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


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.