Friday, January 31, 2014

Picture Cook: See. Make. Eat.


E's language skills are taking off.  As a fairly quiet person, I have to make a conscious effort to talk a lot with her.  I spend a lot of time describing her surroundings, pointing out new words, and just having simple conversations with her.  I'm not sure how much she understands, but she often surprises me by repeating the words, using them in future settings, or responding appropriately to what I'm saying (e.g., pulling the step stool up to the counter so that we can cook together, picking up an object by the table and putting it into the garbage, etc.).  She's really getting into helping in the kitchen.  That Girl from Paved with Good Intentions recently had a good post on baking with babies.  Not only is cooking/baking a great skill to have, toddlers/kids love to have a job, some independence, and the praise that comes with doing anything well (Yay! You dumped the sugar in the bowl rather than all over the counter!)  Now I just need to psych myself up to make this Ikea Hack and we're good to go!

When I was first contacted to review a copy of a picture-based cookbook that is drawn rather than written, I thought that it was an interesting concept and possibly a good learning tool for E.  Picture Cook is unlike any cookbook I've seen before.   


   
I think this type of book has different benefits for different ages.  The pictures are monochromatic and relatively small.  So, the visuals themselves aren't great for a toddler.  But, she really liked flipping through the book    


She also took quite a liking to this page


I am looking forward to returning to this book when E is 3 + years of age.  Probably the prime age would be around 6 or 7 (or someone older who is very visual).  
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Friday, January 24, 2014

Parmesan Chicken with Garlic and Herbs


I find myself often surfing the internet and most often Pinterest for new ideas for preparing chicken. In the process, I've created an impressive collection of recipes in many different categories.  Admittedly, my love of cookbooks isn't going away any time soon.  There's something very special about flipping through a cookbook, feeling the paper and looking through pictures when the book has them.  Love of cookbooks has become an obsession of sorts and I have to do alot of self talk when in a bookstore.  I'm out of space and sadly Psychgrad doesn't want to collect any more than she already has.

One blogger who not only never fails me but always inspires me to create a healthier version of foods I love is  Kalyn's Kitchen.  Kalyn is responsible for this recipe that was lower on the fat index and coupled with my favourite baby kale salad made for a happy dinner.

This recipe serves 4 and takes only minutes to prepare with no frying or eggs.  The hit of garlic is pronounced so if you're not a big garlic fan, reduce it.  The parmesan is the star and the cooking time is perfect for a juicy and flavourful chicken dish.





4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tsp. crushed garlic (garlic puree from a jar is perfect here)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1/4 cup whole wheat Panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Combine crushed garlic, olive oil, and poultry seasoning in small pan and heat 1 minute, until just warm.

Trim all visible fat and membranes from chicken breasts, then make small crosswise slits about 1/2 inch apart down the length of each chicken breast, being careful not to cut too far into the chicken. (This helps the garlic and herb flavor penetrate the chicken more.) Put chicken into zip loc bag, pour heated oil over, and marinate all day in refrigerator.

To cook, take chicken out of refrigerator and let it come to room temperature for a few minutes while you preheat oven to 425.

Mix bread crumbs and parmesan (pulse a few times in food processor if the mixture isn't fine enough.) Place cheese/breadcrumb mixture in flat dish and dip each chicken breast into it, pressing on as much of the coating as you can.

Place each chicken piece in casserole dish which has been sprayed with nonstick spray. or olive oil. Bake until chicken is firm and cooked through, about 25 minutes, then put under the broiler to brown more if desired. (Original directions said to bake 30-40 minutes, but I wouldn't cook it that long. Actual cooking time will depend on the thickness of your chicken breasts, but chicken should feel firm but not hard when it's cooked.)
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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Very Berry Muffins


Before having a child that eats solids, I had this image of raising a kid with a sophisticated palate, who wasn't fussy and ate only fresh, healthy, home cooked foods.  Now, I'm seeing that this may not be realistic.  E can be pretty fussy.  Basically, she likes fruit (if in season = sweet) and carbs.  Great.  I have yet to see her really take to eating meat and her favourite vegetable are mushrooms (which aren't even vegetables).  She seems to have some sort of innate sense that she really wants any junk food we happen to be eating.  Maybe it's the crinkle of the bag, but she's persistent like The Terminator when we have chips.  Now, the word "cookie" has become synonymous with "I want some!" #parentingfail

So, I want to try to find baked recipes that are healthier so that she'll at least consume something on her fussier days.  This recipe comes from Weelicious, a site that is tailored to feeding your kids at various ages.  



1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup old fashioned oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 large egg, whisked
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil (we substituted apple sauce)
2 cups frozen berries

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
2. Place the first 6 ingredients in a bowl and combine.
3. Combine the egg, vanilla extract, milk and oil in a separate bowl.
4. Slowly combine the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
5. Gently mix the frozen berries into the batter, do not over mix or the berries will bleed.
6. Pour batter into greased or muffin lined regular sized tins.
7. Bake for 20-22 minutes.
8. Allow muffins to cool for 5 minutes then remove to a cooling rack.
9. Serve.


Verdict: They're pretty good. We just had frozen strawberries on hand.  Next time I might go for more variety.  

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Puro Coffee


We were recently invited to sample some Puro Fairtrade Coffee .  There are many products that we've been offered and find that time constraints just make it challenging to fulfill the commitment of giving fair consideration to writing the review.  I always want to be fair (I'm a Libra, can't help myself) and don't want to put words to the blog just because somebody sent me a free sample.  Coffee, however, is one of those "I just can't resist" things.

I like the fact that the coffee is Freetrade.  When you know that the product isn't part of a mass manufacture and hand created under the best conditions for the ecology and the workers who create it, it commands a certain amount of respect.  I get a little crazy when I hear about factory workers who work for less than fair wages and deplorable conditions to produce a product that makes a large corporation very rich.  When I see films such as this one, and I support a worldwide effort to improve our lives, I admit, I have a sense of social responsibility for more than just me.

 

The other thing that stood out for me about the company is that they're living the talk. 2 percent of global coffee sales go to World Land trust and in addition they also have company wide campaigns to allocate money to and organization called Trees 4 Schools.   Trees 4 Schools is teaching children to replenish our environment and to grow their own food .  This helps build a self confident society.  

Now that I'm a grandma (best job in the world) I'm far more focused on being part of preserving our world for our children and future generations to come.  We owe it to them.  Psychgrad reminds me that my generation didn't respect our environment enough so yes, we owe it to them.


So where to begin with my bag of goodies.  I received three different blends of coffee and a sample of hot chocolate.  I'm not big on really strong coffee but I do like coffee with solid flavour.



How's this for a descriptor - "Rich and lively medium blend with hints of fruit and hazelnut".  Sounded good to me.  Loved it.  The flavour met my expectations and then some.  The `then some` was the realization is that I really didn`t need a huge cup of coffee to feel satisfied.  The small cup that was sent with the sample pack was more than enough to satisfy my coffee fix.




The last criteria that's important to us as bloggers is that when we draw focus to a product, it's readily available and not just restricted to one province or state.  Puro coffee IS and it's organic.  What more can we ask for?  



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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Batch Cooking


I've never been organized enough to have a weekly menu planned out.  At most, we come up with four meals that we're going to make throughout the week, when we create our grocery list.  The rest of the meals are either leftovers, something from the freezer or something simple like breakfast for dinner or grilled cheese.  But, realistically, this plan doesn't always pan out well.  Often, I am okay with R's meal idea, in theory, and we buy groceries for it. But, when R wants to make it for tonight's supper, I don't actually want to have another random lentil dish.  

When a friend mentioned having a batch cooking day, I was eager to join in.  My freezer has been a bit barren lately.  I think it's because it has been so cold here and most of the foods that I freeze are cold weather foods.  So, they're getting eaten up pretty quickly.  

Three of us got together.  Since we all have kids around the same age, we knew we couldn't do a marathon session, so we kept it moderate and made triple recipes of four dishes (took about 3.5 hours): lasagne, taco soup, slow cooker ribs and butter chicken.  

The lasagna was made according to how my friend usually makes it.  I won't write out the recipe, but want to make note of the differences so that I can remember it down the line if we end up really liking this approach.  She uses a very thick meat sauce.  She also only puts cheeses on the top layer.  Then she  uses a full container of cottage cheese and adds two eggs to the cottage cheese for a creamier consistency. 






I also need to remember to cook the ribs at 400 for 15 minutes on each side before putting the slow cooker on low for 6 hours.  I can also put the ribs back in the oven after slow cooking if I want things to be more caramelized.





Here's some of the math. It total, we spent $174 on the food.  From that, we got:

9 - 8X8 lasagna (estimated three meals/tray since the tray isn't very deep) = 27 portions
6 - slow cooker ribs (estimated three meals -- one rack per bag) = 18 portions
various container of butter chicken (6 portions given to each person) = 18 portions
various containers of taco soup (6 portions per person) = 18 portions

Total = 81 portions (27 each)
Overall cost/person = $54
Overall Cost/portion = $2.15

I think that's a pretty decent cost considering that each portion has meat.  The taco soup was particularly cheap.  I got all of the ingredients for $25 (already had the spices) -- so about $1.40/portion.




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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Thai Curry Noodle Bowl


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I received a review copy of The Complete Leafy Greens Cookbook and was blown away by how much I didn't know about the varieties of leafy greens out there.  In part, I think I'm a product of using greens that are easily accessible in Canada.  This book makes me want to go on some scavenger hunts to find and cook with leafy greens like Chinese Celery,  La Lot Leaf and Purslane (to name a few).  



I like the way this cookbook is organized.  Separate sections are devoted to each green.  Each section starts off with some background information, the varieties, where to buy, how to store, how to prepare and how to consume the green.  Then, some recipes, often vegan-friendly, are provided.  

I'm a visual person, so I really like that simple colour pictures of the greens are provided throughout.  I also like how the information is laid out in separate text boxes.  It reminds me of when I used to study my textbooks in university.  There's something about separating out information into different boxes and colours that makes it more digestible (don't mind the pun).  I used to look through my textbook chapters and make visual milestones for myself (e.g., ok -- I am going to read from here to the text box three pages from now).  Pages that didn't have any visuals or text boxes were always challenging for me to get through.  Kind of like the month of January (long, cold and nothing to break it up).  Anyways - I am digressing.



Another thing that I like about this cookbook is that each recipe contains the usual suspects (ingredients, quantities, directions), but there is also a "Tips" section on the left sidebar of the page.  It never really occurred to me, but having this tip section made me realize how often I have to Google information to understand a recipe.  Whether it be an unfamiliar ingredient, technique or figuring out substitutes, there can be a fair amount of research that goes into not screwing up a recipe.  With the tip section, these questions were answered.

I still have a lot of reading to do before I can fully comment on the recipes.  But, in general, I like the diversity and quality of recipes. Many of these greens are mainly found in certain ethnic cuisines.  So, I like that these uses are reflected in the cookbook (e.g., African Sweet Potato Leaf Stew, Taiwan Lettuce Mei Fun, West Indies Pepper Pot Soup). Here's the recipe I decided to make:

Thai Curry Noodle Bowl

6 oz snow peas (3 cups, loosely packed), trimmed and halved (the snow peas at the store looked really sad, so I opted for snap peas)
12 oz dried chow mein noodles
2 tbsp oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp Thai red curry paste (I used more like 3 tbsp)
4 cups vegetable stock
1 can (14 oz) coconut milk
1 tbsp granulated sugar
4 oz baby spinach leaves (about 5 cups)
1/4 chopped fresh cilantro (we tend to never use this up, so I excluded this)
2 large green onions, slivered (not a fan of green onions, plus recipes has shallots, so I excluded)
kosher or coarse sea salt
1/4 cup crispy shallots (basically deep fried shallot rings -- I pan fried minced shallots)
1 red finger chilli (couldn't find, so I got Thai chilli peppers)
lime wedge

1. In a large saucepan of boiling salted water over medium heat, blanch snow peas for about 1 minute, until tender-crisp.  Using a mesh scoop, transfer to a colander (leave cooking water in a pan) and immediately rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.  Drain peas and set aside.
2. Return pan of cooking water to a boil over medium heat.  Add noodles and cook for about 10 minutes or according to package directions, until tender but firm.  Drain.
3. Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium heat, heat oil until warm.  Stir in garlic and curry paste for 30 seconds.  Stir in stock, coconut milk and sugar until smooth.  When mixture comes to a simmer, reduce heat to low and add spinach, cilantro and green onions.  Cook for about 1 minutes, until heated through.


 4. Divide prepared noodles among 6 wide, shallow serving bowls.  Top with equal quantities of snow peas.  Ladle hot broth with spinach over noodles.  Pile crispy shallots in center of each bowl.  Scatter chilli slices over each serving.  Place a lime wedge at the edge of each bowl, to squeeze over the noodles.  Serve immediately.


Verdict: We both liked this dish.  Even E liked it.  I figured the sauce might be too spicy for her, but she was having a meltdown (didn't nap at daycare, don't want to sit in a highchair moment), so I had her sitting on my lap through dinner.  She pushed away her plain noodles and ate mine that had the broth on it.

My main beef with the dish is that I still cannot get my dishes to have the flavours I would get from a Thai restaurant.  I've tried to make my own curry paste before and that didn't work either.  I don't think this is the fault of the recipe because all it really says is to use a tablespoon of Thai red curry paste.  I think I need to take a trip to Thailand and take a cooking course.  OK - problem solved. StumbleUpon

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Curried Vegetable Bisque


I've always heard that having children and/or dogs is how you get to know your neighbours.  We don't have a dog, but certainly having a daughter and attending community events for children has given us the opportunity to meet more people in the community.

I remember growing up and knowing who lives in what house, ringing on the neighbours' doorbells without planning a play date, being involved in things at the community centre, etc.  That's the type of experience I'd like for E.  So, now I'm more invested in participating in the community and being a part of planning events within our community, which is transitioning from older couples to younger families.

One simple thing I did was start a neighbourhood Facebook group.  It's such an easy thing to do and already we have 90 members.  Communication has increased so much and I'm seeing that there are a number of people in my neighbourhood that are passionate about community building.

Recently, one of my neighbours planned a neighbourhood soup swap.  Basically, you make 6 one-litre jars of soup and leave with 6 different one litre jars of soup.  I went with 6 litres of vegetarian minestrone soup and I walked out with ginger-carrot, mushroom, broccoli-cheddar, harvest butternut squash, and curried vegetable bisque.

Truth be told, one mason jar cracked in my freezer and two didn't taste very good.  In fact, I had a hard time even eating one because the appearance and storage of it reminded me of an episode of Intervention when a woman purged in ziplock bags (sorry TMI).  I still have one left.  However, one soup was really good.  So, I got the recipe and made it for myself.


Curried Vegetable Bisque:
(Simply in Season)
5 cups tart apple (peeled and chopped)
2 cups onion (chopped)
2 cup red pepper (chopped)
1 cup zucchini (chopped)
1 1/2 cups carrots (chopped)
3/4 cups celery (chopped)
7 cups vegetable broth
3 cups of potatoes (chopped)
1/2 cups raisins
3 tablespoons curry powder
3/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cups milk
1 1/4 cup milk powder (for a creamier bisque)
1/3 cup tomato sauce
2 cups cooked shrimp or chicken
1. Saute apple, onion, pepper, zucchini, carrots and celery in vegetable oil until vegetables are soft.




2. Stir in 3 1/2 cups of the broth, potatoes, raisins and spices. Reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring as needed, until potatoes are soft, 12-15 minutes.



3. Puree soup using a hand blender.
4. Add the rest of the broth, milk and tomato sauce. Reheat soup over medium heat until hot. Add in the cooked shrimp or chicken.







I made a slight variation on this recipe -- found here.  Whatever I did, it didn't taste as good as the soup I got at the swap.  It was too sweet.  Maybe it was the apples I used being too sweet.  In any case, I would try again but stick closer to the recipe.  Maybe even eliminate the raisins to cut down on the sweetness.
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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Portobello Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich


Happy New Year!   We have so many recipes to post!  It's just about carving out the time to do it.    Lately R has been on my case.  Turns out, he really relies on the blog for storing his recipes, but isn't willing to actually write the post himself.

A couple of years ago, R decided that his special sandwiches had to go.  Between the sodium levels in processed meat and the very fact that he was consuming meat daily, he felt that it just wasn't healthy and stopped, cold turkey.  Instead, he actively searches out new recipes, pretty much exclusively vegetarian, and often not at all appealing to me.  That's fine.  If I don't like it, he puts it into portion-sized containers and takes it for lunches.

Here' s a recipe that R found that is something we've had for dinner a couple of times.  Disclaimer : I've never had a real Philly cheese steak, so I didn't go into this with specific expectations about how it should taste.

Portobello "Philly Cheese Steak" Sandwich


INGREDIENTS

  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 4 large portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed (see Tip), sliced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano, or 2 teaspoons dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth, or reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 3 ounces thinly sliced reduced-fat provolone cheese
  • 4 whole-wheat buns, split and toasted

PREPARATION

  1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until soft and beginning to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, bell pepper, oregano and pepper and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are wilted and soft, about 7 minutes.
  2. Reduce heat to low; sprinkle the vegetables with flour and stir to coat. Stir in broth and soy sauce; bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat, lay cheese slices on top of the vegetables, cover and let stand until melted, 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Divide the mixture into 4 portions with a spatula, leaving the melted cheese layer on top. Scoop a portion onto each toasted bun and serve immediately.

TIPS & NOTES

  • The dark gills found on the underside of a portobello are edible, but if you like you can scrape them off with a spoon.






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