Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Joys of a Hot Breakfast

This morning, I've been enjoying the sensation of well-being that comes from having a belly full of hot food and delicious coffee first thing in the morning. I had a left-over container full of lemon-caper potatoes from last Friday's supper, as well as some bean sprouts that weren't going to last very long, so I decided to make a 'clean out the fridge' frittata for breakfast this morning. D was excited at the prospect, but it turned out he liked the idea of eggs for breakfast more than he liked the act of eating them. He's usually got a huge appetite, but he's been struggling with a virus that has knocked out his will to eat. I thought maybe eggs for breakfast would tempt him, but not so much. Oh well, all I can do is offer, and rest easy in the fact that he's got some weight to burn.

Clean Out the Fridge Frittata

Preheat oven to 375F

In a medium bowl, mix 8 eggs with a splash of milk. Add salt and pepper to taste, as well as any herbs you'd like for flavouring.

Chop some onions or garlic (I opted for 1/4 c. green onions)

Add 1 or 2 T. of oil or butter to a 10" oven-safe fry pan and heat to medium.
Add onions or garlic and leftover potatoes (roasted or boiled, either will work—2 cups or so) until potatoes are hot and onion or garlic is cooked

Add 1 c. vegetable that needs using (I had bean sprouts, which don't need any extra cooking. If you use other veggies, just add them with the onions and potatoes)
Top with 1/2 c. grated cheese of your choice (I had old white cheddar on hand)
Pour egg mixture over the vegetables. Make sure that the eggs cover the veggies. If they don't, quickly scramble another one and add to the pan.
Leave on the stovetop until the eggs start to bubble in a few places. Then move pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the eggs are set and the top is browned.

Cut into pie slices and serve--then enjoy the sensation of a warm, full belly on a cold morning.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Weekly Meal Plan #1

This week I've got a few items that need using up, namely a half-used can of coconut milk from our weekend dessert of black sticky rice pudding, and some fresh snowpeas, thanks to a lack of communication between my husband and me--I picked up snowpeas for a kid snack on one trip to the grocery store; my husband did the same thing two days later.

Usually I start my week with a Sunday night dinner that guarantees leftovers. That was thwarted this week by a Grey Cup party. The leftover chili was barely enough to cover lunch, so Monday turned into the big dinner with leftovers as a goal (my other goals being to include servings of beans, vegetarian food and fish to supplement my freezer full of meat. Ironically, meat is often our cheapest option for dinner, because it comes from family who raise it themselves):

Roast chicken (from a local Hutterite farm)
Rosemary roasted potatoes (rosemary sprigs grown in my herb garden and frozen for use over the winter)
Organic frozen green peas
Salad with homemade dressing

Leftover chicken with baked curried rice with apples and coconut (from Mark Bittman's Food Matters Cookbook...not sure how curry will do with the two-year-old palate...I'll get back to you on that)
Steamed cauliflower

Vegetarian chef's salad (from Canadian Living's Eat Right 2009 Cookbook, no longer available, but luckily the recipe is still on line)
+ play group at 6PM, if we can pull it off...

Beef and snowpeas with pan-fried noodles, a la epicurious.com

Tuna and sweet potato casserole (from Barbara-jo McIntosh's Tin Fish Gourmet)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Christmas Baking Edit

Following my sister's stay at my house this weekend, I discovered some additions to the Christmas Baking list in my food planner. Underneath my own list of recipes and notes on the number of days I'll need to complete them, she wrote:

Teddybear cookies (7 days)
Gingerbread house (1/2 day)
Candy canes--must find recipe, maybe elves can help?
More spiced truffles (2 days)

Ha ha, little sister.

Her mention of teddybear cookies triggers a sore spot in my Christmas baking experience. Years ago I discovered a recipe for the cutest little white/chocolate sugar teddy bears. You divide sugar dough in two, add chocolate to one half, and then begin rolling 1 inch balls for bodies, 1/2 inch balls for heads, 1/4 inch balls for arms and legs, 1/8 inch balls for ears, 1/16 inch balls for buttons, eyes and mouths...you get the idea, and then putting them together in alternating colours. White bodies get chocolate heads and chocolate legs, white heads get chocolate ears and faces, and so on. The process is absolutely maddening. But the final results are so cute and delicious that my family would insist that I make them every year. As the years passed, my tolerance for them got lower and lower, until I was cursing those poor little bears before I creamed the butter.

Then came the year that I swore off them completely. My brother and sister begged me to not give up, and promised that they would help. So I made a double batch, only to have my helpers get bored half-way through and wander off. That left me with twice the amount of dough to work through, and twice the time to develop new and creative curses for those GD bears. That was the last year I made them. It obviously doesn't stop my family from requesting them--and maybe five years from now I'll have forgotten how annoying they are--at least enough to consider making them again. I can guarantee it won't be this year.

Guilty Pleasures

As promised, as soon as my date squares disappeared, I moved on to the raspberry coconut squares. These little treats fall down in the realm of healthy foods, since they are true confections, packed with white sugar and white flour.

While I will enjoy every bite of the squares (my motto is 'moderation is key'), I usually try to cook and bake things that have at least some nutritive value, using whole grains, unrefined sugar or fruit whenever possible. I have a King Arthur Flour cookbook, titled Whole Grain Baking which helps me in that quest. Those recipes aren't entirely perfect either, as I find they tend to use more sugar than I prefer. (I'm not a low-sugar fanatic. I just like cookies without that melted sugar crisp edge that they get when they have too much sugar compared to other ingredients). But at least using whole grain recipes makes me feel better about feeding it to my family.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Quick Kid Lunch #1

When I've got nothing out for lunch and leftovers are lacking, I often go for this surefire winner:

Baked Bean and Cheddar Quesadillas

Open a can of your favourite baked beans and grate some of your favourite cheese (I usually have old Cheddar on hand). Mash beans onto one half of a whole-grain tortilla, sprinkle with cheese, fold over to create a half-moon and press firmly. Repeat as many times as needed (two tortillas means four to six wedges for mom and two to four wedges for toddler). Cook in a non-stick fry pan (preferably cast-iron), on a griddle (my favourite), or bake in the oven until tortilla is crisp and the cheese is melted (5-10 minutes). Cut each half-moon into four wedges and serve. You'll have beans leftover for a snack, or for the same lunch tomorrow.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Terrorizing E.E. Burritos

There are a few philosophies regarding taking kids to restaurants, ranging from ‘don’t bother with anything but fast food’ to ‘I’ll take my kids anywhere I please and I dare you to criticize’. I never bought into the cult of fast food—even as a kid I didn’t think anything at McDonald’s tasted like food—but I’m also not a militant. I like a meal at a kid-free restaurant myself, so don’t feel the need to take my children where they don’t belong.
 I have developed my own middle-way philosophy of kids and restaurants. With newborns, I have been known to call ahead to warn them that I am bringing a little one. Especially while traveling, this has worked well. In Portland, when D was six months old, we received a hearty welcome every time, and I got to enjoy some of Portland’s cutting edge restaurants. No Chuckie Cheese for me! It also helped that Portland is a pretty casual and family-friendly place, and the restaurants we went to were very much neighbourhood hang-outs.
Closer to home, I was able to gauge the level of welcome for kids by the number of servers or owners who, much to the surprise of my dining companions, would sweep up my baby and take him on a tour of the kitchen. This happened regularly at Keo’s, as well as Konga Cafe.  
Now that we have a toddler, our dining options are more limited, especially if both my husband and I hope to sit through most of the meal rather than trying to contain our rambunctious two-year-old. We normally go to locally-owned places with fast service, or room to run around (or both).  I have started to try this approach: go to family-friendly neighbourhood restaurants (preferably where the owners know me and are happy to see me) and bring other families with kids, so that mine isn’t the only obnoxious one.
On our trip to E.E. Burritos on Thursday, this approach worked well. We braved a nasty snowstorm to get there, and found the restaurant virtually empty. We met up with my sister and her 18 month old, and our friends who have kids the same age as ours (one three month old and one two year old). The kids scarfed down chicken quesadillas and then spent the rest of the time running around and playing under a table surrounded by a fake grass skirt. They had a great time, and the server just laughed at their shenanigans, saying, “I have a two-year-old, I know what they’re like!”
My own meal of a Negro Modelo (ah, the joys of no longer being pregnant!) and hard tacos filled with beef (Alambre) and marinated pork (Cerdo Adobado) were most enjoyable. I had never tried their hard tacos before, and the shells were house-made—deliciously crispy and not greasy at all. They were the best tacos I’d had in a while, topped only by some that I’d sampled at the Los Angeles farmers’ market a few years back at a little kiosk called Loteria—and that won out mostly because I got to eat pork skin as a taco filling (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!).
I was tempted to order one of the soups—I’ve heard the Posole is fantastic—but I’ll have to go back another time, since I couldn’t convince my husband to order it (I hate when my dining companions don’t cooperate!).
I got to see the benefits of my philosophy first-hand: I didn’t feel so bad about my child’s behaviour, compared to the others. My kid wasn’t the one who picked up a half-eaten mint off the floor and popped it in his mouth. My kid also wasn’t the one who knocked a bottle off the shelves in the grocery area. Mine was just the one whose ‘hugs’ for the other two toddlers looked more like WWE manoeuvres. Sure he made the other kids cry. But at least he didn’t break anything.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kitchen Break

As much as I love cooking, I equally appreciate an afternoon where I don't have to strategize how to get supper on the table. Tonight we've opted to meet some other parents and kids at E.E. Burritos. That means I get to spend the afternoon reading, tending to my teething baby, and blogging while eating date squares and drinking tea. More on the E.E. Burritos experience later...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rediscovering Bar Cookies

I have never been much of a fan of bar cookies. To me, they belong at funerals, small town anniversary parties, and my grandmothers' houses. I much prefer cookies. Yesterday, however, I realized why so many homemakers swear by bar cookies. They're so easy! And you get a whole pan full!

While my boys miraculously slept at the same time yesterday, I threw together a pan of date squares, also known as 'matrimonial cake' here on the prairies. I kept the recipe basic as possible, which was helpful, because I had to stop part way through to breastfeed. I referred to two different recipes and combined them to make it easy, lower in sugar and added whole wheat), and today and for the rest of the week, I can enjoy a sweet treat with some tea in the afternoon.

Date Squares

2 1/2 c. chopped dates
1 c. water

Bring dates and water to boil in a saucepan. Cook until smooth, about 10 minutes

1 1/2 c. rolled oats
1 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. brown sugar
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
3/4 c. melted butter

Mix together. Press half of the mixture into an 8x8 pan, spread the dates over top, crumble the remaining oat mixture over top. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.

I noticed on the same page as the date square recipe in my Canadian Living Cookbook, a recipe for raspberry coconut squares. They're next!

Christmas Baking Conundrum

Speaking of planning ahead, I'm currently struggling with what to do about Christmas baking. Christmas is my namesake, and my favourite holiday. My Christmas baking plans are usually pretty ambitious and friends and family look forward to gifts of baking. But this year, with a three and a half month old, I'm going to have to curtail things a bit. So I've made a list:

Christmas fruitcake (with real dried fruit), since my inlaws have said they love fruitcake.

Spiced truffles (a stand-by of dark chocolate, dusted with cocoa, cardamom and black pepper, that my non-sweet-eating sister-in-law can't get enough of)
Cherry almond truffle squares (layers of white and dark chocolate, which suit my available time because making them requires short bursts of activity followed by chilling in between each step)

The truffle collection is rich enough that a few bites go a long way, meaning I don't have to fill up huge gift containers--small boxes will suffice.

Since D, my two-year-old, is finally old enough to help a bit, I've decided to make whole-wheat sugar cookies that he can help me decorate. Good gift option for grandparents and great-grandparents.

The jury is still out on two of my staples: peppernuts and almond roca. The almond roca is my dad's favourite, but it's fussy and expensive, not to mention that D's penchant for grabbing things on the stove make me a little nervous about bringing boiling sugar to 340 degrees F. The peppernuts take several days to complete, but they produce a lot, and they're very popular, so I'll try to see if I can fit them in. My husband suggested I get in touch with one of our babysitters who is interested in cooking, to see if she is interested in helping out. That might be a good solution.


2 c. brown sugar
1 c. butter
2 eggs
3 T. sour cream
1 t. soda
1 t. baking powder
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. pepper
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. ginger
1/4 t. cloves
1 t. ground aniseed
4 c. flour

Mix in order given. Chill 1-2 hours, or overnight. Roll into sausage-like rolls, wrapping each roll in wax paper. Freeze overnight. Removing one roll from the freezer at a time, slice in 1/2 inch rounds and bake on a slightly greased cookie sheet for 10 minutes @ 350 F.

Someone thought the peppernuts were worth climbing for (December 2009)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Busy Mom Tip #1: Plan Ahead

Before I had my second child, I often had a menu plan for the week, but was inconsistent on the grocery shopping, since I could just wander down to the grocery store as a nice outing. That was then. Now, with a newborn and a two year old, a trip to the store is more complicated, and I have to be religious about meal plans. Here's what I do:
• check the fridge to see what needs using up (I try to keep a list of these things in an ongoing journal)
• add to my weekly meal plan any event that will affect meal timing (do we have a play group at 6PM? is my husband out for the evening?)
• sort through my favourite cookbooks to find interesting recipes (my current favourites are Mark Bittman's Food Matters and Canadian Living's Eat Well)
• outline meals, including side dishes and dessert
• make a grocery list based on these menus, and buy it all at once.

Important tip: don't overplan meals. While I need to have leftovers to use for lunches, it's wasteful to have more leftovers than you can use. I also don't particularly like leftovers after the first day of them, so I make an effort not to plan TOO much. Takes practice...

Amazon in the Kitchen Online

Finally, I have decided to blog about all the menus, recipes and tips that I love to share with friends and family. I hope you find this helpful--I'd like to welcome any readers to share their own tips and thoughts as well.