Friday, December 21, 2012

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

I had this idea that being on parental leave would give me a lot of time to clean up at home and make nice meals that were well on their way to being ready when R got home.  In reality, getting the previous night's dishes done is about the extent of my household chore productivity (yeah - we're not the type that can't go to bed with dirty dishes - sorry Giz). 

Since I often nap at the same time as Ms. E (to catch up on the previous night's insomnia), getting chores done means that I have to use the bouncer/playmat/swing/etc. to "babysit" longer than what I'd like.   

In the case of these cookies, I almost made it through completing them during naptime.  But, the last couple of trays were the most memorable.  Imagine me yelling to Ms. E from the kitchen -- "hang on sweetie -- I just have to finish putting these cookies on the tray and then I'll be right there!"  Of course, my four month old was very understanding of this, which she demonstrated by crying louder.   

If it's any consolation -- they are really tasty!  Kudos goes to R's mom for sending the recipe.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup melted margarine
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin filling (I was generous and added closer to 2 cups)
1 tsp. vanilla
3 tsps. baking powder
1 1/2 baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 bag of choc. chips
3 cups flour
Mix ingredients in order given (mixed the wet and dry ingredients separately, first and then added the dry to the wet). Drop by tsp. on greased cookie sheet. Bake 350 for 10 minutes.

I made these cookies for a playgroup I held at my house.  They were so delicious and soft.   Sometimes I find that pumpkin affects the smell and colour of a dessert more than flavour.  But, this is not the case for these cookies!

Along with the cookies, I served a small cheese platter and some fruit. 


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mandarin Vanilla Jam

I often find this time of year to be difficult.  The days are so short (it's pretty much dark by 4:30pm) and the weather alternates between rain, snow, freezing rain and cold (or a combination).  Possibly the hardest thing about this is that I know it's just the beginning.  It's not even winter yet, technically.  

Mandarins are one of the few redeeming things about this time of year.  We've already gone through about four 5 kg boxes.  One of those went to making mandarin jam.  I have been wanting to make mandarin jam for a couple of years now.  Last year, the time got away from me and before I knew it, the grocery store stopped carrying mandarins.  

After spending some time scouring the internet for recipes, I came across this post.  I made a variation of the recipe, using more oranges and adding two vanilla beans.

Mandarin Vanilla Jam


1 kilo (generous 2 lbs) mandarins, any variety: clementines, tangerines, satsumas, etc., preferably organic
500 grams (2 1/2 cups) sugar, or more to taste
juice of 2-3 lemons
2 sticks of vanilla, split down the middle
Wash 2-3 of your mandarins and zest them, carefully avoiding the white pith underneath. You should have about a tablespoon. Peel all of your fruit, removing as much of the pith and filaments as possible. Working over a bowl to catch the juices, cut each mandarin in half around its equator, and pick out any seeds (I didn't bother doing this since they didn't have seeds). Place the halves along with any juice they've expelled in a food processor and process for about a minute (careful not to fill too much because the juice will leak out the top), until you have a more or less smooth puree.

Combine the mandarin puree, tablespoon of zest, sugar and lemon juice in a large, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat so it continues to boil gently. Allow the mixture to cook, stirring occasionally, until it sets, about 25-30 minutes (I left it on closer to 45 minutes and still found that it wasn't that thick -- possible because I used more oranges. 

To test the set, place a small saucer in the freezer for a couple of minutes, then drizzle a teaspoon of hot jam on it. Allow to cool, then run your finger through it. If it holds the trough, it's set. Also taste for sweetness at this point - if you think it could use more, add a bit more sugar and cook another minute or two; do the same with lemon juice if the acidity needs some perking up.
Pour into hot, sterilized jars, seal tightly and turn upside down until cool. Or use your tried-and-true canning method. Or simply keep in a closed container in the fridge for up to a month.

Verdict:  So far, so good.  It's a lighter flavour than my berry jams.  For example, I tried the mandarin jam with peanut butter and the flavour didn't come through very much.  I'm going to try it as a topping on ice cream or with pancakes.  But, I'm quite happy that it turned out!


Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Today is the 12th day of the 12th month of 2012.  So I'm going to try to post one photo per hour for every hour.  This may just turn into 12 pictures of Ms. E (my four month old). The twelve photos event is being hosted by Miss Fish.  This is the second time I'm participating in an hourly photo event (here's the first time). 

5:30 am - managed to get Ms. E to go to sleep early yesterday.  In turn, she woke up at I'm hoping she'll tire herself out on the playmat.

9:00 am -The mat worked.  We got another couple hours of sleep.  Here Ms. E was nursing until she saw my smartphone - a distracting device for sure.  

10:00am - catching up on dishes while baby "naps" -- turns out she wasn't in a deep enough sleep to stay asleep after being put down in crib.  So, she spent time looking around her crib and sucking on a blanket. 
11:00am - Visit to Milkface -- a local store that sells babywearing and nursing attire.

12:00ish - returned books to the library and picked out 6 new baby books.  This is mostly for us since we get bored of the same books.  I don't know if Ms. E even notices -- she's more interested in scratching, shutting and trying to eat the books.  

1:00ish - looking at the "to do" list.  Yes, "put old hockey back in the garbage" is on the list.  Gotta have items that are easy to accomplish (and that get R to part with his ratty old bag that is sitting on the floor of our garage).

2:00ish - reviewing a report. Got 2 pages in before E woke up. No idea how ppl work from home with a baby. (image deleted -- turned out clear enough to read when it's not a final draft)
3:00ish - love when my cloth diapers are all clean.  I always thought a wipe warmer was frivilous.  But, I've come to love mine because it allows me to easily use little washable "face" cloths instead of disposable wipes.
5:00ish - stack of baby clothes to be sorted.  Need to come to terms with the outfits that no longer fit. 
6:00ish - R is home and is reading one of the books from the library to Ms. E. 
7:00ish -- clothes shuffled and back in closet -- out with the newborn-3 month, in with the 12 month sizes. 
8:00ish -- looking for something interesting to take a picture of.  So tired -- only interested in this:


Friday, December 7, 2012

Vegetarian Minestrone Soup

First - let me start by announcing the winner of Lidia's Favourite Recipes!   

suburban prep

Congratulations!  I'll be contacting you right away.


Today's post is also about an Italian recipe: minestrone soup.  All it took was seeing minestrone soup a couple of times on various blogs and some cold weather and I found myself with a serious craving.  I decided to make it when my parents came for a visit, last week.  

Thinking about this soup and having to make several meals for 6+ people (Actor Boy and his friend were in town too) inspired me to menu plan for the whole week.  I knew organization would be critical since making quick trips to the grocery store can be a big production with a baby in the winter (or any time of year).  I was so proud of myself, I even e-mailed this photo to Giz with the caption: Guess who is finished grocery shopping at 9am on a Saturday!

Okay -- maybe it's not that miraculous.  But we're usually Sunday night shoppers, just before the store closes, when the shelves are getting sparse.   Plus, I get excited about being able to do chores since most of my time goes to Ms. E.  Yup -- you know you're the life of the party when you get excited about being able to do household chores.

Anyway -- all that to say.  This recipe was a hit!  I'm already planning to make it again.

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup chopped onion
3 cups water (I used 1L of vegetable broth)
2 cups diced zucchini (I used 3 medium)
1 cup diced carrot, peeled
1 cup canned cannellini beans or 1 cup you may use other white beans
3/4 cup diced celery
1 teaspoon dried basil or 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh coarse ground black pepper
28 fluid ounces canned plum tomatoes, dice and include liquid
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup uncooked ditalini or 1/4 cup elbow macaroni (used 1/2 of ditalini and may use more in the future)


Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
Add chopped onion, carrots and celery and sauté for 4 minutes or until just lightly browned.  

Add water/broth, zucchini, canellini beans, celery, basil, oregano salt, pepper, tomatoes and garlic. Bring to boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer on medium-low heat for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add macaroni, cover and cook an additional 10 minutes.

Adjust spices to suit your taste.

I also served with parmesan cheese, for people to add as desired.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Holiday Favourites with the Cooking Light Virtual Supper Club

One of my fondest Christmas memories takes me back to a Christmas Eve dinner I was invited to share with Italian friends.  I never refuse an invitation that gives me an opportunity to share cultural traditions that are foreign to me.  I was invited to a Feast of the Seven Fishes, the typical meatless meal served by many Christian cultures.  I was fascinated - by the symbolism of the seven sacraments and also the care with which this fish and seafood dinner is prepared and presented.

Cioppino is a wonderful seafood dish often associated with San Francisco and has as many variations as it does cooks who prepare it. Dead simple to make, cioppino is both impressive and delicious and needs only a slice of good sourdough bread to help sop up the sauce.


  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup prechopped onion
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 8 ounces sea scallops
  • 8 ounces peeled and deveined medium shrimp
  • 1/2 cup clam juice
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained


Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and red pepper to pan; sauté for 2 minutes. Add mussels, scallops, and shrimp to pan; sauté for 1 minute. Stir in 1/2 cup clam juice, parsley, and diced tomatoes; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes or until mussels open, and discard any unopened shells.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Baked Pumpkin French Toast

Today (Sunday, November 25th) is the last day to enter the cookbook giveaway for Lidia's Favorite Recipes. Simply comment on the previous post, and your name will be entered into the draw!


After making this recipe, I'm now totally on board with making french toast the night before.  Not only do you save yourself time in the morning (which is helpful when you have guests over and a baby to look after), but it also tastes great.

This french toast recipes comes from Two Peas and their Pod.  It is almost like a hybrid between french toast and bread pudding.  R's mom helped me out with preparing this recipe since Ms. E was having a meltdown while I was trying to put the dish together.   

Baked Pumpkin French Toast

1 loaf French Bread (I used a challah)
6 large eggs
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Streusel Topping:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into pieces

1. Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Tear French bread into chunks, or cut into cubes, and evenly place in the pan.
2. In a large bowl, mix together eggs, milk, pumpkin puree, sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour evenly over bread. Cover pan with saran wrap and store in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Add butter pieces and cut into the dry mixture using a fork or your hands. Combine until the mixture resembles sand with a few pea sized chunks. Cover and store mixture in the refrigerator.
4. When you’re ready to bake the French toast, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove French toast from refrigerator and sprinkle crumb mixture over the top. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the French toast is set and golden brown.

5. Serve warm with syrup, if desired.

Verdict: Tasted delicious and smelled amazing too!  In the future, I may try adapting the streusal recipe to include oatmeal.  I didn't find it had much of a crumble coating effect.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Chicken Breast with Eggplant and Fontina Cheese & Giveaway

R and I bit the bullet and made the drive to Toronto. A five hour drive (longer with a baby) can be pretty daunting with a baby that has a bit of a sleep/hate relationship with her car seat.  But, I really wanted to introduce Ms. E to my Baba (now known as: Super Baba) and get some pictures of the two of them together.  

On our last night in Toronto, we had the family over for dinner.  Giz already told you about some of the dishes we made here.  In addition to those vegetarian recipes, we wanted to have one dish for the meat eaters.  Right away, I knew I wanted to made a dish from my most recently acquired cookbook:  Lidia's Favorite Recipes: 100 Foolproof Italian Dishes, from Basic Sauces to Irresistible Entrees 

As the title suggests, this cookbook contains a collection of Lidia's favorite and most accessible recipes. Also check out Lidia's website, which has lots of recipes. videos, and other content, here.

Would you like a copy of this cookbook?  

One of our readers will receive a free copy of this cookbook.  All you have to do is comment on this post before Sunday, November 25th 11:59pm (EST).

Share this on Twitter, if you want a second entry:  Enter to win a copy of Lidia Bastianich's newest cookbook: Lidia's Favorite Recipes @equaloppkitchen

This giveaway is open to readers in Canada and the United States only. 

After tagging all of the recipes that I was interested in trying (a process the becomes futile when almost every page is tagged), I decided I wanted to make the Chicken Breast with Eggplant and Fontina Cheese.  

Chicken Breast with Eggplant and Fontina Cheese

1 medium eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds)
6 tbsp of EVOO
Six 6-ounce boneless skinless chicken breasts
Fresh ground black pepper
6 slices of prosciutto cut in half (I didn't really half them)
5 tbsp unsalted butter
All-purpose flour for dredging
6 cloves of garlic, peeled (I minced them as well)
1/2 cup drive white wine
About 1 cup of hot chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano) seeded and chopped
12 fresh basil leaves, plus more (optional for decorating the plates)
6 ounces of Italian Fontina cheese, cut into thin slices
2 tbsp Tomato Sauce or liquid from the canned tomatoes

Trim the stem from the eggplant.  Remove the strips of peel about 1 inch wide, leaving about half the peel intact, and cut the eggplant into 1-inch crosswise slices.  Sprinkle a baking sheet with salt, arrange the slices over the salt and sprinkle with more salt.  Let them stand until both sides are wet, about 30 minutes.  Rinse the eggplant under cool running water, drain thoroughly, and pat dry.  Preheat the oven to 400 degree F.  Wipe the baking sheet clean, and oil it generously, using about half the oil.  Arrange the eggplant on the baking sheet, and turn to coat the slices with oil.  

Roast until tender and well-brouned, turning them and rotating them in the pan as necessary, about 20 minutes.  Remove and cool.  Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees F.  

Cut each chicken breast in half on a bias, and lightly pound it.  Season the chicken very lightly with salt (We omitted) and pepper (the prosciutto will give the dish plenty of salt as is), and layer each piece of chicken with half a slice of the prosciutto tapping the prosciutto with the back of the knife so it adheres to the meat.  

Heat 2 tbsp of the remaining olive oil and 2 tbsp of the butter in a heavy, wide skilled over medium heat.  Dredge the chicken in flour to coat both sides lightly, tapping off excess flour, and add as many to the skillet, prosciutto side down, as will fit without overlapping.  Cook just until the prosciutto is light golden, about 2 minutes.  Turn and cook until the second side is browned, about 2 minutes.  Remove, and drain on paper towels.  Repeat with the remaining chicken, adding more oil if necessary. 

After removing the last piece of chicken from the skillet, pour in the remaining oil, and scatter the garlic in the skillet.  Cook, turning, until golden brown, about 3 minutes (Lower the heat, if necessary, so the bits of flour that stick to the pan don't burn while the garlic is browning).  Pour the wine into the skillet, bring to a boil, and boil until it's almost completely evaporated.  Pour in the stock, and drop in the remaining 3 tbsps of butter.  Bring to a boil, stir in the chopped tomatoes, and boil until the sauce is lightly reduces and glossy about 4 minutes.  

Meanwhile, arrange the scaloppine side by side in a baking dish.  Cover them with the eggplant, coating or tearing the slices as necessary to cover all the scaloppine more or less evenly, and top each with a leaf of basil.  

Dividing the Fontina slices evenly over the eggplant, doting the Fontina slices with a dab of tomato sauce.  Pour the pan sauce around the chicken and bake until the cheese is melted and lightly browned in place and the sauce is lightly thickened, about 10 minutes.  

Transfer the bubbly chicken to serving plates, placing two on each (we didn't serve the chicken this way).  Spoon the sauce -- through a strained if you like -- around the plates.  Decorate the plates with additional basil leaves if desired.

Verdict: Let me start by saying that this dish was so tasty!  I think it was both Giz's and my favourite dish of the night!  But I learned a lesson with this dish.  I need to spend more time reading and visualizing the steps of an recipe before I start it.  I tend to start things and believe that I'll just figure it out as I go.  This approach can work, but when you've got a recipe with several components and steps, along with several other dishes on the go, it can be a bit chaotic.  Having already made the recipe once, it'll be easier to make it again in the future.  But, I found myself re-reading the recipe as I had my hands covered in ingredients and things burning on the stove.  I also now know that you can pretty much complete the recipe to the point just before putting it in the oven (i.e., the part where you "bake until the cheese is melted and lightly browned in place and the sauce is lightly thickened, about 10 minutes").  You just want to be mindful of the chicken, which won't be fully cooked through yet if you've only cooked each side for two minutes.

Some of the other recipes I'm looking forward to making include: Arancini di Riso (rice balls...but it sounds so much better in Italian), Minestrone Soup, Tagliatelle with Wild Mushroom Sauce, Ziti with Roasted Eggplant and Ricotta Cheese, and Marinated Winter Squash.

Disclaimer: A free review copy of this cookbook was sent to me.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Arthritis Health and Nutrition

Note: this post was written by Giz.  Your reader may say that it was written by Psychgrad because she took and uploaded the pictures.

We all know about arthritis.  I remember, as a teenager hearing people talk about their "arthritis" while they were rubbing their joints and saying alot of "oy" and giving a knowing nod to one another as brothers and sisters understanding each other's pain.  My thoughts then were: "what could be so bad and why so much drama about a little arthritis?"

I'm grown up now and have a whole new outlook on the whole arthritis thing.  Arthritis is really quite a general term for a family of approximately 100 different presentations and degrees of what is typically symptomized by joint paint.  The most common - osteoarthritis - is something I share my life with and frankly the relationship is not so satisfying.  When the opportunity presented itself for a complimentary copy of The Complete Arthritis Health, Diet Guide and Cookbook from Robert Rose Publishers , I jumped at it.  I'd always heard the expression that the worst thing you can do is "nothing" so I've made a point of swimming daily.  The pool seems to be the least painful way to exercise and after an hour of constant movement, you feel so much better.  Seriously.

The book, written by dietician Kim Arrey and Dr. Michael R. Starr, is a clear look at what arthritis is, how it affects you while giving you 125 easy to follow recipes to help you change your narrative through a common sense diet.  I've learned so much about the foods that both increase and decrease inflammation that the recipes, although wonderful, rank second to the learning of what works and what doesn't in terms of nutrition.  Although making even small changes can be somewhat intimidating, the book suggests the little steps such as replacing white potatoes with sweet potatoes, incorporating more vegetables and legumes in your diet and joining an aquafit class at least a couple of times a week.  I'll be using this book as a bible for feeling better, that's a for sure!  If someone in your family is challenged with any form of arthritis, I encourage you to gift them this year with this gift of good health.  Trust me, it'll be so appreciated.

This past weekend Psychgrad, R and Ms. E came for a visit and we invited the family over for dinner to celebrate the welcoming of our precious Ms. E to the family.  She's already wormed her way into the hearts of all of us and will go through her first year being the most photographed child in the history of our family.  She's already showing signs of strong interest in technology and loves to look at pictures of herself.  Is there such a thing as vanity at the age of 3 months?

We incorporated some of what I've learned in The Complete Arthritis Health, Diet Guide and Cookbook  in our menu planning.  I decided to go with some interesting looking dishes that Marie of Proud Italian Cook.  The first is a Vegetable Torta that's made up of any number of roasted vegetables that you may have on hand or chose specifically to use.   We cut up the following vegetables and roasted them in a 425 F oven tossed with olive oil and kosher salt.

1 Sicilian Eggplant
A whole head of Cauliflower
Medium Butternut Squash
8 oz mixed Mushrooms
1/2 Package of Frozen Spinach

Cut the vegetables (round veg in rounds)   After roasting the vegetables, let them cool.  We used a 9 inch springform pan and began with a thin layer of sweet potatoes.   

Shred 4 oz of Asiago Cheese and 6 oz of Mozarella Cheese.  The cheeses become the glue that holds it all together.

Continue to layer and push firmly into place after each layer adding a small amount of asiago and mozarella.  Top with sweet potatoes and finish with the cheeses.

Cover your torta with aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes; uncover and bake for another 20 minutes or until nicely golden.

The second dish that is more of an adaptation is so simple and so delicious.  

1 head of leaf lettuce
3 small zucchinis (make into ribbons with your vegetable peeler applying strong pressure)
4 oz broken up feta cheese
slivered almonds to top
We made a simple Greek dressing with 3 parts olive oil, 1 part red wine vinegar, 1 clove crushed garlic, oregano, 1 Tbsp dijon mustard and a splash of fresh lemon juice.

Grill the zucchini until it begins to brown
Add to the lettuce with feta and dress.
Top with almonds and voila - deeeelicious.

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