects of how it brings family together. This is something the Italian culture exemplifies quite well, as they have kept the tradition of uniting over food alive.
Change this recipe to your liking - you may chose to use one cup whole wheat flour to replace a white. Perhaps a few tablespoons of ground flax seeds can round out the nutrition, that, aside from the sugar, this muffin does deliver. Try toasted sunflower seeds instead of praline peanuts. Just remember - dress it up nice and you'll be eating with a smile on your face.

Sweet Banana Muffins with Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes 12 large
1/2 cup unsalted butter, gently softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 1/3 cups overripe bananas, mashed, about 3 bananas - the riper the better -
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Prepare a muffin tin; either grease it or line with paper.
In a large bowl, cream softened butter with brown sugar until light and fluffy.
Gently beat the eggs and add to the sugar.
Mash the bananas thoroughly and add as well. Combine well.
Place your flour, baking soda and salt on top of the sugar base. Using a fork, stir the baking soda and salt into the flour.
Now stir the whole thing up, but don't over mix, just until everything is incorporated or you will be eating hockey pucks, not soft muffins.
Divide evenly in the prepared muffin tin.
Gently tap the filled muffin pan on the counter to release air bubbles and to distribute the batter evenly.
Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, until tops are golden but not dark.
Cool 10 minutes in the pan.
Remove and cool completely on a rack before icing.
Best Ever Cream Cheese Frosting
1 (8oz) pkg cream cheese, softened but not melted
1/4 butter, softened but not melted
1 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp real vanilla extract
Beat the cream cheese and butter together with a small whisk. Add icing sugar and vanilla.
Continue beating until all clumps are gone.
When the muffins are cooled, pipe un-chilled frosting in a circular motion onto the tops.
Crush a handful of praline nuts in a small zip top bag, using a rolling pin. Do not smash these, but with pressure roll over to crush into smaller pieces.
Sprinkle the frosting with the nuts.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Thanksgiving Day, Every Day!

I've been spending a lot of time meditating on what it means to live and love "today". I consider myself a content person - I am happy how life has turned out and where it has brought me, but in the back of my mind "tomorrow" can often creep in and, if I am not careful, take place of what is so great about now. I can brush it off as being human, but rising above this mentality is surprisingly rewarding. Suddenly I find myself enjoying the craziest things - even toothpaste takes on a whole new meaning. I realized the other day that where I am today is what I hoped for a few years ago... it was my "getting there", my tomorrow that I longed for so very much. So why is it that today, I often find myself longing for tomorrow? When today is what counts, and missing out on that will result on never getting to tomorrow - tomorrow never comes! We, as humans grieve for yesterday and long for the next day. It's a daily decision to enjoy today. But one I make each and every DAY I get up in the morning, and thank my Saviour for His blessings, from very small (like toothpaste - imagine not having toothpaste), to very great (health, family, and being a two car family)! Now, as I approach a new day, I find myself with butterflies in my stomach - not because something hugely exciting is about to happen, but simply because at every turn, I find something I am thankful for and something I love and most of all having a joy that has nothing to do with circumstances. I am working hard on my beauty routine as well - not only as the commercials advertise it, but one that lends a smile, or a hug with a word of appreciation and encouragement. Because you see, it's in the small things that we do for others, where they know they are loved - as these things get missed when love is not present.

One of my favourite vegetables is Bok Choy. It is slightly sweet and mild, yet it retains some crunch after cooking but importantly it is gorgeous even on it's very own. I like to saute the bottom whites in a little butter until they begin to soften, then drown them in a cup of good chicken stock. After this reduces, I throw in the green tops. Once these have wilted, everything has a shimmery glaze and the chicken stock brings out the best of this veg. Simple, people, simple!

I have discovered along the way that fish is overcooked I would say most of the time. And this is precisely where it turns rubbery and fishy. I believe we would have plenty more fish lovers in this world if our fish was cooked properly. The trick is to undercook it just a touch, then let it rest on a serving plate for a couple of minutes. The residual heat finishes is it perfectly and you end up with moist, tender seafood. Sole has been one that even my husband looks forward to. And it's so quick to prepare, not even fast food stands a chance. Gently dab the sole filets with paper towels to dry, while heating up a saute pan to medium heat. After the filets are dry, grind fresh, coarse pepper on them and sprinkle with sea salt. Heat up a little olive oil in the warm pan, place your fish in it, presentation side down first - then leave it alone for two to three minutes. Flip it, and cook until it is almost done, about three minutes. Take it out, and let rest.

Now this very same husband of mine that normally requires a good helping of tartar sauce, or even plain mayo (yuck!) to get the fish into his mouth, declared this other, much healthier sauce, as a "definate blogger". It's even faster to put together than cooking the fish, so make it first. Serve everthing with garlic mashed potatoes and a colorful vegetable on the side.

Parsley Sauce
Serves 4

130 mL Olive Oil
15 mL Lemon Juice
1/4 cup chopped Parsley
1/4 tsp Salt
Place everything in a blender, Process for just a few seconds.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dough and the Barbie

Don't you love it when you think something through from beginning to end, your engines are ready for take off and everything goes great, until you hit the finishing line, when a little missed detail creeps up on you and everything is lost?

Well, that about sums up my first pizza barbecuing experience. Be prepared to read a lot more about this subject in the weeks to come, because I am determined to perfect it!
I was hoping for a flavour-rich pizza, packed with nutrients but also interest and having several big time ingredients coming together on one beautiful pizza pie. So far everything was going great - I made my dough starter, it was doing it's job, the tomatoes roasted perfectly at 210 F for 2 hours, my pesto was made and I had to work hard at not gobbling it up right then and there. It was fun, I tell you, fun! I love working with these ingredients, because they smell so rich while I prepare them, and I can get my hands dirty while they work their simple magic.

I honestly have done zero research on how to barbecue dough. I have watched other people do this on TV, and everyone seems to have their own way of doing. So instead of copying someone elses way, I decided I would figure it out on my own and put a bit of myself into it. I did decide, however, that putting the dough directly on the grill was far too scary, so instead I let the pizza stone heat up with the barbecue.

Just being outside to cook was invigorating, there was snow all around me - my backside froze as the front side was heated by the fire. But let the bbq season begin, I say!
I am guessing putting dough on the barbie is something that comes with practice. Or perhaps smaller size pizzas. Note to self: personal pizzas, not full sheet pans! Regardless, mine cooked through in under 10 minutes - even if the bottom was a bit charred and the top still uncolored. It smelled amazing...

When I deemed the pie to be done, inside we went to tear into it - fully expecting amazing results. But was I surprised to discover that the one little detail which should never be forgotten, was. Salt! I forgot to add salt to the dough. Sheesh.
Until next time...

Monday, March 1, 2010

It's in the can. Sort of.

So it feels to me as though things in Sprout-land have come to a stand still lately. My foods have been less complicated and I haven't been devouring a ton of new information, or food for that matter. But the more I thought of it, the more I noticed that I have been focusing on the small details of what makes a dish superb, what techniques make it shine - the whys and hows of cooking basics, I suppose. Let's just say I have been laying a foundation. I'll build the house later.

Pasta being a good basic - however one day I do still plan on making my own - I am sensing that I have gotten a little bit of a handle on building flavour from scratch. I haven't purchased premade pasta sauce in months, and I am not sure that I ever will again - since even when fresh tomatoes aren't in season, we can buy them in a can (yes, I still call that making sauce from scratch, because out of season tomatoes don't measure up to ones canned while in season). For a sauce in a flash, simply "sweat" finely chopped onion in olive oil, and if you want, celery, carrots and garlic, even hot pepper flakes, or any combination of these. After cooking on low heat for 10 - 20 minutes, add a can of crushed tomatoes, then some herbs - I am partial to fresh basil, but here's the beauty of it all - you can add whatever you have on hand. Season with salt and pepper, and you are done my friend!

As you know I hardly ever feel the desire for meat in a meal for it to be complete. Sometimes I add the illusion of a meaty dish by using it as a flavour ingredient, rather than it being a major component. I have taken a liking to pancetta, because a little goes a long way, and it's not nearly as fatty as bacon. Simple food often does not look like much, but don't let looks deceive, because not only is this dish packed with flavour, it also fills the house with that "let's gather in the kitchen and eat" smell that I love so much!

Bucatini in Tomato and Pancetta Sauce
Serves 4 - 6
1 lb bucatini pasta (don't substitute for any other! I mean you could, but bucatini is what makes this dish what it is)
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 pound pancetta, sliced and cut into strips (here you can do whatever you want, just don't make the pieces too small)
1 medium red onion, finely chopped (or substitute white onion)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
chili pepper flakes, to taste
1 can (19oz/540 mL) crushed tomatoes
salt, to taste
1 cup finely grated cheese - asiago, pecorino, or parmesan
The sauce cooks in about the same time as the sauce, so start it all at the same time.
While the pasta is cooking, heat up a saute pan to medium - high heat. Cook the pancetta in the hot pan until crisp, about 5 - 10 minutes. Turn down the heat to medium, add the onion, garlic and chili flakes. Saute until onions have softened. Add the tomatoes and a little bit of salt, cook for another 5 minutes.
When al dente, reserve a cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the bucatini.
Add the drained pasta to the sauce, and if the sauce is not binding, add a little of the starchy cooking water to bring it all together. Allow the sauce and the noodles to cook together for about a minute, then take it off the heat and add grated cheese.
This makes incredible leftovers!

#1 Reader

It's been a busy week, not overly busy, just more so than usual, but I am oddly happy for Monday, 9am, and a coffee date with myself! I love to reflect on time passed, especially when it is busy and the minutes seem to whizz on by without me being able to get every ounce out of it. You see, I put much importance on not wasting time (or food), which is why I love to reflect as I feel I can put value on some things that I didn't get around to appreciating. So here I am, spending quality time in front of the computer (ha!), I am wearing a super cozy hoody, with the hood over my head, a space heater is blowing warm air my way and my pup is snuggled up close by. It's in these moments I do dream of summer, of sitting by the water, and if you were there with me, we'd talk of times passed, of a great future ahead and the amazing thing that is called today. We'd sip coffee and talk about food, or better yet, nutrition, and how keeping things simple is where it's at. I can almost see it, if I close my eyes and allow myself to drift away...

Right now, however, we have business to take care of! I have a winner to announce! The winner of my very first give away is a special friend that shares the love of food and writing, one who inspires me to be content, a better baker and quite often, a better mother, too. She drinks coffee with me, even though she doesn't necessarily like coffee, but rather enjoys that moment shared together. She is also my #1 Reader, and my one and only entry, but that's OK, because my friend Wanda deserves to win!
Here's what she wrote:
I found myself in the kitchen today, the day before the contest closes, thumbing through my only nice meal cookbook, scrambling for a recipe and ingredients. I settled for the Bacon Topped Meatloaf and Emerald Rice.
I like the idea of both recipes... the Meatloaf had Chili Sauce in it and bacon on top of it. Two items that make any meal delicious in my mind. The rice had spinach, cheese and cream in it. Mmmmm. I figured it would be a fun experiment, and my kids will eat whatever I put in front of them (eventually) so I rolled up my sleeves and dug in.
The meatloaf was very easy to prepare, so I plopped it into a stoneware loaf pan and set it to baking while I prepared the rice. I didn't have half-and-half cream, so I made a mix of sour cream and milk instead. I also ran out of cheddar cheese making the meatloaf, so I used mozzarella instead. I considered lightly steaming some broccoli to go on the side, but my husband and I decided the spinach, rice and meatloaf would suffice for a complete meal tonight.
As the family dug in, they started rating the meal. Boy #1 said the meal was 997 good. (The meatloaf was 1000, the rice was 997.) Girl #1 said the meatloaf was 1000 and the rice was 2. (She was not a fan of the spinach in the rice.) Boy #2 said the meatloaf was 81 and the rice was 10. He's four though, so any number he throws out there is arbitrary. When I asked my husband, he said, "I'd eat it again". Coming from a man who thought he hated meatloaf until a couple of years ago, that's a pretty good rating.
The meatloaf did not hold together well, but it was so moist and tasty. I think next time I'll do them in individual loaf pans. I also commented to hubby that the rice would be great with mushrooms. He agreed... but he's always trying to get more mushrooms into my recipes. I'll definitely give them both another try! I give the meatloaf an A- and the rice a B. And my good friend over at Sprout Culinary Studies gets an A+ for prompting me to try something new!
Bacon - Topped Meatloaf
Serves 8
1/2 cup chili sauce
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
2/3 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 bacon strips, cut in thirds
In a bowl, combine first 9 ingredients. Pat into an ungreased large loaf pan or 9x13 baking dish. Top with bacon. Bake, uncovered, at 350 F for 70 minutes.Drain and let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Emerald Rice
Serves 8
3 cups cooked brown rice
1 pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup half and half (I used 1/4 cup sour cream and 3/4 cup milk)
1/2 chopped onion
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Bake in a covered 1 1/2 quart dish at 350 F for 25 - 30 minutes, until heated through.