Monday, January 31, 2011

It's all part of the reno life, I suppose

Life's full of surprises, isn't it? How surprised this little guy must have been when he found his way into one of our kitchen electrical sockets, never to find his way out again? I certainly was not happy to find him there, but it sure makes for an interesting addition to our kitchen renovations.

A much better addition, in my opinion, is the glass and stone back splash making it's way onto our walls! Every room needs a little sparkle, wouldn't you say?

Interesting also, is cooking in a semi-construction sight. Though it's something I've been getting much better at over the past couple of years. Today I decided it was a good day for a big batch of Chicken and Cheese Quesadillas, since I had leftover slow cooker chicken, loads of Pepper Jack cheese and a jar of all natural salsa. I prefer my cast iron skillet to whip these babies up, as it's toasting abilities are even and quick to achieve.
First, add about 1 tsp olive oil to the pan, heated to just under medium heat. Add a tortilla, spread some shredded cheese over it and dollop with a little salsa. Not too much though, or the end result will be soggy. Continue with pulled chicken and a little more shredded cheese. Add a second tortilla on top, flip the whole thing when golden. Allow the flipped tortilla to brown, remove from pan and continue to make as many quesadillas as needed. Cool, slice and serve.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Time budget, solved!

Whole chickens go on sale every few weeks around here. I've discovered buying the whole bird not only is better for my wallet, but also for flavour since bones add the best of it. But as days get busier, there is not always time to carefully roast and baste a perfect chick. So if you don't care much for crunchy skin in the first place, here's a great busy-person-friendly version which never lets me down.

Rinse and thoroughly dry a 2 pound chicken. Toss some fresh pepper and kosher salt into the cavity, then stuff it with both sides of a halved lemon, a few garlic cloves also cut in half (don't even waste your time taking the skins off) and a handful of fresh herbs, my favourites are thyme and sage. Place in a slow cooker, season with a little more salt and pepper, close the lid, turn to high, and walk away. Four hours later, when all your running around is done, and you've spent quality time with the kiddies, carefully take this baby out of the slow cooker (it will probably fall apart on you), take it off the bone and serve with a quick baby greens salad. Or, use in tacos, on grilled sandwiches with roasted red pepper and feta, or stir into a creamy sauce for pasta.

If you have a little extra time in the late morning hour (should this chicken be for a 6 o'clock dinner, take the chicken out at about noon), rest the whole bird and lemon on the kitchen counter and allow them to come to room temperature before cooking. This shortens the cooking time, and more moisture is retained. In fact, you should always, with the exception of fish and ground meats, cook any cuts at room temperature. Less time in the oven is a very good thing.

See you in four hours, Mrs. Chicken, when your internal temperature reaches 180 F.

Friday, January 28, 2011


I struggle with snacks. When I read ingredient lists for packaged snacks, even ones claiming health benefits, I never hesitate to put them back on the grocery store shelf (although I would so love to take over the entire aisle and put an enormous "WARNING - what you are about to indulge in contains harmful substances" banner across it). It saddens me to think about the overwhelming amount of kids growing up on nutrition-void and chemical-pumped foods, and also the parents who don't seem to catch on to the connection between food and behaviour, health and defenseless immune systems.
And while my kids won't yet touch some foods, like goats cheese, I am setting a good example by choosing it over fake cheese spread (you know which one I'm talking about). Creamy brie or sharp cheddar is their first choice, thank goodness.

My sister-in-law, Lauren, and I enjoy long chats about our society's food and therefore health issues, together we dig deeper and try to come up with better solutions for our families. There are plenty out there, let me tell you, and most are much simpler than you'd think. I laughed (and cheered!) as she told me about offering her boys a quick dinner of fast food one busy, busy day (it takes much busyness to get to that point), resulting only in big tears from boys who'd much rather eat their mom's home cooked dinners than a meal in a box. Who says kids need processed chicken to be kids? Allow them to learn about the good stuff, get them involved in cooking, and be surprised with the results. It's simply amazing, and yet makes so much sense.
So try these sweet and salty, nutrition packed nuts... with goats cheese on apple slices at home or pack a yogurt and sprinkle these on if you're on the go, or simply enjoy right out of the jar. I know you, and your offspring, are going to love them.

Maple Glazed Almonds with Sunflower Seeds and Pepitas

1 1/2 cups raw, whole almonds
1/2 cup raw, unsalted sunflower seeds
1/2 cups raw, unsalted pepitas
1/3 cup real maple syrup
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch kosher salt

Place a 12 inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the almonds and seeds, pour over the maple syrup, stirring constantly to coat thoroughly. Continue until nuts being to caramelize and become glossy, about 4 - 6 minutes. Quickly add in cinnamon and kosher salt, then remove from heat, and spread on a sheet of parchment paper. Cool and store in an air-tight container.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Progress update

It's been a week of non-stop construction dust, it seems we have spent many, caring hours on this panelling. (Which still cracks me up.) But I really, really love it! Adding character on a teeny budget, accomplished.

This before shot was taken during the day, the 'in-between', below, (rather) late at night without proper lighting. Stay tuned for official after shots!

In the midst of it all we celebrated Sydney's 7th birthday. My kids are fortunate to have a grandma who makes cakes rather well. As they grow up and out of kid's birthdays, I love knowing they will look back and remember "the cakes that Gram made".

I love you, baby girl!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Loving the everyday

About a year and half ago, give or take a few weeks, I sat myself down on my big, comfy couch with a cup of hot chocolate and a super cozy blanket, candles flickering in the background, I am sure. I had a decision to make. Have you ever noticed that successful folks seem to be passionate about (mostly) just one thing? And so become really, super good at what they do? Well, I felt torn in two between decorating and cooking. I do love them both equally. Both are creative, fun and a great way to express myself.

In the end, I chose cooking, put my decorating adventures on the back burner and let the pots do do all the talking instead of the walls. The biggest deciding factor being that cooking is an everyday event, I would never get bored, I can start a new "project" with every new dinner and still never ever run out of things to do and learn. Cooking has not let me down. There are days, though, I think I may never eat again since the house smells of food far too much. Weird? I know... but smell seems to satisfy my hunger rather often.

And that is exactly when design and decorating comes back to mind, I simply can not help myself. I'll never stop loving this fun and very much personal expression of personality. The way I see it, you may spend money on golf, I spend my hobby money on creativity. In the end, we are both satisfied.

So the question remains, can I do both? Perhaps I can, since I'll be in the kitchen singing my song around 4pm without a doubt in my mind that food excites and satisfies me. And on those days where leftovers abound, and the pots enjoy a day off, I'll trail off to my next decorating project.

And what better place to get back at'er than the kitchen?

I keep a folder with inspiration photographs, do you? They all seem to go in one direction as of late. I like to call it 'industrial chic'. And so, my bare, boring, once green walls are finally receiving a little more of my character... a perfect balance of old and new. (Is it ironic to update a kitchen with 80's panelling? I think not, when I go back to my inspiration shot, above.)

I feel rather lucky that my love enjoys the process as much as I do.

Still, in the midst of it all, I made this oh-so-yummy Chili and served it with homemade spinach pasta. The photo really does not do it credit. But I suppose we all have our limits?!

TIP: wear plastic gloves when handling hot chili peppers, or wash hands well with soap and water if you do touch the chilies.

Roast Beef Chili serves 4 - 6
3 pounds round beef roast, cubed (pick one with not too much marbelling or connective tissue)
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
olive oil
2 onions, diced
1 large sweet red pepper, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
10 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
2 tbsps tomato paste
1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes
1 tbsp grated unsweetened chocolate
2 hot red chili peppers, seeded and hand-torn
2 tbsps whole coriander seeds
2 tbsps purchased chili powder
2 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp white sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 medium size can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
lime wedges
fresh cilantro leaves
First make your chili powder:
In a dry skillet, toast the hot red chili peppers with the whole coriander seeds over low heat until fragrant, shaking the pan so they don't burn.
Now put these in a blender or coffee bean grinder and pulse until you have a fine powder. Add the remaining chili powder spices, sugar and salt.
Season the beef cubes with plenty of salt and pepper. Set a large pot over medium - high heat and add about 3 tbsps of olive oil. When the pot and oil is very hot, add the beef and stir until brown.
Mix in the onion, red pepper, jalapeno, and garlic.
Stir in the chili powder you just made.
Add tomato paste and San Marzano tomatoes, crushing tomatoes with the back of wooden spoon.
Now add the chocolate. (Think depth of flavour...mmmmm)
Add enough water to just cover the beef and simmer, UNcovered, until the meat is fork tender and comes apart with no resistance, about 2 hours.
Grab two forks and pull beef cubes apart, as little or as much as you prefer.
Stir in the drained red kidney beans, taste and season with salt and pepper.
Simmer for another 30 minutes, covered if already reduced to a thick consistency, stirring occasionally.
Garnish with lime wedges and cilantro leaves.
Serve as is, or over pasta (this cuts the heat for the kiddos), corn bread or just a bunch of shredded cheddar cheese.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sprout passion

I've been eating these beautiful sandwiches for days now. The sprouts are no longer at their prime but they still satisfy my lunch cravings, beyond what any pb & j could ever achieve. Homemade Italian Multigrain bread is incredibly soft yet full of texture. Spread with spicy Dijon mustard and topped with thin slices of double cream brie (no need for mayo here!), this sandwich welcomes Broccolini sprouts and cherry tomatoes and balances the richness of the cheese with bitter sprouts and spicy mustard perfectly. Who doesn't love a harmonious sandwich! What's your favourite?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Poached Salmon, The next day

One does not need a recipe for fishcakes. Add flavour with sauteed onions, celery and carrots, perhaps some red pepper too. Add substance with cool mashed potatoes and dry bread crumbs. Bind it all together with an egg or two.

Saute in 2 tbsp each butter and olive oil on medium high heat.

If you've ever made fishcakes with canned salmon, you simply must try it with fresh.

Date night at my house

I understand it takes a foodie to enjoy the cooking process for a home cooked date, but I've got myself convinced this could be fun for all. Imagine sipping on a beautiful glass of wine, favourite music creating a cozy atmosphere... you chop some veggies, cut herbs from your garden, smelling them with a deep breath before adding to a stock pot... People, it's rejuvenating and satisfying on a whole new level. (Don't forget to send the kids to Grama's though!)

Poached salmon is not visually stunning. It's rather pale and has no caramelization, but cook it perfectly, and you'll have yourself outrageously moist and tender salmon, through and through. (And bonus! Get ready for the most amazing broth for a comforting winter soup the next day.)

Add fresh chopped herbs to organic mashed potatoes (ever get stumped at which potato to use for a perfect mash? Always go yellow!)... it's a Salmon and Potato match made in heaven.
The poaching veggies are super yummy, but you may want to save them for your next day soup endeavours, and instead serve blanched, young asparagus. Either way, it's sure to be tasty!

White Wine Poached Salmon Steak

2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 leek, whites and tender greens sliced
2 stalks celery, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 springs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
about 5 fresh parsley sprigs
1 cup white wine
1 tbsp cider vinegar
fresh ground pepper and salt

2 - 4 salmon steaks

Place everything but the salmon in a large stock pot. Fill the pot half way with cold water, more if needed. Bring to a boil.
Add the salmon steaks, bring it back to a boil then turn the heat down to a low simmer. Cook for 5 minutes, turn off the heat and cook 5 more minutes in the residual heat.
Drain the fish (save the stock!), and serve the fish with the veggies and potato mash.

Use leftover salmon and potatoes for delicious fishcakes the next day to go along side the before-mentioned soup, so be sure to make extra!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Pasta makes me happy

What's that old saying, "A picture says a thousand words"?

Here are four thousand for ya.

In summary, pasta is simplicity and innovation at its best.

PS I love my foodie friends. "Two heads are better than one." Thanks, Wanda-licious, for learning with me (and the great tips)!