Monday, December 27, 2010

Ahhhh, the holidays

I know for some Christmas isn't over.  For some it hasn't even begun.  But for us, it's finished.  All that's left is to bask in it's fading glow and take down the decorations, which we'll do this week.  We like starting the new year fresh.  Sometimes I even buy myself a bouquet of white flowers to put in the window in place of the tree.

So how was it all?  Wonderful.  From the start of Advent through to the end of Boxing day, we were surrounded by the warmth of the season.  We had a white Christmas, heard a lot of inspirational messages over Advent that we'll be pondering for a long time to come, enjoyed the company of wonderful people and ate great food.

 Ah, the food.  I know that Christmas is traditionally a time of overindulgence.  Of tables laden with copious feasts.  And indeed, we attended a party with such a bounty.  But it was a potluck, so that is to be expected.  Christmas Eve brought us to finger foods at my sister's house.  Local cheeses, wonderful smoked meats, vegetables, crunchy bits and sweets covered the table from one end to the other.  But with two Littles to occupy and help with gifts, overindulgence wasn't really an option.  LOL

Our own Christmas meal was far from meager, but it wasn't over the top with buttons straining against pant fabric and comatose stupor descending upon us soon after.  We had a lovely smoked ham.  It was huge, mind you.  Just a bit over 8.5lbs for the 4 of us, including the Littles.  We barely made a dent in it.  But to accompany it was a simple spread of potatoes, carrots and parsnips roasted in bacon fat.  And a refreshing homemade candy cane ice cream for dessert.  That was it.  It was simple, it was sufficient and none of us felt the worse for it afterward.

We still have New Year's Day to go, and we'll have turkey with the inlawas (have to have turkey some time - hope it's a big one with lots of leftovers).  Then I'm sure my thoughts will turn to temple food which I blogged about last year.  And we'll be into 2011...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cooking and baking and candy making

My kitchen has been buzzing this weekend.  We've got two potlucks this weekend, one of which is a brunch.  The other is a buffet and everyone is asked to bring a main and either a salad or dessert.  With dozens of families, it's quite a feast, that's for sure!  Plus I've been making candy to give as gifts instead of buying more stuff people don't actually need, just to say that we've gotten them a stocking stuffer. 

After a few false starts earlier in the week, mostly involving burning sugar, I finally got things sorted.  I had picked up some Meyer lemons, which are wonderfully aromatic and not as sour as conventional lemons.  And since I had a recipe for Turkish delights that called for oranges and lemons, I decided to substitute a couple of these beauties instead.  The result is small yellow squares of powdered sugar dusted wiggliness.  Meyer Lemon Turkish Delights (recipe here).

Then I moved on to a recipe I've been wanting to make for a while now.  If you follow me on Twitter, or are a friend on Facebook, you have been hearing about bacon caramel corn for a while now.  The success of the bacon fudge only fueled my desire to try this interesting confection.  So last night hubby and I worked together, cooking the bacon, popping the corn, making the caramel, stirring the combined ingredients every 15 minutes...  Not as labour intensive as it sounds, trust me.  The end result?  AMAZING!  The salty goodness of the bacon coupled with the caramel is wonderful.  The popcorn is merely a convenient delivery device.

1/2 pound bacon
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
1 cup butter
2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Cut bacon into a fine dice and fry until crisp. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat.

Heat the bacon fat in a large pot with a cover. Add 3 popcorn kernels and cover. Listen for all three kernels to pop, and add the rest of the popcorn kernels. Cover and shake until popping stops. Put popped corn in a non-stick roasting pan, making sure to remove the unpopped kernels.

Preheat oven to 200°F.

Heat butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and salt in a saucepan over medium heat until it reaches 300°F on your candy thermometer.

Remove from heat, stir in baking soda and bacon (the caramel will explode in volume at this point so make sure you use a large enough saucepan) and pour this caramel mixture over the popcorn (do this quickly so that the caramel doesn’t cool and stiffen).

Stir the mixture with a couple wooden spoons and place in the oven for a total of an hour rearranging the popcorn to evenly distribute the caramel and bacon every 15 minutes. Add more salt (if necessary) during this process. Cool and break into bite-sized pieces.

Today I continued with my main dish for the potluck.  It's technically a salad, but it's so hearty that it is easily a buffet main.  I found it in a Taste of Home cookbook that I have.  Potatoes, bacon, kielbasa, and a creamy sauce made with potato soup, onions and sauerkraut.  It sounded wonderfully tangy and hearty.  And the best part?  It is cooked in the crockpot!  Perfect for a diner buffet.  I doubled the original recipe (which can be found in my last blog post here), but used fewer than 4lbs of potatoes, and only the original amount of sauerkraut.  It smells wonderful!

.I made a last minute change from the salad of winter greens in favour of inspiration from something that someone mentioned on a web forum the other day.  She mentioned a cold salad of green beans, dried cranberries, nuts and Feta.  I immediately pictured it sitting on the buffet table and knew that was the recipe I was going to run with. 

I made a simple dressing with Dijon, the juice and zest of a Meyer lemon, the juice of a clementine, a little shallot, grapeseed oil, salt and pepper.  It's a big on the tangy side.  Then I trimmed, halved and blanched a large bag of green beans.  I heated a small skillet and melted a couple teaspoons of white sugar and added a few handfuls of toasted pecan pieces.  I tossed them to lightly candy them and then spread them on a foil lined plate to cool and set.  I'll toss the beans with the dressing and a little Feta just before we leave.  Then I'll top it all with more Feta, the cranberries, nuts and some crispy bacon.  I'm really looking forward to this salad.  I think I'll make it again soon.

Tomorrow we have a brunch buffet at church.  Each of us has been asked to bring cut up fruit for the fruit salad, and a hot dish.  I'm going to put together these Brunch Enchiladas, substituting black beans for the ham, and adding some salsa for kick.  It sits overnight and gets baked in the morning before we leave.

I also had some potatoes leftover that didn't fit in the crockpot, so I roasted them in bacon fat and I'll reheat them for supper tomorrow with some pork tenderloin.

I still have more to make this week.  More bacon fudge, more Turkish Delight (perhaps with grapefruit), sponge toffee, and maybe more bacon caramel corn.  Plus Christmas dinner.   But for this weekend, that's quite enough.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

10 days to go

I find myself caught between wanting things to slow down a bit as we head towards Christmas and wanting the weekend to hurry up and get here already.  LOL  Maybe the weekend can get here and go by really slowly.  That would be great.

So the house is decorated.  We bought a tree.  We have a tree, mind you.  But it's really, really large.  It's quite big around and would never fit in the window of our living room.  Not without eating some furniture.  Since Little Mister's second Christmas we've been using a table top tree as our Christmas decoration focal point.  It was nice, but I missed having a floor model.  So this year we found a slim, 6 foot tree for very little money.  It fits quite nicely in here, and I was able to use ornaments that haven't seen a Christmas in some years, and also spread the others out more.  I'm quite happy.  And so are the kids.  They've never had a full size tree (save for Little Mister's first Christmas, but he was barely more than brand new at that point).

Cookies have been baked.  I made some yummy gingersnaps and some tasty but ugly shortbread rounds that were rolled in and sprinkled with crushed candy cane.  Honestly, it sounded prettier than the end result.  I've also made a batch of honeycomb candy/sponge toffee.  And I discovered that the distinct floral flavour of the local blueberry honey that I enjoy does not make a nice tasting candy.  So I will have to buy a container of more generic honey that has far less character, I guess.

I still have more candy to make.  Bacon caramel corn, beer caramel pretzels, more sponge toffee and possibly some jelly candies.  Many will be gifts.

As for parties, we don't host any.  I'd love to, but space is sorely limited.  Once the family room is complete, we'll be able to have friends around to share fun and games with (I miss game nights).  But for now we go to parties.  And our most favourite is hosted every year by friends from church, who have a potluck and invite EVERYONE!  There can be 100 people (or more, apparently) in their home.  All ages (though for our sanity and Little Mister's health we leave the kids at home to enjoy pizza with their Aunt and cousin).  Did I mention it's a potluck?  Is there a more splendid compound word?  I think not.  Everyone is asked to bring a main and either a salad or a dessert.  I've brought chocolate mint truffle triangles, a winter salad of endive and pomegranate on a bed of watercress (here), various casseroles, and last year I believe I took a glazed peameal bacon roast.

And this year?  This year I'll take something like my winter salad.  It was a big hit and very pretty.  And I'm taking a recipe I found at Taste of Home that is technically a salad.  It's a German Potato Salad with Sausage for the crockpot (another wonderful compound word), but it looks hearty enough to be a main on a buffet.  I've never used sauerkraut before.  But the combination of it with the creamy soup, the sausage and bacon makes me think that this will be balanced and delicious.  Of course I'll double the recipe and use my large pot.  Lots of hungry mouths to feed!

Ingredients

    * 8 bacon strips, diced
    * 1 large onion, chopped
    * 1 pound smoked kielbasa or Polish sausage, halved and cut into 1/2-inch slices
    * 2 pounds medium red potatoes, cut into chunks
    * 1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed cream of potato soup, undiluted
    * 1 cup sauerkraut, rinsed and well drained
    * 1/2 cup water
    * 1/4 cup cider vinegar
    * 1 tablespoon sugar
    * 1/2 teaspoon salt
    * 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper

Directions

    * In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove to paper towels with a slotted spoon to drain. Saute onion in drippings for 1 minute. Add sausage; cook until lightly browned. Add potatoes; cook 2 minutes longer. Drain.

    * Transfer sausage mixture to a 3-qt. slow cooker. In a small bowl, combine the soup, sauerkraut, water, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Pour over sausage mixture. Sprinkle with bacon. Cover and cook on low for 6-7 hours or until potatoes are tender. Yield: 8 servings.


If  you're in the mood for a more introspective look at Christmas through my eyes, you can go back to my post from last Christmas Eve --- http://asinglestepblog.blogspot.com/2009/12/real-meaning.html

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I may be late to the party

but last night I joined the scores of foodies who jumped on the "everything's better with bacon" bandwagon.  To set the scene, we were invited to celebrate our friend's birthday.  Our friend, who is a HUGE fan of the movie, "A Christmas Story" ("You'll shoot your eye out!").  We were told that the party would have a "meatloaf and fudge" theme, and to bring either.  I originally thought about doing some kind of fudge-that-looks-like-meatloaf thing, but thought better of it after picturing lumps of it sitting on a plate.

So since I wasn't up to creating fudge that resembled meat, I opted for the next best thing.  Fudge WITH meat!  And really, what meat could you add to chocolate and still create something edible?  A proper nod goes here to Nigella Lawson for introducing me to the combination of chocolate and bacon.  And to bloggers before me, whose creations gave me the inspiration I needed to create my own version of this taste sensation.













14 oz sweetened condensed milk
12 oz semi-sweet chocolate
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c walnuts, chopped
8 slices of good smoky bacon, cooked and cut into bits
Kosher or sea salt, to taste

Line an 8-inch square pan with foil.

In a non-stick saucepan, combine the condensed milk, chocolate and vanilla over medium low heat.  Stir until the chocolate is just melted.

Pour half of the chocolate into the pan and quickly sprinkle with the walnuts and most of the bacon.  Top with the remaining chocolate.  Sprinkle with the rest of the bacon and the salt.

Refrigerate for about 2 hours, or until fudge is completely set.

With a sharp knife or a bench scraper, slice fudge into 1-inch squares. Store leftover fudge uncovered in the fridge (if you cover it the condensation can melt the salt crystals).

I'd consider adding a pinch of smoked paprika, or chipotle powder the next time, just to bump up the smokiness (and give it some kick).  But overall it's a really good confection.  Just make sure your bacon is crispy before you start.  Softly cooked bacon won't work as well.

And the verdict?  Well,  half the platter was devoured, and our hosts kept the rest.  Definitely a do again recipe.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Christmas angel

Okay, I'll admit it; I'm not a fan of graphic representations of angels.  At least not in the form of pretty women in flowing, glowing robes with shining wings and perfect hair.  I figure there's a reason why most people, upon encountering angels in the bible are told to not be afraid.  Doubtful that the appearance of a lovely woman, even one with wings and a halo would terrify someone to the point of having to be soothed and calmed (besides, the bible never describes angels as lovely glowing winged women).  It's a quirk of mine.  Maybe I've become too literal in my years.  Or cynical.  I don't know.  And don't get me started on the naked babies with wings being called cherubs.  LOL

Our Christmas tree has several ornaments depicting the nativity scene (which probably actually happened in something closer to a cave or stone structure than a wooden stable, but I digress).  It also has several trains, which hubby has collected.  And many other miscellaneous ornaments depicting all manner of things, from cooking (of course) to carousel horses to the ornaments that have been collected for our children.  Growing up we were each given an ornament every Christmas, and my mother has continued this for our kids.

Our tree does not have, however, any angels.  Except one.

She's not much to look at, I know.  She's definitely seen better days.  She's made of card stock and felt and her hair just won't go down anymore.  Her halo is crooked and bent and her skirt is all wonky.  She wouldn't even be on our tree at all, except for two little numbers written on the paper lining on her underside.  72.  As in 1972.  The year I was born.  She was my very first Christmas ornament, and has been on the tree every single year since.  She has seen 38 Christmases, and this will be her 39th.  Even in the past few years when all we've had was a tiny table top tree, she's been there.  I contemplated not putting her up this year.  I mean, she's tattered and scruffy looking and not at all like the shiny Hallmark ornaments that light up and spin and play music.  But there's something about her, about her history, that left me unable to leave her in the box.  She may not be the prettiest thing on the tree, but she's one of the most sentimental ornaments I have.  Who knows, maybe some day one of our kids will put her on their tree for their children?  In the meantime, I'll continue to put her on ours, not hidden at the back or tucked down at the bottom, but out front where she can be seen.

And besides, I think she looks pretty good once the tree is all lit up.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Flash Mob

We saw a flash mob today.  It was pretty surreal, even though we were pretty sure something was going to happen (all we had to go on was an internet rumour).  There was an older lady against a wall playing Christmas music at one end of the food court.  Nothing odd there.  Malls have people play Christmas music, and there was a sign for a local charity and some brochures and such beside her.  We grabbed lunch and sat down, still not knowing where it was going to happen, exactly.  We were expecting dancing.  I've never heard of a singing flash mob.

Hubby noticed some microphones taped to some poles, and was suspicious of the amount of audio gear that was set up for just a lady and a Yamaha keyboard.  I saw a guy with a camera wandering around, and there was another with a video camera.

We started looking around, trying to figure out who was going to be a part of this.  There were a lot of seniors around us.  Then the music went from rather lame to a very rousing rendition of Jingle Bells, with quite a grand (and louder) finish.  Then the first chords of the Hallelujah Chorus began.  Suddenly this cute woman who had been talking on her cell phone popped up and belted out the opening "Hallelujah!"  Bit by bit a good 70% of the food court stood and joined in, including many of those seniors.  It was incredible.  Really incredible.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I don't wear a poppy

As Remembrance Day approaches, you'll find me wearing a button from Mennonite Central Committee that reads, "To remember is to work for peace," instead of a poppy. (A note to international non-commonwealth readers - you can find out more about the significance of the poppy here)

I don't wear a poppy
Not out of disrespect
Nor do I view Remembrance Day
As a time to not reflect
On sacrifices that were made
Upon war's great cost
But my heart does not forget about
ALL lives that were lost.
Poppies blow in Flander's Field
To remind us of the brave
But may we not forget about
ALL people in war's grave.
On the 11th I think about my hope
That guns and wars will cease
And teach myself and my children that"To remember is to work for peace."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kitchen design and coffee

Those who have known me for some time know that I am new to coffee.  I never drank it.  Except on rare occasions when I'd add a little to a mug of hot chocolate.  I didn't care for the bitterness, though I always loved the smell.

Fast forward to a few years ago when our daughter was born.  When pregnant with her brother I developed a taste for watermelon, something I hadn't liked at all since I was a kid.  After Little Miss came along I began adding more and more coffee to my cocoa.  Then came a day when I just needed a break.  Hubby stayed home and I went for a walk.  I found myself at Tim Horton's (hard not to walk anywhere and find oneself at a Tim Hortons around here).  I was chilled and wanted a hot drink, but wasn't in the mood for the cloying sweetness and fake taste of their hot chocolate.  I don't know what possessed me to do it, but I got a coffee instead.  Doctored up with a lot of sugar and cream, mind you.  But it was, I think, my first cup of coffee.  And I enjoyed it.

Not long after that I began buying instant coffee and making a cup for myself in the mornings.  Hubby was in the habit of taking tea with him in the mornings, or making a coffee in his single serving coffee maker.  But I figured that coffee was coffee and instant was easier.  I was teased by friends on Facebook for drinking instant and not realizing that there's a noticeable difference between that and brewed coffee.  So I relented and brewed some up.  Wow, definitely a difference.

We went out and bought a coffee maker that brews up either one or two travel mugs or a thermal carafe.  And since then (a couple of years ago?) I've had a mug of brewed coffee most mornings.  It's still just Foldgers, mind you.  I'm not a coffee snob.  And while I'm sure a gourmet single plantation brew would taste nice, I'm not so much of an enthusiast that I am willing to spend that much for my morning cup.  Though I may treat myself to some fair trade beans at some point, if I get a grinder.  I don't imagine I'd go in for one of those single cup coffee machine thingies.  Unless we won one.

Having said all that, there is one thing I do want.  I want a coffee station.  Right now our coffee maker sits on the counter near the stove.  The tub of coffee sits next to it, tucked back against the wall.  The sugar sits somewhere around there too.  It's a cluttered space, with the mugs on the other side of the (admittedly small) kitchen.

I don't know if it was online or in a magazine that I saw a wonderful coffee station.  It had a deep drawer to hold all the mugs and whatnot.  It was its own space in the kitchen, not amongst the clutter.  My imagination has taken this and run with it.  Imagine a lovely French country sideboard, like this (I want a French country kitchen)


Now, combine the left and middle drawer into one and double their height.  In there go the mugs and plates and sugar and spoons.  On the counter goes the coffee maker and a decorative container of coffee. And maybe a matching one for cookies.  On the right, change the drawer and door into a single door, with a small fridge unit inside.  That's where the cream, the cream liqueurs and flavoured syrups go.



Anyway, as you can see, I've given this much thought.  Of course we could just unclutter our kitchen to make the coffee space more morning-friendly, but a gal can dream, right?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Total randomness

I don't necessarily have anything to say, but I haven't blogged in a bit.  It's not that there's nothing going on.  I just haven't been sleeping well and sleeplessness does not beget much inspiration.  Though I can now blog with some authority about Better Homes & Gardens bedding from WalMart.  Unless it softens up tremendously with repeated washings, I would never buy it again.  It is stiff and noisy enough that it actually kept me up the first night we used it.  I'm still not finding it all that comfortable.  I prefer my jersey knit bedding, which drapes over the body and doesn't sound like I've put my head in a bowl of dry cereal.

Speaking of sleep, or lack thereof, what is up with the brain creating nightmares that make no sense?  I mean, I get that some things are scary and go in nightmares, like monsters or fire or falling.  But when the brain puts Drew Carey in the role of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, things get downright weird.  Throw in a large golden dragon chasing us through a corner store and I begin to wonder about what my brain is doing with its downtime.  And for the record, I don't even watch Buffy.  Or Drew Carey.

Moving on to things less scary, Hallowe'en is almost here.  For us, that's a non-scary event.  We don't do monsters or spooky things or stuff like that.  But we do take the kids trick or treating.  And then we go through and sort out all of the safe (peanut free) candy from the rest, throw out anything made in China (seriously, we've gotten mystery candy we've never heard of, labeled "made in China") and put it all away.  Usually I end up making a batch of candy cookies with the safe chocolates.  The "unsafe" but familiar stuff gets divided between hubby and I for our own private stash.  It's one of the few times I actually have "emergency chocolate" on  hand.

Between now and then we have our anniversary.  Thirteen years already.  Plus the six that we dated (high school sweethearts).  Not sure what we're doing yet.  My birthday is in there too, so we may combine both.  There is a local artisans market that we are absolutely going to attend at the end of the month, and since I won $50 from it the last time, I plan on buying myself a little something.  Maybe we can mix it all into one date night.  We'll see. I'm not sure where we'll have dinner, though there's a great Asian fusion tapas place in town that we both really enjoy.

It's funny how things change.  A great dinner date night used to be at a local Thai restaurant.  While that is still super-enjoyable, we get take out from there so it's not quite as special.  A steakhouse was also considered a great dinner date, until I discovered how to create an amazing end result with any cut of steak just by using salt.  Now we're both a bit spoiled and find restaurant steaks, even good one, lacking.  If I'm going to pay $30+ for a steak now, it had better be grass fed, local and come from a cow that could moo show tunes.  Atmosphere and chef name alone is no longer enough now that I can produce something at least as good, if not better, at home.

And because I can't blog and not talk food most of the time, with the cool weather has come the desire to braise pieces of beef.  Which makes me laugh because honestly I'm not a big fan of beef stew and things like that.  I am a big fan of making it though.  Thankfully hubby is all too happy to eat it.  Little Mister is requesting more veggie chili.  I say "veggie" rather than "vegetarian" because I do use chicken stock in it.  And Worcestershire sauce.  Just no meat.  I use eggplant and bulgur for texture, and always kidney beans, which are L.M's favourites.  Maybe I'll make some for tomorrow.   I wonder what he'd think of a vegetable curry?  Hmmmm....  Honestly I think that he'd be... not necessarily a vegetarian, but maybe a carba-vore if I let him.  He likes veggies and fruits well enough, but would exist on graham crackers, soup crackers and whole wheat bread if I let him.  Little Miss, however, asked for steak for her birthday dinner.  Both will contentedly eat bacon until they burst, but bacon is a magic food.  Tonight it's pork chops.  Thick, butterflied pork chops from a butcher we decided to try out on the weekend.  So far the flank steak was so-so and the "medium" Italian sausage was bland.  Hopefully these chops are better.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Leftover non-recipe

Today is Thanksgiving day in Canada.  But since it's a long weekend, we had our meal yesterday.  Today hubby is working on outdoor projects.  The weather is beautiful.  Even the leaves, which aren't normally so vibrant so early, are nearly at peak colour.  It's been an absolutely gorgeous weekend!

I'll be honest.  I didn't make the broccoli with bacon and chestnuts.  I had the chestnuts, but forgot to thaw the bacon.  *embarrassed*

But the capon was wonderful.  7lbs of succulent meat, which I brined in the morning.  I treated it simply, with just onion, sage and celery in the cavity, and a sprinkling of pepper and sage on the skin.  It needed nothing else.  The "stuffing" (dressing, I guess) was really good too.  My mother has been making it for years.  Sausage, peppers, onion, celery, garlic, sage, oregano, basil and bread cubes.  She uses mushrooms as well, but we don't care for them, so I skip them.  I added some of the fat from the roasted bird to give it a bit of oomph in the flavour department, and I always add broth to soften the dried bread cubes.  Even the cranberry sauce turned out well, and I usually don't have much luck with it.

So a little while ago I assembled a small casserole for hubby and I for supper.  I know the kids won't touch the leftovers.  They don't like stuffing or mashed potatoes.  That's fine.  They'll enjoy their own yummy supper.

Here's my non-recipe for Next Day Thanksgiving Casserole.  It's a total no-brainer, but so yummy.

In a casserole put a loose layer of stuffing.  
Then layer slices of meat over it (add a little salt if your bird wasn't brined).
Dab with a little gravy and then a thin layer of cranberry sauce.
Repeat stuffing and meat layers.
Cover with a layer of mashed potatoes.

I sprinkled some applewood smoked Cheddar over the top, just for fun.

Bake at 350 until heated through.  Serve with gravy and more cranberry sauce if you want.

There you go.  A non-recipe for an excellent way to enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers.  I take no credit for it.  I'm sure most people have at least heard of it, if not tried it.  In fact there used to be a sub shop in town YEARS ago that sold a Thanksgiving sub.  Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and maybe even gravy on a sub bun.  I never did get to try it, but it sounded interesting.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Thanksgiving

With a nod to my American friends and readers for whom Thanksgiving is still something of a distant blip on the radar, I'm blogging about the holiday that is next weekend here in Canada.  For a while there it seemed like September was hurtling at breakneck speed.  I wasn't ready to contemplate Thanksgiving being so soon.  But then somehow it slowed and I breathed in the cooling air laden with the scent of woodstoves in the neighbourhood, early fallen leaves and a decided lack of humidity, and all became right with the world.

I've begun putting up Autumn decorations.  When I was first married there was a local craft show where I'd seen some lovely placemats and table coverings.  My grandmother generously gave me the money for a set of them.  I have a half dozen placemats and serviettes, a table runner and a hot pad in a pattern that is a lovely explosion of harvest colours.  I set them out every year in the living room (I don' t have a dining room).  We put corn stalks and Mums outside, and we'll get pumpkins in the coming weeks.

As far as our menu goes, I've ordered a capon from a local butcher.  We had one earlier this year and found that its size was perfect for our small family.  6-8lbs of juicy meat that tastes how chicken should.  I can get behind that.  As much as I love turkey, it's all but impossible to get one from a butcher that's under 11lbs.  Often they're closer to 15lbs.  We just don't use up the leftovers from a bird that big.  I mean, I guess we could, but the capon is far more manageable.

Along with Mr. Bird, we'll have mashed potatoes and gravy, even though the kids don't like them.  They're still a must for hubby and I.  I've been looking at my Thanksgiving cookbook (literally "The Thanksgiving Cookbook" by Holly Garrison - one of my favourite cookbooks).  There are so many great ideas in this book.  As I've been going through it this year I've been asking the kids what they'd like to have for Thanksgiving dinner.  So far they've settled upon Broccoli with Bacon and Chestnuts.  We just bought chestnuts from a local nut tree nursery, and I've had a few. They're wonderfully sweet and full flavoured.  Hubby doesn't care for broccoli, but "bacon makes everything better" right?

I'm not sure what dessert will be, though last year I made a butterscotch apple cheesecake that I may repeat.  For now I'll share the broccoli recipe with you (I'll be halving it for us).

**********************************
Broccoli with Bacon and Chestnuts

8 slices bacon, cut into 1/2" pieces
2 Tbsp butter (honestly I'll just keep enough bacon fat back)
2 large bunches broccoli
1/4 lb chestnuts, roasted or steamed, peeled and cut into small pieces
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cook the bacon in a medium size skillet over medium-high heat until it's crisp.  Remove and drain on paper towels.  Discard all but 2 tablespoons of fat and add the butter to the skillet (seriously?  I'll be using all bacon fat) and set aside.

Rinse the broccoli and cut off the main stems.  Break the bunches into even size flowerets, leaving short stems.  Cook in a large saucepan of lightly salted water until tender-crisp.  While it's cooking heat the bacon fat over medium high heat.  When it's hot, stir in the chestnuts and cook until heated through. 

Drain the broccoli and rinse it briefly in cool water to set the colour and stop the cooking.  Return it to the saucepan.  Add the hot chestnut mixture and reserved bacon.  Stir gently over low heat until combined and warm.  Add pepper to taste and serve in a warm bowl.

Serves 8
*****************************************

Sounds simple enough.  And quite tasty.  I love that my kids have chosen this.  They're also considering creamed leeks, though that requires a bechamel and cheese, neither of which I think would go well with gravy.  They're also pondering glazed carrots.  We'll see.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Local?

I've been thinking a lot lately about what we eat and where it comes from.  As I mentioned only half jokingly in my last post, I had to buy asparagus for a recipe for my gourmet group and I struggled with that for a moment.  It's not in season.  Not by a long shot.  Where was it from?  Peru, I believe.  Never mind the hefty price tag. 


Not too long ago that asparagus wouldn't have even been a blip on my radar.  But thanks largely to those I've met on Twitter, I'm becoming more and more aware of how unsustainable our current food system is.  Yes, I used a buzzword.  I may even throw "locavore" into the mix (beyond just the book, which I whole heartedly recommend!).  Anyway, the passion of local foodies is contagious.  And it's not just about me anymore.  I have two wonderful children.  And a choice to make.  Do my husband and I raise them to simply make healthy choices in what they eat?  Or do we raise them to be aware of not only what they eat, but where it came from? 

Some wonder why it even matters.  But when I read about a woman who found a chicken head in her basket of wings in a Toronto restaurant, what struck me wasn't that she'd found a chicken part in her chicken parts (okay, it would be freaky, but not a total shock).  What struck me was that the chicken was from Brazil!  I would have never thought that meat being consumed in a Toronto restaurant would be from Brazil.  The U.S, maybe.  But a different continent altogether?  I've been somewhat sheltered, I guess.  When I saw a flyer from M&M meats earlier this year I was surprised to read that some of their beef is from New Zealand.

Maybe I'm naive.  I don't understand why we import things that we can and do grow and raise right here.  Why are there peaches from the U.S in stores during peach season?  Especially right here where tenderfruit is king?  Why are we exporting produce and meat that we're also importing at the same time?  Why don't we grow to feed our own first, and supplement with what we can't produce enough of, or cannot grow here after that?  The system looks broken to me.

I want to do what I can for my own family and community.  I just called the local butcher shop that we go to.  I wanted to know where the meat comes from.  It's not "local," but it is all Canadian.  I guess I feel better about that.  I think I'd go elsewhere if the meat were from the U.S.  Most of it is from Ontario, with a bit from Alberta, apparently.

I know that we can't afford 100% local, organic meat all the time.  But we buy it when we can.  And I know that I said I buy factory chickens.  Since that time though I've pretty much stopped buying grocery store meat.  Largely due to quality (or lack thereof) rather than conscience, though that is creeping in too.  But I'm still often buying it from a butcher who I am sure sells only factory farmed meat.  But at least I know it's Canadian.  Eating with ones conscience is a strange balance to try to keep. 

So that's where I'm at.  With knowledge comes responsibility, right?  Hence the reason I haven't watched movies like Food Inc yet.  I don't think I'm ready to take that step yet.  It feels like a bit of a leap from where I am.  But not as much of a leap as it was even a year ago.  Baby steps.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ahhhh, Autumn

Summer was tough.  After a couple of years of unseasonably cool summer weather we were hit with a lot of heat and humidity.  There was surprisingly enough rain, mind you.  But the temps were a little hard to take.  Thankfully Summer has behaved itself by turning tail and leaving as requested on Labour Day weekend (yes, I made demands of a season... what, you expected 100% sanity all of the time?).  With the exception of one day it has been lovely and cool.  We've gone from 22C overnight lows to 22C daily highs.  It's lovely!

I'm feeling more productive.  The fog is lifting and I'm feeling so much better.  The windows are open, the duvet is on the bed (more for my hubby than for me), I'm cooking inside the house rather than only using the barbecue (though it's still being used quite a bit) and I'm enjoying being productive.

Our homeschool year has begun and we actually have a (loose) schedule.  Our Little Mister is doing well.  He's working on some basics, like how to write a sentence that starts with capital letters, uses lower case letters for the rest and has spaces between the words.  LOL, simple things that we adults take for granted.  He's excelling in math.  We have nothing to compare him to, but I don't think that most 5 (almost 6) year olds can add and subtract negative numbers, dabble in multiplication and work with decimals.  I suspect that by the end of the school year we may be close to completing the grade 3 math book I just bought.  I'm not pushing him at all.  This is what he does for fun after the rest of his work is finished.  I don't understand it, but then again math was never my thing.

Speaking of the new season, my gourmet (which has been on hiatus for much of the summer) starts up again tonight.  We're doing all appetizers and a movie.  Which reminds me, I need to put Julie & Julia on my purse so I don't forget to bring it, in case that's still what the hostess wants to watch.  Must remember to wear comfy movie watching clothes, too.  Yoga pants it is.  Woohoo!  Oh, and my recipe is for phyllo rolls with asparagus, prosciutto and Parmesan, seasoned with... dill.  Um, I would never have thought to combine those flavours.  LOL.  The recipe can be found here.  Notice how it calls for "cup Parmesan cheese."  No amount.  Is that one cup?  I really don't know.  I'll eyeball it and report on Twitter how it turned out.  And you local food peeps are really rubbing off on me.  When I saw the recipe my first thought was, "But asparagus isn't in season!"  LOL  $5/bunch right now.  Ouch.

I'm sure I'll post lots more about my love of Autumn.  For now I need to go over my recipe, and maybe make a batch of cabbage soup, too.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Stumbling about the net

I love Stumble. What's Stumble? It's a wonderful add-on for Firefox that lets me select preferences and then randomly takes me to sites that (usually) match them. Mine is set to take me to all kinds of food and coffee and home schooling sites, among others.

So while Stumbling around I come across all sorts of wonderful recipes. And today I'm going to share links to just a few that are appealing to me right now.

Here's a snack that I intend to make at some point. It just looks so amazingly yummy and fresh. With cucumbers and tomatoes in season right now, I can see making these soon.


Yep, Greek Nachos. *swoon* http://notwithoutsalt.com/2009/08/06/greek-nachos/

Then there are these Carnitas.
Slow cooked pork and home made salsa. So simple, but I bet they are incredibly satisfying. I'm adding these to my autumn/winter must try list. http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/carnitas/

Jumping to sweets for a moment, I'm taking inspiration directly from Bob Blumer. I watched him create a bacon ice cream on his show, "Glutton for Punishment" and I knew that I had to find the recipe.

Maple Bacon Crunch ice cream. Oh. My. Gosh. Bacon brittle. Seriously, on it's own that would be wonderful enough. But bacon brittle stirred into home made ice cream? I'm swooning again. And I'm not even a huge ice cream fan. http://www.thestar.com/living/food/recipes/mealorcourse/dessert/article/743118--maple-bacon-crunch-ice-cream

Then there are these Millionare's Shortbread with Salted Ale Caramel. Yep, shortbread, beer, caramel and salt. Oh, and chocolate of course. http://blogs.babble.com/family-kitchen/2010/08/04/millionaires-shortbread-with-salted-ale-caramel/

So that's just a tiny bite of what I've tucked away for future enjoyment. I love coming across new recipes. Food inspires me. I hope to post more entries like this so I can share that inspiration with others.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Another first - Pickled Beans



Inspired by one of my favourite local bloggers and her zeal for pickled green beans, I once again gave in to my canning impulses and bought 2lbs of local green beans (the ones in our garden have all been eaten by the kids - gotta love yard snacks). Instead of dill, which honestly I didn't think to buy, I used basil from my back step. I combined Italian and Thai because I didn't have enough Thai basil to use it exclusively. It really hasn't been as robust this year as in past summers.

So with thanks for the inspiration to Tiffany at Eating Niagara, here is my recipe for Pickled Basil Beans



2 lbs. green beans
3/8 c. pickling salt
3 tsp. sugar
3 3/4 c. vinegar
3 3/4 c. water
1 tsp Pickle Crisp, divided (optional)
dried chilies, optional
fresh whole garlic bulbs
fresh basil leaves

Trim the stem ends off the beans. Combine salt, sugar, vinegar and water in a large saucepot. Bring to a boil.

To each jar add 1/4 teaspoon Pickle Crisp, 1 dried chili, 1-2 cloves of garlic, quarted, and 6-12 leaves of basil. Pack beans lengthwise into the jars, leaving 1/4 in. headspace. Ladle hot brine over the beans, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Run a clean knife around the inside of the jar to loosen any air bubbles and readjust the headspace.

Wipe the rim and loosely apply 2 piece lids (the ones with the screw band and the flat part that you put in hot water ahead of time to soften the sealing compound). Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

Let stand at least 2 weeks for the flavours to mellow and blend. The brine that's leftover after you eat the beans is nice in salad dressings and stir fries.

Yield: about 4 pints.

Editing to add - It's mid-September and I've tried my beans.  They are nice and crisp, but the basil flavour is lacking.  I would double the number of basil leaves the next time.  The chilies give a good little kick, though.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Found this hilarious

Let me start by saying that I am active on several message boards. One in particular is for Christian Moms who have rejected the punitive style of discipline and male-centric households so often espoused by such organizations as Focus on the Family.

Recently a gal was incensed by an article about marriage that her husband pointed to from FotF which explained how men have "needs" which a good wife should meet. Interestingly no matter how hard she tried she could not find a parallel article about the needs of women and how men should work to meet them. She's still waiting for them to reply to her email asking where she can find one.

After some conversation about this obvious oversight, I said something about taking the article and substituting "house work" for "sex" and sending it back to him. A very, very clever woman named "Cherish" ran with the idea and posted this brilliant reply...

From Focus on the (male part of the) Family:
Author Robert Byrne-Baby-Byrne once quipped, "Anyone who believes that the way to a woman's heart is through her stomach flunked geography." This humorous statement hits home with what any adult with a brain knows: Help around the house is very, very important to women. Research consistently shows that between 80 and 90 percent of women view help around the house as the most important aspect of their marriage. When asked what one thing they would like to change in their marriages, they wish that their husbands would be more interested in helping clean and more willing to initiate dish-washing.

Marriage experts Scary and Hanna-Barbara Baconburger surveyed women about their domestic needs. The vast majority of women indicated that mutual laundry folding and male initiation of closet-cleaning were among their primary housekeeping needs. No doubt, our domestically explicit culture plays into the prominence of a clean house on a woman's mind. She can't open the newspaper, turn on the television, surf the Net, or walk into a mall without being reminded of Martha Stewart.

Yet long before the Internet or washing machines were invented, a swept floor was an extremely powerful force in women's lives. History teaches us as much. David and Bathsheba. Samson and Delilah. Reuben and Bilhah. Scripture is filled with references to and examples of women falling into domestic drudgery. Archaeological discoveries reveal that civilizations thousands of years ago had houses of slobby bachelors. Solomon's warnings in Proverbs and the exaltations in Song of Songs written 3,000 years ago are completely relevant today. Time and culture have changed the venues of expression, yet the power of a woman's cleaning drive has remained a constant force of both intimacy and destruction.

Before we go too much further, let me acknowledge that you may be married to a woman who falls into the 10 to 20 percent of women for whom window washing isn't all-consuming. Although picking up socks may not be as dominant a factor in your wife's life, it doesn't discount the fact that it's important. In fact, many women who avoid or minimize the impact of having help around the house in their lives do so because of past painful experiences or because of the fear of future failure. Regardless of how often your wife thinks or talks about you helping out, make no mistake, it is a vital aspect of who she is as a woman.


I almost snorted when I read "our domestically explicit culture." This whole thing made me laugh so hard that I just had to share it.

On a personal note, my own husband would never point to such an article as the one originally referenced and totally gets that we both have needs and wants. I'd hate for anyone to think that I was implying that I can somehow relate to this situation personally.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Plum butter

Okay, so like I was saying yesterday, I found myself so inspired by the lovely cool weather we're having that I found myself in the kitchen wanting to find a use for the local plums I'd impulsively bought on the weekend (there's a theme here, I'm sensing). I decided I wanted to try my hand at a fruit butter. Just to recap...

I peeled and chopped a couple of the apples, pitted and chopped about a dozen plums and stemmed a handful of the grapes. I popped them all into my small crock pot and added a little leftover hard cider and some local dark maple syrup. I left the lid ajar and turned the crock on high.

The plan was once it was bubbling I'd turn it down to low and let it go all day. At some point I'd adjust the sweetness and decide if I wanted to add spices or if I wanted a more pure fruit butter. Then I figured I'd strain out the skins later.

Instead I used my stick blender to puree the fruits once they were soft. Then I forgot to plug the crock pot back in (had to unplug it to plug in the blender). So the mixture sat for a few hours around suppertime, just hanging out. I noticed my oversight and turned the crock on low and put the lid on overnight. This morning I once more slipped it off to the side. Then I tasted it, adjusted the sweetness with some brown sugar and added about a teaspoon or so of cinnamon. Enough to warm it, but not enough to flavour it outright.

This afternoon it was ready. Thick, brown, tangy and still tasting of plums. I ladled it into two small canning jars and processed them for 10 minutes in boiling water. Both lids popped. Always a good sign.

So now I have a lovely (predominantly) plum butter ready for use on toast or mixed with a little icing sugar to spread between spice cookies. Mmmmmm.....

Monday, August 23, 2010

Inspiring weather

Have I mentioned that it's been hot this summer? And humid? Hmmmmm, maybe. ;-) But lately we've had a few days where the A/C hasn't run, where the air wasn't thick and where the window is open at night. And today... ah today. It's all of 17 degrees out and it may not get any hotter. Hooray! It's practically chilly in the bedroom. LOL

So what am I doing to celebrate? Well yesterday I bought some local yellow plums (wow are they big), local early apples and local tiny purple grapes (they may be Coronation grapes, but they weren't labeled with a name). Just now I peeled and chopped a couple of the apples, pitted and chopped about a dozen plums and stemmed a handful of the grapes. I popped them all into my small crock pot and added a little leftover hard cider and some local dark maple syrup. I left the lid ajar and turned the crock on high. Once it's bubbling I'll turn it down to low and let it go all day. At some point I'll adjust the sweetness and decide if I want to add spices or if I want a more pure fruit butter.

Later today I'm going to bake. Probably cookies. Probably with chocolate. Maybe a spin off of the Mocha-scotch Truffle Cookies I blogged about earlier this summer. And I popped a pork tenderloin into a simple marinade of Dijon, and more of that cider and maple syrup. I'll glaze it with more of the same towards the end of cooking.

It's amazing how something as simple as some cool weather can revitalize me. As I've mentioned, I'm not a summer person. I love the bounty, but it only makes the heat and humidity marginally bearable. Autumn is when I feel like I come alive. And days like this, which are a sneak peek of the season to come, inspire me to make the most of them.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tomatoes. Ah, tomatoes


Tomatoes make summer a bit more bearable for me. There is something magical about that moment when the first slice of a still warm from the sun tomato touches the tongue. Before the flavour takes over, there's the physical awareness of the tomato. The brain notices the decided lack of chill in the fruit (yes, it is technically a fruit), the soft, yielding texture that isn't remotely mealy, and the juiciness. Oh yes, the rush of juice over the tongue from a slice of freshly picked tomato is a sensation to savour.

Then comes the taste. The delightful acidity tickles the taste buds first with a wonderful tingle that wakes up the tongue and sparks the yum receptors in the brain. Depending on the variety it can be subtle or sharp. But either way it's just the prelude for what's to come. For all of their savoury applications, tomatoes can be amazingly sweet. A great tomato has a lovely balance of sweet and sour, with intense umami. The succulent meatiness against the almost sugary, tart intensity creates a depth of flavour that one does not find in a store bought winter tomato (or those imports cramming the shelves in the summer).

And there is seemingly no end to what you can do with tomatoes. I stumbled upon a page yesterday that boasted 100 ways to use a tomato. Growing up I remember coming home from school in late summer and being greeted (knocked over) at the door by the smell of tomatoes stewing. My great-grandfather was Italian and my mother always stewed down vast quantities to freeze for the winter. I never cared for the smell back then, but now it is inextricably tied with the coming Autumn (though with the relatively early harvest this year there is a stark contrast between my memories and the reality of the summer heat that still abounds).

I like to roast my tomatoes. I've done them both at high heat and low, and like the results of both. Roasting them really emphasizes the sweetness and concentrates the flavour. On the weekend I bought, halved and high heat roasted some Roma tomatoes. And last night my husband and I picked several (huge) heirloom tomatoes which had split on the vine. I cut into slices the still usable parts and roasted them overnight in a low oven. I pureed both batches together and they, along with a generous amount of garlic, are the basis of a lovely tomato sauce that we will enjoy for dinner tonight with some basil from the back step. The essence of summer in a nourishing plate.

Monday, August 9, 2010

My first review

Very cool. I was looking at the Foodie Blogroll a couple of months ago and saw that there was a company looking to send their products to bloggers for review. Never one to pass up free stuff, I sent an email to Marxfoods, offering to try and review their Palm Leaf plates. These plates are marketed as eco-friendly, biodegradable/compostable and stylish.

A few square and round plates arrived in the mail a short while later. My first impression was that they were nice enough looking. Kind of like wood. They would look very nice setting an outdoor dining table. I noticed some splinters and rough edges that surprised me a little. The plates were thick and seemed quite strong.

We used them for lunches and salads and they held up well. However we had a spell of high humidity and I found the plates became a little pliable at that point. Still stronger than a flimsy paper plate, but I wonder how they would hold up at an outdoor function on a humid day.

While eating some salad off of one of the round plates I found a splinter in my mouth. That was disappointing to say the least. And not the only one we found.

While these plates seem friendly enough, the reality is that the ones I received had rough edges and gave off splinters in my food. I would not let my children use them. Nor would I want to serve guests with them.

Then there is the price. $33.50 (USD) for 25 square plates, for example. Plus shipping and handling. I don't know that I could ever justify spending over a dollar a dish for something meant to be thrown out at the end of the day.

Good on the company for using a something as innovative as dead palm leaves to make products out of. But when looking at price and quality, I will definitely take a pass and won't be ordering them for our family.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Feelin' hot hot hot

Okay, I get that the last two summers have spoiled me. Two full summers of temps that barely went above 25C, very little humidity, lots of rain (okay, too much last year)... I think we had something like 6 days over 30C last year. This year it feels like we've had maybe 6 days under 30C. And then there's the humidex. By suppertime yesterday it felt like 41C out there (for my American readers, that's about 105F). Too hot to take Little Mister to soccer. To hot to move outside. And so humid that sweat can't cool you because it doesn't evaporate.

To those who know me, it's no secret that I don't like summer. I don't do well with heat, humidity, bugs, heat... I miss baking, which is funny because I've only come to enjoy it relatively recently. I have wonderful local peaches in the fridge that my son keeps asking me to make a pie with, but the thought of turning on the oven in this ick makes me cringe.

That's not to say that I would do away with summer if I could. I do value some aspects of it. The produce, for one. Living where I do I have at my doorstep a dizzying array of fresh produce. Berries, tender fruits, heirloom tomatoes, greens, beans, beets and so forth. All grown within kilometers of here. All amazingly fresh and bursting with goodness. Then there's the herbs. Fresh herbs are a joy to work with, and summer brings them in abundance. My own garden is bursting with Basils, Oregano, Chives, various Thymes and a fun little Mint called Cotton Candy.

Speaking of the garden, if you've been following me for a bit you know that we have a small one in the back yard that is a source of food and amusement. The Lemon Cucumbers have been interesting. A definite do again! What I thought were bell peppers have turned out to be mild cherry peppers. Kind of disappointing. The heirloom tomatoes are a source of joy and the broccoli has been... well thus far the plants are huge, but not bearing much. I do love walking into the yard to pick whatever is out there and then making it into something to nourish us. More than that I love it when the kids just pick what they want and eat it right there. Yard snacks. A definite joy of the summer.

Then there's the smells. Specifically the smell of tomatoes roasting or stewing. Man do I love having that smell fill the house. I need to buy a quantity of Roma tomatoes soon to put down in the freezer for the winter. The thought of a freezer stock of roasted tomatoes makes me happy.

There are also carnivals and fun things to do that are even more fun now that we have kids. I love making memories with them. And I adore sharing my own childhood memories of these events with them.

And the final thing that makes summer bearable? The fact that enduring it makes autumn all the sweeter!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Found it!

I made some chocolate mint ice cream this weekend. Actually I made some over the top rich, smooth, creamy chocolate mint frozen custard this weekend. It's incredible! And people I've mentioned it to have asked for the recipe. And normally I wouldn't have hesitated to share, except that I found it on hubby's iPhone and didn't save the link. So I've had to work to remember what phrase I used to Google, and then what website I found and finally set upon. And even then, I made some changes to the original recipe.

I finally found it. It turns out the basic recipe is from Joy of Cooking. But it calls for half and half, which I didn't have. So I used almost all heavy cream (no wonder the end result was so smooth). And I used mint chocolate chips in place of the bittersweet chocolate. And I added a splash of mint extract, too.

So rather than copy the original recipe, here's mine, with all of my changes.

1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ounces mint chocolate chips
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
splash of mint extract

In a small saucepan gradually whisk together the milk, cream and cocoa powder until it is a smooth paste. Place over medium-high heat and bring the mixtureto the scalding point (the milk begins to foam up). Remove from heat, add the chocolate chips and stir until the chocolate has completely melted and is smooth.

Meanwhile in a stainless steel bowl beat the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy (about two minutes). Gradually pour the scalding cream mixture into the whipped egg yolk mixture, making sure you keep whisking constantly so the eggs don't curdle. If any lumps do form, strain the mixture first before heating.

Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook until the custard thickens enough that it coats the back of a spoon (170 degrees F) (77 degrees C).

Immediately remove the custard from the heat and continue to stir the for a few minutes so it does not overcook. At this point stir in the mint extract.. Strain into a bowl over another bowl of ice water. Taste and add more mint if necessary (the flavour will dull slightly once frozen). Refrigerate the custard until it is completely cold (several hours but preferably overnight).

Transfer the cold custard to the container of your ice cream machine and process according to the manufacturer's instructions. Once made, transfer the ice cream to a chilled container and store in the freezer. If the ice cream becomes too hard place in the refrigerator to soften for about 30 minutes.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Best veggie dip I've ever had

*Note - This post has been updated and copied to my new blog.
http://myediblejourney.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/my-favourite-veggie-dip

I'll be up front right away. This dip is not some virtuous recipe that calls for essential fatty acids, green superfoods or artisinal sea salt. It uses celery salt. It uses full fat store bought mayo. It uses GARLIC POWDER! I make no claim that it is healthy in quantities greater than a tablespoon or so (and really, who eats a tablespoon of dip?) And honestly, if you've come to expect that kind of uber-healthy recipe from me, have you really been reading my blog? LOL

What is this dip then? Well for starters it is part of my childhood. My mother's cousin gave her this recipe back in the early 80's, I believe. There may have been a Tupperware party involved. For all I know the recipe comes from the back of a package of something. I have no clue. But from that point on it's been my mother's go-to vegetable dip recipe. And it's mine, too.

Mom doesn't make it quite as robust as I do. I've doubled the original amounts of things like garlic and onion powder and Tabasco. But it's basically the same dip. Equal parts of sour cream and mayo (Hellman's only, reads the original recipe) flavoured with dill, onion, garlic, celery salt (originally "Beau Monde" seasoning, but I haven't seen that around in ages) and Tabasco. While you *could* use low fat or even fat free sour cream and/or mayo, I've done it and it really doesn't taste as good. If I were having this every week I'd consider getting used to it, but this is a sometimes recipe and we don't mind the extra fat and calories. Besides, we're eating it with raw vegetables for crying out loud!

Left to sit in the fridge overnight, the flavours marry into a smooth, creamy dip with a little punch and lots of flavour. I am some enjoying right now, as I type this blog post. This dip is so good that I'll eat a plate of raw cauliflower if it's around. Heck, I'll even consider thinking about possibly contemplating trying celery with it. It's that good. My preferred dippers are carrot sticks, though. I love their crunch with the smooth dip. But any sturdy veggie works well. Even zucchini spears, which are less wet than cucumber slices and hold the dip better.

Okay, without further ado (and before I forget to actually add it), here is the recipe. I hope you enjoy it. And if you do, please tell me. I love to hear about people enjoying the things I share.

1 Cup sour cream
1 Cup Hellman's Mayo
1 1/2 tsp parsley (dried is fine - or just omit it as I often do)
1 tsp dried dill (mine is usually heaped)
1 tsp celery salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
10-15 drops of Tabasco
finely sliced scallion, green tops only

Combine everything and allow to mellow in the fridge for at least a few hours. Overnight is better. Adjust seasonings to taste. Enjoy!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Look what I grew from seed!


















Lemon cucumbers! I bought the seeds from a lovely woman named Linda back in earliest Spring. She has a fabulous farm not too, too far from here where she grows heirloom veggies. And these are among them.

Now traditionally I've been the kind of gal who buys veggies already growing and just transplants them. But I decided to give these a try and I'm so proud of myself. These little darlings are the first of the crop, off of two plants which I am certain are plotting to take over the world. Or at least the yard. We're growing them vertically, on a trellis that hubby made. I can't imagine how much space they'd need if we let them grow on the ground.

So, who's up for lunch? I can't wait to try them. I've heard that they're less bitter than regular cucumbers. I'm going to fresh pickle some for supper in some rice vinegar and Thai basil. Yum!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Herbal bounty

I think I want to expand our herb garden next year. Well, it's not so much a garden as several planters. I have some parsley that is past it's prime (I really need to treat it like an annual), some chives, some Italian and Thai basil, oregano, thyme and lemon thyme and some "cotton candy" mint. All are very nice. Oh, and that poor sage plant I bought in the Spring that has yet to make it out of the little pot on the kitchen counter. How it's still alive is beyond me. LOL

I've been thinking of making some herb honey lately. I love sage honey as a base for glazes for chicken and pork. Thyme honey is great for sore throats. I'm wondering how Thai basil honey would be? Probably quite nice in a stir fry. But I don't have enough of it to make a jar. I should have planted more than one plant, but last year the Thai basil plant I had was massive! This year it's small and struggling and the Italian variety is flourishing.

I don't personally drink herbal tea (wish I did, but I've just never developed a taste for tea without cream). But my husband likes mint tea, which is why I bought the interesting sounding "cotton candy" mint. It's alright. Strong, but not like peppermint. Nice for tea, apparently. I'd like to grow some lemon balm as well, since it's supposed to make a very relaxing tea. I would love to see the kids start drinking herbal teas. If they develop a taste for them now, they can reap the benefits that I'm missing out on. So many tasty herbs are so good for us.

So, I'm open to options. What tea herbs do you suggest? What about culinary herbs (apart from rosemary and cilantro, which we do not like at all)? What can you not do without in your kitchen?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cold brewed iced coffee

Yeah, I'm a good year behind on this one. LOL I did find it last year when it swept the web, and I've enjoyed it since. But today I decided to share it here for my friends and readers. With so many places offering expensive cups of mostly ice and some bitter/sweet, high fat cold coffee, this treat is so much better. It costs less, it tastes better and it can be customized to your heart's content.

The basic recipe is one I came across here. It may have started with the New York times, as many viral recipes do.

1. The night before, start with 1/4 cup of coarse ground coffee, and add 1 cup of cold filtered water.
2. The next morning add 1 more cup of water.
3. Strain and pour into a chilled glass over ice (makes two glasses).

I add a generous amount of milk and a spoonful or two of raw sugar. You could even make a simple syrup with a little vanilla. If you like extra milk, then add less water. Freeze leftovers in ice cube trays for next time.

So that's where I started. But after doing that a few times I decided to ramp things up a bit. I doubled the base recipe, for starters, adding all of the water at once instead of only half of it. So here's what I do...

1. Add 1/2 cup coarse ground coffee to a French press (or glass measuring cup). Pour over 2 cups of cold water and let stand overnight (on the counter or in the fridge).
2. In the morning, press the plunger down slowly.
3. Fill a glass that has a little ice in it half full with the coffee concentrate. To those two parts of coffee, add up to one part water and one part cream, milk, soy milk, rice milk, goat milk or any other creamy beverage. I tend to use more cream/milk than water.
4. Sweeten with simple syrup to taste (I keep a jar in the fridge - one part water with one part sugar, heated until the sugar dissolves).

You can play with this, of course. Flavoured coffee works well. So does a splash of vanilla extract (or even a split vanilla bean added to the simple syrup when you make it). A swirl of chocolate syrup in place of the simple syrup turns out a nice mocha beverage. I'm sure my husband would add caramel. And for those not opposed, there are plenty of non-dairy flavoured creamer type thingies out there.

I like that the sugar and fat can be controlled in this. And there are no chemicals, unlike (I suspect) in a certain coffee shop iced brew. (I really don't know for sure, since if you want the actual ingredient list you have to contact them directly. I'm guessing it's more than "coffee, milk/cream, sugar.")

So last night I picked up and ground some organic beans at the Bulk Barn (what an age we live in when you can buy organic at a bulk dry goods store). Added a cup of them to my French press (yes, I doubled my already doubled recipe) and added the water. And this morning I made a lovely cup of iced coffee. The cold brewing process doesn't seem to leach bitterness out of the grounds, which makes for a smoother cup of coffee. You can heat it up after the fact by mixing it with hot milk/cream (or stirring it into some hot chocolate). I've made some hot brewed iced coffee this year already and the difference is amazing. Well worth the "effort" required to start the concentrate the night before. And I have enough for my husband and I for today and into the weekend (maybe). ;-)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Learning

Schooling confuses teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. ~ Wendy Priesnitz

I'm not terribly familiar with Ms. Preisnitz but if this quote is any indication, I like the way she thinks. I am also partial to the quote, "Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners." Not sure who said that. But I've come to find it so true.

I went to public school. "And I turned out fine." LOL Isn't that always the argument? "I was spanked and I turned out fine." "My mother smoked and I turned out fine." "We never wore sunscreen and we turned out fine." And so forth. As if not being a social deviant or homicidal maniac somehow justifies everything.

I wonder just how "fine" I turned out. I was a bright child. My report cards reflect that. Not the grades, but the comments. ".... is a smart girl. But she doesn't apply herself." Yeah, I was smart. And bored. Very bored. I never felt particularly motivated to do better than I had to in order to get by. I was happier to spend time with my friends. And as I got older it only got worse. By high school I was all about my peers and the music I listened to. My parents lost virtually all influence over me and knew nothing more than my report cards showed them. I was passing my classes. Not excelling. Not even working at my full potential. But passing was the goal, right?

So I spent my teen years separating from family and bonding with friends. Music had just as much influence in my life. Spending that many hours a day away from home afforded me a lot of time to cultivate the interests and relationships that shaped much of who I identified myself as in those days.

Do I blame the school system entirely? Of course not. How can I? It served it's function. Push as many through as possible with the goal of mediocrity. "Pass" was the point. Anything above that was gravy. Excellence was something for the individual to strive for, but was not really facilitated by the system. Teachers had a class full of students they had to ensure were at least average. They couldn't take much time to make sure those who were already past average were being challenged.

So what brought this on? Especially when the tone of this blog has a decidedly foodie flair? I was looking at my (home schooled) 5 year old son's math work today. He did a page of problems that were like this... 85 = ___+____ At first glance it looked like he didn't get it. Until I looked closer. His answer? 85 = -5 + 90. Correct!

He won't be 6 until nearer to the end of the year, and he's taught himself negative numbers and is using them in every day math. Why? Because it was part of a program that I taught him? No. Because it is what he should be learning at this age? Certainly not according to the public school system. He did it because he wanted to learn it. Much of what he knows he's learned himself, following his interests (which lie largely in math and science).

I could say that I can't imagine how bored he'd be in school, but I can imagine it. I was just as bored. But I didn't have anyone encouraging me to learn at my own pace and explore my interests. Instead I was taught to do what everyone else was doing. Sit quietly. Do only the work you're given. Finished it quickly? Sit quietly some more. Do not go ahead in your workbook. Don't listen to the lessons for the next grade (our school had split grade classes). Fit the mold. Excel on your own time.

I'm not anti-public school. I just don't want it for my children. I don't want them to turn out "fine." I want them to turn out amazingly excellent!

Friday, July 9, 2010

I'll update soon

I know I've been quiet this past week. It's gotten crazy hot. Too hot to cook. Too hot to go outside and barbecue even. Blech. It's raining today, though. The gardens are as thankful as I am.

So there hasn't been much to say. The gardens look good, but nothing is quite ready to harvest, save for a few lingering strawberries. The raspberries, green beans and some tomatoes are *almost* there.

My baby sister gets married tomorrow, so maybe I'll have some musings after that. At least it will be "cooler." 27C (humidex of 31C) rather than 33C (humidex of nearly 45C). Crazy that 31C can be thought of as "cooler."

Be back soon!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Canada Day

Happy (day before) Canada Day! Long weekend (hubby took Friday off), sunshine, not too hot, barbecue... Wonderful!

Speaking of barbecue, not sure what I'll grill this weekend, but I have a pork loin that I think I'll pull out of the freezer to smoke. Man I want a proper smoker. For now I can make due with the grill, but someday I'll have a smoker. Maybe one that I can cold smoke in. I could make my own bacon! Sweet. Heck, I could smoke fish. Maybe we'd eat it then. LOL

Not a lot going on otherwise. It's not a big deal holiday to us in terms of having a party or anything. Though maybe we'll invite a few friends around for a bonfire. Food always tastes better with a fire. Maybe we'll visit the carousel. I love that we have a long weekend of nothingness. Hubby will work on the garage, we'll play outside, we'll eat... Ahhhhhh.

I didn't grow up with big Canada Day celebrations. Maybe family barbecues when I was little, but I don't remember if they were specifically on Canada Day or not. I've never done a lot with it. Though I think we'll be picking up some fireworks. The kids have requested a mini-show. MUCH less hassle than going to a big show at the beach with a 5 year old and 2 year old who don't nap and are used to going to bed around 7:30. LOL

Have a great weekend everyone. And happy July 4th to the Americans who've dropped in.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Culinary Immorality

I just read an article about an American chain restaurant's latest creation. The Grilled Cheese Burger Melt at Friendly's. I've only seen pictures, as we don't have this franchise in Canada. Not even in Niagara Falls, where we seem to have an awful lot of American chains. But the pictures say enough. Described as "a Big Beef burger between two hot grilled cheese sandwiches" with some token lettuce and tomato thrown in for good measure, I guess. 1500 calories, a whopping 97 grams of fat and 2 090mg of sodium.

Not to be outdone, another chain - Chili's - has a burger with a comparatively lean 40 grams of fat but 5 250mg of sodium!

I don't understand it. Not completely. Just because one can do something, does that mean he or she should? Just because a restaurant can create something that goes so far beyond the definition of unhealthy, does that mean that they should offer it to the public? It can be argued that the onus is on the customer to not indulge in such nutritional fiascoes, but does that absolve the restaurant entirely? Would the guy who just ate two KFC Double Downs have chosen to create a meal with a similar fat and sodium profile if that abomination weren't available?

It's a kind of culinary immorality. Immorality being defined in part as "not conforming to the patterns of conduct usually accepted or established as consistent with principles of personal and social ethics." Food like this is created not for positive social value or personal betterment, but to revel in the grossness of human excess. To thumb noses at sensible eating and celebrate a more immature mindset that would have us believe that this kind of food falls under the "everything in moderation"mantra. The missed point is that there is no moderation in a burger with 97 grams of fat. There is just excess.

Do I blame restaurant chains for catering to the whims of the stupid and short sighted? No, not entirely. Much of the responsibility lies with the guy choosing to shove the disgusting mess into his gaping maw, guffawing about how it's just one burger and it won't kill him, as mayo drips down his chin and his blood pressure goes through the roof.

I don't know how we got to this point. Perhaps with more research I'd be able to trace the roots of this to something larger than self indulgent stupidity. To be fair, many more of us make poor food choices on a smaller scale all the time. But there is something that I find almost offensive about offerings like these "burgers." They seem to be daring people to embrace them as somehow normal, while at the same time scoffing at the idea of making healthy choices and creating menus which embrace health rather than debauchery.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Of radishes and unpopular salad


The weather here this year has been pretty unreal. The past two summers have been cool and wet. Last year we had the furnace on until mid June. This year we turned the AC on in May. It's been crazy.

That heat, along with the adequate rainfall, has produced abundance. Some of it quite early. It's not July yet and the cherries are ready. Strawberries abounded weeks before strawberry festivals took place. Our peas are finished in the garden already. And just this morning I harvested the best radishes I've ever grown. They are called Cherrybelle and they are round and red and crisp. My 2 year old loves them. Hubby is the other one in the house who eats them (yes, as proud as I am of having grown them, I will only eat them diced into macaroni or potato salad). I am well pleased.

Speaking of salads, my gourmet group met again last night. Portuguese was the theme (our hostess having just returned from there). But as often happens with internet recipes, I fear that something was lost in interpretation with the recipe I was given. Perhaps there is a recipe for a Portuguese salad of winter squash and beets with a thick sweet dressing. I don't know. But my recipe had me roasting butternut squash (could not find pumpkin) and opting to roast some beets rather than opening a tin of them. I also roasted the chopped onion rather than sauteing it separately. It was all seasoned with salt, pepper and an undisclosed amount of Thai sweet chili sauce. I used 1/3 of a cup for about 3lbs of veggies (uncooked weight). Just enough to bring it all together, but not swamp it.

It looked pretty. Like a fruit salad, actually. I wanted to like it. I mean, squash, beets, onion, sweet heat... Alas it was not to be. Of the 9 of us, 3 were honest and said that we just did not like it. The rest claimed that it was good, but I don't imagine any of them will be adding it to their salad repertoire. LOL