Saturday, April 14, 2012

Product Placement #6: Rozendal Vinegar

I have a new expensive habit, and strangely this one doesn't contain alcohol. I am completely enamoured with Rozendal vinegar, represented here in Saskatchewan by Doug Reichel, owner of Fine Wines Saskatchewan and importer of Rozendal wine. The wine is also excellent, but the vinegar, at $35/500 ml bottle, is even more expensive than the wine! It is also harder to find; here in Saskatoon it is only available at Cava Secreta.

I know many people are of the philosophy that expensive food items are wasted on kids. I am straying further and further from that philosophy all the time, and am constantly rewarded for it. I personally know many adults on whom expensive food items would be even more wasted than on my own children. My kids DO appreciate good food, and are far more likely to enjoy their meals if the food is real, and not what passes for food on most children's menus in restaurants.

Case in point: a recent meal that I made for a girlfriend and her kids, as well as my own family, involved a simple main course of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches: slices of a round brioche loaf, and a melted mixture of shredded smoked Gouda, broccoli, mayonnaise and sunflower seeds as the filling. Beside that, I served a salad: spring greens, toasted almonds and craisins, simply dressed with a splash of Rozendal vinegar, a splash of olive oil, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

My kids don't normally go for salad very much, so I usually provide raw vegetables as well. There were raw veggies available that day, too, but all the kids asked for more salad, and eventually scraped the bowl clean. You might think they were going for just the craisins, but they weren't. They inhaled the entire thing. I thought to myself, if that vinegar is what inspires kids to eat salad, then it's worth the price tag. On top of that, the vinegar itself is packed with health benefits. So really, there's no reason NOT to serve it. From now on, there will always be a bottle in my cupboard (currently we're enjoying the Green Tea flavour); I'll consider it an investment in my own and my kids' health, and their palates.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Vegetarian Finger Food Friday

Finger Food Fridays is something our entire family is really enjoying. Our usual take on it involves baked chicken wings, baked sweet potato and regular potato wedges, vegetable sticks and homemade dip. Tonight's version was all-veggie, and Asian inspired. And everyone loved it just as much. I think I'll be spending some time coming up with more finger food options, 'cause eating this way is fun!

Crispy tofu nuggets (from Whitewater Cooks at Home—note, the linked recipe is an adaptation of the original; I used cornstarch instead of arrowroot powder. Either will work.), dipped in sweet chili mayonnaise (1/4 cup mayonnaise and 1 T. Thai sweet chili sauce)
Whole grain sushi rice balls (inspired by Mark Bittman's Food Matters Cookbook)
Steamed and salted edamame
Carrot, celery and cucumber sticks

Pretty simple all around, and great flavours. I was particularly excited at finding a recipe for brown sushi rice. The original recipe was "Sushi Rice with Daikon and Sesame Seeds," but I only made the rice part, which goes as follows:

1 c. short grain brown rice
3 T. rice vinegar
1 T. sugar
1 T. grated ginger

Place water in a medium saucepan, cover with 1 inch of water and salt liberally. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low, so it bubbles gently. Cover and cook until water is absorbed (about a half hour or more). If water is absorbed, test rice to confirm that it is cooked. If it isn't yet soft, add some more water.

In a separate pan, while rice is cooking, combine vinegar, sugar, ginger and another teaspoon of salt. Heat to a boil, or until sugar is dissolved. Turn off heat and let cool.

When the rice is done, place in a large bowl. Toss rice with a rubber spatula to cool the rice and sprinkle with the vinegar mixture. (I confess, I didn't do this for long, but the traditional method takes this a little more seriously). Once the rice is cool, form into 1 1/2 inch balls, and serve with soy sauce for dipping.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Good Eating Even A 32-hour Power Outage Couldn't Stop

We're back into the grind after a lovely Easter long weekend, which unfolded in a rather unorthodox way (pardon the pun). We were staying with my parents for the weekend, and we always have lots to do and great food to eat while we're there.

We woke up Good Friday to snow. It had begun as rain that night, but was shifting to the white stuff by the time we were all awake. We continued with our day, choosing inside activities, and serving a traditional meal of fish for dinner. My mom was concerned that we were going to run out of oven space on Sunday to roast a turkey, ham AND cabbage rolls, so she opted to cook the cabbage rolls early, and serve them to my very appreciative cousin and her husband, who brought their daughter over for a visit with the boys. We were also encouraged to dig into one of the four pies that my mom had prepared for the weekend (they were only expecting 6 adults and two kids, but she still made FOUR pies! Not that I'm complaining. I love her pies, and I loved having one or two slices a day the whole time we were home, and going home with a whole pie on Sunday).

The NEXT morning, we awoke to a shock: no power, and at least 15 inches of snow! And it was still snowing. We heard throughout the day from neighbours (who, in the country, always call each other to determine the range of the power outage) that the SaskPower truck had hit the ditch en route to the source of the power outage (still unknown at that point). Their optimistic estimate for power restoration was 5PM that evening.

We continued on with our day after enjoying a full hot breakfast of sausage and eggs, thanks to my dad's abilities with the barbecue on the back deck. He had also set up two generators, which in turn powered the refrigerator, the coffee maker, the furnace, and the water pump. With the outdoors being a brilliant white thanks to the snowfall, and my parents' house having large windows in every direction, we didn't even feel like we needed extra light. They also have a large water holding tank, so we had reverse osmosis water for drinking and cooking as well. We weren't really suffering all that much.

Lunchtime rolled around with still no power, so we had cold leftover cabbage rolls and I boiled water on the turkey fryer burner and cooked perogies while shovelling four-foot drifts off the back deck. My dad, brother and husband dug vehicles out of snowbanks and began clearing the snow with a tractor.

We passed a quiet afternoon, but became a bit complacent waiting for the power to come back on. We just assumed it would. My dad had found a recipe that he hoped we could try—bacon wrapped pork tenderloin with pears—but we weren't able to get to the grocery store in town like we had planned, because of the state of the roads. We eventually realized the power wasn't coming on, but we chose to do a variation of the bacon-wrapped tenderloin anyway, sans pears.

We completely forgot that my mom had potato salad in the fridge, and that at any point we could have just lit a fire outside and had a smokie roast, but we had our hearts set on grilled bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin and foil-wrapped potatoes and carrots on the grill. It wasn't until 5PM when we finally roused ourselves and began getting our heads around another meal without power that we realized that we didn't have any tinfoil, a key ingredient in foil-wrapped potatoes on the grill.

So in a split second decision that was possibly not that well-considered (but we'd already started peeling potatoes), we decided to power my dad's deep-fryer using the generator, and make French fries. We also steamed peas and carrots on the turkey fryer, and made a salad. It wasn't until after we'd finished the process that we realized we could have just served potato salad...and we found the tinfoil. Oh well. Supper was delicious.

By the next morning, we had accepted that the power would be off indefinitely. We enjoyed scrambled eggs and bacon for Easter breakfast (cooked on the bbq again) along with sliced babka, traditional Ukrainian Easter bread, made with love by my Grandma. Oh, yeah, and then there was the appetizer of chocolate eggs that the kids enjoyed, before breakfast. Shudder.

My dad continued his magic on the bbq by setting up the turkey for Sunday dinner in a large roaster, and placing it on the grill. He eventually added the ham, and then, in a burst of brilliance, we decided to add the Brussels sprouts to the roaster in the last half-hour of cooking. Instead of trying to work out how to mash potatoes and make gravy without a stove-top, we finally decided to make use of the potato salad. Not exactly a traditional meal, but it was truly delicious. Best Brussels sprouts I've had in a while!

Who eats this well while the power is off for over a day? I guess the answer is we do. Kudos to my parents for (almost) effortlessly hosting 4 extra adults and 2 children during the biggest power outage any of us had experienced, while still making a series of amazing celebratory meals. I'm also grateful for the large box of leftovers I got to take home: a ham bone that got turned into Red Beans and Rice de Guise yesterday, and a good portion of turkey that has been feeding my kids and my inlaws for lunch the last couple days. But now, the pie is all gone, and only chocolate Easter eggs remain. Until our next family adventure!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I Can Make Hamburger Rolls!

Quick update on yesterday's post—I have confirmed that my whole wheat roll recipe can make very good hamburger rolls. I made eight plus-sized rolls from my usual one-pan recipe, and while they were quite a bit more filling than store-bought ones, they were also that much fresher and tastier.

It was a beautiful day here, so I also got to act upon my Spring resolution to eat as many meals outdoors as possible this year. We ate our dinner at our patio table and then stacked wood and raked leaves before it was time to put the kids to bed. D used to be too distracted to eat if we tried to dine outside last year, when he was still only two. Maybe it was the favourite meal of hamburgers, but both boys spent a good long time at the table and ate a good meal. G eventually climbed down from his chair only to move over to his dad's lap, where he proceeded to take huge bites out of that burger as well.

Wheat Rolls (adapted from King Arthur Flour's Whole Grain Baking)

1 c. lukewarm water
1/4 c. orange juice (I used the fresh juice of one orange)
4 T. butter, cut into 6 pieces
3 T. honey
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/4 t. salt
Heaping 1/2 c. dried potato flakes OR 3 T. potato flour (I use the potato flour)
1/4 nonfat dry milk
2 1/4 t. instant yeast

Combine all dough ingredients, and mix and knead them—I use my Kitchenaid mixer and dough hook—until you have a medium soft, smooth dough (I also had to add about a half cup extra flour, because my dough was too sticky). Cover and allow the dough to rise until it's quite puffy, but probably not doubled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours.

Gently deflate the dough and transfer it to a lightly greased work surface. If you're making hamburger rolls, divide in to 8 pieces, shape into rolls and place on a large cookie sheet, even distances apart (this is so they don't touch while rising or baking). If you're making dinner rolls in a 9"x13" pan, then divide it into 15 pieces. Shape each piece into a rough ball by pulling the dough into a very small knot at the bottom, then rolling it under the palm of your hand into a smooth ball. (or see this video for how to roll rolls)

Place the rolls in the prepared pan, spacing them evenly; they won't touch one another. Cover the pan with lightly greased plastic wrap or a clean dishtowel and allow the rolls to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. They'll become very puffy and will begin to touch each other in a smaller pan (but not if you're making hamburger rolls). Uncover the rolls and bake in a preheated 350F oven for 23-25 minutes for a pan of smaller rolls, 20 minutes for hamburger rolls, until they are mahogany brown on top but lighter on the sides. Brush tops of hot rolls with butter to give them a satiny finish.

These rolls are a bit sweeter than the typical hamburger rolls, but I didn't mind the added sweetness. I may have set the bar at a new height in my quest for the ultimate hamburger.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Easter Week Short Meal Plan

On Thursday this week, we're headed to my parents' to celebrate Easter with them, so I am practicing restraint in my meal plan and trying my best not to have to go to the grocery store before then. Here's my (fairly) simple meal plan for Monday thru Wednesday:

Kale chips (my new favourite thing; and it's got my kids singing, "Yum! Yum!" when I drop a bundle of organic kale into the grocery cart. Everyone loves them. My husband missed my first two times serving them because the kids ate them all before he got home from work. When he finally did try them, he said, "What a great way to eat kale!" We have been having them at least once a week since the price of organic kale became more reasonable.)
Chicken vegetable stew, thickened with quinoa flour, recipe provided in an earlier post

A note on this stew: I thought that I had enough quinoa flour to make it (it requires a half cup), and it turns out I was wrong. Luckily, I have some experience with grinding whole wheat berries for a whole grain pancake recipe, and decided to try blending some whole quinoa grains and water together to create the required flour/water slurry. Success! Remember this if you ever require flour for thickening and you happen to only have the whole grains on hand.

My boys LOVE chicken soup, but they have not yet been convinced of the merits of chicken stew. D picked through to get at all the meat; G went for the potatoes and then called it a day. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

My parents just brought me a couple of cuts of bison meat, which they acquired in one of my dad's famous small town trades. I am going to make bison burgers tomorrow.

Because I'm trying to avoid the grocery store, I entered into an intense negotiation with myself over what kind of salad we're having. I have a whole cabbage in the fridge, so coleslaw is in order. My first urge was to make blue cheese coleslaw, a family favourite, but that would require me to go purchase mayonnaise and blue cheese. Or, I could make the mayonnaise, but I would still need to buy blue cheese. In my world, burgers MUST have cheese, but since I have some really good white cheddar, I don't NEED the blue cheese to make the burgers. I also have some leftover bbq sauce from a meal I made last week, as well as some coleslaw vinaigrette in my fridge. So I can still make coleslaw, just not my first choice. But I like the vinaigrette, too.

Coleslaw vinaigrette 
1/2 c. vineger
6 T. canola oil
6 T. sugar
2 1/2 t. dry mustard
1 t. celery seed
Bring all ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan, then turn off heat, season with salt and pepper, and let cool before using. Pour over your favourite slaw ingredients. My favourite combination is fresh-cut cabbage, grated carrots, green onion and green pepper if I have it. Sunflower seeds, craisins or raisins are a great addition as well.

I have also decided to make hamburger rolls, since I have ingredients for bread, and have been enjoying that process. My dough is rising as I type this; I will shape the buns and let them rise overnight. I've never made larger kaiser rolls with my whole wheat roll recipe. I'll give a report tomorrow.

I've been growing my own sprouts and having fun with that too (how can you tell I'm ready to get back out in the garden?), and I think instead of going to buy lettuce, we'll top our burgers with them.

So what will go on these burgers? Thanks to what is in my fridge, here's the list:

Sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onion
Old white cheddar
Spicy home-grown sprouts
Tomatoes (NOT in the fridge)
BBQ sauce
...and the pièce de resistance...wild boar back bacon! (I have a few slices leftover from breakfast on the weekend)

Plus the coleslaw and some raw veggies for the kids to munch on. They are hamburger fiends, and they also go nuts for fresh bread, so it should be a good eating day for them.

Not bad for not having to go to the grocery store...


Did I say I'm trying not to go to the grocery store? Just as I wrote that, I realized I have scheduled the next phase in my adventures as a foodie for Wednesday night: I am teaching my 18 year-old cooking-illiterate nephew to cook. We're starting with a trip to the grocery store for an orientation, and then I am going to have him cook us some pasta. So I do have to go to the store after all. But I won't really be buying anything except pasta.

I made a dead-simple pasta sauce for dinner one night for my kids, involving a can of tomatoes and some butter (heat the tomatoes, mash them, simmer for a while, then stir in some butter and throw cooked pasta in to soak in it a bit while it simmers). I was amazed by how good it is. I'm thinking I might throw that at him, instead of letting him pick up a jar of sauce...unless he gets to buy a jar for a taste comparison...

So that's this week. I'll report back on the buns and how Wednesday goes.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Leftover Series #2: One Pot of Porridge Makes Three Delicous Breakfasts

Sometimes what seems to be a problem or limitation is actually an amazing opportunity. Case in point last week when I discovered right at breakfast time that we were out of bread, rendering our usual breakfast of toast an impossibility.

Oatmeal porridge is also welcome at our breakfast table, so it wasn't that much of a hardship. D asked for raisins and apples in his oatmeal, so I obliged. Porridge isn't my favourite thing, but I have worked out a cooking method for oatmeal which is slightly unorthodox, but which I like. I add three cups of cold water to 1 cup of slow cook oats, bring it to a boil, and simmer until it thickens, about fifteen minutes. This creates a smooth, creamy texture, which I prefer to the more grainy approach of adding your oats to a smaller volume of boiling water (the recommended water to oat ratio in most cookbooks is 2:1). Critics of my approach might say the resulting oatmeal is too gooey, but I won't apologize, because that's the way I like it, and my kids like it too. (Delicious Breakfast Number One)

Anyway, I ended up with about a cup and a half of leftover oatmeal, and I was loathe to toss it. I've been trying my hand at bread-making lately, and so did an internet search for leftover oatmeal bread. Alton Brown didn't let me down! I made some adjustments to his recipe, however, using butter instead of oil and honey instead of agave syrup. I love learning the science behind bread-making—as long as I have some kind of fat and some kind of sugar, it will turn out just fine!

I was also appreciating having my handy-dandy Salter kitchen scale, which makes measuring by weight for baking super easy. I use it all the time.

Anyway, the bread turned out beautifully, and we enjoyed it simply sliced and buttered, alongside some fresh fruit, the next morning for breakfast. (Delicious Breakfast Number Two)

The next morning, with the bread a little over a day old, we opted for French toast. Another kid favourite! I sliced up some of my dad's home-cured bacon to go along with it. Breakfast was very quiet that morning, with my kids each inhaling an entire slice of French toast. The oatmeal bread, which was very light and fluffy, took on a creamy texture when dipped in the egg mixture and cooked on the griddle. The slight sweetness from the apples and raisins (which were ground into nothing during the dough mixing process, but added a nice aroma and touch of sweet to the bread) reminded me of a cruller doughnut. But not quite as unhealthy. (Delicious Breakfast Number Three)

My Preferred French Toast Batter

3 eggs, beaten until frothy
3/4 c. milk
1 t. vanilla
1/4 t. salt
3 T. raw sugar

Mix all ingredients together and stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Dip bread slices in the mixture, and cook slowly on a hot, buttered griddle until browned on each side.

So, one pot of porridge, one loaf of bread, three delicious breakfasts, and, most satisfying for me, no waste!

Leftovers Series #1: Smokie and Perogie Frittata

After a breakfast of frittata made of leftover foiled potatoes from Friday night's bbq this morning, I remembered that I've been wanting to share a recent brunch revelation from a couple of weeks back. One Sunday, I had a substantial amount of leftover smokies and perogies (my go-to meal for the kids when I'm going out for dinner).

I was thinking about how much I enjoy pan-fried perogies, but we didn't have enough for a full meal, and I had family coming for brunch. Then I realized that it might be delicious to use the perogies instead of potatoes in a frittata or Spanish tortilla.

So I gathered together everything that would normally go into a delicious smokie and perogie meal: the smokies and perogies, obviously, but also fresh mushrooms, green onions, cream and old Cheddar cheese, and basically poured eggs over top. Delicious! Here is my recipe, although you can make it work with virtually any leftovers.

Smokie and Perogie Frittata

3 T. butter
10-12 leftover perogies
1 c. chopped green onion
1 c. sliced fresh mushrooms
6-8 leftover smokies, chopped
12 eggs
1/2 c. milk/cream or half'n'half
2 c. grated Cheddar cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375F or 350F for convection.

In a mixing bowl, scramble the eggs and milk/cream until frothy. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

In a 12" oven-safe skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add perogies in a single layer, allow to brown on one side before turning them gently. Once they're browned on one side, push the perogies over to one side of the pan and add the mushrooms and onion. Saute until soft, then stir in the chopped smokies. Arrange the perogies evenly throughout the pan, and arrange meat, onions and mushrooms evenly as well.

Pour the egg mixture over everything in the pan. Once eggs start to bubble in a few places, sprinkle with cheese and transfer to the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the mixture is firm and slightly puffy, and the cheese on top is golden brown.

I enjoy frittatas of all kinds, but this one, with the occasional potato dumpling surprise, was extra satisfying. It was a hit with my brunch guests, as well. I'll be working hard to have smokies and perogies leftover in the future.

Generously serves 4 adults and 2 kids.