Friday, February 25, 2011

give a big 'grrrr' for growler!

I recently discovered how much fun it is to buy Growler's at Consumer's Beverage in WNY. I guess to start I should explain what a growler is for a few of you who may not know. Don't worry, it seems like every border agent doesn't know what they are when we declare them. It's a half gallon of beer in a glass jug.
The novelty of these is that Consumer's has 8 - 10 taps which you can fill and try different beers. Being parents to a one year old we obviously don't get out for a pint much these days. I think beer from draught tastes quite different than from bottles, so this is a neat way of tasting lots of different microbrews that don't make their way to Canada. For Valentines Day I bought Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (which was a whopping 10%!). And this weekend I picked up a growler of Southern Tier's Ne'tra Gal. Katie picked up Rhorbach Scottish Ale.

We especially got a kick out of the nylon 'growler cozies' they sell at Consumers. They were not very cute with an airbrushed art style. It gave me the idea to ask Katie if she could knit a 'growler cozy'. I bet she could even start her own shop selling them along with wine bottle cozies.

Monday, February 21, 2011

family day yo gabba gabba party!

Since Ontario implemented "Family Day" a few years ago, we've actually observed the holiday for its true purpose. This year was no different with having my sister stay with us for some quality Owen time. It's a little difficult to have parties these days, but we managed to blend everyone's interests into a Yo Gabba Gabba watching marathon / party. 
We pulled off this party on a spur-of-the-moment. Nuno and I decided to make a celebratory cake that morning and got right to work. I baked the Busy Day Chocolate Cake early and once cooled Nuno shaped and decorated the cake.
Here's Nuno helping Muno come together with a blanket of bright orange fondant.
After purchasing a couple chocolate discs and M&M's at Bulk Barn the cake was complete.

We ate these Brobee nachos for dinner.
Owen isn't really of TV watching age, and I'm certainly not on board with plopping him in front of the Treehouse TV as a sitter. But he had fun catching a few clips here and there and recognized the Muno cake dad made. We had so much fun together and I have to admit, I'm totally hooked on Yo Gabba Gabba.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

baked tortellini with bacon

I blog to you a trifecta of comfort in this Baked Tortellini with Bacon from Everyday Food December 2010. Cheese, pasta, bacon... I think I'll have to pull an Ina Garten here and ask, "Does it get any better?"
This recipe is a comfort food treasure that I much prefer to Macaroni & Cheese (which I've never been able to perfect). It's quick, it's easy and pantry/freezer staples. We double the recipe so it will last several meals and bake only our dinner portions to prevent it from drying out. Works great! I guess it goes without saying that Owen loves it too.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

cubano sandwich

Man, one the best sandwiches I've ever tasted was a Cuban Sandwich at the Floridian on our recent trip to Treasure Island, Florida. I still talk about it all these months later. Well, I was flipping through some back issues of Everyday Food and they had their own version of a Cubano Sandwich (from November 2009). I was just dying to give it a go!

To make a cubano you start with a seasoned pork roast, which I made from Everyday Food's Roasted Pork with Onions & Citrus. We had a side of Cuban Red Beans and Rice. Both these dishes use fresh oregano and loads of garlic. I guess these, along with citrus, are key flavour components to Cuban cuisine. I made a Cuba Libre to have with mine. Hey, I'm no longer pregnant or nursing so I'm livin' it up!
Anyhow, this dinner was beyond delicious! We kept commenting on how much we enjoyed it the rest of the evening. Owen was shoveling in the rice dish as if it was no ones business and particularly enjoyed picking out the kidney beans and eating them on their own.
The rest of the pork roast was used the next day to make our Cuban Sandwiches. The recipe originally asked for it to be made on a Portuguese bun, which we were hoping to get in Brampton over the weekend, but since our plan fell through we opted to use a baguette. The Floridian uses this type of bread on their award winning Cuban sandwich so it was A-OK by me.
This sandwich is pretty basic when you get down to it. Layer both sides of the baguette with yellow mustard, a layer of thinly sliced cuban pork, deli ham to taste, layer of swiss cheese and a layer of pickles. We then lightly oiled our frying pan and pressed the sandwiches.

The Floridian's Cubanos also include Genoa salami, which is a regional thing. Next time I might give that a try. I really can't wait to make the whole dinner again and I think we all agreed that we want this dinner as a regular staple around here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

valentine whoopie pies

So Owen is giving valentine cards, I'm giving out Valentine Whoopie Pies. Some to coworkers, some to friends and some to the day care workers who do such a wonderful job caring for Owen during the day.
I guess these are considered cookies, but they are very cake-like. The filling is a buttercream rolled in sanding sugar. A homemade Oreo Cakester or think of them as a much sturdier cupcake. Perfect for bagging and gifting!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

owen's valentine

Ahh... love is in the air this Valentines Day. An essential part of celebrating valentines in childhood is giving valentines to your friends. So Nuno and I put together a quick valentine card for Owen to give.
It started out as an idea of Owen giving valentines to all 5 of his baby girlfriends. He's in a daycare infant room with no other boys. So he's the little stud of the group.
 Each valentine is personalized.
I picture all the little baby girls opening their valentine to the song Boyfriend by Best Coast.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

valentines chocolate cake

I'm not the sort of person who takes shortcuts in the kitchen. If I have to melt chocolate, I find it easier to use a double boiler instead of the microwave. If I want chocolate cake I don't buy a box of Dunan Hines. I'm not stating this as a point of personal pride, but rather out of necessity because if a recipe is too easy I inevitably screw it up. Every batch of Rice Krispie Squares I've made has been a disaster, but I don't bat an eyelash at tackling divinity. I guess I need a little challenge in my life to get things right. Or maybe I just love the process of creating delicious food and need to be engaged in order to be successful. Whatever the reason, it's getting a little more difficult to take on time-consuming challenges in the kitchen between motherhood and my 9-5 job. 

But I may have discovered the happy medium in this Busy Day Chocolate Cake that falls just short of boxed cake and icing. I was picking through Mad Hungry on the weekend and became intrigued by a chocolate cake recipe that didn't require eggs or butter. Not only that - it is mixed in the very pan it bakes! No clean-up dance!! In a matter of minutes I got to work on making my Valentines chocolate cake.

Now for the frosting. On the theme of quick and easy I chose to make 7 Minute Frosting from Everyday Food March 2005. This frosting is a meringue style frosting that whips over a double boiler till it quadruples in volume. Seven minutes only indicates the amount of time you whip this frosting on the double boiler - then another 3 after that. And, in my case, another 7 minutes cleaning frosting splatters off the backsplash & counter from the hand mixer. This frosting is exactly what I like, light and guilt-free. 
As for the cake, it's quite good for something so simple and old-fashioned. It tastes like a traditional chocolate cake similar to a boxed kind with a spongy texture and mellow chocolate flavour. It certainly isn't as delicious as the two chocolate cakes from Everyday Food or The Cake Bible, but for a one pan wonder with pantry staples, this works just fine!

note: OK, the whole cake is eaten and I immediately want to make another... yeah, it's good!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

sweet potato and chipotle soup

There is this handy feature that our oven has where you can program it to bake. I'm finding this a useful luxury now that I'm a strapped for time working mom. It's no good for meats because you must be able to leave what you're baking/roasting in the oven all day, but it's particularly useful for roasting vegetables. It typically takes 40 minutes to properly roast potatoes/sweet potatoes, so I wash, cut and season my potato wedges in the morning and pop them in the oven to begin roasting at 4:30pm. By the time we get home and the rest of the dinner complete, we have perfectly roasted potatoes/sweet potatoes. Potatoes are very forgiving and if they are ready just a little early, the oven also has a 'hold' feature that keeps food warm without over-cooking and drying out (great for keeping deep fried food in limbo while you work in batches).
That said, I was trying a new roasted sweet potato spice blend from 'Mad Hungry' with a combo of brown sugar, salt, cumin and cayenne to eat alongside our old fashion cheeseburgers. I made so many sweet potatoes that we had a ton of leftovers that I decided to make a quick Roasted Sweet Potato and Chipotle Soup. I altered it based on, you guessed it, this handy Everyday Food recipe (published December 2009) by holding back on the spices and seasoning since the sweet potatoes were already seasoned. Once complete a dollop of sour cream adds richness and a velvety texture. This is a wonderful & warming middle of winter soup.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

slow cooker carne guisada

Another slow cooker day came in perfect time with that no-storm last Wednesday, which held Ontario in limbo but gave us all a nice family / mental health day we so rightfully deserved. I decided to make Slow Cooker Carne Guisada (from Everyday Food November 2010) without any knowledge of what it was that I was making. It just sounded good and used up the rest of an oven roast we had in the freezer.
So what is Carne Guisada? After makings it - it's basically a Mexican beef stew. And a mighty good one at that. I dislike stew, but loved this! The only issue I found with this recipe is that it rendered a lot of liquid (gravy). Which made it difficult to eat it in tacos. Kinda sloppy, but super tasty. You know that awesome beef and cheddar flavour? This nails it!

The flavour improves after a day (along with the texture, as the gravy firms up a bit). I'd definitely make this again because a cheap cut of roast in the Slow Cooker Carne Guisada really stretches the meal and dollar.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

slow cooker spicy buffalo chicken sandwiches

I'm finding myself hooked on my slow cooker these days. It's not like I'll be firing this baby up in the spring and summer months, so I might as well get the most use out of it while it's in season. Not only that, it's been a lifesaver during the week for our dinners.

Slow-Cooker Spicy Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches (from the most recent issues of Everyday Food Jan/Feb 2011) is a meal that sounds a lot better than it really was. Buffalo wings are one on my favourite things and if it were up to me I'd douse half of what I eat with hot sauce. It might just be because we had slow cooker pulled pork the day before, but chicken doesn't break down to that melt-in-your-mouth consistency that makes slow-cooker shredded meat so insanely good. I also made the mistake of eating these on burger buns, and like sloppy joe's, you need a bun that can stand up to moisture like an egg-y bun. Consensus: just not worth making this one again.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

chocolate-cherry clusters

Is anyone out there into dark chocolate with dried cherries? I discovered this combo less than a year ago and it's now my special go-to indulgent treat. That's why I was only too excited to try these Chocolate-Cherry Clusters from the most recent issue of Everyday Food magazine (Jan/Feb).

This is a pantry dessert if there ever was one. Only three ingredients and I had them all on hand last week when I was home with a sick Owen. Cornflakes, dried cherries and baker's semisweet chocolate. I had initially thought this would be a great bake sale treat because I'm always on the look out for nut-free baking.  But after tasting them they are definitely more adult in flavour. Probably because I used 60% cocoa baking chocolate. But how I love these. Oh, and did I mention that they are no-bake? Yeah, if you don't bake, this is your treat!