Saturday, February 27, 2010


This month (well, on Monday) our gourmet group is venturing into Middle Eastern/North African territory. My assigned recipe is Kousa Bil Bandora. Essentially zucchini boats, stuffed with seasoned rice and beef, in a tomato based sauce. It is similar in concept to something my mother made when I was young. Her roots are Italian, though, so the seasoning was obviously different (though there is some African influence in a few parts of Italy).

For those who don't know what my gourmet group is all about, a group of 9 of us gals gets together once a month or so. The hostess sets the menu. There doesn't have to be a theme, though often there is. We've done an autumn feast, Greek, and Indonesian so far. The hostess gives each person a recipe. We have a schedule of courses and we move through from hosting to dessert. On gourmet night we each bring our assigned dish, and we all sit down and tuck in. The hostess provides beverages and any extras that she likes (condiments, for example).

So, back to my recipe. This could easily be a main course, but instead it is a side. The recipe comes from Lebanon, apparently. It is seasoned with allspice and black pepper, and is pretty straightforward. Cooking it in the tomato sauce is different from what my mother did. She precooked the rice and meat and stuffed the mixture into hollowed out zucchini and baked them covered with cheese. I'm looking forward to trying this version. I will report back on the evening and let you all know how this turned out.

Kousa Bil Bandora

6 medium yellow or Clarita zucchini (6 to 8 oz each) (I got green)
1/2 cup long-grain rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3/4 lb ground beef chuck (not lean)
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups canned diced tomatoes including juice
1 cup chicken stock or broth
1/2 lemon


Hollow out each zucchini, working from both ends with a small melon-ball cutter or an apple corer, removing all seeds and leaving shells about 1/3 inch thick. Discard pulp and seeds.

Wash rice in several changes of cold water in a bowl until water runs almost clear, then drain in a sieve. Heat oil in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté onion, stirring, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute, then remove skillet from heat.

Transfer 1/4 cup onion mixture to a bowl and cool slightly. Add rice, meat, allspice, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and mix well with your hands. Stuff zucchini shells with meat mixture, being careful not to pack tightly (rice will expand during cooking).

Add tomatoes with juice, stock, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper to onion in skillet and bring to a simmer. Put stuffed zucchini in tomato sauce and simmer, covered, until rice is cooked through, 1 to 1 1/4 hours (cut 1 zucchini in half crosswise to check).

If sauce is watery, transfer zucchini to a plate and boil sauce, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes, then return zucchini to sauce. Squeeze lemon over dish before serving.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Call it what it is

I got more than a little annoyed at a mainstream parenting publication this week. They Tweeted a link to a recipe for a snack that would "sneak in wholesome goodness." The recipe? Basically it was for Rice Krispie Squares made with sweetened Cheerios, some flaked cereal and some dried cranberries, which are also sweetened.

Now let me say right away that I am no supermom when it comes to food. My kids do eat cookies and the odd piece of candy or a few potato chips. But I don't try to pretend that they're healthy. They are a treat.

I don't buy into the hype that Tostitos are healthy because they are made from "wholesome whole grain corn." I don't pretend that sugary cereal is a decent breakfast because it has a smattering of fibre and promotes a "happy tummy." I choose what my kids snack on realistically. If they've had lots of fruits and veggies in a day, and a healthy meal lay ahead for dinner, then sure, they can have a cookie for snacktime. But I'm not pretending it's healthy because I made it with a little whole wheat flour.

And that is what bugged me about the recipe that was Tweeted. They were pushing it as being somehow healthy, when in reality it was sugar, filled with sugar, and held together with more sugar. Maybe I expect too much, but really, do they have to dumb health down to "at least there's a little fibre in it?" Why pretend? Why not say, "Hey, here's something your kids will love to make with you. It's fun once in a while to prepare treats together," and leave out the attempt to make it look like it's healthy.

Maybe it's the dull, grey winter weather that's making me grumpy, but things like this just bug me. It borders on irresponsible when a national publication pushes junk as healthy for kids. As an overweight mother who has struggled all of my life with my weight, I am keenly aware of how our food choices and attitudes affect our children. Teaching them that a smattering of fibre magically makes junk food healthy is not doing them any favours.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pancakes anyone?

Growing up, we always had pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. My mother is a non-practicing Italian Catholic. We didn't observe Lent and had no clue what "Shrove" meant. But we had pancakes. I suspect she'll be making them tonight for my sister and nephew.

I don't know if I've made pancakes each year or not. I don't recall. But I do try. And I will be tonight. Ideally with bacon, if we actually had any. But I digress. I have to say that the best "Pancake Tuesday" meal we had was with friends several years ago now. We had apple pancakes, with bacon, and washed it down with pear "icewine." It was fun to take something I'd grown up with and make it "grown up."

But what is "Shrove Tuesday" anyway? As it turns out, the name Shrove comes from the old word "shrive" which means to confess. On Shrove Tuesday, in the Middle Ages, people used to go to church to confess their sins so that they were forgiven before the season of Lent began. Not something that we do as a non-Catholic family. We just do the pancakes.

And each year I look through recipes for the right one. I've made them thin, thick, with stuff (blueberries are my favourite), without, with whipped egg white, with whole wheat flour, from shredded potato... The possibilities are endless. Though I've never made crepes for Pancake Tuesday. I suppose I could consider that some year. This year I'm leaning towards the ones that use the whipped egg white. They tend to be light and fluffy and yummy! I don't do boxed mixes, though. It's simple enough to make pancakes from scratch. Not to use up the ingredients for Lent, but because it's just as easy.

Speaking of which, I can't believe that Lent begins tomorrow. Again, we don't officially observe Lent, though there is a Lenten devotional that I like to follow along with ( There are several online to choose from. I like the idea of doing something to prepare for the holiness of Easter. Though I've never felt compelled to give up sugar, for example. Physical penitence isn't really my thing. LOL

Hmmm, I wonder if the kids want some "mapleberry" sauce for their pancakes tonight? Frozen organic wild blueberries and dark maple syrup, simmered until thick and then cooled slightly. Wonderful over pancakes and waffles.

Update - we got bacon and I settled on this recipe from Jamie Oliver, with a few teaspoons of sugar added. Yum, yum, yum! Happy Pancake Day/Shrove Tuesday!

Friday, February 12, 2010

I buy factory chickens

I'll admit it. I buy battery farmed, factory raised chickens. I know Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fernley Whittingstall would be horrified. I've watched both of their shows about the issue. And while I can see why they are passionate about their cause, I can't always share their enthusiasm for shelling out more money to ensure that the bird I am eating got to feel grass under its feet.

Last night I stood at the meat case in the store, looking at an organic chicken (which wasn't even necessarily raised "free range") and a conventional one. For nearly $4 less, I got a bird at least a third larger. That's a good bit more meat that I can use for a second or even third meal, for less money.

It got me thinking. I'd love to buy only organic, free range meat for my family. But financially it's not a reality. We're not going to shift to part time vegetarianism to support an organic meat habit. We aren't interested in eating meatless 3 or 4 times a week. Yes, that is a choice, so I suppose we *could* afford more organic meat if we made some serious sacrifices in our diet. Fine, I'll accept that.

But thinking about Mr. Oliver and especially Mr. Whittingstall, and then looking at what I had in my cart, I realized that I could still feel good about what I was buying. Is it "cruelty free?" Probably not. But each package of meat represented one or more meals that I would be making from scratch for my family. Each piece is a piece of real food that I am feeding my husband and children. Not frozen, pre-package garbage. Not denatured, unhealthy "ready meals." It may not be free range, organic. But it is honest food, made by me for my family because I love them.

Will I never buy organic, free range meat again? I'm looking into options even as I type this. But I will not be consumed by eco animal welfare guilt over buying a chicken that didn't see daylight or touch grass. I am doing well by my family, and taking care of them.

Our children know that meat comes from actual animals, and that fruits and veggies grow in gardens. They will not be ignorant about where their food comes from. I have no fear of that. And I won't shield them from the truth about how it gets to them, whatever the source. They will also know that I am doing the best I can for them with what we have, and that when I can choose a better option, I will do so. But that at least I will always strive to provide them with a childhood built on real food as much as possible.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Our sweet 5 year old boy has a peanut allergy. That alone is enough to break my heart. But what I absolutely hate is when people argue with me about it. I had a woman just this week demand to know what all of his possible reactions are, in writing, in response to my telling her that the building we were in has a nut free policy in place (she was handing out snacks that were not safe, according to the policy outlined by the leadership). She expects a list posted so as to convince her and others not to bring in snacks which are not safe. Why can't a directive from our leadership be enough? If I tell her he's never had an anaphylactic reaction, I'm sure she will decide that it's fine to bring in snacks that ought not be there. Another person brought a pecan pie to a potluck. HELLO? It's a NUT-free policy. And my husband was questioned about why it couldn't be put out.

It bothers me to no end that people actually take it personally that the snacks they've brought are set aside because the leadership has said that everything has to be nut free. Not only for our son's sake, but for the sake of at least one other child who is there regularly, and the children of those visiting who may be allergic. And it's not just peanuts. There is one girl who visits occasionally who is very allergic to tree nuts.

While there is the chance our son will outgrow this allergy, we cannot assume that it will happen. It would be nice if people would put aside their own sense of entitlement and accept that it's not that important to be able to bring in those grocery store bakery items that say "may contain traces of peanuts or tree nuts" or something similar. There are alternatives out there, even if they don't want to bake things themselves.

I know this is more rant-y than I would normally post in my blog, but I am really quite frustrated right now and need to get this out of myself, if only for the therapeutic value. I'll post something lighter soon. Promise. :-D