Monday, October 18, 2010

Grandma's Chicken Soup

My grandmother was a fantastic cook.  She loved to read cookbooks like novels, cover to cover.  (Sound familiar?)  She loved to experiment in the kitchen though not always successfully.  It was from her that I learned to love food, cooking, and baking.

There's no way to be sure that this is exactly my grandmother's soup; she rarely made the same thing twice.  Let's pretend it's her soup even if it's only the alphabet noodles that evoked memories of many meals eaten at her dining room table.

Grandma's Soup

extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 large carrots, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
1/2 lb mushrooms, chopped (optional - I'm not sure I'd put these in again.  They were good but not great.)
2 cooked chicken breasts, diced (I used a roast chicken so I didn't have to cook these)
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
8 - 10 c chicken stock
1/2 lb pasta, I used alphabet pasta

Heat some over olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat.  Sauté the veggies until they soft.  It usually takes me 10 or 15 minutes.  Don't worry if the bottom starts to get brown, that's just more flavour.  If your flavour is looking like the burnt variety, please turn down the heat!

Add the remaining ingredients, save the pasta, and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and let the soup simmer for 10 - 20 minutes or as long as you have.  Longer isn't bad but you may want to cover it so you don't loose too much liquid.

About 10 minutes before you're ready to serve, bring the pot up to a rolling boil and add your pasta.  Cook until you think it was done.  It's not for me to say if you like it crunchy, al dente or mushy.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mr & Mrs R's Wedding

M & I made a whirlwind trip to New Jersey this weekend for a friend's wedding.  What fun!  The drive was long but scenic and the wedding was fantastic.  I loved everything about it.  They put their own spin on both the wedding and the reception and it paid off!  A fantastic time was had by all.
The Madison Hotel - Morristown, NJ

The reception was held in The Conservatory.

Our table.  Number 7 if you're interested.
Cocktail Hour, Food Table 1: olive tapenade, bruschetta, hummus,
foccacia, breadsticks and assorted crackers.
Cocktail Hour, more food tables: there was a meat and antipasto table on the left.
My apologies to the gentleman in the midst of eating for taking, and posting, this picture.
Cocktail Hour, hot food table: shrimp and baby scallops (I think) in a
creamy sauce of goodness and something I no longer remember.
There was another hot food table with crepes, and jambalaya.
Also not pictured was a table with assorted cheeses.
Also not pictured were all of the wait staff circulating with trays of appetizers.
The menu.

Appetizer: Salad of Baby Greens, Poached Pears, Crispy Pancetta & Ricotta Salata
Sherry Shallot Vinaigrette.
Intermezzo: Melon Sorbet
Entrée: Pan Seared Filet of Salmon
Citrus Sauce with Roasted Peppers, Capers and Basil
Dessert: Wedding Cake
Dessert: Chocolate-lined Waffle Cup with Vanilla Ice Cream and Banana's Flambe
Thanks again to the new Mr & Mrs R for including us in your day!  Congratulations!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

What a weekend this has been!  M & I had a whirlwind trip to New Jersey to celebrate a friend's wedding.  It was a lot of fun and I couldn't be happier for my high school friend.  Congratulations to the new Mr & Mrs R!  Thanks for including us in your celebration.
Much of the drive was just stunning.  I don't think the pictures are doing it justice.
We returned home late Saturday night only to get up early Sunday and start our Turkey Day preparations.
Medjool dates stuffed with Parmesan cheese and wrapped in bacon.
Nigella's Sweet Potato Casserole.
Also on the table, though not pictured because it wasn't pretty, was a moist and flavourful brined turkey and my favourite brussel sprouts.  The turkey was gorgeous...before we started to carve it at which point I remembered I should have taken a picture.  Oh well.  I won't subject you to a photo the half carved carcass.  You're welcome!  And, while delicious, the brussel sprouts were not terribly photogenic.  Over the years we've adapted a Nigella Lawson recipe and made brussel sprouts a favourite holiday side dish.  Hopefully I'll get to posting that soon.

I almost forgot, we also had these buns.  Yum!

For dessert we had pumpkin pie and apple crisp.  Both were beautiful and would have photographed well had I remembered to take pictures before we devoured them.  Oops.  Live and learn.

Whether celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving or Columbus Day in The States or just a regular Monday, have a good one!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

First Weekend of Fall

I am the first to admit that summer is my favourite season.  I love the heat, the humidity and the fresh produce.  Having said that, this is the first year I can remember looking forward to fall.  I was in a bit of a cooking rut; the kids were eating crackers, tofu spread, cucumbers and grape tomatoes for lunch almost everyday.  Sometimes it was hummus and not tofu spread, and a baguette instead of crackers but basically the same thing every day.  They enjoyed it but I was frustrated.  And then came fall.  Bring on the soups and stews.

Since the arrival of fall I've made & frozen 2 batches of chicken stock in my crockpot, pureed & frozen 4 large-ish pie pumpkins, made a double batch of taco soup & frozen a batch, and made at least two batches of buns and frozen half of each batch.  It would seem that there's something about fall that makes me want to stock my freezer!
M's Buns

1 T yeast
1/2 c lukewarm water
2 t sugar
1/4 c oil
1/4 c white sugar
1 egg
1 t salt
1 1/2 c water
5 c all-purpose flour

  1. Mix together yeast, water and sugar in a bowl.  Let rise 10 minutes.
  2. While the yeast is getting it's groove on, mix together the rest of the ingredients.  This is a very very sticky dough so I usually do the mixing in my stand mixer.
  3. Add the yeast mixture and curse the stickiness.
  4. Transfer to a greased bowel, cover loosely with plastic wrap or the like, and then rise until doubled in bulk.  On a normal day in my kitchen this takes about 2 hours.  The last time I made these it was freakishly warm and took just over an hour.  If you're not sure, poked a floured finger into to the dough; if it stays indented, you're good to go.
  5. Ready to make the buns?  Flour hands and a sharp knife.  Cut off small portions of the dough and roll into balls.  Place onto a cookie sheet.  Re-flour your hands and your knife and make another bun.  Continue until you're out of dough.
  6. Cover the cookie sheet with greased plastic wrap and leave to rise until doubled in bulk.  Again, probably 2 - 2.5 hours unless you're yeast is particularly frisky.  Test with a floured finger.  If it stays indented, they're ready!
  7. Remove the plastic wrap.
  8. Bake at 375F for 18 - 20 min.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - almost

Aside from the fact that I love to cook and bake, these guys are why are I try so hard to be good at it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I can't believe that it's September 14.  As always, summer went by far too quickly.  And it was one of our best summers ever.  The high heat allowed us to spend countless days at the local splash pad running through the cold water and then taking a break to snack on some fruit & veg from the farmer's market.  I have really enjoyed being home with the kids and able to see them enjoy all summer has to offer.

Fall has made its presence known very quickly and for that, food wise anyway, I am grateful.  Don't get me wrong, I love summer.  I love fresh produce from the farmer's market: cherry tomatoes that taste like summer, juicy peaches and nectarines.  The list really goes on and on.  What I like about fall are the comforting and homey casseroles and soups that start to take centre stage.  I've already made Jamie Oliver's Lamb Stew and his Chicken Stew.  Both were delicious.  We ate the lamb stew over rice and covered the chicken stew with tasty dumplings.  My mouth is watering thinking about both of them.
Lamb Stew veggie mix

Yum!  Lamb stew.  It tasted just like my grandmother's lamb shank recipe.  I'll have to make that someday soon too!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Forbidden Brownie

Those Brownies.
This is not the best representation of how gooey these brownies really are.  Sorry about that.  We ate all the gooey ones before I could get out my camera.
Yes friends, we're going to talk about those brownies. I made two pans of these brownies for a recent family gathering. To say they went over well would be a bit of an understatement. They were still warm from the oven and deliciously gooey in the centre. (We won't talk about the pan that was still gooey in the centre but a little burnt on the bottom. It would seem that I don't get along well with my aunt's oven.)

Taken from How To Be A Domestic Goddess: Baking and The Art of Comfort Cooking by Nigella Lawson

375 g soft unsalted butter (yup, almost a full pound of butter in these babies)
375 g best quality dark chocolate (to balance the butter of course!)
6 large eggs
1 T vanilla extract
500 g caster sugar
225 g plain flour
1 t salt
300 g dried cherries & white chocolate chunks (or all cherries, or nuts or whatever floats your boat)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 9 x 13 inch pan with parchment paper.
Yes, I use Omega 3 eggs.  And yes, I should have moved them, and the watermelon, from my photo.  What can I say?  I was rushing.  Nothing new there!
Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large heavy based pan. In a bowl or large wide-mouthed measuring jug, beat the eggs with the sugar and the vanilla. Measure the flour into another bowl and add the salt.
When the chocolate mixture has melted, let it cool a bit before beating in the eggs and sugar, and then the cherries and flour. Beat to combine smoothly and then scrape out of the saucepan into the lined pan.
I'm not sure, even after making them this way several times, that I will continue to add white chocolate chips.  I may just stick with all cherries.   
Don't worry about the batter leaking over the edges.  It's very thick and you should have time to straighten the parchment paper if things go awry.  But, even if there should be a bit of batter that escapes, no worries.  It will clean up easily.  Thank you butter!
Bake for about 25 minutes. (I've always found that it needs more like 35 - 40 min but then again my oven is wonky so don't go by that.) When it's ready, the top should be dried to a paler brown speckle, but the middle still dark and dense and gooey. And even with such a big batch you do need to keep alert, keep checking; the difference between gungy brownies and dry brownies is only a few minutes; remember that they will continue to cook as they cool.

Makes a maximum of 48.

I once so severely undercooked a pan of these brownies that they had to be nuked, once cut into pieces, to be edible. It was actually all kinds of awesome. I froze almost the whole pan and then nuked the pieces just before eating so they were warm and gooey but properly gooey and not raw egg gooey.
This is what my kitchen looked like while I was making the brownies.  I was also making chicken pasta salad and beet salad.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes

For no particular reason, I decided to make Boston Cream Pie cupcakes.  Yup, no reason at all.
I started off wanting to bake a cake, found a recipe for Boston Cream Pie Cake and then decided to make cupcakes instead.

Step 1: Bake the cupcakes

Victoria Sponge
Adapted slightly from How To Be A Domestic Goddess

225 g unsalted butter, very soft
225 g castor sugar
1t vanilla extract
4 large eggs
225g self-raising flour (I used all-purpose flour - oops)
3T whole milk

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease or line muffin pans with liners.
Cream butter and sugar, add the vanilla and then the eggs, one at a time, adding a spoonful of flour between each. (I forgot that part and added all of the flour at once.)  Fold in the rest of the flour, and when it's all incorporated, add the milk.
Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tins and bake for approximately 20 minutes, until they are beginning to come away at the edges, are springy to the touch on top and a cake-tester comes out clean.  Leave them in their tins on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out and leaving to cool completely.

Step 2: Make the Creme Patissiere
Taken from Boston Cream Pie in How To Be A Domestic Goddess

125 ml milk
125 ml double cream (aka whipping cream - I used half-and-half because that's what I had)
1 vanilla pod or 1t vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
50 g castor sugar (approx. 1/4 c)
15 g plain flour (approx 1.5 T)

Warm the milk and cream in a saucepan along with the vanilla pod split lengthwise.  Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat, cover and let stand to infuse for 10 minutes.  If you're not using the pod (I didn't), add the vanilla extract later, when you've combined all the ingredients.  In a large bowl, whisk the yolks and sugar until creamy, and then beat in the flour.  With the point of a small, sharp knife, scrape the seeds out of the vanilla pod into the milk, and add this warm milk to the egg mixture and whisk until smooth.  Pour back into the saucepan and stir or whisk gently over a low heat until the custard thickens.  Remove from the heat and let the custard cool by pouring it into a wide bowl and tearing off some greaseproof paper, wetting it, then covering the bowl with it.  (I used a piece of saran.)  This stops it forming a skin.  Don't put this in the fridge; something goes horribly wrong with the texture if you do, and you want utter, smooth voluptuousness here.

Step 3: Make the Ganache
Taken from Boston Cream Pie in How To Be A Domestic Goddess

I used half of this recipe for the cupcakes.  I'm sure the whole recipe would be a step up from decadent.

150 ml double cream (again, I used half-and-half)
1t vanilla extract
1t unsalted butter
150 g dark chocolate

Warm the cream, vanilla extract and butter with the chocolate, chopped into small pieces, and bring to the boil in a thick-bottomed saucepan (Nigella: I find a non-stick milk pan the best for this), by which time the chocolate should have melted.  Remove from the heat and whisk till smooth and thickened.  Let cool a little before using, but you want it still runny enough to ice with.

Step 4: Assemble the cupcakes

Cut each cupcake in half and place a heaping tablespoon of the creme patissiere on the bottom.  Gently place the top on back on.  Drizzle a spoonful of ganache on top of each one.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Beautiful Beet Salad

I never ever thought that I would be writing about beets.  I have hated them, and rutabaga, for my entire life.  My mom still waxes poetically about how I left the teaspoon of rutabaga on my tongue as a baby.  I really don't like it.  Turnip - the white and purple taproot - are delicious.  Or at least I think so.

Anyway, this post isn't about rutabaga or turnip but rather beets.  I've always loved the colour of beets but never ever the taste.  Not in a house, not with a mouse.  I did not like them here or there, I did not like them anywhere!     And, unlike character Sam hounded in the famed Green Eggs and Ham, I had tried beets.  Over and over again.  My parents weren't ones to let us get away with not eating something just because we didn't like it.  We had to have a small serving regardless of our preference.

The kids and I went to a friend's for a play date a few weeks ago and she asked me if I liked beets and how about a beet salad for lunch.  And so I decided to give beets another try.  I don't know if I love beets in all of their forms but I certainly like beets like this.
Beet salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette  and goat cheese.  Yum!  I liked it so much that I bought more beets at the farmer's market this week so I can make it again.

Balsamic Beets with Goat Cheese

1 bunch of beets
goat cheese to taste
Balsamic Vinaigrette to taste - I used Oh She Glows Better Than Bottled Balsamic

Boil the beets until tender.  When cool enough to handle, peel and cut into bite sized pieces.
If you like your beets more on the pickled side, pour the dressing over the beets while still warm.  If you go for less pickled-like beets, wait until the beets have cooled before pouring the dressing.
Add goat cheese to taste when serving.

Enjoy the beety goodness!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Farmer's Market Friday - On Sunday...Again

Here's our haul from this week's farmer's market: 13 ears of corn, HUGE basket of white flesh freestone peaches, watermelon, baby English cucumbers, apricots (of which there are only 9 left), apples, strawberries, plums, orange and red grape tomatoes (the bowl is almost empty) and beets.
There is my very full fridge!  Our fruit and veggies drawers are so full that the produce is taking over the rest of the fridge.  I love it!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Scalloped Potatoes

I had a hankering for scalloped potatoes after reading about them on a food blog.  I no longer remember which of the multitude of food blogs it came from but it doesn't really matter.  Except that you're not going to be able to read the blog.  I apologize for that.  I also apologize because I'm not going to list the 40ish (ok so maybe it's more like 50ish) food blogs I try to follow.  Call me lazy.  It's most appropriate.
I think every family has their own scalloped potato recipe.  This is the one that I use most often.  And by that I mean the once or maybe twice a year I make this.  I confess: we're not big potato eaters.  Please don't hold it against us.  It's not that we don't like them but rather that I rarely think of making them.

Scalloped Potatoes
slightly adapted from Lighthearted Everyday Cooking by Anne Lindsay

8 medium potatoes, thinly sliced (I used the 2mm blade on my food processor)
1 large onion sliced
2 T flour (I used heaping tablespoons)
Salt and pepper
2 c hot milk (I used P's whole milk rather than K's 1% because his was running low.  I say use whatever floats your boat.)
1 c shredded part-skim Cheddar cheese (I used Swiss cheese because it was starting to become one with my freezer)

Preheat oven to 350F.
Oil a 9 x 13 baking dish with olive oil.  I'm not convinced that this has made my pan any easier to clean but, olive oil is good for you so give it a try!
Arrange one-third of the potatoes over the bottom; sprinkle with half of the onion, then half of the flour.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Repeat layers; arrange remaining potatoes over top.  Pour hot milk over.  Sprinkle with cheese.
Bake, uncovered, in oven for 1 hour or until potatoes are tender.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Banana Bread Disaster

I took a stab at being supermom today and kind of fell flat on my face.

Let me explain: K & P are registered for 2 weeks worth of Monday to Friday lessons.  Which is great except the lessons start at 5:30 pm.  That's half an hour after we sit down to eat and a mere 1.5 hours before their bedtime.  Eek!  In preparation for the chaos I decided to bake some banana bread so my water logged children would have a snack after swimming.  No worries, right?  I got the bread in the oven with lots of time to spare, only it didn't bake.  ARGH!  They had supper at 4 so there would be plenty of time to eat before we needed to rush out of the house and brave the rush hour traffic to get to the pool.

Half an hour after the the banana bread should have been ready the thin knife I use for testing came out clean.  Woohoo!  Then, when I tried to turn it out on to the cooling rack, disaster struck.
The inside of my banana bread fell out of the pan and made this mess.  And left me with:
Isn't that depressing?  I ended up tearing the shell of the banana bread into pieces for the post-swim snack.  K & P didn't seem to notice.
I think tomorrow I'll try some muffins.

A surprise treat

Last night our neighbours brought over 6 of these delicious faux Starbucks blueberry bars.  There are two left and the kids haven't had any.

You can bet I'm asking for the recipe!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Farmer's Market Friday

Woohoo!  Here I am on a Friday with a Farmer's Market Friday post.  Our busy summer has been getting the better of me but here I am with this week's haul from the market.
We bought a large basket of nectarines, a small basket of peaches - I so wanted a large basket but there's no way we'd eat through it all and I don't have time to process them for freezing right now, green beans, mini English cucumbers, grape tomatoes, sugar pears (2 baskets), strawberries, zucchini, red potatoes, white potatoes and broccoli.  YUM!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rustic Plum Tart

Tomorrow is Farmer's Market Friday - which I intend to post on Friday this week - so I though it time to inventory the fridge and see what we need.  Know what I found?  An empty fridge.  Almost empty anyway.  Save for the condiments, of course.  Aside from leftovers from todays lunch, mini pizzas on naan bread, there are some yellow plums and lonely beets left.  Conclusions to be drawn: the kids are off plums for the moment, and I'm a little intimidated by the beets but that's a story for another time.

What to do with approximately 1.5 pounds of yellow plums?  Make a rustic plum tart of course!  I was inspired by a recent blog post over at Dinner with Julie.
Rather than type out the recipe  I'm just going to link to it: Dinner with Julie   Her tart looks so much nicer than mine.  I had delicious sugary pie juices all over my parchment paper.  Some of it was salvageable but other parts are burnt to a crisp.  It was bound to happen.  Really, it was.  I am a pie crust novice.  As I was rolling out the crust it was getting all the cracks that didn't seem to want to be fixed.  I could have put the dough back in the fridge and started again in another hour but my audience, was demanding that I finish in time for tonights dessert.  I think my mistake was not making the disk large and flat before putting it in the fridge to chill.  This will all make sense if you hop over and read Julie's recipe.
See, look at that.  This should be called a Rustic Plum Tart, Heavy on The Rustic.  Oh well, it's still yummy.  Very tart (no pun intended); some of the plums weren't ripe.  I think M will really enjoy it.  And he won't judge me on its looks!
Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some very rustic plum tart to eat.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Farmer's Market Friday

OK, so I know it's Monday but I still wanted to share my farmer's market purchases.  Clockwise from the top: peaches, nectarines, strawberries, plums, beets, red and orange grape tomatoes, peaches and cream and white corn, zucchini and peppers.  YUM!  We've already devoured half of the plums.
Prior to last Thursday I hated beets.  Now I think I'm in love.  Or at least not in hate.  I'm going to attempt to make my friend's beet salad and see if I like mine as much as hers.  Should be interesting.