Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Being Sugar Free

When I announced my intention to spend 10 days consuming no added sugar, I was surprised how many of you - my lovely readers - were actually interested and curious in my experience with this experiment. My head-space is currently uninspired, so the post felt a lot like filler, a tidbit of my life that I exploited for the purpose of a blog post.

But really, aren't I exploiting every single aspect of my life for the sake of a blog post, for the sake of a topic, anything, to write about? Here I am, exploiting the tidbit just a little bit more. Since so many of you seemed interested in the experience, I decided there was no harm in sharing a little more.

This evening, I went grocery shopping. When you're carefully paying attention to what you eat, grocery shopping becomes a far more complicated but, perhaps, a far more rewarding experience. Ingredient lists and labels become crucially important. Because I am focusing my elimination diet on sugar, specifically added sugar, I read every single ingredient list before an item made it into my cart. I knew bread was a tough one, and it was. Turns out, I will not be consuming any soft fluffy bread for the remaining seven days. I can, however, eat wraps, and, tucked in the corner of the bread section, I found a crispy cracker-like bread with sugar blissfully missing from its list of ingredients.

I stopped in the canned tomato sauce aisle for a moment, purely for the purposes of conducting a mini experiment. I shuffled through every brand, every variation. All but one featured sugar quite prominently. And that one? $4 versus the $1.50 of the rest. No wonder obesity plagues the poor and marginalized among us.

I feel like this is supposed to be harder than it is. You know? I mean... I learned today that they use sugar as a pain killer, a drug, for babies when they give them their first needles. So, if sugar is a drug, if sugar is supposed to be addictive, shouldn't I be feeling some kind of symptoms of withdrawal? Perhaps it's possible that I'm not as addicted to sugar as I thought I was. Perhaps my every day diet is cleaner than I believed it to be. Perhaps I'm not as out of control of my food choices as I have always assumed myself to be.

Does that mean I shouldn't even bother with this 10 day thing? Is this whole thing silly and pointless? Maybe. But I don't believe that. Maybe cutting out sugar won't actually accomplish much for me in terms of weight loss, but that's ok - I don't need to lose weight. What it will do, is heighten my sense of awareness about what I'm putting into my body. It will make me think about each choice I make, about how my food is fueling my body.

If nothing else, I'll enjoy the chocolate that's sitting in my freezer far more once I'm all finished this silly sugar-free business.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Peach Crumble

August is peach season. Peaches have this way of pulling me into the heat of summer, of reminding me of sticky days, and the fan rotating around my tiny bedroom in the farmhouse in which I grew up. They remind me of burying peach pits in the sand pile, hoping they would grow into trees. And peach juices dripping down my chin and my hands and all over the place.

Peaches also remind me of breakfast in the depths of the winter. In August, my mother lined the jars up, filled with peach wedges and a sweet syrup, bright orange in the dark of the concrete basement. In the mornings, well into winter, I would carrying one of those jars upstairs to the woodstove-warmed kitchen, pop the top off and scoop the syrup-sweetened fruit into a bowl.

It was good. But it was never as good as the fresh fruit.

I feel kind of the same way about this crumble as I did about those canned peaches. In order to save the 8 or so peaches that had begun to wrinkle in the fridge beyond the point of enjoyability, I peeled, pitted, and chopped them, cobbled one recipe with another, made a bunch of changes to accommodate what I had in the house and, an hour later, scooped this out of a casserole and onto a pretty dish.

It was delicious, but I have to be honest: it's not as good as a fresh peach. But, let's be fair: is there anything as good as a fresh peach?

Peach Crumble


8 peaches, peeled, pitted and chopped.
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar


1 and 1/5 cup granola
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter

This recipe couldn't be simpler. Mix together the flour, sugar, and peaches. Spread out in a casserole dish of your desired size. I used a smaller, round one. I tried an 8 by 13, but found the layer to be way too thin. If you're using a square casserole, try a 9 by 9 or something equivalent.

In a separate bowl, mix together the granola and brown sugar. Cut in the butter until the mix is crumbly. I like to use my hands for this step. Spread the crumble topping liberally over the peaches.

Bake in a 375* oven for approximately 30 minutes or until the top is a gorgeous golden brown and the peaches have been cooked and heated through.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cabbage and Beef Wraps

Sometimes, I'll throw something together for dinner, find out it is absolutely delicious, take pictures in order to share the recipe with you, sit down at my computer to start writing and be hit with the realization that I have no idea what I put in it.

Case in point: these cabbage and beef wraps. This is what I know:

  • There is some beef in it. I think it was leftover steak, or a really cheap blade steak that the husband picked up at the grocery store for 50% off. Cut into edible chunks and sauted in oil and onions and probably garlic. 
  • There is either a whole whack of spices or not very many at all. The main base for this is a barbecue sauce, and not a homemade barbecue sauce either. It was an addition, thrown in when the spice concoction I was putting together was proving neither saucy, nor flavourful. BBQ to the rescue!
  • There is cabbage. Lots of lightly sauteed, but still a touch crunchy, cabbage. 
  • It was delicious. Even if it didn't look particularly beautiful.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Sweet and Sour Meatballs

In all honestly, I don't have a lot of recipes that I can call favourites. I don't like to repeat, so I don't tend to discover the joy in the rhythm of a recipe, or the fond delight of a long-time favourite. But if I did have one, something like these would be it.

Or basic spaghetti, cooked noodles smothered in ground beef and Hunts tomato sauce, just like mom used to make and I used to make as a student.

These meatballs are at once comfort food and close to elegant, each one a delightful bite of tangy meat. I could eat a dozen, but I definitely recommend keeping your consumption to 3 or 4.

Sweet and Sour Meatballs

1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1 egg
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 tsp pepper

Simple to make.

In a bowl, mix all the ingredients together until well combined. I always take my rings off, set them in the window sill and tackle the mixing with my hands. It's gross, kinda slimy, but worth it.

Roll the mix into balls 1 - 2 inches in size. 

Brown the balls in a single layer on a skillet.* Transfer to a casserole dish.

1 cup BBQ sauce of your choice
1/2 cup vinegar, again of your choice. I used red wine vinegar, but I've also used balsamic and plain white.
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 cup brown sugar

In another bowl, mix all the ingredients for the sauce together.

Place the meatballs in a casserole dish. 

Pour the sauce over top. 

Bake at 325* for 30 minutes or in a slow cooker on low for approximately 8 hours.

* I forgot this step this time 'round. We neither died from food poisoning or spent any time consuming raw meat. Just increase the cooking time to 45 minutes or so and make sure you cut one in half to make sure it's cooked all the way through before serving.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Guest Post: Curry Slaw on My. Daily. Randomness.

Today, I'm guest posting for Brittany at My. Daily. Randomness. I was happy to step up when she needed a little help filling the week with posts while she is away.

There, I'm sharing a delicious slaw I made for a picnic with my bestie a couple weeks ago.

Do check it out and let me know if you try the salad!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

S'More Squares

This is the perfect s'more:

The chocolate is hot and melting. The marshmallow cools just enough as you squeeze it between the graham crackers that its delicately browned shell becomes just slightly chewy, adding to the texture. Marshmallow goo escapes out the side of the crackers as you bite down the the chocolate and cracker and marshmallow mix in a perfect threesome of taste.

If a s'more cooled before it was eaten, it would be nearly as perfect. Not quite, but nearly. These made up for their cool nature with the pure amount of rich chocolate and the addition of peanut butter that coated each marshmallow.

I was inspire by Jessica's recipe for a camping trip a couple weeks ago. It seemed appropriate, to bring a s'mores inspired snack to Bon Echo. I didn't really use her recipe - I didn't want to use a whole bag of chocolate chips didn't have enough graham crackers, instead, I simply turned them into a crust, laying 9 squares on the bottom of my 8 inch glass pan. It was perfect, better, I might suggest, than the result you would get by including them in the mix.

Peanut Butter S'more Squares
adapted from How Sweet It Is and Edna Staebler's Funeral Cookie recipe

2 cups white sugar
1/3 cup margarine
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla

1/2 a bag of mini marshmallows
1/2 cup chocolate chips
9 graham crackers

In a pot, mix together the white sugar and the margarine over medium-low heat on the stove, stirring constantly to avoid burning the sugar. Once the sugar and margarine have melted beautifully together, mix in the cocoa, milk, salt, peanut butter and vanilla, and slowly bring to a rolling boil. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool, stirring every so often to develop its slightly fudgy texture. 

Lay the graham crackers in the bottom of an 8 by 8 (or 9 by 9, whichever you have) square pan. It's ok if they overlap or have cracks between them. It's no exact science! 

Check your chocolate mix for temperature. If you can comfortably dip your finger in for a taste, it's ok for the marshmallows. Mix them in carefully until the marshmallows are well coated in chocolate. Add in some chocolate chips for added richness. 

Pour the chocolate and marshmallow mix over your graham crackers in the pan. Spread it out smooth and pop it in the fridge to cool. 

At This Dusty House, I've shared our garden's amazing progress. Be sure to stop by the check it out!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Out of the Pan

There is nothing like fresh fish, straight from the lake, into the fire and consumed with four others, huddled around a picnic table, picking the pale white flesh from among the translucent bones, careful to avoid to guts. Perhaps we could have gutted and filleted it. But this experience felt so simple, so basic, it was perfect in its lack of preparation.

This is what you do:

Fresh Buttery Bass

  1. Get your fishing license. I cannot endorse illegal fishing.
  2. Take your canoe up to Bon Echo park during bass fishing season. Fish for approximately three hours and catch one 1 lb fish. Bring it back to your friends who await anxiously with the fire roaring at your campsite.
  3. Slather the fish in butter. By slather, I truly mean slather.
  4. Douse the fish in salt and pepper. Both sides. Completely.
  5. Wrap well in two layers of tin foil.
  6. Place among the coals in your fire. Wait approximately 5 minutes. Flip. Wait another five minutes.
  7. Remove from the fire with a couple of sticks. 
  8. Scrape off the skin and nibble at the flesh. Be careful to avoid those bones. They're very thin, but very sharp and pointy. 


Friday, May 25, 2012

Rice Guk

The Dutch don't really have their own cuisine. Pancakes, stamppot, pea soup, and cheese. And that? Is about it. So, instead of being satisfied with their bland, cheap, boring dishes, the Dutch invaded Indonesia, called in colonization and borrowed (stole?) their cuisine. Nasi Goreng, specifically, a rice dish of soy sauce, veggies, spices, etc.

Essentially, the most disgusting thing ever.

While in university, my dad made his own version of nasi goreng on a semi regular basis. Take a university student who had never cooked for himself before and combine it with an ever popular familiar dish and this is what you get:

Cooked rice.
Ground beef.
Frozen vegetables.
A generous amount of soy sauce.

He dubbed it rice guk.

Essentially, the most disgusting thing ever.

Somehow, this mess became a family staple. My siblings didn't get the memo that soy sauce, without something to balance the saltiness, is disgusting, and my cries of complaint seemed to be drowned out by everyone else's odd, inexplicable enjoyment. I think those cries of complaint meant my dad was pleasantly surprised when I tweeted a shot of my lunch to him yesterday.

This is rice guk, but it's a far cry from the rice guk I complained so much about as a child. This is a rice guk I can happily consume. This is a rice guk I will happily make again in variation after variation.

So. An apology is in order.

My dear parents: I am so sorry I complained so much on the evenings you put rice guk in front of me. I didn't know at the time that all those times I pouted over my plate would lay down a foundation of appreciation for a mix of rice and meat and veggies. I would never have even recognized a bowl of rice, meat, and veggies as a meal, probably.

That said, you guys should try this. You'll probably never go back to your soy-sauce-flavoured rice guk.

Rice Guk

1 cup brown rice, uncooked
1 lb ground chicken, beef, pork, etc.
1 packet fajita seasoning
1/4 cup water
4 cups frozen mixed vegetables
1/2 cup marinara sauce 
1 cup leftover pineapple salsa (or 1/2 cup pineapple, chopped, and 1/2 cup salsa of your choice)

Super easy to make.

Cook up your rice. 

Meanwhile, brown your ground meat. Drain the fat and excess liquid. Add in the packet of fajita seasoning and the water. Throw in the veggies, the marinara sauce and the salsa. Add in whatever else may be floating around your fridge. 

To serve, scoop the meat and veggie mixture on top of your rice. One serving is about 1 cup with 1 cup of rice and has all sorts of good things in it for you.

Also, it's delicious. Like, really truly. In a completely non-soy-saucy way.

We've welcomed a second pup into our tiny home for the week. See why at This Dusty House

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pineapple and Cilantro Tilapia Tacos

Last weekend, after spending the day running, gardening, cleaning out the garage, and sorting through piles and boxes of mislaid things - why do we own so many things? - the Husband and I made a quick stop at Home Depot to drop off our old paint cans. I was exhausted, ready to go home and collapse as we climbed back in the car. 

"We're out of milk." The Husband said. "We could just pop into the grocery store really quick."

No. Please no. I hate grocery stores when I'm tired. But we were out of milk. And I was hungry. We were also out of ice cream.

"Ok." I said. "But let's not get anything else." But ice cream. And milk. Of course.

We whooshed through the automatic doors, scurried through the fruit and veggies section, pause briefly among the bread to determine that we did, in fact, have enough carbs to get us through. We turned to head toward the dairy aisle. My head must have turned to far because there, beside the fish counter, my eye was caught by one of those turning tower things they put books on. Except this one didn't have books on it. It has recipes. Little index-card-sized recipes. And at the top of the tower? A big sign labeled FREE
The Husband came to collect me 10 minutes later, ice cream, milk, and a box of freezies in hand. 

This recipe was one of those recipes. It's tasty. It helps if you like cilantro (the Husband does not. I most certainly do.) but if you don't, simply leave it out and you'll still enjoy it. I modified the original to become a taco and it was the perfect bit of tasty delight to finish off our Victoria Day weekend.

Pineapple and Cilantro Tilapia Tacos
From a Sobey's recipe card

For the salsa

1 cup pineapple, chopped
1/3 cup salsa (I used mild. If you don't have any, just chop up 1/3 cup of tomatoes.)
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp lemon juice

For the fish

1 tbsp olive oil
chili powder
garlic powder

For the taco

1 ancient grains soft tortilla or your favourite tortilla variety
2 leaves lettuce
A handful of green onions, sliced

Mix together the salsa ingredients. Set aside.

Heat a skillet over medium heat with some olive oil. Meanwhile, brush both sides of the fish with olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with the chili powder and garlic powder and rub into the flesh if necessary. Place the tilapia in the hot pan and cook approximately 3 minutes on each side.

When the fish is finished, assemble your taco: lettuce, fish, a generous scoop or two of salsa, and the handful of green onions. Roll up, consume! 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Skinny Chunky Monkey Cookies

This weekend was a high energy weekend. There was an 8.5 km run in the beautiful weather along the Don Valley Trail. There was an hour or two of gardening, an hour or two of organizing the garage. There was a long walk to the dog park, and an hour or so of throwing the pup her ball.

And then, there was the hour or two of sitting with my feet up, a glass of wine in hand on the front porch, watching the world pass. I love our front porch. Perhaps I'm nosy, but I'll admit it: I like watching our neighbours, seeing what they've done with their front lawns these days, waving across the street in a distant moment of neighbourly connection. My front porch makes me feel a part of this place, this street. 

Sunday evening, I pulled out my mixing bowls, a few ingredients, a baking sheet and set to work. I've tracked down a few healthy cookie recipes for the week, something I can make up and pack for snacks, lunches, grab for breakfasts, quick things that are low in calories and high in nutrition. Things made with applesauce and bananas and no oils or added sugar.

I know. These don't look like they fit that description, right? A chocolatey oatmeal cookie? Turns out these are kind of deceptive. As the Husband chewed through his first, he looked at me with this almost hurt expression on his face. Where was the coat-the-mouth sweetness? The rich chocolate delight? They look promising, but the tastebuds tell another story.

Until you have a second one.

And then a third.

And your brain starts realigning its expectations and your stomach reconsiders its cravings and suddenly you're five cookies in, starting on the sixth and you realize that, really, these will do just fine, thank you very much.

Skinny Chunky Monkey Cookies

I didn't adapt these in the least. I didn't even change the somewhat silly name that grows on you in the same way these cookies grow on you. I mean, just say it a couple times: skinnychunkymonkeycookies skinnychunkymonkeycookies. Fun, yes?

For the recipe, go here!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Banada Bread Muffins

I've been so good the past two weeks, carefully eating healthy foods, allowing myself a treat or two, focusing on getting as much exercise as possible, feeling amazing. And I do; I really do feel great. Eating lots of fresh foods rich with nutrition has been good for me. Getting to the gym when I can and taking the dog for long walks when I can't has been amazing, strengthening.

On the other hand, I've been craving fresh baked goods. You know the kind: gooey chocolate cookies, warm out of the oven, fresh bread, still steaming as it's broken open, sticky cinnamon buns and soft, fresh croissants.

In other words, all that is buttery and rich and oh-so-bad-for-you.

I don't necessarily crave the foods themselves. In fact, if someone showed up at work with a stack of chocolate chip cookies, I believe I could keep it to just one or resist altogether. Rather, it's the act of baking, of creating, of measuring and mixing and finally pulling something delicious and perfect and to-die-for from the oven.

But I won't. Because as soon as I start by measuring out that first cup of flour, I'm doomed to eat the whole dozen.

Instead, on the weekend, I made these. Whole wheat, banana, applesauce, raisins. You know. Healthy. But also tasty! Definitely delicious, especially right out of the oven. They're moist, hearty, fresh. They likely won't cure a craving for chocolate and high volumes of sugar, but they definitely fit the bill for fresh baked goods. Especially warm, cut open and slathered with a little - or a lot of - butter.

Banana Bread Muffins (adapted from Allrecipes)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup raisins

Mix together the dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, mix together the wet ingredients.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into it. Mix quickly until just combined, but don't over-mix or your muffins will be tough and chewy.

Fold in the raisins.

Spoon into a greased muffin tin and bake at 350* for 20 minutes. When finished, the tops will be golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the muffin will come out clean. Turn the muffins out onto a cooling rack or consume right away with as much butter as you wish.

Now, I'm on the hunt for more recipes like this, tasty ones that keep the fat content down and an eye on the sugar, that use whole wheat and grains instead of the white stuff. And maybe something with chocolate. Do you have any to share?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Wild Leeks

My parents have a few acres of bush that cover a huge rolling hill on their 100 acre property. There was a trail already existing when they bought the place almost 8 years ago, but they've worked hard to maintain it, improve it. We walk through the bush nearly every time we go visit.

On our last visit, the trilliums were in full bloom, white petals open beneath the dappling canopy, speckling the hills and the path with pretty, white, and oh-so-Ontario flowers. As we tromped through, my dad pointed to a large patch of leafy plants, plants I've seen a million times over but have never paused to give a second look.

- These are wild leeks, he said. Go ahead - taste the leaf.

I broke off a leaf and popped one in my mouth. The oniony flavour was overpowering, surprising enough that I spit it out a couple steps later, but, by the end of the walk, I was determined to go back and dig up a handful to bring home. Foraging at its finest.

Also known as ramps, Wikipedia tells me. They're stronger than a normal onion and nothing at all like a normal leek. It's a misnomer, really.

Admittedly, I was at a loss as to what to do with them. Google searches revealed very little about popular recipes that would bring out their flavour the best. People don't generally cook with them, it seems. Most are likely completely unaware of their existence. So, I fell back on what I knew best, popped their bulbs in a dutch oven with some oil, sauted them to translucent, and made a soup.

The leaves, I popped into the fridge, where they still languish. I've sprinkled them on salads, consumed them with my Saturday morning poached egg and toast, and contemplated blending them into a pesto. Still they sit.

Wild leeks are done in mid-June. It's my hope I'll be able to get back to the bush to pick some more before then. Growing seasons and how plants change over time fascinate me. Will their bulbs get bigger, their leaves stronger yet in flavour?

Wild Leek and Veggie Soup

1 tbsp olive oil
A handful of wild leeks, bulb part only
2 carrots, chopped
2 potatoes, chopped
4 cups vegetable stock
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 can black beans, rinsed

In a large pot or dutch oven, head the olive oil. Add the wild leeks and saute as you would onions until translucent. Add the carrots and potatoes and mix in. Add the vegetable stock and the rosemary. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Add the black beans.

It's a delicate tasty soup, but I wish I could have found something that would have made the flavour of those wild leeks sing just a little bit more.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Nothing Like a Salad

This is something I have learned about myself over and over again: there is a limit to my multi-tasking abilities. Specifically, there is only room in my head for one big focus at a time. These days, that focus is not blogging and all that it entails. I'm not going to apologize for that, though I will remind myself that I must get business cards printed and submit my bio for the Blogpodium book... Only a month away!

So, what has been taking up my attention?

(This might take some explaining.)

Conscientious eating has been taking up my attention. I don't like to call it calorie counting, because I think it goes far beyond paying attention to how many calories you're eating. It's also about paying attention to what's in those calories and paying attention to how your body reacts to those calories. It's about noticing when you're hungry and about determining what is going to ease that hunger and ease it for a long time.

Oh, and. How can I make that food tasty.

It's complicated. But it's interesting.

There is a minor weight loss goal* going along with this conscientious eating. On top of it all, I've been getting back to the gym when I can, taking nice long walks with my pooch and, all-in-all, not thinking about what the heck I am going to post on my two neglected blogs. (Before friends and family and those of you who have met me get all insistent that I have no need to lose weight, this is true! But that doesn't mean that my five pounds of muffin top wouldn't be just a little healthier off of me.)

Being healthy is important to me.

I won't keep this up for long. Generally, I track the foods I put in my mouth consistently for about two to three weeks at a time. This is long enough to get a good grasp on what I'm eating, make a few changes, and maintain from there. So, what kinds of food am I eating?

Plenty of salad.

Some quinoa, in all its nutritional magic.

Plenty of fruit, including frozen ones.

And, there's a whole chicken, happily cooking away in my crock pot as I write this, ready and waiting for me to get home tonight.

Food is important to me. Specifically, tasty food is important to me. But so is being healthy and learning to control and understand my body. I hope that, over the next little while, I'll be able to share the healthy aspect of food a little more, the indulgent-but-good-for-you side.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Taco Salad

I'm not so good at menu planning. I've tried. I've made weekly lists, bought groceries, filled my cupboards with specific plans and ingredients to go with them. And then, Wednesday hits and I'm tired and there's a frozen pizza in the fridge and, besides, that elaborate chicken with two different sides I had planned to make? Since I forgot to take it out of the freezer, it's going to take at least an hour, an hour and a half to get ready. And I'm hungry.

I have a jar of unopened artichoke hearts in my pantry for this reason. I have no idea what I was going to make. I've never made anything with artichoke hearts. I have no idea what I should make with artichoke hearts. They will likely remain in my pantry for a very long time.

(Anyone want an unopened jar of artichoke hearts?)

However, on Saturday, I decided to take a crack at it again. I sat down with my cookbooks, Foodgawker and Pinterest and 20 minutes later, had a simple list of dinners. I made up a grocery list and, while hanging with my youth group kids, sent the Husband out on a hunting and gathering mission on Monday night after work.

I can stick to this, right? For at least one week, I can handle a little planning, a little organization. I can do it. Just like the little train engine, I can do it.

Day one. Tuesday. Workout day. Killed myself on the treadmill, then came home and made this.

Taco salad.

My favourite thing in the world today.

Taco Salad
Adapted from Closet Cooking

The thing about taco salad is that you can be as free as you want with your salad ingredients. There are very few rules. As long as you have some kind of meat, some tacos and some salad greens, you've got a taco salad. A delicious taco salad.

Often, I make taco salad using a seasoning packet, easily and cheaply obtained from your local grocery store. This time, however, I made my seasoning from scratch using this recipe and was pleasantly pleased and surprised with the result.

On to the recipe!

For the meat
1 large onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb ground chicken
1 packet or 1 serving taco seasoning
1/4 cup water

For the salad
1 medium sized tomato, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 handful of shredded cheese
As much chopped or torn lettuce as desired
A handful or so of crushed tortilla chips
A dollop (or two) of sour cream
A plop of salsa of your desired heat (mild!)

In a splash or two of oil, saute the onion and garlic until the onion is cooked and translucent. Add the ground chicken and saute until cooked.

Mix in your taco seasoning. I didn't bother mixing the homemade mix up beforehand, but rather just tossed each spice into the frying pan as I went.

Pour in the water and stir to incorporate. Allow to simmer until most of the water is gone.

Put together your salad in your preferred order. Mine is as such:
    1. Lettuce
    2. Tomato
    3. Tortilla chips
    4. Cheese
    5. Meat
    6. Sour cream
    7. Salsa

Monday, April 2, 2012

French Fries

Last night, as dinner crept closer and closer with no food inspiration coming magically to me, the Husband announced that he wanted French fries. He didn't need anything else, he claimed. Just fries. I looked at him like he was nuts as he pulled out the bag of potatoes, a strainer, and almost all the pots and pans we own from the cupboards.

We don't own a deep fryer. And yet, he was going to endeavour to make French fries. From scratch. In a pot. Of oil.

I said goodbye to all of my canola oil and settled down at the breakfast bar with Catching Fire (book 2 of the Hunger Games Trilogy) to watch him work. He had this one all under control.

An hour later, much to our mutual shock, we had one pot of French fries. Crispy, delicious French fries.

Granted, they were nothing particularly special. Some of them had gotten chopped a little too small or broke in the cooking process. They were bent and not entirely pretty. But oh, oh. They were tasty. Just as good as any fries we order with our burgers when we go out. Better perhaps, because of their absolute freshness.

I sprinkled mine with a decent dusting of Cajun seasoning after the Husband's sprinkle of salt and devoured each one with a little tip of ketchup. Would we make these again? I doubt it. The Husband wants to try baked fries next which I have far more experience with. But these? They're maybe a little more work than they're worth.

How did we do it?

Like this:

French Fries

5 or 6 large potatoes
4 cups vegetable or canola oil

Chop your potatoes into fries. While you're chopping, heat the oil in a large stock pot or dutch oven. The oil is hot enough when you drop a fry in and it immediately begins to sizzle.

Working in batches, add a handful or two of the fries to the oil. Cook for 5 minutes. They won't be golden and crispy yet. Remove from the heat and strain using a strainer placed in a second large pot or dutch oven in order to reserve the oil. Move the fries to a third pot or bowl.

(If you have enough oil, you can skip the straining step by putting the strainer directly into the cooking pot and simply lifting it out when the 5 minutes is up. We didn't have enough oil for this.)

Return the oil to the stove and reheat. Do your next batch in the same way you did the first, adding them to bowl of half cooked fries. Repeat until all your fries have been cooked once.

Return the oil to the stove and add about half the fries. You want them to remain completely covered by the oil, but you can cook a larger batch this time. Cook until your fries are golden brown. Strain well and spread the fries on a baking sheet lined with paper towel to drain the grease.

Dust with seasonings, parmesan cheese, perhaps, or whatever else you'd like to make them a little more special. As I mentioned, I sprinkled these with some cajun and ate them with copious amounts of ketchup.

Perhaps I'll try onion rings next...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What do you call this?

For a while, I was making myself a smoothie every single morning. They were pretty simple: frozen berries, a ripe banana, a good dollop of plain yogurt and a handful of spinach in my big measuring cup and blended with my immersion blender. I would pour the nice, cold, thick, green mixture into a travel mug and drink it, with some difficulty through the small coffee cup opening, for my whole hour and a half commute.

Partially because of how difficult these things are to drink since I don't own one of those fancy travel cups with the straw, I've gotten out of the habit, so much so that I haven't even picked up a container of yogurt in months. None-the-less, I was shocked, surprised, when I was hit with a craving for a smoothie the other day. Don't ask me why, but I desperately wanted the taste of the cool frozen berries, the tartness of the yogurt.

Problem: no yogurt.

I did, however, have frozen yogurt. Chocolate frozen yogurt. Problem solved!

I have no idea what to call this. It's too thick to be a smoothie, but it's definitely not frozen yogurt anymore. Either way, it's delicious, especially when served atop even more frozen yogurt.

If you'd rather consume it as a proper smoothie, add some milk to thin it out.

Cool Chocolate Banana Berry Thick Smoothie

Into your food processor or a large, tall cup or measuring jug, add

  • A scoop or two of chocolate frozen yogurt - approximately 1 cup
  • About 1 cup of frozen berries 
  • 1 ripe banana
Blend. This might take some work since there are actually no liquid ingredients. Keep at it and break every so often to scrap the mix into the centre of your container.

Eat with a spoon, thin with some milk and eat with a straw, or serve it over some more chocolate frozen yogurt.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Soup: Red Lentil and Bean Tomato Soup

There's nothing like a rainy day to keep you inside, despite a whole list of gardening plans. Yesterday was a bleak, grey, rainy day. I comforted myself with some cups of tea, a crocheted stitch or two and a kitchen project that you'll have to wait until tomorrow to learn about at This Dusty House.

I also comforted myself with soup. It's quite possible that soup's days are numbered. After all, it may only be March, but the weather has been acting like it's mid-May, even June perhaps. Will I still want soup in April? Perhaps not.

So, I made this soup, partially because it looked delicious and partially because after a busy day, I was uninterested in making something that required a lot of chopping and this soup is just so simple. Chop your onions and your tomatoes and put your knife away.

Red Lentil and Bean Tomato Soup

A generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tbsp oil
1 medium sized onion, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp curry powder
1 cup dry red lentils
1 tomato, diced
4 cups vegetable stock
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed

In a large soup pan, sprinkle the red pepper flakes. Heat to release the flavour and aroma. Add the oil and the onion. Cook until the onion is translucent. Add the cumin and curry powder and toss to coat the onions. Add the red lentils and the tomatoes and mix in the vegetable stock.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and allow to simmer for about 15 minutes or until the lentils have become soft and tender.

Using an immersion blender or food processor of your choice, blend the soup together.

Add the cans of beans, heat through, and serve.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Barbecuing Season!

A week or so ago, Canadian Tire had a crazy barbecue sale going on. Normally, in March, we would probably ignore it. I don't know if you've been paying any attention at all to the weather in Toronto, but, um. We kinda skipped spring and jumped right into summer. Barbecuing season! Yes, 6 weeks early!

So, the Husband left on a Saturday afternoon with a friend and promised to bring back a barbecue.

I think the barbecue might be my best friend.

So far, we christened it with burgers. How could we allow the first piece of meat to touch that grill be anything but burgers? We grilled Madison's delicious Maple Glazed Grilled Chicken. And, we bought cheap steaks and slathered them with barbecue sauce in a barbecue celebration.

Asparagus is delightful on the barbie too, coated in extra virgin olive oil and plenty of spices and some seasoned salt. And, if you have it, Parmesan cheese. Holy crap, delicious. (We did not have Parmesan cheese. However, still delicious.)

Consume with plenty of wine in your backyard while ignoring the radiator and the pile of junk you've pulled out of your mudroom. Especially if it's a Wednesday and you're feeling kind of crummy to begin with. And thank your husband profusely for grilling you up a steak so you don't have to do it. And for helping you drink that bottle of wine.

Now, we just need a nice big dinner table in the back yard and my barbecuing experience will be perfected.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Apple Parsnip Soup and Rosemary Cheddar Biscuits

On my birthday two weeks ago, we went to an Italian restaurant and I ordered a parsnip soup to start.

I fell in love.

Solidly, completely.

I love pureed soups to begin with but this... this was something special. It was smooth, creamy, sweet and slightly tangy. I could have licked the bowl.

Usually, I only lick bowls that have chocolate in them.

I found a recipe that looked temptingly good and, one evening, sent the Husband to the grocery store for parsnips. They languished in the fridge for a week, then a few more days. We worked hard on the back mudroom and bought a barbecue that called out for hamburgers. And yet, I kept thinking about parsnips.

Yesterday was a gorgeous day. As I ran my half hour cardio workout after work, I could smell the barbecue on the air. It was not soup weather. Not even close.

But I insisted.

And I was well rewarded.

Apple Parsnip Soup
From the Foodess, not adapted at all

Since I didn't touch the recipe in the slightest, I'm not going to share it here. You should probably be reading Jennifer's blog if you aren't already anyway.

Go here to get the recipe.

With the soup, I served a simple biscuit, light and crumbly, the perfect match.

Rosemary Cheddar Biscuits

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried rosemary
3/4 cup cheddar cheese, finely grated
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup oil

Preheat your oven to 450*

Mix together the dry ingredients. Add the cheese, followed by the milk and the oil. Mix until just wet and the batter is pulling away from the side of the bowl.

On an ungreased baking sheet, drop the batter in biscuit sized pieces. Pop into the oven for 10-12 minutes or until the biscuits are golden brown.

Serve with Apple Parsnip Soup.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Poached Eggs

I do this on a regular basis: at about 10 o'clock on a night before I'm going to spend the day working from home, as we're getting ready for bed, I'll turn to the husband and say, "I'm going to get up early tomorrow and go for a run."

The next morning, I'll still be languishing in bed when he comes to kiss me goodbye.

Two hours later, I'll still be languishing in bed. Probably snuggling the dog.

This morning, after going through my usual morning-run-that-is-not-a-run routine, I woke up and made myself a breakfast as if I had gone for a run.

I know. Bad.

But, see, yesterday, Dara shared Kitchen72's breaded poached eggs on Twitter. And I was fascinated. Then, I realized I've never even made a poached egg.


So, this morning, I pulled out my trusty copy of The Joy of Cooking, and proceeded to ruin my first egg. And then, I thought I had ruined my second egg too.

The problem I was running into was that my pan was not full enough of water. Irma tells you to put 2-4 inches of water in your pan. I think my 2 inches may have been a little lacking and, despite trying to add more, my eggs were landing on the bottom of my pan. The top of the egg yolk remained glistening and yellow as the whites firmed up around the yolk.

Surely, I thought, I can save this. I took my slotted spoon and gently, gently tried to flip the egg over. The first egg had stuck firmly to the bottom of my pan. My hand jerked against it, the yolk broke and I ended up with a thorough mess. The second egg trembled, slid, and slipped over on its face. I breathed a sigh of relief and gently, gently scooped it up with the spoon and flipped it over onto my bed of shredded potatoes and green peppers.

It was tasty. Delicious, really. And if you like eggs, especially runny eggs, this is a far healthier way of cooking them than in a tablespoon of oil. But definitely more finicky.

(Will I still be saying this in a couple years if this becomes my standard egg-cooking method? Is poaching an egg something that becomes foolproof and easier the longer you do it?)

Poached Eggs

Fill a pot or a skillet with 4 inches of water. When it doubt, use more than you think you need. Bring to a boil.

Add 1 tbsp of vinegar and 1/2 tsp of salt. The vinegar will allow the egg whites to firm up and set more quickly than the yolk, which is exactly what you want.

Reduce the heat so the water is just simmering.

Break an egg into a bowl. Bring the bowl to the level of the water and gently slide the egg into the water.

Watch the whites turn magically white.

If necessary, don't be afraid to nudge the egg onto its other side in the water as the whites get firm and the yolk on top remains bright yellow.

Scoop the egg out with a slotted spoon and make sure it's well drained before serving.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Apple Dumplings

Or, at least, these are kind of like apple dumplings.

Over the weekend, I had planned to make something delicious. In fact, I had planned to make an apple parsnip soup, much like this one by the Foodess. I was inspired by my birthday dinner two weeks ago. I ordered a parsnip soup to start since a) I had never had parsnip anything before and b) the other option was really uninteresting. And it was delicious. I wanted a recreation without the $10 price tag.

And then, on Saturday afternoon, the Husband set out to Canadian Tire and came back with a barbecue.

How can one purchase a barbecue and not christen it with some fat, juicy burgers? I set my plans for parsnip soup aside and scarfed down my slab of meat and bun with plenty of mustard, ketchup, relish, and mayo. Also, a tomato. And lettuce.

On the days the Husband makes all the food, I end up feeling dissatisfied, no matter how tasty it all was. I miss the sense of satisfaction born from taking a few flavours and melding them together to make something delicious. I miss the chopping, the simmering, the mixing, the careful tweaking. Even if my motivation and energy are low I miss the time spent in my kitchen.

So, with all the plates cleared away, I got started on something else I've been meaning to make.

In some ways, these apple dumplings were a total failure. I didn't wet my hands enough as I formed the pastry into a ball, I didn't crimp the edges closed firmly enough. All but one of these apple treats that I had chosen to form into the shape of a dumpling fell open and became an apple nest. That meant, of course, that far too much of the juices evaporated away, leaving them slightly dry and less enticing.

(The Husband solved this problem with a generous drizzle of maple syrup. You could too.)

One, however, made it through.

Inside, the apple filling was moist and the pastry was flaky, if a little thick in places for my liking. I nibbled and contentedly declared it a success despite the bloomed balls staring at me from the baking sheet.

Next time, I promised myself, I won't make the same mistake.

In fact, I conceded, I'll probably just make a pie.

Apple Dumplings
barely adapted from Budget Bytes

For the dough

1 and 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
3/4 cup cold butter or margarine
1/4 cup cold water

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the flour and the sugar. Cut in the butter and mix using a pastry cutter if you have one or, if you're like me and don't have one, just dive in there with your hands. Mix everything together until it has a consistency of course sand. Again, I used my hands, but if you really want to, you could break out a food processor... just don't over mix! You'll lose the flakiness of the pastry if you do.

Wrap up your lump of dough in plastic wrap and pop it into the fridge for 30 minutes to stiffen up.

(Note: I found my pastry dough to be a little flaky and hard to work with at this point already. Was I lacking water? Or is that the consistency of a good pastry dough to begin with?)

For the filling

4 apples
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Peel, core, and chop your apples. Toss them with the dry ingredients until well coated.

For the dumpling

After half an hour has passed, preheat your oven to 350*.

Remove the pastry dough from the fridge and place in the middle of your lightly-dust-with-flour counter top. Place a good sized piece of plastic wrap on top of the pastry and start to roll it out. The plastic wrap will help prevent the pastry from sticking to your rolling pin. Roll in all directions, alternating between up, down, side to side and diagonals. Roll to 1/8 - 1/4 of an inch thick, though I personally believe the thinner the better. The thinner you make it, the hard it will be to work with.

Using a cereal bowl or some other round object of the size of your choice, cut out as many circles as you can on the first roll. One at a time, lift the circles and, holding them in your hand, fill with the apple filling. With a damp hand, close the pastry around the filling the the shape of a ball. Crimp the edges closed, using a little water to make sure the pastry will stay closed. Leave an opening at the top. Place the ball upright on a greased baking sheet and repeat with the next disk of dough.

When you've made as many as you can from the dough, squish it all up and roll it out again. Make a few more circles, squish it all up and roll it out again. Continue this process until there is not enough dough left or you're just totally sick of rolling it out.

If desired, make other shapes like the hand pies Beth made. And, if you want to get really adventurous, throw a handful of raisins or craisins into the filling. (She recommends a 1/4 of a cup of dried cranberries.)

Bake for 45 minutes until they're beautifully browned.

Eat hot. They're best that way.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Anne's Favourites

For my birthday, I asked for one thing from my parents.

(Actually, these days, it's far more important in my family that we spend time with each other, not giving physical gifts. So asking for something may have been slightly unusual in itself.)

This cookbook was compiled, written, edited and produced by a good friend of the family. For years, she put fresh bread, butter tarts, and delicious meat pies on our table; she ran the local bakery and made all sorts of delicious confections. Since selling the business, she turned her attention to this project, sorting through all the recipes she's gathered over the years, many from friends, family, and the small community in which I grew up. It's fascinating to flip through the book and read the stories about where the recipes came from, to read the names of people I know.

This book feels like a connection back to a community that holds a strong place in my life, but to which I will likely never return. In that connection, these recipes are doing exactly what I believe food should do: nourish, taste good, and draw strong feelings of the past, present, future.

I'm not sure what I will make from it first. Whatever it is, I know it will be delicious.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Chicken and Asparagus in a Cream Wine Sauce

Our shelves are still empty. We are notoriously bad at visiting the grocery store on a properly regular basis. This means that, on a Wednesday night like last night, the Husband is likely to call for pad thai and we'll wait an hour and a half past our fainting point for any food or I'll dig into the pantry and the freezer, and find whatever is left in the corner of the crisper to whip something delicious up.

Either way, we're unlikely to get any food until at least an hour and a half past our fainting points.

In my freezer, I found a bag of chicken legs.

From the crisper, I dug out the remaining stalks of asparagus and the last of a bag of spinach.

I just assumed there was milk. Or at least cream.

I got started.

As I mixed together the biscuit topping, I realized that my assumption was completely wrong. No milk. Not even in the dark back corner of the fridge. I made a sad face at my mix of flour, baking powder, salt, and rosemary and set the bowl aside.

No biscuits for the topping, I told the Husband.

Then, I turned to the sauce.

Wait a minute.

I had planned a cream sauce. Cream sauce required cream. Or, at the very least, milk.

I looked in the fridge again, just to be sure.

And then, brilliance struck! To the pantry I sent the Husband. Grab me a can of cream of mushroom soup, I said. That's cream! And here! On the top shelf of the fridge, the last of the sour cream onion dip. Sure, there's a broken crumb of a chip there on the one side... but I can scoop around that.

(Please don't judge.)

Half an hour later, after all the switches in my plan, after all the work-arounds, I had this.

Chicken and Asparagus in a Cream Wine Sauce

4 chicken legs (drumstick and thighs)
Approx. 12-15 asparagus stalks

For the sauce

1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 tsp rosemary
A couple handfuls of spinach

For the biscuit topping

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1 and 1/2 tsp rosemary
1/4 cup butter or margarine, cut in
1/2 cup sour cream and 1 tsp salt OR 1/2 cup sour cream based dip

Preheat your oven to 400*.

Cook your chicken using your favourite method. Since mine were all bony, I boiled, but if I had a breast or boneless thighs, I would probably have fried in order to keep as much of the flavour in as possible. If you boil, reserve the broth! There's all sorts of goodness in there.

While your chicken is cooking, make your sauce. Mix together the soup, the wine and the broth. As it begins to bubble, toss in the cheese, the rosemary and the spinach. Stir frequently and cook until the cheese is all melted and the spinach has wilted beautifully. Throw in your chicken to mix it all up.

Mix up your biscuit topping. Mix together the dry ingredients (the flour, the baking powder, the rosemary and the salt if you're using straight sour cream). Cut in the butter or margarine and mix together using a pastry cutter or, if you're like me and don't have one, a fork or even your hands until the butter is down to pea sized. Add in the sour cream or sour cream dip and mix well. It will be a crumbly looking biscuit batter, but trust me - it works.

In a casserole dish spoon enough of your sauce to cover the bottom. Layer the asparagus on top. (If you wish to cut your asparagus before doing so, it will make serving much easier.) Spoon the rest of the sauce over the asparagus. Drop the biscuit mixture in rough scoops onto the casserole. Pop it into the oven for 25 minutes or until the biscuits have become a beautiful golden brown.


We'll be going grocery shopping very soon, I promise, but I must admit that sometimes it's a little fun having empty cupboards. It's a challenge, really, to find out what you can create with almost nothing.

Don't forget to drop by the House! It's Thursday over there which only means one thing!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Asparagus and Steak Diane

Saturday evening, I was covered in drywall dust and starving. I also had a fridge full of fresh foods that had been there a little past their prime. And in the freezer, there were two steaks, hard as a rock.

Mushrooms, asparagus, steak.

Unfortunately, the Husband and I have been living without a microwave since we bought and moved into this house. It's tiny and microwaves take up valuable space that could be used for something far prettier. We just left it out of renovation plans. However, that means meats can no longer be dubiously dethawed in a matter of minutes. I tossed our frozen steaks still in their package into the sink and filled it with water.

I cursed my inability to plan ahead.

I stood glumly in the hallway and watched the Husband glue down the first board of the bamboo for back entryway. Work on the house had not gone well and all there was in the fridge to make up for it was a frozen hunk of cheap steak.

Half an hour later, as the evening crept on, I decided to make the best of it. I took some onions. I took the mushrooms that were tucked in the dark back corner of the fridge. I took a bundle of asparagus from the crisper. I took a bottle of birthday wine. And oh, yes. I made the best of it.

Steak Diane
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

1 tbsp olive oil
2 steaks of your favourite cut (These are ribeyes. They had very few veins of fat and were kind of tough, so I would definitely recommend something that's a bit more tender. Ribeyes are, apparently, great for slow roasting.)
salt and pepper to taste

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
5 or 6 mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup beef stock
1 tbsp honey mustard
1 dash Tabasco or other hot sauce
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp soy sauce

(After a little research, I realize that my substitutions have made this not a true Steak Diane. Should you wish to make a truer version of Steak Diane, substitute half the broth for brandy, the soy sauce for Worcestershire, the oil for butter and the onions for shallots.)

Season your steaks and cook them in the oil to your liking. I was aiming for medium rare, but being an imperfect and extremely amateur cook, I think I ended up with a full-on medium, especially after the last step. Remove the steaks from the pan and set them aside.

In the pan with the steak juices, add the 2 tbsp of oil and the onions. Cook until the onions are translucent. Meanwhile, chop the mushrooms and add them as you go.

Into the mushroom and onion mix, add the beef stock, the honey mustard, the hot sauce, the lemon juice, and the soy sauce. Bring the mix to a boil and allow to reduce for a few minutes.

As the sauce gets close to the consistency you want, if you're like me and enjoy your food really hot, add the steaks back in to reheat. Alternatively, simply scoop the sauce over the steak and serve without reheating.

Have you checked out the House yet today? I talked about my veggie garden progress over there. One day, those veggies will show up here on a regular basis!