Thursday, December 29, 2011

everyday food light

A new Everyday Food book was released on the 27th of December called Everyday Food Light. I was surprised that there was a gimmick behind the latest book. This indicated two things to me - they expect to continue the series(!) and broaden their readership. One major food/diet trend is the New Year's weight loss, so I'm sure this book might appeal to a whole new group of people - those with New Years resolutions to eat more homemade and healthy food. And this book will definitely deliver. I've flipped through it and come across some of my absolute favorite recent recipes which include the Lighter Chef's Salad, Thai Chicken and Noodle Salad, Spring Vegetable Couscous with Chicken, Chicken with Cornmeal Dumplings, Cilantro Lime Rice and Leek, Bacon and Pea Risotto. I'm pleased to see more shrimp recipes because we all really enjoy dinners which include seafood.

Now, just a little bit on food and diet. I've been 140 pounds and 100 pounds in the past 5 years. Since I've been one extreme and the other I can tell you what works for me. I like to be the size I am (between the two) and to maintain a healthy happy weight I've found there are three main factors at work. The first and most important is portion control. In the larger days I'd take second helpings on dinners. I had just learned to cook, successfully, and loved everything I made so thought nothing of going back for more. Not a good idea if you're looking to keep weight off. The second is to be aware of fat in your diet. This one is simple and this Everyday Food Light book pretty much takes care of this part of diet awareness. I don't eat very much processed & packaged foods, which is one thing that will tip you way over on fat intake without realizing it. Finally, I enjoy a good work out and exercise is a  good thing if you enjoy it. I need it because it keeps me more alert, energetic for the day and um... regular. So now that you know much more about me, probably more than you ever wanted to, I hope you continue reading as we eat our way through the Everyday Food Light book. And I might just let you know if we see any weight loss happening because after a week of bacon jam and cookies I think a detox is well in order around these parts.

christmas gift baskets

Growing up, the first sign that Christmas was coming was the arrival of gift baskets. Contractors always sent the most amazing array of chocolates, cheeses, wines, liquors & nuts. I remember as a kid finding it difficult to appreciate these baskets, but now that I've made my own life I realize what an amazing gesture they were and miss them terribly. So I decided to make my own for gift giving. I gave them to people who were hosting Christmas gatherings and have an appreciation for homemade food.
Here is a basket a gave to my in-laws. The wine is from one of our favourite local wineries, Stonechurch which is a sweet Riesling / Gewurztraminer blend that goes over well with those who say they don't like wine. Cheese, Crackers & Tea. I included my summer apricot jam (Anna Olson's recipe), fig jam and bacon jam. Bacon Jam just rocks around the holidays! It fit into just about every meal for us in the past week. We had it spread on our egg in a basket and on waffles some mornings for breakfast and it makes the most perfect left over turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce. Yep, we're livin' large around the holidays.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

post holiday rundown

What a Christmas this year was. This is the first year Owen is aware and able to anticipate in the holiday. He enjoyed meeting & talking about Santa and attempting to make his own Frosty the snowmen with his collection of rubber balls. He sang Christmas carols like Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Jingle Bells. 
Christmas morning Owen only had enough attention span to get through his stocking. 
Here we are enjoying Avo & Avo's nativity. Actually, that's me attempting to teach Owen to keep the rocks and pine cones out of his mouth.
Our holiday included driving over 500 kms from one side of Southern Ontario to the other, visiting with over 50 friends and family. Owen wished everyone "Merry Chris-ke-mas" and thanked everyone for his gifts (of which he was truly spoiled to bits). It was so much fun but there just didn't seem to be enough time throughout the holiday. 
I'd say this photo sums it up best - we're exhausted!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

christmas cookies - yum!

Yesterday was my birthday and I feel pretty lucky to be born close to Christmas. I always take my birthday off work and do things I enjoy which usually includes spending time with those I love, wrapping gifts, eating and baking... lots and lots of baking.
Here is the great assortment Christmas cookies this year. I made these gift tags and tin lids for gift giving so everyone knew which cookies are which. 

My holiday baking plan was to make all the doughs ahead of time, keep them in the fridge & freezer and bake everything two days before Christmas.
Worked like a charm! Every single batch of every cookie turned out perfect. I'm really happy with the taste of everything. Most recipes are from the Martha Stewart Cookies book except the Chocolate Orange Biscotti.
Here we are 4 pounds of butter, one bag of sugar and one bag of powdered sugar later. I polished off my stash of pure vanilla, pecans from Georgia and a 10 kg bag of flour. It was too much fun!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

steak and onion sandwiches

With the leftover steak from the previous night's Steak au Poivre we had this quick Steak and Onion Sandwich from Great Food Fast.
These are delicious! I initially wanted to add provolone and mushrooms to it, but after making the recipe I wouldn't change a thing. With this sandwich, the simpler the better!

steak au poivre

This month's issue of Everyday Food features a recipe for Steak au Poivre. This is basically a New York Strip Steak encrusted in crushed black peppercorns. It really sounded classy, and for a couple who rarely dines out since the baby arrived, this seemed like a wonderful luxury.

So I spent more than I'd usually spend on these steaks and they weren't the best cut. I'd make this again with a rib eye steak. This recipe also yields entirely too much sauce. We ended up with a cup of it when you only need enough to drizzle over. Lastly, it's very difficult to crush peppercorns it looks like we might have to invest in a spice grinder.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

creamy parsnip soup

Here is the other night's Creamy Parsnip Soup. I was looking forward to this one because the ingredient list was quite interesting. I never would have matched parsnips with apples, leeks and potatoes. There is a bit of prep work involved in this, but it didn't require anything more than simmering the ingredients until tender. 
Once complete it had a certain overwhelming odd flavour. The granny smith apples imparted a very strong tartness to the soup which I just couldn't finish. This recipe would probably be a lot better using sweet apples.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

butternut squash soup

We made Everyday Food Great Food Fast's Butternut Squash soup the other night.
And it wasn't great. My biggest beef with this recipe is that it indicates to slice your peeled fresh ginger and simmer it along with the other vegetables. This step went against my inclinations (which is to always grate fresh ginger), but I trusted it enough to go ahead.  Well, the fibrous ginger root did not break down even after pureeing leaving what looked like bull mastiff hairs in the soup. It was so off-putting. Beyond that, the orange juice flavour was too strong and I like having a bit of spice in my soup. I also like butternut squash soup to have a bit of a sour note, so I added a lot of sour cream (yogurt would be great too). The flavours on this one just don't work for me. However, the garnish of Spicy Pumpkin Seeds were delicious! I'm still snacking on them days later.

Friday, December 16, 2011

braised chicken and mushrooms with creamy polenta

This is Braised Chicken and Mushrooms with Creamy Polenta from Great Food Fast and Roasted Cauliflower from Fresh Flavour Fast.
Over and over again I've been attempting to convince Nuno to try polenta again. Last year he bought a tube of prepared polenta and we all decided we didn't like it with its strange battery-acid taste. But this recipe is from-scratch and I thought it was worth trying again. The only way Nuno agreed was when I told him I'd roast cauliflower as well so if he didn't eat the polenta it was still a complete meal.

The polenta was very easy to make and it cooked at the same temperature and time as the Roasted Cauliflower with paprika. The chicken breast was, of course, simple to prepare and the mushroom sauce was easy too. When it came taste test time - sigh, it was total bliss! The flavours are very authentic Italian and I have to compare it to something I'd love to eat at my favourite Italian restaurant. Although everything is delicious on its own, it is heavenly together and in combination. The polenta absorbs some of the mushroom sauce and is so creamy it really made us do a 180 on the idea of polenta. This is a keeper and I know we'll eat this again and again.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

moroccan chicken couscous

What a surprise, this Moroccan Chicken Couscous from Great Food Fast is one incredible dinner. The idea of eating boiled chicken and vegetables (you don't even brown the outside first!) was not appealing at all. This dinner could potentially been bad on so many levels, but it's absolutely delicious. The couscous absorbs the sauce and I love the combination of chickpeas and couscous together. There are many spices that go into this fragrant dinner. The veggies were perfectly cooked - yes, even the boiled zucchini was perfect. I'm so glad we nailed it!
The zucchini eventually got soggy and we had to toss it later that night, but the rest of the ingredients held up and lasted us over 2 meals (we eventually had to trash the rest because it went so far). This dish really is so economical. Owen had second and even third helpings asking for more "couscous" which he sounds so adorable saying. Real keeper.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

new guilty pleasure products

I've recently come across several new & exciting food related items in stores which I just have to share. 
First off is Cinnabon Raisin Swirl bread. We always have cinnamon raisin swirl bread in our freezer because it's such a delicious breakfast (or anytime of day) treat. Sunmaid is the brand found in most grocery stores, but Cinnabon has recently jumped into the market matching Sunmaid's price and is actually less fat/calories/sugar with the added bonus of that unmistakable Cinnabon flavour.
Just in time for the holiday season, Chex Mix is now available in Canada! This still doesn't make up for the fact that Chex only distributes their Rice and Honey flavours of cereal and not their delicious Corn variety. What is up with that? Chex ships their overstock north of the border? Ah well, I'm not sure if Chex Mix is here to stay or if this is strictly a seasonal offering, but get the Chocolate Turtle Chex while you can.

Monday, December 12, 2011

nuno's birthday dinner

Today is Nuno's birthday and last night I made him his special birthday dinner. He's really into seafood so I made him Coconut Shrimp.
I pulled out the deep fryer for this dinner, so you know it's a party if we're fryin'. The coconut shrimp was salt & peppered, dipped in egg whites, then coated in a crumb of blitzed panko and sweetened coconut. It took a bit of time, but was fun. Using a deep fryer was great because it controlled the temperature and helped prevent splatter (especially with a unpredictable toddler running around). I made a dipping sauce as a side with a blend of apricot jam, dijon mustard with salt & pepper while Owen had sweet & sour sauce. These really worked out great and were totally delicious! I think this will be a special occasion dinner in the future for sure.
Nuno's our go-to guy for birthday cakes, but he got a comforting home-cooked dessert instead with this Berries with Cinnamon Dumplings. This was a dessert that Owen could help make. I gave him all the dry ingredients for him to put in the bowl and stir. Once the dumpling topping was in the pan, Owen's quite used to licking the bowl and spoon, but dumplings aren't like batter, so it wasn't tasty for him at all. He had to wait till the dessert was done for the pay-off. I hope the sparkler made up for the wait.

Happy Birthday Nuno! 
Lot's of love,

Saturday, December 10, 2011

chocolate-mint wafer cookies

It's that time of year - time for holiday baking! It seemed a little early, but last week was Owen's daycare Christmas Bake Sale. These Chocolate-Mint Wafers from Everyday Food December 2007 issue are my first batch of cookies.
I chose dark chocolate for the outside coating, but might mix half semi sweet next time around to take the intensity down. But these are delicious. They are very similar the chocolate mint Girl Guide cookies but the interior has a more brownie texture and taste.

Friday, December 9, 2011

baked penne with chicken and sun-dried tomatoes

I needed to make it up after the previous night's fail. With the left over chicken I made this Baked Penne with Chicken and Sun-Dried Tomatoes from the March 2009 issue of Everyday Food magazine. 
We make this many times in the fall and winter months because it's just about the most comforting and warming dinners you can imagine. Want to be a dinner hero? Well, this is the dinner that just about anyone will love, children and adults alike. It's not the easiest to make because you must make a roux and if you're not up for a bit of elbow grease, forget it. But it's well worth the effort because it makes several batches which you can freeze. Or, if you're having a large group over, then this meal is enough to go around. I made it once for my parents and this is the one recipe my dad now very often makes. Vegetarians could simply use a mix of mushrooms in place of chicken and it would be outstanding I'm sure. 
A couple revisions I made this time around that I'll probably stick with is to use cremini mushrooms because the flavour is so much better than button mushrooms. And Pennine Rigate, which is a smaller type of penne and works great for a baked pasta.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

roasted chicken and vegetables

We’re on such a winning streak with dinner lately I decided to take a chance on a vegetable I’ve always hated - acorn squash! The texture, smell and taste have always made my stomach turn, but I’m always willing to revisit something again every few years to see if things have changed. So I made Roasted Chicken with Vegetables from Everyday Food Great Food Fast. It was straightforward enough to prepare and I was convinced it was a winner.
Sadly enough, it was not. Despite accidentally forgetting to add the red onion, I doubt that could have saved this one. Not only could I not stomach it, Owen rightfully refused to eat it and Nuno didn’t enjoy it either.  The cremini mushrooms were just about the only thing good about this meal.  Yes, nothing has changed, acorn squash still retains every single aversive property I remember as a child.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

pasta with prosciutto and peas

This is Pasta with Prosciutto and Peas from Great Food Fast.
We love this flavour combination, especially for risotto. The ratio of ingredients is spot-on in this recipe and it really is delicious but I doubt I'd ever have it in linguine again. Ingredients like peas tend to roll to the bottom of the bowl and pairing it with linguine doesn't help things.That's why it works so much better for a risotto. Tasting all the delicious ingredients in one bite has become very important to me since Owen came along. To help, I pull out my handy kitchen shears and go to town on dinners like these for him. But it really is a delicious dinner and if you haven't tried it I really don't think you've lived until you've had parmesan, lemon, prosciutto and peas together.

Monday, December 5, 2011

glazed pork tenderloin with pineapple

The other night I made Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Pineapple from Great Food Fast. 
We love hoisin sauce but it's not very often you come across recipes that call for it. But this one uses hoisin and fresh ginger to create a really nice depth of flavour. Pork was perfectly cooked, nice and sweet. To round things out I sliced red potatoes with Italian seasoning and pepper and timed them to bake in the oven so they were ready when we got home. All three of us loved this dinner.

recipe to riches review

I'm not much of a TV watcher but there is a new show here in Canada on the Food Network called Recipe to Riches. It features homecooks entering their most prized recipe into a contest to win $250,000 and have their recipe become a President's Choice food product. Sweet! Every week there are three contestants who enter their recipe into a batch-up challenge to attempt to translate it to the mass market. The first part of the show is like the first few episodes of American Idol where judges ridicule and praise. The final winner of each episode has their recipe available in all Weston/Loblaw supermarkets. I've been making every attempt to tune in to this show because it is pretty cool to see a cross section of Canadians share their culinary stories. I know, for me, my favourite recipes are ones that have been in families for generations and the stories behind them. It took a 'tax-free' Saturday to lure me into Zehers this weekend where I purchased two of the winning contestants products. The first was Grandma Glo's Lemon Pudding and the second is The Smart Cookie.  
Superficially, what is with this packaging? It's horrid! The illustrations are so gawdy. Strictly from a designer perspective they really are super unattractive.
Now for the taste-test. Grandma Glo's Luscious Lemon Pudding is easy to bake and is simply to-die-for. This soft warm pudding cake is everything I love in a dessert. Anyone who enjoys lemon desserts must try this. It tastes homemade and is just outstanding.
The Gluten-Free Smart Cookies, well, they are another story. They are light and crispy, which can be nice, but they are so sicky sweet they are almost inedible. The love the coconut flavour coming through, but you are hit with too much sugar & spice making them too intense. I'm not quite sure I'll try all the contestants entries because I'm more of a 'make it yourself' type.
This Wednesday Recipe To Riches is having a marathon back to back of all episodes (on Food Network Canada which is now on free preview for those who do not subscribe). The winner will be determined by nationwide vote beginning that same day.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

chicken stir-fry wraps

These Chicken Stir-Fry Wraps from Everyday Food Great Food Fast were our third night with chicken and I had to wonder if we were getting a little redundant. But luckily this meal was so tasty it didn't feel boring at all. We had leftover white rice from the previous nights chicken fried rice and that really rounded out this dinner. I never snapped a photo, but the addition of rice along with the chicken stir fry was quite necessary. 
Nuno and I ate ours wrapped Boston lettuce leaves while Owen had a bowl of rice topped with the chicken stir-fry. We were surprised with how delicious it is to wrap the filling in lettuce. I assumed it was a diet take on what should have been tortillas. But it was so much better with the lettuce because it was more similar to a spring roll. The contrast of the cool lettuce leaf and the warm chicken filling was incredible.

Friday, December 2, 2011

chicken fried rice

Back when I was cooking through Everyday Food Fresh Flavour Fast I made Shiitake Fried Rice. All I could think was that I much prefer my own Chicken Fried Rice. As much as I love veggies, I like my chicken fried rice very basic. This is the dinner we make when we don't know what to make because most of the ingredients are pantry/freezer staples. However, this Chicken Fried Rice takes a bit of planning and prep. The best way to make this recipe work is to cook your rice the day before and to use left-over chicken. This week I baked an extra boneless skinless chicken breast with the previous night's dinner specifically for the fried rice. 

Chicken Fried Rice
4 eggs, beaten
1 tsp butter
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 small white onion, diced
1 1/2 c cooked chicken, diced
1/2 tsp - 1 tsp dried chili flakes
2 scallions, thinly sliced
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp lime juice or rice wine vinegar
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tsp sesame seeds (we used black last night)

Heat wok over medium heat. Melt butter and cook eggs for omelette with salt & pepper. Remove from pan, slice and set aside.
Heat vegetable and sesame oil in wok over medium high heat and cook garlic, ginger and onion for 2 minutes. Add chicken and cooked rice until heated through. Add scallions and dried chili and combine. Combine soy and lime juice and taste for seasoning. Add egg and finish with sprinkled sesame seeds.

We usually just eyeball the amount of rice so I always adjust the seasoning once it's complete. It's best to let it sit for a few minutes once complete and it is even better the next day as leftovers.