Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Channelling my Inner Gourmet

Tuesday nights my brother-in-law (BIL) and his girlfriend come for dinner. This week has been a little cooler than last, so I chose to test out a recipe for Tuscan Bean Stew with Sausage as posted by Kim, from Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet. Like me, she has kids. And chaos. I have chaos too, but nothing like I had today.

It started at the grocery store, when I went to pick up the sausage and a few other things for dinners this week. It was uneventful until I had the (not-so) bright idea to skip the long lineups and try the self-serve checkout at the grocery store.

Definition of a self-serve checkout: A machine that allows the customer to scan the items themselves, pack their own bags, pay and go. You have to type in the codes for the produce (thankfully you can look them up) and there are slots for packing three bags at once. Every time you scan an item, you have to put it IMMEDIATELY into a bag, otherwise everything stops until the sensors pick up the change of weight. It works well if you use the plastic bags they provide and even better if your items are all a consistent size and shape. I had neither of these things. I had my own bags and everything from carrots and celery to baby jars as well as a large conglomeration of Made-in-China sandbox toys awkwardly bundled together in netting (Admittedly, I probably could have left those out).

Because my grocery bags did not fit well on the sensor platform, I had to repeatedly shove the same item in over and over to ensure the system could verify that each item WAS being put in the bag. What should have taken 15 minutes took much longer.

About three quarters of the way through, the Boo got impatient and tried to climb out of the cart. I know this because the kind clerk who monitored the self serve stations pointed out how he had turned himself around to be precariously balanced in the seat. I had to pick him up and hold him as I shoved the last few items in my bags, pay and get out. Lesson learned: sometimes self-serve is not the best option.

At 5:20 pm I started getting dinner ready for 6pm. Both the Boo and the Bean are at home now. The Boo is finally napping (because they never nap when you need them too) in the too-big-to-fit-inside stroller. The Bean wants to further develop his road hockey skills. I know I'll never get dinner prepped and ready without a little bit of help, so I cajole a friend of mine into staying outside a few extra minutes until my husband gets home from work.

I retreated to the kitchen to chop, fry and stew as fast as I could. Fortunately, it's an easy to prepare dish!

For the most part, I followed YM's recipe to a T, even going so far as to use beef broth and omitting the tomatoes (but not the cabbage). I used Eden's Organic Cannellini beans, but that was it for organic ingredients. I couldn't find Savoy cabbage, so I used a cabbage I found at the grocery store. Unlike YM, I don't have homemade beef broth lying around in the freezer, so I had to settle for broth made from two all-vegetable, Beef style, McCormick Bouillon cubes. (Confused? So was my husband. See below.)

This is the cabbage. Anyone have a name for me?

There was so much broth I wondered how the addition of cabbage would fit into the pot at the designated time, but I stuck it in the oven anyway.

6 pm: BIL and his girlfriend arrive. They've brought bread: Sprouted Grain. Noise levels go up as they only can when a favorite uncle comes to visit. The stew has been in the oven for 20 minutes - only 10 to go. I run out of the house to Fedex a package to Fedex my employer needed in their hands by 5 pm the next day (Why you ask, did I leave it to the last minute? Because they did. More details to follow in future posts.). I leave instructions with my husband to take the stew out when the buzzer goes.

This is Sprouted Grain Bread. What were you thinking it would look like?

6:45 pm: I am back at the house. The Boo has been fed, but everyone else waited for me. We sit down to dinner. And then it goes from chaos to comedy.

6:46 pm: Wine is poured. The bread is plated and on the table. Someone comments that it smells really good when all of a sudden, the scent of spilled red wine overpowers everything. BIL's GF looks sheepishly at us as BIL laughs and explains that she did the same thing last night. A split second later, even as we are mopping up the first glass of wine, she inadvertently knocks over BIL's glass on to an antique chair. We remove all other glasses of wine from her vicinity, and then proceed to tease her about her new habit.

Finally, we all take a few bites of dinner. Here's a selection of first impressions:

"Smells good."
"I like the creamy texture of the beans. They melt in your mouth."

And the Bean's contribution, verbatim:
"Boys who eat dinner get dessert." (This was after he added a pat of herb butter to his stew bowl. The brainwashing really works, by the way)

My husband, trying for a bit more erudition, came up with this one:

"I really like the separation of flavours between the vegetables, the beans and the beef broth. It's a nice beefy taste."
Me in response: "It's a vegetable-based beef broth."
Husband: "Yeah, the vegetables too."
Me: "No, I mean that the broth may taste like beef except there is no meat in it."
Husband: "Is that so vegetarians can eat it?"
Me: "I guess."
Husband: "Well, this would be a great vegetarian meal then. Except for the sausages."

Maybe you had to be there to see the humour in this one, I don't know. I think my husband was on to something about the distinct separation of flavours -- is this what gourmet is?

But the stew WAS good, although next time I would definitely want to try the golden-brown, garlic-rubbed, thickly-sliced country bread. And I'll try not to channel the chaos. ;-)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

minty fresh

I was looking around at my favorite food blogs last week and the cucumber elixir posted by Jen at becoming a foodie looked so luscious and refreshing I had to go out and buy mint. But then I was left with a whole lot of mint, and as much as I'd like to keep drinking the Elixir, I need all my wits about me to manage the Bean and the Boo...

I was planning on making a tabouli salad with the leftovers, but then I came across a recipe for minted peas in olive oil.

Despite the fact that it came out of a Jamie Oliver cookbook, I consider it serendipity. I had peas. I had olive oil. I had lemon juice. I had mint. No additional shopping required. Perfect!

Note here: Originally I found the recipe while leafing through the actual cookbook at a local bookstore. I call it serendipity beause I am not a fan of JO, yet I was oddly drawn to pick up the book. And then it just kind of fell open to that page, as if someone WANTED me to see the recipe. (and if you must know why I'm not a fan, I'll have to rant about it in another post because it's just too long to explain here.

So how did my experiments with mint turn out?

Some of the comments I got about the Elixir:

"A cucumber-y mojito"
"Very refreshing"
"Great for a summer drink"
"I don't normally eat cucumbers, but this is great"

And the Minted Peas: In the words of my husband.."It's a keeper!". Judging by the fact that both the Bean and the Boo ate seconds and thirds, I'd say it was an unqualified success!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Well, hello there!

What a thrill it is when you get your first comment on a post. And your second, and even your third. And at the same time, I feel a sense of panic. If people are reading, do they find it interesting? Will they come back? Do I have typos?

This blog is still in progress. But I'd like to give my thanks to:

  • redmenace, of a Chow Life. She was my very first blog commenter, and I have to confess to a secret thrill to know that someone other than my immediate family was reading the blog. Take a look at her blog, by the way - she posts interesting tidbits on food and the photography and layout are inspring!

    redmenace is also reading the same book (Julie & Julia) that I am at the moment. More on that later as I get through it.

  • Ruth, a fellow Canadian who hosts Presto Pasta Nights. I decided to join her round-up for a few reasons..

    1)Pasta is a big favourite in our house (the consequence of 2 little boys under 3 and a mommy who runs 5 km at least twice a week)
    2)Because of 1) I can always count on having at least one dish to submit every week. Other challenges I would like to do (like the Daring Baker challenge) would require extra time that I just don't have right now.

    My first submission to PPN was my Spinach, Sweet Potato and Pesto Lasagna. Check it out, and watch for more!

  • Ching, of Little Corner of Mine. Also a newbie to PPN, Ching was looking for inventive ways to use pesto. So glad I could help, Ching!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Our first outdoor dinner of 2008: a photo essay

After almost five months of the most snow this city has seen in 35+ years, we are finally seeing warmer weather.

To set the scene, this was our front yard on March 28. The mountain is over 6 feet tall. I know this because my husband could not see over it, and he's 6'2". Our barbeque has been buried under the same amount of snow on our back porch.

Here's a photo of my lima bean on the same day we dug the barbeque out. That was also March 28.

Here's a photo from tonight. No snow! Shorts! Summer hats! Particles of food flung pelle-melle on the deck! (better here than the dining room floor, I tell you).

If it looks like dinner consisted of barbequed sausages and roasted red peppers with pasta, you'd be half right. The intent was there, but the barbeque gremlins were against us. We were able to heat it up, but once we flipped a dial, any dial (and not the OFF dial) the flame shut off, and we had to finish cooking our lovely barbequed meal in the oven. But I digress. The most important thing is that it looks like warm weather will be here for a while and we will be able to sit outside.

And so, our first dinner outside was a success. We still have snow though. This was a photo from yesterday. That same mountain of snow is a whooole lot smaller....

Sausages, Pasta and Roasted Red Peppers

serves 3 (or 2 adults and two toddlers)

Honestly, this recipe is super easy. We literally threw it together. Almost not worth writing down, but I will, for the sake of the blog.


4 sausages - 3 mild italian for us, 1 breakfast sausage for the lima bean, who is not into spicy right now
2 whole red peppers
2 cups rotini pasta (I'm guessing here folks, because I just fill the pot with what I think will feed us)
olive oil
pesto (optional)

Pre-heat the bbq.
When hot enough, put the sausages and red peppers on the grill. Cook until the sausages are ready, and the peppers slighlty blackened
Boil water for the pasta. Put the pasta in the boiling water and let it cook until al dente.
When the sausages are ready, remove from grill and cut into 1/2" slices.
Remove the red peppers and slice open. Pare away the burnt skin and slice the peppers lengthwise into thin slices. Cut thin slices in half.
Toss everything into a bowl and add olive oil to season. Serve with a salad.

Next time I plan to add grilled asaparagus as well. I think it will add a nice flavour, and also colour.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Cooking Epiphany

I was at a friend's house for a birthday party on Sunday. For the record, it was a morning brunch in celebration of her youngest turning one. She had made a good selection of egg-based concoctions, all from recipe books. One was a huge success and was eaten up within 30 minutes. The second one was not as successful, judging by the fact there was still some left an hour later.

I was in the kitchen listening as she told her mother in law she probably wouldn't make the recipe again because it wasn't very flavourful and needed more seasoning. I wanted to yell (okay, interject loudly) right then and there, "Wait a know you don't like it, you know what it needs to make it better, why not just modify it and make it again??". But I didn't. Mostly because at that moment, my little boo decided to make a break for it and I had to chase after him.

And then, just yesterday, it hit me. Not everyone cooks like me. This is a line that separates some cooks from others. Some people are content to just follow a recipe and discard it if it doesn't work for them. On the other side of this line, there are people like me who use recipes as a starting point. If we don't like the way something turns out, or want to try something different, we adjust and test and adapt. I'm sure there are other categories of cooks too (like those that eschew recipe books completely and like to invent there own creations - I think they call those people "professional chefs"), but it was enough of an epiphany for me at that point.

As I read some of my favorite foodie blogs that night, I realized that the other bloggers I admire also fall into the same camp as me (for the most part). So some of my misgivings about this whole blogging thing (like, is what I write really going to be interesting to anyone else?) might not be as serious as I thought. I felt re-energized and more confident that I can also contribute something of value to the foodie blogging world.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Have some Cake

Cake - Short Skirt, Long Jacket

I have a crazy amount of personal stuff to deal with this week, so the time I have to spend planning meals, shopping, and cooking is even more limited than usual. But I don't want my blog posts to suffer ;-). Haven't posted a video in a while, so here is one for a song I love to play while I'm cooking in the kitchen (in fact, the last time I blared this song, I was making my mom's birthday cake..)

The comments of the people listening to the song are pretty funny. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Gift of Bread

My brother in law (I'll call him BIL - get it?) came over last night to pick my husband up to see the hockey game. He presented me with a bag and the words " A present for you". I opened the bag up to find a beautiful homemade loaf of braided bread. (see above) I was so touched, I ran into the kitchen and took a picture (does this qualify me as an obsessive foodie blogger?)

Once they left, I ripped off a little piece to taste it. Soft, moist, sweet. It reminded me a little bit of a pretzel, but without all the salt. I imagine spreading an orange marmelade, or maybe an apricot jam, on a slice would add just the right twist. Unfortunately, we're out of jam at the moment.

If you know BIL like I know BIL, then you know this: he can make a pretty darn good loaf of bread just by throwing together a pinch of this and a dash of that. I'm not sure where he picked it up, but I have been a beneficiary of this skill for a few years now.

My sister has the same skill too. In fact, I am waiting for her to show me how to make bread using the leftovers of our juicing escapades. Stay tuned...

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Ever since my little boo was born, I've had a craving for baked goods. Honestly, I need some tasty little teatime treat every day. Scones, cookies or cake are preferred. Nothing else seems to satisfy.

Fortunately, I like to bake, and sometimes the little boo's naptimes give me enough time to whip up a batch. And as an added plus, my lima bean loves to spend time in the kitchen helping to make cookies, so it's a great way for us to spend some fun time together. We've got him stirring dry ingredients at the moment. My dream is that someday he will look back on these moments with fondness and it will inspire him to continue cooking as well. We'll see how that turns out.

The photo above is for the latest batch of homemade chocolate chip with walnuts and dried apricots. Made exactly as the recipe specifies and you get moist chocolatey treats that draw you in again and again until you finish off the batch. I call it the "new cookie math": 16 cookies are eaten by three people over three days. Person A eats 3 cookies. Person B eats 4 cookies. Does that make person C the biggest cookie hog ever?


Chocolate Chip Cookies with Apricots and Walnuts
Adapted from rebar: the modern cookbook

Makes 28-30 cookies

OFten we substitute (or augment) the dried apricots with dried cranberries. I will cut the amount of brown sugar and chocolate chips depending on how sweet and chocolatey I want them. I get the best results baking on a stoneware cookie tray from Pampered Chef, or using one of those silicone sheets with a regular tray. The bottoms are never ever burned...

1/2 cup unsalted butter
**1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup dried apricots
1 1/2 cups wholewheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup raosted and chopped walnuts
**1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (a good kind)

** I often put less in. 1.5 cups of chocolate chips is ALOT of sugar...


Preheat oven to 350 F. Set aside a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (to prevent sticking). Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one ata time, blending each one in well before adding the next. Blend in the vanilla and set aside.

Using a food processor, pulse together the apricots with 1/2 cup flour. Chop them up fine and place in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the remaining flour, baking powder and salt. Add the wet mix and stir in the walnuts and chocolate chips.

Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of batter on the cookie sheet, leaving room for spreading. Bake for 9 minutes, rotating the tray halfway through baking. Cool on a wire rack.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Family Favorites: Cumin and Sesame Seed Encrusted Salmon

I lost my blogging mojo this week, after a good run this past month. Nothing like a daycare drama to divert your attention and give life a little bit of stress. One week ago, our daycare provider informed us she would not have the space she had promised to our second son (the boo), who will be going to daycare with his brother (the lima bean) when I go back to work. Despite the fact that we have been with her for two years, despite the fact that I have been talking about needing a space FOREVER. We want our two boys together, so there have been lots of converations back and forth, asking why, asking how and talking about what next. No answers yet. I know I'm not writing a lot of details, but that's on purpose. I've been upset and she has been keenly apologetic but it seems that there is nothing she can, or will do. We're stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place.

Tonight, however, I was finally able to move forward - I think, in part to the sympathetic ears I had from my running mom friends. And the fact that there are other options popping up here and there, only a week into the new search. Onward!

Cumin and Sesame Seed Encrusted Salmon

Serves 3

I've had this dish in my repetoire for about five years. I can't remember the original source, though I suspect it may have come from a Canadian Living magazine I read at my mother-in-law's house.

It's fast (prep time averages 10 minutes, cooking averages 12 minutes), easy (five ingredients, not including the sides) and tastes fantastic. Even the bean asked for seconds tonight - and as any mother knows, your kids are your toughest critics, so I consider this proof positive.

3x 8 oz salmon filets
2 tbsp mustard a l'ancienne (has the seeds in it)
2 tbsp honey
1 1/2 tbsp cumin seed
1 1/2 sesame seed (brown seed pictured)


Pre-heat oven to 350F. Lay a piece of foil on a cookie sheet. Lay the salmon skin side down.

In one small bowl, mix the mustard and honey together. Brush onto the salmon.

In a second small bowl, mix the seeds together. Sprinkle them over the salmon.

Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the salmon is cooked through and can be lifted off the foil and the skin stays.

Tonight I served it with boiled new potatoes (15 minutes) and a modified version of grilled asparagus with parmesan (recipe courtesy of Kalyn's Kitchen). I boiled the asparagus in water before mixing it with olive oil and sprinkling parmesan on it. I laid it on the same cookie sheet as the salmon to bake in the oven.

And my three year-old lima bean, who is an unwitting witness to this daycare drama? He's a smart cookie, and knows that something is up. He's not sleeping as well, and he's not fussing about leaving mommy at home to go to daycare. On the flipside, he refused to give our provider her standard hug and kiss today when I picked him up. He's a smart cookie, and any changes we make will be hard on him. But he's also resilient, and that's what I'm counting on.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Behind the Scenes

Am I the only one who is constantly tweaking my blog, or do others do it too?

I started this blog in 2003, thinking I would post reviews of the restaurants that I went to.. at that point in my life, we were dining out at least once a week at different places. We still try and go out now, but it's usually to the same, kid-friendly pub. I never took notes, so if I didn't post right away, I would forget details. So that died out. I tried to revive it a few times over the last 4 years, but I never had any real motivation. Plus I was just too busy with other stuff...

In the past month I have tried to be more active because my head is constantly filled with ideas. But the blog needed an overhaul. So I went looking for advice and inspiration. When I typed "restaurant review blog" into Google (or was it food blog popular"?), up popped a link for .the Amateur Gourmet, and the post was filled with lots of advice on how to make your food blog readable and interesting. The comments were filled with gratitude and thanks from a number of different bloggers. SOme of them even had links to their sites.

I followed a few, and read a few and then started my improvements. First thing to go was the design. Originally it was a dark olive background and black text. The blog title was also in text (a lovely orange). What was I thinking? The people who rely on me professionally for my knowledge of web design would be shocked.

I created an image header and have been tweaking the layout to get to something I like.

Next, the posts. I'm still working on this one. Images are a must. I took photography, and enjoy it, but photographing food and making it look appetizing is a real challenge which I am still perfecting. Grammar and voice - sometimes I read a post and see errors or omissions. Since I haven't really broadcast this blog yet, I feel okay about correcting things. For now.

Subject matter - also working on this one. I'm trying to figure out my niche, and a common thread to my posts. I'm a mom, but not necessarily a mommy blogger. Which I define as someone who incorporates a lot of stories about their kids. Though some do it pretty well. And let's face it, they are a big part of my life, and a lot of the experimenting I do is to try and find interesting, nutritious dishes that they will eat! I also don't have a lot of time to prepare elaborate meals. Nor am I a real gourmet wanna-be. But I like meals that look good, taste good and are easy to prepare, which is possible.

I've posted some links to food-themed songs and bands. I'll keep that because it taps into the quirkier side of my blog.

I tried posting a "Recipe of the Week", only to realize a) I don't want to be pinned to having to post a recipe every week and b) most of the recipes I post are because my family likes them (or at least two of us do). So out went "Recipe of the Week" and in came "Family Favorites".

So I'm still tweaking it. I'd like to change the URL and title of the blog, but the one I want is being used, sort of. I'd like to think my writing will get better over time, especially if I get feedback.

So that's it for now. I reserve the right to add more as I continue to tweak ;-)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Family that juices together..

What can I say about juicing? Okay, I was inspired to post about our juice adventures by Jen at Becoming a Foodie, because she had written about a not-so-good first experience with juicers. (Plus, she made a comment about people who juice to feel superior, and I just knew that wasn't at all why we juice). Last time I checked though, she had tried again, with help and better results.

But here's what I have to say. First of all, I'm thrilled that even though I was the one to buy the juicer (used), my HUSBAND has taken up the habit of buying the juice ingredients, and gets all excited about vegetable what he'll juice next. This from a man who tries to avoid vegetables as much as possible. Oh, he'll eat salad, but only so my sister stops teasing him about it. So the juicer has been good to get vegetables into him, even if he's missing the fibre.

Secondly, not only is my husband juicing, but he gets my 3 year old involved too, by letting him plunge the ingredients into the juicer and watching them get shredded. What more could a three year old boy who loves machines ask for? And this is great because we have 1) found a way to get veggies into him (because he's starting to get picky) and 2) given him another positive experience in the kitchen (in addition to baking cakes and cookies with me).

Finally, juicing has opened my eyes to other possible creations. The juicer we have is a Breville, and though it makes great juice, I have a peeve about the amount of liquidy pulp leftover (maybe if we bought a higher end juicer, there would be more juice in the juice, and less in the pulp, but I digress). In conversation with my sister about this (because juicing has become a conversation piece lately), she suggested making bread with the pulp. Or putting it in muffins. Which I thought was a great idea! I just have to learn how to do it. Muffins shouldn't be too hard, because I make them all the time and I think I have a good enough feel for how they need to turn out (famous last words), but bread, and successful bread using juice pulp, eludes me. Fortunately, my sister knows exactly what to do and has volunteered to come over and show me - as soon as she can find the time between her schoolwork and obsessive need to make sure her daughter goes down for her nap no later than 12:36 pm everyday.

And so, I leave you with two more images of juice at our house.