Friday, May 28, 2010

One Hundred posts, One Hundred reasons I love what I do

I've tried going to the gym. I've had three one-year memberships. It's a love-hate thing for me, as I love how it makes me feel, but in all honesty, going every day is not stimulating enough in my books. I see results in my physical well being, but that's where it stops. I can lift weights like crazy, but the weight will never benefit from me lifting it. It somehow seems counter productive in my mind. (But please don't lose your workout motivation, I am just shooting from the hip here!) This may sound crazy, but I would much rather clean my house, pull weeds, mow the lawn, and especially, walk my dog. I may never be Jillian Michaels, but I am happy, and I feel good - and that's what matters in the end, doesn't it? I have come to terms with the fact that loving food and all things home may never give me killer legs, and my tummy may not bounce back from babies as beautifully as it could. I just don't care. Because life as I know it is perfect, to me. I once again came to this realization as I was out walking the dog a few days ago. The warm spring air surrounding me felt tremendously cozy, as I bonded with Cooper, my new, amazing, wonderful and loving Lab. My eyes soaked in the miracle of new life, as flowers bloomed and leaves swayed in the wind. Then, suddenly, I experienced one of those moments where time stands still. My glance turned to about a dozen bright yellow Buttercups in the front yard of a house Cooper and I were passing. For some reason it took my by surprise - I don't remember the last time I saw Buttercups that weren't "in the wild". I stopped for a moment, and remembered how I loved to pick these as a child. At about the same time, a man around my age passed us, Blue Tooth in his ear, seemingly talking to himself, a serious and stressed look on his face. I wondered - have we missed it all together? Do we need new, better and bigger every year? Does it really make us happy? Did we get rid of the Buttercups, to have perfect green grass? Maybe a modern, fast paced life is not what it's cracked up to be. So next time you are out, stop and smell the ... wild flowers. Perfection can be found in simple imperfection.

Pancakes are a little like the gym to me. They are somewhat one dimensional, certainly not a well balanced meal nor exciting on the palate. But, as all kids do, mine enjoy these so much, not once do I need to remind them to finish their breakfast (OK, dinner... my kids love pancakes for dinner!). Until one day I discovered Granola Sour Cream Pancakes, which, with their nutty crunch, were oddly satisfying to me. To make them even more tempting to myself, I whipped up a sophisticated fresh Blueberry and Lemon Sauce, rather than drenching already sweet cakes with more (maple syrup) sugar. Now you've got my attention!

What's that you say? You'd like to try them for yourself?

Sour Cream Granola Pancakes with Blueberry Lemon Sauce
Pancakes inspired by Art Smith's "Back to the Family",
sauce inspired by my hunger

Makes 12 Pancakes

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1 large egg, beaten
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
1 cup buttermilk or alternative (1 cup milk, 1 tsp vinegar - allow to coagulate for 10 minutes)


Preheat the oven to 200 F, to keep pancakes warm as you make them.
Combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a bowl.
In a large bowl, combine egg, butter, vanilla, sour cream, and buttermilk. Beat well.
Add the dry ingredients, combine without over mixing. Lumps are OK.
Heat a non stick griddle over medium heat, brush with a little vegetable oil. Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, pour individual pancakes into the pan and sprinkle each with granola.
When the pancakes begin to bubble, flip to cook the other side.
Place cooked pancakes on a sheet pan and keep warm in the oven.

For the blueberry sauce, thaw 1 - 2 cups frozen blueberries. Place in a blender with 1 tbsp superfine, or instant (not icing), sugar. Add the zest of 1/2 a lemon. Blend until smooth.

I want to take a moment to thank you for faithfully reading this blog. It's been and continues to be an incredible journey, and I'd like to think all of you readers are a driving force that keeps me giving my best, not giving up, and continuing on this path of learning and discovery. Cheers! Here's to 100 more!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hooray, hooray, I love the month of May!

The month of May seems like a good time to talk about favourites, since May happens to be, hands down, my favourite month of the year. The grass and trees are green, the temperature divine, days last long(er) into the night - oh why can't it be May all year long?

During the past months of bread baking by hand, I have also discovered that my favourite bread is a baguette style multi grain loaf. It's so very simple, not at all perfect in shape, as I can't seem to master the transition from cookie sheet to hot baking stone in the oven quite right. It is not in the least sweet, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, with white flour and a good variety of grains coexisting in perfect harmony. (I use Robin Hood Multi Grain Bread Flour.) I love that I can whip up fancy crostini toppings and toast this bread, sliced, in yummy olive oil. At the same time, I can cut 6 inch chunks, and make sub sandwiches for school lunches. And who can resist a little peanut butter and Nutella smothered in between two fresh slices? I certainly can't...

Multi Grain Baguette

2 1/2 cups white bread Flour
1 1/2 cups multi grain bread flour
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
12 fl oz warm water

First, start by stirring the yeast into the warm water. Allow yeast to froth up, about 10 minutes.
Combine flours with the salt, and once the yeast is ready, combine both and, using your fingers, work together into a tacky ball. The dough should not be too sticky, just a bit.
Place dough on your counter top, knead for 8 - 10 minutes.
Place in a bowl, cover with a tea towel and set in a draft free, warm place (24 C) for 1 hour, or until doubled in volume.
Divide the dough in half. Flatten each portion slightly with your palm, then fold in one side to the middle, then the next. Roll up horizontally to make a baguette. You can make 2 - 12 inch baguettes, or 4 - 6 inch.
Place the baguettes on a tea towel which has been lightly dusted with flour. Make sure they are spaced far enough apart so they can double in size without touching. Cover with second towel.
Rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 475 F with your baking stone inside.
Scour the bread tops with your sharpest knife, preferably one with a smooth edge, to avoid pulling the dough.
Using a pizza paddle or a cookie sheet dusted with flour, slide the baguettes onto the hot baking stone in the oven. Spray the inside of the oven a few times with a water spray bottle, and quickly close the oven. (This creates that lovely crunchy crust.) Avoid opening the oven for at least 5 minutes.
Bake for 10 - 15 minutes.
Remove bread from the oven, knock on the bottoms - if it sounds hallow, the bread is ready.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I can boast about this roast!

Who doesn't love weekends? Especially long weekends, with plenty of sleeping in, coffee on the patio, and bed times that don't seem to matter. The aroma of something roasting in the oven or the barbecue ties it all together, and life seems perfected in those precious moments of family. Did I mention we welcomed a new dog into our home? He's an almost 3 year old Lab, who answers to the name of Coop. Especially when said in a low, drawn out voice. I haven't always believed in love at first sight... however I certainly do now. But back to the chicken, which has roasted in my oven for a quick hour - this is one of those classic no-fail staples which I will be passing along to my girls in a book planned for their wedding day. There is no stuffing, no lengthy preparations, just a stunning roast chicken, with great flavour and even better gravy.

My Favourite Roast Chicken

1 (3 pound) whole chicken
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 500 F.
Rinse the chicken, or chickens - this recipe is easily doubled, in fact, I always do - inside and out under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.
Place the chicken, breast side up, in a roasting pan on a rack. Rub all over with olive oil.
Combine the seasonings, and rub onto chicken. You can also rub it under the skin, directly onto the meat. Sprinkle some inside the cavity, too.
Roast the chicken, with the roasting pan lid closed, at 500 F for 20 minutes. Turn the oven down to 450 F, roast another 20 minutes. Turn the oven down again to 425 F, roast for 10 minutes. Take the roasting pan out of the oven, remove the lid, and place back in the oven for the last 10 minutes.
Check the temperature in the largest part of the thigh, without allowing the thermometer to touch the bone. It should read 180 F.
For the gravy, pour the drippings into a saucepan, add enough chicken broth to make about 2 cups total, and bring to a boil. Stir together 2 tbsp corn starch and 1/4 cup cold water. Add to the boiling drippings, stirring until thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in the juice of a 1/4 lemon. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if needed.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Harvested some Chives, made some Salmon

Yup, that's right, these chives are fresh, green and beautiful - and - from my backyard. So what, you say? Well, let me tell you, they've been in my backyard since Earth Day, about 6 weeks, and they are not only alive, but thriving! For someone struggling to keep house plants alive, that is a really, super big deal. There just might be hope for me after all... I do have pretty big dreams of a pretty big garden.

I made a decision this week. Salmon is going to be bumped up from splurge to regular item on the weekly grocery list. My love, Paul, immediately throws in some advice - let's beer batter and fry it! And although I may give into this once in a while, salmon is a symbol of heart, brain and skin health to me - deep frying is not. However, if that's how lovey gets excited about fish, then I will oblige. Once a year.

Citron salmon is seasonal, light, and quickly thrown together. It ranks quite high on my favourites list, actually. I especially love that I can drizzle perfectly paired asparagus with a little olive oil and roast them simultaneously. Chardonnay, anyone?

Citron Salmon

half a fillet of whole Salmon (about 2 pounds)
1 Lime
1 Lemon
2 tbsp of Chives
fresh Dill Sprigs
1/2 cup Butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Mix the juice of half the lemon, half the lime, 2 tbsp chopped each dill and chives into the softened butter.
Generously line a casserole dish with aluminum foil. Place the salmon, skin side down, in the dish.
Spread with flavoured butter. Lay about 10 dill sprigs on top of the butter.
Slice the remaining lemon and lime, lay on top of dill.
Enclose everything tightly with the foil. Bake in the 400 F oven for 20 - 30 minutes. Baking time will vary according to the thickness of the salmon. But please, do not over cook! Rather, under cook just a little, and allow the residual heat in the foil to finish cooking it, while sitting on the counter.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Stuffed Zucchini with Chili and Cheese

I am serious about making Chili. I seriously always make far too much! So what's a girl to do with it all? Well, I shared some, froze some, and put some on top of zucchini! A sure fire way to turn boring leftovers into a new meal, and a perfect way to add a little more veg to the dinner plate.
Stuffed Zucchini with Chili and Cheese
Serves 4
4 zucchini
about 4 cups leftover Chili
1/2 - 1 cup Monterey Jack cheese
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Trim and cut zucchini in half length wise. Using a teaspoon, scoop out about half it's flesh.
Chop the flesh up into small chunks and stir into Chili.
Place zucchini side by side in a shallow glass baking dish.
Spread the Chili over zucchini, sprinkle evenly with cheese.
Pop in the oven and bake for 20 - 30 minutes, or until heated through.
Turn the oven to broil, and broil for 2 - 4 minutes, or until lightly golden.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Foodie pick me up!

Well, it turns out we are all human, and on those tired days, when encouragement is needed to get to the next one, sometimes, just sometimes, the right thing comes our way and we can think past hurdles. That's right - food can be a problem, even for a dedicated foodie. Most days I enjoy swimming against the current, but others I wonder - is it really worth the hassle? I wish it was easy to find, and afford, good quality meat and produce. I wish my kids didn't beg me for "normal food, like what the other kids are eating". I wish I could bomb my budget and not think about it when I shop! So thank you, Lindsay, for writing me out of the blue. And reminding me that it doesn't need to be complicated, or bring kids to tears, or break the bank.

"I wanted to offer some insight into our food journey. We started really making changes last summer I guess. We actually saw a couple of books one night at Chapters (Skinny B%*&$). The title caught our attention, and I didn't realize until after reading it that it was a vegan book. After reading it we both wanted nothing to do with meat and so we completely changed our eating and became vegans for a while. It was basically Food Inc (movie), in book form, with more swearing, but it really got our attention with everything. It was really hard to completely switch to vegan, but it really broadened our food options a lot and gave us a better appreciation for everything. Eventually, we eased back into having some meat because we really missed it.

Since then we've tried a few things (no carbs, vegetarian). It was really after watching Food Inc and Food Matters that we made more drastic changes again and have stuck with them. We completely stopped buying meat at the grocery store, and we go to our butcher now which is right close to our building. Everything they have is organic and free range, and they make their own sausages. I never realized that meat could actually be THAT delicious. I feel a lot better about not eating meat that's coming from big huge corporate farms. There's a little veggie market across the street from us in the plaza and they have a lot of organic and local veg there, and we usually go a couple times a week. One of the things in Food Matters is eating a lot of raw veg as well. I'm not a huge veggie person, but we've been getting lots of use out our juicer and making yummy concoctions.

So, we've basically gone from eating out and eating garbage, to eating bags and bags of fruits and veggies and only organic free range meat. We shop at Whole Foods and Planet Organic for the other bits and pieces. It's funny, it actually works out cheaper the way we eat now and we are filling ourselves up with healthiness rather than garbage, even though some of our friends criticize us for shopping at expensive grocery stores and buying "expensive" meat. I've noticed a huge difference in how we feel and our energy though, and eating so much more than just something we "have" to do now... it's like an adventure. Aaron has always loved to cook, and I feel like everything tastes so much better now because we're choosing good quality. I think the true taste test was this weekend, we had my family over for Mother's Day and Aaron cooked a roast chicken and I did some roasted veggies. My niece, who is a notoriously picky eater (taking after her Aunt Lindsay... lol) cleaned her plate! There wasn't a speck of food left! She's 6 1/2 and I have never seen her do that before at a family dinner."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Paperless cooking. It's not over-rated!

There's just something about it: cooking without a recipe. Cooking because you know what you want. And delivering that. I've been tinkering with roasted potatoes for some time, and have many recipes that I love. Being the simple dinner lady that I am, I am often happy with a plate of potatoes and something fresh and crispy to fill my plate. Lately my roast potatoes have been very Greek - olive oil, fresh lemon juice, dried oregano and s&p. For me, something was missing. So this is what happens when I cook according to me - my very own Garlic Roast potatoes. (I am so sorry if someone else out there makes theirs the same, I truly, honestly am not copying you. Let's just say great minds think alike!)

And since cooking without a recipe, is well, by feel, I'll include general measurements. Use more or less according to your liking. Make it your own! To my liking, roast potatoes should: 1) be moist yet crisp, 2) have a nice golden colour, 3) marry perfectly with herbs and other seasonings while not losing the potato itself.

By the way, I hardly ever use up an entire bundle of herbs before they go bad. So I tried freezing them for future cooking - it works! I wouldn't recommend doing this for use in salads, or any other uncooked herb needs, but sauces, roasts, and so forth love frozen herbs. In other words, never ever deny yourself fresh at the grocery store!

One last roasting tip: after washing the potatoes, dry them thoroughly - otherwise you will oven steam, not roast!

Moni's Smashed Garlic Roast Potatoes
Serves maybe 4, or two if you make them really, really yummy!

Roughly 6 - 8 small or medium yellow fleshed potatoes, unpeeled, 2cm dice
About 4 - 6 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
Olive oil ... you know I love a lot of it! (For more accurate measuring, count to 3 while pouring!)
A few sprigs fresh oregano, picked
Around 1 tsp smoked paprika - basically enough to give the potatoes a red hue
Fresh ground pepper
Coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 450 F.
Combine everything in one or two glass casserole dishes. I like to keep them single file.
Roast in the oven for 20 - 30 minutes, stirring once half way through.
Remove from the oven, search for the garlic cloves. Using the tines of a fork, smash them and stir back into the potatoes.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Mushrooms and a little bread

There's no doubt about it - weeknight meals need to be made in a flash. Being a stay-at-home mom, however, not only is my world quite different from working moms, but so is my weeknight cooking. I can enjoy the luxury of spending 4 hours on a meal, if I so desire. Did I mention I love being a stay-at-home mom? Sure, there are sacrifices to be made. But so far I don't seem to be missing anything, so at home I will stay. It's the weekends which seem to require quick meals. Yet another luxury we enjoy is a husband, or daddy, who has every weekend off. We don't get much time with him during the week, but Saturday and Sunday is family time (when, of course, there isn't something in need of fixing in our semi-old home). We spent most of the day out, and when late afternoon rolled around, the inevitable question loomed: what should we make for dinner? To which hubby replies, let's order pizza! (GASP) Order pizza?! Not when there is fresh sage and thyme in the fridge, not to mention delicious mushrooms, mixed greens and homemade bread!

Dinner in 15 minutes:
Grab 2- 3 cups of mushrooms, wipe them with a damp cloth. Go to town and tear them up a little, no need to chop! Heat a large skillet on high, swirl in some olive oil. Add the mushrooms, cook for 2 - 3 minutes. Now grab a few red chili flakes, a sliced clove of garlic, a couple of sprigs fresh thyme and a handful fresh sage leaves. Salt, pepper, a knob of butter. Oh, yum! Slide the mushrooms into a bowl, add some more olive oil to the hot skillet. Plenty would be great. Slice up baguette style bread, place in the skillet. Flip after a couple of minutes, then toss shredded Jack cheese on the slices. Remove from pan when cheese has melted. Now to the completion of this meal: Half a cup of plain yogurt, a good swirl of olive oil, a couple of teaspoons cider vinegar, salt, pepper and a crushed clove of garlic = healthy, creamy, low sodium, no ingredients we can't pronounce salad dressing. Slice some tomatoes, add to mixed baby greens. Toss with a little, or a lot if you like - it's healthy after all - salad dressing. Oh, and there's always the option of delegating a significant other a couple of steaks which have been sprinkled with salt and fresh pepper, and sending him/her out for a visit with the barbecue.
Kraft dinner, what? Pizza, huh?! I bet I can make this meal faster than anyone can order and bring home pizza. Or cook out of a box.