Wednesday, February 29, 2012

swiss chard with toasted breadcrumbs

Rather than throw away the roasted vegetables from last night, I opted to make them into something actually edible. First I rinsed off all the crazy strong dry mustard seasoning and then make them into a frittata (using the Potato and Onion Frittata recipe from Great Food Fast). Yep, worked like a charm. Delicious, but would have been a lot better if I'd just eliminated the pears completely. Oh well, I don't think I'll be roasting sweet potatoes and pears together again. 
Seems like everyone is talking about kale these days, I haven't found a way to actually enjoy that particular leafy green. Instead, swiss chard does it for me. I made a side of Swiss Chard with Toasted Breadcrumbs from Great Food Fast as a side to the frittata. With this recipe I revised it quite a bit. I sauteed onions and garlic in olive oil and then cooked the chard. For the breadcrumbs I added a little parmesan for extra flavour. What works with this recipe is the contrast between the soft leaves and the crispy crunchy breading. Really nice!
Finally for dessert I whipped up some Roasted Fruit from Great Food Fast. In this combination I used nectarines and plums. The finished dessert is very 'adult' in taste. I think it's the rosemary that gives it a fragrance and bite that I knew Owen would reject. These two fruits aren't my personal favourites and I had hopes they'd improve roasting in sugar, unfortunately the nectarines are bland and the plums are too tart. Yeah, I just tossed it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

lemon parsley pork chops, roasted pears and sweet potatoes and yellow rice pilaf

Well, if at first you don't succeed, try try again. Actually, that's not true - I had to use up a value pack of chops so we were stuck trying another pork chop recipe - yippee! This time I'm the wiser and gave us options on the side. Here we have Lemon Parsley Pork Chops with two sides - Roasted Pears and Sweet Potatoes and Yellow Rice Pilaf.
Let's start with the Lemon Parsley Pork Chops from Great Food Fast. These are great! The cooking technique is simple but wonderful. The chops rendered a nice pan jus which helped blend the Lemon Parsley topping. All the flavours were really great together. 

Then we have Roasted Pears and Sweet Potatoes from Great Food Fast which had a totally ingenious technique for chopping sweet potatoes leaving lots of coverage for seasoning and browning making them like bite-sized chips. Both the pears and sweet potatoes were cooked beautifully but the seasoning of a combination of dry mustard, ginger and cayenne was just retched. My goodness, it was spicy and over the top. Basically inedible. 

Luckily, like I said, options - we had Yellow Rice Pilaf. I can't bring myself to buy those packets of seasoned rice, even if they are tasty for kids. I just felt it was easier to know exactly what was going into my rice instead of a bunch of preservatives and crazy-high sodium. Having said that, I didn't have much hope for this rice because it seemed too simple. Boy, was I wrong - this rice is outstanding. The turmeric dyed my favourite wood rice paddle yellow, which stinks, but it was so great Owen went nuts over it. This is a super great side for kids.

Monday, February 27, 2012

owen's world

Just a few recent moments spending time with our sweet Owen.

Owen's an "Incrediblow".

Owen's unique ski bum style - sunglass and crochet hat & mitts.

Who needs a rocking chair when you have cozy and soft fabric boxes?

Looks like Nuno will have some good help shoveling our 50 foot driveway in winters to come.

crispy apricot pork chops with baby broccoli with orange sauce

I'm not sure where to begin with this dinner. I suppose this Crispy Apricot Pork Chops with Baby Broccoli with Orange Sauce from Great Food Fast had potential to be tasty. Next to spaghetti squash, I also have a strong aversion to pork chops. But I had hoped that this would breathe life into my close-minded opinion.
This dinner made a whole lot of mess in the kitchen from the food processor, to baking sheets, to many utensils. Unfortunetly, there isn't any pay-off with this dinner - just start to finish pain. The pork chops were not crispy, just heavy and the apricot flavour didn't come through at all. The shallots came out very bitter. The broccolini is barely edible and I'm not sure there is any way to cook it without it going from too tough to too stringy. Thumbs down, way down.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

creamy shells with tuna and spinach

Is there a way to improve on something as perfect as Mediterranean Tuna Noodle Casserole? Well, we were up for a switch-up when the latest issue of Everyday Food Magazine (Feb 2012) published Creamy Shells with Tuna and Spinach. Although the recipe is to stuff giant shells, I figured it was a great way to use of the other half of an open bag of small shells. The rest of the ingredients were all items we had in the house needing to be used up as well.
Here it is - and doesn't it look institutional? I could honestly imagine this served at a school cafeteria meeting unanimous disapproval. This recipe is the kind of tuna casserole that gives it it's bad name. 

The first thing that doesn't work about this recipe is using pasta. I find egg noodles are light enough that you are able to enjoy the texture of the tuna. In this, the tuna gets lost amongst the pasta and spinach. Speaking of spinach, it's very overwhelming and this dinner in particular brings out all the qualities that make people dislike spinach so much. It can be used to enhance and sometimes be cleverly hidden - but this is a giant spinach whack in the mouth. 

Having said all that, I still didn't have too much trouble enjoying it. We won't be making it again, but it's not the worst tuna casserole I've ever eaten.

Friday, February 24, 2012

cereal bars

Anna Olson published 3 small 'candy petit fours' recipes in her book Another Cup of Sugar that looked and sounded so delicious. The Chocolate Banana Slices recipe in particular was just too interesting to pass up. They are actually a cereal bar, but are seriously the tastiest granola bar you can imagine. The bars are a great way of helping to clean out an overflowing baking drawer of almost-empty bags of misc ingredients. For these bars I ended up using a box of President's Choice On Track cereal that we didn't like very much on it's own but tastes PERFECT in these bars. 
I added half a cup of peanut butter chips, but besides that and the cereal I stayed true to the rest of the recipe.
These were perfect for Owen to help bake with me. Here's Owen helping by dumping all the pre-measured scoops of ingredients together in a bowl. Which then went into the food processor for a quick whirl.
After the addition of a syrup of honey, butter and vanilla they get pressed into a parchment lined pan.
And here we are. What an amazing sweet-salty combo they have going on. I love the addition of banana chips in these bars which helps create a totally unique flavour.
I think these could work as a bake sale treat if you eliminate any cereal that includes nuts as well as peanut butter chips. I decided against the final step of white chocolate drizzle because they are great on their own, but for a dessert to share it would make for a beautiful presentation.

tandoori chicken with yogurt sauce

Apparently you can make Tandoori Chicken at home using the recipe from Great Food Fast. I've had some of the best tandoori chicken, so I had a difficult time believing that a couple spices could emulate the real deal.
I left the chicken to marinate all day in the yogurt based sauce and am glad I did. This is a very mild, but tasty chicken dinner slightly reminiscent of tandoori chicken. It really doesn't have all of the qualities I love about tandoori chicken, but that is OK. This is delicious in it's own. It was especially delicious paired with naan bread. What wasn't great was the apple yogurt side which was just odd.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

coconut-pineapple loaf cake

The cake I baked to eventually become Wheel's bum cake was this Coconut-Pineapple Loaf. I only decided to bake it because the loaf gave us the general shape we were after and I had all the ingredients in the house, so we hit the ground running.
Here is the finished cake. The coconut on top toasts up nicely and it really is a great recipe. A good tip in making this loaf is to drain and squeeze out as much moisture from the pineapple chunks. If I make it again in the future I think I'll give them a rough chop because they seemed a little too large baked into the cake. But the cake is quite moist and dense, which made it perfect for carving. It eventually ended up in a layer of frosting and fondant, which changed the cake completely. It is SO much better without all the icing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

pancake tuesday

I love calender events that guide us in a food-centric direction. So, let's celebrate Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day. We usually make crepes because they are more versatile. We had leftover bechamel from the Croque Monsieur, so along with Roasted Asparagus from Great Food Fast that made for delicious crepes.
And for a variation on the sweeter side, I really love my crepes simple with the juice a lemon wedge and sprinkle of white sugar and rolled. It's really quite amazing how much it tastes like a lemon meringue pie - or a lighter version of.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

croque monsieur and croque madame

Whenever I go out for brunch if I spot a Croque Monsieur / Madame on the menu I'm sold. This is a breakfast sandwich done French-style - so it's that much better. It dawned on me recently that I didn't necessarily have to go out to enjoy one, I could learn to make my own. Believe it or not, it is not difficult - just a little time consuming. And when do you have more time in the morning for something like this than a long weekend? 

Since Katie was visiting we decided to make it happen this weekend.  We followed Bar Boululd's Croque Monsieur recipe and it is wonderful!
Fairly straight forward to make, I'm thinking we wouldn't try it any other way. This sandwich is everything you'd want in a special brunch. The gruyere cheese blends with the bechamel sauce making it creamy and flavorful. To the left is our Croque Madame (when you add a fried egg on top). 
The Croque Monsieur sliced shows the layers of cheese and ham.

Most of the time nothing beats the standard Cheese, Egg and Ham English Muffin Sandwich which I will often eat for lunch. Here is something I made up on a whim for Owen this past long weekend, Green Eggs and Ham.
I added the tiniest drop of green food colouring to the milk on his scrambled eggs. The addition of avocados really brought out the colour. He loves his scrambled eggs and avocados.

Monday, February 20, 2012

everybody wants something that will never give up...

We kept our tradition of having my sister stay over this past Family Day Weekend. This goes way beyond catching up over dinner - we decidedly make this event into a theme party. We are no strangers to the idea of over-board parties with our Michael Jackson Tribute Party a few years ago to last year's Yo Gabba Gabba Family Day Party. This year was starting to look like an inspirational dud when we were tossing around the idea of a Whitney Houston Memorial. But everything changed when word came through that Wheels from Degrassi had died (not lately - like 5 years ago!). Since the majority of people keeping up with this blog are from the U.S., I should explain who this is and what it means to not only me - but Canada!

Wheels was a main character from Degrassi - the original teen drama TV series airing in the late 80's & early 90's. He first started as Griff in Kids of Degrassi, then as Wheels straight through Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High. He was a reluctant cultural forefather of the overused term "Canadian Tuxedo". 
As one of the core group of Degrassi characters, his character's plot line revolves around the loss of his parents in a drinking and driving accident to never fully recover from the event. We watch his continued struggles and decline as he strains every friendship and relationship on the show. His plot was always the one that tugged at my heart-strings, as silly as that sounds. Luckily the VHS production and keyboard soundtrack take any depth of drama and unintentionally lighten it up. Growing up watching Degrassi was an experience that hold's a strong place in my coming-of-age years in high school. 

To say I was a fan of Degrassi is an understatement. It bordered on obsession in the 90's where my best friend and I related much our day-to-day high school lives to the characters on Degrassi. We'd hang out after school to watch the episodes on CBC for the 20th time, over and over again. My sister even got into it along with her high school friends. Before Degrassi was kitch, and anonymity was still capable because of the infancy of internet searches, we went to a Degrassi reunion in 1999 and our small convention made the front page of the Toronto Star (that's us doing the can can with 'Liz'). 
Then the flood-gates opened for a total "reunion" and renewed interest in catching up with the actors. A youth-geared talk show called Jonovision reunited many of the former cast where we attended the show and mingled all the actors.
We had a lot of fun in those years and I think our zealous fandom helped to convince CTV to relaunch the Degrassi franchise which continues to run to this day.

Fast forward to today, Katie and I celebrated our Wheels Wake Sunday night by taking out every Wheels-centric episode of Degrassi and giving them a good re-watch. To liven up the affair, I baked a cake and had Nuno make it into Wheel's tight-fitting light jeans. 
The shape in the pocket - that's a dime. A tribute to one of our favourite Degrassi High lines from Alison, "Wheels? His jeans are so tight you could read a date on a dime." 
We reminisced about our favourite Degrassi moments & growing up watching Degrassi over fries. Here I am in my Canadian Tuxedo at the Wheels Wake.
So I guess what we were actually quite surprised to conclude after re-watching the Wheels episodes was how his real life must not have been terribly different from the character he was portraying. Particularly painful to watch were the scenes of him on the street soaking wet in a phone booth calling everyone he knew attempting to find a place to stay for the night. To think he died while living in a group home in Hamilton - alone. Well, it truly makes me sad to think it came to that for him.

Friday, February 17, 2012

lentil walnut burger

I wonder if there is a point to eating a vegetarian burger when we're meat eaters? Is that not taking away the best part of a burger?  I'm thinking about 30% of our meals are vegetarian, but not for any other reason than variety. So why not try one of the most obvious of vegetarian options? 

We're quite used to 2 steps and a burger is complete - but the prep on these Lentil Walnut Burgers from Great Food Fast had us working in a whole lot of extra steps in prep. As the burgers were being formed into patties, they had the texture of playing with wet sand. Then to become all the more appetizing, the complete patties looked just like canned dog food. But it takes more than that to kill my appetite. Here is the complete burger, delicious?
Yes! These are absolutely incredible. Owen actually took the patty out and ate it first with ketchup then ate the bun. The toasted walnuts and grill pan gave these burgers a hint of summer - which in February is so nostalgic and welcoming.
The patty is quite fragrant with spices, so I think this might only really work with the accompaniment of the Yogurt-Cilantro Sauce. It really is very very nice - we'd totally have this again.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

mediterranean chicken stew

Here is our Mediterranean Chicken Stew from Great Food Fast. 
The ingredient list sounded a little strange, but we're willing to give anything a go around here. The recipe called for 5 kalamata olives, so I actually went to the deli counter and asked for exactly 5 which the Sobey's employee met me with a perplexed look when passing them over. This recipe could use at least twice that number of olives because I really like that salty bite. We love polenta now, so we only use this Oven Baked Polenta recipe when preparing it. It always turns out creamy and comforting. Owen loves it so much he asks for polenta by name now. Overall, this is a really great recipe that was super quick and simple to put together.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

shrimp & grits

Oh, we've been wanting to try Shrimp & Grits for years now. Probably just the novelty of it since we couldn't be further from the American south. So we had Saucy Shrimp & Grits from Everyday Food Light.
I can tell, this must be one of those meals that is strictly comfort food for people who grew up enjoying it. I don't have an appreciation for it and neither did the rest of the family. First, we had to shop in the US to find good grits. We made the grits according to the box's directions, but added about 3 oz of aged white cheddar. This was actually a step not indicated in the recipe, but thank goodness we did, because it was the saving grace. We all love shrimp and it was perfectly cooked tender, but something about all these ingredients together just doesn't work. I'm starting to get worried about this Everyday Food Light book...

Monday, February 13, 2012

valentines cakes

Do you have any of those novelty pans that bake shapes? I got sucked into buying heart ones years and years ago while on a Target shopping spree. Then I got home and thought, where the heck am I going to keep these?! This year I was determined to use them. 
Two recipes which really work well for shaped pans are the Glazed Lemon Cupcakes and Gingerbread Swirl Cake from Great Food Fast. A coworker of mine was leaving for maternity so I made both of these cakes for her going away shower. I like the variety both of these desserts offer because when you bake for groups you always get people who 'don't eat chocolate' or ' just want a small piece'. Luckily, both these desserts were a hit everyone tried one of each and loved them both. So super easy to bake up I managed both back to back. The other nice thing is that I had all the ingredients already in the house.
The Glazed Lemon Cupcakes are an all around pleasant dessert. I have trouble imagining anyone who wouldn't love them. The lemon flavour is tart but there is enough sugar to balance. They are very light, moist and quite intense in flavour right out the oven, but are even better the next day. With a spray of oil and flour in the heart moulds they popped right out without any trouble, not a single one crumbled or stuck.
This Chocolate Swirl Gingerbread Cake, admittedly, I've made before and knew it was wonderful. I really love it for it's simplicity (this cake rivals the Busy Day Chocolate Cake). It's also a very nice and unexpected cake that I really don't think has to be served at Christmas. In fact, I always make it in the dead of winter when I have molasses leftover from Christmas. This cake is a great winter cake to bake when you don't want to leave the house, but want a fool-proof dessert. It is so moist, slightly rich and dense. Unlike the lemon cupcakes, this cake can stay around for several days airtight. I love both of these desserts and they are perfect to build confidence for a novice baker.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

baked shells with winter squash

I am so pumped up about this dinner of Baked Shells with Winter Squash. It is only cooking through Everyday Food Great Food Fast that I would have tried this. The title isn't appealing and I'm not so big on pasta these days. Not only that, I couldn't find frozen winter squash puree anywhere in Canada. I stopped looking and went to the US and found it easily at Wegmans. I'm sure Whole Foods in Canada would have it. If I stumble on it I'll blog about it because this is a MUST TRY!
The flavour isn't really squash-y at all. It's actually tastes more like caramelized onions and rosemary. The parmesan sets it all off and the squash adds body and richness. Then there is a really nice contrast between the baked shells and toasted baguette cubes that sets you to 'died and gone to heaven on a plate.'

Sigh, with each passing day I wish I was eating this instead - that's truly how outstanding it is. I'm going out for a Valentines dinner tonight, but with the snow on the ground I'm thinking I'd almost rather be eating this. It's so crazy food creative, if I was ever to highly recommend a recipe, this is the one.

Friday, February 10, 2012

listen loud

It's not always easy finding new music that I can really connect with since turning 30. I’m not sure why that is, I do give most indie bands an honest chance. Two bands that I love & continue to are Wye Oak & Deerhunter.

I discovered Wye Oak the old fashioned way – a music video on The Wedge. I knew right away from their sound that they were something I'd enjoy listening to. So I bought their albums from the iTunes Store. They sound like Cat Power’s album “What Would The Community Think?” with an elements of intense rock-out similar to Yo La Tengo. I'm itching to see them live.

For years now I've been non-stop loving Deerhunter. I think this band is creating some of the best and most unique rock music of this time. I discovered Deerhunter because I really loved Atlas Sound first (Bradford Cox is the frontman of both bands).

If anyone would like to share their recommendations of music they've been enjoying I'd love to hear!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

sole with lemon-butter sauce

I sometimes read notes Owen's daycare leaves behind about what he's been eating and enjoying. His daycare offers an amazing variety of food, just as diverse as our dinners at home, so I figured his log could help us decide on what to have for dinner. One recent note was that he "loved the lemon fish", and after recently working on room service menus that included appetizing descriptions of Lemon Sole I knew we had to make it happen. So we decided to try the recipe for Sole with Lemon-Butter Sauce from Great Food Fast.
I've always thought it was pretty to roll sole fillets, but there is method behind this presentation. It keeps the fish moist and it's actually a lot easier to eat. We decided on a side of Lemon Pea Orzo (no recipe here, just as the name states along with olive oil, s&p). Just like the daycare log indicated, Owen LOVED this dinner. Both sole and orzo are mild, so a little lemon, salt & pepper go a long way. The only downside to this dinner is that we came across a couple small pin bones while eating sole, so I'm a little hesitant to make this dinner a regular thing. But it was very nice and light dinner that pleased all three of us.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

owen's saturday morning muffins

Every other Saturday morning Owen helps me make muffins. Most of the time they are Raisin Bran muffins but this week we added blueberries to the recipe. Nuno was using the iPod as we were baking and he caught some cute moments.

Here's Owen's big job of lining the muffin tin. He's very good at this job, but even better at counting.

Then he helps by mixing the ingredients. Here he is mixing the wet ingredients into the dry, "Stir, Stir, Stir".

He then stopped for a musical interlude as I filled the batter into the tray.

This is the moment he's been waiting for - licking the bowl and spoon time!

So, what'd ya think? Is he not slated to be the youngest Food Network star, or what?!

Monday, February 6, 2012

spicy black-bean cakes

We're not big sports fans around here, but for some reason (probably the timing of the event in boring February) we always celebrate Superbowl.  It doesn't matter who plays, we just get together at my parents with homemade pizza and Buffalo wings and watch the game. My dad watches for the game and the rest of us for the commercials. My parents get DirectTV which is a feed from the US, so we are super lucky we don't have to suffer through the Canadian ads. This year I wanted a bit of a switch-up from what we usually have. So I decided to make these Spicy Black-Bean Cakes from Great Food Fast along with my guacamole. 
These cakes are a mixture of black beans, sweet potato and bread crumbs with Mexican seasoning. They were very time consuming to make and managed to dirty half the kitchen, so for a snack food I really don't think it's worth the effort. These taste very similar to a burrito mix I make probably because the cumin flavour is quite overwhelming. But we all enjoyed them and I have to admit, if I ordered these as an appetizer at a restaurant I'd be happy with them. There is a side of cilantro sour cream (which is delicious!) and I also paired my guacamole with them. Here Owen is showing how he is the guest no one wants to invite to parties since he not only double dips, he also drops chips in the dip and stuffed dog toys.
Well, he more than made up for it when he caught a glimpse of Madonna and proclaimed, "Man!" as she was flexing her arms.

Friday, February 3, 2012


I've never been a big meatloaf fan but my husband loves it. I've tried on numerous occasions to make a good one, most of the time ending up with something that tastes too beefy. That's why when I found a recipe in C is for Cooking (the Sesame Street cookbook) for Cookie Monster's Me-Love-Mini-Meat-Loaves, I thought it would surely be a good one if it is recommended for kids. 

This meatloaf recipe is a blend of lean ground beef and pork, oats and shredded carrot & onion. The extra step of shredding the vegetables is a great one. It keeps the meatloaf moist and therefore creating a uniform loaf. I didn't over mix or pack the meatloaf down because I feared the loaf might turn out too dense.
Here is our finished meatloaf. Although we followed the recipe for the meatloaf as instructed, we took several liberties after it was complete. First we made it into a traditional large loaf (where the recipe indicates to make mini loaves). This was simply because we wanted it to stay moist. Secondly, we added at TON of chili sauce on top. I can't stress to you how important that step is. As the loaf baked it reduced and thickened eventually creating a slightly caramelized sauce on top. We used Willies Chili Sauce (found in Ontario), which we don't use often, but it's like a sweet salsa with zip. Super delish if you can find it. But if not just blend ketchup with chili sauce and you're set.  

One thing that I really disliked about this meatloaf is how long it took to bake. My goodness, it went into the oven at 400 and stayed there for an hour and a half! Well, the best things come to those who wait, but this dinner is less than ideal for mid-week working families. Looks like Cookie was onto something making mini loaves...

This dinner was super tasty. And, if you can manage to let this dinner sit and cool, it is so delicious at almost room temperature (not sure why, but the flavours come together nicely).

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

greek-style mini lamb burgers

We first tried lamb at home while cooking through Everyday Food Fresh Flavour Fast. Since then we've been eating more and more of it. I've also noticed in the past two years it become more and more accessible in the grocery stores. We made these Greek-Style Mini Lamb Burgers from Great Food Fast which is also a recipe for homemade tzatziki.
And they were good, not great. I doubt I'd make them again simply because our ground lamb rendered a shocking amount of fat. The leftover in the pan was about equal to cooking bacon - no kidding. So, if we ever choose ground lamb again I'm thinking we'll just grind it ourselves so we can control the amount of fat that goes into our food. Anyways, I probably would have enjoyed it just as much with falafels in place of the burgers.