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!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Birthday Chocolate

I was spoiled with baked goods for my birthday.

On Sunday morning, as we sipped our before-church coffees, J knocked on the door and appeared in our kitchen with a plate of birthday muffins.

Peanut butter and chocolate all swirled together. I fell in love.

Later, after a morning full of happy birthday wishes and hugs from friendly members of our church congregation, we settled into our kitchen once again, this time with a cup of tea and my wonderful parents. From their car, my mom carried a delightfully dark and moist chocolate stout cake, coated with just the right thickness of sweet coffee icing.

I fell in love a second time.

Chocolate and I? We love each other.


My birthday weekend was spent covered in a thin layer of drywall dust. Check out what we were up to in the house!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Something Sweet: Double Chocolate Ginger Muffins

Wednesday night, I was exhausted. With the launch of this new food section of This Dusty House, some big developments and upcoming changes in our renovation plans (more news on that soon! -ish), and all the other stuff I've gotten myself involved in, my brain has been going in circles, unwilling to rest and knocking me off my feet by 7:30.

So, Wednesday night, we ordered Pad Thai.

It was, unfortunately, mediocre.

Still unsatisfied, at 8:30, I dragged myself into an already slightly messy kitchen, threw some dishes in the dishwasher, pulled more out, and made these.

Cocoa. Chocolate chips. And a little bit of ginger to accentuate it all. They're not really a cupcake - too dense for that - but tastier than a muffin. Good enough for breakfast.

Double Chocolate Ginger Muffins
Adapted from 1 Mix, 100 Muffins by Susanna Tee

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tbsp baking powder
1.8 tsp salt
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tbsp grated ginger
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
6 tbsp canola or sunflower oil or melted, cooled butter
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 400*.

Mix together your dry ingredients. That's the flour, the cocoa, the baking powder, the salt, and the brown sugar. Make sure there's no lumps.

Whisk together your wet ingredients in a separate bowl. That's the ginger, the eggs, the milk and the oil.

Don't do anything with the chocolate chips yet.

Make a well in the centre of your dry ingredients. Pour your wet ingredients into the well and mix together until the dry ingredients are just wet.

(Why the well? Muffins should never be over-mixed. It will make them super dense and chewy. Not so fun. The well will help reduce the amount of time you need to mix the batter to make all the dry ingredients wet.)

Add the chocolate chips. I like to save them for the end so I can gauge how many I actually want in the recipe. Add more or fewer as desired. Again, just mix - don't overmix!

Scoop the batter into a well greased or lined muffin tin. (I used my new muffin tin from Ikea with a bunch of their cupcake liners that I got in my swag bag at the Canadian Design Bloggers Meetup. They make a really cute, tall muffin with a large muffin top. Love them!)

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool complete. Or just eat them right away. Mmm... warm muffins.

(Actually, these are even better when they have completely cooled. Make sure you store them in a sealed container or bag to keep all their delightfully moist texture in.)

These photos are a part of the March Food Photo challenge

Thursday, March 1, 2012

March Photography Challenge

A close friend who also blogs shared this on Facebook a few days ago.

What you're looking at is the brainchild of Lesley at The Purple Carrot. It's 31 days of themes for food photography. That means at least one photo a day. Every single day. For the month of March. Of course, her plan seems to focus on informal instagram, Facebook and Twitter photos. I'm far more interested in stepping it up a little and turning it into a learning, stretching process for me and my Canon Rebel XS DSLR.

I'm kidding, right? There's no possible way I can pull this off. I'm already too busy! And posting on the weekends? I, like, don't do that. This is going to crash and burn miserably, just leaving me feeling like a failed, useless blogger.

Screw the excuses: I'm going to try it. With a caveat: if I miss a day, that's fine. If I hate one of the themes (I really don't want to show you in the inside of my fridge, for example), I'm not going to bother. If I take pictures and decide they're terrible, oh well, no post that day. If I get to day three and lose interest, motivation, time, etc. etc., I will not beat myself up over letting the series go.

So, now that that's decided, on to day 1!


My favourite breakfast: a sesame seed bagel with cream cheese. Mmm...