Tuesday, December 28, 2010

everyday food app is a good thing!

This photo was taken grocery shopping with Owen on my new iPod Touch. This is my first experience with mobile wireless anything - so it's a big jump forward for me - and I LOVE IT! The reason I'm blogging about it is because I can now take advantage of apps! So the first one I downloaded was the Martha Stewart Everyday Food app. 

Where was this for the past 9 months?! My life could have been so much easier with this because a good portion of her recipes are available on it and it automatically creates grocery lists based on your chosen recipes. I don't know how many times I found myself running over to Fresh Co just to buy one single item because I hadn't coordinated my list properly. Furthermore, my handwritten lists were always on Hello Kitty note pads, so Nuno wasn't exactly enthusiastic to shop from them. 

I gave this app a test run this week and it was everything I imagined. My list was pretty much automatically generated when I chose my 3 Martha Stewart dinners this week. From there, I added a few extra items we needed. Then I went through and modified the list based on what we already had in the pantry and fridge - which was very quick and simple compared to my lists which get scratched and rewritten several times during the week. 

When it came time to shop I felt so techie walking up and down the aisles checking off each item. I don't know if people thought I was playing games and ignoring my baby in front of me while recklessly scooting around the store. Which brings me to the only drawback of this way of shopping - the iPod is particularly interesting to one year olds. Steering a grocery buggy with a curious boy and an iPod in hand is a disaster waiting to happen. Luckily I developed a technique of slipping it in my coat pocket between items, which sort of helped. 

This app is useful because it now changes the way I cook. I'm able to cook straight from the iPod instead of the magazine or book. I'm geeky, and I hate splashing food or creasing the seam of my books. I just have to be careful I don't drop the iPod down the chute of my food processor. It has also come in handy because it shows all of our dinners for the week and with photos it helps us decide what we want to eat based purely on what looks like something we'd like to eat for dinner.

I'm in the process of starting a ziplist.com account to further coordinate my lists because this app works with this site. I have yet to try the barcode scan feature but I like the idea of it. There is also a grocery store feature which locates the closest stores based on your location - but it's quite dated (it told me that there are several Commisso's near me - a now defunct chain). 

This app has made me curious to try other lifestyle apps. I might try out the Food Network app as well and compare it against MS's. If anyone out there has any recommendations of suggestions on apps please let me know.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

christmas desserts

What a Christmas!
I think I'm still coming down off a total overindulgence of sweets with whom I can blame no one but myself for.  The reason - my holiday baking. I've gone way overboard in past years but this year I had to strategize quick cookies which work well on Owen's naps. 

Since my mom didn't bake cookies this year I decided to make several of my grandma's holiday recipes for the first time. That includes Christmas Hopscotch, Marble Squares, Butterscotch Squares & Peanut Chews. Then I made MS's Iced Hermits and Ritz Mints.

Several years ago I started my own Christmas tradition of making Tiramisu. I'm now having it requested as part of the holiday dessert table on Christmas Day. My Tirimisu includes 3 different liquors (Dark Rum, Kahlua and Marsala), marscapone cheese and sabayon base. It's one of my favourite desserts that could really only be eaten at Christmas in order to find enough people to eat an entire dish of this rich dessert.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A reflection on Everyday Food, Fresh Flavor Fast

I spent the majority of this year devoting our meals around the cookbook Everyday Food, Fresh Flavor Fast. That meant a commitment to searching out and buying ingredients and countless hours in the kitchen. Then another 10 - 15 minutes blogging all about it. All that time spent was a lot of fun. I learned so much about cooking, I'll carry this knowledge with me for the rest of my life. I also became a whole lot more diversified in my food experiences and palate. After trying 250 recipes in 9 months, I probably should give a bit of a reflection on the experience.

To start, one thing I never anticipated was to have Owen go from a breastfed baby to eating right along with us! It was so exciting to see that his first bites were healthy, freshly prepared & delicious food I made for him right from scratch. I always felt really happy that I had control over what he was eating and confident that it was the best food options for him.

We now find ourselves eating more locally farmed produce and meat than we ever have before. I learned all about what is seasonally available. It feels like a much better way to live.

I honestly can't praise this book enough. Now that it's all over I've spent quite a long time reflecting on how well planned it is. This book has it all - every type of meat, a variety of seafood and the best ways of cooking them. It has a great selection of vegetables and the most flavourful and simple ways to prepare them. There are interesting challenges which are fool-proof enough that once complete, you feel very accomplished. You get a huge cross section of culinary techniques so you really *do* learn to cook just about anything a home cook would need to know. I honestly couldn't make a suggestion as to how to improve this book. I feel as though there isn't anything missing, OK, maybe a recipe that includes bananas! But it really is a cookbook for everyone - any age or any ability, there is something in here to please everyone with minimal effort, time and cost and maximum flavour!

The absolute must try recipes in this book are:
Jam-Filled French Toast
Peach-Strawberry Smoothie (only when farm fresh peaches available)
Barley and Corn Risotto
Cheddar Corn Spoon Bread
Manhattan Fish Chowder
Sweet Potato Wedges
Leg of Lamb with Lemon Orzo
Pork Tenderloin with Apples and Leeks
Penne Alla Norma
Lemon Ricotta Tart
Both Chocolate Cakes - Flourless and Glazed
Mexican Wedding Cakes
Creamy Lemon Squares

The journey is over. I'm back to work and am now revisiting many of our favourite recipes and making them so much quicker after understanding how to prepare them. What's been really neat about this experience is going back on many of the recipes that I made 7-8 months ago and seeing Owen enjoy them for the first time. He's loved the Chicken & Dumplings, Quick Navy Bean Stew, Chicken Milanese, Asian Salmon Patties with Chinese Noodles w/ Sesame Dressing, Tex Mex Turkey and Bean Chili, Chicken, Edamame and Noodle Stir-Fry and Pasta with Peas and Ricotta. Cooking through this book has modified and diversified how we eat to a way I always wanted and can now achieve.

Monday, December 6, 2010

chocolate-peanut butter pie

Here it is, the final recipe left to complete of all 250 in Everyday Food, Fresh Flavour Fast. And what a way to go out with this Chocolate-Peanut Butter Pie. I've declared my love for all banana baked goods, but peanut butter rates a very close second and this pie is the epitome of pleasure.

One reason this one was held back was because it called for gelatin, which I'd never purchased before. I spent quite a few grocery store visits walking up and down the baking isle trying to find gelatin. Then it dawned on me to check the same area where you find Jell-O and, of course, there it was.

This is a pie for people who don't like to bake pies. No oven, just a food processor and fridge. Kinda like those icebox concoctions I became addicted to in the summer, this is a fancier variation on the same concept. 

The suggested garnish on this pie is crushed peanuts but I happened to pick up a new President's Choice treat - mini peanut butter cups which were perfect for this. Then, just to go out with a bang with this one, I bought a 'Big Cup' Reese Peanut Butter Cup for the centre. Love!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

gingerbread waffles

Something I started doing since Owen began eating with us was treating the family to waffles every so often on a Saturday morning. It began with having Owen try crepes, then plain whole wheat waffles and then pumpkin waffles. Saturday I made Gingerbread Waffles.

These are quick and easy, with all ingredients already in the house.  They are so fragrant and filled the house with Christmas spice!

What I love about making waffles is that the batter makes so many that I freeze 3/4 of them in freezer bags and we then have waffles around for busy mornings. They freeze great and you can take them straight from frozen to your toaster or microwave.

Friday, December 3, 2010

individual pizzas with arugula and tomato and cherries with cinnamon dumplings

This is Wednesday nights dinner of Individual Pizzas with Arugula and Tomatoes.
These pizzas are outstanding! The crust is oiled and baked (we have a pizza stone which works wonders) with crushed seasoned grape tomatoes and a sprinkle of chili flakes. Once baked is then topped with fresh arugula, shaved Pecorino Romano cheese and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. So, so nice. This may be my new favourite pizza.

A warming and comforting dessert which was just as quick to make as the pizzas is Cherries with Cinnamon Dumplings. I had this dessert on the back burner for months because it calls for a bag of frozen cherries. They are not sold in grocery stores here in Niagara (or Canada?). I didn't want to substitute so I bought a bag at Wegmans in WNY. So worth the effort because cherry and cinnamon are so lovely together. The cherries were cooked down to a nice syrup that tasted like pie filling and the dumplings are so soft and fragrant with cinnamon - it really is simple comfort food.

What I love about both these recipes is that they take only a few minutes to complete, so they are perfect for after work dinners. I'll be sure to make the both of these again and again.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

flourless chocolate cake

I don't think anyone could have prepared me for the delicious decadence of this Flourless Chocolate Cake. The photo printed in the book gave me the impression I'd be baking a pavlova or a crunchy crispy meringue type cake. But this cake really turned out to be more like a torte. Think of the most delicious chocolate mousse you've ever eaten - only richer! I used Ghirardelli bittersweet bakers chocolate for this. I buy bags of them in the US because I've never seem them sold in Canada. I just love baking with these chips, they have a wonderful flavour.
While on vacation in Florida Nuno and I went out for a nice prix fixe menu where the dessert was a flourless chocolate cake infused with orange flavour. Now that I know how to bake this simple cake I'm totally on board with playing it up a little with orange zest and Grand Marnier or Framboise.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

spicy black bean soup and tuscan bread soup

Last week we had soup - all week. The final two soup recipes from Everyday Food are Spicy Black Bean Soup and Tuscan Bread Soup.
The Spicy Black Bean Soup tastes exactly how I imagined it would. It was quite filling, but I got sick of eating it after half the bowl. I was searching for crackers or buns just for a little variety. We gave some to Owen as well and he didn't seem too fond of it either. Overall we won't be making this one again.
The Tuscan Bread Soup isn't much to look at, but it was a very nice surprise. I was putting this soup off because it didn't appeal to me whatsoever. But being one of the final recipes I had to bite the bullet and make it. It was so delicious because it has a real depth of flavour as well as tasting very homey. It's a very simple soup, but I enjoyed it so much more than chicken noodle soup. Eventually the bread swells up and it becomes more of a stew (especially for next day leftovers). But it was never unappetizing like you would imagine soggy bread being.

Monday, November 29, 2010

glazed lemon pound cakes

We have this recipe that's an old standby in my family for Lemon Supreme Pound Cake. Just this past year at my family cottage in North Bay I found the source - a cut-out panel from a Duncan Hines cake box circa 1960. It's fool-proof and delicious however not genuine.
I've never made a pound cake from scratch, so baking Everyday Food's Glazed Lemon Pound Cakes was a great way to give it a go. Although it doesn't call for a pound of butter, a pound of flour and a pound of eggs like the original pound cake recipes do, I consider this recipe a little more true to form than the Duncan Hines pudding cake my family uses.
Because of the lemon pound cake history, I decided to make this recipe for my mother's birthday last weekend. Unfortunately it wasn't as good as the Duncan Hines cake is. It was very astringent, which I guess is to be expected from a whole cup of fresh lemon juice! It was so intensely sour for my taste as well as my mothers. However, this cake did mellow the next day because it seems like most people are down the middle with this one. My dad and Nuno loved it as did all my coworkers (who enjoyed the second pound cake!).

seared tuna (salmon) steaks with eggplant and scallion sautee and rice pilaf with toasted almonds

To say I'm a little behind with blogging, that's an understatement. Our November was a busy month and the blog suffered, but finishing off Everyday Food hasn't. All this time I've been polishing off the final 10 recipes from the book.

The recipe for Seared Tuna Steaks with Eggplant & Scallion Sautee had a minor revision when I made it the other week. I'm not comfortable feeding Owen Albacore tuna, so I figured subbing in salmon was a better choice since I know Owen loves it. He enjoyed this entire meal, but for me it was good, but not great. I expected so much more of the Rice Pilaf with Toasted Almonds, but it was nothing special at all.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Owen Turns 1 - part two

We were so lucky to be able to throw Owen's First Birthday Party exactly the way we envisioned it. It was a lot of time and effort, but *so* worth it. We put a lot of love into it. It was such a fun day and is a day we'll always look back on as one of the best days we've ever had.
Nuno and I had lots of ideas on how to custom make decorations for Owen's party. Most of what we used was purchased from the dollar store or made by us, so it really wasn't a huge investment - by our party throwing standards.
Here is the upstairs party spread. I made a Cherry Bomb Punch, a bowl full of red and blue salt water taffy from our trip to Florida, homemade Chex Mix and had a few of the Everyday Food appetizers and cupcakes I blogged about in the last entry.

The salt water taffy didn't go over too well at the party so I brought the rest with me to work and everyone at the office loved it. It was blue raspberry and red licorice flavoured.
We had a monthly time line of Owen photos.
Since there were a few older kids attending we decided to give magnetic colouring sheets with crayons as favours. Adults took home robot magnets.
There was a ton of food, more than enough to feed our 50 guests. It included broasted chicken, potatoes, penne & meatballs, cabbage rolls, salads and dinner rolls.
Owen wasn't in the best birthday spirits during his baby party, but a quick nap did the trick and he was in a tip-top shape when it came time to eat. 
 He ate Aunt Maggie's couscous salad and potatoes. 

 Then it came time for the cake.
Nuno and I ordered a sheet cake and carved into the shape of the knitted robot. I have to give all the credit to Nuno on accomplishing this and his commitment to fondant (when I thought it was beyond our skills). He nailed it.
He even molded Owen's first birthday candle.
Once the candle was lit Owen knew something special was about to happen.
He loved the birthday song.
And when it came to the cake...
well his face says it all.
We made sure his first birthday cake was his first taste of chocolate.
If chocolate cake, vanilla cupcakes and sugar cookies weren't enough, I also made a couple batches of David Lebovitz's Malted Milk Ice Cream. You need ice cream with cake and this flavour is a really nice accompaniment to chocolate cake. It had bits of crushed Whoppers in it. Everyone loved it and, surprisingly, malt is a flavour that is quite unfamiliar to people. I think most people thought it was milkshake flavoured ice cream.
The gifts Owen received were quite staggering. We are very humbled by our family and friend's generosity.
Owen loves his toys and is very stylish for day care.

Every evening Owen plays and reads until bed time. 
I'd say he's a lucky little one year old.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Owen Turns 1 - part one

One week ago Sunday was Owen's First Birthday. We arrived back from Florida Friday night at 9pm and his party was Sunday at noon, leaving us one day to scramble to get everything ready. It was totally worth the sleeplessness we experienced because everything went off exactly the way we planned. 

The party was inspired by two plush robots of Owens. My sister knit a blue robot when I was expecting Owen so he was our main inspiration. Here are the party invites.
We had Owen's baby friends over for a play date party in his playroom downstairs first. This is where we had several Everyday Food appetizers out. 

First were the Crunchy Paprika Chickpeas. These turned out great and are a lot like the roasted salted edamame I'm hooked on. It's a great munching snack which I enjoy more than opening a bag of chips. Second was Sweet & Spicy Almonds which were a party fav. These were quicker and easier than the chickpeas but just as delicious. Next up were the Spicy Cheese Crisps. These are, in a way, a savoury shortbread. Minimal ingredients but very tender and melting with a nice kick. All three of these are dead-easy and I'll surely make these in the future for party snacks. 

Then there were a couple more substantial appetizers we put out. This Hot Spinach Dip took a lot of spinach. Two large containers (2lbs) of fresh spinach were mixed with 6 oz of cream cheese, which in relation was very dense with spinach. Everything went off perfectly with this dip and just as the party started the top layer of toasty mozzarella was perfectly golden. Then I did something regretable - I layed tin foil over the top to prevent it from drying out. Once I removed the foil the top mozzarella layer came right off with it. No biggie really, only I didn't snag a photo when it was beautiful. I didn't bother to shred more cheese on top to fix it, I was simply too busy.

The final appetizer were these Pot Stickers. I've made dumplings in the past and they are very labour intensive, but these are so quick and easy. I made them the week before Florida and froze them, that way when we got back they thawed in the fridge and were fried just before serving. I didn't get a chance to taste them but Nuno said he heard many people saying they enjoyed them. 

All the above appetizers are complete make-again's. I was really pleased with their simplicity and flavour. If I could make 4 of these along with cupcakes and decorate a birthday cake in one day you've gotta know they were quick and easy.
Two desserts I made from scratch which are also Martha Stewart recipes were the Cog Cookies and Vanilla Cupcakes. They aren't part of the Everyday Food book but I thought I'd link to the recipes anyways.

These cog cookies are simple Sugar Cookies with blue food colouring added. I chose to do this because I didn't think I'd have time to ice them. We created the shape by using a pumpkin puree can to cut out the circumference of the cog and a shot glass to remove the centre. The notches were created by using the stem portion of a maple leaf cookie cutter.

The Vanilla Cupcakes were very basic. I used my King Arthur flour with these because I wanted to guarantee a great texture. The frosting was Sub's Plus vanilla buttercream they set aside for us on our cake order. Since Owen's birthday cake was to be finished with fondant with only a thin buttercream crumb coat, we had lots of frosting leftover. I used a pastry bag with a star tip and piled the frosting high. The robot paperliners and toothpick illustrations were purchased from Williams & Sonoma. Worth every penny spent!

Next entry will be all about the party!

Monday, November 15, 2010


Last week was our family vacation to Treasure Island, Florida. 
It was so great to spend time at the beach and by the pool. Even though we were just a short drive from Busch Gardens, we decided to stay close to our hotel and take in the local flavour. Owen still naps twice a day so we had short intervals of outdoor time. Luckily with American networks Nuno got to enjoy HBO and I got to watch all the Martha Stewart shows on Hallmark channel which made Owen's nap time great in our suite.

Here are some highlights; some food related and some not.

Starting off, we went to a place featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives called Keegans Seafood. The food here was fantastic. 
I had stone crab legs and Nuno had a grouper sandwich (actually, grouper cheeks). 
These two seafood dishes are what this part of Florida is renowned for. 
For dessert I had a Key Lime Pie.

On this trip we discovered that Owen loves to go out to eat. It combines his two favourite things, food and catching the attention of others. So we ordered him an entree off the kid's menu which came out on a frisbee. 
This is his new favourite toy, not that he knows how to throw one, but it makes a great drum.
Along with the seafood, Florida has amazing citrus. 
We went to the Orange Blossom three times while on vacation! Of course, the fresh squeezed orange juice from this place was like nothing we drink up here in Canada. I bought several Fallglo Tangerines, but what we were really going back for was their orange/vanilla twist soft serve. 
Again, something that drove Owen wild. He somehow managed to finish every kiddie cup we gave him. He actually screamed for more ice cream when he finished his cup. 

We arrived in Florida just in time to pick up huge discounts on Halloween merchandise at Target. I always wanted my kids to grow up with a tickle trunk of lots of neat costumes to play dress up. I picked up Owen's future Micheal Jackson costume for $2.50! Although MJ died while I was expecting Owen, I'll be sure he grows up learning how to dress up like the King of Pop.
Along with the MJ costume Owen also has magician, gorilla, fire fighter, swamp monster and barbarian costumes for future play.

Oh man, we discovered the most amazing place for Cuban Sandwiches!
The Floridian made the most delicious sandwiches, which are called Cubanos. It includes ham, roasted pork, Genoa salami, Swiss cheese, sliced pickles and mustard on Cuban bread which is really a French bread. So good if you're into sandwiches like I am.

While on vacation we had a small family birthday party for Owen with delicious carrot cake.
This was his first taste of cake and he was quite familiar with the taste of the icing, cream cheese! He licked the frosting first.

We might just have started a yearly tradition of a family vacation to Florida.
This past week away was a time I'll never forget.