Saturday, May 31, 2008

I heart

First off, I have to comment on the large gap between my last post and this one (mitigated only by the short quote I posted a few days ago to try and freshen things up).

For the past two weeks, I have been prepping for toddler birthday parties (the Bean is now THREE!) and fighting inhumane headaches and sore throats. My blogging time has been replaced with baking and frosting umpteen cupcakes and taking copious amounts of naps. Niether of which are terrible activities, now that I look at it in writing...

But always in the back of my head is my need to share an exciting discovery that has been giving us a lot of easy-to-make, tasty recipes for dinner--without me having to spend a lot of time searching for them.

What is it? The Weekly Dinner menu planner from [insert angels singing here]

To be honest, I was skeptical at first about recipes from epicurious, because it's the site for Bon Appetit and Gourmet--both magazines that have, in the past, made me feel quite intimidated about cooking "gourmet". I've been getting their e-newsletters for a few years now, but I've always had the impression that the recipes are intended more for special occasions where I don't have to worry about picky eaters. But then I got the e-mail titled "Quick and Easy weeknight menus" and I had to look. Turns out that not only do most of the recipes featured in this section take less than 30 minutes to prepare, each week comes with a complete shopping list (no quantities here mind you, but at least you get a sense for the ingredients!)

So I copied the list for the Week of May 12 and off I went to the grocery store. To keep it simple, I kept mostly to just the main course and omitted making the desserts (though they do look good....)

We loved the Truffled Taleggio and Mushroom Pizza. Except that neither the Bean nor my husband like mushrooms, so I made it with sundried tomatoes, spinach and pinenuts. And instead of taleggio, I used asiago. But I did find the truffle oil, so that ingredient remained, and gave the pizza a nice smoky flavour. And the crust, though not made of raw dough, was made with a President's Choice Stone Baked Flatbread with Asiago and Parmesan Cheeses. I would totally use it again - the crust was just thick and crispy enough, and the hint of cheese complemented the toppings nicely. Everyone ate their share and soon the pizza was gone.

one for one.

I served the Chicken with Chilaquiles and Salsa Verde and the Mexican Corn to BIL and GIL (BIL's girlfriend) for our weekly family dinner. This time I stayed to the recipe, omitting only the jalapeño pepper in the corn recipe. We had to go to a couple of different stores before we could find the salsa verde, but in the end, we found a big jar of Herdez brand.

The Chilaquiles were fantastic. It made a great meal for the kids because the chips were soft and it had lots of protein in the chicken, as well as colourful, easy-to-eat vegetables. I loved it because it gives us a whole new way to enjoy salsa and chips.

two for two.

Italian Sausage with Fennel, Peppers and Onions (the Friday recipe) turned out to be the last meal I made for that week, even though I made it on Thursday. We love sausage in this family and I was hoping that it would make a good pasta topping, so I could submit it as my entry into the weekly Presto Pasta Nights hosted by Once Upon a Feast.

You guessed it - it flopped. The only change I made here was substituting sweet green and red peppers for the Cubanelle peppers listed in the recipe. I was worried they would be too hot and spicy for the kids, but I think I might be wrong about that. I've never eaten a Cubanelle pepper. The other issue was that the vegetables wer eprobably not broiled as long as they should have been for maximum softness and flavour. I followed the timings in the recipe, but I think they were too short for our oven. I could have left the dish in longer, but the night we made it things were running behind and everyone was just too hungry to wait any longer.

So the resulting dish was bland and boring, and tasted overwhelmingly of onions. If I were to do this dish again (and I most likely won't), I would leave it in long enough to really carmelize the onions and make sure the sausage was broiled to a more dark golden colour. And I would add the cubanelles in (after I taste what they are like, of course).

Final score: 2 for 3.

As for the other two recipes--Grilled Cheese with Onion Jam, Taleggio and Escarole and Rotisserie Chicken with Marinated Baby Vegetables--I left them out in the end.

And Friday we made a paella for the Bean's family birthday dinner that came from a FoodTV site (more on that in another post that could be titled "At least we ate it...").

So there you have it. My first attempt to make a week's worth of epicurious recipes and I found it fairly easy and enjoyable. I'll be back with more photos and stories of my adventures in cooking these meals. I may even try a dessert or two someday!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

food for thought

Do you want to dazzle guests,

or feed a hungry kid?

Tom Colicchio, Think Like a Chef

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

hot chili chocolate!

It's no secret that I love chocolate. Correction - I love GOOD chocolate. And my husband does too. From time to time he brings home outrageously priced chocolate bars as special treats. On these days, we wait until we get the kids to bed (so we don't have to share), and then we rendezvous downstairs in the kitchen or living room. We open the package and each start with one square. If it's a new bar, we try and savour it for a while. Most times the bar will last a couple of days at least, sometimes longer.

A few weeks ago he brought home a Dolfin bar - dark chocolate with pink peppercorns. That same week I came across another new chili spice flavoured chocolate bar from Cocoa Camino.

Inspired by other foodie blogs, I decided that a third bar was required to conduct a proper taste test. I went out to find the Lindt Creation Cherry Chili that we had eaten before.

Here's the results of the taste test:

First up was the Dolfin Pink Peppercorn. I fell in love immediately with the pretty pink wrapper, which was actually more of a pouch for the chocolate bar inside. Inside the pouch, the wrapper itself was imprinted in multicolours over and over with the Dolfin brand name. Based on the packaging I was expecting something wonderful - perhaps a chocolate bar with crushed whole pink peppercorns scattered throughout. What I got was a very genteel tasting smooth chocolate, with the very tiniest hint of pepper heat. No crunch whatsoever. My husband initially seemed to like this one more than I did.

Next up was the Cocoa Camino Chili & Spice Bar. At $2.49 per bar, I'm assuming it was the least expensive of the bunch. Cocoa Camino is the chocolate brand from the La Siembra cooperative. They produce Fair Trade Certified and certified organic chocolate products.

I can't say enough about how popular Cocoa Camino chocolate bars and Cocoa Camino hot chocolate are among our household and extended family. At Christmas last year, there were no less than 12 bars (at $4.99/100g bar) exchanged among five adults for stocking stuffers. My personal favourite was the espresso chocolate bar, but that's for another post.

However, I think I have a new favourite now. The Chili & Spice bar, part of their Los Intensivos series. I took one small bite. At first, any hint of chili barely registered. But as the chocolate melted in my mouth, I felt the exquisite warmth of chili expand and radiate throughout. Pure. organic. chocolate. heaven.

After that experience, I had to wait a while before I (re)tested the Lindt Creation Cherry Chili. This one is a cherry-coloured/chili spiced liquid center surrounded by a 75% cocoa chocolate shell. It costs between $5.99 and $6.99 depending on where you buy it.

I always thought it was spicy as well, but it pales in comparison to the Chili & Spice bar. You need a pretty good mouthful (at least a square) to even come close to the same chili chocolate experience.

I had to go back and forth between the Lindt and Cocoa Camino a few times to really make my final decision, but in the end there was really no contest.

When I buy a chili chocolate bar, I want the spicy taste of chili, otherwise it's just chocolate. So, my choice is Cocoa Camino Chili & Spice. And even though initially my husband liked the Dolfin bar, in the end he told me he preferred the Chili & Spice bar as well.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

unscientific proof

My son, the Bean, and I have established a little bedtime ritual that warms my heart, as all good rituals should.

Every night, after we brush his teeth and before he goes off to his room to read stories with daddy, he gives me a hug and a kiss. Then we blow each other one more kiss for good measure.

A few months ago I started "catching" his kisses and telling them I was keeping them in my heart. I pretend to pull his blown kiss out of the air and push it into my heart by patting my chest and saying "caught it. I'll keep it in my heart."

The cute part was when he started mimicking me -- he catches the kiss, says (in a very serious, quiet whisper) "Caught it. Keep it in my heart." and then pats his heart. Except that the area he pats is closer to his belly button. And even though I know he watches me closely, and knows his belly button, he continues, night after night to catch kisses and put them in his belly. I've never corrected him.

Not only do I love this ritual because it's just ours, but I love what it shows about the saying: (that even without food)


the face to break a thousand hearts

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

comfort foods redux

I must be in a comfort food zone. How else can I explain my sudden desire to cook up a dish of macaroni and cheese for my family?

Not that mac and cheese was ever real comfort food for me. Although I remember eating macaroni and ketchup numerous times as a kid (no cheese please--I never did trust the nuclear shade of orange), I avoided it like the plague during university.

In my recipe collection, however, I have a clipping from a 1996 issue of Cooking Light for a Creamy Four Cheese Macaroni. So at some point, the thought of a homemade version must have appealed to me (one without ketchup).

This week, I pulled it out in an endeavour to prepare a kid-friendly meal. To further enhance the possibility that it would be eaten by my picky 3 year old, and to add to the nutritious value, I decided that I would liven it up a little by adding black beans, corn and peas.

If you are like me, then the combination of corn and black beans screams one big spanish "Olé!" . This inspired me to choose a six-cheese taco and nacho mix. Instead of fontina, parmesan, cheddar and (gasp!) Velveeta, this macaroni and cheese was prepared with Monterey Jack, Monterey Jack with Jalapeño peppers, Cheddar, Queso Quesadilla, Queso Blanco and Asadero.

The Monterey Jack with Jalapeño wound up giving the dish a nice little spicy kick. I supposed I could have adjusted the spiciness by reducing the amount of mix and adding more (plain) Monterey Jack. In the end I didn't have to - my three year old told me (unprompted, I might add) "This is good mommy!". So, based on this blessing from my toughest critic, I'm using this as my submission to Presto Pasta Nights (as well as making this a permanent adaptation in my book). Every Friday, Ruth of Once Upon A Feast posts a round up of pasta recipes submitted by food bloggers all around the world. A great idea which inspires me to continue finding new and different ways to serve pasta.

Baked Macaroni con Queso
ruthlessly adapted from Cooking Light,September 1996
serves 2 hungry adults, one three year old and a one-year old with one serving left over

3 cups elbow macaroni
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/3 cups milk
2 cups taco/nacho cheese mix
1 cup black beans
1/2 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup green peas
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 2-quart casserole dish and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Salt water, add macaroni, and cook until al dente. Drain and set aside.

While pasta is cooking, combine flour and milk in a large saucepan, whisking until blended. Cook over medium heat about 8 minutes, or until thick, stirring constantly.

Add cheese and cook until melted and thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the macaroni, beans, peas, and corn. Pour mixture into prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle bread crumbs over top. Bake until bubbly, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

tv work is NOT glamourous

We went to our favorite park after our mother's day brunch today, and arrived to this:

While my husband and the Bean dug in the sand pit, my mom and I took the Boo over to check it out.

There was the host, his cooking team and a small army of people in blue t-shirts marked "CREW", grilling up french toast with blueberries for a small crowd. Apparently they were in the process of taping one of four episodes.

Here's my blow-by-blow account of the time I spent as an audience member.

The person I assume to be the production coordinator (or audience wrangler, take your pick) came over and gave everyone the run down on the shot schedule. Grill closeup, then crowd shot. She instructed us to "keep smiling really wide like you are totally faking it" because apparently just standing around with no expression makes you look angry on camera. After about a minute, my face began to ache and it really did become a fake smile.

They had to redo the grill shot because the piece of toast wasn't sitting properly on the grill. While one team member came over to expertly remove the piece of toast so it wouldn't stick to the grill or fall apart, a blue-shirted crew member scrubbed down the grill until it was spotless again to ensure continuity.

At that point I wimped out and had to leave the set, because the production lights and the sun were shining so strongly I was getting a headache. We weren't allowed to wear sunglasses (I guess squinting on camera is okay).

I may go back to see another episode, I may not. In my younger days, pre-kids, I definitely would have toughed it out, but now, I get so much more out of blowing bubbles or playing road hockey. And yes, even writing this blog.

But it's kind of fun to know that if we had cable, we could turn on the TV one day and see our little park serve as a backdrop for a food show on a national network.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

comfort me with banana bread

Today I took the Boo for our weekly run with the strollermoms. As is our post-run habit, we stopped at the local Starbucks for a coffee. My craving for baking kicked in and I added a piece of banana chocolate chip bread to my order. Usually it hits the spot, but today it tasted stale and dry.

Not satisfied, I decided that tonight was the night I would finally use the super-ripe bananas in my freezer and make my own version of banana chocolate chip bread.

Imagine, with me, if you will, the warm cinnamon-y odors of an almost-cooked loaf seductively wafting out of the oven. I can still taste the first bite I took after it was done. Warmed sweet banana, a zing of lemon zest and cinnamon and the comforting smoothness of sightly melted chocolate. I think it was the best loaf I have ever made. It lasted a little over 24 hours, and now I have to figure out how to hide some bananas in the house so I can make it again.

Perfect Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

I started with a basic recipe for walnut cranberry bread that I've had in my collection for almost 20 years [Can it really be 20 years? I don't feel that old!]. It's been one of those recipes that has worked perfectly every time I make it, and always tastes great. Thanks to my friend Liz, who gave me the original recipe when I complained about all my bananas going bad (never happens anymore - I think my boys are part monkey)


1 1/2 cups wholewheat flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup organic cane sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsps. baking powder

3/4 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup oil
2 eggs slightly beaten
3 very very ripe bananas
2 tbsps. lemon juice
1 tbsp. lemon rind, grated
3/4 cup chocolate chips (can also be cranberries or blueberries)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

butter to grease pan
powdered cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350F.
In a bowl, mix the first 4 ingredients together until blended, then add the rest.
Do not overmix.
Lightly grease a loaf pan and then coat with a thin layer of cinnamon.
Pour the batter into the pan.
Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


My husband and I are both long-standing fans for this curly vegetable that looks like the end of a violin (or a snail, or a car wheel, depending on your frame of reference!). Last year, we bought package after package of them while they were in season, and cooked them up with butter and garlic. I love them because they are not your ordinary green vegetable, and any dish you put them in suddenly feels upscale.

In my quest to continually expose my children’s taste buds to new and interesting things, I picked up a package. The Bean is a little iffy with green vegetables--except string beans and peas, which he devours.

Some people are a little leery of fiddleheads, but if you buy them from a reputable source and wash and cook them thoroughly (at least 8-10 minutes is recommended), I believe they are safe.
Since I was feeling guilty about not submitting a dish to Presto Pasta Night (hosted by Ruth at Once Upon a Feast) last week, my first thought was to use it in a pasta dish. As a bonus, this might also encourage the Bean to try it too, since he loves pasta.

Now, I have a secret to tell you. One of the reasons I didn’t submit anything to PPN last week is because I decided to get “all creative” again by not using an existing recipe as a starting point, and it was terrible.

I tried to make an asian-inspired pasta by using vegetables you would normally find in a stir-fry (matchstick carrots, bean sprouts, and snow peas). But then I let my kids' taste buds influence the use of vegetable fusilli (orzo would have been better) and the addition of black beans (my only defense here is I had no chicken). I think what really killed it for me though was the dressing (I can’t even remember what I used now –, which is probably the best for all concerned). It looked pretty but taste-wise, it was a real bomb. I even threw the leftovers out, which I never do.

Even though there are plenty of pasta and fiddlehead recipes online (look here and here), I decided to tempt fate again (you’d think I’d learn, but noooo). I had no good reason to do this except that I was craving black olives. This would all make sense to you if you subscribe to the same “cooking with colour” philosophy that I do (another thing to explain in a future blog post…). So off I went on my own, trying to think of things that would taste good with fiddleheads, black olives and pasta.

Fortunately, this was a success. I know this because my husband told me (without prompting, thank you) that it was good. The Bean ate almost everything on his plate, though he didn’t much care for the fiddleheads (too bad, but more for me).

And so I’m putting the recipe out there for others to see, and maybe even comment. I know there are at least five people reading this blog ....

Four Ingredient and Fiddleheads Pasta

1 package of fiddleheads
juice of one lemon
2 tbsp herbed butter (I used a premade version with garlic, basil. and oregano, but you could just as easily make your own)

1/4 cup plain pitted olives, sliced
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
wholewheat penne pasta for 4 people
1 small jar (270 ml) of artichoke hearts, drained *optional

My Preparation

I washed the fiddleheads thoroughly, rubbing off any of the brown membrane that was left and making sure there was no grit. I also cut any rough ends off. The fiddleheads went into a frying pan where I covered them with water and added half the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. I boiled them until they were fairly tender (often described as fork-tender). When they were done, I drained them into a colander, transferred them to the serving bowl where I tossed them with the pasta and the herbed butter (pasta was prepared al dente while the fiddleheads were cooking).

I tossed it again with the chopped olives, the remaining lemon juice, the artichoke hearts* and parmesan cheese.

*A note on the artichoke hearts: I used a jar of marinated artichoke hearts, and even though I drained most of it out before adding the artichoke hearts, the marinade overpowered the dish. So if you like the taste, that's fine, but if you want the pure unadulterated taste of fiddleheads to be the last memory on your palate, I'd omit them.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

musical interlude

My past musical posts have come from concerts, my husband's iTunes collection and from my head. Short on time and needing some inspiration tonight, I did a Google search for food-related music.

The search for "songs about food", turned up 1,630,000 listings. They range from (Bon Appetit Party Playlist: Best Food Songs) to (525 Songs About Food) and the food section (Edible Audio: 100 Songs About Food). Kiddidles songs about food for kids is woefully incomplete, since it doesn't contain any of the Laurie Berkner classics like Choc-o-lot in my pock-o-lot or Victor Vito.

I was particularly intrigued by the Beatles song Savoy Truffle, which made #1 on the epicurious list. It was also recommended in a Chowhound forum. Although I wasn't born during Beatlemania, their songs are embedded in my consciousness thanks to massive replays by my parents, my parents' friends, and even some of my friends. But I'd never heard this one. Turns out it's all about chocolate, one of my favorite subjects.

For more information on the song's history, check out the Wikipedia entry for Savoy Truffle.