31.12.10

Million Dollar Chicken


So the holiday ills are never ending with my family this season. I thought we were out of the woods but I was so wrong. Wini developed pneumonia and now that she's better my little Ruby seems to have caught the flu again. Our only outings have been to the hospital so I guess that's where we are picking up our new bugs. Damn those sick people! Not my sick people just the ones that are passing along the ickyness. If you see my posse on the street, give us a wide berth. You don't want what we have.

I did manage to get out last night. A couple glass of wine and some good friends sure can make three weeks of sick kids seem like a distant past. I am constantly amazed at how varied and interesting people's lives are. There are so many choices out there. Sometimes it's hard to figure out which ones to choose. I'm in the process of making some decisions myself and I'll fill you in when I know more. I am now officially ending the cryptic babbling.

Even with all the sickness, we still had a wonderful Christmas. Everyone got along and we were all in good cheer. We missed you dad. I have high hopes for 2011. 2010 was a little rocky in it's latter half and I'm looking forward to good friends, lots of family and new choices in the new year. I hope it's a good one for you too.

Million Dollar Chicken

My adorable friend Heather made this for my family the other week and we all loved it. It's easy, quick and tasty. Thanks for the recipe Heath!

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup almonds, slivered
2 cloves garlic, chopped
8 boneless chicken thighs (around 2 lbs)
1 cup bottled salsa
2 tbsp currants (Heather likes to add more)
1 tbsp honey
3/4 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Heat pan and add almonds until toasted. Remove almonds and set aside. Add oil to pan and allow it to heat up. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add chicken and brown on all sides. Mix the salsa, currants, honey , cumin and cinnamon in a bowl. Add mixture to chicken, reduce heat to medium low, and cover and cook for 20 minutes. Serve with rice and garnish with almonds.


23.12.10

Shortbread


I'm back. At least mostly back. I was down and out with the flu for a week, and then the rest of the family got it. We were in isolation for almost two weeks. That does not do my soul any good. I was getting all bummed out and bored from being coop up inside. I would make an awful hermit. All the other hermits would laugh at me for trying to talk to them. No one would show up for my hermit parties. I'm in a much better mood now and just in time for Christmas.

Every year I give my neighbours a little bag of treats. I'm not sure if it's wanted or appreciated. Regardless, I still want to give them a token of appreciation. I am grateful that they all seem fairly normal and they cause me very little stress. We do our obligatory chit chat across our lawns, and don't get too personal. I'm happy to bear it all with my friends but I am a little more reserved with my immediate residents.

We started a new tradition this year. The tradition is that Jess bakes the cookies for our neighbour gifts. He may not realize that this is the new tradition but I'm going to fly with it. He's perfected his shortbread recipe. And for a girl who doesn't really like shortbread, I've sure eaten a few.

Sea Salt and Pepper Shortbread

1 part sugar
2 parts butter
3 parts flour

All ratios are by weight. Cream butter and sugar. Mix in flour. Form dough into a log, and refrigerate for 2 hours. Remove from fridge and cut log into discs. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and pepper. Place on a greased cookie tray and bake for 10 minutes at 350 F.


20.12.10

tried and true.


Have you decided what you are cooking for Christmas dinner?

If you haven't, might I recommend this ham?

I really can't say enough good things about it, so I will leave it at this:

It's perfect.

I made it for our Christmas dinner last year, and it was so good that I made it again this past Easter. I would have been quite happy to make it again for Thanksgiving, had my husband not observed mildly, "You know, I don't actually LOVE ham."

A shocking statement, to be sure, but I rallied in October and made a luscious leg of lamb instead.

I had grand plans for a different sort of beast this Christmas as well (crown roast of pork? Filet de boeuf?), because we are having some extra special guests and I do still sometimes, albeit very occasionally, feel the urge to put my hard-earned flashy cooking skills to good use and make something complicated and impressive for a festive occasion.

But as the big day draws alarmingly near, and I continue to hobble through my days encumbered by crutches and a cast (funny story...), this tried-and-true and utterly delectable ham is starting to look like the winner.

I am thinking of this for one of my sides, and my daughter, who has lately become a bit of a francophile thanks to her infatuation with the Madeline stories, has requested buche de noel for dessert.

But that's as far as I've got. I am stymied, as ever, by vegetables. I feel I need at least two to make this dinner into a veritable feast.

What about you? What will you be eating for the big day, and (equally importantly) the manic week that precedes it? Any snappy sides to recommend?

Do tell!

Thyme and Honey Glazed Ham
from Gourmet, April 2009

I use a ham about half this size, and reduce the cooking time roughly by half as well. Other than that, I follow the recipe to the letter (can you believe it?)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons chopped thyme
1 (12-to 14-pounds) boneless or semiboneless fully cooked ham at room temperature 1 hour
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup mild honey
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Melt butter with thyme and let stand until ready to use.
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in lower third.

Peel off and discard any rind or skin from ham, leaving 1/4 inch of fat on ham. Score fat on top of ham in a crosshatch pattern without cutting into meat. Put ham on a rack in a large roasting pan. Cover ham with parchment paper, then cover roasting pan with foil. Bake 1 3/4 hours.

Meanwhile, boil vinegar in a small saucepan until reduced to about 1 tablespoon. Remove from heat and whisk in honey, Worcestershire sauce, and thyme butter. Let honey glaze stand until ham has baked 1 3/4 hours.

Discard foil and parchment from ham. If there is no liquid in roasting pan, add 1 cup water (liquid will prevent glaze from burning in pan). Brush ham with half of honey glaze, then bake, uncovered, 30 minutes.

Brush with remaining glaze and bake until glaze is deep golden-brown and ham is heated through, about 30 minutes more.

12.12.10

sailor jerry (christmas fuitcake, part 1).


I have a friend who recently decided to stop colouring her hair.

We've been friends for years and we remain close, despite that fact that she is still single and fabulous and I am married with children, and that colouring my hair is the only (tenuous) thread that remains to connect me to my former glamourous self.

She is a massage therapist, an excellent bartender, and a world traveler. She used to live in the Caribbean, and she is planning an ambitious solo adventure to celebrate her 40th birthday next year.

She also flew in to town to spend the weekend with me not long ago, at a time when I very much needed the support.

So that should tell you everything you need to know about this friend of mine: she is brave, kind, and awesome.

She didn't even grimace with distaste (which would have been appropriate) when I tried to serve her the spiced rum I bought because I liked its name (Sailor Jerry) and its label (vintage tattoos) but neglected to check its provenance (umm...New Jersey?).

Instead, she whipped up some champagne cocktails to get us through our afternoon.

And Sailor Jerry is destined for this Christmas cake, which I plan to make later today.

Christmas Cake, Version 1

You'll have to start making this as soon as you finish reading the recipe, pretty much, in order for it to be well-aged in time for Christmas - I will be posting a more procrastinator-friendly version soon. But if you like fruitcake, this is a classic. The recipe comes from the Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook, via my mom.


For Fruit Mixture:
(Note that you can vary the amounts here as much as you wish, as long as your total volume comes up roughly equivalent. You should also not hesitate to substitute ingredients you like for the ones you don't, eg. chopped dried pears for currants, etc.)

250g slivered almonds
1 kg candied cherries
450g chopped mixed peel
2c raisins
1c currants
1c chopped pitted dates
1/2c spiced rum

For Cake:

2 1/2c flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1c butter
2c lightly packed brown sugar
6 eggs
3/4c molasses
3/4c apple juice

I would get started on the fruit mixture the night before you are planning to bake your cake. All you have to do is combine all of the ingredients in a large pyrex mixing bowl, stir well, and cover lightly with plastic wrap.

The next morning, add 1/2c flour to the fruit mixture and stir well. Set aside.

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Grease, line with parchment, and then grease again an approximately 8"x8"x3" loaf pan.

Sift together remaining 2c flour, baking soda, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, and salt in a large mixing bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter. Gradually add sugar, then eggs one at a time, beating well between additions.

Combine molasses and apple juice in a glass measuring jug, whisking to mix.

Reduce mixer speed to medium-low, and add sifted dry ingredients alternately with molasses mixture, mixing lightly after each addition, and finishing with the flour mixture.

Fold in fruit mixture, and turn out into prepared pan.

Bake 3 to 3 1/2 hopurs, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from pan and remove parchment. Cool cake completely on a rack.

When cake has cooled, feed with a little rum (2-3 tbsp) then wrap in a layer of parchment, then a layer of foil. Continue to feed the cake with rum every few days, rewrapping well each time. The cake should age a minimum of around 2 weeks, so if you're motivated, there is still time!

6.12.10

of sweethearts and stars.


Well, hello there!

I can scarcely believe that, in effect, an entire season has just passed without my contributing a thing around here.

I have been trying to figure out how to address this last epic silence from my end; as these things go, the longer I thought about it, the more ambivalent I was about addressing it at all, and then the silence itself started to feel so insurmountable that I nearly gave up on the idea of blogging altogether.

But then, December arrived, and my husband returned home after months of (more and less) lengthy absences.

And, just like that, the festive season began around here.

My children woke up this morning to the first real snow of the season, and I woke up to the promise of a long bath, a new magazine, and coffee drunk while it is still hot.

Friends, we have so much to catch up on!


Sunday Stars
Even while single-parenting, I can't resist the outlook-changing lure of a fresh-baked breakfast. I have been using spelt or light spelt flour of late, but for these I tried a combination of light spelt, coconut, and whole wheat flours, because that is all I had on hand!

1c large flake oats
3/4c buttermilk
1 1/2c flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 stick (1/2c) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1/4c brown sugar
1 large ripe banana, mashed
1/4c chocolate chips
1/4c craisins

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Combine oats and buttermilk in a glass measuring cup, stir well, and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and a pinch of salt, if desired. Cut in butter and brown sugar until mixture is fairly uniform and resembles small peas.

Add oat mixture, banana, chocolate chips and craisins to bowl and stir just to combine into a sloppy dough. Turn out onto a well-floured piece of parchment and knead 3-4 times to help the dough come together a bit.

Roll (using a well-floured rolling pin) or pat dough into a round about an inch thick. Cut out shapes using an approximately 3" cookie or biscuit cutter. Place biscuits on prepared baking sheet; re-roll or pat the dough and cut out more shapes, until you've filled the baking sheet - I usually get somewhere in the neighbourhood of 16-18 biscuits.

Bake 18-10 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Cool a few minutes on pan, then transfer to a rack and serve very warm, while the chocolate is still gooey.

30.11.10

Treats


I can't believe it's almost Christmas. I do realize December just arrived but it still feels as if the holidays are right on my doorstep. I guess I've fallen for all the marketing pressure. They start pumping it out right after Halloween. I try to ignore it but somehow it seeps in.

I'd love it if Christmas wasn't about the presents. Or if everyone stuck to the rule of only handmade gifts. That's a hard rule if you suck at making gifts. Not everyone wants a popsicle stick ashtray, or underwear made from macaroni.

I know a family who does secret Santa every year. Ya, I know, big deal. What they do differently is that they pull for names the day after Christmas so they have a whole year to make something great. That's the catch, they have to make their gifts. You can perfect a lots of false starts when you have 365 days to work with. I'm making Jess a scarf since the one I made for myself is fabulous. This is only my second knitting project so who knows how it will turn out. Unfortunately, Jess will be getting it for Christmas whether it works out or not since I won't have time to knit another one. If I had the whole year to knit I'd be able to crank out several crappy scarves before I hit the jackpot.

To buck consumerism, I try to think of inexpensive gifts for my girls since I think they have enough stuff. Reya is getting some yarn and knitting needles, and I am going to teach her how to knit. Wini wants to bake a cake, so she is getting a new cake pan, the dry ingredients in a jar and a recipe. Ruby may get a lump of coal since she is still young enough to be convinced that that is a great gift. And I can say I made it myself.

Happy holidays everyone.

Butter Tarts

Pastry
2 cup white flour
1 cup shortening
1 tsp salt
1 egg
1 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp cold water

Filling
1/2 cup of raisins
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup
2 eggs lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1tsp lemon juice

Blend shortening and flour with a pastry cutter until crumbly. In separate bowl combine salt egg, vinegar and cold water. Add to flour and shortening and mix until just combined and no more. The key to dough is to handle it as little as possible. Form dough into a ball and wrap in cellophane. Place in freezer for 10 minutes. Roll dough out on a floured surface to about 1/8" thick. Cut out circles and press into a greased muffin tin.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Pour boiling water over raisins and let sit for 5 minutes and then drain. Stir together butter and sugar. Blend in corn syrup, eggs, vanilla, and lemon juice. Stir in drained raisins but don't stir so much that the mixture bubbles. Fill pastry 2/3 full. Bake 15-20 or until pastry is golden.


23.11.10

Juicing.


Well it's official. I'm a bonafide health nut. I started juicing. I should put on a sweatband, and start drinking raw eggs for breakfast. I've always been health conscious but it's probably more for vanity reasons as opposed to real health concerns. If I were a slim, high metabolism, I can eat whatever I like and still look fabulous kind of gal I'm not sure I would ever get off the couch. I would fill my bedroom full of Cracker Jacks and eat my way out of bed every morning. I would use ice cream as a milk substitute for my cereal. At lunch I would use slabs of chocolate instead of bread for my ham and cheese sandwiches. I think you get the picture.

But alas, I am not that girl. So here I am juicing. And I wouldn't swap my fresh juice for any skinny girl genes. That was a lie.

I do like my juice. My buddy Neil gave me a comprehensive tutorial on the machine and a few recipes. He also lent me his juicer which is great. I've already mailed my letter to Santa with my request. I sure hope he gets it in time.

I'm brand spanking new to this juicing thing so if you have any recipes or tips please send them to me.

Green Elixir

3 green apples
2 whole lemons
3 celery stalks
1 cup torn romaine lettuce
2 cups chopped and densely packed dark greens (kale, collards or parsley)

Wash all of your produce. Quarter you apples. Turn your juicer on and start shoving it in. Enjoy and feel virtuous for being so healthy.
This will yield a larger batch of juice then one sitting - store in vacuum sealed thermos for next day or freeze it.

16.11.10

Eat Your Greens


I'm always trying to eat more greens. I love my greens but they are not all made equally. Let's face it the ones that taste the worst are usually the best for you. Why did Nature do that? Was she trying to hog all the nutritious ones for herself? Was it her way to feel physically superior to us? Let me give you a hint Nature, throw a quick hurricane at us and we soon realize who's boss.

As adults, it's fairly easy to convince ourselves why we should eat kale, swiss chard and the other gross tasting vegetables but try telling that to my kids. So far I've only been able to convince my 3 year old. She'll happily eat a bowl of kale chips, or steamed bok choy. My other kids are harder to fool. When faced with a plate of stinky greens, a common statement from my four year old is "It smells like poo". This is a hard argument to debate. I'm not sure she'll believe that a plate of feces is going to make her strong and healthy. Maybe I should present them with a real plate of feces and then give them the option of eating brussel sprouts instead. Isn't good parenting all about giving kids choices?

The other night I made a great side dish of brussel sprouts. The adults at the table loved them but the kids wouldn't eat them. There was no references to poo so maybe I'm making some progress.

Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Maple Syrup

15 brussel sprouts
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp maple syrup
4 slices of bacon, diced
1/4 cup of walnuts
salt and pepper to taste

Steam brussel sprouts until tender. Drain and cut lengthwise. Heat oil in a pan on medium high heat, and add sprouts and bacon. Stir occasionally until bacon begins to crisp. Add balsamic vinegar stir well. Let brussel sprouts sit until they caramelize slightly. Add syrup and walnuts, toss and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

7.11.10

Hand Models


I went over to a friend's house this week for craft night. She hosts craft night every 3 weeks. The last time I was there was 6 months ago and I hadn't made any progress on my project. I'm a craft lover at heart but obviously don't make a lot of time for it in my daily life. I have lots of ideas and use to keep a craft journal of future artsy endeavors. My first undertaking was to create a blog where I would try and use the word "craft" in as many sentences as possible until all things crafty in a 10 block radius would spontaneously explode. It was going to be the highlight of my crafting career.

I am trying to relearn knitting. I have only knitted silver wire for my jewelery business and wanted to try yarn. Well I tried it and it was crappy. I'd pick up my knitting project from time to time and contemplate how I could improve it. I concluded if the yarn wasn't going to put in any effort to look better why should I. I decided the best thing for everybody was to punish my knitted mess for being so ugly. So I left it in the corner for 6 months and gave it my best cold shoulder.

Then it was time for craft night. I took my sorry excuse for knitting to my friend's house and tried again. I unraveled my bastard child and gave birth to my new favorite. One day she is going to grow up and be a scarf. Not just any scarf but one that came from a humble Value Village beginning to an overachieving front porch star. She'll put all my other winter accessories to shame. She's only 30 cm long but may one day wrap all around my neck if I don't run out of yarn. When you see me all bundled up on a winter's day sometime in the near future, don't forget to compliment me on my scarf.

Blue Cheese Dip with Sweet Potato Chips

4 large sweet potatoes
3 tbsp olive oil
4 oz blue cheese
2 heaping tbsp cream cheese
1 cup yoghurt
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp fresh rosemary
2 tbsp fresh dill
1/2 tsp hot sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Slice sweet potatoes 1/8 " thick and toss in olive oil. Bake at 415 F for 10-15 on each side or until crispy. Combine the rest of the ingredients together in a bowl. Mash together well and serve with warm sweet potato chips.
NOTE: I would like to take this opportunity to thank my two hand models in the photo above. Laura and Emily, I couldn't of done it without you. There would be no blue cheese dip without your dipping support.

3.11.10

Halloween


I made a risotto the other night and it got eaten so fast that I didn't have a chance to photograph it. So you are stuck with a picture of me and my daughter. I'm the non feline.

I've always loved Halloween. My mom used to make all my costumes. When I was six, I was Wonder Woman. I thought I was pretty hot stuff in my costume. I spent the night wielding my super powers, flying around in my invisible plane and collecting as much candy as possible.

We used to live across the street from a girl named Michelle. Her house wasn't the most kid friendly house on the street, but that was no reason to avoid them on Halloween night. You have to optimize your opportunities when you only have one block to work. I pranced up to their door and yelled "Trick or treat". Michelle's mom opened the door and asked me what I had dressed up as for Halloween. "Wonder Woman" I replied proudly. "No" she responded surly "You are Woner Woman". And then she tossed me a Tootsie Roll. Deflated I looked down at my shirt to see that she was right. I was Woner Woman. My mom had forgotten the D.

So I went home and ate my whole bag of candy. No just joking. I wasn't that traumatized by it. I just like that story and it gives me warm thoughts of past Halloweens. I do like a poorly executed homemade costume. I always give those kids extra candy.

Mushroom, Bacon, and Walnut Risotto
from The Mediterrasian Way

6 tbsp olive oil
2 onions finely chopped
4 slices of bacon, diced
2 cups arborio rice
2 cups white button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup white wine
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and cooked onions until softened. Add bacon and cook 2 minutes. Add rice, mushrooms, garlic, and walnuts for 1 minute. Add stock, wine, salt and pepper, bring to a boil, cover with a lid, and reduce heat to low. Simmer gently for 20 minutes without lifting the lid. When done, stir in cheese and serve.
This is the easiest risotto ever.



1.11.10

Big Pants!


I haven't been cooking much lately. I've been blessed with friends who have given me lots of food so I don't have to cook if I don't want to. It's much more practical to send food than flowers when hardship is on our doorstep.

The thing with hardship is that I never think I have it so bad. That doesn't mean I don't cry myself to sleep when I need to or think certain aspects of life suck sometimes. The difference is that I can always put it in perspective. My general attitude towards life is that someone out there in the world is struggling more than me. Someone has to work harder and overcome more obstacles than I ever will. There are people who can't afford to feed their children, or are in constant pain, or are simply unhappy.

Every day I am grateful for what I have. And I don't need no stinking gratitude journal to keep track. In yo face Oprah! Sorry I got sidetracked. I am blessed to be able to have a warm bath on a Sunday afternoon, afford a membership at the YMCA, and eat gobs of Halloween candy in elasticized pants. Who needs more than that in a lifetime? Really just the elasticized pants will get you pretty far in life.

Baked Pumpkin Seeds
I know, I know it's so last year but they are tasty.

seeds from a pumpkin, unwashed with goop on
equal parts soya sauce, olive oil, sesame oil
Fleur de sel to taste
fresh ground pepper to taste

Remove seeds from pumpkin but don't wash them. Keep them goopy. Coat with soya, olive and sesame oil. Season with salt and pepper. Bake on a cookie tray at 375 F for 10-15 minutes or until golden.

26.10.10

It's Party Time


I love a good party as much as the next guy. Not so much when it's my kid's birthday party. I always get a little stressed about them. I tend to counter that stress by spending too much money for someone to come entertain the mob. When did child parties become such a booming business? And who would be crazy enough to be in that business?

In the past few years, I've tried to spend less and go back to the parties of my generation. I don't remember ever being entertained at a birthday party. I would be dropped off, and then proceed to eat as much junk food without throwing up until my mom came back. Maybe that's why I was a fat kid? I just put that together now.

October is busy. Two of my kids have birthdays this month. I rented a bouncy castle for my six year old and it was a hit. That's my plan for every future birthday until they are twenty. After the kids went home, Jess and I went in and had a bounce off. I've never jumped so high in my life. The only downside was I almost peed my pants. But what the hell, it's a rental.

For loot bags, Reya's friends got homemade chocolate covered apples for their parting gift. It was cheap and delicious. Next time I would skip the shredded coconut, the kids just wanted the chocolate. Really you could skip the apple as well, but the presentation isn't as nice.

Chocolate Apples

6 apples, chilled
6 popsicle sticks
1 lb of semi sweet chocolate
1 cup of sweetened shredded coconut

Twist the stems off the apples, and insert a popsicle stick in the base of the apple. Heat chocolate until melted in a double boiler over medium heat. Dip apples in chocolate, and use a spoon to pour chocolate in hard to reach places. Once covered, sprinkle with coconut. Place on a plate covered with parchment paper and let set in the fridge.

15.10.10

Dad


I haven't posted in a while. My dad died suddenly a few days ago. This is the last photo I took of him. We had a complicated relationship. One full of love, anger, forgiveness, wisdom, and awkwardness. He tried to be a good father but sometimes he stumbled. I know he loved me deeply and I mostly returned that love. At times I was too angry to do so. My dad taught me to forgive. Indirectly he showed me that I could live a life of anger and hate or I could forgive and let love be my guiding force. We all have our demons but not everyone is strong enough to conquer them.
My kids saw a gentler side of my father and for that I am grateful. He was a loving grandfather, and enjoyed every moment he had with them. I hope their memories of my father remain with them always.
The last time I saw my dad was on Thanksgiving weekend for my daughter's birthday. We all had a good time, and it was the last meal I shared with him. I made spaghetti and meatballs and lasagna, as I do for all my kids birthday dinners. My dad always liked when I cooked Italian. He wasn't even close to being a vegetarian but enjoyed my veggie lasagna. I use to slave over my lasagnas but no longer have the luxury of making everything from scratch. So dad, here's my recipe. It will always remind me of you.

Lazy Man's Lasagna

9-12 oven ready lasagna noodles
1 jar of tomato sauce
250 ml cottage cheese
1 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated mozzerella cheese
1 large bunch of baby spinach, chopped finely
1 250 ml jar of roasted red peppers, drained and finely diced
2 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 C. Lightly oil a 9 x 13" glass baking dish. Combine cottage cheese, spinach, eggs, and 1/2 cup Parmesan and 1/2 cup mozzerella in a large bowl. Mix well. Pour small amount of tomato sauce on the bottom of pan. Cover with a layer of lasagna noodles, then 1/3 of cottage cheese mixture and 1/3 of peppers. Repeat until all filling is in pan. Cover top layer of noodles with remaining tomato sauce and cheese. Bake for 45 minutes and serve hot.

2.10.10

Trashy Goodness


Man it was cold today. I guess it wasn't if you were dressed for it, but who was prepared? Certainly not me. We are trying not to turn on the heat until November 1st. Jess has decided that he is going to make a pie every night so the oven can warm up our house. I may crawl into our kettle and turn on the burner. I don't heat up well. Cold hands, warm heart as my ex boyfriend use to say.

This is also the time for comfort food. I've got two favorites. One is melted cheese on toast and the other is chicken and rice cooked with mushroom soup. Didn't every seventies mom make that one? It rocks and I don't know how to make it. I'm sure it's not hard. I could look up the recipe but I don't want to. I want my mom to make that one for me and if she's not available I want someone else to make it. It's the kind of dish that tastes better when it's served to you. It is not a high class fare but I've never claimed to be high class.

Here's another classic, tuna noodle casserole with a potato chip crust. Last week was the first time I had heard of potato chip crusts. Obviously I haven't been hanging out at the trailer park enough. My kids hated it but Jess ate the whole thing.

Tuna Noodle Casserole with Leeks and Fresh Dill
From Bon Appetit

1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups of thinly sliced leeks
1/4 tsp celery seeds
coarse kosher salt to taste
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup half and half (I skipped this and it was still creamy)
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
8 ounces wide egg noodles
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
2 5 to 6 ounce cans albacore tuna, drained and broken into chunks
2 cups coarsely crushed salted potato chips

Butter 8 x 8x 2 glass baking dish. Melt butter in pan over medium heat. Add leeks and celery seeds, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Cover for about 8 minutes until leeks are cooked but not brown. Add flour, stir one minute and gradually add milk and half and half. Simmer until mixture thickens, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
Cook noodles, drain and transfer to a large bowl. Pour leeks sauce over noodles and add cheese, and dill. Mix well and then fold in tuna. Transfer to baking dish and cover with foil. Bake at 375F for 25 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle with crushed chips and bake uncovered for another 10 minutes.

28.9.10

My Lunchtime Lament


I've been at home taking care of my kids for 6 years. It has flown by, it really has. I've loved it and sometimes I've hated it. I've always been grateful that I've been lucky enough to stay home and give my kids the extra time. Sometimes I'm a fantastic mom and sometimes I'm not.

This Fall all my kids are in school. Reya's in grade one, Wini JK, and Ruby is in preschool a few mornings a week. I've dreamed of the Fall of 2010. In my darkest parenting days, this September has been the light at the end of the tunnel. I have arrived!

Except now I'm not sure I wanted to get here so quickly. I feel a little out of sorts. What do I need all this free time for? Other moms I know are busy with projects and new jobs. They seem to have no problem filling their time. I feel like I'm just wandering the streets buying groceries to occupy myself, or am asking random people to hang out with me. I have projects too, you know. I just don't want to do them.

Now my little almost six year old is eating lunch at school. I don't see her all day. Mostly I'm fine with that. Soon they'll all be eating lunch at school. That I'm not cool with. Who's going to be my baby? I can't believe how fast they are growing up. Maybe I need to get a dog?

Smart Cookies for the Lunchbox
from Honest pretzel by Mollie Katzen

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup oat bran
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup apple sauce
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

Preheat oven at 375 C. Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Pour in the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Oil a 9 x 13 inch baking pan, and throw it all in there. Bake for 30 minutes. Take cookies out and cut into squares. Put squares on a baking tray and cook for 15 minutes longer. Remove and let cool before serving.

25.9.10

Pie in the Sky


Oh Pie, how I love thee. Yes I do think Pie deserves a capital P. It's that important. I didn't always like Pie but Jess showed me the way. He makes a mean apple Pie. Now that we have a very prolific rhubarb plant in the garden, he makes a very nasty rhubarb Pie as well. The problem with Jess and I is our lack of control when it comes to eating too much Pie. Why oh why does Pie have to make me fat? Can't it be mean and kind to my figure all at the same time?

When Jess and I starting dating we became happy fat. We both enjoyed eating good food and it started to show. We really needed our friends to do an intervention, but it should of been clear to us as well. One obvious sign occurred during a Saturday afternoon. We had been out late the night before and planned to hunker down in our apartment and watch a few movies. We decided to make some hoagie sandwiches for a snack. When we got to the deli and bought our bread, we had a revelation. Instead of making two sandwiches, we could get our loaf of light rye sliced horizontally and make a giant loaf sized hoagie that we could graze on for hours. It was brilliant, and delicious. I think we grew two sizes just from that afternoon.

We've slimmed down slightly since then but Pie keeps calling us back. Even though Jess makes a mean Pie, I'm going to give you my Aunty Sara's pie recipe.

Aunty Sara's Rhubarb Pie

Crust
2 cups of self rising flour
1/2 cup of vegetable shortening
1/2 cup of margarine
2 tsp sugar
1/3 cup water

Filling
4 cups diced rhubarb
2 cups sugar
2 tsp cornstarch

For the crust, combine all ingredients except water in a bowl. Crumble it with your fingers until all the crumbs stick together. My aunt's trick is that you crumble and lift at the same time, so the crumbs fall into the bowl. You want to get the air into the crust so it doesn't taste too heavy when you bake it. Slowly pour in water until your dough starts to form. You may not need as much water as I've listed but it'll be close to it. Form into a ball, and roll out on a floured surface. Try and roll out the dough only once, and handle it as little as possible. Cover a greased pie plate and shave off the extra dough. If you are making a covered pie, roll out another circle from left over dough and set aside.
For the filling, combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Fill pie plate with filling and cover with leftover dough. Pinch sides of plate to keep filling in.
Bake at 400 C for 50 minutes.

21.9.10

Fig This


I am almost too tired to write this. It's not that it's late at night, it's that I haven't slept well for a week and I'm feeling it. I am only getting about 7 hours of sleep. I know most new moms would spit in my face for my last comment and I would gladly deserve it. I'm a nine hour a night kind of girl. All you sleepy people out there know what I'm talking about. I am simply exhausted if I sleep less than that. It took me a long time to figure out my magic number but now I know and I'm sticking to it.

I'm a much nicer person when I'm well rested. When I'm tired I get petty and start to imagine getting into fights with strangers over the pettiest of crimes. I want to yell at the yahoo at the party who double dips, or curse at the person who dares to brush past me on a crowded sidewalk. It's not that I have a whole bunch of pent up rage that needs to be released, I'm just a grump when I'm tired. I'm usually quite easy going, or at least that how I like to perceive myself. It seems I am also unable to write anything interesting when I lack sleep.

You can't win them all. Hopefully you'll come back for a more restful, and entertaining post in a few days.

Here's a delicious fig salad I made weeks ago. As of late, we've been living off of scrambled eggs and melted cheese on toast.

Fig, Pear and Goat Cheese Salad

4 fresh figs, cut in quarters
1/2 cup of walnut pieces
1/2 cup of crumbled goat cheese
1 tsp of honey
juice of 1/2 a lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
fresh ground pepper to taste
2 pears, cored and thickly sliced
3 cups of mixed greens

In a small bowl, whisk together honey, lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, and pepper. Set aside. Place pears and greens in a large bowl and toss together with the dressing. Divide among four plates and top with figs, walnuts, and goat's cheese.

14.9.10

Harvest


I love the bounty that my garden and other people's gardens provide me this time of year. A tomato picked right from the vine will never compare with a store bought one. The problem with all this bounty is that I don't want to eat it all. I want to see it grow, and look luscious in my backyard and I even love picking it. It's great when my bowls are overflowing with vegetables, but I want the yucky ones to simply vanish when they start to fade and lose their beauty.

I wish that some of my plants could just produce one or two edible treats. Do I really need a bucket full of chili peppers? I know I can dry them and save them all year, but really will I ever get there. Can't they do that themselves? Haven't I done enough already? I planted them and fed them all season. The least they could do is preserve themselves, jump in an attractive jar and nestle themselves comfortably amongst their alphabetical kin in my pantry. Am I asking too much? Am I the jerk here?

One of the prettiest and most horrid of the vegetables is the eggplant. It sure looks great in it's purple tracksuit getting all fit and fleshy on the vine all summer. Recently I picked a bunch from my front garden, and I've been watching them get a little wrinkly. I kept hoping they'd pass me a note that gave me a secret recipe that made them taste good. A recipe that didn't involve loads of tomato sauce and cheese. They said nothing. Who's the jerk now?

I did find a recipe on my own accord that worked fairly well with my Asian eggplant. It's still eggplant but at least it tastes better. If you have to eat eggplant, this recipe is not a bad one to try.

Asian Eggplant Salsa
from Bonnie Stern's Heart Smart

5 or 6 thin Asian eggplant, trimmed and diced
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp dark sesame oil
1/2 tsp hot Asian chili paste
2 tsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger root, finely chopped
4 green onions, chopped
3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Combine soy sauce, sugar, water, vinegar, sesame oil, and chili paste. Set aside.
Heat oil in large pan on medium heat. Add garlic, ginger, and cook for 30 seconds, and then add the eggplant. Cook for a few more minutes and then add soy sauce mixture and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and continue to cook until mixture is thick. Add green onions and cilantro. Serve cold or room temperature.

10.9.10

Italian Dreams


I had one recurring fantasy when I was growing up. It wasn't to be a princess, or to get married, or own a pony. It was that my dad's job in HR at Sealtest was a sham, and that he was really a mafia kingpin. I know, it's a little weird. We got a fair bit of discounted ice cream when he was working at Sealtest, so in retrospect I'm not sure a job change would of worked out in my favour.

It isn't clear when or why I devised this dream life of living with the head of a mob family. There certainly weren't many indications that that was a reality. My parents were divorced which is usually not allowed, we weren't rich, and my dad own a little townhouse in Scarborough. He could of least moved to Little Italy to be closer to his secret life. My dad is half Italian which is the only thing connecting him to a life of crime.

I think I just wanted to be more Italian. Or more anything. I always found it a little boring to be a Caucasian with an English background. I wanted exotic blood running through my veins. The fact remains you can't pick your heritage. So I am what I am. But there is hope. Maybe Jess has a secret life?

Tomato Crostini with Sardines

can of sardines, well drained
2 ripe tomatoes, diced
1 small avocado, peeled and diced
8 fresh basil leaves, torn
juice of half a lemon
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 tbsp of toasted pine nuts or walnuts
1/2 baguette, sliced and lightly toasted

In a bowl combine tomatoes, avocado, basil and lemon juice. Toss gently. Rub baguette slices with garlic. Spoon a little of the tomato mixture onto the baguette slices and top with bits of sardine. Sprinkle with nuts and serve.

9.9.10

not pretty.


I recently had one of those epic and bewildering days where nothing (nothing!) really seemed to go my way.

I didn't (thank goodness) have a particularly ambitious agenda, and nothing really disastrous happened, so it's not that things went terribly wrong - but they also didn't go terribly right, and by day's end, even I was tired of hearing my own voice uttering variations on the word "no."

The (not very pretty) quesadillas you see here sum things up:

They were delicious, a hot, quick, and relatively nutritious lunch; but only my husband and I ate them. My kids wouldn't touch them!

And the salsa fresca that I envisioned accompanying them? Mealy and watery, and somehow both tasteless and excessively garlicky all at once.

No tragedy. But an uphill battle all the way.

Still, by day's end, there were sleeping children, wine, a delicious soup (which I forgot to photograph), and some long-overdue adult conversation.

Also, the promise of a better day tomorrow.

And this way of preparing black beans, which was the delightful discovery that would, on a normal day, have turned things around.


Slightly Redeeming Refried Beans

I come from a long line of women who can't stand refried beans, but I love these, and they keep well, so a quick hot lunch can be had in the time it takes to heat a tortilla in a pan.

1/4c olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp smoked paprika (hot or mild)
pinch oregano
2 - 540mL cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2c - 1c chicken or vegetable broth

In a large, shallow saute pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until golden, 8-10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add garlic; saute another minute or so, then add cumin, coriander, paprika and oregano. Stir well. Add beans, then 1/2c broth, Simmer 5-8 minutes, or until beans are soft (I'd taste a bean at 5 minutes - personally I prefer them not too mushy). If they seems a little dry for your taste, add the remaining 1/2c of broth and cook until heated through.
Remove from heat, and mash as much or as little as you'd like (I used a potato masher).


Makes about 6 cups.

6.9.10

I'm Back


I'm back in town and a little heavier than when I departed. That's what I get for eating pie everyday for a month. It is true, my aunt makes a truly yummy crust, but I'm not ready to divulge her secrets today. That will have to be for another post. It's not that I don't want you to wow your family and friends with a lovely flaky tart. It's just that I feel like everywhere I go I leave a sugary trail scented with English lager. To say the least, August was my month of indulgence.

Now I need to tighten my belt on my indulgences because my belt is getting too tight. Don't worry, that feeling won't last long and I'll soon be making pies for you.

I did have a wonderful vacation visiting family in England and Wales. Thank you so much for asking. It was family for 28 days straight and I loved it. I don't have a large amount of blood relatives in Toronto, so being surrounded by gobs of kin was comforting and enjoyable. So watch out England, I'll be back.

Stuffed Pork Fillet

1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots diced
1 celery stick diced
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/3 cup prunes diced
1 tap fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup pecans chopped
1 egg beaten
1 - 1 1/2 lb pork fillet

Preheat oven to 350 F. Heat 1/2 tbsp oil in a pan and fry celery and shallots for 3-4 mins. Remove from heat and mix in breadcrumbs, prunes, thyme, egg and pecans.
Cut pork in half lengthways without cutting through it, then open it up flat. Bash the fillet slightly to flatten it. Lay stuffing along the middle, and roll it back up and secure with string in 3 to 4 places. Place on roasting pan and cook for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes. Slice pork into 8 pieces and serve.

2.9.10

peachy.


Promise me you won't laugh out loud when I tell you that we don't often have dessert in our house.

Of course, there are exceptions - when my mom comes to town and bakes us a pie, for example - but generally speaking, the sweet-treat-after-dinner thing is just not our thing.

This is partly because my children, who are very early risers, are usually bundled off to bed mere moments after putting down their forks, so feeding them sugar just prior to that seems a little counter-intuitive (if not slightly masochistic, from the parents' perspective).

It's also partly because I love desserts so much that I'd prefer to have them be the main event, rather than relegate them to the end of the meal, when everyone is already drowsy from the wine and a little full.

There is nothing I like more than having a cupcake or leftover piece of pie first thing in the morning, preferably with coffee (and cake in the afternoon is the perfect way to push through the glassy-eyed no-man's-land that constitutes the hours between three and five o'clock).

The only trouble is, because I avoid making that kind of thing unless it is a special occasion, there is rarely a leftover slice of something yummy to be had in my house in the mornings.

And that, friends, is why I am such an avid fan of the breakfast cake. It is treaty enough that you can fool yourself into thinking that it's an indulgence, and healthy enough that you can fool yourself into thinking you're starting your day with something nutritious.

This particular one came together so simply and quickly this morning that it's going to be on heavy rotation around here until we run out of peaches (and by "we" I mean every fruit stand within a 10-block radius of our house).


Peachy Breakfast Cake

1 1/2c light spelt flour (you could use all-purpose too, or - better still - whole wheat. I am just really enamoured of this spelt flour I discovered recently, so I am using it in everything)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2c frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed
1/2c melted butter or coconut oil
1/4c buttermilk
2 eggs
1 heaping cup diced peaches (I used 3 medium)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a bundt or other tube-shaped pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder and cardamom in a large mixing bowl.

Whisk together apple juice concentrate, butter or coconut oil, buttermilk and eggs in a large measuring cup with a spout.

Gently stir liquids into dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in peaches until evenly distributed through the batter.

Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake 30 minutes, until cake is slightly golden on top and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool in pan on rack 10-15 minutes, then run a knife or spatula around the outside of the pan and invert cake onto a plate.

Serve warm.

1.9.10

slightly pickled.



I love the idea of making pickles.

For me, pickling conjures up visions of charming country kitchens, steaming pots, banging screen doors, and faded Liberty print housedresses; row upon row of shiny jars packed with bright, tasty things to spice up the dreary winter ahead.

At this time of year especially, that vision of industry, tradition and simplicity has its appeal.

Of course, it's totally a fantasy: despite my attempts at various other incarnations over the years, I am a city girl through and through, completely and happily entrenched in city life, not bound to tradition, and not terribly industrious either - especially when the task at hand involves the kind of repetition that home canning demands.

I am also not a fan of making things in bulk, so, much like life in that country kitchen, those rows upon rows of jars would drive me a little crazy after a very short time.

(And did I mention that I don't even really love pickles?)

And yet - and yet! - the fantasy remains.

These two (delicious, bright, and easy) salads are the closest I will come this year, but they will, in my mind's eye, almost get me there.


Slightly Pickled Carrot and Peanut Salad

I should warn you that neither of these salads keeps particularly well over night, so don't plan for leftovers.

1/4c white wine vinegar
1/4c olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
6 medium carrots, thinly sliced
3/4c salted peanuts

Whisk together vinegar and oils in the bottom of a large non-reactive bowl (I use a Pyrex mixing bowl).

Add carrots and toss well. Leave 3-4 hours, if you can!

Add peanuts just before serving, and toss well.


Slightly More Pickled Zucchini Salad

4 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
1/2c white vinegar
1/4c brown sugar
2 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives

Place zucchini in a large non-reactive bowl (I use a Pyrex mixing bowl). Add 1/4c of the vinegar, 2 tbsp of the sugar, and 1 tsp of the salt, and toss well. Let sit at least an hour or two, then turn zucchini out into a colander and drain well.

Return zucchini to bowl and toss with remaining vinegar, sugar, and salt. Add chives and toss well.

Each salad serves 4-6, depending on what else is on offer. Faded housedress optional.

30.8.10

one.


My baby boy had his first birthday recently.

I know how cliche this sounds, but I really don't know where the year went.

When my daughter turned one, I was thrilled. I marveled at her existence every single day, and each milestone was another chance to celebrate: she was learning, growing, turning more and more into this amazing little person I was so excited to get to know.

When I met other mothers who greeted their babies' first birthdays with a little less enthusiasm, I was completely perplexed. Why mourn time passed, I wondered, when the present - and presumably the future - was brimming with wonderful things?

These days, I think I understand that ambivalence a little better.

My son's birth was a harrowing experience, one from which I feel, in many ways, that I am still recovering. After he was born he spent days in the NICU, having his lungs and tiny belly filled by machine, while I was in another room on a morphine drip, feeling like I'd thrown a party to which the guest of honour hadn't shown up.

After those first dire days came weeks, then months, of management: me learning to manage my pain, my guilt, my disappointment in myself and my inability to bounce back the way I'd have liked.

A series of difficulties, more and less agonizing, arose for me to manage that fall: my son had colic, my husband had to travel extensively for work. A beloved friend and crucial part of my day-to-day support was killed in a bizarre and tragic fashion.

We found out we had to move, and it took us six months of searching before we found a new place to live.

Somewhere in that period, I realized I had spent more than half of my baby's life distracted by a haze of worry and grief and pain, and I found it utterly crushing to think that I would not get those first months of his life back, ever.

Eventually, as is always the case, we made our through that period of crisis. The big concerns were settled, and the idea of returning to some kind of balance began to seem not so far-fetched.

Throughout my high-wire act, my daughter continued to be the amazing little person I had taken all of the time in the world to get to know, and my son's personality began to emerge - and he is awesome. Sweet like his sister, and adoring in the way that makes all mothers of boys secretly swoon. He's smart and quick and daring, chubby and charming.

I am thrilled that he is one whole year old, that he is strong and healthy, that he is learning and growing so quickly. He and I are as thick as thieves, our relationship none the worse for all of my feelings of anguish and guilt.

But if I could, I would turn back the clock - I would stop time. I would go back and marvel at his existence, every single day, from the moment he was born.


Since that is not an option, I will settle for rejoicing in a present - and presumably a future - brimming with wonderful things...and our family will celebrate, all four of us, with cake.


Buttermilk Birthday Cake with Milk Chocolate Icing
(adapted from Nigella Lawson)

I know that it seems counter-intuitive to post such a recipe in these last, dog days of summer, but please, do us both a favour and take note of it for the next time you have a birthday cake to make. Trust me, you won't regret it - and I promise I will be back tomorrow with something a little more seasonal!

For the cake:

1 2/3c all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4c plus 2 tbsp buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2c very soft unsalted butter
3/4c sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and line with parchment two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.

Whisk together buttermilk and vanilla in a glass measuring cup (or other vessel with a spout) and set aside.

Combine butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed slightly and add eggs, one at a time, beating 30 seconds between additions. Add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture in alternating increments, beating well between additions, until a smooth, pale golden batter forms.

(You may find, partway through or even towards the end of the mixing, that your batter looks slightly curdled. Please don't be alarmed - this has happened to me without fail every time I have made this cake, and it doesn't affect the end result whatsoever.)

Divide batter evenly between the two prepared pans and bake about 25 minutes, rotating pans halfway through cooking time. The cake is done when it is slightly burnished and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a rack, then turn cakes out onto the rack to cool completely.

For the icing:

250g milk chocolate, coarsely chopped (or use milk chocolate chips)
3/4c unsalted butter
6 1/2c icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 tbsp milk, if needed

Melt chocolate and butter together in a saucepan over VERY low heat, or in a double boiler, or (although I have never tried this) in a microwave. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat in icing sugar and vanilla at medium-low speed. If icing is too thick, thin with a little milk.

When cakes have cooled completely, trim of the domed top of each cake. Place one cake, cut side up, on a platter or cake stand. Scoop a generous amount if icing onto this bottom cake (there will be plenty of icing, so don't be skimpy on the filling) and spread it out evenly with an offset spatula or table knife.

Invert second cake onto the iced bottom layer. Use remaining icing to generously frost the top and sides of the cake (there may be some icing leftover).

Serves 8.

29.8.10

not missing.


Friends, it is going to be Labour Day!

This coming weekend!

I have to say it: How did this happen?

Actually, I have a pretty good idea of how it happened, but it still seems incredible that even my time to make up for lost time this summer is coming to a close.

In response, my husband and I have spent the past few days tearing around our city and its surrounding areas in full staycation mode, dragging our children from one picturesque location to the next, camera at the ready, trying to eke out as much carefree living as we can before getting down to the serious work that will come with September.

In spite of the summer's having fled by at an astonishing pace, with me and my apron flapping haplessly along behind it, I am determined to make the most of what is left of its bounty.

And what a bounty it is! This has been the most dreamy of seasons for produce in our area, and we have been gobbling up blueberries, peaches, corn and tomatoes by the handful.

So it isn't that we haven't been eating the good stuff.

It's just that I haven't really been cooking it much - unless you consider grilling to be the same thing as cooking, which I do not.

I do support the popular notion that really good, fresh food needs little adornment to make it tasty and lovely, but I have to admit that I am ready to get seriously back into the kitchen.

So much so that yesterday, after a day at the beach and despite the high temperature outside, I made this lovely curry. We ate it out on our deck, the smells from our neighbours' barbecues wafting around us.

And, for possibly the first time this summer, I didn't feel like I was missing a thing.


Zucchini Curry

The best part of this dish is the curry paste. You pound it together yourself, using a mortar and pestle, which is equal parts aggravating and gratifying - but so worth it!

3 cloves garlic, chopped
a 2" piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tbsp Madras curry powder
1/4c vegetable oil
1 large Vidalia onion, sliced thinly
1 tsp brown sugar
6 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise then cut crosswise into slices 1/2" thick
1 can (398ml) coconut milk
a handful of roasted cashews
a handful of fresh coriander leaves

To make curry paste, first bash together garlic, ginger and sea salt in a mortar and pestle until a coarse paste forms. Add cumin, coriander, mustard seeds, and curry powder, and keep pounding until mixture is fairly smooth and cohesive. Set curry paste aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion slices and sugar and cook, stirring, until golden, 8-10 minutes.

Turn heat down to medium-low and add curry paste to pot. Cook, stirring, until very fragrant, about a minute. Add zucchini to pot and stir well. Add coconut milk.

Bring just to a boil, then stir well, cover and simmer until zucchini is just tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in cashews and fresh coriander.

Serve with steamed rice.
Serves six.

22.8.10

is this thing (still) on?


I can't go another minute without acknowledging my rather lengthy, and completely unplanned, absence from this blog.

The list of things that have conspired to keep me off the keys these past several weeks includes, but is not limited to:

Our move;

a lack of internet service (and an appalling lack of service from our internet provider, but you've all no doubt heard that story before) for more than a week following the move;

three family birthdays and twice that number of birthday parties;

many wonderful out of town house guests;

a broken camera;

and my husband's travel schedule, which took him away from us for what felt like an eternity.

I have missed posting a great deal - in fact, I have missed cooking a great deal, since most of my meals this summer have centered around cheese and crackers and leftover birthday cake.

Still, there are at least a couple of weeks left of this glorious summer yet, and my kitchen, now that I have begun to settle into it, is awash in fresh local ingredients.

Which I plan to press into service.

Any minute now.

As soon as I finish this cupcake.

**I may have mentioned before that Alysa is the person in our relationship who really knows how to make things happen, and for that I am especially grateful this summer, since she has unsurprisingly held up her end of things with aplomb even while juggling her own family's hectic existence. Thank you Alysa!**

Carrot Cupcakes for a Momentous Day
adapted from Gourmet Today

It was my son's first birthday on Saturday, and I made these cupcakes for the first of two parties we held for him over the weekend. They were a huge hit, and I'd make them again in a heartbeat.

For the Cupcakes:

1 1/2c light spelt pastry flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
3/4c vegetable oil
1c packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4c finely shredded carrots (I used 2 large ones)
1/3c finely chopped walnuts, toasted
1/2c sweetened shredded coconut, toasted

For the Icing:

3 1/2c icing sugar
250g cream cheese, room temperature
1/2c unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp vanilla

For the cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg in a bowl.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together oil, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. Beat in flour mixture until well combined. Gently fold in carrots, walnuts and coconut until just combined.

Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake 25-30 minutes, turning pan halfway through cooking time, until a tester inserted in the middle of a cupcake comes out clean. Turn cupcakes out onto rack to cool completely.

For the Icing:

Place icing sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to remove any lumps. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth and thick. If icing is runny (as mine was on a highly humid Saturday morning), refrigerate it for an hour or so until firm enough to pipe onto the tops of the cupcakes.

Makes 12.

2.8.10

I'm Off


I won't be posting for awhile. I'm taking my girls to England for a month to meet my family. My mom is already there, and we will be staying with my aunt. I'll be taking lots of pictures and posting when I can but I'm not making any promises. I'm not sure what my aunt's internet scene is over there but I'm sure I can find a hip (or nerdy) internet cafe to communicate with you all. I hear they have the internet on computers now in the UK.

It is said, mainly by my mom, that my aunt Sara makes the best pie crust in town. I've never been a huge pie lover until Jess started baking pies. I think he is the best pie maker this side of the Atlantic. My mom is always trying to set up a pie competition between him and my aunt, but neither of them seem particularly interested. Maybe my mom has a secret fantasy to be the best pie tasting judge of all time. Perhaps at her age she feels that dream will only be realized by forcing family members to compete in the kitchen. She'll only be satisfied until one person is left humiliated and crying on the kitchen floor amongst piles of second place pie dough. Or maybe my mom is just trying to make conversation by engaging people with a common interest. It's a toss up, I could believe either one.

That being said I will try and ply Aunt Sara's pie crust recipe from her. No forms of manipulation are below me, but I'm pretty sure she'll just tell me if I ask nicely. So look forward to pie and scones in blog future, and wish me all the best parenting luck when I fly solo with my three little girls. Gravol may be my new best friend.

Roasted Tomato and Corn Soup
from Bonnie Stern's Heart Smart

12 to 15 plum tomatoes, halved and seeded
2 onions, cut into 1/2 inch slices
3 ears of corn, husked
1 tbsp of olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp chipotle puree
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup shredded fresh basil

Grill tomatoes and onions on BBQ until each side is soft and brown. Grill corn until browned turning to cook all sides. Remove and cut kernels off of corn and set aside. Heat oil on medium heat, add garlic and cook for a few minutes. Add chipotle and tomatoes, stir and cook until hot. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce and simmer for about 15 minutes. Puree soup, and return to heat. Add onions and corn and cook for 5 minutes. Add vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with basil and serve.

25.7.10

Scrumping It

When Jess and I were living on the boat we did a lot of scrumping. Scrumping is the act of taking unwanted or unused fruit from trees. Those trees may be in a public park or in someone's yard. Some may call this stealing. We called it budgeting.

When we were in the Southern United States, there were fruit trees blooming everywhere. Edible delights were taunting us every time we turned a corner. To most they were innocent fruit idly hanging from the trees, but we heard their jeers. Oranges boldly dared us to pick them, while lemons were more subtle. They would whisper amongst themselves about our inability to harvest readily available fruit. Well we showed them. Every chance we got we picked them. At first it was under the cover of darkness and then we got braver and started picking in broad daylight. It was worth every freshly squeezed glass of juice.

My neighbour has a peach tree in his front yard. They are elderly so they wouldn't give much of a chase. If they did catch me, I think I would win even if his wife jumped in. Ah, the arrogance of youth. Or maybe it's the realism of middle age. I could just go buy my peaches at the store. I am not as fiscally restrained as I was on the boat, but that doesn't seem like it would be as much fun as scrumping.

Grilled Peaches with Balsamic Reduction

6 fresh peaches, halved and pitted
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup honey, optional

Heat BBQ to medium high heat. Grill peaches on both sides until grill marks appear and they are slightly warmed. Meanwhile, heat balsamic in a pot on high heat. Whisk constantly so as not to burn vinegar, and until balsamic has reduced by half. Arrange peaches on platter with insides facing up. Drizzle with balsamic reduction. If reduction is not sweet enough, reheat pot of balsamic and add honey to the reduction until it is fully mixed in.

20.7.10

Farmers


There is a farmer's market up the street from me every Monday. I just love it. It may not be the cheapest place to shop but it is the freshest and pretty darn tasty too. If bacon says no, I may ask the farmer's market to marry me. No it's official, I will ask him to marry me. I'll make him a ring out of bacon which will not only make bacon feel like a fool for rejecting me, but also make my offer irresistible.

There is a very cool program called FarmStart that helps farmers start small scale farms. A few of them at our market participate in this program. They are urban farmers. They live in Toronto and commute less than a hour to Brampton to farm their land. Through FarmStart they are able to rent land for very little, which enables them to actually make a living by farming. One of the biggest pitfalls for farmers is the debt they incur due to the land they need to buy. This way they can learn their trade and do what most of them love to do.

It certainly got us thinking. I've already contacted them to see if we can rent land simply to grow food for our family. We were denied, but I have a feeling that FarmStart or a similar program lies somewhere in our future. We will have to wait and see.

This is a recipe that one of the Brampton farmers gave me when I bought fenugreek from him. If you can find fresh fenugreek, make this dish. It is divine.

Methi Aloo

2 large bunches of Fenugreek
3 potatoes, diced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 medium white onion, diced
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp crushed red peppers
2 tsp oil
1/4 to 1/2 cups of water

Remove fenugreek leaves from stem and discard the stems. Heat oil in pan, add onions and cook until soft. Add potatoes and water and cover pan for 5-7 minutes or until potatoes are cooked. Add tomatoes, fenugreek, salt and red peppers and cook until all water has evaporated. Serve hot with pita or naan bread.

10.7.10

Summer


For all of those living in Ontario, I'm sure it's been said many times but I'll say it again; it's stinking hot out there. I haven't heard from some of my friends in a few days. There is a good chance they may have melted last week. Or maybe they just went to their cottage. I would like to escape to my chic little cottage in the woods and go jump in the lake to cool off. Unfortunately that will only happen in my dreams.

I signed up two of my girls for soccer Monday nights. Every game there is a half game snack of watermelon and then, win or lose, there is the ultimate prize. It's the commercial made popsicle. The kind that stains your face and makes everything you touch so sticky that it could be a substitute for crazy glue. You could call it crazy popsicle but it doesn't really have the same pizazz. If you asked my girls if they liked soccer they would kid swear up and down that it's the best game ever. But really it's all about the sugary treat after the game. I almost signed them up for soccer camp but realized they'd hate it because no where on the program does it list popsicles from the corner store as an activity.

My poor, poor girls have been raised on homemade juice popsicles and other versions like the ones below. Try them out. It may not make your kids like soccer but it will make you feel better about eating popsicles.

Avocado Fudgesicles or Pudding

1/2 cup of water
8 pitted dates
1 cup of almond milk or any other milk
2 large avocadoes
1/2 banana
7 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 to 3/4 cup maple syrup
pinch of salt

Let dates soak in water for 30 minutes. Place all ingredients in blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Put in popsicles molds and freeze for a minimum of 4 hours.

For pudding, place in small glasses and refrigerate. Serve with grated white chocolate.

7.7.10

in minutes.


My garden is overgrown with mint and chives.

I use the term "my garden" fairly loosely, since it will soon belong to someone else - which is why it is so overgrown.

I have no complaints about the mint and chives, though - they are two of my favourites, and I am happy to have them in abundance, at least for the time being (my new garden is lovely and lush, but also very well-ordered; so, for this growing season, anyway, there will be no invasive herbs running amok).

Between the mint and the heat, our meals have been largely inspired by the Mediterranean - a lot of grilling, quite a lot of olive oil and garlic, some rosemary, some lamb.

I am now at the point of almost constantly fantasizing about my new kitchen and all of the things that will happen in it: long, lingering conversations, slow cooked dinners, multi-course breakfasts (really!).

But until we get there, the order of the day is meals in minutes.

I am aiming generally for luscious, robust things that will fill me and cheer me, and can be made in the amount of time it would otherwise take to scoop some ice cream into a bowl.

I found this dish fit the bill admirably.


Lunch in minutes

I used a grilled eggplant leftover from a previous meal, which is why this took so little time for me to cobble together; but if you don't happen to have any leftovers on hand, the grilling only adds a few minutes to your prep time.

1 medium eggplant, sliced crosswise and grilled
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives
3 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
1/4c extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp wine vinegar
100g feta, crumbled

Cut grilled eggplant slices into cubes.
Combine all ingredients in a large salad bowl , toss gently, and serve.

Serves 4, as a side dish

5.7.10

Mexico


I've always wanted to go to Mexico. My friend Beth lives there. She married a Norwegian, and now runs a school in a little town in Mexico. The morning is for paying students and in the afternoon it's free for the poor local kids. She spends 8 months in Mexico, a few in Oslo, and then helps run a school in London, England in the summers. She does all this with her cute little one year old.

It's funny where choices take you. I went to high school with Beth. We did similar things. We were room mates in University, and both traveled afterward. Somehow her path led her to a life of international travel in far away countries. Whereas mine led me right back to my hometown. I only live 5 km from where I grew up. I still hang out with people I met in grade school.

Now don't get me wrong. I love my life, my husband and kids. I'm right where I want to be. I just find it interesting how two people can have similar upbringings but end up with completely different lives.

So here's to Beth and her wildly exciting life. I hope she'd eating some carnitas down South.

Beer and Tequila Carnitas

4 pounds bone in pork shoulder
2 cups diced white onion
4 poblano peppers
2 tbsp chopped garlic
2 tsp kosher slat divided
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper or to taste
3 cups diced seeded tomatoes, fresh or canned
1 cup tequila
2 12 ounce bottles of dark beer
20 corn tortillas, warmed

Trim enough fat from pork to yield about 1/3 cup diced. Cut pork into 1" cubes. Heat heavy pot and add fat until a thin layer covers the bottom, about 10 minutes. Increase heat and add onions, peppers, garlic and 1 tsp salt. Cook until onion is translucent.
Add pork and cook stirring frequently until enough liquid is released to cover vegetables and meat. Reduce heat to medium low and cover for 15 minutes. Uncover and bring to a lively simmer until the liquid has reduced to a thick paste, about 30 minutes.
Stir in tomatoes and return to a simmer for 10 minutes. Add tequila and and cook until the liquid has evaporated, about 20 minutes. Add beer and simmer about 40 minutes until liquid has evaporated . Season with remaining salt and pepper . Transfer to a platter and let guests assemble their own tacos with warm tortillas and taco garnishes.




30.6.10

the most important meal.


If you were under the impression that my family and I are subsisting on breakfast foods and baked goods these days, you wouldn't be far wrong.

I have been managing to cobble together some decent - even inspired - dinners, which isn't hard to do given the bounty of seasonal produce; and I have banished the cereal supper for the time being, which makes me disproportionately pleased with myself.

But on full, full days like the ones I've been having (and will continue to have for the next couple of weeks, I expect), the evening meal isn't what keeps me going.

Most of my good times in the kitchen have been happening in the earliest part of the day, before it gets too hot and muggy and while what is required of me for the next twelve or so hours seems almost reasonable.

I have been using the fact that my baby is still nursing as an excuse for waking and baking relentlessly, and I have also been getting a lot of mileage out of these pancakes - wonderful for breakfast, a decent mid-morning snack, and not bad slathered with peanut butter for lunch or late at night, either.


Oatmeal Pancakes
adapted from Orangette
You must start these the night before, which I find more thrilling than onerous, but I recognize that not everyone may feel that way...

1 1/2c whole oats
2 1/4c buttermilk
1/2c whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2c butter OR coconut oil, melted and cooled

Combine oats and buttermilk in a mixing bowl; stir well, so that all of the oatmeal is submerged in the buttermilk, then cover and refrigerate over night.

The next day, sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a small bowl.

Whisk together brown sugar, eggs, and melted butter (or coconut oil) in a small bowl. Add egg mixture to buttermilk mixture, and stir well to combine.

Fold flour mixture into wet ingredients - do this gently, but make sure everything is well combined.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Brush lightly with a little oil, and then, when the pan is hot enough, add the batter by 1/4 cupsful (I get two pancakes per batch in my pan). Flip pancakes when they are looking dry around the edges, after 3 minutes or so. Cook a further few minutes, until golden, then transfer to a plate and place in the warm oven while you get on with the rest.

Makes 14 pancakes.

28.6.10

Country Dreams



Sometimes I feel I should be living in the country. Or at least a little more rural than downtown Toronto. I like activities that are mainly associated with rural life. Last week I went strawberry picking with some friends and my girls. It was raining on Saturday so our family spent the morning in the kitchen. Jess and Reya were grinding flour from spelt and wheat berries for our Sunday pancakes. Wini and I made jam from our picking haul. I can envision spending more days like these. The only improvement would be to be able to look out my kitchen window and see a lot more space.
Part of the problem is that I can only envision good times in the summer. I'm not sure I am cut out for long Canadian winters outside of city limits. I'm sure we would spend time outside making massive igloos and cross country skiing. But those scenarios are always interspersed with visions of me looking out a snowy window eating chocolate by myself and wondering where all the people are.
My ideal situation would be to sell my house in Toronto and buy a fabulous place in the country with lots of space to roam around. But here's the catch, all my family and friends would have to come with me. I am way too social to leave my Toronto network. I've been building up this network my whole life . I'm not sure I could move and throw it all away. Oh I'm sure they would come visit and I'm positive there are some cool country folk that I would like to befriend. I'm just too comfortable in my little life here in the big smoke. Even if the grass is just as green in rural Ontario, I think I'm going to stay on my tiny patch in Toronto.

Savoury Strawberry Crostini
adapted from The Globe and Mail

6 slices of toasted crostini
12 ounces of goat cheese
1 pint of strawberries
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp of sugar
1 tbsp of lime juice
1 tbsp of diced pickled jalapenos
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
freshly ground pepper to taste
freshly ground sea salt to taste
2 tbsp fresh chopped basil
2 tbsp fresh chopped mint

Spread generous amounts of goat cheese on toast. Combine all the other ingredients to make salsa. Top toasts with salsa and serve.