Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Picky eater

When you've had a crazy day, when you've been to ten stores and still can't find sneakers for your kids' first day back to school, and when these same kids somehow - really, it's beyond me - picked a rather large tear into a second leather dining chair, and the doors you've painted twice need an unfortunate third coat, I'd say it's a good time to recharge with a plate of homemade food.

Funny thing, the other day I made meatballs and decided to use up a gravy powder mix uselessly sitting around my spice rack, to accompany these little organic meaty morsels. One by one we took our first bites. We went back for a second. We couldn't place it right away... it just tasted so, fake. Needless to say, I threw out the rest of that powdery yuck, and will stick to homemade. Always. Period.

Who needs packaged food when basic steak, grilled chicken, or even sausage can be enjoyed with super fast, amazingly scrumptious mushrooms. Don't even try to make these low fat, diet, or whatever makes you feel good about eating. Packaged food is far worse nutrition than a little bacon fat.

Bacon Mushroom Saute

1 lb Cremini Mushrooms, sliced
8 slices Bacon, roughly chopped
1 medium Onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp Olive Oil
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Chives

Heat the olive oil in a skillet on medium - high heat. Add the chopped bacon, saute until about half cooked.
Add the finely chopped onions, continue to cook on medium - high heat, stirring, until bacon is crisp and onions soft.
Toss in the sliced mushrooms. Give it a good stir, cook until the mushrooms are nicely browned. Remove from heat.
Stir in the chopped chives. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.

Now, enjoy!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sometimes I crack myself up. But only sometimes.

My kitchen's a mess from cooking all day. I'm wearing my favourite blue jeans. The Summer air is crisp, and I've baked bread today. This home cook is as happy as can be! Certainly it's not just me who gets excited about these things?

When asked which season I enjoy the most, I never quite get my answer right. Is it Summer? I suppose it was, as a child, since school was out and we lived in our bathing suits. Or is it Spring? Where everything dead comes alive, and those first Spring flowers bloom in full color. Or perhaps Fall...

Today I will answer, because today I can!
My most favourite Season is no season at all...
I'm lucky as can be, it comes four times a year.
It's the change of Season I love.
Especially when celebrated with a beer.

All right, so I am not much of a poet! But who says I can't try?

Pimped up Garlic Bread
Serves 6

1 large loaf Italian style bread (or homemade french bread, shaped as a letter, like mine today - these things happen when one loves to cook), halved lengthwise
8 - 10 garlic cloves, uniform size, skins left on
6 tbsp unsalted Butter, softened
2 tbsp finely grated fresh Parmesan
1/2 tsp salt
ground black pepper
1 tbsp each fresh basil and chives, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp each fresh thyme and oregano, freshly chopped

Preheat oven to 500 F.
Toast garlic cloves in a dry skillet, shaking pan occasionally, until fragrant and color of cloves deepens slightly, about 8 minutes. Remove from skillet. When cool enough to handle, peel and mince the garlic.
Using a dinner fork, mash garlic and remaining ingredients into butter until thoroughly combined.
Spread cut sides of loaf evenly with garlic butter, transfer to cookie sheet and bake on middle oven rack for 5 - 8 minutes, until golden brown and toasted. Cut each into 2 inch slices, serve immediately.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I like it.

You want to know something? I am not a big fan of cooked zucchini. Unless it's one of those huge homegrown zucchinis, marinated and tossed on the grill.

Nope, I like my zucchini in the raw. Simply cut into ribbons, and dressed with a light vinaigrette.

(These European style peelers easily replace the use of a mandolin, by the way. And for the $5 price tag, I think every kitchen should have one.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Life's next steps

All too often as I pull the covers over my head at night and tuck myself in rather tightly, my mind decides to wake up and wander to all sorts of new, clear thoughts. This must be one of those mommy symptoms, since during a busy mommy day our minds belong to a variety of other places. My husband and I connect at least once or twice during a typical weekday of work, cleaning, and kids. He will often ask me what the plan is for the day, and I find myself scrambling for an exciting, busy sounding answer, because my day, after all, is exciting and busy. There's never a dull moment, that's for sure! But still my answer is the same, day after day - There's cleaning to do, kids to nurture, guide, and feed, the dog needs my attention, the yard can use a weeding, and the days ahead are to be planned. And so, my answer is, "Well, the usual!" Whilst I sometimes question myself, am I doing all I can do? Here comes mommy symptom number, hhm, well, who knows... there's just too many - Doing ten things at once, which we could probably do with our eyes closed and more often than not, don't put enough value on each individual task. To bring things into perspective, I allow myself to imagine what life would look and be like if I stopped doing what I do for a few days. Can you imagine? It takes a village to replace a mother's work.

But let me take you back to that special moment of tranquility, a moment we can't quite comprehend as wonderful while we are, ourselves, children - bedtime. For some it may be the morning shower, or perhaps reading a newspaper on the, um, you know what. For me, this is place is my bed. I am sure my plain white bedsheets, pillow cases and shams came out of a need for peace and serenity after a busy day of primary colors, excitement and chores. So as I lay there last night, listening to the crickets enjoying our grass grown too long, I decided I would embark on a journey I have long dreamed about. I want to write a book. And while it's not common for me to share intimate desires as this, for me, a closet dreamer, I have come to realize that while sometimes critics can bring about a sense of vulnerability, others can bring support and added insight.

My first book thoughts came to me, at bedtime even then, child-less and a young 16, at night when all was quiet. My point of view has changed over the years, from writing a cookbook to inspire College students to eat more than Twinkies and Kraft Dinner, to wishing I was a gourmet chef and coming up with all sorts of new concoctions, all the way to realizing how much I love Reality Reading, much like Reality TV, but without the commercials and fake spins that sell shows to more viewers. The problem with Closet Dreamers is that we don't allow ourselves to value our dreams much, we don't share them because we fear they lack importance. But if there is one thing I have learned from surfacing my thoughts, ideas and flops on this simple blog, it's that everyone has something they can do, something they can share, someone they can reach. And usually it's the smallest things that make the biggest impact.

I'm not sure how much I want to share about the actual premise of the book, however one thing's for sure, it will be that of a life's journey, one of taking little steps and following through with plans. It will involve my many, little passions - food, fun, family, and the environment.

Until then, you'll find me right here, photographing and blogging, and hopefully not stepping on anybody's toes.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sugar and Spice

There certainly is a limit to my homemaking aspirations, for example I would never bother with brewing my own beer or making Cheddar Cheese, but spice blends, although conveniently pre-jarred, are probably much better homeade, with a little added personal touch.

It's a rainy day today, a beautiful warm rain, plumping up dull brown grass and saving me a little herb garden watering time. And so, after many weeks of salads, barbecues and other low heat emitting food preparations, my girls asked for a big pot of Chili for our family dinner. I was happy to be able to oblige, as Chili is easily made with common pantry items. But this happened to turn into the perfect homemade spice blend opportunity, as no Chili Powder was to be found amongst my spice rack.

A little googling later, I discovered just how easy this task would be:
Using a coffee grinder, I zapped a few small red chili's into fine powder, then added equal amounts of dried oregano, cumin powder, coriander seeds and paprika. (About 1/8 cup each.) These are, I am sure, entry level Chili spice blend making skills... but my Chili is smelling pretty tasty as it simmers away in the kitchen.

I am left wondering if toasting the spices before cooking would bring out the flavour even more. Or what those secret ingredients are master barbecuers win competitions with. If you'd like to share your wisdom, I would love to hear from ya!

Flip and Tumble

For the past year or two, I have been using cloth shopping bags to transport my groceries from supermarket, farmer's market or fresh fruit stand, to home. The sheer amount of garbage that is not in our landfills, lakes and on city sidewalks is enormous. Too often we shy away from doing our small part since it's just too hard to see the overall picture. But cut out plastic bags and plastic water bottles, and it's not hard to miss how much we are doing. Imagine 50 years from now, the mountains of plastic that could either be in our landfills, or not. Reusable shopping bags make it easy on us to do our part. However, one thing that has bothered me, a veggie loving, fresh food preferring consumer, is the 10 clear produce bags that keep showing up in my shopping cart, week after week. Has this dilemma ever crossed your mind? Well, do I have a treat for you!

They are called Flip & Tumble Reusable Produce Bags. Each holds up to 8 pounds of produce and has a drawstring closure. The mesh bags allow for easy scanning at the store and washing at home, right in the bag! And at just $10.95 for 5 bags, it's affordable and I think, the next step in eco-friendly grocery shopping.

Interested? Order yours here: http://www.reuseit.com/

PS: It's a good idea to throw all fabric grocery bags in the wash from time to time. Juices from meats can leak and contaminate whatever goes into the bag next time you are out shopping.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Yes, Sir!

When Bobby Flay talks Burgers, we listen. We do as he says. And we throw out our idea of what a good homemade burger patty should be. What I am talking about is all that extra stuff we mix and over mix into our ground chuck to"hold everything together and build flavour". Things like eggs, breadcrumbs and onions. Forget them, leave them behind. It's about to get much simpler. And oh so much tastier.

Since burgers a la Bobby is a super fast operation, you'll want to heat the BBQ to high before getting to the meat so it's good and ready when you are.

If your ground beef is packaged like mine, it will look a little like a flat, rectangle brick. Using a knife, cut/divide this meat into four even portions, right there, in the package (after removing any wrapping, of course). Gently shape each portion into a 3/4 inch thick patty. Do not overwork the meat, don't squeeze it, don't compress more than you need to. Nobody likes a dry burger. Now make an impression in the middle of each patty. This prevents it from puffing up and looking more like a flying saucer than a burger.

The patties are just about done - a little seasoning of coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper on all sides, plus a little swipe of grape seed oil over everything, and we are ready for the BBQ.

Gently place the patties onto the grill, cook for about 5 minutes on each side for well done. Flip once only half way through, and never ever press down on them. Nobody likes a dry burger. At roughly minute number 9, place cheese of your choice on the patties, and close the BBQ for just a quick minute to melt it. I like to toast the buns at the same time I am melting cheese. After about a minute, remove the buns, place your patties on the bun bottoms and slather with toppings. This is where you want to build flavour. Think outside the patty, not in.

For this Cheyenne Burger I used Old Cheddar, Barbecue sauce, French Fried Onions and fresh chopped Parsley.

Now that's what I call a good burger.

By the way, I've made a rather interesting discovery: Grass-fed organic ground beef hardly shrinks during the cooking process. Meaning you'll have more on your plate, and less in the barbecue drip pan. Besides, it's so much better for you, and the animal.