Friday, December 12, 2008

easy. does it.

Where have I been? Even my dashboard forgot me. No surprise there, since it's been over a month since I last blogged. Sure, I've sat at this computer pretty much every day, but somehow, the will (or the time) to craft a decent post escaped me.

But I'm still trying....and just to prove that I have been in the kitchen I bring you a quick, easy and healthy recipe that makes potato chips a thing of the past in our house. (Okay, so potato chips were never a staple in our house to start, but now they have even less of a chance. But I digress.)

Kale chips.

I can imagine the disbelieving faces out there. And I know there are plenty of moms who are sniggering because there is no way their kid is going to even go NEAR anything green. And yes, it is true that it is usually my husband and I who are found snacking on these things, but every once in a while the little Boo does eat a chip or two. And where kale is concerned, I consider that a victory.

But give me a break already. And give these a try....

Kale Chips

1 bunch of kale
olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 225 F. Chop the kale so that you have chip-sized pieces - but avoid using the really tough parts of the stem. Mix in a bowl with a dash of salt and 2-3 tbsp of olive oil.

Spread the kale pieces on a cookie sheet - line with parchment if you wish - and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until just crispy.

Pictures to follow, since apparently I've let my snap-happy ways go as well.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

grow a mo for prostate cancer

November. For some, it's a long, dreary month that signals the arrival of colder temperatures. For the Prostate Cancer Rearch Foundation, November has become Movember, and men all over Canada the world are encouraged to grow a moustache in support of prostate cancer research.

I'm not a man, so I can't grow a mo. Instead, I'm paying good money to see my brother-in-law (not BIL or BBIL, but the other one) grow one.

I'm also making an effort to get back into food-blogging. I was going to cheekily suggest that not posting during October was my backwards way of participating in Nablopomo, but in reality, I took a bit of a blog holiday to focus on some other projects (my kids, my job search, packing my dad's house up, my newfound obsession with vintage Fisher Price toys...). Seriously, if I thought I could blog every day for a month, I would participate.

Anyway, stay tuned...

Sponsor a Mo for Prostate Cancer

Thursday, October 02, 2008

combining cranberry and lime

luscious red cranberries.

a tarty hint of fresh green lime and a dash of almond extract.

Mouthwatering goodness.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

making granola is so easy...

Last Friday, the Bean and I found ourselves in the kitchen once again. This time, I decided that it was time to make granola. It's been on my to-make list for a while. As soon as I published that oatmeal was the favorite family breakfast, the Bean and the Boo switched to a preference for granola. And now that I've written that, it will probably switch again.

We go through about 750 grams of granola a week. Does that seem like a lot to you? It does to me...
Before I started making granola it was a staple on our grocery list in the same way that our favorite yogurt has become a staple. I buy three big tubs of yogurt when I shop and they are usually are gone in 3-4 days (my boys are 3 and 1--what happens when they get to be teenagers???)

Buying granola is a huge racket, if you ask me. And the issue of what exactly goes in to store-bought granola scares me. (I've finished the section of The Omnivore's Dilemma dealing with the subject of processed foods, and it scared me). I like the idea of knowing exactly what goes into my foods. Fortunately-- most of the ones my husband buys are made locally and have a pretty simple ingredient list.

I haven't actually figured out the real cost of the ingredients yet, but I get the sense that the markup for granola is up there with alcohol and Starbucks coffee. At least the history of granola is interesting.

So the real appeal of making my own granola comes down to two things: it's satisfying to be able to customize it to my our exact tastes, and as it turns out it's easy enough to let the Bean actively participate in the process--or make it whenever we are on the verge on running out. The other thing I really love about homemade granola is that it's easy to sub ingredients in and out depending on what you have and what you like. Everybody has their favorite recipe.

Ok, so how easy is easy? The Bean was able to help me:

  • choose and gather the dry ingredients
  • measure them out and mix them together
  • stir in the honey and oil to coat all the grains
  • flatten the mixture out for baking in the oven

The only real "mommy job" was for me to heat the oil and honey together on the stove, and chop the dried apricots to mix in at the end (and even that was optional).

The whole process took a grand total of 30 minutes. I now can't believe that I ever thought that making granola was too complicated.

A final note: The possibilities are endless. The key is to start with the basic oats, oil and sweetner (honey) and then go from there to add your favorite nuts and fruits. My husband has asked for a maple walnut granola, so the next time I will use maple syrup instead of honey. And after that I will try almond extract instead of vanilla, and add some pecans and almonds... And after that I'll try dried blueberries and dried cherries....and after that...

Food on the Brain Granola
I'd combed the Internet for granola recipes a while back, but got overwhelmed by the possibilities. To keep it simple, I wound up using the recipe from my new old standby, Hollyhock Cooks, and then adding the ingredients we wanted.

3 cups whole rolled oats (not the one minute kind)
1/2 cup roasted, salted sunflower seeds
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp flax meal
2 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup safflower oil
2/3 cup honey
2 tsp vanilla

1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped apricots

1. Preheat the oven to 250 F.
2. Combine all the dry ingredients in one bowl, except for the dried fruit, which is added after it comes out of the oven.
3. In a saucepan, stir the oil and honey together on low heat until the two mix well together. Do not allow the honey and oil to boil.
4. Take the mixture off the stove and add the vanilla.
5. Pour the liquid over the dry ingredients and toss it all together until the dry ingredients are shiny and well-coated.
6. Spread the mixture onto a cookie sheet and bake until golden. This takes about an hour or so. I stirred the mixture every twenty minutes as recommended, in contrast to my hesitancy with the slow roasted tomatoes). The granola will be slightly soft when you take it out of the oven, but don't let that fool you. Stir it up one last time to ensure that it does not stick to the pan as it crisps up (especially good if you are not sure if you over cooked it or not)
7. Cool completely and then stir in the dried fruit.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

slow roasted tomatoes and life metaphors

What do you do with two quarts of baby tomatoes delivered to your door? That was the situation I found myself in two weeks ago when I let some of the vegetables we had been receiving pile up in our fridge.

So, to be honest, I had previously been drooling over images of slow-roasted tomatoes, and I was purposely trying to hang on to the tomatoes so I would have enough to fill a cookie sheet or two. It was a lot easier than saving the blueberries, go figure.

Did I mention I'm in the middle of a career change? No, probably not because I don't blog about much here except food and my kids. Anyway, I have two kids in daycare/preschool and time on my hands to cook and blog look for my next big project.

Roasting these tomatoes became my first project of the morning (I aim high).

Figuring out what I want to do next is a little like choosing to slow roast tomatoes instead of eating them some other way. Instead of rushing to find the fastest way to get back to a regular salary, I'm taking the time to really figure out what I would be happiest doing.

But slow-roasted tomatoes. I took my two favourite recipes from Bon Appetit and Smitten Kitchen and combined them. I liked the ingredients from the Orangette's recipe but the hands-on work involved with the Smitten Kitchen was far easier (put them in the oven for three hours and forget about them). (I like a quality end-result, but not without too much fussing)

At about the 1.5 hour mark, I started to smell the sweet smells of the olive oil and tomato juices. My stomach growled. Visions of tomatoes with goat cheese, tomatoes in pasta, danced in my head. But I had another hour and a half left to wait.

I ate lunch. I waited (patience-I have a lot).

And then..they were done. I scooped them into a bowl, drizzled more olive oil on, grated some fresh garlic and topped it with chopped parsley. Then, into the fridge to let the flavours meld.

When they came out --and I did serve them with dinner to my family-- they were delicious. We ate them on their own. No cheese, no bread.

If only tomato season weren't almost over...

Slow Roasted Tomatoes
I took the elements I liked from the recipes posted at Smitten Kitchen and Bon Appetit. Slow-roasting tomatoes is easy --real easy, no matter which recipe you choose. And in my opinion, pretty hard to mess up. And it made me feel like anything I served with it would be that much fancier.

1 cups (or more) olive oil
2 quarts of cherry, grape or small Roma tomatoes, halved
dried oregano
dried thyme
dried rosemary
1 3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons fresh Italian parsley, minced

My preparation
Preheat oven to 225°F.
1. I cut each tomato in half--crosswise and arranged them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cut side up.
2. I drizzled olive oil over each tomato, just enough to make them glisten.
3. I sprinkled the oregano, thyme and rosemary, sugar, salt and pepper over the tomatoes. Like Smitten Kitchen, I went easy on the herbs, which let the tomato taste come through. The sugar, from the BA recipe, was just for kicks.
4. The tomatoes went in the oven for about three hours. I could should have left mine longer than 3 hours. They were supposed to be shriveled and dry, but with a little juice left inside– I think mine were more on the juicy side.

This is where I reverted to following Bon Appetit:
5. I let them cool, then layered them in a bowl and sprinkled garlic and parsley over each layer, then added more olive oil.
6. I put them in the fridge, I let the ones I hadn't eaten sit for a few days and then took them out to serve at room temperature, as recommended (and I forgot the baguette, AGAIN)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

an orzo revelation

Orzo has never been one of my favorite pastas. Maybe because the few times I have had it, either it has been cooked incorrectly (leaving it sticky and clumpy), paired with the wrong kind of sauce (it really didn't do much for me mixed with pesto and served as a side like rotini or fettucini), or left me feeling less than wowed as an ingredient in a salad.

You would think I'd avoid eating it, but for some reason, I keep trying to find a way that works for me.

This week, I think I figured a way out - add it to a stew or soup. Okay, so maybe for most people this is an obvious option, but for me it was a revelation. I've never been big on eating either, but they are easy to prepare, and nutritious (and that's always a consideration with kids!). I am slowly finding recipes that I really like. So that's why it took me so long to come around to this discovery. I only made my first beef and barley soup last winter, too...

I threw the orzo into a Tuscan Bean Stew with Sausage (courtesy of the Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet) as it was simmering. It served a few purposes*: one, it balanced out the food groups in this meal and replaced the missing bread that I forgot to buy AGAIN. Two, it gave me a chance to use up an ingredient that I have in my cupboard. (Reason number three, it gives me a pasta dish I can submit to Presto Pasta Nights, started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast. She's hosting this week, too. Check out the roundup of pasta dishes when it appears on Friday.)

It turned out really well. Adding it to the stew gave the orzo just the right amount of liquid (no clumping!). Since the pasta has no real taste of its own, the spices from the sausage and other ingredients continued to shine.

And the whole dinner provided a substantial amount of substinence for two little boys who wanted to run around the playground until it got too dark.

Tuscan Bean Stew with Sausage and Cabbage (and Orzo!)

Serves 8

The pictures above show a rotini as well as the orzo - I suppose you could use any pasta, but I think orzo really is the best choice. I sourced the recipe from The Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet. Kim writes captivating posts that make her life with two toddlers seem like a wonderful adventure every day. The original recipe is from Cooks Illustrated.

Table salt
2 large tins of good quality cannelini beans - I use Eden's Organic 14 fl oz or 398 mL size
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (plus extra for drizzling)
1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian sausage
1 dash of fresh or dried oregano to taste
1 large onion, chopped medium (1 1/2 cups)
2 medium celery ribs, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (3/4 cup) - I didn't have celery this time so I added extra carrots
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (1 cup)
8 medium garlic cloves peeled and crushed
4 cups chicken broth (low-sodium if you like)
3 cups water
2 bay leaves
2 cups orzo, uncooked
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes drained and rinsed
1/2 medium head Savoy cabbage, cut into 1-inch pieces
Ground black pepper

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cut up sausage into small pieces and place in an oven safe pot. Cook in olive oil until it nearly loses its raw color, about 8 minutes. Transfer sausage to paper towel-lined plate.
3. Add onion, celery, and carrots to pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 10 to 16 minutes.
4. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
5. Stir in broth, water, bay leaves and beans. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer.
6. Add sausage and the orzo.
7.Transfer pot to oven, and cook about 30 minutes, until bubbling hot.
8. Remove pot from oven and stir in cabbage, oregano and tomatoes.
9. Discard bay leaves and season stew with salt and pepper to taste. If desired, use back of spoon to press some beans against side of pot to thicken stew.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

baking, berries and kids

The Bean and I are on our way to establishing what I hope will be an ongoing routine. Every so often on a Friday afternoon, we head for the kitchen while the Boo naps. I put on my baking apron with the red and white stripes and the Bean puts on his..errr..."apron". Then we get all the ingredients out to bake a special treat.

I read the recipe and measure things out. He's in charge of dumping the ingredients into the bowl and stirring "like a hurricane". It's all part of my master plan to teach the Bean how to cook and eat good food.

This past week, I decided to make Blueberry Crumb Bars from the Smitten Kitchen. I've had this recipe on my to-make list since she posted it in July. It took me that long to get around to making them because the blueberries kept finding their way into the kids' snack cups instead of the mixing bowl. And then I decided that I wanted a real pastry cutter, instead of the two knives I have been using to make my pie crusts.

I love baking with the Bean. Sure, he got a little impatient and mid-stir and got down off the chair to line up my measuring cups along the windowsill. But he came back to help me finish. And of course, sample some of the blueberries. He even likes to mimc mommy and take photos of the food -- with sometimes better results than me (see below).

BeanPhotos: midway through and the final result, ready to serve

Like most other desserts in our house, this one barely lasted 48 hours. We polished off the last crumbs on Sunday night. And we only shared it with one other adult. Seriously, sometimes I think we need a little more self control. Or maybe I need to triple the recipes.

Smitten Kitchen Blueberry Crumb Bars
original source recipe from
The only two things I changed from the Smitten version were the type of sugar and flour. Otherwise I followed this recipe to the T. Or should I say B? I'm keen now to try the suggested variation with cranberries and orange instead of blueberries and lemon.

1 cup organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup cold butter (2 sticks or 8 ounces)
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
Zest and juice of one lemon

4 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup white sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a 9×13 inch pan.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest.
3. Use a fork or pastry cutter (also known as pastry blender in some parts) to blend in the butter and egg until the dough is crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.
4. In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Gently mix in the blueberries.
5. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.
6. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown.
7. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

no shoes, no shirt, no service.

Here's a question that has been bothering me for years. We've all been to those restaurants where they post this sign on or near the door:


I've always wondered: what would happen if someone walked in wearing only a shirt and shoes? Would they have to serve that person? (and no, I'm not the type of person to try and find the answer out first hand...)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

farmer's market pasta

This week, I was inspired by the plethora of vegetables in my fridge to create a version of a pasta primavera. In this case, I think primavera is a bit of a misnomer, given that the current weather is definitely not spring-like where I am. In fact, the last few days have alternated between blazing summer heat and downright fallish rains. I guess that's September for you.

But back to the vegetables. Our local grocery store (the one within walking distance of our house) shut down unexpectedly while we were on vacation. We would shop their regularly for fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat, so the closure left a huge void in our shopping patterns. For almost two weeks we scrambled. We try to drive as little as possible, so we had to really think about our shopping trips and plan ahead more than ever.

One of the solutions we found was to sign up for delivery of farm-fresh vegetables and selected fruits to our home (it's like CSA, but we can use the website to customize our delivery and it runs year round). We got our first delivery last week. Zucchini, tomatoes, beets, potatoes, leeks, wild blueberries, carrots, peaches and peppers were just a few of the things included in our box.

Two days to go before our next delivery though, I still had a fridge full of vegetables. I had to act fast. So I pulled out a recipe for pasta primavera from one of my usual sources and used it as a guideline for prepping the veggies for our dinner.

I chose my vegetables carefully to try and obtain a good balance of different colours. I used a combination of steaming and sautéing to make the vegetables as tender as possible. If we'd had a good quality parmesan, I would have thrown that in, but as it turned out, all we had was the shakeable stuff.

The end result: a pasta that everyone enjoyed, especially my little Bean. It's not often that he gobbles up his dinner and asks for seconds--praise from my toughest critic.

After a long absence, I am submitting this dish to Presto Pasta Nights, started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast. She's hosting this week too.

If I were between the ages of 4 and 13, this would also be a good dish to submit to, an initiative of the Canadian government to make fruits and vegetables fun for kids.

pasta agricola
I'm calling this dish pasta agricola, because according to google, agricola is one of the Italian words for farm*. I like it because it gives a nod to the primavera source, but also to the source of the vegetables - which are all farms that are local to my area (within 50 for some items, and a little higher for others (like the peaches). In reality all I did was cook up the vegetables I had on hand and add them to pasta. You could really use just about any vegetable.

*If someone who speaks Italian wants to confirm this or shoot it down in the comments, go ahead!

1 zucchini, chopped into small cubes
3 carrots, sliced thinly (1/2 cm or so) and then chopped in half
1 red pepper, chopped
1-2 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup peas - frozen or fresh
225 g of wholewheat rotini (1/2 of a 16 oz bag)
1/2 cup grated parmesan

If you use the stovetop method of steaming vegetables, fill two pots out for boiling water. If you microwave-stean, I can't help you with directions. I use a metal steamer in my pot with about an inch and a bit of water. The pasta pot should have enough water to cover all your pasta plus about half an inch to an inch more. The water should be boiling for both the pasta and the vegetables before you put them in.

Cook your pasta according to instructions (usually 8-10 minutes in rapidly boiling water for al dente consistency). At about the 6 minute mark, add in the frozen peas.

Steam the carrots and the zucchini until tender-soft and set aside (about 5-8 minutes). Sauté the red pepper in a pan with the olive oil until it is tender (4-5 minutes)

Drain everything and toss in one large bowl. Mix in an additional 1-2 tbsp of olive oil and the parmesan cheese.

Serves 4.

Other possible substitutions:
  • green beans
  • corn instead of peas
  • cherry tomatoes (it is tomato season after all, and I have my eye on a few recipes for slow roasted tomatoes here and here)
  • sweet potatoes/orange yams

Do you have any suggestions?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

on blogging and brain-freeze

Blogging is hard.

I've been at this one now for 6 months, and all I can say is that I find it difficult to be happy with the way I am writing. I can't help but compare my blog to some of the ones out there that I find interesting -- either because they have great photography or great writing (for some examples, see my blog roll to the right). Lately, I feel like I have neither...though I know my family, at least, would say that's not true.

But sometimes you need more than positive input from your family. I'm looking into some creative writing courses to give me some new perspective.

Until I recover from my writer's block, here's a selection of some of the food-related things that are percolating in my brain:

Smoked salmon-wrapped scallops: One of the best seafood meals I had this summer was at the Green House on Main in Shediac, NB. My sisters-in-law and I had lunch there as part of a "girls' day out". In a menu full of dishes like crispy salmon cakes, seafood chowder and fresh lobster, it really stood out. So much so that all four of us wound up ordering it, because not one us could fathom the idea of sharing it. Five fresh, huge scallops hugged tight by a thin slab of smoked salmon, served with fresh fruit, a green salad and a wedge of lemon.

more of my favorite dishes from Hollyhock: I went back to the Spreads and Dips section of the cookbook and pulled out the recipe for the white bean and sage dip (my Food Co-op order with a caseload of white cannellini beans finally came in!). It was delicious, especially when I spread it on a hearty slice of wholewheat bread and ate it with the last of my spinach and green garlic soup [recipe courtesy of Orangette]. One of the most perfect pairings I have ever eaten in my entire life, because both things have very subtle flavours and smooth textures that played off each other in the most wonderful way....

not-just-the-same-old pasta dishes: Whether by design or by accident, I have not submitted a post to Presto Pasta Nights in quite a while (I'm afraid to go back and count the weeks). Pasta has turned into a bit of a side-serving with something else kind of dish, and as a result, I have not put much effort into finding new and interesting ways to serve it. I tried creating a couple of dishes without a recipe, but I think I still need to experiment a bit more before I share anything with the blogging community. (pasta with blueberries was a bomb, but couscous with roasted beets, pecans and feta cheese had promise). So hopefully, I'll be able to come up with something to submit in time for my turn to host.

One of the bigger topics that keeps rolling around in my head (and one which I'm not quite sure what to with yet) is the whole issue of where food comes from. I've been attracted to things like The Omnivore's Dilemma and a National Geographic article on the importance of soil to the world's food supply. I'm probably not going to turn this blog into a soapbox for better growing practises, but I am pretty sure that what I am reading will have an effect on my cooking and blogging.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

berries. cheese. chicken. pasta. don't.

So I took four ingredients that my little Bean always wants to eat for lunch when asked, and wondered what would happen if I tried putting them together in a pasta dish.

In to the bowl went wholewheat pasta, feta cheese. leftover grilled chicken with pesto and blueberries.

It looked interesting and colourful, but the Boo's reactions to this combination spoke volumes. He picked out all the blueberries first, then ate the chicken, then ate the pasta and cheese. Not one of my best conconctions, unfortunately, so it's back to the kitchen.

I'd like to think there's still possibilities. Couscous instead of rotini? Halloumi cheese instead of feta?

Let the experimentation begin.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

baking berry stella

It was because of the leftover oatmeal.

Wait, let me try that again. I wasn't inspired to bake a version of Starbucks Baked Berry Stella because of leftover oatmeal. But leftover oatmeal certainly pushed me in the right direction of creating a recipe that came very close to the taste of the original.

I was inspired because of my love of all things baked, and because I was less than overwhelmed by the taste of the original Stella, despite its cool name and shape (I tried one three times--sorry Stella fans!). And then there was the challenge laid out for me.

one little stella all alone...

I love a good baking challenge. But I have so little time these days, especially now that the Boo is walking (or rather, running!). And then of course, I had to enjoy the warm, sunny summer weather. But when 50% of your visitors come to your blog because of search terms like baked+berry+stella+recipe, you have to answer the challenge.

To do that, I needed a little help. I love to bake, but I'm certainly not good enough to be able to invent something off the top of my head. Like many a baker, I've learned that correct proportions are very important when it comes to baking. You can overdo oregano or basil in an entree, but mess up the delicate balance between flour, eggs, baking soda and sugar and you may have a soggy mess, or a hockey puck on your hands. I've baked at least one chewy birthday cake in my time...but I digress.

calls for some others, on the phone...*

I blame fate for making me cook too much oatmeal. I mean, I've been making oatmeal for myself since I was a girl, and it's become one of the favorite breakfasts in our house, summer or winter. So my instincts for the right amount of water and oatmeal are good. Darned good. Except for a few weeks ago, when I made such an outlandishly large amount of oatmeal there was no way that the four of us could possibly consume it all.

But I couldn't throw it away. Something in the back of my head was telling me I could use it for something else, so I froze it (works well, by the way).

When I had a chance to search google for a recipe, I found one for an oatmeal chocolate chip cake. See, I wasn't even thinking about berry stellas.

But I bookmarked it. And then the wheels in my brain started turning, and the challenge popped back into my head. I compared the ingredients of the cake with the ingredients for the baked berry stella and--low and behold-- they were pretty close. Then I went back to the list of ingredients for the stella and made a few adjustments to the recipe I had found. And then, one evening, I got a few hours to myself to bake it.

It looked good. It smelled great. But I wanted objectivity. I needed taste testers. So I called on my usual suspects: BIL, GIL, my husband, the Bean and the Boo. GIL's dad even joined in on the fun. It wasn't entirely objective, but we tried. We bought two Stellas and cut everything into pieces. I told everyone I wanted a completely honest truth. This was for the blog, after all...

Here's what they told me: the Starbucks Stellas had a cool shape and more berries, but they were chewy, gooey and tasted undercooked. My version was lighter, fluffier and tasted more like a cake (which is exactly what I was going for since I found the Starbucks version was too chewy and dense as well). Of the six testers, only one person preferred the original Stella (and that would be my three-year-old Bean. Total honesty as always ;-))

So now, I'm passing this recipe onto all of you. It wasn't about matching the ingredients and their proportions exactly ( who needs invert syrup with all the other sweeteners in the recipe?). It was about having fun.

Baked Berry Stella, foodonthebrain style
I don't profess this to be the recipe to end all recipes. I'm sure there are a number of modifications that can be made to suit your tastes. I've suggested substitutions at the end and you can come up with your own. Your tastebuds will thank you.

[My thanks again to the publisher of the What's Cooking? blog for the basis for this recipe]

2 cups cooked oats (oatmeal)
1/3 cup melted butter
1/3 cup of applesauce (or any fruit puree - I used apple/blueberry)
1 egg
1/4 cup alfalfa honey
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
1/2 tbsp cinnamon
1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup blueberries
1 cup raspberries (or any other favourite berry)
1/4 cup raw oats
optional: a dash of flaxseed


Melt the butter and mix it in with the cooked oatmeal. If it seems to get lighter and fluffier, that's a good thing. Add the applesauce.

In a separate bowl, combine the egg and honey. Add it to the other wet ingredients.

Combine the sugar, cinnamon, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a third bowl. Add the flaxseed at this point if you wish. Mix well and then add to the wet ingredients. Stir until all traces of the dry ingredients are gone (do not overmix).

Pour into loaf tin, or spoon into muffin tins (2/3-3/4 full). I was able to make 12 mini muffins and fill a 8x10 pan. I suspect this would make 12 regular sized muffins.

Top with berries and raw oats. Bake at 350 F for 25-30 minutes.

Possible substitutions:
  • Try 1 cup diced fresh peaches or nectarines instead of raspberries
  • Reduce the amount of sugar by 1/2 cup
  • If you choose to omit the honey, make sure to add one egg and also omit the baking powder (one egg=1/4 cup of liquid + 1/2 tsp baking powder)
  • mix up the flours a little - I used 1/2 cup of buckwheat flour and 1 1/4 cups of wholewheat flour

*with apologies to Sandra Boynton, and any other hippos I may have offended...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The meals of Hollyhock

As promised - a visual sampling of the meals that I ate while at Hollyhock (Friday, August 15-Sunday, August 17). A grand total of two dinners, two breakfasts, and one lunch. All the meals were prepared with fresh ingredients, and many of the ingredients came from the large garden that sits in between the reception/registration hall and the kitchen/dining hall.

I still have a real shyness when it comes to taking pictures of food in public places, as well as asking too many questions about the food. So I apologize to those of you reading, because I know that would provide an additional dimension to the stories of my visit.

Here's a photo of the board that lists all the ingredients that are used in their dishes on a daily basis.

We arrived in time for dinner on Friday night, after having left Vancouver first thing Friday morning. Travelling by car/ferry to Cortes Island is an all-day event. It took us a grand total of three ferries to get to the island, and at least 4 hours of driving up Vancouver Island and across Quadra and Cortes Islands to finally arrive at Hollyhock.

The scenery, however, is breathtaking. Cruising alongside the sights and smells of the Pacific Ocean on Highway 19A from Nanaimo to Campbell River brought back many childhood memories of summers spent on the beach, digging for clams and building sandcastles.

We were also fortunate enough to gain the company of a lovely woman from Calgary (who I will call the PR lady) who had taken the bus to Campbell River to catch the ferries to Hollyhock.

We'd like to thank the "Ferry Godfather" (the BC Ferries employee in the tollbooth) who sized us up and deemed us suitable travelling companions for the PR lady. This seemed to us to be a common occurance at the Campbell River ferry terminal. In our case, my friend the doctor and I found that we had many common bonds with her beyond our shared destination, which made for some lively conversations and a feeling of true kinship.

Friday August 15: DINNER

As mentioned, the food is all freshly prepared with many ingredients coming right from the Hollyhock garden. It's not super fancy or gourmet, but it certainly was delicious.

Because of the sheer amount of people who attend (during our stay, there were 3 courses running and an assortment of people like us who were just there for a break), meals are served buffet style.

Feeling the effects of the three hour timezone difference, I went to sleep very soon after dinner.

Our dorm, the Carousel, was nestled in the trees, just up the pathway from the dining hall. There are also private cottages available for individuals and couple who want more privacy. All the accomodations at Hollyhock are simple, clean and rustic.

Saturday, August 16 : BREAKFAST
I really enjoyed the meals when there were cheery messages on the board. This was the menu that greeted us on Saturday morning. The eggs were a real success with everyone -- every time I went to serve myself, or try and get a picture, they were almost all gone.

Saturday, August 16: LUNCH

The salmon polenta casserole and sesame home fries were the only dishes I recognized from the cookbook I own. I was pleased to discover that it tasted just like when I made it. It speaks highly of the cookbook in two ways: one: the recipes have been well tested, and two: they are easy enough for someone else to make them at home. I have since discovered the recipes for the granola, the wheat bread and the ginger iced tea in my cookbook - so I will be able to make them myself the next time I feel homesick for the Hollyhock experience.

The whole wheat bread was very hearty and tasted great with the peanut butter they offered. The ginger tea was mild enough that I was able to recommend it to a mother who was trying to find something for her young child to drink with dinner. Both of these items were part of their 24-hour self serve bar.

That was another great thing I loved about Hollyhock. I went on my own without the Bean and the Boo, but many people brought their children with them. One parent would take the course, while the other could take the kids off for a walk in the woods, or down to the beach to play.

Saturday, August 16: DINNER

I had never heard of red quinoa before, so this was an exciting discovery. It also gave me an idea of something I could do with some Adzuki beans I have in my kitchen. Taratour sauce is a middle Eastern sauce served with falafels or shwarma that is like hummus, but without the chickpeas. Basic ingredients include tahini, water, garlic and lemon juice. Other recipes I found online include olive oil, cumin and parsley as other ingredients. Although I did not ask for the recipe, my sense is they stayed with the simple basics.

Saturday night we signed up for a Bioluminesence paddle. Imagine the beauty of kayaking into the direction of a brilliantly-setting sun, and in behind, the light the full moon. Bioluminesence refers to the phtyoplankton that were in the water. When we moved our hands back and forth, or dipped the kayak paddle in, they would light up like fireflies, giving the impression of sparkles in the water.

Sunday, August 17: BREAKFAST

My last meal at Hollyhock, and one of the simplest announcements of what would be served for that meal at Hollyhock. I missed out on the Blueberry muffins (shocking, I know, since they had chocolate in them), but today was the day to try the famous Hollyhock granola.

mmmmmmm....wholesome, hearty granola.

The essence of my visit: it was hard to leave such a peaceful, secluded and natural surrounding. Hollyhock is a great place to get away from the stuff of life and find areas of peace and quiet. I found a place where I could swim, hike, and kayak, but return to a sense of luxury (massages!), healthy, substantial meals and conversations with a wide variety of very interesting people.

Leafing through their catalogue, I discovered that they offer a 5 day course in their kitchen. Anyone interested in signing up with me? ;-)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Omnivore's One Hundred

I'm back, but still digesting recovering from my whirlwind trip west. In a word, the trip was captivating.

The meals, the scenery, the people I met -- all met and exceeded my expectations.

But I'm saving the details for another post.

I found this list while checking out some different food blogs tonight. I like the original creator's definition of omnivore, and had to test myself to see just how brave I really am when it comes to being experimental with food. As per the instructions, I've bolded the things I've tried, and crossed out the things I never would. I counted 41 things I have tried, with only 6 things that I never would.

I'm feeling pretty good about my onimvorousness right now.

If you copy this list to your blog, here's what you need to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:
1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari

12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat - as long as the hair has all been removed
42. Whole insects - they serve them covered in chocolate, right?
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi - in the form of paste
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky - Green Tea is the best!
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam - one word: why?
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta

99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

headed to Hollyhock

I'm breaking free of being a "mom" for a while to spend a few days in total rest and relaxation on Cortes Island, BC. The Hollyhock retreat, to be exact. I've never been, but I am meeting a friend of mine (and photographer of the above picture) who makes a point of going at least once a year when she's had enough of the hustle and bustle of her life as a family doc.

If you have read any of my previous postings, you know that I am a big fan of their cookbook: Hollyhock Cooks: Food to Nourish Mind, Body and Soil. You can only imagine how excited I am that I will be able to try their food as they prepare it!

Will they let me bring a camera into the dining room? Will I get over the nerdy feeling I get every time I take a picture of food in front of anyone but my family? (Thankfully, they have finally grown accustomed to waiting for me to finish taking pictures before we sit down to eat anything).

My sister thinks I should bring the recipe book and ask for autographs (and she thinks I'm odd).
I'll be gone for five days. In addition to eating what I think will be delicious food, I'll get a chance to kayak and have a massage. My idea of bliss...

And when I come back, I promise I will post the results of my quest to make Baked Berry Stellas.