Tuesday, May 17, 2011

From the Mouths of Babes

"Mom, are there any cupcakes around?"

This, at breakfast, from a boy not yet three. Good reason to pull out Martha Stewart's Cupcakes cookbook once we're reinstalled in our new kitchen! I just discovered that you don't even need the cookbook—a surprising number of her cupcake recipes are posted on her website! Can't believe I've never looked at her website before...

P.S. Garden is (mostly) planted!

P.P.S. I'm either really excited or really over tired. Every sentence in this post ended in an exclamation point. One of many signs that I should go directly to bed.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Kitchen Reno Countdown

Today I entertained for the last time in my existing kitchen. Friends came over for brunch, which evolved into a snack and a beer in the backyard around 2PM, because we were still visiting. We had breakfast burritos, filled with slow cooker black beans—thanks to lennisdottir for the idea, although the aroma of simmering beans while we slept was distracting and even confusing: "Did you leave a burner on?" asked hubby at 3AM—chorizo and Monterey Jack from the Bulk Cheese Warehouse, scrambled eggs, and salsa. A lovely way to spend a lovely summer day (although I have a bit of a sunburn as a result. Those first warm days always seem to sneak up on me)!

My meal plan this week is as bare bones and simple as possible. Not much inspiration here, unless you're looking for the minimalist version of healthy family cooking. In between work, the usual childcare and keeping everyone fed, I will be hauling my stuff out of the kitchen and stashing it wherever I can find space for it in the basement. Part of me loves handling all of my wine glasses, serving platters and pottery; the other part of me marvels at how home renovations bring out the most materialistic side of me. I found I had to remind myself that it is just stuff after all. But stuff I LOVE.

I have managed to take some "before" photos, and I've included them here. I'll be sure to include "after" photos as well. The wall with the shelving and cookbooks on it is already gone, and will be replaced by an island. Just that change has made a huge difference to the feeling of openness and the light coming into the kitchen and living room. Very exciting!

We're building in cabinets on this wall. The buffet is for sale. Any takers?

This wall is already gone. It opens up the view to dining room and living room.  Island will go here.
P.S. I really hate the blue walls.

So looking forward to making this a functional space!!
And getting rid of the temporary (plywood) casing for my dishwasher!!

In case you're ever desperate for basic, simple food, here are the last meals I'll be making in my kitchen:

Pan-fried pickerel
Lemon-scented rice (add zest and juice of one lemon, 2 T. butter, and salt and pepper to hot steamed rice)
Steamed peas
Fresh veggie plate

Small pork roast (delivered to my door by my lovely dairy delivery folks)
Roasted root veggies (mostly celeriac, since I have some that needs using before we leave the house for three weeks)
Simple salad

Broccoli cheddar melts

Bean and cheese quesadillas
Pacific Organic roasted pepper and tomato soup (from a carton)

Construction starts Wednesday afternoon, so the remainder of the week will be restaurant food. I've never taken D to Fuddruckers, and since he has recently developed a passion for hamburgers (I made some for Saturday's supper this week, and he was yelling, "I want one of THOSE!" the second he caught sight of me on my way to the bbq. I was hard pressed to convince him that they should be cooked first), so I was considering that as an option for Thursday. Friday and Saturday will unfold as they come.

I joked with Mike at the Bulk Cheese Warehouse that by the end of the week, we'd be down to eating bread and cheese. His face lit up, and he said, "So you'll be shopping here, then!" Could be worse.

...and somewhere in the midst of all this, there is a garden to plant...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Backwards Meal Planning

I confess that I do not always follow my own advice. Circumstances this weekend dictated that grocery shopping had to take place before I could make any sort of cohesive weekly meal plan. I picked up the necessities that we were desperate for, and sifted through the organic produce section for a collection of fruits and vegetables that would fit into some sort of meal plan.

I still don't have a plan for the week, but I do have a plan for this evening: Red lentil soup with greens from Moosewood's Simple Suppers. And some kind of salad. I have leftover coconut milk from last week's coconut fried rice, and I picked up some lovely organic mustard greens during my foray, and these will work perfectly in this mustardy, coconutty soup. Yum.

Corn Feasts

Maybe we just hit a sweet spot with our kids' appetites this weekend, or maybe the following menu will always be this popular. Both boys put a serious dent in their meals (we pulled out some of the quinoa and black beans for Baby G before we mixed in the tomatoes and onions; otherwise, everyone got to eat everything pretty much as is). We enjoyed it just as much:

Grilled pork chops with garlic lime sauce
Black bean and tomato quinoa
Fresh corn on the cob
Watermelon for dessert

This fit the bill on so many levels: the garlic lime sauce dressed up the meat and added some spice for the grownups, while the kids got to eat the plain grilled pork chops. The quinoa was an excellent side dish, higher in protein and lower in carbs than most side dishes. My husband has been wanting to move away from grain-heavy (even whole grains) evening meals, so this did just that. Because the quinoa isn't very starchy, we didn't feel we were over doing it with the corn. Yummy and fresh and summery all around.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

And on to Summer

My heart leapt when I walked into Extra Foods today and discovered a huge bin of fresh corn on the cob! Yay! Corn season! Under the price, the sign noted, "Product of Canada." I'm guessing that unless Canada has appropriated land in Mexico, that this is just a recycled sign for last year. Or a blatant lie. Regardless, I can ignore how far it's traveled in my excitement to sample the first corn of the summer season. BBQ night tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Last Chance for Winter Foods!

While I'm certainly ready for the warmer weather, I had a sudden surge of nostalgia for winter foods this week. The rain helps a bit. I used the last of my favourite braising liquid (see Busy Mom Tip #6) tonight on some blade steaks (served with soba noodles, cauliflower and asparagus). I realized that oven-braising will soon be low on my list of priorities, especially since I'll be without a kitchen for the end of May and beginning of June. If I don't use it before then, there will be no way I will consider using my oven for three hours at the end of June. At least I'm hoping that the weather will not encourage such behaviour.

I'm leaning heavily towards gourmet macaroni and cheese tomorrow night. My mac and cheese recipe is not for the faint-hearted, but it is a true family favourite, and a perfect match with steamed broccoli and cauliflower.

Gourmet Mac and Cheese

2 c. uncooked macaroni or your favourite shape
1/2 c. butter
8 oz. cream cheese
1 lb. white cheddar, shredded
3 c. milk
3 eggs
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 t. celery salt
1/2 t. garlic powder

Cook macaroni in boiling, salted water until it is al dente. Combine remaining ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. This may require two batches, as it is a large amount of liquid. Place the cooked pasta in a large baking dish and pour the custard over top. Place the baking dish in a pan filled with an inch of water and bake in 350F oven for 50 minutes. The top should be well-browned and the centre of the custard should be almost firm (not soupy). Serve in bowls with steamed broccoli and cauliflower scattered over the top.

This recipe seems like it doesn't have enough pasta for the sauce. If you're like me, you'll like it that way.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

When Veggies Fall from the Sky

Late Sunday, I was just about to berate myself for not making a meal plan this week and not going grocery shopping when my mother called and announced that she would be stopping in on Monday to drop off surplus perishables that would not survive the few days that they would be away...on an epic journey to B.C. to move my sister's family to Vernon.

I had already pulled some fish out of the freezer and was planning a simple meal of rice and some sort of salad and frozen vegetable (I have peas and beans on hand) that night, so it was easy to just use whatever vegetable they brought. I am now well-stocked with slightly past-their-prime vegetables:
1kg of fresh beans
1lb. asparagus
2 red/yellow peppers
half a head of broccoli
half a head of cauliflower
2 baby cucumbers
1/2 bag radishes
1 tomato
several wedges of fresh (well, slightly fermented) pineapple
a large box of organic salad greens, partially used
a bag of random apples, oranges and grapefruit
half a tub of store-bought potato salad
an empty container that used to contain coconut macaroons (they got hungry on the way)

So, my week of not knowing what to make has turned into an 'uh-oh, how do I use all these vegetables whose best before date was yesterday?' week.

Well, for starters, we had green beans with the fish and swapped potato salad for the rice. I forgot about the potato salad, of course, until the rice was cooked. So then Tuesday's meal was also decided: fried rice of some kind.

I'm pretty pleased with the fried rice, which was more or less my own invention. I was hoping to make something similar to Keo's fried rice, which contains pineapple and cashews. Here's what I came up with, which I really enjoyed, which did not require me to pick up anything from the store--and which also satisfies my plebian urge to add ketchup to Asian food:

My New Favourite Coconut Whole-grain Fried Rice

1 T. canola oil
1/2 T. sesame oil
3 eggs, beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup each: sliced carrots, green beans cut to 1", asparagus cut to 1"
1/4 c. dried sliced shitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
1 tomato, chopped
2 T. ketchup
1/2 c. coconut milk
pinch of curry powder
1 diced red pepper
1 c. or more diced pineapple
4 c. whole grain rice (I used brown basmati, but any blend will do)
2 T. fish sauce (or to taste)
1/3 c. toasted pine nuts (it's what I had, but cashews would be excellent)

Put some water on to boil in a saucepan. When it boils, add the carrots, cook for 2 minutes, then add the green beans, cook for two minutes, then add the asparagus and cook for two more minutes, or until the vegetables reach the desired tenderness. Then drain and refresh under cold water and set aside. Proper technique requires you to cook each vegetable separately, but I opted to save time and do it all in one pot.

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or wok. When hot, add the eggs and swirl to cover as much surface as possible. Cook over medium heat, flipping if necessary, to create an omelette shape. Remove from the pan. When cooled, slice into thin strips and set aside.

Add a little more oil and stir-fry the onion and garlic until soft. Toss in the tomato and ketchup, and a bit of salt and pepper, and cook for another minute or so. Add coconut milk and curry powder and heat to boiling. Toss in the red pepper and pineapple and toss to warm, then add the rice and stir to distribute the sauce. Toss in the blanched vegetables and egg strips and stir until everything is combined. Be sure it is all just heated through. Season with fish sauce and toss in pine nuts. Of course, add in any combination of vegetables you need to use up. The pineapple is a must.

Creamy, nutty rice, just tender vegetables, savoury egg, and little bursts of sweetness from the pineapple. I was quite pleased. I may have to make it again the next time veggies fall from the sky (or tomorrow, to use up the rest of the ones I already have!).

How to use the rest of the veggies? Tune in tomorrow—if we manage to avoid the combination of virus, teething, grumpy toddler and sleepless nights that knocked us off track last week, then I should be able to report on it.

As an aside—here's another new favourite recipe from Mark Bittman that I found a copy of on line. It was easy, fast, and was so comforting, every bite tasted like my tummy was getting a hug. The kids liked it, too!